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Archive for September, 2011

Days On End

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 26, 2011

When something happens or continues for days on end, it means it’s continuing without any sign of stopping.  It’s an expression with a fair bit of history and reaches back several centuries.

In 1949, the expression was used in “The Royal Engineers Journal” where the following can be found with regards to the post D-Day invasion of northern France.

Often frozen and wet through by night, they proceeded to march and fight at top speed for days on end. This was the 6th Airborne, with wings on its feet as well as its shoulders, and a spirit which said, ‘Bash on regardless.’

Jack London (1876 – 1916) wrote and published “Adventure” in 1911.  In Chapter XVII entitled, “Making The Books Come True” the following passage is found:

The steamer from Sydney, the Kammambo, broke the quietude of Berande for an hour, while landing mail, supplies, and the trees and seeds Joan had ordered. The Minerva, bound for Cape Marsh, brought the two cows from Nogi. And the Apostle, hurrying back to Tulagi to connect with the Sydney steamer, sent a boat ashore with the orange and lime trees from Ulava. And these several weeks marked a period of perfect weather. There were days on end when sleek calms ruled the breathless sea, and days when vagrant wisps of air fanned for several hours from one direction or another. The land-breezes at night alone proved regular, and it was at night that the occasional cutters and ketches slipped by, too eager to take advantage of the light winds to drop anchor for an hour.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s book “A Study In Scarlet” which was published in 1887, the following is found in Part I, Chapter 1 where Dr. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, reminiscences about Sherlock Holmes in this fashion:

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. “I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground. You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”

“I always smoke `ship’s’ myself,” I answered.

“That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?”

“By no means.”

“Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”

I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” I said, “and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.”

Various books, documents, stories, newspaper accounts et al make use of the expression days on end.  Idiomation’s research unearthed that the word end comes from the Old English word ende which is from the Old Norse word endir which means “the opposite side” or “boundary.” The original sense of the word means “outermost part” and dates back to the 900s however this sense is obsolete except in phrases such as days on end.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the expression dates back to some time in the 1300s.

Posted in Idioms from the 10th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dutchman’s Draught

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 23, 2011

When someone talks about a Dutchman’s draught, it’s just one of the many allusions to the reputed fondness for heavy drinking among the Dutch.  Idiomation is unaware of any studies to support the stereotype that the Dutch drink more than any other cultural group however the history between the English and the Dutch is well-documented and so stereotypes are bound to endure.

In fact, back in 1665 there was a British pamphlet entitled “The Dutch Boare Dissected” that was filled with what would be considered hate speech in today’s society.  Most of the English idioms negatively referring to the Dutch first appear around this era.  The sentiment continued in a number of literary works including John Arbuthnot’s 1712 story, “The History of John Bull.”  It took until the 18th century for the French to replace the Dutch as the bull’s-eye of English insults, once the French had established themselves as a major naval adversary of the British.

On May 9, 1880 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “The Dutch And Their Land: Holland Through A Telescope.”  The date line reads Utrecht, April 23 and the reporter dedicates the entire story to extolling the virtues of Holland and the people who call the country home.  The reporter writes in part:

The area of their possessions amounts to 660,000 square miles, and the population to 23,500,000 souls.  The towers of Amsterdam, which we see through the sacristan’s telescope, common views of Zuyder Zee, which furnishes the ballad-monger with the similie as to a Hollander’s capacity for drinking:

“Singing, O, that a Dutchman’s draught might be
 As deep as the rolling Zuider Zee.”

In the January 29, 1870 edition of Punch’s Almanack, in the column “More Happy Thoughts” the following is found:

German, English and French is being spoken freely; English, I think, predominating. There are three languages that puzzle me; I subsequently find they are Russian, Dutch and Greek.  The Dutch I always though was a rolling sort of tongue, so to speak; but, on reflection, I fancy this idea was mainly founded upon the remembrance of having heard, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s draught should be,” by a bass singer, late at night, years ago.

