settled his coffee

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panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
"The Albany Convention has settled Henry Clay's coffee."
(Letter from CL Knapp to AA Phelps, August 1839)

i have not come across this expression before. The sentence appears as something of an afterthought in a letter that has nothing at all to do with either Henry Clay or the Albany Convention.
I have found out that the Albany Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839 resolved "... that no man is fit to be a candidate for President ... who is not in favor of immediate emancipation".
Taking into account Clay's political views and his presidential aspirations, the expression must be negative, that his presidential hopes were dashed by the Albany Convention.

I have only found one other use of "settled his coffee".
"Before Jonas left to seek a new place he told Cynthy Ann as how as ef he'd met her alrlier 'twould a-settled his coffee fer life."
(The End of the World, Edward Eggleston)
Here, the expression seems to be positive!

I am left wondering: is this expression current?, what is its normal meaning?, and what is its origin?
 
  • Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My best guess is that it means 'to bring something to a conclusion', 'to finish'. Maybe even 'to bring to a satisfactory conclusion/state of affairs'

    This is based on my discovery (detailed below) that settling coffee, as real-life activity, was a preoccupation in the 1800's. Presumably it was the final stage in coffee-making. NOTE I'm not a coffee drinker so I don't know if that's true.


    I was young. Now, dear, you know that we never settle our coffee with eggs after they get to be over a shilling a dozen. Father and
    Date 1860
    Title Miss Gilbert's Career: An American Story
    Author Holland, J. G. (Josiah Gilbert), 1819-1881
    Source Miss Gilbert's Career: An American Story.

    bad boy, as the youth asked for a piece of codfish skin to settle coffee with. " He looked like a hero, with his old black hat,
    1883
    Title Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa 1883
    Author Peck, George W. (George Wilbur), 1840-1916
    Source Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa

    put the one egg back in the box and asked what Mrs. Crawford did settle coffee with.' I am sure I don't know; cold water, I
    Date 1886
    Title Tracy Park
    Author Holmes, Mary Jane, 1825-1907
    Source Tracy Park
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    This is based on my discovery (detailed below) that settling coffee, as real-life activity, was a preoccupation in the 1800's. Presumably it was the final stage in coffee-making.
    :thumbsup:
    It seems to be the figurative use of

    OED:
    IV. To come or bring to rest after agitation.
    17.b. trans. To cause (liquor) to deposit dregs or work off impurities; to clarify.
    1599 J. Davies Nosce Teipsum 7 So working Seas settle and purge the wine.
    1883 Harper's Mag. Mar. 578/1 Should the coffee be settled with an egg or with fish-skin?
     

    Archilochus

    Senior Member
    American English
    The only contemporary use of "to settle coffee" that I know of refers to the act of adding cold water to coffee made by boiling coffee grounds. Adding the cold water will cause the suspended coffee grounds to sink to the bottom, to settle. When I was in the service, we made coffee in this way. It made the coffee good to drink -- having to strain out coffee grounds with your teeth is not very pleasant. I think "ef he'd met her alrlier 'twould a-settled his coffee fer life." plays on this.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Also known as 'cowboy's coffee'. I suppose the egg shells or even whites could be used in the same way as clarifying stock but then you would still have to strain the coffee for polite society.

    They give a recipe for Coffee Boiled with Eggshells, which has also been known as cowboy coffee or camping coffee, and it's one of the simplest ways to make a brew.

    You simply boil the water and coffee grounds with some eggshells, which help clarify the brew. You let it settle then strain or carefully just dip out the liquid.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thank you for your comments.
    I can understand the literal sense of "settle your coffee" to mean an action or process that encourages the coffee grounds to sink to the bottom of the pot.
    What puzzles me is how this might translate into the figurative usage in the post #1 examples, the first of which appears to me negative, the second, positive.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...
    What puzzles me is how this might translate into the figurative usage in the post #1 examples, the first of which appears to me negative, the second, positive.
    My suggestion (see #2) was that it refers to bringing something to a conclusion. That has neither positive nor negative connotations.

    In the first case, his candidacy was brought to an end. In the second case his search for love was/would have been brought to an end.
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Given To come or bring to rest after agitation.
    "The Albany Convention has settled Henry Clay's coffee."
    In the context this means "brought to an end by the dashing of his presidential hopes"

    "Before Jonas left to seek a new place he told Cynthy Ann as how as ef he'd met her alrlier 'twould a-settled his coffee fer life."
    In the context "...it would have brought to an end his agitation/frustration/dissatisfaction for his lifetime."
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think my problem with the responses so far is that they don't reflect what appears to me to be the obvious glee in the original 19th century version.
    It's not an objective comment on Clay's presidential chances.
    It, surely, carries a sense of rejoicing, of relish, that as a result of the resolution of the Albany Convention, the presidential hopes of Henry Clay, a slaveholder, were considerably diminished.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think my problem with the responses so far is that they don't reflect what appears to me to be the obvious glee in the original 19th century version.
    It's not an objective comment on Clay's presidential chances.
    It, surely, carries a sense of rejoicing, of relish, that as a result of the resolution of the Albany Convention, the presidential hopes of Henry Clay, a slaveholder, were considerably diminished.
    Okay then, how about the similar "To settle someone's hash"

    11.
    settle someone's hash, Informal. to get rid of; subdue:
    Her blunt reply really settled my hash.
    the definition of settle someone's hash dictionary.com
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Okay then, how about the similar "To settle someone's hash"
    11.
    settle someone's hash, Informal. to get rid of; subdue:
    Her blunt reply really settled my hash.
    the definition of settle someone's hash dictionary.com
    That's exactly the sense I get from the sentence in the letter.
    Following Chasint's link, and looking further down, I found this explanation:
    [1803+ British universities & schools; origin unknown; semantically related to such similar and ironic expressions as clean someone's clock,cook someone's goose, and fix someone's wagon]

    On that basis, it is the general shape of the expression and the context in which it is used that is important, not so much the specific item. There is nothing specific about clocks, geese, or wagons and their cleaning, cooking or fixing, that conveys the sense of these phrases.
    - settle his hash,
    - cook his goose,
    - fix his wagon,
    ...
    - settle his coffee -- is just another instance of the same kind of thing.

    Thanks, everyone. I believe you have got us to the answer.
     
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