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I found this expression ("Plague it!") in a correspondence between two people. One of them starts her reply to the other one with this. The other person had expressed his despair to her.

I've found "Plague on it!" in SOED. Does this have the same meaning?

PS : The correspondence is between Bertrand Russell and Alys Pearsall Smith (his 1st wife) in December 1893.

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  • If you found this in a current correspondence, I think we can take it for granted it was a "facetious" usage, since no-one today uses Plague on it! in any natural context. It's hardly worth bothering to establish whether anyone in the past did actually use the expression without the preposition, though I rather doubt it. Most likely your correspondent was attempting to imitate an archaic expression that he simply wasn't very familiar with in its natural environment (Victorian literature or earlier). Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 22:35
  • @FumbleFingers: This correspondence has been recorded in a biography of Bertrand Russell. The date is near to 1900.
    – alex
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 1:01
  • Does that mean it's from the correspondence with Alyssa Whitall Pearsall Smith in late 1893? I see from that link that in subsequent letters she used the Quaker "thee" - if it is that, then in spirit (if not chronologically) it's effectively even older than Victorian. And I'm not sure anyone comfortable using the Quaker style would be "naturally fluent" in such profanity (where a plague on it! would be the "standard" form). Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 13:21
  • You surprised me! That's right. Yes, the form that has been recorded in SOED is " a plague on...". But in OED, in the examples, I could see "plague on him, plague him,..." from perhaps older times or the same period.
    – alex
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:55
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    @FumbleFingers: I added some information.
    – alex
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 19:34

2 Answers 2

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"Bother it," "plague it," "confound it," and all the rest of them are archaic euphemisms for "damn it."

They are used jocosely today.

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  • To the OP: Look up the term 'Minced Oath'.
    – IchabodE
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 0:03
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Plague as a transitive verb means "harass, pester or annoy someone persistently", so the phrase "plague it" falls into a wide, densely populated spectrum of oaths of the form "[do something bad to] it", from "darn it" to "fuck it", indicating exasperation and resignation.

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