Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2017

It’s been long said that dead men tell no tales, and if you’ve committed a crime to which there were witnesses, it’s believed that permanently silencing those witnesses prevents them for sharing what they know with the authorities.  The good news is that technology and forensics have advanced to the point where this adage is no longer true.  Advancements in science have made it so that dead men still tell tales.

Now that the macabre has been addressed, Idiomation is free to tell the tale of where dead men tell no tales first began.

For those of you who love movies, you’ll be happy to hear that the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is titled, “Dead Men Tell No Secrets” and is scheduled for theater release on 26 May 2017.  In this movie, the evil Captain Salazar and his crew escape from the Devil’s Triangle and set their sights on killing every pirate at sea, but most especially, on killing Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp.  As you know, whether it’s telling tales or keeping secrets, it’s a fact that pirates believe that dead men neither tell tales nor secrets.

The idiom is most often associated with pirates but it’s not exclusively a pirate expression.

The Star and Sentinel newspaper of January 18, 1882 published the story of Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune who squelched the efforts of certain newspaper pundits interested in reviving the Cokling-Garfield quarrel by “directing their assaults against Mr. Blaise as Mr. Garfield’s evil genius.”  It had to do with the nomination of Judge Robertson by the President.

It follows that this “friend of Garfield” or some accomplice must have stolen the telegram, and then presuming that it had been delivered to the President and that “dead men tell no tales,” undertook to cover up the theft of the deliberate lie that the President showed him the dispatch and allowed him to copy it.

It also appeared in the work of English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) in the September 26, 1797 edition of the Porcupine’s Gazette.  While it wasn’t an exact version of the idiom, it was nonetheless a very close relative.

Not content with deserting my service, he appears desirous to pre­judice the public against me, and my brethren, asserting in strong terms, that we are enemies to the noble science of blood-letting: This is abominable and contrary to the truth. For I am, and shall be no­lens volens, an advocate for the practice, and it is my creed that it will cure all diseases—as our good allies the French have clearly pro­ved in their practice,—I have also another reason for commencing the business of a physician; In fact, the villainous liquors my wine mer­chant obliges me to supply my guests with, has lately caused in the latter severe and harsh expostulations, and, as I am a conscientious man, I wish to follow a quiet business, and I prefer that of the lancet, be­cause you know Mr. P. dead men never tell tales.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Cobbett’s pseudonym for this work was Peter Porcupine.

The idiom was used more than a century earlier by John Dryden, in Act IV scene i of his play “The Spanish Fryar or The Double Discovery” published in 1681. This work was a comedy in five acts, and was first performed at Duke’s Theater. The idiom appears in the conversation between Lorenzo (who is the son of Alphonso) and Dominic (the Spanish Fryar).

LORENZO
And make what haste you can to bring out the Lady.  What say you, Father? Burglary is but a venial Sin among Souldiers.

DOMINIC
I shall absolve them, because he is an enemy of the Church – there is a Proverb, I confess, which says, That Dead-men tell no Tales; but let your Souldiers apply it to their own Perils.

LORENZO
What, take away a man’s Wife, and kill him too! The Wickedness of this old Villain startles me, and gives me a twinge for my own Sin; though it come far short of his: hark you Souldiers, be sure you use as little Violence to him as is possible.

English cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon (1512 – 1567) wrote about dead men and tales in 1560 when he penned this passage in Chapter 22 of “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting.”

For he that hath his body loaden with meat and drink, is no more meet to pray unto God than a dead man is to tell a tale; neither can the mind of such one any more fly unto God with heavenly desires, than a ship, too much cumbered with burdens and at the point to sink, can any longer float upon the waters.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Thomas Becon was the chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556), Prebendary of Canterbury, during the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and when Mary I came to power, he was put on trial for treason and heresy against the Roman Catholic Church.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Thomas Becon married and had three children: two sons (Theodore and Basil) and a daughter (Rachel).  His daughter married William Beswicke of Horsmanden who was the High Sheriff of Kent in 1616.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Until 1974, the High Sheriff was known simply as the Sheriff.  At the time William Beswicke was the Sheriff, he was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.

Long before Thomas Becon talked of dead men telling no tales, there was a Persian poet named Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  (1203 – 9 December 1292) — known as Saadi as well as Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz– who wrote about this in 1250.  This was his advice on how to deal with quacks and charlatans.

So I finished the rogue, notwithstanding his wails,
With stones, for dead men, as you know, tell no tales.

