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Archive for August, 2011

Dutch Rub

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 31, 2011

A Dutch rub is when you hold someone’s head under your arm in a headlock and rub the knuckles back and forth across the top of that person’s head.  Some people refer to it as a noogie or a monkey scrub or a hippo handing or a Russian haircut or a Yankee dime or a barbershop quartet, but it’s been a Dutch rub for longer than it’s been any of those other things.

On October 23, 2006 John Den Boer mentioned Dutch rubs in a blog article on his blog site that dealt with the Dutch.  His blog site has been around since 2003 and he describes himself as someone who enjoys mumbling his disagreements with various newspaper columnists.  The last sentence in this blog article was:

Perhaps I should have turned to my antagonist and given him a good old fashioned Dutch rub.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette edition of December 29, 1996 published an article entitled, “The Great Noogie Uprising” written by William Safire.  The author was imparting his knowledge of certain actions from the Indian rub to the noogie.  The article he wrote stated in part:

Noting the hard g, making the word rhyme with boogie-woogie, etymologists will make the connection of noogie with knuckle; rooted in the Dutch word knock, “bone.”  That led to Middle Low German knoke, and to Middle English knockel.  By the 1940s, knuckle was also a slang word for “the head” leading to the World War II use of knucklehead as a jocular put-down.  Further evidence that the Bronx term has roots in Holland is that the transitive verb knuckle, “to press or rub with the knuckles” has also been called a “Dutch rub,” causing many a victim to “knuckle under.”  That is the only synonym to noogie noted in scholarly literature, leading to the conclusion that a noogie is clearly not an Indian burn.

On April 27, 1965 the New York Times published an interesting news piece by Russell Baker entitled, “Observer: Child Things.” The opening paragraph began with, “Children write to complain that they are bored and life is no fun. “What can we do?” they ask. The following list of things for children to do is based on a survey of things their parents did when they were children.”  However, one of the things suggested to children was this popular neighbourhood activity:

With several other friends, seize the new kid in the neighborhood and give him a Dutch rub. To give a Dutch rub. make a fist and rub the knuckles vigorously across his head.

Back on October 6, 1940 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a sports article by Edward Burns entitled, “Reds Even World Series: Sox Beat Cubs 3-2.”   Paul Derringer scored 5 hits and the writer noted that “Big Paul holds Detroit to five hits.”  The story had an accompanying photograph and the blurb beneath it read:

A happy Paul Derringer (left), gets an old-fashioned Dutch rub from Manager Bill McKechnie after the big right hander had set down the Tigers with five hits.

Six years earlier, the Los Angeles Times published a sports article on October 4, 1936 entitled, “With Wirephoto Photographers At Work Series Game In New York.”  With a word count of only 232 words, the photo and accompanying descriptor said it all.

Irving (Bump) Hadley, winning pitcher for the New York Yankees in yesterday’s tight-fisted 2-1 game with the Giants, gets a Dutch rub from Lou Gehrig.

While the “Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English” dates the expression back to 1930, Idiomation questions this based on the ease with which it was used in sports articles in the 1930s.  What’s more, there was a cartoon strip back in the 1930s known as Timid Ted that advertised the benefits of Ovaltine.  Poor Timid Ted was a nervous, shaky, scrawny boy who, over the course of a number of cartoons, became the alpha male in the neighbourhood.  But before that happened, Timid Ted‘s readers were treated to a number of sad cartoons depicting what a sorry child Timid Ted was and how much of a disappointment he was to his parents.  One of these cartoons showed a group of tough kids looking at Timid Ted with the caption above one boy’s head that read:

After these highballs let’s razz that puny Simpson kid.  Hold his arms while I give him a dutch rub.

In fact, Warren Faulkner of Oregon stated in 2000 at the age of 78 that the term Dutch rub was very much a part of his boyhood.  This would put the expression sometime during the late 1920s.  This supports the belief that when an expression appears in print without quotation marks, it is an expression that dates to at least the previous generation.  To this end, it is not unreasonable to believe that the expression Dutch rub dates back to about 1920.

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

Double Dutch

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 30, 2011

When’s the last time you heard someone say they heard someone speaking double Dutch?  Anyone who is accused of speaking double Dutch is being accused  by the listener of speaking gibberish.  Double Dutch also happens to be a jump rope game that uses two jump ropes swung simultaneously in opposite directions in a crisscross fashion.

