Historically Speaking

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Archive for March, 2011

Spiffed

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2011

The word spiff may mean Still Picture Interchange File Format in the Information Technology Industry and it might stand for the St. Paul International Film Festival in Pop Culture.  In the movie Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, it’s found in the explanation Elwood P. Dowd gives Dr. Sanderson at Chumley’s Rest as to how it is he met Harvey the Pookah.

ELWOOD:  I – I just — put Ed Hickey into a taxi. Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin and – and he – I just felt that he needed conveying. Well, anyway, I was walking down along the street and I – I heard this voice saying, ‘Good evening, Mister Dowd.’  Well, I – I turned around and here was this big six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp post. Now, I thought nothing of that because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name. And naturally, I – went over to chat with him.

And – and he said to me, he said, ‘Ed Hickey was a little spiffed this evening, or could I be mistaken?’ Well, of course, he was not mistaken. I think the world and all of Ed, but he was spiffed. (MAKES NOISE) Well, we talked like that for a while – and then – and then I said to him, I said, ‘You have the advantage on me. You know my name – and I don’t know yours.’ And – and right back at me, he said, ‘What name do you like?’  Well, I – I didn’t even have to think twice about that. I – Harvey’s always been my favorite name. So I said to him, I said, ‘Harvey.’ And uh – he – and – – th- th- this is – this is the – the interesting thing about the whole thing. He said, ‘What a coincidence. My name happens to be Harvey.’

In the jazz era 1920’s, spiflicated and spiffed were added to the list of slang words such as hammered, sloshed, tanked, blitzed, bombed, wrecked, loose, tipsy, trashed and smashed that meant an individual was drunk.

The Pittsburgh Press of April 12, 1912 reported on Mrs. Lydia Ayers of Stockton Avenue, Northside who landed before Magistrate Christ Saam at the Allegheny police station on a charge of being drunk.  The headline read:

Didn’t Remember About Become Spiflicated

In a story by O. Henry entitled, Strictly Business: More Stories by the Four Million, published by Doubleday in February 1910, he used the word spiflicated to indicate drunkenness in the story “A Bird of Bagdad.”

Me? well, it’s either me or Bill Watson. She treats us both equal. Bill is all to the psychopathic about her; and me?—well, you saw me plating the roadbed of the Great Maroon Way with silver to-night. That was on account of Laura. I was spiflicated, Your Highness, and I wot not of what I wouldst.

Back in August 19, 1902 the Bruce Herald in New Zealand carried a story in the Ways of Living column entitled, “The Story Of A Barrel Of Beer.”  It told the story of two men going off in search of a little alcohol on a Sunday morning and the ensuing adventure they had together.  It recounted in part:

This was about ten o’clock on Sunday morning.  We drank so much that we got half intoxicated.  Then we went home to the house in order to make provision to carry beer away.  We could only lay our hands on beef tin cans, and we removed a good number of gallons in these primitive utensils.  By two o’clock we were both getting well splificated.  I said to my mate, ‘Jock, I think the best thing to do is to take a barrel with us right off.’

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference for either spiflicated or spiffed with regards to being drunk.  That being said, that it would appear in a news story in 1902 indicates that it was already understood by the general population — at least in New Zealand — that the reference was to being drunk.  We can safely assume that this definition then was in existence at least in the preceding decade, taking it back to the early 1890s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | 1 Comment »

Miracles Leaning On Lamp Posts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 30, 2011

Near the end of the movie, Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s a heartfelt exchange between Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Chumley that has a wonderful A-ha! moment right smack dab in the middle of it all.

ELWOOD: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome, not only time and space – but any objections.

CHUMLEY: Flyspecks — flyspecks! I’ve been spending my life among flyspecks — while miracles have been leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax! Tell me, Mr. Dowd, will he do this for you?

ELWOOD: Oh, he’d be willing at any time — yes. But so far I ha-haven’t been able to think of any place I’d rather be. I – I always have a wonderful time — wherever I am — whomever I’m with. I’m having a fine time right here with you, Doctor.

