Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Whole Cheese

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 19, 2017

In the 1939 Bulldog Drummond movie “Secret Police” Aunt Blanche (played by Elizabeth Patterson) asks Gwen Clavering (played by Heather Angel) if she’s sure about marrying Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (played by John Howard). Gwen’s response is that Hugh Drummond is the whole cheese.

The expression whole cheese means that person is the real deal and not an imitation of what one perceives the person to be. The whole cheese, however, should not be mistaken for the big cheese who is an important, influential person. In other words, a person who is the whole cheese may also be a big cheese, but a big cheese isn’t always the whole cheese.

What cheese has to be with being the real deal is something that isn’t as easy to track down however.

From the news article titled “Those Cotton Associations” published on 1 February 1906 in both the Dallas Southern Mercury newspaper and the Farmers Union Password, the whole cheese is mentioned in an article about Colonel E.S. Peters, Vice-President of the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.

Col. E. S. Peters of Calvert served with distinguished honors for a number of years as “the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.” The Colonel was just about “the whole cheese.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Colonel E.S. Peters’ plantation was in the Brazos Valley, near Calvert, TX. In 1900, boll-weevils were threatening the cotton industry in Texas which supplied nearly 25% of the cotton worldwide. The Peters Plantation allowed entomologists to experiment on his land as it was in the most seriously affected portion of the boll-weevil territory. As a result, the experiments proved successful, and a full report was submitted by Congressman Slayden to the House Committee on Agriculture on December 17, 1903

In the September 6, 1904 edition of the Rat Portage Miner and News, a Letter to the Editor about Louis Hilliard’s farm was submitted and published.  Louis Hilliard’s farm was 180 acres in size with 70 acres already being farmed and another 40 acres of swamp land cleared and good to go. The writer of the letter felt this way about Rat Portage overall.

We think Rat Portage is the whole cheese, and that we are progressive and actually “up-to-date”. But as a matter of fact we have a bad attack of dry rot. Some of us have been here for twenty-four years, and I only know of two who have risked planting trees outside their fences, that is Messrs. Hose and Gerrie, and they have had to sit up nights to protect them from cattle.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Rat Portage was renamed Kenora (Ontario) in April 1905 against the wishes of taxpayers and without a vote for the name change being put to the voters. In fact, the taxpayers insisted that it be noted in the records that the change in name from Rat Portage to Kenora was done so “entirely against the will and wish of the majority of ratepayers to the town and by representations to the Lieutenant-Governor that were misleading.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Rat Portage had its origins in the Ojibwa name Waszuch Onigum that means portage to the country of the muskrats. As with many town names, it became colloquially known as Rat Portage. In 1892, an informal vote was held to decide if the town’s name should be changed. The name Rat Portage won out over other suggestions including Sultana (after the name of the largest gold mine on Lake of the Woods) and Sabaskong as well as Island City, Pequonga, and Lakeside.

During the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900 where President William McKinley (with running mate Theodore Roosevelt) ran against William Jennings Bryan, a lot was said about the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land. On 5 March 1900, Private Hambleton wrote to Sergeant Beverly Daley, and stated the following:

Of course, there are some boys who think Bryan is the whole cheese, but they don’t say too much.

On 23 September 1898, the article “Ward Conventions: Republicans Name Candidates for Justices and Constables” appeared in the Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City.  There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the motions and amendments and amendments to amendments at this convention.  I have no idea who Mr. Bonetti or Mr. Post were, and I don’t know who Joe Cottle was, but they seemed to have stirred things up quite a bit in the time they were at this convention.

Bonetti, who had been appointed sergeant-at-arms, was fain to cry, “Ladies and gentlemen, behave yourselves,” which they did, and after a discussion, a motion, two amendments and an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, offered by Joe Cottle, who was apparently the whole cheese, a collection was taken up and $10.35 raised which was confided to the car of Mr Post who placed the amount down in the deepest pocket he had and took a station near the door, where he could readily escape.

An untitled item in the Dallas Southern Mercury of 7 July 1898 found its way into the newspaper nearly three months earlier.  Sometimes the smallest mentions share the most interesting details.

The Democrats are having a hot time in Pennsylvania. Harrity has his war clothes and is determined to prove to Jim Jones that Jim Guffy is not the whole cheese in that State. The fight is a bitter one, and the aureate statesman has decided to give Guffy the “hottest shot he has in the shop.”

The use of the word cheese to indicate the best dates back to a mention in “The London Guide” in 1818 where the word used as slang is said to mean “the fashion, the best, the correct thing.”

Between 1818 and 1898, the word cheese in this context crops up often including in “The Clockmaker: The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville” by Canadian author and Nova Scotia politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865), published in 1835. In Chapter XIV, the author writes:

Whatever is the go in Europe will soon be the cheese here.

It also shows up in the story “Codlingsby” by British satirist and author William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863), published in 1850 in the his collection of stories titled, “Burlesques.” At one point, Godfrey de Bouillon, Marquis of Codlingsby, and Rafael Mendoza enter the outer shop of an old mansion on Holywell Street. They observe a medical student trying on an outfit for the masquerade to be held later that night when the following exchange is overheard.

“You look like a prince in it, Mr. Lint,” pretty Rachel said, coaxing him with her beady black eyes.

“It is the cheese,” replied Mr. Lint; “it ain’t the dress that don’t suit, my rose of Sharon; it’s the figure. Hullo, Rafael, is that you, my lad of sealing-wax? Come and intercede for me with this wild gazelle; she says I can’t have it under fifteen bob for the night. And it’s too much: cuss me if it’s not too much, unless you’ll take my little bill at two months, Rafael.”

Idiomation therefore pegs the expression the whole cheese to the late 1890s, with about ninety years of between cheese and the whole cheese.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, cheesy isn’t as nice a reference as cheese or whole cheese, but that’s something to research for another Idiomation entry at some later date in the near future.

