Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Going Bodmin

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2019

If someone has gone bodmin or is going bodmin, you can rest assured the person is question is allegedly crazy or loopy, and probably in need of a nice long restful stay at a mental hospital. Even Bodmin Magazine agrees that going bodmin means the person being talked about has gone absolutely and utterly mad. The fact of the matter is that Bodmin is a respectable town in the UK, so why would anyone think an expression associated with Bodmin would mean that?

The quick answer is that the Cornwall County lunatic asylum — also known as St. Lawrence’s Hospital — opened on Westheath Avenue in Bodmin in 1815 on nine acres of land for the express purpose of dealing with those who were mentally unstable. The hospital was designed by John Foulston and George Wightwick. Cornwall County was the seventh English county to provide an asylum, and being one of the first asylums, word of its existence spread quickly and effectively.

By 1818, Bodmin had 112 cells, and accommodations for 72 patients. It became the first county in the South West to have an asylum for the insane long before the 1885 Act that stated asylums could only be built in certain areas, and long before the Care in the Community Act was passed in the 1990s.

According to historical records, the major mental disorders that were dealt with at Bodmin were mania, dementia, and melancholia. Of course, there were moral disturbances resulting from domestic troubles, religious excitement, fright and various shocks, among others, and physical disturbances caused by accident, injury, intemperance, or brain disease.

In its heyday, there were as many as 2,000 mental patients being treated at Bodmin, admitting both private patients and ‘pauper lunatics.’ By 2002, it was determined Bodmin was to be permanently closed, and so it was.

SIDE NOTE 1: The area known as Bodmin Moor is the setting for the novel “Jamaica Inn” by author Daphne du Maurier. Lost on Bodmin Moor in the dark, the remote location of the inn sparked her imagination, leading to the story about smugglers and cut-throats!

SIDE NOTE 2: Dozemary Pool in Bodmin is the legendary last resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.

But enough about Bodmin, and back to the expression!

In 2018, UK poet Andrew Siddle used the expression not only as the title of one of his poems, ‘He’s Going Bodmin‘, but repeatedly throughout the poem.

A few years earlier, on 2 March 2012, a delightful blog called Rusty’s Skewed News Views published a blog entry titled,”Cornwall Gone Bodmin for Pasty Contest.” The blog owner reported that “aspiring pastry chefs and an assortment of cooks from around the planet” had arrived in Cornwall for the first annual World Pasty Championships.

Back in 2004, the British television series “Doc Martin” starring Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham debuted with the first episode titled, ‘Going Bodmin.’ While the series begins with the doctor moving to the village of Port Isaac in Cornwall (England), by the end of this episode, Doc Martin has concluded he made a mistake moving to the village, and plans to return to London … which he doesn’t do as shown by the subsequent episode in the series. The series is currently in its ninth season.

The expression is a local expression. Any county that had a asylum became infamous in its own area by way of referencing the town in the county where the asylum was located. For example, in Exeter, people were ‘going Digby.”

While the expression wasn’t used often in written circumstances, it appears to have been the go-to expression in conversations. Idiomation therefore pegs this to scant years after the asylum in Bodmin was open for business meaning somewhere between 1818 and 1820.

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Wellington Boots

Posted by Admin on September 24, 2019

A while back, a friend of Idiomation asked why Wellington boots — which are sometimes referred to as Wellies — are called Wellington boots. Some of you may be wondering what a Wellington boot is in the first place, never mind the history behind the name.  Some people call them rubber boots while others call them galoshes. Still others call them muck boots, and a few call them rain boots. A few call them gumboots or gummies.

SIDE NOTE 1: In South Africa, gumboots inspired gumboot dances in the early 20th century. The dancers wear their gumboots and create rhythms by slapping their boots and bodies, stamping their feet, and singing.

Wellington boots were named early in the 19th century by Dublin-born Anglo-Irish soldier Arthur Wellesley (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), the First Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with the Hessian boots German soldiers wore. He had been sent to Flanders in late 1793 and fought at the Battle of the Boxtel in September the following year. His health was negatively affected by the damp environment, and the battle forced heavy losses and sickness on the men fighting with the Dutch and Austrian troops to invade France. The end result was that they were forced to retreat into Germany.

