Wednesday, January 28, 2009


A Fig for Chink

While reading Songs and Other Poems (1668) by Alexander Brome (1620-1666), I happened on a phrase that sums up my feelings about current economic problems — "a fig for chink" (Song V: The Trooper, line 22).

OED, s.v. fig, n.2:
A contemptuous gesture which consisted in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers or into the mouth. Also, fig of Spain, and to give (a person) the fig.
OED, s.v. chink, n.3, definition 4:
A humorous colloquial term for money in the form of coin; ready cash.

Exceedingly common in the dramatists and in songs of the 17th c.; now rather slangy or vulgar.
Brome used the phrase "a fig for chink" in a drinking song. Most of his songs fall into the category of convivial, drinking songs. Although I'm neither very convivial nor much of a drinker, I'm enjoying Brome's variations on the inexhaustible "eat, drink, and be merry" theme. Here is one of them (Song XXXI: The Cheerful Heart, pp. 95-96):
What though these ill times do go cross to our will?
  And fortune still frowns upon us?
Our hearts are our own, and they shall be so still;
  A pin for the plagues they lay on us.
    Let us take t'other cup,
    To keep our hearts up,
  And let it be purest Canary;
    We'l ne're shrink or care,
    For the crosses we bear,
Let 'um plague us until they be weary.

What though we are made, both beggars and slaves,
  Let us stoutly endure it and drink on:
'Tis our comfort we suffer, 'cause we will not be knaves
  Our redemption will come e're we think on't.
    We must flatter and fear
    Those that over us are,
  And make 'um believe that we love 'um,
    When their tyranny's past,
    We will serve them at last,
As they serv'd those that have been above 'um.

The Levites do preach, for the Goose and the Pig,
  To drink wine but at Christmas and Easter;
The Doctour doth labour our lives to new-trig,
  And makes nature to fast, but we feast her;
    The Lawyer doth bawl,
    Out his lungs and his gall,
  For the Plantiff and for the Defendant;
    At books the Scholar lies,
    Till by Flatus he dies,
With the ugly hard word at the end on't.

But here's to the man that delights in Sol fa,
  'Tis Sack is his only Rosin,
A load of heigh-ho's are not worth a ha, ha;
  He's the man for my money that draws in.
    Come a pin for this Muck,
    And a fig of ill Luck;
  'Tis better be blyth and frolick,
    Then to sigh out our breath,
    And invite our own death
By the Gout or the stone, and the cholick.
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