But the sense of the idiom is older than that.  The Latin phrase mortui non morden when translated word-for-word is dead men don’t bite.  However, the phrase is used to underscore the belief that killing one’s enemies or victims is the surest way for them to never speak of what happened, and as such, the phrase mortui non morden really means dead men tell no tales.

This version of the idiom was used by Plutarch (46 AD to 120 AD) in Part III of “The Life Of Pompey” covering Pompey’s return to Rome from 62 to 48 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC).   The chapter included this passage that spoke of Theodotus of Chios who Plutarch identifies as the person who was responsible for Pompey’s death.  This is an English translation of what Plutarch wrote.

It seems they were so far different in their opinions that some were for sending the man away, and others again for inviting and receiving him; but Theodotus, to show his cleverness and the cogency of his rhetoric, undertook to demonstrate, that neither the one nor the other was safe in that juncture of affairs.  For if they entertained him, they would be sure to make Caesar their enemy, and Pompey their master; or if they dismissed him, they might render themselves hereafter obnoxious to Pompey, for that inhospitable expulsion, and to Caesar, for the escape; so that the most expedient course would be to send for him and take away his life, for by that means they would ingratiate themselves with the one, and have no reason to fear the other; adding, it is related, with a smile, that “a dead man cannot bite.”

SIDE NOTE 6:  Yes, this is the Julius Caesar who was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

SIDE NOTE 7:  Julius Caesar’s successor was his grand-nephew Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) and is considered the first Roman Emperor.  He controlled the Roman Empire until his death.

Idiomation believes Plutarch to be the originator of this idiom as he clearly demonstrated the veracity of the claim in his writings that dead men tell no tales, with a nod to Saadi of Shiraz for the exact wording.

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Happily Ever After

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 14, 2017

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Idiomation has taken on the fairy tale ending that states that two people live happily ever after.  It’s formulaic and predictable that fairy tales end this way, but who doesn’t love happy endings especially when so much strife and effort is involved to get to that happy ending?  And who was the first storyteller to decide that this was the perfect ending for fairy tales?

On May 28, 1998 the Matagorda County Advocate (a Thursday morning supplemental to the Victoria Advocate) published an article asking whether two people used to the space of their respective kitchens could “find true happiness and culinary success working together in one kitchen.”  The question had already been answered in the headline that proudly announced, “Live Happily Ever After In The Kitchen.”

Thirty-five years earlier, an advertisement in the St. Petersburg Times of October 31, 1963 promised young couples that if they purchased this neat, cozy, furnished two-bedroom home, the couple’s purse would appreciate the dollar wise price. It certainly sounded like the perfect investment for the perfect couple who had just begun their perfect life together, and the copy writer obviously felt likewise.  The advertisement ran with the bold letter title:  HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Perhaps one of the more humorous newspaper articles about living happily ever after is found in the May 3, 1920 edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper where American author and short story writer Fannie Hurst (18 October 1889 – 23 February 1968) reportedly had solved the puzzle of wedded bliss.  The United Press story from New York City stated the following:

Fannie Hurst, writer of love stories usually with a “happy ever after ending” does not believe the institution of marriage as generally followed is the open sesame to happiness.  In an interview today, the fifth anniversary of her marriage to Jacques Danielson, pianist and composer, Miss Hurst (for she still retains her maiden name) compared many of the present day marriages to prison bars.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Jacques Danielson (23 July 1875 – 3 March 1952) was Russian, not French or English as some may assume from his name.  He was born in Moscow, the son of Samuel and Anna (née Brook) Danielson.  He immigrated to the United States in 1892 and was the assistant to Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer Rafael Jossefy (3 July 1852 – 25 June 1915) at Steinway Hall in New York City.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Jacques Danielson and Fannie Hurst maintained separate residences throughout their marriage, and arranged to renew their marriage contract every five years, if they both agreed to do so.  As it was, their happy ever after lasted until Jacques Danielson’s passing in 1952.

Her suggestion was that women should not be bound by “moss back conventions” and each couple should adopt conditions that suit the temperaments of the married couple.  She went as far as to reveal that she and her husband had their own circle of friends, stating:

There is no reason why I should like his friends and he should like mine.  In fact, some of his friends bore me to tears.

It was used in Chapter 3 of “Peter Pan” published in 1904.

