Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Pie In The Sky

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Telling Porky Pies

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bone Up On

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 16, 2016

When someone is busy boning up on something, they’re busy studying something that they need to know — either because they didn’t know it before or because they’re forgotten some of what they learned on the subject.

With the U.S. primaries in full swing, even presidential candidates are boning up on all kinds of subject including Bernie Sanders who admitted to Univision anchor León Krauze on May 30, 2016 that he didn’t know as much about Central America as he should.  The article was published in Vibe  magazine ran with this headline: Bernie Sanders Admits He Needs To Bone Up On Latin American Politics.

It was back on June 4, 1971 that the Star News reported on the wedding cake the White House chef, Henry Haller,  would be creating for Tricia Nixon’s wedding.  The article titled, “Wedding Cake Recipe Stirs Up Controversy” dealt with the cake recipe White House chef shared with the media — a recipe he claimed was a favorite of the First Lady.  The problem seemed to be that  the recipe called for the use of egg whites only (and too many at that), the size of the pan, and other related problems.  The New York Times went as far as to state that when it followed the recipe to the letter, the cake they wound up with was a complete failure.

UPI’s food editor, Jeanne Lesem, said, “The White House needs a good proofreader and its chefs need to bone up on American culinary history.  Pound cake recipes called for one pound of butter, sugar, flour and eggs.  Whole eggs.”

When the General Deficiency Bill of 1917 was being heard on Thursday, April 5, 1917 by the subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations of the United States Senate, Senator James W. Wadsworth Jr of New York addressed the matter of military publications.  He was concerned about the need for increasing numbers of copies of Drill REgulations for the different branches of the United States Army as well as other manuals.

In addition to the very evident desirability of having these publications distributed with the utmost generosity, particularly in the formation of a new army which will contain thousands and thousands of exceedingly intelligent young men, who always have been and always will be hungry to get hold of the drill regulations or manuals and the Field Service Regulations in order to “bone upon them and check themselves up in their drills, in addition to the thousands of copies that will be demanded for that purpose and which should be available in the training of any new great force, the Adjutant General’s Office finds itself in this situation.

Dr. F.R. Brown, MD sent a letter from Yokohama, Japan on May 7, 1873 that was published in the Philadelphia Medical Surgical Reporter.  He was delighted to report that his colleagues should experience Japan which he said was a rapidly emerging society thanks to the blessings of modern civilization.  He seemed to be taken with the country as well as its inhabitants.  His letter expressed his enthusiasm in great detail including this passage:

I started without any particular object in view, other than getting rid of the rheumatism and asthma, as well as the annoyance and responsibility of private practice.  Out here I find, to me, a new world and a new people.  The first thing I did was to get a Japanese and English phrase book, and bone up on it.  I own a ginrickshaw (a two-wheeled carriage, of infantile proportions, universally used here), and two bettoes (tattooed men).  One man is enough on level ground, but up hill it is necessary to have one man to pull and another to push.

Because the expression was used so easily by a medical man, it was reasonable for Idiomation to wonder if boning up had to do with medicine.

What Idiomation learned was that beginning in 1846, British publisher Henry George Bohn (4 January 1796 – 22 August 1884) created and published the Bohn’s Libraries which were editions of standard works and translations of historical, scientific, theological, archeological, and classic literature texts that targeted the mass market while focusing on low prices.  It was considered literature for the masses.

In all, he published over 600 volumes complete with bibliographical and critical notices, and large additions to the original works between 1846 and 1864 when he sold his business to G. Bell & Sons. The final tally of volumes in Bohn’s Libraries swelled to 766 in total.  For obvious reasons, Henry George Bohn was known as THE bookseller of the nineteenth century.

As with all the books in which he was involved in writing and/or publishing, he retained his copyrights, selling them at great profit when he did sell.

One of Henry George Bohn’s quotes is this one:  Business and action strengthen the brain, but too much study weakens it.

With that in mind, students who were cramming for exams turned to Bohn’s volumes which led to the admission that they were Bohning up on things that might be included in their exams.  The correct way to say Bohn‘s name sounded very much like the word bone and soon students were boning up on subjects instead of Bohning up on them.