In Chapter IX: Dr. Bauerstein in Agatha Christie’s book “The Mysterious Affair At Styles” written in 1916 and published by John Lane in the United States in October 1920 — published in the UK on January 1921 — the following conversation is written:

“You miss a lot. A really perfect bit of old china–it’s pure delight to handle it, or even to look at it.”

“Well, what am I to tell Poirot?”

“Tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s double Dutch to me.”

“All right.”

I was moving off towards the house again when he suddenly called me back.

“I say, what was the end of that message? Say it over again, will you?”

” ‘Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.’ Are you sure you don’t know what it means?”

I asked him earnestly.

He shook his head.

“No,” he said musingly, “I don’t. I — I wish I did.”

E.W. Hornung‘s book, “Raffles, Further Adventures Of The Amateur Cracksman” — which was also entitled “The Black Mask” in some countries — was published in 1899.  In this book, the following passage is found:

“Ah,” said he, “that was before I knew you were altogether without experience; and I must say that I was surprised even at Mr. Maturin’s engaging you after that; but it will depend upon yourself how long I allow him to persist in so curious an experiment. As for what is the matter with him, my good fellow, it is no use my giving you an answer which would be double Dutch to you; moreover, I have still to test your discretionary powers. I may say, however, that that poor gentleman presents at once the most complex and most troublesome case, which is responsibility enough without certain features which make it all but insupportable. Beyond this I must refuse to discuss my patient for the present; but I shall certainly go up if I can find time.”

In the John Davis book “Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America” published in January 1803, the following exchange happens between the First-mate and Mr. Adams:

First-mate. – You lie! It was one of my countrymen, Madoc ap Owen Gwyneth; I can give you chapter and verse for it.

Madoc wyf mwydic ei wedd
Jawn genau Owen Gwynedd;
Ni fynnwn dir, fy awydd oedd
Na aa mawr ond y Moroedd.

Mr Adams. – What devil language is that? Is it double Dutch coiled against the sun?

First-mate. – It is Welch.  It is what the full-breasted girls talk in the mountains.  If the frigate don’t blow us out of the water, and this fair wind holds, I hope next month to be bowsing some of their jibs up.  If they knew I was coming, they would give the Olive a tow.

By now, readers are possibly asking themselves why the English speak disparagingly about the Dutch language.  The fact of the matter is that when William the Conqueror defeated the British at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he made French the official language among nobility and the upper classes.  Up until that point, English and Dutch were dialects of the same language, sharing a basic Germanic vocabulary.  When English was reinstated as the official language of Britain in the 14th century, generations of peasants had changed the language to such an extent that it no longer resembled Dutch. 

To muddle things up more, some English words had become extinct, some Dutch words survived, and a large number of French words had infiltrated language in Britain in general.  By the time the Dutch Golden Age arrived there were over 2,000 words of Dutch origin in the English language.  And by the time the 16th century arrived, the word Dutch was an insult for anything the English regarded as inferior or contrary to English practice.

All this is why the English have referred to language they cannot understand as double Dutch.  While there is some Dutch in the English language, when a listener cannot make heads or tails of the conversation and it has become incomprehensible to him, it’s as if there’s double the amount of Dutch in the conversation than what someone is used to hearing normally.  This is what, in the opinion of the English of the 16th century, made the language inferior to English and so it is tagged as double Dutch by the listener.

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dutch Treat

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 29, 2011

A Dutch treat, also known as going Dutch or a Dutch date, refers to an outing where everyone involved pays his or her own expenses.

Just three days ago, the Leesville Daily Leader newspaper in Louisiana published a story about the local Chamber of Commerce’s newest developments in the community entitled, “Fort Polk Progress Seeks To Predict Region’s Destiny.”  More than 44 area business leaders were in attendance at the meeting which took place over the lunch hour.  A photo accompanied the news article with the following description included:

The Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce conducted its general membership meeting for August at Catfish Junction Wednesday during a dutch treat luncheon. Speaker for the event was Mike Reese, of Fort Polk Progress.

On October 16, 1974 the St. Petersburg Times ran the Ann Landers column aptly titled that day as, “Husband’s Dutch Treat Lunches Worry Her.”  A woman in her 60s, married to her husband for 36 years, was worried about the latest work arrangement at her husband’s new job.  The distraught wife wrote in part:

He has been going to lunch nearly every day with his secretary, who is in her 30s.  He told me about it himself, making a big deal out of the fact that they go Dutch.

The Day newspaper published an interesting human interest story on November 14, 1931 that reported that a group of University of California co-ed students announced to the media they were in favour of splitting the cost of a “date” between a man and a woman provided the man met their standards of the perfect date. 