Hessian boots became incredibly popular during the reign of King George III after they were introduced in 1789. In short order, they became standard military issue footwear as popular with civilians as with military men. Some even took to calling them “Austrians” (with the word boot omitted) since they were originally a German boot made in the German state of Hesse.

Hessian boots reached nearly to the knees and had a a nice trim around the top. They were made of leather, and had semi-pointed toes and small heels as well as tassels at the top.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Duke of Wellington was famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo which ran from 15 June – 8 July 1815.

The Duke didn’t fancy the tassels all that much, so he charged his personal shoemaker with modifying the style of Hessian boots in 1811 to suit his own tastes. For one thing, those tassels were definitely gone as was the trim. He wasn’t impressed with the heel, and asked to have the boot made to be a bit more form fitting without the heel.

Aristocrats in England wanted to emulate the Duke, so they began asking their shoemakers to create Hessian-inspired boots that looked like the boots the Duke wore, and it wasn’t long before everyone with means to buy these boots were calling them Wellington boots. In fact, by 1817, everyone knew what kind of boot the Wellington boot was.

It was in 1853 that American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson (1808 – 1869) decided to introduce rubber to the Wellington boot. Hiram had bought the patent for vulcanization of natural rubber for footwear from self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear (yes, that Charles Goodyear). Goodyear (29 December 1800 – 1 July 1860) was using the process to make tires, so he saw no problem in allowing Hutchinson to use the process to make boots.

Wellington boots were sold to farmers looking for foot protection in their wet fields. The rubberized Wellingtons allowed them to work in their wet fields all day and still have clean, dry feet when the day was done. It’s easy to see how this impressed farmers everywhere. It wasn’t long before the rubber Wellington was a staple on farms and in cities throughout Europe.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Hessian boot inspired the creation of cowboy boots that became popular in American in the 1850s.

When the rubber Wellington boot left England on its way to the United States in the early 20th century, they also changed color. The British version remained the traditionally green while the version in the U.S. came in a variety of colors, with the most popular color being black boots for adults and yellow boots for children.

World War I provided soldiers in the flooded and mud-filled European trenches a chance to keep their feet warm and dry by wearing rubber Wellington boots, and so they did.

These days, Wellington boots are standard footwear for a number of jobs, mostly when the boot is reinforced with a steel toe to prevent injury as well.

It’s very easy to peg the year the term Wellington boots came into usage, so Idiomation has decided to share this YouTube video of gumboot dancing in South Africa with readers.

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A Country Mile

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2019

Just how long is a country mile you may wonder after hearing someone mention country miles or having read about country miles? After all, isn’t a mile a mile whether it’s in the city or in the country?

When someone talks or writes about a country mile they are talking or writing about deceptively long distances, and definitely longer than anticipated. Some will tell you this is because country roads tend to meander across the countryside whereas as city roads tend to be set up in grid formation. The layout of roads may be a fact, however, that’s not the reason a country mile is supposedly longer than any other mile.

As we learned from the research on a mile a minute, until Queen Elizabeth I standardized just how many feet were in a mile (5,280 feet), an Irish miles consisted of 6,720 feet, a Scots mile consisted of 5,928 feet, a Welsh mile was supposedly a very long stretch to walk, and other miles had varying numbers of feet in them.

Now, up until the 13th century when King Edward I conquered Wales, the Welsh mile was comprised 9000 paces feet where each foot was 9 English inches long.

The Scots mile — which was about 1.12 English miles — was still a thing when Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) mentioned it in the first verse of his narrative poem “Tam O’Shanter” published in 1791, and written the year previous.   In fact, it was so much a thing it had to be abolished three times: Once in 1685 by an act of the Scottish parliament, once in 1707 when the Treaty of Union was signed between Scotland and England, and once by way of the Weights and Measures Act of 1824. It would seem Scotland were really attached to their mile, and weren’t as willing to give it up in favor of the English mile as the English believed they should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: The Ottoman mile was 5,000 Ottoman feet long which was the equivalent of 1.18 English miles, and in 1933 it was replaced by the slightly shorter Turkish mile which is the equivalent of 1.15 English miles.