Sometime between 1850 and 1873 (when Dr. Brown used the expression in his letter to his colleagues), the phrase became an accepted and understood part of language.  Idiomation therefore pegs this to between 1855 and 1860.

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Bold As Brass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

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Cattywampus

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 7, 2016

Beginning in 1919, moonshine was outlawed and so many of the farmers in the southern United States hid their stills deep in the caverns that dotted their countryside.  In the evening, when all the work on the farm was done and the menfolk wanted to gather without the womenfolk knowing about it, all it took was the sound of a shotgun to set things in motion.

The sound of a shotgun meant that one of the farmers had seen a Wampus Cat, a fearsome variation of cougar with glowing eyes, that haunted the forests of East Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky.  When the shot was fired, everyone within earshot came running.

Of course, once everyone was gathered, they’d slip on down into the cavern where the moonshine still was hidden away, and indulge in some man cave time away from the women.  In 1943, all that changed due to changes in the law regarding moonshine.  But the fact that the cattywampus was blamed only served to make the fictional animal all the more real over the years.

In 1916, the Fourth Estate (which was a “newspaper for the makers of newspapers and investors in advertising” according to its tagline) carried an interesting tidbit about the cattywampus in its New Year’s Day edition.

The “Wampus Cat” is the latest creation of Charles H. Gatchell, cartoonist for the Cleveland (Ohio) Press and creator of the “Colonel Al Ibi” series.  Someone in the office remarked recently that “Gatch” was a “Wampus Cat” at making cartoons, and “Gatch” immediately drew up plans and specifications for what he thought a “Wampus Cat” ought to look like.

Imagine the consternation among the art staff when a scientific subscriber wrote in and stated that there really is such an animal as a “Wampus Cat” and that it doesn’t look anything like “Gatch’s” characterization.

On page 225 of Volume 4 of “Dialect Notes” published by the University of Alabama Press in 1917, a definition for catawampus (or wampus cat) was included.

Catawampus (or wampus) cat, n.phr. A virago.  “She’s a regular catawampus cat.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  A virago is the word used to describe a domineering, aggressive woman.

Charles Dickens’ serialized story “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” published in 1843 through 1844 used the word catawampous in the sense that’s found in the stories of the southern U.S. States.  Perhaps it’s because he had returned from a six-month voyage to America with his wife, Catherine, in 1842 that he included it in this story.

“Snakes more,” says he; “rattle-snakes. You’re right to a certain extent, stranger. There air some catawampous chawers in the small way too, as graze upon a human pretty strong; but don’t mind THEM — they’re company. It’s snakes,” he says, “as you’ll object to; and whenever you wake and see one in a upright poster on your bed,” he says, “like a corkscrew with the handle off a-sittin’ on its bottom ring, cut him down, for he means wenom.”‘

IMPORTANT NOTE 2:  Charles Dickens did not enjoy his trip abroad in America.  He was appalled at the commonness of society (which included spitting tobacco into a spittoon) and insulted at how poorly he was treated by the press.  He held no hope for America achieving any sort of moral improvement, and disapproved of slavery.

It would be easy to let the trail end here, however, the fictional Wampus Cat isn’t the beginning of the expression catawampus or cattywampus.  The word appears in Volume 16 of Punch magazine published in 1849 where it’s used in a story titled, “A Few Days In The Diggins” by a “Free and Independent.”  The author, it would seem, wished to remain anonymous.  That being said, this is the passage that includes the word.

Toted my tools to Hiram K. Doughboy’s boarding shanty, and settled with him for blankets and board at 30 dollars per diem.  Catawampus prices here, that’s a fact; but everybody’s got more dust than he knows what to do with.

By 1864, the word cattywampus was understood in the United States of America to mean that something was askew, out of whack, or wrong which is the meaning the word carries to this day.  But back in the 1830s, the word was used as an adverb in the sense of “utterly and completely.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the word.  In light of the fact that cattywampus was published in the 1830s implies it was used in conversation in years leading up to the 1830s so Idiomation pegs this to a generation earlier to about 1800.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 26, 2016

Lately you may have read or heard people saying dilly ding, dilly dong.  It’s an interesting idiom that expresses a celebratory feeling while underscoring focus and hard work leading to the celebration.  The history behind this is short and sweet.  It was coined by 64-year-old Claudio Ranieri.

In December 2015, the Italian manager spoke about the Leicester City Football Club (also known as The Foxes) officially qualifying for the EUFA Champions League — a championship that the club went on to win as they nabbed the Premier League title — and he used the term dilly ding, dilly dong.

Claudio Ranieri uttered the idiom dilly ding, dilly dong again in March 2015. and once again, to the delight of mainstream media, at a press conference on April 22, 2016.

Dilly ding, dilly dong! Come on!  You forget.  You forget.  You speak about blah-blah-blah.  But we are in the Champions League. Come on, man! Oh, it’s fantastic. Fantastic. Terrific.

The Foxes were an under-performing football club in 2010 when Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha bought the team.  Claudio Ranieri came on board in the summer of 2015 and led the team to victory months later.

However when he said dilly ding, dilly dong in 2015 and 2016, this wasn’t the first time Claudio Ranieri used the idiom.  Over his 30-year managerial career, dilly ding, dilly dong is a phrase he’s used often.  Originally, it was used as a lighthearted way of seriously underscoring the need for a wake-up call to members of the teams he managed, and it oftentimes led to positive results.

Idiomation adds dilly ding, dilly dong to the list of fun expressions we’ve researched, and we wish it a very long life.

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Knick Knack Paddywhack

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 17, 2016

There are a lot of strange explanations as to what knick knack paddywhack means, but few stranger than the one Idiomation found online where this was offered up by a thoroughly serious ‘netizen.

Paddy is slang for a police officer and whack is slang for murder.  Nick is associated with the mob, and the mob has a knack for killing people even when there’s police protection in place.  So knick knack paddywhack is a way of saying that even the police aren’t safe, and if the mob has a hit out on someone, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening.

No.  That’s not what knick knack paddywhack means.  Full points to the person who came up with that creative explanation!

Paddywhackery (and yes, there is such a word) is the word that describes the stereotypical portrayal of the Irish in stage productions.  These stereotype Irishmen are charming, talkative ne’er-do-wells but lovable rogues nonetheless.  But does this mean that a paddywhack is some kind of Irishman?

In Francis Grose’s 1785 book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the term is one that refers to a brawny Irishman.  Paddy was short for Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and according to Francis Grose, all this made sense when viewed this way.  The verse quoted in the dictionary is this:

I’m paddywhack, from Ballyhack,
Not long ago turned soldier;
In storm and sack, in front attack,
None other can be bolder.

Idiomation found pinning down knick knack a little trickier than tracking paddywhack.  That being said, knick knack appears as knichts they knack in the traditional Scottish folk song titled, “The Ballad of Burd Isabel and Earl Patrick.”

The Knichts they knack their white fingers,
The ladies sat and sang,
‘Twas a’ to cheer bonnie Burd Bell,
She was far sunk in pain.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  The word first appeared in ballads of the 1200s as a poetic term for a young maiden.  By the 1400s, it was a term used by men of the upper class to refer to women of a lower social standard than they.

But what was knackingKnackers was a term for castanets and was first referred to as such in 1649 in “Fool’s Dance: An Allusion.”  Knacking would be to play the castanets in this instance.  However, knick-knack / nick nack was also a term used in the 1570s to mean an ingenious device or a specialised trick.  Knacking would be to use the device or practice one’s specialised trick in this instance.

So was a knick knack Paddywhack a brawny Irishman with a specialised trick or ingenious device who enjoyed dancing with castanets on his fingertips?  Not likely (although the visual is amusing)!

Or is knick knack actually a derivation of mack whack found in the song “Paddywhack” that was popular at the turn of the 19th century?

FIRST VERSE
Oh, here I am and that is flat,
I am just from the town of Bally hack;
And what a’ye say to that”
My name is gimlet-eyed paddy whack.

CHORUS
Di du mack whack,
And where are yee from?
The town of Bally hack
Where seven praties weigh a ton.

Or perhaps a misremembering of the words from “The Irish Duel” that was popular in Ireland and England at around the same time.

FIRST VERSE
Potatoes grow in Limerick,
And beef at Ballymore,
And buttermilk is beautiful,
But that you knew before;
And Irishmen love pretty girls,
Yet none could love more true,
Than little Paddy Whackmacrack
Lov’d Kate O’Donohoo.
With his fal de ral, fal de ral,
de ral, de ral, de ra.

What this means is that the mystery of Knick Knack Paddywhack remains.  If one of Idiomation’s readers or visitors can shed some light on this idiom, be sure to add it in the Comments section below.

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Daffy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 12, 2016

Watching the movie about J. Edgar Hoover starring Leonardo DiCaprio, there was a scene between Hoover and his mother that spoke of a certain schoolmate of J. Edgar’s who had committed suicide years earlier.  She asked her son if he knew why he was called “Daffy” and then revealed that it was short for daffodil.  While it wasn’t stated outright, the implication was that a daffodil — or rather, a daffy — was a homosexual.

Back in 1935, it was understood that a daffodil was an effeminate young man in the vein of pansies and millies.  In “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” the term with this definition is pegged to the 1920s.  Interestingly enough, however, in this same dictionary, there’s an entry for daffy-down-dilly which refers to a dandy, and dates back to the mid-1900s according to Cassell’s.  The “Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English” by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley published in 1905 confirms the claim in Cassell’s dictionary.

American romance novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 1804 – 19 May 1864) published a novel in 1843 titled, “Little Daffydowndilly.”   The story is about a little boy who only likes to do things that are agreeable to him, and dislikes work of any kind.  His mother has indulged her son to this end, and when he finds himself old enough to attend school, he finds the schoolmaster to be unreasonable in his expectations and believes him to be overly stern.  As the story unfolds, Little Daffydowndilly learns a lot about himself and his schoolmaster.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Nathanial Hawthorne is better known as the author of “The Scarlet Letter.”

Two years earlier, playwright William Leman Rede (31 January 1802 – 3 April 1847) wrote, “Sixteen-String Jack: A Romantic Drama In Three Acts” where he used daffy-down-dilly in Act i, Scene 2.  The scene begins with Bobby Buckhorse, the waiter at the “Cock and Magpie” and Nelly.

BOBBY:
I’m here, my daffy-down-dilly.

NELLY:
Don’t down-dilly me! but take some daffy to the back parlour.

BOBBY:
Back parlour’s served: I saw three brandy’s cold, one egg-hot, and a qartern with three outs, go in.

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  “Sixteen-String Jack” was a play about English criminal and highwayman, John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann (1750 – 30 November 1774) who was known for his charm and quick wit.  His attire was said to be overly showy.

It’s easy to see how a flashy dressing rogue such as John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann could be thought of as effeminate, even as he waylaid the countryside with his nefarious deeds.

Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric, Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) used daffy-down-dilly in his short story, “A Punning Letter to the Earl of Pembroke” published on June 13, 1709.

There is a published reference to daffy-down-dilly recorded in Mother Goose or rather, what was known then called Mother Hubberd, back in 1593.

Daffy-down-dilly is new come to town
With a yellow petticoat, and a green gown.

The term is what’s known as a sandwich word which are, by nature, generally naughty.  That being said, calling a lawyer a daffy-down-dilly from 1483 onward was a serious accusation of double-dealing, and playing both ends against the middle for the lawyer’s own personal gain.  In other words, it was a conflict of interest that the lawyer chose to work to his advantage.

Idiomation finds that while daffy-down-dilly has been an insult for a great many centuries, it evolved to mean an effeminate male by the late 1700s and early 1800s.  This eventually evolved to mean a homosexual by the 1920s.  Idiomation therefore pegs this to 1800 as well as to 1920 because one really doesn’t know where the line was drawn between being effeminate and being a homosexual in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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

Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

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

 
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