Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Hot Seat

Posted by Admin on April 17, 2021

There are conflicting versions of where the idiom “in the hot seat” or “on the hot seat” originated although all versions point to the idiom meaning the person in or on the hot seat is faced with harsh criticism and judgement.

Some say the expression alludes to the electric chair and dates back to the 1930s. Others say the expression was coined by Harpo Marx in the 1930s.

Some say the electric chair meaning is American English and others say the precarious, difficult, dangerous position meaning is British English.

Is it possible both meanings are correct? Is it possible that the idiom did come from the 1930s and as such can be attributed to more than one source of origin?

The Australian Women’s Weekly newspaper ran an article in the 14 January 1959 edition that was written by Ross Campbell and titled, ‘The Hot Seat.” The article was a hilarious piece about a situation — real or imagined — that happened between Ross Campbell and his wife. The many ways in which how a man sits and the direct correlation to that man’s success in life outlined how Ross Campbell wound up in the hot seat, and how those young men who lounge about are sitting pretty even though an article Ross Campbell’s wife read said they soon would be.

A decade earlier, the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane (Australia) reported on 23 August 1949 that Harold Merchant, 35, sat tight in the cabin of his 20-ton trailer the day before and cheated death by electrocution for the third time. A 25-tone power shovel hit a tramway crosswire resulting in 600 volts of electricity running through Harold Merchant, and his passenger, Frank Gorry. This was thanks in no small measure to the fifteen rubber tires on the trailer Merchant was pulling. The headline read:

Tyres saved him from ‘hot seat

There’s no doubt that the hot seat isn’t the place you really want to find yourself even when you come out of the situation on the plus side!

It’s a fact that in the 1930s, celebrities who visited William Randolph Hearst at his mansion in San Simeon would sometimes wear out his or her welcome, and as that welcome began to wear out, that guest was placed further and further away from their host, William Randolph Hearst who was only interested in having the most current and influential guests at the head of the table. The last seat was the one closest to the large fireplace in the room and, as you can imagine, that made the seat very hot indeed.

Supposedly Harpo Marx (23 November 1888 – 28 September 1964) found himself at the bottom of the guest list thereby earning himself the ‘hot seat‘ position for the evening. He knew that meant he was on the way out in terms of being a welcome guest. Supposedly, when he found himself in the hot seat, he immediately coined the phrase.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It’s alleged that his fall from grace with William Randolph Hearst had to do with Harpo sneaking down into the vault at the mansion one cold, snowy night, and getting the stored mink coats out of storage so he could dress the statues in the gardens in fur … to keep them warm. The guests awoke to the prank and enjoyed it immensely. William Randolph Hearst did not enjoy the prank at all. Up until that point, Harpo had been a frequent weekend guest.

What is known is that Harpo Marx did, indeed, visit the Hearst mansion in the 1930s. Hearst had an autograph book always at the ready and insisted that all Hearst visitors sign it upon arrival. Alongside Harp Marx’s signature was a quick caricature of Harpo with a harp that was drawn by Harpo.

What that means is that both possibilities are still in play based on what Idiomation uncovered, so Idiomation came at the idiom from another direction.

The first execution by electrocution (which replaced death by hanging) was in September of 1890 at Auburn Prison in Auburn (New York) when the state tried to make good on the death sentence that had been handed to American vegetable peddler and murderer William Kemmler (9 May 1860 – 6 August 1890) by the Courts.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: George Westinghouse, one of the leading developers of electrical power, was very vocal in his objection to having electrical power used in this manner. It took until 1899 for the design of the electric chair to be sufficiently improved that death by electrocution became the preferred method of execution in most States in the U.S.

In the Saturday Evening Post edition published on 18 August 1925, a young boy who had murdered his grandmother just so he could steal her money found himself arrested, charged, and found guilty of her murder. The following was reported:

In a town in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1925, a judge sentenced a boy fifteen years old to the electric chair. The boy twirled his hat, had nothing to say, remained in a self-satisfied calm. It was the judge whose voice shook. He was sorry that the law gave him no tether of leniency! A few minutes afterwards the boy was in his cell playing jazz on a phonograph. A newspaper reporter said he heard the lad announce that he was not afraid to die “in the hot seat,” and that anyway, “they won’t get me; I’ve got friends who will save me.”

This definitively places the electric chair reference to at least 1925 (and possibly earlier) in America, a few years before Harpo Marx is alleged to have coined the phrase at William Randolph Hearst’s mansion. However, because the idiom is in quotation marks, we also know it wasn’t a well-known phrase in 1925.

That being said, back in the day, intensive police interrogations under bright lights was often used as a technique to break suspects and make them talk. The manual, “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” recommends interrogations take place in a small, soundproof room with nothing on the walls, one small desk, two chairs for detectives to sit in if they choose to take a seat, and a third chair (with no arm rests and as uncomfortable as possible) where the suspect will sit for the duration of the interrogation.

Up until 1937, as long as the suspect signed a waiver stating the confession was given voluntarily, confessions could be obtained by way of “third degree” techniques which included deprivation of food and/or water and/or sleep, bright lights, physical discomfort, long isolation, and physical abuse (as long as no marks from said abuse could be seen on the suspect’s body). That changed in 1937 when it was determined by the Courts that such confessions were inadmissible.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Seating a suspect in an uncomfortable chair in a small room temperature (or lower) room (with a two-way mirror to allow for outside observation of the interrogation) is still allowed. While the two-way mirror is meant to provide transparency with regards to how the interrogation is conducted, it has been found to add anxiety and stress for the suspect which detectives are allowed to exploit within reason. Interrogators are also allowed to use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to secure a confession from a suspect.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: In 1937, putting suspects through the third degree in New York became a criminal offense after the use of third degree tactics was deemed illegal in that state. From 1930 through to 1937, appellate courts reversed convictions obtained through various forms of third degree where the result of the interrogation led to a confession being submitted as evidence.

Most people tend to use the words interview and interrogation interchangeably when speaking about police investigations. A police interview is used to gather information and objective facts by asking open-ended questions that allow interviewees to supply evidence. A police interrogation is used to extract a confession when police have sufficient evidence (thanks to the police interviews) to connect the suspect to the crime or crimes about which they are interviewing the suspect.

