Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Devil Dodger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 15, 2011

The devil dodger is usually found in the military and is in charge of the spiritual welfare of the troops.  Yes, a devil dodger is a man of the cloth, a minister, a clergyman in varying degrees of intensity.  It also occasionally refers to someone who attends churches of various kinds just to be on the safe side.

On September 13, 2006 the BBC News reported on a naval chaplain who had complained about the use of porn on the warships he was training on.  The news story was entitled, “Chaplain Told Porn Part Of Life.”  He left the HMS Albion and the HMS Manchester because of the pornography.  The article reported in part:

Now the rector of a shore parish, who is a father-of-four, told the hearing in Exeter he was known as “the bish” and was taunted with chantes of “bible basher” as well as “God botherer” and “devil dodger” while on board.

The Calgary Herald ran a short news column entitled, “R.A.F. Slanguage” in the June 17, 1940 edition.  Among the key terms used by the boys in the Royal Air Force were:

Quack – The doctor.
Blue-blood – Army officer.
Pay-bob – The pay officer.
Devil-dodger – The chaplain.
Stripey – Any non-commissioned officer
AC Plonk – Air craftsman second class.

Now back in September 1917, a black-and-white silent movie with a running time of 50 minutes was released by Triangle Film Corporation entitled, “Devil Dodger.”  It was a western starring Roy Stewart played as Silent Scott, John (Jack) Gilbert as Roger Ingraham and Carolyn Wagner as Fluffy, the saloon girl.  The story was of a minister who went West in search of health and came upon a town where Silent Scott kept a dance hall and saloon. 

There, the minister meets Fluffy who has a questionable past but the minister sees a great deal of goodness left in her and she sees a great more in the minister. There’s a moral struggle between the minister and the saloon keeper and in the end, the minister triumphs to some degree when he successfully awakens the good still in the saloon keeper’s heart.

On June 22, 1889 the New Zealand Observer newspaper in Auckland ran an interesting column entitled, “Round The Churches” where they dished the dirt on various churches in the area.  The final comment tidbit was this:

Another minister has been honest enough to confess that his work has been a failure, and that the world, the flesh, and the devil are too many for him.  A clergyman of Brooklyn, New York states that after many years’ labour “he has not even succeeded in breaking the crus of hell which surrounds that town.”  The simile is a new and striking one, but rather inappropriate.  Why should a parson wish to break the crust of hell, when the consequences would probably be the falling in of himself, flock, and collection?  We should fancy that his energies would have been better directed had he applied himself to placing a new cast-iron, copper-riveted covering over the hot place, and to strengthening its crust generally; but we forget — the average parson believes in keeping the pit open and giving his congregation an occasional glimpse of the fire and brimstone! When the crust of Sheol gets too thick for one-parson power to penetrate, the devil-dodger finds his occupation gone.

In the Guy de Maupassant  (1850-1893) story “A Lively Friend” the following exchange is found between two friends:

The curé left very early.

Then the husband gently remarked: “You went a little too far with that priest.”

But Joseph immediately replied: “That’s a very good joke, too! Am I to bother my brains about a devil-dodger? At any rate, do me the favor of not ever again having such an old fogy to dinner. Curses on his impudence!”

“But, my friend, remember his sacred character.”

Joseph Mouradour interrupted him: “Yes, I know. We must treat them like girls, who get roses for being well behaved! That’s all right, my boy! When these people respect my convictions, I will respect theirs!”

On December 7, 1867 the Hartford Daily Courant published a story entitled, “A Hint To The Ambitious.”  It told the story of a woman who allowed her friends to put in her head that she ought not deprive the world of the advantages of her wit and talent as a writer.  After all, the newspaper reported, she had been told she should try her hand at a “three-volume novel with plenty of sensation in it.” 

The story pointed out that her friends had urged her to look at “the trash that is published and paid for.” And so this woman set out to do just that and the reviews that followed publication of her book included this comment:

The spoon scene between Miss Whatdoyoucallher and the devil dodger is first rate.

The earliest reference Idiomation could find for devil dodger goes back to the “Memoirs” of James Lackington (1746 – 1815) published in 1791.  It’s in his book that readers find:

These devil-dodgers happened to be so very powerful that they soon sent John home, crying out, that he should be damned.

While Idiomation could not find an earlier reference, the fact that James Lackington used it with such ease in his “Memoirs” published in 1791 indicates that it was an understood expression for readers of the day and therefore, it would have been in existence at least the generation prior, putting it to about 1750.

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