Courant.com published an article by John Altavilla in their blog section on March 26, 2011 that spoke of Geno Auriemma and his disappointment over the small turnout at Gampel Pavillion for the Huskies’ second-round win over Purdue University.  It stated in part:

And if said it in his usual way, Philadelphia kid standing on the corner, leaning on the lamp post, joking around with his buddies.  Except he was in a press conference, where they are no posts, except blog posts.

On August 7, 1960 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Rosell Eliminates Law That Horses Be Tied” that spoke not only of changes to that law but to others as well.

A modern codification of all legislation passed here since 1890 has eliminated laws banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts and requiring riders to secure horses to hitching posts. The new codification of borough laws has wiped out outdated and conflicting and confusing language.

It would appear that leaning on lamp-posts was thought of as a lazy man’s pastime in the late 1880s that necessitated the passing of a law banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts.  But what could possibly spur City councillors to pass such a law?

In the late 19th century, tall bikes were an integral part of the gas lamp lighting system.  Employees would ride their tall bikes — some as tall as 7 feet in height — from lamp to lamp, lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, lightly push of from the lamp post and continue to the next lamp post.  This was necessary as gas lamp posts were usually 11 feet tall with 2 of those 11 feet in the ground which meant a 7 foot tall bike would put the rider at the correct height for lighting the lamp.  Once all the lamps on a rider’s route were lit, an assistant would help the rider dismount from the tall bike.

Since the lamp posts were gas-powered, it’s understandable that any city with such a lamp lighting system would want to send the message to its inhabitants — for safety’s sake — not to lean on lamp posts and to stand on their own two feet.  And one certainly didn’t want to get in the way of a gas lamp lighting system rider for fear of causing problems for the rider, the leaner or both!

If someone leaned on such a lamp post, it left the impression that they didn’t have anything better to do with their time than lean on lamp posts.

And so, if miracles are leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax, or at any other intersection anywhere in the world, it means miracles haven’t anything better to do than to wait for the world to see miracles where they happen to be … leaning on lamp posts.

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Everything’s Just Peachy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 29, 2011

In the movie, Harvey, Dr. Sanderson has been sacked for having Veta locked up in the sanitarium, Chumley’s Rest, rather than her brother, Elwood.  At this point, the director of Chumley’s Rest is out looking for Elwood and the following exchange occurs between Wilson, an attendant at Chumley’s Rest, Dr. Sanderson and Kelly, his nurse.

WILSON – Hey, any of the patients been actin’ up, Kelly?

KELLY – Everything’s just peachy.

WILSON – That’s good – when are you takin’ off, Doc?

SANDERSON – Right now – I was just waiting for Dr. Chumley to get back.

WILSON – Hey, wait a second.  Didn’t Dr. Chumley come back here with that psycho?

More recently, sportinglife.com published an online story on January 19, 2011 about Michael Owen on defending his Real Madrid record.  He did this by helping Wanderley Luxemburgo’s men to a 4-2 defeat of Barcelona at the Bernabeu.  The headline read:

Everything Is Peachy For Goal Scorer Owen

Back on April 12, 1984 the Los Angeles Times reported on the 10-day-old strike by 3 unions against 32 major hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.  The MGM Grand Hotel‘s spokesman, Bill Bray is quoted as saying, “We’re not saying everything is peachy. Everything is not peachy.” He went on to say that MGM Grand Hotel had been handing out a letter to guests saying that because of the current labor dispute, the MGM Grand Hotel was  temporarily unable to provide guests with the level of service for which the MGM Grand Hotel was known.

Back on September 27, 1948 the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on radio personality, Jim Hawthorne and a small town known in California known as Hawthorne situated not far from Hollywood. 

City fathers of the little nearby town of Hawthorne, Calif., found themselves with all the headaches of a radio station, none of the profits and a peeve on for a screwball disk jockey also named HawthorneThe problem lay in the fact that Jim Hawthorne opened up his half-hour show with, “This is Hawthorne.” 

