Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Willow's Weekly Word

Stag at Sharkey’s, George Bellows, 1909,
Cleveland Museum of Art

WT was enjoying an old movie on TV the other night, in the same
area where my computer desk is set up. I overheard one of the
thugs say, "Put up your dukes!" You know the accent. Now
where in the world did this phrase originate? I did a little research
and found that it was because the Duke of Wellington had a very
large nose. Just wait...I’ll explain. Therefore, men with large noses
were called dukes. Then, over time, just their noses became known
as dukes. A hand, clenched into a fist, was called a duke buster. The
buster part was later dropped and the fists became dukes. I know
this sounds a bit far fetched, but take my word for it!

I love, love, love the artwork of George Bellows, 1882-1925.
He was a native of Columbus, OH and best known for his bold
depictions of urban life in New York City. The Columbus
Museum of Art has a sizable collection, that I often enjoy.

...and while we are on the subject of dukes, have you seen the
movie Gosford Park? Jeremy Northum, in the role of Ivor
Novello sings this charming little ditty, that is sure to make
you grin.

What a Duke Should Be, from Theodore and Co., 1916

In B.C. 33 Ah, me! That's a dash long time ago.
There lived a Roman hero who had shaken hands with Nero.
And the history you shall know.
He was introduced to the king of Gaul, whoever that might be.
And crossing in galley with a Norman wench got pally
They went and founded me.

When old Canute was buying fruit one day, so runs the tale.
A young convicted felon brought him a juicy melon.
And was then released from jail.
This noble youth to tell the truth, Sailed right away to sea.
And the Duke of Malta's daughter brought up his shaving water.
And the grand result was me.

So if you wonder what a duke should be,
Just you take another look at me.
I'm doubty, I'm gouty, I'm wonderful to see.
All my people 'pon my soul it's true.
Look on Noah as a parvenu.
By gad, you can search your family tree,
But you'll never find - you'll never find - you'll never find
a duke like me!


  1. Willow, this was very, very interesting! What a transformation the phrase "put up your dukes" went through before history decided that it should remain this phrase! Now I learned something new today!

    The artwork is great...so realistic!

  2. I didnt know this but I did know of this artist ..


  3. Speaking of Dukes there are:

    The Dukes of Hazzard
    The Duke of Earl
    Duke Ellington (my favorite)
    Duke Snyder
    Duke University
    Duke Kahanamoku

    It seems that there are all types of Dukes.

  4. ...and my sons' favorite, that particular brand of men's athletic under garment.

  5. Love Gosford Park! And I adore Jeremy Northum's clever little ditties that no one much seems to be listening to.

    And I commend you for another interesting tidbit of language history. Don't forget your "Daisy Dukes" whilst contemplating those dukes....just something to cover another part of anatomy.

  6. Interesting....especially the part about large noses and dukes....so from now on...call me "duke" Strider!!! Not to be confused with the old Dodger pitcher...Duke Snider!

  7. And of course there was Duke Wayne.
    Loved the painting and I was unfamiliar with the artist.

  8. Okay, Strider...oops...I mean Duke!

  9. Stevie, that is the funniest part of the movie! He's singing his heart out with all these clever, witty songs and everyone is so trying hard to ignore him. :)

  10. aHAa! :) This was pretty cool to learn about. You are a research guru..and you have mastered your technique! ;-)

  11. A fascinating story about the evolution of "dukes" and I enjoyed every word of it. Thanks for researching this and sharing it with us.

    It's been so long since I saw Gosford Park that I don't even remember that song...I'll have to rent the movie.

  12. Well, Willow, you again taught me sometihgn else. How very intersting. I love to learn derivations of phrases and worlds liek this. (A great idea for regular post entry, btw.) Keep it up. Thx.

  13. You are a font of obscure information Willow. That painting is so powerful. It makes one feel present at the boxing match.

  14. I've always wondered where that saying came from. How interesting!

    I remember this Bellows painting from a History of Modern Art class a while back... Very powerful, isn't it?...Gosh, I need to rewatch Gosford Park.

  15. Very entertaining and interesting post. For me, the greatest duke busting movie ever filmed starred "The Duke", John Wayne. Come to think of it, he had a pretty good sized nose himself. It was entitled, "The Quiet Man". Pappy

  16. Pappy, "The Quiet Man" is one of my favorite movies. I know, I know, I have hundreds of favorites! John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara had such sizzling chemistry, didn't they? They were perfect together.

  17. This is so interesting...I can understand why people make careers of etymology

  18. Willow...I found this interesting. We hear expressions such as this one and never quite know where they came from. I remember first hearing this "Put up your dukes" in old movies, way back when. Then my brother and his friends would say this to one another playing. When I first saw the painting, I thought I was on Pappy's blog....:)

  19. Just read all your lovely blogs from Sleeping in church onwards. I enjoyed your own poem the best. Adore potatoes too - in any form. Don't think I have any real dukes in the family but some rather large noses, yes! On my first visit to the UK (a deja vu experience as I had grown up on Enid Blyton and stories of the home country), my husband and I visited Winchester Cathedral (Look, darl, I am standing on Jane Austen's grave!). It happened to be Harvest Sunday and we simply joined the line to receive Holy Commmunion. As we slowly made our way down the aisle, I suddenly realised that the worshippers had the same craggy profiles (the dreaded nose) as in mine. So the old DNA wins in the end, no matter where we end up on the globe! Love Eleanor

  20. Interesting! I never heard that before. Wonderful bit of trivia. I have seen Gosford Park and love that movie--I took my parents to it a second time because I knew they'd love it: it's so chock-full-of good actors.

  21. Eleanor, I would love to visit Winchester Cathedral someday.

    My family has quite a few dukes...the nose kind! I'm glad my genetic hand was dealt a smaller version. ;)

  22. When I clicked on your link in my sidebar and it opened on your post, I saw the picture and thought, "Hmm, could it be "fisticuffs"? Now, "Put up your dukes" I didn't even think of, but I'm happy to at last have the explanation.

    Here we go again, Willow...I LOVE Gosford Park - such a brilliant film! I love the relationship between the housemaids, played by Emily Watson and Kelly MacDonald. Actually, I don't think there's a bad performance in the entire thing. (James Wilby is such a rotter in this! Did you see him recently in the "Lewis" episode, by any chance?)

    Oh, and have you seen Michael Gambon as Churchill, in The Gathering Storm? I just wanted that to go on and on. It ended far too soon.


  23. I've heard that expression so many times but never thought about where ii originated! Very interesting!

  24. Kat, I'm adding "The Gathering Storm" to my Netflix queue right now...it has so many of my favorite peeps! And I always love anything historical.

  25. i had no idea of the origin of that saying. quite interesting! the painting is great. i've never been to the columbus museum of art . . . i feel a road trip coming on!!!

  26. Look at you, ace girl etymologist! Great new feature on your wonderful blog.

    I was raised on Noel Coward and was so charmed to see him portrayed by Jeremy Northam. Sigh!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)