In Reply to: Pew posted by Chris Cameron on March 20, 2010 at 16:09:
: I've been told the term P.U. comes from the Signeurial system in the New World, in that the deceased Signeurs were buried (not very deeply) directly under their 'pew', making it the most undesirable seat in the Church, because of the smell. What might be the potential validity of this? It seems an example of popular etymology.
Sounds in every way implausible.
- Although in the early modern period it was certainly a status thing to be buried under the church rather than in the churchyard, I know of no custom of burying people directly under their own pew.
- If that made one's own pew undesirable, that would be a very obvious reason *not* to do it!
- It is true that in many old English city churches in the 18th and 18th centuries the sheer number of burials around and under the church made the church smell of corruption; this was a major public health problem in London, for example. But if the burials under the floor got that bad, you'd smell them all over the church, not just in one pew.
- And there would be no reason for the smell to come vertically up through the floor; it would be far more likely to make its way through air vents in the crypt, and be most noxious nearest those vents.
- "PU" is far more likely to be a jokey version of "phew!" or "pooh!"