The Examiner was promoted as “A Sunday Paper on Politics, Domestic Economy and Theatricals.”  In the edition published on January 1, 1826 the paper referenced the expression on page 357 in the theatrical column, where readers can find this passage:

The music being chiefly selection, requires little notice; it wanted what Wzaza has recently taught us to look for in operas, — we mean sounds in ideal association with the story.  Miss Stephens was once encored; and the old glee of the “Dutchman’s Draught” with new words, was well sung by Yarnold, Nicol and G. Smith, and also loudly encored.

The song “Dutchman’s Draught” appeared in a play in three acts entitled, “The Law Of Java” which was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden on May 11, 1822.  Act I begins with Dutch soldiers singing:

Mynheer Vandunck, though he was never drunk
Sipp’d Brandy and Water, gaily;
And he quench’d his thirst
With two arts of the first
To a pint of the latter daily;
Singing, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s Draught could be
As deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee!”

Water well mingled with spirit, good store
No Hollander dreams of scorning;
But, of water alone, he drinks no more
Than a rose supplies when a dew-drop lies
On its bloom, in a summer morning;
For a Dutchman’s Draught should potent be,
Though deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee.

Now English playwright, George Colman the Younger (1762 — 1836) was educated at Westminster School, Oxford and Aberdeen and he is the composer of “Mynheer Van Dunck” which starts off the play “The Law of Java.” It was a popular singing song that is found in numerous song books over the years including John McClure‘s “The Stag’s Hornbook” published in 1925 that listed the song as one of the 40 classics.

That the expression Dutchman’s draught was used easily in a song in a play back in 1822 indicates that the audience was familiar with the expression which dates it to somewhere in the mid 1700s.  And because it’s a fact that most negative idioms about the Dutch sprung up after 1665, the expression dates to somewhere between 1665 and 1750.

Idiomation was unable to establish an exact date for the expression Dutchman’s draught.  At the very least, however, it’s an expression of the 18th century and quite possible of the 17th century.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flying Dutchman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 22, 2011

The Flying Dutchman can either mean the Dutch sailor who was supposedly condemned to sail the seas off the Cape of Good Hope until Judgement Day or his ghostly ship which, if seen by sailors, is considered to be a very bad omen indeed.  Some say the tale is based on a true story and that the Captain’s name was Van der Decken, Ramhout van Dam or Falkenburg.  Others will tell you that it’s based on the historical figure, Bernard Fokke, who lived during the 17th century and was known for the unbelievable speed with which he could travel from the Netherlands to Java. 

Now oddly enough, from 1849 until 1892, there was an express train that ran between London and Bristol which was known as “The Flying Dutchman.”  It was the companion train of “The Flying Scotchman” which traveled between London and Edinburgh.  Not to be outdone, out in British Columbia in 1862, the first steamship to enter the Stikine River was none other than “The Flying Dutchman.”  What’s more, an English thoroughbred racehorse who won all of his first two season’s race starts back in the 1840s was named “The Flying Dutchman.”  And most recently, in 2007 an amusement park in Efteling in the Netherlands named its water coaster ride constructed by Dutch manufacturer Vekoma.

From all of this, we know that the expression “Flying Dutchman” has been around since the early 1800s at least.  But how far back can we trace the expression?  The Baltimore Sun announced the performance of “The Flying Dutchman” in the April 15, 1839 edition of the newspaper.  Now we know that the reference wasn’t to German composer Richard Wagner‘s opera “Der fliegende Holländer” since the composer claimed in his autobiography in 1870 that he had been inspired to create the opera following a sea crossing he made from Riga to London in July and August 1839. 

There was, however, a novel by Heinrich Heine entitled, “The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski” published in 1834 that contained within its pages the story of “The Flying Dutchman.”  However, he was not the first to mention the character in question.  In fact, the first print reference is found in the book by George Barrington entitled “A Voyage To Botany Bay” published by 1795.  The following excerpt can be found in Chapter VI:

I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, but had never given much credit to the report; it seems that some years since a Dutch man of war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape.  Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitude. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared. Nothing could do away the idea of this phenomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman.

Now it’s possible that the Captain in question was indeed Bernard Fokke but it’s also just as possible that the captain in question was Van der Decke, the captain of a Dutch ship that sank off the cost of Cape of Good Hope back in 1641.  Folkore has it that as the ship began to sink in stormy waters, the Captain shouted out, “I will round this Cape even if I have to keep sailing until Doomsday!

