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Archive for April, 2011

Beating A Dead Horse

Posted by Admin on April 29, 2011

When you hear the expression beating or flogging a dead horse the reference is to how much time is being wasted doing something that’s been tried and that failed in the past.  An example of this is in the 2009 news story entitled “Calm Sotomayor Cautious On Abortion Issue” from Agence France-Presse (AFP) American Edition that read in part:

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told ABC television news that he had not asked about those remarks on Tuesday “because so many other people asked about it and how many times can you beat a dead horse to death.”

“I feel more comfortable dealing with the facts of the law and the cases than I am, you know, whether people are sincere in what they say,” he told ABC’s News Shuffle podcast.

Back in 1952, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY addressed the issue of a bridge that needed building in a news story entitled, “We Don’t Need More Studies, We Need A New Bridge!”  One of the most telling and humourous comments in the story was this line:

One thing that distinguishes Louisville from other cities is that we don’t just beat a dead horse; we keep beating the horse well into its next incarnation. This argument has been going on in one form or another for over 60 years.

The New Zealand Tablet of August 16, 1900 carried an obituary relating to the death of Lord Charles Russell (1832 – 1900) of Killowen, lawyer, former Attorney General, and Lord Chief Justice of England.  The most memorable of the cases in which he was involved was known as the Parnell Commission which took place in 1888 through 1889, lasting 128 days.  The speech he delivered on April 12, 1889 in favour of the Irish leader and his party last a full 2 hours and was said to be “the greatest and most impressive speech ever delivered on the subject of Ireland.”  The obituary included an excerpted passage from news reports the day following this now-famous speech:

Sir Charles Russell began with a rapid survey of the charges made by the Times against the Irish leaders.  The first of them was that the Irish leaders had based their movement on crime, not stopping short even at the line of murder, had not the accusers spoken of the enforcement of the high decrees of secret conclaves with the bullet and the knife.  Yesterday, said Sir Charles Russell, when dealing with the letters, “I felt I was flogging a dead horse.  But take those letters away and what becomes of the acusers’ evidence?”  Among the alleged members of the supposed murderous conclave were Messrs. Sheridan, Egan, Branna, against whom no proof whatever had been produced.  Mr. Brennan, for example, was, as Sir Charles Russell again repeated, imprisoned in May 1881, nearly six months before the supposed formation of the murderous society, the ‘Invincibles of Phoenix Park, and he was released on the 16th of June 1882, after the murder.

While there are many, including The Globe (see: published news article of August 1, 1872), who claim that the first recorded use of the expression was in 1872 by British politician and orator John Bright, referring to the Reform Bill of 1867, there are earlier published accounts of the expression such as the Letter to the Editor of the Taranaki Herald on August 19, 1865 which included this paragraph:

With the people rest the blame; they possess electoral privileges for which thousands in England sigh in vain, but will not use them; and for all the good the suffrage is to the mass of the people they might just as well be slaves as free men — for the slave who struggles for freedom is a nobler being than the free man who values not the heaven-born gift, as shown in his indifference to the exercise of its legitimate uses in helping to maintain the freedom he scarcely deserves.  And to urge many of the electors to exercise their privilege as a duty is something like flogging a dead horse.

In documents dating back to 1823 and addressing the Wincanton Town Properties, the re-appointment of the Trustees who controlled the three properties that were conferred by Royal Charter on the town back in 1579 entered the in the town journal:

The Fairs and Markets Trust is the only one impoverished, and that has arisen from the diversion of these institutions in the streets to fields elsewhere, and by the inevitable freedom of commerce brought about by railways and other intercommunication. To expect a return to the old regime is as hopeless as flogging a dead horse into activity, or of mopping back the incoming tide.

And in a letter dated October 29, 1796 to Rear Admiral Young who was in command of the H.M.S. Victory in Martello Bay, the following was shared with Young:

The utility of flogging a dead horse is not altogether apparent; however, as Sir George Clarke quotes Lord St. Vincent, I will do the same.

