origin of ‘according to Cocker’


The Pen's Triumph (1658) - Edward Cocker

engraving from The Pen’s Triumph: being a Copy-Book (London, 1658), “Inuented, Written, and Engrauen” by Edward Cocker





according to Cocker: correctly; reliably (synonym: according to Gunter)




Edward Cocker (1631-75), an English engraver who also taught writing and arithmetic, was the reputed author of the popular Cocker’s Arithmetick: Being a Plain and familiar Method, suitable to the meanest Capacity, for the full Understanding of that incomparable Art, as it is now taught by the ablest School-Masters in City and Country, first published after his death, in 1677. According to The Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), the 52nd edition of this textbook appeared in 1748, and it has passed through about 112 editions in all.

The English naval administrator Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wrote very favourably of Edward Cocker in his diary on 10th August 1664:

Up, and, being ready, abroad to do several small businesses, among others to find out one to engrave my tables upon my new sliding rule* with silver plates, it being so small that Browne that made it cannot get one to do it. So I find out Cocker, the famous writing-master, and get him to do it, and I set an hour by him to see him design it all; and strange it is to see him with his natural eyes to cut so small at his first designing it, and read it all over, without any missing, when for my life I could not, with my best skill, read one word or letter of it; but it is use. But he says that the best light for his life to do a very small thing by (contrary to Chaucer’s words to the Sun, “that he should lend his light to them that small seals grave”), it should be by an artificial light of a candle, set to advantage, as he could do it. I find the fellow, by his discourse, very ingenuous; and among other things, a great admirer and well read in all our English poets, and undertakes to judge of them all, and that not impertinently. Well pleased with his company and better with his judgement upon my Rule, I left him and home.

(* A sliding rule is a mathematical gauging or measuring instrument consisting of two graduated parts, one of which slides upon the other, and so arranged that when brought into proper juxtaposition the required result may be obtained by inspection. Pepys is the first known user of this term.)

The English playwright and actor Arthur Murphy (1727-1805) mentioned Cocker’s Arithmetick in a farce titled The Apprentice (1756). The author describes Wingate as “a passionate old Man, particularly fond of Money and Figures, and involuntarily uneasy about his Son, Dick”, and his son as “bound to an Apothecary, and fond of going on the Stage”:

– Wingate: Let me see no more Play-Books. […]
– Dick: Cocker’s Arithmetick, Sir?
– Wingate: Ay, Cocker’s Arithmetick—study Figures, and they’ll carry you through the World—
– Wingate: Yes, Sir, [stifling a Laugh] Cocker’s Arithmetick! [exit.
– Wingate: Well, but, now I think of it—I have Cocker’s Arithmetick below Stairs in the Counting-House—I’ll step and get it for him, and so he shall take it Home with him.

In a letter from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, dated 6th September 1773, the English lexicographer, author, critic and conversationalist Samuel Johnson (1709-84) wrote to the British diarist and author Hester Thrale (1741-1821) that a few days earlier he had slept at a place “called Enock in Glenmorrison”:

The house in which we lodged was distinguished by a chimney, the rest had only a hole for the smoke. Here we had eggs, and mutton, and a chicken, and a sausage, and rum. In the afternoon tea was made by a very decent girl in a printed linen. She engaged me so much that I made her a present of Cocker’s arithmetic.

In The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. (1832 edition), the Scottish biographer and diarist James Boswell (1740-95) explained:

Wherever this was mentioned, there was a loud laugh, at which Dr. Johnson, when present, used sometimes to be a little angry. One day, when we were dining at General Oglethorpe’s, where we had many a valuable day, I ventured to interrogate him, “But, sir, is it not somewhat singular that you should happen to have Cocker’s Arithmetick about you on your journey? What made you buy such a book at Inverness?” He gave me a very sufficient answer. “Why, sir, if you are to have but one book with you upon a journey, let it be a book of science. When you have read through a book of entertainment, you know it, and it can do no more for you; but a book of science is inexhaustible.

The earliest use of according to Cocker that I have found is in The Chester Chronicle (Chester, Cheshire) of 5th July 1816:

We will not condescend to notice the weekly scurrility of the Courant; but confine ourselves to its Criticism on a literal error in our last, which escaped the corrector; how far it is deserving the “IMMEDIATE ATTENTION” of the Critic of the Courant, “and a wider circulation than the Chronicle can give” it, we leave to the decision of the public. We shall only say, that we truly and correctly stated, that the gross and repeated attacks on private characters, and violationS of truth and propriety, in that paper, were properly appreciated and reprobated by the Public: had we written violation (as printed) in the singular number, we should have violated facts, and deserved and received the severest censure, for reducing the constant, studied derogation of character in that paper, to a solitary offence: it is clear from the verb and the relative, ARE and THEIR, that the antecedent violations must be plural to agree with them and the conduct of the Courant. One word more, relative to the “WIDER CIRCULATION THAN THE CHRONICLE CAN GIVE IT”. This passage, may be supposed to mean, that the Courant has a greater circulation than the Chronicle; no such thing: it is only artfully stating an incontrovertable [sic] fact, that a paragraph which appears in the Chronicle, is increased a little in publicity by copying it into the Courant; or, according to Cocker, that 3 and 1 make four.

Thomas Hughes (1822-96), English author and social reformer, wrote the following dialogue in his novel Tom Brown at Oxford (1861):

“Do you know, Katie, I don’t think I ever saw you so happy and in such spirits?”
“There now! And yet you began talking to me as if I were looking sad enough to turn all the beer in the parish sour.”
“Well, so you ought to be, according to Cocker, spending all your time in sick-rooms.”
“According to who?”
According to Cocker.”
“Who is Cocker?”
“Oh, I don’t know; some old fellow who wrote the rules of arithmetic, I believe; it’s only a bit of slang.”

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