Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Cool Beans

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 22, 2016

When you hear someone comment with cool beans (aka kewl beans, kool beans, and cool beanz), it means that the speaker approves of the comment or the situation that prompted him/her to say cool beans.  Not only is this an idiom, according to Time magazine, it’s been in the Oxford dictionary since 2014.

For fans of the sitcom, “Full House” which aired from 22 September 1987 through to 23 May 1995, DJ Tanner used the expression so often that fans and followers of the show followed suit.  But the writers of “Full House” weren’t the originators of the expression.

The idiom shows up in Marlene Fanta Shyer’s book “Grandpa Ritz and the Luscious Lovelies” published by Scribner Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) in 1985.  There on page 30, this appears:

“It’s cool beans!” That’s what Betsy always says when she thinks something is fantastic, and I couldn’t help wondering what she’d say if she could see me now.

In the 1960s, quaaludes, amphetamines and barbituates known as uppers and downers were referred to as cool beans because they resembled jellybeans. They were also known as beans, wacky beans, and cool beans.

The drug-induced positive reaction would therefore be attributed to cool beans thereby creating a positive impression of cool beans.

The reference to cool beans didn’t appear elsewhere in Idiomation’s research. While cool beans as an item is from the 1960s, the expression indicating approval is from sometime between the 1960s and 1985 when it appeared in Marlene Fanta Shyer’s book.

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Love Many, Trust Few

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 20, 2016

Last Tuesday, paddle your own canoe was shared with Idiomation’s fans, followers, and visitors.  The entry mentioned an autograph book inscription that included the canoe comment:  Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

While we were able to track down the second half of that autograph book inscription, the first half left people hanging.  With no further ado, let’s take on the first half of that expression.

The quote is a variation on a line from the William Shakespeare so-called problem play, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”   Many consider this play a problem play because it’s neither a comedy nor a tragedy.  It was written sometime between 1601 and 1608.

The play takes place in the French court of Rousillon, and is about a young woman named Helena who seeks to catch the eye of, and marry, a man of higher social standing than her current social standing.  She is the daughter of the recently deceased court physician, and her mark is Bertram, a young nobleman who is morning for his late father, the Count of Rousillon.

The expression is used in Scene I, Act I.  The Countess of Rousillon, her son Bertram, Helena, and LaFeu enter, dressed in black. The audience quickly learns that the Countess of Rousillon has just buried a second husband (explaining the black garments).

COUNTESS:
Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life’s key: be cheque’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more will,
That thee may furnish and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head! Farewell, my lord;
‘Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord,
Advise him.

So the original saying was actually love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.  At what point did the saying become love many instead of love all?

In 1846, the expression was still as William Shakespeare had written it.  In “The Christian Pioneer Monthly Magazine” edited by Reverend Joseph Foulkes Winks (12 December 1792 – 28 May 1860), the idiom was included without proper attribution in the section titled, “Facts, Hints, and Gems.”

By 1870, the “Saint’s Herald: Volume 17” (published as a semi-monthly magazine by te Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) dropped the one-letter word between trust and few, and the saying was published as love all, trust few, do wrong to none.

Nine years later, in 1879, it was no longer love all, trust few, do wrong to none.  It was now love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

Where and how the paddle and canoe were added during the decade between the “Saint’s Herald” and the autograph book inscription is still a mystery.  If anyone knows the answer, we’d love to read all about it in the comments below.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Step On A Duck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 15, 2016

To step on a duck is to fart, but not just any old fart.  The step on a duck fart is said to be one that is so loud that it sounds like the squawking of a duck in distress.  The idiom is usually spoken by a bystander wishing to point out the fart to everyone nearby and not an attempt by the person to deflect his or her embarrassment at the indelicate passing of gas.

The expression seems to be so well-known that Jim Dawson published a book in 2010 titled, “Did Somebody Step On A Duck: A Natural History of the Fart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Jim Dawson is a California-based writer who specializes in American pop culture.  A decade before publishing “Did Somebody Step On A Duck” he published “Who Cut THe Cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart” which went on to become a top-seller.

Oddly enough, thirty-five years ago, Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, asked if somebody stepped on a duck when he broke wind loudly at dinner in the 1980 movie, “Caddyshack” starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Scott Colomby.  The movie was written by Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, and Douglas Kenney of National Lampoon magazine fame.

The history of this expression is difficult to trace.  Idiomation’s research found a recipe for a duck fart shot consisting of Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Crown Royal (and poured in that order) hailing from Anchorage, Alaska.  It was created by bartender Dave Schmidt while working at the Peanut Farm Bar and Grill (on the corner of Old Seward Highway and International Street) in December 1987.  The media covered the story of the shot in an article in the Anchorage Daily News newspaper.

