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Up The Duff

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 26, 2015

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

 

A few days back, someone posted the idiom up the duff on one of Jeff Long’s social media pages.  It was an expression that most people hadn’t heard before, and Idiomation decided to research the idiom.

The expression, according to Australian sources, is a euphemism for a pregnancy, usually an unplanned one.  Kaz Cooke’s book, “Up The Duff: The Real Guide To Pregnancy” published by Penguin Australia in 2009 bears out that definition nicely.

While that may be the case, there’s some confusion about how the word duff relates to pregnancy.  This took some unraveling before the answer was obvious.

The word duff is part of the English dialect according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, and is an alteration of the word dough (as in bread).  The first known use of the word duff is said to be 1816.

Starting from this point, it was learned that between 1830 and 1840, people in Scotland and Northern England enjoyed a pudding that was flavored with currants and spices, and boiled or steamed in a cloth bag, that was called a duff.

It was in 1828 that the “American Dictionary of the English Language” defined pudding as “what bulges out, a paunch” and it a well-known colloquialism at the time for a pregnant woman was to say that she was in the pudding club.

During this era, dough (also referred to as duff) was another word for pudding, with the word duff used as an alternative form and pronunciation of dough.  In the book by American lawyer, politician and author Richard Henry (R.H.) Dana, Jr. (1 August 1815 – 6 January 1882) entitled, “Before the Mast” published in 1840, the following was written:

To enhance the value of the Sabbath to the crew, they are allowed on that day a pudding, or, as it is called, a ‘duff.’

But even if the connection between duff and pudding is clear, how is pregnancy connected to either word?  That’s something you’ll need to read in “Wit and Mirth, an Antidote Against Melancholy Compounded of Ingenious and Witty Ballads, Songs, and Catches, and Other Pleasant and Merry Poems” by Henry Playford (1657 – 1707), and published in 1682 where the sexual meaning of the word pudding is explained.  You may wish to begin with the song sung by Mr. Leveridge in the Play called, “The Country Miss With Her Furbelow.”

So it would seem that sometime between 1816 and 1840, duff and pudding and intimate activities and pregnancy were euphemistically cross-referenced, and because of that Idiomation pegs the idiom up the duff to 1840, with a nod to previous centuries leading up to the idiom’s use in general parlance.

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

Rock Bottom

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2015

When someone hits rock bottom, the person finds himself or herself in the worst possible situation he or she ever imagined he or she would ever experience in life.  When something hits rock bottom, the item is at the absolute lowest price before it becomes a loss leader.  And when an organization, group, government, or other social structure hits rock bottom, it means that organization, group, government, or social structure has reached the lowest possible level.  In other words, you can’t go any lower than rock bottom.

The Beaver County Times published a Letter to the Editor on October 31,2003 entitled, “Hitting Rock Bottom.”  It was a brief snippet of a letter from Jerry Miskulin of Center Township that summed up his opinion in four sentences.

It’s like I always say about recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.  Sometimes they have to hit rock bottom to see straight.  America, financially, is going to have to hit rock bottom before it sees straight.  Maybe it would be best sooner before it’s too late.

In what reads as a humorous twist of fate, the Day newspaper in New London, Connecticut reported in September 13, 1983 that a certain construction company of Framingham, Massachusetts was the low bidder for construction of the first segment of the municipal sewer project.  Of ten bids received by Montville’s Board of Selectmen, it was announced that the lowest bid– the rock bottom bid, so to speak — came from Rockbottom Construction Inc.

The Milwaukee Sentinel edition of January 16, 1955 published the two page spread entitled, “Those Fabulous Patinos.”  It traced the highlights of the Simon Patino story that told of a lowly clerk in a general store in Bolivia who accepted title to a “worthless” silver mine as payment in full of a $250 bill at the store.  He was summarily fired by the owner for this crime, and the title to the “worthless” silver mine went with him.  But what had mistakenly been thought of as a silver mine was actually a rich tin mine at a time when tin was scarce in much of the world.  It wasn’t long before the “worthless” silver mine had made Patino a billionaire!

According to the story, 1954 was dubbed “the year the Patino luck ran out” where the third generation of Patino’s were largely responsible for the woes brought to the family fortune.  But among all the woes and strife of the third generation, there seemed to be one who from among them that had escaped the rule of bad luck:  Maria Christina, daughter of Antenor and Christina Patino.  She was happily married (unlike her other relations) to Prince Marc de Beauvau-Craon, mayor of Haroue in France, and a prominent, respected member of French society.

