Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Forty Winks

Posted by Admin on August 20, 2019

The language of slumber is one that has some strange twists and turns to it, where sense seems to be nonsense, and nonsense sometimes makes sense.

If you need to catch or take forty winks, you need a nap because forty winks isn’t a good night’s sleep. But why do people call a nap forty winks?

A blink doesn’t last long. It doesn’t even last a second. But if all you need is a few minutes rest, then forty winks should be enough … especially during the day.

But how long is a blink? A blink is longer than a jiffy (read up on shake of a lamb’s tail for more details on this) so scientifically speaking, forty winks should be about 15 seconds long. Since most naps are far longer than 15 seconds, the idiom is meant to imply a forty wink nap is not dissimilar from how short employers feel a coffee break should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi. A fermi is about the size of a nucleon.

A full cycle nap according to scientists and medical researchers is 90 minutes long. A cat nap is much shorter at 7 minutes.

That being said, the number forty has been used since long before Biblical times to describe an indefinite time — long but not too long. Shakespeare used the number in some of his plays in this way, and even Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) used the number similarly in a letter to his father in law, John Danvers, when he ended it with this closing.

I have forty businesses in my hands: your Courtesie will pardon the haste of
Your humblest Servant,
George Herbert.

SIDE NOTE 2: George Herbert was the brother of the 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. They and their eight siblings were the grandchildren of Sir Edward Newport, Lord of Cherbury. They were also the grandchildren of Sir Richard Newport, ruler of souther Powys. THeir father, Richard Herbert was the sheriff and deputy lieutenant of the county of Montgomery.

That being said, a wynk (wink) meant a sleep in the 14th Century when William Langland (1332 – 1400) wrote “Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman” published in 1377. In fact, in his epic poem, there is a lot of wynkyng, none of which involved anything but sleep.

In Volume I, in “Passus Quintus de Visione, ut supra” (which was the second vision the dreamer had which is retold in this poem), the poet wrote:

Thanne waked I of my wynkyng,
And wo was withalle,
That I ne hadde slept sadder,
And y-seighen moore.

So how and when did forty get hitched to winks (or wynks) — and separated from one wink (or wynk) meaning a sleep — to mean a nap?

Back in 1960, the B-side on the Neil Sedaka release “Stairway To Heaven” was written by Barry Mann and Larry Kolber, and told the story of a lonely guy far away from his gal, but he knew she was just “Forty Winks Away” in his dreams.

On 15 March 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post titled, “Gretchen’s Forty Winks.” The number forty appears a number of times in the story, but in relation to taking a nap, it is found in this passage.

When Tompkins dropped them in front of their house at eleven Roger and Gretchen stood for a moment on the sidewalk looking at the winter moon. There was a fine, damp, dusty snow in the air, and Roger drew a long breath of it and put his arm around Gretchen exultantly.

‘I can make more money than he can,’ he said tensely. ‘And I’ll be doing it in just forty days.’

‘Forty days,’ she sighed. ‘It seems such a long time–when everybody else is always having fun. If I could only sleep for forty days.’

‘Why don’t you, honey? Just take forty winks, and when you wake up everything’ll be fine.’

She was silent for a moment.

In Act III, Scene I of the play “Deacon Brodie or the Double Life” by Robert Louis Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) and William Ernest (W.E.) Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) and published in 1882 (just a few years before Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886), the characters Jean, Smith, and Moore find themselves in a public place in Edinburgh, loitering. The exchange with forty winks mentioned is found at the beginning of the scene.

MOORE:
Wot did I tell you? Is he ‘ere, or ain’t he? Now, then. Slink by name and Slink by nature, that’s wot’s the matter with him.

JEAN:
He’ll no be lang; he’s regular enough, if that was a’.

SMITHER:
Badger, you brute, you hang on to the lessons of your dancing-master. None but the genteel deserves the fair: does they, Duchess?

MOORE:
O rot! Did I insult the blowen? Wot’s the matter with me is Slink Ainslie.

SMITH:
All right, old Crossed-in-love. Give him forty winks, and he’ll turn up as fresh as clean sawdust and as respectable as a new Bible.

MOORE:
That’s right enough; but I ain’t agoing to stand here all day for him. I’m for a drop of something short, I am. You tell him I showed you that (showing his doubled fist). That’s wot’s the matter with him.

SIDE NOTE 3: Deacon William Brodie was a cabinet maker, town councilman, and head of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons in Edinburgh by day, and the head of a burglary gang who had a serious gambling addiction and two mistresses by night. He was caught during an armed robbery at Chessel Court in 1786 and hanging two years later on 1 October 1788.

SIDE NOTE 4: The character of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver was inspired by William Ernest Henley who suffered from tuberculousis of the bone from the time he was 12 years of age, resulting in the amputation of his left leg below the knee at age 20.

SIDE NOTE 5: William Ernest Henley’s daughter, Margaret, was the inspiration for Wendy in the J.M. Barrie children’s classic, Peter Pan. Unfortunately, she was a sickly child and died on 11 February 1894 at age five. The play first opened on 27 December 1904 at the Duke of York Theater in London.