The list of complaints against Jim Hawthorne were numerous and included the following:

He’s even invented a new language built around the key-word “Hogan.”  He’ll say:  “I was driving my Hoganmobile around Pasa-hogan so I stopped at a drive-a-Hogan for a Hoganburger.”

His adjectives range from “keen” to “peachy keen” to “oh so peachy keen.”

The kids on his “net-to-net coastwork” eat it up.  So, apparently, do the natives of Hawthorne who think their home town (pop. 16,000) has suddenly blossomed out with a local radio station.

The sad truth of the matter was that the town of Hawthorne didn’t have a radio station.  But that didn’t deter Hawthorne from hiring a skywriter to splash “Tune in to Hawthorne’s show” across the sky which led to twice as many letters piling up in the town of Hawthorne, begging to know how businesses could buy a radio spot on Hawthorne’s radio station.  The end result?

Disc-jockey Hawthorne, whose brainstorm upped his salary from $85 a week on a tiny station to four-figures with ABC network, thinks the whole thing is “peachy keen.”  Hawthorne city officials have another word for it.

The Pittsburgh Press reported on a baseball game back on July 28, 1910.  It recounted the story that “faith which keeps the horizon tinted with the amethyst and gold of romance, which fills the fields with fairy rings, which peoples the trees with dryads and the fountain with nymphs is, in this age of iron and steel and oil, a hard thing.”  The focus of the story was on Outfielder Anderson of the Deep Haven, Michigan baseball team and the headline read:

Outfielder Anderson’s Peachy Catch

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of peachy, however, the fact that it was used in a headline with the expectation that readers of the Pittsburg Press would understand what was meant by the word peachy indicates that it was already part of the vernacular at the time and therefore, dates back to at least 1900.

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I’ll Be Swizzled

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 28, 2011

Idiomation first heard the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” while watching the 1950s movie, “Harvey” based on the book of the same name by Mary Chase.  The movie, shot in August 1950, starred Jimmy Stewart in the main role.  The following humourous scene appears in the movie.

VETA – Well he hustled me into the sanitarium and dumped me down in that tub of water and treated me as though I was a –

MYRTLE – A what?

VETA – A crazy woman. But he did that just for spite.

JUDGE – Well, I’ll be swizzled.

In searching for the origins of the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” Idiomation found a review by the American Record Guide dated September/October 2009.  The reviewer had this to say about David Matthews’ Dutton Vocalion CD:

His music is freely tonal, which means that his symphonies take from the structure of the great romantics, but his language moves in and out of standard tonality where the mood suits him… If one is to apply a label to Matthews, it must be that the man is a new sort of romantic; but I’ll be swizzled if I know what kind. I can’t stop playing this.

Although the phrase is rarely used these days, it appears to have been a staple in years gone by.  In the Milwaukee Journal of January 24, 1939 the following can be found in Richard S. Davis’ column “And So It Goes” as he reports on one gentleman’s bitter complaint against the dictates of fashioneers:

Another of these “exquisite creations” is entitled “coast to coast” which garbs the male physique in “a map of the United States, showing all the state capitals and representing the major industry of each commonwealth.”

All I can say to that it “whew!” (faintly).  I suppose on thrusts a leg into California and another in Florida while the head emerges from the depths of Lake Erie.  Somehow, I have a feeling that I would probably find myself in Rocky Mountain National Park the next morning — with a St. Bernard licking my face. No, I’ll be swizzled if I’ll become a sleeping travel bureau.

In the book, “The Idyl Of Twin Fires” written by Walter Prichard Eaton and published in 1914, the phrase appears in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker, which leads readers to believe that it was a common phrase during that era.

“Don’t you worry,” said Bert. “I’ll see he treats yer right.”

“It isn’t that,” I said sadly. “It’s that I’ve just remembered I forgot to include any painters’ bills in my own estimate.”

Bert looked at me in a kind of speechless pity for a moment. Then he said slowly: “Wal, I’ll be swizzled! Wait till I tell maw! An’ her always stickin’ up fer a college education!”

