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Archive for January, 2013

Peanut Gallery

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 30, 2013

As with the lunatic fringe, the peanut gallery found its way into the popular jargon of the 20th century quickly and easily. It’s an offensive term made before an audience of one or more observers that quickly dismisses any opinion made by an individual (or group of individuals) that calls into question the veracity of an opinion being put forth by another individual (or group of individuals).

For example, if someone from Political Party A gives a speech in which he states that Program A will have a specific benefit to all people, someone from Political Party B may call out from the crowd that Program A has deficits or will benefit only a specific segment of the people. The opportunity then presents itself for the original speaker or someone else to refer to the person from Political Party B as being from the “peanut gallery” thereby dismissing the comment.

Andrew Button wrote an article for the CBC News entitled, “The Peanut Gallery Rules The House” that was published on December 13, 2010. After spending 4 days observing the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly in action, he included this observation in his story:

“Although the house of assembly is still shy on women, it has diversity where it really counts: in the maturity levels of its members. From stiff professionals like Steve Kent and Lorraine Michael to jokers like Roland Butler and Tom Hedderson, the house represents everyone from the go-getters to the peanut gallery.

But, if the days I spent observing the house are any indication, the peanut gallery has more representation than anyone else in our province’s legislature. With the non-stop heckling that goes on there, the house of assembly evokes the detention hall more than the hallowed offices of the Queen’s own chamber.”

The Deseret News published an article written by Jack Anderson on the June 1, 1976 that addressed the issue of whether Jimmy Carter was the “trust-me candidate” and “a phony” in his bid to become the President of the United States of America. A quick snapshot of the then-governor of Georgia revealed interesting facts and was entitled thusly:

The Peanut Gallery‘s View Of Carter

On August 20, 1959 the Portsmouth Times newspaper of Portsmouth (OH) ran an article about James C. Hagerty, presidential press secretary. It was said that he had been working “around the clock for many days setting up President Eisenhower’s schedule for his trip to Europe.” While the details were to quick and to the point, it appeared that the point of the article was actually to promote the concept that the job of a U.S. President was “24 hours a day, 365 days a year” and that all the overtime was free of charge to everyone living in the U.S.  The title of the article — with a hint of a dare to Eisenhower’s detractors —  was none other than:

Comments From The Peanut Gallery?

The St. Petersburg Times ran a story by Whitney Martin entitled “Low Scoring Orgy In Golf Due To Putting, Says Jones” on February 3, 1940. It was a sports article about golfer Bobby Jones who told the reporter that the reason for consistent low scaring from then-present-day golfers wasn’t “just a case of the golfer making the putts, but of the putts making the golfer.” But the article wasn’t long enough to fill the entire column, and so additional information on what was going on in baseball was also included, beginning with this paragraph:

“If the hecklers in the peanut gallery will refrain from heaving over-ripe cracks to the effect that it needs it, it might be pointed out that the National league is getting quite a transfusion of new blood this year.”

Just three years earlier (nearly to the day), the News-Sentinel published a story in the February 6, 1937 edition of the paper. The story was out of Seattle (WA) and addressed an ongoing argument between one Mrs. Schultz, owner of the theater, and nine members of the local censor board. She stated that there were no city ordinances requiring her to furnish the members of the censor board with expensive accommodations from which to review the Ballet Russe, and the members of the censor board cast aspersions on Mrs. Schultz’s theater for refusing to provide seats that were more to their liking. The article began with this:

“Seattle’s theater censors, gasping for breath at the mere thought of climbing up to the peanut gallery, peered around cautiously today for a line of attack against Mrs. Cecilia Schultz, who refused them free seats in “bald-headed” row. If the censors don’t find some solution to their troubles by Saturday, they’ll have to view the Ballet Russe from the last row in the highest gallery or pay to get in.”

It can be surmised that negative comments from the members of the censor board would not be welcome, and they would be referred to as comments from the peanut gallery, hence providing some of the earliest current-day references for the phrase.

The Evening Independent of January 8, 1919 also shows some of the earliest current-day references for the phrase peanut gallery in an article entitled, “Hot Shot For Suffpests And Declaration Of War.” The article was short and to the point and taken from the Tampa Tribune.

“An exchange says not a politician in Florida dares come out openly against woman suffrage. Perhaps not. We are no politician, but if this darned foolishness in Washington, this snide way of trying to attract a little peanut gallery applause, this indication of being possessed by seven devils, and this brazen attempt at bull-dozing the country does not stop, you can bet we are going to come out in the open and fight it till hell freezes over.”

The connection between peanuts and politics and political acceptance among the electorate, however, had already taken root earlier in the era, as evidenced by a story published in the New York Times 15 years before that.

But interestingly enough, peanuts and politics were strange bedfellow long before 1903. In a New York Times article dated September 9, 1892 there’s mention of “peanut politics” as evidenced in the article entitled, “It Was New-York’s Day: Good Reports At Democratic National Headquarters.” The former Secretary of State  Frederick Cook of Rochester was quoted as saying this when interviewed at the Democratic National Headquarters the day before:

“THE TIMES said several years ago that I did not believe in ‘peanut politics,’ and I can say now with greater force than ever that no Democrat this Fall can report to ‘peanut politics,’ for if he does he will not only lose the confidence of the electors of his district, but every chance for political preferment. No, Sir: the time is past in this State for ‘peanut politics.'”

