http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-blo1.htmCathcart retorts, 'In that case you can go to the devil. I'm going there myself.'
Blow the gaff starts to appear early in the nineteenth century as criminal slang. It isn’t easy to find an origin — a lot of dictionaries don’t even try — because the matter is clouded by the fog of ages and the poor state of recording of early slang. There are also all sorts of meanings for gaff recorded down the centuries, which has added to our difficulties.
The standard English sense is of a hooked stick or barbed spear used for landing fish, at one time transferred to a horse-rider’s or fighting cock’s spur. This is from the Provençal word gaf for a boat-hook. In French this took on the figurative sense of a blunder, perhaps because the emotional effect is like being gaffed, and it’s the origin of the standard English gaffe for an embarrassing remark or blunder. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was also the source of another sense:
The gaff is a ring worn on the fore-finger of the dealer. It has a sharp point on the inner side, and the gambler, when dealing from a two-card box, can deal out the card he chooses.
Vocabulum: or, The Rogue’s Lexicon, by George Washington Matsell, 1859. Matsell was Chief of Police in New York City and a part-owner of the National Police Gazette. This extraordinary guide to criminal slang was compiled for his colleagues.
Together with the English dialect gaff for loud and coarse talk, or the same Scots word gaff which meant to talk loudly and merrily, this gave rise at the beginning of the twentieth century to an American slang sense that referred to severe criticism, treatment, or hardship (as in stand the gaff or give the gaff).
Then there’s the British slang meaning of gaff for the place where one lives (“come round my gaff for a coffee”), which is almost certainly derived from the use of gaff in the eighteenth-century to mean a fair, and later a cheap music-hall or theatre (as in the infamous penny gaff) and which probably comes from the Romany gav for a town, especially a market town.
But none of these is the immediate source for blow the gaff. We have to go back to the eighteenth century, when there was another version of the expression, to blow the gab, criminal slang meaning to reveal a secret or to betray a confederate; gab means conversation or speech (as in gift of the gab) and blow itself had earlier had the slang sense of informing on confederates:
As for that, says Will, I cou’d Sell it well enough, if I had it, but I must not be seen any where among my old Acquaintance; for I am blown, and they will all betray me.
History of Colonel Jack, by Daniel Defoe, 1723.
This is a famous early appearance of the full expression:
I, Crank Cuffin, swear to be
True to this fraternity;
That I will in all obey
Rule and order of the lay.
Never blow the gab or squeak;
Never snitch to bum or beak.
The Oath of the Canting Crew, taken from The Life of Bampfylde Moore Carew, by Robert Goadby, 1749. Crank Cuffin was a generic term for a rogue; squeak and snitch also refer to becoming an informer; a bum was a bailiff, a lowly law-enforcement officer (his name was an abbreviation of bum-bailiff, one who was close behind you in pursuit); and a beak was a magistrate.
We may guess that blow the gab changed into blow the gaff under the influence of one of the senses of gaff. We don't know for sure when this happened but the earliest known example of the expression is this:
A person having any secret in his possession, or a knowledge of anything injurious to another, when at least induced from revenge, or other motive, to tell it openly to the world and expose him publicly, is then said to have blown the gaff upon him.
A Vocabulary of the Flash Language, by James Hardy Vaux, 1812. Vaux was then a transported criminal in New South Wales, Australia. Flash is an old term referring to thieves, prostitutes, or the underworld.
This is an early example of the expression from outside the criminal world:
One of the French officers, after he was taken prisoner, axed me how we had managed to get the gun up there but I wasn’t going to blow the gaff, so I told him as a great secret, that we got it up with a kite; upon which he opened all his eyes, and crying “Sacre bleu!” walked away, believing all I said was true.
Peter Simple, by Frederick Marryat, 1833. Axed here is a dialectal form of asked.
Cathcart, who has previously got hold of the revolver, shoots himself. No. 10 is seized with remorse. He sees that Cathcart isn't quite dead. He picks him up and part drags, part carries him to the house. He is smaller than Cathcart and not very strong, and finds it a hard job. They have just got to the conservatory door when Cathcart has a final hæmorrhage and gives up the ghost.
There are many uses of this phrase in the Bible, including this, from Miles Coverdale's Version, 1535, Acts 12:23:
Immediatly the angell of the LORDE smote him, because he gaue not God the honoure: And he was eaten vp of wormes, and gaue vp the goost.
The metaphorical use of the phrase, i.e. in relation to something not living and not able to become a ghost, is 19th century; for example, James Kirke Paulding's, Westward Ho!, 1832, includes:
"At length it gave up the ghost, and, like an over-cultivated intellect, became incurably barren."
No. 10 suddenly becomes aware that his position in somebody else's grounds, alone with a corpse at 3 a.m., wants some explaining. He drops Cathcart—and bolts. Enter the Duke of Denver and falls over the body. Tableau.”
Before radio, film and television, tableaux vivants were popular forms of entertainment. Before the age of color reproduction of images the tableau vivant (often abbreviated simply to tableau) was sometimes used to recreate paintings "on stage", based on an etching or sketch of the painting. This could be done as an amateur venture in a drawing room, or as a more professionally produced series of tableaux presented on a theatre stage, one following another, usually to tell a story without requiring all the usual trappings of a "live" theatre performance. They thus 'educated' their audience to understand the form taken by later Victorian and Edwardian era magic lantern shows, and perhaps also sequential narrative comic strips (which first appeared in modern form in the late 1890s).