A generation before that, the Camden Democrat newspaper ran a story in their “Scraps of Humor” column on March 28, 1874 that read in part:

He said, “I did it, mother, with my little hatchet, but I’ll be swizzled if I can tell the whole truth about this little affair.”

Now most mothers would have kissed that brave, truthful lad on his noble brow, and kept right on using the meal out of that barrel just the same, but this one didn’t.  She said, “Come across my lap, my son; come across my lap.”

He came, and for a while there rose a cloud of dust from the seat of his trousers that effectually his the son from view, and the old woman now sports goggles and is lavish in the use of Pettit’s eye salve.

In Alfred B. Street’s book, “Woods and Water: Summer In The Saranacs” published in 1865, the phrase appears again in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker as follows:

“Ef he’d a gone down there, nothin’ could ha’ saved him, I bleeve, fur that aire hole was jest one bed o’ sharp p’inted rocks and he knowed it. Well, I’ll be swizzled ef that aire critter, jest as that aire log was a pitchin’ down that aire cobumbus like o’ water, didn’t reach out and ketch hold on a branch o’ hemlock a growin’ from a pint o’ the bank, and swing himself up jest like a squirrel. Didn’t we hooray!”

While Idiomation could not trace the phrase proper back further than 1865, Idiomation can confirm that the first use of the word swizzle is from 1790 and is in reference to a intoxicating drinks made from rum.  It is believed that it is most likely a variant of the word switchel which is a  drink of molasses and water mixed with rum.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Turn Black Into White

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 25, 2011

Squealer the pig was so charismatic that he was literally able to turn bad into good. He wasn’t too bright, however, which is how he became the propaganda spreader for the pigs. Anything evil was turned into something seemingly morally good once Squealer got a hold of it which led to the corruption of formerly good animals who easily fell into becoming very bad animals.

In an article entitled, “Moscow Gets Limited Support over Georgia” published by Euronews on August 28, 2008 it was reported that:

Referring to Georgia’s attack on the rebel province of South Ossetia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “I am sure that the united position of the SCO member states will have international resonance and I hope it will serve as a strong signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify this aggression.”

Just over 20 years before that article, the Los Angeles Daily News published an article on October 8, 1987 entitled, “Billionaire Boys Unrealistic, Ex-Member Says.”  In it, the article reported on a court case involving Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia who were accused of concocting a scheme to wrest millions from Reza’s father:

Reality meant nothing to the associates of the bizarre Billionaire Boys Club, according to a former member.  The members fell into a pattern of paradox philosophy, ready to turn black into and white into black.  Dean Karny testified Tuesday in the murder-conspiracy-kidnapping trial of Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, both 26.

And twenty years before that in Kentucky, the Middlesboro Daily News edition of July 15, 1967 published an article entitled, “Someone Should Define Diplomacy For Russians” that stated:

It was the usual Soviet exercise in propaganda — an attempt, by constant reiteration of simplistic phrases, to turn black into white and white into black.

On December 11, 1945 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article entitled “A Conspiracy To Turn Black Into White.”  The journalist wrote:

The similar tenor of several apologetic editorials which have appeared almost simultaneously in newspapers in different parts of the country suggests a common interest and a common direction toward the end of stifling the Pearl Harbor investigation.

But long before WWII and quite a few years before WWI, in New Zealand’s Wanganui Herald, there appeared a Letter To The Editor entitled, “Opposition Sorrows” in which the author, J.W. Kenah, wrote on September, 14, 1903:

You must not blame the Opposition papers; they are hard put to it to make out a case, and, like a drowning man, will catch at any straw.  As I have before pointed out, Conservatism acts contrary to the Creator’s laws in nature, and we need not therefore be surprised that the effort is being continually made to turn black into white and vice versa.

In George Orwell’s novel, “Animal Farm” the first chapter introduces the reader to Squealer and describes him in this way:

The best known among them was a small fat pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice.  He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.  The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.

