Ww is for – What does that mean?…


Always a curious child, my lovely mum would shake her finger at me with the warning…Remember, Catherine… Curiosity Killed the Cat.” Well here I am… and still asking questions. 

Guess one of the reasons  researching Family History is such a pleasure is because as soon as you answer one question, there are always many more popping up begging to be investigated. In this Gould Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge I share just a few.



What fun those UK Census records are… I love pouring over them to get to the “nitty gritty” of my Ancestor’s lives – not only where they lived, moved to, married etc., but especially their Occupations. The tricky part of this can be that the enumerator has VERY bad writing but often it’s simply a job I’ve never heard of… e.g. my Scottish Great Grandfather, James Ogilvie, was a “Currier”. What??? … although, at times there’s an occupation I kind of know, but am not entirely sure about. Here are some examples:

ACATER – A present day caterer. A person who supplies food provisions to various outlets.

AUGER MAKER – Someone who made the carpenters augurs; a type of hand drill which was operated via a crosswise fitted handle.

ANVIL SMITH – A person who made Anvils and Hammers for Blacksmiths.

Blacksmith working with Hammer and Anvil – Wikimedia Commons Licence

BESOM MAKER – Made brooms, usually from twigs with a central pole.

CARMAN – Driver of a vehicle used to transport goods.

CARTER – Carries, or conveys, goods in a cart.

CHARWOMAN – Cleaning woman (domestic servant) who usually worked for hourly wages, often on a part time basis. They usually had several employers and, unlike Maids, did not “live in”.

CURRIER – A man who dresses and colours leather after it is tanned.

DAY MAN – Caual worker, usually employed for the day.

FLAX DRESSER – Prepares Flax prior to it being spun.

Flax Dresser – heckling. (Wikimedia Commons Licence)

HURDLE MAKER – Maker of Hurdles/Woven Fences, often made out of Hazel or Willow.  This was a surprise, to me. I thought “hurdles” are those fence like constructions made for horses to jump… {chuckle}

JOURNEYMAN/JORMAN – A Master Craftsman who has served his Apprenticeship, mastered his craft and no longer bound to serve for years but is hired day by day – often self employed.

LIGHTERMAN – Someone who operates a flat bottomed boat used in loading and unloading ships.

19C Lighterman (Wikimedia Commons Licence) Artist:James Abbott McNeil Whistler

VITNER – Wine Merchant.

VICTUALLER – A seller of food and drink. Usually refers to an Innkeeper.


Growing up with a constant stream of proverbs like: “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, etc. I’m always fascinated, and curious, to discover their origins. Some are self-explanatory but others not so.  Here are some which were very common expressions throughout my childhood and am SO happy to have tracked down their origins.

*  In Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes and when you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making it firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase “GOOD NIGHT SLEEP TIGHT”.

*  In English pubs ale is order by pints and quarts… So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell… “Mind your Pints and Quarts and settle down!!!.” It’s where the phrase “MIND YOUR P’s &  Q’s” comes from.

*  The saying “THERE’S NOT ENOUGH ROOM TO SWING A CAT” comes from the days when sailors were punished with “a cat o’nine tails” (whip with nine leather straps). However, because there wasn’t enough room below deck to lash the whip, the punishment was given on deck where there was enough room “to swing the cat.”

*  In the 1400’s a law was set forth that a man was not allowed to beat his wife with a stick thicker than his thumb. Hence we the “RULE OF THUMB.”

*  Many years ago, in England, pub frequenters had a whistled bake into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a drink, they would whistle to get served. ‘WET YOUR WHISTLE” is the phrase inspired by this practice.

*  The saying “THE CAT’S OUT OF THE BAG” (i.e. a secret revealed) originates in medieval England when piglets were sold in open market places. The seller usually kept the pig in a bag, making it easier for a buyer to take home, but some dishonourable sellers would put a large cat inside the bag in an attempt to deceive. However, if a shrewd buyer looked into the bag then the cat was literally out of the bag. The following advice was first recorded in London around 1530:  

“When ye proffer the pigge open the poke.”