The reference to peanut politics (without the italics around the expression) was included in the New York Times 5 1/2 years earlier on February 4, 1887 in an article entitled, “Gov. Hill’s Little Game: Plans To Seize The Constitutional Convention.” The story was from out of Albany, New York and ended with this bit of information:

If the State goes Democratic, the year after a majority of the Senate may possibly be secured during the reign of D.B. Hill, providing he is renominated and re-elected Governor. Then he will have a body in sympathy with him. If he didn’t become the boss of the party during the next three years it would be because there is no power in patronage. Then will peanut politics be played after Judge Muller’s own heart. The first step to be taken in all of this, however, is to capture the Constitutional Convention. If that cannot be accomplished then let there be no convention. It is easy enough for a hostile Governor to frame reasons for refusing to sign a bill.

The phrase peanut politics was used in such a way as to make clear that its meaning was understood by New York Times readers.

In theater talk, the peanut gallery was made up of the cheapest seats in the house. In Britain, those who sat in the cheapest seats were called the gallery gods. However, it should be noted that in America, the favorite theater snack at the time was peanuts still in their shells.  As such, when theater patrons in the cheapest seats were dissatisfied with a performance, they adopted the habit of throwing the peanut shells at those performers they held responsible for the poor performance. Of all the theater patrons, those in the cheapest seats had the clearest shot at performers on stage. It was for this reason that many performers played to the cheap seats to spare themselves from potential peanut shell attacks.

Therefore, peanut politics was seen as politics that played to the “cheap seat” electorate … those most likely to vote for someone because they liked him, not because his views were necessarily based in good government.

It is therefore the opinion of Idiomation that the expression peanut gallery dates back to 1919 with many nods to peanut references and the expression peanut politics, taking it back to 1887.

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

Lunatic Fringe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 28, 2013

Have you ever asked yourself where the lunatic fringe really comes from and how someone becomes part of the lunatic fringe? To find those answers, it’s important to understand that people who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational are oftentimes said to be part of the lunatic fringe. Where did this term come from originally?

On 9 May 2009, Jonathan Curling, Executive Secretary for the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Birmingham Post and Mail newspaper in which he discussed the diverse community in Birmingham, and the good relationships between faith communities with the community. The letter was entitled, “Diversity Too Good To Waste By Apathy” and included this comment:

Over the next three weeks, you will hear these voices as the local and European elections approach, questioning the kind of community we seek to build.

It is easy to dismiss such forces as a lunatic fringe that will never gain ground. Such a view would be a serious error. In a time of economic trouble, some claims of the extremists can appear beguiling. In fact, they will lead us down a road towards a bitter, divided, society.

The first step is that we should all vote.

On 1 September 1994, the Middle East newspaper posted an article that was republished in a number of other mainstream media newspapers. The article was entitled, “Believers and Belligerents: Muslims In The UK.” Midway through the article, the following was written:

The third event which raised the hackles of traditionally tolerant British society was a gathering of an estimated 8,000 Muslim fundamentalists at Wembley Arena, avenue more usually associated with rock groups that religion.

Organised by a group known as Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, or HUT, the event typified what many westerners have come to regard as the lunatic fringe of extremism.

Journalists and photographers were banned from attending the conference and some were threatened with violence when they tried to speak to delegates as they left the conference which attracted many Muslim dissidents from the Middle East.

Jumping back 40 years, the New London Day newspaper of New London (CT) published a news article on 10 May 1954 reported on an address given to the National Press Club by the former president that dealt with the need for unity and bipartisanship, and the claim that Republicans were undermining those two issues.

Harry S. Truman urged President Eisenhower today to use vigorous action rather than pious phrases against “political assassins” and a GOP “lunatic fringe” which he said are destroying unity and the basis for a bipartisan foreign policy.

Politics seems to be where most news stories mentioned a lunatic fringe, so it comes as no surprise that in the March 13, 1935 edition of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the word figured prominently in the headline as well as in the story itself. Entitled, “General Johnson and the Lunatic Fringe” the story began by stating the following:

When a few weeks ago, General Hugh Johnson “cracked down” on Senator Huey Long and Father Coughlin as being demagogues appealing to “the lunatic fringe,” he started something which is likely to last for a while.

It would have been comparatively easy for the general to dispose of the Louisiana dictator and the radio priest by themselves. They are both very vulnerable. But, unfortunately, his reference to the “lunatic fringe” hits the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who have been following the great promiser from the south and the powerful non-office seeking cleric from the north, who have been sending telegrams and letters to their representatives at Washington.

In reading the archives of the New York Times, I found this passage in an article entitled, “We Can Have Sing Sing And Reform, Too” that was published on February 15, 1916:

Unfortunately there is around this modern conception of crime that “lunatic fringe” to which Colonel Roosevelt once referred as the unavoidable adjunct of every advanced movement and cause, including his own. Sentimentalists have taken it up, as well as men of sense and practicality, and the result has been a somewhat widespread feeling that the tendency of the reformers was toward an offensive, even a disgusting, coddling of criminals, and the complete transfer from them to “society” of all, or nearly all, of moral responsibility for their acts.

Now many sources attribute the phrase to former U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who is citing as having coined the expression in the book “History as Literature” published in 1913.

There is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.

Apparently, he liked the expression so much, he used it in a number of magazine articles as well as in his autobiography wherein he wrote:

Then, among the wise and high-minded people who in self-respecting and genuine fashion strive earnestly for peace, there are foolish fanatics always to be found in such a movement and always discrediting it — the men who form the lunatic fringe in all reform movements.

The fact of the matter is that the expression wasn’t something he coined at all, but rather a unique use of an expression that already existed. What Roosevelt appears to have done was take an expression that referred to a specific kind of hairstyle that was considered unconventional at best, and eccentric or bizarre at worst, and modified somewhat.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times edition of March 21, 1880, a defense of the lunatic fringe was written by someone known only as S.E.K.