Oddly enough, before White Sox announcer and former professional baseball player Hawk Harrelson (born September 4, 1941) made the term more family friendly in the 1980s, the duck snort was called a duck fart.  And what is a duck snort or a duck fart in baseball terms?  It’s a ball that softly hit ball that goes over the infielders and lands in the outfield for a hit.

And in the 1940s, according to “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” compiled and published by Jonathon Green, a duck fart referred to the plopping sound a stone made when it fell into the water.

But there doesn’t seem to be any indication how stepping on a duck came to mean farting loudly.  To this end, the expressions seems to reach back only as far as 1980.  However, there’s a lot of history behind the concept, not the least of which is a political connection.

As many of us know, there’s a certain juvenile humor when it comes to farting, not the least of which is a popular poem that was written as a result of an unfortunate incident on March 4, 1607 involving Henry Ludlow in the House of Commons.  The poem (which was endlessly copied, recopied, and shared liberally) published in 1607 was titled, “The Censure of the Parliament Fart.”  The incident happened as Sir John Crooke was giving a speech, and he took the fart as a personal insult.  For readers’ amusement, this is the opening volley of the poem.

Never was bestowed such art
Upon the tuning of a Fart.
Downe came grave auntient Sir John Crooke
And redd his message in his booke.
Fearie well, Quoth Sir William Morris, Soe:
But Henry Ludlowes Tayle cry’d Noe.
Up starts one fuller of devotion
Then Eloquence; and said A very ill motion
Not soe neither quoth Sir Henry Jenkin
The Motion was good; but for the stincking
Well quoth Sir Henry Poole it was a bold tricke
To Fart in the nose of the bodie pollitique.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir John Crooke sat in Parliament in 1584, 1597, and 1601.  Henry Ludlow sat in the 1601 and 1604 Parliament as a member of the Inner Temple.  In other words, the two were in Parliament together in 1601.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  The poem became so famous by 1610 that it was cited in Ben Jonson’s play, “The Alchemist.”  The play (which opens with a fart) includes a reference to the poem by Sir Epicure Mammon.

All this being said, the connection between stepping on a duck and loud farts is one that escaped Idiomation’s research.  Perhaps one of Idiomation’s readers has proof as to who first wrote or said this, or where it first appeared in print.

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Paddle Your Own Canoe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 13, 2016

Back when autograph books were popular among schoolgirls, it was a given that one page would say love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.  In fact, F.G. Bosse suggested the phrase as an appropriate inscription in his book “Selections For Autograph and Writing Albums” published by Charles A. Lilley in 1879.

To paddle your own canoe means to be in control of your life and to set your own course.  It was used in the article “8 Tips For Starting Your Own Agribusiness” on February 15, 2016 on the Farmers Weekly website.  The writer interviewed Hanna Moule, 34, who launched her rural surveying firm in 2010 with nothing more than a laptop, a car, and a few clients.  Her first tip was this:

1.  Paddle your own canoe — “I took on my second employee to do cross-compliance and record keeping,” Hannah says.  “It’s bread-and-butter work that many land agents wouldn’t take on, but it builds a relationship that leads to return work.”

The expression has been around for a long time, and is still in use today.  It’s a proverb that’s found its way into many songs such as the one by Indiana pioneer poet Sarah Tittle (S.T.) Bolton (18 December 1814 – 5 August 1893) titled “Paddle Your Own Canoe” published in 1854.

Where’er your lot may be
Paddle your own canoe.

There was also a song mentioned in the Laura Ingalls Wilder (7 February 1867 – 10 February 1957) book titled, “By The Shores Of Silver Lake” where paddle my own canoe or paddle your own canoe is found in the verses shared in the book.  The lyrics were sung to the tune of “Rosin The Bow.”

PADDLE MY OWN CANOE

I’ve traveled about a bit in my time
And of troubles I’ve seen a few
But found it better in every clime
To paddle my own canoe.

My wants are few. I care not at all
If my debts are paid when due.
I drive away strife in the ocean of life
While I paddle my own canoe.

The love your neighbor as yourself
As the world you go traveling through
And never sit down with a tear or a frown
But paddle your own canoe.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The fifth book in the series, “By The Shores of Silver Lake” covered Laura’s childhood when the family lived near de Smet, South Dakota in 1879.

The phrase was used in 1865 by American writer and politician Charles Henry Smith using the pseudonym Billy Arp (15 June 1826 – 24 August 1903) in his book titled, “Billy Arp, So Called: A Side Show of the Southern Side of the War.”  It was registered with the Metropolitan Record Office in 1866.

Charles Henry Smith adopted his pen name, Billy Arp, in April 1861 after President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation ordering Southern rebels to retire peaceably.  He wrote the equivalent of an Open Letter to the President under his pen name, and that letter made him a household name.

