Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for June, 2011

Leap In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 30, 2011

When you leap in the dark it means that you are doing something without being sure what the end result will or might be.

Author John E. Ferling wrote a book entitled, “A Leap In The Dark: The Struggle To Create The American Republic” that was published by Oxford University Press in 2003.  The book paints “a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details and provocative in its fresh interpretations.”

Likewise, author James M. Skinner of the Department of History at Brandon University in Manitoba (Canada) wrote an article for the Manitoba Historical Society for their Spring 1993 magazine entitled, “A Leap in the Dark: The Transition from Film Censorship to Classification in Manitoba, 1970 – 1972.”  The article dealt with the Manitoba Film Censor Board which was established in 1923 under the Amusements Acts and the changes that came about with its reformation in 1972.

Edward Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby, served as Prime Minister in England no less than three times: 23 February to 17 December 1852; 20 February 1858 to 1 June 1859; and 28 June 1866 to 25 February 1868.  In February 1867, Disraeli introduced his Reform Bill months after Edward Stanley formed his third ministry on the resignation of Lord John Russell. Edward Stanley returned to Disraeli’s original proposals when the Commons found Members of Parliament demanding a more radical measure.  The legislation was passed on 9 August 1867. In his speech, following the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, Edward Stanley said:

No doubt we are making a great experiment and taking a leap in the dark but I have the greatest confidence in the sound sense of my fellow-countrymen, and I entertain a strong hope that the extended franchise which we are now conferring upon them will be the means of placing the institutions of this country on a firmer basis, and that the passing of this measure will tend to increase the loyalty and contentment of a great proportion of Her Majesty’s subjects.

Charles Morley, in the introduction to his book “Elements of Animal Magnetism” published in 1841 wrote:

In 1784 this Academy appointed a committee from their number to examine and report on animal magnetism; but instead of confining their attention to the facts which were laid before them, they sought the cause by which they were produced, and inquired into the existence of the fluid described by [Franz Anton] Mesmer, but it escaped their research.  They could not see, taste, or touch it; they could not collect it in masses, and could neither measure or weigh it; therefore they made a leap in the dark, and concluded that animal magnetism did not exist.

On December 3, 1787, the Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer newspaper published in Hartford, CT ran a Letter to the Editor that began, “It is unhappy both for Mr. Gerry and the public that he was not more explicit in publishing his doubts.”  The author, known only as “A Landholder” wrote:

In terms of art, which we often find in political to the honourable gentleman, it might have appeared more definite and ambiguous but to the great body of the people altogether and to accept it they must leap in the dark.

In 1675, Thomas Hobbes moved to Derbyshire to spend time with his friend, the 3rd Earl of Devonshire.  Four years later, Thomas Hobbes suffered a fatal stroke while working on yet another book.  His last words were recorded as being:

I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published or recorded version of this expression and with that, the honour of being the originator of the phrase goes to Thomas Hobbes in 1679.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Candle In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 29, 2011

Originally, a candle in the dark was a magical charm spoken freely and easily by magicians of the 17th century. In more modern times, however, the phrase is a general term for trickery.

Back in 1995, astrophysicist Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996) published a book entitled, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.”  The book’s main focus was to encourage people to learn critical as well as skeptical thinking, and to be able to separate valid science from quackery, hysteria, myth and bad science.  Carl Sagan created a set of tools for skeptical thinking which he called a “baloney detection kit” which relied heavily on well-researched and well-constructed reasoned argument along with the ability to recognize an incorrect or outright fraudulent argument.

The 11th song on what was to be the 11th album from The Alan Parsons Project was entitled, “The Ring.”  The album “Freudiana” however became Eric Woolfson‘s first solo album instead and was released on October 11, 1990.  How strange that the number 11 should be so prominent (maybe there’s some trickery involved in all of that).

