Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Keep Your Powder Dry

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2021

If someone tells you to keep your powder dry, they are really telling you to remain cautious, stay calm, and be ready for a possible emergency or a sudden change for the worse. Some may claim it’s the ancestor idiom to the phrase take care but it really isn’t since take care doesn’t really cover everything keep your powder dry covers.

For those who may not understand what that means, this harkens back to the day when weapons required loose gunpowder to fire. For gunpowder to work properly, it must be kept dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Gunpowder is known as one of the “Four Great Inventions of China” and was invented during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th century, and when guns appeared in the 13th century, gunpowder found another opportunity beyond arrows, rockets, bombs, and fire lances. It was particularly popular during the days of flintlock when powder and flintlock were carried in a horn slung to one side. It was susceptible to moisture, and if it wasn’t dry, it tended to clump and misfire instead of ignite and fire properly. By the 19th century, smokeless powder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose were invented, and gunpowder saw its popularity decrease.

On 19 September 2020, the Washington Post reported on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the article, “Trump Says He Will Nominate Woman To Supreme Court Next Week.” It was clear what he meant when he used the idiom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

The idiom was used in the 1945 movie, “Keep Your Powder Dry” starring Lana Turner (8 February 1921 – 29 June 1995), Laraine Day (13 October 1920 – 10 November 2007), and Susan Peter (3 July 1921 – 23 October 1952) as three Women’s Army Corps (WAC) recruits. Lana Turner’s character is a spoiled rich party girl who signs up in the hopes it will make her look more responsible to the trustees of her trust fund will give her the rest of her inheritance thereby leaving her free to party even more than she already does.

Susan Peter’s character is that of a young wife whose husband is in the Army who is doing something productive to help the cause while her husband is fighting, and Laraine Day’s character is an Army brat who can’t wait to join the military so she can be a soldier every bit as good as her father.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Lana Turner’s character is top of her class when it comes to identifying aircrafts but not because she’s an excellent student while in class. It has to do with how many pilots she dated before she joined the corps.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Agnes Moorehead (6 December 1900 – 30 April 1974) — which many remember as Samantha Steven’s mother, Endora, in the 1960s series “Bewitched” — plays the role of the company commander, exuding an understated but unmistakable authority. She plays the role with dignity and compassion without breaking the military chain of command.

Margaret Mead used the idiom in the title of her book “And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America” published in 1943.

The Times Literary Supplement of 1908 made use of the idiom in this passage:

In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Times Literary Supplement was a supplement to the British daily national newspaper The Times (which was known as The Daily Universal Register from 1785 through to 1788 when it changed its name) when it first appeared in 1902 but by 1914, it was its own separate publication. Among the distinguished writers and authors who contributed to the publication are T.S. Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.

The idiom appeared in print in 1888 in the book “Irish Minstrelsy: Being A Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics, and Ballads with Notes and Introduction by Henry Halliday Sparling” in a poem by Irish British Army officer, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Commissioner of the Treasury of Ireland, Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker (1 September 1777 – 25 November 1855) and publishing under a pseudonym. Every stanza ends with a slightly different variation of the idiom, but always ends with keep your powder dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The poem was originally published in 1834 in The Dublin University Magazine titled “Oliver’s Advice: An Orange Ballad” and was a well-known poem of over fifty years by the time it was printed in the 1887 publication.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: William Blacker and his cousin, Valentine Blacker (19 October 1778 – 4 February 1825) were both lieutenant colonels in the British Army as well as published authors. Sometimes they published under pseudonyms (William Blacker occasionally published under the name of Fitz Stewart), and this is why there are instances were they are confused with each other.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Father C. Mayer wrote an arrangement of a song titled, “Boys, Keep Your Powder Dry: A Soldier’s Song.” It was published by Blackmar & Brothers, and lithographed by B. Duncan and Company of Columbia, South Carolina in 1863. The idiom was used as the last line in each verse as well as in the chorus.

Not they who are determined to conquer or to die;
And harken to this caution, “Boys, keep your powder dry.”

Across the ocean and back in England, Punch magazine was having a grand time with politics on 25 February 1859 when it reported on Lord Palmerston’s efforts to alert the House of Commons to what he felt was the menacing aspect of continental affairs. It was printed in the same column that Mr. Punch advised Queen Victoria to keep her powder dry. The column was followed by a poem that addressed the issue of keeping her powder dry, as well as a cartoon.

Now shortly before Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker’s poem was published in 1834, the idiom was bandied about by the Lords sitting for Parliament in the United Kingdom. One such occasion was 28 February 1832, in the discussion of education in Ireland was the subject, when William Pleydell-Bouverie (11 May 1779 – 9 April 1869), 3rd Earl of Radnor stated:

On that occasion, Mr. Archdal concluded his speech by saying, “My friends, I will now only add the words used by Oliver Cromwell to his army, when marking through a ford, ‘My boys trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry.'”

Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is repeatedly attributed to Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658). It is claimed that when Cromwell’s troops were about to cross a river to attack the enemy, he concluded his address to the troops with this idiom.

Allegedly, Oliver Cromwell said this to his regiment in 1642 when it was about to attack the enemy at the Battle of Edgehill, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this to the soldiers in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this every time there was a battle that involved crossing a river to get to the enemy’s side.

But did Oliver Cromwell ever say this? According to the Cromwell Museum there isn’t any evidence he ever said that. None. Not even once.

That doesn’t mean Oliver Cromwell didn’t say it, only that there’s no proof he said it. Maybe he said it, then again, maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, however, it is very sound advice, don’t you agree?