A date was rated as follows:  20% for intelligence, 20% for personality, 15% for cultural and social background, 15% for personal appearance, 10% each for courtesy and for dance ability, and 5% each for physical fitness and for social poise.  However, the catch was that if such a man existed, he wouldn’t allow the woman to go Dutch; he’d pay for the date.  The news story was entitled:

College Girls Describe Perfect Male Escort For ‘Dutch Treat’

On July 21, 1893 the Morning Herald of Baltimore, Maryland published a news story that set tongues wagging.  It told the story of the exploits of 13 Newport women who set society talking by engaging in a unique feast.  In fact, what they did was so unheard of that they made the idea fashionable.  Yes, they had a “very jolly dinner without the men and boldly braved superstition” by actually having what the newspaper headline announced was a “Ladies’ Dutch Dinner.”  The story reported in part:

In the private dining-room, trimmed and decorated with yellow striped silk, the women referred to decided to have their “Dutch treat” or, in other words, each lady was to pay her own expenses, little realizing that they were setting the seal of their approval on a custom which needed it.  Had this custom been inaugurated before Newport would have been benefited in a substantial manner, and many families would not have ceased their social functions as summarily as they did.

The term, according to the The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, dates back to 1870.  Idiomation is willing to concede that this is most likely the correct year for the expression since the 1893 article states “the seal of their approval on a custom which needed it.”  It was a known social convention that hadn’t been given a place in society until people such as those delightful 13 Newport women brought society up to speed on the option.

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

Water Off A Duck’s Back

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 26, 2011

When someone says something is like water off a duck’s back, what they’re telling you is that it has no short-term or long-term effect on them at all.  Recently former Miss Wales, Imogen Thomas was pelted with a water bomb according to the July 29, 2011 edition of the Daily Mail in the UK. It stated in part:

It appeared that Imogen soon put the water bomb incident behind her however — water off a duck’s back, as it were.

On October 7, 1961 the Prairie Outdoors column written by Morris Ferrie and published by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix saw this story published:

Often used is the phrase “like water off a duck’s back” when describing an attitude of indifference.  Well, this attitude was far from present the other day when farmers from around bone-dry Pelican Lake met with sportsmen and government representatives in Moose Jaw to discuss the situation.

In the end, the story ended well with the announcement that “any disagreement that may have existed with respect to the presence of Pelican Lake was completely overwhelmed when the following resolution was passed unanimously:  RESOLVED that Pelican Lake be restored and maintained for the purpose of providing for agricultural and waterfowl needs and that the lake be managed in a manner to make it permanent, and further be it; RESOLVED that this resolution be referred for immediate action to the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the P.F.R.A. and Ducks Unlimited (Canada).”

On August 3, 1910 the Deseret Evening News ran a news story about Secy Ballinger who had denied the rumour that he would be tendering his resignation soon, after having met with Senator Crane in Minneapolis, MN the day before.  The headline read, “No Resignation For Ballinger: President Stands By Him.”  He was quoted as saying:

“All this vicious attack by unscrupulous men, backed by newspapers with even less scruples, goes off me like water off a duck’s back.  That never will induce me to resign.”

On September 25, 1894 the Lawrence Daily Journal ran an advertisement for Pearline soap.  The main copy, signed by a James Pyle of New York City, read:

Like water off a duck’s back — so dirt leaves, when Pearline gets after it.  No matter where it is, the easiest, safest, quickest and cheapest way to get rid of it is with Pearline.  Washing clothes is Pearline’s most important work.  That’s because it saves so much wear and tear, as well as labor, by doing away with the rub, rub, rub.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that Pearline washes everything.  Dishes, paint, marble, glass, tin-ware, silver, jewelry, carpets, hangings — there’s work to be saved with all of these, by using Pearline.

The saying also appeared in an advertisement in the March 14, 1893 edition of the Manawatu Herald in New Zealand selling this amazing new product.  The main copy read:

Have you see the new Rainproof “Impervanas” Dress Serges now showing at Te Aro House, Wellington?  “Like water off a duck’s back” describes their wonderful quality.  No one need now fear the heaviest shower of rain while wearing a dress of the impervious “Impervanas” Serge.  Procurable only at Te Aro House, Wellington.  “Impervanas” Serges will not spot, will not shrink, are not affected by sea water, and are made of the best New Zealand wools.  Write for patterns to the sole agent, James Smith, Te Aro House, Wellington.  The Showroom is abundantly stocked with choice good for present requirements of which we invite inspection and comparison.  Ross and Sandford, District Importers, the Bon Marche, Palmerston North.

