In Reply to: Sweating cobs and neatas posted by Victoria S Dennis on February 05, 2009 at 09:11:
: : 'Sweating cobs and neatas'. What is the origin of this phrase? I believe it is something to do with the Navy and rum?
: Is it a "phrase" at all? Google finds no hits for it, although just "sweating cobs" gives about 200. Where did you hear/read it? I've never heard "sweating cobs" in the UK - is it a US phrase? (Just guessing, but among the meanings of "cob" are "an Irish name for the Spanish silver dollar" or "cobblestone"; either of which could be a metaphor for really big drops of sweat.) (VSD)
At http://www.aboutlanguageschools.com/language/slang/royal-marines-slang.asp#n you'll find the following entries:
sweating neaters - to be worried (see neaters).
neaters - undiluted pusser's rum, aka Navy Neaters.
Spot on, Victoria.
Sweating cobs, on the other hand, doesn't seem to specifically have Navy links, and has more to do with heat (or exercise) than being worried. In The Fireman's Song (D. Bilston) you have:
Whenever you see a train go by / Or hear an engine's whistle cry,
Think of the man on the old footplate / shovelling coal, the drivers mate.
A loco fireman is me grade / Boiling water is me trade,
The driver thinks he runs the show / But if I'm not there the train won't go.
Heaving coal for a hungry fire / Sweating cobs to get steam higher,
Of the colliers harvest that I burn / With toil and sweat, me wages earn.
A cob was originally anything sort of round (like a head), so could translate as "sweating lumps". If something more specific, I'd go with Victoria's suggestion of cobblestones. There's even a suggestion on the web (no pun intended) that it means sweating so much that it feels as if your skin is crawling with spiders (I don't really buy this) - but possible, as cob was an old name for spider (originally attercob [spelling from memory] meaning poison-head, as in adder - and hence cobweb).
Anyway, probably the concatenation of two phrases, one for a "cold sweat" and one for a "hot sweat".
Sorry, no info on when first recorded. (GC)