In Volume 55 of the Westminster Review published in mid-1851, an extensive article discussed electro-biology as a repackaging of charlatanism, somnolism, phycheism, and mesmerism. The expression forty winks — in quotation marks — was used.

The Fakirs of India are said to throw themselves into a trance by looking at the tips of their noses; but whether trance be induced, or sleep, by that or any corresponding process, must always depend, more or less, upon the constitution of the patient. The same visual or mental effort that would give to one person his quiet “forty winks” after dinner, would throw an epileptic person into a fit.

SIDE NOTE 6: Mesmerism is named after Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (23 May 1734 – 5 March 1815) which he introduced to society in 1770. He is considered the father of hypnosis. It was not accepted as a viable therapy until 1958 when the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure.

Back in 1828 when George Eliot was Mary Ann Cross — and long before she married her husband Mr. Evans — she wrote in her journal that she had “forty winks on a sofa in the library.”

Dr. William Kitchiner (1775 – 1827) wrote a self-help guide, published in 1821, which was titled, “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life by Food, CLothes, Air, Exercise, Wine, Sleep, and More.” Already known for his previous books, including “The Cook’s Oracle”, The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review of London (England) reviewed the Dr. Kitchiner’s latest book in its November 24th edition that year.

The review begins with letting readers know that not only is Dr. Kitchener the author of a number of books, but also the author of a book on telescopes which proved him to be “an excellent optician.” The reviewer also saw fit to state that the author was known to his friends as “a musical amateur, an advocate for good living at the least possible expense, for indulging in all the luxuries of epicurism, with due care to avoid its injurious effects.” A nod to the author’s age — that being 43 years of age at the time the book was published — is mentioned as well.

The review included this passage:

Sleep is a subject on which our author acknowledges his feelings are tremblingly alive; he is fond of a ‘forty-winks‘ nap in an horizontal posture, as the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion, either of body or mind.

Idiomation was unable to find an early published version of forty winks meaning a nap — not a long sleep — prior to 1821 when it is used in quotations. So while winks (and wynks) clearly referred to sleep for a few hundred years, forty winks meaning a nap seems to have come about in the early 1800s.

Advertisements

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

Crazy As A Bed Bug

Posted by Admin on August 15, 2019

Have you ever heard someone claim someone else is crazy as a bed bug? Have you wondered how in the world someone would know if a bed bug was crazy?

The expression refers to someone who is behaving in a way that makes no sense at all. In other words, that person is acting so crazy that it’s crazier than what one would expect from a crazy person. Imagine the most eccentric lunatic, and that person would be crazy as a bed bug.

Bed bugs have been around for centuries, making their first literary appearance in Aristotle’s tome “Historia Animalia.” They have been the bane of people’s existence since long before Aristotle made mention of them in his tome.

It was a sufficiently interesting expression that in 1938, Dr. Anne E. Perkins wrote two articles for the American Speech magazine. The first was titled, Vanishing Expression of the Main Coast (Vol III, pp 138-141) and More Notes on Main Dialect (Vol. V, pp 118-131). In both articles, she claimed the expression as being unique to Ohio.

It wasn’t just an expression people in Ohio used as is found in a Rice v the State in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on November 6, 1907, and referred to a letter written in 1904. Convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the State penitentiary, Rice was found guilty of murdering his wife on 6 December 1904. He had administered strychnine from a fountain syringe into his wife, and, of course, she died.

In 1904, Mr. Rice and his wife lived in the small town of Joshua in Joshua County (TX) and the accused was well known for neglecting his wife in favor of women living in Fort Worth. It took an hour for his wife to die, and during this time she stated in front of witnesses and her husband that her husband was responsible for poisoning her.  At the time of the trial, it was learned that Mr. Rice had encouraged one of his female friends by the name of Nellie Long to send his wife strychnine poison in a fake headache compound with directions that only she was to use the remedy.

His appeal referenced testimony from the trial, included this:

He further testified that from his acquaintance and conversation with her he was so alarmed, that he wrote to J.M. Rice, brother of the defendant, at Ranger, Texas, on the subject. This letter of date June 23, 1904, written by E.J. Rice to J.M. Rice was read in evidence. This letter, among other things, recites that deceased had been on a visit to him but he, witness, was sorry to see Mandy, the deceased, crazy, but that she was as crazy as a bed bug and was jealous about Ward being too thick with other women and advised J.M. Rice to go and see defendant, and have him to have the deceased adjudged insane.

In 1893, H.A. Shands (Fellow in English, University of Mississippi) published a book titled, “Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi.” It was written as a thesis for his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Mississippi, with a focus on collecting dialect words and phrases — excluding slang phrases — that were peculiar or very common in Mississippi.  In his thesis, he included crazy as a bed bug but stated he was unsure of its origins, or whether it was an expression specific to Mississippi. As an added note, he stated in Germany the expression was ‘as impudent as a bed bug.’