The bag was called a poke which is where the saying “BUYING A PIG IN A POKE” comes from, and means, buying something unseen and probably unwanted.


In closing, I have to say that when mum warned that “CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT”, I knew that I was being told to STOP asking endless questions … but what was this “bizzo” about “killing the cat?”.  Now I finally know the origins of this proverb.

Originally it was “CARE KILLED THE CAT“. The term “care”, at that time, meant “worry and sorrow”, not looking after/protecting, as is our more contemporary meaning.

Now it all makes sense and the young child, which still resides within me, can settle down… Yep, born pedantic 🙂

Here’s a vid you might enjoy:






Copyright © 2012. Catherine Crout-Habel.  

17 thoughts on “Ww is for – What does that mean?…

  1. Lots of new information in here Catherine (never heard of acater for example), so thank you for those explanations and the background to those sayings. In our house when asked the “what does that mean?” question, our kids were told, not “curiosity killed the cat”, but “look it up in the dictionary”. Eventually they would say “what does, oh never mind” and head for the bookcase 🙂 Curiosity is a wonderful attribute -it’s how we learn and why we love FH. BTW “carman” in Ireland was also used for the bloke who collected the rents/approached those in the townlands etc: a step or two down from the estate agent. Not sure where I read that but happy for someone to correct the nuances.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Pauleen. Had such fun writing/researching which was a “good old cheer up”… and exactly what I needed 🙂 … Only prob was, my “mouse” went a bit skewiff early in the piece and it got published before time. oopsie… Hope you got to read the entire lot. Agree with you re: the imprortance of curiosity. Interesting re: the Irish meaning of “Carman”. Will be great if we get some feed back on that, eh? Cheers & thanks.

  2. Another wonderful post Catherine, a lot of new ones on me in there. I hadn’t heard of a few of those occupations either. Thanks for the links I must research a few of my family’s and late Mother-In-Law’s wonderful old sayings.

    • I so love finding out the origins of these old sayings, and occupations, Kerryn, as you can see {chuckle}… and reckon it’s an important part of recording our Family History. The links will help with your research but sometimes even just “googling” the saying/occupation can bring some surprising results. Be sure to share your findings, eh? 🙂

  3. Loved this post! As someone who is guilty of thumbing through a reference book on phrases/idioms, this was a real treat.

    • Thanks Alona, Reckon I was born with “Why???” imprinted on my forehead 🙂 … Glad you enjoyed reading the post. I sure had lots of fun writing it. The link between “buying a pig in a poke” and “letting the cat out of the bag” I found SO fascinating. Two expressions I grew up with and always wondered how they came about.

  4. Pingback: Family History Through the Alphabet – W is for … | Genealogy & History News

    • Indeed they have, Sheryl and certainly many within my own lifetime e.g. the “typing pool” has well and truly disappeared… and no more “Comptometrists” clacking away on those noisy machines 🙂

  5. Another fascinating collection of words, written with a light hearted touch which was fun to read. I share your liking for the quirkiness we find in family history records and especially the origin and story behind proverbs and phrases etc. An unusual approach to W.

    • So glad you enjoyed it Susan. I sure loved the researching and writing which helped take me out of “the doldrums” after writing that very difficult V post. Added to that is having grown up with an endless array of proverbs, and being the “nosey parker” I am… just can’t stop asking WHY??? 🙂

  6. A very interesting post. I have a “journeyman” in my family. Must admit, I (wrongly) assumed he was a traveller or travelling salesman, until reading this.

  7. That’s exactly what I thought initially, Sharon… and, as for Currier? Well, had no idea what that was but didn’t think my Scottish GreatGrandfather, was likely to be the bloke who put the curry in the saucepan. 😀 ha ha ha… Always enjoy your comments.

  8. Great W post, Catherine! I love it when I learn something from reading bloggers’ take on the FHTTA challenge. I especially liked the “Care killed the cat” and “Buying a pig in a poke” explanations. (I never knew what those ones meant.)

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