“Do you know,” Peter asked, “why swallows build in the eaves of houses?  It is to listen to the stories.  O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story.”

“Which story was it?”

“About the prince who couldn’t find the lady who wore the glass slipper.”

“Peter,” said Wendy excitedly, “that was Cinderella, and he found her, and they lived happy ever after.”

On Saturday, February 18, 1894 American novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser (27 August 1871 – 28 December 1945) wrote a letter to Emma Rector in response to a curt note she had sent him the night before admonishing him for his ungentlemanly behavior.  Theodore ended his letter to Emma with this line.

Then I’ll smoke right up and be ever so grateful and happy and we’ll get along after the fashion of “ye ancient fairy tale” very happily ever afterwards.

Even Leo Tolstoy seems to have thought the phrase was worthy of a novel.  In 1859 he published “Happy Ever After” which told the story of a young woman in her 20s who had lost her parents, fell in love with her father’s much older friend, and enjoyed a happy life as a married woman.  That is to say, until the couple are invited to a soirée by a young prince who spirits her heart away from her older husband.

That being said, Jacob and Wilhelm (otherwise known as the Grimm Brothers) ended a great many of their fairy tales with a cautionary note stating that those who died went on to live happy in the ever after – a somewhat less romantic and pleasant ending to a story. German philologist, jurist, and mythologist Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) and German author Wilhelm Carl Grimm (24 February 1786 – 16 December 1859) seem to be the pull pin moment in history where living happy in the ever after (as in once the lovers were dead) becomes living happy ever after or happily ever after (as in the lovers are still alive).

That being said, the spirit of the idiom happily ever after can be found in the 18th century phrase happy as the day is long although that’s not really ever after, is it? Idiomation pegs happy ever after and happily ever after to the early 1800s somewhere between the Brothers Grimm and Leo Tolstoy.

Happy Valentine’s Day friends and followers!

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Good Things Come In Threes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 9, 2017

How often do we hear people say that everything comes in threes, usually good things?  Often.  Of course, those same people say that bad things come in threes as well but that idiom and its history will have to wait for another day.

From the time we’re little and our parents read to us, people are wired to expect things in threes.  The three little pigs who had to deal with a big, bad wolf.  Goldilocks and the three bears.  The three blind mice who ran up the clock. The three little kittens that lost their mittens.  Genies always grant three wishes.  The best circus ever is the one that’s a three-ring circus, or so we’ve been told for generations now.

The American Constitution promises a trio of good things:  Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Even the planet we live on is the third from the sun!

Threescore and ten refers to the average person’s lifespan, and in the Bible, readers are reminded in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken.”  Let’s not forget that it was three wise men who traveled to the manger to visit the Holy Family.

How many people know that Trinidad was so named because Christopher Columbus (he who sailed with three ships), upon seeing three mountains on one body of land, decided he would name the islands after the Spanish word for trinity?

The concept is rooted in the Latin principle known as omne trium perfectum or, translated into English, the rule of three.  Confucius mentioned the rule of three in 500 B.C. in “Analects” when he wrote:  “Ko Wan Tze thought thrice before acting.  Twice would have been enough.”

So three is a big deal, and has been centuries.  But where did the saying good things come in threes originate?

The bottom line is that there isn’t a definitive answer to that question.  It’s superstition that leads people to believe that the number three has any magical properties or powers that other numbers do not have, and people have been superstitious for as long as people have existed.

Should one of Idiomation’s followers, fans, readers, or visitors be able to shed some light on where good things comes in threes was first published, Idiomation would love to read all about it in the Comments section below.

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Swag

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 7, 2017

Every time an awards show hits the news, there’s talk of swag Swag, in this context, refers to the free promotional items given to those who are part of the event.  But the term swag is much older than you might think, and originally it referred to money or goods acquired by unlawful means, usually by a thief or burglar.  Not always, but usually.  And in the end, whether your swag is promotional or stolen, it’s technically ‘free’ for the person who is in receipt of it.

It has nothing to do with the urban legend that the word is from the 1960s and is a way of announcing one’s proclivities or preferences, so you can disregard the memes on the internet saying that swag is an acronym meaning this.

It has nothing to do with a secret code for wealth preservation by the top 1% of the world.  It doesn’t stand for silver, wine, art, and gold, and it isn’t a recent term to represent silver, wine, art, and gold.  That’s a story some conspiracy theorists would like the rest of the world to believe is true.