Idiomation tags this expression to the 1820s with the earliest published version found in the 1832 papers that show the 3rd Earl of Radnor using the idiom indicating others understood what he meant when he talked about keeping one’s powder dry.

But who said it first is still up in the air.

To add a little extra fun to today’s entry, here’s “Keep Your Powder Dry” from the movie of the same name (back in the 1940s, face powder was the kind of make-up most women wore so enjoy the double meaning of the expression keep your powder dry).

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bad Penny

Posted by Admin on September 18, 2021

Anytime you hear someone refer to a person or situation cropping back up as a bad penny, you know that can’t be good news. In fact, the bad penny in question is usually considered to be fake and definitely unwelcome.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It has been thought for centuries that when you drop a penny in a wishing well and the wish does not come true, it’s because the penny was bad or counterfeit, not that the wish wasn’t worth granting.

For those who are wondering, the English penny was set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) back in the 14th century. At first, it was made of silver, then copper, and eventually bronze (beginning in 1860). The English penny had two plural forms: Pence and pennies.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In archery, a penny is a measure of weight for arrows that is equal to one-twelfth of the weight of a new British silver shilling.

But earlier than that, in Middle English, any coin of a small denomination was called a penny.

For movie buffs, they may recall in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Elsa Schneider says to Indiana Jones, “I never expected to see you again” his response is, “I’m like a bad penny. I always turn up.”

As Idiomation researched the expression, two idioms were found in Volume I, Chapter IX of the 2-volume book, “Good In Everything” by Mrs. Rose Parker Foot née Harris, and published by Hurst and Blackett (successors to Henry Colburn) in 1857.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” exclaimed Emily.

“But I suppose he’s to return, like a bad penny, isn’t he?” asked Henry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Rose Parker Foot was born in 1826 in London, Middlesex, UK. Her father was Charles Harris, esquire of Guildeford, and a surgeon, and her mother was Sarah Rose Holt. She married Joseph James Foot, eldest son of Joseph Foot, esquire of Stoke Newington, at St. Pancras on New Year’s Day in 1845, and aside from her brief literary career, she became the mother of six.

In Volume II of John Foster Kirk’s 1864 book, “The History of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy” a bad penny tax was discussed in the chapter titled, “Book IV, Chapter II: The Swiss Confederacy.” This volume begins in 1469. At the time, the prince-bishop of Liege was Philip the Prince of Savoy, and Edmund the Duke of Somerset as well as the knights of the Toison d’Or were in positions of power.

A tax on commodities being the common research in such cases, Hagenbach laid an impost, popularly known as the “Bad Penny” on wine — an article of domestic production, of universal consuption, and et not of absolute necessity.

In the 1815 book, “Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain” the American-French-Swiss painter, art critic, and author, Louis Simond (1767 – 1831) wrote:

Lord Chatham has one in the same hall by Bacon, 1802, overloaded likewise with thread-bare allegories, but you have at least here the figure of the illustrious man whose memory is intended to be honoured, which is certainly better than the bad penny of Nelson.

An example is found in 1742 in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus that discusses bad stamps and Ancient Greece, where the author writes:

We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.

The term bad penny was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem Piers Plowman, composed between 1372 and 1389.

Men may lykne letterid men to a badde peny.

Between 760 and 760 AD, in London (England), the broad flan penny was established as the principal denomination until the 14th century (see above). While pennies in the 12th century were 92 percent silver and 8 percent copper, by the time the 14th century rolled around, pennies contained more copper and less silver, making it difficult to know how much of each metal was used in minting pennies. The harder it was to know what was a real penny, the easier it was to produce and pass a counterfeit penny as the real deal.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: If you look under the date on the heads-side of an American penny, you might see a mint mark under the year. If the letter is a D, the coin was minted in Denver (Colorado). If the letter is an S, this is a much older penny that was minted in San Francisco (California). Pennies are no longer minted in San Francisco. And if there’s no letter, that means your penny was minted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: In 2018, the U.S. Mint stated it cost twice as much to produce a penny than what it was worth.

In Canada, the last penny minted was on 4 May 2012, following Denmark, Australia, and Ireland’s lead. Perhaps it won’t be long before people start to forget what various penny idioms mean. But until that happens, Idiomation is happy to say a bad penny has been around since the mid-1300s at least for William Langland to use it so readily in his prose poem.

If it was used much earlier, Idiomation hasn’t found a published account but Idiomation is always open to the possibility. After all, this bad penny might turn up again at some later date should Idiomation uncover more information worth sharing.

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Hair of the Dog

Posted by Admin on September 11, 2021

You may have heard someone say the morning after a night of heavy drinking that they need some hair of the dog to help them deal with their hangover and other physical symptoms of having overindulged in alcohol. They usually mean they need another shot of alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms of having a hangover. It doesn’t work, and yet, it’s been a long-touted remedy. How long?

On 18 March 2006, Robert Riley’s “On The Street” column in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper asked people how they took care of a hangover. The first answer was from Tyler Hehn, a Junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln (NB) who responded: “I’ve got to go with the hair of the dog that bit you, but a little Gatorade or water to rehydrate never hurt.”

It’s a phrase many have heard for years, and even Ann Landers used the expression in her column of 9 September 1983 that was carried by the Southeast Missourian where a reader congratulated Ann Landers on her list of the characteristics of a compulsive gambler. The writer shared his or her list entitled, “Alcoholic: How Can You Tell?”

The third question on the list was: In the morning, do you crave a “hair of the dog that bit you?”

Perhaps one of the most descriptive commentaries using the idiom is from the Wilmington (DE) Sunday Morning Star of 27 September 1936 in the “Local Color: The Week’s Odds and Ends” by Charles M. Hackett (1909 – 29 September 1970).

