Historically Speaking

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Archive for June, 2013

Queen For A Day

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2013

You might think that the expression Queen for a day is self-explanatory and in many respects it is.  However, there’s a modern-day history to that expression. 

In the American legal system Queen for a day refers to a meeting that is set up when a Defendant believes he or she has information that can be leveraged in exchange for a favorable plea deal.  Before a Queen for a day deal can go through, three main points have to be met in the debriefing agreement.  But things can go awry since there are so many components to creating a successful Queen for a day deal.

The Lakeland Ledger edition of July 2, 2001 published a story compiled from Ledger wire services that trumpeted Betsy King’s win on the LPGA tour that year. Betsy King won the ShopRite Classic for the third time when she closed with a 4-under-par 67.  The story was aptly entitled:

King is Queen For A Day

All in good fun, the July 5, 1983 edition of The Robesonian published in Lumberton, NC detailed all sorts of festivities that took place across North Carolina for the 4th of July Independence Day celebration.  From traditional parades to sporting events, mudslinging to skydiving, the story covered the gamut including this interesting one in Greensboro:

Greensboro celebrate its 175th birthday Monday as the nation celebrated its 207th.  In Marion, Bruce Edwards became queen for a day when he wowed the crowd at the town’s first male beauty contest in his red minidress with blue pantyhose “and a girdle.”

On August 14, 1974 journalist Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote an article that was carried in the Edmonton Journal newspaper among others.  The subject of his story was a man by the name of Jack Bailey … a man with an interesting past where addiction and success had crossed paths.  For those who were unfamiliar with the name, the article included this:

Bailey’s trimmed moustache and semi-bald pate were familiar to millions of housewives during this 20 year run in radio and television with Queen For A Day.  By the time the show shut down 10 years ago, he had crowned more than 5,000 queens and bestowed $23 million worth of merchandise.

A generation before that interview, the Waycross Journal Herald had news about a new movie … a gala premiere program featuring Jack Bailey.  The article, published on April 12, 1951, began with this:

The world premiere of “Queen For A Day,” the Robert Stillman-United Artists picture based on the popular Mutual network program, will be held at the Lyric Theatre tomorrow night at eight o’clock with the kleig lights, crimson carpet,  Hollywood stars and all the colorful trappings of a film capital premiere.

A gala stage program will be presented by Jack Bailey, emcee of the Mutual network “Queen For A Day” program and a star of the film, prior to the initial showing of the picture.

The fact of the matter is that the show was very successful over the 20 years it ran, beginning in July 1945.  But even before the creation of the radio and television show, people were being called Queen For The Day.

In fact, the Providence News of March 16, 1928 proudly announced that Miss Louise Hutchins, a student at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, OK was elected queen of the engineering college’s St. Patrick Day’s festivities.  The article was entitled:

She’s Shamrock Queen For A Day

Undoubtedly, the expression goes back as far as the days when queens were first called queens.   However, at the beginning of this entry, it was mentioned that a “proffer” was also known as “queen for a day” meeting. 

According to an article by Todd Spodek in the January 2, 2010 edition of the Global Politician, the moniker has its roots in the vintage television show. In an essay by Benjamin A. Naftalis entitled, “Queen For A Day” Agreements and the Proper Scope of Permissible Waiver of the Federal Plea-Statement Rules published in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems in 2003, he wrote:

The term “Queen For A Day” derives from the popular 1950s television “sob show” Queen For A Day.  Host Jack Bailey (famed voice of Disney’s “Goofy”) would interview four women before a studio audience about their daily misfortunes.  Whoever was judged to be living the hardest life — as determined by the audience’s applause  meter — was crowned “Queen For A Day.”

It appears that the term began with the United States v Mezzanatto, 513 U.S. 196, 216 which appears to date back to 1990s.

And why would a proffer be colloquially known as a Queen For A Day deal?  Perhaps the answer can be found in the Shawn Hanley article of December 16, 1996 for the “Mass Media History Seminar” where the following quote is found:

“Sure ‘Queen‘ was vulgar and sleazy and filled with bathos and bad taste,” wrote producer Howard Blake in an article for Fact magazine. “That was why it was so successful. It was exactly what the general public wanted….We got what we were after. Five thousand Queens got what they were after. And the TV audience cried their eyes out, morbidly delighted to find there were people worse off than they were, and so they got what they were after.”

Based on that explanation, it certainly seems to fit (in legal terms, anyway).  However, the much kinder version of Queen For A Day is one that’s been around longer than Idiomation was able to trace, and so it’s being categorized as timeless.

