Codding is misrepresenting or shamming – lying sometimes. Joseph Wright, in his monumental English Dialect Dictionary (vol. 1, 1898) defines to cod as ‘to sham, humbug, hoax, impose upon, lie’, and the noun cod as ‘a humbug; a hoax, imposition, lie’. He finds both the verb and the noun in dialect glossaries back to the middle of the nineteenth century, though they may well date from much earlier. Most of his evidence for the terms comes from the north of England, but he notes that they are also found as far south as Warwickshire, and also in Ireland and Australia.
Codology is codding elevated to a pseudo-science: the business of fooling someone by a pretence or misrepresentation; leg-pulling, stringing them along, telling tall stories. It is a word that was first recorded and popularized in Ireland, and is closely associated with Joyce and his characterization of what it is to be Irish. In fact, the OED gives Joyce’s use in Ulysses as the first recorded occurrence of codology.
But that isn’t the case. There are unsubstantiated stories that the term goes back to the eighteenth century, and the first hard evidence we find for codology dates from 1847, in the pages of the voice of independent Ireland, the Nation:
To be a good Frenchman is the paramount duty of the man; and, lo! From the heart of modern Europe, crushed and cramped with theoretic moralities, codology, commercial systems, and leviathan formulas, springs forth a well of story, pure and limpid as that which still reflects the ancient greatness of the Pagan world.
Nation (1847) 31 July, p. 682/1
Further documentary evidence for the word is sparse until the latter end of the nineteenth century when it is clearly one of the buzzwords of the day:
Let anyone take up the Report just published, and, after an honest read of it, ask himself – has he ever before read such bosh in his life? [...] But is it for recording this great-grandmother codology that we have a Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and that they have a secretary, and that he drivels them out a Report?
Freeman’s Journal (1889) 29 January
The great enemy of true pharmacy was company pharmacy, which was in their midst under various names, such as ‘store chemists’, ‘co-operative stores’, and ‘Codology and Co., Limited’, the last-named including grocers, booksellers, leather merchants, etc.
Pharmaceutical Journal (1898), p. 155
Given the widespread use of codology in late nineteenth-century Ireland we don’t need to find a specific source from which Joyce took the word. But it is of some interest that a constant stream of evidence derives from the ‘public amusements’ which are so frequently alluded to in Ulysses.
Harry Hartley (J. H. Hartley) was a member of the Livermore Brothers ‘Court Minstrels’ (see ‘Livermore christies’ at U 15.410) – a company that provided both Christie minstrel-style and general variety entertainment. Harry Hartley fell into the latter section, advertising himself (soon after his visit to Ireland in early 1893) as ‘Professor Codology’ and later as the ‘King of Codology’:
Norwich. Theatre Royal [...] Mr Harry Huntley [sic], in the character of Professor Codology, creates immense fun.
Era (1893) 27 May
Gaiety Theatre of Varieties, Coleshill Street, Birmingham… J. H. Hartley, the King of Codology.
Birmingham Pictorial & Dart (1899) 1 September, p. 8
The Livermore minstrels performed regularly in Dublin (and throughout Britain) from at least 1883 until the end of the century. In 1898 Harry Hartley (the self-styled king of mirth and codology) was advertising in the trade magazine the Era just two advertisements earlier than Charles James, the proprietor of the Dublin waxworks in which Marcella the Midget Queen performed (U 16.850).
Wanted, Known, those who have sneaked the following – Musical Coon, Musical King, and others – can share this one. Hartley, King of Mirth, Music, and codology, Theatre Royal, Bishop Auckland [...].
Wanted, Known, Waxwork Exhibition, Dublin, closes Jan. 15th, for Alterations. Date of Reopening will be shortly announced. All artists booked to this date. Chas. A. James, Proprietor. Novelties, Write.
Era (1898) 8 January
At much the same time Edward Hughes was peddling another literary manifestation called Codology – his burlesque on mesmerism – in the variety theatres.
Copyright of a Burlesque. In the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice an application was yesterday made to Mr. Justice North on behalf of Mr. Edward Hughes, a music-hall artist, of Liverpool, to expunge an entry in the book of registry at Stationers’ Hall, whereby Harold Henri, a professional mesmerist, at Liverpool, was registered as the composer and author of a dramatic piece entitled ‘Codology’, or a burlesque on mesmerism.
Liverpool Mercury (1894) 22 June
Public amusements… Empire Palace Theatre… The Great Hughes in ‘Codology’.
Irish Times (1907) 6 February, p. 6
Both Hughes and Hartley kept the word in front of audiences both in Ireland and throughout the provinces of Britain. They must have helped the word’s emergence as a characteristic Irishism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Harald Beck/John Simpson
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