Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

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Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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

Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

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

Nitpicking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 5, 2016

A nitpicker is a fussy, finicky fault-finding critic who finds small mistakes or flaws in everything, be it a person, an activity, an item, an event, et al, although sometimes the criticism is justifiable and warranted.  Usually, however, no matter how insignificant the flaw, a nitpicker will raise petty objections over the mistake or error.  Nitpicking is what nitpickers do.

In October 3, 2002, CNN News reported on the Iraq resolution that was introduced in the Senate, and hailed by then-President Bush as a show of unity at a time when war with Iraq might be unavoidable.  Then-Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had this to say about the resolution and the direction in which the White House was moving on this matter.

I’m sure the argument will be why are we nit-picking, but what I want to do at a minimum in the debate is lay out what I understand what the President’s committing to do.

Some in the Senate and in Congress were uneasy with the concept of authorizing war where no international support was perceived, but the resolution seemed to sit well enough with the majority.  In the end, Senator Lieberman declared that the moment of truth had arrived for Saddam Hussein, and America marched off to war.

It was Richard Reeves column writing for the Universal Press Syndicate (UPS) on May 16, 1992 that addressed whether Ross Perot’s political aspirations had the “endurance, perseverance, and agility” to last more  than a couple months.  He talked about the “Capitol game” where senators and representatives jostled against the rest for media attention, but not necessarily on behalf of their state’s best interests.  It was an explosive column aptly titled, “The Rise Of Nitpicking Lawmakers.”

On October 25, 1978 the Associated Press (AP) reported a situation happening in Washington, DC that had to do with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  It addressed what many called “Mickey Mouse rules” that took the focus away from major problems in the workplace.  For years, the agency had dictated even the smallest of things to employers in America including, but not limited to, mounting of fire extinguishers, how to handle portable ladders, and what toilet seats to select for the workplace environment.  The first sentence in the article said it all.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration made good on a promise to businessmen and scrapped 928 “nitpicking” safety standards Tuesday.

I’m sure that millions of employers across the nation breathed a sigh of relief over not worrying about the 928 safety standards that were stricken from the roster!

On September 6, 1988 The Telegraph published in Nashua, New Hampshire ran a quick quiz in Richard Lederer’s column, “Looking At Language.”  The columnist asked readers to figure out which of three dates for each word in a list of words was the correct date each word entered the English language.  From airsick through to yogurt, there were thirty-six words in all, and nitpick was among them.  The answer for when nitpick entered the English language was 1951, which was, of course, correct.

And how do we know this?  Because it was what was published in an article in the November 1951 edition of Colliers magazine.

Two long-time Pentagon stand-bys are fly-speckers and nit-pickers. The first of these nouns refers to people whose sole occupation seems to be studying papers in the hope of finding flaws in the writing, rather than making any effort to improve the thought or meaning; nit-pickers are those who quarrel with trivialities of expression and meaning, but who usually end up without making concrete or justified suggestions for improvement.

To make into Colliers magazine in November 1951, it was certainly an expression that was used prior to 1951, and coming from the Pentagon, it is at least from 1950 if not the 1940s.

As a side note, if you’re wondering, according to the energycommerce.house.gov website, flyspeckers and nitpickers are still employed in the Treasury department.

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

Blimey

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2016

Sometimes you’ll hear people say blimey or cor blimey as if they were residents of the UK.  The exclamation is one used to express surprise, excitement, or alarm.  The thing is, it seems to be used far more often by Americans and Canadians than by those from the UK.

Of course, part of the linkage is due to how blimey is used.  For example, in the March 27, 2016 Windsor Star in Windsor (Ontario, Canada), Sharon Hill reported on a British store and gift shop in Harrow, Ontario.  Set to celebrate its second anniversary in April, the shop is named Blimeys British Store and Gift Shop, and the article was titled, “Blimey: Award-winning British Shop In Harrow Still Surprising Customers.”

