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Weaponized Incompetence

Posted by Admin on November 27, 2021

Weaponized incompetence — also known as strategic incompetence or skilled incompetence — happens when someone does a task so poorly that one or more people take over and do the task for that person even when the person either knows how to do the task or could learn to do the task for himself/herself/themselves. It usually happens in relationships where one partner purposely does a task so poorly or claims to be unable to do the task as a way to force the other partner to take sole responsibility for the task. It’s a skilled way of avoiding what the individual believes is an undesirable task for them to do by demonstrating an unarguable inability to do said task.

Some claim it is a sexist behavior however males and females have shown both genders are quite adept at weaponized incompetence when they choose to default to the behavior in order to escape shouldering the responsibility of doing the task in the first place.

It happens when a male does the dishes so poorly that the female has to re-wash the dishes before serving food on those dishes.

It happens when a female claims she can’t follow a map or GPS directions to ensure the vehicle in which they are traveling will arrive at its intended destination forcing the driver (or another passenger) to take over the task of reading the directions on the map or the GPS.

It happens when a co-worker half-heartedly does their assigned task on a group project and leaves everyone else to take up the slack so the project is completed in a timely fashion and is done according to set standards.

How do you know if weaponized incompetence may be at play? When one or more people, exasperated with the poor performance of the person slacking off says, “I’ll do it for you” and the person slacking off is not only excused from all duties and responsibilities, but also absolved from any negative fall-out over how the project was completed, that person has successfully pulled off weaponized incompetence.

Like learned helplessness, weaponized incompetence is a learned behavior which can be unlearned.

Many claim that the expression first came to light in 2006 however weaponized incompetence is part of the cycle of gaslighting according to psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

In August 2008, university professor Carl Dyke wrote about strategic incompetence on the Dead Voles blog. At the time, he was teaching three courses of introductory world history as well as an upper-division seminar in World History since 1945. Carl Dyke had the following to say about this behavior:

Strategic incompetence is the art of making yourself more trouble than you’re worth in some area of unwelcome effort. This can involve being a painfully slow learner, a bumbler, or an impediment. In each case the objective is to make it easier for someone else to step in and do the work than to leave it to you. Arguably a species of passive aggression, although shading off into mere passivity or genuine incompetence.

Far from lacking in ability, those who successfully practice weaponized or strategic incompetence are also masters of expectations management and oftentimes project toxic niceness while feigning incompetence.

But long before it was called weaponized incompetence, and long before it was called strategic incompetence, back in 1986, business schools referred to this behavior as skilled incompetence. In the article “Skilled Incompetence” written by Chris Agyris (16 July 1923 – 16 November 2013) for The Magazine published by the Harvard Business Review in September 1986, he described in detail how this happened in large businesses. He described premeditated incompetence that was set up by the individual to avoid being responsible for completing a task they did not want to be responsible for completing.

It appears that while weaponized incompetence may have first appeared in 2006 as reported by a few websites, strategic incompetence was around a decade before that, and skilled incompetence was around a decade before that.

Idiomation understands that faked incompetence has been around for centuries — especially where passing the buck is possible — but the specific terms go back to 2006, 1996, and 1986 respectively.

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

Bunko

Posted by Admin on November 20, 2021

If you have watched a police drama on television that mentions bunko, they’re referring to the police department that deals with squad which is sometimes also referred to as the fraud squad or the bunko squad.

A bunko man is an individual who practises the bunko swindle (also known as the bunko crime or bunko game) and who isn’t always male. Lots of women have been arrested for being bunko men.

Here’s how the bunko swindle operates: The con man (who is male or female) persuades the victim to trust them, and then swindles the victim out of valuables in his or her possession. The game is always the same even though the game keeps being reinvented with new twists added — or removed — to make the story even more believable to the victim.

So bunko is about hoaxes and misleading people and fraudulent activities.

All of that is interesting but where in the world did the word come from in the first place? To get to that answer, some history behind the word will prove helpful.

First off, bunko can be a shortened form of the word bunkum (and that’s where a lot of word trouble begins). Bunkum was them, and is now, complete and utter nonsense. In other words, talk intended to please the person or persons to whom the talker speaks.

In the early 1900s, fraud committed via this method resulted in a statute that referred to the practice of committing this kind of fraud as bunko steering. In FLEMING v STATE (No. 21,582) at the Supreme Court of Indiana on 24 May 1910, a very clear definition of what constituted bunko steering was included.

However allures, entices or persuades another to any place upon any pretense, and then and there, by fraud or duress, induces or compels such person to lose, advance or loan money, to part with anything of value, or to execute his check, note or other obligation either for money or for anything of value; of whoever, in like manner allures, entices, or persuades another to any place and then and there induces or compels him to part with anything of value by means of any trick, device or artifice, or upon any game or wager, is guilty of bunko-steering, and, on conviction, shall be imprisoned in the state prison not less than two years or more than fourteen years; and all persons present at such place at such time, engaged therein, shall be prosecuted, tried and punished for such offense as principals.

In the 1889 edition of “A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tiners’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology” compiled by Albert Barrère (1846 – 11 February 1921) and ‎Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903), readers are directed to read the entry for Buncombe or bunkum for an understanding of what bunko or bunk is which only adds to the historical confusion of the word. The definition is:

To talk big, affecting enthusiasm, but always with an underhanded purpose. Mr. Horton has made the discovery that “it arose from a speech made by a North Carolina senator named Buncombe.”

The “Treasures of Science, History and Literature, Instructive, Amusing, Practical for the Study and the Fireside” by American journalist and editor Moses Folsom (4 August 1847 – 11 September 1933) and published in 1878 had an entire section devoted to Swindlers titled, “Curiosities of Swindling: Specimen Swindles” with a complete section devoted to BUNKO (as the heading stated). It informed readers of the following in part:

If the traveler escapes the monte men on the railroad trains, he may next be subjected to the wiles of the bunko men in the city. The bunko men travel in pairs, usually, and the strangers coming from depot, or wandering on the streets, are “spotted” by these rascals.

There was no mention of any politician with this definition which was a nuanced indication that perhaps bunko and bunk were not words with the same origins.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Moses Folsom at one point held the position of secretary of the Florida State Marketing Bureau, and prior to tht he spent two years as the secretary of the Palatka Board of Trade and a year in the office of the state commissioner of agriculture of Tallahassee. Earlier, in 1878, he was appointed Superintendent of the Iowa State Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Council Bluff during which time he established The Deaf-Mute Hawkeye newspaper which was printed by students in the district.

As Idiomation continued digging, it was learned the senator mentioned by Mr. Horton was Revolutionary Officer and Senator Felix Walker (19 July 1753 – 1828) who was a Congressman whose district in North Carolina included Buncombe County (where Asheville is found). In 1820, he made a lengthy speech made on 25 February during the 16th Congress that led to the passage of the Missouri Compromise. It was so lengthy that several of his colleagues begged him to cease and desist, but he persisted. He even claimed at one point that the people he represented expected as much from him, and that he was “bound to make a speech for Buncombe.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Up until the American Civil War, there was another interesting historical note having to do with Buncombe County that was used by a number of people in and around North Carolina. If something was the biggest or best, it was said it was “the best thing this side of meaning it was biggest or the best until you got to Buncombe County where it would learned that it wasn’t the biggest or the best when compared to what was to be found in Buncombe County.