Maria Christina’s only big sorrow, I believe, was at the time of her marriage, in 1952 — when her father refused to allow her mother to attend the elaborate wedding.  As for the rock-bottom bad  luck of 1954, it did not touch Maria Christinia, except by indirection, but it kept other members of the Patino empre aware that their inheritance is a dual one — of fortune and misfortune.  It is as though fate were trying belatedly to balance the scales again, after tipping them so heavily in favor of old Simon, whose story might have been dreamed up by Horatio Alger.

The Sunday Morning Star newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware published an article by Stuart P. West in the March 27, 1921 edition that talked about the cuts western railroads made without reducing wages.  The headline read, “Optimists Believe Price Cutting Has Reached Rock Bottom” and this was part of the news story:

It cannot be expected that wages and other items of expense will be reduced sufficiently to counterbalance the slump in orders.  Still the shrinkage in gross earnings would be viewed with equanimity if manufacturing and production costs were at the same time being restored to a sound and normal basis.  As to the ability of the heads of American industry to accomplish this result there is certainly more ground for optimism than for pessimism.  Outside the railroads, wage reduction have been put into effect almost everywhere without friction.

Jumping back to 1884, the idiom rock bottom was already in use in magazines, catalogues and newspapers as well as in everyday language.  The front page of the Charles Stark catalogue has the idiom printed on its front cover to entice readers to buy from Charles Stark of Toronto, Ontario (Canada).

ROCK BOTTOM_Charles Stark_1884
Strangely enough, the term rock bottom didn’t always have a negative connotation.  In fact, in the Oregon News edition published on August 29, 1858 it was used in a complimentary way to describe one of the politicians running for office.  In an article where the editor quoted Colonel Tetrault — described as the Napoleon of the Democratic press in Oregon — the Colonel was determined to point out the  weak points in the Democrat party.

“Let us inquire what first brought about the organization of the Democratic party in Oregon. If any of the ultra politicians of the present day know the principal ennui, let them assign it.  We, for ourself, think we know full well that the location of the public buildings during the session of the Territorial Legislature had much to do with the then party organization in and we find men who opposed General Lane in 1851, still opposing him.”

So then a “rock-bottom democrat,” according to the Colonel, is one who goes for keeping the “public buildings” on the Salem “basalt.”

In the following manner does the Colonel point a significant finger at the post record: “In 1831, the first time General Lane was a candidate for office in Oregon, there was a Salemite run against him for Delegate to Congress, who received the support of some of the leading Democrats of the present day.”

However the sense of the idiom is still present.  When all else is stripped away, all that’s left is “rock bottom.”

The term is a mining term that came about at a time before power drilling techniques were developed, and was popularized in the 1840s.  When mining for ores, the farthest down a person could go before there was nothing to be mined or ores could not be accessed was called rock bottom.  In other words, you couldn’t go any lower than where you were when you hit rock bottom.

Idiomation therefore pegs rock bottom to sometime during the 1850s when it jumped from being a term used by miners to a term used to express situations, and then on to also refer to the lowest prices available for sought after items.

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

Bell, Book and Candle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 19, 2015

When someone talks about bringing bell, book, and candle, they mean that something unusual, unexpected or bizarre will soon happen.  It’s important to note that these three items — book, bell, and candle — are all used in the celebration of the Roman Catholic mass.  Back in the day, if you wanted to curse a Catholic, all you had to do was to do it “by bell, by book, and by candle, and by all that is Holy.”  In saying this, you closed the book (Bible), silenced the bell, and put out the candle damning the person to spiritual death.

Knowing this, it’s almost humorous to note that in the December 4, 2008 edition of the Southern Herald in Liberty, Mississippi mention was made that the Liberty Bell, Book and Candle store had relocation, making sure to mention that its current location was across from the Courthouse and that its previous location had been near the Liberty Baptist Church.

The Boca Raton News of November 24, 1986 published an article on “The World’s Most Haunted Country.”  The article referred, of course, to the many haunted houses and locations in Britain — a country whose first official ghost-hunter was Dr. Robert Morris, identified as an American expert who had been inaugurated as the Koestler Chair in Parapsychology at Edinburgh University.

No need to bring garlic, or bell, book and candle, but a camera might be useful.  Patient visitors have been rewarded with film evidence at a number of sites, including historic Littlecote House near Newbury, scene of a grisly murder in 1575; and Borley Rectory, Suffolk, once proclaimed “Britain’s most haunted house.”

