A dose of quackery
U 15.639: Second drink does it. Once is a dose.
We all know that you can have too much of a good thing. Best to stop after one drink. ‘Once is a dose’ is a sharp reminder that less can be more. It is an expression that has been hidden away unrecognized for many years in Ulysses and is recorded more frequently in North American sources than in British or Irish ones. East Coast papers of the 1880s and 1890 contain examples of the phrase, and ‘Edmund John Leathes’, who published An Actor Abroad in 1880, offers a typical example:
We can take the expression back to 1843, and to Thomas Nichols’s Ellen Ramsay. Nichols had, according to Clarence Babcock in The American Frontier (1967), ‘a sharp ear for the nuances of folk idiom and of regional varieties of American English’. Nichols certainly picked up a variety of this expression:
And well might Jenkins have looked moral. ‘Once is a dose’ is a variant of the medical instruction ‘one pill is a dose’, attached to receipts and prescriptions from at least the eighteenth century. But it comes with a twist:
We are certainly dealing with a ‘certain class of quacks’, and they are revealed in the Public Ledger of 29 December 1779:
The injunction grows out of earlier advice, found in advertisements in papers such as the Daily Post (9 August 1743):
And the Universal Spectator of 30 June 1733:
The expression ‘once is a dose’ derives from a simple instruction given by doctors when describing how medicines should be concocted. See, for example:
From here it entered the less salubrious vocabulary of the quack doctors with their instant cures for venereal diseases in the eighteenth century. As this specific application came to be forgotten, the expression ‘one pill is a dose’ sprang a variant (apparently in North America) ‘once is a dose’ – the form which Joyce collected for use in Ulysses.
Joyce's Allusions >