St Gengulphus and the expression: By the Living Jingo!

You a waiter! by the living jingo, you look so topping, I took you for one of the agents to Congress. [Royall Tyler]

By Jing! (Jingo – St. Gengulphus) was the extent of his expletives…      H. L. Williams on Abraham Lincoln]*

Attached to the Lay of St Gengulphus in Barham’s Ingoldsby Legends is the following surprising note:

Gengulphus, or, as he is usually styled in the country, ‘Jingo’, was perhaps more in the mouths of the ‘general’ than any other Saint, on occasions of aduration. Mr Simpkinson from Bath had kindly transmitted me a portion of a primitive ballad, which has escaped the researches of Ritson and Ellis but is yet replete with beauties of no common order. I am happy to say that, since these Legends first appeared, I have recorded the whole of it. Vide infra.

It goes without saying that this bit of doggerel (printed in black letter type in the original) is a spoof.  But in it Barham does raise – but leaves unanswered – the question as to whether this exclamation is indeed connected with St Gengulph.

The word gingo or jingo seems to have appeared in the English language in the C17th as an element in conjuror’s patter. Hey Jingo! was a characteristic formula to announce the magical appearance of an object, whilst Hey Presto! was correspondingly used for disappearances. One of the earliest recorded appearances of the expression is as Hey, Boys – Gingo in Abraham Cowley’s play of 1663 The Cutter of Coleman Street.* The insertion of ‘Boys’ into the middle of the phrase suggests that it was a familiar and well-established one.

The use of the phrase By Jingo! – as a mild oath, or expression of surprise – is first attested by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1794, when it appeared in Peter Motteux’s English translation of The Whole Works of Francis Rabelais, M.D. Disappointingly, however, it is used to translate nothing more explicit than the French expression Par Dieu! and our scent at this point goes cold.  Earlier appearances of the expression are to be found in William Burnaby’s play The Ladies Visiting-day (1701):

By Gingo she’ll ravish him, good Woman…

and Mary Pix’s play The Beau Defeated (1700):

‘Tis a delicate Age, by Gingo, when the Rake is the fine Gentleman, and the fine Gentleman is the Lady’s Favourite, egad.

During the C18th and 19th the expression often took the more vehement form of by the Living Jingo! This was in popular use in both England and America, and is found in many writers from Oliver Goldsmith to Mark Twain.R. H. Barham, in order to advance his humorous theory that by Jingo contains a reference to St Gengulphus, introduces the exclamation into his own poem A Lay of St Dunstan, and ‘plants’ the following explanatory footnote – in order to give further weight to his hypothesis.

St. Jingo, or Gengo (Gengulphus), sometimes styled ‘The Living Jingo,’ from the great tenaciousness of vitality exhibited by his severed members…

The Oxford English Dictionary found itself unable to propose a convincing origin for the expression by Jingo. The conjecture that it is derived from a Basque word for ‘God’ is cautiously condemned with the observation, ‘Such a derivation is not impossible, but as yet unsupported by evidence’.* The connection with St Gengulphus it equally dismisses as ‘merely a joke of the author of the Ingoldsby Legends’.

It should be said in defence of R. H. Barham (and against the O.E.D) that the fact that Barham chose to make this etymology a source of facetious humour does not per se constitute evidence that it is false. But in the absence of further and more compelling evidence, the origin of this exclamation and its connection, if any, with St Gengulph must remain open to doubt, and the discerning reader will form his own judgement.

The subsequent history of the expression is well known. During the period of anti-Russian feeling in 1878 it achieved great popularity through its use in the chorus of a patriotic song – giving rise instantly to the new word jingoism for a manifestation of unreflecting and pugnacious nationalism. 

On the different question of whether Jingo or Gingo has any claim to be regarded, in English, as an acceptable form of the name Gengulphus we are on firmer ground.  R. H. Barham, as we have seen, accepts this form, so does his contemporary Thomas Lovell Beddoes in his poem The New Cecilia; both Byron and Sir Charles Blagden the physicist use the form St Gingo when writing of the town of St Gingolph on Lake Geneva; and Baring-Gould in his Lives of the Saints* accepts it as an allowable form of the saint’s name, writing without comment: Gengulf or Gengulphus is […] in English Gingo.

    * Henry Llewelyn Williams  The Lincoln Story Book. The explanatory parenthesis is
* Act II sc viii.
* The slenderness of the Basque impact on C17th English society does little to recommend
this theory. But I am indebted to the Revd Fr Christopher Cook for pointing out that a few
English words do appear to have derived from this unexpected source, including bizarre
and anchovy.
* Vol 5, May 11th.
© Paul Trenchard
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Page last revised 30.07.08