The Grey River Argus published on May 23, 1874 reported on a serious situation in Nelson, New Zealand as it pertained to the Provincial Council and the Brunner Mine owned by the Government and purchased from the late Ballarat Company in 1868.  It stated in part:

This is one of the advantages of a non-responsible Government — that it can afford to allow hostile motions to glide like water off a duck’s back, or rather like a pellet from the scales of an alligator.  In support of his allegations that the Estimates were not framed in accordance with the requirements of the province, and that the department expenditure was too high, Mr. Donne said ….

The article quotes Mr. Donne word for word as he dissects the revenues and expenses of the Council in making his point that administration costs of 76 percent plus all the other deductions and expenses along with the quality of the work done in the department.  The Provincial Treasurer is said to have attempted to present a defence of the Estimates but in the end, the Estimates were returned for reconstruction according to the news story.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms claims the phrase is from the early 1800s and it may well be however Idiomation was unable to find a published reference prior to 1874.  That being said, it was used in the news story without quotation marks and as such, it was not a recent colloquialism.  Because news travelled at a more relaxed pace in the 1800s than it does in the technologically connected world of today, new expressions took time to be incorporated into the language, finally making it into books and, in the end, newspapers and magazines. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to believe that the word was in use for at least a generation prior to being printed in the Grey River Argus, putting the date to the late 1840s or early 1850s.

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

Sitting Duck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 25, 2011

The expression sitting duck refers to someone or something vulnerable to a physical or verbal attack.  It’s such a common expression that the National Society of Newspaper Columnists established the Sitting Duck Award, a tongue-in-cheek honour that pokes fun at the most ridiculed newsmakers in the United States.  The winner in 2009 was Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who beat out ousted former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

In 1977, Canadian artist Michael Bedard created a lithograph entitled, “Sitting Ducks.”  It depicted three ducks sitting in beach chairs and wearing sun glasses.  The lithograph became so popular that it became a TV show and led to a children’s book by Michael Bedard, published in 1998, titled identically to the lithograph.

On June 14, 1944 the Milwaukee Journal carried a report by journalist Ira Wolfert onboard the Tuscaloosa and harboured in the Bay of Seine in France and how they deal with the Germans who dare to attack.  The story, gruesome in many respects as it reports in some detail how the Americans are beating the Germans, also brings some humour to the news article.  One can imagine the very silly image that accompanies the statement that “when the Nazis throw down the gauntlet to a warship you see the gauntlet splash in the water.”  The new story, entitled, “Ira Wolfert, On Sitting Duck Cruiser Sees — and Hears — Some Good Big Gun Action.”

Capt. Waller, in command of the Tuscaloosa, gives his gunners every chance to plot the line pointing to the battery.  He holds this $15,000,000 warship steady, setting it up as a “sitting duck” bait for the Germans.  He waits for German shells to come close enough, say within 50 yards, so that he knows the next shots will be right on him.  Then he picks up and moves and the Tuscaloosa’s guns go to work.

Just a few years earlier, on June 13, 1938 the St. Petersburg Times published an article entitled, “Hobnobbing With The Heavies.”  In the article the following is found:

Schmeling would not be going into the ring unless he was absolutely convinced of the outcome.  He thinks it will be like shooting a sitting duck.  Louis seems confident enough, himself, but not like Schmelling.  Louis, if anything, appears to be slightly tired of the fighting business.  Schmelling loves it and is imbued with a fierce determination to win back the title for himself and for Germany.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to this phrase however as with other phrases, when it is found in a mainstream newspaper, it is understood by the general readership which means that the expression was well-known and understood in 1938.  It is reasonable to guess that the expression dates back at least another generation to the early 1920s at the very least.

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

Duck Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 24, 2011

When someone ducks out it means they’re going to slip away, exit, go, leave, split, depart, skedaddle, take off, clear out, hightail, buzz off, beat it, make tracks, take a powder, fly the coop, vamoose, get out of Dodge and it’s oftentimes so the person ducking out can avoid doing something for which they are responsible or that puts the speaker in an uncomfortable position.

On August 7, 2011 the Calgary Herald published a story by reporter Kristen Odland entitled, “Taylor Shines For Stamps.”  It began by lamenting the fact that Larry Taylor had ducked out, leaving fans and media alike surprised by his quick exit.

