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Archive for May, 2011

Black Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

With regards to cutting or turning out the lights or electric power.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, this expression most often referred to the stage and theatre lights in a theater.  However, at the start of World War II, it  also came to mean darkening an entire city to hide it from enemy bombers.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Lima, Peru was reported on in the February 5, 1985 edition of the New Straits Times in Peninsular Malaysia.  The news story entitled, “Rebels Black Out Pope’s Lima Tour” described the uproar associated with Pope John Paul’s visit.

Peruvian guerillas, defying 15,000 men and Pope John Paul’s call for peace, last night blew up power pylons and blacked out Lima as the Pope rode through the city, police said.

Back on June 14, 1955 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story about the flash floods unleashed by torrential desert cloud bursts.  The news article, entitled, “Floods Black Out Las Vegas; Trains Stalled” reported that the flash floods had blacked out the city.  The damage costs were expected to run at least $100,000 and quite possibly as much as $500,000.  Power was quickly restored in most sections of Las Vegas however 80 percent of all telephones were still out of order the following day.

On January 9, 1940 the Miami News reported on a train accident near Ware, Hertfordshire in England.  The story was entitled, “Two Trains Crash; Score Injured In Black-Out.” The Miami News reported:

Two London-Northeastern railway passenger trains collided in the black-out last night, trapping scores of women and children in wrecked coaches.  Although several coaches were telescoped and both engines were overturned, no one was killed and only 25 were injured.

Just 2 years earlier, on May 31, 1938 the New York Times published an article entitled, “New Raid on Japan Forces Black Out Over A Wide Region.”  It stated in part:

Japan had a raid scare when two mysterious planes, supposed to be Chinese, flew along the whole western side of Kyushu island last night and early today. All the region was “blacked out” for three hours.

As a side note here, Japan’s electricity system was started in 1883 when the Tokyo Electric Light Company — now known as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — was founded.  Demand grew for electricity and in 1895, the company purchased equipment from AEG while its competitor, Osaka Electric Lamp purchased equipment from General Electric. Since the founding of electric companies in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, there have been reports of black outs.

In theatre circles, a black out means to extinguish all of the stage lights at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness.  While it is a term oftentimes associated with a performance, it has also been used to mean a performance is not to take place on that day. 

The Baltimore Sun ran a news story on September 18, 1901 that spoke of Baltimoreans of all classes uniting to pay tribute to deceased President McKinley.  The article stated that the bells of nearly all the Catholic and Episcopal churches would be tolled from 2 to 8 o’clock in the afternoon and that theatres would be “draped in somber black out of respect to the dead President.”  In other words, there would be no performances in the theatres on that day.

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

Black Out (as in unconscious)

Posted by Admin on May 30, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious.

With regards to falling unconscious, this meaning originated with pilots who sometimes fainted briefly when pulling out of a power dive. It soon was transferred to other losses of consciousness or memory in the 1940s.

An unfortunate story was published in the May 28, 1979 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel in a news article entitled, “Boy Dies Making Self Black Out.” The article included this in the story:

After class was dismissed Wednesday afternoon, Paul and several companions went out on the playground, and he gave them a demonstration. Use two fingers, he pressed on the front of his neck to stop the air flow and blacked out.

Back on September 14, 1962 the Victoria Advocate published a story on then-31-year-old San Francisco Giants star outfielder, Willie Mays. He had been free of injuries and ailments in previous eight seasons with the Giants which is why a black-out spell was of concern to management at the time. The story was entitled, “Mays Due Hospital Tests After Black-Out Spell.” The first paragraph read:

Officials of the San Francisco Giants ordered a thorough physical examination Friday for star outfielder Willie Mays, who blacked out Wednesday night. Mays will stay in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital over night and have the tests Friday morning, according to Manager Alvin Dark.

The December 22, 1944 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Anti-Black-Out Suit” and reported:

Berger G-suits, designed to keep fliers from “blacking out” in steep dives and other maneuvers, are the latest togs for army and navy fighter pilots. The army’s ” G-suit “– the “G” is for gravity — is a pair of high waisted pneumatic pants with built-in suspenders and girdle, and air bladders over the abdomen and legs.