In the third edition (revised and corrected) of “The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe” the concept of bell, book and candle is addressed in Volume 5.  John Foxe (1516 – 18 April 1587) was an English historian, martyrologist, and author.The segment was published earlier in 1803 in the book “The Book Of Martyrs, or Christian Martyrology Containing an Authentic and Historical Relation of Many Dreadful Persecutions Against the Church Of Christ.”   Volume 5 covered three hundred years of history from the time of King Henry VIII’s reign and it’s in the section titled, “The Pope’s Curse with Book, Bell, and Candle” that is pegged at 1533 that the following is found:

At last, the priests found out a toy to curse him, whatsoever he were, with book, bell, and candle; which curse at that day seemed most fearful and terrible.  The manner of the curse was after this sort.

The text of the Pope’s Curse is clear.  You were in big trouble once the Pope’s Curse was put on you.

Pope's CurseBack in 1485, English author, knight, land owner, and Member of Parliament, Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire (1405 – 14 March 1471) used it in “Morte d’Arthur” in Book XXI, Chapter 1:

Sir, said the noble clerk, leave this opinion, or else I shall curse you wyth book and belle and candell.  

Do thou thy worst, said Sir Mordred, wit thou well I shall defy thee.  

Sir, said the bishop, and wit you well I shall not fear me to do that me ought to do.  Also where ye noise where my lord Arthur is slain, and that is not so, and therefore ye will make a foul work in this land.

Peace, thou false priest, said Mordred, for, and thou charge me any more, I shall make strike off they head.

So the bishop departed, and did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done.  And then Sir Mordred sought the bishop of Canterbury for to have slain him.  Then the bishop fled, and took part of his goods with him, and went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there he was as priest hermit in a chapel, and lived in poverty and in holy prayers: for well he understood that mischievous war was at hand.

Idiomation traced the book, bell and candle curse back to the “Cursor Mundi: The Cursor O The World: A Northumbrian Poem of the 14th Century” published in 1300.

Cursor MundiThe last two lines make mention of bell, book and candle, but in reverse order.

Curced in kirc an sal ai be wid candil, boke, and bell.

That being said, it is interesting to learn that in all, there are one hundred and third two curses from the Church of Rome including one all-inclusive universal curse on all heretics in the world that can is held for use on Holy Thursday if the Pope so wishes.  Many of these curses go back to the first Nicaean Council in Bythynia, convened by Constantine the Great (27 February 272 – 22 May 337) — also known as Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus — in 325 AD!

Among the attendees was Nicholas of Myra, the bishop upon whose life the Santa Claus legend is based, and the Pope at the time was Sylvester I who rose to the position on January 31, 314 and remained Pope until his death in 335 in Rome.

While it’s true that some claim the curse is directly related to witchcraft, the fact of the matter is, the curse is one hundred percent vested in Christianity with nary a bit of witchcraftery.  How far back the curse goes is anyone’s guess, but it certainly doesn’t pre-date Christianity.

The Edict of Milan in 313 guaranteed Christians of their legal rights and the return of confiscated property to their rightful Christian owners.  That being said, Marcion of Sinope’s heretical “New Testament” is responsible for Christians establishing and recognizing their New Testament canon around 140 AD — one that recognized the 27 books of the New Testament that was written around 45 AD.

What this means is that it’s a safe bet that the Pope’s Curse with bell, book and candle was one that happened after sometime after 314 AD, but Idiomation is unable to peg the exact date the curse came into being.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Religious References, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Brother’s Keeper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 17, 2015

It was October 20, 2010 and President Barack Obama was at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.  The President was there to address a crowd anxious to hear him speak.  At one point in his speech, he shouted:

So we believe in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility. We believe in a country that prizes innovation and entrepreneurship. But we also believe in a country where we look after one another; where we say, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. That’s the America I know. That’s the choice in this election.

When the idiom my brother’s keeper is used, it implies that you are responsible for what someone else does or for what happens to that person.  It’s been an idiom that’s been discussed in literal, figurative, and metaphorical terms for centuries, and has led to a great many philosophical debates.

The Prescott Evening Courier newspaper of September 16, 1965 published an editorial that began with discussing an accident near Stanfield, Arizona where a truck driver burned to death while a passing motorist ignored his cries for help.  The editorial then discussed that, according to psychiatrists, society was moving towards developing a shell of non-involvement that set people at ease when they chose not to involve themselves in helping those in need.  The editorial was titled, “My Brother’s Keeper.”

A little more than thirty years earlier, G.R. Ingram, Secretary of the Nelson County Farmers Union (in North Dakota) wrote and published a poem in the Mouse River Farmers Press on November 30, 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The poem entitled, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” ended with this stanza:

To each of us upon this earth
God sets a task:
To aid and cheer our fellow man
His hand to grasp.
To show to him, as best we can
The way to save his home and land,
That Faith in God means faith in man –
This is our task.

