A Gamgee in a pickle


Active Member
It always pays to consult the Oracle; the OED!
First, the use of "a pickle" meaning "a sorry plight" goes back all the way to 1562.
>>>4. a. A (usually disagreeable) condition or situation; a plight, a predicament. Now colloq.
The exact sense in quot. 1562 is unclear.
1562 J. HEYWOOD Dialogue Prov. & Epigr. sig. Uiii, Man is brickell. Freilties pickell. Poudreth mickell, Seasonyng lickell. 1573 T. TUSSER Fiue Hundreth Points Good Husb. 125 Reape barlie with sickle, that lies in ill pickle. 1585 J. FOXE Serm. 2 Cor. v. 21 In this pickle lyeth man by nature, that is, all wee that be Adams children. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Tempest V. i. 284 Alo. How cam'st thou in this pickle? Tri. I haue bin in such a pickle since I saw you last, That [etc.]. 1658 J. MENNES Wit Restor'd 45 What sad plight are we in? what pickles? That we must drink in conventicles? 1672 H. HERBERT Narr. in Camden Misc. XXX. 323 Their superiours.. were in the same pickle.<<<

Second, as a verb the word means to rub salt of salt and vinegar on the back after a flogging or whipping as a punishment (!!) -- I wonder if this was particularly practised in the British Navy? Now, this doesn't apply here as Sam is using the word in its noun form. but nevertheless....
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Well-Known Member
Thanks! I was wondering about this last night!

And in a delightful bit of serendipity/Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, a different podcast I was listening to this morning had a host musing about whether "in a pickle" would have been a common usage in the mid-1800s. (In the context of the Donner-Reed party's expedition to the west in the United States.)


Active Member
This aspect has come up often: Namely, the use of ironic understatement especially by the hobbits. It's time we Yanks take into account just how Brits tend to phrase things. It is a truism that Brits tend to understate matters. But there are times when their brilliant politeness can trip up non-native listeners and readers. Tolkien in my mind is a quintessential Brit writer... So here are some amusing and obviously humorous examples of just how he and his compatriots tend to phrase things:


Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I love that list. I've used some of those British-isms myself with the same meanings. Some people just don't appreciate irony - or good manners. When my son was little and he asked for something I was clearly going to refuse, he would quickly say "you'll think about it." That was okay with him even if the answer still was no.