Regardless of who the captain of the ghost ship happens to be, it has been sighted a number of times including on 1881 by the crew of the HMS Bacchante as the ship rounded the tip of Africa; in 1879 by the crew of the SS Pretoria; in 1911 by the crew of a whaling ship; in 1923 by members of the British Navy who then provided documentation to the Society of Psychical Research; in 1939 by people on shore as well as German Admiral Karl Doenitz as he maintained his U-boat; in 1941 by a group of people at Glencairn Beach; in 1942 by four people at Table Bay; and in 1959, it’s alleged that the Magelhaen nearly collided with “The Flying Dutchman.”

What Idiomation can confirm is that while the legend of “The Flying Dutchman” has been around for at least 100 years more than the first printed reference, there does not appear to be an earlier printed reference than the one by George Barrington (1755–1804) in 1795.  However, that an Irishman should happen upon the story and write it down suggests that the legend he heard was at least 50 years old, pegging it to the mid 1700s. 

Interestingly enough, the spoken word tradition of passing stories down from generation to generation with only a few written comments found along the way tags the beginning of the tale of “The Flying Dutchman” to the turn of the 18th century …. the early 1700s … and with both captains separated by a mere generation, the legend could easily be about either captain.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I’m A Dutchman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 21, 2011

When someone who is not Dutch says, “I’m a Dutchman” what that person really means is that what has just been seen or heard is, in that person’s opinion, very obviously not true.  In other words, it’s a statement of disbelief.

Now the word Dutchman is an archaic term that dates back to the 14th century that refers to a member of any of the Germanic people of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Low Countries.  These days, it refers to someone from the Netherlands and usually Holland.  As readers of Idiomation now know,  by the 17th century the Dutch and the English were hated military and commercial rivals and so many barbs and insults were thought up with which to insult each other.

Back on January 15, 2005 journalist Ian Youngs wrote an article for the BBC News entitled, “How Busted Rocked The Pop Scene.”  The article was about a British pop trio that formed in late 2002 and over the course of three years, they had eight UK Top 3 singles.  The article began with kudos to the trio for writing their own songs and playing their own instruments.  But not everyone believed that.  In fact, Darren Stephens of lliria, Spain had this to say about the trio:

Talentless trash! If they were playing those instruments, I’m a Dutchman! Good riddance!

Back on March 18, 1976 the Chicago Tribune ran an article in the sports section written by Art Dunn.  It was entitled, “Hawks Rally, Nip Leafs” and reported on events happening in the National Hockey League‘s 50th season.  As is always the case as things draw closer to the Stanley Cup final, things were heating up with the teams, the coaches, the owners and the fans.  Some were less pleased with the final results of the game that night and one person was quoted as saying:

If that’s neutral officiating, I’m a Dutchman.

Now the Chicago Tribune appears to like this expression quite a bit.  On July 25, 1934 the newspaper ran a story written by author, Elizabeth York Miller entitled, “Her Husband’s Fiancee.”  It was the story of Cecily Marshall of Bellchester, England who returned to her husband, Bellchester’s leading merchant prince, after a year’s absence.  What she didn’t know was that Audrey Lowe and her cousin Reggie Davies had ideas of their own about breaking up Cecily’s marriage.  The story provides this tidbit when one of the characters says:

Then his jolly little divorce would go west, or I’m a Dutchman. I told her to go to David and be dammed to her.

The Tuapeka Times published another excerpt of murder mystery story by author, Harold M. Mackie entitled, “A Story Of North Queensland” on June 13, 1891.  He was the author of “The Squatter’s Daughter” and well-known to the Tuapeka Times readers.  On this day, the story continued with more from Chapter XVIII where the following was found:

“There’ll have to be an exhumation of the remains in order to see if there are any traces of poisoning in the stomach,” said Popham.  “That’ll be another job for Brook, and not a pleasant one either.  No one guessed of such a thing as poisoning or attempted poisoning.  This case promises some rather interesting features, and looks very black against Prescott.  He’ll have to give a clear account of how Liscombe came to be in possession of this flask full of drugged whisky.  Of course, circumstances may have occurred by which Liscombe was the rightful owner of the article, but as we have said before it is not likely that Prescott made him a present of it.”

