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"Gone for a Burton"

Old 24th Feb 2016, 01:29
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"Gone for a Burton"

The colloquial phrase "Gone for a Burton" is generally understood to refer to someone who has died, been killed or gone missing.

Apparently, it was in widespread use in the RAF during WWII, during which the phrase migrated to the US.

However - the origin is unclear: some believe it refers to Burton's Ale (meaning the absent person has 'nicked off' to the pub for a pint, or to the tailor, Burtons, who supplied almost all demob suits provided to returning armed forces personnel.

Nevertheless, the RAF connection appears strongest:

Gone for a burton - meaning and origin.

Can anyone here shed light?!

Dean
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 03:08
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No doubt whatsoever in my mind, I've heard the other theories but I'm sure it's RAF slang, referring to Burton, "the tailor of taste". Much diminished now, but they used to have at least one branch, frequently more, in almost every UK town and city, a total of over 400 shops.

Many years ago when I was a young lad, I actually asked my dad, no longer with us, but was a pilot with the RAF during the 1939-1945 "unpleasantness", how the term "went for a Burton" had originated. I think even then I had the feeling it was aviation-related

With a sad look he quietly replied, "Son, that means getting a tailor-made suit, wooden, flying crew for the use of." Post-war he'd gone on to become an airline pilot, but never spoke of any operational wartime experiences, so I think that sentence summed it up.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montague_Burton


Edit : Incidentally, perhaps another well known idiom also came from that same enterprise. When, amongst others, ex-forces personnel went for their new suits, they'd get a jacket, trousers, waistcoat and then maybe a tie, a shirt, and so on. That would've been the whole works, or "the full Monty" (as in Montague Burton). Not just dressing the nation, but contributing to the language too!


'

Last edited by seafire6b; 24th Feb 2016 at 08:42. Reason: And "the full Monty"?
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 09:06
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I grew up with the phrase. My father (WWII for 4.5 years) used the phrase a lot. Example: If some domestic electrical appliance had failed, he would say, "That's gone for a Burton."

Ah, if only I could ask but he went for a Burton in 2001.
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 15:34
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Many years ago I heard the following on ?Radio4?.....
During WW2 RAF W/T operators did morse code training in Liverpool, in rooms above a branch of Burton the tailor. Each day of the course trainees had to be faster at sending and receiving than the previous day, if not they were chopped from the course. Then they went down the stairs "for a burton".
Not saying it's the derivation.... but it is a nice story.
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 16:13
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From what I can understand the term was late 20's early 30's RAF slang for someone who's engine had Quit and had forced landed, the idea being they would search for a pub to telephone for help a have a beer at the same time.

As with all living language things moved on and with the coming of WW2 the expression took on a much darker meaning.
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 19:44
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I have no clue about the real origin of this phrase, but I doubt the connection with Burton the Tailors.

1. I have actually had suits made by Burton: I have never heard of such a suit being called "a Burton," and it seems not to be idiomatic for the English of the time. *"A Burton's" might be possible, but I've never heard it.

2. The connection with demob suits is just too late for the origin of the phrase.

3. Does it fit with the demographics of the RAF? Burton's were definitely one up from The Fifty Shilling Tailor, but I'm not sure they were officer class.

The explanation I've heard is the Burton ale one, but I don't put much faith in that, either. Sometimes the origin of words and phrases is just lost. How about the origin of "gremlin"?
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Old 24th Feb 2016, 20:11
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ISTR Burtons as an authorised No 1 SD tailor
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 01:42
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Both?!

Fascinating responses, folks - thanks!

I suspect that both versions may simultaneously be authentic (i.e. beer & bespoke tailors!)

Dean
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 06:19
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A long time ago I had some involvement with Bass one of the big Burton breweries and at the time the largest pub landlord in Britain. The story I heard there was that the phrase originated during the first world war in the trenches as a euphemism for someone having died.

It was considered bad luck to talk about death and so like the similar 'buying the farm' or 'he's bought it' as a way of saying he's gone to a better place (e.g. in this case down the pub), the phrase entered into popular parlance.

There was also an advertising campaign between the wars themed on someone missing from a group with the title 'he's gone for a Burton' most probably building on this cultural meme. So there is evidence that the phrase goes back considerably earlier than WW2.
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 07:08
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Those inhabitants of "The Towers" ( before it went comprehensive) will remember all the "Gieves" and "City's" pantomime for uniform fitting, with Burtons considered very "Infra dig" for officers in those days. So I doubt the tailor origins of the term before then.
Thread drifting a bit, there was also the "Poulson and Skone" show for fitting officers' shoes, with one having one's foot drawn around on a piece of brown paper as these shoes " are made personally for Sir"
Funny then how mine turned up with "Size 10 " printed on the insole.

Last edited by Haraka; 25th Feb 2016 at 12:11. Reason: See Beags below.......
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 10:08
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Actually it was 'Poulson and Skone'...

When the shoes eventually turned up in stages, it was found that the toecaps were larger than they should have been - which meant even more bulling than ever....