One of the better-known grog shops was having trouble this week. It was just beginning to blossom with the lads and lassies trying the hair of the dog for excessive hangover trouble when, outside, a pneumatic concrete breaker went into action. The anguished faces inside told the story of heads rent with clatter.

A few decades earlier, in The Pittsburgh Gazette of 11 April 1902 shared a quick commentary between news of the availability of lecture tickets in support of the Stone ransom fund and what the newspaper reported as a ‘pernicious pest’ who was setting off false alarms. It read as follows:

The governors of the Carolinas were together at Charleston Wednesday in honor of the president but the recording angels of the daily papers are silent as to whether any hair of the dog was in demand yesterday.

The complete idiom is actually the hair of the dog will cure the bite, but over time, it has been whittled down to just the first half of that claim with the second half implied. The expression comes from the ancient notion that the hair of a dog is an antidote to its bite.

As the saying went, similia similibus curantur, or like is cured by like. In many respects, it seems to be the theory that drives homeopathy.

On page 92 of Volume 15 of The New Sporting Magazine published in 1838, the magazine identified this idiom as a proverb.

The proverb “Take a hair of the dog that bit you” recommending a morning draught to cure an evening’s debauch, is derived from the prescription which recommended as a cure for the bit of a dog, that some of his hairs should be bound over the wound.

That same year, in the book “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” compiled by Irish author and antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker (15 January 1798 – 8 August 1854), one of the stories recounted how two men who had overindulged in poteen awoke the next morning with hangovers.

Back they both went most lovingly to the house, and Jack wakened up Coomara; and perceiving the old fellow to be rather dull, he bid him not be cast down, for ’twas many a good man’s case; said it all came of his not being used to the poteen, and recommended him, by way of cure, to swallow a hair of the dog that bit him.

The second edition was printed in 1838 and in the publisher’s preface to the new edition, it was stated that the book had been out of print for a number of years. Research indicates the first part was published in 1825, and the next two parts were published in 1828.

Two centuries earlier, Randle Cotgrave (unknown – 1634) mentioned the hair of the dog as a cure for hangovers in his book “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues” published in 1611.

In drunkennes to fall a quaffing, thereby to recouer health, or sobrietie; neere vnto which sence our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Randle Cotgrave was possibly the son of William Cotgreve of Christleton in Cheshire. It is certain that Randle Cotgrave belong to Cheshire, and that he was a scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge on the Lady Margaret foundation on 10 November 1587. Later, he became secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, eldest son of Thomas Cecil, First Earl of Exeter. Subsequently, he became the registrar to the Bishop of Chester. He married Ellinor Taylor of Chester, and had four sons: William, Randolf, Robert, and Alexander. He also had a daughter named Mary.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: A copy of Randle Cotgrave’s book was presented to Prince Henry, eldest son of James 1, and in return, Randle Cotgrave received from Prince Henry ten pounds as a gift, not as payment. This Randle Cotgrave’s death was given in Cooper’s “Memorials of Cambridge” as 1634.

John Heywood included the phrase in a drinking reference in his book, “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Proverbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.

I praie the leat me and my felowe haue
A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.
And bytten were we both to the brayne aryght.
We sawe eche other drunke in the good ale glas.

A more recognizable translation is this:

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A
hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both drunk.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

Yes, back in John Heywood’s day, if you were bitten to the brain, it was another way of saying you were drunk.

At the end of the day, since the idiom was known and used in 1546, it’s safe to say it was a common expression of the day, and while the first published reference Idiomation could find for this idiom is 1546, it was already a well-known expression among those looking to get over a hangover.

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Ballpark Figure

Posted by Admin on July 10, 2021

When someone asks for a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, they are interested in a somewhat qualified number guesstimate and are willing to accept a very rough estimate where necessary. Sometimes the figure guessed at is pretty close to bang on and sometimes the estimate is so far off-base as to be completely without merit. That being said, one shouldn’t confuse a ballpark figure with a good faith estimate.

In the Fall of 2019, Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith told the media that the first space trips on New Shepard would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference, he stated new technology is never cheap but that the cost of a ticket for middle-class people would eventually be affordable. Until then, GeekWire‘s Alan Boyle reported Bob Smith “hinted at a ballpark figure.”

The Polk County Enterprise newspaper of Livingston (TX) — a semi-weekly newspaper that includes local, state, and national news along with advertising — ran an story with an interesting headline in Volume 117, Number 64, Edition 1 of their newspaper published on 12 August 1999. The article by Enterprise reporter, Emily Banks, reported County Judge John Thompson had asked Clyde Arrendell who was the chief appraiser of the Polk Central Appraisal District to a budget workshop. Emily Bank reported:

Emphasizing that all figres were “ballpark figures” Thompson reviewed the budget schedule, as well as the county’s tax history from 1982 forward.

The title of the news article was this: Court Studies Budget with Ballpark Figures.

In the book “Surviving in the Newspaper Business; Newspaper Management In Turbulent Times” written by William James (Jim) Willis (born 19 March 1946) and published in 1988, the writer paraphrased what Marion Krehbiel, former president of the major newspaper brokerage firm Krehbiel-Bolitho Newspaper Service, Inc. had stated in the late 1970s with regards to arriving at a fair market price for a small to medium size daily newspaper.

Krehbiel added a caveat to these indexes, however, when he noted in 1979 that this forumula is only meant to provide purchasers with a ballpark estimate of a newspaper’s worth.