The previous week, Mike Tighe of the LaCross Tribune in Wisconsin (USA) wrote about the La Crosse Community Theatre auditions for their anticipated presentation of “Billy Elliot.”  The journalist made sure to use all kinds of British slang.  He made sure to mention that damp squib was British slang for total failure, and that gobsmacked was British slang for stunned.  He made sure readers knew that blinding was British slang for superb, and he made sure to include blimey in the headline, “Blimey: LCT Gets Smashing Cast for Billy Elliot.”

Even Sergio Ramos — who happens to be a Real Madrid defender — used the expression in an article published in Diario AS published in Madrid (Spain) on March 30, 2016.

Sometimes, when I’m in the shower, I start singing my head off. Lyrics just come to me and I think, ‘Blimey, what a lovely tune!’. For me, music’s a big part of my life and I take it into my professional life and share it with my team mates, and enjoy it.”

But do British newspapers and journalists use the word?  James Hall of the Telegraph used it in his  March 25, 2016 review of Ellie Goulding’s performance.  Near the end of his review titled, “Ellie Goulding Needs To Find Her Personality,” he wrote:

The other reason that Goulding needs a break was her banter. I got no sense of her personality from her between-song chat. Of course, Adele-style ‘cor blimey’ expletive-laden confessionals are not for everyone, but Goulding missed a chance to connect. There’s a fine line between saying you’re shy and appearing like you’re going through the motions.

In the 1997 play, “Home: A Play In Two Acts” by English playwright, screenwriter, award-winning novelist and a former professional rugby league player, David Storey (born 13 July 1933), the expression made its way into the Kathleen’s dialogue near the beginning of Act I.

MARJORIE:
Going to rain, ask me.

KATHLEEN:
Rain all it wants, ask me.  Cor … blimey!  Going to kill he is this.

MARJORIE:
Going to rain and catch us out here.  That’s what it’s going to do.

KATHLEEN:
Going to rain all right, in’t it?  Going to rain all right … Put your umbrella up — Sun’s still shining.  Cor blimey.  Invite rain that will.  Commonsense girl … Cor blimey .. My bleedin’ feet.

MARJORIE:
Out here and no shelter.  Be all right if it starts.

KATHLEEN:
Cor blimey … ‘Surprise me they don’t drop off … Cut clean through these will.

MARJORIE:
Clouds all over.  Told you we shouldn’t have come out.

KATHLEEN:
Get nothing if you don’t try, girl … Cor blimey!

Years earlier, as  American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature, Eugene O’Neill (16 October 1888 – 27 November 1953) began to make waves in the theater with his plays, what critics called his “most interesting play” hit its stride with a meteoric rise.

The Emperor Jones” told the story of an African-American who was an ex-Pullman porter who arrives in the West Indies, and within two years of arriving in the West Indies, Brutus Jones makes himself emperor.  The play begins during a difficult time, after Brutus Jones has been in power for several years, and has amassed a large fortune thanks to the heavy taxes he imposed on the islanders he rule.  But times are not easy as rebellion is brewing in the capital.  A Cockney trader named Smithers is responsible for using blimey in the play.

SMITHERS:
Then you ain’t so foxy as I thought you was.  Where’s all your court?  The Generals and the Cabinet Ministers and all?

JONES:
Where dey mostly runs to minute I closes my eyes — drinkin’ rum and talkin’ big down in de town.  How come you don’t know dat?  Ain’t you sousin’ with ’em most every day?

SMITHERS:
That’s part of the day’s work.  I got ter — ain’t I — in my business?

JONES:
Yo’ business!

SMITHERS:
Gawd blimey, you was glad enough for me ter take you in on it when you landed here first.  You didn’t ‘ave no ‘igh and mighty airs in them days!

JONES:
Talk polite, white man!  Talk polite, you heah me!  I’m boss heah now, is you forgettin’?

