Historically Speaking

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Archive for October, 2013

Sin Bin

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 30, 2013

With hockey season in full swing, certain sports idioms are being heard more and more often including sin bin. But the expression sin bin isn’t just a hockey term. In fact, it’s used in a number of sports. What exactly is a sin bin? A sin bin is a penalty box where players sit to serve the time of a given penalty. In Britain more recently, it also refers to a special unit on a separate site from a school that disruptive schoolchildren attend until they can be reintegrated into their normal classes.

On March 28, 2011 the South Wales Echo out of Cardiff published a sports story entitled, “Crusaders Run Into Dixon In Fine Form.” As brief as the story was, it still managed to use sin bin as a verb no fewer than three times. In this sentence:

The Welsh team trailed 22-0 at half-time after paying dear for having three players sin-binned in the first half.

In this sentence:

The first half was marred by an 18th-minute brawl that saw Crusaders duo Vince Mellars and Witt and Castleford’s Youngquest sin-binned.

And finally, in this sentence:

Crusaders were then reduced to 12 again in the 34th minute when full-back Schifcofske was sin-binned for throwing a spare ball onto the pitch in an apparent attempt to slow down play when the Tigers were in possession.

That’s a lot of sin-binning!

When Brian Mossop reported on a game in the Rugby League in his story “Ugly Side Of League Goes In Pairs” for the Sydney Morning Herald of June 29, 1982 he built excitement for readers by starting the article with this:

Two players were sent off, two were taken to hospital, two did time in the sin bin, and two biting incidents were reported as Rugby Leagues showed some of its uglier side in matches yesterday.

Shortly after that, he wrote:

At Endeavour Field referee Kevin Roberts ordered two props, Cronulla-Sutherland’s Dane Sorensen and South Sydney’s Gary Hambly, to the sin bin for 10 minutes after a second-half brawl.

Canadians have always loved their hockey and on January 4, 1964 the Ottawa Citizen shared sports news in a story entitled, “Penalties Galore, Even For Teams Not On The Ice.” The story dealt with a number of games, but when it came to reported on the hockey games in the Ontario Hockey League, readers were shocked to learn that the Morrisburg versus Lancaster game resulted in a league record total of 92 minutes in a game that ended 4 to 2. The last two sentences read:

Bob Tilley, picked up by Morrisburg from the folded Brockville team, was sentenced to a total of 21 minutes in the sin bin for various offences. Between penalties, Morrisburg made it tough on Lancaster goalie Don Grant, who stopped a total of 50 shots while playing an outstanding game.

A generation before that on March 31, 1939 the Windsor Daily Star reported on another hockey game in a story entitled, “Die-Hard Wings Tie It Up: Rangers Stick.” This game wasn’t just any hockey game. It was a battle between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the prize was the 1939 Stanley Cup! With almost 12,000 fans at the Detroit Olympia to cheer on both teams, all of the goals and eight of the penalties were packed into the first period, along with ninety percent of the action according to the reporter. Midway through the story, readers learned the following:

It was while the Wings rearguard was in the sin-bin that the Leafs got their only goal of the game to balance accounts. It was a typical Toronto power play that netted the counter. Four abreast, the visitors swept into Detroit territory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to sin bin. Because it was used in 1939 with the expectation that the idiom would be understood, the term pre-dates 1939. That being said, the first modern hockey game was played on March 3, 1875. As the game evolved, so did the nature of penalties although Idiomation was unable to find an exact date when the penalty box was first used.

That being said, it would not be unreasonable to tag the use of the idiom sin bin to 1930, and if any of our readers has a date for when the first penalty box came to be in hockey, please share the link to that information with others by way of the comments below.

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Moons And Goochers

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 28, 2013

If you watched the 1986 movie “Stand By Me” or read the 1983 story “The Body” you might remember the scene where the four boys are flipping coins to see which of them has to go to the store and pick up “supplies” for their overnight adventure. The idea is that in flipping coins, the odd man out has to go pick them up.