The 24 June 1957 edition of The Des Moines Register included the column “Washington Memo” which purported to report on what was going on in Washington DC. In this edition, immediately after reporting on how an Army colonel felt about one of this tasks which came about after a Southern congressman “yelped about [the Army’s] handling of racial relations.” Here’s what readers learned next.

CODE: Pentagon language continues to produce new bafflers. One of them is “a ballpark figure” meaning a very rough estimate which doesn’t do much more than indicate that a given program is going to cost somebody an awful lot of money.

Kenneth Patchen (1911 – 1972) wrote “Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer” which was published by the New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1945. In this book, the concept of the ballpark figure is used in conjunction with being out in left field on page 101 in the chapter titled, “The Last Party I Ever Went To.”

“Miro complicates it simply because he doesn’t know how to handle his material.”
“But Arp does, I suppose.”
“Of course he does.”
“You’re way out in left field.”
“And you not even in the ball park.”
I poured it out. The sand looked very sticky and the leaves on the tree were getting sort of yellow around the edges.
“And what about De Niro? This is a serious young painter.”
“All right, what about Kamrowski? – or Lee Bell? – or Jackson Pollock? – or Arthur Sturcke?”

He wasn’t the first to coin the phrase though as some sources claimed. On 1 May 1944, The Morning Herald in Hagerstown (MD) was reporting that on what a senator claimed about U.S. aid for that year.

Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., said in a speech that total U.S. aid for the current year is about $250 million. He said “a ballpark figure” is that his proposal would halt $150 million to $180 million.

Idiomation realizes that many websites claim the expression dates back to the mid-sixties with the understanding we have of the idiom these days, but obviously it was around before then for it to be used in a newspaper article twenty years earlier with the expectation that readers would understand what the idiom meant.

Unable to find an earlier published version of ballpark figure, Idiomation pegs this idiom to at least ten to fifteen years earlier for it to be used to freely in a newspaper article in 1944.

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

Swaboda

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2021

This past April (2021), while researching a completely different idiom, Idiomation found an expression that was intriguing: Swoboda movements. This week, we took on the arduous task of finding out what was meant by this expression, and what was uncovered was certainly unexpected!

The original passage Idiomation found was in a letter dated 8 December 1904, written by James Clark of Elgin (IL) who was a traveling agent for the Sherwin-Williams Company in Northern Illinois to his son, William, who had completed his first month of business experience in Johnes’ Hardware Store in Port Center in Michigan. In his letter to his son, James Clark wrote in part:

Have plenty of nerve always, but use your nerve with intelligence. Give your brain some exercise, put it through a few Swoboda movements just before you tackle the new proposition. Be just sufficiently afraid of making mistakes to realize that your thinking apparatus is one of the best mistake killers known to science.

References to Swoboda movements were sparse at best, however, we came across articles from such reputable magazines as the Kansas City Medical Records, Volume 28, Issue 9 in 1909, Volume 28 of the Advertising and Selling magazine in an article dated 28 September 1918, and other publications, and in advertisements aplenty in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Here’s the scoop on Swoboda.

Alois P. Swoboda (8 March 1873 – 13 December 1938) was an Austria-born American quack and physical culture mail-order instructor. In some ways, he may be thought of as the precursor to late night infomercials with his quackery and pseudo-scientific claims. He brazenly hawked his system as a one-size fits all cure for every disease known to man. He even went as far as to claim that his system was guaranteed by the government of the United States of America which, of course, it did not.

In Volume 70, Number 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of 16 March 1918, Swoboda was called out for his so-called medical advancement. In the article it stated:

Not that [the book explaining the Swoboda system] means anything but it sounds rather scientific and can be counted on to impress both the thoughtless and that still larger class of individuals who merely think they think. Swoboda is not the first to appreciate that a meaningless phrase, if couched in pseudo-technical language, paraded frequently and solemnly with a lavish use of italics, capitals and blackfaced type, may be counted on effectually to take the place of thought or common sense.

These days, most people are familiar — in varying degrees — with the Church of Scientology, and are aware that L. Ron Hubbard is responsible for establishing Scientology. What they don’t know is that L. Ron Hubbard’s uncle, American writer, publisher, anarchist, and traveling salesman Elbert Green Hubbard (19 June 1856 – 7 May 1915) was an enthusiastic backer of Alois P. Swoboda’s system, and that many of Swoboda’s teachings became part of the backbone of Scientology.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The ninth printing of “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was dedicatd by L. Ron Hubbard to his uncle, Elbert Green Hubbard.

For a time the expression Swoboda movements was trying to elbow its way into the English language, but like many buzz phrases over the generations, ultimately no one was interested in taking it much further than the occasional letter published in a newspaper story or magazine article, and so it remains firmly lodged between 1900 and 1905 forevermore.

As a side note, Alois P. Swoboda was mentioned in a Time Magazine article of 7 July 1930 but it had very little to do with his sytem, his movements, or the expression.

This short-lived expression dates back to 1900, and falls completely out of use within a few short years. But oh! what an interesting history that expression has, and what interesting side notes (behond the one in this entry) to boot!

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You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2021

When it’s not possible to have two good things at the same time, especially two things that aren’t possible to have together, people usually say you can’t have your cake and eat it. The idiom is an example of the price that opportunity throws into any situation, and underscores that you cannot both have and not have something at the same time.

The expression has been around for generations, and for this reason, Idiomation chose to jump back about 150 year to see if it was used back then. We weren’t surprise to find it in a number of places.

