Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Blue Blazes

Posted by Admin on January 16, 2021

When you hear someone ask the question, “What in blue blazes?” do you ever wonder what blue blazes are and if they are, indeed, blue?

Blazes is a slang expression referring to the fires of Hell, and blue is an alliterative intensifier. The use of blue blazes is meant to express extreme confusion, surprise, or aggravation. The interesting thing is that it’s more often heard in the US than in other English speaking countries.

Back on 5 August 2020, KXAN News in Austin (TX) reported on an Alabama man who woke to find an alligator swimming in his backyard pool, KXAN shared the news story on Facebook with the question: “What in the blue blazes is this?

There was is also an implication of great speed in the expression, as seen back in 1951 when Lottie Noel’s horse Blue Blazes, ridden by Noel Anderson was trying to win races.

Back in 1940, Harry Douglas created the character Blue Blaze for Marvel Comics. His first appearance was in Mystic Comics 1 and he appeared in ten issues before disappearing in 1942.

Back in 1936, Raymond Kane directed a short comedy film titled, “Blue Blazes” and starred Buster Keaton (4 October 1895 – 1 February 1966). The story followed Buster Keaton’s character who decided he wanted to be a fireman. He wasn’t a particularly good fireman, but when he has a chance to save three women trapped in a burning building, it’s a chance to prove his worth.

You can watch the 19 minute movie on YouTube by clicking here.

That wasn’t the only movie titled, “Blue Blazes.” The husband-and-wife team of handsome American silent western star, Lester Cuneo (25 October 1888 – 1 November 1925) and silent screen actress and camera operator, Francelia Billington (1 February 1895 – 24 November 1934) produced a silent movie Western by that name. It was a well-used plot of a loser who tries to hide in the West where he comes to the aid of a female rancher and her widowed mother to defend them against the dastardly mortgage lender who wants to be socially inappropriate with the younger of the two women.

The idiom was found in “Chapter 22: Private Dennis Hogan, Hero” in the book “Danger Signals: Remarkable, Exciting and Unique Examples of the Bravery, Daring and Stoicism in the Midst of Danger of Train Dispatchers and Railroad Engineers” by former railroad engineer John A. Hill (22 February 1858 – 24 January 1916) and Jasper Ewing Brady, 1st Lieutenant 19th United States Infantry, Late Captain Signal Corps U.S. Volunteers, published by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1902. The book was copyrighted by S.S. McClure Co in 1898 and in Doubleday & McClure in 1899, and lastly by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1900.

At four o’clock on the afternoon in question Denny was aroused from his reverie by the sounder opening up and calling “FN” like blue blazes. He answered and this is what he took.

Denny was the messenger boy as well as operator and without waiting to make an impression copy, he grabbed his hat and flew down the line to the colonel’s quarters. That worthy was entertaining a party at dinner, and was about to give Hogan fits for bringing the message to him instead of to the post adjutant; but a glance at the contents changed things and in a moment all was bustle and confusion.

For weeks the premonitory signs of this outbreak had been plainly visible, but true to the red-tape conditions, the army could not move until some overt act had been committed. The generous interior department had supplied the Indians with arms and ammunition and then Mr. Red Devil under that prince of fiends incarnate, Sitting Bull, started on his campaign of plunder and pillage.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  John Alexander Hill was a co-founder of the McGraw-Hill Book Company along with James Herbert McGraw (17 December 1860 – 21 February 1948), the predecessor corporation of today’s McGraw Hill Financial and McGraw-Hill Education.

Remember the racing horse, Blue Blazes, from 1951 that was mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the only racing horse by that name. In “The General Stud Book Containing Pedigrees of Race Horses from the Earliest Accounts to the Year 1896 Inclusive” published in 1897 by Weatherby and Sons in London, Blue Blazes was also mentioned (although it was a different horse from the one who ran races in 1951). The book listed thorough-bred stock from England and duly certified them as thorough-breds.

The euphemistic oath is found in Chapter 10 of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. It’s made clear the expression is one with a hefty punch.

“Well,” said Joe, meditatively – not, of course, that it could be in anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was the way at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply about everything that was discussed over pipes; “well – no. No, he ain’t.”

“Nevvy?” said the strange man.

“Well,” said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation, “he is not – no, not to deceive you, he is not – my nevvy.”

“What the Blue Blazes is he?” asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to be an inquiry of unnecessary strength.

In the book, “Real Life in Ireland by a Real Paddy” which attributes the idiom to 1821 is found in Chapter 15.

Blood and blue blazes, swore old Mrs. Tarpaulin. I’ll send the fellow to hell that dares attack me at my moorings in blanket bay.

In 1812, “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass” by the American author, book agent, and Anglican minister, Mason Locke Weems (11 October 1759 – 23 May 1825) passage was a clear demonstration of how the two words and Hell fit together so very well.

Ye steep down gulphs of liquid fire! Ye blue blazes of damnation! But hush, thou false zeal, hush! and curse not him who Christ hath commanded you to pray for.