So people who knew of this expression let others know that Buncombe was a place that was strange in mythical proportions as well as full of hot air ideas. At least that’s what newspaper back in 1843 reported.

A few years later, the word bunkum showed up in the 1828 issue of the Niles Weekly Register stating that a political oratory to please or full a constituency was “cantly called talking to Bunkum.” Shortly afterwards, talking to bunkum or talking for bunkum meant any insincere, empty, or deceptive talk in general.

By 11 November 1843, even the Bucks Herald of Aylesbruy was talking about bunkum when referring to the Libel Act that was before parliament at the time, reporting that “the act was, and ever will be, Bunkum.”

It took until 1893 for the word bunkum to be shortened to bunk, and that was thanks to American humorist, journalist and writer from Chicago Finley Peter (F.P.) Dunne (10 July 1867 – 24 April 1936) who had his Irish character Mr. Dooley (a fictional character who had immigrated to the United States) say the following:

That is th’ real Irish village, for bechune you an’ me, Jawnny, I think th’other one from Donegal is a sort of bunk, I do, an’ I niver liked Donegal anny how.

But bunk and bunko are pretty much the same, right? It would appear the answer to that question is no, and the confusion has to do with the fact that as the words bunkum and bunk were making their way into the lexicon, so was the game bunko which was a gambling game that used eight dice cloth and was imported from England in 1855 to the United States — specifically to San Francisco. Along the way, a few of the original rules were altered by gamblers to benefit gamblers, and relied on swift, empty talk.

What began as an enchanting parlor game that promoted social interactions among family and friends became a way to swindle property owners out of their property and valuables.

By the time the 1920s rolled around, large cities had bunko games going on in nearly every gambling parlor and speakeasy, and the police who broke up those games were known as bunko squads.

So while Buncombe, bunkum, bunk, and bunko may appear at first blush to share the same roots, bunkum and bunk are thanks to Senator Felix Walker in the early 1800s, bunko is thanks to English gamblers arriving in America in the mid-1800s, and all three words — bunkum, bunk, and bunko — have to do with less than savory practices that employ lots of fast and easy talk.

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

Gullywasher

Posted by Admin on October 30, 2021

With all the rain in the weather forecasts these days, it’s no surprise that some meteorologists are letting audiences know which ones are regular rainstorms and which ones are gullywashers. But what exactly is a gullywasher? A gullywasher is a short-lived but intense rainstorm.

The interesting thing about gullywashers is that they don’t happen outside of the U.S., and many northern states and Pacific coast states don’t deal with gullywashers. They may deal with turtle floaters or duck drowners or or toad stranglers, and they might deal with bridge lifters or mud senders or even Baptist dam breakers, but in the Southern, Western, and Midwestern states and all the way up into Wisconsin, gullywashers are what people worry about when the clouds roll in.

In an article in The Oklahoman titled, “Birthplace of the Gully Washer” by journalist and sports writer Frank Boggs (1 May 1928 – 10 August 2017) and published on 30 September 1986, the author claimed:

Oklahoma is where the gully washer was invented.

That alone was reason enough for Idiomation to set off researching this interesting word.

A gully is a large ditch or small valley that usually runs along a hillside, and that ditch or small valley happens when running water erodes the soil to the point where a ditch or a small valley is created. Every time it rains, more water moves soil out of the gully which leads to a deeper and wider gully. But the thing is, it takes a lot of water gushing through that ditch or small valley for it to fill up to the point where soil is dragged away.

The word gully first appeared in the English language in the 1650s and is from the Middle English word golet which means water channel.

In 1999, gullywashers weren’t just happening in the U.S. Editor Gardner Dozois included the Bruce Sterling (14 April 1954 – ) story “Taklamakan” in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection.” Texas-born Sterling’s stories had appeared in ten of the previous fifteen annual collections, and was a favorite of many scifi readers. In his short story “Taklamakan” the following was written.

Pete scanned their surroundings on spex telephoto. They were lurking on a hillside above a playa, where the occasional gullywasher had spewed out a big alluvial fan of desert varnished grit and cobbles.

In April 1963, the statement of J.H. Hanson, Co-Chairman of the Western Montana Citizens Committee and president of the Security State Bank at Polson (MT) represented 63 organizations as well as 500 individuals who were against the Knowles Project was recorded in the publication of “Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Flood Control of the Committee on Public Works.” The Co-Chairs were Charles A. Buckley (23 June 1890 – 22 January 1967) of New York and Clifford Davis (18 Novembwer 1897 – 8 June 1970) of Tennessee.

MR. SCHWENGEL: Do you want to testify about the population decline?

MR HANSON: We are not concerned about the population declines. Over the years, we have had a population increase, We have had a firming of the industry. In our little town alone U.S. Plywood came in there and within the last five years our little area has been the recipient of some $7 million in capital expenditures. The thing we don’t need is this economic gullywasher. We can do more with $1 of private money spent than we can with $10 on Federal funds.

MR. SCHWENGEL: Say that again.

MR. HANSON: We would rather have private development on the river for one-tenth of what the Federal Government could spend.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The Knowles Project was also known as the Knowles-Paradise Project and we recommended by Army Engineers as a key dam of a comprehensive plan for harnessing the Columbia River and its tributaries in the Lake and Saunders Counties.

Barrel and Box and Packages was published by the Lumber Buyers’ Publishing Corporation, and Edgar Harvey Defebaugh (3 September 1869 – 22 November 1924) was the owner and publisher of that magazine as well as Lumber and Veneer Consumer and a number of related publications. In the 1947 edition of Barrel and Box and Packages, a fable was shared that allegedly has its origins in North Carolina among mountaineers. It read in part:

The farmer he sez, “King, if’n you ain’t aiming to get them clothes wetted you’d best go back home, because its a-comin on to rain, a trash-mover and a gully washer.”

And the kind says, “I hired me a high-wage prophet to prophet the weather and he allows it ain’t even coming a sizzle-sozzle.”

So the king went ahea and it came a trash-mover and a gully washer, and the king’s clothes was wetted and his best girl she seed him and laughed at him. And the king went home and throwed out his prophet.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Edgar Harvey Defebaugh visited Europe in 1900, visiting all the principal markets, and become knowledgeable in the exportation of staves and other timber products. Upon his return to the United States, he partnered with a number of organizations in other lines of industry to launch trade newspaper publications. By 1902, he was the head of an important organization of trade publications which were known around the world as the “Defebaugh publications.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: This fable was also printed in The Plainsman edition of 18 February 1947. The Plainsman was a weekly student publication from Alabama Polytechnic Institute of Auburn (AL). That year former WWII GI Jimmy Coleman was the Editor-in-Chief (he was studying Applied Art and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity) and former WWII GI Ralph “Stringbean” Jennings was the Managing Editor. Both had put their college careers on hold to fight in the war effort.

