Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 2,680 other followers

  • IDIOMATION BOOK 1 on Amazon!

    Available in traditional book form as well as in eBook format, this is the first in the series by the author of the Idiomation blog on Wordpress.




    ForEmail Marketing you can trust

  • October 2014
    S M T W T F S
    « Aug    

Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 20th Century’ Category

A Vocal Fry That Could Cook Eggs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 3, 2014

To understand the expression a vocal fry that could cook eggs, you have to understand what a vocal fry is.  A vocal fry is a term that entered vocal music pedagogists vocabulary in the early 1970s.  The vocal fry is produced by allowing the voice to slide down the register until it reaches the low vibrations that sound, according to many, just a little creaky and creepy.  And, what most people don’t know, is that the vocal fry actually causes vocal cord damage.

It’s used by lead singers of heavy metal bans to produce aggressive growls and screams.  It’s used by some bass singers in American country and gospel music.  It’s found in choral music when true basses are missing from the chorus, and tenors and contraltos find themselves “frying” the low notes in order to sing SATB arrangements.

The opposite of a vocal fry is falsetto.

So a vocal fry that could cook eggs is a very descriptive phrase that came about some time after the early 1970s, and it means a harsh and irritating voice that is very extreme and lasts for a long time.

The only time Idiomation has heard the expression used was in a conversation with author William Storke.  Idiomation was also unable to find any published versions of this expression.

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

Ish Kabibble

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 9, 2014

Ish Kabibble.  It’s an expression that’s used to answer serious questions that has its roots in the Yiddish phrase nisht gefidlt that translates into English as it doesn’t matter to me.

The name is found in the song by George W. Meyer and Sam Lewis titled, “Ishkabibble (I Should Worry)” published in 1913.  The following year, Harry Hershfield‘s cartoon strip Abie The Agent was syndicated in the Hearst newspapers and feature a car salesman by the name of Abraham “Abie” Kabibble.  The year after that, it showed up as Ish Ga Bibble  and Ish Ka Bibble on postcards.

Ish Ka Bibble

Ish Kabbible was a real person — sort of — whose real name was Merwyn Alton Bogue (January 19, 1908 – June 5, 1993).  He was born in North East, Pennsylvania and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He studied law at West Virginia University, but is far better known for his comic antics as a cornet player with the Kay Kyser Orchestra from 1931 through to 1951.  He was also the orchestra’s business manager.  In the 1930s, Kay Kyser had a radio show called Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, and Merwyn played a character by the name of Ish Kabibble. The name stuck.

The Kalamazoo Normal Record, published monthly by the Faculty and Students of the Western State Normal School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, reprinted a poem for their May 1916 edition.  The poem was copied from another weekly paper named “The Searchlight” published by the students of the Junior High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In the poem title, “English As She Is Spoke” the following stanza is found.

And should you read a mild reproof
Beneath the poet’s scribble,
I hear you say, “Go chase yourself!”
“Forget it!” “Ish-ka-bibble!”

That same month, on May 27, 1916 the newspaper “The Standard: A Weekly Insurance Newspaper” printed the address of Mr. Cunningham to fire insurers in which he speaks of the “Ish Ka Bibble” hazard.  In fact, he begins using the idiom at this point in his address.

I wish that the tenure of office of these state officials was less subject to political caprice, and I have sometimes been so unpatriotic as to regret that we have so many states.

Much more might be said to show that the present generation of fire which can best be described in the vernacular as the “Ish-Ka-Bibble” hazard — popularly translated — “I should worry.”

In the December 29, 1914 edition of the Stark County News in Lafayette, the following was reported:

Thursday afternoon, December 17, Mrs. E.G. Eltzroth entertained the ladies of the Ish Ka Bibble Club. Owing to bad weather there were only a few present. Iona Maginn served the dainty two-course luncheon. We were reminded of the approaching Christmastide by favors of holly, dainty place cards, and the proverbial Christmas pie which contained a gift for each guest.

In fact, the expression is found in an article in  February 1914 published in “The Bank Man” which was a monthly publication for the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Banking.  In the short article by Thomas E. Doonan titled, “First National Bank Of Englewood” the writer gave a quick update on various employee activities.  One had just returned from a vacation at the beach in Jackson Park, while another had just left for a week’s vacation out East.  One had left the employ of the bank for greener pastures in other fields, and yet another was back at his old job in the Collection Department.  The last comment was this:

Whenever Margaret is out in the checking bunch, all that she says is, “Ishkabibble.  Eckel is around.  He will find it, so why should we worry?”

