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Did they say "hand job" in the 1800s? I was watching an episode of Deadwood, and they just said it.

For example, from episode 6 "Plague":

(Al enters the back room, Dolly is scrunched up on the bed, her head resting on her knees, she’s crying)

Al: You better have a payin’ dwarf underneath you.
Dolly: Am I dying?
Al: Turn off the fuckin’ water, and tell me what you did. I know you didn’t fuck him.
Dolly: No…
Al: You suck his prick?
Dolly: He didn’t want to show it to me ‘til he had a hard on.
Al: That’s what you call a mistake of youth. You mug it up with him?
Dolly: A little.
Al: French lock or normal?
Dolly: Normal.
Al: So any hoople head who drank from the same glass this guy did, have as much right to sit there weepin’ as you, except I can’t kick his ass and send him out to work.
Dolly: My mom died of it when we was coming out. And that’s when daddy gave us up.
Al: Well, that sad story makes me believe maybe you was exposed and ain’t a candidate for it no more. (Dolly stops crying – sorta – and looks at Al) Stick to hand jobs a day or two if you like.

  • 5
    Well, in 1833 there once was a man called Job... but see what a strict hand Job kept upon his passions – Mari-Lou A May 19 '15 at 18:35
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    Never ever ever use an apostrophe, unless for possession. "1800s" is just a plural, like "cats" or "dogs". – Fattie May 20 '15 at 7:35
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    @JoeBlow There are plenty of references stating that apostrophes are acceptable in pluralizing numbers: see this question, for example. And every style guide I'm aware of recommends using apostrophes to pluralize single lowercase letters (e.g., "There are four s's in Mississippi.") – David Richerby May 20 '15 at 9:07
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    @JoeBlow as to the why, see this answer. Apostrophes for pluralising numbers is long-standing. I agree that the modern form that avoids it is to be preferred today, but the idea that there is anything novel in doing so is incorrect. Certainly in the 1800s it would have been common to say that they were in the 1800's. – Jon Hanna May 20 '15 at 11:12
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    As could be expected, a question about "hand jobs" raised a ruckus - about apostrophes. – amdn May 21 '15 at 9:59
16

The show you're talking about, Deadwood, was pretty famous for its language anachronisms, especially when it came to swearing. (A coincidence that one of its main characters is named Swearingen?)

From "Talk Pretty" on Slate:

In interviews, [David Milch, the creator and show runner of Deadwood,] has insisted that the show, particularly the flamboyantly vulgar dialogue, is based on rigorous historical research. Milch might be right that the quantity of swearing is historically accurate , but his show's language is dotted with obvious neologisms (one character uses the term "triangulate"; a drug addict refers to some opium as "good shit"). Some dimly literal-minded critics have used Milch's assertions against him, tallying up discrete anachronisms and mistaking these for aesthetic shortcomings. This is predictable but unfortunate, as it is precisely the dense mix of accuracy and artifice that makes Deadwood such a gorgeous creation.

New York Magazine concurs:

Did 1870s Americans really use such colloquially foul language with the Tourettic frequency of a Hollywood producer?

Jesse Sheidlower, the American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary and the scholar of cussing who wrote The F-Word, says probably not. Not that frontiersmen were genteel. “There were cursing contests when cowboys would get together and insult each other,” he says. But “the evidence that we have is that they were using more religious blasphemy than the sexual insults which are popular today.” And on the show.

As with his earlier boundaries-of-taste-pushing series, NYPD Blue, Milch’s dialogue is designed to let viewers know they’ve entered a world with different standards. So fuck or fucking is used 43 times in the first episode of Deadwood. Sheidlower agrees that the F-word was in use back then. But he says most of the nonsexual uses of it—as an intensifier, for example—didn’t come about until around World War I.

All in all, I would say it's fairly unlikely that anyone in 1876 knew what a "hand job" might be, at least not the way we understand that term today.

  • 3
    Good Lord, that misuse of "neologisms" in the first quote is a sad sight. Why did we ever think Slate was good journalism? – dodgethesteamroller May 19 '15 at 21:00
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    Now the question is, what did they call a handjob? They must've had some name for it - it's not a recent invention.. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 20 '15 at 4:30
  • You're not thinking fourth dimensionally, @dodgethesteamroller. In the historical context, those words clearly are neologisms. (Of course the correct term from the modern context is anachronism, but the quote made me giggle.) – Patrick M May 20 '15 at 6:33
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    Anyway, "Stick to frigging for a day or two if you like" or "Stick to pulling pudding for a day or two if you like" would have worked much better. – Jon Hanna May 20 '15 at 11:24
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    The producer went into this in an NPR interview. There was a lot of cursing in the series using modern swear words (mostly sexual in nature). If they had stayed true to the period, they would have been using blasphemous swear words instead. However, that would not have produced the impact on the modern audience that they would have at the time. So effectively the swearing was translated into modern English. – T.E.D. May 20 '15 at 13:26
16

In the 1800s a hand job seems to have referred to a specific printing/bookbinding process done by hand.

