At the library last week I picked up the first volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read many of the mysteries before (“The Red-Headed League” was a particular favorite when I was a kid) but never the first one, A Study in Scarlet (published 1887), in which Watson and Holmes meet for the first time and arrange to set up digs together on Baker Street.
In that first interview, Holmes warns Watson “I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days at times.” Am I the only one who thought “being in the dumps” was a modern construction? (Linked to town dumps, junkyard dogs, being put to the curb, etc.) It is not. A friend with a copy of the OED was kind enough to send along the appropriate dictionary entry — forthwith, the three definitions of “in the dumps” with their earliest usages:
1. A fit of abstraction or musing, a reverie; a dazed or puzzled state, a maze; perplexity, amazement; absence of mind.
1523 Skelton Garl. Laurell 14 So depely drownyd I was in this dumpe, encraumpyshed so sore was my conceyte, That, me to rest, I lent me to a stumpe of an oke.
2. A fit of melancholy or depression; now only in pl. (colloq. and more or less humorous): Heaviness of mind, dejection, low spirits.
1529 More Comf. agst. Trib. i. Wks. 1140/2 What heapes of heauynesse, hathe of late fallen amonge vs alreadye, with whiche some of our poore familye bee fallen into suche dumpes.
3. A mournful or plaintive melody or song; also, by extension, a tune in general; sometimes app. used for a kind of dance.
1553 Udall Royster D. ii. i. (Arb.) 32 Then twang with our sonets, and twang with our dumps, And heyhough from our heart, as heauie as lead lumpes.