A decade earlier, however, the expression had been used by the Anderson Intelligencer newspaper published in South Carolina on 06 November 1884 with regards to an unfortunate situation.  The article was published just two days after the presidential election of 1884 where Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York defeated Republican James G. Blaine of Maine in what is still considered one of the most acrimonious presidential campaigns in the history of presidential elections in the U.S.

SIDE NOTE 1: The 1884 presidential election was marked by bitter mudslinging and scandalous accusations

A well-known business man of Chicago surprised his friends, the other day by turning up as crazy as a bed bug. As he had no bad habits and was in a sound financial condition, people were puzzled over his sudden derangement, but the mystery was fully explained when it was discovered that the unfortunate man’s mind had been unhinged by reading campaign literature. The only wonder is that the entire country is not full of howling lunatics.

In October of 1874, the “History of Madison, the Capital of Wisconsin, including the Four Lake Country of Wisconsin” by Daniel S. Durrie (1819 – 1892), Librarian of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin was published.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Daniel S. Durrie was also known as Daniel Steele.

In Chapter VI, the story of Tom Jackson, a man of Scottish origin, was recounted. Tom Jackson (known as Jack by everyone) had come to Madison (WI) as a ship sawyer to assist in ripping out (with a whip-saw) a great deal of the lumber that was used in building the old Capital.

Jack was soon on his feet, as crazy as a bed-bug — could find nothing, and relieved himself by many a hard oath, directed at persons and things about him. In his searches for his pants, he caught hold of a sailor-jacket belonging to one of his room mates, and imagining the garment to be his breeches, thrust his feet through the sleeves, and finding them too short for his legs, uttered a fearful judgment upon the man who had cut off the legs of his pantaloons!

Two decades earlier, the expression was used when reporting on the testimony of an African-American brought up before the Mayor of Philadelphia for stealing chickens, as reported by the Missouri Whig newspaper in Palmyra (MO) 02 March 1854.  Supposedly, the accused gave this up as his reason for the caper.

“I was crazy as a bed bug when I stole dat pullet, coz I might hab stole the big rooster and neber done it. Dat shows ‘clusively to my mind dat I was laboring under de delirum tremendus.”

The interesting thing about bed bugs during this period is that they were also referred to as Kalamazoo bedbugs. That being said, no one ever said someone was crazy as a Kalamazoo bedbug.

While the English started using the word bug to refer to insects in 1642, the word bed bug referring to blood-sucking insects that were found in beds and bedding came into use in 1772.

It is thought that bed bugs were introduced into England by way of fir timber imported to rebuild London after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and once rebuilt, many of the new homes suffered from bugs that got into beds and bedding, and bit people. It wasn’t long before people realized bed bugs also enjoyed the creature comforts of heavy drapes and padded chairs.

By 1810, a slang term for an upholsterer was a bug-hunter.

But why are people who are acting irrationally said to be crazy as a bed-bug? Well, while bed-bugs have incredible survival instincts, and while bed-bugs are methodical in their feeding patterns, those raised welts on people and animals due to bed-bug bites cause intense itching — sometimes enough to figuratively drive a person crazy.

Although Idiomation wasn’t able to pinpoint an exact date for the expression, the fact that people with no access to education in 1854 were using the expression means it was an idiom understood by people from all classes. For this reason, Idiomation puts the idiom’s probable inception to a generation earlier to some point in the 1820s, and possibly earlier based on the slang term for an upholsterer.

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

Crazy Like A Fox

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2019

Back in 2014, Idiomation tracked down the roots of crazy as a loon (sometimes known as crazy like a loon). Its origins reached back to 1800, but what about crazy like a fox?

When someone is crazy like a fox, it’s understood the person in question is able to outwit others very easily thanks to its cunning nature and intelligence.

How smart are foxes? According to an article published on 11 January 1896 in the Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, foxes will circle back to their earlier trail, run backwards in it for a while, and then take off in another direction knowing it will cause confusion for the dogs and humans tracking it.  Undoubtedly, if a person saw a fox running backwards, that person most likely would think the fox was crazy. After all, what animal runs backwards in the direction it can’t see if danger is approaching?

According to the reporter, the trick worked for the fox, and left those tracking it at a loss as to where the fox went, so it’s not so crazy after all.  That’s a pretty smart move!

Chicago Tribune television writer Allan Johnson wondered in his column of 8 April 1999 about a network’s sanity when it came to moving the animated series Futurama to a new time slot. Even the series’ creator, Matt Groenig of Simpson’s fame questioned the network’s move.  Johnson started his column with this introduction which, of course, includes a lovely play on words both for the idiom as well as for the network involved.

Futurama’s network may be crazy as a Fox for moving the animated series from sure success on Sunday nights to a possibly deadly Tuesday night berth.

The idiom at that point had been around at least 50 years.  Back in 1926, American comedian and actor Charley Chase starred in a silent movie titled, “Crazy Like A Fox.”

SIDE NOTE 1: This is the movie where Oliver Hardy played a small role just before he teamed up with Stan Laurel to become Laurel and Hardy.