For pilots, greying out or blacking out was a serious problem when it happened. A black out was a complete loss of vision due to no blood getting to the eye even though the pilot was still conscious at the time. The loss of memory that was part of blacking out and falling unconscious was particularly disconcerting to pilot trainers, air force personnel, researchers and, of course, pilots. It was observed that black outs left pilot completely unaware that they have been unconscious and provided them with a false perception of how well they were coping with “positive G” or “eyeballs down G.”

In the mid-1920s, Royal Air Force pilots who were training for the Schneider Trophy became adept at knowing the point at which they would move from a black out to completely losing consciousness.

As an interesting side note, the first manned flight — which was 12-seconds long — was on December 17, 1903 and the first 5-minute manned flight was on November 9, 1904. The American government bought its first airplane in 1909 and the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown in 1912. On July 18, 1914 an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. In other words, blacking out became a new expression in the 20th century thanks in part to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

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


Posted by Admin on May 25, 2011

The word deadline refers to a time limit and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s American newspaper jargon from around 1920 that blends two words together: dead and line.  This may well be true as an edition of The Age newspaper dated December 26, 1951 that dealt with the cease-fire agreement in Korea.

The Christmas good-will spirit left armistice negotiators unaffected, and today there was again no progress.  The deadline for agreement on an armistice is December 27 (Thursday).  The United Nations spokesman, General Nuckols, said that neither the Communists nor the United Nations had asked for an extension of the 30-day period of a cease-fire line agreement.

And true to what was found in the Oxford Dictionary, the Baltimore Sun newspaper ran a story on July 7, 1920 entitled, “Our Next President Will Be A Seasoned Newspaper Man.”  The article began by stating:

Harding and Cox have both served from printer’s “devil” to Editor, and both will be callous to such expression as “beat,” “trim,” “cut,” “kill” and “deadline.”

However, it appears that in 1920, the word deadline also had another meaning.  It was a more literal meaning of the word although still very much in keeping with the more figurative meaning.   This is confirmed by a news article carried by the New York Times on March 21, 1920 entitled, “Thieves Open Steamship Office Safe And Get $179.80” and reads in part:

Safe robbers manipulated the combination of the safe in the building of Bennet, Hvoslef & Co., steamship agents, at 18 Broadway, last Tuesday and escaped with $179.80.  The police believe the robbery was the work of expert safe burglars who have robbed more than half a dozen safes below the police “deadline” in the financial district within the last two months.  The robbers are alleged to have concealed their finger prints by rubbing the surface of the safe with a damp cloth.

On January 11, 1880 the New York Times published a story entitled “Rising Old Men” that dealt with men of a certain age attaining and retaining positions and power in public life as had never been seen before.  It read in part:

Of course, nature, when offended, is always sure to have her revenge, and coarse indulgences sometimes were the resort of old men, when driven from the wholesome air of genial society and left to themselves to gossip and gormandize, and sometimes to guzzle and to gamble.  The new civilization changes all of this, and people who have living thought and purpose, and who agree in taste and ideas, associate freely together without even the different uniform of age and youth; and sometimes the youngest heart of the company belongs to some gifted man or woman who has long passed the dead-line of 50, as this date is often called.

In 1863, after then-President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Deputy U.S. Marshals oftentimes employed the services of local farmers to serve as lookouts  to work the “dead line” between Arkansas and Indian Territory. 

And in 1864, there was more than one comment noted in documents of the “dead line” in the stockades.  In fact, the first prisoner to die crossing the “dead line” was Caleb Coplan, a private in Company A, 1st Ohio infantry.  Captured on September 19, 1864 at Chickamauga, Coplan ducked under the “dead line” on April 9, 1864 and was promptly shot by a sentry.  He died the following day.

In the Report of the Secretary of War dated October 31, 1865, it was reported that Captain Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the stockade where Coplan was shot and died “did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a “dead line” being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, where Wirz instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line” …. “

Captain Henry Wirz was court-martialed, and found guilty of charges of cruelty, murder and acts of inhumanity in May 1865.   The court-martial was presided over by U.S. Major General Lew Wallace.

A little more than 30 years before that, however, the Library of U.S. History documents a situation where the hewed log residence of Joel Sayre was used in 1831 as both a court and a jail.  With William Bonnet as jailer and William Bonnet Jr. and Silas Carney as guards, the “dead line” marked the limits of the jail and separated it from what was set aside to be the court room.