“He might have done so,” remarked Tulloch, “when it contained poison.”

“That, my friend, we’ll prove, or I’m a Dutchman.  A man who’s drugged might certainly have an inclination to dash his brains out against a tree, and whether Maurice Liscombe’s death has been that of his own doing or the work of another this vile compound is indirectly the cause.”

The expression is found in the 1857 book by J.D. Borthwick, “Three Years California” where the invective “damned” is sometimes added to make the expression more colourful.  The expression is identified as a typical sailor’s oath for the day and so it dates back at least to the early 1800s to be used to easily and with such conviction that the expression will be understood by all who hear it.

This makes sense as author George Elliot — the pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans — published a book in 1860 entitled, “The Mill On The Floss.”  In Chapter 4, “Tom Is Expecting” the following conversation is found:

“But they’re our fellow-creatures, Luke; we ought to know about our fellow-creatures.”

“Not much o’ fellow-creaturs, I think, Miss; all I know – my old master, as war a knowin’ man, used to say, says he, ‘If e’er I sow my wheat wi’out brinin’, I’m a Dutchman,’ says he; an’ that war as much as to say as a Dutchman war a fool, or next door. Nay, nay, I aren’t goin’ to bother mysen about Dutchmen. There’s fools enoo, an’ rogues enoo, wi’out lookin’ i’ books for ‘em.”

That it should be used by an author of the fairer sex in the mid 1800s certainly speaks loudly to the fact that the expression was indeed known to much of the population at the time.  Now, knowing what the times were like for someone of the fairer sex to have heard such an expression most often spoken by sailors, it had to be an expression that was around for quite some time … at least 2 generations which pegs the expression to the late 1700s.

And so it is!  In the book, “The Old Sailor’s Jolly Boat” published in 1790, the story has this excerpt in it:

“Well, there they are,” declared Phillips, ” and an unrolled ball of spun-yarn from one to the other to keep up the relationship.”

“Capital,” exclaimed the boatswain, rubbing his hands together with greater pleasure than he had enjoyed for some time past; ” if that don’t let her into the secret in spite of all the Tartars, aye and cream of Tartars in the world, then I’m a Dutchman; but there’s a space atwixt the two gallon measures, Jack.”

With it being part of the vernacular back in 1790, how far back does relating the Dutch with something unbelievable go?  Surely it reaches back at least another 2 generations putting the expression to the early to mid 1700s.

English Renaissance dramatist, Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) was William Shakespeare’s junior by nearly a decade.  In Act I, Scene I of Ben Jonson’s satirical play “Volpone” published in 1606 and performed in 1607, the following exchange is found which embraces the spirit of the expression:

VOLPONE:
True, my beloved Mosca. Yet I glory
More in the cunning purchase of my wealth,
Than in the glad possession; since I gain
No common way; I use no trade, no venture;
I wound no earth with plough-shares; fat no beasts,
To feed the shambles; have no mills for iron,
Oil, corn, or men, to grind them into powder:
I blow no subtle glass; expose no ships
To threat’nings of the furrow-faced sea;
I turn no monies in the public bank,
Nor usure private.

MOSCA:
No sir, nor devour
Soft prodigals. You shall have some will swallow
A melting heir as glibly as your Dutch
Will pills of butter, and ne’er purge for it;

And so the expression dates back to sometime between 1606 and the early 1700s and the spirit of the expression dates back to before 1606.

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

Dutchman’s Log

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 20, 2011

A Dutchman’s log is an early speed measuring device that used a buoyant object — usually a large piece of wood — tossed overboard near the bow of the vessel and assumed to be “dead” in the water.  The time it took for the boat to move past the object over a measured distance — based on marks near the bow and near the stern on the vessel — was timed.  From there, the speed of the vessel was calculated. As this was an early speed measuring device, it didn’t take into account the effects of wind and currents on the calculated position of the vessel.

Captain John Smith — he of Pocahontas fame — wrote a book entitled, “An Accidence or The Pathway to Experience Necessary for all Young Sea-men, or those that are desirous to goe to Sea” that was first published in London in 1626.  In this book, he makes mention of the Dutchman’s log.

