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Archive for February, 2011

Stark Raving Mad

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 28, 2011

On June 29, 1902, the New York Times reported on a party of men, women and children — 20 all told — who left Independence, Missouri in two wagons drawn by oxen, headed to California for the gold rush back in the Fall of 1851.  Delayed by sickness, and having lost its way at least once, the party had accidentally left the trail and consequently, didn’t make it out of Death Valley alive.   The newspaper reported:

In the cooler seasons men inured to the hardships of the desert have been known to go several days without water, subsisting on the juice of the cactus; in the Summer season from twenty-four to thirty-six hours is sufficient to unsettle their reason.  A newcomer, a “tenderfoot,” will go stark, raving mad in from four to eight hours in hot weather if he has not water.  During the days in the middle of the Summer the thermometer stands anywhere from 125 to 135 degrees in the shade in the coolest place that can be found.

Henry Fielding was the first to use the phrase ‘stark raving mad’ in his play “The Intriguing Chambermaid” published in 1734 where his character, Goodall states in Scene VI:

I find, I am distracted! I am stark raving mad, I am undone, ruin’d! cheated, impos’d on! but please Heaven I’ll go with what’s in my House.

The phrase stark staring mad was an earlier version of stark raving mad and found in John Dryden’s book “Persius Flaccus” published in 1693.

Each saddled with his burden on his back ;
Nothing retards thy voyage, now, unless
Thy other lord forbids, Voluptuousness :
And he may ask this civil question : Friend,
What dost thou make a shipboard ? to what end ?
Art thou of Bethlem’s noble college free ?
Stark, staring mad, that thou wouldst tempt the sea?

Italian philosopher, humanist and author Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli  (1469 – 1527) writing on the history of Florence (Italy) wrote the following:

Upon this, Philip considering that in all open wars with the Popes, he had constantly been a loser, and often in great danger of being utterly ruined, now resolved to proceed in another manner; and to have recourse to stratagem.  In consequence of which, he pretended to submit, and entered into a treaty of reconciliation with the Pope: but whilst it was carrying on, he privately sent Sciarra into Italy, who arriving at Anagni (where the Pope then resided) gathered his friends together in the night, seized upon his Holinesses person, and made him prisoner.  And though he was set at liberty again by the people of that town, yet such was his rage and indignation at this disgrace, that it drove him stark mad, and he died soon after it

And in 1489, English poet and dramatic author John Skelton used the phrase “stark mad” in his elegy on Henry, the 4th Earl of Northumberland.   It is prefaced with, “Skelton Laureat upon the dolorous dethe and much lamentable chaunce of the moost honorable Erle of Northumberlande.”  The poem, published on April 28, 1489 reads in part:

He was envyronde aboute on every syde
Withe his enemys, that were stark mad, and wode;
Yet whils he stode he gave them woundes wyde;
Alas for routhe! what thouche his mynde were goode,
His corage manly, yet ther he shed hys bloode!
All left alone, alas! he fawte in vayne;
For cruelly amonge them ther he was slayne.

The word “stark” is from the Old English word stearc which means “stiff, strong”  The meaning later associated with it of “utter, sheer, complete” was first recorded around 1400 .  The word was later used in such phrases as “stark dead” and “stark mad” in the late 1300s with stark used as an adjective to intensify the noun.

The word “raving” is from the Latin word rabidus from rabere which means “to be mad, to rave.”  It, too, was used as an adjective to intensify the noun.  And the word mad is from the Old English word gemædde which means “out of one’s mind.”

And so, it’s easy to understand how “stark raving mad” came about and why it’s still very much in use in today’s vocabulary.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 25, 2011

If you get out of one problem and the solution saddles you with an even bigger problem, others may say you are “out of the frying pan into the fire” when describing the overall situation to their friends and colleagues.

A little over a decade ago, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York ran a Letter To The Editor from Nadine Putorti of Rotterdam in their February 9, 2000 edition.  The title of the letter stated that “America Has Had Enough Of The Clintons.”  The last paragraph was:

Let’s not jump out of the frying pan into the fire.  I believe many people have had enough of the Clintons.  I sure hope Mayor Guiliani is our next senator from New York state.

In Connecticut, the Bridgeport Herald published an article on August 19, 1900 entitled “Discipline, Not Total Abstinence, Is What Is Needed.”  It began with:

To-morrow marks the beginning of the battle in behalf of total abstinence at “Camp Vichy,” Niantic,so far as is related to the Connecticut National Guard.  It may be well, just before the battle, to say a few things that have a flavoring of common sense, and like most things flavored with that sort of extract, they may not set real well with certain Members of the national guard.