In the December 1908 edition of The Helping Hand magazine published by the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Societies of Chicago (IL), the publisher pleaded with people to subscribe to their magazine. For 100 new subscriptions, seven reference library books would be sent to supplement the year’s study book, “The Nearer and Farther East.” If you only secured 75 subscriptions, one could look forward to receiving a 7 foot by 12 foot “Missionary Map of the World” with every Baptist station clearly marked. With 50 subscriptions, a year’s subscription to “Outlook” was added. To encourage followers to help with the subscription drive, the publisher wrote:

Perhaps the term “shower” is a misnomer, leading some to think that our aim is a gentle flow of subscriptions, when on the contrary we are willing to see the subscriptions pour in like the rain in The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come prayer for — “a regular sod-soaker and gully-washer.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was a book written by American journalist, novelist, and short story writer John Fox Jr. (16 December 1862 – 7 July 1919) and illustrated by artist and illustrator, Frederick Coffay (F. C.) Yohn (8 February 1875 – 6 June 1933), and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1903. It was written in April 1898 and the dedication page read: To Currie Duke – Daughter of the Chief among Morgan’s men. The novel told the story of a rags-to-respectability story of an Orphan and was the first novel in the U.S. to sell a million copies.

In 1898, John Dickey’s book “The Genealogy of the Dickey Family” was published. After the author’s passing at Leominster on 25 July 1894, his widow approached F.S. Blanchard and Company of Worcester (MA) and asked them to publish the genealogy so that what her late husband had written “might not be lost to future generations and all might share alike the fruits of his labor.”

The publisher stated in the Publisher’s Note that John Dickey (13 February 1824 – 25 July 1894) had not contemplated the publication of the work until the latter part of his life, and the wealth of material gathered was a rich legacy that would benefit others, not just descendants of his great-grandfather, Samuel Dickey, and his great-grandfather’s brother Elias and sister Elisabeth.

The genealogy began with William Dickey (1683 – 9 October 1743) and his wife Elisabeth (1678 – 21 October 1748) who immigrated from the north of Ireland to America, landing sometime between 1725 and 1730 since there was no exact date of their departure from Ireland or their arrival in America. What was known was that by 1730, the Dickey family had settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

At entry 1084, Edward Parker Keach (4 November 1851 – 30 December 1918) He graduated from theological courses in 1878, and married Julia Maria Russell in November of that year. They moved to Marble Hill (MO) where he began work as a Presbyterian home missionary. In the entry, which shows the term was known in 1878, John Dickey wrote:

It was a dry time, when a union service was held to pray for rain; a brother of another denomination arose, and after telling the Lord how dry it was, said, “And now, Lord, send us rain: none of your drizzle-drozzle, but a regular grand soaker and gully washer.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Edward Parker Keach was repeatedly elected to represent his congregation at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5.1: He is known as Edward Parker Keach as well as Edwin Parker Keach based on the genealogy.

One dictionary puts the first published version to 1825 without providing any indication as to where it was published. That it was used in conversation in the 1870s means it was already an accepted and understood expression so it is possible the expression dates back to 1825 but without proof it’s hard to definitively say it was around in 1825.

Idiomation therefore splits the difference and pegs the expression to the 1850s. Research continues in the hopes of tracking down the 1825 reference and perhaps an even earlier published version.

And in case you were wondering, Idiomation found no evidence that Oklahoma was where gullywashers were invented. They have gullywashers in Oklahoma — no doubt about that — but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to substantiate the claim they invented gullywashers.

Idiomation is also including other names for gullywashers and where you might hear these expressions used.

Toad strangler: Alabama, Louisiana, Texas
Goose drowner: Midland states
Mud sender: California, Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi
Bridge lifter: North Carolina
Nubbin stretcher: Kentucky
Palmetto pounder: Miami

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

Fauxpology

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2021

If someone offers up a fauxpology, they aren’t apologizing at all.  What they are doing is making a statement that sounds like an apology without expressing any of the emotion that goes with a sincere apology and where there is no acknowledgement of any wrongdoing on their part.

In other words, whereas an apology is when someone expresses remorse or regret for something that was said or done that harmed one or more people, a fauxpology is a “false” (because the word faux in French means false) apology or, rather, an anti-apology that excuses what was said or done by the offending party that harmed one or more people.

Think of a fauxpology when you hear someone say, “Sorry, not sorry.”  That is a fauxpology.

A fauxpology is sometimes also referred to as a nopology or a manpology, although in the case of a manpology, Idiomation has found evidence of people from either gender offering up fauxpologies, so to refer to a fauxpology as a manpology is misleading. In a few instances a fauxpology has also been referred to as a past exonerate however that has been in more academic settings.

Canadian linguist, Laura Beaudin Lakhian who holds a Master of Science degree in the Cognitive Science of Language from McMaster University even has a website dedicated to the topic, titled Fauxpolo.gy where she shares her deconstruction of very public apologies using critical discourse analysis and the speech act theory.

In January 2021, there was an uproar about a product named The Mahjong Line.  When the backlash for the company hit the fan, the company offered up a fauxpology for their mistake, and once again, they were called on their actions.

Arizona State University newspaper reporter, Marshall Terrill interviewed Dawn Gilpin, associate professor at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications for a piece published the ASU News on 6 December 2017.  The interview was published as a Q&A piece and took a close look at what was going on with public apologies made by public people in the media.  As part of the introduction, he wrote:

The types of “fauxpologies” can backfire with audiences as Americans contemplate the damage caused by public figures facing harassment claims.

In response to being asked to provide a good example of an apology by a public figure, Ms. Gilpin responded that most apologies were terrible and vaue, and “stop[ped] short of verifying the truth of the allegations.”  She also stated:

This kind of “fauxpology” can backfire with audiences, especially on social media.

A few years earlier, on 13 September 2011 TODAY reporter Courtney Hazlett, reporting for NBC News, wrote that Madonna’s treatment of volunteers working the Toronto International Film Festival.  Allegedly she asked that they be made to turn their faces to a wall so they wouldn’t get a look at her as she made her way to her news conference about her film “W.E.”  In the news article, Courtney Hazlett wrote:

Stay tuned to see if Madonna gives the fans the faux-pology treatment the hydrangea received.

A year earlier, in Time magazine, in an article by Belinda Luscombe published on 20 October 2010 and titled, “Thank You, Ginni Thomas” the author wrote:

The old “sorry if I upset you” route is the go-to tactic of politicians, celebrities, media corporations and spouses for a reason. It looks and smells like an apology, but acknowledges no wrongdoing. It’s a fauxpology.

Jumping back another three years to 29 August 2007, The American Prospect (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation headquartered in Washington, DC) published an article by former assistant web editor Sam Boyd titled, “Faux-Pology Watch.”  He described what a fauxpology was, and wrote about Larry Craig and his fauxpology.

With the hyphen between the word faux and the abbreviated word apology (which appears as pology), it appears this may be one of the earliest published uses of the word where the hyphen aided in the comprehension of the word.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this word, and because of the hyphen and the year (2007), Idiomation is confident in believing the word was a very recent construct from around that year.  If, however, one of you has an earlier published news article or story or cartoon that uses the word fauxpology, please feel free to share this in the comments section below.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Leave a Comment »

Rule Of Thumb

Posted by Admin on October 16, 2021

The rule of thumb is an approximate way to measure or do something based on practical experience instead of exact measurement or science.