Shortly before that, in “The Florists’ Review” published on January 29, 1914 the following news bite can be found on page 114.

Wm. Salman, the eminent Race Street flower seller, recently capture the robber who broke the show window of the jewelry store on Race Street.  He sits back with an “Ishkabibble” air while others are fighting for the reward.

The idiom in this form doesn’t seem to appear in earlier published forms — either books or newspapers — however since it was a recognized slang term in 1913, it is reasonable to believe that this expression comes from the turn of the century.

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


Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 12, 2014

With nostalgia films leaning back into the 1960s these days, words like groovy are making a limited comeback.  Groovy was to the sixties what tubular was to the eighties.  In other words, it means that something or someone is excellent or awesome.

However, for those who are tech savvy, groovy is a dynamic object-oriented programming language for the Java virtual machine, and can be used anywhere Java is used.  It’s also used as a scripting language for developers who are new to the Java platform.  Groovy is similar in format to Perl, Python, Ruby, and Smalltalk.

But generally speaking, when you hear the word groovy being used, it’s in the context of awesome or excellent, cool or tubular.

Now while it’s true that the word groovy has become synonymous with the sixties, the word didn’t originate in the sixties.  In fact, it’s an extension of the slang word groove — from the phrase in the groove — that was a well-known jazz expression meaning that meant something had been well done.

Jimmy Dorsey (of Dorsey Brothers fame) had a hit for Decca Records (Decca 3721) in 1941 with his song “Man, That’s Groovy” that can be downloaded from http://www.archive.org by clicking HERE. In fact, in 1943, a motion picture shortMan, That’s Groovy” was produced, with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra recording featuring Helen O’Connell on vocals on its sound track.

That being said, the term is also found in an article by A.E. (Albert Edward) Wilson entitled, “King Panto: The Story Of Pantomime” published in 1935.  In this article, the author wrote:

After a long spell of popularity pantomime had, in fact, become “groovy” and it began to look as if it needed some kind of revivifying process.

In an article dated August 2, 1933 in Fortune Magazine, the reviewer had this to say about a performance by a group of jazz musicians.

The jazz musicians gave no grandstand performances; they simply got a great burn from playing in the groove.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published used of the word groovy than Albert Edward Wilson’s article in 1935 where groovy was used in quotation marks.  However, that it was used in 1935 shows that the word was used and understood by a segment of society prior to 1935 hence the use of the quotation marks for those who may be unfamiliar with the word and the context in which it was used.  This indicates that the word was in use in the arts industry during the early 1930s.

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

800 Pound Gorilla

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 26, 2014

When a corporation, group, or individual is so powerful that it feels it can act without regards for the rights of others, or feels it is above the law, it’s said that the corporation, group, or individual is an 800 pound gorilla … or a 900 pound gorilla or even larger,depending on the source.

On June 15, 2012, A.J. Kohn at marketingland.com wrote about the previous seven days that had been dominated by Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Between the study about the percentage of company twitter account followers that were bots, Apple’s passbook app, Google’s Wallet 2.0, Facebook’s mobile acquisition, and more, all other news seemed locked out of news feeds and news outlets. The title of the article was aptly titled, “The Week Of The 900 Pound Gorilla.”

An example of a person fitting the bill is found in the article by John Friedman of MarketWatch published on February 11, 2011 where he discussed what was going on at CBS. Sean McManus had been heading up the news and sports divisions at CBS News up until that point. He surrendered his news division responsibilities which were immediately shouldered by David Rhodes who had previously been with Fox News.

Katie Couric, who was the evening news anchor, had come to CBS from NBC’s top-rated “Today” show, and even though CBS was in third place among the networks at the time, it was felt that her star power was the WOW factor other networks craved but couldn’t deliver. Keeping Katie Couric as the CBS Evening News anchor was crucial to CBS’ plans to move up the ladder. The article was titled, “Katie Couric: CBS’s 900-Pound Gorilla.”