In one letter, to Mr. John Happy (which he titled, ‘Billy Arp To His Old Friend‘) he began by saying:

I want to write to you personally about some things that’s weighin on me.  I look on you as a friend, and I feel lik dropping a few lines by way of unberthening my sorrowful reflections.  For the last few years you have travelled round right smart, and must have made a heap of luminous observations.  I hear you are no wliving in Nashville, where you can see all sides of every thing, and read all the papers, where you can study Paradise Lost without a Book, and see the devil and his angels, without drawing on the imagination, and I thought maybe you might assist me in my troubled feelings.

Yes, that was all one sentence.  Regardless, Billy Arp then launched into asking when the government was going to quit persecuting his people, and other important matters affecting those living in the Southern states.  At one point, he talked about the Constitution which, he said, had been smuggled into an “abolishun mush.”  The phrase appeared in this passage:

They built a fence around the institution as high as Haman’s gallows, and hemmed it in, and laid siege to it jest like an army would besege a city to starve out the inhabitants.  They kept peggin at us untell we got mad — shore enuff mad — and we resolved to cut loose from ’em, and paddle our own canoo.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Bill Arp had a weekly column in the Atlanta Constitution that was syndicated to hundreds of newspapers.  At the time, no one had more verified regular readers than Bill Arp.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  Bill Arp wrote 30 such letters over the course of the war, and into the early 1870s.  The theme of his letters was unwaivering in its support of the Confederacy, and its dislike of Union policies.

Back in 1807, Sicnarf (a pseudonym for the real author, and coincidentally, Francis spelled backwards) published “The Selangor Journal: Jottings Past and Present” in which he mentioned that in Malaysia, rather than loan money to entrepreneurs starting their own coffee plantation, they would let them make their own way.   It was, quite literally, a sink-or-swim scenario for those who started their own businesses.

They let each poor fellow paddle his own canoe, and if he capsizes and stretches out his hand in despair for someone to save him, offers all he posses — all his money, all his property only to save him from ruin, they won’t do it.  He may die and perish.  There are hundreds of thousands of things, which the Planters’ Association could do; but they don’t do them.

There’s no published mention of paddle your own canoe prior to its use in this book from 1807.  Somewhere between 1807 and 1865, the expression paddle your own canoe came to mean you were in charge of your destiny.  All this leads Idiomation to wonder what this might have to do with loving many and trusting few as F.G. Bosse suggested as a proper inscription for autograph books.

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Bat Shit Crazy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 25, 2016

Heather E. Johnson asked Idiomation where bat shit crazy came from, and what made bat excrement crazier than any other rodent’s.  The expression means that the person accused of being bat shit crazy is acting in a threatening manner that is devoid of all reason and that borders on insanity.  In other words, someone who is bat shit crazy so irrationally (and possibly violently as well) that reasonable, sane measures of dealing with the situation at hand are ineffective.

Scientifically speaking, the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum is found in bat guano and when the fungus infects the brain (a possibility, not a given), it leaves the infected person or animal behaving in a psychotic manner.

Until the early 1950s when Histoplasma capsulatum was finally being diagnosed correctly, sufferers were usually misdiagnosed with tuberculosis.  Placed on antibacterial antibiotics, the medication worsened the disease.  Why?  According to medical studies, once the bacteria in the body was killed off, the fungus had nothing to stop it from taking over completely.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  Histoplasmosis can even be fatal in some cases.   This article by S.T. Darling published in 1906 provides insight into this.  Darling, S. T. 1906. A protozoan general infection producing pseudotubercles in the lungs and focal necroses in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. JAMA 46:1283-1285.  This article by R.J. Parsons and C.J.D. Zarafonetis published in 1945 supports this as well.  Parsons, R. J., and C. J. D. Zarafonetis. 1945. Histoplasmosis in man, report of seven cases and a review of seventy-one cases. Arch. Intern. Med. 75:1-23.

Economically speaking, bat guano has been an international commodity as a fertilizer for about 200 years, and the best source is from Peru’s islands:  The Chincas, the Ballestras, the Lobos, and the Macabi and Guanape Islands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  There are other islands off Africa, in the Carribean, and some Pacific Islands that also have excellent and abundant stores of guano, however, guano from Peru is believed to be superior to all other guano.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  Guano is high in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium which are essential nutrients for plant growth.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4:  Archeologists have discovered that guano has been used as an agricultural fertilizer by the Andean people over 1,500 years.  Documentation by Spanish explorers indicate that Incans restricted access to guano and considered guano a valuable commodity to be protected from overuse and misuse.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 5:  It’s believed that Peruvian seabird guano (since guano isn’t always from bats) used in 1842 in Ireland and Great Britain was responsible for the virulent strain of potato blight that was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine (1845 – 1852).