The urban myth that is better know for that idiom is the one that claims the rule of thumb was a law that allowed a man to beat his wife so long as the switch (or rod) he used was no thicker than his thumb. However, facts are that it has never been part of English common law that a man may beat his wife with a switch so long as it is no thicker than his thumb. What was part of English common law was that a man could legally chastise his wife in moderation but there is no mention whatsoever as to what that entailed.

Some people claim such a ruling was made in England in 1782 by Judge Sir Fancis Buller (17 March 1746 – 5 June 1800) which earned him the nickname of Judge Thumb after a newspaper published a cartoon that attacked a ruling the judge had made. However none of the records of his rulings even hint at him stating that beating a wife with a switch no thicker than a husband’s thumb was ever made.

The myth was something that first shows up in relation to domestic violence in the mid-1970s thanks to feminist Dorothy Louise Taliaferro “Del” Martin (5 May 1921 – 27 August 2008) who used it in a report on domestic violence that was published in 1976. She mentioned a husband’s right to whip his wife in English common law and went on to say this was allowed so long as the switch used was no bigger than his thumb. She then wrote:

… a rule of thumb, so to speak.

The following year, Feminist Terry Davidson further pushed the incorrect concept that a Rule of Thumb existed in English common law which gave rise to the expression.

That’s how the myth got started, and as with many myths, once ingrained in people’s minds, it’s hard for that myth (even once it is debunked) to die.

Idiomation found this particularly intriguing and while researching the idiom, a great many twists and turns were taken to get to the earliest published version of this idiom.

In the 1987 book by James H. Konkel, “Rule-of-thumb Cost Estimating for Building Mechanical Systems” published by McGraw-Hill, it’s obvious the term has nothing to do with anything but estimating, rough measurements, and approximations.

And in the 1969 book “Scientific or Rule-of-thumb Techniqiues of Ground-water Management” by Charles Lee McGuinness, the repeated use of the word rule-of-thumb as a measurement is obvious as the writer speaks of rule-of-thumb decisions and rule-of-thumb judgements and rule-of-thumb evaluations.

Even the 1921 book “Forest Mensuration” by Herman Haupt Chapman states on page 251:

A rule of thumb represents an attempt to formulate a simple rule which can be memorized and by the use of which the contents of trees of any diameter and height may be found.

Mr. Chapman goes on to state that the rules of thumb must be based on either the cubic or board-foot unit, and he provides examples of where to use these different rules and the reasons for doing so. What is interesting is that he also states this:

Both of these rules of thumb are good only for trees of a given height and form factor. They are similar to the European rule of thumb — volume in cube meters equals the diameter squared divided by 1,000.

Further on, he writes:

A more scientific application of a universal rule of thumb is that devised by F.R. Mason (Ref. Rules of Thumb for Volume Determination, Forestry Quarterly, Vol. XIII, 1915, p. 333).

What Idiomation did uncover is that in German there is a similar phrase with regards to the rough approximation which is pi mal daumen which means pi multiplied by the thumb (pi being, of course, 3.14).

It is highly unlike that the German expression referred to making rough measurements while the English expression referred to wife beating. But stranger things have been uncovered while researching idioms, and so Idiomation continued the search.

In the 17 October 1857 edition of Notes and Queries, Thomas Boys wrote about the idiom and how it was also known as the Rule-o-er-thoum and rule o’ the thumb. He mentioned the use of the idiom as meaning an approximation back in 1814 as used in Bordeaux (France). The author also referred to an earlier discussion in Notes and Queries, and indeed, one was found in the 22 August 1857 edition wherein a Mr. H. Draper of Dublin (Ireland) wrote in part:

The origin of this phrase, as applied to anything made or compounded without a precise formula, is to be found in Yorkshire.

In Yorkshire (England)? Was this claim true? In Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal of 1841 on page 172, the following is found in an essay about the rule of thumb.

A more commendable employment of this member in past time was that which gave origin to the phrase, “Rule of thumb.” It was once a common enough practice in Scotland to measure objects in a rough way by calculating a thumb’s-breadth as an inch. Of course, no great accuracy could attend this sort of mensuration, and our more precise times apply the phrase jestingly to every case of rude or careless computation.

John Mactaggart has something to say about the rule of thumb in his 1824 tome, “The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia or The Original, Antiquated, and Natural Curiosities of the South Scotland.”

Rule O’Thumm – Rule of Thumb, the king of all rules. The rule of three, and Pythagorus’s golden rule are nothing to this; it is that rule whereby a person does something which no other can. The Burns wrote Tam O’Shanter by the rule o’thumm; this is the rule of genius, or the rule of nature, which surpasses all the rules of art; every soul knows less or more of this rule, and yet no two know exactly the same.

Even John Jamieson’s “Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language” published in 1825 confirms that Rule of Thumm means to do work nearly in the way of guess-work, or at hap-hazard at the very least.

No wife beating references other than the feminist references of the mid-1970s had been found as Idiomation continued going back in time. Perhaps we would find the wife beating reference in earlier references.

In the Francis Grose (11 June 1731 – 12 June 1791) book, “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” published in 1785, he explained that rule of thumb was something “cone by dint of practice and referred to is as a way to kiss one’s thumb instead of the book.”

We found “A Voyage to the Coast of Africa in 1758 Containing a Succinct Account of the Expedition to, and the Taking of the Island of Goree” by the Reverend John Lindsay  (1686 – 1768), Chaplain of his Majesty’s Ship Fougueux published in Volume 8 of “The Critical Review or Annals of Literature” and dated 1759. The story spoke of the bungling manner in which the charts of a particular well-known port had been laid down. At one point the author wrote:

We should be glad, however to learn how a man is to be landed on the banks of eternity, which is metaphorically an ocean without bounds. Nor are we less curious to be acquainted with the ancient rule of thumb, by which it seems, the charts of Cork harbour have nitherto been finished, though in a bumbling manner.

Surely if any wife beating was involved, the Reverend would have made mention of it, but alas, he did not. Instead he wrote about the confusing manner in which Cork’s harbor had been mapped out. If you can’t trust a Reverend, who can you trust?

In 1692, Sir William Hope, First Baronet of Balcomie (15 April 1660 – 1 February 1724) published the second edition of a book he wrote titled, “The Compleat Fencing-Master in Which is Fully Described the Whole Guards, Parades, and Lessons Belonging to the Small-Sword.” It also included the rules for playing against either artists or others, with blunts as well as with sharps, and as a bonus added feature, there was a section with directions on how to behave in a single combat on horseback.

I know very well that those who understand this Art will be of my opinion, because they know that the Judging of Distance exactly is one of the hardest things to be acquired in all the Art of the small-Sword; and when once it is acquired it is one of the usefulest things, and a Man’s Art as much as a lesson in it, but I am no Man’s retiring too much, unless upon a very good Design, and that hardly any Ignorant of this Art can have, because he doth (as the common Prover is) he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art.