Traditionally, the first one to duck out of the Calgary Stampeders’ dressing room post-game and post-practice following any media requests is soft-spoken wide receiver Romby Bryant.  But Saturday night as the remaining satisfied fans filed out of McMahon Stadium following a 32-20 Stampeders victory and the media swarmed into the home team’s jubilant locker room, it was speedy wide receiver and kick-returner Larry Taylor who was no where to be found.  Yeah, he’s that fast.

The Milwaukee Journal published a news story on September 6, 1969 about Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.  Both the title and the first paragraph used the expression duck out.  The title of the article was “Russ Due So Chinese Duck Out” and began with:

Chinese Premier Chou En-lai ducked out of Hanoi Friday before the Saturday arrival of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, and the maneuver increased international speculation that North Vietnam was caught in the middle in the bitter Russian-Chinese feud.

Ten years before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a story on September 2, 1959 entitled, “Congress Should Not Duck Out Because of Khrushchev.”  Public and media perception was that some in Congress simply didn’t want to be in Washington when Nikita Khrushchev arrived later in the month and some in Congress were pushing for a six-week recess or to have Congress adjourned.

From time to time, a brief news item appears in the newspaper that can’t help but make the most of a pun waiting to be made.  This was the case in the Reading Eagle edition of October 24, 1933 with the story, “Tries to Duck Out With Ducks: Court Stops Him.”  The article reported the following story from Chicago:

Joseph Duck believes in taking no chances.  He was about to walk out of a court room yesterday after winning a continuance of an alimony case when the judge noticed a bulky package under his arm.

“What is it?” inquired the court.

“Ducks,” said Duck.

He explained he had expected to go to jail and wished to eat duck dinners while there.  The court made him surrender the ducks to Mrs. Duck and her seven children.

On May 9, 1905, the Meriden Daily Journal reported on James J. Jeffries, champion heavyweight pugilist of the world who was retiring due to muscular rheumatism in his hands.  The article read in part:

“I have never known a day’s sickness and this makes life miserable,” he said.  “I am tired of the theatrical game and have informed the management that I want to duck out of the limelight at the end of the week.”

The earliest published version of duck out that Idiomation could find was in the Reading Eagle edition of August 9, 1903 in the story entitled, “Like A Dancing Dervish Is Corbett.”  The story discusses how pugilist Jim Corbett “jumps around Yank Kenny who impersonates Jim Jeffries in practice” and how this surprised boxing experts.

It looks as if Corbett’s only way to avoid those reachy sweeps at his ribs is to duck out of the enclosures, but Jim remains within the ropes and flits around in such a manner as to disarrange Yank’s plan of attack.

That the word is used with ease in this news article from 1903 and without quotation marks around the expression duck out which indicates it was an accepted part of the vocabulary of the time.  It is reasonable, therefore, to guess that the expression most likely dates back to the 1880s or 1890s.

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Duck Soup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 23, 2011

When someone mentions that a task or assignment is duck soup, what they’re telling you is that it can be very easily accomplished.  The expression gained popularity due in large part to the 1933 Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup” but the Marx Brothers aren’t the ones who coined the expression.

On January 26, 1962 the Ottawa Citizen newspaper published a story entitled, “Oil Blaze Duck Soup To Texan Fire-Killer.”  The story reported on how Red Adair, a Texan,  nonchalantly put out an oil well fire and immediately flew back to Texas to take on another oil well fire.  The story reported the following:

With the help of others he doused the flames with chemicals Thursday, then filled the well with a special mud to stop the oil from flowing.

“It was duck soup compared to some of the fires I’ve fought,” said Adair.  How much the Sun Oil Company of Calgary, which brought in the well recently, will pay him has not been announced.  But an official said the company had already spent $100,000 before he arrived — the fire broke out last Friday — and any fee charged would be worth it. 

On December 24, 1943 the Ellensburg Daily Record in Washington state published a news story entitled, “Rocket Planes Duck Soup To Yankee Fighters.”  It was the height of World War II and the article began with this:

German planes mounting the new rocket guns are “duck soup” for American fighter planes, says Wellwood Beall, vice-president in charge of engineering at Boeing Aircraft Company.  Beall, just back from watching Fortresses perform over Europe, reported bombers have taken some “terrific punishment” from rockets but that he could find no cases of a direct hit.

“Ships carrying rocket guns are slow, inaccurate and duck soup for American fighter planes,” he said. “Our boys line up to see who’ll shoot them down.”

