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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

slave-girl character in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852), immortal in cliche for her response to a question about her origin put to her by the pious Northern abolitionist Miss Ophelia:\n\n"Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?"\n
The child looked bewildered, but grinned, as usual.\n
"Do you know who made you?"\n
"Nobody as I knows on," said the child, with a short laugh.\n
The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added
"I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."\n\nIn addition to being often misquoted by the addition of a "just" (or "jes'"), the line is sometimes used inappropriately in 20c. writing to indicate something that got large without anyone intending it to.


a. See topsy-turvy

Topsy (elephant)

Topsy (circa 1875 – January 4, 1903) was a female Asian elephant put to death at a Coney Island, New York amusement park by electrocution in January 1903.

Born in Southeast Asia around 1875, Topsy was secretly brought into the United States soon thereafter and added to the herd of performing elephants at the Forepaugh Circus, who fraudulently advertised her as the first elephant born in America. During her 25 years at Forepaugh, Topsy gained a reputation as a "bad" elephant and, after killing a spectator in 1902, was sold to Coney Island's Sea Lion Park. When Sea Lion was leased out at the end of the 1902 season and redeveloped into Luna Park Topsy was involved in several well-publicized incidents, attributed to the actions of either her drunken handler or the park's new publicity-hungry owners, Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy. Their end-of-the-year plans to hang Topsy at the park in a public spectacle and charge admission were stopped by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The event was cut back to invited guests and press only and Thompson and Dundy agreed to use a more sure method of strangling the elephant with large ropes tied to a steam-powered winch with poison and electrocution planned for good measure. On January 4, 1903 in front of a small crowd of invited reporters and guests Topsy was fed poison, electrocuted, and strangled, the electrocution ultimately killing her. Amongst the press that day was a crew from the Edison Manufacturing movie company who filmed the event. Their film of the electrocution part was released to be viewed in coin-operated kinetoscopes under the title Electrocuting an Elephant.

The story of Topsy fell into obscurity for the next 70 years but has become more prominent in popular culture, partly due to the fact that the film of the event still exists. In popular culture Thompson and Dundy's killing of Topsy has switched attribution, with claims it was an anti- alternating current demonstration organized by Thomas A. Edison during the War of Currents. Historians point out that Edison was never at Luna Park and the electrocution of Topsy took place 10 years after the War of Currents.


Topsy may refer to:

Topsy (instrumental)

"Topsy" was a 1938 instrumental release for bandleader Benny Goodman, written by Edgar Battle and Eddie Durham, which became a #14 pop hit. The tune had previously been recorded by Count Basie and His Orchestra on August 9th, 1937.

In 1958, drummer Cozy Cole recorded the song and issued it in two parts as a single. The A-side ("Topsy I") made it to #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the B-side ("Topsy II") reached #3 on the Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart, staying atop the latter for six weeks. The two songs were simultaneous hits; they were closest together on the Hot 100 chart for the week ending November 2, 1958, when Topsy I was at #27 and Topsy II was at #4.

Topsy (Bob's Burgers)

"Topsy" is the 16th episode of the third season of the animated comedy series Bob's Burgers and the overall 38th episode, and is written by Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith and directed by Tyree Dillihay. It aired on Fox in the United States on March 10, 2013.

Topsy (d.1998)

Topsy (died 1998) was an abused deaf mute Chinese Tartar girl who was adopted by British Missionary Mildred Cable, a Protestant Christian missionary in China, serving with the China Inland Mission, and her friends Evangeline (Eva) French and Francesca French, .." Her story is told in the book 'The Story of Topsy' She was named 'Little Lonely' by her abusive guardian, but the sisters called her 'Topsy'. The child could not hear or speak and was sold as a beggar. She was unable to defend herself against attacks from the neighbour's dogs.

After the Missionaries brought her to England she took on the name of Eileen Guy. The French sisters left her their money when they died in 1960 (Eileen was thought to be about 45 at that time) and she lived in Rickmansworth until she died in 1998.

Usage examples of "topsy".

Used tae think eh wis it, wi that shite band him n Topsy hud, but top-quality fanny widnae look at urn until eh goat ehs decks n ehs club nights n ehs wad ay cash.

Her world was suddenly topsy turvy she must get away, fly from everyone.

Of course with everything topsy - turvy the way it is nowadays, perhaps you would!

Thus adjured, Topsy confessed to the ribbon and gloves, with woful protestations of penitence.

Roland dismounted, partly out of respect for the horse, partly out of respect for himself - he didn't want to break a leg under Topsy if Topsy chose this moment to give up and canter into the clearing at the end of his path.

Apart from her lively procession of field-hands, house niggers, Chloe, Topsy, etc.

Topsy was cited, and had up before all the domestic judicatories, time and again.

Tray chairs fur Muster Casey Valentoon in a roustering vendition of 'Miss Hooligan's Christmas Cake,' the topsiest mnoment of a quarky under-parformance.