And by the fact that the idiom is a common Proverb, that means the roots of this idiom are not found in English common law at all.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The second edition of this book was a re-issue of his 1687 book which was originally titled, “The Scots Fencing-Master.” It was also the first book on this topic to be published in Britain.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1.1: He was the younger brother of the First Earl of Hopetoun. He was made a Baronet in March 1698, first of Grantoun, then of Kirkliston, and in 1705, of Balcomie in Fifeshire. Because of his service in the army, he was also made the Deputy-Governor of the castle of Edinburgh.

The earliest known use of it in print appears in a sermon given by the English puritan James Durham  (1622 – 25 June 1658) and printed in “Heaven Upon Earth” in 1658:

Many professed Christians are like to foolish builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb and not by Square and Rule.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1640, a book titled, “Witt’s Recreations – Augmented with Ingenious Conceites for the Wittie and Merrie Medicines for the Melancholic” contained this rhyme spoke of a rule of leg or a rule of foot, but not a rule of thumb.

If Hercules tall stature might be guess’d
But by his thumb, the index of the rest,
In due proportion, the best rule that I
Would chuse, to measure Venus beauty by,
Should be her leg and foot.

But the idiom rule of thumb can still be traced back a little further especially in light of the fact that Sir William Hope referred to it as a common Proverb back in 1687.

In the 15th century (which takes us to the 1400s) there was a law in place in Scotland that referred to a unit of measure using the Latin word pollex which means thumb. It was particularly important when creating statues of monarchs such as Robert III of Scotland (1390 – 1406) The law read thusly:

Thumbs are to be measured by the thumbs of three men, namely one large, one medium, and one small, and should stand in accordance with the medium thumb, or in accordance with the length of three grains of barley without tails.

That’s a pretty specific description albeit still not a specific definition of what consitutes a thumb as a unit of measure. Later, Randle Cotgrave wrote in his French-English Dictionary of 1611 that an inch measure was the breadth of a thumb.

To this end, the rule of thumb concept was around in the early 1400s, and it was an accepted general measure at that point in time. It also appears to have originated in Scotland hence the reference to this idiom being a Scottish proverb.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to some time in the early 1400s and reminds people that the idiom has nothing to do with beating your spouse with a switch or rod that is no thicker than the beater’s thumb.

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Dime Store Hood

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2021

You have probably heard the idiom dime store hood used in gangster movies and television episodes, and you know from hearing that idiom that it refers to a low-level gangster. The idiom is made up of two different things that go together but how long have they been together is the question.

A hood is short for hoodlum, and a hoodlum refers to a criminal, particularly a young street criminal who is part of a gang. The word has been used in this context since at least 1868 when the San Francisco Golden Era newspaper of 16 February 1868 reported:

The police have recently been investigating the proceedings of a gang of thieving boys who denominate themselves and are known to the world as the Hoodlum Gang.

In the 1930s, criminals began referring to jail terms of between 5 and 10 years as being dime store sentences, and a dime a pop was the colloquial term for a police officer.

Now dime stores weren’t always cheap places with cheap merchandise. In fact, in Volume 1 of the New York City Guide published in 1939, on page 218 in the section titled, “Manhattan: Middle and Upper East Side” some very nice things were said about two particular dime stores.

This section was part of the “Fifth Avenue Shopping District” segment of the New York City Guide.

Symbolic of the newer trend in the granite-faced home (opened in 1935) of S.H. Kress and Company, at the northwest corner of Thirty-ninth Street, which boldly faces the terra-cotta edifice of its competitor F.W. Woolworth and Company (1939). The simple lines of these buildings, two of the most sumptuous dime stores in America, undoubtedly will influence future fronts along the avenue.

It is apparent that dime stores and five-and-dime stores aren’t quite the same thing at all. In fact, in Volume 38, Issue 2 of the Implement and Tractor Trade Journal the difference was made clear in 1923.

Consider the dime store; it has many a lesson for many merchants. The dime store isn’t as cheap as it sounds. Goods are sold almost invariably at a profit. They are intensively “merchandised.”

But salesmanship is there, just the same. Every item is shown in plain sight and within easy reach. The customer can pick it up and handle it. Psychology tells us that the act of feeling an article gives us a sense of possession. The thing works out that way in the dime store. Everything is done to encourage the customer to sell himself.

The clearest delineation between all the stores is found in the 1945 document “Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Mining: Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning: House of Representatives Pursuant to H. Res. 408 and H. Res. 60” where the following exchange is recorded.

MR GEORGE: I had this aspect in mind: The borderlines. The dime store goes up to the 50-cent store, and the 50-cent store goes up to the dollar store, and on up, and actually the lines of all of them overlap extensively. Now those stores that carry the low-end items — there have to be calculated risks at some point. I was worried about the low-end items being so generally affected as to give rise for a general pressure for the release of things that were important to the public.

MR FLANDERS: There is, after all, a point which is not a point, it is not a line, but when you get, say, beyond the dollar store, you are in the department store area, and below the dollar store, you are in this area, and if I were administering prices, which God forbid, God forbid, I would feel, well, that was a little problem; it wasn’t the worst problem I had by any means.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Mr. Flanders was a mechanical engineer and draftsman, industrialist, and politician Ralph Edward Flanders (28 September 1880 – 19 February 1970), 6th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, President (on leave) of Jones & Lamson Machine Company in Springfield (VT), and Chairman of the Research Committee of the Committee for Economic Development.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1.1: He was elected to office as a Senator and served from 1 November 1946 through to 3 January 1959. Prior to that, he served in the Machine-Tool Section of the War Industries Board during WWI, and afterwards, he became the Chairman of the Screw-Thread Committee of the American Standards Association. In 1933, Secretary of Commerce, Daniel Roper — part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration — appointed him to the Business Advisory Council where he rose to the position of Chairman of the Committee on Unemployment.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Mr. George was Edwin Black George (31 July 1896 – 14 September 1963) who was a consultant to the committee, and was employed by Dun & Bradstreet as an economist in New York (NY). Beginning in 1941, he was part of the Special Studies for the Chairman of the War Production Board, focusing on the question of controls.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2.1: He was the American Trade Commissioner to Far Eastern Countries from 1922 through to 1926, then moved on to the Chief Marketing Service Division of the Department of Commerce from 1930 through to 1932, and to the Chief Domestic Commerce Division from 1933 – 1934 as he continued to move up the ladder of success. He rose to the position of the Director of Economics for Dun & Bradstreet in the 1950s, and in February 1961, he was named Deputy Director of the Legislative Reference Service in the Library of Congress.

All this information led to researching the origins of the dime store. It all began with Frank Winfield Woolworth who adopted the concept of running a five-cent booth while working for William Harvey Moore (1841 – 1916) at his W.H. Moore store in Watertown (NY). When F.W. Woolworth opened his own store in Lancaster (PA) in 1879, he eliminated wholesalers and set up direct buying arrangements instead which allowed him to price every item at a cost of no more than ten cents (a dime). This allowed his stores to lower prices on housewares and other products which allowed customers to be able to afford to buy merchandise such as sewing supplies, china, stationery, shoes, candy, toys, toiletries, andmore, at a low price.

Sales personnel were also instructed in how to properly wrap packages, what to say when serving a customer, what to say when giving change, and how to present themselves with regards to attire, hairstyles, and, dare we mention it, make-up.

By 1896, a number of well-known names emerged in the dime store business, among them being Woolworth, Kress, Kresge, and McCrory. What this means is that prior to 1896, there could not have been any dime store hoods.

Now, dime stores were very popular through to the mid-20th century, and in the earliest part of the 20th century, they became a staple along the Main Streets of towns and cities where they popped up. General stores and department stores kept their stock behind the counter or in bulk bins, but dime stores displayed everything on tables and racks so customers could get close to the items for sale.

What we know is that after the Depression era, inflation caused prices to increase beyond a dime, and because of this, most became dollar stores in order to stay afloat. That meant that the dime stores that stayed dime stores had to find a way to make things work, and that usually led to offering cheaper quality items than dollar stores offered.

This narrows the window of opportunity for the idiom to somewhere between 1896 and 1939. Upon closer inspection, a dime store referring to a retail outlet selling eveyrthing for 10 cents was well-estalished by 1928.

The fact that the word hoodlum — meaning a gangster — was shortened to hood at the start of the 1930s means only one thing: Dime store hoods should be something that began in the early 1930s.

In the 1937 book by American circus performer, publicist, journalist, and writer Courtney Ryley Cooper (31 October 1886 – 29 September 1940), “Here’s To Crime” the following passage is found on page 112.

Hoover had called him a hoodlum.
“I’m no hood!” he snapped, his cruel mouth tightening. “And I don’t like to be called a hood. I’m a thief.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re a hoodlum,” answered the practical John Edgar Hoover.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Courtney Ryley Cooper wrote his first bok “Under the Big Top” in 1923 and later on, with the cooperation of William “Buffalo Bill” F. Cody’s widow, he wrote the biography titled, “Memories of Buffalo Bill.” He also wrote a biography of Annie Oakley, and during the 1930s, he worked with J. Edgar Hoover to write numerous articles detailing the crime fighting activities of the FBI.

The Abridged Style Manual of 1935 published by the United States Government Printing Office included hood as an alternative thief, so we know that by 1935 the word hood was known and recognized by at least one government department. Two years earlier, The Police Yearbook published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police spoke of the lowest order of thugs as being a sneak thief, a pander, a cheap gambler … a hood. There was no earlier mention of hood by the Association prior to 1933 which means just as there could be no dime store hoods prior to 1896 as dime stores first came into existence in 1896, there could be no dime store hoods much before the 1930s as the word hood referring to criminals was not in use before the 1930s.

With dime store firmly established by 1928 and hood meaning a low-life criminal by 1933, there’s a five-year span in which the words could be tied to each other.

This led Idiomation to question whether Stephen King was the first to coin the expression in his novella, “The Body” in the collection “Different Seasons” — which was adapted into the movie “Stand By Me” — published in 1982. To this end, Idiomation has reached out to Stephen King via his website asking if this is an idiom he coined specifically for his story.

While Idiomation continues to research this idiom, it will have to be marked as unknown on this blog. Until then, maybe you would like to check out the history behind the idiom drop a dime.

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Keep Your Powder Dry

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2021

If someone tells you to keep your powder dry, they are really telling you to remain cautious, stay calm, and be ready for a possible emergency or a sudden change for the worse. Some may claim it’s the ancestor idiom to the phrase take care but it really isn’t since take care doesn’t really cover everything keep your powder dry covers.

For those who may not understand what that means, this harkens back to the day when weapons required loose gunpowder to fire. For gunpowder to work properly, it must be kept dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Gunpowder is known as one of the “Four Great Inventions of China” and was invented during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th century, and when guns appeared in the 13th century, gunpowder found another opportunity beyond arrows, rockets, bombs, and fire lances. It was particularly popular during the days of flintlock when powder and flintlock were carried in a horn slung to one side. It was susceptible to moisture, and if it wasn’t dry, it tended to clump and misfire instead of ignite and fire properly. By the 19th century, smokeless powder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose were invented, and gunpowder saw its popularity decrease.

On 19 September 2020, the Washington Post reported on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the article, “Trump Says He Will Nominate Woman To Supreme Court Next Week.” It was clear what he meant when he used the idiom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

The idiom was used in the 1945 movie, “Keep Your Powder Dry” starring Lana Turner (8 February 1921 – 29 June 1995), Laraine Day (13 October 1920 – 10 November 2007), and Susan Peter (3 July 1921 – 23 October 1952) as three Women’s Army Corps (WAC) recruits. Lana Turner’s character is a spoiled rich party girl who signs up in the hopes it will make her look more responsible to the trustees of her trust fund will give her the rest of her inheritance thereby leaving her free to party even more than she already does.

Susan Peter’s character is that of a young wife whose husband is in the Army who is doing something productive to help the cause while her husband is fighting, and Laraine Day’s character is an Army brat who can’t wait to join the military so she can be a soldier every bit as good as her father.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Lana Turner’s character is top of her class when it comes to identifying aircrafts but not because she’s an excellent student while in class. It has to do with how many pilots she dated before she joined the corps.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Agnes Moorehead (6 December 1900 – 30 April 1974) — which many remember as Samantha Steven’s mother, Endora, in the 1960s series “Bewitched” — plays the role of the company commander, exuding an understated but unmistakable authority. She plays the role with dignity and compassion without breaking the military chain of command.

Margaret Mead used the idiom in the title of her book “And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America” published in 1943.

The Times Literary Supplement of 1908 made use of the idiom in this passage:

In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Times Literary Supplement was a supplement to the British daily national newspaper The Times (which was known as The Daily Universal Register from 1785 through to 1788 when it changed its name) when it first appeared in 1902 but by 1914, it was its own separate publication. Among the distinguished writers and authors who contributed to the publication are T.S. Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.

The idiom appeared in print in 1888 in the book “Irish Minstrelsy: Being A Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics, and Ballads with Notes and Introduction by Henry Halliday Sparling” in a poem by Irish British Army officer, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Commissioner of the Treasury of Ireland, Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker (1 September 1777 – 25 November 1855) and publishing under a pseudonym. Every stanza ends with a slightly different variation of the idiom, but always ends with keep your powder dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The poem was originally published in 1834 in The Dublin University Magazine titled “Oliver’s Advice: An Orange Ballad” and was a well-known poem of over fifty years by the time it was printed in the 1887 publication.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: William Blacker and his cousin, Valentine Blacker (19 October 1778 – 4 February 1825) were both lieutenant colonels in the British Army as well as published authors. Sometimes they published under pseudonyms (William Blacker occasionally published under the name of Fitz Stewart), and this is why there are instances were they are confused with each other.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Father C. Mayer wrote an arrangement of a song titled, “Boys, Keep Your Powder Dry: A Soldier’s Song.” It was published by Blackmar & Brothers, and lithographed by B. Duncan and Company of Columbia, South Carolina in 1863. The idiom was used as the last line in each verse as well as in the chorus.

Not they who are determined to conquer or to die;
And harken to this caution, “Boys, keep your powder dry.”

Across the ocean and back in England, Punch magazine was having a grand time with politics on 25 February 1859 when it reported on Lord Palmerston’s efforts to alert the House of Commons to what he felt was the menacing aspect of continental affairs. It was printed in the same column that Mr. Punch advised Queen Victoria to keep her powder dry. The column was followed by a poem that addressed the issue of keeping her powder dry, as well as a cartoon.

