Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for August, 2010

Digirati

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 31, 2010

The digirati are the elite of the computer industry and online communities, and are perceived as being extremely knowledgeable about computers. The word digirati refers to the movers and shakers within the industry and is synonymous with such words as “technorati” and “geekerati.”

Digirati was used in an article written by John Markoff for the New York Times in an article entitled “Pools of Memory, Waves of Dispute” published on January 29, 1992:

Igniting the Kendall Square controversy was an article by the economist George Gilder, published this month in a narrowly circulated but closely read Silicon Valley magazine called Upside. Mr. Gilder, perhaps best known as the supply-sider whose book “Wealth and Poverty” provided the intellectual underpinnings of the so-called Reagan revolution, has no experience in computer design. But he has written widely on the subject in recent years and his opinions, though often controversial, are taken seriously among the computer digerati.

Some of the digirati include: W. Daniel Hillis, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist of Thinking Machines Corporation; Stewart McBride, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of United Digital Artists; Kip Parent, Founder of Pantheon Interactive; and Lew Tucker, Director of JavaSoft’s Corporate and ISV Relations for Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century, Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cyberchondria

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 30, 2010

Hypochondria, as we all know, is the conviction that one has — or is likely to have — a specific diagnosis, often accompanied by physical symptoms, when the diagnosis is neither present nor likely. 

With the plethora of medical information available via the Internet, there’s been an explosion of armchair medical diagnosticians have cropped up in greater and greater numbers as they research various medical conditions on the Internet.  Cyberchondriacs believe they have specific conditions because perceived symptoms match at least one check list found on a Web page.

The following passage was published in The Observer in March 2001:

There was a time when the internet fed and fuelled her health concerns — and she has featured in a number of articles about “cyberchondria”, which occurs when an individual surfs the net in a frenzy of health anxiety.

Two months later in May 2001, the Daily Record reported:

Hypochondria, the excessive fear of illness, has now been overtaken by cyberchondria — the same fear made much worse, fuelled by volumes of easily-accessible material available on the Internet.

Licensed and accredited medical practitioners discourage armchair medical diagnosing on the basis that it is prone to error as in the case of the number of self-diagnosed individuals claiming to have ADHD and Asperger Syndrome.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dragnet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 27, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to read is true.” 

Many of us are familiar with the opening voice over from the “Dragnet” radio and television series.

A dragnet is a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals and other individuals.  The term comes from the fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom or through a promising area of open water.  While the fishing reference has been around for centuries, the police reference isn’t nearly as old.

In a book entitled “Illinois Parole Law” published in 1942 by the Department of Public Welfare for the State of Illinois it was stated that:

Two-fifths of Illinois population is in Cook county and the board is continually endeavoring to adjust its work to the problems of the city.  Two reasons actuate it.  First, a desire to protect the city from persons who have in the past been guilty of crime, and, second, ad esire to protect the parolee from the police dragnet and the many temptations and handicaps of city life.

Ten years before that, on May 18, 1932, newspapers reported that Luigi Malvese, bootleg gangster, was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Del Monte Barbershop at 720 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, California.   It was reported that “a police dragnet rounded up some 1,000 usual suspects in an attempt to pressure the underworld to rein in its wild men.” Louis Dinato, Al Capone’s tailor, was among those rounded up.

But long before the gangsters of the Prohibition Era, back in 1917, Ordway Rider was shot and died from a bullet wound to the chest.  His death was a cause célèbre in Edwardian Boston, pushing stories of war off the front page of all the papers for days.  According to the February 23 edition of The Boston Globe, in an article entitled “Police Dragnet Out For Bandits” it was reported that:

 ” … Ordway Rider was shot and instantly killed on the night of Feb. 21st 1917 by Bandits. Robbery was the motive. He was manager of one of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s stores. He was held in high esteem by the company. His age was 58-6months.”

That being said, the earliest published reference I could find that speaks of a police dragnet was found in The Chicago Daily Tribune which published a news story on January 19, 1896 with the headline, “Bicycle Thieves Caught in Meshes of Police Dragnet.”

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Third Degree

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 26, 2010

Everyone knows that if you’re given the third degree, that you’re under “intense interrogation by police” or some other authority figure.

The police reference has been around since 1900, and is a reference to the Third Degree of master mason in Freemasonry dating back to changes made in 1721, four years after the first Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was founded in London, England.  The third degree ceremony involved an interrogation ceremony before the degree was conferred upon the Freemason. 

In American, the third degree defined the seriousness of a particular type of crime and is recorded as early as 1865.  In 1910, Richard H. Sylvester,  Chief of Police for Washington, DC divided police procedures into the arrest as the first degree, transportation to jail as the second degree, and interrogation as the third degree.    

And in 1931 the Wickersham Commission found that use of the third degree was widespread in the United States and was misused at times to extract confessions from suspects.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Paddywagon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 25, 2010

A Paddywagon is a van the police use to transport people who have been arrested and are en route to jail or who have been found guilty of a crime and are being transported to prison.  Since it’s a police vehicle, paddy surely must refer to the police in some way.

Paddy is slang from 1780 for an Irishman.  Paddy is a nickname for the very popular and proper Irish name, Patrick.   In fact, by 1881, the uncomplimentary slur Paddywhack was slang for an Irishman.

During the 1920s, a large number of Irishmen were police officers on various police forces across America so it would be easy to assume that this is the origin of the term paddywagon.  However, this is disputed with the use of the term dating back to at least the beginning of the 1900s.