Keep in mind that the first police department in America was established in New York City in 1845 with New Orleans and Cincinatti (1852), Boston and Philadelphia (1854) Chicago and Milwaukee (1855) and Baltimore and Newark (1857) following suit. The primary focus was to prevent crime and disorder, and there were no detectives. That means that before these police departments were established, there were no hot seats courtesy of law enforcement.

While all of that is, without a doubt, very interesting, that still left Idiomation with a period between 1899 and 1925 when being in the hot seat or on the hot seat was an expression known to a segment of society that might or might not tie the idiom directly to the electric chair. The doubt is there due in no small part to a New York City detective.

In New York City, Inspector Thomas Brynes (15 June 1842 – 07 May 1910) headed up the detective bureau from 1880 to 1895, at which time he was forced to resign. He coined the phrase “giving the third degree” to describe his interrogation techniques for getting suspects to confess to crimes they were suspected of having committed. The first degree was the officer who arrested the suspect. The second degree was investigating the facts. The third degree was the interrogation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Inspector Brynes was also responsible for coining and popularizing the expression rogues’ gallery which was a photo gallery of criminals with detailed information on the crimes they had committed.

This is where the interrogation hot seat and the electric chair hot seat seem to meet up when it comes to language, which further narrows the period for the idiom’s first appearance to somewhere during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Try as Idiomation might though, there are segments of this search that elude Idiomation. The research will continue but for now, while the hot seat is pegged to sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s, the context under which the expression was first used continues to elude us … much in the same way a brilliant criminal mastermind tends to elude law enforcement until he or she is caught and brought to justice.

In other words, Idiomation remains on the case.

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Full Monty

Posted by Admin on April 10, 2021

Contrary to popular believe, the full monty is not a euphemism for stripping as the movie of the same name implied. In fact, literally, the full monty is actually a three-piece suit with a waistcoat and all the trimmings that go with such a suit including a spare pair of trousers, and figuratively, it means to pursue something to its absolute limits.

On 21 February 1993, the Sunday Life newspaper of Belfast in County Antrim reported on the goal David Montgomery of the Carrick Rangers Football Club scored against the Glentoran Football Club. Because of that goal, his team won the game. Of course, for obvious reasons, David Montgomery’s nickname was Monty, but the headline that went with the photograph and news story was:

The Full Monty: Carrick’s Co. Antrim Shield Hero David Montgomery (left0 Salutes the Fans After Tuesday’s Game.

In 1986, the book “Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street” was published. The book was compiled by Jeffery Miller and edited by Graham Nown. For those who may know, Coronation Street is a long-running, well-loved British soap opera. Because Jeffrey Miller included the expression his book nearly a decade earlier than the movie “The Full Monty” was released in theaters is that the expression was known in the mid-80s.

The podcast from České Podcasty in the Czech Republic talked about men in the 1970s “wearing the full Monty” so it appears the idiom was not only well known, but well known long before the movie was a glimmer in the scriptwriter’s eye.

So what’s the connection between clothes and this full Monty?

Sir Montague Burton (15 August 1885 – 21 September 1952) was born in Lithuania and was previously known as Moshe David Osinsky. He opened a shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in England in 1903, and within a decade it was a respected chain. It went on to become one of Britain’s largest high street clothing retailers.

What began as a single shop in 1903 turned into a chain of 400 shops by 1929. When WWII broke out, his business was responsible for making a quarter of the British military uniforms, and a third of the demobilization clothing. Demobilization clothing was civilian clothing provided to servicemen who were demobilized after WWII. The outfit, known as the “Full Monty” comprised of a hat, a three-piece suit or a jacket with flannel trousers, two shirts, a tie, a pair of shoes, and a raincoat.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The other manufacturers of demobilization clothing were Fifty Shilling Tailors which was established in 1905 by Henry Price in Leeds, and Simpsons of Piccadilly which was originally established by Simeon Simpson in 1894 as S. Simpson. His son, Alexander Simpson, joined the business in 1917 and in 1936 Simpsons of Piccadilly was established.

The tradition of giving servicemen after the war a new suit originated after WWI (yes, back in 1918) when servicemen exchanged their service uniforms for civilian clothes.

In a July 2005 article by the BBC, a number of former employees and children of former employees spoke of the “full Monty” as being this complete outfit, some of them remembering the term as far back as 1925.

The West Yorkshire Archive Service (which documents local history from the 12th century through to the present) has photographs of the Leeds factory of Montague Burton from the 1930s and includes photographs of the Australian Cricket Team visiting in the summer of 1938. One of the photographs identifies the Australian team’s captain, Don Bradman (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), being fitted for what is described as the “full Monty” at one of Burton’s stores.

So while this expression is a difficult idiom to research (Idiomation invested three days on this quest) with an inordinately large number of red herrings to chase after, the best Idiomation can confirm is that it appears most likely the expression is from Montague Burton based on the demobilization suits (1945) and the factory photos (1938).

What Idiomation can confirm is that the idiom existed long before the movie was filmed.

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Swat Mulligan

Posted by Admin on April 6, 2021

While researching mulligan, Idiomation became aware of the expression swat mulligan as it referred to Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen. As luck would have it, this wasn’t difficult to research.

The idiom swat mulligan is derived from the name of a infamous albeit baseball slugger — as written by Bozeman Bulger (22 November 1877 – 23 May 1932) — who played for the Poison Oaks of the Willow Swamp League who performed prodigious batting feats. The famous slugger’s name was Swat Mulligan and one of his adversaries was Fahrenheit Flingspeed and his egg pitch.

The news stories first appeared in the Evening World News newspaper of New York City in time for the start of baseball season in 1908.

Strong hitters in baseball and golf saw themselves compared more and more often to the great baseball slugger, and golfers of note began seeing reporters refer to them as ‘the real Swat Mulligan of the links.’

In 1915, the New York Yankees hoped to lure Swat Mulligan out of retirement to coach the team. In fact, reporter Hal Sheridan’s story appeared in the Seattle Star newspaper on 13 January 1915 with this opening paragraph:

“The negotiations for the services of Swat Mulligan as coach for the New York Yankees,” says Bozeman Bulger in the New York World, “are proceeding slowly but Manager Donovan thinks he will yet succeed.”