These tableaux vivant were often performed as the basis for school nativity plays in England during the Victorian period. Today, the custom is now practiced only at Loughborough High School (the oldest all-girl school in England). Ten tableaux are performed each year at the school carol service, including the depiction of an all-grey engraving (in which the subjects are painted completely grey).
The Pageant of the Masters is a tableau vivant-style production held in Laguna Beach, California every summer since 1933 (except during World War II). The Pageant recreates famous works of art on the stage. It has a different theme each year, but always features a recreation of "The Last Supper" by Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Pageant of our Lord is a tableau vivant-style production held in Rolling Hills Estates, California every spring since 1985. This production focuses on the life of Jesus Christ as told through religious works of art such as the "Pieta" of Michelangelo, "The Well of Moses" by Claus Sluter, and "Coming Home" by De L'Esprie.
Theatrical censorship in Britain and the U.S. forbade actresses to move when nude or semi-nude on stage, so tableaux vivant had a place in risqué entertainment for many years
In the nineteenth century they took such titles as "Nymphs Bathing" and "Diana the Huntress" and were to be found at such places as the "Hall of Rome" in Great Windmill Street, London. Other venues were the "Coal Hole" in the Strand and the "Cyder Cellar" in Maiden Lane.
After 1900, nude and semi-nude tableaux vivant also became a frequent feature of variety shows in the U.S.: first on Broadway in New York, then elsewhere in the country. The Ziegfeld Follies featured tableaux vivant from 1917.
The Windmill Theatre in London (1932–1964) featured nude tableaux vivant on stage; it was the first, and for many years the only venue for them in 20th century London.
Tableaux vivant were often included in fairground sideshows (as see in the film A Taste of Honey). Such shows had largely died out by the 1970s.
In the early 1900s, German dancer Olga Desmond appeared in Schönheitsabende (“Evenings of Beauty”) in which she posed nude in "living pictures", imitating classical works of art.
“That's good,” said Lord Peter; “that's very good. But when do you suppose it happened? Gerald found the body at 3 a.m.; the doctor was here at 4.30, and said Cathcart had been dead several hours. Very well. Now, how about that shot my sister heard at three o'clock?”
“Look here, old man,” said Parker, “I don't want to appear rude to your sister. May I put it like this? I suggest that that shot at 3 a.m. was poachers.”
“Poachers by all means,” said Lord Peter. “Well, really, Parker, I think that hangs together. Let's adopt that explanation provisionally. The first thing to do is now to find No. 10, since he can bear witness that Cathcart committed suicide; and that, as far as my brother is concerned, is the only thing that matters a rap. But for the satisfaction of my own curiosity I'd like to know: What was No. 10 blackmailing Cathcart about? Who hid a suit-case in the conservatory? And what was Gerald doing in the garden at 3 a.m.?”
“Well,” said Parker, “suppose we begin by tracing where No. 10 came from.”
“Hi, hi!” cried Wimsey, as they returned to the trail. “Here's something—here's real treasure-trove, Parker!”
A treasure trove may broadly be defined as an amount of money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion found hidden underground or in places such as cellars or attics, where the treasure seems old enough for it to be presumed that the true owner is dead and the heirs undiscoverable. However, both the legal definition of what constitutes a treasure trove and its treatment under law varies considerably from country to country, and from era to era.
The term is also often used metaphorically. Collections of articles published as a book are often titled Treasure Trove, as in A Treasure Trove of Science. This was especially fashionable for titles of children's books in the early- and mid-20th century.
From amid the mud and the fallen leaves he retrieved a tiny, glittering object—a flash of white and green between his finger-tips.
It was a little charm such as women hang upon a bracelet—a diminutive diamond cat with eyes of bright emerald.
MUDSTAINS AND BLOODSTAINS
“Other things are all very well in their way, but give me Blood.... We say, 'There it is! that's Blood!' It is an actual matter of fact. We point it out. It admits of no doubt.... We must have Blood, you know.”
David Copperfield (Abook by CharlesDickens)
“Hitherto,” said Lord Peter, as they picked their painful way through the little wood on the trail of Gent's No. 10's, “I have always maintained that those obliging criminals who strew their tracks with little articles of personal adornment—here he is, on a squashed fungus—were an invention of detective fiction for the benefit of the author. I see that I have still something to learn about my job.”
“Well, you haven't been at it very long, have you?” said Parker. “Besides, we don't know that the diamond cat is the criminal's. It may belong to a member of your own family, and have been lying here for days. It may belong to Mr. What's-his-name in the States, or to the last tenant but one, and have been lying here for years. This broken branch may be our friend—I think it is.”
“I'll ask the family,” said Lord Peter, “and we could find out in the village if anyone's ever inquired for a lost cat. They're pukka stones.
Pukka (pronounced puck-a) is a word of Hindi and Urdu origin, literally meaning 'cooked, ripe' and figuratively 'fully formed', 'solid', 'permanent', 'for real', 'sure'. In UK slang it means "genuine".