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I'll be jiggered

I was providing nourishment to the geriatric canine ... I mean, I was feeding Fidget, the old dog, and the food wouldn't come out of the can. An old expression came out of my mouth: "I'll be jiggered!"

It was something my dad used to say. I thought to myself, "what a curious thing to say, even if I did say it myself."

So, I looked into it. It looks like an old northern English or Scottish expression, although the etymology is uncertain. Perhaps it is related to "jigging" or dancing. Perhaps it once meant being drunk. Perhaps it was a euphemism for "buggered." I understand it as an expression of astonishment or surprise, especially when something does not go as you expect it to go.

I'll copy here the relevant material from the OED:

Used as a vague substitute for a profane oath or imprecation, esp. in asseverations. (Only in passive.)

• 1837 F. Marryat Snarleyyow xxxvi, in Metropolitan Apr. 395 I am jiggered if he don't tell a lie.

• 1861 Dickens Great Expectations I. xvii. 280 ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘I am jiggered if I don't see you home!’ This penalty of being jiggered was a favourite supposititious case of his. He attached no definite meaning to the word that I am aware of.

• 1886 F. H. Burnett Little Ld. Fauntleroy ii. (1892) 23 ‘Well’, said Mr. Hobbs, ‘I'll be—jiggered!’ This was an exclamation he always used when he was very much astonished or excited.


My dad being dead, he'll no longer use the expression. I use it so infrequently, it is doubtful that I'll pass it on to my daughter. The expression is slowly dying away. Very soon it will merely be a relic, run across in old books. But at least for the time being it clings to life, like old Fidget.



May 2019



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