Two generations before that, however, in 1763 American colonists could not established homesteads on lands lying westward of the source of any river flowing through the Atlantic seaboard. The dead-line, as it was referred to, identified for colonists cut off them off from about half of Pennsylvania and half of Virginia as well as everything from that point westward.

Idiomation was unable to find a reference to dead lines prior to 1763 however the use of the word in 1763 implies it was used in every day language and dates back to at least 1750.

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

Willy Nilly

Posted by Admin on May 24, 2011

When Doctor Who discussed the concept of time in the episode “Blink” in Season 3, he said that time, rather than being a linear string of cause and event, was actually more akin to a ball made out of “timey wimey wibbly wobbly” stuff.  Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly, willy nilly … there’s a lot of rhyming to be found in the English language but they all have their origins somewhere in time.

When something happens willy-nilly, it happens in a very disorganized and happenstance way with little to no forethought going into it.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on such a situation on July 13, 1958 in an article entitled, “Doctor Raps Reliance on New Drugs.”  The article stated:

Dr. Harold R. Reames, chief of the department of infectious disease of the Upjohn Co., Kalamazoo, said doctors use [wonder] drugs too indiscriminately and have badly mishandled many aspects of the control of germ-caused disease.

“Surely progress has been made as illustrated by work on diarrheal disease,” Reames said.  “But antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents have been used excessively and in a willy-nilly fashion.”

And on November 24, 1855 the New York Times ran in their weekly column “Gossip: What Has Been Most Talked About During The Week.”

When he piped about “Evangeline” everybody took to hexameter just as they do now to trochaics when he pipes about “Hiawatha.”  He has bewitched the public with his Indian legends, and, willy-nilly, everybody imitates him. It is just as marked a tribute to his genius as turn-over collars and gin-drinking thirty years ago were to Byron’s fascinations.

Back in 1601, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the following is found in Act V, Scene I:

Give me leave. Here lies the water—good. Here stands the man—good. If the man go to this water and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes. Mark you that.  But if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.

But is this law?

Ay, marry, is’t; crowner’s quest law.

One of the earliest known versions of the expression willy nilly from an Old English text entitled, “Aelfric’s Lives of Saints” dated 1,000 AD where the following is found:

Forean the we synd synfulle and sceolan beon eadmode,
Wille we, nelle we, and he wolde sylf-willes
us syllan a bysne, swa swa he sylf cwae

But in the end, it must be noted that there is a Latin phrase that couples together “willing” and “unwilling” in the expression nolens volens which certainly expresses the sentiments of willy nilly in spirit and in context.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

My Pears Are Poaching

Posted by Admin on May 13, 2011

When someone says their “pears are poaching” they mean that something they have said or done in the past is sneaking up on its intended goal for the sole purpose of overtaking the goal and making an example of the goal by way of using the goal’s own claims or words in such a way as to make overtaking the goal all the sweeter!

The phrase was originally posted by Danielle Carey Corley on her Facebook page on May 9, 2011.  She was actually poaching pears at the time however Elyse Bruce thought the phrase sounded very much like some of the popular idioms people are apt to use in polite discussions.

After much thought, a proper definition for “my pears are poaching” was arrived at on May 12, 2011 and was included in the list of idioms at Idiomation the following morning.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fly By The Seat Of Your Pants

Posted by Admin on May 10, 2011

To fly by the seat of your pants is pretty tricky especially since it means you’re doing something difficult without the necessary experience or ability to achieve success.  The phrase comes from back in the day when airplanes — being very basic without all the fancy gadgetry planes have today — were flown by pilots who reacted to the feel of the plane.

Naturally, the part of the body that had the most contact with the plane was the aviator’s backside.  The phrase flying by the seat of your pants came to mean how pilots flew planes which was to react to how the plane felt to the pilots in such situations as determining wind speed, external temperature and the state of the plane the pilot was flying.  Sometimes pilots were unable to see while they were flying because of cloud or fog, and that’s when flying by the seat of their pants as well as instinctively really paid off since instruments of the day oftentimes gave faulty readings.