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Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 17, 2017

As Idiomation shared on Thursday of last week, making a mountain out of a moleskin or a molehill is to over-react to a minor issue, or to make something very small into something bigger than what it happens to be. While the moleskin version has a short history, the better-known molehill version stretches much farther back in history.

We all know the expression to make a mountain out of a molehill is in use to this day. Whether it’s Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. writing an article for Psychology Today (13 December 2013, How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill) or Laura Cano Mora submitting her doctoral thesis titled, “How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill: A Corpus-Based Pragmatic and Conversational Analysis Study of Hyperbole In Interaction” everyone seems to understand the meaning of the phrase.

Even kids watching cartoons like “Phineas and Ferb” have heard the saying used in episodes such as “At The Car Wash” when the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz explains to Perry the Platypus how he came up with the idea for his Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-Inator.  It would seem that after he was told repeatedly by people from all walks of life (from his parents to the firefighters at the local Fire Department) to stop making mountains out of molehills, he decided that if he wasn’t already doing that, maybe it was time he started really doing that.  So he did.

English novelist, playwright, and short story writer Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) published his 1868 mystery novel “The Moonstone” to great acclaim.  In this novel, at one point Superintendent Seegrave says to Sergeant Cuff:

There is such a thing as making a mountain out of a molehill.

The point of his comment was that the Superintendent was of the opinion the Sergeant was making way too much of something as trivial as a tiny paint smudge on the door. He was wrong, of course, as that tiny paint smudge on the door proved very important after all.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Wilkie Collins was the son of English landscape painter William Collins (1788 – 1847) and is considered the pioneer of detective fiction. His talent lay in his ability to create, choreograph, and master intricate plots coupled with a unique narrative technique.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Wilkie Collins’ book “The Moonstone” set the standard by which all other detective fiction is measured. In this novel, the story was told from a number of points of view having to do with a stolen diamond taken from an Indian idol.

But the expression dates all the way back to 1548 when English playwright, cleric, and schoolmaster Nicholas Udall (1504 – 23 December 1556) used it in his work titled, “The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus Upon the New Testament.”  What he wrote was this:

The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.

The idiom to which Nicholas Udall referred was from Greek satirist Lucian (120 – 200 AC) in his work “Ode To A Fly” in which he compared an elephant to a fly. The Latin version of this was elephantem ex musca facere.  Of course, as was shared in a previous Idiomation entry, the elephant version is still in use in Russia to this day.

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Lucian, also known as Lucian of Samosata, was a satirist and rhetorician in Greece. He claimed to be an Assyrian however not everyone agreed with his claim. He mocked superstitions, religious practices, and beliefs in the paranormal although he claimed to believe in the existence of the gods.  

So while the moleskin version of this expression only dates back to the early 1900s, the molehill version is solidly nailed to 1548 with a nod to Ancient Greece. Oh, what a difference 350 or so years (plus another 110 or so years to catch up to 2017) can make when it comes to similar, and yet very different, expressions.

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Mountain Out Of A Moleskin

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 12, 2017

Until recently, Idiomation was under the impression the expression was to make a mountain out of a molehill. However, while watching a black-and-white Sherlock Holmes movie from 1946 titled, “Dressed To Kill” (aka “Prelude To Murder“) starring Basil Rathbone (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967) as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce (4 February 1895 – 8 October 1953) as Dr. Watson, Dr. Watson spoke of making a mountain out a moleskin.

Now whether it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin or making a mountain out of a molehill, it’s all about making a big deal out something that doesn’t warrant that much attention in the first place.

After some research, the first hint of the expression was found on page 14 of the Evening Review newspaper of East Liverpool, Ohio on Friday, May 11, 1934. It appeared in a comic by American cartoonist, Cliff Sterrett, titled, “Polly and Her Pals” which ran from 4 December 1912 through to 1958. In the comics section of the newspaper, it’s difficult to determine if this was how the expression was used, or if it was a misuse for the purpose of comedy.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Clifford Sterrett (12 December 1883 – 28 December 1964) was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. His mother died when he was two years old, so his father sent him and his younger brother Paul to Alexandria, Minnesota to be raised by their aunt, Sallie Johnson, and their father moved to Seattle, Washington. Sterrett was of Scandinavan ancestry.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Polly Perkins of “Polly and Her Pals” was a young woman who was part of the Suffragette movement leading into the 1920s flapper generation of the Jazz Age. The strip included her parents, Paw and Maw, her cousin Ashur Earl Perkins who was renown for giving bad advice, Paw’s sister-in-law Carrie and her spoiled brat daughter named Gertrude, the Japanese houseboy Neewah who pretended not to always know what was going on, the black housecat Kitty, and, of course, Polly herself.

However, in a radio program dating back to July 20, 1935 Anne Leah McCord (1890? – 19 March 1941) of Pulaski, Tennessee (born about 1890 according to the 1940 U.S. Census) used the idiom in the segment “Bulls and Boners” from the radio show “Radio Guide.” This show was produced in Chicago, Illinois and for those sending letters in to the show, the address was 731 Plymouth Court.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3 : Anne Leah McCord of Pulaski was the associate editor of The Record, The daughter of General Laps D. McCord and Betty Thomas McCord, she accompanied her father’s family to Nashville when he became Secretary and Adjutant-General for Governor Robert L. Taylor. When the Governor was elected to the U.S. Senate, Ms. McCord’s father became his secretary, and the family moved to Washington, D.C.

When Senator Taylor passed away, the McCords returned to Pulaski. She passed away on 19 March 1941 and was survived by her sisters Mary Boyd McCord and E.R. Reynolds and her brothers Laps D. McCord Jr and Elwood McCord (who lived in St Louis, Missouri).