Working with Brian Brolly, the album was transformed into a stage musical that premiered on December 19, 1990 (it closed on April 18, 1992) at the Theater an der Wien in Austria.   It seemed oddly fitting since the music on the album and the stage musical were based entirely on the theories of Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939).  While Idiomation can only guess at what Sigmund might have to say about the 11th song on what was to be an 11th album that was released on the 11th day of October, the lyrics of the song are more straight forward.

The ring is magic; the ring is power
Like a candle in the dark for everyone.
The ring is madness; the ring is fire
And it burns with all the brightness of the sun.

Now, long before Carl Sagan and long before Eric Woolfson, there was African-American linguist, scholar and diplomat, Edward Allen Jones (1903 – 1981) best-known for having written “A Candle in the Dark: A History of Morehouse College” published in 1967 by Judson Press.  He, too, pulled back the fakery created by smoke-and-mirrors as he saw them to be and spoke out.

Magician Reginald Scot was called a “candle in the dark” by English physician, humanist and author, Thomas Ady in a book written in 1656, entitled, “A Candle In The Dark or a treatise concerning the nature of witches and witchcraft: being advice to judges, sherriffes, justices of the peace and grand jury men, what to do, before they pass sentence on such as are arraigned for their lives, as witches.” 

Thomas Ady called Reginald Scot a “candle in the dark” based on Reginald Scot‘s book which was published in 1584 entitled, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.”  Scot’s book was the first practical English language book that dealt specifically with conjuring.  The book was outlawed and ordered destroyed by King James I mostly because of twenty pages found in the book that dealt specifically with magic tricks.

As a side note, 50 years after Reginald Scot‘s book was published in 1584, an anonymous author published a book considered to be the first original work devoted solely to conjuring.  Published in 1634, it was entitled, “Hocus Pocus Junior” and owes a debt to Reginald Scot‘s outlawed book.

Unfortunately, finding the phrase “candle in the dark” is as mysterious a trick as pulling a rabbit out of a hat appears to be and Idiomation was unable to find other publications — books or newspapers — that carried the expression as it refers to trickery.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Shot In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2011

Very different from being in the dark, a shot in the dark means you’re taking a calculated but wild guess about something about which you know nothing or next-to-nothing about in the first place.

On November 17, 2010 the Independent Newspaper in the UK ran a story by Stephen Foley on the U.S. Federal Reserve whose mandate ensuring full employment in the U.S. be removed in order to focus solely on price stability.  Former Federal Reserve vice-chairman, Alan Blinder was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

The anti-Keynesian revival has been disheartening enough. But now the economic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society is turning its fury on Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. It is not a shot in the dark, not a radical departure from conventional monetary policy, and certainly not a form of currency manipulation.

Back on July 16, 1960 readers of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix read a news story written by journalist Ned Powers entitled, “Four Canadian Records Fall.”  He wrote about a young athlete named Smith, a late starter from Weyburn, who made good with his final broad jump to upset the international campaigner, Jack Smyth of Winnipeg.

It could be hardly classed as a shot in the dark for young Smith, who best exemplified the steady rise of youth in Canada’s track and field program.  He bettered 22 feet on three occasions and had the least fouls among the entries.

On May 30, 1922 the New York Times reported on Senator Lodge, representing Massachusetts as well as Senate Leader at the time, and the troublesome word “if” that was eventually deleted from a Senate Tariff Bill.  Concerned about a possible Democratic filibuster against the bill, it took five hours before the troublesome word “if” was stricken from one of the clauses in the Senate Tariff Bill.  The story, was entitled quite simply, “A Tariff If.”  The news article read in part:

[Massachusetts Senator Lodge] admits that the fundamental conditions of tariff legislation today are entirely different from what they ever were before.  The “utterly distorted and dislocated” foreign exchanges make, he confesses, any given rate a duty little more today than a shot in the dark.  Still he would have no delay in passing a bill which, in the course of a few months, may be found to have included rates wholly unnecessary for protection and outrageously oppressive in their effect on prices.

