Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Poms and Queen Victoria

My friend Ruth Raven has a touch of the megrims today.  The reason?

'Towards the end of Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede (available from one of the characters propounds a never-before-aired theory concerning the origin of the Australian slang expression Pom, meaning a British immigrant. Now, I have always been suspicious of the two traditional explanations that (1) POM stands for Prisoner of Her Majesty (What would be the point of this gibe when nearly everyone was?) or that (2) newly arrived immigrants could be identified by pomegranate-like rednessof their complexions (If so, why is it never mentioned in the literature?). I have always suspected a link with a perfectly ordinary and well-known word- that is, Pom, meaning what it always has done, a Pomeranian dog.  Recently I discovered that Queen Victoria not only loved the creatures- she was a notable breeder of them, at one point owning more than thirty, and she was partlyresponsible for miniaturising the breed.  Bonsai Poms.  I am indebted to this information to The Free Library's article The Royal History of the Pomeranian Breed.

'Alas, even Homer nods, or, in my case, Noddy nods.  It turns out that Queen Victoria did not acquire her first Pom until 1888- a good twenty years after my character expresses his displeasure with the pampered lapdogs in human form, quite useless for rounding up sheep and cattle, then arriving in the Colonies.  I stand by my theory about Poms: it was, however, the wrong character expressing it at the wrong date.  I shall leave his comment intact as a warning to others of how easy it is to go astray- if any historian, amateur or otherwise, would like to take up the search for the first contemporary mention of the word Pom in its Australian sense, I suggest that he or she start combing the newspapers of the late 1880s.  Good luck!'

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