At the time, Swat Mulligan allegedly lived in Bobbletown (MO) and Bozeman Bulger shared the contents of various telegrams and letters that passed between Swat Mulligan and Bill Donovan (with missives to Bill Donovan being sent general deliver, New York).

Bozeman Bulger was a contemporary of Damon Runyon (4 October 1880 – 10 December 1946), and he wrote a great many “as told to” sports books. Along with being a sportswriter, he was also a newspaper columnist and a playwright as well as a lawyer. He joined the Evening World News newspaper in 1905.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Bozeman Bulger was a pioneer in the development of American sportswriting and developed the genre of ghostwriting by way of such sports icons as John J. McGraw, Ty Cobb, John L. Sullivan, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Bozeman Bulger’s father and grandfather were notable Confederate officers during the Civil War and prior to the Civil War, both had been newspapermen for the Dadeville Record.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: His grandfather was General Michael Bulger and he served on the staff of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. His maternal great-uncle was a noted frontiersman, and Bozeman (MT) gets its name from him.

The expression referring to a formidable hitter began with Bozeman Bulger in 1908 and has no affiliation to either the expression mulligan in either cricket or golf, but it certainly makes for an interesting side trip to the expression mulligan, doesn’t it?

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Mulligan

Posted by Admin on April 3, 2021

Recently Idiomation came across the expression mulligan which is a free shot, so to speak. It’s a do-over or a second chance that replaces the first attempt at something, and is only accepted among friends in informal circumstances. As can be expected, you can give a mulligan or you can take a mulligan but you can never borrow one or lend one out.

The Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale (CA) posted an OpEd piece by Thomas Elias title, “Primary Exposes Problems With Early Voting” on 22 March 2020. It dealt with early voting and the primaries, and how the election in 2020 exposed weaknesses in California’s early voting system. The names that appeared on the early voting ballots included names of candidates who had dropped out of the Presidential race. You can imagine how that affected the results when November rolled around. This is how the author of the piece summed matters up.

Some of those voters would have liked to take a mulligan and vote over again once their candidates dropped out shortly before Election Day. 

As Idiomation continued researching the expression, an Irish tale was shared that claims that back in the day, and long before the turn of the 20th century, a foursome of Irish lads took their practice drives at the first hole. The oldest man, displeased with how everyone’s first shot had gone, said in his thick Irish brogue, “Do them all again!” The American foursome behind them overheard his comment, liked the idea of a practice shot and repeated the phrase they thought they heard, “Do the Mulligan!”

With that story being shared, Idiomation decided to see if there was a connection between giving or taking a mulligan and golf.

Amateur golfer, hotelier, and Canadian David Bernard Mulligan, in an interview in 1952 with Sudbury Star sportswriter Don Mackintosh, told the story of how the expression came to be. It all happened at the Country Club of Montreal (established in 1910) — which involved driving across the mile-long Victoria Bridge to get to the golf course — some time in the mid-1920s, according to David Bernard Mulligan.

One day while playing in my usual foursome, I hit a ball off the first tee that was long enough but not straight. I was so provoked with myself that on impulse I stooped over and put another ball down. The other three looked at me with considerable puzzlement and one of them asked, “What are you doing?”

“’I’m taking a correction shot,’ I replied. ‘What do you call that?’ the partner inquired. Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘mulligan.’

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: On 22 July 1923, on page 55 of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper of Rochester (NY), the paper reported: The boulevard before reaching Victoria Bridge is delightful and the mile ride across the St. Lawrence over Victoria Bridge is slow but enjoyable.

The bridge was known beyond New York state, as the Chicago Tribune reported on 10 August 1924: Closing of the Victoria Bridge at Montreal for five days last week brought out the fact that the bridge is used daily by from 700 to 1,200 vehicles, of which over 70 percent come from the United States.

The story was so well known that when David Bernard Mulligan died on 27 December 1954, his obituary began with: “David B. Mulligan, 83, dean of hotel men and veteran golfer credited with originating the extra tee shot term of ‘taking a Mulligan‘ died here today after a long illness.

But even before the expression was used in golf, it was used in cricket where a bad ball off the wicket could be replayed as a mulligan according to the  Colorado Springs Gazette of 19 April 1919. Obviously for it to appear in a news story in 1919, it had to be an accepted term to used in the news story with the expectation of being understood by readers.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than a fortunate coincidence that his last name was already associated with a meaning for mulligan that meant “to take a hard swing at a ball.‘ You see, in 1920, Babe Ruth was already being referred to in newspaper articles as a Swat Mulligan. How do we know this? On 13 March 1920, the Evening World News newspaper in New York City ran an article titled, “Long-Range Hit Record For Baseball and Golf Ruth’s Chief Ambition” the first paragraph began with this:

Famous “Babe” has natural form for walloping home runs, but on links he’s developed special style that drives the little ball over 300 yards – Yankees star confident of flashing new Swat Mulligan stuff this year in both baseball and golf.

Nearly a year before that, Walter Hagen was deemed the “Swat Mulligan” of the golf links according to the Evening World News of 13 June 1919.

Conditions that make most golfers go blooey only make Hagen play harder. He always seems to have something in reserve. He plays both with his head and great hitting strength. Famous as a long drive, a favorite Hagen trick is to let opponents lead him from the tee to the point where they start pressing in Anxiety to rub it in. Then the Detroit wizard simply lets out a few kinks and it’s good night for the foolish golfer who thought he could out-distance the Swat Mulligan of the links.

What is particularly interesting about these examples is that mulligans in golf in the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen examples has nothing to do with the do-over version in the David Bernard Mulligan version.

A completely different version for the word mulligan comes from the Fresno Morning Republican newspaper in California in 1898 where the word was used as a stand-in term for any Irishman or Irishwoman.

And between the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen definition and the Fresno Morning Republican definition, is the hobo slang definition of the early 1900s where mulligan refers to making use of whatever happens to be available at the time.

That being said, a mulligan in terms of a second chance to replace a first attempt that wasn’t to the person’s liking is pegged at the mid-1920s and David Bernard Mulligan. Of course, Idiomation will continue its research into the other variations of mulligan … for interest’s sake.

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The Penny Dropped

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2021

The British idiom about a penny dropping means that someone has finally understood something that escaped their understanding for a period of time, but that expression is not to be confused with the idiom to drop a penny which still means something entirely different. It also should not be confused with the lyric in the Christmas song that encourages the audience to “please drop a penny in the old man’s hat.”