SIDE NOTE 2: In 1937, while at Columbia Picture, Charley Chase filmed a remake of the movie with sound, and retitled it, “The Wrong Miss Wright.”

SIDE NOTE 3: Charley Chase directed a number of Three Stooges movies during his time with Columbia Pictures, most of which were for Hal Roach.

On 18 January 1907, the Spokane Press newspaper of Washington state, published a short article titled, “Parker Says He Is Insane.” Prize fighter, William Parker aka Denver “Kid” Parker proclaimed to a group of people the morning this edition was published that everyone was insane, and perfect sanity could only be had after death. The article stated in part:

One often hears the remark, “Kid Parker is crazy.” The kid this morning pleaded guilty to being crazy but “crazy like a fox.” The kid has some ideas that one seldom finds in the average prize fighter.

Just a few months later, the New York Sun newspaper was publishing “Knockerino Points Out A Few Flaws.” In the 9 June 1907 edition, the fictional story continued with Mr. Knockerino entering the dining car of an early train for Philadelphia and spied an acquaintance having breakfast alone at a table. He sat down without being invited and began talking. His monologue included this tidbit.

“I’ll just sit in for a beaker of Java, and let you tell me all you know, old pallie. Ha! Yu’re there with the tank’s breakfast, eh? Grapefruit to take up the lost motion and a salt mackerel to give the machinery a tune up, hey? I guess that isn’t the souse’s morning meal or nothing! What? That’s what you have every morning whether you’ve been out the night before or not? Behave that cutting up! Didn’t I see you at 2 o’clock this morning licking up the beads of the hiss fluids like as if somebody’d tipped you off that they were going to stop making it and you wanted to get yours down all at once before the shutdown? I’m as crazy as a fox, hey?”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of crazy like a fox or crazy as a fox, so the expression is from around 1900.

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

Jugglery

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2018

Jugglery is the art of sleight of hand although many will be quick to say it’s the art of juggling. Jugglery is any trickery or deception, and keeping any number of items up in the air all at the same time really isn’t about trickery or deception although one who tricks or deceives others relies heavily on keeping many lies up in the air all at the same time.

The word is hardly used these days, with its popularity peaking in the 1860s before slowly disappearing into relative obscurity.

The word is found the book “Betrayal of Indian Democracy” by former Assistant Commissioner of Police and East Indian author, Madhav Balwant (M.B.) Chande (1921 – 06 August 2017), and published in 1999. The book covers India from 15 August 1947 to the end of the century. The passage where jugglery is mentioned deals with poverty in the mid-1980s.

If former Union Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Pranab Mukherjee had their way, the poor may have well disappeared by now, conjured away by statistical jugglery.

Right Reverend Monsignor George F. Dillon wrote about cabalistic masonry and masonic spiritualism in his book “Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism” which was published in 1965. The book was a compilation of lectures delivered in Edinburgh in October 1884, and the book was originally titled, “The War of Antichrist with the Church and Christian Civilization” and was published in 1885 by M.H. Gill and Son Ltd of O’Connell Street in Dublin, Ireland.

In speaking of the wealthy, famous, and wildly mysterious Count Alessandro Cagliostro (1743 – 6 October 1795) — the former Italian alchemist and imposter Giuseppe Balsamo from Palermo, Sicily — who traveled throughout Europe under instructions of Weishaupt, and who was accused, charged, and found guilty of heresy, Monsignor Dillon had this to say.

He was an inveterate sorcerer, and in his peregrinations in the East, picked up from every source the secrets of alchemy, astrology, jugglery, legerdemain, and occult science of every kind about which he could get any information. Like the Masonry to which he became affiliated at an early period, he was an adept at acting and speaking a lie.

In 1887, the “Preliminary Report of the Commission Appointed by the University of Pennsylvania to Investigate Modern Spiritualism in According with the Request of the Late Henry Seybert” was published by the J.B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia. The report was 159 pages in length and included a letter from Joseph Leidy, a member of the Seybert Commission appointed by the University to study the claims made by Spiritualist Mediums, and dated May 1887, covering dates between March 1884 and April 1887.

I have kept a record of my observations of the Spiritualist séances, but it is unnecessary to relate them here. As the result of my experience thus far, I must confess that I have witnessed no extraordinary manifestation, such as we ordinarily hear described as evidence of communication between this and the Spirit world. On the contrary, all the exhibitions I have seen have been complete failures in what was attempted or expected, or they have proved to be deceptions and tricks of jugglery.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Members of the Commission appointed to investigate the subject included William Pepper, Joseph Leidy, George A. Keonig, Robert Ellis Thompson, George S. Fullerton, Horace Howard Furness, Coleman Sellers, James. W. White, Calvin B. Kneer, and S. Weir Mitchell.

Minister of Paisley, Reverend Robert Burns’ published his “Historical Dissertations on the Law and Practice of Great Britain, and Particularly of Scotland, with Regard to the Poor” on May 22, 1819, and used the word prominently in the section titled, “No. III: Abridged View of the Law of Scotland, with regard to Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars.” The focus of the dissertation was the modes of charity available, and ways to improve life for the lower class based on facts, documents, miscellaneous inquiries, and observation.

