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Archive for July, 2013

Raining Cats And Dogs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 31, 2013

If it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s no need to worry. The idiom refers to a heavy downpour that doesn’t look like it will let up any time in the near future.  Just make sure to take an umbrella with you and to dress warmly to guard against the cutting wind.

The phrase is popular, and it’s found in all sorts of expected — and unexpected — places. In fact, on the Benton County website in Philomath, Oregon there just happened to be a juried art exhibition happening from June 21 to July 27, 2013 at the Benton County Museum. You’ll never guess the name of the exhibition … or may you will. Yes, it was dubbed “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

On Christmas Eve day (December 24) of 1959, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal carried a quick story out of San Marino, California. It was an odd little story about residents being pelted by pelts. The investigating officer spoke with the reporter who wrote:

Officer Martin Boyle said he heard of it raining cats and dogs — but never Persian lamb and muskrat pelts. The furs, packaged in sacks, fell in a three block area.

The Pittsburg Press edition of May 4, 1930 discussed the documented incidents of all sorts of objects falling from the skies during unusually heavy rainfalls. Among the items listed were: lichens, leaves, hay, toads, frogs, fish, mussels, oranges, pebbles, and in one case in Charleston (SC) a 2-foot long alligator! The title of the article was, of course, “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

And the New York Times published an article on October 25, 1890 about a local mayoralty candidate by the name of Mr. Scott who appeared at a number of locations one rainy evening to shake hands with voters and greet large and enthusiastic audiences waiting to catch a glimpse of him. He charmed audiences everywhere he went with his story of having been a hard-working man all his life, and promising to continue with that work ethic if New Yorkers saw fit to elect him Mayor. The article began with this paragraph:

Although Old Improbabilities at Washington promised to coax the stars into view last night, the shades of the late Mr. Tweed must have pulled the string behind his back, so that when the people’s candidate for Mayor got ready to sally forth it was raining cats and dogs. Nothing daunted, Mr. Scott put on his cork-soled shoes and his long mackintosh and jumped into his carriage between the drops.

Going back in time to the previous century, the “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” by Irish author, clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was published in London through the agency of Mary Barber as well as in Dublin by George Faulkner in 1738.

Come, Sir John, I foresee it will rain terribly. Lady Smart. Come, Sir John, do nothing rashly; let us drink first Lord Sparkish. I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs. But pray, stay, Sir Sir John.

When English dramatist Richard Brome (1590 – 1643) wrote “The City Wit, or, The Woman Wears The Breeches: A Comedy” in 1629 (it was later revised in 1647 and printed in 1653), an earlier version of the idiom appeared in Act IIII, Scene I. In this scene, Sarpego (identified as a Pedant) says this:

SARPEGO:
From henceforth Erit Fluvius Deucalionis
The world ſhall flow with dunces; Regnabitque, and it
ſhall raine
Dogmata Polla Sophon, Dogs and Polecats, and fo forth.

Now polecats aren’t really cats at all. They’re actually more closely related to weasels and ferrets than to cats, however, the idiom “it’s raining cats and dogs” can easily be seen in stating “it shall rain dogs and polecats.”

But even before Richard Brome’s play, there was a saying used by sailors to describe particularly lively cats, and that was to say: The cat has a gale of wind in her tail.  But most telling of all is that Norse mythology put forth that cats represented the wind and dogs represented the rain, and so when a storm had both wind and rain together, it was figuratively cats and dogs.

This means that the idiom proper dates back to 1629, but the concept has its roots in Norse mythology which goes back long before the 17th Century, long before the 10th Century, long before the days of the Roman Empire.  In other words, it’s way back there in time.

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Pulls My Trigger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 29, 2013

Phil Williams of NewsTalk 98.7 FM out of Knoxville made the comment that a certain news story pulled his trigger. The manner in which the comment was used indicated that he felt strongly on the subject. But what did he mean by that?

If someone says that someone or something pulls their trigger, what they mean is that they feel very strongly about that person or the topic being discussed. It’s an intense reaction where the person whose trigger is pulled takes a stand, and that’s all there is to it! Whether it’s positive or negative is entirely dependent upon the specific situation.

Atlanta, Georgia singer-songwriter, Jeff Silver and Josh Osborne wrote a song about a woman that’s nothing but trouble but she somehow knows how to get men all worked up over her feminine wiles. It appeared on his 2008 release for Silvercraft Records entitled “Looking Forward Looking Back.” The song’s title is, of course, “Pulls My Trigger” and the last line in the chorus is:

That girl pulls my trigger every time.

When author/blogger Crystal Green aka Christine Cody aka Chris Marie Green reviewed the Superman movie she blogged about in her June 28, 2005 spoiler-filled blog entry “Superman Returns To Men” she wrote in part:

Girls and boys, he totally pulls my trigger. If you’re prone to heroics, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My gosh, you’ve never seen Superman done like this before. The guy can fly all right, but this time out, instead of being all, “La la la” as he meanders through the skies, he’s a rocket.

Two years before that, Laura Nation published an article entitled, “How Not To Treat Customers” that appeared in the Cleburne News edition of November 20, 2003. While she acknowledged that dealing with the public could sometimes be rough, she also maintained that if you have a job, you need to do that job to the best of your abilities.

Well, that always pulls my trigger. I try never to tell anyone what they’ll have to do. They don’t have to do anything.

