Vermont of 100 years ago was a much different world than what we have today. Everyone knew everyone in their town. Many were related by birth or marriage. These old Vermonters often overlooked another Vermonter’s transgressions.
In many cases we knew both actors. If Al’s wheelbarrow was left outdoors and appeared neglected, someone might rescue it. The word “thief” was reserved for someone charged with breaking and entering or stealing something of great value. A thief wasn’t tolerated. The police were involved and a trial held.
For an old saying last week I used, “Cabbaged onto.” Each old saying I use below is a variation of cabbaged onto.
A common old saying when I was young was “cabbaged onto.” The definition of this old saying meant someone took something that didn’t belong to them. Notice I stop short of saying stole. There was a difference.
Vermonters are known for their quick wit and dry humor. We all knew Fred took Al’s wheelbarrow but how we addressed it was different. We might say, “Fred cabbaged onto Al’s wheelbarrow when no one was looking.”
We found these somewhat shifty Vermonters entertaining and amusing. They really didn’t do much harm. They just took something they thought they could better use than you could.
We didn’t get too upset as Fred and Al were probably related, or at the very least knew each other. Sometimes the loser of the article would go to the police, often with the same outcome. The police would talk with Al, telling him he had to give it back. Seldom was further action required.
I don’t know the origin of “cabbaged onto,” but I offer two possible explanations of the origin. Perhaps 200 years ago there was a man, Mr. Cabbage, who was a thief. When something came up missing, someone in his town might have said, “Someone Cabbaged onto that,” referring to Mr. Cabbage being light-fingered.
Another possibility is two neighboring farmers had vegetable gardens. Fred didn’t grow any cabbage, but his neighbor Al did. Fred borrowed some of Al’s cabbage. So, when something came up missing, it was said, “Someone cabbaged onto that.”
Regardless if either explanation is correct, the term “cabbaged onto” spread to the next town. Over time it became familiar to most Vermonters.
“Liberated” was another old saying meaning the same as cabbaged onto. I love this old saying. Years ago, I knew an old man who never married. When Virgil got older, he needed help with chores around the house so he hired a woman to perform those duties.
He kept a glass centerpiece on his dining room table. He put little things in the centerpiece that he enjoyed looking at. In my trade we call them “Poopies.” In the centerpiece were some Indian arrowheads, some seashells, and a few other trinkets. And he had a few antique marbles. Two marbles were two inches in diameter. The others were smaller sulphide marbles. Sulphides are a clear glass marble with a figure of a dog or other animal formed in the center of the marble.
Virgil was telling me one day how his marbles come up missing. “Well,” he said, “she liberated those.” Liberated implies the marbles had been rescued from captivity.
Another way of describing someone who took something was by saying, “Fred relieved Al of his wheelbarrow.” The humor in this old saying makes it sound like Fred did Al a favor taking it off his hands. I use these old sayings whenever appropriate.
As the previous generation of Vermonters has died off, with them went these old sayings. I think they are an important part of our history. This is why I record them at the end of my weekly articles. Perhaps someday someone will find these old sayings interesting enough to research and compile. If so, I want to leave a record.
The photo with this article is a two-inch diameter “onionskin” marble in my collection that dates to the 1880s. It was handmade in Germany. This would have been a prize marble for the owner. These large marbles weren’t cheap.
This week’s old saying was something my mother used. She despised a liar. She believed a liar could do you more harm than a thief. She would say, “Praise a thief. Damn a liar.” I agree with her.