Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blue Laws: Etymology Edition

Liquid Jesus Beer
(image CFC original)

Back in the day here in Ohio, you couldn't buy alcohol before 1pm on a Sunday (certain stores: NO ALCOHOL ON JESUS DAY). Now it's settled down a bit, but there are still these "blue laws" on the books to keep us from buying (state-controlled) liquor on a Sunday or Federal holiday.

Anything under the flag of "Blue Laws" tend to refer to control of alcohol or relate to antiquated "still on the books" stuff like banning sodomy. Some (more British) phrases speak of porn as "blue movies." So, clearly, any laws that are "blue" have something to do with sin and punishment.

But Why "Blue"?

If you read your terrible internets or emails from Uncle Joe, you may believe that they were called "blue laws" because "back then" they were printed on blue paper. And if you take that in without question, I've a cousin in Nigeria who wants to send you $5,000,000.

I did a minimal amount of searching and found this article on Snopes.

The listing talks about the Puritan colony of Connecticut and that "the Reverend Samuel Peters' 1781 book, General History of Connecticut, described onerous colonial laws in the following manner:
Blue Laws; i.e. bloody Laws; for they were all sanctified with whipping, cutting off the ears, burning the tongue, and death.

Okay, Still, Why Blue?

In the sordid etymology of "bloody," there are many considerations put forth about how people changed "hell" to "heck" and "Christ" to "Crikey" and "God" to "Gosh" in the avoidance of swearing or taking the Lord's name in vain.

Now this is entirely English-degree speculation, but I propose the Puritans did the same to the second degree: While "bloody" laws was a fine descriptor, as noted above, with a British origin, "bloody" also has many secondary, swear-y, uses, even if it is a first-tier morphology to avoid directly referring to the Virgin Mary or the Blood of Christ. So they switched it up to "blue."

Wouldn't want to be punished for a "bloody law" because you said "bloody law," right?

That's the linguistics and my own extension, but what do you think?


Sarah said...

Makes sense to me!

Amber Star said...

Having grown up in the Bible Belt South, I know a good deal about blue laws. Years ago, but still it was after 1978 you could not buy anything on Sunday except a meal. The mall was only open so the cafeteria could sell you a tatsty Sunday dinner. YAY no cooking, even. On Christmas ALL stores were closed including service (gas) stations. You could not only not buy alcohol or cigarettes, you couldn't buy whipping cream for the feastday dessert. The laws were very harsh in regard to Christian holidays.

This very topic came up during one of my knitting group get togethers the other night and one lady remembered at one time the grocery store was allowed to be open, but you could only buy food and only food located on the perimeter of the store. That would include dairy and bread and I think cheese. She needed sewing thread and was sore vexed that she was not allowed to purchase it on Sunday.

We knew we had to buy all the "fixins" we would need for Sunday dinner by Saturday evening or go out. It kept us honest and we really had time to spend with our extended family. My in-laws came to dinner or we went there every weekend most of the time. My family was small and not all that into cooking or hanging with the kids.

The term "blue laws" comes not from the esteemed Snopes thinking or from your labrythine reasoning, but simply because the Puritans were called blue nosed because of their ways (and for goodness sake it has nothing to do with pit bulls! What's that about?).

I've wondered if changing God's name to Gah or Gosh doesn't piss Him off even more. Reckon?

I'm not feeling or trying to act superior, it is just that I've lived a longer life than you. Hope this has been of help to clarify the subject. It is only the Texas blue laws I sort of know, and do not try to speak for any other part of the Bible Belt or for where the Puritans lived. :D

Debra She Who Seeks said...

First of all -- fascinating! Another such usage of "blue" is to "turn the air blue" by swearing like a sailor.

Second of all -- I think all people who lived in Eastern maritime regions were called blue noses because of that region's miserable weather and cold Atlantic spray. At least that's the case here in Canada. Our most famous sailing ship was called "The Bluenose."

Third of all -- that illustration is priceless, LOL!

Ricky Shambles said...

Sarah- Thanks!
Amber- Great points. My real goal was trying to get to the bottom of why the word "blue" was there at all. And a little digging on "Bluenose" reveals that term originated in Nova Scotia. Weird.
Debra- ...or maybe not so weird after all; gets cold in them parts. Thanks!

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