Blotting Your Copybook & Other Dreaded Deeds

Helen Richardson’s Copybook, 1895

I was surprised when I wrote to a friend that we didn’t want to blot our copybook about an Oysterville issue and said friend didn’t know the meaning of the metaphor.  Granted, she is a decade or so younger than I, but I was a bit surprised.  So I looked the expression up just to check on how old I really was.

According  the online Free Dictionary. blotting your copybo0k means to  tarnish, damage, or ruin one’s reputation by behaving badly or committing some mistake or social transgression.  Refers to a child’s copy book, the blotting (staining with ink) of which ruins one’s work.  Primarily heard in UK. .

There was no frame of reference for time and I don’t know why the expression is familiar to me.  Maybe all the British novels I’ve read?  Or maybe because I’ve run across lots of copybooks in my family research.  Most don’t have many blots, though.

Blotters! Blotters! Blotters!

We do have a plethora of blotters, however.  Books of blotters, individual blotters, advertising blotters, blotters given away with purchases.  So it was in the early 1900s when my mother and her siblings dipped their pens in the inkwells built into their school desks.  I had blotters in my day, too.  I think it was in fifth grade that we “graduated” to using fountain pens with real-for-sure liquid ink after four years of pencilwork.  Those pens didn’t cause much blotting, but woe be unto your careful work if you forgot to blot before you turned or left the page.  Smears or smudges forevermore!

I think kids across America could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when ballpoint pens came into general use in the 1950s!!!


3 Responses to “Blotting Your Copybook & Other Dreaded Deeds”

  1. Jo Lucad says:

    I, too am familiar with the phrase, but, I also, have read many British novels and historical novel. I started school in the 50’s and our desks had holes for ink wells, too. In case I get busy this week have a wonderful birthday!

  2. Bill Grennan says:

    What?! Desks don’t have holes for inkwells anymore?!

  3. sydney says:

    lol!!! Actually, I don’t think most classrooms even have desks any more, Bill. Tables seem to be the furniture of choice. And “group” learning is favored over studious isolation which fostered (oh my!) competition and other dreaded consequences. I wonder how the experts think cooperative learning is working out now that elitism and divisiveness and other social ills seem to be running rampant! Maybe virtual learning will be the wave of the future??? The mind boggles.

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