And so, while this phrase had been used prior to the publication of “Animal Farm” it appears to have been associated with the Soviet Union and Russia in the media on a number of occasions.

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All Men Are Enemies

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 23, 2011

In Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, Major — one of the main characters — espouses the belief that rebellion is the path to freedom.  In fact, he is convinced that overthrowing the human race would instantly make all animals “rich and free.” Well, perhaps not all animals as Major is unsure as to whether wild animals count with regards to the rebellion.   He rallies the animals with cries that the animals must be united in order to overthrow man, stating clearly that, “all men are enemies. All animals are comrades.”

It’s an interesting point of view and certainly not an original concept created by George Orwell.  The concept of all men being enemies has been explored with that exact verbage in a number of books.

The Montreal Gazette reported on Richard Aldington‘s then most-recently published 344-page book, The Romance of Casanova.  The article began:

Richard Aldington is, indisputably, one of the most important of contemporary writers in English.  Death Of A Hero, was one of the most significant books of its era: The Colonel’s Daughter, All Men Are Enemies — even, Very Heaven — are fine examples of modern English prose, generous in concept, original in idea, brilliant in execution.  His current volume, The Romance of Casanova, is an annoyance, doing the author a literary disservice, and providing a source of considerable distress to his enthusiastic admirers.

Of course, the novel All Men Are Enemies was made into a film by Fox Films and went into production January 16, 1934 and wrapped up exactly one month later.  Hugh Williams, Helen Twelvetrees and Mona Barrie as the principals in the movie.  The story, published two years earlier in 1932, was described by movie critics as being a tedious but tasteful romance about a young Englishman who marries the wrong woman.

In fact, when the Los Angeles Times reviewed the movie, journalist Philip K. Scheuer wrote:

Beyond a perfunctory introductory caption explaining that “to the man who sets out on a brave and solitary way, all men are enemies,” there is nothing about the new film at Loew’s State to make its title particularly applicable.

Nearly a century before that, in the book, First Footsteps in East Africa or An Exploration of Harar, written by Richard F. Burton of the Bombay Army and published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1856, this is written:

One of these events throws the country into confusion, for the vendetta is rancorous and bloody, as in ancient Germany or in modern Corsica. Our Abban enlarged upon the unpleasant necessity of travelling all night towards the hills, and lying perdu during the day. The most dangerous times are dawn and evening tide: the troopers spare their horses during the heat, and themselves during the dew-fall. Whenever, in the desert,—where, says the proverb, all men are enemies — you sight a fellow creature from afar, you wave the right arm violently up and down, shouting “War Joga! War Joga!”—stand still! stand still! If they halt, you send a parliamentary to within speaking distance. Should they advance, you fire, taking especial care not to miss; when two saddles are emptied, the rest are sure to decamp.

The concept that all men are enemies, however, comes from Colossians 1:13 where the concept put forth is that all men are enemies in their minds until God transforms them through the work of salvation.

While George Orwell has the character Major state, “all men are enemies” in Chapter 1 of Animal Farm, the sentiment is one that has made itself well-known before and after the publication of this book.

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Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 22, 2011

To reduce the concept of Animalism in “Animal Farm” into an easily remembered formula, the maxim, “Four legs good, two legs bad” was devised by Snowball.  It was based on the concept that whatever had two legs was an enemy and whatever had four legs or wings was a friend.  It’s a maxim that was repeated by the sheep constantly to distract the crowd from the pigs’ lies.

On March 21, Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star wrote about the Pepsi Refresh Grant competition where Canadians and Americans post great ideas to Pepsi’s Refresh Everything website in the hopes that their idea will garner enough votes to be awarded anywhere from between $5,000 and $100,000 to make their ideas come true.  The winners aren’t decided by Pepsi but rather by every day people who can vote up to 10 times a day.  In Heather Mallick‘s article, she wrote:

Great idea, but guess who’s winning. “I’m just as much of an animal lover as the next guy but this is ridiculous,” one Toronto autism charity leader emailed me in despair. “We are being beaten by cats. Yes. Cats.”