The book obviously sold well as by 1818, it was in its sixth printing, and the old title, “God’s Revenge Against Drunkenness” had been replaced with “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass.”

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Mason Lock Weems, also known as Parson Weems, wrote the first biography of George Washington (22 February 1732 – 4 December 1799) titled, “The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington” which was published in 1800.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: He is the source of the well-known albeit unverifiable and thoroughly questionable story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree as a child, and what was said by the child to his father at the time.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4: Mason Lock Weems is also known for his biography of U.S. military officer Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion (1732 – 26 February 1795) who was so nicknamed by the British for his elusive tactics.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to blue blazes, however, for it to be used so freely by Mason Locke Weems — an Anglican minister no less — it most certainly was around at the start of the 19th century, and quite possibly earlier depending on how aged old Mrs. Tarpaulin was in the 1821 book “Real Life In Ireland by a Real Paddy.”

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2021

Most people are under the impression that this expression is rife with sexual innuendo. The fact of the matter is, there’s a mariner history to that expression, even if the current nudge-nudge-wink-wink-know-what-I-mean commentary and looks are associated with it these days.

To understand the expression, it’s important to go back to the Golden Age of Sail. This was a period from 1571 through to 1862 that corresponds with the early modern period when international trade and naval warfare was the main staple of sailing ships. Of course, sailing ships included frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners. All of this continued until steamboats started to take trade away from sailboats.

Ships during this time period carried their guns in two large batteries, one on each broadside. A few were mounted to fire directly ahead which left sailing warships weak, especially on the bow and most especially the stern of the ship, both of which were vulnerable to raking fire.

Ships at the mercy of raking fire had no guns with which to defend themselves, and with the rudder at the stern, the ability to maneuver the ship rendered the ship literally dead in the water even with intact masts and sails.

Rumor has it that the brass monkey was the dimpled plate that sat beside ship guns, stacked in a pyramid, and when the weather or cold, they would freeze and slip off the plate.

Unfortunately that is not true!

As reasonable as that may sound, it’s an sailor’s tale according to the official U.S. Navy website, Naval History and Heritage Command.

That being said, there were a lot of monkeys on sailing ships according to the website. In 1650, a monkey was a specific kind of cannon, and the lever used to fire it was known as the monkey’s tail. By 1682, a powder monkey was responsible for carrying gun powder to cannons. Monkey spars were small masts and yards on vessels, and monkey blocks were used in rigging.

What’s more, warships didn’t store round shot on deck around the clock on the off chance they might go into battle. One thing that was definitely a commodity on ships at sea was space, and decks were kept as clear as possible to allow room for hundreds of sailors to go about their day completing their assigned tasks. If a ship hit rough seas, the captain and crew couldn’t — and wouldn’t — risk the danger of round shots breaking free on deck and rolling around loose. Round shots were only brought on deck when the decks were cleared for action, and action was about to take place!

Besides, leaving round shots exposed to the elements was only going to worsen their condition over time, long before they saw action in battle … which leads to another reason to disbelieve the mythos of the dimpled plate. You see, if round shots were placed on a brass plate so they wouldn’t rust to an iron plate, they would still be in danger of rusting to each other. But generally speaking, metals — including brass — don’t shrink because of cold weather.

So where did this idiom come from?

In “An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion” published in The Worcester Magazine of June, 1843, something closely related to the expression was used in this way:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so independent of the weather, which was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The Canadian Rebellion was actually two rebellions in Upper Canada as well as in Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838.

The rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriotes [sic] was the more serious and violent rebellions (in November of 1837 and the following year in November of 1838).

The rebellion in Upper Canada was led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December of 1837. In 1838, Mackenzie fled to the U.S. where he lived until he was pardoned in 1948 which allowed him to return to Canada.

The end result was the union of the two colonies in 1841, which was subsequently referred to as the Province of Canada.

American author Herman Melville mentioned brass monkeys in his 1847 novel “Ormoo.” Thing is, the way the author mentioned them had nothing to do with balls or how cold it was.

It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’”

A decade later, C.A. Abbey wrote in his book, “Before the Mast in the Clippers: The Diaries of Charles A. Abbey” about brass monkeys as well and his expression had nothing to do with noses or how hot it was.

It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey.”

So what should we believe about all this nonsense having to do with brass monkeys?

Perhaps this is the answer to that question. During the 19th and 20th centuries, small monkey figures were cast in brass by artisans in China and Japan, which were sold in souvenir shops. Usually they came in a sett of three to represent “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” but most people are unaware of the fact that some sets included a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Should someone have all four monkeys, they are actually a valuable collector’s item these days.

So perhaps the expression has far more to do with the fourth monkey in a set of Wise Monkeys, and brasses historical and enduring importance due to its hardness and workability that dates back to ancient Roman times.  As to who first coined the expression and exactly when this expression came into being, one can only peg it to somewhere in the late 19th century or early 20th century — most likely the early 20th century — based on the vague history of the expression.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Maritime, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pig In A Poke

Posted by Admin on December 10, 2019

When you hear someone talk about buying a pig in a poke, they aren’t talking about real pigs. It’s a comment made to indicate that a deal has been foolishly accepted without having done due diligence to confirm that the deal is what it is purported to be. At the end of the day, a pig in a poke is a blind bargain, and usually it’s not much of a bargain for the person buying it.