Over time, the phrase has been used to refer to a number of things or situations as evidenced by the article “Pies-N-Thighs Returns!” in the Village Voice newspaper of April 20, 2010 which read in part:

Yet, in addition to excellent chicken, something about the place struck a romantic chord with diners, evocative of Williamsburg’s can-do, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants spirit at the time, and it quickly became one of the neighborhood’s most beloved dining establishments. The place was closed by the Department of Health in January 2008, and since then fans have collectively held their breath, fearing that the owners — Sarah Buck, Carolyn Bane, and Erika Geldzahler — would chicken out, and never reopen.

During World War II, the Tuscaloosa News ran an interesting article on April 23, 1944 entitled, “Flying Taught Without Flight” written by James F. Strebig, Aviation Editor for the Associated Press.  The article began with this:

A training device by which student-pilots can learn to fly safely without leaving the ground has been developed for use after the war.  John H. Geisse of the Civil Aeronautics Administration research staff, who fathered the development, says it’s the only training machine for teachings “flying by the seat of your pants.”

And on July 19, 1942 the Pittsburgh Press quoted 25-year-old St. Louis Brown infielder and former Army Air Corps flyers Johnny Berardino as saying:

“There’s an old Army saying that you’ve got to be able to fly by the seat of your pants.  I don’t know  just what that means.  Something about being sensitive to pressure changes there.  I didn’t have it.”  You can hardly criticize Johnny Berardino for that.  He doesn’t play baseball that way either.

Many claim that the phrase dates back to 4 years earlier on July 19, 1938 and the  Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper article, “Corrigan Flies By The Seat  Of His Pants.”   Douglas Corrigan of infamous ‘Wrong Way  Corrigan’ fame had submitted his flight plan to fly from Brooklyn to California.  Rather than wind up in California, he wound up in Dublin 29 hours after taking flight.  He claimed that his compasses had failed him but rumours were rampant that it had been a purposeful miscalculation on the part of the aviator.  The article read in part:

“Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator ‘who flies by the seat of his pants‘ today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvinate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the ‘Spirit of $69.90’. The old flying expression of  “flies by the seat of his trousers” was explained by Larry Conner, means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries.”

The expression is probably a little older than that.  Even though Leonardo da Vinci made the first real studies of flight in the 1480’s and catalogued the over 100 drawings illustrating his theories on flight, it was the Wright brothers who were the first to fly in 1903.  It’s safe to say that they flew by the seat of their pants.

However, it’s also quite possible that brothers Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, the inventors of the first hot air balloon, may also have been somewhat responsible for the phrase when they and their passengers Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent took to the skies on November 21, 1783.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Coast Is Clear

Posted by Admin on May 9, 2011

When there’s no visible danger on the horizon, either literally or figuratively, then the coast is clear.   These days, people tend to use the phrase when they are about to do something they shouldn’t be doing in the first place and they have done their best to escape detection, usually by authorities such as teachers, security guards, police officers, coast guards and other enforcement figures.

Dear Abby ran a letter in her column that was printed in the Toledo Blade newspaper on November 12, 1958.  The letter from a reader named “Happy” read in part:

My neighbor across the court is a sly one and she thinks she is getting away with something.  She can fool her husband but she can’t fool me.  When she leaves her window shades half-up that means “the coast is clear.”  When she hangs something upside down on the clothesline it means “not tonight.”

Back on March 14, 1900, the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Burr Raids A Gambling Room: No Official Move Against the Gambling Commission.”  The story dealt with the fact that a number of gambling houses had overrun New York City and there was evidence that some precinct captains and officers were looking the other way.  It read in part:

Superintendent Burr of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, with six detectives from the West Forty-seventh Street Station, last night made a raid on a large gambling room at 1487 Broadway and arrested sixteen men.  They found a faro game going, red and black, Klondike, poker, and confiscated the paraphernalia.  The Police Department and the District Attorney’s office have shown the gamblers and their protectors plainly that there is nothing to be feared from them.  In that direction the coast is clear enough, but they have reckoned without their host if they believe that all power to stop the systematic bribery ends there.

Going back another 40 years, the Weekly Dispatch newspaper published in St. Thomas, County of Elgin in Ontario (Canada) ran a fictional story written by Captain Oakum entitled, “A Yarn Of Tom Wilkie: His Enemies and Friends.”  A snippet from the story shows how the phrase was used in 1860.

