Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 30, 2015

It’s perhaps not an idiom that’s heard very often, but if someone is told to bloom where he or she is planted, that means they should do their best under the current set of circumstances.  It doesn’t mean a person can’t be transplanted elsewhere at a later date, and bloom in the new location.  It means that just because the current location may not be all a person would like it to be is no reason not to do your best and thrive where that person is.

The Basin Republican Rustler of May 24, 2007 in Wyoming published an advertisement from the Wyoming Real Estate Network that painted an idyllic picture of ten acres of land just waiting for the right person to build a dream home. Smartly priced at $120,000 the realtors hoped to catch people’s attention with the headline, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”

The Ocala Star Banner of August 29, 1987 ran the Paul Harvey column dealing with the issue of blooming where one is planted. From a religious as well as a political standpoint, the writer spoke about people, churches, and nations exceeding their grasp. He wrote about American adopting the good neighbor policy and all the while neglecting that one of the most important aspects of being a good neighbor is to mind one’s own business.

Paul Harvey was of the opinion that if the United States started minding its own business that other countries might be inspired to follow suit, leading to affection and not resentment towards America and Americans. The article was title, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”

Over the generations, people have attributed bloom where you are planted to the Bible, and while that’s not exactly correct, the idiom does have a connection to the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is credited with having said the following:

Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.

And while the idiom may not appear in the Bible word for word, the spirit of bloom where you’re planted is found in a number of Bible passages including, but not limited to, 1 Corinthians 7:7-24 as well as Psalm 92:13 and Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Later American graphic artist and children’s book illustrator Mary Engelbreit (born 5 June 1952) made the phrase popular when she included it — as well as artwork based on the phrase — in her book, “Mary Englebreit: The Art and the Artist“published in 1996.

As we know, Paul Harvey used the phrase a decade earlier than the publication of Mary Engelbreit’s book, and it was used in a way that demonstrated that the readers of his column knew what it meant to bloom where one was planted.

In fact, the American Church in Paris (France) has sponsored the “Bloom Where You’re Planted” full-day seminar since 1970.

What all this means is that the spirit of the idiom has been around for centuries, but no matter how much research was done, Idiomation was unable to find a definitive date for when this exact phrase was first published.

Posted in Christian, Religious References, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gay Blade

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2015

While many these days default to thinking of the term gay blade as an offensive comment made about flamboyant homosexuals, the word gay didn’t just one day adopt that meaning.   The word has always had a second meaning that dates back to 1637 where the secondary meaning was defined as being addicted to social pleasures and dissipation. In other words, the gay life was a life of loose morals and so males and females who were inclined to leading immoral lives were said to be gay. It only took three hundred more years for the word to refer to male homosexuals.

When the term gay blade first began showing up in literature, it had nothing to do with being addicted to social pleasures. It referred to a gallant young man who was usually adept as a swordsman. Even though there were other connotations for gay blade over the years, the more chivalrous meaning still managed to survive into the 20th century.

Back on May 27, 1981 newspapers were sharing the news that George Hamilton refused to change the name of us upcoming Zorro movie even when the people backing the movie objected to its title. He made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the movie was about a happy turn-of-the-century swordsman and that the movie title had a “nice turn-of-the-century ring to it.” And so, moviegoers were treated to antics of George Hamilton, Lauren Button, Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman in the very successful and very funny movie, “Zorro: The Gay Blade.”

In a Sundance, Wyoming advertisement titled, “What Kind Of Lad Is Your Dad” published in the Sundance Times of June 9, 1960, four stereotypes were suggested: Ranger Rider, Strong Silent Father, Snappy Pappy, and Gay Blade. Regardless of what kind of dad described your dad, Spearfish Clothier had an ensemble worthy of your dad.  The definition written up for the Gay Blade dad was one that easily fit a heterosexual male, a metrosexual male, or a homosexual male.

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On April 21, 1944 the Deseret News published a story about American baseball Left fielder, Emil Frederick Meusel (9 June 1893 – 1 March 1963) nicknamed Irish. He began his career with the Washington Senators in 1914 and played on game before moving to the minors. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1918, and then to the New York Giants in 1921.   The article in the Deseret News – which really was just a list of baseball players and some relatively innocuously scandalous facts about them — began with this tidbit.

Irish Meusel, as gay a blade and dangerous a hitter as was ever trailed by John McGraw’s detective staff.

SIDE NOTE 1: Irish Meusel’s brother, Robert William “Long Bob” Meusel (19 July 1896 – 28 November 1977) played for the New York Yankees from 1920 to 1922, and his career ended with the Cincinnati Reds in 1930.

The term was found in a story in Volume 39 of “New Catholic World” back in July 1884. The magazine was published by the Paulist Press   and the term was used in the short story, “A Tragi-Comedy” by American writer, Catholic journalist, literary critic, novelist, and diplomat Maurice Francis Egan (24 May 1852 – 15 January 1924).