“Your article on “Montague” curls this morning is very one-sided, and, to say the least, exceedingly short-sighted; it proves also beyond a doubt that you are very unobserving. In the first place, the much-abused adornments are “flat, odious, hideous, and disfiguring” only when in course of preparation: as soon as the bandoline is dry the curls are combed out into soft, pretty, and graceful rings, making by far the most becoming way of wearing the front hair that young ladies have adopted for years. Every man made a dreadful “fuss” when “bangs” first came in fashion. I am sure “Montagues” are a vast improvement on those straight abominations, or if you prefer a more complimentary and man-like name, “lunatic fringe.” Please may I ask why you do not attack the mode young gentlemen have of wearing their hair and whiskers a la footman, combing them on each side toward their nose as though they designed a happy meeting when the “prolific side-boards” shall have attained their growth. Audi alteram partem.”

First side note:  Audi alteram partem is a Latin phrase that means “to hear both sides.”

Second side note:  Bandoline was a glue-like hair preparation used from 1840 through to the 1880s that was used to smooth, gloss, or wave hair.

In Oliver Optic’s Magazine For Young And Old” edited by Oliver Optic, in Volume 15, No. 247 published in February 1874, the story entitled “Four Days” by Sophie May made mention of the lunatic fringe. This passage appeared under the chapter heading “Independence Day.”

“Well, now, I am glad if Adelaide has been improving her time for the last few weeks in the kitchen; it speaks well for her,” said Mr. Waters, with such an insinuating smile that his niece knew something more was coming. “You have had quite a rest from the store since Jimmy got back — haven’t you Addie? But what think wife? I’ve got an order from Pinkham & Co. to supply a couple of thousand jewelry boxes! ‘Twill be a pretty profitable job, and I shall have to set both the girls at work. Think you can spare ‘em for a while?”

“The girls!” exclaimed Miss Lizzie, lifting her eyebrows till they met the “lunatic fringe” of hair which straggled uncurled down her forehead. “The girls! As if I could stop to fuss with that old paste-pot! Why, father, I’m making my black silk polonay, nine flounces, hand-stitched, and puff trimming up and down in front. Of course it’s Addie’s business to help you if you want her to; but you needn’t count on me. Now, mother, can’t you make him understand?”

The reason it’s important to understand the use of the phrase as it pertains to hairstyles, is to better understand how the expression came to mean those who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational.

It’s easy to see why the “lunatic fringe” that was described so well by S.E.K. in her letter to the New York Times could be considered extreme. The name alone implies that those who favor a “lunatic fringe” may have suffered from some sort of intermittent insanity at the time the “lunatic fringe” rose to popularity with teenage girls across the country. And although the original article to which S.E.K. refers isn’t in evidence, based on S.E.K.’s Letter to the Editor, it can safely be assumed that the article didn’t speak well of the “lunatic fringe.”

Even Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) sported a “lunatic fringe” back in 1881 and 1882, as the style was the rage even in the Dakotas. She wrote about it in her book “Little Town On The Prairie.”

While the current sense of the phrase cannot be attributed solely to Theodore Roosevelt, it can be said that he certainly popularized the expression in the 20th century. However, the sense of the phrase traces back to the hairstyle and how it was perceived by society as a whole which, it would appear, was not favorable with the majority of people.

Likewise, those who are considered part of the “lunatic fringe” in this day and age hold opinions that are not favorable with the majority of people.

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

Good Money After Bad

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 25, 2013

When you throw good money after bad, you’re spending more and more money on something (or someone) that will never yield positive results for all you’ve invested.

On September 12, 2011, Kenneth W. Davis posted a short info bite to his site. Davis, who is a past president of the Association of Professional Communication Consultants, addressed the issue of investing time and effort into writing a piece and bad decisions made therein. The info bite was aptly entitled:

This Week: Don’t Throw Good Money After Bad

The phrase certainly grabs readers’ attention and perhaps this is why it makes such a reliable headline. When the Montreal Gazette wrote an article that stated Quebec Transport Minister Michel Clair “might just as well paint fleur de lys on dollar bills and throw them into the air” the title of the story was:

Good Money After Bad

Used in headlines, the phrase oftentimes finds itself repeated in the body of such an article as was the case in a news story carried in the Pittsburg Press on February 16, 1938. The article addressed the matter of unstable employer-employee relationships and began with this paragraph:

Is it heartening that efforts have not been dropped in Congress to set up a mediation system for shipping. For we agree with Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy of the Maritime Commission that, unless labor-management relations are stabilized, discipline established and traffic and travel attracted to American ships, we would only pour good money after bad to spend more of the taxpayers’ millions in subsidies

Decades earlier, on March 16, 1893 the phrase was used in a New York Times article about Jersey City property owners who were upset over awards made by the Commissioners for property taken for the construction of the new boulevard in Hudson County. Owners felt that the project suffered from what they called “monstrous waste and jobbery.” At the time of writing, the Board Of Freeholders had spent one million dollars on the project that, upon completion, would be a mud road and nothing more. The headline for this story was:

Good Money After Bad: Another Million For Hudson County’s New Boulevard

The “American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms” claims that the expression was coined in the late 1800s but Idiomation begs to differ, especially in light of the fact that the saying is found in an article published on July 23, 1880 in the Timaru Herald in New Zealand. On page 2, the following is found in an article discussing the Otago Harbor Board Bill and local indebtedness. It read, in part, as follows:

This argument raising further opposition to the Bill and a feeling being expressed that it would be better for the Harbor Board to stop its works and even to stop payment, than to go on throwing good money after bad. Mr. Driver, who was, we may say, a strenuous advocate of the Bill, propounded the startling theory that, in the case of the Harbor Board becoming insolvent, the colony would have to take over its liabilities.