Now shortly before Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker’s poem was published in 1834, the idiom was bandied about by the Lords sitting for Parliament in the United Kingdom. One such occasion was 28 February 1832, in the discussion of education in Ireland was the subject, when William Pleydell-Bouverie (11 May 1779 – 9 April 1869), 3rd Earl of Radnor stated:

On that occasion, Mr. Archdal concluded his speech by saying, “My friends, I will now only add the words used by Oliver Cromwell to his army, when marking through a ford, ‘My boys trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry.'”

Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is repeatedly attributed to Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658). It is claimed that when Cromwell’s troops were about to cross a river to attack the enemy, he concluded his address to the troops with this idiom.

Allegedly, Oliver Cromwell said this to his regiment in 1642 when it was about to attack the enemy at the Battle of Edgehill, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this to the soldiers in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this every time there was a battle that involved crossing a river to get to the enemy’s side.

But did Oliver Cromwell ever say this? According to the Cromwell Museum there isn’t any evidence he ever said that. None. Not even once.

That doesn’t mean Oliver Cromwell didn’t say it, only that there’s no proof he said it. Maybe he said it, then again, maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, however, it is very sound advice, don’t you agree?

Idiomation tags this expression to the 1820s with the earliest published version found in the 1832 papers that show the 3rd Earl of Radnor using the idiom indicating others understood what he meant when he talked about keeping one’s powder dry.

But who said it first is still up in the air.

To add a little extra fun to today’s entry, here’s “Keep Your Powder Dry” from the movie of the same name (back in the 1940s, face powder was the kind of make-up most women wore so enjoy the double meaning of the expression keep your powder dry).

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Bad Penny

Posted by Admin on September 18, 2021

Anytime you hear someone refer to a person or situation cropping back up as a bad penny, you know that can’t be good news. In fact, the bad penny in question is usually considered to be fake and definitely unwelcome.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It has been thought for centuries that when you drop a penny in a wishing well and the wish does not come true, it’s because the penny was bad or counterfeit, not that the wish wasn’t worth granting.

For those who are wondering, the English penny was set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) back in the 14th century. At first, it was made of silver, then copper, and eventually bronze (beginning in 1860). The English penny had two plural forms: Pence and pennies.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In archery, a penny is a measure of weight for arrows that is equal to one-twelfth of the weight of a new British silver shilling.

But earlier than that, in Middle English, any coin of a small denomination was called a penny.

For movie buffs, they may recall in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Elsa Schneider says to Indiana Jones, “I never expected to see you again” his response is, “I’m like a bad penny. I always turn up.”

As Idiomation researched the expression, two idioms were found in Volume I, Chapter IX of the 2-volume book, “Good In Everything” by Mrs. Rose Parker Foot née Harris, and published by Hurst and Blackett (successors to Henry Colburn) in 1857.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” exclaimed Emily.

“But I suppose he’s to return, like a bad penny, isn’t he?” asked Henry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Rose Parker Foot was born in 1826 in London, Middlesex, UK. Her father was Charles Harris, esquire of Guildeford, and a surgeon, and her mother was Sarah Rose Holt. She married Joseph James Foot, eldest son of Joseph Foot, esquire of Stoke Newington, at St. Pancras on New Year’s Day in 1845, and aside from her brief literary career, she became the mother of six.

In Volume II of John Foster Kirk’s 1864 book, “The History of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy” a bad penny tax was discussed in the chapter titled, “Book IV, Chapter II: The Swiss Confederacy.” This volume begins in 1469. At the time, the prince-bishop of Liege was Philip the Prince of Savoy, and Edmund the Duke of Somerset as well as the knights of the Toison d’Or were in positions of power.

A tax on commodities being the common research in such cases, Hagenbach laid an impost, popularly known as the “Bad Penny” on wine — an article of domestic production, of universal consuption, and et not of absolute necessity.

In the 1815 book, “Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain” the American-French-Swiss painter, art critic, and author, Louis Simond (1767 – 1831) wrote:

Lord Chatham has one in the same hall by Bacon, 1802, overloaded likewise with thread-bare allegories, but you have at least here the figure of the illustrious man whose memory is intended to be honoured, which is certainly better than the bad penny of Nelson.

An example is found in 1742 in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus that discusses bad stamps and Ancient Greece, where the author writes:

We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.

The term bad penny was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem Piers Plowman, composed between 1372 and 1389.

Men may lykne letterid men to a badde peny.

Between 760 and 760 AD, in London (England), the broad flan penny was established as the principal denomination until the 14th century (see above). While pennies in the 12th century were 92 percent silver and 8 percent copper, by the time the 14th century rolled around, pennies contained more copper and less silver, making it difficult to know how much of each metal was used in minting pennies. The harder it was to know what was a real penny, the easier it was to produce and pass a counterfeit penny as the real deal.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: If you look under the date on the heads-side of an American penny, you might see a mint mark under the year. If the letter is a D, the coin was minted in Denver (Colorado). If the letter is an S, this is a much older penny that was minted in San Francisco (California). Pennies are no longer minted in San Francisco. And if there’s no letter, that means your penny was minted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: In 2018, the U.S. Mint stated it cost twice as much to produce a penny than what it was worth.

In Canada, the last penny minted was on 4 May 2012, following Denmark, Australia, and Ireland’s lead. Perhaps it won’t be long before people start to forget what various penny idioms mean. But until that happens, Idiomation is happy to say a bad penny has been around since the mid-1300s at least for William Langland to use it so readily in his prose poem.

If it was used much earlier, Idiomation hasn’t found a published account but Idiomation is always open to the possibility. After all, this bad penny might turn up again at some later date should Idiomation uncover more information worth sharing.

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Hair of the Dog

Posted by Admin on September 11, 2021

You may have heard someone say the morning after a night of heavy drinking that they need some hair of the dog to help them deal with their hangover and other physical symptoms of having overindulged in alcohol. They usually mean they need another shot of alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms of having a hangover. It doesn’t work, and yet, it’s been a long-touted remedy. How long?

On 18 March 2006, Robert Riley’s “On The Street” column in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper asked people how they took care of a hangover. The first answer was from Tyler Hehn, a Junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln (NB) who responded: “I’ve got to go with the hair of the dog that bit you, but a little Gatorade or water to rehydrate never hurt.”

It’s a phrase many have heard for years, and even Ann Landers used the expression in her column of 9 September 1983 that was carried by the Southeast Missourian where a reader congratulated Ann Landers on her list of the characteristics of a compulsive gambler. The writer shared his or her list entitled, “Alcoholic: How Can You Tell?”

The third question on the list was: In the morning, do you crave a “hair of the dog that bit you?”

Perhaps one of the most descriptive commentaries using the idiom is from the Wilmington (DE) Sunday Morning Star of 27 September 1936 in the “Local Color: The Week’s Odds and Ends” by Charles M. Hackett (1909 – 29 September 1970).

One of the better-known grog shops was having trouble this week. It was just beginning to blossom with the lads and lassies trying the hair of the dog for excessive hangover trouble when, outside, a pneumatic concrete breaker went into action. The anguished faces inside told the story of heads rent with clatter.