On 28 April 1872, English art critic, watercolorist, author, poet, and philosopher John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) wrote a letter to his friends that began with questions about the Pope blessing the marriage of the Marquis of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart (12 September 1847 – 9 October 1900) to his romantically and politically beloved Duchess of Norfolk, Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard (21 February 1854 – 15 January 1932). In his letter, he wrote:

Abstinence may, indeed, have its reward, nevertheless; but not by increase of what we abstain from, unless there be a law of growth for it, unconnected without abstinence. “You cannot have your cake and eat it.” Of course not; and if you don’t eat it, you have your cake; but not a cake and a half!

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent newspaper of h, South Yorkshire (England) devoted a large swath of space in the 17 April 1872 edition to report on the wedding that had taken place the day previous, and wedding guests. The wedding was by all accounts a large and fancy affair with Archbishop Monsignor Capel, Father Stanton, Father Gordon, and six other officiating clergymen required to perform the ceremony.

To add to the pomp of the occasion, the reporter listed the music performed in the Oratory, the composers of each piece — ranging from Gounod to Chopin — as well as the soloists and the conductor, Herr Schulthes. The names of members of the nobility who attended the wedding breakfast was also included which, as you can imagine, took up a considerable amount of space as well. Some of the weddings gifts (and the names of those who were responsible for those gifts) were also included in the article.

English naturalist and botanist, John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) included the idiom — albeit switched around — in his book, “A Complete Collection of Proverbs” published in 1742 as:

You can’t eat your cake, and have your cake.

The idiom was found in the “Dictionarium Brittanicum Or A More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary Than Any Extant” by English teacher, philologist and lexicographer Nathan Bailey (c. 1691 – 27 June 1742) published in 1730.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: In his dictionary, Nathan Baily was the first to include the origin of words from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; advice on pronounciation; hard and technical words found in the arts, sciences, and mysteries; and dialect, slang, and taboo words (something that was left out of most dictionaries until well into the 19th century).

In Anglo-Welsh poet John Davies (c. 1565 – 1 July 1618) of Hereford’s book, “The Scourge of Folly. Consisting of satyricall Epigramms, and others in honor of many noble and worthy Persons of our Land Together with a pleasant (though discordant) Descant vpon most English Prouerbes: and others” published in 1611, the proverb was written in two parts.

A man cannot eat his cake and have it still;
That may he, unless his retention be ill.

English playwright, poet, and writer John Heywood (c. 1565 – July 1618) included it in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546 with this variation:

What man, I trowe [= believe] ye rave.
Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?

The question as to whether someone could have their cake and eat it was asked in a letter from Tudor politician and nobleman Thomas Howard (c. 1473 – 25 August 1554), 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540), 1st Earl of Essex, and chief minister and advisor to King Henry VIII of England, on 14 March 1538. In his letter, Thomas Howard wrote:

The great sickness continues here, and I am banished by it from my two “starting holes,” Catellacre and Bongaye. I require you to send me, by this bearer, my will, which ye have sealed in a box. I must alter things therein, for my substance in money and plate is not so good now — a man can not have his cake and eat his cake. You thought you knew who would buy my manor of Walton, that was of the house of Lewes, at 40 years’ purchase, let me know his name and prick him to conclude for it. I am forced to sell muchland for lack of money, and divers are on hand with me to buy, with whome I would not meddle if I might sell Walton after that price.

Interestingly enough, an expanded version of the idiom is found in the spirit of the French idiom.

On ne peut pas avoir le beurre, l’argent du beurre, et la sourire de la crémière.
You cannot have the butter, the money from the sale of the butter, and the milkmaid’s attentions.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: While the English idiom uses what was a luxury item back in the day, the French idiom uses what was a commodity during that same time period.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to someone having their cake and eating it (or not eating it) prior to the letter to Thomas Cromwell from Thomas Howard, placing this idiom squarely in 1538.

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Do The Graceful

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2021

Last week on social media, people were talking about the idiom to do the graceful which they claimed was an expression from the Victorian era and meant to charm or fascinate others. As Idiomation had never heard that idiom before, it seemed odd that such an idiom existed however since it was a topic of hot discussion in various author and writer groups online, it was worth researching.

At first glance, the idiom seems to be missing a word. It seems wanting in that respect as in do the graceful thing. However there is one thing Idiomation has learned, it is to never assume a word is missing or that the idiom is used in its entirety. For that reason, Idiomation researched the exact idiom: do the graceful.

Before Idiomation delves into what we learned, first off, it must be noted that the idiom actually means to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean to charm or fascinate others, although charm and fascination may be used in order to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation.

Now let’s get on with what Idiomation uncovered about this idiom.

In Episode 10 of the Sourcegraph podcast, Matt Holt, author of a number of open-source projects including the popular Caddy web server, was interviewed. In the podcast, he talked about his motivation for creating the Caddy web server, and the challenges of maintaining the open-source project. In this interview, he used the idiom.

We even have graceful reloads working in Windows, which is not something other web servers really offer because the way we handle network and do the graceful.

The Detroit Free Press reported on page 6 of the Saturday, 7 December 1935 edition that influential Republicans claimed to have solved the riddle of Palo Alto after going after Herbert Hoover weeks earlier to ask him what he was up to and why. Here is what the newspaper published in part.

Mr. Hoover quietly informed the curious that he did not want and would not seek the nomination. Barring a miracle, he senses that the surest way to re-enthrone the despised New Deal would be for him to run again. He promised to renounce the unoffered crown but he reserved the right to decide when he should take himself out of the race. His ulterior motive gives a tip on when he will do the graceful.