Twenty years prior to that, in an article published on July 28, 1860 and entitled, “Alarming Transmogrification” in the Moreton Bay Courier included this in their report:

For example: — “Ran away, my man, Sam. He was black last month, but when he left he had become of a smooth, soft, and delicate whiteness, that would rival that of the tenderest, purest, Circassian.” Pray, would it not be flinging good money after bad, to print such an advertisement as that? And worse than all, perhaps the faithful bloodhound, having a fraternal admiratior, of Caleb Cushing and his theory, might decline to hunt “a Circassian.” The capitalists of the South might find that riches have legs, if not wings; and such a perfect conglomeration of everything might ensue as we dread to dwell upon.

And twenty years prior to that, in the Colonist newspaper of December 8, 1840, the Australian publication made use of the expression in its story entitled, “Court Of Requests Act.” Of special interest is the fact that the newspaper story refers to the expression as a common expression. The passage in which the phrase appears is as follows:

If it were asserted that there was any country in which a man, in order to recover a debt of 6l. or 7l., must begin by expending 60l. or 70., — where, at the outset, to use a common expression, he had to run the risk of throwing so much good money after bad, — it would at once be said, that whatever other benefits or advantages that country enjoyed, at least it was not fortunate in its system of law.

In fact, the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Somerset, England published an article on March 25, 1773 entitled, “An Account Of Dr. Goldsmith’s Illness” that read in part:

… throwing away good money after bad. Whereas others are for pulling down and erecting one handsome, spacious, and commodious room in lieu thereof, with a large front door …

The “Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors” by Peter Richard Wilkinson claims that the idiom dates back to 1706 but does not provide the source for the claim.   However, this is incorrect as it appears nearly 20 years prior in the letters of William Fitzhugh.

Colonel William Fitzhugh was a lawyer, planter and merchant who relocated from England to Westmoreland County in Virginia in 1670. A self-made man, he was concerned with the fluctuation of tobacco prices since it was the source of his wealth. He furnished his home lavishly which included 122 pieces of English silver — a sound financial investment in that is could be melted down if need be, and made a social statement about his position in society. It’s been claimed that Fitzhugh’s letters to English merchants, ship captains and friends are filled with all manner of scheming. In a letter from 1690, William Fitzhugh wrote:

More money would be spent on prosecuting than he would be able to answer, and consequently good money thrown after bad.

Giovanni Torriano wrote and published a number of books on proverbs, including “New and Easie Directions for Attaining the Thuscan Italian Tongue” in 1639, “The Most Significant Select Italian Proverbs” in 1642, “A dictionary Italian and English, formerly compiled by John Florio, now diligently revised” in 1659, and “Piazza universale di proverbi italiani: Or A Common Place Of Italian Proverbes and Proverbial Phrases” in 1666, among other tomes.  However, it was in his book “Italian Proverbial Phrases” published in 1662 that he wrote:

The English say, To send good Mony after bad, to lose the Substance, for the Shaddow.

Since this was already a known idiom at the time of publication in 1662, it is not unreasonable to believe that it was in use in the preceding two generations. For this reason, Idiomation pegs the date of this expression to the early 1600s.

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

Throw Caution To The Wind

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 23, 2013

If you think it’s a good idea to throw caution to the wind, don’t be surprised if your friends think you’re taking an unnecessary risk.

The Birmingham Mail newspaper published a Letter to the Editor written by D. Newton of Kingswinford on February 23, 2009 that had to do with a Championship game played by the beloved Blues soccer team.   Along with some personal insights, the letter included this bit of advice:

Also, Larsson should be returned to midfield with Fahey replacing Carsley in centre midfield. Attack is the best form of defence, throw caution to the wind and go for it.

On March 18, 1995 journalist Nigel Clarke of The Mirror newspaper in England covered the Mike Tyson v Frank Bruno heavyweight champion of the world boxing event. It didn’t take long for Mike Tyson to win the match, and the article entitled, “I Punched like a Mule: Bruno Knew He Was DOOMED!” read in part:

Tyson, who wiped out Bruno’s challenge in 410 seconds of mayhem, re-lived his chilling battle plan, bragging: “I punched like a mule – he knew he was doomed. He knew I was going to knock him out.”

His Las Vegas demolition scheme was based on a savage non-stop onslaught.

He said: “I just threw caution to the wind, I just wanted to throw punches, to knock him out.”

It appears that the expression was a favorite in the boxing field. On March 1, 1961 Deseret News Sports Editor, Hack Miller, wrote about the title fight between 4-time winner Gene Fullmer and “Sugar” Ray Robinson. The article was entitled, “Fourth Go With Sugar Ray: Gene Will Be The Favorite.” Hack Miller’s take on the upcoming fight included this excerpt:

This doesn’t mean that Fullmer will try to box with Robinson. Few have ever done that and lived to wear the title. Nor does it mean that Fullmer will not use a little of the cover tactics which protected him until he could work within shooting range the last time they fought.

It does mean, however, that Fullmer will throw a little of the caution to the wind and get along with a two-fisted fight.

And 30 years before that, in the Pittsburg Press of July 1, 1931 United Press staff writer, George Kirksey wrote a piece about Georgia boxer, W.L. “Young” Stribling, in an article entitled, “Stribling Flies Over Schmeling Camp.” Boxing fans were eager to learn more about this pugilist, and George Kirksey began his article with this:

Young Stribling’s airplane ride to Max Schmeling’s training camp in defiance of Madison Square Garden officials and his father-manager had many persons wondering today if the Georgian doesn’t plan to throw caution to the wind in Friday night’s bout in the new Cleveland stadium.

“I feel better now than any time since I started training,” Stribling remarked. “That ride was just what I needed.”

Those close to Stribling know that the Georgia boy has his heart set on trying to knock out Schmeling. “Pa,” however, favors a safer source.