The crux of the matter, in the reporter’s opinion, is this:

Total abstinence for the national guard will be found as demoralizing for the guard as total inebriety. The heads of the guard seem to have jumped from one extreme to the other – out of the frying pan into the fire — whereas, if they had gone about the matter properly, they would have recommended the happy medium of temperance and discipline.

William Wordsworth wrote a letter to Francis Wrangham on July 12, 1807 asking for help with the  publisher of Critical Review magazine.  What he was hoping to avoid was having C.V. le Grice review his poems as it was alleged that le Grice held a grudge against Coleridge and his friends which, of course, included Wordsworth.  In a letter from William Wordsworth to Francis Wrangham dated November 4, 1807, he wrote:

But alas! either for me, or for the Critical Review, or both!  it has been out of the frying-pan into the fire.

In 1742, Lord Hervey, son of the Earl of Bristol,  wrote a poem that threw in a barb at Sir Robert Walpole.  The final verse reads:

For though you have made that rogue Walpole retire
You are out of the frying-pan into the fire:
But since to the Protestant line I’m a friend
I tremble to think how these changes may end.

Edward Taylor published his book “Poems” in 1700.  In his poem, “A Threnodiall Dialogue between The Second and Third Ranks” this verse appears:

Than us, alas! What, would you fain aspire
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire?
Change States with you with all our hearts we would
Nay, and give boot therewith, if that we could.

However, in the end, the phrase can be traced back to a religious argument between William Tyndale, translator of the Bible into English, and Sir Thomas More. The argument started in 1528 when Sir Thomas More published his paper entitled, ‘A Dialoge concerning Heresyes.’  This led to a response from William Tyndale in 1530 with his paper entitled, ‘An answerer unto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge.’

Not to be outdone, in 1532, Sir Thomas More returned fire with his paper entitled, ‘The Confutacyon of Tyndales Answere,’ wherein Sir Thomas More said this of William Tyndale:

featly conuayed himself out of the frying panne fayre into the fyre.

The phrase was used with ease in 1532 and implies that it was part of common language at the time of King Henry VIII’s reign.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find a published reference prior to this exchange between William Tyndale and Sir Thomas More.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead Pan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2011

When someone or something is expressed in an impassive, matter-of-fact way, that’s dead pan … expressionless, empty, blank, wooden, straight-faced, vacuous, impassive, inscrutable, poker-faced, and completely inexpressive.

When Snub Pollard, comedian of the pie-throwing days of silent movies, died in January 20, 1962 the headline run the following day in the New York Times read:

SNUB POLLARD, 72, FILM COMIC, DEAD: Dead-Pan Actor Was One of the Keystone Kops Appeared in Recent Movies

The news bite included this additional information:

Mr. Pollard was known to movie audiences of forty-five years ago as a little man with a dead-pan expression whose black mustache twitched and was often reversed.

On November 22, 1939 the St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent newspaper reported on Stan Laurel of Lauren and Hardy fame and his wife, Illiana.  It began with:

A charge that the Dead-Pan film comic, Stan Laurel, once ran down a Beverly Hills residential street, clad only in shorts, chasing his Russian-born wife, Illiana, who wore a thin negligee, was injected into their prolonged court battle.  The actress is asking that the Laurel divorce be set aside on grounds she was forced to agree to it.

In Pennsylvania, the Greensburg Daily Tribune ran the Today’s Sports Parade column by Henry McLemore, United Press Staff Correspondent, on its pages.  On April 1, 1935 he wrote about boxer, Joe Louis:

Putting the sport shot here and there: Old-timers say Joe Louis is the first killer of the ring with a dead pan they’ve seen in years … The Detroit negro is as cooly deliberate as a butcher working on a ham hock … There’s no Dempsey snarl, baring gleaming fangs or a mouthpiece … Just a fearsome fish eye as he shuffles in throwing anvils.

It wasn’t the first time Joe Louis had been referred to in this manned.  In New York state, the Rochester Evening Journal of November 8, 1924 ran an article entitled, “Tad’s Tidbits: Dead Pan Louie and the Low Class.”  In this story, he reported:

Mr. L. Angel Firpo is not boxing these days.  He isn’t even training.  In fact, he hasn’t even signed up for a match, and behind it all is a story of uncouth manners and rough-neck tactics.

