Bouncer: Archaic Definition

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, April 4, 1914:  My bouncer of a cousin Alma came over on the train this afternoon. All three of us went to a play up town. Didn’t get to bed till after 12, and then I had to sleep on the rail, it was rather fun though. Wonder I didn’t roll out.

Recent photo of the railroad track near Grandma's farm. (The view is looking toward Watsontown.)

Recent photo of the railroad track near Grandma’s farm. (The view is looking toward Watsontown.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

When I first read this diary entry it didn’t make any sense to me. What the heck, did “bouncer” mean? Did I transcribe it incorrectly—even though Grandma wrote the word clearly?

Then I googled “bouncer archaic definition”, and discovered that an archaic meaning is:

bouncer: One who bounces; a large, heavy person who makes much noise in moving.

Wordsense

Wow—Now that I know the meaning, what a descriptive word! I suddenly can almost picture Alma in my mind.

I think that Grandma and her sister Ruth shared a double bed during the months when the weather was cold. I suppose that Ruth, Alma, and Grandma all squeezed into the bed—and that Grandma was so far to the edge that she was right against the side rail.

Now that I think about it—most beds no longer have side rails; but I guess that metal bed frames hadn’t yet been invented a hundred years ago.

29 Responses

  1. I had not heard the term in that way before either. Sounds like it was quite a night!

  2. Mmmm…I wonder how much sleep any of them got!

  3. That’s an interesting term. I think you and Grandma have taught us all a new definition for bouncer. Glad Grandma had fun. I just never thought of young girls keeping such late hours in that era!

    • My daughter commented on one of the posts where Grandma stayed out very late that:

      “I can’t believe she came home that late! They say kids are worse today but I never came home that late! “

  4. Many houses had no heat in the upper levels so I am sure they were happy to share a bed :)

  5. A hilarious post from Grandma. She had what could almost be a slumber party with a lot of fun and giggles.

    • This is another example of language changing over time. It definitely sounds like a slumber party to me. . . but that term probably wasn’t used back then.

  6. Good sleuthing. I hadn’t understood her post correctly at all. I’m glad you clarified!

    • It took me a while to figure it out, too. For the longest time, I kept thinking that I wasn’t reading her handwriting correctly.

  7. Oh thank you for clarifying because I also wondered about ‘rolling out’!
    Diana xo

    • “Rolling out” might be a Pennsylvania Dutch phrase. It doesn’t sound unusual to me, but it may be a very regional phrase.

  8. So much sleuthing to do…meanwhile I wonder where “uptown” was and what play did they see?

    • I’m guessing that she was referring to either McEwensville or Watsontown since they were the two nearby towns where she typically went to. . .Funny how even the smallest of places can have an “uptown.”

  9. I love that use of bouncer–can’t wait to use it in a sentence!

  10. So nice to hear her in such a cheerful mood.

  11. […] cousin Alma Derr was visiting for a few days, so the “we” probably refers to Grandma, Alma, and perhaps Grandma’s sister […]

  12. Clever you for working it out Sheryl… :-) Had me totally confused. Thought for a moment that Miss Muffly had travelled on the train too and had to sleep there i.e. “on the rail”… ha ha ha!!!

  13. […] Derr was Grandma’s cousin who came to visit the previous Saturday. She lived near the small town of Ottawa in nearby Montour […]

  14. I thought when she wrote “rail” she slept on the train! This was a very interesting tidbit from the past. So much now of what I have read in the past or old furniture I have seen makes perfect sense to me now.

  15. I don’t know if it’s the same over there Sheryl, but here, a bouncer is a large man who keeps an eye out at a public venue for any trouble makers, or drunks, and removes them from the place! Your found definition makes so much more sense when relating it to grandma’s days. :)

    • The word bouncer has exactly the same meaning today in the US that it has in Australia.. Bouncers ask drunks to leave bars. I find it amazing that it also had an additional meaning that was so different years ago.

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