• Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) someone whose paycheque is a lot smaller than they were expecting it to be [19thC slang]

You know how it is. The end of the month finally rolls around, your paycheque arrives, and you find—well, not quite the amount you were expecting.

If the amount you receive is much larger than you predicted, of course, then there’s no problem. If, on the other hand, it is much smaller, then you’re a north-easter.

Did we mention HHHQ is in Newcastle upon Tyne? Anyway, originally a term from naval slang, it appears two theories have emerged attempting to explain where the word north-easter comes from in this sense.

In his landmark Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1923), the lexicographer Eric Partridge put forward a theory that the phrase perhaps alludes to “the bitterness of a northeast wind”, as seafarers in North Atlantic waters would typically find strong, cold, north-easterly winds—pulled down from the high Arctic—much harsher than their opposing southwesterly winds, which would originate in the balmier tropics. Unfortunately, despite being the more imaginative of the two theories on offer, Partridge’s is also the least likely.

Instead it seems that north-easter originated in the relatively less interesting world of ships’ salary registers. Supposedly, crew members whose pay had for some reason been docked, withheld, or withdrawn altogether would once have had the letters “NE”—standing for “not entitled”—written by their name in the ship’s financial records. It was this acronym that was then humorously reinterpreted as a compass reading, and established the term north-easter as, originally, a nickname for someone simply “not entitled” to their full pay.

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