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