So how did buying a pig in a poke come to mean this?

Back in the 1500s, a poke was the word for a cloth sack, and merchants sold piglets in these pokes, almost always sight unseen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The word poke comes from the French word poque, and as is the case with many French words, when the item is smaller than average, ette or et is added to the word. The word pocket came about this way, and originally it meant a small bag.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: This expression, contrary to popular belief, is not responsible for the idiom to let the cat out of the bag. After all, sight unseen, a cat in a bag would not be mistaken for a piglet in a sack. Additionally, the idiom to let the cat out of the bag only began to appear in the 18th century and if the two expressions were linked in some way, they would both appear within a few years of each other.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: While the two idioms mentioned in #2 are not related, it is important to note that the French do indeed use the expression acheter un chat en poche when talking about a bad deal, and it is from that expression that many mistakenly believe letting the cat out of the bag is an extension of buying a pig in a poke.

In 1530, London grocer Richard Hilles published his book titled “Common-place Book” in which he gave the following advice:

When ye proffer the pigge, open the poke.

But that advice was gleaned from a poem titled “The Proverbs of Hendyng” published in 1275 which warned:

Wan man ȝevit þe a pig, opin þe powch.
[When a man gives thee a pig, open the pouch.]

This concept is the basis for the warning caveat emptor  — let the buyer beware — in commercial law.

Idiomation was unable to trace the idiom back before 1275, however, it is a very sound piece of advice and because it is, it is likely the spirit of the expression dates backs several hundred years earlier even without being published elsewhere.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Overtourism

Posted by Admin on November 26, 2019

Overtourism describes a situation where there are so many tourists visiting an area that it damages the local environment, the attractions, and the tourist experience, thereby diminishing the quality of life for residents as well as visitors.

Undoubtedly there are some who will have a difficult time figuring out how that much tourism could happen, much less be perceived as a negative, but it does happen and it can be a negative.

It has become so much of a concern that the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) with its membership of 156 countries, 6 territories, and over 500 affiliate members is actively encouraging tourist destinations implement the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism to guard against overtourism happening — or continuing to happen — in their area.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The roots for the UNWTO go back to 1925 when the first international congress of official tourist organizations was held at The Hague. In 1934, they created the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations (IUOTPO), and in 1974 the World Tourism Organization was established through the United Nations.

Although the term overtourism was popularized by the Internet travel website Skift in 2018, it was first used in 2002 to describe the dangers of exploitation of natural resources by J.G. Nelson who also wrote about this issue (without using the term overtourism) in 1993 in his paper Tourism and Sustainable Development: Monitoring, Planning, Management published by the University of Waterloo Press.

The term turismofobia appears in the Spanish media in 2017 however overtourism became the expression of choice.

In 2018, the word was added to the Oxford Dictionary as one of its words of the year following a campaign by the Telegraph Travel to have it recognized by the Oxford Dictionary.

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

TPing The Yard (or House)

Posted by Admin on October 29, 2019

Have you ever TP’d someone’s yard? If that expression is unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because you know the expression as rolling someone’s yard, house wrapping, or yard rolling.

You might think every grown-up in the world hates the idea of possibly waking up to their house or yard being TP’d but in 2019, one mother in San Clemente reveled in the fact that a group of unknown persons had done just that to her family’s home and front yard.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015, some fans celebrated by TP’ing head coach Joel Quenneville’s yard in Hinsdale (IL). No one really knows whether the coach was angry or impressed with the effort put into TP’ing his property.

Of course, in 2011, the police in the Wisconsin Dells had a thing or two to say about TP’ing yards and TP’ing houses. Offenders, if caught, could be subjected to any number of charges from littering to trespassing to harassment and disorderly conduct. If the offenders were minors, their parents could also find themselves facing a charge of allowing juveniles to violate curfew. The police in Wisconsin Dells take TP’ing seriously

The activity and the expression were cemented into pop culture in an episode of South Park on 2 April 2003 when the main characters decide to “TP” their art teacher’s home. The episode ends with one of the main characters making his way towards the White House armed with bags of toilet paper with a plan to “TP” the White House.

Now back in 1879, the Scott brothers founded the Scott Paper Company, and became the first company to sell toilet paper on rolls. But 8 years earlier, Zeth Wheeler patented rolled and perforated toilet paper which he sold through his company the Albany Perforated Wrapper Paper Company.

Over in England, British businessman Walter Alcock created toilet paper on a roll in 1879, using perforated squares instead of the common flat sheets in use.

The original inventor of flat sheet toilet paper, Joseph C. Gayetty, saw his first commercially packaged toilet paper go from flat sheets in 1857 to perforated sheets on a roll in under fifteen years!

But it was Johnny Carson, one of America’s most loved comedians and late night talk show hosts, who set off an odd panic in December of 1973 when he claimed there was a toilet paper shortage in the U.S.  You may doubt Idiomation on this one, but you can’t call into question what the New York Times had to say about Johnny’s roll in the toilet paper shortage of ’73.

