Thursday, April 16, 2009

From the Archives - Writing on the Wall

This week, we're taking a look at the artifacts in our permanent collection.

A visitor once asked about the meaning of the following insult scrawled in pencil on the hallway wall outside the Levine apartment. Whether or not graffiti counts as an artifact, we thought this was too amusing not to mention.

Here's what Curitorial Director Dave had to say:

In 1940, the linguist Thomas Pyles wrote that usage of the word “nuts” had become an acknowledged and widely used “exclamation of disgust or disparagement,” especially when incorporated in the phrase “nuts to you.”

Likely written during the early twentieth century, the expression “nuts to you,” as it appears on the hallway wall outside the recreated Levine apartment, appears to have emerged as a socially-acceptable version of the more taboo but equivalent British phrase “balls to you.” Indeed, Pyle noted that, while using “balls” was considered “distinctly ‘low’ on either side of the Atlantic… the American coed, or even her maiden Aunt, may unblushingly hiss, ‘Nuts to you!’” Cheeky!

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