If either of those tall tales were true, then how did swag-barrowman, swag chovey, swag cove, and swagman make it into 19th century language?  It’s because swag has been around for a very long time.

A few months ago in August 2016, CBS Detroit ran a story which was published on their website as well that reported on a bag of custom sailing gear stolen from outside the east side home of a Detroit Olympian.  It was recorded by a Good Samaritan.  The story was titled, “It’s A Detroit Miracle: $10,00 Worth Of Gear, Rio Swag Stolen From Olympic Sailor Recovered On East Side.”

The Tuscaloosa News ran a story in their June 4, 1942 edition by foreign correspondent reporter and political activist, Ludwig ‘Louis’ Paul Lochner (February 22, 1887 – January 8, 1975) who had just returned to New York from overseas, with an editor’s note to kick it off.  It dealt with inside information from Germany, which was, at the time, a country heavily censored.  The first paragraph read as follows:

It’s all gravy for the Hitler boys – if Der Fuehrer should win the war.  The Nazi party will be in more complete control of the country than ever, and the party button will open the doors to all positions, all graft, and all swag.

In the poem, “The Smuggler’s Leap: A Tale Of Thanet” by Thomas Ingoldsby, esq. — aka English cleric, novelist, and humorous poet Richard Harris Barham (6 December 1788 – 17 June 1845) — and published in Volume X of “Bentley’s Miscellany” compiled by London publisher Richard Bentley (24 October 1794 – 10 September 1871) and printed by antiquarian and publisher Samuel Bentley (10 May 1785 – 1868), published in 1841, the word is used thusly:

“Now mount, my merry men, mount and ride!”
Three on the crupper, and one before,
And the led-horse laden with five tubs more ;
But the rich point-lace,
In the oil-skin case
Of proof to guard its contents from ill,
The “prime of the swag” is with Smuggler Bill!

Back in the day, everyone knew that the swagsman was the thief who carried the stolen property after the burglary had been committed.   But you know, that Smuggler Bill had a lot in common with pirates.

Yes, even pirates knew what swag was in the 1600s although it was oftentimes referred to as booty.   There were times when it was known as swag and every pirate knew swag meant gold and riches and other valuables.  Among the most prized swag one could find was a pipe with a covered lid – a treasured piece if a pirate had one to call his own.

Pirates were causing mayhem from the beginning of the 15th century, but the Golden Age of Pirates was from 1690 to 1720.  That’s when most of the swag was being stolen by pirates who knew how to steal and get away with it.

Before that, swag meant a chop that sold cheap trinkets.  Somewhere between the early 1600s and when pirates were making a killing plundering ships, the word swag went from meaning that to meaning the loot gotten by theft by bandits and vagabonds.

So whether it’s free promotional giveaways in bags at events or it’s loot pilfered from someone’s home, swag as we understand the word today dates back to the late 1600s thanks in large part to those pirates of the seven seas.

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From Dan To Bathsheba

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 2, 2017

If someone has been from Dan to Bathsheba, it’s fair game to say that they’ve traveled a great distance and covered a great deal of territory.  It’s not quite the same thing as going to Hell and back, so it’s not wise to use the two expressions interchangeably.

On October 21, 2012 National Peoples News published an article about the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Ibrahim Lamorde (from 23 November 2011 through to 9 November 2015 ) and a speech given by former Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan (in office from 2010 to 2015) at the funeral services for Kaduna (Nigeria) Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa (1 December 1948 – 15 December 2012).

It is highly commendable that the intellectual President of the Nigerian federation has gone spiritual with the problems of the country to solve it from the spiritual substantiated planes of the esoteric wealth and this will surely witness rapid social, economic and industrial Development as well as will guarantee peace in the polity from Dan to Bathsheba.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Governor Yakowa died in a helicopter crash along with the former National Security Adviser General Owoye Andrew Azazi.  The were flying to Port Harcourt from Beyelsa State where they  had attended the funeral of Oronto Douglas’ father.