On April 1, 1884 the Warsaw Daily Times carried a story that most definitely was not an April Fool’s joke.  The news article reported on an incident stemming from a game of cards at Cole’s Creek, Columbia county in Pennsylvania, the previous Sunday.  It would appear that Charles Davis, Charles Mills, James Royer and Henry Williams had entered a tavern and started up a poker game with amounts being wagered finally reaching $500 a side — a very tidy some back in 1884.   

As oftentimes is the case in these very emotional high stakes poker games, there was disagreement as to whether a particular player had cheated; in this case, Williams reached for the stakes when Royer claimed he had seen Davis cheat.  The money was knocked to the floor and a row ensued where revolvers were drawn and the barroom emptied. What was referred to back in the day as a “promiscuous firing” occurred and when all was said and done, all four were found lying on the floor, dead.  The headline to the detailed account of the incident was:

Shot In The Dark: Deadly Pistol Practice With The Lights Out

The double entendre was not lost on the readers of the Warsaw Daily Times in Letters to the Editor in subsequent newspaper editions.  While it has been claimed that George Bernard Shaw appears to have been the first person to use the phrase metaphorically, as evidenced by The Saturday Review of February 1895, to others it appears that the metaphorical use of the phrase “shot in the dark” was already a humourous jibe a decade before George Bernard Shaw‘s clever use of the phrase.

No doubt, the literal sense of the phrase hinting at the figurative sense of the phrase can be found in the New York World newspaper of February 15, 1870 that reported:

To level his weapon and fire was the work of a moment; but as both figures fled the shot seemed to have been wasted.  Upon examining the spot in the morning, however, the gentleman found a considerable quantity of blood upon the trampled grass, and traces of it for some distance from the house.  Soon after the sod of a graveyard near the house was found to have been disturbed as though in preparation for the removal of a body, and the neighbors resolved the attempted burglary into the wanderings of a couple of would-be “body-snatchers” whom the alarmed householder had frightened and grazed by his random shot.

The news story was aptly entitled:

A Shot In The Dark: Strange Solution Of A Family Mystery

Idiomation was able to find several published literal versions of the phrase in newspapers and books prior to 1870, however, none of them appeared to have the figurative sense implied or carefully crafted into the headline so as to create a double meaning to the phrase “shot in the dark.”

One such story is from the New Zealand Colonist edition of October 18, 1842 that related an anecdote about the Emperor, Napoleon and the Battle of Jena at Weimar.  The anecdote ends with:

The Emperor laughed, and to reconcile the poor fellow to himself, said, as he withdrew, “My brave lad, it was not your fault; for a random shot in the dark, yours was not amiss; it will soon be daylight; take a better aim, and I’ll provide for you.”

Idiomation is relieved to hear that the literal sense for the expression is much less in use nowadays than its figurative use of the expression.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 27, 2011

If you’re in the dark about something, you haven’t any idea what’s going on with regards to that particular matter.  Very recently, the media reported on Operation Osama and how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept the covert operation to capture Osama bin Laden a secret from everyone including her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Many media outlets reported in part:

Recalling how he was kept in the dark by his wife who was privy to the secret moves, Bill Clinton said his calls to the Secretary of State went unreturned that fateful day.  “I placed two calls to my wife on that day, and all I was told is, ‘She’s at the White House and can’t talk to you,'” Clinton said in an interview to CNBC.

In the October 12, 1960 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, a news story entitled, “Whistling In The Dark At The United Nations” reported on comments made by the leader of the U.S.S.R., Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) who stated that some day in the future the U.S. would be a minority in the United Nations.   The news story also had this to say about other countries involved with the U.N.:

The fate of the neutrals’ motion put forward by Mr. Nehru shows that they can at present influence U.N. affairs positively only by obtaining help from East and West, presumably at a price.  For its part, the West is still smarting from the massive vote against our Mr. Menzies’ motion; and it can take small comfort from its temporary victory on the Chinese subject.  Mr. Wadsworth, hailing the victory, is whistling in the dark, too.