According to the “Houghton Mifflin Guide to Science & Technology” the term Dutchman’s log was in use in 1575.  Two years later, Humphry Cole invented the ship’s log which kept track of a ship’s speed with respect to the water.  This invention was known as the log-and-line and consisted of a float attached to a line that was a specific length and that was paid out for a specific length of time.

In the end Idiomation tracked down that the Dutchman’s log was invented by Portuguese inventor, Bartolomeu Crescêncio, near the end of 15th century putting in the late 1400s.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dutchman’s Breeches

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 19, 2011

There’s a pretty little woodland plant with pinkish, double-spurred flowers that’s found in the Eastern United States called Dicentra cucullaria.  It’s also known colloquially as the Dutchman’s Breeches.  Oddly enough, however, whenever there are two patches of blue that appear in the middle of a stormy sky, leaving the impression that the storm is about to break, that’s also referred to as the Dutchman’s Breeches.

The expression is part of traditional sea-going weather lore where it’s believed that in bad weather, two patches of blue sky is a hopeful sign as long as the patches are big enough to “mend a pair of Dutchman’s breeches.”  Back in the day, sailors wore wide trousers, and Dutch sailors were known to wear even wider trousers which just happened to be blue like the the sky on a clear day.

The expression has fallen out of favour over the past couple of generations but back on October 20, 1935 the Hartford Courant used the expression in a news story entitled, “A Patch Of Blue Sky.”  It spoke of the international crisis that was looming at every turn and how Great Britain had recently refused to remove a ship from the Mediterranean while Italy was rushing troops to the border of Libya.  In the article, the following was included:

Will the patch of blue sky above be us; large as a Dutchman’s breeches and a sign of fair weather to come?

On February 3, 1900 the Dubuque Daily Herald ran an article entitled, “Winter Six Weeks More: Famous Ground Hog Saw His Shadow at 12 O’Clock To-day.”  The story felt compelled to include a number of old superstition weather proverbs which included this one:

When there is enough clear sky to patch a Dutchman’s breeches expect fair weather.

A couple of year prior to that news story, the New York Times published an article on June 6, 1897 entitled, “Names Of The Clouds.”  What’s particularly interesting is that the expression Dutchman’s breeches is referred to as an old saw. 

The strato-cumulus clouds were formerly designated with the words combined in the inverse order, and the name, with its abbreviation s-cu, is bestowed upon large globular masses or rolls of dark cloud frequently covering the whole sky.  They are especially noticable in Winter, and occasionally give the sky a wavy appearance.  It is not a very thick layer of cloud, and occasionally blue patches of sky are visible through the intervening spaces.  The old saw is that when there is enough blue sky to make a pair of Dutchman’s breeches, the following day will surely be a pleasant one.

As a side note, the expression “old saw” refers to a proverb and that expression (old saw) dates back to some time in the 1400s.  So if a journalist in the 1890s referred to the expression Dutchman’s breeches as an old saw, it means it goes back farther than the 1890s.

The expression is found in the book “Reading The Weather” written by T. Morris Longstreth and published in 1915.  He dedicated the book to his grandmother, Mary Gibson Haldeman.  The author credits his grandmother for passing along the proverbs which puts the expression at least to the early 1800s.

In Idiomation’s research, however, it was learned that the expression dates back to the Anglo-Dutch naval wars of the 17th century.  And so this all-but-forgotten, four-hundred-year-old conflict is enshrined for all time in the passionate dislike the English had for the Dutch back in the day.

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

Cutting Edge

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 14, 2011

If someone is cutting edge, it means they’re trendy and right up-to-date and if something is cutting edge, it’s the latest go-to design or technology.  But how long has there been a cutting edge is the question.

On August 17, 2009 the Computers and Internet Community magazine published an article by Russell Blanc outlining the top 5 reasons FiOS customers in New York were recommending FiOS to their friends and family.  It read in part:

Savvy New York customers choose Verizon FiOS TV and Internet service because it gives them a great deal.  In New York FiOS is one of the most recommended cable and Internet services because Verizon FiOS uses cutting edge technology to provide ultra fast and high quality TV and Internet service.