Still uncertain whether it was a misused idiom, Idiomation continued to find the idiom published in a serious commentary. The expression was used on September 30, 1954 by the Honorable member for Mundingburra, Mr. Aikens with regards to the Townsville Regional Electricity Board, payments to two ex-managers, Mr. Beynon and Mr. Sleeman, and the problem with the turbo alternator at the new power station at Murder Island. In the records of the Queensland Parliamentary Debates of the Legislative Assembly the following is recorded.

I have only a few words to say to finish my statement about the Townsville generator. We all realise now that it was a much more serious thing than the Honourable member for Fortitude Valley would have had us believe. He tried to create the impression that I was making a mountain out of a molehill or, as a northern member of the Labour Party said, on a memorable occasion, “A mountain out of a moleskin.” However I think I have convinced the Committee that it was a very serious breakdown, so serious that it brought upon the manager and his staff the severest possible censure from the State Electricity Commission.

In America, the idiom also showed up in a news article written by Bob Ingram and published in the 13 November 1954 edition of the El Paso Herald-Post on page 7.

After reading statements by the extremists in Tucson and Lubbock papers this week, I’m convinced that last Saturday’s incidents at Tucson were a tempest in a T-pot and that they’re making a mountain out of a moleskin. The two biggest schools in the Border Conference certainly should be playing each other.

By the 1950s, the idiom was being used as an accepted expression. Idiomation continued to search for other published examples of the saying and found one instance in the Franklin News-Herald newspaper from Franklin, Pennsylvania in the 30 June 1936 edition.  Mr. Dion was quoted as saying:

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce must rehabilitate the spirit of the land. The furrier is the man who can make a mountain out of a moleskin. It is queer that we in this section of the country continue to enjoy cool weather, while crops in the mid-west are burning up with the heat and the lack of rain.

It was also found in the Radioland publication of July 1934 Jane Ace (Goodman Aces’ wife) was quoted in the segment titled, “Microphone Miniatures” under the story “Funny Men’s Wives.” The article gave a quick glimpse in the life of what life was supposedly like for her, Mary Livingston (Jack Benny’s wife), and Gracie Allen (George Burns’ wife).

When I try to be suggestive about us all going out somewhere they don’t even listen. We we girls play Russian Bank. But we can’t even do that in peace. Every minute some husband will interrupt our game to tell us a new gag. I don’t see why they go to so much trouble about ages — it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin.

American theater writer, lyricist, and screenwriter Jo Swerling (8 April 1897 – 23 October 1964) wrote a story titled “Ashes of Fortune” published in Volume 97 of “The American Magazine” in May 1924. The story was illustrated by J. Henry.

“My dear young friend,” he said pompously, “you are simply making a mountain out of a moleskin. All you got to do is to fill out the check yourself, for the amount the feller deposited.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 4: Jo Swerling’s family emigrated from Czarist Russia to the Lower East Side of New York City. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines including “Vanity Fair” in the 1920s.

In Volume 36 of “The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness” published in 1912. In the segment titled, “The Trunk In The Attic” it was announced that the winners of the three best love, friendship, or human interest letters would each win fifty dollars each per the details of the contest provided in the November edition.  American actress, playwright, and novelist Louise Closser Hale (13 October 1872 – 26 July 1933) was responsible for making the wise decision as to which entries would be announced as winners.

The second letter chosen was one the judge felt was one of “the longest husband-and-wife effusion” that had been submitted. In her own words, she stated without hesitation that “one can go on forever before marriage, but after — there is very little to say.” This letter included the expression in this passage.

Reached here this afternoon and saw Brown about the deed. He told me he would make it all right when he returns to Hayville, which will be the latter part of this week. So you needn’t worry, because he is a man of his word as well as deed, and besides, when you spoke of it I thought you were making a mountain out of a moleskin, or whatever that old adage is.

The question was one of what else was a moleskin besides what a mole wears? At the turn of the century, a moleskin was a kind of fustian, double-twilled and extra strong, and cropped before dyeing.

IMPORTANT NOTE 5: A fustian is a heavy cloth woven from cotton and flax, and used primarily in making menswear.

IMPORTANT NOTE 6: A fustian is also a pompous or pretentious speech or writing from at least the time of William Shakespeare.

In Germany, people make elephants out of mosquitoes (aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen) and in Russia, people make elephants out of a fly. In Finland, people make a little ox out of a fly (tehdä kärpäsestä härkänen) and in Wales, people make a mountain out of an anthill (gwneud mynydd o dwmpath morgrug).

But in Sweden, the expression göra en höna av en fjäder is to make a mountain out of a moleskin.

Earlier Idiomation mentioned that American cartoonist Clifford Sterrett was of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavia is the term common used to refer to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. It’s possible that while the idiom was making its way across the ocean from England via magazines, Scandinavians were already using the expression word-for-word in America.

Idiomation pegs this expression to the early 1900s with a serious nod to the Swedish expression.

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The Half Of It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 3, 2017

Idioms don’t always mean the same thing from century to century.  In fact, these days when someone says another person doesn’t know or hasn’t seen the half of it, this usually means the situation is far worse than what most people can imagine it to be.  The key part of either phrase is what the half of it happens to be.

The more negative aspect of the expression is something that came about as part of the 20th century.  Until then, the half of it was most often a positive comment, although there were instances where it was also meant as a negative comment.  However, the half of it does mean there’s more to something than what meets the eye – or the expectations – of the person commenting.  In other words, the half of it falls short of the reality of the situation, and hasn’t addressed the most important aspect.

In 1999, Julienne Davis was tapped to play the role of Mandy, a drug-addicted prostitute in the movie, “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The role was a small one but one that left an impact on the storyline.  Charlotte O’Sullivan reviewed the movie in the Culture section of the Independent newspaper in the UK.  The headline read, “Film: Body Of Evidence” with this subtitle:  “In Eyes Wide Shut, Abigail Good Play A ‘Mysterious Woman.’  But That’s Not The Half Of It.”

Volume 72 of “Foundry” magazine published in 1944 by Penton Publishing Company.  The magazine published articles on foundry and die-casting manufacturing industry on metal casting technology, production processes, investment casting, and more.  In this issue, the following was written.