On June 18, 1900 the Baltimore Morning Herald published a news article that stated that not one Cabinet in Europe knew what had transpired in Pekin for 5 days and in Tien Tsin for 3 days.  No one knew that Baron Von Ketteler, German Minister at Pekin had been murdered.  There was no knowledge of the 5,000 rioters at Kwei Hsien in the Prefecture of Canton.  No one was aware that the foreign Consuls at Shanghai, the members of the Municipal Council and the officers of the volunteer forces had adopted a plan in the event it was necessary to defend themselves to the death against the local Chinese.  The news story was entitled quite simply:

All In The Dark

Morgan Peter Kavanagh (1800 – 1874) wrote and published a book in 1871 entitled, “Origin of Language And Myths, Volume II” in which he wrote on page 417:

This knowledge would have even prevented him from transmitting to other grammarians and other times his very imperfect view of the nature of adjectives and pronouns.  But in respect to these hitherto inexplicable points in grammar, Professor Latham does not appear to have been more in the dark than any of his predecessors.

Going back to 1848, a book was published that contained details about court cases in 1845 entitled “Reports Of Cases In Chancery, Argued And Determined In The Rolls Court During The Time Of Lord Langdale, Master Of The Rolls: Volume IX” by Charles Beavan, Esq., M.A., Barrister At Law.  The following is found on page 535:

Now, from that time, August 1811, down to 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, there was not one word about this claim.  Did the solicitor take the advice of counsel or not?  Was that advice adverse to the claim or not? or was it this: “Wait till the Master makes his report, and then except to it.”  All this is left entirely in the dark; but in 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, and notice had been given to the creditors to attend on settling it, the persons who now represent Young, appear before the Master and state a new case; they request him to take into consideration the interest of this sum, and also the costs, and to come to the conclusion that the principal and interest and costs are the amount of damages sustained.

In a letter dated January 23, 1829 from James Madison  (1751–  1836) to Virgina Senator William C. Rives, the following was written:

I am still in the dark as to the ground of the statement that makes Mr. Jefferson and me parties to the publication in 1801, signed, “The danger not over.”  Have you noticed in Niles’ Register of the 17th instant, page 380, an extract from an address in 1808, signed, among others, by our friend Mr. Ritchie, wishing Congress to encourage our own manufactures by higher duties on foreign, even if the present attack on our commerce should blow over, that we may be the less dependent?

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) wrote in a letter to John Franklin that when it came to considering the nature of light, starting with the assertion by Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) that light resulted from moving corpuscles, he was “much in the dark about light.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression “in the dark” in this context and based on how the expression was used by Benjamin Franklin, Idiomation suspects that this is the first example of using the expression “in the dark” to mean the speaker had no idea what was going on with regards to the matter at hand.

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

Rub It In

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 24, 2011

No one likes to look foolish but every once in a while, it happens.  What you don’t want to have happen once you look foolish is to have someone rub it in and make you look even more foolish.

On March 2, 2000 Bill Plaschke’s Thursday Perspective column appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with a headline that read, “Lakers Show Mettle In Win Over Blazers.”  The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in front of over 20,000 basketball fans with a final score of 90 to 87 in what was called the NBA’s most compelling midseason game in then-recent history.  Their sportsmanship was reported thusly:

The Lakers didn’t strut when they led, didn’t rub it in when they got hot, didn’t show much more emotion than Bryant’s two raised fists at the end of the game.  “We’re not like that,” Fischer said.  “Phil is not like that.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on the events of the Fall of 1962 as it pertained to the Cold War in an article published on November 1, 1962 entitled, “It’s No Time To Blow Trumpets.”  The article pointed out that there were good reasons why the U.S. government shouldn’t trumpet or gloat over forcing the Soviet Union to back away from Cuba.