On October 12, 1982 the Montreal Gazette ran an article entitled, “California Is Still On Cutting Edge.”  It began by stating:

Out on the edge of the frontier, where the world drops of, there is always the cutting edge of society.  Frank Lloyd Wright once said that if you imagined the United States as a table and you tipped it up and all the junk and detritus fell to one side — well, that would be California.

On February 18, 1965 the following was part of an article published in the Gettysburg Times of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the column, “News In Review: Our Army In Viet Nam.”  The question in the column was: what’s wrong with our Army?  The answer was quite simple according to the journalist and he proceeded to outline what was wrong in great detail.  The story included these final words:

In other words, there are too many in the Army who do not actually think of themselves as fighting men.  It is much more pleasant to have MOS classifications as planners and suppliers.  They are, of course, strongly committed to standing firmly behind the man, behind the man, behind the Man With The Gun.  It is further unfortunate that too often promotion is more readily achieved back in the wonderland of military bureaucracy than within the formations of the “cutting edge.”

On April 20, 1950 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a situation between Russia and the United States in their article entitled, “A Warning For The Western Powers.”  The first paragraph read:

The United States protest to Russia over the shooting down of an unarmed American plane is strong but yet restrained.  A Government less careful of its responsibilities to peace might easily have given a sharper cutting edge to its demands.  Having used every possible means to verify its contentions, Washington has put on record a series of facts that expose the Soviet Note of April 11 as a shameless concoction.  At first sight that document bore all the marks of a guilty conscience, but not until the American investigations were complete could it be finally branded as a tissue of lies and distortions.

Now some dictionaries claim that the phrase is circa 1950, however, Idiomation found an earlier reference in the Milwaukee Journal dating back to February 20, 1938 in an article entitled, “The Navy, Its Size And Job, And Line Of Defense, Should Defence Ever Be Necessary.”  Dateline Washington, D.C., the article began thusly:

There is more to the United States navy than greets the eye when you see that file of wallowing battlewagons plunging towards you in the newsreel.  What you see in that picture is merely the cutting edge of an enormous machine that spreads literally around the world.  The navy is something more than just ships cruising under a tropic sky, operated by natty uniformed young men “seeing the world” on picturesque shore leave in Yokohama or Algiers. Behind all this is a sheer administrative and business problem that makes the navy “big business” with a vengeance. 

The article then goes on to describe some of the jobs in the navy that require smoothness and precision in the course of a day’s work including keeping 535 vessels and 1,122 airplanes in excellent working condition, and guarding and operating naval property that cost American taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $3,000,000,000 USD.

The expression, however, actually dates back to 1931 when a new alloy for metal turning tools was announced.  Newspapers across America stated that:

The new metal, with extremely durable cutting edge, has been formed from a combination of metal carbides.

And thus began the use of the expression “cutting edge” to describe the latest and greatest in fashion, technology and design.

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

Cut Above

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 13, 2011

If something is a cut above, it is said to be better than other similar things.  Likewise, if someone is a cut above, it means that person demonstrates better qualities than most other people on average.

On February 8, 1995 the Daily Record newspaper of Glasgow, Scotland commented on two movies in the column “Cinema: Reel Lives.”  The first movie was the Zorro remake and the newspaper had this to say about it:

Mexico’s most famous swordsman is about to cut another dash on the big screen.  And this time round the great Zorro will be played by Latin hunk Antonio Banderas.  The movie also features the talents of Oscar winning Steven Spielberg and director Robert Rodriguez.  Rodriguez worked with Banderas on the excellent Desperado and assured me that his Zorro will be a cut above the rest.

Back on November 23, 1945 the Spokesman Review newspaper ran an interesting article entitled, “1000 Times More Than Ever.”  The first tidbit had to do with the first Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving — decreed by Governor Bradford in 1623 — celebrated the survival of a minority.  Unknowingly, it also marked the birth of a nation made up of minorities — the Puritans of Massachusetts, the burghers of New York, the cavaliers of Virgina, the Indians of a vast frontier.  None, mark you, liked another.  With a trait common to minorities, each felt itself a cut above the rest.  Yet the history of three centuries shows that when these minorities did get together and founded the greatest, freest, happiest nation of all time, the old animosities somehow vanished.