It was the happiest day of her life. Jack Dempsey, careless, free-and-easy Jack, looked at her wrinkled hands and sighed. What a glory it was to have a mother! He laughed and joked, kissed his hand out of the car-window right and left; but, for all that, he missed none of the tender, prideful glances that the worn, tired woman cast upon her son.   Jack, in his heart, felt sad; it seemed to him that a mother’s love is born to suffer – of all earthly things the nearest to heaven, yet of all earthly things most pathetic in its disappointments.

“He’s a gay blade,” said Mr. Devir.

“There’s no thought about him at all,” answered Mrs. Devir as Jack Dempsey bade them good-by. “They say his uncle wants to make a priest of him. He’ll never do it!”

It was in the short story, “The Farmer’s Daughter” by William Howitt and included in the anthology, “Heads of the People: Portraits of the English” illustrated by Joseph Kenny Meadows (1 November 1790 – August 1874), engraved by John Orrin Smith (1799–1843), and published in 1841.

She was altogether a dashing woman. She rode a beautiful light chestnut mare, with a switch tail, and her brother Ben, who was now grown up, with the ambition of cutting a figure as a gay blade of a farmer, was generally her cavalier. She hunted, and cleared gates and ditches to universal amazement. Everybody was asking, “Who is that handsome girl, that rides like an Arab?”

The anthology was filled with short stories by noted authors such as English dramatist and writer Douglas William Jerrold (3 January 1803 – 8 June 1857), English poet and critic Richard Hengist Horne (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884), English writer and editor Thornton Leigh Hunt (10 September 1810 – 25 June 1873), and English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackery (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863).

SIDE NOTE 2: Thornton Leigh Hunt was the son of English critic, essayist, poet, and writer, James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859).

As previously mentioned, a gay blade in the 17th century was a gallant young man usually adept as a swordsman. Don Juan (1582 – 21 August 1622) from the late 16th century and early 17 century – his full name being Don Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Second Count of Villamediana — was considered a gay blade by his peers.

The word blade is from the Middle English word blæd which meant sword in the late 1300s, and referred to a man by the 1590s, hence the play on words. The word gay is also from the Middle English word gay which meant impetuous, lively, and merry. From this comes the expression gay blade and yes, many gallant young men who were unusually adept as swordsmen back in the day were impetuous, lively, and merry as well as skilled.

Idiomation was unable to find any earlier mention of gay blade than the 17th century and therefore pegs the expression to the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Whippersnapper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 16, 2015

A whippersnapper is an inexperienced person who is irritatingly overconfident with his or her abilities, sometimes to the point of being offensive.  Yes, whippersnappers usually act as if they’re very important and believe themselves to know better than their elders. What’s more, they’re usually impolite and brazen, lazy, and lack motivation.

Even though the death knell was sounded for the term whippersnapper back in newspaper columns of the 1960s, the word cropped up in an article by Gary Borders entitled, “Modern Billingsgate Betrays Puerile Imbecility Of Pundits” which was published in the Rome News-Tribune on March 4, 2006. The article took on the subject of television news programs that features guests and hosts yelling angrily with each other instead of discussing matters in a logical fashion with facts to back up their opinions.

In his article, he wrote about the elderly Presbyterian minister, the Reverend James Russell (died 10 August 1847) who was the last editor of the Red Lander newspaper in San Augustine, Texas.

Russell had been running the newspaper for about a year when a young whippersnapper started a competing weekly, The Shield. Henry Kendall, who had a bad habit of stealing Russell’s hired help, owned the paper. His editor moonlighted as president of the other university in town, started by the Methodists. San Augustine could support neither two newspapers nor two universities.

The Reverend James Russell began to print some nasty comments in his editorials with increasing intensity. He was responsible for some of the insults that we still hear thrown about in the media today: right-wing, liberal, secularist, and religious right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: When the Reverend James Russell used his newspaper to state that Henry Kendall’s mother was a “woman of easy virtue” and his father was a liar and a murderer, Henry Kendall was incensed at the audacity the Reverend had to publish such insults. Ten days after the insults were printed in the Reverend’s newspaper, Henry Kendall shot him dead as the Reverend walked out of his office. The killing was noted as the first editorial killing in Texas.

In the Milwaukee Journal edition of June 28, 1967, even journalist Robert W. Wells lamented the demise of the term in his column, “All Is Wells.” In the column published that day he decried the fact that the literary pendulum had swung in favor of one syllable nouns and verbs drawn from graffiti of the day. With regards to whippersnapper, he wrote:

Thirty years earlier, on May 30, 1937, the St. Petersburg Times published O.O. McIntyre’s regular column, “Whip Snaps Of A Whippersnapper” where O.O. McIntyre reflected on a number of things. He wrote about the “best darned quartet you ever heard – there’s five of them.” He wrote about a woman’s model husband who “doesn’t drink, smoke or run after woman – just sorta stupid.” He wrote about how many residents in France were against the reduced utopian 40-hour work week that left people with too much time on their hands to do nothing. And that’s just some of what O.O. McIntyre wrote in his column of May 30, 1937.

There was an era when some crusty character — the heroine’s father, usually — could be relied on to open every discussion of juvenile delinquency by shouting: “You young whippersnapper!”

This confrontation between youth and age made for tense drama, but it has been abandoned. The whippersnapper is apparently as extinct as the New Zealand moa.

