6

This answer on a prior question points out that ligger is defined by UrbanDictionary as:

Ligger

An individual who attends parties, openings, social gatherings and events with the sole intention of obtaining free food and drink - an arch blagger.

A similar definition can be found in Wiktionary:

ligger ‎(plural liggers)

(slang) A freeloader or hanger-on, especially in the music industry.

  • Peaches Geldof may be a top showbiz ligger – but now she’s got a group of her own. – "Peaches gets own band", The Sun, 29 Aug 2006

  • The ligger caused a scene when he begged one reveller to find him some gear – and offered sexual favours in return. – "Wicked Whispers", The Mirror, 29 Jan 2005

That is, ligger is apparently British slang for a mooch or freeloader, originally or especially in the music scene.

But while this sense is attested in crowdsourced dictionaries (which lends credibility to its status and usage as slang), I can't seem to find it in any dictionary produced by professional lexicographers (which probably means it's relatively new or relatively unpopular slang). Etymonline comes up dry, too.

In fact, the only clue towards etymology is from the same UD definition:

Popularised by the NME in the early nineties and possibly with it's entomological¹ roots in the fishing term for "baited line".

The NME is a popular music rag (h/t @Josh61), and while a baited line seems metaphorically apt, and ligger is indeed recorded in professional dictionaries as meaning "baited line", I'm left a bit skeptical because (a) I don't see a lot of opportunity for cross-pollination between anglers and scene kids, and (b) the ligger is the baited line, but liggers are those who pursue the bait. So there is a whiff of folk etymology here.

What are the origins of this freeloading sense of ligger? How widespread is it? Does it still have currency?

¹ I know what you're thinking, but no, there are no bugs in this question's title. We're talking about liggers, not chiggers.

  • 2
    @matt Hahaha we have an entomology tag? This just keeps getting better! – Dan Bron Jul 16 '16 at 10:15
  • Entomology is the study of insects. Surely, you mean etymology, the study of word origins. – Theresa Apr 28 '17 at 8:08
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    @Theresa If you tread carefully you'll find other pieces of the joke, and even its origins. – Dan Bron Apr 28 '17 at 10:56
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    @Sz. I’m happy to help out and fill any gaps I might be missing, but I don’t know what or who you refer to as Dr Chuck Jun and I can’t find the comments you’re referring to. If you can give me a more direct regency maybe I can look into it and solve any remaining mysteries (no promises: this Q is over a year old and I’ve forgotten a lot). – Dan Bron Oct 15 '18 at 20:22
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    @Sz Looks like a not very difficult case to crack. It appears the question in the original form the good doctor supplied it was a bare suggestion of a word with no included definition or citation. I almost certainly asked him to copy in the definition directly and link back to the source he used. Seems like he did that, and I upvoted because now it was a good answer which was also substantiated and could stand on its own merits. Or, you know, maybe he slipped me a tenner. – Dan Bron Oct 15 '18 at 20:33
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It appears to come from a dialectal variation of the verb to lie: to idle or lie about:

Ligger:

  • ‘Hangers on’ such as ‘music groupies’ for LIGGERS is an example of what it can mean, but it’s not the whole story.

The Oxford English Dictionary provided the following:

  • LIGGER noun [from verb ‘lig,’ + ‘-er’]: One who gatecrashes parties, a ‘free-loader.’

  • LIG verb [from dialect variation of the verb ‘lie’]: To idle or lie about (colloquial); also (slang), to sponge, to ‘freeload’; to gatecrash or attend parties. LIE verb: To be in a prostrate or recumbent position.


Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, however, isn’t so sure of the above derivation and offers some additional possibilities:

  • LIGGER noun (also LIG) [1960s and still in use]: A hanger on, especially, in show business, a ‘freeloader.’

  • Etymology debatable; either acronym of least important guest; or Standard English linger, to hang around; or Banffshire dialect lig, to gossip, to talk too much. Most likely it is dialect lig, to lie around. The term became widespread in the early 1970s, but dates at least to 1960 when Colin MacInnes (1914-76) used it in an essay on poncing (Britishism for pimping) – ‘The Other Man’.

An alternative origin is suggested in Brit Slang, by Ray Puxley, (2003):

  • A theatrical term from the 1960s when a gatecrasher or uninvited guest became a 'ligger'. Someone who likes to be seen in the company of the rich and famous, a hanger-on. Related to 'lig' (qv), which may be an acronym of Least Important Guest.

As for its usage, it appears to be still current: (from the Oxford Learner's Dictionary)

Ligger:

  • person who always takes the opportunity to go to a free party or event that is arranged by a company to advertise its products.

    • a roomful of liggers drinking free champagne
  • Oh, interesting! And a quite credible source. After all the other dictionaries came up dry, I didn't think to bother logging in and checking the OED. Load times there are atrocious. – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 15:21
  • Wish I could give you another +1 for the Cassel cite. Any insight as to whether the word still enjoys currency? Especially in music or show business? Interesting that it's from the 60s or earlier, hadn't expected that. – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 15:31
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    @DanBron - see also the description from the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang: books.google.it/… – user66974 Jun 25 '16 at 15:38
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To supplement Josh61's answer, here (in chronological order) are four discussions not mentioned in the body of his answer. From Jonathon Green, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1984):

ligger n. a hanger on; spec. in entertainment industry: a freeloader (qv). fr. least important guest (?) or linger: hang around N[ew] M[usical] E[xpress].

