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MR. URBAN, YOUR correspondents have now and then entertained us with the explanation of an obscure phrase or proverb, and their attempts were generally well received. Some of your readers would be pleased with them, whilst others would be disposed to laugh, which come to the same thing, namely, the amusement of both parties, and consequently answered one purpose of your Magazine, which was to intermix the dulce with the utile. I propose then to endeavour here the explication of one of our common phrases, of which every one knows the meaning, and but few, as I take it, the original. It is a common saying with us, that a person is a dab at such or such a thing, at music, for example, bowling, &c. and sometimes people will say, he is a dab, without naming in what, leaving you to supply that from the subject you happen to be talking upon. Now all know that the sense and meaning of these expressions is, that the party is one that is very expert in the science, or at the exercise in question. However, these expressions are mere vulgarisms, are seldom met with in authors, and only find a place in our canting dictionaries: but, nevertheless, the word dab may possibly have a rational cause or origin, though to many it inay be hard to investigate. This tien is what I shall try to do,
Now as the word dab does not seem to be an old English one, that is, neither deducible from the British or the Saxon, it is probably a corruption of some better and more legitimate term, and, as I think, of the word adept. An adept is a term peculiar to the Hermetic philosophy, being allotted to the consummate proficients in alchymy, of whom the principal were Ripley, Lully, Paracelsus, Helmont, &c. *And Mr. Chambers tells us, "That it is a sort of tradition among the alchymists, that there are always twelve Adepti; and that their places are immediately supplied by others, whenever it pleases any of the fraternity to die, or transmigrate into some other place, where he may make use of his gold; for that in this wicked world it will scarce purchase them a shirt.” From thence the word came to be applied, metaphorically to other matters, and consequently to signify a person far advanced, or perfect in any thing; and therefore it obtains exactly the same sense as a dab does; wherefore I take this latter to be a vulgar corruption of the word adept,
which is no other than the Latin adeptus. Just as that other expression, which we have in the north, a cute man, is an abbreviation of acute, or the Latin acutus, and signifies a person that is sharp, clever, neat, or to use
more modern term, jemmy; according to the subject you happen to be speaking of. Spice again is' a word which we use in the sense of a jot, bit, small portion, or least mixture; as when we say, there is no spice of evil in perfect goodness, in which case it is the latter part of the French word espece, which was anciently adopted into our language in this very sense, as appears from these words of Caxton: “ God's bounte is all pure . . . wythout ony espece of evyll."--Caxton's Mirrour of the World, Cap. I. Espece is formed, after the manner of the French, from the Latin species.
I am, Sir, yours, &c. 1767, Sept.
XLI. Derivation of the phrase-to Run a Muck,
MR. URBAN, WE have an expression of doubtful and very obscure original, it is the phrase to run a muck; Mr. Johnson interprets it; to run madly and attack all that we meet, and he cites the authority of Mr. Dryden. The question is, whence the expression was borrowed, and what could give occasion to it? I remember a gentleman, who loved an etymology, observed, that it probably came from running to Mecca in one of those expensive and tedious pilgrimages which the fola lowers of Mohammed think themselves obliged once in their lives to undertake, as prescribed in the Koran. And in confirmation of this, he remarked, that to suunter, which is now a common English word, came at first from Saincte Terre; the Croisees running in an idle manner, and to the neglect of their affairs, under pretence of being engaged ia expeditions to the Holy Land. The etymology of suunter is undoubtedly probable, and may be the truth; but if Mr. Johnson has given us the real sense of running a muck, in his interpretation of the phrase, as I suppose he has, the chargeable and expensive pilgrimages to Mecca, do not seem to come up to it; these imply only idleness and extravagance, which are not the ideas conveyed by running á muck, since this rather means, running a riot, and assaulting people's persons with madness and fury, so as to endanger or take away their lives. I am therefore of opinion that this exa pression came to us from the island of Java in the East Indies; Tavernier says, certain Java Lords, on a particular occasion, called the English traitors, and drawing their poisoned daggers, cried a mocca upon the English, killing a great number of them before they had time to put themselves into a posture of defence." Tavernier's Voyages II. p. 202. Again he tells us, that a Bantamois newly come from Mecca, “ was upon the design of moqua; that is, in their language, when the rascality of the Mahometans return from Mecca, they presently take their ax in their hands, which is a kind of Poniard, the blade whereof is half poisoned, with which they run through the streets, and kill all those which are not of the Mahometan law, till they be killed themselves.” Ibidem p. 199. This seems to be an exact description of what we call running a muck, according to Mr. Johnson's sense of it; and if the English did not bring the expression from the island of Java, the Hollanders might, and so it might come to us through their hands. Whereupon it may be pertinent to observe that the term Mohawk came in like manner from North America to England; by which we mean both those ruffians who infested the streets of London in the same cruel manner which the Mohawks, one of the six nations of Indians, might be supposed to do, as likewise the instrument by them employed in their assaults.