The New York Times ran a story on March 1, 1905 entitled, “Count On The Bowery; $30,000 To Prove It.”  It told the story of Louis Heder, a pharmacist on Avenue B, who was identified as the heir to $30,000 in “hard cash” and the title of Count of the Empire of Austria as well as a direct descendant of the ruling Hohenzollern family of Germany.

None of the Boweryites knew how it came about, but nevertheless they were all satisfied that Louis, who had always seemed a cut above the ordinary crowd, was now Count Louis Heder-Hohenzollern of the Bowery and of Budapest.

On November 3, 1883 the Otago Witness reported on the horse races in the region.  One race in particular — the Metropolitan Handicap — was of particular interest as one horse who had done well in previous races was going up against horses of a different calibre.

Tim Whiffler I have no fancy for; he has performed well in the North Island, but will, I think, find the present company a cut above him.  Envious is put about as a good thing, but if she can land the stake all I shall say is that she must have changed her nature since last season.

A dozen years earlier, on September 4, 1875 the article, “Randwick Anticipations” appeared in the Sydney Mail newspaper in Australia.  As with the previous article mentioned, it dealt with horse races and the various horses to be seen.  It read in part:

Last season Hyperiod proved himself a cut above all comers; but he has not wintered well, and the vice-regal stable will have to intrust its honour to Valentia, and I can well imagine the shouts that will rend the air should “The Viscount” succeed in carrying the spots to the front at the end of such a terrible struggle as this will be.

The idiom uses the word cut in the sense of “a higher degree or stage” which dates back to the early 1800s.  That particular expression is found in numerous newspaper articles in the first half of the 1800s such as in the article published in the Public Ledger of St. John’s, Newfoundland of April 12, 1831 with regards to the reform measures suggested in the House of Commons in London, England.  The very extensive news article was a continuation of a previously published article and reported everything in exact detail.  At one point, the following is found:

The Hon. and Learned Member had ridiculed the whole of the middle classes.  He (Lord Althorp) would tell the Hon. Member he did not know the intelligence of the middle classes when he talked as he had done.  That they did possess a higher degree of character and intelligence than at any former period, was abundantly proved, and he was satisfied they were as well qualified to select, and would select as wisely and as prudently as any other class, representatives distinguished for their honesty, their integrity, and their ability.  He confessed he was one of those theorists who thought that the House of Commons should represent the opinions of the people.  The Constitution supposed that the Members of the House of Commons were the real representatives of the people.  The Hon. and Learned Gentleman seemed to think that this measure would give satisfaction to none but a very small portion — to none but a very small class of this country.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of “cut above” and because it was used with ease in the Sydney Mail in 1875, allowing for the time it would take for a new expression to catch on to the point of being included in a news article, Idiomation agrees that the expression is from the early 1800s.

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

Cut From The Same Cloth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 12, 2011

If you and a friend are cut from the same cloth it means you and your friend share many similarities.  It could be that you and your friend seem to have been reared in a similar fashion or that circumstances molded both of you into having a similar mindset.  Tailors use fabric from the same piece of cloth when making a garment to make sure the pieces match perfectly.  Because there are slight differences between dye lots, it’s important to make garments from the same fabric so that the dye is even.

On August 10, 2008 the Sunday Mercury newspaper in Birmingham, England reviewed the CD “The Long Walk Home” by Neil Ivison and the Misers.  Reviewed by Paul Cole, the opening line of the review was this:

Midland songwriter Neil Ivison is a singer cut from the same cloth as Paul Rodgers but his debut album isn’t a nostalgia trip, instead offering contemporary class and an energy that suggests barnstorming live gigs.

Almost 30 years earlier, the News and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, published an article about Pastor Dr. R.L. Maddox and the Easter Sunday announcement he made to his congregation of 850 church followers.  Perhaps it was coincidental that then-President Jimmy Carter‘s son, Jack, and daughter in law, Judy Carter, were part of the congregation at the time of his announcement as reported in the story, “Ga. Paster To Join Carter Staff.”  The article began with this paragraph:

Dr. R.L. Maddox, who says he is “cut from the same cloth” as President Carter, said Sunday he will leave the First Baptist Church of Calhoun to become a White House speech writer.