And back on November 13, 1999 there was a 2-page testimony about the annual pig roast held at Mom’s Biker Bar in Longview, Texas that a group of friends from Louisiana attended. They were all (according to the author, John L. Doughty, Jr) the author’s “beer-drinkin’ and pool-shootin’ buddies and the leading citizens of Tullos.” The website retelling of the event took up 2 pages, complete with photographs to accompany the storytelling. And at one point, the author wrote:

I suppose by now some of y’all have figured out that little miss Wild Thang pulls my trigger. Here she is again in a sneaky shot I took with a telephoto lens. Around midnight that night and at least 6 long necks later when she was even less inhibited than her normal uninhibited self and so was I, she posed for a very good shot. Alas, alas, alas, the batteries were dead in my camera. There ain’t no justice.

Now then, John L. Doughty, Jr.is out of Louisiana, the Cleburne News is out of Alabama, Jeff Silver lives in Georgia, and Phil Williams is from Tennessee. So is it possible that this expression is a southern saying?

Possibly, however the expression showed up in a blog article written by blogger Jami Dwyer of Portland, Oregon and published to her Appreciator blog site on May 31, 2008. The entry was entitled, “Why No Sasquatch Next Year” where she wrote about her experience at the Sasquatch Music Festival that weekend. Her insight into the event expressed the good and not-so-good aspects of the festival, and included this tidbit:

I waved my bracelet at ID Dude #1, he spied my myriad gray hairs, and waved me through. But as I tried to move forward, ID Dude #2 said, in full authoritarian mode, “Your ID! Where’s your ID!”

Now, nothing pulls my trigger faster than a mean person.

“This is ridiculous!” I said. “I’ve been checked!” I said, waving my wristband. “YOU checked me!”

And in the Washington Post on November 16, 2006 in article written by Ugochi Onyeukwu, student journalist for the Cardozo Owl newspaper of Cardozo Senior High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C. The school has had some famous alumni over the years including, but not limited to, J. Edgar Hoover and John S. McCain, Jr. The article took on the issue or violence and the gun pledge. The piece was aptly entitled:

Why The Gun Pledge Pulls My Trigger

This indicates that either this is an expression that’s known and understood across the U.S. or it’s a southern expression that has migrated north and west (since it’s more prevalent in the south than in the north). But all that said and done, Idiomation was unable to trace it back to anything published prior to 1999.

That it was used with such ease and with the expectation of being understood underscores the fact that there is a history to this idiom; it just hasn’t been uncovered yet. That being said, Idiomation welcomes any leads on this idiom so its roots can finally be uncovered and shared with readers and visitors of this blog site.

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It’s Out!

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 28, 2013

When I began the Idiomation blog in 2009, I intended it to be a reference source for my teen son.  Like so many others, he struggled with what clichés like “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” meant.   From the time he was a toddler until he reached high school, I found myself explaining sayings to him on a daily basis … sometimes more than a few times across the day.

Once he hit high school, I knew that more and more situations would crop up where an expression would be used and not make sense to the literal thinkers of this world, and so the Idiomation blog was born.   What I hadn’t counted on was that celebrities like Charlie Sheen would be quoted in the media, leading to my son asking me one day if Charlie Sheen was an example of “star craving mad.”  Of course, he meant “stark raving mad” but his literal version made far more sense to him than the actual idiom (which some might say was also accurate in this instance).

The decision to not only explain what the idiom meant, but to provide its history as best as I could proved to be far more helpful (and fun) than I had anticipated.  In tracking down the first published instance for each saying, the evolution of each idiom was that much easier to follow and understand.

Within months of starting the Idiomation blog, more and more people were flocking to the blog site as idioms were added to the list.  People began to email me or phone me or ask me in person if I would explain this idiom or that expression.  This is where the concept for the “Friends Of Idiomation” came from, where people who suggested idioms were acknowledged for having suggested idioms.

Now the first book in the Idiomation series is finally available for purchase on Amazon.  With the history of 75 sayings, expressions, clichés and idioms you hear in day-to-day conversations, you’ll find out where they came from, and who was the first one to say or publish them.

The book is currently available in traditional paperbook form, and within days, it will also be available in eBook format,   Click HERE and order your copy of Idiomation: Book 1 today.  Once you’ve added this resource book to your personal library, you won’t ever find yourself wondering what people mean when they say they make no bones about it.   You’ll know the difference between being in the dark as opposed to being in the black or in the pink.  You won’t be a sitting duck when a wolf in sheep’s clothing asks you if you’re teed off.

And in the end, isn’t it just a lot of fun to know that you have the background on 75 clichés that are commonly used in every day conversations?  Yeah, me, too!

Idiomation-_Book_I_Cover_for_Kindle

LINK:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1481160079

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Published:  July 28, 2013
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1481160079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1481160070
  • Book Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches

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Pimp Steak

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 26, 2013

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

When you hear someone exclaim in horror: “Pimp steak again?” don’t be alarmed. They’ve just found out they’re being served a hot dog. So how is it that the perfectly good name for a hot dog wound up with this moniker as well?

For one thing, the term pimp didn’t always mean someone who procures customers for a prostitute or brothel and lives off the earnings. Back in the 1630s, it was used to describe any despicable person, and in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the term has been used since the mid-20th century to identify a spy or an informant.