Whippersnapper was a favorite expression of English novelist, journalist, editor and educationalist George Manville Fenn (3 January 1831 – 26 August 1909) and appeared in many of his novels. It was also a favorite expression of influential poet, critic and editor William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903). And it was a favorite expression of English popular novelist, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (4 October 1835 – 4 February 1915), author of her sensation novel “Lady Audley’s Secret” published in 1862.

In the third volume of the Association Medical Journal of 1855 edited by Dr. John Rose Cormack, M.D. and published by the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association of London (England) the expression was used in the article, “Medical Practice Among The Poor.” It had originally been published in “Household Words” on October 21, 1854.

There are the young men entitled whippersnappers; to whom the poor are said by Messieurs Souchong, Sirloin, and Wick, to be shamefully and neglectfully handed over. Mr. Souchong, Sirloin, and their friends refuse on their own parts to take counsel of a whippersnapper; so do their betters with considerable unanimity. They wait until he has more experience; that is to say, until he has tried his prentice hand sufficiently among the poor. He would be happy enough to attend viscounts and bankers; but he is bidden by society to try his hand first among beggars.

Going back to 1742, English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) wrote, “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams” which included whippersnapper in his book.  The book is written in comic prose, and tells the story of the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams and his foot man, Joseph Andrews as they travel home from London.

“What dost thou think of Ms. Andrews?”

“Why, I think,” says Slipslop, “he is the handsomest, most properest man I ever saw; and if I was a lady of the greatest degree, it would be well for some folks. Your ladyship may talk of customs, if you please; but I am confidous there is no more comparison between young Mr. Andrews, and most of the young gentlemen who come to your ladyship’s house in London – a parcel of whippersnapper sparks; I would sooner marry our old parson Adams. Never tell me what people say, whilst I am happy in the arms of him I love. Some folks rail against other folks because other folks have what some folks would be glad of.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Henry Fielding, along with his half-brother, Sir John Fielding (16 September 1721 – 4 September 1780) who was also a magistrate as well as a social reformer, founded London’s first police force.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: British author, Sarah Fielding (8 November 1710 – 9 April 1768) was Henry Fielding’s sister. She wrote “The Little Female Academy” which is considered the first novel in English written especially for children.

In the 1600s, whipperginnie was a derogatory term for a woman, and snippersnapper was a derogatory term for a man.

It’s most likely that people blended whipperginnie and snippersnapper together during the mid-1600s and the new word was whippersnapper. It would make sense since the definition for whipperginnie (female) and snippersnapper (male) are the same, and both whipperginnie and snippersnapper share an identical definition with whippersnapper.  By the time Henry Fielding was using the word in his novel of 1742, the word was recognized among the general population which means that it was established in the English language as being a legitimate word with a recognized definition.

Idiomation therefore pegs whippersnapper to the late 1600s in light of these facts.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Weak As Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 14, 2015

When someone says another person is weak as water, it could mean it usually means the other person is easily influenced.  After all, water always chooses the path of least resistance in nature, and likewise, if someone is weak as water, they won’t want to cause waves.  They’ll also choose the path of least resistance.

It was in the newspaper The Age of Thursday, March 23, 1978 that news of the Australian federal government’s decision to free Queensland Aborigines from state laws governing the administration of Aboriginal reserves. According to the Aboriginal Affairs Minister at the time, the legislation would override the Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Act. But not everyone was impressed with the announcement.

The Queensland state government last night declared it would use every weapon available to block the legislation. The acting Queensland Premier, Mr. Knox, said he was astounded by the move. “We will oppose this attempt both politically and in the courts,” Mr. Knox said.

In Hong Kong, the Queensland Premier, Mr. Bjelke-Petersen, said the Federal Government’s actions were “as weak as water.”

On July 30, 1951 an Associated Press story written by William F. Arbogast went national and reported on the final congressional approval for an economic controls bill that President Truman would then be expected to sign even though he disagreed with the bill. If the bill wasn’t signed into law by the next evening, all existing government controls over things such as wages, prices, and rents would come to a screeching halt. Added to the situation was the fact that there wasn’t even enough time for the President to veto the vote by Congress. The article was aptly titled, “Weak As Water Controls Bill Nears Final Approval By Congress Once More Leaving Consumers Holding The Bag.”

Of course, sometimes newspapers and books yield up interesting situations such as the one mentioned in the Palm Beach Post newspaper of May 18, 1923 that ran a full-page under the headline, “Questions For Consideration At Mass Meeting Tonight To Discuss Municipal Ownership of Public Utilities.”   The issue at heart was that of the water supply to West Palm Beach, and included such questions as these:

Will they sell the water plant at actual cost and deduct the $20,000 or more estimated losses they will incur each year during the next eight years?

Who has been trying to enact a law in the State Legislature to take away power of increase and reduction of public utilities rates from municipal authorities and place this power with the State Railroad Commission?

Can three men who reside in Tallahassee fix public utility rates for all Florida and do justice to all concerned?

Did anybody ever try to put a yellow rope around Lorenzo Garland’s neck?

