Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Barge In

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 11, 2011

To barge in certainly has no positive connotations.  It can mean to intrude as in to enter uninvited or to interrupt as in to break into a conversation already in progress to which the person barging has not been invited to join. 

But a barge is also a large boat, generally flat-bottomed, that’s used to transport goods and which are occasionally self-propelled.  Barges have been around since they were used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt.  Some were even very decorative when they carried royalty down the river and these sorts of state barges were used in Europe up until modern times.

Back on June 1, 2010 NBC News New York posted a news story on their website entitled, “Boy, 14, Pulls Gun in Rockland School.”  It had been the second gun scare at that school in less than a year. 

The school went into lockdown at around 9 a.m. during the gun scare. The same school had a lockdown on June 9, 2009, when an irate parent barged in and held the district superintendent at gunpoint.

Almost 50 years before that, the Greensburg Daily Tribune ran a story entitled “Marines And Truman In Peace Move” published in the September 7, 1950 edition.  The article read in part:

Mr. Truman yesterday apologized to the Marines for his “unfortunate choice of language” in describing them as the “navy’s police force.”  Today he made an unscheduled visit to the convention of the Marine Corps League here.  Delegates who only yesterday were shouting criticism of the President for his statements turned into applauding supports today.  The chief executive barged in unexpectedly by Gen. Clifton B. Cates, commandant of the Marine corps.

Long before there were television series and soap operas, stories were published in newspapers.  On November 1, 1935 the Pittsburg Press ran a story by Aleen Wetstein entitled, “One Girl Chorus” that began with this paragraph:

I hope you won’t think I’m terribly impertinent barging in on you like this, Miss Pendergast, but I’ve beenreading you so long in the magazines, I just feel I know you.

When “The Door Of Desire” was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on September 6, 1923, it told the story of Martin Thayne who had been engaged to Jacqueline Craye and whose cousin was none other than Julian, the second Viscount Montore who had killed a man named Thurlow who had blackmailed him.  The story included this passage on September 6, 1923:

“It’s not very, but it passed with him, and no one else has barged in except yourself.”  Martin came slowly forward, and stood on the opposite side of the writing table.  He leaned his hands upon it and peered down at Julian. Twice he tried to speak and failed.

On November 1907, the Nelson Evening Mail newspaper in New Zealand ran a short news bit entitled, “Barging In The Army: A Guards Officer’s Complaint.”  It quickly gave the highlights of a Court of Inquiry cast where the allegations of Lieutenant Woods of the Second Battalion Grenadier Guards that his superiors were impeding his career in the hopes he would resign.  The reason for this effort was due to the fact, according to Lieutenant Woods, that he was more studious than other officers.

It would seem that somewhere between 1905 and 1920, the expression “barging in” came to mean something similar and yet very different, the former implying something one more likely associated with what happened to barges in the waterways with the latter implying intruding into someone’s home.

However, in many documents referring to school boys of the 1880s, what’s interesting to note is that they had made a game of bumping into each other as if they were large, cumbersome barges they had seen on the waterways.  The joke was always that one boy had “barged in” on another boy and although it took a generation for the phrase to make it into the English language with the current definitions for the phrase, it did indeed get its start in the U.S. in the 1880s … thanks to the boys.

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