SMITHERS:
No ‘arm meant, old top.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Eugene O’Neill was the father of Oona O’Neill (14 May 1925 – 27 September 1991), who was the fourth and last wife of English actor and filmmaker. Charlie Chaplin (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977).

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  During WWI, there was a soft cap with ear flaps that was known as the Gor blimey.  It was replaced in 1917 by a soft cap without flaps that looked more like military wear than the Gor blimey.   Many soldiers held on to their Gor blimey caps for winter weather anyway, due in large part to the ear flaps that helped keep their ears warm.

In Volume I of “Slang and its Analogues Past and Present: A Dictionary, Historical and Comparative, of the Heterodox Speech of All Classes of Society For More Than Three Hundred Years” by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 18 January 1916) published in 1890 (and of which only 750 copies were printed for subscribers only) this definition was given for blimey.

A corruption of ‘Blind me!’; an expression little enough understood by those who constantly have it in their mouths.

A year earlier in 1889, Albert Marie Victor Barrère (died 1896) and Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903) published, “A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Gypsies’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology.”  In Volume I, the definition for blimey is slightly different from that of Farmer’s dictionary.

Blimey (common), an apparently meaningless, abusive term.

Prior to this published entry, however, the only references to Blimey are those referring to a person’s last name such as John Blimey or Anna Blimey or some other Blimey.

It’s a fact that swearing was frowned upon during this era, and as such, substituting minced oaths was popular.  While Idiomation is unable to state definitively when blimey and cor blimey were first used, it’s reasonable to believe that they were both popular buzz phrases for the era in the 1880s, and continued to be used in the 20th century.

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

The Camel’s Nose Is Under The Tent

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 29, 2016

A friend asked me where the saying the camel’s nose is too far under the tent originated as he’d recently heard it used in conversation between friends in public.  For those who aren’t familiar with the idiom, it means something small and seemingly harmless can lead to something much bigger and considerably more dangerous unless it’s stopped in its tracks.  It’s just another way of saying:  Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Oddly enough, the slippery slope fallacy” in arguments is also called the “camel’s nose fallacy.”

The expression sounds very exotic and not very common, however, Idiomation soon learned that the expression isn’t as uncommon as one might think!

On March 26, 2016 the Think Advisor website published an article titled, “The Fiduciary Effect On Recruiting.”  The article addressed the issue of the advisor job market and the fiduciary standards that are part of that market.  The second paragraph in this article made use of a variation of the idiom.

Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, the rest of the camel can’t be far behind. It’s not feasible for an advisor to service accounts with two different sets of standards.

Back on August 12, 1998, American Patriot Friends Network website published “This Raises A Burning Question: Should Native Australians Pay U.S. Taxes?”  It seemed like an odd question in light of the fact that most people wouldn’t think a resident of one country should pay taxes to another country unless they had earned income in the other country over the past year.   The article, however, wasn’t about Aborigines at all.  It was about how churches in the U.S. should be perceived as invisible for purposes of taxation just as Aborigines are.  As the article began to wrap up, the writer included this quote with a slightly modified version of the idiom:

As Pastor Dan Little sees it, “Either way we win.” If the church loses, Little shared, they expose the American system to be anti-Christ. “If we win, we back the camel’s nose out of the tent a little.”

In 1958, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater used the idiom when stating his opposition to the National Defense Education Act, a science initiative implemented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and signed into law on September 2, 1958.   It was described as being “an Act to strengthen the national defense and to encourage and assist in the expansion and improvement of educational programs to meet critical national needs and for other purposes.” Senator Goldwater waste no time in stating:

This bill and the foregoing remarks of the majority remind me of an old Arabian proverb: “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” If adopted, the legislation will mark the inception of aid, supervision, and ultimately control of education in this country by the federal authorities.