Is the request of the Water Company for an increase in rates as weak as water?

Who is willing to be the goat and stand up against the corporations who own public utilities and their agents, hirelings, and retained attorneys?

The Bryan Times of June 29, 1882 published a story by Rose Terry Cooke entitled, “Just Like A Man” that shared typical male and female interactions as seen through the eyes of the author. Halfway through the story, Sarah and her mother segue into this part of their discussion.

“Bless your soul and body,” Put in her mother; “I never see the thing yet you wa’n’t afeard of, Sary, horse or not.”

“Oh I know it, ma, but I am awfully afeard of a skittish horse; Tom, he don’t really sense it, and he says Jenny ain’t ugly, she’s just full of play; and I s’pose she is; she’s knowing as a dog, and I give her a bite of somethin’ every time he fetches her ’round, and she knows me real well, but she will jump and lash out and sky sometimes, and it makes me just as weak as water, so’t I don’t never drive her if I can help it.”

Reaching back into history, the expression is identified as a proverb in John Ray’s “A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs” that was first published in 1674. John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as the author of “Historia Plantarum.”  Since John Ray has identified this as a proverb, a quick search of the Christian Bible reveals that, indeed, it does appear in the Christian Bible in Ezekiel 21.

 “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.   And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that it is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,’” declares the Lord God.

On a related parallel note, water isn’t actually weak. Water determines its own path in nature (and sometimes in the city as well). It can be transformed into liquid, gas, or a solid (ice). It can erode stone, concrete, and other hard substances. It can sustain bacteria and other living organisms. In other words, water is anything but weak.  But Idiomation digresses on the matter of the idiom at hand.

Back on topic, the Book of Ezekiel is found in the Old Testament, so it’s more than two thousand years old. What history tells us is that Ezekiel was taken to Babylon in the first captivity and served as a religious counselor to the Hebrews that lived along the banks of the Kebar River around 597 B.C. Portions of the Book of Ezekiel, however, were written prior to Jerusalem’s fall in 586 B.C. This puts the expression to the time the Book of Ezekiel was written. It may be older than that, but Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of this expression.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catfishing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 2, 2015

Catfishing is when someone creates a false online identity for the express purposes of luring someone into a romantic relationship.

The term was used in the 2010 pseudo-documentary, “Catfish.”  It chronicles the story of Nev Schulman who met a woman on Facebook and a romantic relationship developed between them.  She led him to believe that she was young and available. He tracks her down in real life and finds out that she’s in her forties and married.

In this pseudo-documentary, a fake story is included from the early 1900s that states that catfish are the natural enemy of cod, and that fishermen shipping live cod from Alaska to China used to throw catfish into the barrels along with the cod to keep the cod active.  In keeping the cod active (as they allegedly swam for their lives in the barrel) this made the cod flesh firm and tasty instead of mushy.

This is an urban myth.

Firstly, seals, and not catfish, are enemies of cod.  Secondly, while transporting the cod from Alaska to China, the cod would need to be fed to stay alive while the catfish would supposedly have an endless supply of food thanks to the cod in the barrels with them.  Upon arrival, how many cod would still be alive and thriving in those barrels?  Thirdly, saltwater catfish are scavengers which excludes cod as their prey.

The urban myth, however, arises from a short story “The Catfish” by British war correspondent, campaigning journalist, political commentator, and suffragist Henry W. Nevinson (11 October 1856 – 9 November 1941) in his book “Essays In Rebellion” published in 1913.  Near the end of the story — which reads more like a sermon than a short story — the author wrote this:

At present in this country, for instance, and, indeed, in the whole world, there seem to be more catfish than cod, and the resulting liveliness is perhaps a little excessive, a little “jumpy.”

All that aside, the title of the pseudo-documentary “Catfish” stuck with popular culture, and the subject of the pseudo-documentary took on the title.

As an interesting side note, however, there have been bait-and-switch situations involving catfish, that harken to the spirit of the catfishing, and that have nothing to do with the pseudo-documentary.  This includes, but isn’t limited to, the investigation reported in the Boston Globe newspaper in 2011.  At restaurants and in fresh fish markets there was a hoax of another color (pardon the reworked idiom)!  Flounder fillet, which was priced at $23 per pound, turned out to be a Vietnamese catfish, priced at $4 per pound, and known as the nutritionally inferior swai.

When you reflect on the fact that catfish are typically bottom-feeder, the description is particularly apt in many respects.  After all, only a low-life bottom-feeder would lure someone into a relationships by means of a fictional online persona, right?

What this proves is that some idioms like catfishing have very abbreviated histories that date back a few short years.  In this case, catfishing dates back to 2010 and no further.

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That’s How The Cookie Crumbles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 30, 2015

When life happens and you can’t change or control the outcome, you have no other option than to accept the outcome and live with the results.  At this point, people will sometimes tell you that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  The British may say such is life while the French may say c’est la vie, but for most of us, we say that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

While some don’t worry sweat the small stuff like cookies crumbling, some are so focused on getting to the cause or causes that they devote serious research to the subject.  Such was the case back in 2003 when a PhD student from Loughborough University decided it was high time the mystery was solved.  Thanks to his work being published in the Institute of Physics journal “Measurement, Science, and Technology” others who pondered the same question were now able to read the data in Qasim Saleem’s research paper, “A Novel Application Of Speckle Interferometry For The Measurement Of Strain Distributions In Semi-Sweet Biscuits.”

