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Posts Tagged ‘John Ray’

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 9, 2013

If someone says you’re like a cat on a hot tin roof, it would seem that you can’t keep still. You’re restless. Imagine for a moment, if you will, what it might be like if you were actually a cat who was literally trying to walk about on a hot tin roof. You wouldn’t be still for very long and you’d probably be pretty jumpy about being up there in the first place.

Back in 1955, Tennessee Williams wrote a play by that name that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. Its success was in part due to the play’s theme which dealt with how complicated the rules of social conduct were in the Southern U.S. at the time. But was the expression something Tennessee Williams came up with for the play or did it exist long before Tennessee Williams put pen to paper?

The idiom cat on a hot tin roof is actually based on the earlier version cat on hot bricks which means exactly the same thing.

NOTE:  Before continuing, note that the version using hot bricks is still in use today as evidenced by the news story by 3News out of New Zealand published on November 27, 2011 and entitled, “Joyce A Cat On Hot Bricks Before Election.”

On December 1, 1933 the New York Times published an article entitled,”Britain Is Assured On Our Money Plan: We Are As Safe From Unbridled Inflation As Are The British” The story was about Ambassador Robert W. Bingham who gave a speech (at the American Society in London) defending President Roosevelt’s monetary policies. Keep in mind that 1933 was right in the middle of the Great Depression that continue up until the outbreak of World War II, and so money matters — for individuals, for companies, and for governments — were a reason for being restless. The news story made use of the idiom in this way:

… exchange fluctuations to the benefit of everybody concerned and contrasts this with the dollar, “which jumped about like a cat on hot bricks. …

The Philadelphia Record edition of June 10, 1894 provided a description of British Prime Minister (5 March 1894 to 22 June 1895), Archibald Philip Primrose — the 5th Earl of Rosebery and 1st Earl of Midlothiany –that was in drastic contrast to the calm and collected demeanor that was expected of Lords. In fact, the description was one that the reporter described as “intensely agitated.” The article was entitled, “Hounding A Premier: He Went Wild Over The Derby.” Of course, that Lord Rosebery was the owner of the Derby winner that year certainly explains the behavior which doesn’t seem so outrageous in today’s terms.

“His Lordship could not keep still in his box, and hopped about from paddock to ring like a cat on hot bricks; Prime Ministerial dignity was not his forte just then. At that part of the race when Matchbox appeared to have the measure, his face moved convulsively. When his horse had passed the winning post, the Premier took off his hat, waved it wildly three times around his head in a dazed kind of manner, and then dashed onto the course to lead the favorite in.”

That being said, however, tin roofs were used in America at the turn of the 1800s when the Pennsylvania Statehouse — better known as Independence Hall — in Philadelphia was finished with tin shingles. Even Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned a study on tin shingle roofs, felt compelled to have tin shingles used when roofing Monticello. But the tin roof was most popular in America between 1860 and 1920.   It’s safe to say that Tennessee Williams didn’t coin the phrase, and picked it up in conversation.

Of course, before either cat on a hot tin roof or cat on hot bricks was in vogue, the idiom was to be a cat on a hot bakestone, which was found in Rev. E. Cobham Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” published in 1894, where idiom was explained as meaning a person was “in a great hurry to get away.” It further explained that the bake-stone in the north (of a house) was a large stone on which bread and oat-cakes were baked.

When English naturalist, John Ray also known as John Wray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) wrote his “Collection of English Proverbs” in 1670 which included the expression using the hot bake-stone reference. In fact, he recorded it as “to go like a cat upon a hot bake-stone.” And so, we know from this that the idiom dates back to before the publication of John Ray’s book since it’s included as a proverb.

It’s also cited as a Yorkshire proverb in literature of the day, along with the idiom, “as nimble as a cat on a haite backstane” which dates back to the 14th century.  At that point, the trail went cold. Idiomation feels that since it was a proverb in the 14th century that it most likely dates back to at least the beginning of the 14th century, and if it’s possible to trace it back to an earlier date, please feel free to add your comments and where you gathered the information.

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

The One-Eyed Man Is King

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 5, 2011

When you hear the expression, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” it’s a nice way of saying that even a person with limited abilities and knowledge is at a great advantage in the company of those with lesser abilities and less knowledge than he. 

The Italians have the same saying, “In un mondo di ciechi un orbo è re.”  The German people have their version of the proverb: “Those that rule must hear and be deaf, must see and be blind.”  And the French people also have their own version of the proverb:  “When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow.”  Some say it’s a variation of a Bible quote found in Matthew 15:14 that states: 

“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” 

It’s also found in Luke 6:39 as:

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

On January 22, 2011, journalist Frank Rich wrote an OpEd piece for the New York Times about the original movie, “True Grit” starring John Wayne for which he won the 1969 Oscar for Best Actor and its 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.  The piece was aptly entitled, “The One-Eyed Man Is King.”