On 29 December 2016 the Jamaica Observer newspaper published an article titled, “Top 16 2016 Racing Moments.” At #13 on the chart, and headlined “The Finish of the Oaks” this race had to do with the Jamaica Oaks race where the win was described thusly:

What a race the 2016 edition of the Jamaica Oaks turned out to be. After winning the 1,000 Guineas by a country mile, Nuclear Affair with Aaron Chatrie aboard looked all over a winner in the Oaks, but a late race surge by A Thousand Stars (Robert Halledeen) ended with a short head victory by the latter. Two females engaged in all-out battle was something to behold.

On 1 March 1992, American Forests published an article about reforestation at Jersey’s famed Pine Barrents (at the time it was known as Pinelands) that had been a weapons test range named the Warren Grove Test Range. One sentence in the article read:

No doubt more than one wet-behind-the-ears pilot missed his target by a good country mile, and the small clearings grew into vast desolate stretches of Pine Barren sand.

In the 20 November 1971 edition of Cash Box magazine, “Walk A Country Mile” was mentioned as the flipside of the Tommy James release “Nothing To Hide” on Roulette Records.

SIDE NOTE 2: Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was Thomas Gregory Jackson, and was born on 29 April 1947 in Dayton (OH). Tommy James and the Shondells (formerly known as Tom and the Tornadoes) were known for hits such as the very well-known and oft-covered “Mony Mony” and equally engaging songs “Crimson and Clover” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

The mile became standardized by international agreement on July 1, 1959 by the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959. It was agreed a mile was equivalent to exactly 1609.344 meters. As mentioned earlier, until then all miles were not created equal.

The printing firm of Casper (C.C.) Childs (Jared W. Bell, General Agent) published an interesting tidbit about a country mile in “The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference: A Million of Facts on Common Place Book: Volume III” published in 1850. The entry in which the term is found, slightly modified, states:

Robin Hood shot a full mile; and, according to his bard, a north-country mile was equal to two statute ones.

For those who are interested, north-country England included the cities of Nottingham, York, and London. As we know, Robin Hood was constantly at odds with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Medieval statute miles were 1.3 international miles long, and while it’s doubtful that Robin Hood’s arrow was shot anywhere near 2.6 miles before landing, the exaggeration expected from the term “country mile” is found in this passage.

In the poem “The Villager’s Tale” by mariner and west-county from Bodmin, Frederick de Kruger (1798 – date unknown ) and published in 1829 in his book, “The Pirate and Other Poems” the expression finds a place in this stanza written by the poet. This was 5 years after the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 was passed in England, and because the printer of the book (Liddell and Son) and the seller (G.B. Whittaker) were located in London, it lends credence to the comparison between the two different kinds of miles.

The travelling stage had set me down
Within a mile of yon church-town;
‘T was long indeed, a country mile.

SIDE NOTE 4: Very little is known about Frederick de Kruger save that he was a mariner who survived three shipwrecks in the space of nine years and permished in the last shipwreck (which happened after 1829 but Idiomation was unable to identify what year it happened). He was born in Bodmin which is a civil parish and historic town in Cornwall, England. Bodmin is responsible for the expression to go Bodmin.

SIDE NOTE 5: The book by Frederick de Kruger was dedicated to Vice-Admiral Sir C. Penrose, K.C.B. of Ethy House, Cornwall. This would have been Sir Charles Vinicombe Penrose (20 June 1759 – 1 January 1830) who was a Royal Navy officer who became the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB). Penrose was also born in Cornwall.

Beyond 1829, Idiomation was unable to find any published instances of a country mile, but quite a bit about the various miles already mentioned in this entry. Idiomation suspects that country miles compared to other miles were spoken of for several years prior to the term being published in printed materials based on the history of the various miles in history.

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A Mile A Minute

Posted by Admin on September 3, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say they were going a mile a minute but you didn’t think they were moving quite that fast? If someone is moving a mile a minute, they aren’t literally moving sixty miles per hour. They are moving very quickly and the idiom implies they are moving very quickly.

As in the idiom going like sixty, it was once believed that going faster than thirty miles per hour might kill you or drive you insane. We now know that it’s not impossible to travel at rates much faster than that and survive intact as shown by astronauts. For example, the speed needed for Apollo 11 to break free of the Earth’s gravitational field was seven miles per second which is 25,200 miles per hour (7 miles times 60 seconds times 60 minutes).

