Blowin' like ole Billyo (origin) -other possible origins

Posted by James Briggs on October 08, 2004

In Reply to: Blowin' like ole Billyo (origin) posted by Shae on October 08, 2004

: : I guess "Blowin'Like old Billyo" means 'with great speed' (irish slang) and also used in the area of St. Ives (Cornwall) for in a text I came across this local phrase: "Damme we had been a blowin like old billyo"

: : any ideas on the origin of this one???

: Billyo entered the English language in the late 19th century after the Rainhill steam locomotive trials between Liverpool and Manchester. These had gripped the public's imagination. Engineer George Stephenson's Puffing Billy gave rise to the expressions "running (or puffing) like Billy-o". The Puffing Billy type of "infernal combustion engine", belching steam, smoke and fire, must have appeared Dante-esque to spectators in an era of horsepower and hence its association with hell. So billyo became a general pseudonym for things hellish and useful in genteel or young company, where something could be said to "hurt like billyo" or one could invite someone to "go to billyo" without corrupting or offending - except, perhaps, one's target.


Going like Billio meaning furious and fast activity has several possible likely origins. The first suggests comparison with Stephenson's, William Hedley 1814 designed, steam engine, the "Puffing Billy", as the basis. (The term "billypot" was well established in the 19th century for a can or pot used to boil water over an open fire; perhaps this is where Stephenson's engine got its name?)
Another implicates an Italian soldier at the time of Garibaldi. His name was Lt Nino Bixio - pronounced Biglio in his native Genoese dialect - and it is said that he would enter battle encouraging his men to follow him and "fight like Biglio". I prefer the "Puffing Billy" version.
There is a third, unlikely origin, based on the Puritan 17th century divine Joseph Billio. He allegedly exhorted his followers to great acts of zeal. However, the expression didn't enter the language until long after his death and it seems improbable that he was the cause.