The idiom was found in The Mitre which was a monthly publication for the students of Bishop’s University and the Boys of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. The copy Idiomation found was from October 1902. In this edition, the rules for how freshman were to act was included as a welcome to the new men entering the college that Fall. Of course, the rules listed weren’t part of the College rules handed to each new student upon registration at the College, but new students were advised to “carefully study and literally follow” the rules including this one:

2. Freshman when they meet their seniors on the street, should always do the graceful, and touch their trencher or cap.

It was in The Newfoundlander newspaper of 12 February 1875 that an article about the hasty actions of Grand Duke Alexis — a Russian aristocrat who had fascinated a number of society belles in New York when he visited the United States of America — included the idiom. Before embarking on his voyage to America, the Grand Duke had fallen head over heels in love with the daughter of a high official of the Council of Empire, declared his passion, enjoyed the reciprocation of that passion, and secretly married. The marriage remained a secret for nearly three months, and as the saying at the time went, “marriage, like murder, will out.”

The voyage to America, and the very long return home by way of Japan and Siberia, was meant to cure the Grand Duke Alexis of his love, with the hopes that while he was cooling his heels with other women of high breeding, his family and their representatives could talk his mistake into leaving him for a generous financial settlement. But here’s what happened instead according to the newspaper.

But she would do nothing of the sort, not even when she was told that she could name the financial terms and receive the money when and where she wished. She loved Alexis and had married him, and would remain his wife until death should do the graceful for one of them. Possibly the Count hoped that the pale warrior would begin on her at an early date, but if he thought so he did not say so. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and was as unsuccessful as the most earnest admirer of pig-headed constancy in love could desire. Next day, the diplomat called again, but she would not see him, and after trying the intercession of a Russian lady of high position who happened to be in Geneva, he gave up the effort and took the train for Paris.

Indeed, in 1875 the expression was used by many. Another example was found in the Yerington Times edition of 28 November 1875 — Yerington being in Nevada — with regards to a gathering at the state capitol on Thanksgiving Day. At the local theater, the writer of the article took in a show where he and his friend found John Jack and the Firmin Sisters (Katie and Annie) performing before a “large and fashionably dressed audience.” Once the performance concluded, the benches were cleared and the orchestra began to play music to the delight of those in attendance.

It was reported that the reporter and some new-found friends from the Tribune did their best to “keep time with the music and off the ladies’ dresses” and they admitted that “the trails of only some fifteen or twenty dresses will probably have to visit the dressmaker’s to recuperate from the havoc by [their] No. 11’s.” Once all that was admitted, the idiom appeared.

Miss F. certainly has the charm of dispelling the gloom that settles around a timid reporter’s soul as he finds himself trying to do the graceful among strangers, and the gentleman who procured the introduction has been instrumental in setting a “little bird singing in our heart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Annie Firmin and John Jack were married, but she still was known as Miss Annie Firmin to theater patrons and promoters.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Annie Firmin was represented by Mrs. John Drew who was one of the premiere theatrical agents in Philadelphia. Over the years Mrs. Drew represented Annie Firmin, Annie became well known throughout the theatrical profession as a reputable and respected actress. and long before she met the actor John Jack.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: John Jack (1 February 1836 – 16 September 1913) began his career as a call boy in the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he made his appearance as an actor where he quickly built up an enviable reputation as a performer of diverse professional talents and abilities including a sought after reputation as a stage manager.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Annie was John Jack’s second wife whom he married years after the death of first wife, Adelaide Reed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: At the outbreak of the American Civil War through to the end, John Jack severed his theatrical connections and enlisted in the Federal Army. He sustained wounds that sent him to hospital, but even wounded, when there was a threat of rioting in connection with drafting difference forces into the war, he recruited other injured men to address the insurrection.

The idiom also appeared in the Wednesday, 23 March 1870 edition of the Port of Spain Gazette from Trinidad. The Gazette shared a news article from London dated 1 March 1870 with regards to the political news that Lord Derby had refused to accept the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It was thought that Lord Derby’s acceptance of the post would have been a guarantee that his fellow Conservatives would have considered all the changes the majority in the lower House sought.

The Duke of Richmond was suggested by Lord Salibury, which was seconded by Lord Derby and supported by Lord Carnarvon. The article then described the fanfare that goes with the ceremony in the House of Lords.

Seating himself, he puts on his cocked hat, then he salutes the Lord Chancellor, and rising, goes back to the woolsack to pay his respects to the noble and learned lord. The cocked hat is the greatest trouble on these occasions, as noble lords are apt to knock off that unwonted covering, in an endeavour to do the graceful.

Wondering if perhaps the expression was a relatively new one in that era, Idiomation continued researching and found this passage in the Daily Evansville Journal of Evansville (IN) in Vanderburgh County on 22 May 1862 under the heading “River News.”

The ever prompt and swift gliding Bowen, with Capt. Dexter and Billy Lowth to do the graceful, will leave at the usual hour this afternoon for Cairo and all down river towns. Pay your money early and secure state-rooms.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of the idiom however since the Victoria era was from 1837 through to 1901, Idiomation confirms the idiom was definitely used during the Victorian era. That Idiomation was unable to find a published version prior to 1862 lends credence to the claim it is an idiom from the Victorian era.

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No Fuss, No Muss

Posted by Admin on May 8, 2021

Whether you say no fuss, no muss or the other way around, it means something can be done without a lot of effort or difficulty. If we take the idiom apart, a fuss is a state of excitement and it’s usually over something that isn’t worth worrying about in the first place. When you muss something, you mess it up … not beyong being able to fix it again, but just enough to make what was previously tidy a little bit untidy.

It’s only been since 2009 when the expression seems to have added another component to become, “No fuss, no muss, no coconuts” according to HR and Recruiting expert, Jason Pankow who used the expression his Fistful of Talent website that year, and continues to be used by people such as printmaker and artist JD Donnelly a decade later, and blogger Allison Fitzgibbon in blog articles in 2020.