On Page 4 of the May 24, 1957 edition of the Beatrice Daily Sun in Nebraska reported on how the Soviet military attaché gave Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Ali Abu-Nuwwar (1925 – 15 August 1991) 100,000 dinars to distribute among army officers to oppose Hussein bin Talal (14 November 1935 – 7 February 1999), King of Jordan (11 August 1952 – 7 February 1999).  Upon his return to Jordan, Abu-Nuwwar met with Jordanian Prime Minister, Sulayman al-Nabulsi (1908 – 1976) in the hopes that the King could be pressed into establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The King refused both proposals on the basis that they would lead to Soviet domination over Jordan.” An army coup d’etat was then set. Twice postponed, it finally miscarried when one garrison misunderstood its orders and started fighting at 1500 hours (3 p.m.) instead of at 0500 hours the next morning.” This exposed the plot and enabled it to be crushed. Against reports of this kind, the raucous “Voice of the Arabs,” Radio Cairo, is stirring up trouble all over the Middle East. All this propaganda presents a challenge for the U.S. Information Agency to do a factual and efficient job in this part of the world, if it is to be saved from a Communist takeover. The Upper Room One of the usually accurate members of the Nebraska editorial fraternity, describing how his fellow citizens would react if he adopted a certain policy, wrote: “I would be cursed from Dan to Bathsheba.”

The November 2, 1907 issue of the New Zealand Observer in Aukland, New Zealand saw the expression shared in the  “Pars About People” column with regards to a politician by the name of C.H. Izard who served in the House of Representatives.  Charles Hayward (C.H.) Izard (1860 – 18 September 1925) was an established lawyer in Wellington and a Liberal member in the New Zealand Parliament for Wellington North from 6 December 1905 through to 17 November 1908.

Nobody ever had the hardihood to accuse C.H. Izard, the member for Wellington South, of beiung a religious man, and certainly a remark that he made in the House last week would seem to furnish proof ot the fact that he has not burnt the midnight oil in the pursuit of theological knowledge. In the course of debate, Mr. Izard made the startling announcement that he didn’t intend to travel from Dan To Bathsheba.  It is to be hoped not, indeed.  Mr. Izard’s Christian name is not David.

SIDE NOTE 2: C.H. Izard was the eldest son of Charles Beard Izard who immigrated to New Zealand in May 1860, and went on to represent the constituency of Wellington South and Suburbs in the tenth Parliament from 1887 to 1890.

In 1840,  Volume III of “The Literary World: A Journal of Popular Information and Entertainment with Numerous Engravings” edited by English author and antiquary John Timbs (17 August 1801 – 6 March 1875) remarked on a new book by German historian Friedrich Ludwig Georg von Raumer (14 May 1781 – 14 June 1873) titled, “Italy and the Italians.”  The review was extensive, leading readers to feel that the review was nearly as detailed as the book itself.

A German is not the man to travel from “Dan to Bathsheba” and say “all is barren.”  His characteristic mental energy, zeal, and patience, his comprehensive views of the various phases of the social system, his painstaking investigation of antiquities, his accurate appreciation of art, his aptitude for the studies of literature, and his industry and success in inquiring into the phenomena of nature – are all qualities which pre-eminently fit the German for travelling, and remind one of Johnson’s neat amplification of the Spanish proverbs:  “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”

SIDE NOTE 3:  John Timbs also published under the pseudonym of Horace Welby.

The New York Journal of February 13, 1797 provided a short entry with regards to the Federalist persecution of the Tallow Chandlers.  The issue in question was self-defense of property and person, with an argument that even “good peaceable Quakers” had the right to defend themselves.

But even suppose the Tallow Chandlers once situated upon the pinnacle of Bunker’s Hill, what security have they that they shall long remain there undisturbed?  As soon as that will be known or heard, rolling along, with the accompanyments of wealth, will come from nabob. Some wise and pompous Treaty maker, or may be some son of Exculapius with his wife and we will not suppose with how many concubines, who perhaps finding his delicate smellers a little offended, and casting his eyes, will exclaim, “you dirty stinking dogs, you shall continue there no longer.  March for Kingsbridge.”  Thus, drive from pillar to post, even “from Dan to Bathsheba” the chandlers will have no rest for the sole of their feet, and like the rolling stone will be able to gather no moss.

The original saying is actually from Dan to Beersheba and is a biblical phrase used nine times in the Old Testament of the Bible.  It refers to the settled areas of the tribes of Israel situated between Dan to the North and Beersheba to the South.   Dan was Jacob’s fifth son and his was the last of the tribes to receive a portion in the Land of Promise.  The territory extended from the west of Ephraim and Benjamin to the sea, and included the cities of Lydda, Ekron, and Joppa along the northern boundary.  Beersheba was the site of a well that was dug by the Prophet Abraham about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.  The well was used to water his flocks

Somewhere along the line, however, people confused Beersheba with Bathsheba, and references to both are found littered along the way through to the 18th century when Bathsheba won out.

Since the expression is found in the Bible (using Beersheba not Bathsheba) with detailed information that includes an explanation of how Dan came to be an area belonging to the tribe of Dan, what is meant by from Dan to Bathsheba or rather, Beersheba, pegs this idiom to the Old Testament of the Bible.

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Blurb

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

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Mansplaining

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2017

The word mansplaining seems to be everywhere these days from pop culture to news reporting.  If you don’t already know what it is, it’s the process of a male explaining something to another person  (usually female) in such a way that is perceived to be condescending or patronizing.  Oftentimes the speaker is explaining a simple situation that is already easily understood by the majority of people.

Some believe that mansplaining, if left unchecked, leads to gaslighting, and it’s easy to understand why that might be.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning the victim’s recollections, memories, perceptions, and sanity.   The term was derived from the play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patric Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1940, the movie “Gas Light” starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick  Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).   

SIDE NOTE 3:  In 1944, the movie “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the same 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 4:  MGM bought the remake rights to “Gas Light” with a caveat that demanded all existing prints of the 1940 movie version be destroyed

SIDE NOTE 5:  The play was known as “Angel Street” in the United States.

On April 13, 2008 author Rebecca Solnit wrote an OpEd column for the Los Angeles Times wherein she outlined what mansplaining was and how negative it was towards those who were made to endure it.  While the author didn’t use the term mansplaining per se in her OpEd piece, the sense of the word was at the heart of her writing.

By 2010, the word mansplainer had landed on the New York Times list of New Words of 2010.

mansplainer

Even so, it took until 2012 before mansplaining became a word that was used and understood by the public in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

On August 1, 2012 GQ writer Marin Cogan used the term in his article, “The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney’s Gaffes.”  The article began thusly:

As a lady who covers politics, I’m intimately familiar with the mansplainer. You know who I’m talking about: he’s the supremely self-impressed dude who feels the need to explain to you — with the overly simplistic, patient tone of an elementary school teacher— really obvious shit you already knew. Like why you need to drink fluids when you have the flu, for example. Or how to avoid getting blisters when you’re breaking in a new pair of flats. Or how to adjust your side view mirrors. I could go on.

In Lily Rothman’s article, “A Cultural History of Mansplaining” appeared in The Atlantic on November 1, 2012.  The writer began with warning readers that the word was relatively new, but that the idea proper had been around for much, much longer.  The opening paragraph stated:

Not all that long ago, an American statesman of considerable influence wrote an opinion piece for this very publication, about a political issue that directly affects women. It was perhaps the finest example of mansplaining ever published.

In August 2014, Oxford Dictionaries announced that it had added mansplain to its dictionary, and mansplain — with its related variations — officially became a word that could be found in a dictionary.

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Head-Desking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 24, 2017

Pop culture hits again, this time with head-desking which is exactly what you think it is.  Someone faced with a situation that is frustrating and seemingly unsolvable can literally and figuratively lead to head-desking.  To head-desk is to reach a perceived impasse that causes the person to experience a level of frustration that is so intense that one feels it must literally be smacked out of one’s head to relieve the pressure.

NaNoWriMo author Zanzibar 7. Schwarznegger published “Veneri Verbum” through Chizzy Press in 2015 where the word head-desk was used as a verb.  The novel is listed in the humorous science fiction & fantasy category and tells the story of Christopher Cullum and the problems he experiences as a writer.

“I can hear your thoughts here. Third-person narrative, but thoughts are transparent.  Thoughts are pretty much as transparent as glass, clear as a summer day.  Why do you have to have so many terrible sayings in your head?”  She leaned over to head-desk against the wall a few times.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Zanzibar 7. Schwarznegger is the humor/satire writer of the Figment series and The Chronicles of the Bobian, and is said to live in the Pacific Northwest.  Little else seems to be known about the author.

The activity was mentioned by Charles J. Muir (who also has ties to NaNoWriMo) in his 2013 book, “Word Ninja” in the chapter titled, “Smashing Writer’s Block: It’s All About The Tools” which is part of the “Write Life” segment of the book.

Writer’s block.  It’s pernicious.  Its sources are many, as are its manifestations.  It may drive you to head desking, to obsessively playing videogames, to cleaning things that have not seen a dust cloth in decades.  But the defining characteristic is this – you want to write, you try to write, and you can’t.

Now head-desking should not be mistaken for desking (which is also a thing).  In fact, desking was used in the book “The Path That Led To Africa” written by Michael Longford (30 May 1928 – 2005), with a Foreword by Peter Bottomley, and published in 2003.  The word desking appears in Chapter 3 titled, “Westminster In The Country (1939 – 1945).”

On another occasion, I can not remember exactly what offence I had committed, but I was sentenced by the Head of  House to be ‘desked’ for three days.  I do not remember any other boy ever being given this punishment while I was at school.  ‘Desking’ consisted of being made to spend the whole of one’s leisure time at one’s desk.   No one was allowed to speak to the delinquent boy at his desk, and he was not allowed to speak to anyone else, except at mealtimes, and then only to ask his neighbour to pass some item of food which was not within his own reach.  Desking is not a punishment which fills an offender with contrition or a resolve to behave better in future.

SIDE NOTE 2:  The author’s father was Captain Terence Ackley Fitzmaurice Longford and his mother was Dr. Geraldine Nora Longford née Geary who married in 1920.  Michael Longford attended Westminster School and Oxford University, served in the Royal Signals, and joined the Colonial Administrative Service before moving on to being secretary to Lord Twining, Governor in Tanganyika which gained its independence from Britain in 1961.  After his retirement from the British Civil Service, Michael Longford continued to work in various positions including being a member of the UK Committee of UNICEF.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Three years after Tanganyika gained its independence from the British Commonwealth, it found itself embroiled in the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 which overthrew the Sultan and his primarily Arab government.  Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika and became the nation of Tanzania.  The name was decided on by taking the first three letters of both countries and adding a suffix.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Michael Longford’s wife Jennifer May Longford née Stevenson (4 October 1929 – 5 March 2012) also had an interesting childhood.  Her mother, Frances Stevenson was the mistress of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) from 1912 (a year after she became governess to his daughter Megan in 1911) until they married in 1943, two years after the death of his first wife Margaret George née Owen (4 November 1864 – 20 January 1941).  Jennifer was 13 years old.

For years, there were rumors that Jennifer was the illegitimate daughter of Lloyd George’s political secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Tweed (1 January 1890–30 April 1940).  However, when her mother died in 1972, Jennifer discovered a note written by her mother to Lloyd George months before her birth wherein her mother stated she suspected she was pregnant with his child.  Twice, Jennifer Longford considered DNA testing to confirm her father was Lloyd George, however, she never went through with it.   It is generally accepted that Lloyd George was undoubtedly her father.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Tweed (1 January 1890–30 April 1940) was awarded the Military Cross in World War I and at the age of 26 was named the youngest lieutenant colonel in the British Army at the time. He became a political adviser to David Lloyd George from 1927 until Tweed’s death.

As interesting as all that is, head-desking appears to be a new expression over the last five years.  Idiomation was unable to find published versions of head-desk or head-desking earlier than 2012.  The repeat NaNoWriMo references and connections found while researching this entry seems to imply it’s because there’s not much more history to track.  We therefore peg this to 2010 to allow time for social media to move the word from obscurity to active verb status.

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Cherry On Top

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 12, 2017

When someone asks another to do something for them and adds the comment with a cherry on top it’s meant to push the decision in their favor by way of begging.  It’s generally something that a child might say to get their way, or that might be used by an adult to express a level of satisfaction that’s higher than what could already be expected or anticipated.

When ESPN reported on the Clemson Tigers winning the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama Crimson Tide, it was easy to see how much this win meant to the team as well as to their coach Dabo Swinney.  When he also won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year two years running, he was quoted in the article.

“I just assumed that I didn’t have a chance to win it because I didn’t think you could win it back-to-back years,” Swinney said before Wednesday’s ceremony at Toyota Center.  “That’d just be the cherry on top of the week I’ve had.  That’d be awesome.”

In the 1972 book, “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story” the New York writer and sports editor of Life magazine, David Wolf, used the idiom to explain on of Connie Hawkins’ basketball moves.  Cornelius Lance “Connie” Hawkins (born 17 July 1942) was a teenager who had been wrongfully implicated in a fixing scandal, and it was thanks to David Wolf’s magazine article of May 18, 1969 that Connie Hawkins was cleared in 1969.

People would put quarters on top of the backboard and Jackie would jump up and pick ’em off. He had this shot called “The Double Dooberry with a Cherry on Top.’ On a fastbreak, he’d take a pass at the foul line and jump toward the basket, holdin’ the ball in his two hands.  While he was going forward and up, hanging in the air, he would lower the ball down to his waist, raise it over his head, lower down again, raise it back up, and then slam in a dunk.  Nobody in the world can do that shot but him.  People went crazy every time he did it.

hawkins_life-magazine

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1975, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and Connie Hawkins appeared on Saturday Night Live where they played a game of one-on-one basketball to the tune of Simon’s hit song, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”  Despite the difference in heights (Paul Simon is 5 feet 3 inches tall to Connie Hawkin’s 6 feet 8 inches), the skit ended with Paul Simon winning against Connie Hawkins.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Connie Hawkins was a Harlem Globetrotter over a four year period from 1963 to 1967.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  David Wolf (who died in 2009) became a boxing manager with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (born 4 March 1961) being his best fighter.

Back in the 1950s, every amateur chef and homemaker knew that the piece de resistance on any dish was the maraschino cherry on top.  Even the Atlantic Monthly had something to say on the subject in 1955 on page 95.

And of course the Esperanto of pastry cooks, easy enough to decipher after one or two sorties as supercargo,  makes it completely unsurprising to find a cherry on top of anything called Jubilee, or tooth-shattering morsels of nut brittle scattered here and there with the menu cue Noisette, on any ship from a transatlantic liner to a freighter.  This lingo is international to the point of banality.

The newspapers, book, and magazines of the fifties all talk about cherries on top as being part of a culinary trend.  Idiomation was unable to find any other meaning to cherry on top during this era.  However, the idiom was used in “Vasodilator Agents in Management of Wound Shock: A Critical Review” edited by Ben Eiseman and Peter Bosomworth published in November 1962 with the support of the Surgeons General, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, and the National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  It was published by the National Academy of Science of the National Research Counsil in Washington, D.C..

The idiom was used in the Summation written by Ben Eiseman, M.D.,  Program Chair at the University of Kentucky Medical School in Lexington (KY).  The review was presented at a conference, and summarized the experimental and clinical evidence on the effect of shock of pharmacologic agents used to lower peripheral arterial resistance.

Studies in shocked man, except for the persistent interest of Dr. Nickerson and a few others, have been few and the field still remains wide open.  Interpretation of case reports where vasodilators were used as the cherry on top of an accumulated array of other pharmacologic debris in a therapeutic old-fashion cocktail, are largely worthless.

Somewhere between 1955 and 1962, cherries on top became more than just a culinary finishing touch.  They became a figurative bonus for whatever it was added to, from favors to research.

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Dutch Reach

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 10, 2017

Idiomation came across the expression Dutch reach in an article published by CBC Manitoba on January 10, 2017. The article reported that St. Boniface (MB) councilor was promoting the Dutch reach as a way to fight collisions between bicyclists and parked motorists. The article read in part:

Allard has authored a motion asking the city to work with Manitoba Public Insurance to popularize the “Dutch reach,” a manoeuvre intended to ensure people in cars don’t fling open their doors and into the path of oncoming cyclists without warning.

It was a topic of discussion on the Road Bike Review website in September 2016 with some cyclists supporting the concept while others felt it wouldn’t reduce the number of door prizes cyclists get while cycling city streets.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: A door prize is the colloquial expression for a traffic collision in which a cyclist is struck by a car door.

The practice was mentioned in Martine Power’s article for the Boston Globe on September 22, 2013. The practice was also mentioned in a New York Times article dated July 30, 2011 and written by contributing writer Russell Shorto.

The practice however was not called the Dutch reach in either of those article even though the practice has been the law in the Netherlands for decades.

In 2016, retired American physician Michael Charney named the practice the Dutch reach. After the death of a cyclist in Somerville (MA) in the summer of 2016, Michael Charney, in partnership with the Somerville Police Department, promoted the “Dutch Reach’’ on an electronic sign board that was positioned outside the city’s Veterans Memorial Rink

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Dr. Michael Charney swapping driving a car for driving a bike in 1992, and has been an ardent cycling advocate in Cambridge (MA) over the years.

This means that the term Dutch reach is about six months old even, and mainstream media and politicians are already making use of the expression in articles about car doors and cyclists. Idiomation therefore pegs Dutch reach to 2016 as attributed to retired American physician Michael Charney.

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