One hardly thinks of manners and boxing being found in the same room together, but back in the 1920s, manners were important.  The article continues farther down with:

Mr. Romero Rojas, who is also a South American and who made quite a rep down there as a leather pusher, wishing to engage in a bout with Louie, adopted the American tactics of calling his rival names, using such terms as “piece of cheese,” “palooka,” “big punk,” etc. 

That sort of shocked Dead Pan and sent him to his room brooding for two days.  The idea of any one referring to Dead Pan as a piece of cheese was terrible to even think of!  Louie immediately cast Mr. Rojas from his life.  He cut his name off his calling list, and when they pass on the street now Louie doesn’t even give him a tumble.  As for a fight.  No chance.  Mr. Romero will never hear a word from Louie until he apologizes.

The word “pan” meant “skull” or “head” as far back as the 1300s and manuscripts from that era contains words such as “brain pan” and “head pan.” It wasn’t until the 19th century that vaudevillians began using the word “pan” as a slang term for face.  And “dead” means “dead.”

So, dead pan is as emotionless as you can possibly imagine … especially if you’re imagining a corpse.

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

Pan (Visual)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 23, 2011

The term “panning” in visual terms means to swing from one object to another in a scene.  In still photography, panning is used to suggest fast motion, and bring out the subject from other elements in the frame.  In moving pictures or video technology, the use of a camera to scan a subject horizontally is called panning.

On March 2, 1963 the Ottawa Citizen provided camera tips to their readership in an article written by Irving Desfor entitled, “Tricks in Fast Shooting.”  The article stated in part:

In order to get sharp pictures of people in fast action, it is generally true that you must shoot at a high shutter speed.  But in photography, as in other things, rules are made to be broken … <snip> … Secondly, there’s the trick of shooting while panning the camera, that is, of following the moving subject in a smooth, steady arc.  Fortunately for camera fans, a great many actions reach a high point or peak, stop, then accelerate again at high speed.

On January 21, 1923, the New York Times published an article entitled “Screen Without A Double” that discussed the life of a motion picture actor.

No one would contend that the motion picture actor’s lot is always a happy one.  He has to take chances sometimes — or his double does — and he, or his double, really performs some of the hazardous stunts you see on the screen.  But this does not alter the fact that many of the movie’s best thrills are faked … <snip> … Out on the end of a wing with one hand on the pan crank, the other on the camera crank, and with a rope which, tied around his ankle. Pan up to the top wing strut. You may have seen what was the kick, but you are mistaken. Have you ever seen a seaplane execute a landing at a seventy-mile-an-hour clip?

Back on March 16, 1913 the New York Times — in an article entitled “Plans For The Travel Show: Panoramic Views of Vacation Spots Arranged at Grand Central Palace” — had this to say about photographs to be displayed at the travel show:

All the inviting vacation spots on this continent will be shown in panoramic views at the Grand Central Palace when the Travel and Vacation Show opens there on Thursday, and all those who do not intend to spend their allotted two, three, four, five, or six weeks in a tour of Manhattan’s roof gardens are summoned to see what the rest of America has to offer.

A Toledo Bee article dated May 31, 1900 reporting on art souvenirs of the Paris Fair available for purchase at the newspaper’s office, had this to say about the souvenirs:

The Bee has completed arrangements for the publication of “The Art Souvenir of the Paris Exposition and its Famous Paintings,” consisting of a magnificent collection of photographic views of the most noteworthy features of the International Exposition of 1900 … <snip> … These superb views will embrace a panoramic presentation of the international fair, and are intended to take the place of a trip to the Paris exposition, its beautiful buildings, rare paintings, interesting objects of art, wonderful exhibits and choicest treasures.

The term panning in this sense of the word is derived from panorama, which was originally coined in 1787 by Robert Barker for the 18th century machine that unrolled or unfolded a long horizontal painting to give the impression the scene was passing by.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pan Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 22, 2011

When something “pans out” the speaker means that the situation worked out well for those involved.

On October 13, 1953, in a very quick article in the bottom left hand corner of Page 16 of the Spokane Daily Chronicle under the heading “How Things Pan Out” the newspaper reported:

Catherine Hunter, head of the University of Tulsa’s homemaking department, says being handy with a skillet is still the best way to trap a man, and she has figures to prove it.  Out of 105 who have majored in home economics at the school in the last five years, 103 are married, one is engaged and the other is teaching home economics, says Hunter.

