Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Diddums, then

This is complete trivia, perhaps, except as an illustration of the increasing ability to access historical texts on the Web. A colleague elsewhere just asked me about the history of the term "Diddums". I vaguely recalled, and confirmed via Googling, a story that it related to the brand name of a doll designed after a drawing by Mabel Lucie Attwell, whose prolific sentimentalised images of chubby toddlers led to an iconic and money-spinning genre. However, the Exeter Library Online Reference, accessible from home computer by library card number - there will be local equivalents - gave access to the OED, which finds citations well pre-dating Attwell for its use as an expression for cooing at a baby.

1893 E. F. BENSON Dodo I. vii. 142 Women who were content to pore on their baby's face..saying ‘Didums’ occasionally

It's kind of interesting that it originally it meant genuine sympathy, rather than the current meaning of sarcastic non-sympathy. Feeling in a competitive mood, I had a look in another of the Exeter Library databases, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, which led to a peculiar poem called "Babies' Trains" in the Manchester Times, Saturday, February 23, 1884, where the source is credited as Fun magazine (a 19th century rival to Punch). This, in turn, was online at a non-subscription database, the Comics Collection, George A Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Digital Collections - where there's a wealth of material.

So here is Babies' Trains (Fun, Volume 46. New Series Volume 39, February 20th 1884). As it beats the OED citation by nearly a decade, I sent it to them, and had a very nice e-mail back saying it had been added to their revisions list.

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