And 30 years before that, when cars were the latest rage and motorcar racing was in its infancy, the Baltimore American newspaper had a very detailed article in the August 24, 1901 edition of their newspaper. Entitled, “Another Race For Motors: Four Noted Crews And Motors To Be Again Tested Around The Bowl Track” readers learned the following:

There is great rivalry between the Nelson brothers as to the speeds of the motors, while the “Blues” are a distinct camp full of all that professional jealousy that animates actors and motor riders. The outlook is that there will be more races of throwing caution to the wind after the crack of the pistol and of thrilling rides with death for the satisfaction of victory and the purses.

At the Colosseum tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock the two “Blue” machines will be sent out to see just how fast they can go. The motors are working well and the training of them tomorrow afternoon is apt to be watched by a huge crowd.

Prior to the use of throw caution to the wind, the expression was actually throw discretion to the wind.

The New York Times published a story on June 19, 1887 entitled, “Sharp Sleeps In A Jail: Sheriff Grant Had Begun To Get Nervous.” Jacob Sharp, a famous millionaire of that era, was placed by order of the court into the custody of Sheriff Grant and an uproar started over the condition of the jail and concerns about the cuisine, service, ventilation, and high moral atmosphere of the Ludlow Street Jail. The jury was also a source of considerable official anxiety as well. Mr. Rickets and his six assistants were charged with ensuring that the jury members did not speak to anyone other than other jury members, and the problem of what to do with the jury members on a Sunday was brought to the Judge’s attention. The article read in part:

Yesterday Mr. Ricketts asked judge Barrett what the jury would do over Sunday. This puzzled the court not a little. Sending the jury to church was questionable, because two of them were known to have free-thinking, baseball proclivities, and might create a disturbance. Coney Island was equally inadvisable, since there were church members of long repression on the jury, who, brought face to face with those follies and vices of the world which they usually took pains to avoid, might impulsively throw discretion to the winds and be detected in the act of buying popcorn and lemonade from some of those snub-nosed Circes from the factories who go to Coney Island on Sunday prepared to “mash” anything and everything that is mashable in all the width of the world.

The expression was used with ease in the article with the expectation that readers would understand what it meant, and so it is reasonable to believe it had been in use at least the generation prior to its publication in the New York Times article cited.

That being said, both expressions are related to one used by English poet and polemicist, John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) in his poem, “Paradise Lost: A Poem In Ten Books”  published in 1667. The poem addressed the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan that led to being ousted from the Garden of Eden.  This passage is found in the poem:

Taste so divine, that what of sweet before
Hath touched my sense, flat seems to this, and harsh.
On my experience, Adam, freely taste,
And fear of death deliver to the winds.
So saying, she embraced him, and for joy
Tenderly wept; much won, that he his love
Had so ennobled, as of choice to incur
Divine displeasure for her sake, or death.

The use of deliver to the winds implies that the action is undertaken with such abandon that fear isn’t considered at the time of the action.

However, more than three hundred years before John Milton published “Paradise Lost” when it came to legal matters, the word caution was used to describe a guarantee or pledge. It was from the Old French caution which meant security or surety. The Old French word was from the Latin word cautionem (or cautio) meaning caution, foresight or precaution, and this was from the word cavere which meant “to be on one’s guard.”

The term cautio was traced back to Roman times in the reference book, “A Summary of the Roman Civil Law, Illustrated By Commentaries On and Parallels from the Mosaic, Canon, Mohammedan, English and Foreign Law” by Patrick Colquhoun. The book references a number of cautio.

In the case of a cautio de rato, an agent or attorney appears on behalf of a third-party without a formal power of attorney contract between them. It is understood, however, that the third-party agrees to abide by whatever decisions are arrived at by the third-party’s agent or attorney. This, of course, places the third-party in a somewhat dangerous position if the agent or attorney is unethical in his dealings, and therefore, it can be said that by the cautio de rato, this leaves the third party figuratively throwing caution to the wind when it comes to his legal matters.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Drop A Brick

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 21, 2013

If you drop a brick, you can rest assured that you’ve either made a tactless remark, or announced shocking — perhaps even startling — news to those around you. Yes, you’ve committed a social gaffe and perhaps been indiscreet as well in the process.

When David Moore wrote an article about David James for The Mirror newspaper in London (England) in 2001 in an article entitled, “Football: I’ll play until I’m 40.. and win 70 England Caps Says David James” he included this in his story:

“I know they call me “Calamity James” whenever I drop a brick. It has ceased to worry me. And besides, I’m probably the person who put that tag into the minds of the journalists who first wrote it. The old Doris Day musical western “Calamity Jane” has always been a favourite of mine.

The Glasgow Herald in Scotland published an article on June 27, 1968 that dealt with civil servants and the behaviour expected of civil servants. In an article entitled, “Plan For Big Overhaul Of Civil Service: Department To Take Over Management By Treasury” the article dealt with the Fulton Committee that had been appointed 18 months earlier to examine the Civil Service, and to make recommendations therein. In the article, the following was reported:

The convention of anonymity of civil servants should be modified, and civil servants as professional administrators should be allowed to go further in explaining what their departments were doing.

It would be unrealistic to think that a civil servant would not sometimes drop a brick and embarrass his Minister, but this should be faced.

On September 19, 1959, the Meriden Record in Meriden-Wallingford (CT) reported on Nikita Khrushchev’s upcoming visit to the U.S. The main focus of the visit was to build up the image of being a sensible, practical man with friendly intentions towards Americans. The article was entitled, “Khrush Driving Hard To Persuade Americans He Is Not A Monster.” Midway through the article, journalist Relman Morin wrote:

There is something ingratiatingly human about him when he expresses the hope that he won’t “drop a brick” during all the talking he will do in the United States — and that Americans will excuse him if he does.