As the Great Depression neared its end and WWII was just a couple of years away, the Portsmouth Times in Ohio ran a story entitled, “Figuring Out The Budget.”  It read in part:

It is a tragic thing that a president like Mr. Roosevelt, who has the best intentions in the world, should be forced to make estimates that do not pan out.  It shows that the people around the President are too inclined to hide from him the true story of the depressing effects of the administration’s own policies on the business situation and are too prone to give him rosey estimates of what a tax rate will produce just because they are enamored of some new tax device.

A generation before that, Michigan’s Ludington Record ran an article on February 15, 1900 entitled, “Undoing of a Bunko Sharp.”  The article had to do with $5,000, John Kasser of the Live Oak Copper Mining and Smelting Company, a visit to New York City and 2 bunko steerers.  The newspaper reported:

The pair invested a little cash and considerable time and trouble in Mr. Kasser, and, though he didn’t pan out, they still have cause for thankfulness that they are alive, though battered … … When a Sun reporter saw Mr. Kasser the other day and asked him about his adventure, that gentleman rubbed his chin and said he shouldn’t think a little thing like that would be of any interest in a big city like New York.

“I have got a little property of my own,” said he, “not very much, but a little; and I suppose those two thought they could get $5,000 or $6,000 out of me.  I am a simple-minded western man,” he added, and paused, contemplatively.  “A simple-minded western man but,” he concluded, smiling benignantly at the toe of his right boot, “I have been in New York before.”

The Detroit Free Press ran “A Change Of Tactics” in the January 29, 1873 that had to do with the Credit Mobilier investigation.  It read in part:

It is quite clear that the Credit Mobilier investigation does not — to use a mining phrase — “pan out” to the satisfaction of the Republican party.  Vigorously opposing investigation at first, it demanded by its organs that a mere campaign slander should not be lifted into the important of serious charge.

The reference to the phrase “pan out” being a mining phrase is one of the first indications that the phrase actually alluded to washing gold from gravel in a pan.

Back on October 25, 1873, the New York Times reported on gold mining the San Juan mining region with article entitled, “South-Western Colorado: The San Juan Treaty and the Country It Relates To.”

The excitement in the Winter of 1860 sent a swarm in, built a town, brought on stocks of goods, and laid out great plans.  But there was shortly a stampede, and men came out worse “broke” than the Pike’s Peakers of ’59.  The leader of the party barely escaped hanging at the hands of the disappointed rabble.  He plead his own cause, however before the miners’ court, and contended that he had not overrated the mineral wealth of the country.  He insisted that on the very spot where they sat they could “pan out” gold better than he had ever represented.  Immediately a miner’s pan was called for, and the experiment results in fifty cents worth of the golden dust.  It saved Baker’s life.  But confidence in the capacity of the region did not return, and it was deserted.

Just a few years before that news report, the Denver Gazette ran a story entitled, “Good Mining Prospects: The Gulches More Profitable Than Ever.”  It was an exciting story that stated:

The minds of Cash Creek in Lake, Fairplay and Tarryall, in Park, and the numerous gulches in Summit County, are rich enough to pay thousands for working them, and no better inducement can be offered to a poor man, who is ambitious to mine without the outlay of capital necessary to work a lode, than to spend his labor for a season in a good gulch, where he has nothing to learn but to shovel dirt into a sluice and pan out his shining wages every Saturday night, without any of the mysterious manipulations of crushing, desulphurizing, triturating, amalgamating, retorting and other learned processes with unpronounceable names, in order to get at the substances of oxides, pyrites and sulphurets of greenbacks.

Ultimately, however, the term “pan out” came about as a result of the California Gold Rush of 1849 where the term was recognized and understood by every miner and want-to-be miner hoping to make their fortune prospecting for gold.

Here’s how prospectors mined for gold during the Gold Rush.  First, they would swirl a mix of dirt and water around the pan.  Because gold is dense, with a little skill, the pan could be swirled at just the right speed and angle to allow the gold to settle to the bottom of the pan.  At the same time, dirt would wash over the side of the pan. The prospector would continue in this fashion until there was nothing left in the pan except gravel and, with luck, little specks of gold … if everything “panned out!”

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

Flash In The Pan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 21, 2011

When someone says that a person, activity or item is a “flash in the pan” what they mean is that while the person, activity or item may draw a lot of attention at the moment, it’s obviously only going to be of interest to others for a very short time.