On June 6, 1920 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “Millions Wasted To Elect President!”  It spoke of the enormous campaign finances dribbled away by professional campaigners, running minimally efficient headquarters for candidates all the while presenting with a big business atmosphere.

In the monarchy of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  In the field of activity of the professional campaigner there may be a Cabinet position in store for the man whose industry nothing can abate and whose political ineptness nobody can deny.

On January 21, 1859 in Volume II, Issue 131 of the Colonist newspaper published in Nelson, New Zealand, the paper reprinted the address of Lord Stanhope to the University of Aberdeen.

A large part of the wisdom, the experience, and the actual power of the country is unrepresented in Parliament, through the taciturnity or defective expression of our public men while, as a natural consequence, many who have little else than a ready command of words obtain an influence beyond their just worth.  “In a people of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;” and in an assembly of bad speakers or mutes a very ordinary orator will get more than his due.  It must be so at the bar, and in the pulpit also.

Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Donald MacIntosh published “Collections of Gaelic Proverbs” in 1785 included the proverb, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

A century prior to the publication of the Reverend Donald MacIntosh‘s book, the proverb was cited by John Ray in 1678 and referenced as being an English proverb.  His twist on the Bible passage was, “A man were better be half blind than have both eyes  out.” In other words, not only would a half-blind man be able to avoid the ditch, he might find himself in a position if leadership among those who were completely blind.

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) published a book commonly referred to over the centuries as “Adagia.”  The first edition was actually entitled “Collecteana Adagiorum” and was published in Paris in 1500.  It was a slim book with approximately eight hundred proverbs.  Erasmus rename his book, “Adagiorum Chiliades” when it was republished in 1509 with an impressive 3,000 proverbs and adages this time, many with explanatory notes that read as brief essays themselves.   Over time, subsequent editions of his book saw the addition of more proverbs and adages with the final edition containing 4,658 proverbs and adages.

Most of the proverbs and adages found in the book were accepted by society as a whole as common wisdom of the day.  His reason for amassing so many proverbs and adages in one book had a great deal to do with the fact that Erasmus focused primarily on providing a Latin translation of the New Testament from several Greek texts that provided a more accurate translation of the Scriptures.  Collecting 4,658 entries was merely an extension of his work.  Included in his book was the proverb: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As it was a commonly used expression at the time Desiderius Erasmus published his book and considering his interest in the Scriptures, it is not unreasonable to believe that the proverb does, indeed, come from the Bible and made it into common language via the Catholic Church.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Early Bird Catches The Worm

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 11, 2010

The saying is found in John Ray’s “A Collection of English Proverbs” published in 1670:  “The early bird catcheth the worm.”  Because the title of John Ray’s book indicates that this was considered a proverb  in the 17th century, its history goes back even further.

The saying is a translation from the French: “L’avenir appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt.”  Loosely translated, the saying is: “The future belongs to those who rise early.”

This saying is a translation of the German saying :  “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.”  Loosely translated, the saying is: “The morning hours have gold in their mouths.”

This saying is a translation of the Latin saying, “Aurora musis amica est.”  Loosely translated, the saying is:  “Dawn is a friend of the muses.”

Although it is impossible to identify who first spoke the Latin version of “the early bird catches the worm” it is known that the Dutch theologian, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536) used this phrase in his book “De Ratione Studii Epistola” published in 1513.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It, Too

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 9, 2010

The earliest recording of this phrase is from 1546 in John Heywood’s “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” where he wrote:  “Wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?”  A few years later in 1633, George Herbert reworked the phrase for his poem “The Size” published in the book “The Temple.”

To be in both worlds full
Is more then God was, who was hungrie here.
Wouldst thou his laws of fasting disanull?
Enact good cheer?
Lay out thy joy, yet hope to save it?
Wouldst thou both eat thy cake, and have it?
 
 

You can’t eat your cake and have your cake” appeared in John Ray’s “A collection of English Proverbs” in 1670 and in 1738,  Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and poet Jonathan Swift’s book  “A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” included this version of the phrase: “She was handsome in her time but she cannot eat her cake and her cake.”

In America, the phrase is first found in the 1742 “Colonial Records of Georgia” in “Original Papers, 1735-1752.

In 1879, in Volume V of “The Extravaganzas of J. R. Planché  on page 307 in the play entitled “King Christmas” James Robinson (J.R.) Planché wrote:

I, of M. Folly would say just a word to the wise,
Though of course with contempt they will treat it;
‘Tis to point to the moral the proverb implies,
“You can’t have your cake if you eat it.”
But let the toast pass
For I’m not the ass
To our next merry  meeting who won’t drain his glass.

The exact wording of the current version is found in the Tecumseh Fox mystery novel by Rex Stout entitled “Broken Vase” which was first published in 1941.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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