Gone for a burton

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Gone for a burton : Phrases


No longer functional - due to an item or person being either missing, faulty or dead.



This British phrase is now somewhat archaic and began fading from general use during the later part of the 20th century. There are numerous suggestions as to the origin, which is a sure shorthand way of saying that no one knows how it originated.

It appears to date from mid 20th century UK and the first reference to it in print is from The New Statesman, August 1941:

"Go for a Burton, crash."

I can't do more to help than to list some of the more commonly repeated suggested derivations, which are:

- A burton (also called a Spanish Burton) was a block and tackle mechanism used on Royal Navy ships. It was reputedly complex and difficult to use and anyone who wasn't where they were expected to be was said to have 'gone for a burton'. This is defined in William Falconer's An universal dictionary of the marine, 1769:

"Burton, a ... small tackle, formed by two blocks or pulleys ... generally employed to tighten the shrouds of the top-masts."

- A-burton' was the term used to describe a form of stowage on a ship. Again, we have a definition - in Arthur Young's Nautical dictionary, 1846:

"A-burton, Casks are said to be stowed a-burton, when placed athwartships [from side to side across the ship] in the hold."

- It is a reference in some way to the suits made by Montague Burton (see the Full Monty). Military personnel were given a Burton's suit on demobilization, so anyone who was absent, either by being killed or after demobilization, could have been said to have 'gone for a burton'.

- It refers to the Brethon life jackets used by the RAF.

- It relates to the beer brewed in the Midlands town of Burton-on-Trent, which was and is famous for its breweries. Pilots who crashed, especially those who crashed into the sea - when they would have been 'in the drink' were said, in a reference to Burton's Ale, to have 'gone for a burton'.

It may be one of those; it may not. The most likely candidates appear to be Montague Burton's suits or Burton-on-Trent's beer.

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