It’s doubtful that anyone would have wasted toilet paper on trees or houses back in the early days of toilet paper on a roll, and for that reason Idiomation doubts the expression was in use during the first 50 years of its existence.

One way to trace back when the expression was first used in cases where it’s unlikely the expression will be found in many newspapers, magazines, or books, is to see what the lyrics of various popular songs of the time were.

SIDE NOTE 1: Who knew that there were so many songs with toilet paper in the lyrics? Over at lyrics.com, there were eight web pages devoted to lyrics with toilet paper specifically mentioned in songs!

In 1993, Weird Al Yankovic’s CD Alapalooza had a song titled, “Young, Dumb, & Ugly” that threatened to “toilet paper your lawn.”

However, as Idiomation continued researching this expression, a newspaper article written by Times Staff writer, Lisa Rogers, and published on 2 October 2011 in the Gadsden Times, pegged the activity in Alabama to the early 1960s at least.

One of the best known traditions is rolling the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn after football victories. Even before the traditional tree rolling started in the early 1960s at Toomer’s it was a tradition especially at Hallowe’en.

But how much earlier did this activity, and the subsequent expressions, come into being?

Oddly enough, on 29 November 1928, a court case [14 Tax Case 490, (1929) Sc 379] was heard in Edinburgh (Scotland) regarding toilet paper and an appeal against an Income Tax assessment. The Appellant purchase a very large quantity of toilet paper from a bankrupt German firm, and had the toilet paper sent to his England where he was connected with the film business.

It was determined the purchase fit the description of “an adventure” but it was questionable whether it was “in the nature of trade” within the meaning of Section 238 of the Income Tax Act of 1918. By definition, it could not be considered a purchase for personal use, while at the same time, by definition, the trade would have to be one that would be more than a single transaction. That the inventory was for the purpose of resale with profit was not in question, however, an argument made that it would be used in a film venture cast doubt on the profit from resale if no resale was to happen.

It’s doubtful that toilet paper in 1929 would be used frivolously to TP houses and yards even if it was used in this manner by the 1950s and 1960s.

Toilet papering became a verb in the early 1960s. In fact, the 28 October 1961 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal in Lincoln (NB) referred to it as a verb.

Halloween pranks have changed now, says Stan Miller of University High School, but the devilish intentions haven’t.

“T.P.-ing” has replaced tipping over outhouses as a major Halloween prank, he commented to correspondent Ramona Brakhage.

Idiomation therefore puts the idiom — whether it’s TPing a house or a yard or rolling a house or yard — to some time during the 1950s, although the exact date is unknown, and with the word toilet paper being used as a verb, the expression dates back to at least the mid 1950s.

P.S. As an added note, contrary to what Cottonelle tweeted back in 2015, no one has ever seen the need to introduce left-handed toilet paper. Toilet paper rolls are for those who are left-handed, right-handed, and ambidextrous.

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

A Word To The Wise

Posted by Admin on October 15, 2019

The entire expression is “a word to the wise is sufficient” and means that a smart person can figure out what’s implied without the need for a lot of discussion. All it takes is one word to put the person in the wrong straight again, with no repeat warnings and no need for lengthy explanations.  Generally speaking, the expression is used to alert the listener to the fact that advice or a warning is about to be shared with them, and it is strongly hinted at that the advice or warning should be heeded.

It’s interesting to note that variations of the expression also exist in other languages.

In French, you will hear people say, “A bon entendeur demi-mot” which, simply put, is “a half word to the wise.” In Italian, you will hear people say, “A buon intenditor poche parole” which means “a word to the wise is enough.”

In Portuguese, it becomes, “Acenai ao discreto, dai-o por feito” which translates into “give a hint to the man of sense, and consider the thing done.” The Dutch expression similarly expects as much as the French when it states, “Een half woord is bij hem genoeg” as this translates into “half a word to the wise is enough.”

The expression has been used in countless conversations over the generations, including this one, and it retains the meaning it has had for centuries.

In Volume 36 of Scribner’s Magazine published in 1904, in an article titled, “The Point of View: The Art of Marking Tags” the abbreviated version was used. The article addressed the issue of writing from an honest reaction from the author’s individual thoughts instead of relying heavily on maxims from familiar sources such as sayings that are understood by readers but stale from repetition. To illustrate the author’s point, he wrote:

Instead of illuminating his text with the wise sayings of his predecessors, he adopts them only after fortifying them with his mother wit, as the prudent physician fortifies his anaesthetic remedies. For ‘A word to the wise is sufficient’ he gives ‘A word to the wise is superfluous,’ or for ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ he sagaciously substitutes ‘Punctuality is the thief of time’ altering, with consummate impudence, dignified gray sentiments that have walked with Shakespeare and Milton.