In other words — and probably other words are needed — you don’t know the half of it. For the past 5 years I have been teaching foundry practice. Stressing skills and the related subjects has been a hobby and at the same time a religion.

British prose writer P.G. Wodehouse saw Herbert Jenkins in London (UK) and Doubleday (US) publish his book “Hot Water” on 17 August 1932.  His career hit at the same time as the silver screen began to be a marvel of technology with dove-tailed with his success with magazines.  The story dealt with J. Wellington Gedge who somehow found himself caught up in a number of international situations, many of which upset him to no end.  In this book, the phrase appears as follows.

‘Do you now?’ he said. ‘Well, well!’  ‘Yessir. Mrs Gedge insisted on renting it. and I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the place. It makes me sick.  And that’s not the half of it.’  ‘No?’  ‘No, sir. Do you know what?’  ‘What?’

‘When she told me this morning, you could have knocked me down with a feather. What do you think?’

‘What?’

‘You’ll never guess.’

‘What?’

‘Do you know what she told me this morning?’

‘How the hell should I know what she told you this morning?’ said Mr. Slattery, momentary irritation causing him to deviate from his policy of courtliness. ‘Do you think I was hiding under the bed?’

‘She told me I’ve got to be American Ambassador to France.’

Mr. Slattery considered this.

‘You won’t like that.’

‘I know darned well I won’t like it. Ambassadors have to wear uniforms and knickerbockers . . . the sissies.’

There are countless examples of the half of it, including a letter written in 1571 by Scottish historian and humanist scholar George Buchanan (February 1506 – 28 September 1582) in his condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots.  At the time, he was convinced that the death of her husband was as a crime of passion brought on many liaisons he claimed the Queen had with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell  (1534 – 14 April 1578) who, he claimed, was also involved in the demise of the king consort Henry Stuart (7 December 1545 – 10 February 1567), Duke of Albany, known as Lord Darnley.

This is my fayth I wyll die in it. Excuse if I writ euill, ye may gesse the halfe of it, but I can not mende it because I am not weill at ease, and yit very glad to writ vnto you quhen the rest are sleepand, sithe I can not sleipe as thay do and as I would desire, that is, in your armes my deare loue, quhom I pray God to preserue from all euyll and send you repose, I am gangand to seke myne till the morne quhen I shall end my Bybill, but I am fascheit that it stoppies me to write newis of my self vnto you, because it is so lang.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, became the third and final husband of Mary, Queen of Scots when they wed on 15 May 1567 in the Chapel of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. 

SIDE NOTE 2:  To free himself to marry the Queen, he filed for divorce from his wife, Lady Jean Gordon (1546 – 14 May 1629) on grounds of consanguinity, although this required considerable research on his part to prove.  Lady Jean Gordon, however, secured a divorce on grounds of adultery with her maid and seamstress, Bessie Crawford.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Lady Jean Gordon was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly and Elizabeth Keith, and after her divorce from James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, she became the Countess of Sutherland when she married Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland on 13 December 1573.

The expression the half of it has its roots in the earlier expression by half which means by a great deal, which is attested to its use in verse by Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (477 – 525) known simply as  Boethius .  He was influenced by the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, and Augustine of Hippo.

To all folk likewise
This next example no less suits:
The comb of the honey cannot but seem
To each son of men sweeter by half,
If he have tasted before the honey
Aught that is bitter.

SIDE NOTE 4:  The translation of verses by Boethius from Latin to English was undertaken and completed by King Alfred (849 – 26 October 899).  He was also known as Alfred the Great, and ruled England from 21 April 871 until his death on 26 October 899.  During his reign, he improved the legal and military structures in England, and advocated for education to be taught in English.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Half at this point in history did not necessarily mean something was divided into two equal parts.  It simple meant divided in two where one part could be the same, smaller, or larger than the other part.

The word half is Old English and came from the Saxon word healf which is from the Old Norse halfr.  Old English began with the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century.  As such Idiomation pegs the half of it to the early 1500s based on George Buchanan’s use of the phrase in his writings about Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Out For A Rip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 13, 2017

Idiomation decided to research the saying out for a rip after reading about a Kingston (Ontario, Canada) rapper claiming that his trademark on the phrase was jacked by Coca-Cola Inc. when it appeared on one of their bottles.  He claims he ‘created’ the expression that was part of a rap piece and video he put out on YouTube in 2013. He trademarked the expression with CIPO (Canadian Intellectual Property Office) in April 2016.

For those who aren’t familiar with the expression, going out for a rip means to go out for a drive, usually off-roading, but also snowmobiling and other similar rides.   It can also mean going out for a good time without any vehicles involved as in hanging out with your friends and kicking back, taking it easy.  It also means going out on a bender.

For those who question the definition, a CBC story from 8 March 2015 titled, “10 Slang Terms All Saskatchewan People Should Know” places out for a rip in the #4 spot on the list.    The expression is part of what Blue Sky refers to as unique terminology in Saskatchewan.    The term was tagged as slang, not as a term ‘created’ by a rapper in Ontario.

SIDE NOTE #1:  For entertainment purposes only, Idiomation is sharing Insightrix’s hilarious
video that includes even more unique terminology from Saskatchewan in Western Canada.

On 11 May 2009, forum member 1969GTS wrote about his friend’s Mustang and his Dart.  The expression was used twice in his very brief comment, proving that out for a rip was around long before 2013.

Just a few years earlier, on the Urban Country website, James D. Schwartz wrote about his cousin’s 2000 Yamaha YZF-R6 motorcycle in the article, “Thrill Of The Year.”  The first paragraph included the expression.

Slang, unlike jargon (special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand) or colloquialisms (informal or everyday language understood across multiple social platforms), is language with a specific social context.  It is also referred to as liminal language.  Language experts agree that slang is generally in circulation for at least a decade before it finds its way into written form.

