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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Fourteen

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..

Banyan Day

The dictionary defines this as “a sea term for those days on which no meat is allowed to the sailors. The term is borrowed from the Banyans in the East Indies, a cast that eat nothing that had life”. I’ve never heard of this phrase, but it was in common usage in the nineteenth century, and no doubt in the eighteenth century, and was sometimes used not just in naval terms but also for anyone not eating meat on a certain day. And apparently it’s still a phrase used today on ships, but it just refers to a general picnic.

An alternative usage of the phrase developed when sailors referred to meals being a Banyan Day when they were eating leftovers, as there was no meat left. That, in turn, led to the phrase being used to mean straitened times.