Over the years, the gorilla’s weight has swung wildly as evidenced by these magazine and newspaper quotes:

I’m the 400-pound gorilla on defense policy, said [House Armed Services Committee chair Les] Aspin.”
~ Los Angeles Times, April 1991

One reluctant program director, Malcolm Wall of station KETA in Oklahoma City, called [The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour] a 3,000-pound gorilla.
~ The New York Times, December 1987

Like the proverbial 2,000 pound gorilla, IBM can sit anywhere it wants to in the computer industry.
~ Modern Office Technology, April 1986

Sometimes trouble leaps up in your face like a 500-pound gorilla.
~ National Law Journal, July 1984

Much in the manner of 300-pound gorillas, ex-secretaries of state can do about anything they choose, of course.
~ The Washington Post, September 1982

Some online sources claim that the idiom is part of a joke dating back to 1971 although no comedian or comedy show reference is included with the information. That being said, in the book, “The Psychology Of Being Human” by Elton B. McNeil and published by Canfield Press in 1974, the following passage is found on page 363.

As the old joke goes: “Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants to.” It’s the same with inducing the hypnotic trance, You can do it anywhere you want to. The usual methods of focusing attention on an object or telling people they are getting sleeping are helpful, but unnecessary.

For the author to refer to the joke as an “old joke” it can hardly be one that was first told in 1971 as some sources claim. The fact of the matter is that the expression is found in Chapter 3 “Identity” of Lee Thayer’s book, “Communication!” published in 1968, where the author writes:

“Identity” is frequently the 800-pound gorilla in communication. It is as complex as it is potent, as we will see. It always plays a role in communication.

The joke shows up in “The Railway Clerk” of 1968 and published by the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees.  And the idiom shows up in the 1956 “Congressional Quarterly” on page 267 of this publication as follows:

“It’s like having a 500-pound gorilla locked up in the room with you,” noted one Republican Senate aide. “You can’t control it, and you can’t get it out because people want it there. So you have to try to replace it with something that will look as fierce …”

Despite hours of research, no earlier published version of this idiom was found, however, that it was used in 1956 and that it was expected that the sense of the idiom would be understood. Idiomation is able to track the expression to at least 1950.  Idiomation welcomes any linkage to earlier published versions of this idiom. And so, Idiomation pegs this expression to 1950, with reservations.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2014

When you hear someone say lefty loosey, righty tighty it’s a way for that person to remember that the threads on a screw, nut, or bolt or such that you turn them to the right to tighten them and you turn them to the left to loosen them. There are, of course, some exceptions such as old propane cylinders and some pipe fittings, but for the mot part, the saying is a good rule of thumb to go by. But the expression doesn’t just have to do with tightening and loosening screws or nuts or bolts.

Strange as it may sound, it’s also a quest in the World Of Warcraft game. Yes, Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty — according to the WOW Wiki — is an assassination mission in the Distress Call quest chain.

On January 18, 2010 Professor of History, Claire B. Potter, wrote an article that was published by the Chronicle in which she discussed New York Times reporter, Patricia Cohen’s interpretation of a study done by sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse. The title of the article was:

Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty: Socioligists Try To Explain The Political Orientation Of The Academy

The 1983 movie, “Fandango” is about five college buddies in 1971 who are from the University of Texas. With uncertain futures, and the Vietnam War a real possibility for some, they decide to head off on one final road trip odyssey across the Mexican border. The movie starred Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson, and Sam Robards. Idiomation located the script at http://www.script-o-rama but which characters speak which lines was not identified (click HERE to follow along).

00:34:01 And much obliged for that body job. That is first-rate work.

00:34:09 The other way, bud. Remember, it’s lefty loosey, righty tighty.

The first standard screw was created by English engineer, Sir Joseph Whitworth in 1841. However, factory production of screws used as fasteners for thin pieces of material, dates back to the mid-1700s. However, as threaded items, 1841 is the pinned date for screws.

In 1908, Canadian P.L. Robertson invented the square drive screw 28 years before Henry Phillips patented the Phillips head screw. The Robertson (or square drive) design became the standard in Canada and the United States, and was preferred over the slot-head screw for a number of reasons.

When the Phillips head screw was patented in 1930, this allowed screws to provide tighter fastenings as the screw was able to take on greater torque. But with tighter fastening came the problem of loosening.

Although no proof has been found that provides an exact date as to when the expression lefty loosey, righty tighty was first used, one of Idiomation’s readers or visitors is sure to have more information to prove when the idiom first came into use. For now, the expression can only be attributed to the 20th century, and sometime after 1930.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2014

The other day, I heard someone say, “Diem sero, et una mina breva.” The English version of that idiom is a day late and a dollar short.  What the idiom means is that action taken was taken late and is of no use. An opportunity has not only been missed, but if it had been snagged, it would have been to no avail as there was inadequate preparations made that would have resulted in a favorable outcome. In other words, it’s the same thing as saying too little, too late.

People who are accused of being a day late and a dollar short are seen as disorganized, careless people with poor time management skills that inconveniences everyone else affected by such behavior.

A Letter to the Editor by Steve Kopa of Weirton, West Virginia to the Herald Dispatch on January 28, 2014 dealt with the recent spill where 7,500 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals seeped into the Elk River. The corporation responsible for this filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy nearly immediately after this disaster. The first paragraph of Steve Kopa’s letter read:

Regarding the Elk River chemical spill, as usual our fearless leaders are using an old phrase: “a day late and a dollar short.” That means a missed opportunity and being inexcusably unprepared.

The U.S. Department of Commerce: National Bureau of Standards published a report for the 59th National Conference on Weights and Measures in July of 1973. The editors were Sandra J. Wilson and Richard N. Smith, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Frederick B. Dent, and National Bureau of Standards Director, Richard W. Roberts were listed on the front page of the report.

There is need to explain your work, your tools and your activities in order to gain public support and public understanding. With your guidance, the services of government need not be, as they have been many times in the past, a day late and a dollar short of the needs and demands of the public.

In the “Contact Point” newsletter of the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons: School of Dentistry published in 1949, one of the contributors, identified as K.G.H., signed off on his column with the expression.

Must call this quits now, as I’m a day late and a dollar short with it now.

A syndicated one-panel cartoon was published in many American newspapers on March 3, 1939 using the expression as part of the punchline. The cartoon — known as “Out Our Way” — was drawn and written by Canadian cartoonist, J.R. Williams (March 30, 1888 – June 17, 1957).  The panel showed two men listening to an inventor describe his labor-free pick , for which he said he had applied to have patented. Two blue-collar workers are passing by and one says to the other:

No, he’s in the same fix as th’ rest of us. It’s called progress. I just learn about half the traffic rules an’ they change ‘em. You can’t beat progress. You’ll always be a day late an’ a dollar short.

The Continental Congress of the United States authorized the issuance of the US dollar on August 8, 1786, however, Americans preferred gold and silver for currency. With the National Banking Act of 1863, the dollar become the only recognized currency in the U.S. It wasn’t until March 14, 1900 and the Gold Standard Act that it was decided that gold was the sole standard by which paper money would be redeemed.

As history has shown, suspending gold convertibility during the Great Depression of the 1930s worsened the situation with global economies, and America wasn’t exempt from the effects of this suspension. The effects on the American dollar were felt across the country and abroad.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of a day late and a dollar short, that it was used so freely in the one-panel cartoon published in 1939 scant months before the start of World War II (1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945) may indicate that the expression has its roots in the Great Depression. This idiom is therefore reasonably pegged to some time in the 1930s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Feet To The Fire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 24, 2014

When you hold someone’s feet to the fire what you’re doing is causing someone to feel personal, social, political, or legal pressure on someone in order to induce him or her to comply with action that he or she previously would do. In other words, it is a forceful way of holding someone accountable for his or her actions, and hopefully to fulfill that commitment. It is not, however, akin to holding a gun to someone’s head.

In Kabul, Afghanistan the Pajhwok Afghan News published a story on April 8, 2011 that reported on the meeting between United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Coupled with that story was information on U.S. Ambassador, Susan Rice, and her testimony before a Congressional committee on matters pertaining to the electoral processes in Afghanistan, and the death of UNAMA personnel in Mazar-e-Sharif. The newspaper reported the following:

“So this process is still dragging out in terms of efforts to review certain aspects of the 2010 polling, parliamentary electoral process, and I think the United Nations has been the sort of focal point of the international community’s efforts to hold feet to the fire and ensure that the processes are not manipulated for the political interests of any actor,” Rice told lawmakers.

On May 16, 2007 Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the US Senate Special Committee On Aging spoke to the matter of health care at a hearing before the Special Committee On Aging. What was said at the meeting was published by the US Government Printing Office in a document entitled, “Medicare Advantage Marketing And Sales: Who Has The Advantage?” and listed under S. Hrg. 110-207.  In his opening remarks as the chairman, he said:

As we know, the number of Medicare Advantage plans being offered to beneficiaries is growing rapidly. So we must remain vigilant in our oversight of these plans, and I intend to do so. If more hearings are necessary to hold feet to the fire, then we will do that. Cleaning up these marketing-and-sales practices is a high priority of mine. So let me be clear: This issue will not go away after this hearing; and, of course, neither will I.

In 1961, the National Council On The Aging published a report entitled, “Building For Older People: Financing, Construction, Administration” and was published by the University of Michigan. In this report, the following was stated:

A wise counselor will hold feet “to the fire” until housing cost considerations are realistically examined. It is surprising how few people actually have totalled up their present housing cost.

Of special note is the fact that in medieval Europe, trial by ordeal (also known as judicium Dei) was a trial based on the premise that God would help the innocent by performing a miracle and save the accused. One such trial was to hold the accused’s feet to the fire. If the feet were unburned, or if they healed within 3 days of being held to the fire, it was taken as a sign that God had intervened on behalf of the accused, thereby proving his or her innocence. Of course, most either confessed to the crimes to which they were accused or died as a result of the trial.  It was a favorite ordeal of the Spanish Inquisition (1478 – 1834) which replaced the Medieval Inquisition begun in 1184.

The fact that the idiom was used with quotation marks in the 1961 report indicates that it was an idiom that was not necessarily well-known although it was part of the language at the time.  It is therefore reasonable to assume that it came into vogue in the years leading up to 1961.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to some time after WWII, and most likely some time in the 1950s.

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

Hairy Canary

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 6, 2014

If you hear of someone having a hairy canary, you can bet that they are having a temper tantrum, an emotional outburst, or find themselves in outright panic mode. It’s an expression with an interesting history that winds its way through a number of different paths.

In North Carolina, in the Lower Hawksbill on the Northern Blue Ridge Mountains that faces the northwest (its highest elevation is 4,020 feet), there’s a climb that’s been known as the Hairy Canary since the mid-1990s. It’s nestled among other creatively named rappelling climbs such as Star Trekin’, Lost IN Space, Swing Your Phaser, and Phaser On Stun.

In 1981, Chick Corea recorded an album that was marketed under the title, “Live At Montreux” and along with Chick Corea were jazz musicians Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Gary Peacock (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). It was a live recording captured on July 15, 1981 while they were performing at the Casino de Montreux at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The second cut on the album is entitled, “Hairy Canary.”

And in 1973, Mattel Inc., was granted a copyright for Hair Canary in the “Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series” in Volume 27, Part 1, Number 2, Section 1. It took some deep digging to find out that Mattel’s Hairy Canary was a hand-powered super stunt plane that was billed as “easy to learn” and promised to give “hours of fun.” A bit more digging after that revealed that in Volume 29 of “Design News” and Volume 16 of “Power Transmission Design” — both of which were published in 1974 — Mattel’s Hairy Canary was the subject of an article entitled, “How Would You Keep The Hairy Canary Airborne?”

The Billboard edition of June 1, 1968 wrote about Hi Lit’s new progressive rock radio station WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, PA. It was reported that eighty percent of the programming at the radio station was album cuts, and that the material ranged from Steppenwolf to the Rotary Connection through to the Chamber Brothers. All pop music was banned. Then this little extra was included in the article:

The station uses the tag line of “Hy Syski Underground.” Syski is the nickname Lit has used for years. The station has also just issued a two-page newspaper called the “Hairy Canary” featuring gossip items about progressive rock artists, and a list of the major LPs’ it will be bi-monthly in schedule.

And back in 1946, California cultivated a fine ornamental clover for gardens by the name of Hairy Canary clover. It was a deterrent to soil erosion and considered a forage crop.

But none of that explains the idiom hairy canary.

On December 19, 2013 journalist Laurie Higgins wrote at article that was posted to the Illinois Family Institute website. It was about the suspension of Phil Robertson from the popular A&E Show “Duck Dynasty” for having made some politically incorrect statements. The article was entitled, “Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson: The Hairy Canary In The Rainbow Coal Mine.”

By removing the colorful jargon, the phrase became one of a canary in the coal mine. The definition for that idiom was of someone or something whose sensitivity to adverse conditions made the person or the thing a useful early indicator of adverse conditions. Whatever happened to the person or the thing, was an early warning of approaching greater danger or trouble. Beginning in 1911, (up until 1986), canaries were used in coal mines as early warning systems for toxic gases and fumes such as coal dust, methane gas or CH4.

When the canary was off-color, the workers in the coal mine knew that trouble was brewing and alerted them to the fact that they needed to get out of the mineshaft for safety’s sake. That being said, canaries were delicate birds and therefore not as reliable as thought, which resulted in more than a few false alarms with regards to toxic conditions for miners.

It would be reasonable to believe that a canary dying while down in the coal mines might cause a certain amount of panic in miners at the time, and their wives would also be aflutter with concerns every day their husbands were working down in the coal mines. The rhyming undoubtedly is an offshoot of cockney rhyming slang and since the expression canary in the coal mine appears to have started in the UK, it makes sense that the idiom would eventually be shortened to hairy canary. The earliest reference to hairy canary, as shown earlier in this entry, was in 1968 with the 2-page newspaper courtesy of WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, and indicates that the idiom was already part of the lingo used by listeners of progressive rock stations.

It is therefore reasonable to peg the idiom hairy canary to 1960 and possibly earlier. Perhaps readers and visitors who are aware of the use of hairy canary in conversation, news articles, or books will be share links to such use.

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

Have Kittens

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 3, 2014

If you’ve wondered what the expression have kittens means, it means to be very worried, upset, or angry about something. It’s a somewhat dramatic way of expressing that worry, upset or anger, but it clearly underscores the degree to which a person is worried, upset, or angry. To have kittens is the same thing as to have a cow or to have a [hairy] canary, and the expression, while rarely heard, is known in every English speaking country around the world.

In the UK, the Independent newspaper of September 6, 2013 published an article entitled, “Who Profits From The Economic Recovery Decides Party Fortunes?” The article by Andrew Grice addressed the challenge both political parties have in convincing low income workers that their party is a friend to low income workers. The subject of the recommendations made by the Down Street Policy Unit have some alarmed to the point where the article stated:

The Treasury, which is said to be “having kittens” about Number 10’s work, will veto the “profits plan” as “unworkable and anti-aspiration.”  Business groups are nervous too. They want the focus to be on improving skills and are worried that a higher wages floor would cost jobs.

Dan Stannett’s book “Daniel and the Lion’s Den: The True Story Of An Eight-Hour Inmate” published in 2007 also made use of the idiom.   The story was based on the author’s experiences with the prison system in April 1976 in a Virginia prison that had fewer than 10,000 inmates in it. Not to be mistaken for one on the wrong side of the law, it must be noted that Dan Stannett spent 25 years in law enforcement. In his book, the following passage uses the idiom having kittens.

While Jim was being warm and happy waiting on his relief, he would be relieved early. The shift sergeant with a Kojak haircut came out and was having kittens while Jim England was giving the pissed off sergeant his best-looking John Wayne impression. “What the hell do you think you’re doing’?” the sergeant asked.

David Bealsey wrote a book entitled, “The Jenny: A New York Library Detective Novel” that was published in 1994. The year in which the story takes place is vague. The story states the night watchman makes $15,000 per year. We know that in New York City, a night watchman drew a salary of slightly overly $1,000 per year in 1884 based on newspaper accounts, and we know that a century later, in New York City, a night watchman drew a salary of just over $15,000 per year in 1985.  So it would seem that the story takes place in the latter half of the 20th century. In the story, the author wrote:

“Let’s go to your place,” I said as we got in.
Arbie gave her address to the driver.
“Storey saw me,” I gasped between breaths.
“I was having kittens,” Arbie said. “You were so long!”
“I heard Storey on the phone, “I explained. “After he left, the same guy called again. I picked up the receiver so he knew someone was there. He must have got in touch with Storey about it. But look!” I flicked on the light in the back of the cab. “We’ve got New’s stamps.”

In 1960, the P. G. Wodehouse (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) book “Jeeves in the Offing” (which was also known as “How Right You Are, Jeeves”) was first published in the United States on 4 April 1960 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, and subsequently, in the United Kingdom on 12 August 1960 by Herbert Jenkins, London. It was the eighth Jeeves novel, and chronicled yet another visit by Bertie Wooster to his Aunt Dahlia at Brinkley Court. The idiom appeared in Chapter VII as follows:

‘Are you sure?’
I said that sure was just what I wasn’t anything but.
‘It is not possible that you may have overlooked it?’
‘You can’t overlook a thing like that.’
He re-gurgled.
‘But this is terrible.’
‘Might be considerably better, I agree.’
‘Your uncle will be most upset.’
‘He’ll have kittens.’
‘That’s right.’
‘Why kittens?’
‘Why not?’