This being the case, the earliest published version of out for a rip Idiomation found in the 2005 article on the Urban Country website implies that the phrase originated sometime in the early to mid-1990s at the very least, although there are anecdotal claims all over the Internet that out for a rip was used in Canada as early as the late 1970s.

SIDE NOTE #2:  Rip in the sense of moving rapidly goes back to 1826 believe it or not, and back in 1826 rip was considered slang.   Whether it was going on a bender or going out on a rip, it was a given back in the early to mid-1800s that whichever one you did, it was going to be fast and at the time, those going out on a rip were going to have a grand time of things.

So if Kingston rapper B. Rich wants to claim he ‘created’ the expression out for a rip, anyone using that expression is pretty much hooped (Canadian slang for being in trouble, possibly beyond repair).  Whether we live in the city or out in the boonies (Canadian slang for the suburbs), best we just settle on getting a two-four (Canadian slang for a case of 24 beers), and wait-see (Canadian slang for being patient as one awaits the outcome of a situation) who’s going to hang a Larry (Canadian slang for going left with a secondary meaning of losing) and who’s going to hang a Roger (Canadian slang for going right with a secondary meaning for winning).

Then again, this rapper could be pulling a Gene Simmons (Idiomation slang) by throwing some shade (American slang) on Coca-Cola Inc.

I wonder if it’s too early to start looking at snowbankers (more Canadian slang) and figuring out how many loonies (even more Canadian slang) that could set some Canadians back come winter.

UPDATE (14 JULY 2017):  Even Brendan Richmond aka B. Rich knows he didn’t ‘create’ the expression which makes it as trademarkable as what Gene Simmons had hoped to trademark recently.  Controversy is one of the ways that celebrities, quasi-celebrities, and wanna-be’s get attention from the media.  In this December 2013 interview with Peter Hendra, the rapper admitted he heard the expression used by someone else at a gas station.  The gas station employee filling the rapper’s gas tank made a comment using the expression.  In other words, B. Rich aka Brendan Richmond didn’t ‘create’ the expression.  He just told the media in recent interviews that he did.  Quelle surprise!

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

Legal Beagle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 11, 2017

Sometimes a profession is known by a nickname that’s actually complimentary and this is the case with the term legal beagle which refers to a lawyer, most specifically one who is keen. skillful, and astute.  In fact, the term is so respected that there’s a Legal Beagle website that (according to their website) strives “to be an excellent resource for legal information based on facts and procedure.”  Bottom line, calling a lawyer a legal beagle is a compliment.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Sometimes the term legal eagle is used in place of legal beagle.  Both terms are sometimes substituted for the expression, Philadelphia lawyer!

Just last month on 13 June 2017, Cal Hobson of Norman (OK) wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Norman Transcript newspaper.  His letter referred to comments made to The Purcell Register newspaper by Rep. Tim Downing, R-Purcell, Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan.  From the tone of his letter, he was displeased with what these area lawmakers had to say about the most recent session in which they were involved.

I’m no legal beagle, not even a lawyer, as is Downing, but I did serve 28 sessions in the Oklahoma Legislature during recessions and even a depression, so if they think this last session was the “hardest ever,” it just underscores how little they do know.

SIDE NOTE 2: (from the ABOUT US section of the newspaper’s website):  The Norman Transcript is Norman’s oldest continuous business. Its history surpasses that of the City of Norman and of the University of Oklahoma, being founded in 1889 when the area was opened to settlement.

One of the persons on the settler train headed to Norman was Ed P. Engle, a newspaperman who, when the train arrived in Norman, walked one block west through three-inch high prairie grass to stake a business lot at what is now the northeast corner of the intersection of West Main Street and Santa Fe Avenue.

The first edition of Norman’s pioneer newspaper came off the press a few weeks later on July 13, 1889.

In the 24 August 1992 edition of People magazine, an article about Denver (CO) attorney Linda Cawley who specialized in canine contracts and litication (yes, that’s how her business card read according to People magazine).  Her work covered all things canine from owners divorcing and in need of a canine custody agreement through to suits against veterinarians and breeders and on to criminal defense of dogs who were accused of biting.  The article was titled, “Legal Beagle.”

In 1946, the New York Times reviewed the most recent offering by prolific American author Erle Stanley Gardner (17 July 1889 – 11 March 1970), “The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife” published in 1945.  The book was published in 1946 and the story line was one that tugged at the heartstrings.   In the opinion of Perry Mason fans, this was one of the more intriguing and captivating books in the Perry Mason series.  This is what the New York Times reviewer had to say in part about the book.

And guess who her lawyer is. Perry Mason, of course — the “legal beagle” with a list of acquittals as long as the D. A.’s face.   Mason is the only person in the world who believes his client innocent. So what does the lady do? She FIRES him!

The term legal beagle is difficult to find prior to the 1940s, however, Idiomation found the term legal eagle in the book “The Little Lawyer and Legal Adviser” written by Napa and San José attorney Henry Alexander Gaston (9 August 1823 – unknown ) described at the start of the book as a former member of the Legislature of California and late Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada.  His book was self-published in 1880 with the help of A.L. Bancroft and Company located at 721 Market Street in San Francisco (CA).  It’s in this book that the term legal eagle was explained to readers.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The Reno Gazette-Journal of Reno, Nevada reported on Henry Gaston’s resignation as Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada in the 30 April 1879 edition.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Henry Alexander Gaston married Josephine Ballou in July of 1848 in Richmond, Berkshire, Massachusetts.  He was listed as an occupational lawyer involved in the mining business.

Idiomation decided to back things up and begin anew with researching legal eagle since the term legal eagle is a complimentary term for a lawyer as well.  It’s also often used interchangeably with the expression legal beagle.   The Long Island Pulse magazine edition published on 27 April 2011 quickly proved that the term is very complimentary towards attorneys.