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I’m The Queen Of England

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 24, 2013

When you hear someone mention that they’re the Queen of England (provided that the person really isn’t the Queen of England or that the person isn’t certifiable), it’s usually in conjunction with another phrase preceding the expression.  For example, when David Michael Green wrote an OpEd piece for OpEdNews.com that was published on November 22, 2007 the title of the article was:

If Conservatism Is The Ideology Of Freedom, I’m The Queen Of England

Back on September 27, 1989 the Denver Post newspaper published an article about Forrest Hiller’s amazing lottery win that paid out $6.5 million.  The story reported the following quote as being the winner’s initial reaction to winning the lottery:

“I thought, `Right, and I’m the Queen of England.'”

The fact of the matter is that there are a number of variations on the Queen of England theme.  Some know the idiom with the Queen of Sheba instead of the Queen of England as seen in Ann Lander’s response to a letter sent in to the Dear Ann column, and published in the Montreal Gazette on October 9, 1965:

Teen crime is up.  Teen drinking is up.  Teen car accidents are up.  If this picture doesn’t reflect a change in teenage behavior, then I’m the Queen of Sheba.

When it wasn’t the Queen of Sheba being maligned, Cleopatra’s identity was being sullied as seen in the sports article by Gayle Talbot, published in the Prescott Evening Courier of October 7, 1939.  The Cincinnati Reds were going into the third game of the 1939 World Series against the New York Yankees, and the story had sports fans on the edge of their seats.  The article, entitled, “Cincy Tired Of Ailing Yanks” reported in part:

“I’m weary of hearing that stuff,” said one of the most prominent of the Reds.  “Sure, they’re good.  They’ve knocked our ears down twice.  Maybe they’re even wonderful.  But I’m a little disappointed when Ruffing has to build up his alibi beforehand, and then sticks to it after he’s pitched that kind of a game.  If that guy had a sore arm, I’m Cleopatra, and I never saw the Nile in my life.”

The French are known to say:  “Et moi, je suis la reine d’Angleterre.” (And me, I’m the Queen of England!)

Likewise, those who speak Hebrew say:  “Ve’ani malkat anglia.” (And I’m the Queen of England.)

There are those who speak Czech who say:  “A já jsem čínský papež.” (And I’m the Chinese pope.)

The Greek tend to say:  “Κι εγώ είμαι ο αλί-μπαμπάς.” (And I’m Ali Baba.)

The Spanish respond with:  “Y yo soy la Reina de Saba.”  (I’m the Queen of Spain and Mexico.)

In the end, any identity can (and has) been slipped into the expression over the generations to express incredulity.  Entire cultural groups have been slipped into the expression as in “I’m a Dutchman” or animals as in “I’m a monkey’s uncle!”

Although Idiomation was unable to pinpoint the first time the Queen of England (and there have been more than a few) was used in this way, suffice it to say that it’s been around for longer than many care to remember.

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Tickled Pink

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 19, 2013

If you’ve ever been tickled pink, you know that at the time you were very pleased or entertained by what you were experiencing or what had happened.  But why are people tickled pink and not tickled blue or purple or even green? It’s because when a person is tickled, they laugh and their complexion takes on a pink to reddish color.

The Telegram and Gazette newspaper of Worcester (MA) published an article on October 15, 2009 entitled “Pink Fundraiser Planned.”  It was the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Pink Ribbon Committee at Tri-River Family Health Center were preparing for their annual fundraiser.  The article stated in part:

The Pink Ribbon Committee and the Uxbridge High School Student Council have been painting the town pink in preparation for the Tickled Pink fundraiser at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at Whitin Middle School, 120 Granite St.

On January 26, 1997 the Sunday Mail newspaper of Glasgow in Scotland published an article about John McGuinness who, up until that point, had been Scotland’s biggest lottery winner.  The story was entitled, “Lotto John Baby Bonus” and talked about how, on the eve of the multimillionaire’s win a year previous, he found out he and his live-in girlfriend were expecting a wee bundle of joy.  The article quote a family insider as saying:

“John is tickled pink about this. But he doesn’t want to go overboard about it in case the news upsets his daughter. He is a great guy and he’ll make a brilliant dad again.”

On February 8, 1963 the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix carried a story out of Washington that talked about a recent press conference given by then President John F. Kennedy.  There was talk about the Anglo-American Polaris agreement, the North Atlantic Alliance, and other important matters of the day.  The opening paragraph to the story entitled, “No Nuclear Questions So Advisors Tickled Pink” began with this paragraph:

A White House informant described President Kennedy’s advisers [sic] as being “tickled pink” that the president was asked no questions Thursday on the Canada-U.S. nuclear controversy.

On February 20, 1922, United Press Staff Correspondent Lawrence Martin covered the contest for the Republican senatorial nomination in Iowa.  The nominees were hoping to slip into Senator Kenyon’s seat which he was vacating later that week.  The article entitled, “Three Are After Kenyon’s Place” was published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette among other newspapers and stated the following:

Reports that Senator Kenyon was not greatly pleased over the appointment of C.A. Rawson as his success were set at rest today when Kenyon said:  “Please about Rawson? Tickled pink.  Why, Charley was my roommate in college, my best man at my wedding, and the only campaign manager I ever had.”