Dead horse is 17th century slang that refers to pay issued to a worker prior to the work being done. The expression was a figure of speech for “something that has ceased to be useful” and is attested from the 1630s.  Idiomation was unable to find additional information on the expression prior to this date.

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

Change Horses In Midstream

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2011

To change horses in midstream refers to someone literally trying to move from one horse to another while crossing a stream.  Over time, it has also come to mean to make major changes after something has already begun.

On January 12, 2000 the Worcester Telegram and Gazette newspaper in Massachusetts reported on the 6-month moratorium on cell tower applications in the town of Spencer. It reported the following:

I don’t think we should change horses in midstream,” said Mr. Hicks. Both Mr. Hicks and Mr. Cloutier argued that the full board should be involved in the process leading to any decision whether to keep the current law firm or hire another.

David Lawrence wrote a news story for the Lewiston Daily Sun newspaper entitled, “Convention Ignores New World Crisis” that was published on July 12, 1960.  The story was about the national political conventions and the crisis going on in the world that could lead to war. He wrote in part:

As recently as 1956, the pressure of international issues was evident, and during the campaign the Suez crisis helped the Republicans because the country was in no meed to “change horses in midstream.”

The Arizona Republican reported in its story, “Oppose Change In Organization Of G.O.P. Committee” published on September 17, 1920:

In the belief that it would be the height of folly to change horses in midstream, Republican nominees for congress and state office have united in an effort to preserve the present efficient organization of the Republican state committee.

Now it may not be strictly a favourite expression of Republicans in the United States, but Republicans certainly appear to use the expression more often than Democrats.

To wit, a variation of the expression was popularized by, but did not originate with, Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1864 when he discovered that the National Union League was supporting him for a second term as President. 

Abraham Lincoln told the Republicans upon accepting his renomination that the honour had not come because he was the best man but because Republicans had come to the conclusion that “it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.”  He added further, “I am not so poor a horse that they  might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

The expression “don’t swap horses while crossing the river” had been around earlier in the century and evolved into today’s “don’t change horses in midstream.”

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

Hold Your Horses

Posted by Admin on April 27, 2011

The expression hold your horses has been around for a long time and both literally and figuratively means to hold back instead of charging forth into something you may not know enough about at the time.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in the Toledo Sunday newspaper of August 3, 1903 entitled, “Say, Mr. Councilman!” that reads in part:

It wouldn’t do you any  harm, Mr. Councilman, to go down to Columbus and take a street car ride.  You can get seven of ’em for a quarter.  You can ride 15 miles for less than 4 cents.  On nice, big, comfortable cars at that.

It isn’t necessary to fight the company.  No necessity for fighting anybody.  This is a business deal.  You are the agent of the people.  They rely on you to see that they don’t get the worst of it.  It’s a big deal.  So wait a minute.  Take your time.  Hold your horses.  Keep your shirt on.  Don’t be a crab.  Or a clam.  Or a dodo. Invoice your stock.  Figure out what you’ve got to sell.  And to whom it belongs.  See if it isn’t worth eight tickets for a quarter and universal transfers, anyhow.

Be true to the people.  Never mind who helped pay your campaign expenses.  There’s no politics in this.  You own no allegiance to any party or politician in strictly business matters.  Here’s a change and a time to do your own thinking.  And your own voting.

In 1855, the steamship George Law, with Lieutenant G. .V. Fox of the United States Navy commanding, left Aspinwall at 12:30 a.m. on March 16 and arrived at Quarantine at 10:30 a.m.k on March 24..  On March 26, 1855 the New York Times reported on what was going on once the steamship arrived at its destination.

The blow given all kinds of business by the Bank failures has been a severe one, and perfectly paralyzing for a time; how long it will last it is impossible to conjecture, but it will probably require a month or so to get things straight again.  Thus far there have been no failures among our merchants, there being an almost entire suspension of payment among them.  No man thinks of forcing collections, knowing it is useless, and there is a sort of mutual understanding and forbearance in that respect that is very creditable to all, and shows a general good feeling.  It certainly is policy, as anything like stringent measures at this time would result in general disaster and ruin.  Consequently there is no money to be had, and we must, in turn, rely on the good sense and good nature of creditors at the East.  That we shall be able to pay after a time is without a doubt, but just at this moment “it can’t be did,” so “hold your horses.”