In Volume 37 of “Railway World” published on June 10, 1893, the idiom was used in the article, “Steam and Electric Railways.”  The weekly magazine was published every Saturday from its head office at 137 South Fifth Street in Philadelphia (PA) and commanded a hefty four dollars per annum subscription fee — five dollars if your subscription was mailed to an address abroad.  The agent for Great Britain was one Frederic Algar headquartered in London.  And this is what the magazine had to say about electric railways.

Electric railways are emulating the camel that humbly sought permission to put his nose inside the tent, and soon afterward ejected the unsuspicious owner of the tent aforesaid.  Under the plain title of “street railways” they are gaining possession of highways already opened at public expense.

As Idiomation continued to search for the origins of this phrase, a number of sources identified it as either part of a Bedouin parable or part of an Arab parable that asserts this to be a fact:  If the camel is allowed to stick his nose in the tent, before long, the whole camel will be in the tent.

Searching for this fable, one was found that had been published in 1858 that talked of an Arab miller who allowed his camel to stick his nose into his bedroom, followed by other parts of his body, until the camel was completely in the bedroom where he refused to leave even when asked to do so.

But most people — even those in Victorian times — thought of Arabs as living in tents and not in houses with traditional bedrooms, and so a second version of the fable found its way into people’s imaginations.  This is how it read.

One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a Camel thrust the flap of the tent aside, and looked in.

“I pray thee, master,” he said, “let me put my head within the tent, for it is cold without.”

“By all means, and welcome,” said the Arab; and the Camel stretched his head into the tent.

“If I might but warm my neck, also,” he said, presently.

“Put your neck inside,” said the Arab.

Soon the Camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said again, “It will take but little more room if I put my fore legs within the tent. It is difficult standing without.”

“You may also put your fore legs within,” said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was very small.

“May I not stand wholly within?” asked the Camel, finally. “I keep the tent open by standing as I do.”

“Yes, yes,” said the Arab. “I will have pity on you as well as on myself. Come wholly inside.”

So the Camel came forward and crowded into the tent. But the tent was too small for both.

“I think,” said the Camel, “that there is not room for both of us here. It will be best for you to stand outside, as you are the smaller; there will then be room enough for me.”

There was a scuffle and the much stronger and bigger camel pushed his master out of the tent.

Now the Camel slept comfortably in the warm tent while his Master shivered outside in the freezing cold.

The moral of this story is this:  Never let a camel get his nose in your tent. When you give the foolish a little, it is never enough. They are never satisfied until they have it all.

Despite Idiomation’s most ardent efforts, an earlier published reference about the camel’s nose under the tent couldn’t be found.  Idiomation assumes that the story with the exotic locale made it easier to promote the moral to those living in the Victorian era, and as such it pegs the idiom to about 1858.

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

Tricked Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 8, 2016

When something or someone is tricked out, the thing or the person has been decorated in an extravagant way with conspicuous accessories meant to bring undue attention to whatever or whoever has been tricked out.

The July 2, 2008 edition of the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper ran a story about an Oskaloosa automotive high school teacher whose tractor-trailer was chosen to be on “Trick My Truck.”  The producers and sponsors added a 42-inch plasma screen TV, a video gaming system,  a computer system, and a 1,000-watt stereo among other items, and finished off the project with artwork showing an orange and gray hammer hitting a nail … and flames.  The article was titled, “Oskaloosa Teacher Gets Truck Tricked Out.”

Back in 1975, George A. Meyer published his book, “The Two-Word Verb: A Dictionary of Verb-Preposition Phrases in American English.”  In the Introduction, the writer stated that the two-word verb had been in use for over a century, and according to him, in 1975, it was “the most active and creative pattern of word formation in the American language.”  Among his two-word verbs was tricked out meaning “to dress, array, or deck, especially in a showy or decorative manner.

The 1911 edition of “The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” included an entry for trick out that wasn’t much different from the definition by George A. Meyer in 1975.  It provided this meaning for the term:  To arrange, dress, or decorate, especially in a fanciful way.