The December 25, 1904 edition of the New York Times reviewed Donizetti’s Comedy at the Opera House which was hailed as a sparkling performance. Entitled, “L’Elisir d’Amore and Fidelio Given” the unnamed reviewer gave a succinct and extremely positive review of the performances.  The reviewer stated in part:

It is of the same sort, cut from the same cloth and possessed of the same brilliant gayety.  Its music is still fresh and buoyant — melody of the most facile Donizettian type, graceful and fluent and consorted most dextrously with the rippling comic action.  It is all music that singers of the coloratura style delight to employ their powers in.

On February 10, 1888 the Atlanta Constitution ran a story entitled, “The Bogus Lard Ring” which dealt with members of the Georgia delegation in congress who were opposed to the Dawes and Butterworth bills.  It would appear that the purpose of these bills was designed so additional taxes could be levied on the production of cotton seed oil thereby handicapping the growing southern industry. The article, harsh in its opinion of the proposed bills, stated in part:

It is of a piece with the entire republican system of taxation; it is cut from the same cloth.

Idiomation could continue jumping back in time, however, the earliest version of this saying goes back to Ancient Rome and Latin where the saying was “eiusdem farinae” sometimes written as “ejusdem farinae” which translates into “of the same flour.”   Back in ancient times, it was as important to use flour that was milled at the same time so that one knew what to expect from baked goods.  It’s no different than using the same bolt of fabric so one knows what to expect from a garment that is cut from the same cloth.

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

Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 8, 2011

When someone says there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians what they are really saying is that there are too many people wanting to be, or acting like, the boss and not enough people actually doing the work.

On May 29, 2009 the Daily News out of Los Angeles published a Letter to the Editor written by Janice A. Slaby entitled, “Cut chiefs, not Indians.” The article dealt with a recently published article that dealt with debt problems in the state of California. The letter stated in part:

If the federal, state and local officials were laid off or forced to forgo their salaries, it would be surprising how fast the fiscal crisis would resolve itself. Having worked for the city of L.A. for 30 years, I know there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. If any group of people should be laid off or furloughed, it should begin with mayoral, council and noncivil service personnel.

Thirty years earlier, the Evening Independent newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida ran the James J. Kilpatrick politics column on May 24, 1979  and discussed how former members of congress had gathered in Washington the previous week to discuss the failings of the White House. The article was entitled:

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The Sarasota Journal published a news story from New York on April 21, 1954 written by James Flowers and entitled, “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” The story was about Leonard R. Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches. When he took over the company that was founded by his grandfather 50 years earlier, he re-organized it. At first, he took advice from the established executives at the company only to discover that there were some who had no idea what was going on outside their own departments and he decided to change that way of doing business within the company. The article reported that:

In the shakeup the heads of two vice-presidents rolled, and promotions were made from within the organization. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the way Rogers described it. The move paid off. In the years, young Rogers boosted his company’s sales to $1,500,000 a year. Last year he showed a 40 per cent increase in profits and now talks about a new factory and a $6,000,000 volume “in a few years.”

The Eugene Register-Guard edition of August 22, 1951 published an interesting and enlightening news article on the “Indians of Ulcer Gulch.” Ulcer Gulch was the nickname for the Pentagon and the Indians were the anonymous junior officers who work out plans and recommendations on which the Big Chiefs based their final decisions on military matters. In other words, whoever wasn’t considered a chief at the Pentagon was said to be an Indian. The article, written by Don Whitehead of the Associated Press, reported the following in part:

The Indians came into being about the time of Pearl Harbor when it seemed everybody around headquarters was the chief of a branch or a section of some sort. The workhorses said: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

The chief was the man who said to a junior officer: “See what you can do about this.”

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of this expression prior to this one however for it to be used so openly and easily in a news article from 1951, it is not unreasonable to date this expression back to sometime during WWII.

The meaning of this expression is not dissimilar to the expression too many cooks spoil the broth which was covered by Idiomation earlier this year on March 8, 2011.

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

 
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