American officials should not rub it in. Jubilation would be premature and lacking in caution. It would be pre-mature until the Soviet launching bases have been dismantled, the missiles removed to Russia. and U N. inspection made so secure that they cannot be secretly replaced.

The New York Times ran a baseball story on October 13, 1920 about the Cleveland Indians being crowned the World Champions after defeating the Brooklyn Robins 3 to 0 in the seventh game of the final series.  According to the reporter, the Indians “humiliated Brooklyn” at Ebbets Field in Cleveland, Ohio.

When Coveleskie was going at top speed and pitching his best, Buster Mails went out to left field and started to warm up.  Manager Speaker never dreamed for a moment that he would be forced to call on his left hander but he wanted to rub it in and show the Robins what they might expect if they got gay with Covey.

In 1904, the Democratic Party in Missouri announced it had picked its champion against corruption and was committed to an “anti-graft” campaign with its “anti-boodle” plank referred to as “The Missouri Idea.”  The New York Times reported on the convention in great detail on July 20, 1904 in its news story, “Folk Forces Dominate Missouri Convention.”  It read in part:

Another roll call was started on a proposition, to instruct the Credentials Committee to throw out any delegates who might have secured their seats by fraud or intimidation.  It was introduced by J.C. Jones of St. Louis, a Folk delegate.  Since that is the purpose of the Credentials Committee, the motion was useless, but, just to rub it in on the machine, the convention passed it, the opposition giving up before the roll call was complete.

On August 25, 1860 the Detroit Free Press published an article entitled, “Political Intelligence” that dealt with the elections in North Carolina and who was advocating the cause of Breckinridge, Yancey and disunion.

We did not know, when we made it, that the black republican leaders, wire-pullers and managers were going to expose the corruption and rascality of each other to the public, and not only call each other thieves, but prove it and rub it in, as they are now doing.

On May 5, 1849 the Detroit Free Press ran a brief news article comprised of only 248 words that reported the following commentary on the politics of the day:

Undoubtedly it will not. The Administration will learn that the people will not submit to such gross deception and hypocrisy as has characterized General Taylor’s course before and after the late election. They will not, after having been deceived, sit quietly down and allow him to rub it in.

The phrase rub it in, however, dates back to King George II of England and the Earl of Bath.  Before the war of 1748 was ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle, King George II requested that the Earl of Bath expose the ministers who had resigned their offices unexpectedly and prematurely when they heard of King George II‘s plans.  When they were recalled, the King urged Earl of Bath to expose what had happened in a pamphlet.  The Earl of Bath wrote that King George II directed him to “rub it in their noses, and if it be possible, make them ashamed.”

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

In The Red

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2011

If someone or a company is “in the red” it means that amount of money being paid out is greater than the amount of money coming in.  As with the term “in the black” this phrase comes from accounting practices where positive numbers were written in black ink and negative numbers were written in red ink.

Even though several websites are quick to state that the earliest citation of “in the red” can be found in the “Wise-Crack Dictionary” written and published by George H. Maines and Bruce Grant in 1926, Idiomation has good reason to believe the expression was in use prior to 1926 as shown by the ease with which the term “in the black” was used in a Wall Street Journal news story in 1923.

Catholic Culture magazine ran a story in May 2001 about the situation with the diocese in New York City.  Early in the report, readers were informed that:

When then-Archbishop Egan (he was made a cardinal in February) was appointed to succeed John Cardinal O’Connor, who died in May 2000, his first priority was to save the archdiocese from potential financial breakdown. New York had been operating for a decade with a $20 million budget deficit, and that didn’t include individual parishes and schools that were also operating in the red. Cardinal Egan did not announce the details of his plan at the time, but rumors ran rampant through the chancery about what might be cut back.