The term trick out was even found in an Otto Holtzes Nachfolger edition of the “New Pocket-Dictionary of the English and Russian Languages” printed in Leipzig (Saxony, Germany) in 1895, with the meaning unchanged from what we know it to be today!

English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) used tricked out in his poem “The Prelude: Book Seventh: Residence In London” published in “The Poetical Works of Williams Wordsworth: A New Edition” in 1869.  Work on the poem began in 1799 and ended the summer of 1805; It was first published in his book “Excursion” in 1814.

When at a country-playhouse, some rude barn
Tricked out for that proud use, if I perchance
Caught, on a summer evening through a chink
In the old wall, an unexpected glimpse
Of daylight, the bare thought of where I was
Gladdened me more than if I had been led
Into a dazzling cavern of romance …

It was used in John Gay’s opera, “The Beggar’s Opera” published in 1728.  It was a ballad opera in three acts with libretto by John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732), and music arranged by German composer, Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667 – 20 July 1752).  It had its first performance on January 29, 1728.  In the scene where tricked out is spoken, Peachum and Lockit are seated at a table that has wine, brandy, pipes, and tobacco on it.

LOCKIT
A lady’s tail of rich brocade — That I see is disposed of.

PEACHUM
To Mrs. Diana Trapes, the tallywoman, and she will make a good hand on’t in shoes and slippers to trick out young ladies upon their going into keeping.

LOCKIT
But I don’t see any article of the jewels.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this opera, the main with whom Polly Peachum falls in love and marries is Macheath.  Macheath has a great many female friends whom he visits at the local tavern, including Jenny Diver and Suky Tawdry.  If this sounds oddly familiar, it’s because you’ve heard speak of all these characters in the Bobby Darin hit in 1959,Mack The Knife.”

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  Some readers and visitors will recollect that the song, “Mack the Knife” was from “The Threepenny Opera” written and produced in 1928.  The songs for this particular opera were written by German poet, dramatist, playwright, and theater director, Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) and german composer, Kurt Weill (2 March 1900 – 3 April 1950).

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of tricked out than the one in John Gay’s opera, the idiom was understood by the audience of the early 1700s.   There is reason to believe, however, that the idiom dates back at least another hundred years, and possibly more.

In the 1500s, trick meant to dress or adorn, while in the 1540s, out meant into public notice.  Someone or something that was tricked out was dressed or adorned into public notice.

Somewhere between 1540 and 1728 (when the opera was first performed), tricked out became an accepted two-word term in conversations.  Without proof, unfortunately, Idiomation is unable to tell when exactly tricked out was first used.  Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to about 1634 as the halfway mark between 1540 and 1727.

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

Dude

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2016

A dude is both a person, and a font.  As a font, it’s described as a reverse contrast cowboy font.  The creator of the font, Philadelphia artist Dan Gneiding describes the font this way.

IMAGE 1_DUDE

When Jeff Bridges took on the lead role in the movie, “The Big Lebowski” he made the concept of being a dude popular among certain types.  His character was known as Jeff ‘The Dude‘ Letrotski  aka Jeffrey Lebowski aka Lebowski Pony.  The imdb.com site states that the premise of the movie is this: “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.

At one point in the movie, Jeff Bridges’s character says:

Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Not long after the movie’s release, a new religion (of sorts) was born: Dudeism.  The religion (of sorts) embraces the old meaning of the word insofar as it advocates living the easy life without effort or ambition.  In other words — slackers.

Back on August 26, television station WBAL-TV 11 in Baltimore reported on an incident where a city police officer garnered national attention when video recorded in 2007 was posted to YouTube by a teen involved in an altercation with the officer.  The officer was fired based on the content of the video, and the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police was upset over the officer’s firing.

According to the television report, this officer was upset at the teen’s repeated disrespect towards him and his disregard of a lawful order given to him by a police officer.

In the video, the boy said he did not hear an order that the officer gave him about skateboarding at the Harbor. Rivieri repeatedly got upset at being called “dude” in the video.