In 1852, Grant and Griffith (the successors to Newbery and Harris) in London, England, published a book by Parry Gwynne titled, “A Word To The Wise, or Hints on the Current Improprieties of Expression in Writing and Speaking.” As a warning — since the book is slender — the author ensured readers knew that he did not presume to understand the task of teaching grammar to those who were ignorant of it, but to correct the errors caused by faded recollections and careless use of language.

SIDE NOTE 1 Parry Gwynne also wrote “Mistakes and Improprieties of Reading and Writing Corrected.”

It would appear that a word to the wise enjoyed quite the heyday in the 1850s with all manner of books published with the expression in the titles. Everything from agriculture to zoology seemed to have at least one book titled, “A Word to the Wise.”

The exact phrase was used in the book “Freemasonry: A Word to the Wise” that discussed, among other things, the twelve grades known as the Scotch Masonry.  The book was published in 1796, as was “The Farmer’s Friend, or A Word to the Wise” printed by the loyalist Londonderry Journal to counteract the acts of the ‘enemies of social order.’

Over the decades there was a proliferation of books with the expression in the title, which firmly cements the expression as being one that was used, and easily understood, by those in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Benjamin Franklin included the expression in his essay “The Way To Wealth” which he published in 1758 except he worded it as: A word to the wise is enough, and many words won’t fill a bushel.

But even before then, in 1646 and 1647, four books were published by John Musgrave who had a list of grievances he wanted the public to hear about. He was imprisoned in 1642 for six months for what he claimed was parliamentary protestations and opposition of the arbitrary and tyrannical government of the corrupt magistracy and ministry in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Upon his release, he went to Scotland, and returned two years later. Along with John Osmotherley, he traveled to London to address parliament, making charges against Richard Barwis who was a Member of Parliament. The matter was referred to a committee, however Musgrave refused to answer certain questions, and was found in contempt on 28 October 1645.

Upon his release in 1647, he presented a petition to the House of Lords describing the losses he had endured as a result of addressing parliament with his concerns. The petition did not result in compensation, and it wasn’t much longer before Musgrave found himself back in custody, entering the system again in July of that year.

Again, he attempted to force parliament to deal with his alleged grievances by holding a meeting of the London apprentices at Guildhall. When questioned, he denied having been there at all. Some bloodshed ensued, and as September drew to a close, the House resolved to indict Musgrave at the King’s Bench bar for high treason, and ordered him to be confined to Newgate. Nearly a year later, the charges were dropped and he was released again.

During this period of time, he wrote four pamphlets about his situation, and these were titled:

  1. A Word to the Wise [26 Jan. 1646]
  2. Another Word to the Wise [20 Feb. 1646]
  3. Yet Another Word to the Wise [1 Oct 1646], and
  4. A Fourth Word to the Wise [8 June 1647]

Those are a lot of wise words being shared as advice or counsel.

Musgrave continued to rail against the system, and even took on his two brothers and one sister, describing himself as the victim in a pamphlet he wrote and distributed in 1654 under the title, “A Cry of Blood of an Innocent Abel Against Two Bloody Cains,” he continued to insist he was unfairly mistreated by family, friends, and foes alike.

It is clear that a word to the wise was entrenched in people’s vocabulary in the 1600s for John Musgrave to make such ample use of the expression in his pamphlets.

Idiomation could continue to quote countless instances of the expression, making this entry incredibly long, and possibly exhausting to readers. What we can say is that the expression is found in the Talmud where the maxim is: A word to the wise is sufficient, but for a fool not even a stick helps.  The Talmud was compiled in the 4th century in Galilee, and as old as the Talmud is, the expression is found written in plays from Ancient Rome.

Comic Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC) authored the play “Pseudolus” which was first performed in 191 BC during the Megalesian Festival to celebrate the Greek goddess Cybele. The expression is found in Act IV, scene 7, at line 19 as “Verbum sat sapienti.”

This puts the expression to at least 191 BC, and most likely well before then since it was used in the play by Titus Maccius Plautus. Some idioms have very long legs.  This appears to be one such expression.

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Going Bodmin

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2019

If someone has gone bodmin or is going bodmin, you can rest assured the person is question is allegedly crazy or loopy, and probably in need of a nice long restful stay at a mental hospital. Even Bodmin Magazine agrees that going bodmin means the person being talked about has gone absolutely and utterly mad. The fact of the matter is that Bodmin is a respectable town in the UK, so why would anyone think an expression associated with Bodmin would mean that?

The quick answer is that the Cornwall County lunatic asylum — also known as St. Lawrence’s Hospital — opened on Westheath Avenue in Bodmin in 1815 on nine acres of land for the express purpose of dealing with those who were mentally unstable. The hospital was designed by John Foulston and George Wightwick. Cornwall County was the seventh English county to provide an asylum, and being one of the first asylums, word of its existence spread quickly and effectively.

By 1818, Bodmin had 112 cells, and accommodations for 72 patients. It became the first county in the South West to have an asylum for the insane long before the 1885 Act that stated asylums could only be built in certain areas, and long before the Care in the Community Act was passed in the 1990s.