Under the denomination vagabond, are comprehended all sorners, or masterful beggars; all idle persons that go about using subtile, crafty, and unlawful play, as jugglery, fast and loose, and the likes; the people calling themselves Egyptians (gypsies) or any other that pretend to foresee future events, and to tell fortunes, or to have skill in magic, or the like; pretended idiots; able bodied persons, alleging that they have been burst out in some distant part of the country, or that they have been banished from some other place for crimes; others having no land nor masters, nor following any lawful trade or occupation, and who can give no good account of themselves how they earn their living; all tale tellers and ballad singers, not properly licensed (i.e. not being in the service of the Lords of Parliament, or great boroughs) all common labourers, able-bodied, refusing to work; all sailors alleging that they have been shipwrecked, unless they have sufficient testimonials of the truth of their story.

Collins Dictionary gives 1760 as the first recorded used of the word jugglery however Idiomation found the word used more than 50 years before that date given.

In the book “The Indians of the Western Great Lakes: 1615 – 1760” by William Vernon Kinietz, published in 1940, quoted from a letter written in 1709. The writer was Frenchman and economic theorist Antoine-Denis Raudot (1679 – 28 July 1737) who was the Co-intendant of Nouvelle-France — along with his father, Jacques Raudot (1638 – 20 February 1728) — as well as the adviser on colonial affairs at the French court at the time. His letters reported on the Huron, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Chippewa of the area.

There are a few savages who have another sort of jugglery which they use when they wish to know if their people who are hunting or at war will return soon or have made a successful attack … <snip> … These savages are very lucky sometimes with their jugglery, but I am convinced that they are like the casters of horoscopes who would be very unlucky if among several false things which they say, there is not one thing of truth.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Antoine-Denis Raudot had a low opinion of Canada in general, and vehemently disagreed with Governor Vaudreuil’s policy and relations with the Iroquois Confederacy which had created rifts between various Iroquois tribes.

One might think this must surely be the earliest published version of the word jugglery however the word is found in Maine Legislation of 1602 which speaks of “persons using any subtle craft, jugglery or unlawful games or plays, or for the sake of gain pretending to have knowledge in physiognomy, palmistry, to tell destinies or fortunes, or to discover lost or stolen goods, common pipers, fiddlers, runaways, drunkards, nightwalkers, railuers, brawlers, and pilferers; persons wanton or lascivious in speech or behavior, or neglecting their callings or employments, misspending what they earn.”

Jugglery: Frowned upon since at least 1602!

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

Klutzery

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2018

Just as one who is an archer practices archery, someone who is clumsy is involved in klutzery. The word klutz is from the German word klotz which means boor or a clod, and that word comes from Middle High German and literally means a block or ball.  A person who is described as a klutz is either very clumsy or stupid and socially inept.

The word is being found more and more often in daily conversations and in books and magazines, and some even go as far as to use the word in a mildly affectionate way.  In an essay by Jacob Greene, Ph.D. (English) published in April 2016 on the Augmented Writing website, the writer included the word in this passage.

On the contrary, Rickert sees klutzery as “something to be cultivated for itself,” arguing that it is “the very ground of style, of composition, and development.”

In an article published on Wanderlust Lust in November 2014, Kristin Brumm also used it in an affectionate way in this sentence.

That is why I have chosen to see my accident not as an unfortunate mishap or evidence of spectacular klutzery, but rather the Universe hearing my wishes and creating for me the time and space to write.

Four years before that, Mike Achim used it in his article published on Fevered Mutterings in November 2010.

“The Art Of Unfortunate Travel“, choosing as a theme the cock-ups, mishaps, klutzery and 100% foolproof schemes gone awry …

But even though klutzery enjoyed this treatment, it wasn’t the first time the word had been used by writers and authors.

“Phantom of the Paradise” written by former editor at the SoHo Weekly News, Bjarne Rostaing and published by Dell Publishing in New York and W.H. Allen in London in 1975, the word klutzery is used in this capacity.

Swan was offended by musical klutzery, and he had been exposed to a lot of it over the past several hours. He was through being amused with Philbin’s plastic-hippie clothes and the endless line of no-talent kids. So when Winslow Leach arrived Swan was not put off by his ill-fitted jeans, bad hair and ugly spectacles.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE:  Bjarne Rostaing exposed the 1984 U.S. Olympic blood doping scandal for Sports Illustrated. He also won an AFI First Place Award for a sports video, and has written a number of books.

Believe it or not, the word is found in a government document two years earlier, and if it’s used in a government document, it’s obvious the word was known and understood by the population overall. The word klutzery was part of the comments made by the Honorable Louis C. Wyman of New Hampshire in the House of Representatives on 7 December 1973.

Now understand, despite my mechanical klutzery, I’m not mindful of the carnage brought on by misuse of those dangerous horseless carriages over the years. My argument certainly isn’t with highway safety. Or even some form of safety-belting for those who want it.

