Word Matters: Casting Up One’s Accounts?

So many heroines, nervous about whatever the maiden in fiction might fear says she is “about to cast up her accounts.”  Young bucks, after a night of Regency carousing chorus that they are about to do the same.

But, as easy as it is to understand, why did this phrase which was ordinarily  a term of accounting and bookkeeping, become slang for vomiting?

Casting: easy enough to get in  terms of throwing, and even, though somewhat archaic, to throw things up or together. Think casting a fishing line or casting feed to chickens, casting things into the wind.

“Accounts” was the tricky part.  As my featured image shows above, this phrase was used in literature of the 19th century and is now relegated to historical fiction.  (see references below)


Lincoln IN Everyday Humor screen cap.
The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 74
edited by Josiah Gilbert Holland, Richard Watson Gilder
Lincoln in Everyday Humor
page 366
by Silas W. Burt

This was not easy to locate in a web search;  but when I changed one search term I finally found this answer:

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. S.v. “cast up accounts.” Retrieved May 18 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cast+up+accounts

cast up (one’s) accounts
(redirected from cast up accounts)
cast up (one’s) accounts
1. obsolete To calculate the figures of one’s financial accounts. The morning after another rather indulgent evening, I decided it was high time for me to cast up my accounts.
2. obsolete To regurgitate. A play on the terms cast (which is an obsolete term for calculating arithmetical operations, here meaning “to throw”) and accounts (one’s bank account, here referring to one’s stomach). The gentleman, deeply inebriated, cast up his accounts onto the head of some poor wretch sleeping in the street.


An interesting image I found is a cartoon by Cruikshanks about rationalization.  It is only marginally related and will probably load slowly but it was too much fun to leave out:

check out the page in wikimedia for the amusing blurbs above each picture. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThat-accounts-for-it-1799-caricature-Isaac-Cruikshank.jpg


Vomiting: top image
History of the First and Second Missouri Confederate Brigades: 1861-1865. And, From Wakarusa to Appomattox, a Military Anagraph
Robert S. Bevier
Ch XXV Science and Seasickness
page 369
Bryan, Brand & Company, 1879 – Missouri – 507 pages
Link to page: https://books.google.com/books?id=IZcvAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA369&lpg=PA369&dq=casting+up+her+accounts&source=bl&ots=cr90WkY5mF&sig=vqeddcmg7CMFOtboMqLSNiZxdIY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJ79OHwePMAhUGVT4KHc9XBM04ChDoAQggMAI#v=onepage&q=casting%20up%20her%20accounts&f=false

Middle Image:
October 1 1864
Skeletons in the Closet page 414
LINK: https://books.google.com/books?id=wnJAAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA414&ots=dyPx–lJpr&dq=casting%20up%20her%20accounts&pg=PA414#v=onepage&q=casting%20up%20her%20accounts&f=false

Bottom: accounting
The Irish Monthly, Volume 17
McGlashan & Gill, 1889
Molly’s Fortunes Chapter VI
page 173 

LINK: https://books.google.com/books?id=fboRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA173&dq=casting+up+her+accounts+Molly%27s+Fortunes&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjB78Pt7-PMAhXIGT4KHWOiCgUQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=casting%20up%20her%20accounts%20Molly%27s%20Fortunes&f=false