A league and a turd/Legua y mierda

Minsheu’s Pleasant and Delightfull Dialogues: where did he get all that horseshit?

Google Book Search has released a bizarre new date filter for advanced search whose clumsy drop-downs (what was wrong with text fields?) assume that no books were published before the US became independent–1776 is Year Zero.

Fortunately the old syntax still works, and so I stumbled on Lorenzo Franciosini’s Grammatica Spagnuola ed Italiana (1707), which contains the following educational fragment of the vernacular, translated into Italian with some unwanted gloseries here omitted:

A. Quanto nos falta de aquì al primèr pueblo?
P. Legua, y mierda.
M. La legua andarémos nosotros, el otra vos la passarèis.

It turns out that Franciosini plagiarised at least some of this work from John Minsheu’s Pleasant and Delightfull Dialogues (1599), of which the original edition is apparently available on GBS but, for reasons that may become clear to future economic historians, inaccessible to me. Fortunately there’s a well-concealed facsimile over at the equally well-neglected Cervantes site, whence the following translation in what could almost be early Oirish:

A. How far haue we from hence to the next towne?
P. A league and a turd.
M. The league we will goe, the other thou shalt passe.

Pedro’s lines in this fourth dialogue are pretty damn funny, and I’d post the whole thing here if I had OCR to cope. There’s one particularly intriguing bit on the same page as the league and a turd. At the bidding of his masters Pedro is treating some passersby to rhyming insults:

P. Ola hermano por donde van?
C. A do?
P. En casa de la puta que os parió.
A. Este cavalléro que viene muy brábo no baya sin la suya.
P. A señor es suyo el mulo?
C. Qual mulo?
P. Aquel que beséis en el cúlo.

Minsheu’s surprisingly translates what is literally “In the house of the whore who bore you” as “To the house of the queane thy mother.” Is this some kind of general anti-Marian crack along the lines of the identification of the Catholic church with the Whore of Babylon? Or does it refer specifically to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose son James was then King of Scotland and shortly to rule over the British Isles?

Finally, Hillgarth (The mirror of Spain) says that Minsheu had never been to Spain, and he was apparently also an enthusiastic plagiarist, so where did he get his jokes?

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  1. Aaahhh! now I get it! OED:

    1. Originally: a woman, a female. Later: a bold or impudent woman; a hussy; spec. a prostitute. Also in extended use.
    In early Middle English as a general term of abuse, passing (esp. in 16-17th centuries) into a more specific term of disparagement.


    In Old English not always possible to distinguish from forms of cwn QUEEN n., with which there was a degree of overlap in sense (Old English cwene is occas. attested in sense ‘queen’: see Dict. Old Eng. s.v.).
    In early Middle English the vowel was lengthened to open , hence distinct from QUEEN n. with close , although the written forms are often identical. In standard English the two sounds merged in the early modern period.

  2. So, Mr. Oxford English, are homosexual queens descended from this line, or from normal queens?

  3. From quean:

    1910 Jahrbuch für Sexuelle Zwischenstufen 11 41 Bitch, quean, mehr oder minder schmeichelhafte Bezeichnungen für homosexuelle Männer. 1935 D. LAMSON We who are about to Die xv. 294 We did hear startling tales..of ‘family’ life, of marriage ceremonies, of fights with knives for the favor of some ‘quean’, as the perverts are called in prison. a1967 J. R. ACKERLEY My Father & Myself (1968) xii. 127, I did not want him to think me ‘queer’ and himself a part of homosexuality, a term I disliked since it included prostitutes, pansies, pouffs and queans. 1993 J. MEADES Pompey (1994) 440 Danny, the fat quean who used to deal proscribed drugs in pubs.

    I think gay queens are now more bore than whore, but I lead a shy and retiring life.

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