Fuss first appeared in writing in 1792, and an extended version — fussify — appeared in writing in 1832.

Since muss was from the mid 1800s and fuss was from the late 1700s, there’s only about 50 years between the first printing of both words separately.

The idiom was mentioned on the Cinema Blend website where Conner Scherdtfeger’s article of 16 May 2018 indicated that The Flash was known for using the expression, “No fuss, no muss.” Then I found a reference in the Amazing Spiderman archive of 11 June 2014 referring to Electro and there was the idiom again.

A bit more research and in “The Avengers” movie of 2012 where Robert Downey Jr. plays the role of Tony Stark / Iron Man, Tony Stark uses that expression.

In the 28 October 2000 edition of Billboard magazine, in the article “Sites + Sounds” talk about touch-screen music downloading was the main topic of discussion. The concept was powered by Diamond Multimedia which had invested $3 million USD into the technology. The concept was that shoppers went to music stores, plugged in the portable player, browsed through the available music on the platform, bought the music files, and immediately downloaded their purchases to that portable player. The process was hailed as one that would only take a few minutes start to finish. The article included this comment.

S3, of course, has plenty to gain through championing any developments that will make the process of moving music onto digital devices — such as its own Rio line — a less-exerting and, thus, more mainstream occurrence.No fuss, no muss, no hassles,” says Hardie of the goal.

Although many articles claimed the idiom was a result of 1960s advertising companies, the fact of the matter is they are wrong in asserting that is when the idiom first became popular.

In fact, on page 130 of the April 1946 edition of Popular Photography, I found an advertisement for a FotoFlat which, according to the advertisement, was America’s most popular dry mount with its ‘modern thermoplastic dry mount membrane.’ The advertisement from Seal Inc of Shelton (Connecticutt) began with these words:

… better than ever
… the professional way

no fuss, no muss, no bother

Idiomation kept researching and found that on page 36 in Volume 43 of The Meyer Druggist back in 1922, the idiom was found in an advertisement for Puritan malt sugar syrup available at Meyer Brothers Drug Company of St. Louis (Missouri). The advertisement bragged:

Insist on Puritan malt sugar syrup made from choicest barley and imported bohemian hops. No boiling, no spoiling. No fuss, no muss. Simple and easy to make. Success the first time.

In Volume 22 of American Magazine published in July of 1921, on page 76, was an advertisement for a Rotospeed Stencil Duplicator from the Rotospeed Company of Dayton (Ohio) selling for $43.50 USD that guaranteed to speed up sales with advertising that went direct to customers for pennies which would make up for the price of the machine within months.

This machine prints form letters that are equal in every respect to typewritten originals, yet there’s no type to set — no trouble — no muss. Simply write the letter on the typewriter or by hand — put it on the machine — turn the handle — that’s all. You can make 1,000 copies at a cost of 20c.

While muss was there, fuss was missing. Did this indicate the expression happened sometime between 1921 and 1922? More research revealed that was not the case!

On page 33 of the 13 October 1913 Saturday Evening Post, there was an advertisement for Blaisdell colored pencils from the Blaisdell Pencil Company of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). The first paragraph was compelling with this claim:

There is no mystery in the universal popularity of Blaisdell colored pencils. The superior gritless leads are smooth-writing and long-wearing. They never break in sharpening and there is no waste. Just nick a Blaisdell between the perforations and pull the narrow strip of paper straighaway. Quick as a wink your pencil is sharpened — no fuss, no muss.

The Clare Sentinel newspaper of Clare (Michigan) carried an advertisement in their 16 May 1901 edition (Volume 9, No. 25) placed by the Standard Oil Company advertising their wickless blue flame oil stove. On the left hand side of the advertisement, readers found the idiom: No fuss, no muss.

Standard Oil Company advertisement from May 1901

Of course, that same advertisement made its way into The Conservative newspaper of Nebraska City (Nebraska) and in The Youth’s Companion magazine (Volume 75) that same month, and undoubtedly a great many other newspapers, magazines, and publications. This indicates the expression was already widespread and well-known.

Volume 6 of the Safety Valve published in 1892 carried an advertisement from Bradley & Company of Syracuse (New York) all about steam boilers purified by he Bunnell Feed-Water Filter. The advertisement claimed the following:

Water is purified before entering Boilers. No hot, heavy, dirty pans to handle. Five minutes a day keeps it in order. No fuss, no muss, nothing disagreeable. No guessing, it performs exactly as guaranteed.

Back in 1892, you certainly couldn’t ask for more than that from a water filter on your boiler!

A few earliers, in 1887 in Lebanon (Ohio), lawyer Madison Elmer Gustin ran for public office as township and village clerk with the slogan, “no fuss, no muss, just vote for Gus.” Not only was he elected that year, he served in public office in various capacities until his death in 1935.

Remember when Idiomation stated there was only about 50 years between fuss and muss appearing in writing separately (late 1700s to mid 1800s)? With the earliest verifiable published version Idiomation could find for no fuss, no muss being 1887 — and used as a political slogan that was meant to be understood by everyday people who voted in elections — it is safe to assume it wasn’t much after the appearance of the word muss in the mid-1800s that fuss joined forces with that word to become no fuss, no muss.

Still, the earliest Idiomation can tag for no fuss, no muss is 1887.

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Pipped At The Post

Posted by Admin on May 1, 2021

To be pipped at or on or to the post means to be defeated by someone by a very narrow margin or at a crucial moment. While it’s generally used when talking about a race or competition, but overall it has to do with not succeeding where success was almost guaranteed, or by the underdog gaining a small advantage at the last decisive moment resulting in the crowd favorite losing.

