Do You Remember? Language And Myths Of The Strap

Robertphilp has written authoritatively and well about many aspects of the way the belt was used in the old days. I can't better his contributions but I thought I might try to prompt some recollections of what children and teachers used to say and some of the playground myths (or were they?).

First the name of the thing. Never 'tawse' in my memory or for long before, at least in Glasgow. 'Strap' universally in my primary school, though some boys would talk of 'getting the biff'. When I got to secondary a few of the older teachers still said 'strap' (as in ' I'll not just let the strap fall next time', after a vigorous two strokes administered in the first week of secondary to a boy who was late at a period change) but 'belt' was pretty universal and quickly took over.

Then the threats: 'I'll warm the fingers of the next boy who makes a sound!'; 'If you don't hold your hand out I'll make you sit down and put your hand on top of your desk!' (and she did, but not, mercifully, to me); 'Next time I'll give you the belt as hard as I can draw' (mirrored by 'Mr X can fairly draw the belt' from the victim); 'When I belt a boy he stays belted'. 'If the boy who did that doesn't own up in 10 seconds, I'll take the belt round the class' (this never actually happened to my class but it certainly happened to others in my school). Finally, the ominous words in red ink at the foot of an ink exercise 'See me', which would result in a plod to join the queue of miscreants at the teacher's desk, waiting to know how many they were going to get - some teachers had a careful tariff system.

One odd bit of vocabulary (not in the Concise Scots Dictionary) is the use of 'tongs ' instead of 'tails' as in 'That wis sair; the tongs went right up ma wrist'. One word which had disappeared in Glasgow by the 40s but which my mother and mother-in-law both recalled from the 1910s was 'palmie' for a stroke on the hands.

Then there were the stories boys told each other in the playground. At quite an early stage in primary (ie before anyone had actually been sent to the headmaster for the strap) the rumour would spread that the heidie's strap was studded with nails. I was sufficiently alarmed by this to tell my parents, who reassured me that it would just be leather and that they had believed that too in their day. More plausible were that tales that Mr A left the tongs of his strap steeped in vinegar so that they'd sting more or that Mr B had put the tongs of his strap in the fire to harden them. At secondary the standard horror story that Mr C (the toughest looking teacher in the school) had belted one boy so hard on the wrists that he burst a vein and had to go to hospital! Stories of watches being smashed were also common but they were probably true.

That's all I can think of just now - over to you.

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2 Responses Aug 13, 2011

It was the "tash" in 70s lourdes. I guess it was onomatopoeic !

Belt tails were always known as 'fingers' in my day, and the first one I saw had four of them. <br />
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My favourite teacher quote was 'You two deserve a thrashing with the hardest belt I can borrow': threat not delivered. The same teacher went on to treat herself to a new John J **** strap, delivered coiled in a box, and which she applied herself to straightening out as she sat grinning sadistically at her desk. I didn't sample that belt either...