Almost a hundred years before that, in the “Church of England Magazine” edition of June 5, 1841 (Volume X, No. 287) the subject and idiom were discussed at length in the article, “The Social Feelings Enlisted and Hallowed by Christianity.”  While the author isn’t credited, his article includes this passage:

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was once the language of a conscience-stricken criminal.  But the words may issue from our lips in a different spirit.  Am I, indeed, my brother’s keeper?  Is it true that God hath committed to my keeping the soul of a brother for whom Christ died, and whom he desires to bring to glory?  Is it true that we are joined more closely and more mysteriously than limb to limb?  Is it true, in the thousand ways that I can see, and in a multitude of ways which I cannot see, that we touch and affect each other, so that no little act of either of us can be sure to end with himself?

In 1703, Laurence Clarke compiled a complete history of the Christian Bible that was printed by Princeton University.  It was entitled, “A Compleat History of the Holy Bible: Contained in the Old and New Testament In Which Are Inserted the Occurences That Happened During the Space of Four Hundred Years, From The Days of the prophet Malachi, to the birth of our Blessed Saviour.”  The title is actually longer than this, however, the gist of the subject matter is obvious in the portion of the title that’s been shared here.  The idiom is found in this passage in the book:

And as if he had been affronted by being questioned about his Brother, he surlily answered, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” But the Lord not only charged him with the Murder of his Brother, but convicted him of it too.

Based on this, it’s obvious that the idiom is from the Old Testament.

In Genesis 4:9 God asks Cain where Able is and Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to hide the fact that he does know where Able is and what has happened to him.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the Christian Bible, Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd, and in a fit of jealousy, Cain murdered Abel.  Afterwards, he denied having any knowledge of where his brother could be found.  In other words, he tried to hide the fact that he had murdered his brother by claiming no responsibility for his brother.

The idiom therefore dates back to the Old Testament of the Bible and Idiomation is unable to find an earlier version of it as this idiom dates back to a time when papyrus was in use.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Jewish, Middle East, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skedaddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 12, 2015

Most of us heard the word skedaddle used when we were children, usually when we were at risk of getting caught by grown-ups for doing something we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place:  Skedaddle!  The word means to run away quickly, and as several generations of children will tell you, skedaddling has saved many a child from a good paddling.

The Milwaukee Journal of July 22, 1927 published an article entitled, “Skedaddle Created by Oberlin College.”  It stated that the Oberlin College alumni were laying claim to the invention of the word, stating that it was a corruption of the Greek word skendannumi which means “to scatter.”  While there’s no doubt that this was a word used by those enlisted with the Union forces, but as to whether its roots lie with Oberlin College or in the Greek lexicon is something that has been hotly debated for generations.

How hotly?  There are others who claim that the word is a mash-up of two British dialect words:  sket and daddle.  The former means “rapidly” while the latter means “to walk unsteadily.”  Still others claim that the word is a mash-up of scatter and rattled but somehow that explanation seems far-fetched even to linguistic hobbyists.  Still, there are many plausible and far-fetched explanations as to the origins of the word skedaddle.

The Kendallville Standard published a story on March 11, 1898 entitled, “Spaniards Must Skedaddle.”  The article reported that the American Senate had recognized Cuba as a republic, and that President McKinley was directed to use as much U.S. military force as needed to force Spain to withdraw from the island.  The story also included additional information on the amendment by Senator Turple of Indiana that was added to the Davis Declaration of Intentions, and voted on.  The Senate resolution was nearly identical to the resolution to the one introduced by Senator Forster of Ohio.

In the July 23, 1862 edition of a newspaper known as The Head Quarters published in Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada), a poem was published that was said to be republished from a Richmond newspaper.  The poem ran at the end of the newspaper’s report from their army correspondent — a report that included information that Stonewall Jackson was 18 miles east of Washington, and that there was general depression in the army of the Potomac and that, in trying to raise their spirits, the President had sent Christy’s Minstrels to cheer them up.

SKEDADDLE

The shades of night were falling fast
As thro’ a Southern village passed
A youth who bore in hand of ice
A banner, with the strange device –
Skedaddle.”

His hair was red, his toes beneath
Pressed like an acorn from its sheath,
While with a frightened voice he sung
A burden, in the Yankee tongue –
Skedaddle.”

He saw no household fire where he
Could warm his toes or hominy,
Or beg from Southern hand a bone;
Then from the Yankee ‘scaped a grown –
Skedaddle.”

Oh! stay a “cullered pusson” said,
An’ on dis bussum res your head;
The noble patriot winked his eye
But still he answered with a sigh –
Skedaddle.”

Beware Jeff. Davis’ serried ranks –
Beware of “Beargard’s” deadly pranks;
This was the platner’s last good night –
The chap replied far out of sight –
Skedaddle.”