The word klutz made its way into mainstream English in the mid-1960s. American comedian, actor, director, and writer Carl Reiner (born 20 March 1922) gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 1959 where he shared that a klutz was “a dancer who dances as good as he can, but instead of just applause he also gets laughter.” Before that interview, the word klutz doesn’t show up in any English newspapers, magazines, or books unless it’s a mentioned as a surname.

This means that somewhere between Carl Reiner’s interview in 1959 and the government document in 1973 (just under 14 years) klutzery became a thing, and people knew and understood what klutzery was.

Now that we know about archers and archery and klutzes and klutzery, perhaps it’s time to find out about jugglery.

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

Egg On Your Face

Posted by Admin on April 3, 2018

To have egg on your face usually has a negative connotation even though it’s been a cosmetic remedy for facial blemishes for at least 300 years. When someone says another has egg on their face, it means that person looks foolish or has been embarrassed at their own hands or has made a serious mistake, although the first two meanings are more often associated with the idiom than the latter.

On the USA Today website, an article titled, “Recruiting Column: Keep Your Options Open” published on 22 April 2015 advised high school students going through the college recruiting process to be wary of how they approached the situation. A quick play-by-play on the pitfalls and power ups for student athletes were touched upon in this brief write-up. The second last paragraph included this comment.

Until you sign a National Letter of Intent, you have to keep your options open. Even college coaches will agree that you really need to be pursuing and communicating with as many schools as possible so you don’t end up with egg on your face.

In a newspaper article from the Associated Press on 7 April 1974 titled, “Keep Those Tapes Rolling” Jerry Buck interviewed American television host and media mogul Merv Griffin (6 July 1925 – 12 August 2007). In discussing how his television shows ran, Merv Griffin had this to say about the process:

We never stop the taping. I don’t care if the walls fall down. My orders are to keep the cameras going, even if I’ve got egg on my face. That’s equally interesting.

On page 5 of the January 4th edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1936, there was a news story titled, “Show Hostess You Enjoy Her Hospitality” written by Emily Kimbrough. The idiom egg on my face was used within the context we use today.

Even the American Management Association included this idiom in an article in their journal in 1934, warning those in managerial positions not to ignore or overlook problems as they came up.

If you try to sweep it under the rug, everyone ends up with egg on their faces.

Despite Idiomation’s most ardent efforts, the expression could not be found in published format earlier than 1934. However, because it was used in an article by the American Management Association where the intended readership was management at all levels, this indicates the expression was known and understood in 1934, and therefore had to be part of everyday language.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the early 1900s.

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

Sam Hill

Posted by Admin on March 20, 2018

From time to time, you might hear some of the older folk wonder what in Sam Hill is going on with the younger generation. So who is this Sam Hill they mention, and how is it any of his business what’s going on with anyone?

Sam Hill saw widespread use from the mid 1830s onward, and is a 19th century euphemism (in other words, a minced oath) for Hell. It is used to express extreme confusion, surprise, or agitation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  This is what is commonly known as a bowdlerization (meaning it was censored because it was deemed by adults to be inappropriate for children to exposed to the actual word or expression) and coined after English physician Thomas Bowdler (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) whose best known published efforts was a version of Shakespeare that would not offend or corrupt 19th century women and children).

But getting back to Sam Hill and what the hubbub is all about, who in the world was Sam Hill in the first place, and why is he associated with swearing?

No, it was not from a surveyor named Samuel W. Hill (1819 – 1889) who swore a blue streak.

No, it was not from a lawyer named Samuel Hill (13 May 1857 – 26 February 1931) who also was said to swear up a storm.

No, it was not from the investigator and adjutant-general of Kentucky, Sam Hill (30 January 1844 – 30 May 1904) who was sent by Governor Simon Buckner (1 April 1823 – 8 January 1914) to figure out what was going on with the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

No, it was not from the Connecticut legislator named Sam Hill (he represented Guilford from 1727 through to 1752) who was a force to be reckoned with if you went up against him.

Many claim that one of those four people is the Sam Hill in the expression, and every single one of them would be mistaken.

Interestingly enough, in “Roughing It In The Busy: Or, Life In Canada” by Susanna Moodie (6 December 1803 – 8 April 1885) published in two volumes in 1852 by Richard Bentley publishers in London, England, she uses the expression in a passage of her book.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Susanna Moodie was the sister of English historical writer and poet Agnes Strickland (18 July 1796 – 8 July 1874) who wrote “Lives of the Queens of England” and Susanna dedicated her book to Agnes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Susanna Moodie was primarily known in the 1850s for her volumes of poetry published in 1831 under her maiden name of Susanna Strickland. In the foreword to her book, the publisher states that Susanna Moodie’s lyrical composition, “Sleigh Song” was extremely popular in Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Susanna Moodie was the wife of Scottish-born army officer, farmer, civil servant, and author John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie (7 October 1797 – 22 October 1869), author of “Ten Years In South Africa: Including a Particular Description of the Wild Sports of that Country.” As husband and wife, they settled in Belleville, Ontario, Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Susanna Moodie was also the sister of author, teacher, botanist, and naturalist Catharine Parr Traill (9 January 1802 – 29 August 1899), and of Samuel Strickland (1804 – 3 January 1867) author of “Twenty Seven Years In Canada West” among other books.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: All the Stricklands mentioned in this entry were siblings of English author Jane Margaret Strickland (18 April 1800 – 14 June 1888) who published her first book in 1854, published a biography about her sister Agnes Strickland in 1887, and cared for their mother Elizabeth Homer Strickland (1772 – 10 September 1864).

