Edward Marston – Was ‘nasty’ a word in the 1850s?

Q. In your book The Railway Viaduct, you use the word ‘nasty’ (Sorry, I forgot to mark the place and I don’t intend to reread the entire book to find it.) Since the story takes place in 1850, I have to inform you that the word did not exist then.  ‘Nasty’ was a term developed for the acerbic political cartoons casting aspersions on the Tammany Hall Irish syndicate and gangsters who controlled New York politics.  It was named after Thomas Nast, a Germany immigrant who came from Neustadt/Pfalz.  He was born in 1840, so the word nasty was non-existent when your character used it in your novel.
That said, I am enjoying the Railway Detective series. I have always been fascinated by trains and have enjoyed the National Museum in York several times.’ Robert Pohl, Düsseldorf, Germany

A. Thank you for your comments on the Railway Detective.  I was interested in your explanation of the derivation of the word ‘nasty’. In fact, it did exist well before the 1850’s. In his famous book, Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes talks of the “life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” That was in 1651. Jonathan Swift used the word in 1706 in Thoughts on Various Subjects – “a nice man is a man of nasty ideas.” It crops up in Fielding’s work as well.
Events in America may have brought the word into more prominence in the nineteenth century but it was certainly current long before then. However, your derivation is thought-provoking. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Edward Marston

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2 thoughts on “Edward Marston – Was ‘nasty’ a word in the 1850s?”

  1. Met you in 2001 on a Saga Murder Mystery tour that took us to Wales and had mystery authors as lecturers each evening before our historical treks. You were a featured speaker who graciously gave us an autographed copy of “Murder on the Lusitania.” That book led me to read your Conrad Allen steamship series. I’m about to embark on the railroad series. I thoroughly enjoy stories based on history. Thank you for your contributions. I also recently learned that you have written plays. As a community theatre veteran I tried, in vain, to learn the titles. Would you please send me a list of the plays you’ve written and the publishing house from which the rights and royalties for performance might be gotten?

    Also, I’m interested to know if any of your books/plays have been made into movies for television or the theatre.

    Thank you again for your most enjoyable writings,
    Georgia Maresh
    Brecksville Ohio USA

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