On January 18, 1960 the Gettysburg Times ran an Associated Press Special Service story out of Washington, D.C. about the St. Lawrence Seaway that had opened the previous April and that was expected to operate at a loss of $2,359,000 for the year starting July 1, 1960.  The headline read:

New Seaway Operating “In The Red

On October 5, 1933 the New York Times carried a news story entitled, “Montgomery Ward Turn $1,000,000 Net Profit In August After Setbacks Since First Year.”  The story reported:

After operating “in the red” for the first half of this year, Montgomery Ward & Co. had a net profit of approximately $1,000000 in August, the management announced today.

On August 30, 1930, just as the Great Depression took hold, the Wall Street Journal published a news story entitled, “Losses In Sugar Spur Agreement” reported:

European beet producers, high tariffs and bounties notwithstanding, have been operating in the red for many years, and the position of the industry is precarious. At first the producers of each country will be approached independent of government influence.

That Idiomation could not find an earlier published version of the expression than the “Wise-Crack Dictionary” of 1926, it is reasonable to believe that the term was in vogue at least as early as 1923 when its partner term “in the black” was being used with the expectation of being understood in Wall Street Journal story quotes.

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

In The Black

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 22, 2011

In the black is a great little turn of phrase for companies and individuals alike, especially during difficult economic times.  It means that the company is operating within its means and in keeping with revenues generated.  It’s long been standard accounting practice is to record positive numbers in black ink and negative numbers in red ink.

On January 28, 2001 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “A Debt To Repay” that addressed the subject of tax cuts and the U.S. national debt.  It read in part:

Despite a federal budget now operating in the black, the national debt now stands at $5.7 trillion (with a T).  The interest expense on the debt last year was $362 billion (with a B).  That means taxpayers put out more money in interest charges than they did for, say, national defense, which cost about $291 billion.

The Miami News ran a news story on April 15, 1960 about FM radio stations, most of which suffered considerably because of the television boom after World War II.  The article entitled, “FM Bouncing Back To Rival Sister AM” reported in part:

The number of independent FM stations has jumped past 100 “and most of the commercial stations are operating in the black,” Fogel said.  The FCC is being rushed with applications for new FM stations.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a United Press story entitled, “Utilities Lead In New York Decline” on May 18, 1932 as the Great Depression hit its third year.  It stated quite simply:

Consolidated Oil was firm on a statement by Harry P. Sinclair, chairman of the board, that the company was now operating in the black.

Back on February 22, 1923 the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Matthew C. Brush, president of American International Corporation and his denial of reports that were being circulated at the time claiming that American International was trying to see one of its largest proprietary companies, G. Amsinck & Co. It stated in part:

But there is no reason why we should want to sell Amsinck The company is in better shape than in years.  It is operating in the black and negotiations are practically concluded with important interests in two South American countries which give every indication of being profitable in the future.

While some may claim that “in the black” and “in the red” were considered slang back in the day, the term “in the black” appears to have had sufficient legitimacy in proper English to be used by at least one company president being quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 1923.  Idiomation was unable, however, to find an earlier published version of the expression.

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

In The Pink

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 21, 2011

The expression in the pink paints a pleasant, positive picture, doesn’t it?  It suggests healthy babies and cute little girls in frilly dresses and flowers that bloom in early May.  If someone is in the pink it’s understood that the person is in good health.  If something is in the pink it’s understood that it’s operating optimally.

Sandra Guy wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times that was published on November 8, 2002 entitled, “Field’s Makeover Begins With A Little Rouge.”  This is what she had to say about the redesign of the Marshall Field’s store on State Street in Chicago:

In September 1999, French luxury goods group LVMH bought a two-thirds stake in London-based Thomas Pink, a name taken from a late 18th century Mayfair tailor who made gentlemen’s riding jackets. (Anyone who could afford one was said to be “in the Pink.”)