From Annual Report of the State Board of Arbitration of Illinois, Volumes 1-5:

Q. What do you say as to competition in this particular line, hand job work, book and job work, what effect, if there is any, would such towns as Decatur, Jacksonville. Taylorville, Lincoln, Virginia and other county cities or surrounding cities, ...

Q. Do you include in that the fact that the hand job compositor works an hour a day longer than the other?
A. Yes. that is taken into consideration; the machine men work eight hours and the hand men nine hours...

Q. What are your duties there as foreman with reference to knowing and being required to know the prices and cost of work in the hand job book department?

Emphasis mine

From Shniedewend & Lee Co's specimen book and price list of type:

1 Hand Job Backer, 18 1/2 inches $65.00

Or other work that was in the process of being industrialized but was still done by hand:

From Textile World, Volume 10:

Cotton Ring Spinner. Understands spooling, warping and twisting. Has worked on yarns from 4s to 70s Age80 years. Will take good second hand job. Salary from $2.00 to 3.00 per day.

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    Nice, but it's not what the term was used to mean in the series. – Robusto May 19 '15 at 22:33
  • Yes, @Robusto, my point exactly. The question was poorly framed. You have my up vote :-) – ScotM May 20 '15 at 0:58
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    You can still hear this use of "hand job" to mean "manual operation". At a factory in which I worked, admit I giggled a little when women there would refer to such-and-such machine being broken and so to get something done, they had to "hand job it." – Mike Supports Monica May 20 '15 at 2:08
  • @Robusto hence I asked the OP to add the full quote and its context. I knew somebody would find a different meaning for "hand job", I even tried looking myself but failed hopelessly. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '15 at 6:11
  • How silly. Of course in English, words, or phrases, can have a number of meanings. It's incredibly obvious that the OP is asking about the sense "manual sexual activity". With 100.000000% of questions on this site, one could tediously ask, "oh, WHICH meaning of xyz did you mean?" how silly. – Fattie May 20 '15 at 14:35
10

J.E. Lighter, The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1997) reports that "hand job" in its sexual sense goes back to 1937:

hand job n 1. an act of masturbation, usu. by one person on another who is a male.—usu. considered vulgar.

[First citation:] 1937 [Pietro] Di Donato Christ in Concrete 107: Then ... go into the cellar and do the hand-job!!!

2. an act of insincere assuaging or assuring; flattery; blandishment. [First cited references is from 1972.]

The first Google Books match for the term as used in definition 1 above is from Theodore Rubin, In the Life (1961), a nonfiction book on prostitution, which includes the following glossary entry:

hand job: stimulation of the genitals using the hand.

However, "hand job" in this sense appears not to have been a widely understood term outside the demimonde of prostitution until the late 1960s, as evidenced by continued (and fairly frequent) innocent use throughout the 1960s of "hand job" to mean a non-mechanized task. For example, from American Egg and Poultry Review, volume 23 (1961) [combined snippets]:

...the boning process, being a hand job, could not increase poundage except by a slow costly increase in man power which required also increases in floor space, tables, pans and other equipment. The Harris machine, by using the same labor, can increase the volume per man hour of meat boned by 50%. It streamlines and compresses the whole boning operation in a space half the area used by the previous hand boning method.

From U.S. Government Printing Office, "Theory and Practice of Bookbinding," issue 1 (1963) [combined snippets]:

Frequently it is necessary to preserve a group of plates or sheets that do not lend themselves readily to binding and boxes are made for this purpose. Slip cases to be used for the protection of fine binding and books of great value are also made. Map mounting is another miscellaneous hand job performed by the bookbinder.

From Railway Track and Structures: RT & S, volume 64 (1968) [combined snippets]:

The other alternative is to resort to a hand job, removing as much old ballast at ends of ties as possible to leave a crown in middle of track. Blocking should then be inserted at the ends of the ties for support while the remainder of old ballast is removed and moved out by push cars to dump at the ends of the bridge.

And from William Craig & James Collins, New Vistas for Competitive Employment of Deaf Persons (1970) [combined snippets]:

“Variable Machines”. The make of machine, tool, or equipment by which a task is performed may be significant. For example, printing machine - a small hand job press versus a large automatic press.