Twelve years before that, the Daily Illinois State Journal of April 22, 1910 reported on  25-year-old baseball pitcher, Grover Cleveland Lowdermilk [Laudermilk] who broke into the big leagues on July 3, 1909 when he was picked up by the St. Louis cardinals.  The article was entitled, “Lauder Tickled At Change” and the author wrote:

Grover Laudermilk was tickled pink over Kinsella’s move in buying him from St. Louis.

That the term tickled pink should be used so easily in a news story quote in 1910 indicates that it was a term understood by the public.  This implies that it was in use the generation prior to this news article, pinning it to some time in the late 1800s.  According to the Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang, they also believe that this expression dates back to the late 19th century.

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Blue Murder

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 17, 2013

Blue murder (which is not to be mistaken for any other kind of murder) is a loud or impassioned outcry, or a horrible din.  Young children are said to have perfected this cry as parents from generation to generation have oftentimes exclaimed that some child is crying blue murder when the child is carrying on.

On September 23, 1971 a news story from Canberra was reported in The Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia was published.  The story was aptly entitled, “Blue Murder, But It Has To Be Funny” and began with this lead-in

Comedians could get away with blue murder in what they said on broadcasts, as long as they were funny, Dudley Moor said yesterday. But the proceedings at the National Press Club lunch at which Dudley and his partner Peter Cook appeared were not funny enough to pass the ABC censor unscathed.

When James O’Donnell Bennett wrote a Special Report for the Morning Leader newspaper edition of September 23, 1927 readers were glued to every single detail about the championship fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey in Chicago.  It was a messy situation from start to finish, with the title of the piece being, “Dempsey’s Men caught Trying To Smear Vaseline.”  At one point, the following was reported:

His people, however, squawked blue murder and rightly so.  Their screaming of “rabbit punches, Dave” — addressed to Referee David Barry — began in the fourth round when Dempsey landed three rabbit punches on the base of Tunney’s skull.

In Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book “Anne’s House Of Dreams” which was published in 1917, the expression blue murder is used in Chapter 35 entitled, “Politics At Four Winds.”  The chapter opens up at the point where Canada is in the midst of a political campaign and the political views of the Grits and the Tories are presented.  In this chapter the following passage is found:

“He’d have done it, too, and Gus knew it, for Marshall is as strong as an ox and Gus is only a midget of a man. So he gave in and towed Marshall in to the shop and went to work. `Now,’ says he, `I’ll barber you up, but if you say one word to me about the Grits getting in while I’m doing it I’ll cut your throat with this razor,’ says he. You wouldn’t have thought mild little Gus could be so bloodthirsty, would you? Shows what party politics will do for a man. Marshall kept quiet and got his hair and beard disposed of and went home. When his old housekeeper heard him come upstairs she peeked out of her bedroom door to see whether ’twas him or the hired boy. And when she saw a strange man striding down the hall with a candle in his hand she screamed blue murder and fainted dead away. They had to send for the doctor before they could bring her to, and it was several days before she could look at Marshall without shaking all over.”

John S. Farmer alleges in his book of 1890 entitled, “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present” that:

Few words enter more largely into the composition of slang, and colloquialisms bordering on slang, than does the word BLUE.  Expressive alike of the utmost contempt, as of all that men hold dearest and love best, its manifold combinations, in ever varying shares of meaning, greet the philologist at every turn.

Needless to say, the expression and its definition can be found in the 1968 edition of J.C. Hotten’s “The Slang Dictionary Or The Vulgar Words, Street Phrases And Fast Expressions Of High And Low Society.”

In London, England a delightful folio of songs entitled, “The Melodist and Mirthful Olio: An Elegant Collection Of The Most Popular Songs” was published in 1829.  In this collection, there’s a song known as “The Cats: An Original Comic Song” written by Michael Hall, and in this song, the following couplet is found:

Till in the trap caught, by their tails both so taught,
Molrow and blue murder, they cried, sirs.

For those who aren’t in the know, molrowing is the “practice of socializing with a disreputable woman” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Oh my! What were those kittens getting themselves into?!

According to the “Classical Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue” compiled by Francis Grose and published in 1785, blue was defined thusly:

To look blue; to be confounded, terrified, or disappointed.  Blue as a razor; perhaps, blue as azure.

And somewhere between 1785 and 1829, the words blue and murder became blue murder … an expression in its own right.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spitfire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2013

You may have heard your grandmother or a great-aunt say that someone’s a real spitfire, and you may have wondered what they mean by that.  A spitfire is a highly excitable or a quick-tempered person.  Of course, there is also an airplane from World War II as well as a sporty little car by that name as well, but in this case the word spitfire refers to the person and not the plane.