“I’m not ‘man.’ I’m not ‘dude,’ I am Officer Rivieri,” he told the teen. “The sooner you learn that, the longer you are going to live in this world. Because you go around doing this kind of stuff and somebody is going to kill you.”

Over the decades, the word has been used in songs such as Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes,” Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” and Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like A Lady.”  It’s been used in movies such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!) and Back To The Future III (where Bad Dog Tannen insults Marty McFly by repeatedly referring to him as dude).

In the book “The Faith Doctor: A Story of New York” written by American historian and novelist, Edward Eggleston (10 December 1837 – 3 September 1902) and published in 1891, an accurate description is provided at the beginning of the books, in the first chapter titled, “The Origin Of A Man Of Fashion.”

It was the opinion of a good many people that Charles Millard was “something of a dude.”  But such terms are merely relative; every fairly dressed man is a dude to somebody.  There are communities in this free land of ours in which the wearing of a coat at dinner is a most disreputable mark of dudism.

Even Mark Twain thought the term was worthy of inclusion in his book “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” which he published in 1889.

It seems to show that there isn’t anything you can’t stand, if you are only born and bred to it. Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been in our American blood, too – I know that; but when I left America it had disappeared – at least to all intents and purposes. The remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses.

Of course, back in the 1880s, the term dude was very well-known and well-used by authors.  There were all kinds of books with the word in the title, from “Dude of the Diggings” to “The Dude, The Dunce, And The Daisy” and all the way on to “I’m A Dandy, But I’m No Dude.”  There was no shortage of short stories and novels that found a reason to toss the word dude into the tale’s title.

New York Socialite (and later American expatriate in France) Evander Berry Wall (1860 – 13 May 1940) was known as the “King of the Dudes” rising to the top spot at a time when it was understood that there was a ‘Battle of the Dudes‘ doing on.  In this battle, men tried to outdo each other with their fancy clothes in the hopes of being crowned the artistic and beautiful ideal of masculine fashion in New York City.

The term become very common, so much so, that in 1883 a political cartoon by Chester A. Arthur featured the President with the caption beneath that read:

According to your cloth you’ve cut your coat,
O Dude of all the White House Residents;
We trust that will help you with the vote,
When next we go nominating Presidents.

According to American children’s writer (and author of Hans Brinker published in 1865) Mary Mapes Dodge (26 January 1831 – 21 August 1905), the word dude was understood in every day conversations as early as 1873, and was first published in Putnam’s magazine in February 1876.

Idiomation was unable to trace the term to before the date provided by Mary Mapes Dodge.  As a side note, Idiomation *did* learn that the Middle English word Dudde referred to cloak, mantle, or sackcloth, and oftentimes dudery was used to refer to sellers of second-hand clothes.

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

Straddle The Fence

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 25, 2016

When a person straddles the fence, it means the person appears to favor both sides of an argument or situation.  In other words, the person has placed himself or herself in a noncommittal position while appearing to side with both sides.  Some call it sitting on the fence, so whether it’s sitting on the fence or straddling the fence, the person doing it is undecided and willing to remain undecided until push comes to shove on the matter at hand.

The Victoria Advocate newspaper of March 13, 1980 included an article from the Associated Press that dealt with the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and the fact that the U.S. was picking its teams in the hope that world tensions would ease to the Summer Games wouldn’t be in danger of not happening. What hung in the balance was the May 24th deadline when the United States would have to either accept or decline the International Olympic Committee’s invitation to take part in the Moscow Games. The article was titled, “USOC To Straddle Fence.”

The Afro American newspaper published an ad in the March 26, 1949 edition titled, “Why Straddle The Fence?”  It was a small blurb on the bottom of page courtesy of the subscription department and the first line repeated the idiom.

There’s no need to straddle the fence in the matter of selecting the biggest readership bargain of 1949.  Pee Wee staunchly insists there’s not the least bit of doubt about it.  His favorite paper unquestionably gives the most for the money.