And it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the story of a penny dropped off the observation deck of the Empire State building killing someone on the street below.

Pennies have been around a long time. Back in the mid-1800s, 12 pennies (also known as pence) made a shilling, and a shilling made a pound 20 a pound was made up of 240 pennies. In Canada, coppers (as pennies were called) were stamped out by Britain’s Royal Mint and represented 1/100th of a Canadian dollar and at the time, outside of Ontario, Canadian pennies were considered worthless.

But long before the Canadian penny, in 1793, the American penny made its appearance authorized by the United States from the Mint Act of 1792 which was signed by George Washington and designed by Benjamin Franklin.

You might think the expression should be American, not British, based on how long the penny has been around in the U.S. and yet, that’s not the case. A penny during William Shakespeare time wasn’t really a penny but a reference to money in general.

What penny hath Rome borne, What men provided, what munition sent?

But was the British penny of William Shakespeare’s the penny the British people came to know as a real penny? In 1797, pennies in Britain were made from copper but before that, pennies were made of silver, and in 1860, copper pennies were made from bronze instead of copper.

But at what point were pennies associated with people understanding what took the listener so long to understand that was obvious to the speaker?

At the end of the 19th century, penny machines (also known as penny-in-the-slot machines) were very popular in Britain. They provided cheap entertainment. Usually, when you dropped a penny into the machine, a song would play or a puppet would dance or a mannequin clairvoyant predicted something in your future after wich a small card dropped down into the slot with the fortune printed on it. The mannequin clairvoyant was a featured player in the Tom Hanks’ movie, “Big.”

You could also have gas delivered by way of an automatic penny-in-the-slot machine in 1890 where those of the poorer class (as they were called back then) could purchase 25 cubic feet of gas for their homes by inserting a penny into the penny-in-a-slot machines attached to their homes.

It wasn’t long before there were automatic postal boxes supplying postcards and stamped envelopes with paper enclosed and automatic insurance boxes providing insurance against accidental death for 24 hours, and automatic photographic machines.

Pennies were all the rage, and not just as they pertained to slot machines either!

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: The penny-farthing was a popular bicycle in its day beginning with its arrival in the 1870s. It got its name from the difference in the size of its wheels which was a nod to the difference in size between a penny and a farthing. The front wheel was large and the back wheel was small in much the same way that the penny was much larger than the farthing (which was worth a quarter of a penny).

The Sekgness Standard in Lincolnshire published the following in the column “Things We Want To Know” on 20 April 1932:

The identity of the gentleman who was allowed to go for a drink after assisting the missus on Sunday?
And how long it took him to fathom the problem as to why the hostelry was closed at 1.15 p.m.
And if the penny dropped on suggestion of his spouse that he had forgotten to advance his watch an hour?
And if he has made a mental resolve to guard against a similar happening in future years?

With a 40-year gap to work within, Idiomation continued tracking the idiom’s history down.

In the 1890s and 1900s, the Kinetoscope or Mutascope movie machines were all penny-in-the-slot machines. The viewscreen would be completely blank until the coin dropped through the slot into the machine, and there was usually a delay between the action of plugging the slot with a penny, the penny dropping into the box, and the mechanism within finally starting the movie.

The concept of a penny dropping and the person who paid the penny going from a blank screen to a movie is from this particular era even though the idiom is attest to years later. However, that it should be used so easily in a newspaper column and without quotation marks in 1932 indicates it was an idiom in use without doubt throughout the 1920s.

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Drop A Dime

Posted by Admin on March 20, 2021

The other night, while watching a relatively recent detective series episode on television, the expression drop a dime was used. The expression means to report a criminal to the authorities (otherwise known as ratting someone out to the cops) but in this day and age of technology, what do dimes have to do with reporting crimes and criminals?

The idiom drop a dime refers to assisting law enforcement in an investigation by placing a usually anonymous phone call to share helpful information about a criminal or a crime being investigated. Even though payphones are now so rarely seen that many younger people have little to no idea what a payphone looks like (and much less how to operate one), the expression persists.

On 23 January 2017, 49-year-old Toronto native and very popular hairstylist Fabio Sementilli was found dead at his home in Woodland Hills (CA) by his daughter. Accused were his widow, Monica Crescentini and her then-boyfriend Robert Louis Baker as well as an unnamed third party, Toronto Sun reporter Brad Hunter informed readers back in 2019 of the situation by writing this:

With the death penalty off the table, neither the suspected black widow nor her beau has any incentive to drop a dime on the mystery man.

But it wasn’t just Canadian reporters who used the expression in news articles in 2019. Reporter Ed Kilgore of The Intelligencer also used the expression when reporting on how impeaching then-President Donald Trump could prove Joe Biden’s undoing by way of uncovering whether Hunter Biden benefited from his father’s assistance in carving out a career as a lawyer-lobbyist, and as Ed Kilgore described him “a procurer of appropriations earmarks, and an international man of mystery.”

That coupled with the history of substance abuse and allegations against him regarding his former wife and his brother’s widow, certainly created a difficult situation for Joe Biden’s campaign. In the news story, Ed Kilgore wrote:

Team Trump wants it to stay that way, which is precisely why Trump and his goon, Rudy Giuliani, were trying to drop a dime on Hunter Biden and smear Joe in the bargain.

In the 1995 Spike Lee movie “Clockers” based on the novel by the same name written by Richard Price told the story of street-level drug dealers. Such dealers were referred to as clockers. It isn’t long in the movie before one of the lead clockers arranges to have a rival clocker knocked off and as you can guess, the rival is murdered. The following dialogue happens at the 26-minute mark in the movie:

We got a crowd of black, white customers, out-of-state license plates, what have you. Somebody gonna check that out. They gonna drop a dime on me, call 911. With my jacket, I can’t go back to jail.

While there’s a whole history behind the use of the word jacket, that will be addressed sooner rather than later on this blog. But let’s continue with uncovering the origins of dropping a dime.

Back in the day, a dime pushed into the coin slot (which landed in the coin deposit box inside) of a payphone allowed the user to make a local phone call. When the coin dropped into the coin box inside the payphone, only then could a phone call be placed. Since cellphones weren’t around yet, and people ratting out people and their potentially criminal activities to law enforcement was something most people didn’t want to have traced back to them, using a payphone guaranteed a fair bit of anonymity to the caller.