So while bakers have known the answer for generations, since 2003, scientists have also been privy to that answer.  And no, I’m not pranking you, dear reader.

It was on April 5, 1990 that the Spokane Chronicle announced that a Girl Scout in Bend, Oregon had been the victim of a con artist.  A counterfeit $5 bill was passed to the Girl Scout who had been selling cookies outside a local K-Mart store the previous Sunday.  The article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles” … a rather mean headline for such a story in light of the fact that this story was about an unethical adult victimizing a child.

The Girl Scouts seem to have gotten more than just a little attention with that headline for other related stories.  The Bryan Times reported on January 24, 1984 that in Tennessee they would expected to collect sales taxes on the cookies they were selling and to remit the amount collected beginning in 1985.  In previous years, the Girl Scouts had failed to collected sales taxes on cookie sales.  As with the story in 1990, the story in 1984 was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

And in the Tuscaloosa News in Alabama, a little news story tucked into the April 10, 1969 edition mentioned that in Detroit (Michigan), after already having spent thirteen months in jail awaiting trial, Fred Jackson would continue to cool his heels in jail because he couldn’t post the $10,000 USD bond required to make bail.  Because of overcrowded dockets and undermanned courtrooms, Fred Jackson’s trial had been postponed five times.  Finally, it was reported that the trial was slated for the following Monday.  Charged with having stolen five boxes of cookies, the article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

You’d imagine that the word cookies has been around nearly as long as cookies have been, but you’d mistaken if you believe that.  You see, the Dutch word for a little cake is koekje (pronounced the way you’d pronounce cookie in English) and the word was adopted by the British in 1703.   And you’d imagine that shortly after the word was incorporated into English, that the phrase would show up shortly thereafter.  But it seems that the crumbliness of cookies wasn’t a topic of discussion among most people in the 18th century.

In the fiction book “The Knute Rockne Kid” by Frank J. Bruno, the expression is used in the dialogue in Chapter 48 that recounts a situation that happened in the hospital on December 11, 1948.  In this part of the book, Mario Calvino (the protagonist of the novel) and Norm Cooper (the antagonist that eventually becomes his friend) are talking.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks.
“Come on, sap.  What are you feeling miserable about?”
“I feel like it’s all my fault.”
“Again, Mario, you’re full of shit.  All you did was pass the ball and place it where it was supposed to be.  I caught it and ran for the touchdown.  What else were you supposed to do?  What else was I supposed to do?”
“Nothing.”
“That’s right.  We both did the right thing.  It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
As he was talking, I noticed, or imagined that I noticed, his jaw moved mechanically and stiffly, like the jaw of a ventriloquist’s dummy.  It dawned on me that Norm was using a massive amount of willpower to retain his composure.  He was showing to me that he was a human being with great character and courage.

However, this book was published in 2015, and the use of the expression in this book doesn’t necessarily prove that it was in use in 1948.

The good news is that on November 17, 1958 a country & western song recorded by Johnnie and Jack for the RCA Victor label was making ripples according to Billboard magazine was entitled, “Poison Love.”  On the B side was “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

So we know that fans of country & western music were familiar with the idiom in the fifties.

Slightly more than thirty years earlier, in 1927, American actor, playwright, screenwriter, and producer, Edward Bartlett Cormack (19 March 1898 – 26 September 1942) wrote a play entitled, “The Racket” that was also made into a film by the same name the following year.  The movie was one of the first to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929 back when it was still called “Best Picture, Production.”

SIDE NOTE:  The play and movie were banned in Chicago because of the portrayal of a corrupt police force, a corrupt city government, and the gangsters who controlled both the police force and the city government.  Keep in mind that during this time period, Al Capone and his organization were an integral part of Chicago’s workings.

The movie used more idioms than Carter has little liver pills, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles slipped in alongside others like ‘his goose is cooked‘ and ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

At this point, the trail went cold, and Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  However, because it was used in “The Racket” in 1928, it was expected that the moving picture audience would understand what was meant.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to sometime in the early 1920s or late 1910s.

Idiomation would have loved to pinpoint the very first published version of this idiom, but as the saying goes, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles.

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

Under Your Hat

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 25, 2015

It’s not every day that an idiom has as illustrious — or as convoluted — a history as the one that’s part of under your hat.  When someone tells you to keep what they’re sharing with you under your hat, they expect you to keep their confidences and not betray their secrets.

Back in 1732, under the reign of King George III, Britain levied a tax against American colonists in the form of the Hat Act.  Great Britain outlawed the manufacturing and exporting of hats in the colonies and made it illegal to engage in inter-colonial sale of hats.  Hats were imported from Britain and were subjected to a heavy tax.   This is an important bit of history to keep under your hat while the rest of the story unfolds.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of February 10, 1980 ran a column about photography that was authored by Holt Confer titled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”  Holt welcomed non-technical questions and column suggestions from readers, but this column while serious, also kept everything light.  The first two paragraphs clearly set the tone for the column.

