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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Seventy-Two

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…..

With the moving of server last week I got a bit behind on these, but I’ve caught up now and today is day 72 of this. This has lasted for considerably longer than I had anticipated.

Cherry-Coloured Cat

I had heard of this phrase in relation to PT Barnum, when he agreed to buy a cherry coloured cat for his circus and realised he had been fooled when he was presented with a black cat and the seller told him “you can get black cherries as well as red”. But, this dictionary pre-dates Barnum, and their definition is nearly identical, which is “a black cat, there being black cherries as well as red”.

The phrase has also been used to describe a confidence trick or scam and there was a report in a newspaper in the 1830s fondly telling the story of how a man in Scarborough enjoyed fooling the gentry who came to the town with the same trick. This then became a common jape in the late nineteenth century, but it’s perhaps through Barnum that this lives on.