Four legs good, two legs bad. Who votes that way?

The Montreal Gazette published an article on November 1, 1983 written by Don McGillivray and entitled, “Big Deficits Are Not So Bad.”  It dealt with budget deficits in Canada and the United States, and the reaction of each country’s population with regards to these deficits.  The article read in part:

When the government decides to borrow these savings rather than raise taxes while the recovery is still fragile, it is obviously not “crowding out” eager private sector investors.  What does menace us is a vicious circle of other-directed thinking in government and the business community.  Sometimes business spokesmen talking about the deficit sound like the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Except that instead of bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad” they chorus “Deficits bad, deficits bad.”

Two decades before that, Russell Kirk‘s column “To The Point” published in the Reading Eagle newspaper on July 24, 1963 spoke about the need for improvement to school textbooks and American education.  He wrote:

Also one often encounters economic or political bias in these manuals — although less of it than one found some years ago.  What is nearly as bad, many social studies and history textbooks are woolly and sentimental in their approach.  “Democracy” is made a God-term rather as the animals in Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm” were taught to bleat, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

On September 1, 1946, the Chicago Tribune wrote a review of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” The article, entitled “Blunders of Soviet Rule Satirized in ‘Animal Farm’” began by stating:

One of the year’s most talked of books is sure to be “Animal Farm,” not only because among the Book of the Month club members it will have an enormous audience awaiting it, but because it is a satire so simple and so amusing and so delightful that even a child can chuckle over it.

It is the story of the revolt of the animals on an English farm against Farmer Jones and human beings in general. Their battle cry is “Four legs good, two legs bad.” A clever agitator, a pig stirred his fellow animals with such words as “Only get rid of man and the produce of labor would be our own.”

We continue with “George Orwell Week” tomorrow as we take a look at how another expression from “Animal Farm” has found its way into our language.

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All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 21, 2011

The phrase “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” comes from George Orwell‘s book, Animal Farm.  During World War II, George Orwell (1903-1950) served as a sergeant in the Home Guard.  He also worked as a journalist for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Observer and the Tribune, where he was literary editor from 1943 to 1945. It was towards the end of the war that he wrote Animal Farm.  The story satirizes Communism and repositions the Russian Revolution in the story so that Russia is a typical English country farm and Russians are farm animals.

On October 8, 2009 both The Times and The Sunday Times published an article by Lucy Bannerman writing from Rome, Italy.  The article was entitled, “Opponents Rejoice As Court Rules Silvio Berlusconi Can Be Prosecuted” as judges of their Constitution Court removed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s immunity from prosecution.  This ruling meant that Prime Minister Berlusconi could now be tried for fraud, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.

The news article began with:

News that all animals are equal, even billionaire Prime Ministers, sparked a huge reaction that instantly flared along the fiercely polarised lines of Italian politics.

And it ended with:

Many Times Online readers rejoiced, however. “As an Italian citizen I’m so happy,” Elvira Frevalo posted, while Giorgio Marchetti commented: “Hope is back in poor Italy.”

Fabio Feliziani said simply: “Yes! All the animals are equal!”

On January 31, 1988 the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story entitled, “Mile High And Ready To Fly.”  The article, found on page 84 and written by Craig Matsuda, read in part:

It took a pig in a novel to come up with the thought that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, pardners, when it comes to talkin’ about the Denver Broncos, their fans and their city, we’re not discussin’ a pig in a poke.  No, siree, this is a horse of a different color.

In Reading, PA the local newspaper, the Reading Eagle published Robb’s Corner, a column written by Inez Robb.  In that edition, she wrote this about politics in the U.S.S.R.:

What the latest upheaval in the Communist hierarchy means is any man’s guess, but experts on Russia in and out of the State Department are agreed that it consolidates Nikita Khrushchev’s power and makes him “the first among equals” among the commissars.  Or, as George Orwell put it so succinctly in “Animal Farm” all animals are equal only some are more equal than others.  (It is probably only a coincidence that the animal proclaiming this doctrine of equality was a pig, for Orwell wrote his little masterpiece on communism before Khrushchev hit the horizon.)