The Boston Phoenix reviewed “The Old Settler” by John Henry Redwood on November 4, 1999. It was playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and critics had identified the play as one of the Top 10 most-produced plays of the current season. The reviewer, Carolyn Clay, referred to the play as “theatrical comfort food, rich in ethnicity and emotion, served warm.” The play, set in 1943 Harlem, centered on relationships and healing. The review read in part:

The Old Settler is sentimental and easy to see coming (’40s Harlem meets The Heiress), but it is carefully wrought. And it paints a colorful picture of African-American life in an earlier time, a particular place where magical if disreputable spots called Small’s Paradise and the Savoy Ballroom duke it out with a strong, supper-slinging black Church. Moreover, there is in the elegiac evocation by Bess and Husband of the Southern places they come from a feeling of displacement that’s one of the themes of August Wilson. Redwood tells a tighter story than Wilson does (though at first, with Husband searching like haunted Harold Loomis for his lost mate, The Old Settler seems like a lightweight Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). And if he doesn’t make as vivid and musical use of black speech as Wilson, Redwood does doodle a linguistic tune. Quilly’s conjuring of the chitterling dinner at Singleton’s Restaurant on Lenox and 136th Street is a feast in itself. And who ever knew that a hot dog was called a “pimp steak” or that “swamp seeds” were rice?

Now back in the 1940s, Dan Burley chronicled Harlem nightlife for the Amsterdam News. He was born in 1907, the son of a Baptist minister, he spent his childhood in Kentucky and Texas.  By the time the Black Migration of World War I slowed, the Burley family lived in Chicago, and one of his classmates at Wendell Phillips High School was jazz musician, Lionel Hampton.

He became a journalist for the Chicago Defender after leaving school, and in 1937 (at age 30), he joined the Amsterdam News as a reporter, city editor, nightlife columnist, theater editor and sports editor. What came of his time at the Amsterdam News was a 157-page book entitled “Original Handbook Of Harlem Jive” which was published in 1944. And right there, among the many other expressions that came out of Harlem was this definition for a frankfurter: pimp steak!

But in reading Cab Calloway’s book “Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive” published in 1939, the term doesn’t show up anywhere in his listings.  Either the expression wasn’t in vogue at the time or it was in vogue but not popular enough to rate inclusion in Cab Calloway’s dictionary.

Either way, the earliest this expression can be pegged at is sometime during World War II (1939 – 1945). Hope that works for all you hep cats out there.

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Water Under The Bridge

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 24, 2013

Whenever you hear someone say it’s all water under the bridge, it’s just another way of saying that a problem or unpleasant situation has been addressed, and is best left in the past. Yes, whatever the problem was, it’s considered by everyone to be forgiven and, quite possibly, forgotten as well. So whenever you hear those words, you can be at peace knowing that whatever event you’re agonizing over is no longer an issue for all parties involved.

Back on May 12, 2011, The Libertines frontman, Carl Barat was quoted in the Glasgow, Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper as saying that a band reunion wasn’t in the cards for fans of the band. It had everything to do with the bad blood between Pete Doherty and himself. In the interview, he added:

We are all in very different places. Right now is not the time for The Libertines. I thought the water under the bridge was under the bridge, bug may it’s not. It’s a very hard thing. Every time we talk, it just brings it back up.

The expression was used in Vadim Bytensky’s book “Journey From St. Petersburg” published in 2007 by AuthorHouse. The book told the story of how the author returned to Russia in the 1990s, and witnessed how everything had changed since he had last seen it in 1975. At one point in the author’s story, he has this to say on page 128:

He spoke Russian with a Japanese accent. I played around with Japanese like a child playing with bricks. It was a most absorbing occupation, although unfortunately it lasted for only one year. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and my knowledge of Japanese has also evaporated — after all, who in Toronto needs a non-Japanese to translate from that language?

An uncomfortable situation in American history had to do with Watergate, and when the Gettysburg Times newspaper published a story entitled, “President Grilled By Press On Watergate; Will Not Resign; Would Get On With Business” back on August 23, 1973, it was obvious how uncomfortable the situation was. The story indicated that whenever the matter of Watergate cropped up, Richard Nixon deflected with comments that steered reporters in the direction of who the new Secretary of State and other such things. The story began with this paragraph:

Declaring that Watergate is “water under the bridge,” and giving explanations that conceded no personal negligence, Richard Nixon responded Wednesday for the first time in five months to direct questions about the scandal that has shaken his presidency.

Back on September 21, 1931 the Editorial of the Day in the Tuscaloosa News had everything to do with the Long no-cotton plan that was dead, as forecast in the Montgomery Advertiser 10 days earlier. There had been a number of opponents to the plan from Governor Long of Louisiana, and many Texans saw the plan as an attempt to boss Texans around. The editorial stated in part:

Had the Long plan been good, Long would have killed it in Texas. But all of this water under the bridge. The fact is that the no-cotton law of Louisiana will not be adopted by the other States, notwithstanding that on yesterday the Senate of the South Carolina Legislature voted to enact it. It is plainly unthinkable that the other cotton States should adopt the Louisiana law now that Texas, the greatest producing State, has rejected it.

The idiom has the same meaning as the older version known as water over the dam.

