ask Sue-Belinda

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

IT’S been school hol­i­days which means I have been wash­ing, dry­ing and even iron­ing more than usual … in fact, Mount Never Pressed, the enor­mous bas­ket of iron­ing I have re­duced to noth­ing, threat­ened to over­whelm me. So, it is to the is­sue of laun­dry that I turn my at­ten­tion!

There are a num­ber of ex­pres­sions that owe ex­is­tence to the weekly wash: It will all come out in the wash, In the laun­dry, Wash­ing one’s dirty laun­dry in public / air­ing one’s dirty linen, and

A laun­dry list of items. It seems the French were the source for at least one. The French proverb, “Il faut laver son linge sale en famille” or “one should wash one’s dirty linen at home” was spo­ken by Napoleon when he re­turned to France hav­ing man­aged to es­cape Elba in 1815. He had been asked about the prob­lems that had pre­vi­ously be­set him and the proverb was his re­sponse. It was the be­gin­ning of dis­mis­sive com­ments to the press. Napoleon chose not to dis­cuss mat­ters in public; the proverb was a per­fect re­sponse!

By 1867, the ex­pres­sion, in a va­ri­ety of forms, had made it across the chan­nel and was in com­mon us­age in Eng­land. It was be­ing heard as “some­one’s dirty laun­dry” ( 1889), mean­ing some­one’s nasty lit­tle se­crets that they did not want known.

“Air­ing one’s dirty linen” was dis­cussing those se­crets in a place where oth­ers may over­hear. Some quoted the id­iom as “it’s dan­ger­ous to air one’s dirty linen” mean­ing they ought not dis­cuss things in open con­ver­sa­tion while oth­ers made ref­er­ence to oth­ers “air­ing their dirty laun­dry”.

The ex­pres­sion “it will all come out in the wash” is much older, go­ing back to the late 1400s. This ex­pres­sion grew from full- body im­mer­sion in baptism. All the sins would be for­given when bap­tised. Later, the church at that time would re­alise there was money to be made from sin and be­fore an im­mer­sion, would re­quire that all sins were iden­ti­fied and a penance be paid ap­pro­pri­ate to the sins that would now be washed away. Then those sins would in­deed come out in the wash.

“In the laun­dry” was a more mod­ern ex­pres­sion and came to life dur­ing the gang­ster era in Amer­ica. At the same time the “bad­dies” were threat­en­ing to put peo­ple in the “cooler” ( where they could cool their heels and not be al­lowed to run away), be­fore they were pos­si­bly “put on ice” in the coro­ner’s non­re­frig­er­ated work­ing area, they might also have been put in the laun­dry. If you were placed “in the laun­dry”, you were about to get a whole new history and iden­tity and have all your past life washed away. The gang­sters did it to save some mem­bers and the good guys did it to give new iden­ti­ties to those who were en­ter­ing into wit­ness pro­tec­tion.

Of course, some of those “in the laun­dry” were in­volved with “laun­der­ing dirty money” ( 1920s), mean­ing money raised as pro­ceeds of crimes was put through nor­mal busi­nesses such as garages, shoe shops and gen­eral stores where the money would move into main­stream public spend­ing.

Now, if you’ve got a lot to do, you might want to write a list and for some of us, that list might be long. If you were lucky and had money to spare, you might be able to send your dirty clothes out for some other per­son to wash, dry and iron ( pause for a bliss­ful sigh as all of us who can’t af­ford this, dream on!). Just so you re­ceived all these items back, you’d write a list of ev­ery item – two socks, brown Ar­gyle pat­tern; two socks, red tar­tan pat­tern; two socks, black, evening … you get the idea. So, if it’s com­ing out in the wash, be­ing aired in public or is just a long list, its life be­gan in the laun­dry … which re­minds me, I’d best get back to it!

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