An edition of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper from September 1844, ran an article that had this line in it:

Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.

At the time, hoss was the slang term for horse and was used interchangeably by people living in America.  In fact, in 1814 Connecticut-born David Humphreys (1752–1818) wrote a comedic play entitled “The Yankey in England” which was published in 1815.  During the Revolutionary War, he had been a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington, and was appointed sole commissioner in Algerine affairs in 1793, among other high-profile posts. “The Yankey in England” told the story of an American Whig and Tory officers meeting a French nobleman and an adventuress.  In the play, he wrote:

The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump.

As early as the 14th century, cannons and mortars of bronze, brass, or iron mounted on two-wheeled carriages became part of military manoeuvres.  Since horses were also part of military manoeuvres, it is very likely that this  expression was part of the language of the day.

What’s more, in Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus’ funeral games sees the son of Atreus call out to Antiochus with the suggestion that he hold his horses.  Let’s not forget that during Roman times, Romans had a man at the ready to hold their horses in the midst of battles. 

And since gunpowder is a Chinese invention, and since horses were also part of the Chinese military even then, it’s very likely that the expression hold your horses has its origins in ancient China.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Horse Of A Different Color

Posted by Admin on April 26, 2011

If you’re told that what you’re suggesting is a horse of a different color, what the person means is that the subject you’re talking about is a different matter or separate issue altogether. 

In the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland, Dorothy and Toto along with the Strawman, The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion find themselves at the gates of the Emerald City. They experience more than just a little difficulty convincing the Guardian of the Emerald City Gates to let them in.  When they finally convince him to let them in, he says:

Well, bust my buttons! Why didn’t you say that in the first place? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!

Once inside, the next scene shows the group in a horse-drawn carriage and the horse, of course, changes colour from shot to shot.  Dorothy remarks to the driver, “What kind of a horse is that? I’ve never seen a horse like that before!” And the driver responds, “No, and never will again, I fancy. There’s only one of him, and he’s it. He’s the Horse of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about.”

Back on August 2, 1959 the Daily Reporter newspaper of Spender, Iowa published a news story entitled, “Reds Will Live In Era Of Fear If Aggression Continues — Nixon.”  The story was about then Vice-President Richard M. Nixon who addressed the Soviet people in a TV-radio address that was listened to by millions of citizens as he commented on the Soviet foreign policy.

The vice-president took strong exception to the slogan “Let us work for the victory of communism” which he saw frequently on his tour.

“If Mr. Khrushchev means by this slogan working for a better life for the people within the Soviet Union that is one thing,” Nixon said.  “If, on the other hand, he means the victory of communism over the United States and other countries this is a horse of a different color.  For we have our own ideas as to what system is best for us.”

On July 21, 1900, the Montreal Gazette carried a story that was originally published in the New York Times entitled, “An Albany Strike: Working Of An Old Trick In The Legislature.”  It reported on Legislature Assemblyman Leon Sanders of the 12th Assembly District who introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor for any telegraph or telephone company doing business in the state of New York to furnish keepers of poolrooms or other gambling resorts any information about racing, and what ensued after the bill was “allowed to go on its way in the Assembly.”  Things began to get out of hand shortly afterwards and led to an inquiry.

The poolroom keeper made just a feeble kick when the agent got him in a corner.  He tried to point out that if the poolrooms were really closed up, the Gambling Commission would have lost its source of greatest revenue.  Then the agents told the room keepers that the commission could go hang, and that this was “a horse of different color“; that the senators at Albany were in a bad way, indeed: that they needed the money — in fact, they protector among the rest — and that it was good-bye to the poolroom business unless they got it.

Up until the mid-1800s the expression was actually a “horse of that color” The original expression points out similarities between topics while the newer expression points out differences.

The original expression dates back to William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night where in Act 2, Scene 3 Maria schemes with Sir Andrew and Sir Toby Belch against Malvolio.

My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour.

And your horse now would make him an ass.

Ass, I doubt not.

O, ’twill be admirable!

Shakespeare used the phrase, as he oftentimes did, as a play on words which indicates that the phrase a “horse of a different color” most likely existed prior to the “horse of that color.” 

This makes sense since knights in medieval tournaments rode different-colored horses in races so that spectators could tell which knight was their knight. We know from historical documents that gambling was a favourite pastime in Medieval times and so it is not unreasonable to believe that those who lost bets in tournaments would be told of their loss with news that a “horse of a different color” was victorious.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Horse Of A Different Color


Posted by Admin on April 25, 2011

Back in the mid-1990s, there was a Gothic Country Music, with influences from bluegrass and European folk, and known by the name of 16 Horsepower.  Ten years and 8 CDs later, they disbanded.  Considering that this year’s 2012 Hyundai Accent features a 138-horsepower six-speed transmission, anything with only 16 horsepower may not sound terrible powerful.  But just how much power is found in one horsepower?

The fact of the matter is that a horsepower is a unit for measuring the rate of work of an engine or motor.  Horsepower is the unit of power needed to lift 165 pounds 27 inches in one second. The average horse is actually 10 to 13 times stronger than that, meaning that one horse normally is capable of producing 10 to 13 units of horsepower.

Horses are known for two things when it comes to their ability to move from place to place: power and speed.

On September 10, 1915 Montana’s Miles City Independent newspaper ran an advertisement for the Chalmers Six-40 — a two-door seven-passenger, 40 horsepower, valve-in-head motor with overhead camshaft touring car that sat two in the front seat, two in the middle seat and three in the back seat that sold for $1,350 US dollars.  In many respects, it sounds a little like today’s minivans. The ad included this tidbit of information about reasons why people may be interested in purchasing a Chalmers Six-40:

Some one said a short time ago that people buy  motor cars largely on three P’s — Paint, Price and Performance.  You can measure this wonderful Chalmers car at $1,350 by any one of these three standards.  It is right in Paint which indicates finish and wearing qualities.  It is right in Performance because no car at any price performs better than this car does. And it is right in Price.  No one in the history of the industry ever approached such quality at such a price before.

Cunard Lines has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic since 1839, when Canadian-born Samuel Cunard (1787–1865) was awarded the first British transatlantic steamship mail contract.  Originally named the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company, it operated four paddle steamers that travelled between Liverpool (England), Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) and Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.A.)  In 1879, it was renamed the Cunard Steamship Company.  Back in 1839, however, steamships were between 300 and 450 horsepower.

The Brittania, one of Cunard‘s large ocean liners, crossed the Atlantic in 11 days and 4 hours, arriving in Halifax from England on July 17, 1840.   She was 207 feet (63 m) long and 34 feet (10.3 m) across the beam, had three masts and a power output of about 740 horsepower.   Her usual speed was about 8.5 knots or 16 km per hour on average and could carry 115 passengers and 82 crew members.

But the origin of the expression horsepower dates back to 1780 when Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819) realized he needed a term for power that would help him market his modified steam engine.  At the time, his competition was a horse and so he coined the expression “horsepower” so the marketplace would be able to make the comparison easily and accurately.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Eat Like A Horse

Posted by Admin on April 21, 2011

If someone says that you eat like a horse, it mean you are eating, or have eaten, a lot of food.  In some instances this is a compliment while in others it’s an insult.  It all depends on the situation and the people involved.  Interestingly enough, in French the expression is “manger comme un ogre” (translation: eat like an ogre) or “manger comme quatre” (translation: eat as if one was four).

One of the funniest play on words was in Neel Chowdhury’s article in Time Magazine published on May 29, 2008.  The title of the article was “Eat Like A Horse Rider.”

