nosy body / nosy-body

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nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu May 12, 2005 3:21 am

It’s a funny thing. I just used the word NOSY BODY in another posting this morning and when I went to check to see if it was hyphenated or possibly one word, lo and behold, I found that according to the standard and slang dictionaries at least, it doesn’t exist. There is, of course, BUSYBODY, which is a person who pries into or meddles in the affairs of others and NOSY PARKER, which is the same – but what happened to their synonym NOSYBODY or NOSY BODY or NOSY-BODY?

I then began to get the uncomfortable feeling that this may be one of those expressions from my NYC days which I thought the whole world used, but then later found out no one outside of New York City every heard of (seeon line and sliding pond)

A Google check produced a paltry 476 hits for ‘nosy body,’ 175 hits for ‘nosybody,’ and 658 for ‘nosy-body. BUSYBODY, on the other hand, produced 143,000 hits. Upon questioning two non-NYC folks this afternoon, I found to my astonishment that they had never heard of my beloved ‘nosy body.' However, when I asked my sister (or 'sista'), she said, of course, ‘nosy-body – what else would you call it?

Very interesting. When I listen to a national newscaster I know they were raised in NYC if they say ‘people stood on line’ instead of ‘in line.’ And if I hear anyone mention a child playing on a ‘sliding pond,’ what everyone else calls a ‘slide,’ I also know they were raised in NYC. Well, now I have another one to add to my list, NOSY-BODY.

As I sifted through the archives of old newspapers and magazines for NOSY BODY hits (see below) you may notice the name of the paper in which the expression was most prevalent – you guessed it, the New York Times. One lives and one learns!
<1944 “Nowadays he stays out of the Square [[Times]] until the crowds drain off in early morning. ‘Can’t get much work in with all those NOSY-BODIES around,’ he says bitterly.”—‘New York Times,’ 17 December, page SM 14>

<1960 “The panelists, 13 to 17 years old, glowed with health, humor and maturity, which disproved the need for interference by ‘NOSY-BODIES’— as one [[NYC]] youngster called them.”– ‘New York Times,’ 20 June, page 27>

<1974 “It also made me realize how many old flames, old creditors, old semi well-wishers, and old NOSY BODIES I have in my life”—‘New York Times,’ 11 August, page 116> [[letter to the editor from Saul Richman, NYC]]

<1992 “Wobbled by news media criticism? Seeking to avoid the NOSY-BODY reporters surrounding your locker? Don’t clam up, . . . ”—‘New York Times,’ 16 October, page B11> [[by New York Times tv sports columnist Richard Sandomir]]

<1996 “Is someone looking over your shoulder? Or worse: Is the office NOSY-BODY sneaking peeks at your PC-and the latest files you've used-when you're down the hall getting a caffeine fix?”—‘Windows Magazine,’ 10 October> [[3 guesses as to where senior editor John Worman was originally from]]

<2003 "She thinks I'm a NOSY BODY."—‘U.S. News & World Report,’ 18 August> [[These were the words of Betsy Streisand, West Coast bureau chief of 'U.S. News and World Report' and I’ll give you one guess as to the city she was raised in.]]

Ken G – May 11, 2005

nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Shelley » Fri May 13, 2005 6:27 pm

Out of curiosity, I searched WW for "nosy parker" and, while I didn't get the origin of the phrase, I got a wonderful archive on "Tonstant Weader" (aka Dorothy Parker).
Nosy-body sounds weird to me – like someone is putting busybody and nosy together. Sounds like one of the many words and phrases that are uniquely New York. I think because it’s a home for so many immigrant languages, New York gets a lot of new mixes from people adopting “Americanisms” from an English as a second language understanding. As a friend once said, “Sometimes, people who don’t know the right way . . . can create a much better way to say something”. (Or words to that effect.) Thus, you get nosy-body.
Trouble is, some New Yorkers get bent out of shape when the rest of America doesn’t recognize New York-ese or use it. One can get teased mercilessly for calling that bubbly, sugary stuff in a can “pop” instead of “soda”. Try ordering a “regular” cup of coffee, and see what you get. Somewhere along the line, what might be an immigrant adaptation becomes viewed as the original (and only) form by New Yorkers and that annoys people from other parts. Since they are descended from immigrants, too, you’d think they’d have more tolerance for those oh-so-tolerant New Yorkers (“so who’s askin’?”). I’ve been here for awhile, so I’ve almost learned to live with it. Can’t we all just get along?

nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Shelley » Fri May 13, 2005 8:25 pm

This is really unscholarly of me. I went to your link re: "sliding pond". Hmmm. How in the world would someone attach the word pond to a slide? Unless it was a slide ending in a pool? Then I remembered Grandma's word for the blanket you take to the beach or on a picnic: a sit-upon. (She would have picked up a lot of her vocabulary very early in the 20th century.) When my son was little, the box with wheels and handlebars on the front was a "ride-upon" (in honor of Grandma, probably). Could sliding pond have evolved from "slide-upon"? Just askin'.

nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat May 14, 2005 3:13 am

Shelley, Among NYC’s many claims to fame is its ability to murder the English language. Erik Kowal’s very good discussion under the posting sliding pond suggests that it might come from the mispronunciation of the Dutch ‘bann’ (track). I just checked a few sources and The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms agrees that is a possibility (however with 'bann' spelled 'baan'):

SLIDING POND: A ‘sliding pond’ (possibly from the Dutch ‘baan,’ track) is a metal slide in a New York playground, the term used nowhere else. [[let me add that they should have said New York City and environs, which would include areas of northern New Jersey, Long Island, etc. There are people in ‘upstate’ New York who are just as ignorant of the phrase ‘sliding pond’ as anyone in west Texas.]]

The ability of New York City (and environs) folks to mangle even fairly modern English, to say nothing of the old Dutch, brings to mind the beloved New York City SPALDEEN. The ‘spaldeen’ was a hollow pink rubber ball (about the size of, or slightly smaller than, a tennis ball), which I believe, was peculiar to NYC – I say this, because when I moved to Rochester, which is in western New York State, for a time in the early 1960s and tried to buy one, no one had ever heard of it, and I have never heard of this ball being used anywhere else (although it may have been). But why this popular NYC ball would have been marketed only in NYC, if that was in fact the case, is beyond me.

And now for the punch line: SPALDEEN was the New York City mispronunciation of the pink ball made by the Spalding sporting goods company starting sometime in the 1940s or 50s. And if we couldn’t even get the pronunciation correct for a modern product named for a well-known sporting goods comapny whose name appeared in print right on the ball, then I ask you, how could we be expected not to pronounce the Dutch ‘baan’ of the ‘sliding baan’ as POND?? {<:)

The SPALDEEN was ubiquitous in the NYC of my youth. It was used in more street games than I can probably remember, but I will attempt to name a few:

STICKBALL: baseball played with a broomstick handle

SEWERBALL: stickball played on a city street using the sewer manhole cover in the street as home plate. The game would be suspended every time a car went by, but in the 1940s and 50s that wasn’t all that often on the side streets of my neighborhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

STOOPBALL: The spaldeen is thrown into the inside corner of the steps of a stoop (the outdoor entryway to an apartment house which included the steps and platform entrance) and rebounds up in the air to be caught on a/the fly by several players positioned from a little behind the stoop, into the street, and onto the sidewalk across the street. Whoever caught the ball got the privilege of advancing to the stoop (game temporarily suspended whenever a car went by).

PUNCHBALL: Was baseball played without a pitcher with the hitter just tossing the spaldeen in the air and punching it with a clenched fist. This was the standard game often played during recess in elementary school.

HANDBALL: Played against a building wall or on single-wall courts erected in anything worthy of the name ‘playground’ in NYC. Old men (anyone over 18) sometimes played with the real black handball and gloves used in traditional four-walled indoor courts, but us kids never did and your hand would be swollen pretty good after playing for awhile.

CHINESE HANDBALL (also sometimes referred to as ‘ace-king-queen’): Played against a wall with each player assigned to a box defined by the cracks that separated the squares on the sidewalk. But instead of the ball having to hit the wall first as in regular handball, it had to hit the ground first and then the wall (this reversal was probably the source of what is most likely a derogatory sense of the adjective Chinese). The ‘ace’ position was the left-most box and there could also be a jack, tens, etc. positions depending on the number of players and the length of the wall. When you missed the ball you lost your box and moved to the far right and those to the right of you advanced one position to the left.