At break of day, as several boys,
From Texan and Carolinian shores,
Were moving Southward, in the air
They heard these accents of despair –
Skedaddle.”

A chap was found, and at his side
A bottle, showing how he died,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
The banner with the strange device –
Skedaddle.”

This proves that the word skedaddle was already in use (and understood) as early as 1862.  In fact, it was used in a number of news articles and stories, including “A Colored Citizen’s Patriotic Speech” which was published in many places including the “Standard Recitations: For Use Of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies.”

But my feller-buffers, dis a day to rejoice and kick up yer pedals, and to “Sing song, Polly, can’t you ki-me oh?”  If I may use de expression — and as de balmy zephers wafts its way from the horizon ob all’ de hemispheres — I think I hear de shivalerry sing, “Oh, brudders, let’s skedaddle!” and, my hearers, dey do skedaddle wheneber dey see any ob Uncle Sam’s blue-tail flies arter ‘em.

But how much earlier can the word skedaddle be traced?

According to “Notes and Queries: For Readers and Writers, Collectors and Librarians” published in 1856 by publishers Bell and Daldy in London (England), it was identified as a provincialism.  This puts use of the word six years before the American Civil War and so the word existed before the American Civil War and wasn’t as a result of the American Civil War.

Since the publishers of the book are in London, the answer to the age-old question about how the word skedaddle came about is most likely found in Ireland where the word sgadad means “to flee” and ol means “all.”  Therefore sgadad ol means “all flee” which, of course, is the meaning of the word skedaddle.

What this means is that the word, having been referred to as a provincialism, makes the new word skedaddle an Americanism that was well enough known to be recognized as provincialism in England as early as 1856.  Idiomation pegs this word then to the mid 1850s at the latest, with a nod to the Irish sgadad ol.

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

Shebang

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 10, 2015

Recently, I watched the Brian De Palma movie, “The Untouchables” on DVD again.  It’s a movie that plays well years after its release and stars Kevin Costner and Sean Connery among other well-known names today.  In the movie, there’s one scene where Eliot Ness sends his young daughter and pregnant wife away for safety’s sake. Angered at having his family’s safety threatened by Frank Nitti on behalf of Al Capone, Eliot Ness tells Malone that he wants to take the battle to Capone.  Malone replies:

Well, then, a Merry Christmas.  We’ve got some great news.  A huge international shipment’s coming. We’ve got the time, the place and the whole shebang.

But what exactly is a shebang, and what does it mean in today’s lexicon?  Informally speaking, the word shebang refers to the structure of something such as an organization or a situation or a project.  It generally implies the sum total as opposed to the parts that make up the whole.

Of course, techno-geeks will tell you that a shebang is a character script sequence that begins with the number sign and an exclamation mark and is favored by Unix-type operating systems.  However, the word is older than computer science.

It was in the July 29, 1890 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail newspaper that a two-volume book by the famous and experience African explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (28 January 1841 – 10 May 1904) whose reputation, it was claimed in the newspaper, was well-known throughout the world.

SIDE NOTE:  Sir Henry Morton Stanley is identified as the person who uttered the immortal — and oft quoted and misquoted — question, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” upon finding the lost missionary and explorer David Livingstone in the supposed deepest, darkest Africa.

The book was all about the Emin Relief Expedition to Africa that began in 1887 and continued into 1888.

Lieutenant Stairs, Mr. Jephson, and myself were out at the extreme west end of the spur enjoying the splendid view, admiring the scenery, and wondering when such a beautiful land would become the homestead of civilized settlers.  Stairs thought that it resembled New Zealand, and said that he would not mind having a ranche here.  He actually went so far as to locate it, and pointed out the most desirable spot.  “On that little hill I will build my house” — “Shebang” he called it.  I wonder if that is a New Zealand term for a villa.

During the American Civil War, a shebang was understood to mean “a hut or shed, one’s living quarters.” In short, it was a word that referred to a temporary shelter for soldiers in the field.  How do we know this?

The American Civil War was famous for its slang of uncertain origin, and shebang is among those words of uncertain origin in many respects.  But make no doubt about it, many consider the word an Americanism by nearly every standard.  Even the book “Americanisms: The English of the New World” compiled by Maximillian Schele De Vere and published by Charles Scribner & Co. and published in 1872 included the word.

Shebang used even yet by students of Yale College, and elsewhere to designate their rooms, or a theatrical or other performance in a public hall, has its origin probably in a corruption of the French cabane, a hut, familiar to the troops from Louisiana, and constantly used in the Confederate camp for the simple huts, which they built with such alacrity and skill for their winter quarters.  The constant intercourse between the outposts soon made the term familiar to the Federal army also.