In 1909, Peru established the Guano Administration (we kid you not) to preserve their reserve of guano, and to continue to use guano for agricultural purposes in Peru.

Last month, the CBC reported on Emmanuel Kahsai, 30, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 54-year-old mother, Selma Alem, and second-degree murder in the death of a 25-year-old female.  Those who know the accused have stated to the media that they believe the accused is faking a psychiatric illness to escape criminal responsibility.  The article, published July 18, 2016 was titled, “Emmanuel Kahsai playing ‘bat-shit crazy card,’ says Selma Alem’s friend.

Batshit was used in the June 1983 movie, “Trading Places” starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.  The movie tells the story of a snobbish investor and a street savvy con artist who see their fortunes reversed as a result of a bet made by two millionaire brothers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke of the fictional commodities brokerage firm, Duke & Duke.

RANDOLPH DUKE
Exactly why do you think the price of pork bellies is going to keep going down, William?
    
BILLY RAY VALENTINE
Okay, pork belly prices have been dropping all morning, which means that everybody is waiting for it to hit rock bottom, so they can buy cheap and go long. Which means that the people who own the pork belly contracts are going batshit, they’re thinking, “Hey, we’re losing all our damn money, and Christmas is around the corner, and I ain’t gonna have no money to buy my son the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip! And my wife ain’t gonna f… my wife ain’t gonna make love to me if I got no money!” So they’re panicking right now, they’re screaming “SELL! SELL!” ‘cos they don’t wanna lose all their money, right? They’re panicking out there right now; I can feel it.
    
RANDOLPH DUKE
He’s right, Mortimer! My God, look at it!

It would seem that while the word crazy is implied, it wasn’t part of the idiom in 1983.

In 1971, William J. Calley Jr. published a book with the help of John Sack titled, “Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story.”  The book was marketed as “America’s most infamous soldier tells all.”  In his book, he used the expression batshit without tacking on the word crazy but as with the movie, “Trading Places” it’s implied.

Most of America’s males were in Korea or World War II or I. They killed, and they aren’t all going batshit.

This seems to show that bat shit, up to at least 1983, wasn’t coupled with the word crazy.

In 1988, the term appeared three times in the book, “Runaway” by author and English professor, Stephen Gresham — on pages, 85, 91, and 122.  The story is about 13-year-old Mark Blackwood who comes from a rich family but because he’s a runaway,he finds himself living at Redemption House under the watchful eye of Brother Bob who is far more dangerous than his name or title implies.

Man, what’s wrong with him?
He’s crazy.  Bat-shit crazy.

Stephen Gresham retired from Auburn University in 2008 as a full professor and currently resides in Auburn (AL).  Since Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of bat shit crazy, Idiomation has sent a communiqué to Stephen Gresham asking him where he first heard the idiom or if the expression originates with him.  As soon as we know, Idiomation fans and followers will be the next to know.  Stay tuned!

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Fishing For The Moon In The Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2016

If someone tells you that your idea is nothing more than fishing for the moon in the water, they mean that you aren’t seeing things as they are, and your idea is a pipe dream.  It may sound nice and it might even look nice, but it’s not realistic in their opinion.

From June 16 to July 29, 2011 the James Cohan Art Gallery in New York City hosted an art show curated by Leo Xu, a curator and writer based in Shanghai, China.  The art show was titled, “Catch The Moon In The Water.”  The show featured artists such as Shanghai-based Zhou Tiehai; Beijing-based Guo Hongwei, Zhao Zhao, Chen Wei, Hu Xiangqian, Sun Xun and Liang Yuanwei; and Hangzhou-based Cheng Ran.

The press release stated that the title of the art show came from a poem by Chinese artist, calligrapher, scholar, government official, and poet Huang Tingjian (1045 – 1105) who lived during the Song Dynasty, and is considered one of the Four Masters of the Song Dynasty.   included this line:

Seize the flower in the mirror,
Catch the moon in the water.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The Song Dynasty began in 960 A.D. through to 1279 A.D.  It was preceded by the Tang Dynasty, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty.

In Oliver Stone’s movie “W” there’s a scene where George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. discuss what George wants to do with his life.

GEORGE BUSH SR
Who do you think you are?  A Kennedy?  You’re a Bush.  Act like one.  You can’t even hold a job.  We always worked for our living.  It’s damned time you joined the rest of us and decided just what it is you’re gonna do with your life.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
I know, Poppy. I’m — I’m — I’m just having
a devil of a time trying to figure it out.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
Well, then figure it out soon, Junior.  Your brother Jeb graduates Phi Beta Kappa.  What did you get? Cs?  You only get one bite at the apple, you know.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
Jeb’s not me and I don’t wanna be Jeb, Poppy.  Look, what I’d really love —  I mean, what I’d really love to do is to find something in baseball.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
What? You can’t play.  Coach? You’re fishing for the moon in the water.