Everyone knows that Charlie Sheen created a stir in 2010 and 2011 with his wild antics and unpredictable behavior.  But no matter how outrageous he was, his friends and enemies couldn’t help but have a roast for him.  And so, in the E-online website, the exclusive TV Scoop entitled, “Charlie Sheen On Being Roasted” I’m Challenging There Geniuses To Go Deeper” on August 16, 2011, Ken Baker and Natalie Finn began their article with this:

That Charlie Sheen’s a real spitfire.  So, it only makes sense that he be roasted, right?

The Record-Journal newspaper of Meridien, CT published on December 15, 1975 carried a news article about the British actor, Arthur Treacher’s passing.  Typecast as the archetypical butler on stage, screen and television, he was a veteran of 60 movies.  In recounting some of his history, the article included this insight into how he wound up being typecast in the rule of the butler:

One day, Lupe Velez,known as the “Mexican Spitfire” visited the set, and told the 6-foot3 actor she had a boyfriend as tall as he.

Unimpressed, Treacher replied:  “Really?”  The director took note, said, “play the part like that” and a character was born.

When Rita Moreno was interviewed on November 17, 1960 by Bob Thomas about her role in “West Side Story” her opinion about stereotyping certain actresses in the role of spitfire was clear.  In fact, she is said to have lamented, “Why, oh why, do Latin girls on the screen always have to be tempestuous sexpots?”  The topic of spitfires and Latin women turned to the subject of Lupe Velez where Rita was quoted as saying:

“What a terrible fate,” Rita sympathized.  “I’d like to have known her.  I’m sure she wasn’t really a spitfire, but a warm human being.”

The journalist gave more insight into Rita’s comments by adding the following in his article entitled, “Rita’s Sour On Sexpot Roles.”

In her earlier Hollywood career, Rita herself got caught in the spitfire category.  She may have contributed to it through a somewhat gay social life.  She seems different now.  Perhaps it was her friendship with Marlon Brando, perhaps two years of intensive dramatic training.  At any rate, she seems level-headed and adjusted to the problems of pursuing a career in Hollywood.

Now the term spitfire wasn’t reserved just for Latin women.  In the Spokane Daily Chronicle, an article entitled, “Cat Knows Hank Isn’t a Setup” published on March 22, 1932 had this to say about pugilist Leslie Carter:

Be it known that Leslie (Wildcat) Carter, the negro spitfire from Seattle, is most serious about his bout with Hank Vogt Thursday night at the Auditorium.

Carter not only came to town three days early, but went directly to the Y.M.C.A. for seven hard rounds of conditioning work.  He planned about eight stiff sessions this afternoon, and will go through a brisk limber-up Wednesday.

The Sydney Mail newspaper, like most newspapers of its day, loved to run fictional stories from time to time.  It was the equivalent of the movie-of-the-week seen on television these days.  On December 20, 1890 (referred to as the Christmas supplement) the newspaper ran a story by John Strange Winter entitled, “The Storyteller.”  In “Chapter XIV: Waiting” the following passage is found:

But the Major had had a fair chance of winning his wife’s love, and had, in his carelessness and violence, lost it for ever.  Truth to tell, his admiration for her had never been so great as when she held herself back from the clasp of his arms and by a single look indicated that she did not mean to kiss him.  ” ‘Pon my soul,” he said to himself when she had gone to bed and he was smoking his last cigarette — ”  ‘Pon my soul, there’s more, far more in the little woman than I thought, and, by Jove, how she rounded on me; what a little spitfire she looked, and how pretty.  As for Valerie — oh! damnation.”

Russian author Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) wrote “The Idiot” which was published in serialized form in “The Russian Messenger” in 1868 and 1869.  In this story, the following is found:

But you’ll admit what a riddle it must have been for us when that calm, cold, little spitfire, Aglaya–(for she stood up to her mother and answered her questions with inexpressible contempt, and mine still more so, because, like a fool, I thought it my duty to assert myself as head of the family)–when Aglaya stood up of a sudden and informed us that ‘that madwoman’ (strangely enough, she used exactly the same expression as you did) ‘has taken it into her head to marry me to Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, and therefore is doing her best to choke Evgenie Pavlovitch off, and rid the house of him.

The Merriam Webster dictionary claims the first use of the word was in 1656 but doesn’t provide proof to support the claim.  However, in the 1600s the Spanish word for braggart was cacafuegoFuego means fire and caca means  to emit.  Therefore, one who was a braggart — a cacafuego — was one who emitted fire (rather than provided substance).

Interestingly enough, there’s a historical note that ties this expression to a Spanish galleon named the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción.

