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.