‘is your father a glazier?’: meaning and early occurrences

The phrase is your father a glazier?, and its variants, are addressed to one who stands between the speaker and the light of a window, a lamp, a candle or a fire—or, more generally, to one who obstructs the speaker’s view.

This phrase is first recorded in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, according to the Most Polite Mode and Method now used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England, by the Irish satirist, poet and Anglican cleric Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Published in London in 1738 but composed in the first decade of the 18th century, this book is a satire on the use of clichés; its purported author, Simon Wagstaff, assures “the Reader, that there is not one single witty Phrase in this whole Collection, which hath not received the Stamp and Approbation of at least one hundred Years” (cf. in this regard the authentic origin of ‘to rain cats and dogs’):

Lady Smart. Mr. Neverout, methinks you stand in your own Light.
Neverout. Ah! Madam, I have done so all my Life.
Ld. Sparkish. I’m sure he sits in mine: Prythee, Tom, sit a little farther: I believe your Father was no Glasier.

Next are these three definitions:

1-: From A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London: Printed for S. Hooper, 1788), by the English antiquary and lexicographer Francis Grose (1731-1791):

Glazier. […] Cant.—Is your father a glazier? a question asked to a lad or young man, who stands between the speaker and the candle, or fire. If it is answered in the negative, the rejoinder is—I wish he was, that he might make a window through your body, to enable us to see the fire or light.

2-: From Dictionary of Idiomatic English Phrases (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1891), by the Scottish teacher and author James Main Dixon (1856-1933):

Glazier.—Is your father a glazier?—a vulgar expression, signifying, “Do you suppose that I can see through you?” It is used when a person in front of you obstructs your view.

3-: From English as we speak it in Ireland (London: Longmans, Green, & Co. – Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd. – 1910), by the Irish historian and author Patrick Weston Joyce (1827-1914):

Your father was a bad glazier’: said to a person who is standing in one’s light.

The phrase in use—from The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.) of Tuesday 21st February 1911:

MAMIE’S MONOLOGUE
About Fat Women
In the Theater, Told
IN A TROLLEY CAR

“Would you look at that woman plowin’ through the aisle! Ain’t that awful, Belle?
“Instead of gradually edgin’ nearer the door she makes a grand break at the last moment, and now look! If she pokes me with that elbow of hers—ouch! Oh, I beg your pardon, madam; please excuse me for livin’.
“Belle, I bet she’s one of these women that think it’s against the law to come into a theater before the curtain goes up. I think the woman that slides her fat back in front of your face just when you’re on the verge of findin’ out what the play’s all about would do anything.
“I speak from experience, Belle. Bill took me to a grand show last night, and I’d had the time of m’ life if three great big women in succession hadn’t plumped themselves right in front of me each time he kissed the leading lady.
“And he only kisses her three times. I never was so mad in my life! He was such a big, handsome fellow that I was dying to see how he kissed, too!
“I almost jabbed the last one with a hatpin. She was the limit.
“Would you believe it, Belle, she was so fat she got caught between my knees and the back of the seat in front of me and just stuck there like a fool!
“‘Madam,’ I says, in a voice that would a-froze a hot potato, ‘madam, was your father a glazier?
“‘Mercy,’ she says, ‘I can’t move! Oh, this is awful!’
“And about six men in back of me sing out ‘amen’ in chorus, and I have to get up and untangle her. Can you beat it?”

And these are two variants with glassmaker:

1-: From And That’s That! A Locally Conducted Column, by ‘W. J. P.’, published in The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) of Monday 29th November 1937:

Nifties, 1898
“You’d make a better door than a window.” *
[And let’s not forget:—“Was your father a glassmaker?”]

(* The colloquial phrase to make a better door than a window means to inadvertently obstruct a person’s view—it is chiefly used in you’d make a better door than a window, which is a humorous prompt for someone to move.)

2-: From My mother taught me…, by Sarah Holtsclaw, published in The Alexandria Times-Tribune (Alexandria, Indiana) of Wednesday 28th December 2005:

Just recently someone shared this with me and I couldn’t help but think of the countless times I heard my own mother utter most of these sayings. Ahhh, memories.
[…]
My mother taught me how to become an adult…
“If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.”
My mother taught me what my father didn’t do for a living…
“Quit standing in front of the television, your father wasn’t a glass maker.”
My mother taught me about genetics…
“You’re just like your father.”
My mother taught me about my roots…
“Do you think you were born in a barn?”
My mother taught me about wisdom of age…
“When you get to be my age, you will understand.”
“One day you’ll have kids… and I hope they turn out just like you!”