The movie was released in 2008 and the script was written by Stanley Weiser, but four biographers who have written about the Bush family said that while the screenplay was based in fact, there was more caricature than three-dimensional character in the main roles.  That being said, the movie provided an opportunity to talk about fishing for the moon in the water.

The question, however, is whether this idiom was one that would have been known by George Bush Sr. at the time it was inserted into the movie’s timeline.   According to the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service, in the February 7, 1987 edition of the “Daily Report: People’s Republic of China,” an article was published with the idiom as its title.  It was listed thusly:

HK090605 Beijing RENMIN RIBAO in Chinese 7 Feb 87 p 6

[“International Jottings” by Yue Lin (2588 7207):  “Fishing For The Moon In The Water“]

While there aren’t many published references to this idiom in English, it’s a very well known saying in China.  Just as the Western world has Aesop’s fables, China has its own fables as well including this one.

One evening, a man went to the well to fetch water.  Looking into the well, he saw the moon shining back at him.

Alarmed, the man said, “I must hurry back home for my fishing rod, and fish the moon out of the well.”

Once he returned to the well, he lowered the hook in and waited for the moon to bite.  He waited and waited and waited until something tugged at the line.

The man pulled hard, but the moon pulled even harder until suddenly the line broke and the man fell flat on his back.

When he sat back up, he saw the moon was back in the sky as it should be and he was proud of his hard work.

The next day when he met his friends in the village, he proudly told them of his achievement the previous night, and not one person in the village dared tell him that the moon had always been in the sky and had never been in the well.

The fable was first recorded by Dao Shi (618 – 683) in his book, “Fa Yuan Zhu Lin (The Dharma Treasure Grove).”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 7th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Finger In Every Pie

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 30, 2016

Someone with a finger in every pie is usually someone who is involved in many different things.  Sometimes it’s said in a positive way to compliment someone who has a variety of skills, interests, and talents, and sometimes it’s said in a negative way to point out that someone is an opportunist who only cares about what’s in it for him or her.  In either case, however, the person with a finger in every pie usually has influence over the activities in which they are involved, and generally that’s frowned upon.

Bill Jamieson’s June 19, 2016 article in Scotland’s national newspaper, The Scotsman, titled, “Performance No Indicator of Portfolio Success” discussed fund managers, broad market indexes, and understanding how well an investment may have done in light of having fallen in value.  The concept of the blinkered idiot theory caught Idiomation’s eye (look for that entry sometime in July) as did the finger in every pie idiom.

Investment is not, Robin Angus argues, “about buying a little of this and a little of that, to get ‘exposure’ to every area and have a finger in every pie in the hope of finding plums to pull out.

With that, Idiomation was reminded of the Little Jack Horner nursery rhyme first published in 1725.

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I!’

Rumor has it that the nursery rhyme was actually about Thomas Horner (1547 – 1612) who was sent to Henry VIII’s court with a large Christmas pie that held the deeds to twelve manors between its crusts.  The Christmas pie was intended as a bribe  (although it was called a gift) from the Abbot of Glastonbury to King Henry VIII of England in exchange for not nationalizing Church lands.

Supposedly, Thomas retrieved the deed for the Manor of Mells in Somerset for himself which included lead mines in the Mendip Hills.  The plum was supposedly a play on words as the Latin word for lead is plumbum.  Thomas Horner’s descendants deny that this version of the tale is true, claiming that their ancestor legally purchased the deed from the abbey.

As his descendants claim, Thomas Horner could very well have purchased the deed with his own money for himself.  A great deal of land was stolen from the Catholic Church during King Henry VIII’s reign.  He didn’t keep all the land for himself, choosing to distribute some among his supporters so he could rely on their loyalty in the future (an insurance policy of sorts, you might say).  Protestant merchants who were doing well for themselves saw the purchase of such properties as a fantastic opportunity for themselves and their descendants, and so the lesser properties were sold to these merchants.  In another nursery rhyme (one that is oftentimes presented as a Protestant version of the Catholic rhyme), there’s a nod to that being what happened.

Hopton, Horner, Smith, and Finn
When abbots went out, they came in.

Regardless of how the property was obtained by Thomas Horner, in either nursery rhyme there seems to be some opportunistic gain involved, don’t you agree?

Eleven years after Thomas Horner’s death (and nearly a little more than a hundred years before the Little Jack Horner nursery rhyme was published), the spirit of the phrase is found William Shakespeare’s play from 1623 “Henry VIII” in Act 1, scene 1.  In this scene, Cardinal Wolsey is described by the Duke of Buckingham as being too involved in other people’s business.

DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM
The devil speed him! no man’s pie is freed
From his ambitious finger. What had he
To do in these fierce vanities? I wonder
That such a keech can with his very bulk
Take up the rays o’ the beneficial sun
And keep it from the earth.

As one can see, ambition and pies were married to each other in literature by this time.

In fact, in the 1653 book “The Historie Of This Iron Age: Where Is Set Down The True State of Europe, As It Was In The Year 1500” by French historian and writer, Jean-Nicolas de Parival (1605 – 1669), the spirit as well as the first variation of the idiom appeared in print.

Lusatia, depending upon the Kingdom of Bohemia, was the allyance, and must needs, forsooth, have her Finger in the Pye.  This Province was recommended, to the Electour of Saxonie, who choosing rather to proceed by way of accommodation, then presently to fly to extremities, made the States acquainted with his Commission; shewed then the danger of persisting in obstinacy; and would have certainly have perswaded them, had not the Marquis of Lagerendorp broken the negotiation by force of arms, and brought the Negotiatours away prisoners.

While the spirit was found in William Shakespear’s play in 1623, Idiomation gives this one to Jean-Nicolas de Parival in 1653.

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

Pieman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2016

Many are familiar with the nursery rhyme about a young man named Simon who meets a pieman going to the fair.

Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair;
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
“Show me first your penny.”
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Indeed I have not any.”

Clearly, a pieman is simply that: Someone who makes  or sells pies.  But have piemen existed for as long as pies have, and do piemen still exist in today’s world?

According to the October 25, 2015 edition of the Mirror newspaper in the UK, piemen still exist and are worthy of news articles from time to time.  In an article published in the paper that day, it was reported that the boss of Morrison’s pie-making factory in Bradford had reached a milestone of sorts.  The article was titled, “Pieman‘s Appetite Is Off The Charts.”

A month earlier, however, the Canberra Times in Australia reported on September 24, 2015 that the southside Canberra was reeling from the passing of their last pieman, Leicester Donoghoe.  The funeral processions was lead by a 1936 Chevrolet van that had served as the pieman‘s original pie cart.

His was a colorful life, apprenticed as a baker and pastry cook at Duncan’s in Queanbeyan before buying the pie cart from Tom Wilkinson from the Top Hat Café in Manuka.  The article marked the man’s passing with the headline, “Leicester Donoghoe, Last Pieman Of Canberra’s South, Leaves With Tragic Wish.”

In Volume 25 (on page 57) of the “Materials Engineering” magazine published in 1947, an interesting line was inserted into an editorial titled, “Simple Simon Met A Pieman.”  Obviously an OpEd piece, it addressed a social injustice the author wanted known.  The piece began with this set-up.

Once upon a time there was a pieman named Getmore in fact there was a whole family of Getmores up to their necks in the pie business but not making a great deal of dough at that.

Perhaps it’s because the nursery rhyme lends itself so easily to being rewritten that a different version was published in “The Common Cause” on page 25 in 1912.  This version was titled, “Simple Simon On Capital” and was written by W.M. Ramsay.  It was actually part of a larger publication titled, “Great Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist, Anti-communist Movements.”

Everybody knows that I met the Pieman, but they don’t know as I got a pie from him. This is how it same about.

“Let’s have a pie, Pieman,” says I.

“All right, says he, “let’s see your brass.”

“I ain’t got no brass now,” says I, “but I’ll soon get the brass at the fair.”

The focus of the story was to sell both sides of the concept.  At first, the story claimed that capitalism was “stealing from the poor, grinding down the workers and taking their profits, letting ’em starve and making bloated millinaires [sic]” as voiced by Thomas.

But Simon rebutted the definition by saying that capitalism wasn’t that at all.  Simon said:  “Capital keeps the sheep alive till the grass grows.  It puts something in your inside and sets you a-going at your job, and it grubs the men a-making the railroad and their wives and their little-uns, and buys ’em clothes and pays the lodging till the trains are running and the profits come in.”

It sounds to Idiomation like the Pieman from W.M. Ramsay’s story taught Simon quite a bit about capitalism.