“By no means, not an hour after the money’s gone.”

“But suppose the gentleman should fly off the handle at the first exposure — what are your plans?”

“Live in Carson’s stow-away till the coast is clear and then make tracks for parts unknown.  I have, you know, funds enough for that emergency.  Nothing has been overlooked; you are safe, however, under every circumstance.”

“Brother, I am sorry that a man of your talents should put them to so bad a use.  Let me entreat you, even now to take the back track.  I have seemed to sympathise with you, that I might learn the curse you intended to pursue; that course will surely lead you to ruin; and all for what? — to obtain the means for gambling.”

Nearly 100 years before the publication of Captain Oakum’s story, Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote a letter to Daniel Gould on May 6, 1783.   It was written just 3 weeks after the U.S. Congress ratified the provisional treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain and 3 months after a general armistice between the United States and Great Britain took effect.  It was nearly 2 months after George Washington alerted Congress that the army was on the brink of mutiny as well as nearly 2 months after Washington had addressed his officers in what later become known as the “Newburgh Conspiracy” where he appealed to their honour and loyalty.  The letter Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote read in part:

The prospect of speedily returning to the likes of private life fills my heart with raptures.  The definitive treaty is not signed or, if signed, is not come to hand.  Carlson is in possession of New York and no prospect of his speedily leaving it.  To quit the field before our coast is clear would argue of a total want of sense.  Neither shall we, but we remain inactive without imployment, and under such restrictions that we can make no arrangements for Domestic life.

In the town of Groningen (Holland), a statue with an inscription below it can be found.  Since 1673, it has commemorated an historically documented siege when the besiegers were unable to prevent supplies from being into the town which led to their eventual retreat.  The words beneath the image translate loosely to be:  while the coast is clear, there is little to fear.

In the William Shakespeare play “Henry VI” written and published in 1591, the following exchange is found in Part 1:

I’ll call for clubs if you will not away
[Aside] This cardinal’s more haughty than the devil.
Mayor, farewell.  Thou dost but what thou mayst.
Abominable Gloucester, guard they head,
For I intend to have it ere long.
[Exeunt, severally, Gloucester and Winchester with their Servingmen]
See the coast clear and then we will depart.
[Aside] Good God, these nobles should such stomachs bear!
I myself fight not once in forty year.

The Spanish equivalent to the phrase the coast is clear is “no hay Moros en la costa” which means there are no Moors on the coast.  This literal expression dates back to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) during the Crusades.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shake A Stick At

Posted by Admin on May 5, 2011

Have you ever heard someone say, “There are more clichés here than you can shake a stick at?”  Have you ever wondered how many clichés that would have to be and why anyone would want to shake a stick at clichés in the first place … or anything else for that matter? 

In Ohio, back on February 15, 1951 the Portsmouth Times newspaper reported on the golf tournament being held in Harlingen, Texas in an article entitled, “Hottest Putter May Win Open At Harlingen.”  The first paragraph read:

The $10,000 Rio Grande Valley Open began today with more favorites than you could shake a stick at.  The Harlingen municipal course with its par 71 is quite short — only 6,095 yards — and the man with the hottest putter probably will be the follow taking home the $2,000 first money.  But the field of 137-119 professionals and 18 amateurs bulges with fellow who are death on the greens.

At the turn of the century, residents of Aurora, Illinois couldn’t help but love the serialized story, “All Short Of Wind” written by C.B. Lewis and published in the Aurora Daily Express on July 25, 1900.  In this chapter, Pap Perkins, the Postmaster of Jericho told about the meeting that discussed the advisability of starting a brass band.

But the meetin shouted him down, and it was five minits before Deacon Spooner could make his voice heard, and then he said, “There’s more p’ints bobbin up here than you kin shake a stick at, but we might as well hev one more. S’posin we hear from Lish Billings.   He’s the only man in Jericho who kin play on an accordion.  What d’you say, Lish?”