Over in Sydney, Australia the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper published the last installment of George Orwell’s book on their pages on February 15, 1946.  Famine, betrayal, murder, overwork and more had already been covered in previous installments of the book and the animals had learned too late not to put their trust in false leaders.  In this final installment, the following was found:

“My sight is failing,” she said finally.  “Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there.  But it appears to me that that wall looks different.  Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?”

For once, Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall.  There was nothing there now except a single Commandment.  It ran:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters.  It did not seem strange to learn that the pigs had bought themselves a wireless set, were arranging to install a telephone, and had taken out subscriptions to “John Bull,” “Tit-Bits” and the “Daily Mirror.” 

It did not seem strange when Napoleon was seen strolling in the farmhouse garden with a pipe in his mouth — no, not even when the pigs took Mr. Jones’s clothes out of the wardrobes and put them on, Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favourite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wear on Sundays.

Tomorrow, Idiomation continues with another expression from “Animal Farm” that has found its way into every day language.

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Whitehall Mandarin

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 18, 2011

It was only just recently that the expression Whitehall mandarin was brought to the attention of Idiomation.  Unfamiliar with the Whitehall reference but familiar with what mandarins are, Idiomation decided to research this expression.

On January 12, 2011, the Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article written by Hugh Muir that stated:

In came Lord Adonis, carrying with him, many thought, the airs of the minister he once was. He wants the institute to do policy, while Lord Sainsbury wanted it to focus on improving Whitehall‘s competence. Now, to the bemusement of staff, Lord A has gone off on a round-England jaunt to promote the government’s plan to impose elected mayors on the big cities. And he was missed last week, when the institute had the chance to slam the government over select committee criticism of the Eric Pickles chaotic bonfire of the quangos. All they could muster up in the boss’s absence was former mandarin Ian Magee, whose performance on the Today programme did little to rouse the troops. Much muttering among the lower ranks.

It was because of Hugh Muir that Idiomation began to wonder what it meant when someone in government in the UK was referred to as a mandarin.  The Glasgow Herald ran an article by Allan Laing on April 8, 1981 entitled “Great Escape Veteran Still Fighting Prison Camp Pay Battle” in which he wrote:

A committee of ex-Servicemen has been formed under the chairmanship of the Earl of Kimberley in the hopes that the Whitehall mandarins can find the resources to honour what many consider to be the last — and one of the most important — of Britain’s wartime debts.  The campaign has already prompted the Government to carry out an investigation into the PoW claims. Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, Under-Secretary of State for Defence, has given a pledge that he will announce the results of the inquiry “at a later date.”

Scotland’s evening newspaper, the Evening Times, reported on the amendments to the Finance Bill on July 2, 1968 in an article entitled, “Why Not Largs?” It read in part:

Hotels in Millport are exempted from the levy of 37s 6d per man, 18s 9d per woman; but hotels in Largs still have to pay.  Troon is exempt, but not Ardrossan. And so it goes on … Clearly M.P.s will have to start all over again and try to knock sense into the Whitehall mandarins who thought up this ill-considered scheme. The idea may have been sound in intention, but it has been badly bungled all the way in execution.  Scotland depends heavily on tourism for revenue. 

Austin Coates published a light-hearted account of his time as a magistrate dealing with two legal systems and cultures in Hong Kong during the 1950s.  The book was entitled, “Myself A Mandarin.”

It is said that the concept of the welfare state was started in London in 1940 by a group of bureaucrats under the leadership of Sir William Beveridge.  This group was comprised of Whitehall mandarins for the most part and although they did not originate the idea of the welfare state, they built upon the idea as set forth by Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898). 