According to historical records, the major mental disorders that were dealt with at Bodmin were mania, dementia, and melancholia. Of course, there were moral disturbances resulting from domestic troubles, religious excitement, fright and various shocks, among others, and physical disturbances caused by accident, injury, intemperance, or brain disease.

In its heyday, there were as many as 2,000 mental patients being treated at Bodmin, admitting both private patients and ‘pauper lunatics.’ By 2002, it was determined Bodmin was to be permanently closed, and so it was.

SIDE NOTE 1: The area known as Bodmin Moor is the setting for the novel “Jamaica Inn” by author Daphne du Maurier. Lost on Bodmin Moor in the dark, the remote location of the inn sparked her imagination, leading to the story about smugglers and cut-throats!

SIDE NOTE 2: Dozemary Pool in Bodmin is the legendary last resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.

But enough about Bodmin, and back to the expression!

In 2018, UK poet Andrew Siddle used the expression not only as the title of one of his poems, ‘He’s Going Bodmin‘, but repeatedly throughout the poem.

A few years earlier, on 2 March 2012, a delightful blog called Rusty’s Skewed News Views published a blog entry titled,”Cornwall Gone Bodmin for Pasty Contest.” The blog owner reported that “aspiring pastry chefs and an assortment of cooks from around the planet” had arrived in Cornwall for the first annual World Pasty Championships.

Back in 2004, the British television series “Doc Martin” starring Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham debuted with the first episode titled, ‘Going Bodmin.’ While the series begins with the doctor moving to the village of Port Isaac in Cornwall (England), by the end of this episode, Doc Martin has concluded he made a mistake moving to the village, and plans to return to London … which he doesn’t do as shown by the subsequent episode in the series. The series is currently in its ninth season.

The expression is a local expression. Any county that had a asylum became infamous in its own area by way of referencing the town in the county where the asylum was located. For example, in Exeter, people were ‘going Digby.”

While the expression wasn’t used often in written circumstances, it appears to have been the go-to expression in conversations. Idiomation therefore pegs this to scant years after the asylum in Bodmin was open for business meaning somewhere between 1818 and 1820.

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Wellington Boots

Posted by Admin on September 24, 2019

A while back, a friend of Idiomation asked why Wellington boots — which are sometimes referred to as Wellies — are called Wellington boots. Some of you may be wondering what a Wellington boot is in the first place, never mind the history behind the name.  Some people call them rubber boots while others call them galoshes. Still others call them muck boots, and a few call them rain boots. A few call them gumboots or gummies.

SIDE NOTE 1: In South Africa, gumboots inspired gumboot dances in the early 20th century. The dancers wear their gumboots and create rhythms by slapping their boots and bodies, stamping their feet, and singing.

Wellington boots were named early in the 19th century by Dublin-born Anglo-Irish soldier Arthur Wellesley (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), the First Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with the Hessian boots German soldiers wore. He had been sent to Flanders in late 1793 and fought at the Battle of the Boxtel in September the following year. His health was negatively affected by the damp environment, and the battle forced heavy losses and sickness on the men fighting with the Dutch and Austrian troops to invade France. The end result was that they were forced to retreat into Germany.

Hessian boots became incredibly popular during the reign of King George III after they were introduced in 1789. In short order, they became standard military issue footwear as popular with civilians as with military men. Some even took to calling them “Austrians” (with the word boot omitted) since they were originally a German boot made in the German state of Hesse.

Hessian boots reached nearly to the knees and had a a nice trim around the top. They were made of leather, and had semi-pointed toes and small heels as well as tassels at the top.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Duke of Wellington was famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo which ran from 15 June – 8 July 1815.

The Duke didn’t fancy the tassels all that much, so he charged his personal shoemaker with modifying the style of Hessian boots in 1811 to suit his own tastes. For one thing, those tassels were definitely gone as was the trim. He wasn’t impressed with the heel, and asked to have the boot made to be a bit more form fitting without the heel.

Aristocrats in England wanted to emulate the Duke, so they began asking their shoemakers to create Hessian-inspired boots that looked like the boots the Duke wore, and it wasn’t long before everyone with means to buy these boots were calling them Wellington boots. In fact, by 1817, everyone knew what kind of boot the Wellington boot was.

It was in 1853 that American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson (1808 – 1869) decided to introduce rubber to the Wellington boot. Hiram had bought the patent for vulcanization of natural rubber for footwear from self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear (yes, that Charles Goodyear). Goodyear (29 December 1800 – 1 July 1860) was using the process to make tires, so he saw no problem in allowing Hutchinson to use the process to make boots.

Wellington boots were sold to farmers looking for foot protection in their wet fields. The rubberized Wellingtons allowed them to work in their wet fields all day and still have clean, dry feet when the day was done. It’s easy to see how this impressed farmers everywhere. It wasn’t long before the rubber Wellington was a staple on farms and in cities throughout Europe.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Hessian boot inspired the creation of cowboy boots that became popular in American in the 1850s.

When the rubber Wellington boot left England on its way to the United States in the early 20th century, they also changed color. The British version remained the traditionally green while the version in the U.S. came in a variety of colors, with the most popular color being black boots for adults and yellow boots for children.

