Out of nowhere, that unknown place where thoughts breed and memories thicken, a song keeps running through my head. It is not a new song, but a simple old melody with quaint lyrics. Nor is this tune one that would ingratiatingly ingrain itself on a normal brain. Yet it did—and all because to the word ‘purloined’.
THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE
CHORUS: He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying Trapeze. His movements were graceful, all girls he could please, and my love he purloined away.”
‘Purloin’ is a word you do not here often in the modern world. It means to underhandedly steal away. Though the root of the word has nothing to do with ‘loin’ in the erotic sense, the lyrics in the chorus insinuate a sexual arousal.
Once I was happy but now I’m forlorn
Like an old coat that is tattered and town
Left on this wide world to fret and to mourn,
Betrayed by a maid in her teens
Ah, yes, the proverbial maid in her teens—when hormones run rampant, passions soar, and common sense often flies into the stratosphere. The maiden’s curves and appeal are often the most voluptuous when she is in estrus, giving off the primitive scent of ovulation.
The girl that I loved she was handsome
I tried all I knew her to please
But I could not please her one quarter so well
Like that man on the Flying Trapeze
He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease
A daring young man on the flying Trapeze
His movements were graceful, all girls he could please
And my love he purloined away.
According to The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, the 1868 song “The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze” is “arguably the most famous circus song in American popular music”.
The song has a known history. It was about the exploits—sexual and artistic—of Jules Léotard, who developed the trapeze into an art form in the 1860s. He invented and popularized the one-piece athletic wear now called for him. The suit clearly displayed his underlying physique, a look that charmed women and inspired the song about purloined love. The song was first published in 1867, words written by the British lyricist and singer George Leybourne, music by Gaston Lyle. Thomas Hischak says the song was first heard in American Vaudeville in the 1870s, where it was popularized by Johnny Allen.
Léotard, of course, invented the leotard. This simple one-piece garment allowed for the unrestricted movement which was so vital in his death-defying act. Later, it would become standard wear for ballet dancers.
Léotard was paid a hundred and eighty pounds a week for his act, the equivalent of five thousand today, but died at age twenty-eight from an infectious disease and not from a fall.
Purloined in a lovely description for stealthy stealing. The end result of “purloin,” is that the object is gone, stolen, lifted, pilfered, embezzled, or pilfered or swiped. “but the style or manner of the crime varies with the term. They terms all have shades of meanings. “Pilfering” or “filching” is a hidden crime. A “heist” is a major theft that often involves George Clooney or Frank Sinatra.
One famous use of the word “purloin” is found in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story written in 1845, “The Purloined Letter”. It was one of three works that were forerunners to the modern detective story. The Origin and Etymology of the word seems to be from Middle English, to put away, misappropriate, derived from the Anglo-French purluigner.