Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Burnsides - Or Sideburns? Or Sideboards?

Sideburns, Burnside, Sideboards, Beards


Noun. US. Archaic. Late 19th century.
[General Ambrose Burnside (1824-81), US army officer.]

singular & (frequently) in plural. Moustache and whiskers with no beard on the chin.

You have to admire General Burnside. If you're going to follow any man into battle, you want him to be a man's man, and if Burnside's sideburns say nothing else, they say that this is what he is. Which is good because, by all accounts, he wasn't a particularly good general. He was popular, true, and he remembered everyone's name, but what comfort is that as a Confederate bullet tears through your skull? But those whiskers! If it were possible that a beard could ever engender respect and suicidal devotion, then I say that those whiskers be it.

And while we're on the subject of burnsides and sideburns, for me growing up in Oxfordshire they were always called sideboards. However, in adulthood, whenever I call them sideboards, it's greeted with derisory snorts: "Sideboards? Don't you mean sideburns, you barbally-bankbrupt buffoon?" OK - no one has ever called me a 'barbally-bankrupt buffoon', but I know they're thinking it. So let's just set the record straight here: the OED is in agreement with me:

4 Hair grown as a whisker at the side of a man's face (sometimes continuing on to his cheek).
Usually in plural. colloquial. L19
Sideburns, Sideboards,
So there. It's settled. And no, I couldn't wait until 'S' to get that one off my chest. Or chin.

Do you have burnsides, sideburns or sideboards?

Could bearded Burnside's barbal bravery bounce back on the bandwagon?

Do please leave your most razor-sharp comments below. 


  1. I believe that the phenomenal facial hair is a considerable portion of why Americans are so fascinated by the Civil War.

    Burnside is just the beginning: I particularly admire John Haskell King myself.

    1. Hahaha! Brilliant! I'm not sure I'll ever be able to claim to have a beard again. Great link, Katie!

  2. Replies
    1. So why don't we see more of this, Bibi? That's what I don't understand.

    2. It'll be the new trend next winter, just you wait and see, Ed. Better start saving!

  3. Nature dealt me a 1cm bald spot between my hair and sideburn, each side of my face, so that I have to grow the hair there long enough to cover it.

    I'm ashamed to say I have sideburn comb-overs.

    It's not as bad as poor Ambrose though, whose entire central chin appears to have had a bald spot. He doubtless considered growing the moustache very long and combing it straight down beyond his mouth, but that wouldn't have worked unless he could have rigged up some sort of moustache pull-cord curtain system to allow him to eat and talk.


    1. Mocketh the man not, C. This is a man so manly that he even shaves *after* growing his beard. He all like: "Yeah I got a beard, but it's just coz I can and I iz gonna shave that punk chin anyway, just to show you lameazoids wots wot."

      That's authentic Civil War speak. They was all into smack talk back then.

    2. I just noticed that if you turn him upside down, he's McDonald's.


    3. What on earth were you doing to notice that??

    4. Doing a handstand to distract me from the hunger.