World War I provided soldiers in the flooded and mud-filled European trenches a chance to keep their feet warm and dry by wearing rubber Wellington boots, and so they did.

These days, Wellington boots are standard footwear for a number of jobs, mostly when the boot is reinforced with a steel toe to prevent injury as well.

It’s very easy to peg the year the term Wellington boots came into usage, so Idiomation has decided to share this YouTube video of gumboot dancing in South Africa with readers.

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A Country Mile

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2019

Just how long is a country mile you may wonder after hearing someone mention country miles or having read about country miles? After all, isn’t a mile a mile whether it’s in the city or in the country?

When someone talks or writes about a country mile they are talking or writing about deceptively long distances, and definitely longer than anticipated. Some will tell you this is because country roads tend to meander across the countryside whereas as city roads tend to be set up in grid formation. The layout of roads may be a fact, however, that’s not the reason a country mile is supposedly longer than any other mile.

As we learned from the research on a mile a minute, until Queen Elizabeth I standardized just how many feet were in a mile (5,280 feet), an Irish miles consisted of 6,720 feet, a Scots mile consisted of 5,928 feet, a Welsh mile was supposedly a very long stretch to walk, and other miles had varying numbers of feet in them.

Now, up until the 13th century when King Edward I conquered Wales, the Welsh mile was comprised 9000 paces feet where each foot was 9 English inches long.

The Scots mile — which was about 1.12 English miles — was still a thing when Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) mentioned it in the first verse of his narrative poem “Tam O’Shanter” published in 1791, and written the year previous.   In fact, it was so much a thing it had to be abolished three times: Once in 1685 by an act of the Scottish parliament, once in 1707 when the Treaty of Union was signed between Scotland and England, and once by way of the Weights and Measures Act of 1824. It would seem Scotland were really attached to their mile, and weren’t as willing to give it up in favor of the English mile as the English believed they should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: The Ottoman mile was 5,000 Ottoman feet long which was the equivalent of 1.18 English miles, and in 1933 it was replaced by the slightly shorter Turkish mile which is the equivalent of 1.15 English miles.

On 29 December 2016 the Jamaica Observer newspaper published an article titled, “Top 16 2016 Racing Moments.” At #13 on the chart, and headlined “The Finish of the Oaks” this race had to do with the Jamaica Oaks race where the win was described thusly:

What a race the 2016 edition of the Jamaica Oaks turned out to be. After winning the 1,000 Guineas by a country mile, Nuclear Affair with Aaron Chatrie aboard looked all over a winner in the Oaks, but a late race surge by A Thousand Stars (Robert Halledeen) ended with a short head victory by the latter. Two females engaged in all-out battle was something to behold.

On 1 March 1992, American Forests published an article about reforestation at Jersey’s famed Pine Barrents (at the time it was known as Pinelands) that had been a weapons test range named the Warren Grove Test Range. One sentence in the article read:

No doubt more than one wet-behind-the-ears pilot missed his target by a good country mile, and the small clearings grew into vast desolate stretches of Pine Barren sand.

In the 20 November 1971 edition of Cash Box magazine, “Walk A Country Mile” was mentioned as the flipside of the Tommy James release “Nothing To Hide” on Roulette Records.

SIDE NOTE 2: Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was Thomas Gregory Jackson, and was born on 29 April 1947 in Dayton (OH). Tommy James and the Shondells (formerly known as Tom and the Tornadoes) were known for hits such as the very well-known and oft-covered “Mony Mony” and equally engaging songs “Crimson and Clover” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

The mile became standardized by international agreement on July 1, 1959 by the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959. It was agreed a mile was equivalent to exactly 1609.344 meters. As mentioned earlier, until then all miles were not created equal.

The printing firm of Casper (C.C.) Childs (Jared W. Bell, General Agent) published an interesting tidbit about a country mile in “The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference: A Million of Facts on Common Place Book: Volume III” published in 1850. The entry in which the term is found, slightly modified, states:

Robin Hood shot a full mile; and, according to his bard, a north-country mile was equal to two statute ones.

For those who are interested, north-country England included the cities of Nottingham, York, and London. As we know, Robin Hood was constantly at odds with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Medieval statute miles were 1.3 international miles long, and while it’s doubtful that Robin Hood’s arrow was shot anywhere near 2.6 miles before landing, the exaggeration expected from the term “country mile” is found in this passage.

In the poem “The Villager’s Tale” by mariner and west-county from Bodmin, Frederick de Kruger (1798 – date unknown ) and published in 1829 in his book, “The Pirate and Other Poems” the expression finds a place in this stanza written by the poet. This was 5 years after the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 was passed in England, and because the printer of the book (Liddell and Son) and the seller (G.B. Whittaker) were located in London, it lends credence to the comparison between the two different kinds of miles.

The travelling stage had set me down
Within a mile of yon church-town;
‘T was long indeed, a country mile.

SIDE NOTE 4: Very little is known about Frederick de Kruger save that he was a mariner who survived three shipwrecks in the space of nine years and permished in the last shipwreck (which happened after 1829 but Idiomation was unable to identify what year it happened). He was born in Bodmin which is a civil parish and historic town in Cornwall, England. Bodmin is responsible for the expression to go Bodmin.