In the 5 February 1977 edition of People magazine, Jim Jerome wrote about Rod Stewart in the article, “Da Ya think I’m Sexy?”  In the first paragraph, mention of Rod Stewart’s split from Britt Ekland, with whom he was involved over a two-year period, made mention of a lawsuit and the legal representation Britt Ekland secured.

A 34-year-old bachelor, Rod was sued by one of his numerous ex-ladies, Britt Ekland, for $15 million, assisted by the legal eagle also gunning for Lee Marvin.  Rod, however, made a substantial out-of-court settlement before the case came to trial.

Research also uncovered a book by the American Bar Center published in 1958 by the American Law Student Association.  In this book, there were three entries worth noting:  One a publication titled “Legal Eagle” at American University, the second was a publication titled, “Legal Beagle” at the Washington College of Law, and the third was “The Legal Eagle” at North Carolina College.  Just a few years before that, in one of the American Eagle bulletins from 1952, the term legal eagle found its way into a short blurb about one of the well-known men in the forest products industry.

That blur whizzing through the Bay Area a month or so ago would be our own D. Draper Fairbrother, sales manager, Government adviser, legal eagle, and lukewarm gardener.  Old D.D.F. was plucked from Bilgewater Gulch by the National Production Authority to reign in Washington, D.C., as an “expert, wooden box nailed.”

SIDE NOTE 5:  D. Draper Fairbrother was born David Draper Fairbrother  (29 August 1912 – 10 April 1961) in Kansas, and passed away in 1961.   His father was Benjamin Henry Fairbrother and his mother was Clara Grace Fairbrother.  He rose to the rank of Navy Captain during World War II.

SIDE NOTE 6:  After the war, he returned to America with his German-born war bride, Gertrude, who had lived in Shanghai for 20 years.

In Volume 9 of “The Legal Aid Brief Case” published by the National Legal Aid Association in 1950, mention was made of the Attorneys Messenger Service publication “The Legal Eagle.”  In this case, the AMS publication included an article by Michel Lipman of the San Francisco Bar in the bulletin’s March 1950 issue and titled, “Equal Justice For The Poor.”

The legal eagle / legal beagle situation is what linguists call reduplicatives with others including fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, namby-pamby, and wishy-washy.   As much as Idiomation would love to be able to definitively peg legal eagle or legal beagle in reference to  lawyers to a date – or even a particular decade – the closest Idiomation can determine is that both expressions, as they refer to lawyers and their abilities, most likely began to make their way into English sometime in the mid to late 1930s.

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

Towheaded

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2017

Idiomation has friends of all ages so when a soon-to-be centenarian asked Idiomation to research the history on towheaded, we were more than pleased to oblige this lovely lady’s request.  When Idiomation asked her what she knew the word to mean, she said that twoheaded referred to someone, usually a young child, with light-colored or untidy hair (a definition confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary).  Of course, she also said that it didn’t have to be either/or since a towheaded child could have untidy light-colored hair as she and her two younger sisters did back when they were little.

In Adam K. Raymond’s article, “The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry” was published on 5 July, 2017 on the Vulture website, the expression was used.  The journalist wrote about streaming’s impact on the music industry and how streaming numbers are boosted by way of questionable methods.  Halfway through the article, he wrote:

Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom.

It was used in a movie review in the February 26, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Journal written by David Handler.  In reviewing the “Walking Tall” television series that hit the small screen as a result of the movie’s big screen success, the writer was unimpressed with the first episode which he referred to as being “so slow and preachy that the result is an amazingly dull hour of TV.”  His review included this observation.

Buford holds down the fort every week now surrounded by a cheery office, coffee pot, shiny cars, clean-cut and courteous deputies, a wheezing pappy and curvaceous dispatcher whose life’s dream is to be step-mother to Buford’s two towheaded teenagers (his wife was killed in the first movie).

The expression was used on Page 10 of The Pittsburgh Press on 4 August 1954 in the continuation of a story from the front page.  Titled “Baird, Bride Out Of Hiding” on Page 10, it referred to Dr. Baird’s second elopement.    The first page headline scandalously shared, “Choir Director and Bride Finally Come Out Of Hiding.”

J. Julius Baird, the composer, organist, and conductor of the Bach Choir for 20 years, had married his first wife in 1928, and they divorced in 1953. There were two children from the first marriage – 24-year-old John Jr. and 7-year-old Leslie. His second marriage to a 19-year-old woman was one that raised more than a few eyebrows.  He had met her three years earlier as a choir girl in the Calvary Episcopalian Church Choir he directed.

Two weeks before marrying the former Barbara Stouffer (daughter of Mrs. Edward W. Estes), he resigned as the choir director of Calvary Church and the Bach Choir in Pennsylvania, and accepted his new position as choir director of Grace Episcopalian Church in Colorado Springs , Colorado.   The newspaper included this tidbit using the expression.

Leslie, 7, lives with his father and calls the new Mrs. Baird “Mom” although he knows she isn’t his real mother.

He’s very excited and pleased about the whole thing,” Dr. Baird said.

Leslie, a tow-headed youngster who was pulling the cat’s tail nodded in agreement.

When the Prescott Evening Courier edition of 24 October 1939 was published, Olen W. Clements’ article about a 165-pound 5 foot 7 inch tall University of Texas sophomore named Jack Crain was printed under the title, “Rabbit Crain Saving Texas.”   Jack Crain was an impressive player by all accounts, and according to the reporter, he “put the phft-t-t back in football.”  When it came to describing this player, Olen W. Clements had this to say about Rabbit Crain.

He was a towheaded kid from Nocona, Tex., who sells cowboy boots to make his way through school.

The Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of 11 July 1864 published an article titled, “A Woman’s Faith.”  Although no writer’s name was included with the article, it spoke loudly to what the writer considered the “petty faults caused by vanity” that could befall women, and cheered on the “radiant charm which transforms the coarsest into something almost angelic.”

