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idiom 'Skying the blue pigeon' Options
Actonbooks
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 5:53:19 AM
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Hi,
I just read of a theft of lead from a church roof in 1889. The theft occurred in London, but the newspaper was the Gloucester Citizen. The opening sentence read:
"Skying the blue pigeon' or stripping and stealing the lead from the roofs of houses is usually considered a mere skirmishing achievement by the Light Brigade of larceny


Has anyone heard of this phrase used in this -- or any -- context?
tunaafi
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 6:30:45 AM

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No.

I imagine it wasn't even well known in Gloucester in 1889, as the writer put the expression in quotation marks and explained its meaning.
thar
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 7:59:16 AM

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Nothing changes - lead from churches, paving stones from the streets and copper from railway signals!

It seems an odd idiom. Pigeon I guess because it is easy to steal from; lead could be kind of blue if you really push it (unless blue has some ecclesiastical meaning? Edit, no, it is houses, not just churches);
but skying? Not a clue. Not surprised it didn't catch on!
IMcRout
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 10:31:19 AM

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It could be that taking off the roof of a house might expose the (carrier) pigeons living there to the sky. Think

I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger. (Anon)
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 10:44:38 AM

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Or it exposes the inside to the blue sky and the pigeons.

It's definitely not a 'known idiom' in my circle of acquaintances.


Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
Actonbooks
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 12:18:34 PM
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Further research may have answered my own question. The more usual version is "flying the blue pigeon". It was current from at least 1823 and always referred to stealing lead from the roofs of houses. It seems to have been a patois known to the perps and police alike. If found on a roof the excuse commonly used was that the crim had been flying his (presumably racing) pigeon which had landed on someone else's roof and that the bad boy was only up there trying to persuade it to come down, honest officer...
The interesting part is perhaps that "blue pigeon" is more often used for an Australian form of the bird, I think. Returned transportees bringing back the phrase, or perhaps an old and no longer used term for an English pigeon?
I love the fact that in court one thief told the judge that he got the lead legitimately. When made to return with a constable to where he said he bought it, he got half way there when he admitted to the policeman he was lying to the magistrate. "I was only gammoning the beak" was the wonderful remark the officer dutifully jotted down.

Thanks for the suggestions.
NeuroticHellFem
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 5:38:55 PM

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Actonbooks wrote:
Further research may have answered my own question. The more usual version is "flying the blue pigeon". It was current from at least 1823 and always referred to stealing lead from the roofs of houses. It seems to have been a patois known to the perps and police alike. If found on a roof the excuse commonly used was that the crim had been flying his (presumably racing) pigeon which had landed on someone else's roof and that the bad boy was only up there trying to persuade it to come down, honest officer...
The interesting part is perhaps that "blue pigeon" is more often used for an Australian form of the bird, I think. Returned transportees bringing back the phrase, or perhaps an old and no longer used term for an English pigeon?
I love the fact that in court one thief told the judge that he got the lead legitimately. When made to return with a constable to where he said he bought it, he got half way there when he admitted to the policeman he was lying to the magistrate. "I was only gammoning the beak" was the wonderful remark the officer dutifully jotted down.

Thanks for the suggestions.


As an Aussie, I steer clear of the beak myself. Blue pigeons? No idea!

When you make an assumption, you make an ass of u & umption! - NeuroticHellFem
Romany
Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2015 5:56:09 AM
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I would expect that the expression is from the Thieves Cant which was spoken in London at the time.

This speech incorporated what we now know as Cockney Rhyming Slang, and a lot of very strange words and phrases that only those in the 'Underworld' (pick-pockets, muggers, prostitutes, thugs) could understand. This was done deliberately so that they could sit together in public and make their plans in eating houses or inns and, even if they were overheard, no-one would understand what they were saying.

Because it was a private, deliberately-made up language a lot of it is now incomprehensible to us - only the people who made it up would have any idea of WHY a certain phrase or word meant something: it would be a personal reference to things only they knew about.

But, after all, incomprehension (for the ordinary person) was the whole purpose of this coded language; so if the ordinary person back in the day couldn't see the connections, or understand it, I wouldn't think that we, in modern times, could make any sense of a lot of it.

Btw - "gammoning" is not part of Thieves Cant - "to gammon" (to lie or deliberately tell tall tales) was in use long before the 19th century and was quite a respectable word used by people from all walks of life.
capt_jsea
Posted: Friday, January 12, 2018 10:48:36 PM

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"Flying the blue pigeon was the old mariners' phrase for heaving the deep-sea lead. There were two sounding leads used; one for the shallower coastal waters inside the 20-fathom (120 ft.) curve and the deep-sea lead (the blue pigeon), which was heavier and probably had about 300 feet of line attached. "Skying the blue pigeon sounds like it might have been a play on words, referring to the sailors' phrase. Bear in mind that Great Britain was a seafaring nation and even landsmen were familiar with much of the nautical language. It would have been natural for crooks to borrow the phrase, especially considering that in those days, the crooks might have been former sailors. I think it was Oscar Wilde who wrote, "Going to sea is much like being in jail, except that you meet a better class of people in jail." Or something like that.

The leadsman would go forward to the starboard main chains and, leaning outboard, would swing the lead in a rapid , vertical circle and let go so that the 'pigeon' would fly up and forward and hit bottom ahead of the ship. As the ship advanced, the leadsman would take up the slack until, when the vessel sailed over the lead, he would have the heaving line taut and could read the depth marks accurately.
coag
Posted: Friday, January 12, 2018 11:56:24 PM

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capt_jsea wrote:
"Going to sea is much like being in jail, except that you meet a better class of people in jail.

I like this.
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