Imagine if someone highly untrustworthy were to give the excuse – just a hypothetical example here – of taking a trip to Barnard Castle for health purposes when in fact they went for a day out just for the fun of it at a time when such travel was not allowed. What possible term could cover such behaviour? Writing in the autumn of 2019, it’s hard to imagine any such thing happening, but if it did, we’d need a phrase to categorize it.
Step forward the great Eric Partridge, whose Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang has graced my bookshelves for many years (although the dust on top shows how long it is since I got it down!)
It turns out that there is a handy phrase for just such an event on page 50. “‘Come! come! that’s Barney Castle! … an expression often uttered when a person is heard making a bad excuse in a still worse cause’ ” – a quotation Partridge attributes to the Denham Tracts, a collection of writings published by a Yorkshire tradesman in the mid-19th century.
It’s hard to believe we’d ever need to reuse the phrase, but if we did, there it is, thanks to Eric Partridge. Don’t forget, you read it here first!