There are those who will try to sell you on the idea that gold prospecting or early photograph was the origin of ‘flash in the pan’ and in both cases, that is incorrect.

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City (UT) published an article by John Griffin on June 15, 1951 entitled “White Sox Bounce Nats in Twin Bill” which reported:

You can tell a champ in any sport, they say, by the way he gets up after a loss and takes charge again — and that’s just what those young and sassy Chicago White Sox were doing Friday.  A lot of folks, who thought that the classy kids from the Windy City were just a “flash in the pan,” figured that the belting they took in three straight games against the “old pro” New York Yankees would start the Sox on a long slide from first place, down.  But what happened instead?

Almost a century before that on July 25, 1854, in a Special Dispatch to the New York Daily Times, an article was published that read in part:

First we have the COLT investigation, which will turn out an ill-advised flash in the pan, and pass the bill designed to be defeated.  Next we have a positive charge of fraud and corruption made by a scion of DUFF GREEN against Hon. THOMAS H. BAYLY of Virginia which, having been exploded once already, probably  hasn’t enough of saltpetre in it to go off a second time, even in smoke.

In a letter dated July 26, 1789, Manon Roland (nee Marie-Jeanne Phlipon) who was involved in the French Revolution, wrote to her friend, Louis-Augustin-Guillame Bosc:

You are only children, you enthusiasm is a flash in the pan.  If this letter does not reach you, may the cowards who read it blush when they learn it comes from a woman.

Elkanah Settle (January 1, 1648 – February 12, 1724) commented on Mr. Dryden’s plays in 1687 and in “Reflections” she wrote:

If Cannons were so well bred in his Metaphor as only to flash in the Pan, I dare lay an even wager that Mr. Dryden durst venture to Sea.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to “flash in the pan” however Idiomation is able to explain how the saying came about.

In the days when flintlock muskets were used, a person, the muskets had small pans meant to hold small amounts of gun powder.  When the flint struck the pan, sparks flew into the gun powder and this resulted in the gun firing off the bullet.   Of course, weather and other technical problems — which happened often — would lead to “flash in the pan” and no firing, especially if the gun powder was damp.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Any Excuse Will Serve A Tyrant

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 18, 2011

On September 12, 2010, Tisaranee Gunasekara, journalist for the Asian Tribune – published in Bangkok by World Institute For Asian Studies — wrote an article entitled, “Our Rajapakse Future.” The article dealt with police punishing family members of alleged wrongdoers just prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment in Sri Lanka. The quote highlighted for the article was:

Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

It’s a phrase that’s not oftentimes used, however, when it is used, it’s meaning is straightforward and clear. An interesting entry was published on February 21, 1980 in the “Wallop Reports to Wyoming” column of the Sundance Times, the official newspaper for Crook County, City of Sundance and the U.S. Land Office. It began with:

During childhood we are told many stories designed to teach a lesson about life. Some learn their lesson the first time; others must be reminded.

The column ended thusly:

There is another fable whose moral is: Any excuse will serve a tyrant. It is time we quit giving the Russians excuses and began teaching them the lesson they so bitterly deserve. But to do that we must show national resolve. We can no longer hesitate or equivocate.

And even the Los Angeles Times, back on March 15, 1967, used the phrase in an article about communist China:

Maxims even those that are rewritten, as most of Mao’s are, can be useful. The Red Chinese should heed one written by Aesop which says: Any excuse will serve a tyrant.  It could prepare them for anything the little red book might say.

Although rarely quoted, this forthright, candid saying does indeed come from Aesop’s fable, The Wolf and The Lamb.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 17, 2011

Whether you say it in French as “l’union fait la force” or in English as “united we stand, divided we fall” or any other language, the phrase means that people who join together as a group are much harder to defeat than if they were fighting the battle separately.

It’s been the official motto of Kentucky since 1942, the words inscribed in the official state seal of Missouri, and for gamers, it’s the 3rd mission in a first person tactical military game from British game developer Codemasters “Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.”

E Pluribus Unum” is the motto the US government adopted for its motto for its official seal back in 1776. Translated from Latin, the phrase means “one out of many.” Interestingly enough, that motto certainly upholds the dictum “united we stand, divided we fall” which was particularly fitting for what was then a country with many divisions.

John Dickinson liked the phrase so much that he used it in his revolutionary war song “The Liberty Song.” In the song, first published in the Boston Gazette in 18 July 1768, he wrote:

Then join in hand, brave Americans all—
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!