In fact, the New York Times published an article about the Mexican situation (as it was referred to at the time) on December 20, 1919. The issue of the cost of maintaining a border patrol of regular and National Guard troops to protect the Us border (at a cost of $1,000,000,000 since in the years since Madero had started Mexico on the revolutionary road back in 1911) was foremost in people’s minds. Among those interviewed was James S. Black, editor of the El Paso Times, who was quoted in the news story as saying:

But that is all water over the dam. What has been done cannot be undone, but the Administration might profit by the mistakes of the past. Mexico and Mexicans will respect American and their property once they are convinced the United States means business.

A few dictionaries claim that the expression water over the dam is American slang from the 1840s, however, Idiomation was unable to find any proof to support the claim.

However, because the expression was used in a published news article in 1919, it was obviously a common expression that was as easily understood in El Paso as in New York, and back dating it a generation, this pegs the expression to at least 1890. It’s possible that it goes back two generations, which would place it to sometime in the 1860s. But without proof, it’s difficult to guess that it goes back yet another generation (although it may very well go back to the 1840s).

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Hold Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 22, 2013

If an idea, reason or argument is strong and coherent, doesn’t seem to have any holes, and stands up under critical examination, it’s said to hold water. Conversely, if it’s a bad idea or a poor argument, you’ll hear people say it won’t hold water.

On November 29, 2001 Neha Kaushik’s article on Coca-Cola Indias (CCI) was published in The Hindu newspaper. The article reported that strategies applied by the soft drink giant resulted in the company garnering 24 percent in the packaged water segment in just over a year. The article was entitled, “Coke’s Plans Hold Water.”

When the Lodi News Sentinel wrote about Vice-President Ford’s “Meet The Press” appearance in their January 10, 1974 edition, the difficult position Gerald Ford found himself in was clear. It was reported that the “Meet The Press” interviewer had recalled comments Gerald Ford had made before with regards to impeaching a President. It appears that Gerald Ford stammered and attempted to “bail himself out of the dilemma” only to make another comment the reporter latched on to. In the news story, the article ended with this comment:

The grounds for impeachment cited in Section 4, Article II apply not only to the president and vice president which clearly includes judges. Ford’s explanation of the discrepancy between his views in 1970 and today on grounds for impeachment does not hold water.

Back on October 10, 1932 the Ellensurg Daily Records reported on the captain of the prison guards at the Sunbeam prison camp near Jacksonville, Florida who allegedly whipped Arthur Maillefert with an 18-inch length of 3 inch rubber hose, normally used for coupling freight cars. At the time, whipping prisoners was against Florida laws. Things went terribly wrong and Maillefert died, which led Captain Courson to coerce other prisoners into lying about what had happened. The story stated that one of the witnesses alleged the following was true:

“Then Captain Courson told me: ‘Bob, there’s liable to be some trouble over this.'”

“Yes, Cap’n, it is a pretty tight spot,” Blake said he replied.

“He told me to go in and get him five or six witnesses who might be able to clear him at a trial.”

“I did. After I went out I told Courson I thought he had a story that would hold water.”

The witnesses said they “framed it” so several convicts would testify that Maillefert intended to commit suicide.

It’s unfortunate that the story didn’t give details about when the court case was due to resume, or if the judge made arrived at a verdict that day. It also didn’t indicate what the penalty might be if a guilty verdict was rendered. In spite of all this, the story was aptly entitled:

Prison Guard Framed Story Says Extrusty: Says Officer Obtained His Help In Framing Alibi That Would Hold Water At Trial

Nearly two generations before that story was published, the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a story from Bangor, Maine on October 13, 1887. This story was about the articles in the New York World and Boston Globe newspapers reporting on the bank robbery in Dexter. There were several discrepancies highlighted such as the fact that, due to the amount of snow on the ground, the robbers couldn’t have driven away in a wagon as alleged. This story was entitled:

Editor Robbins Scouts the Theory of Murder Still: He Says The Confession of Stair Does Not Hold Water

The expression was even found in the Daily National Intelligencer of July 15, 1842 with regards to the bill to provide revenue from imports, and to change and modify existing laws imposing duties on imports and for other purposes which was debated in on July 11 in the House of Representatives. When C.J. Ingersoll to the floor, he had a lot to say about the situation, some of which had its roots in discussing free trade and direct taxation extending from 1783. His comments made their way to what Mr. Ingersoll referred to as the Nullification war, and the Compromise Act of 1833, and in the course of his statements, he stated the following:

Among other things it had been stated that there were but about sixty-seven thousand persons immediately interested in manufactures, and these protection bills were to be passed for that handful of men! Very well; admitting it to be so, how many shipping merchants were there in the United States? About forty thousand probably; and was not our entire navigation system framed to protect them? Laws not merely protective, but absolutely prohibitory? The doctrine that no legislation was to take place for the benefit of particular classes in the country would never hold water. How many lawyers were there in the United States? (and this objection came from one who was himself a distinguished lawyer) Were there fifteen thousand? And were the laws which guarded their profession all robbery and plunder?

Other politicians took to the floor and shared their opinions, and in the end, the newspaper reported that the debate was to be continued.

English actor, playwright, and poet laureate, Colley Cibber (June 11, 1671 – November 12, 1757) wrote “She Wou’d, and She Wou’d Not: Or the Kind Imposter. A Comedy, as it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane by His Majesty’s Servants” which was published in 1703.  In Act IV of this play, the expression was used here:

This business will never hold water.