The Seattle newspaper reported on that on during the evening hours of July 24, 1916:

… Seattle Police Sergeant John F. Weedin was shot and killed in the line of duty. Sergeant Weedin and Officer Robert Wiley were traveling in a paddywagon when a citizen stopped them to report that he had been accosted by a man with a gun.  The suspect produced a handgun and shot Officer Wiley. The gunman then turned the weapon on Sergeant Weedin and shot him. Officer Wiley returned fire and killed the suspect.

Sgt. Weedin and Officer Robert R. Wiley had been working 12-hour shifts during a Longshoremen’s strike.

But the term goes back to the Civil War era when Paddy was  slang for a policeman, especially in cities such as New York, where many officers were of Irish descent.  During the violent five-day Draft Riots in New York in 1863, the term Paddy wagon became slang for the horse drawn wagons the police used to round up protesters against the Civil War draft.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fuzz

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 24, 2010

The word came to mean the police  in American in 1929, when it was used as underworld slang and it gained popularity in the 1930s.   The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang marked the word as being  of unknown origin in its 1929 edition.  Two years later in 1931, it was recorded in Tramp and Underground Slang as meaning: “a detective, prison guard or turnkey.”

The explanation for hanging the term fuzz on the police is that when the police arrived at the scene of a crime, there was always a fuss.  And so, when a gang of small-time drug or liquor dealers and runners were  about to be raided by the police, they would refer to this as a fuss which eventually became fuzz.  The word fuzz stuck as slang for law enforcement officers.

The term surfaced in Britain in the 1960s and was used in both the UK and the US during the hippie era of the 60s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bobby

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 23, 2010

Who hasn’t watched a British movie on television and heard characters make reference to the London Bobby?

Robert Peel (1788-1850) introduced the concept of the London policeman in 1844.   As Home Secretary of Great Britain — and later prime minister — he reorganized the London police force into a modern law enforcement agency by way of the Metropolitan Police Act (10 Geo IV, c.44) of 1829.

Officers in the new department were first known as Peelers after their Irish counterparts in a similar reorganization of their police force when Peel was the Home Secretary of Ireland a  number of years earlier.

Peeler was gradually replaced in the public vernacular by bobby which is the shortened form of Robert.   Members of the London force are still known as bobbies still today.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Frenemy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 20, 2010

The term frenemy was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2008 even though it’s been around for quite some time.  But what exactly is a frenemy?

Aimee Dolloff of the Bangor Daily News in Bangor, Maine wrote an article “With Friends Like You” published on August 2, 2008 that stated:

A frenemy is an enemy disguised as a friend. One who brings you down rather than lifting you up … [snip] …The type of pal who makes himself or herself feel better by constantly putting you down.

The Colbert Report saw Stephen Colbert use the term on February 13, 2007 to describe the foreign policy between the United States and China.

The word frenemy has occasionally been attributed to author Jessica Mitford, Queen of the Muckrakers and notorious Civil Rights lawyer, in 1977.  Jessica Mitford is quoted in the book Decca: the letters of Jessica Mitford  as saying that the word frenemy was coined by one of her sisters when she was a small child to describe a:

rather dull little girl who lived near them — they were inseparable companions, all the time disliking each other heartily“.  

The word saw a resurgence in popularity on the third season of Sex and the City in 2000.

The fact of the matter is that the first recorded use of the word dates back to May 19, 1953 when Walter Winchell (1897 – 1972) joked in an article published by the Nevada State Journal:

Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cop Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 19, 2010

Some time during the 1930s, the phrase “cop out” became slang for pleading guilty, especially to a lesser charge as the result of plea bargaining. But the big change came in the 1950s when to “cop out” meant the individual made a full confession of some crime or misdemeanour.  This was also known as “copping a plea” and usually, but not necessarily, involved confessing to the police.

It didn’t take long before it meant backing down or surrendering, especially a criminal or unconventional lifestyle. By the 1960s, the phrase “cop out” morphed into meaning a person who sidestepped issues, avoided fulfilling a duty or promise, or refused to fulfill expectations despite previous assertions to the contrary.  This was achieved by making excuses or taking the easy way out, usually by finding some somewhat believable pretext that excused the individual from a situation. 

In other words, “copping out” became slang for refusing to shoulder responsibilities in an attempt to avoid real or perceived personal or professional troubles.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cop

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 18, 2010

Movie and television scripted criminals have invested countless hours into getting away from the “cops.”  How did police officers come to be known as cops in the first place?

Undoubtedly, some of you have heard the urban myth that cop stands for Constable On Patrol.  As plausible as that story sounds, there’s absolutely no fact to that claim.

The word cop first appeared in English in 1695, meaning “to catch.”  It was an off-shoot of the Middle French word caper meaning “seize, to take” and the French word came from the Latin word capere meaning “to take.”

The slang term cop was originally used among thieves in the U.K. with a “copper” being the common, garden variety street thief. Irony turned the tables on the word copper when in 1846 when criminals apprehended by the police were said to have themselves been copped – in other words, caught — by the coppers.  

In 1853, the New York City police adopted full uniforms.  Up until that time, police in major cities in America such as New York and Chicago, were identified by eight-pointed star shaped copper badges over their left breasts instead of a complete uniform identifying them as star police, coppers and cops from the early 1800s onward.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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