arsy-tansy, revisited

Back in 2012, I wrote an entry about encountering the word arsy-tansy in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and discovering that that term didn’t exist anywhere else.

Just now, I came across the word arsy-versy in an Anthony Boucher story, “The Chronokinesis of Jonathan Hull.” (“The disturbingly arsy-versy normal world…”) It turns out that arsy-versy means basically the same thing as topsy-turvy.

I had a moment of thinking that perhaps the line in the Le Carré book had been a typo for arsy-versy, but that word doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context where arsy-tansy appeared. So this new development probably doesn’t solve the mystery. But it does make me wonder if there are other arsy- words.

3 Responses to “arsy-tansy, revisited”

  1. Jessica

    I don’t know the word “arsy,” but I do know the word “arse,” which means “ass.” I think I would translate “arsy-versy” as “ass reversed,” or “ass backwards.”

    • -Ed.

      I agree with Jessica on this one—arsy versy seems likely connected to vice versa through the jokey pronunciation/spelling vicey versey.


  2. DanB

    I give you – bass ackwards. Perhaps used in polite or mixed company. We have a thing going in our family to keep some of the ancestors’ phrases or sayings somewhat alive. Grandpa used to sprinkle in bits from Damon Runyon. We have an ‘in’ to things British from the Canadian side of the family.
    Now I have to find my bookmark button for Words & Stuff. Great!


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