The Milwaukee Journal published an article on August 8, 1931 about Burleigh Grimes of Owen, Wisconsin who was an aging but effective spitballer playing with the St. Louis Cardinals at the time.  The article was entitled, “Grove! Pooh!   He’ll Be Duck Soup Says Grimes.”  Burleigh Grimes was quoted in the story as saying:

“Sure, there’s one way we can lose,” Burleigh explained.  “If we don’t hit, we can’t win.  If we don’t make runs, we can’t win.  But let us make a few runs and we’ll knock ‘em over in a hurry.  Grove!  Pooh! says he’s got ‘em scared to death in that league.  Who’s he got to beat? We bet im last year, didn’t we?  And he’ll be duck soup for us this October.  And now about Earnshaw?  I guess he’ll have another streak like he had last year? I guess not.”

On August 12, 1918 the Toronto World newspaper printed a news story by Ida L. Webster.  This reporter wrote about two baseball games played on the same afternoon between Toronto and Buffalo. The news story was entitled:

Leading Leaflets Took Two Games: Bisons Proved To Be Duck Soup For Howley’s Wild Men On Saturday.

According to “The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang” the expression “duck soup” first appeared in a newspaper cartoon in 1902 drawn by T.A. Dorgan.  The cartoon shows a man in a Police Court juggling a bottle, pitcher, plate and salt shaker and the caption underneath read: Duck Soup.

However, Idiomation was able to find an even earlier printed reference in the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 23, 1897 on page 10 in a story containing 1,792 words.  In other words, it was a sizeable news story!  A business interviewed for the story stated:

I am out of the business and so this fight is duck soup for me.

We kept researching and came across the expression in the Detroit Free Press on October 24, 1893 on page 8 in an article entitled, “Salting Western Mines: How Eastern Strangers Are Taken In By Sharpers.”  The article was 2,295 words in length and dealt with the subject of con men who made their schemes work.  The article stated that a salted mine was so called because the con man easily fooled “eastern tenderfoots” headed west to grow rich overnight with his con game.  The story underscored the fact that suckers made for fine food for mining sharks.  The story included these two sentences:

The McDonalds were “duck soup.” They were quietly moved over to Alder Gulch by a syndicate of sharpers who needed more money to develop properties.

Since the expression duck soup was used in such a prominent newspaper in 1893, it can be assumed that the general population of the day understood the meaning of duck soup.  This places the expression in the vocabulary of the day. That the expression appears in quotation marks, however, implies that it may have been a relatively new expression at the time.  It can therefore be assumed that the expression dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1880s.

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Ducks In A Row

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 22, 2011

It’s “Everything’s Ducky Week” at Idiomation and we’re starting off with the expression to get or have your ducks in a row.  This refers to having things well-organized before you begin.  Many online sources and books claim that the phrase is slang that came about in the 1970s, however, Idiomation has found earlier printed news stories with the phrase ducks in a row.

The Spartanburg Herald Journal in South Carolina ran a story on June 21, 1947 entitled, “The Bulwinkle Bill” which dealt with the bill designed to give the railroads in America the right to confer  upon matters of rate making, under approval of the Interstate Commercial Commission which was colloquially referred to as the Bulwinkle Bill.  However, the bill was opposed by a group of Southern senators despite its passing by the Senate with a two-thirds majority. The article stated:

The railroads of this country are entitled to “get their ducks in a row.”  They are now, and always will, bear the burden of traffic in this country and they have not in recent years enjoyed a very substantial prosperity.  They have encountered competition from truck traffic and will experience further competition from air transportation.

The Herald Sports weekly newspaper published an article written by Associated Press staff writer Miles H. Wolff on November 17, 1931 entitled “Columbia and Clinton Scenes Of Hot Games.”  He began his article with this:

The schedule makers of our South Carolina colleges are busily engaged just now getting their ducks in a row for the 1932 football season.  That they are having difficulties can be guessed at from the fact that the end of November nears and not one institution of higher learning has announced its next, year’s card.

Earlier yet, the Daily Progress newspaper in Petersburg, Virginia ran an article on June 16, 1910.

It quite frequently happens that when political parties and even nations think they have “their ducks in a row” the unexpected happens which knocks their well-laid plans awry.

Now the top bowlers of the 19th century in America decided that bowling needed a standard set of rules and so the American Bowling Congress — which was renamed the United States Bowling Congress in later years — was established in 1895. The game had been brought to America by the Dutch, Germans and English shortly before the Civil War when only 9 pins were used in the game. The game proved to be very popular with the population, so much so that in 1841, Connecticut outlawed 9-pin bowling due to its association with gambling.