With anonymity in play, people were more inclined to place phone calls to the police by way of a payphone to inform on specific people and activities that might be of interest to the police. It’s easy to see how this activity came to be known as dropping a dime on someone – it was quick, inexpensive, and effective.

On 1 October 1976, confessed Mafia hit man Ira Pecznick co-wrote a book, with help from Paul Hoffman, titled, “To Drop a Dime: The Mafia Hit Man’s Uncensored Story.” The book allegedly detailed the criminal activities of the New Jersey Campisi family.  Ira Pecznick turned State witness against the Campisi family, and his testimony sent many of the family to prison.

In 1951, the coin charge across the U.S. of a nickel per call rose to a dime. That being said, some payphones required a dime to make a call as early as 1949.  But by 1951, in major cities across America, people could count on needing a dime to place a call from a payphone.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: When the Bell System faced competition in the telecommunications industry in 1981 due in large part to deregulation, the nationwide pricing policy for payphones rose to a quarter per call.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Back when payphones (then known as phone booths) finally became popular in general, those payphone calls cost two cents.  In the early 1930s, new shoes called loafers (or Weeguns, depending on where a person lived in the US) were the rage and there was just enough space in each shoe for a penny to fit snugly but not uncomfortably. People wearing loafers began keeping a penny in each shoe should the need arise to make an emergency phone call, and in time, this is how the pennyloafer got its name.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: American inventor William Gray was granted a patent on 13 August 1889 for his device that allowed people to deposit coins so they could place a telephone call. Soon afterwards, he established the Gray Telephone Pay Station Company but the concept didn’t catch on quite as quickly as he had hoped.

By 1911, however, in collaboration with Western Electric (which was AT&T’s manufacturing division), the updated payphone was being installed in cities across America, and anywhere it was likely someone would want or need to place a phone call.

Getting back to the matter at hand, hard-boiled detective stories by authors such as Raymond Chandler (23 July 1888 – 26 March 1959) and Frank Morrison ‘Mickey’ Spillane (9 March 1918 – 17 July 2006) started to include the idiom in their stories to refer to a snitch (a police informant) and even though the cost of phone calls kept increasing over the decades to a quarter then two quarters than a dollar (payphones in Canada accepted dollar coins known as loonies), the meaning attributed to dropping a dime never changed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Many of the future well-known authors of detective stories who wrote detective stories in the 1930s and 1940s regularly saw their stories published in the detective pulp fiction magazine “Dime Detective” whose first issue was published in November 1931. The last issue was published in August 1953. The magazine enjoyed a run of 274 issues published. There were British reprints under the name of “Red Dime Detective” and “Yankee Detective Fiction.”

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 3: The first dime-novel detective appeared in a story published in 1872 in “The Fireside Companion” story paper and written by American author and medical doctor, Harry Enton (1854 – 28 March 1927).  A year later, a new ten-cent format that was 9 inches by 13 inches, with only 32 pages and a black-and-white illustration, was launched, and these were referred to as ‘weekly libraries.’ Of all the titles available, it was the “New York Detective Library” by Frank Tousey (24 May 1853 – 7 September 1902) that was among the most successful titles.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 4: At the time, the English equivalent of the dime novel was the shilling shocker or the penny dreadful.

 

In light of the dime detectives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s easy to see how the connection between detectives, law enforcement, payphones and dimes came together. Because Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to dropping a dime than the detectives stories of the 1950s — even with a great deal of earlier dime and detective history leading up to the 1950s — the idiom to drop a dime is pegged to 1951  — the cost of an anonymous payphone call to the police was a dime in major cities across America, and people were apt to assist the police with a little unexpected extra information on a possible crime or criminal.

As an added suggestion, Idiomation reminds readers that the expression to drop a dime should not be confused with to drop a penny which, of course, means something completely different, and that will be a future idiom that will be published here at some point. Idiomation should probably also research where and when the expression dime store hood as well.

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Manners Make The Man

Posted by Admin on March 13, 2021

Some of us have been told that manners make the man (or woman) from a very young age without understanding what that idiom means other than it matters to be polite when in the presence of others. What it means is that politeness, civility, and good manners are essential to easy interactions with others in society.  Sometimes people say manners make the man and sometimes people say manners maketh man.  At the end of the day, it’s the same idiom.

The expression has been around for quite some time, and is still used even in television programs and movies. It’s a favorite expression used by Colin Firth’s character, Harry Hart, in Kingsman: The Secret Service. In one episode, the following scene is seen.

[Harry walks over to the front door and starts locking it]

HARRY HART: Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson.

[with the hook of his umbrella, he grabs a glass and swings it at Rottweiler’s head and knocks him out]

Thirty or so years earlier, musician Sting used it in his very popular song “Englishman in New York” on his “Nothing Like The Sun” CD in 1987.

“If ‘manners maketh man,’ as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

In The Monthly Magazine edition of 1 April 1816 the continuation of “A Morning’s Walk From London to Kew” by English schoolteacher, author, publisher, and vegetarianism activist Sir Richard Phillips (13 December 1767 – 2 April 1840) included not only the idiom but a reference as to who was the first to coin the expression.

In a word, either ought not the manners of certain of our public schools to be corrected, and their system of instruction to be rendered accordant with the actual state of knowledge; or ought they not to be shamed by the wise and good, who seek the happiness of their offspring and the welfare of society? Is it less true now than in the day of William of Wykeham, that “Manners maketh man!” and ought not the vices and passions of congregated youth, who too often possess dangerous means of gratification, to become objects of the systemic correction of some modern Lycurgus?

Two centuries earlier, a variation of the expression was included in The London Prodigal published in1605: ‘For thers an old saying: Be he rich, or be he poore, Be he hye, or be he lowe, Be he borne in barne or hall, Tis maners makes the man and all.’

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: This play is attributed to William Shakespeare and was performed by the King’s Men. Of course, no one knows for certain if William Shakespeare actually wrote this play as his name appears on the title page of the only edition and scholars generally dismiss this as proof William Shakespeare wrote it. The play has also been attributed to Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, John Marston, Michael Drayton, Thomas Heywood, and George Wilkins. What is known as fact is that it was published in 1605 by London publisher Nathanial Butler (died 22 February 1664) and printed by Thomas Creede (1593 – 1617).