As research continued, an old Swedish proverb was found that read: “Don’t throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.”  Now that’s very good advice indeed, and certainly drives home the point that an old bucket without holes in it beats a new bucket that won’t hold water … both literally and figuratively speaking.

Although Idiomation was unable to pin an exact date to the Swedish proverb, the expression dates back to at least the early 1600s, and this is suggested based in part on the ease with which Colley Cibber used it in his play in 1703.

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Cakewalk

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 10, 2013

Whenever something is easy, sure or certain, you might hear someone describe it as a cakewalk. It seems like a funny moniker for something easy, sure or certain, especially in light of the word’s history. A cakewalk is a dance with strutting steps based on a promenade. A promenade is a march of guests into a ballroom that signals the opening of a formal ball. What this means is that a cakewalk is a less formal version of a promenade where participants showcase intricate and eccentric dance steps.

It originated with African American slaves used cakewalks as subtle satire that mocked the elegance of ballroom dances at gatherings hosted by their white owners. But it wasn’t just African American slaves who danced cakewalks. There’s also a Scottish competitive highland dance that’s known as a cakewalk, after it was seen performed in the U.S.

The cakewalk (which is only performed at the top level of competition) that was introduced to Scotland from the United States by dancer, judge and examiner James L. McKenzie (1905-1992) who was also one of the founders of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance. The inclusion of a cakewalk made sense to James L. McKenzie in light of the history of highland dancing. For several centuries, highland dancing was used as exercise to keep the Scottish regiments fit and ready for battle. For example, a typical six-step Highland Fling requires a dancer to execute complicated steps while jumping vertically (without assistance) up into the air 192 times. So what may be considered a negative in America is seen as a positive in the world of highland dancing.

Readers are probably curious to know how far back the expression cakewalk goes, and Idiomation has done the research to track it as far back as possible until the trail goes cold.

On October 17, 2010 Eva Moskowitz spoke with the New York Daily News about the opening of Success Academy, a charter school on the upper West Side. Just like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Harlem Success schools had become high profile charter schools, the same was anticipated for this new charter school. In the article, Eva Moskowitz was quoting as saying:

“We think there’s tremendous parental need and demand” on the West Side, says Moskowitz. “It’s an anxiety-producing experience, no matter what your race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, to find a great public school for your child. Just because you have more means doesn’t mean that it’s a cakewalk.”

The Petersburg Times published an article by journalist Fred Girard on February 11, 1970 that announced that Hugh Durham, head coach of the Florida State Seminoles had watched his 100th game as head coach. The team had defeated the Florida Southern Moccasins with a score of 98 to 74. There was a lot of excitement over the win as well as over the coach’s 100th game. The article was entitled, “It’s a Cakewalk For Hugh 98-74.”

Going back a generation, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a story out of New York in their July 2, 1939 edition that was all about the upcoming Jack Dempsey fight … one that involved an emergency appendectomy at Polyclininc Hospital. The Executive Officer, A.A. Jaller, reassured the media that the surgeon, Dr. Robert Emery Brennan felt positive about the recovery, quoting Jack Dempsey’s temperature was being 100.8 degrees with a pulse of 70 and respiration of 22. The article was entitled, “Jack Dempsey Sure He Can’t Lose This Fight” and read in part:

Earlier the old Manassa Mauler had sent word through his secretary, Ned Brown, to “tell ’em all hello. How could a guy lose with so many seconds in his corner? It’s a cakewalk.”

On February 22, 1907 the New York Times carried the sensational news report about a trial where the husband of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw was being tried for the murder of Stanford White. The article talked about how she had burst into tears “as she told how Stanford White had given her champagne and forced her to receive his attentions.” At the time of the incidents, Evelyn wasn’t yet married to her husband, Harry Thaw.  Details were shared in the article including the following:

Q. – Do you know a place in Paris called the Dead Rate?
A. – Yes.
Q. – What sort of a place is it?
A. – It was a café.
Q. – Did it seem to you reputable the night you were there?
A. – Well, I don’t know. People were sitting about eating and drinking, that is all, and somebody danced.
Q. – Wasn’t that about 2 o’clock in the morning?
A. – Probably.
Q. – And wasn’t it a cakewalk?
A. – I remember distinctly a Russian dance.
Q. – Was this before or after Mr. Thaw had proposed to you in Paris and you had refused him?
A. – It was after, I think it was the next year, 1904.
Q. – With whom did you go to the Dead Rat?
A. – With Mr. Thaw and I think a Mr. Shubert, the theatrical manager, and with another man, who had been a theatrical manager, but I don’t remember his name.

The cakewalk was confirmed in a letter produced in evidence by the District Attorney that was written by Thaw while he was in Paris which read in part:

I had not introduced the young ladies to [Evelyn Nesbit], but they all grinned sweetly and asked her too, and about three dozen men. The night before the Grand Prix there was an impromptu soiree at the Café de Paris. Somebody got Miss Winchester cakewalking about 2 o’clock. Much applause. After some coaxing [name withheld] began by herself. Belmont was at another table with Rosenfeld.