During World War II, the Montreal Gazette published an article on September 5, 1938 about President Roosevelt.  The write-up revealed that the Democratic congressional campaign committee wasn’t prepared to back the President’s position that a “good liberal running on the Republican ticket would serve the country better than a conservative Democrat.”  The headline that accompanied the story was, “Forbid Roosevelt To Straddle Fence: Democratic Campaign Leaders Resent Reference To Liberal Republicans.”

The term found its way into the Electrical Merchandising Magazine in April 1919 leaving no doubt as to what it meant.

IMAGE 1_1919
And a delightful poem titled, “On The Fence” was published in the 1888 edition of “A Basket of Chips: A Varied Assortment of Poems and Sketches” authored by J.B. (Joseph Bert) Smiley (1864–1903) who also published under the pseudonym of Samwell Wilkins.

J.B. Smiley was from Kalamazoo and he attended the University of Michigan in 1885.  However, it doesn’t seem that the institution of higher learning could keep its hold on J.B., and he found himself writing for the Kalamazoo Herald newspaper.  From time to time, he found himself front and center on stage in front of an audience eager to listen to the humourous lecturer.   From an third-party perspective, “On The Fence” gives some insight into why he was such a popular speaker.

Upon every point that arises
which may my opinion refute,
Upon every political issue
And on every local dispute,
In fact, upon every question
Where the interest is strong and intense,
My position is always the right one,
I invariably straddle the fence.

The position is not very easy,
And it doesn’t look pretty at all,
If I lean to one side or the other,
I believe I am certain to fall;
And I think that I merit distinction,
And a credit mark, long and immense,
If on every question that cometh,
I can gracefully straddle the fence.

In August 1847, a Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 8 of the “Genessee Farmer: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Agriculture and Horticulture, Domestic and Rural Economy.”  The journal even had illustrated engravings of farm buildings, domestic animals, improved implements, fruits, and more, and was edited by Daniel Lee, MD with the assistance of P. Barry, Conductor of Horticultural Department in Rochester, N.Y.

The letter was signed Old Farmer Tim, and he had a lot to stay about the Universal Yankee Nation, lack of sympathy, and family pride.  He even reference the “almighty dollar” saying that the “shining disc flashes on our diseased imaginations, and rolling on just ahead, puts quicksilver in our heels, to follow it almost to the very verge of space.”  The letter ended in a flourish, and began just as dramatically.

Mr. Editor:  I think I hear some of your readers exclaim, “Well, here comes the old pedlar again, astride the fence,”  Not so far, my old covey — I am not straddle of the Fence any way you can fix it, either in Politics or Religion; on those two subjects I know where I sleep; but if I can get astride of some of the miserable excuses for good fences that I observe about the country, and can ride them down, I am content to be “straddle of the fence.”

While some sources say that the idiom came into being in 1828, Idiomation found it used in “The Columbian Union: Containing General and Particular Explanations of Government and the Columbian Constitution” written by Simon Willard, Jun. of Massachusetts, and published in 1814.

Idiomation suspects that this Simon Willard isn’t the same as the celebrated U.S. clockmaker, Simon Willard (April 3, 1753 – August 30, 1848) of Massachusetts — the man who invested the eight-day patent timepiece.  However, it could be as there’s a Lighthouse Clock with the clockmaker’s signature identical to the author’s signature.

Regardless, the author of this book wrote the following:

If this little notion of dog war can excite human beings, to rejoice and to take an active part, certainly a whole nation of humans, wherein themselves are engaged, instead of dogs, and their very lives and property at stake, must take an active part, some where to secure their popularity; to straddle the fence, it is as inconsistent, as to suppose a corpse to be a live man; a man looks like a fool, who stands inactive in a case, wherein his own property is at stake, for he is either deluded and knows nothing of his danger, or he is sure to be king, or sure to enjoy a king’s office, otherwise he is inconsistent to himself.