Jumping back to August 26, 1858, the New York Times ran a rather amusing yet politically charged news story entitled, “The Great Binghamion Programme Plots For The Capture of New York City.”  It addressed what had happened since a curiously accidental gathering at the house of Daniel S. Dickinson resulted in the appearance of a group acting contrary to the agenda of those authorized to act for Collector Schell in the City of New York.  The extensive reporting included the following :

Bill McConkey rose, terrible as Ajax in his wrath, wearing he “knew Fernando’s style, and that he would bet money — more money than Genet and Russell could shake a stick at together — that the original Report of the Committee in favor of fusion with the People’s, on the terms proposed, had been drawn up in Fernando’s hand.”  Messrs.  Beck, “Porcupine” and others rose clamorously, and cried, “That’s so!”  Mr. Orr said he was there “because he was opposed to the present close corporation in control of Tammany Hall; but dominant and tyrannical as he believed that body to be, it had never conceived, even in its secret heart, such a high-handed and flagrant outrage on popular rights as was the proposition before that meeting.

Frontiersman Davy Crockett, wrote and published a book in 1835 entitled “Tour to North and Down East.”  In the book, he wrote the following about an inn where he had stayed:

This was a temperance house, and there was nothing to treat a friend to that was worth shaking a stick at.

Just 5 years before that, on August 5, 1830 the Lancaster Journal in Pennsylvania published a news story that stated:

There’s no law that can make a ton of hay keep over ten. cows, unless you have more carrots and potatoes than you can throw a stick at.

And in that same Lancaster Journal in 1818 the following was published:

We have in Lancaster as many Taverns as you can shake a stick at.

Interestingly enough, it would seem that from that throughout the 1800s, the Lancaster Journal loved to shake or throw a stick at all manner of things regardless of the nature of the story published.  This leads Idiomation to believe that it was a more common expression in Pennsylvania than in other states at the time.  However, Idiomation was unable to find this American colloquialism in use prior to the 1800s.

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

Save For A Rainy Day

Posted by Admin on May 4, 2011

When you save for a rainy day, you’re putting aside a set amount of money in anticipation that there may come a time in the future when you’ll be needing extra money for something important.  Of course, Mae West had her own take on the phrase when she was quoted as saying, “Save a boy friend for a rainy day, and another in case it doesn’t rain.”

Back on September 25, 2001 the Chicago Tribune ran a news story by Tribune staff reporter, Janet Kidd Stewart entitled, “America’s Psyche Takes Another Blow ; Old Assumptions No Longer Apply.”  The headline beneath the headline read: “There Is Fear In The Marketplace.”  One of the people interviewed was quoted as saying:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they save a bit more because they realize the world is a bit more of a dangerous place and they need a safety net,” he said. “People used to think, `Why save if I have a high-paying job? Why save for a rainy day if it never rains?’ We know it rains now.”

The Park City Daily News ran a story entitled “More Money Around But Purchasing Power Down” on July 11, 1957 and addressed the subject of inflation and housing prices.

Some felt better off under inflation.  The market value of a home bought 10 years ago is way up, the dollar sales volume of many stores and factories are, too, the pay check of the worked is mucy more impressive today.  They may believe that “a little inflation is a good thing.”  Those who save for a rainy day, those who want to build new homes, factories or schools, fear that what we have now may grow into chronic inflation and become the big bad wolf of our age.

Back on May 21, 1902 the Otago Witness newspaper in New Zealand reported on Jessie MacKay‘s address before the National Council of Women in their news article entitled, “Equal Pat For Equal Work.”  The address included the following:

A young man who puts off marriage to provide for parents or young relations is considered almost a hero. But nothing special is thought of a girl who is the stay of her home, putting aside the hopes and plans of womanhood to fulfil her natal obligations.  It is not expected that she should, in view of her future marriage, save for a rainy day, or to prevent the common pain and degradation of dunning her husband for pin money.  If she remains single, the world takes it as somewhat of an offence that she should save in view of old age.