The breakthrough in U.S. public consciousness of the sexual connotation of the term may have been Philip Roth's use of it (multiple times) in Portnoy's Complaint (1969). It seems highly unlikely that the term was in use in Deadwood, South Dakota, in the era of Wild Bill Hickok (who died in 1876).

  • So what would have been the 19c equivalent? Is there a more time-appropriate (non-anachronistic?) expression? – Mari-Lou A May 20 '15 at 6:05
  • This would have been a great answer if the OP was asking why the term "hand job" would or could not have been used in the 19th century. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '15 at 6:07
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    @Mari-LouA: My answer tries to provide circumstantial evidence in support of the short response ("no") that I think is correct in answer to the question that the OP asks (twice): "Did they say 'hand job' in the 1800's?" If the OP had asked about alternative expressions that were in use in the 19th century, I would have pointed to Farmer & Henley, Slang & Its Analogues (1893), which lists a number of more-or-less relevant slang terms—including "to bring up [or off] by hand"—under the general entry for frig (from the Latin fricare, to rub, according to F&H). – Sven Yargs May 20 '15 at 7:28
  • ...Here's the relevant page from Farmer & Henley's seven-volume dictionary of slang that discusses past and then-current slang synonyms for frig. Perhaps the most unexpected of these is "jerk off," which remains current more than a century later. – Sven Yargs May 20 '15 at 7:50
  • I "repeated" the term in the title when I edited the post. I also asked the OP to provide a little context and a quote, which someone else has done.... which now makes ScotM's answer completely wrong. Not a fair edit IMO I would say. And there are two answers which say "No", one of which includes a link to Etymonline Dictionary. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '15 at 10:59
4

"Hand job" appears to date only to the 1940s, so it would not likely have been in use in the 1800s.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hand+job

  • ...and one would suspect, not in polite society. "Dutch Rudder" would have made it to the colonies along with "Dutch Courage", Possibly not considered PC. – mckenzm May 20 '15 at 4:09
  • The second reference is identical to the first, it's lifted from the same Etymology dictionary. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '15 at 6:14
1

The earliest example for hand job in the OED is from 1939.

It's unlikely they used it in the 1870s when Deadwood was set, but still possible as slang was usually spoken and not always written down and published.

However, modern swearing was deliberately used in Deadwood, as contemporary swearing would sound silly to modern audiences.

According to TV critic Charlie Brooker in his glowing review on his BBC programme Screenwipe (clip, ~9m50s):

Actually the constant bad language is a deliberate stylistic choice. People in the wild west didn't really speak like that, they used cusswords like nincompoop or tarnation, which would have been shocking at the time but strike us today as impossibly tame.

But the creators decided to make the townsfolk contemporarily foul-mouthed to maintain that anarchic, underclassy feel in the present day. And it works. The people of Deadwood talk f---ing tough.

Wikipedia agrees:

From its debut, Deadwood has drawn attention for its extensive profanity. It is a deliberate anachronism on the part of the creator with a twofold intent. Milch has explained in several interviews that the characters were originally intended to use period slang and swear words. Such words, however, were based heavily on the era's deep religious roots and tended to be more blasphemous than scatological. Instead of being shockingly crude (in keeping with the tone of a frontier mining camp), the results sounded downright comical. As one commentator put it "… if you put words like 'goldarn' into the mouths of the characters on 'Deadwood', they'd all wind up sounding like Yosemite Sam."

Instead, it was decided that the show would use current profanity in order for the words to have the same impact on modern audiences as the blasphemous ones did back in the 1870s. In fact, in early episodes, the character of Mr. Wu seems to know only three words of English — the mangled name of one character ("Swedgin"), "San Francisco", and his favorite derogatory term for those whom he dislikes, "cocksucka". Wu is fond of the Cantonese derogatory term "gweilo" which he applies to the camp's white males.

The other intent in regards to the frequency of the swearing was to signal to the audience the lawlessness of the camp in much the same way that the original inhabitants used it to show that they were living outside the bounds of "civil society".

The issue of the authenticity of Deadwood's dialogue has even been alluded to in the show itself. Early in the second season, E.B. Farnum has fleeced Mr. Wolcott of $9,900, and Farnum tries to console the geologist:

EB: Some ancient Italian maxim fits our situation, whose particulars escape me.

Wolcott: Is the gist that I'm shit outta luck?

EB: Did they speak that way then?

The word "fuck" was said 43 times in the first hour of the show. It has been reported that the series had a total count of 2,980 "fucks" and an average of 1.56 utterances of "fuck" per minute of footage.

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