If the cakewalk was known at the turn of the 20th century, then how far back does the cakewalk reach? According to a story entitled, “May Irwin, Ragtime And The Cake Walk” published in the Boston Evening Transcript of February 14, 190,2 the dance had quite a history as evidenced by this passage:

In a similar manner Miss Irwin learned to do her cakewalk from genuine Negroes, but not on a Virginia plantation, as might be inferred. On the contrary, it was up among the Thousand Islands where she has a beautiful summer home. At a hotel the colored employees were getting up a cakewalk for their own entertainment and nobody was to be allowed to attend. By bribery Miss Irwin and two friends were smuggled into the rear of the great dininghall, from which the tables and chairs had been cleared for the festivities. The dapper young waiters and the prim little chambermaids walked for the cake in the most unsatisfactory manner, unsatisfactory to the cook of the establishment, a bouncing Ethiopian with avoirdupois going beyond the reach of obesity pills. Finally, with a grunt of disgust she started. “Let me show you how to do it,” and show them she did, but by far the most interested spectator was the plump, blond actress who spent the rest of the night gyrating before a full-length mirror until she acquired that grotesque gait with which Miss Irwin never fails to secure a laugh when she ambles down to the footlights. With the ragtime and the cakewalk it is not strange that she feels indebted to the Negro.

And the Morning Herald published at story entitled, “President’s Reception” on March 22, 1899 gave news that President McKinley had enjoyed a full day of quiet and rest at Jekyl Island. Among the tidbits of information on the President’s time away from the White House. Among the tidbits was this:

Tonight an old-fashioned cakewalk, participated in by the colored people about the island, was given at the clubhouse and was attended by the President, club members and guests of the island.

Delving back even further, the expression appeared in Harper’s Magazine in October, 1879

Reader, didst ever attend a cake walk given by the colored folks?

he cakewalk, as you know from reading the intro to this entry, came from African American slaves, and the last slaves were freed in 1865.  The dance was first mentioned during the Antebellem Era (1800 – 1860) since freed slaves already spoke about cakewalks in days gone by at the time of their freedom.

Liza Jones, was born a slave of Charley Bryant near Liberty, Texas. She was one of the African Americans whose story was part of the compilation, “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interview with Former Slaves: 1936 – 1938.” The compilation was prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project assembled by the Library Of Congress Project that formed part of the Works Projects Administration, and published in 1941. She remembered the day the soldiers came and her family were no longer slaves.

“When de Yankees come to see iffen dey had done turn us a-loose, I am a nine year old nigger gal. That make me about 81 now. Dey promenade up to de gate and de drum say a-dr-um-m-m-m-m, and de man in de blue uniform he git down to open de gate. Old massa he see dem comin’ and he runned in de house and grab up de gun. When he come hustlin’ down off de gallery, my daddy come runnin’.”

The Civil War ended in 1865 which means that Liza Jones was born in  1855 or 1856. When it came to talk about the cakewalk, she had this to say about it:

“Dey had nice parties in slavery time and right afterwards. Dey have candy pullin’ and corn shuckin’s and de like. Old Massa Day and Massa Bryant, dey used to put dey niggers together and have de prize dances. Massa Day allus lose, ’cause us allus beat he niggers at dancin’. Lawd, when I clean myself up, I sho’ could teach dem how to buy a cake-walk in dem days. I could cut de pigeon wing, jes’ pull my heels up and clack dem together. Den us do de back step and de banquet, too.”

That being said, the trail went cold and Idiomation was unable to peg an earlier date for cakewalk than the Antebellum era, and so the expression dates back to between 1800 and 1860, just before the U.S. Civil War.

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Takes The Cake

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 8, 2013

Sometimes you’ll see people get to a point where they say that the latest takes the cake. Now they don’t literally mean that someone sneaked into their kitchen and made off with any baked goods that might have been on the counter. What they mean is that the most recent event is, in their opinion, more than they are willing or able to accept as fact. In other words, it’s an expression that states something or someone is unbelievable (in their behavior or attitude), incredible, or ridiculous.

When reviewer Anna Thompson wrote a piece on November 16, 2011 that compared the two major gaming consoles on the market, she did a comparison of the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360 … two gaming consoles that were at the heart of any serious gamer’s collection and discussions. The article imparted this information to those who were wondering which console would best suit their gaming needs.

When it comes to trust a console, the PS3 takes the cake again. The infamous Red Ring of Death (RROD) Xbox 360 is something that every player dreads and it is amazing how so many people still complain about this problem. The PS3 also suffers from problems once in a while, but there is no lack of such debilitating and notorious RROD, that can affect it.

The Pittsburg Press published an intriguing article on July 26, 1966 about the upcoming nuptials for Luci Baines Johnson. The Scripps-Howard Staff Writer shared with readers that the bride would be wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her show at her wedding to Patrick Nugent on August 6. The wedding was to be an elaborate affair, and the honeymoon was described as something most young brides never experience as she would be accompanied by three Secret Service agents. The wedding cake was discussed in some detail and the article ended with a question: If it takes five egg whites to make enough cake for 10 people, then multiply 5 by 75 which comes out to 375 egg whites, what in the world is the White House going to do with 375 egg yolks? The article was aptly entitled:

Luci’s Wedding Takes The Cake

Now back in the day, the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner was a well-read newspaper in Kent County, Rhode Island and in the February 7, 1902 edition, the reporter wrote about a certain celebrated London beauty who had been seen in several questionable dramatic productions over in England. While her career may have had a few bumps in the productions leading up to her appearance in America, she made waves once she arrived on American shores. So much so, in fact, that the reporter wrote this about the actress:

It is not what Mrs. Pat Campbell says or does that provokes the critics, but rather what she does not say or do. She is not a beauty, according to our American canons, but her dresses — oh my, my, my! — they are a revelation, a miracle of the costumer’s art, which would make Worth’s most splendid creation look like the blanket of a Hottentot. When you talk of style, Mrs. Campbell takes the cake and with it the entire bakery. There is no changing the hard, granite fact that she has caught the town, that her houses are packed and Mrs. Campbell and her manager are reaping a golden harvest.