The Glasgow Herald used the expression 15 years before that, in an article entitled, “Key States In U.S. Election: Dewey’s Prospects In The East” published on October 6, 1944. The situation faced by New York Governor Dewey was explained thusly:

There is no doubt that Governor Dewey will come down to the Bronx with a great majority collected up-State, and that it will take a great deal of energy to accumulate an adequate majority in New York City to offset this advantage.

It is here that the chance of accidents makes the most confident commentator pause. The Republican candidate or the President, or more likely a rash supporter of one or the other, may drop a brick of the first magnitude alienating Jews or Irish or Italians or waiters or the ornaments in café society.

It would seem that the Glasgow Herald has an affinity for the expression. It appeared in a news article entitled, “Agricultural Co-operation: Imperial Conference In Glasgow” published in the July 20, 1938 edition of the newspaper. It read in part:

Mr. William Adair, Glasgow, said that it was interesting to hear Mr. Rokach confess the danger in Palestine co-operative marketing that, in the absence of Government compulsion upon growers to join, the outsiders might gain more than the members from such organisation. The conference seemed inclined to applaud only voluntary co-operation, but, if he were permitted to drop a brick into the proceedings, he would remind them that, despite the exchange of nice sentiments between farmer co-operators and industrial co-operators, it was the latter who deliberately went out to defeat the West of Scotland Milk Pool, which 10 years ago marked the first large-scale attempt by agricultural producers of Great Britain to control their own marketing on voluntary lines.

It might be easy to assume that the expression was unique to Scotland back then, however, the expression appeared on October 20, 1929 in a New York Times article entitled, “Free State Politicians Plan Move To End Barring Of A Catholic Ruler” by M.G. Palmer. It was found on page 3 in the Editorial section and began with:

Are Free State politicians preparing to drop a brick on the toes of the British Labor Ministers? Naturally, in the centenary year of the Catholic Emancipation, a vigorous effort might be expected to remove any remaining religious disabilities.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his story “The Beautiful And Damned” first published by Scribner’s in 1922. It appeared in Book Two: Chapter I and subtitled, “The Radiant Hour.”

“Of course! Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It’s just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if to the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs. But they’ve made it into a blondined, rouged-up old woman of sixty. It hasn’t any right to look so prosperous. It might care enough for Lee to drop a brick now and then. How many of these–these _animals_”–she waved her hand around–“get anything from this, for all the histories and guide-books and restorations in existence? How many of them who think that, at best,appreciation is talking in undertones and walking on tiptoes would even come here if it was any trouble? I want it to smell of magnolias instead of peanuts and I want my shoes to crunch on the same gravel that Lee’s boots crunched on. There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books,houses–bound for dust–mortal–“

That being said, the President’s Address of the Northeast Wisconsin Teacher’s Association, given by Principal Charles C. Parlin in Oshkosh (WI) on February 4, 1910 entitled “The Twentieth Century High School” included this comment:

In the old school, discipline was a contest of wits, between the shrewd boys and the principal. It furnished a type of training not altogether useless to the boy and often very valuable to the teacher. I suppose many a man that has left the school rostrum to win distinction in politics or business could justly attribute his success to that training. But the school is now too big, the interests are too many, for the principal to spare time for any such enlivening pastime. The boy who is inclined to drop a brick-bat into the complicated machinery of a modern high school is too dangerous to be tolerated. That boy must either learn quickly to control his inclinations or else seek a smaller and a simpler organization.

Despite Principal Parlin’s use of drop a brick-bat in his Address, Idiomation was unable to trace the expression drop a brick back to a point prior to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s use in his short story. However, that F. Scott Fitzgerald used the expression without italicizing it indicates that it was understood by the general public what it meant. For that reason, Idiomation dates the expression to the turn of the 20th century.

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Accidentally On Purpose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 18, 2013

When someone does something they intend to do but pretends it was an accident, it’s said that what was done was done accidentally on purpose. It’s a contradiction since something that’s done on purpose can’t possibly be an accident and something that’s an accident can’t be done on purpose. However, the phrase has found its way into the English language and carved out a niche for itself over the years.

On June 21, 2009, the Racing Post (which is published in London, England) published an article by Phil Agius entitled, “Why Baby Schumi Is Nothing Like The Old One.” The article began with this bit of information:

The man threatening to do a Schumacher chose an interesting race to put in his worst qualifying performance of the season, allowing the man dubbed the next Schumacher to grab pole for today’s British Grand Prix.

Except don’t think for a minute that Sebastian Vettel is anything like Michael Schumacher. Yes, the charging Red Bull driver is super-fast and German, with an already apparent ability to get his team working behind him and the natural talent to pull out a quick lap exactly when required.

But it’s fairly safe to say you won’t ever see the chap the German press call Baby Schumi barging rivals off the track in a bid to win world titles, or indeed parking his car accidentally on purpose on the racing line in order to preserve a pole position.

The Milwaukee Sentinel used the expression in a sub-heading in Lloyd Larson’s column of the January 5, 1973 edition. Discussing the Miami-Pittsburgh AFC title battle, under the sub-heading he wrote:

Players have been known to fumble accidentally on purpose, so to speak, in scoring territory on fourth down. The rule is designed to prevent such happenings.

During WWII, whimsical stories sometimes found their way into newspapers and such was the case with the Windsor Daily Star on February 4, 1941 when the newspaper published a story that was humorous but unattributed. It began:

“Boomps!” exclaimed Miss Sadie Shortskirts, as she bounced her bustle on the old horse pond. “The things I do for Canada!”

Our Nosing Reporter, who had been an interested spectator of an exhibition that would hardly make Sonja Henie green with envy, hurried forward, but the sturdy little figure was already back on her feet. And almost as quickly back on her back again.