The pip in question has nothing whatsoever to do with the dots on a dice or domino. It has nothing to do with the diamond-shaped segments on a pineapple. It hasn’t any connection to the insignia on the shoulder of an officer’s uniform indicating rank. Those are all pips, but they aren’t the pip in the idiom.

The Oxford English Dictionary and Green’s Dictionary of Slang both refer to the pip as being depressed or out of sorts, and dates back to the 1830s. But from 1896 onward, the pip meant to annoy or irritate someone. From Idiomation’s point of view, losing at the last minute what was believed to be a guaranteed win would certain annoy and irritate the loser, so while the reason for the expression makes sense, when did it come about as an idiom?

The idiom is still in use today, as evidenced by the research paper published in Frontiers in Psychology on May 2019 titled, “Pipped at the Post: Knowledge Gaps and Expected Low Parental IT Competience Ratings Affect Young Women’s Awakening Interest in Professional Careers in Information Science” by Angela Schorr of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Siegen (Germany).

When Collins Dictionary released its words of the year that rise to use in the twelve months leading up to the list being published, most people thought Megxit was a shoe-in for first place in 2020 after Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, left the UK for Canada and subsequently America. But the pandemic had other plans and lockdown won the coveted first place by a nose as lexicographers announced lockdown as the word of the year.

The headline for the article on 10 November 2020 and written by Yahoo! News’ royal correspondent, Rebecca Taylor, announced:

‘Megxit’ Makes Shortlist of 2020 Word of the Year But Pipped to the Post by ‘Lockdown’

In the 18 March 2018 edition of the Messenger Newspaper in the UK they shared the news that The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide had named Altrincham as the best place to live in North West Britain. According to the guide, Altrincham was “a cool slice of suburbia with big family houses” and was a 25 minute ride on the tram if one wanted a little city living to go with that. The headline read:

Altrincham Pipped at the Post as Best Place to Live

The Canberra Times used the expression in a story published on 9 May 1988. The Syndey Swans were playing against Geelong Cats (who were favored to win the game) in Melbourne. The Swans were trailing badly by halftime, and in the third quarter, there was a 22 point margin between the two teams.

Then something unexpected happened, and things began to go horribly wrong for the Cats and incredibly right for the Swans. Then, according to the newspaper, Geeling rover Robert Scott set up a shot that really had little to no hope in succeeding. He went with a shot at goal from 50 meters out, at a 30 degree angle … into the wind. A true Hail Mary play if ever there was one!

The ball hit the post, resulting in the winning goal being played by the Cats. The headline read: Geelong Pipped at the Post by Swans.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #1: In the 1970s, when Digital Equipment Co was taken over by Compaq, there was a utility known as the Peripheral Interchange Program, or PIP. To transfer a file from disk to tape or another disk, users had to do so using this program and entering the correct commands, and because of this, to transfer was to pip. It isn’t, however, the same pip as in this Idiomation entry.

It appears the expression is mostly used by those who live in England, Ireland, and Australia as nearly all of the published instances were found in newspapers and books from England, Ireland, and Australia.

For example, the 5 September 1948 edition of the Sheffield Telegraph and Star told the story of a man who had been blind for at least 35 years and yet continued gardening and his relation to the Thomas Glossop Memorial Cup.

The gardening competition was started by the Abbeydale Amateur Gardening Society which had been started by Vicar of St. John’s Abbeydale. The cup was awarded on the most points scored.

Every year, the blind man did all his own gardening, raising his plants from seeds, and keeping his garden weed-free thrugh his sense of touch. He had won the gardening award from the time WWI broke out, up until his death in 1940. In 1958, the man’s son, Arthur H. Glossop, suggested the cup be the runner-up to the winner of The Kemsley Cup presented by The Star newspaper. He was quoted in the newspaper saying:

“My father always had a lot of sympathy for the man who was just pipped at the post, and I am delighted to think that his cup would be a consolation to such a competitor,” said Mr. Arthur Glossop.

In the 12 January 1926 edition of The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate newspaper reported on a horse race that was so close that the reporter wrote that “a majority of the onlookers thought that [Gadamin] had just got [to the finish line]” with regards to a the horse race in which Gadamin was racing.

It was an amazing race from a number of standpoints.

For one, this was said about one of the other horses: “Varney, from Vic Benyon’s stable, was also one of the field, but was not in the hunt until the race was practically over. He made up a lot of ground from the turn, and would probably be better suited by a longer trip.”

However the focus of the story was on the horse who didn’t win with the headline sharing the news.

Pipped On The Post: Gadamin’s Game Effort

Indeed, in the June 1903 edition of Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in the story, “Our Van” a detailed accounting of horse racing was written across several pages, and within that writing was this passage:

In a Maiden Two-Year-Old race we saw a race thrown away. In Newsboy one was found to beat Bass Rock, but Land, having accomplished this, took matters too easily, and was “pipped” on the post by Extradition. When will jockeys learn?

And there we see the word pipped in quotation marks which indicates the expression was just coming into its own.

In the 19th century Britain, to pip someone meant you wounded or killed that person, usually with a gun. It was an effective way to defeat one’s opponent. Being defeated at the finish line by one’s competitor who wasn’t the crowd favorite would also wound, and Idiomation suspects this is how the expression rose to popularity around the turn of the 20th century.

This leaves the earliest published version of pipped at or to or on the post to 1903 with only a few years before that to account for the use of the quotation marks in the 1903 article.

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