So, I was curious about this 1846 quote, especially the expression "street yarn":
"In a time of great pecuniary national trouble, an eminent writer on political economy made the calculation, that if our women would knit as much stocking yarn as they foolishly misspend in street yarn, the national and private debt of the United States would be paid off within a twelvemonth."
Was it fashionable yarn? Yarn that one wore on the street?
Turns out, the expression has several meanings, all of which relate to idleness.
- An 1816 reference clearly means "telling idle gossip." When a woman is "spinning street yarn," she's gossiping.
- In 1855, one travel writer speculated that the term originated from European peasant women who used a drop spindle while walking or visiting.
- An 1875 reference seems to mean "window shopping."
- Much later in the century, it seems to mean "walking about with no purpose" or "gadding about."