William Horman (1440 to April 1535) was the headmaster of Eton College (1485 -1484) and then Winchester College ( 1495 – 1501). He began his education, however, as a pupil at William of Wykeham’s college in Winchester in 1468. This is important for a number of reasons, one of which is the fact that Winchester College’s motto was “manners makyth man.” Additionally, William Horman’s book, “The Vulgaria” contained a collection of English phrases with their Latin translations which was published in 1519, and it is in this book that the idiom is found.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In the introduction to his book, William Horman states he put the book together while still a schoolmaster several years earlier.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Horman signed a contract with Richard Pynson (he was one of the first printers of English books) on 28 June 1519 to produce 800 “whole and perfect copies” of his book in 35 chapters. Richard Pynson (1449 – 1529) was the King’s Printer to Henry VII as well as Henry VIII, and was responsible for printing and published the majority of official legal materials. He is also responsible for printed the first cookery book in English, and an illustrated edition of “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The motto of William of Wykeham (1320 – 1404) as well as the motto of New College, Oxford which was founded by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester was “manners makyth man.”

While still acting as the Archdeacon of Lincoln in 1361, his seal displayed both his coat of arms with the motto. In 1395, the motto appeared on a scroll above the coat of arms on the north side of the nave of the Bradford Peverell church near Dorchester.  However, during this same time period, there was another proverb that was well known, that being “manners and clothing makes man.”

During this time period, manners had two meanings: One of which dealt with a person’s character, and the other dealt with etiquette. Together, manners referred to one’s morals and ethics as well as their outward deportment.

INTERESTING GRAMMAR NOTE FROM THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY: [T]he normal third person singular ending in standard southern English was -eth. The form -(e)s, originally from Northern dialect, replaced -eth in most kinds of use during the seventeenth century. A few common short forms, chiefly doth, hath, continued often to be written, but it seems likely that these were merely graphic conventions.

Now manners only became a thing of note during the Medieval era which ended in 1500, so it’s not surprising to learn that William of Wykeham coined the expression back in 1361. Of course, if readers know of an earlier published version of the idiom, we would love to add this to the entry.

Until that happens, Idiomation pegs the expression to 1361 and credits it to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester.

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Kissing Cousins

Posted by Admin on March 6, 2021

Last week while researching kith and kin, a journalist’s column from 1960 postulated that the expression kissing cousins was a variation of kith and kin. Idiomation decided to put that theory to the test.

Out of curiosity, Idiomation wondered how common cousin marriages there were around the world, and lo and behold, more than ten percent of marriages are between first or second cousins according to a piece written for the New York Times by Sarah Kenshaw but was published on 26 November 2009 titled, “Shaking Off The Shame.”

Author H.G. Wells married his first cousin, Isabel Mary Wells, and poet Edgar Allan Poe married his first cousin Virginia Clemm as did Christopher Robin Milne (son of author A.A. Milne) who married his first cousin Lesley Selincourt. Even Albert Einstein married his first cousin as did Charles Darwin!

Knowing there are so many kissing cousins in the world even in this generation, the origins of the expression were even more intriguing.

During the Civil War, kissing cousins referred to relatives who held the same political views. It also went beyond that as seen in American author, journalist, and Confederate sympathizer Edward Alfred Pollard’s piece, “A Re-Gathering of ‘Black Diamonds’ in the Old Dominion” published in Southern Literary Messenger in October 1859:

Pursuing my journey, I make the usual round of visits to uncles and cousins, and even remoter relatives. Again I am charmed by visits to hospitable kin; and again, I am especially charmed by the Virginia fashion of kissing cousins to the third degree. The pretty cousin “with the Roman name” is again greeted with a kiss, and found not only on her lips but in her heart as sweet as ever. God bless her!

Corporal Streeter spoke on the subject on 25 September 1844 in the Spartanburg Spartan newspaper where the following was printed.

Hear what Corporation Street says about kissing cousins: The lips of a pretty cousin are a sort of ground between a sister’s and a neutral stranger’s. If you sip, it is not because you love, nor exactly because you have the right, nor upon grounds Platonic, nor with the calm satisfaction that you kiss a favorite sister. It is a sort of hocus pocus commingling of all, into which each feeling throws its part, until the concatenation is thrilling, peculiar, exciting, delicious, and emphatically slick. This is as near a philosophical analization as we can well come.

It should be noted that in the mid-1700s, the meaning of the word cousin changed to such a degree to make the earlier definition obsolete. In William Shakespeare’s time, it was common to refer to any kinsman to whom one was related as cousin which is why in the play “Much Ado About Nothing” Leonato says to his brother Antonio: “How now brother, where is my cousin, your son?

Medieval literature indicates that back in the day, cousin referred to any relative who was not your sibling or your parent but it could refer to a grandchild or a godchild as well as illegitimate children, especially those of men and women of the cloth). In other words, cousin had very broad applications during Medieval times.

It appears that across the centuries, the word cousin has been a generic word used to cover many levels of kinship.

Of note is the fact that in 1796, the term Kentish cousin was used to describe distant relatives who actually were cousins in the sense of the word as we understand it to mean in the 21st century.

However, the idiom kissing cousin in the sense it means in 2021 is, for the most part, a 20th century creation which is: A person, especially a relative, whom one knows well enough to kiss more or less formally upon meeting. That has been the accepted definition of the idiom since the 1930s.

At the end of the day, there isn’t anything naughty about kissing cousins, and there’s nothing shameful about referring to someone as a kissing cousin. So here’s a delightful photo of kissing cousins from the Michigan Daily newspaper of 15 July 1984 snapped by Rebecca Knight.

KISSING COUSINS, Michigan Daily, 15 July 1984

KISSING COUSINS, Michigan Daily, 15 July 1984

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Kith and Kin

Posted by Admin on February 27, 2021

Kith and kin originally meant one’s country and relatives, and eventually became a phrase that referred to one’s friends and family.

These days, kith is one of those words that has managed to survive until this day without a meaning beyond this expression which means it’s what linguists refer to as a fossil word. But when this wasn’t the case, kith had a life all its own in language. Its roots are found in the Middle English word kitthe which means homeland or native region, which is from the Old English word cydd.