SIDE NOTE 1: Apollo 10 was clocked at 24,790 miles per hour on their way back from a lap around the Moon in 1969.

SIDE NOTE 2: The average person can handle 5 Gs which is the equivalent of 49 miles per second squared. Fighter pilots endure up to 9 Gs while wearing special compressed suits. Air Force Officer John Stapp was able to withstand 46.2 Gs.

What most people do not know is that a mile wasn’t always a mile the way a mile is defined in recent times. The medieval English mile was 6,600 feet long and the old London mile was 5,000 feet long. The Middle Ages mile in what is now Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia was an arbitrary measure that was anywhere between 3.25 and 6 English miles.

For the English, an inch was the size of 3 average size barley corns, and 12 of these inches made up a foot. Three feet was a yard, and 5 1/2 yards (16.5 feet) was known as a perch, a pole, or a rod. Forty perches or poles or rods was a furlong, and eight furlongs was a mile.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603), it was decreed that a mile was exactly 320 perches with for a total of 5,280 English feet.

SIDE NOTE 3: At the time, a French foot was 12.8 English inches, and a Spanish foot was 10.95 English inches. This is why Queen Elizabeth I decreed that a mile was measured in English feet as the English foot was 12 English inches.

It was determined during this time that a mile that could be walked in 20 minutes which made it easier for everyone to have an idea how long it would take to get from one place to another.

So somewhere between the Middle Ages and today, the idiom a mile a minute meaning the speed at which something is done made its way into the English language.

Johnny Green and His Orchestra recorded a song for the Brunswick Label in 1935. It was a snappy little jazz number titled, “A Mile A Minute” written by the Queen of Tin Pan Alley (so named by Irving Berlin) Bernice Petkere (11 August 1901 – 7 January 2000) with “Carefree” written by American lyricist Edward Hayman (14 March 1907 – 16 October 1981) and American songwriter Ray Henderson (1 December 1896 – 31 December 1970) on the B side.

SIDE NOTE 4: Johnny Green and His Orchestra sometimes recorded and performed under the alias Jimmy Garfield and His Orchestra.

The billboard advertising a ‘Brilliant Screen Adaptation of the Wonderful Novel by the Distinguished American Author, Robert W. Chambers‘ (26 May 1865 – 16 December 1933) to be shown at the Opera House in Hawera was published in the 24 October 1916 edition of the Hawera and Normanby Star newspaper on page 7. Near the bottom of the advertisement, other notices for shows at the Opera House were included including one for a 15 star artist vaudeville review titled, “Full Steam Ahead.” The teaser read:

A mile a minute, high-pressure aeroplane laugh-maker.

Not to be left out, manufacturers of the Hudson automobile came out with a 1912 Mile-A-Minute Roadster in 1912. Here’s a photo of one in 1920 with a lot of miles on the odometer.

On 29 June 1899, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had an advertisement for the L.A.W. Meet and Cyclists’ Carnival in Patchogue (NY) featuring “Mile A Minute Murphy” who had been “paced by locomotive. Charles Minthorn Murphy (October 1870 – 16 February 1950) was an American cycling athlete. He was also the first man to ride a bicycle for one mile in under a minute.

Idiomation did not find a published version that spoke of going a kilometer a minute which means this idiom is rooted in the Imperial measurement of speed. Idiomation did, however, find out that someone can actually talk nineteen to the dozen (which sounds like an amazing feat all in itself) when talking a mile a minute, and that people who do, are often thought of as motor mouths.

It would appear that the idiom a mile a minute came into being when cars were clocked at sixty miles per hour because there’s no mention of a mile a minute before motor cars came to be — even if go like sixty existed when trains were the mode of transportation.

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Go Like Sixty

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2019

If you say you’re going like sixty, you probably also say you’re going a mile a minute. The idiom going like sixty means you — or the person or thing to which you are referring — is going fast or doing something very quickly.

Most people believe the idiom relates to cars or trains, and in fact, that would make sense. In 1848, the Boston and Main Railroad was the first to have an authenticated average speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). However, that was 51 years before the car named La Jamais Contente, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was clocked doing 60 miles per hour on 1 May 1899 in Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France.

SIDE NOTE 1: The car was equipped with Michelin rubber tires, and his father, Constant Jenatzy, was a manufacturer of rubber products which was a novelty during this era.

The Cash Box magazine edition of 28 February 1948 Volume 9, No. 22) used the idiom on Page 11, in the Record Reviews section. Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart” was the Disk O’ The Week and directly beneath that review was a review for Johnny Moore’s song “Teresa.”

Subtle and warm tones of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and a ditty that should go like sixty. With piper Charles Brown to spill the vibrant and haunting vocal score to “Teresa,” the deck stacks up for a slew phono play. Instrumental tones offered her are excellent with a wonderful guitar spot by Oscar Moore rounding out the side.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Cash Box was touted as the confidential weekly to the coin machine industry, and this magazine even had a “roving reporter” interviewing and reporting on items of interest to lovers of jukebox hits.

Flying Grandma or Going Like Sixty” by Maude Squire Rugus was published by University Lithoprinters of Ypsilanti (MI) in 1942, and did well with book lovers everywhere.

The phrase “like sixty” appeared in Chapter One of James T. Farrell’s “Young Lonigan” (the first book of the trilogy).

“Spike Kennedy, Lord have mercy on his soul, he was bit by a mad dog and died, would get up on one of the cars and throw coal down like sixty, and they’d scramble for it.”

In Volume XXIII, Volume 1 of “The Irrigation Age” published in November of 1907, an advertisement was published that referred to goes like sixty. It had nothing to do with a car, but it did have to do with speed.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Gilson Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850 on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington in Wisconsin). The company was making gas engines by 1898, and established a manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada).

From the 1904 short story, Holding Up A Train by O. Henry:

What it was there for, I don’t know. I felt a little mad because he had fooled me so. I stuck the harp up against his mouth.

“If you can’t pay – play,” I says.

“I can’t play,” says he.

“Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

He caught hold of the harp, turned red as a beet, and commenced to blow. He blew a dinky little tune I remembered hearing when I was a kid:

Prettiest little gal in the country – oh!
Mammy and Daddy told me so.

I made him keep on playing it all the time we were in the car. Now and then he’d get weak and off the key, and I’d turn my gun on him and ask what was the matter with that little gal, and whether he had any intention of going back on her, which would make him start up again like sixty.

The first usage in the New York Times newspaper of that exact phrase happened on 24 August 1895, when it was reported that a group of kids got locked and trapped in a railroad freight car and the train started up. They weren’t found for quite some time, and when they were found, they described their hair-raising adventure, with one boy quoted as saying the train “was going like sixty.

This would indicate that the expression actually has nothing to do with how fast a car traveled in 1895 (as the record for a car traveling that fast was still 4 years away), and is related to how fast a train traveled in the 1890s.

According to John Stephen Farmer Henley in 1903, the book “Household Words” published an issue on 18 September 1886 which stated to go like sixty meant rapidity of motion. This was confirmed by Frank Vizetelly and Leander Jan De Bekker in their book, “A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature.”

However, back in 1848, when the Boston and Main Railroad traveled at authenticated average speeds of 60 miles per hour, it was thought that traveling at such a rate would cause passengers to suffocate as the surrounding air rushed past them. Many spoke of being winded after riding a thoroughbred horse that could hit 40 miles per hour for short bursts, and after riding a galloping horse at 30 miles per hour for longer than short bursts.

There were reports of railway madmen in rail cars who calmed back down as trains slowed down upon arriving at train stations. The speed of the train was blamed for the insanity known as “delirium furiosum” that overcame those who suffered from railway mania — as was reported in “The Medical Times and Gazette” in July of 1863.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to between 1850 and 1860 to give enough time for the hysteria of traveling at 60 miles per hour to gain traction among the fearmongers and naysayers.

As an added bonus, here’s what some people in the 1920s had to say about all that medical mayhem about train speeds the Bavarian psychiatrists were going about a few decades earlier.

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Forty Winks

Posted by Admin on August 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was silent for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review included this passage:

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

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

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Crazy As A Bed Bug

Posted by Admin on August 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

His appeal referenced testimony from the trial, included this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crazy Like A Fox

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jugglery

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jugglery: Frowned upon since at least 1602!

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Klutzery

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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