On March 8, 1951 the Palm Beach Post published an advertisement hailing the benefits of a product known as Hadacol.  It claimed to relieve lack of energy brought on by a lack of vitamins B1, B2, Niacin and Iron.  Officer Jimmy Kilroy of 1153 Belden Avenue in Chicago, Illinois was quoted in the advertisement and an impressive photograph of this former prizefighter and Chicago police officer.  The headline read:

Policeman Back In The Pink Again — Says He’s The “Kilroy of Old”

At the turn of the century, the Toledo Bee newspaper published an article on November 14, 1901 about the upcoming prize fight between the champion, James J. Jeffries managed by William Brady and trained by Billy Delaney, and Gus Ruhlin, known as the “Akron giant” managed by Billy Madden and trained by Henry “Pop” Blanken.  The day before the fight, the odds were 10 to 4 in favour of the champion and fight fans from New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle and Portland were making themselves heard as they journeyed into San Francisco where the event was scheduled to take place.  The headline read:

Just Before The Battle:  Both Jeffries And Ruhlin Are Reported In The Pink

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) referred to a specific Italian town he’d visited in 1845 thusly:

Of all the picturesque abominations in the World, commend me to Fondi. It is the very pink of hideousness and squalid misery.

The word “pink” became part of the English language in 1573 as the name of a plant, not a color.  Less than 25 years later, it was used to describe a level of courtesy as seen in William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and JulietAct II, Scene IV, published in 1597:

ROMEO
Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in
such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.

MERCUTIO
That’s as much as to say, such a case as yours
constrains a man to bow in the hams.

ROMEO
Meaning, to court’sy.

MERCUTIO
Thou hast most kindly hit it.

ROMEO
A most courteous exposition.

MERCUTIO
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.

What Mercutio meant was that he was not just courteous, he was the epitome of courtesy.

And so it is easy to see that shortly after the word “pink” became part of the English language, it was associated with someone or something being in good shape or being the pinnacle (both good and bad) of what the word “pink” was describing.  The idea of being “in the pink” or ‘in the very pink’ doesn’t appear to have changed much over the past 400 or so years.

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

Tune In

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 20, 2011

The phrase “tune in, turn on and drop out” was THE buzz phrase kicked off by Dr. Timothy Leary on September 19 1966.  The man most associated with encouraging an entire generation to drop acid — LSD — made the most of the expression “tune in” which means “to pay attention or be receptive to other’s beliefs or thoughts.”  By the time Timothy Leary spoke to over 30,000 hippies at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on January 14, 1967, the buzz phrase had been turned around a bit and was now “turn on, tune in, drop out.”  The meaning of “tune in” however remained unchanged.

When the October 9, 1960 edition of the Miami News hit the streets, it carried an article written by Clarke Ash, Sunday Editor of the newspaper, about Round 2 of the “Great Debate” between then-Senator John F. Kennedy and then-Vice-President Richard M. Nixon.  The headline read:  “The Decision? Tune In Next Month.”

A generation before that, and with the phrase growing in popularity, the Portsmouth Times ran a story on January 25, 1936 entitled, “Tune In On Al Smith.”  The Al Smith in question was former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith with his message of constructive government and sound Americanism.

On May 24, 1929 the Spokesman Review newspaper of Spokane, Washington published an article entitled “Classics Furnish New Words.”  It indicates that the expression “tune in” was part of the vernacular in 1929 and understood by newspaper subscribers.  The article read in part:

With the correct logical training that comes almost imperceptibly as one reads an inflected language, there goes along with it in Latin and Greek the matter of important, interesting and exhilarating content.  To tune in mentally with Homer, Euripides, Lucretius or Vergil is a real experience.  It has been often done.  The saddest thing about it is, of course, that those who don’t do it, can’t see it.

Radio hit a fevered pitch as the new “in thing” for households in 1922.  The New York Times along with other notable major newspapers began running radio columns to keep their readers in the know about the new medium.  In fact, radio editor Lloyd C. Greene of the Boston Daily Globe wrote a column on September 10, 1922 about the success of single tube radios and their users in the story “Citizen Radio Broadcasts.”

I have been interested in reading the different articles on remarkable reception appearing in the Globe as I myself have been experimenting with a single tube outfit with more or less success.