American author, William Trotter Porter edited a book entitled, “A Quarter Race in Kentucky: And Other Sketches, Illustrative of Scenes, Characters, and Incidents, Throughout the Universal Yankee Nation,”  It was published in Philadelphia by T.B. Peterson and Brothers of Chestnut Street in 1847. In the story, “Old Tuttle’s Last Quarter Race” which was credited to “Buckeye” of Ohio. Whoever Buckeye was, and where in Ohio he lived,.  The story was originally published in the “Spirit Of The Times” in New York.  As the reader makes his way through the story, the following passage is found:

The result was, they got up a horse and fifty dollars in money a side, to run on Saturday at two o’clock, each one to start and ride his own horse, judge tops and bottoms — the winning horse takes the cakes — and no back out! Either party refusing to run forfeits the whole stakes.

Not to give away any part of the story, suffice it to say that the twists and turns in the story are both hilarious and well thought out, and as such, should you happen across a copy of this book, I highly recommend you read this story first. You’ll understand why when you reach the last page.

In any case, over the centuries, there have been many instances where the phrase has been used in one form or another, but the earliest version surprised Idiomation … a reference that took the idiom all the way back to Ancient Greece!

For those who don’t know, in Ancient Greece, a cake was the prize at drinking parties for the man who kept awake all night. “The Knights” written by comic Greek playwright and poet, Aristophanes (446 BC – 386 BC), was presented at the Lenaean festival in February 424 BC. Although the play was one that was political in nature, ridiculing policies and legislation, it did, indeed, make use of the phrase in this way:

If in bawling you defeat him,
sing we ho! for Victory’s sake.
If in shamelessness you beat him,
then indeed we take the cake.

The audacity of it all would lead to the group taking the cake, and as it were, this play certainly plays out in a most outrageous way through to the end. That being said, the expression dates back to 424 BC thanks to Aristophanes!

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Devil Dances In Empty Pockets

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 5, 2013

If you’ve been told that the Devil dances in empty pockets, you’re being warned that people are more likely to cheat and steal if they don’t have money to buy what they want or need. In other words, it’s an extension of these sayings: the Devil finds work for idle hands, and idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. So if you have nothing to do and you have no money, the understanding is that the Devil will show up and find something for you to do … and it will be unlawful, immoral or both, and guaranteed to land you in a lot of hot water.

If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” is the title of a song written by Ken Spooner and Kim Williams, and recorded by American country music singer Joe Diffie. It was released in April 2011 and it reached #1 on Billboard’s country charts. The song’s chorus was this:

If the Devil danced in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine.
With a nine foot grand, a ten piece band and a twelve girl chorus line.
I’d raise some loot in a three-piece suit, give ’em one dance for a dime,
If the Devil Danced in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine.

The idiom was used in the title of a blog article at The Meadow Of Life blog. On April 15, 2008 the author discussed the credit crisis in the U.S. and how it affected global markets, and felt it was apt to entitle this piece “The Devil Dances in Empty Pockets.

Occasionally, a reporter will see an opportunity to include the saying in a tongue-in-cheek way as was seen in the Toledo Blade edition of March 10, 1996. The news story published about the Christian Nudist Conference in Longwood, NC made the news with its “buck naked” worshiping in an article entitled, “Naked Came The Preacher.” The article closed off with this comment:

Besides, if it is true that the devil dances in empty pockets, what’s the horned wonder going to do when all these folks begin to pray? And, after all, are we not all created equal by your maker, a fact which last week’s conference of naked Christians no doubt proved most emphatically? Good thing God has a sense of humor.

Now, unfortunately, this idiom isn’t one that appears often and in researching the idiom, it is credited as a Kurdish proverb, a German proverb, and an English proverb.   However, there is no attribution provided for any of those claims. But all is not lost as the expression is an extension of “the devil finds work for idle hands” which is credited to St. Jerome (345 – 420).

The spirit of the idiom is found in a moral from Aesop (620 – 560 BCE): “He that serves God for rewards will serve the Devil for better wages.”

What this means for the Devil dances in empty pockets is that while there are roots that are far-reaching, it doesn’t seem to be an idiom for which research yields results beyond the few mentioned here. If readers or visitors to the blog can provide a published version of this idiom along with the date it was published, by whom and where, Idiomation would be grateful for your help.

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Devil May Care

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 3, 2013

When someone has a devil-may-care attitude, what it means is that he or she doesn’t worry about the results or consequences of his or her actions, and recklessly so. It’s actually a shortened idiom. The entire idiom is, “The devil may care, but I do not.”