It’s also part of a select group of phrases known as irreversible binomials. Other irreversible binomials include aid and abet, quick and dirty, and chop and change. An irreversible binomial is where the words always appear in the same order and are never found switched around.

On 6 July 2020, newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Chef Kwame Onwuachi who opened the Kith and Kin restaurant three years earlier in Washington’s Wharf district on the ground floor of the InterContinental Hotel was leaving his restaurant and would no longer be the Executive Chef for Kith and Kin.

The Chicago Tribune ran a news article on 01 December 1995 titled, “Scottish Immigrants Find a Home Away From Home: Retirement Facility Keeps Culture Alive.” The article was about the first philanthropic organization in Illinois known as the St. Andrew Society that was founded 150 years earlier in 1845 by U.S. Army Captain George McClennan. McClennan made a name for himself as a prominent general for the North during the Civil War, and was, of course, of Scottish descent.

The St. Andrew Society was kicking off a capital campaign and the following was reported:

The Scottish Home retirement and nursing home in North Riverside is the heart and soul of the society today, said Alexander Kerr Jr., the society’s president. The home was originally built in 1910, and to mark the society’s 150th anniversary, members have kicked of the $7 million “Kith and Kin” capital campaign, to add a special health-care wing to the current home.

Harold Riffe wrote in his column “Fair and Mild” in the Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail of 03 July 1960 that the expression kissing cousins was, in his opinion, a corruption of kith and kin which he chalked up to a lisp.

As for “kissin’ cousins’ that was only a logical and easy projection of the “kith and kin” idea, and, I might add, a very nice projection, too.

Thuth doth a lithp have romanth!

In 1928, English author and self-styled clergyman Montague Summers (10 April 1880 – 10 August 1948) wrote “The Vampire, His Kith and Kin” wherein he set forth his philosophy of vampirism. His writings focused primarily on witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, and he was the first to translate the 15th century witch hunter’s manual, “Malleus Maleficarum” into English.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers was ordained a deacon of the Church of England but did not move past that level due in large part to his interest in Satanism and the occult. In time, he began presenting himself as a Catholic priest even though he was not a member of any Catholic order or diocese and was not a Catholic. He was also never ordained a priest of any religious order.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: He was acquainted with Aleister Crowley and while Aleister Crowley adopted the persona of a witch, Montague Summers adopted the persona of a learned witch-hunter.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers has the phrase “Tell me strange things” engraved on his headstone, and his manservant Hector Stuart-Forbes is buried with him in the same plot.

American teacher and children’s author Martha Finley (26 April 1828 – 30 January 1909) wrote a number of books over the years, including “Elsie’s Kith and Kin” which was published in 1886 and was the 12th book in the Elsie series of books. In all, Martha Finley wrote twenty-eight Elise Dinsmore books over almost forty years, and the series made Martha Finley one of the most renowned children’s authors of her era with book sales that were second only to Louisa May Alcott.

The expression was used in “A Christmas Carol” by English novelist, journalist, illustrator, and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). The book was published on 19 December 1843 and the expression is found in this passage.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your Family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this Earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves; not us.”

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable property of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s) that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.

The National Bard aka the Bard of Ayrshire, Scottish poet Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) used the expression in the text of “My Lord A-Hunting” published in 1787. The third verse reads thusly:

My lady’s white, my lady’s red,
And kith and kin o’ Cassillis’ blude;
But her ten-pund lands o’ tocher gude;
Were a’ the charms his lordship lo’ed.

As you can see, the meaning of kith and kin that is understood in the 21st century hasn’t changed in several centuries. In fact, in the Middle English narrative poem by William Langland (1332 – 1390) the idiom is found in “The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman” which is believed to have been written sometimes after the Good Parliament of 1376 and after the Papal Schism of 1379, and was most likely completed some time between 1382 and 1387. The poem was, however the product of thirty year’s labor ad the poem was in a near-constant state of revision during that time.

ORIGINAL: Fer fro kitth and fro kynne yuel yclothed ȝeden.
TRANSLATION: Far from kith and from kin they evil-clothed went.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of this idiom however it is an idiom that undoubtedly reaches back much, much farther in light of the fact that Old English was spoken from the 5th through to 11th centuries, and well after the Norman invasion of 1066.

Considering that the oldest surviving literature written in Old English is “Caedmon’s Hymn” from the 7th century, it is possible that an earlier example of the idiom was published prior to William Langland’s epic poem. It’s just that Idiomation did not uncover the idiom in other literary texts prior to Willian Langland’s epic poem.

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Cause Célèbre

Posted by Admin on February 20, 2021

The expression cause célèbre came up in last week’s entry on Idiomation, and this got Idiomation wondering as to how old that expression is, and whether the origins of the expression really are found in France as the spelling implies. For those who may not be sure what a cause célèbre is, it’s an issue or incident responsible for widespread controversy and usually leads to heated public debates on the subject.

It is, to translate the expression word for word, a famous cause, that it is so controversial in nature that it seems everyone is talking about the cause of the controversy and what is being said about it as well as by whom.  Examples of a cause célèbre would be the ongoing Julian Assange saga, the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the Rodney King incident, and the Amanda Knox trial to name just a few.

The word cause in English is from the Latin word causa that refers to judicial process, and has to do with the reason or motive for a legal decision, or the grounds for action. It has been used in this sense since circa 1200.  When it is used in the sense of a side taken in a controversy, that dates back to circa 1300, so let’s take a look at where in the timeline cause célèbre came to be a recognized expression.

Hillary Clinton used the expression in August of 2015 when defending the situation when she was the U.S. Secretary of State and intelligence officials determined that over 300 messages on her private email account on her private email server were potentially classified, and an inspector general stated at least two of the email messages contained top secret information. When asked at a press conference about the emails and email server, she was quoted by a number of mainstream media sources as saying:

In retrospect, this didn’t turn out to be convenient at all and I regret that this has become such a cause celebre. But that does not change the facts, the facts are stubborn — what I did was legally permitted.