He added that “all could be tuned in at will by varying the value of the secondary condenser.”  And so began the induction of the phrase into every day language.

The expression was picked up by flappers and such and injected into the jargon of that generation and so successfully that the Boston Daily Globe edition of May 8, 1921 ran an article entitled, “Movie Facts and Fancies” which that identified “tune in” as part of the “new slang evolved through the popularity of the motion picture.”

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

Tune Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 17, 2011

For those who have actually tuned out, you know how difficult it can sometimes be to stop paying attention to sounds and noises in one’s immediate environment.  It’s not a new problem; it’s been around for centuries.  However, it’s been less than a century since the expression tune out was introduced into conversational English.

On March 18, 2011 USA Today ran an article entitled, “Tennessee Tries To Tune Out Pearl Controversy.”  The article dealt with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations Bruce Pearl allegedly committed and allegedly lied about.

Just over a decade before that article was published, the Post And Courier newspaper of Charleston, South Carolina published an Associated Press article on March 7, 2001 entitled, “Napster Must Tune Out Songs.”  Like the previous story mentioned, this article dealt with crimes committed (in this case copyright infringement) and the Federal court order directing Napster to remove copyrighted music (as identified by a list that had been submitted to the court) from the music-swapping service.

The decade before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story by Dale R. Steinke entitled, “State Wants To Tune Out New Show.”  The article reported on the national television news program aimed at high school students that the State Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin refused to allow into their schools.  While the Department did not object to the news in the program, it did object to the commercials for junk food and razor blades.

The Chicago Tribune wrote about voter turnout in their November 23, 1977 edition.  The article was aptly named, “The Voters Tune Out.”  The article states in part:

Who was it who said, “What if they gave a war and nobody come?” Well, whoever it was, if he took a look at the turnout at the polls two weeks ago he might be tempted to give it a new twist and ask, “What if they gave an election and nobody voted?”

On October 14, 1964 the Sarasota Journal carried a news story entitled, “Networks Caught In The Squeeze: Viewers Tune Out Political Ads.”  It addressed the problem the 3 American networks of the day were experiencing when they pre-empted entertainment programs to make room for short paid political broadcasts.  The reason was because even a 50-minute paid political broadcast meant that the network would invariably lose part of their audience because the ad ran.

However, 30 years before that, on February 2, 1934 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Dry Areas To Be Invited To Tune Out Gin On Radio.”  It stated in part:

For the first time on record a radio announcer will invite persons listening in tomorrow night to tune out his station. The invitation was devised by Station WOR to safeguard a program, for which a liquor company is the sponsor, from being construed as advertising in sections banning alcohol.

The Los Angeles Times ran a series in the spring of 1922 entitled, “Times Radio Department.”  The April 1 column began with:

In the last lesson we showed how radio waves are sent out by the transmitting antenna. Our purpose today is to discuss the simplest method by which these waves may be detected at a distant station. It will be remembered that radio waves were first described as changing magnetic fields moving outward from the transmitter as a ripple in a pond moves out from the place where a pebble may have struck the surface of the water.

The article ended with:

Tomorrow we shall tell you how you can buy add a few more instruments to “tune out” or filter out that which the listener does not wish to hear.

It should be noted that in 1916, Frank Conrad began broadcasting from his Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania garage with the call letters 8XK. It was relaunched as KDKA on November 2, 1920 with the claim of being “the world’s first commercially licensed radio station”. Interestingly enough, KDKA was the first radio station to broadcast the results of the 1920 American Presidential Election or Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding and  Democratic cnadidate, James M. Cox.

Radio station CFCF in Montreal began broadcasting on May 20, 1920; radio station WWJ in Detroit began broadcasting on August 20, 1920.  Because the expression “tune out” links directly back to radios and broadcasting, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression than the one from the Los Angeles Times newspaper article series of 1922.

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

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,678 other followers