Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Subscribe

  • Meta

Archive for January, 2010

Throw In The Towel

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2010

Originally, the term was to “throw in the sponge” and it first appeared in “The Slang Dictionary”  of 1860.

Back in the 19th century, sponges were used at prize fights to clean fighters’ faces.  If a contestant’s manager threw in the sponge , it meant that the fighter had had enough and was admitting defeat.   In admitting defeat, the sponge was no longer required as the win was awarded to the other fighter, thus ending the match.

Over the years, towels have been substituted for sponges at boxing matches and prize fights.  The term has followed suit and likewise, it was substituted the word towel for sponge hence the term to “throw in the towel.”

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


Posted by Admin on January 28, 2010

Guido of Arezzo (aka Guido Aretinus aka Guido da Arezzo aka Guido Monaco aka Guido d’Arezzo) was a Benedictine monk in Italy.  He was also a highly regarded music theorist of the Medieval era and the inventor of modern musical notation that replaced neumatic notation.

The “do-re-mi” scale are actually syllables taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six musical phrases of the first stanza of the hymn “Ut queant laxis (Hymn to St. John the Baptist)”.

Ut queant laxis
Resonare fibris
Mira gestorum
Famuli tuorum
Solve polluti
Labii reatum

Originally, the first note of the scale was “Ut” which was later replaced by “Do”  inspired by the word Dominus (Lord).

When the octave was created, a name for the seventh note of the scale had to be found.  Guido of Arezzo decided that initial letters of the last line of this same hymn would be used — Sancte Iohannes — and “Si” was added to the scale.

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Rouge Your Knees

Posted by Admin on January 27, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that Prohibition was a time when, “the parties were bigger,the pace was faster, and the morals were looser.”  Hoagy Carmichael wrote that the 1920s came in “with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.”

Up until the 1920s, knees were kept hidden beneath skirts and petticoats and showing them off would have been scandalous and provocative to say the least . 

Back then some women used rouge to highlight and draw attention to their cheeks, although modest women resisted the use of make up and preferred to make the most of ‘natural’ beauty instead.

Flappers, on the other hand, thought of themselves as promiscuous and sexy rebels, and so they rouged their knees to draw attention to them .

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Drum Up Business

Posted by Admin on January 26, 2010

Before broadcast media and when only nobility and spiritual leaders could read, with the earliest record where the term was used being 1535.

Salesmen or musicians arriving in a new village or town would announce their presence by ringing a bell or beating a drum.  The reason for this was to gain the attention of those living in the village or town. 

Once a crowd had gathered around the salesman or musician, the stranger would go about his business selling merchandise or performing in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep the night.

Originally, the term was to “drum up trade” however, in the past century, the term has become to “drum up business.”

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

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Posted by Admin on January 25, 2010

The term did not originate with Marvin Gaye but rather 100 years earlier. 

In 1859, Colonel Bernard Bee was the first person in America to build a telegraph line and soon others followed.  The wires were originally tied tightly to tree branches but lack of regular upkeep meant that the lines fell to the ground in loops.

During the Civil War, the militia used telegraph lines to transmit important information with regards to their whereabouts and what they had accomplished.  Unfortunately, with so many people having access to the telegraph lines, oftentimes the information was difficult to understand or conflicted with other information about the same regiment.

It didn’t take long before the term “heard it through the grapevine” came to mean the sharing of information that had no definite source, was generally false and was most likely to be a widespread rumour and therefore false.

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

A Monkey’s Uncle

Posted by Admin on January 22, 2010

In 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” that presented his scientific theory claiming that branching patterns of evolution resulted from a process called natural selection.

In 1871, the publication of Darwin’s theory on the  evolution of man in the book “Descent of Man” was greeted by a great deal of skepticism and considerable derision.

The idea that man was related by a common ancestor to apes and monkeys was considered the most outrageous of claims.

“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” was originally a sarcastic remark by non-believers of Darwin’s theory and was intended to ridicule the theory of evolution.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Armed To The Teeth

Posted by Admin on January 21, 2010

This phrase its history in pirate behaviour and dates back to the lost pirate city of Port Royal in Jamaica in the 1600’s.

This Caribbean paradise was the center of all local trade as well as home for many pirates sailing the coastal waters between Newfoundland to Columbia as well as home to those who benefited from the fortunes of illegal bounty.

Back then, most weapons consisted of  single shot black powder weapons and cutlasses.

When boarding a ship, pirates would carry as many of these weapons at once to keep up the fight.

As if that wasn’t enough , they oftentimes carried a knife in their teeth as well,  allowing for the maximum in arms capability.

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

On A Wing And A Prayer

Posted by Admin on January 20, 2010

During World War One, airplanes were an untested cog in the mechanisms of warfare.

When an American flyer would return to home base in a damaged airplane, it was said that he had returned “on a wing and a prayer.”

Once on the ground, amazed mechanics and fellow flyers would hear the pilot say that if wasn’t for all the praying he had done, he wouldn’t have gotten back to home base in one piece.

This is how the term “on a wing and a prayer” came to mean that an individual was highly unlikely to succeed in their endeavour but that they were hopeful it would turn out well.

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