“What do you mean when you say you’re doing this for Canada?” the reporter wanted to know. “What benefit will the Dominion derive if you break your neck?”

Break my neck? Phooie!” exclaimed Miss Shortskirts. “Can’t you see I’m not learning to skate? I’m learning not to skate. I’m striving for perfection in the art of falling realistically, so that every tumble will have patriotically commercial possibilities.”

The story continues for a number of paragraphs and ends well. And do you know what the title of the story was?

Starbeams: Accidentally On Purpose

Years earlier, on page 2 of the Poverty Bay Herald, in Volume XXX, Issue 9654, the newspaper published a fine short story by Henry Humiston on January 31, 1903. It was the story of mix-up and mayhem in true Victorian fashion and had to do with a Miss Helene Elizabeth Martin, a rogue by the name of John Lassiter and envelopes each of them received with letters addressed to other people. The title of the story?

Accidentally On Purpose

In the book “Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, Diaries and Correspondence, Volume I” the following is found in Chapter X entitled, “Thomas Dermody – The Poor Scholar” on page 90:

Among her guests she frequently numbered the young Marquis of Granby, the son of a former brilliant and well-remembered, lord-lieutenant, who was quartered in the garrison. On the occasions of a fête given specially for him by Mrs. Austen, she commanded her young poet laureate to compose an ode in favour of the vice-regal reign of the Duke of Rutland, with a well-turned compliment to his handsome son. Dermody neglected the order — perhaps “accidentally on purpose” — he thought the desire fulsome, and he had become restive. Mrs. Austen, indignant at the negligence, considering it as the refusal of an upstart dependent, made us of some expression that struck his Irish pride on the life nerve; she ordered him to leave her house and never return, he accepted the command and did not reappear, in the expectation of being sent for.

The expression showed up nearly 100 years prior to the publication of Lady Morgan’s Memoirs in a book by José Francisco de Isla (April 24, 1703 – November 2, 1781). A Spanish Jesuit, humorist and satirist, he wrote, “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” in which this passage is found:

Tell us what is Modesty of Voice, for you happened accidentally on purpose to drop this word, and I don’t rightly know what it signifies.

Because of the satire in the book, the book was banned by the Inquisition in 1760, and it was forbidden not only to publish the book but to discuss its contents. Seven years later, José Francisco de Isla was expelled from Spain. But as is the case with all good literature, the book continued to be published by a number of brave souls. The book is now considered a literary masterpiece.

Despite all attempts to find an earlier version of this phrase, Idiomation found nothing before its publication in “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” and so the first use of the phrase goes to at least 1760 … the year the book was banned by the Inquisition.

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

Special Kind Of Stupid

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 16, 2013

There’s a phrase that is rising in popularity these days.  It has to do with the degree to which someone is accused of being stupid … stupid to the point where there’s no sense of logic to be found in what they say or do. Those people are referred to as being a “special kind of stupid.”

Back in 2008, television series “Rules of Engagement” had Jeff Bingham state his opinion to Audrey Bingham about Adam taking off with one of his exes by saying:

That kid is a special kind of stupid.

On 2 July 2005, the author of the “Adventures In Narcissism” blog wrote about the television commercial that played during “Black Hawk Down.” She began her blog article by stating:

Calling people who are not sensible a “special kind of stupid” is one of my favorite things to do. The first time I heard the phrase, it was uttered by a stand-up comedian who was talking about dieting and how annoyed she was by the wafer-thin girls who giggle and say, “Ooops, I forgot to eat. Teehee.” Her response to this was, “You gotta be a special kind of stupid to forget to eat.

So who was this stand-up comedian SuperKate referenced? In the early 1980s, Roseanne Barr had this to say about skinny people in her stand-up routine:

Skinny people irritate me! Especially when they say things like “You know, sometimes I forget to eat!” Now, I’ve forgotten my address, my mother’s maiden name, and my keys, but I have never forgotten to eat. You have to be a special kind of stupid to forget to eat.

Online, Idiomation has seen the aforementioned quote attributed to adult entertainer Siouxsie Q (not to be mistaken for the English singer-songwriter Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banchees fame).

It’s highly doubtful that Siouxsie Q spoke the idiom special kind of stupid prior to Roseanne Barr including the expression in her stand-up routine.

Idiomation therefore pegs the expression special kind of stupid to the early 1980s and attributes its creation to Roseanne Barr.  Who knew?

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

All Sense And No Nonsense

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 14, 2013

When you hear someone say someone is all sense and no nonsense what they are saying is that the person appears sensible, direct, efficient, and practical. In other words, what they say is what they mean and what they say and do is usually well-thought out long before they say and do what they mean to say and do.

In Thomas D. Taylor’s short story “Skeleton Key” published in 2013, the narrator shares this with the reader:

The man was hardly more than a boy though he must have been in his mid-twenties. He was blond, fair looking but resembled an accountant more than a jock. He had glasses, wispy hair and was dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans. The woman he was with wore white shorts and a blue and white striped top. She was also blond but had no characteristics of the familiar stereotype. This one was all sense and no nonsense.

While the phrase isn’t heard very often these days, it was used in an advertisement in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on February 26, 1943 where the headline read:

All Sense And No Nonsense About These Slack Suits For Your Working Hours.

The slack suits they were selling were described thusly:

Designed primarily for play, slack suits have been taken up with gusto by today’s busy women for their working hours. They’re comfortable as an old shoe, yet are so beautifully tailored and styled, they give you that neat, concise look that’s important these days.

Back in 1873, the expression was found in “The National Teacher: A Monthly Educational Journal: Volume III” edited by Emerson Elbridge White. In the Editorial Department, on page 507, the following was written:

School Commissioner Harvey has attended a large number of the institutes in Ohio this year, rendering valuable assistance. His public addresses are highly commended by the press. An eminent educator who heard him at a recent institute, writes: “Commissioner Harvey is capital — all sense and no nonsense. No teacher can hear him without benefit.”

