Monday, April 19th, 2021

When I was just a wee lad and I did something I shouldn’t have done, my grandmother Cleo would scold me by saying something that sounded like, “Nix kommer rouse in the Dutchman’s house!” My mother and my uncle confirm that she said the same to them, and that the meaning was clearly, “don’t do that!” But where the phrase comes from, or exactly how it would be written, was a mystery to both of them.

Every once in a while I search the internet for this phrase. I looked again this morning, reminded of it by something I heard on the radio, and this is the first time I’ve found the whole phrase, quoted from a play titled “The persecuted Dutchman, or, The original John Schmidt : a farce in one act” (published in the mid to late 1800s) — Two of the characters in the play use the phrase, written as “nix cum a rouse in a Dutchman’s house,” which looks to me like the author was phonetically spelling out German or Dutch words he didn’t know how to spell.

A friend of a friend on Facebook said the first half of the phrase “would be likely “Nichts komme ‘raus” since “heraus” tends to be shortened. In English, “don’t come out”, but why you shouldn’t come out in a Dutchman’s house is up for grabs. I thought they were pretty relaxed about such things, and very liberal.”

I wondered ‘Why a Dutchman?’ as well. I’m not familiar enough with older stereotypes of the Dutch to hazard a guess, and my searches have turned up only contemporary stereotypes that don’t shed any light on the idiom.

The phrase “nix cum rous” appeared to be in such wide use from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s that it was used often to mean a great many different things, depending on context.

O. Henry knew the phrase “nix cum rous” and used it often: In a story titled, “Telemachus, Friend” (published in the volume “Heart of the West” in 1907) he wrote one character dragging another with this insult: “…do you think you could get it into that Hubbard squash you call your head that you are nix cum rous in this business?” The context here indicates the phrase means something like “persona non grata.”

And when he used it in a story titled “A Chaparral Prince” (published in the volume “Heart of the West” in 1907) he wrote one character dismissing another this way: “We will now pass you the time of day, as it is up to us to depart. Ausgespielt — nixcumrous, Dutchy.” Here, the context indicates the phrase means something like “see you later” or “so long.”

When he used it again in a story titled “A Poor Rule” (published in the volume “Options” in 1909) he wrote one character giving another this left-handed complement: “Now, you ain’t bad looking, of course but that’s nix-cum-rous.” Here, the context indicates the phrase means something along the lines of, “that’s neither here nor there.”

There’s a poem recorded in The Ringling Brothers Route Book, 1893, which uses the phrase “nix-cum-rouse” as if it was the name of a circus animal:

Cousin Jasper says ’at they
Has a circus every day,
In Baraboo.

Says they’ve got a nix-cum-rous
Larger than the Kirby House,
In Baraboo.

And a snake all wings and feet
Longer ’un Wisconsin street,
In Baraboo.

And a spotted Blastodon
Bigger ’un the Plankington,
In Baraboo.

There’s story in verse titled “Der Freischuetz” in “Dwight’s Journal of Music” dated June 20, 1857, with a line halfway through the story which notes: “I vish dat I had nix cum rous, / Und shtaid mineself in bed to house.” There are notes at the end of the story which include a translation (in Latin and English!) for “nix cum ‘rous — ne exeat — not come out. No go.”

There’s an entry in a soldier’s diary dated January 20, 1864: “Nix cum rous. I hobble around some, Found little Ben Cain in another tent, bad – so bad.” I’m not sure what he means; if he’s saying he stayed it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because he says immediately after that he found Ben Cain in another tent, so me must have gone out.

why a Dutchman | 3:59 am CDT
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Thursday, May 10th, 2018

I’ve got a copy of the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge on a shelf next to my desk at home, which I pull down and leaf through if, for instance, I’m in the middle of writing some drivel when my laptop decides it’s time to update the software without asking me. So frustrating.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing but respect for Partridge, and this dictionary is a fascinating book for word nerds, but I sometimes have my doubts there was an English-speaking person anywhere in the world who ever spoke the words or phrases in this dictionary. I’ve never come across them in any book or movie.  Just a few examples:

“call for a damper” – to break wind.  Never heard anybody say this.  Ever.

“all China to an orange” – the longest possible odds; a virtual certainty.  I’m pretty sure he made this up.

“get Jack in the orchard” – to achieve sexual intromission. I had to grab another dictionary to figure out what the slang dictionary was trying to tell me; who has ever used the word “intromission” to mean “penetration?” Nobody I ever met.

“muffin-walloper” – a scandal-loving woman delighting to meet others at a tea-table. I’ve never heard this phrase before, but I’m going to try my damndest to use it as soon and as often as possible.

that foreign language English | 6:26 am CDT
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Monday, December 18th, 2017

PERSIFLAGE (PER suh flazh)

from the French persifler, “to banter”

Light banter; idle, bantering talk; a frivolous style of treating a subject – The New Century Dictionary 1927

A light, flippant style – Funk & Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary 1942

852. RIDICULE, derision, irrision, raillery, mockery, banter, persiflage, bandinage, twit, chaff; quiz, quizzing etc. v.: joke, jest; asteism; irony, sarcasm; sardonic grin or smile, snicker or snigger, smirk, grin, leer, fleer; scoffing etc. – Roget’s New International Thesaurus 1956

‘whistle-talk’. Irresponsible talk, of which the hearer is to make what he can without the right to suppose that the speaker means what he seems to say; the treating of serious things as trifles and of trifles as serious. ‘Talking with one’s tongue in one’s cheek’ may serve as a parallel. Hannah more, quoted in the OED, describes French p.l as ‘the cold compound of irony, irreligion, selfishness, and sneer’. Frivolity and levity, combined with gentle ‘leg-pulling’, are perhaps rather the ingredients of the compound as now conceived, with airy as its stock adjective. Yeats said of it that it was ‘the only speech of educated men that expresses a deliberate enjoyment of words. … Such as it is, all our comedies are made out of it.’ – Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2nd Edition 1965

frivolous or lightly derisive talk or manner of treating a subject – Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary 1969

persiflage *bandiage, raillery bantering or banter, chaffing or chaff: ridiculing or ridicule, twitting, deriding or derision – Webster’s New Dictionary of Synonyms 1973

882. BANTER, bandiage, persiflage, pleasantry, fooling, fooling around, kidding or kidding around, raillery, rallying, sport, good-natured banter, harmless teasing; ridicule 967; chaff, twit, jest, joke, jape, josh; jive; exchange, give-and-take – Roget’s 4th International Thesaurus 1977

persiflage | 6:30 am CDT
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