“My dear Sir, you really should not have kicked that man!”
from The Adventures of Nosey Parker – postcard (1907)
image: Frédéric Humbert – Rugby Pioneers
The noun nosey, or nosy, parker denotes an overly inquisitive person; one of its synonyms is Paul Pry.
Its origin is unknown. Apparently composed of the adjective nosey, nosy, in the sense of showing too much curiosity about other people’s affairs, and of the surname Parker, it seems to refer to a probably fictitious individual taken as the type of someone inquisitive or prying.
It is first recorded, as a proper name, in Eastward Ho! by E. Hess-Kaye, published in Belgravia: A London Magazine of May 1890; the narrator of this story, “a West Ender”, visits Shoreditch and Hoxton, in the East End of London; at the end of the story, he goes to a pub there, where he hears “scraps of dialogue”:
A highly pitched voice, proceeding from the next compartment, and belonging to an over-dressed, richly painted and powdered, but I am bound to say good-looking young lady, as I found out: “So I says to ’im (you’ll understan’ as we had been a walkin’ out about four months, an’ I was gittin’ a bit sick of ’im an’ his ways), now, lookey ’ere, Mr. Poll Pry, you’re a askin’ too many questions for me, there’s too much of Mr. Nosey Parker about you, an’ I’d ’ave you to know as I’m a laidee, but perhaps you thought as I was a J. an’ yer could ’ave me on a bit of toast, but you’re just mistaken, and so yer ’ad better sling yer ’ook.”
The earliest known use of nosey parker as a common noun is from The Daily News (London) of 21st October 1896, which reported that “Elizabeth Waddell, 32, a determined-looking woman”, appeared at Southwark police court
to answer a summons for wilful damage to a barrowload of toys. Mary Ann Gilson, the complainant, said that Mrs. Waddell, who was “the terror of the street,” pushed another woman over the barrow, and smashed seven shillingsworth of penny and twopenny dolls, horses, and fragile stock. The defendant said this affair also was an accident. She valued the damage at a shilling, and accused the complainant of trying to make a fortune out of her. Moreover, if the complainant had not been “such a Nosey Parker,” she would have escaped from the row.