In Susanna Moodie’s book, she uses the expression Sam Hill in such a way that there’s no doubt Sam Hill was considered swearing back in the mid 1800s.

“Do you swear?”

“Swear? What harm? It eases one’s mind when one’s vexed. Everybody swears in this country. My boys all swear like Sam Hill; and I used to swear mighty bit oaths till about a month ago, when the Methody parson told me that if I did not leave it off I should go to tarnation bad place; so I dropped some of the worst of them.”

“You would do wisely to drop the rest; women never wear in my country.”

“Well, you don’t say! I always heer’d that were very ignorant. Will you lend me the tea?”

In Volume 15 of the 1841 edition of “The Ladies’ Companion and Literary Expositor” there was an article titled, “Memoirs of Mr. Samuel Hill” that was based on a Cape Cod Annual poem of the same name. Tongue in cheek, the take found in this 1841 publication by an unnamed author states that Sam Hill was a New Englander by virtue of the following facts:

Barkhemsted folks believe Mr. Hill to have been born there, merely because wooden-dishes were first fabricated within the precincts … Wethersfield seems to be quite certain that a man of Sam’s sensibilities must necessarily first have learned to weep among the onion patches of Piquaug. Hebron puts in her claim upon the principle of the pump; merely resting it upon the traditionary testimony as to his having frequently been subjected to involuntary ablution under the spout of that losel engine.

The author then goes on to dash the hopes of Barkhemsted, Wethersfield, Hebron, and a great many other locations with the deft sweep of his pen.

Sam Hill‘s history — and the extended history of the women he courted and what happened to the beaus who had previously courted those same women — is examined with the same attention to detail.

Mention is made of his legendary singing voice which is said to be “famous for his vocal (or rather his nasal excellence, for Sam’s melody was always most conspicuous through the nose)” in the neighboring parishes of Upper Schreechington, and East Gruntingburgh.

When all was said and done, the claim was that Sam Hill was a household name from Rye to Passamaquaddy, and yet no one knew Sam Hill, even though he clearly “possessed more attributes than anybody else in creation.” It was said that “no other individual was ever celebrated and sworn by for so great a diversity of opposite qualities” as Sam Hill was.

No true-blooded yankee ever had the toothache without ascribing to his ailment an intensity compared with my hero. His tooth aches “like Sam Hill.” If a fellow is swift of foot, the New-Englanders are unanimous in the opinion that he “runs like Sam Hill,” and if a cripple gets along leisurely in the world it is said of him at once that he limps like the same personage, and poor old Broom’s cattle on the Colchester turnpike always had the name of being “slow as Sam Hill.”

“What the Sam Hill is the matter with you?” is a common expression, whenever any thing extraordinary is discernible in a man’s deportment, and you “lie like Sam Hill,” if a neighbor’s word is distrusted. “True as Sam Hill” is equally in the mouths of those who would swear to the veracity of a favorite statement.

A man is said to be as smart, and he is said to be as dull as “Sam Hill” — and if he is very bold or very timourous, “Sam Hill” is still the standard by which his good and bad qualities are measured. Of course, as I have already remarked, my hero must have been possessed of all sorts of qualities, and have been gifted with more versatility of powers than even the admirable Chrichton himself.

In the end, the author of this piece writes this about himself as an author, and the piece he has published in this magazine:

This biography will be looked upon in various lights by the reader. One class will call it “stupid as Sam Hill,” and another will pronounce it “smart as Sam Hill.” This latter body of citizens are very sensible people, and my heart warms to them like — SAM HILL.

Sam Hill shows up in the August 21, 1839 issue of the Havana Republican newspaper of New York state in an article titled, “Majorjack On A Whaler.”

What in sam hill is that feller ballin’ about?

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 7: Majorjack refers to Gump-link character Major Jack Downing by American humorist Seba Smith (14 September 1791 – 28 July 1868). Seba Smith was among the first to use American vernacular in his humorous writings, and his style led the way for other American humorists such as Will Rogers (4 November 1879 – 15 August 1935).

Oddly enough, the expression Sam on its own without the addition of Hill as a last name referred to a know-nothing person. Need more be said about how people felt about Sam in general with or without a last name?

Idiomation takes this to mean that the expression Sam Hill was around since at least the turn of the 19th century, and most likely long before then although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the 1839 newspaper account.  It was, however, understood by the general public to have been included in that 1839 article so it was already in use among the people.

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

To A T

Posted by Admin on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another Thing Coming

Posted by Admin on March 8, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, having another thing coming as opposed to another think coming doesn’t mean the same thing. If you’ve got another thing coming, this means the outcome of a situation is expected to take a turn other than anticipated, and usually that turn is for the worse.