SIDE NOTE 5: The book by Frederick de Kruger was dedicated to Vice-Admiral Sir C. Penrose, K.C.B. of Ethy House, Cornwall. This would have been Sir Charles Vinicombe Penrose (20 June 1759 – 1 January 1830) who was a Royal Navy officer who became the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB). Penrose was also born in Cornwall.

Beyond 1829, Idiomation was unable to find any published instances of a country mile, but quite a bit about the various miles already mentioned in this entry. Idiomation suspects that country miles compared to other miles were spoken of for several years prior to the term being published in printed materials based on the history of the various miles in history.

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A Mile A Minute

Posted by Admin on September 3, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say they were going a mile a minute but you didn’t think they were moving quite that fast? If someone is moving a mile a minute, they aren’t literally moving sixty miles per hour. They are moving very quickly and the idiom implies they are moving very quickly.

As in the idiom going like sixty, it was once believed that going faster than thirty miles per hour might kill you or drive you insane. We now know that it’s not impossible to travel at rates much faster than that and survive intact as shown by astronauts. For example, the speed needed for Apollo 11 to break free of the Earth’s gravitational field was seven miles per second which is 25,200 miles per hour (7 miles times 60 seconds times 60 minutes).

SIDE NOTE 1: Apollo 10 was clocked at 24,790 miles per hour on their way back from a lap around the Moon in 1969.

SIDE NOTE 2: The average person can handle 5 Gs which is the equivalent of 49 miles per second squared. Fighter pilots endure up to 9 Gs while wearing special compressed suits. Air Force Officer John Stapp was able to withstand 46.2 Gs.

What most people do not know is that a mile wasn’t always a mile the way a mile is defined in recent times. The medieval English mile was 6,600 feet long and the old London mile was 5,000 feet long. The Middle Ages mile in what is now Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia was an arbitrary measure that was anywhere between 3.25 and 6 English miles.

For the English, an inch was the size of 3 average size barley corns, and 12 of these inches made up a foot. Three feet was a yard, and 5 1/2 yards (16.5 feet) was known as a perch, a pole, or a rod. Forty perches or poles or rods was a furlong, and eight furlongs was a mile.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603), it was decreed that a mile was exactly 320 perches with for a total of 5,280 English feet.

SIDE NOTE 3: At the time, a French foot was 12.8 English inches, and a Spanish foot was 10.95 English inches. This is why Queen Elizabeth I decreed that a mile was measured in English feet as the English foot was 12 English inches.

It was determined during this time that a mile that could be walked in 20 minutes which made it easier for everyone to have an idea how long it would take to get from one place to another.

So somewhere between the Middle Ages and today, the idiom a mile a minute meaning the speed at which something is done made its way into the English language.

Johnny Green and His Orchestra recorded a song for the Brunswick Label in 1935. It was a snappy little jazz number titled, “A Mile A Minute” written by the Queen of Tin Pan Alley (so named by Irving Berlin) Bernice Petkere (11 August 1901 – 7 January 2000) with “Carefree” written by American lyricist Edward Hayman (14 March 1907 – 16 October 1981) and American songwriter Ray Henderson (1 December 1896 – 31 December 1970) on the B side.

SIDE NOTE 4: Johnny Green and His Orchestra sometimes recorded and performed under the alias Jimmy Garfield and His Orchestra.

The billboard advertising a ‘Brilliant Screen Adaptation of the Wonderful Novel by the Distinguished American Author, Robert W. Chambers‘ (26 May 1865 – 16 December 1933) to be shown at the Opera House in Hawera was published in the 24 October 1916 edition of the Hawera and Normanby Star newspaper on page 7. Near the bottom of the advertisement, other notices for shows at the Opera House were included including one for a 15 star artist vaudeville review titled, “Full Steam Ahead.” The teaser read:

A mile a minute, high-pressure aeroplane laugh-maker.

Not to be left out, manufacturers of the Hudson automobile came out with a 1912 Mile-A-Minute Roadster in 1912. Here’s a photo of one in 1920 with a lot of miles on the odometer.

On 29 June 1899, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had an advertisement for the L.A.W. Meet and Cyclists’ Carnival in Patchogue (NY) featuring “Mile A Minute Murphy” who had been “paced by locomotive. Charles Minthorn Murphy (October 1870 – 16 February 1950) was an American cycling athlete. He was also the first man to ride a bicycle for one mile in under a minute.

Idiomation did not find a published version that spoke of going a kilometer a minute which means this idiom is rooted in the Imperial measurement of speed. Idiomation did, however, find out that someone can actually talk nineteen to the dozen (which sounds like an amazing feat all in itself) when talking a mile a minute, and that people who do, are often thought of as motor mouths.

It would appear that the idiom a mile a minute came into being when cars were clocked at sixty miles per hour because there’s no mention of a mile a minute before motor cars came to be — even if go like sixty existed when trains were the mode of transportation.

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