The Baltimore Sun ran an article on December 28, 1952 entitled, “Add One Elephant To The Holiday Toll.”   The newspaper extended its sympathies to the children of Rome whose favorite elephant, Remo, had died on Christmas Eve. And yet despite the fact that this was a terribly sad occasion, the editors saw that a lesson could be drawn from the unexpected death at the Rome zoo.  And with that, the article spoke to the heart of holiday feasts, stating this in part:

For those of us who have survived the first rounds of holiday feasting, with the New Year’s banquets still to go, there is a moral in Remo’s gourmandian orgy. A person may be as hungry as a bear and may eat like a horse but there are definite limits beyond that.

Thee Pittsburgh Press ran an advertisement espousing the benefits of The Reese Formula R-11 in its August 9, 1920 edition.  It stated that a Mr. B.L. Allen, assistant foreman of the N&W Railway at Portsmouth, Ohio, claiming to previously suffering from “nervous indigestion and rheumatism” had this to say about the product’s efficacy:

I saw the medicine in the window at Fischer & Streich Drug Store and I decided to get a bottle and try it as I have always tried everything I saw. I am glad to say after taking two-thirds of the bottle I can eat like a horse, sleep like a country boy and feel like a 16-year old boy.  If you wish to sue my name you are at liberty to do so.  I will always recommend The Reese Formula R-11 to my friends.

These sorts of health claims haven’t changed over the years, the only difference being the illnesses that certain products supposedly address or cure.  Over in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Mail newspaper ran an advertisement in their March 15, 1902 edition that made eerily similar health claims as the advertisement run in Pittsburgh in 1920.  This time it was about Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills.  In this instance, it  was a Mr. John Cook of Dunolly, Victoria, Australia who gave testimony:

About the middle of February last I was seized with a severe attack of Indigestion, and also pains across the chest, which caused me much agony, and upon making my case known I was advised to give your pills a trial.  I did so, bought one bottle from Mr. Kendall, the local chemist, and commenced their use, and before using on bottle I found they had made a great improvement so I continued their use, and had not finished the second bottle when I was sure they had cured me.  Another thing, before taking these pills I had no appetite, but now, as the saying is, I can eat like a horse.  I will recommend the pills wherever I go, as I am sure they will do to others as they have done to me.

Back on July 12, 1882 the St. Joseph Daily Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri published an article on Tug Wilson, the English pugilist.  The upcoming match between Tug Wilson and John L. Sullivan that was set to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York the following week had sports enthusiasts buzzing with excitement.  It was reported that Sullivan had agreed to forfeit $1,000 — a princely sum at the time — he didn’t knock Tug out in four rounds and Tug stood to earn half the gate money if he succeeded in dodging the “sledgehammer blows of his redoubtable adversary beyond the prescribed time.”  Among other things, the newspaper article dealt with the boxer’s training regime.

He does not trouble his stomach with many soft vegetables but does in for beef, bread, mutton and eggs.  Dinner over, he rests until 2 o’clock, smokes a cigar, and then starts out and walks until 5 o’clock.  He has another trot around after supper.  His appearance has undergone a great change since he commenced training.  There is nothing “fluffy” about him now. He has hardened his muscles and reduced his weight most remarkably.  He can now skip about like a squirrel, eat like a horse, and move about like a champion pugilist.  His weight last Sunday was 174 pounds, and yesterday it was 157 pounds.  The fact of itself sufficiently indicates the severity of his training.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this expression however there appears to be a jump between the expression “work like a horse” and “eat like a horse.”  The former expression dates back to at least 1520 when horses replaced oxen and began to pull  carts, wagons, carriages, chariots and sleighs.  

As a side note, special yokes had to be designed for horses as the typical ox yoke applied so much pressure to the windpipe of a horse that it effectively cut off the horse’s supply of oxygen.  And surely if one was said to be working like a horse, it made sense that one would also be eating like a horse afterwards.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Dark Horse

Posted by Admin on April 20, 2011

A dark horse is someone or something whose abilities, plans, or feelings are little known to others.  So when Nickleback‘s sixth album, released in 2008, was named “Dark Horse” fans were eager to hear just how much of a dark horse the band was.  In some ways it disappointed as it delivered  simple chord progression riff-driven, songs and power ballads reminiscent of previous releases.  In fact, one reviewer from CD Universe wrote:

Nickleback’s rock is packaged prettily enough for soccer moms, a truth evident in accessible ballads like “I’d Come for You.”