I’ll have to admit “Keep It Under Your Hat” is a strange name for a photography column.  If you take a quick glance at the two photographs, the title will become a bit more relevant.

And if I tell you a few more “secrets” about photographic exposures (“secrets” I don’t mind if you pass along) then the title will be a lot more relevant.

During WWII, while the Americans ran with the campaign slogan that warned loose lips sank ships, people in the UK had their own slogan from 1940:  Keep it under your hat.  The campaign addressed every class — from working class to upper class — and drove home the point that anything a person knew, whether they thought it was important or not, was a danger to the men on the front lines if it what they knew was talked about.

National Archives_UK_1940s
In April 1925, the California Melody Syncopators released a 78 RPM record on Clover Records.  The song was entitled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”   It was a re-release of the 1923 hit for the California Ramblers that was written by Eddie Cantor, Charles Tobias, and Louis Breau.

It was in Volume 20 of “Gleaning In Bee Culture” that the term was used in response to Chas. Israel’s Letter to the Editor dated New York, September 30, 1892.  The author of the letter had read an article on honey adulteration written by Professor Cook, and he was concerned over a new law that went into effect on September 1, 1892 that addressed the issue of adulterated honey and maple sugar.

The matter of grades of honey, and feeding bees glucose to make their honey all that much sweeter, was also an issue, and he dragged Mr. W.J. Cullinan of Quincy, Illinois into his worries. And finally he references the “American Analyst” edition of June 18, 1892 where it was mentioned that some of the most reliable dealers of honey in the United States was selling adulterated honey!  The response from the Editor included this passage.

We know of just one who did do it, as above-mentioned, and possibly there may be a few others; but their number, as compared with honest honey-producers who feel aggrieved and injured because of the mixing on the part of the city chaps is as nothing.  Now, if we are wrong in our assumption — and possibly we are — we want the brethren everywhere to speak right out.  If you do not wish to have your name as informant mentioned in connection with the matter, nor any thing done about it at all, say so; at any rate, tell us where you know of a producer who is engaged in the mixing business, and we will keep it “under our hat” if you say so.

The spirit of under your hat is found in the novel, “The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy” by English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863) and published in 1848.  There, in the chapter entitled, “More Storms In The Puddle” readers find this passage:

The old grandmother crooning in the corner and bound to another world within a few months, has some business or cares which are quite private and her own — very likely she is thinking of fifty years back, and that night when she made such an impression, and danced a cotillon with the captain before your father proposed for her: or, what a silly little over-rated creature your wife is, and how absurdly you are infatuated about her — and, as for your wife — O philosophic reader, answer and say — Do you tell her all?  Ah, sir — a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine — all things in nature are different to each — the woman we look at has not the same features, the dish we eat has not the same taste to the one and the other — you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near to us.

French chronicler Jean de Vennette (1308 – 1370) wrote that the British soldiers at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 protected their bows by putting the strings on their heads under their helmets.  At the time of the Battle of Crécy (26 August 1346), the preferred bow for military purposes was the longbow.  The bow-staves were a single piece of straight-grained yew, and unstrung, the bow was six feet long and tapered.  Bow strings were waxed and oiled to keep them weather-proof and flexible.

While it’s true that the bowmen kept their strings under their helmets, it was no secret about where the bowmen kept their strings, and keeping strings dry isn’t the same as keeping secrets.  It is highly unlikely that keeping something under your hat has anything to do with the Battle of Crécy or bowmen.

The Adventurer” was a journal where John Hawkesworth (1715 – November 16, 1773) was the editor and principal writer from 7 November 1752 through to March 1754, and was the successor to Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784).  In all, about seventy papers written by John Hawkesworth were included in the four volume series published in 1793.  In Volume IV of this collection, the spirit of the idiom is implied in this passage:

By a sudden stroke of conjuration, a great quantity of gold might be conveyed under his hat.

The dictionary defines conjuration as an illusory feat that could be considered magical by those who were unfamiliar with the trickery.  In other words, hocus pocus, legerdemain, prestidigitation, sleight of hand.  If one was adept at conjuration, there was considerable money to be made as long as the secret of the magic involved was kept locked up inside the person’s head which, of course, back in the day, would have been covered by a hat.

This indicates that the early beginnings of keeping information under your hat cropped up in the early 1750s, twenty or so years after the Hat Act of 1732.  Whether the idiom is as a result of John Hawkesworth’s writings or the Hat Act of 1732, Idiomation pegs the expression to the mid-1700s.  Of course, if any of our readers know differently, please share in the Comments section below.  After all, there’s no reason to keep that information under your hat, is there?

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Crawfishing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2015

Crawfishing happens when someone breaks a promise or backs out or retreats from a previously stated position or agreement. It’s an expression that isn’t used often but when it is, it’s to great effect.