In the annual report from the Office of the Nez Percé Indian Agency by Charles Hutchins, U.S. Indian Agent for Washington Territory on June 30, 1862 to the Secretary of the Interior, the author made use of the word shebang.

Along all the roads on the reservation to all the mines, at the crossing of every stream or fresh-water spring, and near the principal Indian villages, an inn or “shebang” is established, ostensibly for the entertainment of travellers, but almost universally used as a den for supplying liquor to Indians.

The term is found in many government documents from the United States House of Representatives to the Adjutant General’s Office, from the  United States Congress to the Bureau of Military Statistics, and beyond.

Some have speculated that there might be a connection between shebang and the Irish word shebeen — spelled sibín — while others discount it because “bang” and “been” can scarcely be mistaken for each other.  However, a shebeen house in Ireland was one that usually sold unlicensed spirits, and were referred to as resorts of bad characters. In other words, a shebeen in Ireland didn’t sound to be much different than the shebang spoken of in the report from the Office of the Nez Percé Indian Agency in Washington state.

Another important historical fact to remember is this:  While many may remember the infamous Irish Brigade of the North, the more than 40,000 Irish who fought on the side of the South during the American Civil War seem to have been overlooked and forgotten.  The Irish were, in fact, the largest immigrant group fighting on the side of the South — a feat that was not returned by the Irish fighting on the side of the North.  What’s more, there were many Irish-born and first-generation Irish officers that moved their way up the Confederate Army ladder.

In other words, the likelihood that the word shebang was originally shebeen is very good considering its roots as slang during the American Civil War years.  When coupled with the fact that at about the same time, the word shebang also existed in the English spoken in New Zealand — a country that also saw a great deal of Irish immigrants throughout the 1800s — which only strengthens the probably connection between the two words.

That being said, however, the word shebang doesn’t seem to appear in print prior to the American Civil War although it was very obviously used among the general population given that the word was used by government officials as from the onset of the American Civil War.  Because of this, Idiomation pegs the word shebang to the mid-1800s.

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

Cross To Bear

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 5, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say that a difficult situation is the cross they have to bear.  What they mean by that is that they must accept an unpleasant situation or responsibility because there is no way to avoid dealing with it.  What’s more, it’s a situation or responsibility that can’t be shared or passed along to someone else.  The idiom refers to an emotional or mental burden that brings with it a marked amount of stress and suffering, and, despite its origins, has nothing to do with a physical burden.

The expression, of course, alludes to the crucifixion of Christ who was made to carry his own cross as was the custom during Roman Times.

The idiom was used in the Herald-Journal on January 4, 2007 in an article about the diverse student population and how there were concerns that displaying a cross in the sanctuary in the campus chapel at Virginia’s College of William and Mary might upset some of the non-Christian students attending there.  The second oldest college in America, it was founded at the request of the Anglican Church.  The article by J.R. Labbe was entitled, “Is Tolerating Tolerance A College’s Cross To Bear?

You might wonder if the idiom always has a religious aspect to it.  It doesn’t.  On March 28, 1957 the Milwaukee Sentinel published a news story entitled, “Resemblance to James Dean Riles Actor Dean Stockwell.”  The former child actor was now a striking 20-year-old in film and while his portfolio of performances was impressive, he wasn’t finding himself on easy street.  In fact, the article reported this:

All is not rosy for young Stockwell.  He has a cross to bear:  The late James Dean.  He has the same hair and much the same brooding handsomeness of Dean.

The “Class Leader’s Treasury” by respected Methodist Pastor, Reverend John Bate, was published in March of 1881, and published by the Wesleyan Conference Office in England.  Reverend Bate was also the author of “Cyclopedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths.”  It’s on page 440 of the “Class Leader’s Treasury” that the following is found:

You would find a heavier cross to bear on turning back than you have to bear in going forward, to say nothing of what you would find when you came to the City of Destruction.

It was undoubtedly a favorite expression of religious men, and it was used in a poem collected by Reverend John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw Churches, and included in the “Olney Hymns In Three Books” published on February 15, 1779.  He attributes the poem to the late Dr. Watts. This was part of Hymn 51 in “Book 1 on Select Texts of Scripture.”

Lord, we return thee what we can!
Our heart shall sound abroad,
Salvation, to the dying Man,
And to the rising God!

And while thy bleeding glories here
Engage our wond’ring eyes,
We learn our lighter cross to bear,
And hasten to the skies.

It was used in 1607 to refer to the act of suffering troubles patiently.  It was in the play by John Webster and Thomas Dekker titled, “The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas Wyat” in scene 14 that the term was used.  As you may or may  not know, The Wyatt Rebellion was led by Tudor courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (his father being English poet and ambassador Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder) during the reign of Mary I of England.