During the Depression era, a Stork Derby — established by Charles Millar at his death — was held with the deadline date coming up quickly in 1936.  The finish line was November 1 and the woman who had given birth to the greatest number of children who were still living stood to win $500,000 — an unbelievable fortune at that time.  The Spokane Review published a story on October 31, 1936 that announced an eighth mother had made a surprise last-minute entry into the race with a claim of having borne 9 children in the 10 year window as outlined in the contest rules.  The headline read:

Dark Horse Gets Into Baby Dash: Six Now Tied, But 2 Have Chance To Win By A Diaper

Set in London in 1886, the main character of The Secret Agent is a Mr. Verloc whose occupation is that of a spy.  The book was written by Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924) and published in 1907.  In this passage, readers are introduced to a most interesting character.

The first one, a soldierly, abrupt, red-faced person, with white eyebrows and an explosive temper, could be managed with a silken thread. He left on reaching the age limit. The second, a perfect gentleman, knowing his own and everybody else’s place to a nicety, on resigning to take up a higher appointment out of England got decorated for (really) Inspector Heat’s services. To work with him had been a pride and a pleasure. The third, a bit of a dark horse from the first, was at the end of eighteen months something of a dark horse still to the department. Upon the whole Chief Inspector Heat believed him to be in the main harmless — odd-looking, but harmless. He was speaking now, and the Chief Inspector listened with outward deference (which means nothing, being a matter of duty) and inwardly with benevolent toleration.

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 – 1893), the 19th President of the United States was referred to as the “Dark Horse President” when he was elected in 1877.  He fought — and was wounded — in the Civil War. While still in the Army, Cincinnati Republicans ran him for the House of Representatives.  While he accepted the nomination, he refused to campaign, because “an officer fit for duty who would abandon his post to electioneer ought to be scalped.”  In fact, in speaking of Rutherford B. Hayes, it was Century Magazine that wrote:

Perhaps he is that mysterious personage known as the ‘dark horse?’

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804 – 1881) wrote “The Young Duke” which was published in 1831.  This book is believed to be the first published use of the phrase dark horse.  In Book I, Chapter 5 readers find the following:

A dark horse, which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.

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Horsing Around

Posted by Admin on April 19, 2011

Whether you’re taking part in boisterous play, teasing, or not taking a situation seriously, have you ever been told to stop horsing around?  That’s because horses — like humans — charge around to release energy, sometimes with little warning that the horse is about do just that.  The end result of this kind of behaviour in horses is that sometimes they wind up bolting which causes all sorts of problems in itself.

Some of you may remember that back in June 2000, country singers Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw along with road manager Mark Russo got into a scuffle with police at a music festival near Buffalo, NY.  In the end, a jury found them not guilty for their roles in the ruckus.  The news story carried by the Eugene Register Guard in Oregon in May 2001 read:

Singer Just Horsing Around, Jury Decides

Forty years before that incident, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried a story on January 2, 1960 about “the serious business of deciding conference champions” on the college basketball front.  The news story headline read:

College Cagers Will Not Be Horsing Around Tonight

Back on February 1, 1932 journalist Strickland Gillian wrote “The Washington Wash” for the Los Angeles Times.  The story spoke about debts and the habit of passing the buck with regards to that debt. 

It’s all cockeyed.  What is the rising generation to learn about honesty and regarding obligations with nations horsing around this way over every debt? Carter Glass has been trying hard all this session of Congress to do something to remedy the situation.

The Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Retailer Blamed For High Prices” on May 12, 1909.  It addressed the comments made by Senator Scott who precipitated a discussion in the Senate that led to charges that retail dealer were charging consumers outrageous prices for household goods.