One chap had been chopped before his shoes arrived - another was still waiting for his 'tailored' shoes to arrive, so the rep. just said "These'll do you, Sir" and fobbed them off onto him.

As for 'gone for a Burton', I always thought that it meant that the chap had gone for a bespoke wooden overcoat
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 18:41
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......a bespoke wooden overcoat .
'Single-room flat - With lid' :-o
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Old 25th Feb 2016, 20:19
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Actually it was 'Poulson and Skone'...
To be absolutely correct, it was 'Poulsen, Skone & Co., LTD.'

I still have a receipt from early 1969 - Box Oxfords 4-7-6 !


And a receipt from R. E. City Ltd - RAF SD Uniform 35-0-0
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Old 26th Feb 2016, 20:31
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I have spent a little time with the Oxford English Dictionary and everyone's favourite search engine on this (in the course of which I discovered to my surprise that "Take a dim view" was regarded as RAF slang in the 1940s).

1. OED (which is generally regarded in the EngLang biz as about as reliable as you can get) says, bleakly:
None of the several colourful explanations of the origin of the expression is authenticated by contemporary printed evidence.
2. There's a rather reliable looking site which discusses "burton": World Wide Words: Gone for a Burton
As it says, the theory of a pre-war advertisement is plausible and appealing, but unfortunately there is absolutely no evidence for it whatever. I did a Google Image search, and got plenty of adverts for Burton Ales, but not one example of this missing chap advert. Given how many people are interested in this question, the argument from silence seems strong.

3. Some people want to make it rhyming slang, with Burton as the first of a pair of words, the second word in the phrase bearing the rhyme. The best they can do is "Burton on Trent" = "went", which is pathetic and ungrammatical.

Sometimes, we just can't know the origin of phrases. What we could know is what people thought they meant when they said it. Here we have people who are proper informants who can tell us what people were thinking of when they said "Gone for a Burton": were you thinking of ale? Or was it just something one said?
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Old 26th Feb 2016, 21:42
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In my experience of reading World War 2 aviation history and narratives, I too found that the phrase seemed to relate to equipment failure more often than human death or disappearance. Men 'bought it', 'went west' or 'got the chop'. But often it would be, 'Skipper, the radio's just gone for a Burton'.

Last edited by Captain Dart; 26th Feb 2016 at 21:52.
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Old 27th Feb 2016, 00:02
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........'Skipper, the radio's just gone for a Burton'.
Heard of a WAAF going into the workshop and banging an aircraft radio down on the bench. "What's wrong with that, said the Sergeant technician ? " "It's fcuked " she replied "well, but the little bugger over there." he said.

and then she reported him for using obscene language.
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Old 27th Feb 2016, 07:58
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Originally Posted by FlightlessParrot View Post
1. OED (which is generally regarded in the EngLang biz as about as reliable as you can get) says, bleakly:
Quote
None of the several colourful explanations of the origin of the expression is authenticated by contemporary printed evidence.
That's the OED in a nutshell: it has always looked for the printed evidence and is therefore out of its depth when dealing with the spoken language. No shame in that, but just don't expect anything else.

People, as opposed to equipment, certainly "went for a Burton" in period and it referred to those who were killed, and not those who died later (or naturally).
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Old 27th Feb 2016, 09:06
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That's the OED in a nutshell: it has always looked for the printed evidence and is therefore out of its depth when dealing with the spoken language. No shame in that, but just don't expect anything else.
True that, and my professional use of the OED is mostly concerned with the 14th c., where the lag is something shocking. But for such a recent usage, in a slang which was the focus of so much favourable attention, in print, in its own time, the fact that the new breed of OED editors, who are all down with spoken language and such, can find no persuasive evidence seems pretty telling.

Two points: in the 21st c., I think the contrast with written evidence is the sort of saloon bar make-it-up-as-you-go-along that gave us "posh" as an acronym.

Second, what are the personal motivations for an OED editor? Do you get more fame and brownie points for saying "The origin is this ...", or "I don't know..."

Note that they have retreated from an earlier inclination towards the Burton ale theory.

I think their confessed ignorance is more than the product of a bias towards the written form of the language.
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Old 27th Feb 2016, 09:47
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During WW2 RAF W/T operators did morse code training in Liverpool, in rooms above a branch of Burton the tailor.
I seem to recollect that over most branches of Burtons there was a billiard hall. Is my recollection defective? If not, can anyone suggest the reason for the Burton and billiard hall association?
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Old 27th Feb 2016, 09:52
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Gone for a .....

Nothing to do with the subject but:
Back in the '70s, Ronnie Barker had a tv show in which one of the characters he played was a partially deaf country squire.
One day searching his house for another of the characters in the sketch, a female character said 'perhaps he's gone over an abyss'
'Gone for a what?' replies Ronnie.

Think about it.

Oh all right, I'll get me coat.

Last edited by chevvron; 27th Feb 2016 at 21:57.
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