In 1578, Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 27 January 1596), while traveling up the left coast of South America, captured the galleon, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, with one shot.  With that, he won the spoils of the ship:  enough gold, silver and jewels to put England’s economy back on solid footing.  However, it was said that it took so long to unload all the silver bullion from the captured ship to Drake’s ship that the sailors jokingly referred to it alternately as the Caca Fogo (emits gunfire) or the Caca Plata (emits silver).

As oftentimes happens with words said in jest, the play on words between the shipmates use of the monicker Caca Fogo and the Spanish word for braggart, (somewhere in the generation between 1578 and 1600), defaulted to cacafuego as the word most often used.

It must be pointed out that the Florentine’s also had a word that sounded similar to the Spanish word cacafuego and that word was cacafuoco (which in modern-day Italian means handgun).  But no matter what language it was in, it still meant the same thing back then.

Somewhere between 1600 and 1656, the word transformed into spitfire with the meaning being someone with a fiery temperament.

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Spit Or Go Blind

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 12, 2013

It’s not often that you hear someone say they don’t know if they should spit or go blind, but when someone uses that expression, what they’re really saying is that they’re confused about what they should say or do next.  Of course, the question begs to be asked:  Who exactly uses that kind of language and where did the expression come from in the first place?

On March 14, 2012 a new entry was published in the series discussing digital formats, sampling rates, and more on the audiophile-musings blog.  It was a condensed yet comprehensive piece that made the subject easier to understand for those who didn’t work in the music industry.  Midway through the entry, the following was written:

Musicians, producers, and audiopphiles alike are all about to “spit or go blind” when it comes to the future of digital audio. The Blu-Ray disc, with its infancy in 2002, created a storage medium exactly the same physical size as the CD but with over 7 times the storage capacity. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Almost a generation before that, Reg Silvester wrote an article for the Edmonton Journal that was published in their September 17, 1980 edition.  The article, entitled “Choreopoem Reaches Out Across All Barriers” reviewed a theater performance at the Rice Theatre.  The review began with this:

Every so often, somebody comes at you with something from a cultural or social base so strange that you don’t know whether to spit or go blind.

Now, 22 years before that (to the day) outfielder Harvey Kuenn was quoted as having said this about a home run hit by Mickey Mantle at Tiger Stadium:

I didn’t know whether to laugh, spit, or go blind!

The fact of the matter is that the expression doesn’t appear very often in newspaper articles or in literature before this, however, readers know for Harvey Kuenn to have used it so easily in 1958 that it was a recognized idiom of the day.  This implies that it goes back at least to the generation previous pegging it at sometime in the 1920s.

That being said, the word blind has its own interesting history that gives a twist to the expression spit or go blind.  The original sense of the word blind meant confused and not sightless, as attested to in the early 1600s.  In fact, Geoffrey Chaucer (1300 – 25 October 1400) wrote “The Chanouns Yemanns Tale” (part of “The Canterbury Tales“) where the following passage using the word blind (blynde) is found:

Telle how he dooth, I pray thee hertely,
Syn that he is so crafty and so sly.
Wher dwelle ye, if it to telle be?”
“In the suburbes of a toun,” quod he,
“Lurkynge in hernes and in lanes blynde,
  
Where as thise robbours and thise theves by kynde
Holden hir pryvee fereful residence,
As they that dar nat shewen hir presence.

In this context, blind meant the alley was closed at one end (a dead end).  By 1702, blind also meant anything that obstructed one’s sight, and thus the blind alley became one that was not only closed at one end, but beset by obstacles that prevented one from seeing to the end of the alley.  Ergo, if things were blocked from sight, it left people blinded (albeit temporarily).

As a secondary side note to this first side note, it should be noted that on September 19, 1702 Jupiter occulted Neptune from the Earth (such planet occultations being extremely rare according to astronomers).  While some use the words occulted, eclipsed and transited interchangeably, there are very set differences between the three conditions.

An eclipse  happens when an object moves into another object’s shadow (you can sometimes still see both objects).

A transit happens when an object passes in front of another (but does not obstruct the view of the planet).

An occult is when an object is completely hidden from view because the object passing before it lies directly in one’s line of sight.

So, yes, on September 19, 1702, Jupiter blinded people on Earth … but only if they hoped to see Neptune that night!

Getting back to the expression spit or go blind, that exact expression (as previously mentioned) can be tagged to the 1920s but Idiomation was unable to take it back any further.  However, it appears that the expression was about 200 (if you go with 1702) or 300 (if you go with 1610) years in the making before it was first used.

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

Spitballing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 10, 2013

When someone tells you that they’re spitballing, they could mean one of four things. They could literally mean that they’re making spitballs to use as trajectories. They could mean the baseball pitch that’s referred to as a spitball. They could mean they are making unfounded accusations against someone else. Or they could mean they’re brainstorming ideas.