Volume 4 of “Vick’s Monthly Magazine” published in 1881 had an article titled, “Notes And Reminiscences” that talked about the hopes the writer had for the Valley of the Murray in Australia.  Mentioning an article in an earlier edition, the writer — known only by his initials S.W.V. and the fact that he lived in Sandhurst — stated:

One character, “the pieman,” I offer a few additional remarks about, which may be of interest.  The pieman not only sold, but was open to the speculations; the pie was supposed to be of a standard commercial value, one penny, and his proposal for business was “‘Ot pie, toss o’ by” (Hot pie, toss or buy) and the adventurer would “spin a copper,” the pieman crying, “head or tail,” as the case might be.  If the pieman cried wrong he had to shell out the “‘ot pie” for a half penny; au contraire, if he called right the spectator lost his half penny.  It is, perhaps unnecessary to say that in any case the pieman was the winner, even if he always had to sell the pie at half penny, seeing that said pie was but a small bit of puff paste, and as to the meat or fruit it contained, it required a magnifying glass of high power to find it at all.

A generation earlier, in the 1851 edition of “London Labor and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Can Not Work, and Those That Will Not Work: Volume I” by English social researcher, journalist, playwright, and social reform advocate, Henry Mayhew (25 November 1812 – 25 July 1887), a similar situation is described.

The London piemen, who may number about forty in winter, and twice that number in summer, are seldom stationary.  They go along with their pie-cans on their arms, crying, “Pies all ‘ot!  eel, beef, or mutton pies!  Penny pies, all ‘ot — all ‘ot!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Henry Mayhew was co-founder, along with Mark Lemon,(30 November 1809 – 23 May 1870) of the satirical and humorous magazine Punch first published in 1841. 

In “The Boston Weekly Magazine” published in 1802, it too mentioned of a pieman in a short insert titled, “Sagacity of a Dog.”  It was an amazing story that included this passage.

The next time he heard the pieman‘s bell, the Dog ran to him with impetuosity, seized him by the coat, and would not suffer him to pass. The pieman, who understood what the animal wanted, showed him a penny, and pointed to his master, who stood in the street door, and saw what was going on.

The concept of a pie being something where meat or fish are enclosed in pastry dates back to the 1350s.  Undoubtedly there have been piemen selling their wares since then, but somewhere between the 1350s and 1802, the term wasn’t published in books, pamphlets, or newspapers.  Or if it was, it has escaped Idiomation’s eyes.

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Pie In The Sky

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2016

Whenever people talk about pie in the sky they’re talking about how unlikely something is apt to be.  It’s a wish, an empty promise, a pleasant daydream, a prospect of future happiness that will go unfulfilled. Pie in the sky is something that is lovely to consider but not realistic to anticipate coming to fruition.

Today is the day the UK votes on whether to stay in the European Union.  There have been countless articles and interviews in the media discussing the pros and cons with no clear answer arrived at.

On one week ago, on June 15, 2016 the Daily Telegraph shared a report that the former Conservative shadow chief secretary to the Treasury said that only 12% of UK insurance exports were to the EU with the majority of insurance exports going to North American and Asia.  In his opinion, leaving the EU was the way to go.  The powers-that-be at the Association of British Insurers (ABI) saw things differently.

ABI’s director of regulation Hugh Savill said he suggestion that UK insurers could do business without taking account of European regulation was “pie in the sky.”

Baseball is one of those sports that everyone seems to love regardless of whether you’re a fanatic about it.  Back in 1984, Tom Monaghan, then owner of Domino’s Pizza (the largest privately held restaurant chain in the world at the time), owned the Detroit Tigers.  For him, it was a dream come true.

He had lived a difficult childhood, losing his father at 4, being placed in an orphanage by his mother at 6, and striking out on his own at age 12.  He bought a pizza shop at age 23 (with help from his slightly older brother who worked as a postman), and never looked back.  The article written by Jack Friedman and published in People magazine on May 6, 1984 was titled, “Owning The Detroit Tigers Is No Longer Pie In The Sky For Pizza King Tom Monaghan.”

Volume 180 of The Fortnightly magazine published in 1953 also used the expression in an  article about one of Britain’s British historian and political scientists, Professor Hugh Seton-Watson (15 February 1916 – 19 December 1984).  Professor Seton-Watson had used the expression in one of his articles.

An extraordinary remark (among other extraordinary remarks) is made by Professor Hugh Seton-Watson in his article “Moscow and the West” in the September number of The Fortnightly.  It is that the new promises of a speed-up in supplying consumers’ goods and housing “will soon be relegated” to the status of “pie in the sky.”  This statement is allegedly based on “the experience of many previous promises.”

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Professor Seton-Watson was one of the two sons of British political activist and historian Robert William Seton-Watson (20 August 1879 – Skye, 25 July 1951).  R.W. Seton-Watson was also known by his pseudonym, Scotus Viator.

Interestingly enough, both the Harvard Bulletins in Education (1926) and the Infantry Journal (1927) published by the United States Infantry Association along with other publications at the time, quoted a song that had a scoffing attitude towards believing in the future.  It was identified as one of the I.W.W. songs, where the chorus is as follows:

You will eat bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie).

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a group of nomadic proletarians from the west coast of the U.S.  The group was started by Swedish immigrant, Joel Emmanuel Hägglund (later known as Joe Hill) who arrived in American in October 1902.  His songs oftentimes ridiculed religion and non-union workers.

INTERESTING NOTE 3:  Joe Hill was arrested, charged, and found guilty of the murders of John Morrison, owner of Morrison Grocery, and his son Arling on the night of January 10, 1914 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was executed by firing squad inside the walls of the Utah state penitentiary on November 19, 1915.  He maintained he was innocent right up to his death.

Joel Emmanuel Hägglund aka Joe Hill (7 October 1879 – 19 November 1915) wrote his song, “The Preacher and the Slave” in 1906 as a parody of the popular hymn from 1868, “In The Sweet By And By” which was originally known as “There’s A Land That Is Fairer Than Day.”

Pie In The Sky_Parodied Hymn
It was published in the fourth printed edition of the Industrial Workers of the World songbook “Little Red Songbook” on July 6, 1911 under the title of “Long Haired Preachers” where it was credited to F. B. Brechler.  It was credited to F.B. Brechler in the 1912 edition, and then credited to Joe Hill in the 1913 edition.  It has been suggested that F.B. Brechler may have been a pseudonym used by Joe Hill.

INTERESTING NOTE 4:  The first edition of the “Little Red Songbook” was published in 1904 with the slogan, “To fan the flames of discontent.”

There is no earlier reference to pie in the sky, and so Idiomation pegs this idiom to 1906 courtesy of Joe Hill.  In the meantime, enjoy this rendition of Joe Hill’s song.

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Telling Porky Pies

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 21, 2016

While reading the comments section on a YouTube video, one comment spoke of someone telling porky pies.  To those who aren’t familiar with the expression, telling porky pies means someone is lying.

The Mirror newspaper reported on September 21, 2015 that British Prime Minister David Cameron wasn’t being entirely truthful when he claimed he was unaware of Lord Ashcroft’s controversial “non-dom” tax status in the months leading up to the 2010 general election.  However, Lord Ashcroft told the Daily Mail that he and David Cameron discussed the matter in detail in 2009.  The article was titled, “Is David Cameron Telling Porky Pies When It Comes To Misleading Voters Over Non-Dom Tax?

Thirty years earlier, in 1985, Volume 29 of “Canadian Electronic Engineering” found a way to insert the expression into an article.  Regardless of what the article was about, a definite statement was made about the origins of the saying.

Gallium arsenide as a chip material has reached political levels.  At least it has in the UK, where recently an honorable member was taken to task by the technical media for telling “porky pies” in the House.   That’s rhyming slang for telling terminological inexactitudes.

In the British sit-com, “Only Fools and Horses” which ran from 1981 to 1984, written and created by John Sullivan, the expression was included in a number of episodes including, but not limited to, Episode 2 of Season 4.

RODNEY:
You don’t believe all them stories do you?

DEL:
What?  Do you reckon they’re porkies?

According to the Rocking Rhyming Slang website as well as Londontopia, telling porky pies or telling porkies is one of the most well-known slang expressions throughout London and the UK.  On the Londontopia website, the authors claim that rhyming slang originated in the East End of London in the 1840s.  As we all know, language is a living and breathing entity, and Cockney rhyming slang has continued to expand since its inception.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The term pork pie dates back to 1732.

That being said, pork pies were a British delicacy in England back in the day.  Hand-raised pork pies were first made in 1831 in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Joseph Hansom built the Belvoir Street Baptist Chapel in Leicester in 1845 which has been referred to as the Pork Pie Chapel because of its shape which resembles a Melton Mowbray pork pie!

The Melton Mowbray pork pies were mass produced (for the day) in the oldest surviving bakery, Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe, from 1851 onwards.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  Melton Mowbray Pork Pies are protected by European Union law.  For those who doubt this fact, click HERE to download the PDF confirming this fact.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4:  The area is equally famous for its Stilton cheese.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 5:  If you’re looking for a recipe that closely resembles these pork pies, click HERE and download this freebie.

The shape of the Melton Mowbray pork pies was the influence and reason pork-pie hats were called pork-pie hats which originated in 1855.  The pork-pie hat was a popular woman’s hat (sometimes worn at an angle on the forehead) with a flat crown and a brim that made it look like a Melton Mowbray pork pie.

Brits will tell you that the expression telling porky pies has been around as long as there have been Melton Mowbray pork pies.

As a side note, Idiomation also learned along the way that porky pies and mince pies in Cockney rhyming slang aren’t the same thing at all.  One is all about lies, while the other is all about eyes.

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