In clairvoyant rapport with a thought that will carry you to their homes, and you will find in every single instance some woman, possibly sensible in other respects, but deluded in this one point, and absolutely believing that the towheaded or rough-whiskered specimen who is her especial property is an incarnation of the virtues and graces, and possesses the wisdom of Solomon with the acuteness of the celebrate John Bunsby.  A very curious and fortunate circumstance it is for men that Providence arrange it so.  It has done more for them than can ever be undone by woman’s rights’ conventions.

Jumping back another generation, the Hassel family had a perfect to differentiate two cousins named John (the families moved to Tennessee when Tow Headed” John Hassel was six years old.  To know which John Hassel was being talked about, one cousin was known as “Black John” Hassel while the other was known as Tow Headed” John Hassel.  The boy known as “Tow Headed” John Hassel was born in Tyrell, North Carolina on 12 April 1800, son of Zebulon Elder Hassel and Elizabeth Jennette, and he passed away in 1859.

It seems that twoheaded was a popular nickname as a generation earlier people such as Samuel Hamilton (born in 1774) was known as Samuel Towhead Hamilton.  He married Nellie Black and had seven children (none of whom were known as towheaded) with his wife before dying in 1832.

There was also Charles Towheaded Moorman (born on 28 June 1746) who married Judith Moon (born on 26 June 1748) on 10 May 1776.  Unfortunately, Charles was disowned by Cedar Creek, Virginia for marrying out of unity and by a priest.  He left this mortal coil in 1803 while living in Bedford County, Virginia.

So how far back does the nickname reach?  William III, the  Duke of Aquitaine (915 – 3 April 963) was called towhead because of his hair.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William III’s son was William IV who succeeded him.  His sister, Adelaide married Hugh Capet (941 – 23 October 996), and he became the first King of the Franks when he succeeded the last Carolingian king, Louis V.

SIDE NOTE 2:  William IV battled Hugh Capet upon his rise to power as the King of France.  William IV refused to recognize Hugh Capet as the rightful heir to the throne, and protected (and defended) Louis, song of Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (son of Louis IV of France) who, as the last legitimate Carolingian heir, he considered the next in line for the throne.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (953 – 993) was a sixth generation descendant of Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814).

Although Idiomation could find no earlier published mention of towheaded than for the Duke of Aquitaine, the term can be placed to around 900.  However, there is more to share.  It’s possible that the word tow is related to the Old Norse noun, which meant “uncleansed wool or flax, unworked fiber of thread.”  Uncleansed wool or  flax is light-colored and so this may be the word that is responsible for towheaded but without evidence to support that guess, it is nothing more than a guess on Idiomation’s part.

Posted in Idioms from the 10th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Scotch The Wheels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 25, 2017

Scotching may sound odd at first, but scotching is the act of preventing something with wheels from moving by blocking the wheels with a wedge, bar (iron or wooden), or large stone(s).  Long before parking brakes were invented, drivers found a way to keep their transportation from rolling off into the distance without them.  But even after parking brakes were around, drivers have still found themselves in situations where they have had to scotch the wheels.

The expression is still used today as seen in the Wilkes Journal Patriot newspaper published in North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) on 15 August 2016.  The story headline read, “Second Tractor Death Within One Week Occurs On Friday” and reported on the accident that had taken the life of 84-year-old Billy Marvin Church in the Cricket community.  The article read in part:

With one end of a rope attached to the front of the pickup and the other to the tractor, Church apparently pulled the pickup out of the ditch and intended for two split pieces of log firewood to scotch the wheels of the pickup and stop it from rolling down the slope.

Scotching the wheels was central to a lawsuit in the 1950s in Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. v Scoggins.  James H. Scoggins (Beulah’s husband), and James F. Scoggins, Douglas P. Scoggins, Russell L. Scoggins and Mrs. M. M. Adams (Beulah’s children) brought suit for damages in Bartow Superior Court against Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc. (a petition to strike Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc., was made through an amendment by the plaintiffs), Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc., F. G. Cole and Mrs. F. G. Cole (the petition against the Coles was dismissed), to recover for the alleged negligent homicide of Mrs. Beulah Scoggins.  The lawsuit saw many returns to court with judgements being rendered each time but one or the other party not being satisfied with the results.

Now, according to the filing, on 23 January 1951, the driver had left the bus when the bus started to roll down an incline while parked at the Peggy Ann Bus Stop just north of Cartersville, in Bartow County, Georgia.  At the driver’s urging, Mrs. Scoggins who was aboard the bus, jumped from the bus.  The lawsuit claimed that the injury and death of Mrs. Scoggins was as a direct result of the incident and were it not for the negligence of the company and its driver who knew the brakes on the bus to be in a defective condition, Mrs. Scoggins would not have been injured and died.

The expression was used in the judgement in 1952 as follows.

It was alleged that “scotch blocks” were furnished Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. to scotch the wheels of incoming buses, and that they were maintained on the premises of such defendant, and that it was negligent in not using them on the bus here involved.

In a Letter to the Editor written by C.W. Tonge to the publisher of “The Penny Mechanic and Chemist: A Magazine of the Arts and Sciences” in 1841 addressed the issue of paved street that were worn to the point of being slippery and a danger to horses pulling carts.  His letter provided a detailed explanation about the problem, how the problem was being dealt with, and what he suggested be done instead.  It certainly bore reasonable consideration.

The short story, “The Basket Woman”  by  Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1768 – 22 May 1849) and printed in Volume Ten of thirteen volumes published in 1826 talked about scotching the wheels of a carriage.

Paul went to work immediately, and fastened one end of the pole into the block of wood, so as to make something like a dry rubbing brush.  “Look, grandmamma, look at my scotcher:  I call this thing my scotcher,” said Paul, “because I shall always scotch the wheels with it; I shall never pinch my fingers again; my hands, you see, will be safe at the end of this long stick; and, sister Anne, you need not be at the trouble of carrying any more stones after me up the hill; we shall never want stone any more; my scotcher will do without any thing else, I hope.  I wish it was morning, and that a carriage would come, that I might run up the hill and try my scotcher.”