Back on February 9, 2011 Rich Siegel wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for the Huffington Post entitled, “Someone Will Be With You Shortly.” He discussed his thoughts on the Middle East extremists and at one point he wrote:

Perhaps we’ve been going at it all wrong. What if, and I’m just spitballing here, instead of trying to prevent attacks on civilians we offered our Muslim brothers our least-liked people to satisfy their blood lust.

That’s right, I’m suggesting human sacrifice.

It served the Aztecs well. Ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians practiced the ritual. Even the Chinese offered up humans to their river gods.

It appears that the expression is one that’s been quite popular, especially in the realm of politics. Ed Morrissey posted an article to HotAir.com on June 16, 2010 that criticized President Barack Obama’s speech addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig incident 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Ed Morrissey’s comments were based, in part, on the political commentary on the subject by Andrew Malcolm as published in the Los Angeles Times on June 15, 2010.

For a man who has repeatedly claimed to be “fully engaged since Day 1,” and who repeated that claim last night, Obama gave every impression of still being in the spitballing stage of crisis management.

Obama didn’t even offer an original thought for spitballing.  In his short presidency, Obama has had two responses to any issue: appoint a czar or create a commission.

And the year before that, Patrick Sauer wrote an article published by the Huffington Post entitled, “Tim Geithner: Take My Toxic Assets, Please” where he discussed the banking conundrum of the times. There were more than a few idioms in the article, and interestingly enough, spitballing was one of them.

Angry folks are practically calling for a public guillotining of a Wall St. fat cat or two. Ironically, and I’m just spitballing here, that bloody spectacle would do boffo business on pay-per-view and easily cover the next TARP giveaway … So c’mon down hedge fund managers and financial CEOs, you’ve won The Lottery, Shirley Jackson style!

The Youngstown Vindicator edition of February 23, 1981 published an article by journalist, Dick West, that talked about how the freedom fighters of George Washington’s day would be called terrorists by 1980s standards. Humorous in its delivery, the point was clearly made. The article read in part:

And since there was no television in Washington’s time, the Tass commentary adds up to mere spitballing.

Nevertheless, if you close your eyes real tight, you can visualize how such events as the Boston Tea Party might have been reported on the nightly news with Walter Anchorman.

On December 1, 1949 the Milwaukee Sentinel published an article by George E. Sokolsky entitled, “Truman Policy: Peace At A Big Price.” The article addressed what the journalist felt was the result of Soviet Russia’s conquest of China and the policy of the Chinese Communists at the time. He stated:

The arrest of Angus Ward and William N. Stokes, our consular officers in Mukden, is now obviously due to a desire to make the U.S. “lose face” throughout Asia by failing to protect its representatives. It is good propaganda for the Russians, who would kill anyone who threw a spitball at Joe Stalin’s picture.

And so with this article, readers can see that politics and baseball’s spitball began to be associated with each other thanks to journalists such as George E. Sokolsky.

Years earlier, the Meridien Daily Journal published an article in their March 13, 1915 edition entitled, “On The Matter Of Spitballing.” Even back in 1915, according to the article by Frank G. Menke, spitball pitching wasn’t a common practice in the big league any more. Of interest, however, is the description of what a spitball pitch. The definition read:

The use of the spitball makes for great twirlers. History shows that mediocre pitchers who mastered the spitball quickly jumped into first rank in their particular department of the game. But history also shows that the spitball shortens a pitcher’s career.

One would think that spitballing in any other career would also have a similar effect, and so it does.

The good news about the expression spitballing is that not only does it already have a past, it already has a future. In the Star Trek novel, “Typhon Pact #2: Seize The Fire” by Michael A. Martin, published by Simon & Schuster, the following is found:

“Maybe his shipmates thought he was dead,” Riker said, spitballing, though without much conviction.

And so Idiomation pegs the longevity of the expression spitballing (in terms of throwing out ideas) to the 24th century thanks to Commander Riker, with a history that dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1940s (with a nod to the definition at the turn of the 20th century).

Posted in Baseball, Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Once In A Blue Moon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 7, 2013

You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression once in a blue moon used … well … once in a blue moon.    And you’ve probably guessed by now that it means that the event in question is one that seldom, if ever, happens. In fact, the event in question never or almost never happens when someone responds with once in a blue moon. To even ask is considered somewhat absurd given that the event probably won’t happen at all.

Some will tell you that a blue moon is the second full moon that happens in a month but if the expression refers to something that rarely happens, then for the last few years, the world has experienced more than its fair share of blue moons since 1999.