Judas Priest’s song “Another Thing Coming” was a misuse of the phrase as the lyrics imply another think coming, but the song title and the lyrics propelled the song from the 1982 album “Screaming For Vengeance” up the charts to reach #66 in the UK and #4 in the US that year.

Judas Priest wasn’t the first band to have a song with that phrase in the title. Birmingham (AL) band Hotel released a song by that name from their debut album on MCA Records in 1979. The song entered the Billboard charts at #90, and even though the band didn’t break through as hoped, they were compared to well-known bands such as Ambrosia and Player.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Two founding members of Hotel went on to found “Split The Dark.” When that group broke up, guitarist/vocalist Damon Johnson went on to work with Alice Cooper, and Thin Lizzy.

The phrase was misused in the New York Herald newspaper in an article about the ups and downs of life as a Hollywood actor back in 1919:

If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you’ve got another thing coming.

Although the phrase in its entirety was used in the New York Herald, in 1906, the spirit of the expression was found in The Wilshire Editorials written by land developer, serial entrepreneur, advertising billboard owner, publisher, and outspoken millionaire socialist Gaylord Wilshire (7 June 1851 – 7 September 11927) as he railed against the Wall Street Journal in his editorial titled, “Wall Street Journal Turns Moralist.”

But if we did, then we have another thing coming, for this is the cry-baby talk I find in this morning’s December 16 editorial: Business and the Law.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The famous Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (CA) is named after Henry Gaylord Wilshire by Henry Gaylord Wilshire. This happened in 1887 when he bought 35 acres of land to the west of Westlake (which came to be known as MacArthur Park in later years). Seven years later, he began to create an exclusive residential subdivision and decided the subdivision would have a wide street down the center named after himself. Originally it was four blocks long and ran between Westlake and Sunset (now known as Lafayette) Parks.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Gaylord Wilshire donated the street to Los Angeles with the stipulation that no rail lines or heavy trucking would ever be allowed along his boulevard.

Idiomation dates the full expression to 1918 with a serious nod to Gaylord Wilshire in 1906.

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

Another Think Coming

Posted by Admin on March 6, 2018

The battle continues as to whether the expression is you’ve got another think coming or you’ve got another thing coming. This week on Idiomation, both expressions are shared on this blog so you can make an educated decision as to which expression works best for you.

The expression you’ve got another think coming is in many ways a well-worded mathematical equation with real life implications. In other words, if you think A and B are true, you will be surprised to learn they do not add up to X as you think it will. Yes, when you are told you have another think coming, you have been advised you are sorely mistaken in your beliefs and need to reconsider your original thought if you want to be right.

So if you think you this is an easy riddle to unravel, you might have another think coming … or not.

Most English teachers will tell you that think is a verb however in this instance think is actually a noun. A noun? Yes because a noun identifies the subject in a sentence while a verb ascribes action. So when that think is coming as a result of the first think, it’s obvious that the thinks in question are subjects and not actions. What those thinks are doing or are going to be doing are the verbs.

Think as a noun first appeared in dictionaries in 1834 and referred to the act of thinking or a period of thinking. In fact, there’s an expression from the late 1800s that clearly expresses this thought: A thing must be a think before it be a thing.

That sentence was from a novel by Scottish author, poet, and minister George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) titled “Home Again” and published in 1884. The concept is found in Chapter IV: A Living Force.

“I should so like to understand!” said Molly. “If you have a thought more beautiful than the narcissus, Walter, I should like to see it! Only if I could see it, it would be a thing, would it not? A thing must be a think before it be a thing. A thing is a ripe think, and must be better than a think — except it lose something in ripening — which may very well be the man’s thoughts, but hardly with God’s! I will keep in front of the things, and look through them to the thoughts behind them. I want to understand! If a thing were not a thought first, it would not be worth anything! And everything has to be thought about, else we don’t see what it is! I haven’t got it quite!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy literature, and mentored Lewis Carroll (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), the author of the Alice stories. He was also a literary influence on such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter de la Mare.

His books include “Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women” published in 1858 and “The Princess and the Goblin” published in 1872 among other titles.

Three years after George MacDonald shared his thoughts on thinking, the concept of having another think coming was published in the 9 April 1897 edition of the Daily Argus newspaper:

Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them.

It wasn’t something that was a one-off sharing of the idiom as it also appeared in the 29 April 1897 edition of the Washington Post newspaper in an article headline:  Another “Think” Coming To Them.

Two years after that, it was prominently featured in an article in the 24 September 1898 edition of the Quincy Whig newspaper:

Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn’t need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials.

So when someone has another think coming to them, know that this phrase is correct and was first published in this form in 1887 with the logic of it all courtesy of George MacDonald in 1884.

Idiomation is certain that after reading this entry, you can hardly wait to read the history and meaning of another thing coming.  Breathe easy, readers:  You need only wait for Thursday’s entry to finally know everything that needs to be known about both expressions!

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