Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Tricked Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 8, 2016

When something or someone is tricked out, the thing or the person has been decorated in an extravagant way with conspicuous accessories meant to bring undue attention to whatever or whoever has been tricked out.

The July 2, 2008 edition of the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper ran a story about an Oskaloosa automotive high school teacher whose tractor-trailer was chosen to be on “Trick My Truck.”  The producers and sponsors added a 42-inch plasma screen TV, a video gaming system,  a computer system, and a 1,000-watt stereo among other items, and finished off the project with artwork showing an orange and gray hammer hitting a nail … and flames.  The article was titled, “Oskaloosa Teacher Gets Truck Tricked Out.”

Back in 1975, George A. Meyer published his book, “The Two-Word Verb: A Dictionary of Verb-Preposition Phrases in American English.”  In the Introduction, the writer stated that the two-word verb had been in use for over a century, and according to him, in 1975, it was “the most active and creative pattern of word formation in the American language.”  Among his two-word verbs was tricked out meaning “to dress, array, or deck, especially in a showy or decorative manner.

The 1911 edition of “The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” included an entry for trick out that wasn’t much different from the definition by George A. Meyer in 1975.  It provided this meaning for the term:  To arrange, dress, or decorate, especially in a fanciful way.

The term trick out was even found in an Otto Holtzes Nachfolger edition of the “New Pocket-Dictionary of the English and Russian Languages” printed in Leipzig (Saxony, Germany) in 1895, with the meaning unchanged from what we know it to be today!

English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) used tricked out in his poem “The Prelude: Book Seventh: Residence In London” published in “The Poetical Works of Williams Wordsworth: A New Edition” in 1869.  Work on the poem began in 1799 and ended the summer of 1805; It was first published in his book “Excursion” in 1814.

When at a country-playhouse, some rude barn
Tricked out for that proud use, if I perchance
Caught, on a summer evening through a chink
In the old wall, an unexpected glimpse
Of daylight, the bare thought of where I was
Gladdened me more than if I had been led
Into a dazzling cavern of romance …

It was used in John Gay’s opera, “The Beggar’s Opera” published in 1728.  It was a ballad opera in three acts with libretto by John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732), and music arranged by German composer, Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667 – 20 July 1752).  It had its first performance on January 29, 1728.  In the scene where tricked out is spoken, Peachum and Lockit are seated at a table that has wine, brandy, pipes, and tobacco on it.

LOCKIT
A lady’s tail of rich brocade — That I see is disposed of.

PEACHUM
To Mrs. Diana Trapes, the tallywoman, and she will make a good hand on’t in shoes and slippers to trick out young ladies upon their going into keeping.

LOCKIT
But I don’t see any article of the jewels.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this opera, the main with whom Polly Peachum falls in love and marries is Macheath.  Macheath has a great many female friends whom he visits at the local tavern, including Jenny Diver and Suky Tawdry.  If this sounds oddly familiar, it’s because you’ve heard speak of all these characters in the Bobby Darin hit in 1959,Mack The Knife.”

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  Some readers and visitors will recollect that the song, “Mack the Knife” was from “The Threepenny Opera” written and produced in 1928.  The songs for this particular opera were written by German poet, dramatist, playwright, and theater director, Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) and german composer, Kurt Weill (2 March 1900 – 3 April 1950).

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of tricked out than the one in John Gay’s opera, the idiom was understood by the audience of the early 1700s.   There is reason to believe, however, that the idiom dates back at least another hundred years, and possibly more.

In the 1500s, trick meant to dress or adorn, while in the 1540s, out meant into public notice.  Someone or something that was tricked out was dressed or adorned into public notice.

Somewhere between 1540 and 1728 (when the opera was first performed), tricked out became an accepted two-word term in conversations.  Without proof, unfortunately, Idiomation is unable to tell when exactly tricked out was first used.  Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to about 1634 as the halfway mark between 1540 and 1727.

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