A few decades earlier, in The Pittsburgh Gazette of 11 April 1902 shared a quick commentary between news of the availability of lecture tickets in support of the Stone ransom fund and what the newspaper reported as a ‘pernicious pest’ who was setting off false alarms. It read as follows:

The governors of the Carolinas were together at Charleston Wednesday in honor of the president but the recording angels of the daily papers are silent as to whether any hair of the dog was in demand yesterday.

The complete idiom is actually the hair of the dog will cure the bite, but over time, it has been whittled down to just the first half of that claim with the second half implied. The expression comes from the ancient notion that the hair of a dog is an antidote to its bite.

As the saying went, similia similibus curantur, or like is cured by like. In many respects, it seems to be the theory that drives homeopathy.

On page 92 of Volume 15 of The New Sporting Magazine published in 1838, the magazine identified this idiom as a proverb.

The proverb “Take a hair of the dog that bit you” recommending a morning draught to cure an evening’s debauch, is derived from the prescription which recommended as a cure for the bit of a dog, that some of his hairs should be bound over the wound.

That same year, in the book “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” compiled by Irish author and antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker (15 January 1798 – 8 August 1854), one of the stories recounted how two men who had overindulged in poteen awoke the next morning with hangovers.

Back they both went most lovingly to the house, and Jack wakened up Coomara; and perceiving the old fellow to be rather dull, he bid him not be cast down, for ’twas many a good man’s case; said it all came of his not being used to the poteen, and recommended him, by way of cure, to swallow a hair of the dog that bit him.

The second edition was printed in 1838 and in the publisher’s preface to the new edition, it was stated that the book had been out of print for a number of years. Research indicates the first part was published in 1825, and the next two parts were published in 1828.

Two centuries earlier, Randle Cotgrave (unknown – 1634) mentioned the hair of the dog as a cure for hangovers in his book “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues” published in 1611.

In drunkennes to fall a quaffing, thereby to recouer health, or sobrietie; neere vnto which sence our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Randle Cotgrave was possibly the son of William Cotgreve of Christleton in Cheshire. It is certain that Randle Cotgrave belong to Cheshire, and that he was a scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge on the Lady Margaret foundation on 10 November 1587. Later, he became secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, eldest son of Thomas Cecil, First Earl of Exeter. Subsequently, he became the registrar to the Bishop of Chester. He married Ellinor Taylor of Chester, and had four sons: William, Randolf, Robert, and Alexander. He also had a daughter named Mary.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: A copy of Randle Cotgrave’s book was presented to Prince Henry, eldest son of James 1, and in return, Randle Cotgrave received from Prince Henry ten pounds as a gift, not as payment. This Randle Cotgrave’s death was given in Cooper’s “Memorials of Cambridge” as 1634.

John Heywood included the phrase in a drinking reference in his book, “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Proverbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.

I praie the leat me and my felowe haue
A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.
And bytten were we both to the brayne aryght.
We sawe eche other drunke in the good ale glas.

A more recognizable translation is this:

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A
hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both drunk.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

Yes, back in John Heywood’s day, if you were bitten to the brain, it was another way of saying you were drunk.

At the end of the day, since the idiom was known and used in 1546, it’s safe to say it was a common expression of the day, and while the first published reference Idiomation could find for this idiom is 1546, it was already a well-known expression among those looking to get over a hangover.

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Ballpark Figure

Posted by Admin on July 10, 2021

When someone asks for a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, they are interested in a somewhat qualified number guesstimate and are willing to accept a very rough estimate where necessary. Sometimes the figure guessed at is pretty close to bang on and sometimes the estimate is so far off-base as to be completely without merit. That being said, one shouldn’t confuse a ballpark figure with a good faith estimate.

In the Fall of 2019, Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith told the media that the first space trips on New Shepard would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference, he stated new technology is never cheap but that the cost of a ticket for middle-class people would eventually be affordable. Until then, GeekWire‘s Alan Boyle reported Bob Smith “hinted at a ballpark figure.”

The Polk County Enterprise newspaper of Livingston (TX) — a semi-weekly newspaper that includes local, state, and national news along with advertising — ran an story with an interesting headline in Volume 117, Number 64, Edition 1 of their newspaper published on 12 August 1999. The article by Enterprise reporter, Emily Banks, reported County Judge John Thompson had asked Clyde Arrendell who was the chief appraiser of the Polk Central Appraisal District to a budget workshop. Emily Bank reported:

Emphasizing that all figres were “ballpark figures” Thompson reviewed the budget schedule, as well as the county’s tax history from 1982 forward.

The title of the news article was this: Court Studies Budget with Ballpark Figures.

In the book “Surviving in the Newspaper Business; Newspaper Management In Turbulent Times” written by William James (Jim) Willis (born 19 March 1946) and published in 1988, the writer paraphrased what Marion Krehbiel, former president of the major newspaper brokerage firm Krehbiel-Bolitho Newspaper Service, Inc. had stated in the late 1970s with regards to arriving at a fair market price for a small to medium size daily newspaper.

Krehbiel added a caveat to these indexes, however, when he noted in 1979 that this forumula is only meant to provide purchasers with a ballpark estimate of a newspaper’s worth.

The 24 June 1957 edition of The Des Moines Register included the column “Washington Memo” which purported to report on what was going on in Washington DC. In this edition, immediately after reporting on how an Army colonel felt about one of this tasks which came about after a Southern congressman “yelped about [the Army’s] handling of racial relations.” Here’s what readers learned next.

CODE: Pentagon language continues to produce new bafflers. One of them is “a ballpark figure” meaning a very rough estimate which doesn’t do much more than indicate that a given program is going to cost somebody an awful lot of money.

Kenneth Patchen (1911 – 1972) wrote “Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer” which was published by the New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1945. In this book, the concept of the ballpark figure is used in conjunction with being out in left field on page 101 in the chapter titled, “The Last Party I Ever Went To.”

“Miro complicates it simply because he doesn’t know how to handle his material.”
“But Arp does, I suppose.”
“Of course he does.”
“You’re way out in left field.”
“And you not even in the ball park.”
I poured it out. The sand looked very sticky and the leaves on the tree were getting sort of yellow around the edges.
“And what about De Niro? This is a serious young painter.”
“All right, what about Kamrowski? – or Lee Bell? – or Jackson Pollock? – or Arthur Sturcke?”

He wasn’t the first to coin the phrase though as some sources claimed. On 1 May 1944, The Morning Herald in Hagerstown (MD) was reporting that on what a senator claimed about U.S. aid for that year.

Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., said in a speech that total U.S. aid for the current year is about $250 million. He said “a ballpark figure” is that his proposal would halt $150 million to $180 million.

Idiomation realizes that many websites claim the expression dates back to the mid-sixties with the understanding we have of the idiom these days, but obviously it was around before then for it to be used in a newspaper article twenty years earlier with the expectation that readers would understand what the idiom meant.

Unable to find an earlier published version of ballpark figure, Idiomation pegs this idiom to at least ten to fifteen years earlier for it to be used to freely in a newspaper article in 1944.

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