Taking the phrase apart, the no nonsense part of the phrase actually originates from the phrase to stand no nonsense which, according to numerous dictionaries, was sporting slang back in 1821.

The word nonsense itself entered the English language from the French word nonsens sometime in the 1610s. The French word meant that something was either ridiculous or wildly unreasonable.

Since the expression was used in a published magazine in 1873, it is reasonable to believe that the expression all sense and no nonsense was in use at least one generation prior to 1873, putting it at sometime in the late 1840s or early 1850s.

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

Holy Moley

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 11, 2013

The expression holy moley is meant to express surprise and it has for a number of years. The expression doesn’t sound old and stuffy, and it doesn’t sound like it used to be part of another longer saying that’s been in existence for centuries. It’s easy to assume that it’s a recent expression but is it really?

Just today, the Hartford Courant newspaper published an article written by Steve Pond about the upcoming Oscars. The headline was “Seth MacFarlane’s Fresh, Silly Nominations Gig Might Mean A Fresh, Silly Oscar Show.” Midway through the article, Steve Pond wrote:

And he’ll also be there, presumably, for the performance of at least one of the nominated songs, since MacFarlane wrote the lyrics to the big-band tune “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” which Norah Jones performed in “Ted.”

(Just an aside: MacFarlane’s co-writer on the song is one Walter Murphy and holy moley, it appears to be the same Walter Murphy who had a hit by bringing Ludwig van Beethoven to the disco with “A Fifth of Beethoven” back in 1976.)

The expression has been used in countless headlines such as the Los Angeles Times Special by Lynn Simross that was published in the June 9, 1976 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper. With the resurgence in the popularity in action comic books, illustrator Donato “Don” Rico was interviewed for the story. Rico was responsible for creating Gary Stark, a teenaged Merchant Mariner, and Micky Starlight during the golden age of comic books. That article was entitled:

Holy Moley! Comics Live Again!

It was a tip of the hat to Captain Marvel’s characteristic exclamation in the comic books of the 40s.

marvelholymoley1

But does the expression go back much further than that? Strangely enough, it does as it appeared in a book written by Nathaniel Gould entitled, “Running It Off Or Hard Hit: An Enthralling Story of Racing, Love and Intrigue” and published in 1892 by George Routledge and Sons. The book, re-issued by John Long Ltd in 1919, used the expression in this passage of the book:

“Whew!” he whistled, softly; “that’s curious. Same name as the lady at our place. Suppose he should be her husband. Holy moley, what a game. I’ve made a discovery. I must take particular of this man. He’ll come in useful I reckon.”

Now history buffs and Greek mythology buffs already know that moly was given to Ulysses by Hermes as an antidote against Circe’s magic in Book X of “The Odyssey” which is one of two epic poems attributed to Homer. In this book, the following passage is found:

“As he spoke he pulled the herb out of the ground and showed me what it was like. The root was black, while the flower was as white as milk; the gods call it Moly, and mortal men cannot uproot it, but the gods can do whatever they like.

Then Mercury went back to high Olympus passing over the wooded island; but I fared onward to the house of Circe, and my heart was clouded with care as I walked along. When I got to the gates I stood there and called the goddess, and as soon as she heard me she came down, opened the door, and asked me to come in; so I followed her – much troubled in my mind.”

While it’s true that gods are thought of as being holy and that moly was used by Homer that it was implied that the two go together, however, the two weren’t used together in any of Homer’s poems.

Idiomation can only say that the first use of the expression holy moly or holy moley we were able to confirm was by Nathaniel Gould in 1892. So yes, the expression is at least 120 years old (certainly not a new expression by any stretch of the imagination) but untraceable before 1892.

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

Like A Hen Needs A Flag

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 9, 2013

When people want something they don’t need, you sometimes hear them say they need it like a hen needs a flag. Hens aren’t particularly in need of flags and obviously the useless of the need is why the expression exists. However, tracing back the history on this idiom proved almost impossible.

In Harlan Ellison’s book, “Stalking The Nightmare” famous author Stephen King wrote in the book’s Foreword:

It drives my wife crazy, and I’m sorry it does, but I can’t really help it. All the little sayings and homilies. Such as: There’s a heartbeat in every potato; you need that like a hen needs a flag; I’d trust him about as far as I could sling a piano; use it up, wear it out, do it in, or do without; you’ll never be hung for your beauty; fools’ names, and their faces, are often seen in public places.

Stephen King first used it in his 1980 novella “The Mist” (and included in his anthology of short stories “Skeleton Crew” published in 1986) where he wrote:

I was the closest, and I grabbed Norm around the waist and yanked as hard as I could,  rocking back on my heels. For a moment we moved backward, but only for a moment. it was like stretching a rubber band or pulling taffy. The tentacle yielded but gave up its basic grip not at all. Then three more tentacles floated out of the mist towards us. One curled around Norm’s flapping red Federal apron and tore it away. It disappeared back into the mist with the red cloth curled in its grip and I thought of something my mother used to say when my brother and I would beg for something she didn’t want us to have-candy, a comic book, some toy.  “You need that like a hen needs a flag,” she’d say.

Now several sources claim that the expression is a southern expression, however, it doesn’t seem to appear very often other than in recent online forum discussions. Some members have posted that their grandparents used the expression back in the 40s and 50s although Idiomation couldn’t find any proof of the phrase’s existence during that period.

Without any documentation, the best we can guess at is that the expression originated with Stephen King in 1980. If readers are able to provide documentation that proves it was an expression prior to that, Idiomation welcomes that information.

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