From March through to June 2011, the Old Vic Theatre in London (England) presented the stage play “Cause Célèbre: A Woman of Principle” to mark the centennial of its author, English author, dramatist, and screenwriter, Terence Rattigan (10 June 1911 – 30 November 1977). It wasn’t the first time the play had been performed. In 1987, a television version starring Helen Mirren as Alma Rattenbury was broadcast. Before that, a stage version co-written by Terence Rattigan and Robin Midgely was presented on 4 July 1977 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Eighteen months earlier, it had been broadcast on BBC on 27 October 1975 as a radio play.

The story was inspired by the trial of Alma Rattenbury (the former Alma Pakenham) and her teenage lover, George Percy Stoner (19 November 1916 – 24 March 2000), who, along with Alma, murdered Alma’s third husband, Francis Mawson Rattenbury (11 October 1867 – 28 March 1935) in 1935.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Although Francis was Alma’s third husband, Alma was Francis’ second wife.  In 1923, he left his first wife of 24 years, Florence Nunn and their two children, for 27-year-old Alma.  He publicly flaunted his affair with Alma, and because of that and other bad behaviors, he was shunned by his former clients and associates to such a degree that he had to move away from Victoria (British Columbia, Canada). 

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Alma committed suicide days after being acquitted of murder and of being an accessory after the fact,  George was convicted and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment, then released seven years into his sentence to join the army and fight in the Second World War, after which he did not return to prison.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1:  Francis Mawson Rattenbury was the architect for the British Columbia Parliament Building, the Provincial Courthouse of British Columbia, the chateau styled Empress hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the 18-room, 3-story Burns Manor for then-Senator Pat Burns in Calgary (Alberta, Canada).  He also designed a number of hotels and stations for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway which weren’t built due to the death of the company’s president, Charles Melville Hays, who, in 1912, was a passenger on the RMS Titanic. 

On 11 June 1910, The Star newspaper in Christchurch (New Zealand) carried the news story by Charles Morrimer of the London Graphic of the trial of the Korean accused of murdering Prince Ito Hirobumi (14 October 1841 – 26 October 1909).  It was reported that the accused “had every possible advantage which the law allowed; he was warmly housed, decently fed, humanely treated.” He was defended by English lawyer, John Charles Edward (J.E.) Douglas (12 September 1876 – 18 December 1915), son of Canadian born Royal Navy officer Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas (8 February 1842 – 12 March 1913), and the accused spoke with his foreign counsel through an interpreter.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas was born in Quebec (Canada) as the son of a physician, and died in Newnham (England), and was the first Canadian to obtain a naval cadetship. He was also the director of the first British naval mission to Japan. He rose to be a Sea Lord of the Admiralty under Goschen and Lord Selborne and, finally, Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: He was an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) from 1893 through to 1895.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: John Charles Edward (J.E.) Douglas was appointed Registrar of the British Supreme Court for China in Shanghai in August 1901, and served in that position until 1907. From 1907 to 1915, he was in private practice at the bar in Shanghai before signing up for war service.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 3: Admiral Douglas’ son, J.E. Douglas was a Major in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. He was killed in action in Flanders on 18 December 1915 at the age of 39.

The court system was unlike the British court system as the Japanese court system had availed itself of the German Criminal Code in creating their own.

The accused, along with the accused accomplices, sat politely in the courtroom, and it was reported that the “Oriental public was much too well-behave to express either approvation or disapprovation.”

The Japanese, when they tried Prince Ito’s murdered, stood in a blaze of light — all eyes fixed on them. They knew it perfectly well. The case proved even more than a cause celebre: it proved a test case — and Japan’s modern civilization was as much on trial as any of the prisoners.

In the end, the accused murderer got the death sentence. One of the accomplices was sentenced to three years imprisonment with yard labor, and the other two accomplices received eighteen months imprisonment a piece.

The article ended with this:

He had the hero’s crown almost within his grasp, and he left the Court proudly. Has this cause celebre, so beautifully conducted, so wisely judged, ended as a score for the murderer and his misguided fellow patriots after all?

The 11 October 1900 edition of the Bismarck Tribune of Bismarck, North Dakota reported on the will of a certain Mr. Musgrove in the paper’s column, “Around The State.”

In the Musgrove will case at Grafton, Mrs. O.E. Sauter, wife of Judge Sauter of the Seventh district, is the beneficiary under the will, and Judge Sauter is named as the executor. The cause promises to become a cause celebre in Walsh county and will probably get to the supreme court [sic] before it is done. Musgrove was assistant state health officer at the time of his death. His property is said to be valued at $15,000 to $20,000.

It was on 20 March 1858 that The Hobart Town Daily Mercury newspaper reported on a criminal trial centered around the steamy story of a married man by the last name of Guillot who was carrying on not only with one young woman, but with two young women in town at the same time: The lovely Laurence Thouzery and the equally lovely Blanche de Jeufosse, daughter of the late cavalry officer, Mr. Jeufosse of the village of St. Aubin-sur-Gaillon.

Upon learning of the affair between her daughter, Blanche and Mr. Guillot, the mother convinced her gamekeeper to defend the honor of the family, which he did, and which subsequently led to Mr. Guillot’s passing. The accused and all parties that could be prosecuted in the matter were acquitted on all charges as the courts determined the killing of Mr. Guillot was justified and in accordance to law.

The title of the news article was: A New Cause Celebre.

The expression was very popular for titles of newspaper articles and books, including the 1850 book by French politician and free person of color born in Martinique, Cyrille Charles Auguste Bissette (09 July 1795 – 22 January 1858) titled, “Une Cause célèbre coloniale, Mme Marlet, de la commune de Robert, Martinique.”

In 1779, a 180 page book was published in French. with detailed footnotes, by publishers in London (England) titled, “Cause Celebre Contenant L’assassinat commis le dix-neuf de Decembre 1771, en la personne de Mademoiselle Warrimont, de la Ville de Visez, au Pays de Liege.” In English, this reads, “Cause Celebre Containing the Assassination Committed the Nineteenth of December 1771 on Miss Warrimont from the Village of Viset in Liege.”

At the end of the search, the phrase originated with the 37-volume compilation of famous legal cases in France titled, “Nouvelles Causes Célèbres” published in 1763. This was a collection of reports of well-known French court decisions from the 17th and 18th centuries, and prior to the publication of this series, Idiomation was unable to find a previously published case of the expression.

The expression — and the celebration of sensationalization as well perhaps — is therefore pegged to 1763 thanks to the title of the series.

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