“Why should you ask me to be less boisterous,” retorted Mr. Tillman, “when some other Senators have been high-horsing around here as if they were in a circus?”  Mr. McLaurin chided the Republicans with having abandoned the theory that the foreigner pays the tax, and asked to know who did pay the tax if the duty did not raise the price.

The expression “horsing around” grew from the phrase “horseplay.” 

Bishop Joseph Butler‘s first recorded visit to Durham was in May, 1751, when he met a few people on his way to Stockton. At Barnard Castle, he wrote that a crowd gathered round him, and “in rough horse-play some of the rabble pumped water on the listeners from a fire-engine which they brought up.”

A letter written in 1668 by Bishop Burnet to Sir William Morrice, discussing the falling out between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington, he wrote:

The Lapland knots are untied, and we are in horrid storms: those that hunted together, now hunt one another; but, at horse-play, the mater of the horse must have the better.

In April 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a letter to his daughter, Margaret Roper that detailed how he had appeared before Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of the clergy.   He was strongly urged to take the oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England; More had refused.  The result was that the archbishop pressed him even harder to take the oath.  He spoke to his daughter of how he saw Latimer “amusing himself at horse-play with his friends in the Lambeth Garden.”  Shortly thereafter, More was committed to the Tower where he wrote “A Dialogue of Comforte Against Tribulacyon” and his property was seized by the King.

Since Sir Thomas More used the term horse-play with such ease in a letter to his daughter in 1534, it is reasonable to believe it was common usage at the time and therefore, readers can guess that the term “horse-play” dates back to at least 1528.

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

Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Posted by Admin on April 18, 2011

if someone tells you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, what they’re suggesting to you is that you shouldn’t criticize or question something good being offered to you with no strings attached. 

Throughout recorded history, the horse has been a prized possession of man.  The horse has plowed fields, hauled goods, pulled carriages, carried riders and more.  Back in the day when horses were bought and sold, it was good business practices to check the age and health of a horse by examining its lower jaw and its teeth.  A horse’s history could be told by what one found in its mouth.  That being said, it was also considered the height of bad manners to examine a horse’s mouth when the horse was being given as a gift.

Even back on December 5, 1926 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Those Who Take Casual Gifts May Fina A String Attached” that read:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth is a saying that has become largely obsolete with the diminishing ranks of horses in New York. Yet the danger persists: and it is as true today as it was true yesterday that gifts do not invariably fall out of a clear sky in this metropolis

That was all fine and dandy but on June 28, 1854 the same newspaper published a news article entitled, “Naval Rules And Regulations.”  It read in part:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Chesterfield says, never quote a proverb; but “French On The Lessons In Proverbs,” a more recent and learned authority, and also dispute the proverb.  It had been much better for those old Trojans if they had looked their gift horse in the mouth; and since that memorable example of gift-bearing treachery, one has often reason to exclaim, “Timco Danaos et dona ferentes.  The free gift Manual looks very much like an attempt to steal into the service, once again, obsolete and repudiated rules, which never could be introduced in an open, frank and legal manner.

With regards to the book,  The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb: Miscellaneous Prose, 1798-1833, The Athenceum of February 16, 1833 reviewed the book and is quoted as saying:

Here is a portrait of Mrs. Conrady. We agree with the writer that ‘ no one that has looked on her can pretend to forget the lady.’  The point ought to be cleared up. That we must not look a Gift horse in the mouth.

Now John Heywood (1497-1580) wrote the following in his book, “A Dialogue of the Effectual Proverbs.”

Where gifts be given freely — east, west, north or south —
No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.
And though her mouth be foul she hath a fair tail —
I consider this text, as is most my avail.
In want of white teeth and yellow hairs to behold,
She flourisheth in white silver and yellow gold.
What though she be toothless, and bald as a coot?
Her substance is shoot anker, whereat I shoot.”

St. Jerome of Stridonium (347 – 420), an Illyrian Catholic priest is believed to have first used the phrase in reply to his literary critics. His exact words: “Never inspect the teeth of a gift horse.”

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Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Admin on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

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