In an article entitled, “Royalty At A Discount” the New York Times edition of September 15, 1854 had this to say about rainy days:

Within the last half century, Monarchy has been so insecure in Europe that the different Sovereigns have usually prepared fora rainy day” by making pecuniary investments out of the countries which they govern or misgovern.  Even the Czar, until lately, had $50,000,000 in the State securities of France and England (withdrawn not long ago, when his military plans and movements caused a requirement for money): Louis Phillippe had the precaution to provide for his family by investments in this country as well as in England; Leopold of Belgium has taken the same precaution; and Queen Victoria — said to be haunted by a foreboding that the British Monarchy will come to a close before her own life terminates — is very greatly belied by public rumor, if she, also, has not provided against a possible future of private life, by investments in the United States and elsewhere.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs wrote in his autobiography, “Shadow and Light” that he was born on April 17, 1823, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist Church minister and a “hard-shell” Baptist mother. He wrote this about his 16th year, in 1839:

On the following Sunday he lay before the pulpit from whence he had preached, cold in death, leaving my mother, who had poor health, with four small children, and little laid byfor a rainy day.”  Unable to remain long at school, I was “put out” to hold and drive a doctor’s horse at three dollars a month, and was engaged in similar employment until I reached sixteen years of age.

Back in the 1750s, more than one legal document stated that the Acadians of Louisiana — those who came from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — as being simple farmers who practice Catholicism, are totally self-sufficient, and are quick to lay aside provisions for a rainy day.

Moliere (1622-1673) wrote “The Miser” in 1668.  A classic comedy that’s still relevant today, it tells the story of Harpagon, a man who confuses love and money.  Hoarding his money, he buries it in his back garden.  At one point in the play, Harpagon admonishes his children about money by saying, “You ought to put it away for a rainy day.”

In the end, however, the saying “save your money for a rainy day” comes from an Italian comedy, La Spiritata by the Florentine playwright,  A. F. Grazzini  and written in 1561.  The adaptation years later by John Lyly (1554–1628) was known as The Bugbears.  The main plot deals with Formosus and the trickery he uses to secure 3,000 crowns from his miserly father Amadeus, as he is secretly wed to Rosimunda who came to him without a dowry.

It is this play that is the earliest published date for the phrase “save for a rainy day” that Idiomation could locate.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

To Boot

Posted by Admin on May 3, 2011

While it’s true that to boot a computer means to start its operating system, when someone adds “to boot” at the end of a comment, they mean they got something pleasantly unexpected added to the deal.

On October 27, 1900 the New York Times carried an interesting story entitled, “Says Husted Traded Wives.”  The story was told by a Mrs. Lizzie Sherow with whom Oliver Husted eloped to Holly, Michigan.  The story began with this:

Oliver Husted of Schultzville, this county, accompanied by Mrs. Lizzie Sherow, for whom he had traded his wife and given $10 to boot, were brought into the police station here to-night by Chief of Police McCabe, who had just arrived with his prisoners from Holly, Mich., where they had been arrested on the charges of grand larceny and kidnapping.

In the George Nichols autobiography entitled, “Salem Shipmaster And Merchant” the following is written:

It was in July, 1802, at Manila, where I employed a Mr. Kerr, to assist me in my business.  He took a great fancy to my watch and proposed giving me his watch with some indigo to boot in exchange for it, and we finally fixed upon a quintal and a half, worth then more than $160, and I retained my chain and seals.  This indigo I afterwards sold for $130 more than the original cost of my watch, besides getting a watch, which proved a better timepiece than mind had been.

In 1710, Chesterfield-born Gilbert Heathcote (1652 – 1733) — son of ironmonger Gilbert Heathcote and his wife, Anne — was serving his first term as Governor of the Bank of England which was established in 1694, he ran for office of Lord Mayor of London. Documents of the day state that he is not only “a Whig but a prosperous merchant to boot.”

The expression is found in one of the Creole dialect mixtures used in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi ands literally translates into “the gift to give more.”  In other words, it denotes a bonus that a friendly shopkeeper adds to a purchase as an unexpected gift of benefit.

It’s also found in Middle English where the word boten means “to be of help” which comes from the Old English word btian meaning “help.”   What’s more, the Old English word bōt and the Middle English word bote mean “an advantage or something included in a bargain.”  And then it’s also found in Proto Germanic word boto that means “better” and the word Buße that means “penance” or “atonement.”

The cross-over between languages happens because there are corresponding words in English, French, Provençal, German and Spanish that are similar in nature and have a similar meaning to each other.

There are records of the expression to boot being used in commerce as early on as 1000 A.D. and continues to be used in today’s conversations.

Posted in Idioms from the 9th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »