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

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 25, 2014

If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re waiting for the inevitable next step or conclusion to a situation or a conversation.  In other words, you are waiting for the unexpected that is expected albeit unknown.

The reason for this is because it’s human nature to create patterns that makes sense to human brains, and when the anticipated pattern is disrupted, it causes anxiety.  When the pattern is concluded, for good or for bad, the human experience is that the person anticipating the next step or the conclusion is able to move forward.  Unfortunately, that next step or conclusion is almost invariably thought of as being bad.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of November 20, 2005 published a story about the community of Plum in Allegheny County entitled, “U.S. Grand Jury Probe Heats Up Borough’s Ongoing Police Mess.”  From reading the article, it would seem that at the time, there were a lot of problems and a lot of blame to go around.  The police department had been besieged by scandals and lawsuits over a period of years, and all the details were spilling out all over the media.  It became so involved that even after the former police chief won a large sum in damages and back pay from a lawsuit he filed against the city claiming wrongful firing.  Well into the article, this paragraph used the idiom.

Thomas Ceraso, attorney for the ex-chief’s son, Detective Mark Focareta said an FBI request that his client provide a handwriting sample was postponed indefinitely, leaving him “scratching his head and waiting for the other shoe to drop, if it’s ever dropping.”

Back on June 6, 1986, Associated Press business writer, Steven Rosenfeld discussed the rampant speculation on the trading in securities on Wall Street that had been based on knowledge of confidential merger plans.  After Dennis Levine pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, tax evasion, and perjury, the business world was abuzz about who else was involved.  The article was titled, “Street Waits For The Other Shoe To Drop” and began with this paragraph:

Wall Street is anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop after an investment banker pleaded guilty to fraud and promised to cooperate with authorities in the biggest case yet of illicit insider trading.

Likewise, on April 22, 1944, the Pittsburgh Press published an article by Scripps-Howard Foreign Editor, William Philip Simms, that chronicled what the allies were doing to the Nazi forces.  The article was titled, “Germans In France Waiting For Other Shoe To Drop” and the first paragraph read thusly:

The Germans in France have the “invasion jitters” according to a recently-arrived underground leader.  The malady he said is akin to that induced by waiting for the other shoe to drop, but multiplied a thousand fold.  The first “shoe,” he said, was the terrific pounding the British and American Air Forces are dealing out daily to Germany and the invasion coast.”

A generation earlier, on March 20, 1921 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Noise And Your Neighbors” written by Helen Bullitt Lowry.  Her article discussed a situation where a John Howells (son of the late Dean Howells) rented an apartment — in the building at 130 West Fifty-seventh Street — to Mrs. R.T. Wilson Jr., a woman who gave musicales that oftentimes lasted until nearly 4 o’clock in the morning to the dismay of her neighbors.

When she was taken to court by neighbors, her argument was that the noise was of a high-class nature, and asserting that having a studio apartment in itself implied that she had every right to hold musicales until well after midnight.  Her neighbors’ argument was that it made no difference whether the music was good or bad, high-class or low brow, at 4 o’clock in the morning, no noise, expensive or otherwise, should be permitted in apartments at such an hour.

The article concluded with this paragraph:

If nine out of ten of us weren’t trying to be considerate the housing problem would be over in New York.  Like the gingham dog and the calico cat, we would all have eaten each other up and there’d be nobody left in town but the delegates to conventions.  If nine out of ten of us hadn’t heard that ‘drop that other shoe’ chestnut and molded our lives accordingly for the sake of the neighbor below us, what would be the end of us?  Both the sleepy artist and the giver of late parties would be in a bad way.

The writer of the article referred to the idiom as a chestnut meaning it was old and well-used by the time it was included in her narrative.

Some say that the reason it was an old chestnut is because, during the manufacturing boom of the mid 19th century (beginning in 1843 with an upswing in economic activity in the U.S.), apartment buildings went up with each floor being identical in design so that all the kitchens lined up with each other, all the livingrooms lined up with each other, and, of course, all the bedrooms lined up with each other.

If a tenant was already in bed when the tenant upstairs decided to go to bed, the tenant in the apartment below would hear the first shoe drop, and once he or she heard the second shoe drop, the noise was done for the night.  Of course, this was because the floors, walls, and ceilings weren’t sound-proofed at all.

The literal expression — with the accompanying trepidation that is associated with the idiom — is found in a news article entitled, “Had Waited And Waited” published in the Sentinel Hotel Column of the August 11, 1905 edition of the Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin.  The article recounts how a hotel guest was given a room directly above the room of a particularly nervous regular boarder, and advised of the situation.

When it came time for the guest to sleep, he took of one shoe and allowed it to drop to the floor.  He suddenly remembered what he had been told about the nervous boarder in the room below, and he very quietly took his other shoe off and carefully set it down beside its mate.  As he was dropping off to sleep, there was a knock at his door so he rose to answer it. The article ended with this:

“I trust you will pardon me for disturbing you, sir,” he said, “but I have the room below you and am an exceptionally nervous man. I heard you drop your shoe some time ago, and ever since I have tried in vain to go to sleep. I fear I shall be unable to do so unless I hear you drop the other one, if it will not be too much trouble.”

It’s unlikely that there is an earlier published version of this idiom, however, if readers or visitors know of one, feel free to share the link in the Comments section below.

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Hitting On All Sixes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 11, 2014

When you’re working on something and everything’s going well, you might hear your grandpa tell you that you’re hitting on all sixes.  It’s a compliment, and it means you’re doing everything right.  So what does the number six have to do with doing things right?

It’s a car reference of course, referring to six cylinders.  When everything was aligned, there was no back firing, no jerking, no sudden stopping, and the car made its way down the street with no troubles at all.  In fact, a car that fired on all cylinders was a marvel to behold.

Back in 1948, in the Electrical Workers’ Journal, Labor Union 420 in Waterbury, Connecticut started their column off with some happy news about their union president.

Our venerable president, Walt Wright, has been laid up with midwinter illness, but by now should be out hitting on all sixes.

The Depression era of the 1930s saw a number of difficulties, not the least of which were between the police and criminal types.  Not to worry though because this was published in the 1933 edition of the “Police Yearbook” published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The defy that the average hoodlum has given to the country has been accepted by the law enforcing officers.  We here in the city feel that we can and will cope with the situation. We feel that we have a police force that are hitting on all sixes.

We know that we are having a little bad luck in losing some of our policemen.  That is an indication that every policeman is on his toes; he is willing to shoot it out with the fellow that heretofore was willing to take a chance with the judge.

The Michigan State Dental Society bulletin Volume 9 printed in 1927 found a creative way to use the idiom as well as evidenced by this announcement.

Speaking of mongrels, let me introduce Ed. Giffen; enuf Scotch to spend little and sufficient Hebrew to take all.   Ed goes to a Thanksgiving Keno party, guys a card for the usual two bits and walks off with a turkey, a good and a duck.  I claim that’s hitting on all sixes.  Ed certainly knows his proteins.

Some sources claim that the expression is from the 1920s, however, Idiomation found the idiom used in the a professional engineer magazine dated January 1918.  The magazine was known as “The Monad” and was the official published magazine from the American Association of Engineers, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.  It was billed as being devoted to the social and economic welfare of the technical engineer.  The column dedicated to the Valparaiso chapter included this comment.

“Montana” Calkins then proceeded to apply his highly specialized mechanical touch to the picture machine with the result that it finally got tired of stalling and started hitting on all sixes.

A year earlier, on March 29, 1917, the National Underwriter — the official weekly newspaper of the insurance industry — published this advertisement.
The National Underwriter_Volume 21_1917The advertisement was published in the April 3rd, April 12th, April 19th, and May 10th editions as well.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the idiom than those found in 1917, however, since the reference is rooted in automotive history, note that cars hail from the 1860s when they had up to four cylinders!

