Thursday, January 17, 2013

Avoirdupois: The Perfect Euphemism for a Fat-Ass

av·oir·du·pois (ah-ver-duh-poiz)  n.

1. Abbr. av. or avdp. Avoirdupois weight.
2. Informal Weight or heaviness, especially of a person.

[Middle English avoir de pois, commodities sold by weight, alteration of Old French aveir de peis, goods of weight : aveir, avoir, to have (from Latin habre; see able) + de, of (from Latin d, from; see de-) + peis, pois, weight (from Vulgar Latin *psum, from Latin pnsum, past participle of pendere, to hang; see (s)pen- in Indo-European roots).]

The Pittsburgh Press, December 20, 1907
Ambrose Bierce called the word mere slang but it had, nonetheless, enjoyed wide popularity from the days of Shakespeare through to the middle 20th century. As is evidenced by the piece above and many print articles. I've encountered it several times in baseball write-ups from the early 1900s and in those days where it was standard to call a corpulent person fat, the euphemism avoirdupois seems to have given levity to the bluntness.

Shakespeare wasn't so mild in his jocularity. In Henry IV the scribe speaks to the avoirdupois of Poins to Prince Hal and the prostitute Doll Tearsheet:


Pointed but not vicious this slang of sorts seems to have suffered a more banal fate in the 1800s as a simple measurement of weight in many a technical journal and manual.

Although the word fooled me as a gutter variation of some French phrase (I was thinking ah-vwah doo-pwah) it actually comes across sounding more like a Southern bastardization (think Lafayette become Lah-fay-it among others).

If it's to make a return to the everyday vernacular in this era of political correctness it will be done so in underground newspapers and by hapless bloggers trying to garner 18 cent ad clicks. Then again, if Barry Soetoro has his way with economic parity, we'll all be driving 1950s bombers imported from Cuba in the not too distant future and perhaps language will follow suit. Thus, hundred year old dictionaries chock full of antipodal definitions for modern words will be useful during the brainwashing purge.

Just don't tell that to Babs Wingo, Louise Green, Ethel Johnson or Mary Horton because their only avoirdupois was in their bank accounts. More on that next time.

Jet, February 21, 1952

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