Graham Seal claims that the expression goes back to at least the early 20th century. This appears to be correct as the expression is shared in Volume 5 of the “Dialect Notes” printed by the Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company of New Haven, Connecticut and published by the American Dialect Society, covering the years 1918 through to 1927. The idiom is attributed as an established idiom in 1918.

According to the BBC, particularly painful pregnancies were thought to be as a result of a witch’s curse. Instead of being with child, the woman was thought to have kittens inside her, clawing to get out. Women who believed this to be true and who were experiencing pain over the course of their pregnancy would become hysterical at the thought that they and their babies had been cursed by a witch.

In fact, there are records dating back to 1654 that show that a woman appealed to a Scottish court for permission to abort. Her reason for making the request was because she had ‘cats in her bellie.’ In fact, in the 1960s, it was reported that people in parts of the highlands of Banffshire dreaded cats for that very reason.

That being said, have kittens is difficult to find in newspapers, magazines and books with the trail going cold right before the turn of the century, in the late 1890s. Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to about 1900s.

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

Snow Cone

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 4, 2013

When it comes to baseball, a snow cone is used to describe the appearance of a baseball caught in the tip of the webbing of a glove … making it look like a snow cone.   It’s also occasionally referred to as an ice cream cone.

On June 30, 2010, the MLB Advanced Media uploaded a video on their website with a description that read:

Bobby Abreu makes an amazing snowcone catch in right field, somehow hanging onto the ball to retire Michael Young in the first.

On September 8, 1985 the Gainesville Sun newspaper carried New York Times columnist, George Vecsey’s article “Reality And The Baseball Games.” With four days to go before Baseball Thursday happened (when both New York teams would find out their fates and learn who their nearest competitors were), baseball was really under the glass. The article stated in part:

It was some night to be perched in the fetid air of early September in the Bronx, watching Mattingly and then Dan Pasqua hit three-run homers. It was also some night to listen to Bob Murphy, his voice undulating like a calliope, describing Tom Paciorek’s “snow cone” catch to save the game, and, long after midnight, watch, on television, Darryl Strawberry’s radar-guided double beat the Dodgers in the 13th inning.

Now the baseball term snow cone is difficult to trace back, and for that reason Idiomation decided to approach the search from another angle by tracking down when the term snow cone was coined. Going back to 1919 when Samuel Bert was selling snow cones. In 1920, he invented the first snow cone making machine, and introduced at the State Fair that year. Delving further into snow cone history, there were different variations on the theme of where snow cones were first made. Having hit another difficult crossroad, Idiomation decided to come at the idiom from the direction of baseball’s history.

In September 1845, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was founded, and a set of rules were codified that were the basis for the modern game of baseball thanks in large part to bank clerk Alexander Joy Cartwright. The rules included details for a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines and the three-strike rule, making it faster-paced and more challenging than its predecessor, cricket. The New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club played its first official baseball game against a team of cricket players in 1846 thereby kicking off this American sports tradition we’ve all come to know and love. Fast forward to 1876, as fielding gloves were introduced to the game, and history says that the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs was formed.

With this information in hand, Idiomation tracked down proof that the first constructed ball park anywhere in the world was Shibe Park (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953) in Philadelphia which opened on April 12, 1909. The stadium was named after Ben Shibe, an Athletics stockholder and manufacturer of baseball products, and built by William Steele and Sons (the stadium cost $141,918.91 for the land and $315,248.69 for construction). It could hold up to 13,600 spectators!

What we have then is this:  The first ball park constructed was built in 1909.  The first snow cone making machine was marketed in 1920.  And the term snow cone was used in parenthesis in a newspaper sports article in 1985.  In other words, the idiom was recognized by baseball fans and newscasters but not necessarily by everyone who read the newspaper.  For that reason, Idiomation is pegging the expression snow cone as it pertains to a baseball catch to a generation before the newspaper article in 1985 and a generation after the snow cone making machine was invented, putting the date at some time in the 1950s.

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,680 other followers