Cosmopolitan magazine published a car guide in 1906, which listed a number of cars with specs.  This is where the first six cylinder — forty horsepower — car is mentioned, manufactured by Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.  At this point in time, it should be noted that gaskets hadn’t been perfected yet, and so the seal between cylinders and cylinder heads was a real hit-or-miss situation that relied on T-heads resulting in valve life that lasted only a few hundred miles before it repairs were needed.  By 1909, there were about eighty car manufacturers who used the six cylinder engine in their cars.

It’s easy to see then how hitting on all sixes was a reference to all going well, and based on car history, Idiomation can state that the expression came into being some time after 1906.

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Enough To Give A Gopher Heartburn

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 6, 2014

The idiom it’s enough to give a gopher heartburn is one that describes how bad times are.  Science has proven that gophers, like all rodents, can suffer from digestive disorders, but it takes a lot of the wrong sorts of food to cause heartburn in a gopher.   So the idiom means that times have to be pretty terrible before it results in the unimaginable (in this case, a gopher with heartburn).

The November 30, 1976 edition of the Brandon Sun used the idiom in the column Sunbeams.  The journalist (who appeared to have a lot of news to cover in his column that day) wrote in part:

Thought of this last week when  just east of Sidney, I saw a demonstration of how a farmer can live with the wind … as Jake used to say in the W.O. Mitchell stories, “The wind she was blowin’ hard enough to give a gopher the heartburn on the north side of the highway the farmland had a heavy layer of combine trash spread evenly across it from one fence line to the other … south of the highway there were graders working on the new right-of-way and the loose material they were stirring up was turned into a black blizzard.

The idiom seems to be a Brandon Sun favorite as it was used five years earlier — on April 15, 1971 — when the fictional character and the idiom were included in a news story that included:

If Jake were still around he’d exclaim that it was “enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

And back on February 25, 1961, the Medicine Hat News included the idiom when it published a news story that stated:

In moments of desperation, he would say:  “Things are bad enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”  Right at this moment not only the gophers but also the two-legged prairie dwellers are in danger of this particular unpleasantness at the thought of grain companies closing down their grain elevators.  The forecast of such action was made a week ago by the chief statistician of the Board of Grain Commissioners.

The newspaper gave credit to the CBC radio series, “Jake and the Kid” where the scripts were written by W.O. Mitchell.

Canadian author, W.O. Mitchell (13 March 1914 – 25 February 1998) wrote the world recognized novel, “Who Has Seen The Wind” published in 1947.  It was the story of four-year-old Brian O’Connal growing up on the Canadian prairies (in the town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan), and the people who made up his world:  his father (a druggist), his mother, his Uncle Sean, his Scottish grandmother.  The story drew upon some of the author’s personal childhood memories with equal measures of humor and reality tying the story together.

In 1950, CBC Radio tapped W.O. Mitchell to write scripts for the series, “Jake and the Kid.”  In all, he created more than 300 radio scripts for the series between 1950 and 1958, and everything took place in the fictional community of Crocus, Saskatchewan. While many of the stories were compiled in book form and published in 1961, during those either years when the scripts were being broadcast as radio teleplays, some very unique idioms originated with the author.

As these were the days when there was censorship and many words couldn’t be broadcast over the airwaves, oftentimes what was originally written had to be re-written to fit the censors.  Since cursing was forbidden, W.O. Mitchell had to create swearing without actually swearing.  Originally, the gopher idiom made mention of his backside, which producers (and the author) knew wouldn’t fly past the censors.  In the re-writing, the expression became, “It’s enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

In the book “Jake and the Kid” the idiom was found in this passage on page 264.

Mr. Candy stood where his new red barn had been. Sammy and Brian halted; they stared at the utter, kindling ruin of what had once been a barn. No stick stood. In the strewn wreckage not even the foundation outline was discernible … Certainly the Lord’s vengeance had been enough to give a gopher the heartburn.

The idiom, therefore, is easy to peg to 1951 and was first uttered by a character created by W.O. Mitchell.   When all is said and done, you have to admit that Canadian authors have a way with words and quirky visualizations, don’t you agree?

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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.

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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.

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Groovy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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