The Walker County Messenger edition of September 22, 1989 ran a story about Chickamauga entitled, “Chickamauga Is A Cherokee Word Meaning River Of Death.”  The article was based on Frank Moore’s book published in 1865, “The Civil War In Song And Story.”  The article ended with this paragraph:

The remnant of the tribe was also afterwards called the “Chickamauga tribe.”  We hope General Bragg will call his great victory the Battle of Chickamauga, and not “Peavine Creek” or “Crawfish Springs” as suggested in Rosecran’s dispath.  He was certainly crawfished out of Georgia, but we prefer “Chickamauga,” or “River of Death.”

On October 14, 1964 the Herald-Journal newspaper run a short news story out of San Antonio about Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr., and GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.  The article entitled, “Says Barry Craw-fished On Firm States Rights Issue” also used the word in the second of two paragraphs.

“Some people are dissatisfied to some extent, at his craw-fishing on strong states rights and constitutional government,” Johnson said at a new conference at the Southern Governors Conference.

In the Spokane Daily Chronicle of August 5, 1931 an article was published about the power development project on the Yakima River in the state.  The U.S. Commissioner of Reclamations, Dr. Elwood Mead, refused to accept the state’s offer as presented by Washington State Director of Conservation and Development, Erle J. Barnes.  There were allegations  made that the Federal bureau had diverted $1.5 million USD in appropriation for the Cle Elum dam to the Owyhee and Deadwood dams in Idaho that would serve Idaho and Oregon.  To make matters worse, the federal bureau demanded an unconditional power permit which, according to the state, would allow the bureau to engage in the power business in every state in the Union.  It was in the second paragraph of this news article that crawfishing was mentioned.

Director Barnes accused Dr. Mead of “crawfishing” and of ignoring the advice of B.E. Stoutemyer, district counsel for the reclamation bureau, who notified Barnes yesterday that Dr. Mead had rejected a compromise agreement on the power question reached at a conference between state and federal reclamation officials at Yakima last week.

It was used in the Masonic Voice in Volume 16 published in 1857 which included the expression in the Editor Review for December 1856.  The editor was Cornelius Moore.

You have heard of the duel that did not come off between the Irish patriot Meagher and Lieut. Gov. Raymond, editor of the Times.  The general impression is that Raymond crawfished a little in this matter.  If he had had the pluck, he might have served his opponent as Cartwright did, especially if he had any religious scruples about fighting.

Crawfishing meaning to break a promise or back out of an agreement doesn’t seem to appear before the 1850s.  However, referring to such behavior as crawfishing may be based on the definitions found in reference and resource books during this period.  In the “New American Cyclopaedia” edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana and published in 1859, the behavior of crawfish is detailed thusly:

Crawfish swim rapidly by means of the tail, whose strokes propel them backward; they crawl well on the bottom, and are sometimes seen at a considerable distance from streams, using holes filled with water, and occasional pools, as places of retreat.  from their propensity to eat carrion, Audubon calls them “little aquatic vultures.”  They are fond of burrowing in the mud, and from this habit are often great pests, undermining levees and embankments, frequently to the serious loss of the miller and the planter; it is stated that on account of the depredations of these animals, the owners of the great dam in the Little Genesee river have been once compelled to rebuild it.

The entry continues with references to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and the crawfish that are peculiar to that specific region in America.

Idiomation therefore pegs the spirit of crawfishing to the 1850s as the term was used freely in literature from the American Civil War era with the understanding that it would be understood by readers.

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Devil’s Strip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 18, 2015

When you hear people talk about the devil’s strip, do you know what they’re talking about?  The devil’s strip is the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb.  In Boca Raton it’s known as a swale and in Chicago it’s known as a parkway.  But in many other places in Canada and the United States, it’s known as the devil’s strip.

On February 28, 1948 the Montreal Gazette included a brief article about a Court of Appeals court that upheld an earlier verdict against the Montreal Tramways Company for injuries sustained by Bernard Wilson Hansen on December 27, 1945.  In all, the carpenter was awarded $2,570 CDN (or the equivalent of $25,790 CDN in 2015 dollars) despite claims by lawyer Marcus Sperber that the verdict was “ridiculous.”  The article was entitled, “Appeal Court Upholds Ridiculous Verdict” and ended with this paragraph.

Hansen, carrying a tool chest on his shoulder, attempted to cross Bleury Street with the green light in his favor.  The traffic light changed when he was in the middle of the street and as he stood on the “devil’s strip” a moving tram struck the tool chest.  He fell to the ground and was badly injured.

The Toronto World edition of April 22, 1920 wrote about the devil’s strip in an article entitled, “Toronto To Have Semaphore System Of Traffic Control: Deputy-Chief Dickson Explains American Method In Detail.”   Toronto was being modernized, and semaphore traffic signals were being installed!  The Chief of Police Grasett had informed the media as well as the Board of Control that his department was in the process of drawing up plans for these signals, which the Chief of Police guaranteed would handle traffic more efficiently than police officers by at least fifty percent, based on their success in larger American cities.  The article began with this impressive paragraph:

“Stop.”  No traffic cop has waved his hand, but a long line of traffic at a downtown intersection has been brought to an abrupt halt.  “Go.”   Again no movement on the part of the minion of the law, but the long line of vehicles continue on their way.  The constable also, is not standing in the devil’s strip, in the centre of the intersection, but off to one side.