In New Delhi, the Indian Express newspaper published on June 24, 2011 reported on the ICICI Banks, and their treatment of customers. It told the story of one customer in particular who had applied for a loan with which he hoped to buy a car, but he found out that a second loan in his name existed … one the customer hadn’t applied for, and for which he hadn’t signed. When he addressed the matter with the bank, the bank’s response was to have their customer charged with a criminal offence.

“How callous a banker can get is well illustrated by this case … It is a classic case where the respondent bank (ICICI) has adopted a devil-may-care attitude,” a district consumer forum bench headed by its president Rakesh Kapoor said while asking the bank to pay the damages. The bench, which also included its members S c Jain and Prem Lata, passed the judgment on a complaint filed by Delhi resident Anil Kumar Arora.

As for the final outcome of the criminal charges against the customer, the courts had this to say about the bank:

“The amount of harassment to which the complainant was subjected, against whom a criminal case was also filed, speaks volumes about the reckless, arbitrary, careless and callous manner in which this case was dealt with in the office of the ICICI bank,” the bench said.

Jumping back to November 10, 1943 journalist E.V.W. Jones covered the story of 19-year-old Nancy Oakes who begged a Bahamas Supreme Court jury to find her husband, Alfred de Marigny, innocent of the charge of murdering her millionaire father, Harry Oakes. It was a brutal murder followed by a sensational trial, and newspapers across that United States and Canada carried the Associated Press story entitled, “Nassaur Case May Go To Jury Today: Nancy Stands By Accused DeMarigny.” The article read in part:

The debonair De Marigny, pictured by the prosecution as a devil-may-care fortune hunter who killed his father-in-law because he feared he might lose a share of a vast estate, wept silently in the prisoner’s cage when his young wife started her testimony.

Now some who are painted as having a devil-may-care attitude are well-loved by the population as evidenced in the news article published in the Baltimore Morning Herald of November 26, 1903. Originally posted in the New York Evening Post, the article began with asking questions about the policy of pinpricks to which President Roosevelt was being subjected by Republican senators. The article included this paragraph for the newspapers’ readerships to consider:

It seems to us that the President’s betrayal of uneasiness only lays him open to fresh badgering. His unconcealed anxiety about the New York situation will give delight to every Hanna boomer West and South. As a rule, the country does not like to see a President advertising his eagerness for renomination.  Where is the big, good-natured, devil-may-care Roosevelt that we had fondly hoped was in the White House? The more worriment he confesses the more will his tormentors be encouraged to bait him. And if, by perchance advocating ship scandals, or letting down in the civil service, or throwing more offices to Platt, he makes it plain that his ambition is consuming, he will thereby but play into the hands of his enemies, and make his own ultimate disappointment the more probably.

Back on March 17, 1860 the New York Times published an article entitled, “The Slave-Trade: The Actual Character Of The Traffic.” The story was from St. Paul De Loando off the West Coast of Africa and had been written on January 25, 1860 (taking nearly 2 months to make to American shores for publication). The story carried this bit of insight:

The second class of slave-trade society are the semi-genteel cut-throats. This class includes in its ranks captains, supercargoes and officers of slavers. The law could make these gentry oscillate for half an hour between heaven and earth, with a rope around their necks, but it don’t. Out here they — especially the first two — are a well-dressed set, with plenty of money. They knock around in a devil-may-care style, drink plenty of liquor, are patronized by cutthroat number one and his set, and are often labeled “first-rate fellows.” They are not at all debarred from society here. Entirely unprincipled they are, of course; and some of them look as though they would cut your throat for a trifle.

A number of dictionaries state that the first published use of the expression was 1837 however none of them provided a source to support the claim. Idiomation, however, found it in “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens and published in 1837. Chapter 29 opens with this paragraph:

In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago–so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it — there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath.

It’s doubtful, however, that Charles Dickens was the first to coin the expression as it also appeared in “The Warwickshire Hunt from 1795 to 1836” written by an author known only as Venator, and published in 1837 as well. In the prefatory remarks, the following is found:

This is the sort of witchering, not easily defined — but, by its votaries, pretty sensibly felt, in hunting the fox. The light-hearted high-spirited stripling, when cigaring it careless to cover, with a kind of a knowing demi-devil-may-care twist of his beaver, receives in his transit a benison from every real friend of the chase he may chance to pass; and the airy, eager zeal of the youthful aspirant to rolls, tumbles, and the brush, will flush his memory with the frolic gayety of other days, and animate his mind with reflections most welcome to his heart.

Philip Morin Freneau (2 January 1752 – 1832) wrote his poem “The Expedition of Timothy Taurus, Astrologer” in 1775. One of the verses includes the idiom as follows:

Then the soldier went out, to refresh at the inn —
Perhaps he did not — if he did it’s no sin —
he made his congee, and he bowed to us all,
And said he was going to Liberty Hall:
‘Tis certain he went, but certainly where
I cannot inform, and the devil may care.

That the thought wasn’t finished is immaterial as the implication is that the speaker in this poem does not care. Of note as well is the fact that the expression is used with the knowledge that readers understand what is meant by the author,

Idiomation believes the expression reaches back at least another 2 generations, to the 1720s.  This is based on Idiomation’s suspicions that the spirit of the idiom is a result of the Golden Age of Piracy (1715 – 1725) where on the High Seas pirates recklessly went about their business with no worry or concern as to any consequences resulting from their actions. The only being that might care about their actions would be, of course, the Devil hence the expression.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »