Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gardyloo!


Been having a fun discussion on a site with a fellow who is an expert in the language. As we chatted, I recalled the expression "Gardyloo!" A term, I must admit, that I learned from a Frank Yerby novel long ago and far away. Jarret's Jade, if I remember correctly. Probably about 1960 or '61 when I read it.

Can't remember what I had for dinner on Saturday, but I can remember learning a word in a novel I read fifty years ago.

Yerby was the first black writer to became a best-selling author with sales to the movies. His stuff was not all that deep, but I found it entertaining. Multi-generational stories, I recall, and page-turners. Oddly enough, he caught a lot of crap for not having sympathetic black characters -- and most people in the day didn't know he was black. Go figure.

But, Gardyloo! Back in the old days before indoor plumbing, there were sometimes jars or tubs kept in the night chamber so that the occupants might use those instead of having to traipse along to the outhouse in the middle of the cold night. In the morning, the maid, or perhaps the lady of the house, were she poor, would wish to toss those slops outside. If, say, one were on the third or fourth floor and heaved the contaminated fluids through the window and onto the street below, it was considered polite to warn passersby.

"Gardyloo!" was the cry to let them know they'd best move their arse elsewhere: Piss and possibly scat was about to rain down.

The origin of the term is unclear, but it is most likely from the French -- Garde à l'eau! -- which allegedly means "watch out for the water!"

Ah, the good old days. Horse dung piled two feet deep, dead cows in the river, and best you beware on your morning stroll ...

4 comments:

Dan Moran said...

I didn't know he was black, and I was a big fan of his novel "Judas, My Brother." I knew he was Jewish....

Ed said...

I don't know if this is true but I thought I heard/read once that if a man was walking with a woman on the sidewalk in the olden days he always walked closest to the curb/street with the woman on the inside of him closest to the building - so the guy got nailed if there was flying waste from above. Chivalry - never out of style maybe smelly but never out of style.

Steve Perry said...

I heard that walking next to the road was to keep passing carriages from splashing water on one's lady, and this was something I learned when I started dating.

J.D. Ray said...

I heard the same thing Ed did. That doesn't make it true, but slightly-more-popular myth.