From Paule Beale, Partridge's Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1989):

lig, n. and v. A freeloader, freeloading (ligger, ligging); one who takes, taking, the advantage of free drinks: 'pop' music, media, journalistic: since earlier 1980s. (John Ryle.)

From Tony Thorne, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1990):

lig vb British to freeload, enjoy oneself at someone else's expense. The word, coined in Britain in the early 1970s, refers to the activities of hangers-on, groupies, music journalists, etc., who attend receptions, parties, concerts, and other functions, usually financed by record companies. The origin of the word is obscure, it has been suggested that it is made up of the initials of 'least important guest' or is a blend of linger and gig. Alternatively it may be an obscure vagrants' term from a dialect survival of Anglo-Saxon liegan, to lie.

lig n British an opportunity for freeloading, a party, reception or other occasion when it is possible to enjoy oneself at someone else's expense. The word refers to the rock and pop-music world, and probably postdates the verb form lig and the noun ligger.

...

ligger n British a freeloader, hanger-on or gatecrasher at concerts, receptions, parties, etc., in the rock and pop-music milieus. The word is part of rock music's jargon and was adopted enthusiastically by journalists in such publications as New Musical Express in the 1970s to describe those enjoying themselves at the expense of record companies. [Citation:] 'Julia Riddiough, 27 "going on 180", is a world-class ligger who could club for Britain.' (Observer, Section 5 magazine, 7 May 1989).

From John Ayto & John Simpson, The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang 1992):

lig verb intr. 1 To loaf about. 1960–. IT It's a time for ligging in the streets and doing your thing, man (1969). 2 to freeload, esp. by gatecrashing parties. 1981–. RADIO TIMES [I] suddenly twigged what ligging was all about when I got my first job as a researcher on Aquarius I found ... I could get free tickets for everything, everywhere (1985). {From dialectal variant of lie verb, to repose.}

ligger noun One who gatecrashes parties, a freeloader. 1977–. OBSERVER I went to a party Wednesday that was a liggers' delight (1985). {From LIG verb + -er.}

The etymological explanations in these dictionaries seem to get more arcane as they get farther from the period when the slang term first caught on. Still, one older source does report the 19th-century existence of the dialect form lig. From C. Clough Robinson, The Dialect of Leeds and Its Neighbourhood (1862):

LIG. To lie. "Ah gottant t' hēad-wark bad." Awāay wi' thuh, lig thuh darn a bit then, an it'll happen goa awāay." "Ligging ont' grund thear." "Ligging i' bed an duing nowt." "It's liggen ont' floor long eniff nah, tak it up." "What's tuh liggen on't?"—what have you laid, or bet, on it? "Av liggen ten shillin' darn."

It's possible, I suppose, that a freeloader from Leeds crashed an EMI release party sometime in the 1970s, drank too much, announced that he had a "hēad-wark" and was going to "lig darn" for a while—and gave the term ligging new life on a national scale. But I'm not entirely convinced.

  • By the second sentence, I knew this answer was yours. +1, inevitably. – Dan Bron Jun 26 '16 at 0:29
  • I'm guessing you know that Old English almost certainly pronounced "g" between two consonants like that in almost the same way as the "g" in Danish "jeg". By Middle English there were dielects that were beginning to give "g" its modern hard value. (cf. giefan becoming modern "give" but also the root of the word "if" - in ME there is the conjunction "yif that" (given that)). So a dialectic survival from "liegan" is not really obscure but instead rather natural. But that doesn't detract from your answer: I just find it a bit surprising that the etymologist you cite calls this "obscure". – WetSavannaAnimal Jun 26 '16 at 6:26
  • @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance: that's partly right, but partly not. Old English writers actually used the letter "g" to represent several sounds between vowels. It could represent the palatal sound [j ("y" as in "yet")], but it could also represent the velar sound [ɣ] (not present in modern English, but similar to modern "g"). "Give" and "if" have separate etymological origins, even if they both share "yif" as a possible historical spelling. – sumelic Jun 26 '16 at 8:00
  • @WetSavannaAnimal On its own, intervocalic OE /g/ was pretty much lost across the board. The OE verb was mostly licgan, which would be expected to yield *lidge; the loss of the consonant may be analogical from the other stems (past læg, PP (ge)legen, where the /g/ would be expected to disappear). Most of the hard g’s in Modern English are due to later borrowings, especially from Norse, frequently merging with the inherited form. Lig could easily be the Norse verb (liggja) reinforcing gardening of the /g/ in some dialects. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 15 at 11:54
2

I come from Lancashire, a county in the north west of England and am a keen amateur hedgelayer. When hedgelayers pleach a stem by partially cutting through it and lay it over to one side it is called a pleacher in most parts of the country. However here in Lancashire it is called a ligger. I presume from the Anglo Saxon origin meaning to lie down.

1

My mother used “ligger” to describe somebody telling a lie. She was born in Manchester in 1908 and lived all her life in that city. Ligger was fairly commonly used by people of that generation in the Manchester area. My friends and I when we were children in the 1940/50’s, tended to use “fibber” to describe a liar. Probably both words are rooted in dialect.

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