The phrase, however, originated with Aesop.  It is found directly in his fable, “The Four Oxen and the Lion” and indirectly in his fable, “The Bundle of Sticks.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2011

Political strategist, Ralph Reed, was quoted in the “Hotline” column of  The National Journal on July 27, 1999 as having said:

There is a sense in presidential politics that familiarity breeds contempt. There is a time and a place to pet the pigs and kiss the babies, but that comes a little bit later.

The phrase, familiarity breeds contempt, has been used quite a bit over the years and even 100 years ago, the phrase was part of every day language as seen in the article “Advice On How To Keep A Servant” written by E.T. Stedman and published in the New York Times on August 6, 1901.

There should be sympathy and politeness on both sides, yet, while always remembering the Golden Rule, the mistress should also remember that ” familiarity breeds contempt.” We cannot do without a kitchen stove, still it is not to be placed with the piano In the parlor.

From November 1867 through to June 1868, Anthony Trollope — one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era — wrote “He Knew He Was Right” and saw it published in 1869.  In this book, he wrote:

Perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt.

However, more than 200 years before Anthony Trollope, Thomas Fuller wrote and published “Comment On Ruth.” Even though it was published in 1654, it was, in fact, one of Thomas Fuller‘s earliest compositions and was delivered by Thomas Fuller at St. Benet’s in Cambridge as far bas as 1630.  In printed form, readers find the following:

With base and sordid natures familiarity breeds contempt.

Richard Taverner wrote the book “Garden of Wisdom” published in 1539 and in this book he wrote:

Hys specyall frendes counsailled him to beware, least his ouermuche familiaritie myght breade him contempte.

However, Chaucer wrote how familiarity breeds contempt in his Tale of Melibee published in 1386.  The word “hoomlynesse” means familiarity and the word “dispreisynge” means contempt.  It is easy, therefore, to see that the following is an early version of the phrase:

Men seyn that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse engendreth dispreisynge’.

However, nearly 400 years before Chaucer, in Scala Paradisi, it is St. Augustine who is credited for having said:

Vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parit contemptum.

And before, St. Augustine, it was Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Lucius Apuleis (124 – 170 A.D.) who is credited for having written:

Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.

Ultimately, however, the moral “familiarity breeds contempt” is from Aesop (620 – 564 BC) and his fable, The Fox and the Lion.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Many Words Will Not Fill A Bushel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 15, 2011

In the June 9, 1910 edition of the Indianapolis News, it was reported that Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” was responsible for the expression, “many words will not fill a bushel.”  The story read in part:

Here are some of the maxims, taken from the Pennsylvania almanac for 1758, of which, Benjamin Franklin, under the pseudonym of Richard Sanders, was editor and publisher.

Many words will not help a bushel.  God helps those who help themselves.  The used key is always bright.  The sleeping fox catches no poultry.

Knowing that it the saying is found in the 1758 edition of the Poor Richard’s Almanac and knowing that Benjamin Franklin included a number of established sayings, it’s no surprise that this saying dates back at least to the previous generation.

In 1721, Nathan Bailey’s book “Divers Proverbs” gives this definition for the saying:

This Proverb is a severe Taunt upon much Talking: Against great Promisers of doing what they never intend to perform; a Reflection upon those persons, who, so they can but be Misers of their own Pockets and Service, will be down-right Prodigals of fair Words; but they, according to another Proverb, butter no Parsnips; and so, Re opitulandum, non verbis, say the Latins.

The expression “many words will not fill a bushel” can be found in the book, “The Adventures of Don Quijote” written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1604. The original title printed as “The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha” and has been a literary favourite for centuries now.  In the chapter entitled, “The Adventure With The Sheep Story” the following passage is found:

“Friend Sancho, learn of me,” he said. “All these storms are only the signs of calmer days. Better success will soon follow. Neither good luck nor bad luck will last always.”

“At any rate,” interrupted Sancho, “many words will not fill a bushel. I think you would make a better preacher than knight-errant.”

“Knights-errant,” answered Don Quixote, “ought to know everything. Some of them have been as good preachers as any who preach in the churches.”

“Very well,” said Sancho. “You may have it as you will. But let us leave this unlucky place and seek lodgings where we may rest and have a bite of wholesome food.”

The original expression in Spanish is “Vorba goalã nu umple sacul.”  The French version of this proverb is “Autant en emporte le vent.”

And when all is said and done, it’s in Proverbs 10:19 in the Christian Bible that yields:

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

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