It was, however, in a letter to Catharine of Aragon (16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536), written by Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (27 October 1466 – 12 July 1536) — also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam — that the idiom is found. The letter was written after her divorce from Henry VIII in 1533.

It is most rare to find a lady born and reared in courts, who binds her hope on acts of devotion, and finding her solace in the word of God. Would that others, more especially widows, would learn to follow your example; and not widows only, but unmarried ladies too, for what so good as the service of Christ? He is the Rock — the Spouse of pious souls — and nearer than the nearest humanitie. A soul devoted to this Husband is at peace alike in good and evil times. He knows what is best for all; and is often kindest when He seems to turn the honey into gall. Every one has his cross to bear; without that cross no soul can enter into rest!”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, and therefore, it’s assumed that the saying, “we all have our cross to bear” is thanks to Erasmus, dating back to 1533.

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

Token Indian

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2015

If you hear someone talking about the token Indian in the group, it’s an offensive comment.  It means that there was need for at least one person to be included regardless of qualifications, and so someone was chosen to be that token person.  The reason for having a token person in a group is to give the appearance of being inclusive and to deflect any allegations of discrimination.  The bottom line, however, is that it’s extremely discriminatory and not inclusive in the least.

Father Theo’s Blog on WordPress on August 5, 2012 talked about the passage for Aboriginal professionals.  Theo Collins is a blogger, writer, educator, parent, musician, and historiographer living in British Columbia (Canada) and his blog focuses primarily on planet and climate change, Aboriginal issues, the blues, history, people and himself.  The entry that day was entitled, “I Was A Token Indian.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewed “American Outlaw” in their newspaper edition of August 17, 2001.  Written by Post-Gazette Book Editor, Bob Hoover, the immediately took pity on the American Western which he felt had been assailed in the movie.

It’s not that he felt that the movie was terrible (because he didn’t feel that way about it at all) but rather that the movie showed no respect for the cowboy tradition of John Ford, John Wayne, and Sam Peckinpaugh movies.  The problem was, according to the reviewer, that the movie looked more like “The Sopranos” in spurs (yes, that’s what he wrote).

And, that’s really what this movie’s about — lookin’ good.  It’s got the Western outfits, the steam-engine trains, the dynamite blasts, the shirtless studs and the token Indian.  Some of the jokes are funny, too.

Sixteen years earlier (almost to the day), on July 6, 1985 the Gettysburg Times published a news story written by Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press about sculptor Michael Naranjo.  In 1967, he was drafted into the U.S. army and the following year, a grenade cost him his sight, a little finger, and the dexterity of his right hand when he and his squad were ambushed in a Vietnamese rice field.   The article was titled, “Blind Indian Sculptor Seeks The Impossible” and explained how Michael Naranjo sought the impossible.  The article read in part:

I don’t want to be just your token Indian, or your token veteran, or your token handicapped artist.  I just want to be a plain old, good artist … Foremost and first, I am a sculptor,” he said at the opening of a month-long exhibition of his work in Pittsburgh.

The Montreal Gazette edition of April 30, 1980 also spoken of token Indians when it ran an article about what the president of the Indian Association of Alberta, Joe Dion, had to say about setting up a national legislative body to negotiate with the Canadian federal government.

“Indians want to make their own laws, administer justice, control resources, and look after social services within Confederation,” Dion said.

He also suggested that Indians also be allocated a block of seats in Parliament, with members elected by Indian constituencies.  And the Senate should have more than the one “token Indian senator.”

The term token Indian can be found littered across newspapers, magazines, and books over the decades and it’s understood what’s meant by the term.  However, it was in a 1946 coin collector’s almanac compiled by Hans M.F. Schulman and Hans Holzer where Idiomation found mention of a 1795 half-cent Washington token Indian head coin.

History shows that the third president of the United States and founding father Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) strongly encouraged commercial enterprises to extend credit to Indigenous peoples in America to create a debt situation that could only be satisfied by forcing Aboriginals to cede land to the U.S. government.  When an Indian did not have a debt, but rather, had a credit coming to him, he received a token since there was a shortage of coins in circulation during this era.

Three images were most often used to differentiate three tokens of differing values, and each had a pictorial that was recognized not only by settlers and colonials but by Native American Indians as well (a buffalo on the plains, a side-wheel steamer, and a warrior on horseback).  These tokens were meant to prove good faith trading and when accusations of unfairness by commercial enterprises surfaced, it was the Indian with the token or tokens who was named as proof that the commercial enterprise in question was fair to all, including Indians.

In other words, the Indian with the token became the known as the token Indian.