This is the first published version of straddle the fence that Idiomation could find.  Before this, the word straddle is defined in Thomas Sheridan’s “A Complete Dictionary Of The English Language Both With Regard To Sound And Meaning” dated 1797 as “to stand or walk with the feet removed far from each other to the right and left.”

So sometime between 1797 and 1814, straddle the fence came to mean what it means today.

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Move The Goalposts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

Posted in Bible, Football, Idioms from the 20th Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Article: Unintentional Changes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2016

Living languages are fluid.  New words are added while archaic words are left to gather dust on the shelf.  Sometimes new words are a result of invented words authors have created to fit their stories.  Sometimes new words are a result of misspelling.  And in the case I’m about to share, should this word ever become a new word included in the dictionary, it will be as a result of ignorance and social media oversharing.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) published a story on their website that has its roots as much in politics as it does in social media with a side trip to whole language reading and writing, and illiteracy.  Earlier this week, Kevin O’Leary offered to invest $1 Million CDN into Alberta’s energy industry on the condition that Premier Rachel Notley resign.  This in turn led to a number of spirited discussions on social media, with some defending O’Leary, and others defending Notley.

One of these discussions yielded this exchange among some Facebook people.

kudatah-facebook-2

Needless to say, the “new” word kudatah is actually a misspelling of the real phrase (which is made up of two words), coup d’état which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means a “violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.”  The pronunciation of this phrase is kü-dā-ˈtä or phonetically speaking koo-day-tah.

It’s easy to see how someone who struggles with a language (even if it’s the person’s mother tongue) could spell the word with quotation marks as Maure Kyle did.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Maure Kyle has since deactived his Facebook account.

Tyler Bienderra came to Maure Kyle’s defense when others pointed out Maure Kyle’s spelling mistake.  He insisted that Maure Kyle was using the English spelling and not the French spelling of the word (points to Tyler for creativity), dragging misspellings of his own into the discussion.

When the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) published an article on their website about the discussion, Tyler defended his use of the word spelt by arguing that it could be spelled that way and be correct.  Except that Tyler is from Grande Prairie, Alberta in Canada and because of this, his defense fails miserably.

If you live in Canada or the U.S., the accepted use is spelled.  If you live in the UK, the accepted use is spelt although spelled is generally accepted.  Spelt is used in North America to refer to a kind of wheat.  But regardless of how he chose to spell the phrase — spelled or spelt — what made his comment humorous was the fact that coup d’état in French is written exactly the same way in English.

This situation has yielded a great many memes included this politically charged meme poking fun at both the misspelled word and the suggestion made by Maure Kyle.

Kudatah Happening Soon

There was also this meme that incorporated a nice Lion King Disney feel to it for added political punch.

Kudatah Matata

This meme had Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” deliver the message that the word in question didn’t exist.

Kudatah_Princess Bride

And, of course, if you’re going to lay claim to using the UK spelling of the word spelled, and you insist on defending the murder of a perfectly good phrase like coup d’état, the Queen of England absolutely must weigh in on the matter, meme-wise.

Kudatah_Royal

Whole language reading and writing is a sight-based only method that leaves the individual without strategies for reading unknown words.  It also relies heavily on guessing, and encourages “invented” spelling.

Studies have proven the phonics instruction is superior to whole language instruction as those who were taught phonics have strong word identification, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension skills which are very weak in those who were taught whole language instead.

However if social media and the #kudatah hashtag are sufficiently influential, it’s possible that within a few years, the word could find its way into the dictionary regardless of whether language purists agree.  Still, this is the way words,phrases, idioms, expression, clichés, sayings, et al change over the generations.

Elyse Bruce
Owner and Author
Idiomation: Historically Speaking

P.S.  Kudatah, I am led to believe, is the name that J.J. Abrams considered for Princess Leia and Han Solo’s son before he settled on Benjamin Kylo Ren — or Ben Ren to his friends.

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