The fact of the matter is that, historically speaking, 12 full moons were expected from one winter solstice to the next winter solstice, people expected that each quarter of a year would have 3 full moons. However, occasionally a fourth full moon occurred in a quarter and when that happened, the third of four full moons was referred to as the blue moon. And how often would this happen? Once every three years ergo a long time always passed between blue moons.

But as history would have it, author and amateur astronomer James Hugh Pruett (1886 – 1955) wrote an article for “Sky And Telescope” in March 1946, wherein he wrote that the second full moon in a month was known as the blue moon. He was wrong, of course, but as with many mistakes that go to print, the concept stuck.

Back on February 11, 1965 the St. Petersburg Evening Independent newspaper published an article by Bob Chick on the subject of one particular high school basketball star. This teen was what people referred to as a show stopper and a great athlete, and Bob Chick served example after example of just how good this teen was on the courts. He ended the article with this bit:

Hollins Coach Roy King provided a pretty good summary of Lanier’s talents. “He was tremendous. A don’t know of anything he couldn’t do with a basketball. They come along like Lanier once in a blue moon.”

Back in 1934, Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart wrote the very popular song “Blue Moon” which has resurfaced often over the years (the most memorable versions was recorded by the Marcels in 1961).

Interestingly enough, during the 1920s there were a spate of blue moon parties held during the spring and summer months. The decorations were in varying shades of blue and all of them were related to the moon or the man-in-the-moon. In fact, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1929 published a feature by Leatrice Gregory aptly entitled:

Blue Moon Party Offers Picturesque Possibilities

In P.G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse’s anthology “The Man Upstairs and Other Stories” published in 1914, there’s a story entitled, “Rough-Hew Them How We Will.” In this short story, the following passage is found:

There was an artist who dined at intervals at Bredin’s Parisian Cafe, and, as the artistic temperament was too impatient to be suited by Jeanne’s leisurely methods, it had fallen to Paul to wait upon him. It was to this expert that Paul, emboldened by the geniality of the artist’s manner, went for information. How did monsieur sell his pictures? Monsieur said he didn’t, except once in a blue moon. But when he did? Oh, he took the thing to the dealers. Paul thanked him. A friend of him, he explained, had painted a picture and wished to sell it.

Going back a little further, E. Cobham Brewster wrote in his “Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable” on the subject of blue moons.  The tome includes this commentary:

On Dec. 10, 1883, we had a blue moon. The winter was unusually mild. In 1927, during a total eclipse of the sun, many observers at Belfast, Ireland, fancied that the moon took on a decidedly blue tinge. Moons of unusual colors, such as green and blue, have been seen after certain violent volcanic explosions  and also occasionally through smoke-laden fogs, but inasmuch as once in a blue moon originally meant never, it is not likely that it was suggested by such lunar phenomena. The United Stated Weather Bureau has been unable to find anything in meteorological literature that would throw light on the origin of the phrase.

Interestingly enough, Edmund Yates published a book in 1869 entitled “Wrecked In Port.” In his book, which was touted as an autobiographical account of a shipwreck survivor, he wrote:

These gentry, who would have sat interested for that indefinite period known as ”a blue moon,” had the talk been of markets, and prices, and ” quotations,” at length thought it time to vary the intellectual repast, and one of them suggested that somebody should sing a song.

But the expression has persisted over a number of generations. In fact in William Roy and Jerome Barlow’s “Rede Me And Be Not Wroth” published in 1528, the concept of the blue moon (which is quite absurd based on this passage) is mentioned on page 114 as follows:

Agaynft god they are fo ftobbourne
That fcripture they toffe and tourne
After their owne ymaginacion.
Yf they say the moon is blewe
We must beleve that it is true
Admyttinge their interpretacion.

So while the concept of a blue moon meaning rarely or never or being an absurd concept of ever actually happening dates back at least to the early 1500s for William Roy and Jerome Barlow to include it in a book published in 1528.

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

Blue Light Special

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 5, 2013

Do you remember the days when you could hear a disembodied voice say over the loudspeaker system: Attention Kmart® shoppers. There’s a blue light special in aisle …?

If you do, then you know that a blue light special is a surprise price-cut offered for a limited time (usually about 15 minutes in length) on specific merchandise. But as with all good things, it fell into the abyss of great ideas and disappeared for a while before coming back to life. How does Idiomation know this?

Greg Hudson posted an article on August 25, 2009 to the Better Business Bureau blog site entitled, “Kmart Is Bringing Back The Blue Light Special.” For those who couldn’t believe the headline, the first paragraph read:

No, it’s not 1965, but the discount retailer Kmart is bringing back its legendary blue light special.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was reported that some Kmart stores still had their “original, decades-old blue lights” while other Kmart stores made do with blue balloons!

Some may think that this was the first time Kmart revived the blue light special concept, but they’d be mistaken. in fact, in December 1999, Kmart opened up their online website, and named it BlueLight.com. If you type that into your browsers these days, you’ll be redirected to Kmart.com.