To get around the law, indoor bowling alley proprietors added a tenth pin to the game in 1870 and the new game flourished. The game was modified and short, slender pins were introduced called duckpins because of the pin’s appearance.

However, modernization hadn’t yet come to these bowling alleys and people were employed by the indoor bowling alleys to set the pins up for each player’s frame in a game.  The re-setting of the pins was referred to as getting one’s ducks in a row.

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

Devil’s Advocate

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 16, 2011

Originally, the devil’s advocateAdvocatus Diaboli — was a person employed by the Roman Catholic church to argue against someone being made a saint. This began with Pope Sixtus V in 1587 with the Office of Promotor Fidei — where the Advocatus Diaboli could be found — and abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

Over the years, devil’s advocate has come to mean any person who pretends to be against an idea or plan that many support in order to spur people on to discuss the matter in greater detail and to think about it more carefully before locking the idea into place or putting the plan in motion.

On May 19, 2009 the Coventry Evening Telegraph ran a story entitled, “Shock Jock Barry’s Tough Talk.”  The story began with this:

Barry Champlain’s late-night radio show is listened to by insomniacs, “nut jobs and psychos,” the lonely and the desperate. Night after night, Barry pushes them to breaking point, as he plays analyst, confessor and devil’s advocate.  Alex Comer plays the late night talk jockey who specialises in subverting the airwaves in Talk Radio.

On June 6, 1962 the Toledo Blade published a story entitled, “No Solution Can Be Seen For China’s Food Problem.”  The article was written by Keyes Beech who was temporarily taking over for Doris Fleeson who, according to the newspaper, had been injured in an automobile accident and would by away for a few days.  The article began with:

Even if you play the devil’s advocate, it’s next to impossible to find anything good to say about Communist China.  Today’s news is all bad.  The overwhelming fact of China in 1962 is that people are hungry or afraid of hunger.  Fear of famine was the force that drove 70,000 Chinese to seek refuge in British Hong Kong, a capitalist utopia on the Red Communist doorstep.

The Providence, Rhode Island Evening News of July 3, 1914 carried an obituary for Joseph Chamberlain (1826 – 1914) on page 2.  It was entitled, “Joseph Chamberlain, Noted Briton, Dead.”  The reason for so much interest in Mr. Chamberlain was due to the fact that not only was his third wife, Mary Endicott, daughter of William C. Endicott, Secretary of War for during the presidency of Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908), but he had been the British representative to the American-British Joint High Commission.

During the campaign of 1892 Mr. Chamberlain worked with great effect, and subsequently in the Commons he was to the forefront in all the assaults on the Irish government bill and clashed frequently with Mr. Gladstone.  The home rules, considered him a renegade, and this rankling he aggravated by his rasping tactics.  During debate on the bill, one night in July, 1893 Mr. Gladstone tartly compared him with “the devil’s advocate.”  The next night in debate Mr. Chamberlain retorted so caustically that T.P. O’Connor yelled at his, “Judas! Judas!” followed presently by a free fight on the floor between several members — a rare outbreak in probably the most staid legislative body in the world — accompanied by vigorous hissing by the galleries.

From the above excerpt, we see that the expression devil’s advocate was used in 1914 and, based on the quote in the excerpt, in 1892.  Going back another 40 years, the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle published a news article entitled, “Carlyle on Jesuitism” on January 17, 1852 that read in part:

And as this Ignatius, I am aware he is admired, and even transcendently admired, or what we call worshipped, by multitudes of human creatures, who to this day expect, or endeavour to expect, some kind of salvation from him; — whom it is so painful to enrage against me, if I could avoid it! Undoubtedly Ignatius, centuries ago, gave satisfaction to the Devil’s Advocate, the Pope and other parties interested, was canonised, named Saint, and raised duly into Heaven officially so-called; whereupon, with many, he passes, ever since, for a kind of god, or person who has much influence with the gods.

H.W. Fowler published “The King’s English” in 1908 and attributes the expression devil’s advocate to 1760, however, he does not provide a reference source for the claim.

The first formal mention Idiomation could find of the devil’s advocate is in the canonization of St. Lawrence Justinian in 1690 under Pope Leo X (1513-21). Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression devil’s advocate  and believes that 1690 is the earliest to be found.

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

Devil Dodger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 15, 2011

The devil dodger is usually found in the military and is in charge of the spiritual welfare of the troops.  Yes, a devil dodger is a man of the cloth, a minister, a clergyman in varying degrees of intensity.  It also occasionally refers to someone who attends churches of various kinds just to be on the safe side.

On September 13, 2006 the BBC News reported on a naval chaplain who had complained about the use of porn on the warships he was training on.  The news story was entitled, “Chaplain Told Porn Part Of Life.”  He left the HMS Albion and the HMS Manchester because of the pornography.  The article reported in part:

Now the rector of a shore parish, who is a father-of-four, told the hearing in Exeter he was known as “the bish” and was taunted with chantes of “bible basher” as well as “God botherer” and “devil dodger” while on board.

The Calgary Herald ran a short news column entitled, “R.A.F. Slanguage” in the June 17, 1940 edition.  Among the key terms used by the boys in the Royal Air Force were:

Quack – The doctor.
Blue-blood – Army officer.
Pay-bob – The pay officer.
Devil-dodger – The chaplain.
Stripey – Any non-commissioned officer
AC Plonk – Air craftsman second class.

Now back in September 1917, a black-and-white silent movie with a running time of 50 minutes was released by Triangle Film Corporation entitled, “Devil Dodger.”  It was a western starring Roy Stewart played as Silent Scott, John (Jack) Gilbert as Roger Ingraham and Carolyn Wagner as Fluffy, the saloon girl.  The story was of a minister who went West in search of health and came upon a town where Silent Scott kept a dance hall and saloon. 

There, the minister meets Fluffy who has a questionable past but the minister sees a great deal of goodness left in her and she sees a great more in the minister. There’s a moral struggle between the minister and the saloon keeper and in the end, the minister triumphs to some degree when he successfully awakens the good still in the saloon keeper’s heart.

On June 22, 1889 the New Zealand Observer newspaper in Auckland ran an interesting column entitled, “Round The Churches” where they dished the dirt on various churches in the area.  The final comment tidbit was this:

Another minister has been honest enough to confess that his work has been a failure, and that the world, the flesh, and the devil are too many for him.  A clergyman of Brooklyn, New York states that after many years’ labour “he has not even succeeded in breaking the crus of hell which surrounds that town.”  The simile is a new and striking one, but rather inappropriate.  Why should a parson wish to break the crust of hell, when the consequences would probably be the falling in of himself, flock, and collection?  We should fancy that his energies would have been better directed had he applied himself to placing a new cast-iron, copper-riveted covering over the hot place, and to strengthening its crust generally; but we forget — the average parson believes in keeping the pit open and giving his congregation an occasional glimpse of the fire and brimstone! When the crust of Sheol gets too thick for one-parson power to penetrate, the devil-dodger finds his occupation gone.

In the Guy de Maupassant  (1850-1893) story “A Lively Friend” the following exchange is found between two friends:

The curé left very early.

Then the husband gently remarked: “You went a little too far with that priest.”

But Joseph immediately replied: “That’s a very good joke, too! Am I to bother my brains about a devil-dodger? At any rate, do me the favor of not ever again having such an old fogy to dinner. Curses on his impudence!”

“But, my friend, remember his sacred character.”

Joseph Mouradour interrupted him: “Yes, I know. We must treat them like girls, who get roses for being well behaved! That’s all right, my boy! When these people respect my convictions, I will respect theirs!”

On December 7, 1867 the Hartford Daily Courant published a story entitled, “A Hint To The Ambitious.”  It told the story of a woman who allowed her friends to put in her head that she ought not deprive the world of the advantages of her wit and talent as a writer.  After all, the newspaper reported, she had been told she should try her hand at a “three-volume novel with plenty of sensation in it.” 

The story pointed out that her friends had urged her to look at “the trash that is published and paid for.” And so this woman set out to do just that and the reviews that followed publication of her book included this comment:

The spoon scene between Miss Whatdoyoucallher and the devil dodger is first rate.

The earliest reference Idiomation could find for devil dodger goes back to the “Memoirs” of James Lackington (1746 – 1815) published in 1791.  It’s in his book that readers find:

These devil-dodgers happened to be so very powerful that they soon sent John home, crying out, that he should be damned.

While Idiomation could not find an earlier reference, the fact that James Lackington used it with such ease in his “Memoirs” published in 1791 indicates that it was an understood expression for readers of the day and therefore, it would have been in existence at least the generation prior, putting it to about 1750.

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

 
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