P. S. As we know not the original of the word Mocca or Moqua in the Javanese language, it is possible it may come from Mecca, since, as you may observe, this town is mentioned along with it in the latter quotation above. But still it will not allude to the pilgrimage to that place, merely as a pilgrimage, for this implies nothing of massacres and assassinations, but to the furious enthusiasm of certain zealots after their return from thence. The word assassin, that I may just mention it, is taken from the name of a people in Asia, just as Mohawk is in North America, so that there is nothing wonderful in words coming from even the remotest countries; but of the word assassin I may perhaps write you a line on a future occasion.
Mr. 'URBAN, ONE of your ingenious correspondents, who signs T. Row, some time ago, attempted to give us an account of the origin of the word a muck, the phrase running a muck, but I have some reason to think he has not quite reached the mark, though he comes near it. The word is Indian, as he sup. poses and is used particularly by the Mallays, on the same occasion on which we use it, though the particular meaning of it I do not known. The inhabitants of the islands to the eastward of Bengal, such as Sumatra, Borneo, Baneo, and the coast of Mallay, are very famous for cock-fighting, in which they carry gaming to a much greater excess than the customs of Europe can adinit; they stake first their property, and when by repeated losses all their money and effects are gone, they stake their wives and children. If fortune still frowns, so that nothing is left, the losing gamester begins to chew, or eat what is called bang, which I imagine to be the same as opium; when it begins to operate he disfigures bimself, and furnishes himself with such weapons as he can get, the more deadly the fitter for his purpose, and the effect of the opium increasing, as he intends it should, he at length becomes mad : this madness is of the furious kind, and when it seizes him, he rushes forth, and kills whatever comes in his way, whether man or beast, friend or foe, and commits every outrage which may be expected from a person in such circumstances. This is what the Indians call a muck, or perhaps as Mr. Row says, a mecca, and when it happens, the neighbours rise, and combining together, hunt down, and kill the wretched desperado, as they would any other furious or destructive animal. Perhaps these particulars may excite some of your correspondents who are skilled in the languages of this part of the east, to give you still farther information on the subject.
I am, Sir, yours, &c. Bengal, March 17, 1770.
A. B. The authority quoted from Dryden 'by Johnson, very much favours this account of our Oriental correspondent, and probably gave T. Row the first hint of the word a muck being of Indian derivation, and it is therefore a pity that he did not cite it.
Frontless, and satire-proof he scours the streets,
Thus Johnson has printed it, but it may be questioned whether Indian is intended as an adjective to muck, or whether the words an Indian, are parenthetical : in either case it is printed wrong: if Indian is an adjective to muck, it should not have been printed with all capital letters, if not, the word an as well as the word Indian, should have been in the Roman character, and there should have been a comma both at runs, and Indian, thus
And runs, an Indian, muck at all he meets. but in either case it shews that Dryden knew from what country
the word was derived. By our present correspondent's account, it seems probable that a muck means to do mischief franticly. From the passage in Taverner, quoted by T. Row, it seems to mean simply to kill by a sudden
We shall be much obliged to any of our distant or learned correspondents who will acquaint us with the literal meaning of the word.
1768, June. 1770, Deco
XLII. Origin of the word Assassin. MR. URBAN, THE word assassin, whence comes to assassinate, assassination, &c. is both French and English ; and it is supposed we borrowed it from the French. But that might not be the case, since both nations might have it from a common original, as nobody pretends to assert, it is a pure French, or even a Gaulish word. Thus Mons. Menage, acknowledges, that it came to the French from the East, ce mot nous est venu du Levant avec la chose. This author says, Le Vieil de la Montagne, the Old Man of the Mountain, prince of the Arsacides, or Assassins and Bedins, fortifying himself in a castle of difficult access, in the time of our expeditions to the Holy Land, collected together a number of people, who engaged to kill whomsoever he pleased. Hence, he adds, both the Italians and the French call these people assassins that committed murders in cold blood. It seems they were also called clrsucides. Menage cites his authorities, but passing them by, I shall content myself with giving you the words of one or two of our English authors. Dr. Fuller says, (Hist. of the Holy War, p. 38.) “ These assassins were