The practice dates back to the late 1700s when the U.S. government decided to involve itself in the Indian trade, hence the minting of tokens as well as half-cent token Indian coins that were put into circulation as real coinage.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom token Indian to the late 1700s.

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

Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.

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

Grassroots

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2015

Whenever you hear someone talk about a grassroots movement or a grassroots organization or any other sort of grassroots construct, what they’re talking about is something that wasn’t adapted from an existing situation.  The other part is that whatever is described as being grassroots is basic and fundamental.  In other words, it is something that is from, and involves, everyday people in contrast with those things that are from what is perceived to be from, and involving, the elite whether one is talking what is corporate or what is political.  It’s all about getting back to basics.

That being said, the elite have been known to co-opt the word to push their own agendas without marginalizing the meaning of the expression.  An example of this is from June 10, 2004 as proven by the Boca Raton News about the Test Drive4W program that was run in support of President Bush’s campaign.  The program saw thousands of volunteers across American making phone calls and going door-to-door contacting voters to increase the number of voters who would be casting a ballot that November.  The newspaper ran the article under the heading, “Bush Campaign Testing Its Massive Grass-roots Organization.”

The term, however, isn’t used only in politics.  The Dispatch newspaper published in Lexington, North Carolina on August 5, 1986 published a news article about the National Opera Company that toured with the slogan, “Let’s knock the high hat off of opera.”  The opera company, founded (and financed) in 1948 by the late Raleigh lawyer and businessman, A.J. Fletcher, was one that focused on operas sung in English.

The opera company was known for many things not the least was travelling without a grand orchestra, without grand scenery, and without anything else that could be considered grand.  The snobbishness that many associated with opera was decidedly absent when it came to the National Opera Company, and for this reason, the article was titled, “Company Presents Grass Roots Opera.”

Going back to February 20, 1964 the Palm Beach Post newspaper published an article titled, “Currency Use Proposal Would Help Foreigners.”  The proposal mentioned in the news story was an idea proposed by Tom Hall Miller, president of American Partners, Inc., and it was presented to the House Agriculture Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.  The article read in part:

American Partners, Miller told the committee, is incorporated as a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, former less than 2 years ago, to promote the private enterprise concept at the grassroots level in developing countries by recruiting the interest of U.S. citizens and organizations in giving financial and technical help to establish and expand small businesses in countries requiring such assistance.

The Republican party held a “Grass Roots Conference” in Springfield, Illinois back in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The Milwaukee Journal reported on this in the June 12, 1935 edition in an article entitled, “Grass Roots Conversion” that began with this paragraph:

The only proposals of the Grass Roots convention for reviving and regenerating the Republican party are bodily taken over from the Roosevelt program.  This is the significant, almost sensational, thing in the resolutions adopted at Springfield.  Where they go beyond the Republican platform of 1932, they go with Roosevelt.

The misperception of the term is that its earliest use was by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana in a speech he gave at the Progressive Party Convention of 1912 where he was quoted as saying, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”  However, there are earlier instances of the idiom being used in its current spirit that dates to before its utterance in 1912.

New York Tribune of September 09, 1907 reported:

In regard to his political views Mr. Perry has issued the following terse platform: “I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment.”

The Mr. Perry mentioned in the article was Adolphus Edward Perry (1867 – 1939) who, at the time, was the vice-chairman of the Oklahoma State Committee.  In political parlance, he was known as “Dynamite Ed.”  He was a man with an interesting past, having been born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada of American parents, and contributing greatly to the state of Oklahoma as an adult.

Jay Elmer House published a collection of short stories in 1905.  In the Foreword to his book, the author stated that “the people of whom I have written I knew intimately and well.  Most of them were, and are, my close friends.  In only one or two instances have I taken the trouble to conceal their identity under assumed names.  In nearly every incident or episode spread upon these pages I had a part.  It always seemed to me that the humble folk I knew in boyhood were as interesting as those of more pretentious circumstances with whom my lot has fallen in later years.”  This clearly explains the reason for entitling the book, “At The Grassroots.”

All that being shared, the term actually is a mining term that dates back to the 1870s, and refers to the soil just beneath the ground’s surface.  During the Gold Rush, advertisers oftentimes teased potential speculators with tales of gold being found “at the grass-roots” with the most basic of tools.  Unfortunately, more often than not, speculators who took these advertisers at their words found nothing but hard rock “at the grass-roots” whether they used basic tools or fancier tools, and came away with no gold at all.

The sense that basic tools could be used “at the grass-roots” grew into the sense that grass-roots meant getting back to basics.  For that reason, the literal sense of the idiom dates back to the mid-1870s while the figurative sense dates back to shortly thereafter.

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

 
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