Showing posts from June, 2018

The Butcher's Bill

'What was the butcher's bill?' he asked.
'Tolerably severe for so short an action,' said Stephen. 'We have no dead, but there are three abdominal wounds I do not like at all, and Mr. Bentley was cruelly bruised when he tripped over a bucket and fell down the main hatchway; while there were many kicked or bitten by the horses, an unreasonable number, for a naval engagement. (Chapter 7, Letter of Marque, Patrick O’Brian, 1988)

The "Butcher's Bill" is a sardonic way to account for, and deflect the horrible reality of, the numbers of dead and injured in a battle.  The phrase appears to have been in common use for so long that even Google doesn't know who started it.  It is frequently seen in Patrick O'Brian's extended series of novels about life aboard the Royal Navy's ships in the Napoleonic era.  It appears so commonly, in fact, that among O'Brian's rabid fan base, the accounting of all the casualties described in the 20-volume…