SIDE NOTE 1:  Maria Edgeworth was the first daughter of Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (31 May 1744 – 13 June 1817) by his first wife, Anna Maria Elers with whom he had four children  After his first wife’s passing in 1773, he was to marry three more times and go one to father eighteen more children.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Maria Edgeworth was homeschooled by her father who taught her law, politics, science, literature, and Irish economics at a time when educating women was not only disapproved of, but ridiculed by educated and uneducated men alike.  Her education, however, enabled her to hold her own in correspondences with learned men of the time who respected her insights and opinions.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Maria Edgeworth is acknowledged as a significant influence in Europe with regards to the evolution of the novel.   Her writing addressed issues of religion, politics, race, class, sex,  and gender.

A little over a hundred years earlier, Nonconformist minister and author Reverend Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) published, “A Discourse Concerning Meekness and Quietness of Spirit” on 21 November 1698 – a sermon on Acts 28:22.  In his discourse, he wrote about those who deserved the loudest applause, received reproof instead.  The idiom was used in Section III that dealt with instances where meekness was required in a special way.

We must not be like the reprobate Sodomites (Gen. xix. 9) or that pert Hebrew (Exod. Ii. 14.) that flew in the face of their reprovers (though really they were the vest friend they  had,) with, Who made thee a judge? but like David, who, when Abigail so prudently scotched the wheels of his passion, not only blest God that sent her, and blest her advice, but blest her (1 Sam. Xxv. 32, 33, and v. 35.) not only hearkened to her voice, but accepted her person.  

The previous century, English churchman, historian, and prolific author Thomas Fuller (June 1608 – 16 August 1661) published “The Holy State and the Profane State” in 1642.  The book was the most successful of Thomas Fuller’s books and was reprinted another four times after the first run sold out.  The book was published in four volumes with the first three outlining the characteristics of positive archetypes, and the fourth book illustrating profane people.

The idiom appeared in Point 4 of Chapter XXVIII: The Good Landlord and titled, “Inclosure Without Depopulating is Profitable to the Commonwealth.”

If a mathematician should count the wood in the hedges, to what a mighty forest would it amount?  This underwood serves for supplies to save timber from burning, otherwise our wooden walls in the water must have been sent to the fire.  Add to this, the strength of an inclosed country against a foreign invasion.  Hedges and counterhedges, having in number what they want in height and depth, serve for barricadoes, and will stick as birdlime in the wings of the horse, and scotch the wheeling about of the foot.  Small resistance will make the enemy to earn every mile of ground as he marches.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Two of Thomas Fuller’s most repeated quotes are “All things are difficult before they are easy” and “If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.”

In the early 15th century, scotch meant a notch or a groove with the origins of the word beyond seemingly impossible to trace.  Idiomation therefore pegs the expression scotch the wheels to the late 1500s which allows for the meaning of the idiom to make its way into Thomas Fuller’s writings.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 20, 2017

In an effort to be politically correct and gender sensitive, government departments, agencies, organizations, businesses, and schools are trying to agree on a gender neutral pronoun that’s acceptable to everyone.   Some have considered using zie, sie, se, xe, ey, ve, tey, e, and hir while others have rejected those options as being awkward and contrived.  Others have suggested going with they, their, and them while others argue those options are too impersonal.  The dilemma is one that no other generation has ever faced.  Or is it?

What about the word thon?

The word thon is chiefly Scottish and is a mish-mosh of this and that with the pronoun yon.  It was most popular in the 1700s and 1800s, and although it made its way into the Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary in 1903, it was removed sixty years later … mostly because no one bothered to use it.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The gender neutral pronoun ou can be traced back to the 14th century as used by Cornish writer and translator John Trevisa (1326 – 1402).

SIDE NOTE 2:  John Trevisa is the 18th most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary, and cited as the source for evidence of a word after Geoffrey Chaucer and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The pronoun she first appeared in the mid-12th century to reduce the confusion and ambiguity of the gender neutral pronoun system that was used in English at the time.

In 1894, the word — and a variation therein — was used by Henry Graham Williams (1865 – date of death unknown) in his book, “Outlines of Psychology Designed for Use in Teachers Classes, Normal Schools, and institutes, and as a Guide for All Students of Applied Psychology.

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge.

In 1884, American attorney and composer of church music, Charles Crozat Converse (October 7, 1832 – October 18, 1918) wrote in a letter published in the August 2, 1884 edition of “The Critic and Good Literature” that a gender neutral pronoun should be used and that thon was such a pronoun (a word he lay claim to having created in 1858).

It was, according to Mr. Converse arrived at by “cutting off the last two letters of the English word that, and the last letter of the word one, and uniting their remaining letters in their original sequence in these two words” thereby producing the word thon.  The purpose of the pronoun was to bring equality to situations where stating a gender was to give one gender more respect than the other.  In his explanation, he wrote:

Use of it will so individualize and pronominalize (so to speak) this word as to show its manifest grammatical distinction from the words that and one of which it is born; and the mental process by which it leads its user to the noun it represents will, I think, be found to be easy and natural, it not being an arbitrary sign.

Oddly enough in a Letter to the Editor submitted to, and printed by, The New York Times on October 19, 1905, the history of the word thon was outed as having been in use thirty years before the Charles Crozat Converse lay claim to creating it.

So while people today are busy congratulating themselves on being gender sensitive and incredibly progressive in their thinking, the fact of the matter is that long before the term transgender or gender fluid was part of our language, people had a gender neutral pronoun.  It just never quite caught on.

Idiomation pegs this word to around 1825 based on The New York Times Letter to the Editor with a nice nod to Charles Crozat Converse in the process.  Isn’t it interesting to learn that the more things change, the more things stay the same … or revert to a much earlier time in history?

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

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