For trivia lovers, few people know that Johnston-Crowder Manufacturing Co published the “Blue Light Special” board game in 1986. Yes, people, this was a traditional board game for 2 to 4 players.

Blue Light Special Board Game

Now, it’s unfortunate but the expression became the brunt of countless jokes, so when the Youngstown Vindicator of December 9, 1978 published Joan Ryan’s column, “On Sports” and she wrote about Pete Rose and his family, you had to wonder if she was going to take pot shots at the expression.   It read in part:

What happens to a family of four (Petey is 9; Fawne is 14) when their income suddenly escalates to within millions? “Well, I still stop at K-Mart,” says the flamboyant Karolyn, who wears diamonds with her blue jeans.

“I love those discount stores. The only thing it that the cashiers all know me and they say, ‘Honey, we turned off the blue-light special when you pulled in in your Rolls.'”

Earlier that year, on March 2, 1978 the Nashua Telegraph newspaper published a news article entitled, “Carter Directive Calls For Secret Commando Force.” The story dealt with the formation of a secret Army commando unit President Jimmy Carter had ordered. Its primary focus was to combat terrorist acts outside the US. Headed up by Col. Charlie Alvin Beckwith, it wasn’t long before it was nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels” by its first members. The article stated:

The force has been given the code name “Project Blue Light” for its formative stages. Sources said a nucleus of Green Berets from the Army’s Special Forces have already quietly set up headquarters in a post stockade that has until now been used to house prisoners at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The fact of the matter is that a Fort Wayne, Indiana Kmart store manager used a police car light to draw attention to Christmas wrapping paper that he was clearing out of his store back in 1965. It was such a success that it was adapted to draw attention to any clearance item, and it found its way into the chain before moving on to become an American icon idiom.

So the next time you hear someone joke about the blue light special, smile. It’s not every day that you hear a purely American comment still current in today’s pop culture.

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

Blue Plate Special

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 3, 2013

A blue plate special is a specially low-priced meal, usually offered at diners and cafes, that consists of one meat (or fish if it was Friday) and one potato, and two vegetables, and served up on one plate as a single menu item.  Or, as it was referred to in the 1930s, a square [meal] for two bits.

On August 21, 2003, a Special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer written by Judy Wagoner discussed glasswork by John Miller that was created to look like fast food.  She referred to it as an homage to the greasy spoon, small-town diner.  The article was aptly entitled:

Blue Plate Special‘ Casts A Congealed Eye On Diner Fare

When Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote about politics in Washington, the article was carried in the Vancouver Sun.  As with any political situation, there are the pros and cons of this party or the other.  But Richard Cohen had things to say about the goings on in Washington and it started with this paragraph:

There is something about politics that reminds me of the Blue Plate special.  You have to take it all or you take none of it.  The rule in politics as in all cheap restaurants is usually the same — no substitutions.

On December 20, 1946 the Edmonton Journal published a photograph with an interesting caption beneath it.  With an opportunity to inject humor into the daily news, the editor decided to allow that to happen.  And so, beneath the photo of cattle in Colorado, the following caption was placed:

This is a case of serving the ‘blue plate special‘ dinner to future blue plate special dinners.  It is a photograph of Colorado ranchmen feeding their beef cattle by tractor-drawn sleds after a blizzard left thousands of cattle stranded and starving in the snow.  Airplanes were also used to drop hay to herds which could not be reached by sled.

In the January 1929 edition of “The Restaurant Man” periodical, an article entitled, “Quick Lunchplaces Have Own Vernacular” was published where a quick mention was made about blue plate specials:

A blue plate is the label given a special daily combination of meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables, sold at a special price, and is ordered with the words, blue plate.

Now long before then, Frederick Henry Harvey (who, at the time, was working as a general freight agent at the time for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad) opened a string of Harvey House restaurants at railroad stations (making Fred Harvey the creator of the chain restaurant concept).  These restaurants served train passengers riding on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, the Kansas Pacific Railway, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, among others.  When a Harvey  House restaurant was built in Hugo (Oklahoma) in 1914, it was no different than the others.  Right there on the menu, passengers with only a short period of time between trains could order the blue-plate special.

The company established in 1875 is said to have created the expression blue plate special, debuting it on a Harvey House restaurant menu on October 22, 1892.  It was described as a “daily low-priced complete meal served on a blue-patterned china plate.”  With this new addition to his already high standards set for his staff and the food they served, Fred Harvey continued to build his reputation by presenting fine dining on china plates to train passengers sitting at tables dressed with fine Irish linens with Sheffield silver to complete the experience.

If there are any historians out there who know more about this fascinating bit of railroad history, Idiomation would love to hear from you.

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