On May 14, 1901, a lawsuit for negligence by a street railway was heard in the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Known as Robinson v Toronto Railway Co., the judge determined that the motorman of an electric car was not guilty of negligence because he didn’t stop the car at the first sign of a horse being frightened by a motor car or anything else that might spook a horse.  It was determined that the most that could be expected of the streetcar motorman was to proceed carefully, and as such, the court was satisfied that the motorman had done so.  The previous finding of negligence was set aside.  The idiom was used in the testimony of one of the witnesses.

Porteous, who was called as a witness for the plaintiff, says that he was driving south of the track; that the horse became frightened and unmanageable at the sight of the defendant’s car and backed over the south track across the “devil’s strip” on to the north track; that it then went to the boulevard, made a wheel, and jumped straight in front of the north track again, and got his foot in the fender just as the car stopped.  He also says the car struck the side of the buggy and threw the plaintiff out on to the road, occasioning the injuries complained of.

Both she and Porteous say they shouted to the men on the car to stop; that the men seemed to be laughing, and that the speed of the car was not slackened until it was within a few feet of the horse.

In 1887, the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto published a book titled, “Transactions.”  In the chapter having to do with asphalt and asphalt paving, written by F.N. Speller, the idiom cropped while discussing the preparation of the foundation for asphalt paving.

The sub-grade is carefully prepared, levelled, and rolled, if found necessary, for solidification.  The kerbs are placed in position, either being set in concrete or gravel.  The subsoil is drained by four-inch tile drains running parallel with the kerb in three rows, one under each kerb, and one under the devil’s strip, or centre of the roadway, the former making connections with the catch-water basins.

If electric car tracks are to be laid, the sub-grade must be excavated to twelve inches extra in the track allowance, this being then filled in with six inches of ballast and compacted.

It should be noted that the majority of magazine, newspaper, and resource book references that mention the devil’s strip are primarily from Canada, and as such, it would appear that the idiom is a Canadian term that made its way to America over time. However, the “Proceedings of the Annual Meeting” of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers published in 1883, M.E. Rawson, Assistant City Civil Engineer for the city of Cleveland in Ohio refers to this same space on city streets in Cleveland as the space that is “known by the significant rather than elegant name of the devil’s strip.”

Prior to streetcars, there was no need for a boulevard on city streets and since the first streetcar was patented on January 17, 1871.  The first streetcar made its appearance on August 1, 1873 in San Francisco on a stretch of track that began at the intersection of Clay and Kearny Streets to the crest of a hill 307 feet above the starting point on 2,800 feet of track.  By the 1880s, streetcars were finding their way into most major American and Canadian cities, with the largest and busiest fleet of cable cars being in Chicago … as were the devil’s strip.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published mention of the devil’s strip prior to the one published in 1883, however, the term was known and used in Cleveland at that time which means the term was understood by professionals dealing with streetcar issues at the time.  The term is therefore pegged to about 1880.

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Devil’s Lane

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 16, 2015

Did you know that the devil’s lane is the narrow area between two spite fences erected by disputing neighbors?

This definition is attested to in Volume 75 of the Farm Journal published in 1951 when Anna Shoemaker of New Jersey wrote a letter to the editor with the following opening sentence:

When I was a child, our farm was next to that of a cranky old man who always had a “devil’s lane” between his property and ours. Instead of a single fence, there were two.

On March 9, 1900, the Pittsburgh Press published a story by Colonel William Lightfoot Vischer in the Friday evening edition.  The story was about two men who had been the best of friends until two years earlier when a serious misunderstanding happened between them at hog killing time.  After that, the two men had erected two fences between their respective properties.

 As we drove the doctor remarked:  “Those youngsters will probably get paddled.”
“For what?” I asked.
“You observed that lane they came from, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and I intended to ask what it meant.”
“It means that these two farmers are bitter enemies.  The boy, Sam, is the son of Tom Riggins, whose house we passed just yonder, and the girl is the daughter of Dick Rutherford.  This is his place, just ahead of us.  The dividing line between their farms lies inside of those two zig-zag fences, and the men hate each other so that they’d rather die than join in a partnership line, hence each has built on his own, and thus we have such an eyesore as that.  Country people, knowing the cause of a double fence, call it the Devil’s Lane.”

In Chapter 15 of the “Tell Tale Rag And Popular Sins of The Day” by the blind Methodist lay preacher, Reverend George W. Henry (1801 – 1888) and published in May 1861, the author used the idiom.

He said his master had a sore quarrel with a neighboring farmer, which was of long standing.  They hated each other so intensely that they would not unite their line fences, so each built a fence near the line, making was it commonly called “the devil’s lane.”

Now the word lane is from the Old English word lanu that means narrow hedged-in road.  But despite Idiomation’s most valiant attempts, no earlier mention of the devil’s lane than the one found in George W. Henry’s book in 1861 could be found.

Perhaps one of our eagle-eyed readers or visitors has uncovered an earlier published version of devil’s lane.  If so, please leave a message in the Comments section below.

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