Other street games that come to mind, but not played with a ‘spaldeen,’ that were extremely popular in the NYC of my youth were:

CHESTNUTS: Chestnut trees actually grew in Brooklyn when I was a kid. A chestnut with a hole in it was suspended on a string by one player. The second player swung their chestnut on a string in an effort to collide with and break the other player’s suspended chestnut. The players alternated off between suspending and swinging until one chestnut was broken. The winner then could add one kill plus the number of kills the loser had to the title of their chestnut. Thus, if the loser was a 5-killer and the winner had been a 2-killer, the winner could dub his chestnut an 8-killer (this was done on the honor system because from day to day, no one really knew how many chestnuts other players had killed). I subsequently learned that this game originated in England and was there called CONKERS (listed in the OED) and had originally been played with snail shells but was later played there with horse chestnuts and yes, ‘horse chestnut trees grew in Brooklyn’– Hmm. That would make a nice title of a book.

MARBLES was very popular and was played by drawing a circle in the soil, etc. – and yes, there was actually bare soil in Brooklyn at one time.

RINGOLEAVIO was a team game somewhat akin to tag, which sometimes lasted for hours with kids chasing each other through backyards, over fences, into the basements of apartment houses, etc.

SKULLY was played with soda bottle caps (and, of course, we didn’t call soda, ‘pop’) on a chalk playing board drawn on the concrete sidewalk or in the street – you’d basically be trying to knock other folk’s bottle caps off the board. Incidentally, bottle caps were also attached as decorations to hats we made out of discarded fedoras whose brims had been cut off and the turned up edge cut in a sawtooth, jack-o-lantern teeth look – a beany surrounded by a serrated rim – and we loved them.

JUMPROPE was an art form which could get complicated with multiple ropes and fancy skipping and was something beautiful to behold (and also to listen to with their accompanying songs) – but strictly for girls. JACKS and, as I recall, HOPSCOTCH were also mostly played by girls.

Well, I’ve strayed quite a ways from ‘nosy body’ and ‘sliding pond' – but one thing just seemed to lead to another as I took the proverbial stroll down memory lane.

Ken G – May 13, 2005

nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat May 14, 2005 9:45 am

I've just re-read that 'sliding pond' discussion you cited, Ken, and now have one or two additional comments to make.

The first is that the transmutation in the New York area of the Dutch 'bann'/'baan' into 'pond' may well have been helped along by the fact that a metal slide is smooth and shiny, just like a pond in a flat calm (if we disregard the predictable effect on pondwater of giving it a 30-degree slope!).

The second is that the literal meaning of the Dutch 'glijbaan' ('sliding track') has an exact equivalent in the Danish word for a playground slide, 'glidebane' (approximately pronounced GLEE-thuh-BAEH-nuh), where 'glide' means 'to slide', and 'bane' means 'track' (in numerous senses). The Danish word has some relevance here because its form lies somewhere between 'glijbaan' and 'sliding pond'; this shows that a degree of parallelism of linguistic evolution can exist even when related languages have evolved to become distinctly separate from each other and from their common ancestors. (To be exact, in this case Dutch and English belong to the West Germanic branch of the family of Germanic languages, and Danish belongs to the North Germanic.)

It would indeed be noteworthy if it turned out that the transformation of 'baan' into 'pond' had also occurred in other contexts where the Standard English usage would make reference to a track or course. For instance, would New Yorkers ever refer to a 'golf pond' rather than a 'golf course' (Dutch = golfbaan, Danish = golfbane)? (Of course I'm not referring to the water obstacle that golf courses frequently contain.)
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Re: nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Sasha2you » Thu Sep 03, 2015 5:43 pm

Hello Ken,
While I can see you posted your research on this particular favorite descriptive adjective of mine -nosy body /nosy-body in the year 2005... I somehow am hoping that you will see my reply of thanks. I too am from NYC and was looking up the term to describe a common "friend" via text today. Now I understand why people from Chicago never understand me. As it is 10 years since your original post and the world has gotten much smaller I do belive that perhaps, now more than ever, the term is much more well known. But I sure do appreciate it whenever another New Yorker has my back.
Haha and thank you,
(PS) I especially enjoyed reading the clip you found in The Times. Fascinating!

Re: nosy body / nosy-body

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Sep 04, 2015 9:44 am

Welcome, (I take it that we are to call you) Sasha.

I can safely say that nosy-body has still not learned to swim, and is safely stuck on your side of the Atlantic.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: nosy body / nosy-body

Post by trolley » Fri Sep 04, 2015 7:37 pm

I don't think it's learned to walk or ride the bus yet, either. It hasn't made it to the west coast. We have plenty of busy bodies and nosy Parkers, but nary a busy Parker or a nosy body.

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