However, the Whitehall mandarins existed prior to 1940 as shown by an article in the January 2, 1929 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald in an article entitled, “Soccer Teams Requested To Hold Standing: Unusual Request By Foreign Office Causes Amusement And Scorn.”  The article reported that:

The Daily Express severely criticizes the foreign office, saying “the views of the Whitehall mandarins seems to be that unless our footballers are fairly certain of winning, British prestige would receive an irreparable blow, the peace of Europe would be endangered and Sir Austen Chamberlain would have to do whatever Stressemann told him.  It does not matter in the least whether we beat the Germans at soccer or are beaten by them, but it does matter a great deal that we should be free and willing to meet them in the friendly strifes and rivalries of peace.”

By the time 1925 arrived, British barrister, Baron Claud Schuster, had spent a decade as Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor’s Office and was described as a Whitehall Mandarin.  Schuster’s contacts and service led to greater influence over policy decisions than a Permanent Secretary normally would have had.

The term mandarin is associated with the concept of the scholar-official who is not only educated in the literary arts and Confucian learning but who also performs civil service duties. In China, mandarins were selected between the years 605 through to 1905 on merit by way of an extremely rigorous imperial examination.  In the western world, the word mandarin refers to any civil servant — although it’s most often a senior civil servant — and usually the reference is in a satirical context.

Whitehall is a road that is recognized as the centre of Her Majesty’s Government in Britain; the road is lined with government buildings housing various government departments and ministries.  Because of this, Whitehall has been used as an overall term to refer to any governmental administration in the U.K.

With regards to the civil service, open competitive examination was introduced in Great Britain in 1854.  At that time, the phrase “civil service” was applied to the most officials serving the state in a professional capacity.  It is most likely that the expression Whitehall mandarin followed shortly after competitive examinations were introduced.

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Political Football

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 17, 2011

A political football is an issue that becomes politically divisive.  In fact, it becomes a problem that doesn’t get solved because the politics of the issue get in the way.

On March 16, 1972 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a series entitled, “Busing Takes Front Stage on America’s Political Scene.”  The introduction to the series read:

Busing may be the political issue of the year.  An administration official already has referred to it as the “yellow peril.” And a victorious George Wallace made it the issue of Tuesday’s Florida primary.  In the first of a series of articles on the subject, we return to the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954 and examine how busing has become a political football.

In Connecticut, the Meriden Daily Journal wrote about President Hoover and the cash bonus “bugbear” of the previous two congresses on November 7, 1932. Entitled “The Bonus? It’s A Political Football But Not A Serious Issue.  No Congressional Battle Expected Over Cash Payment To War Vets” the first paragraph of the report written by Rodney Dutcher was:

The cash bonus bugbear of the last two congresses has become for the time a mere political football.  President Hoover kicked it into Governor Roosevelt’s territory and the Democratic candidate kicked it back — a weak, offside kick, if you ask the Republicans.  Neither of the candidates and neither of the parties wish to espouse it, although it figures in various congressional contests where members are capitalizing or defending their vote on the question at the last session.

In a news article published in the New York Times on April 10, 1909 about the British government’s inability to safeguard England’s supremacy at sea and the circular that had been issued that sought to “induce the nation to fling out the Government which betrayed it, for so only can Britain be saved.”  The article headline read:

Navy Scare Becomes Political Football: British Liberals Less Disturbed Since Unionists Pressed It Into Service

Back on November 30, 1869 New Zealand’s Daily Southern Cross newspaper ran a story on the nomination of candidates for five seats for Auckland City West.  Of the eight men who stood for election, it was Mr. French who proved all the more interesting due to this excerpt:

Mr. French said that he had come before the electors because he had been requested to take that proud position from many of his fellow electors.  as some of the electors were no doubt aware, during the past week from some cause unknown to him people had been trying to use him as a political football in order to kick him out of the field, and many of his friends had heard a report that he had retired from the contest, although during that period his advertisements had appeared in the paper stating that he solicited the votes and the interests of the electors.

The game of football as we know it today — complete with a set of rules — was first regularized in Cambridge in 1848 which helps explain why the term “political football” could not be traced back by Idiomation prior to 1869.

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