Now if, in the flipping of the coins, everyone gets heads, that’s called a moon. But if everyone gets tails, it’s extraordinary bad luck and it’s called a goocher. Regardless, a moon or a goocher are definitely out of the norm and so a goocher is something out of the norm that isn’t necessarily good. The explanation is found in Stephen King’s novella “The Body” that was the basis for the movie “Stand By Me” and in the movie, Teddy Duchamp says to Vern Lachance:

Vern-o, no one believes that crap about moons and goochers anymore, it’s baby stuff! Now come on, flip again.

In Stephen King’s 1983 novella, “The Body” included in the book “Different Seasons” the scene rolls out as follows:

“Nobody believes that crap about moons and goochers,” Teddy said impatiently. “It’s baby stuff, Vern. You gonna flip or not?”

Vern flipped, but with obvious reluctance. This time he, Chris, and Teddy all had tails. I was showing Thomas Jefferson on a nickel. And I was suddenly scared. It was as if a shadow had crossed some inner sun. They still have a goocher, the three of them, as if dumb fate had pointed at them a second time. Abruptly I thought of Chris saying: I just get a couple of hairs and Teddy screams and down he goes. Weird huh?

Three tails, one head.

Then Teddy was laughing his crazy, cackling laugh and pointing at me and the feeling was gone.

Try as Idiomation did, we were unable to track down an earlier published version of the expression moons and goochers and so it seems to have first appeared in Stephen King’s story published in 1983 (set in 1959 over Labor Day weekend in Oregon in the movie, and in 1960 in Maine in the book). This presents Idiomation with a conundrum: either this is an expression Stephen King coined in 1983 or this is an expression he and his friends used as 12-year-olds in 1959.

If we’re lucky, maybe Mr. King could send someone over to let us know where the idiom is from and settle this question.

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Nail Your Colours To The Mast

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 25, 2013

Have you ever heard someone talk about how you nailed your colors to the mast? It’s a lovely expression that means that you have publicly stated your opinions on one or more subjects, even the controversial ones, and cannot be swayed to change them.

In the UK, when Education Minister, David Willetts proved to be intelligent as well as well-informed, the Independent newspaper of October 25, 2010 ran a story on a speech he had given … one that wasn’t written by a speech writer and handed to him to rehearse and deliver. The article was entitled, “Two Brains Nails His Colours To The Mast” and the story ended with this paragraph:

Willetts is making clear that he does not want to see more universities being set up but at the same time he is nailing his colours to the widening participation mast. The important thing is to make sure that people acquiring their higher education in further education colleges are receiving the high quality experience that they would get in a fully-fledged university.

The New Straits Times decided that a brief news bite on the subject should be included on page 11 of the newspaper edition of April 8, 1989. It segued into a quick comment about the upcoming annual Kodak Run For The Money contest. Entitled, “Nailing Our Colours To The Mast” the article began with this sentence:

In the days when sailing ships fought on the high seas, nailing your colours to the mast was a sign to all and sundry that you had no intention of giving up the fight.

On July 19, 1955 the Glasgow Herald published a story entitled, “Colours To The Mast” and reported on the talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was held to discuss the known issues of the day that divided Communism and the Western world, and allowed leaders of various countries to assess and evaluate the sincerity of leaders from other countries. The article began thusly:

The first day of the Geneva talks was devoted to a general nailing of colours to the mast. If the designs were familiar, it is hardly to be wondered at. Ten years have passed since Potsdam, Roosevelt and Stalin are dead, and Sir Winston Churchill has retired, but the peoples they led remain and it was their views, evolved through the experience of those 10 years, that the Western spokesmen at least were declaring yesterday.

In 1912, author Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867- 27 March 1931) published a book entitled, “The Matador Of The Five Towns And Other Stories.” In the comedic short story entitled, “Hot Potatoes” readers are introduced Mrs. Swann of Bleakridge in the Five Towns, and with a few deft strokes, readers know more about her 19-year-old son, Gilbert, than you might think. A musical prodigy of sorts, the story regales readers with an indulgent mother’s attempts to mollycoddle her adult son. As the story peaks, this sentence finds its way into the storytelling.

But not for a thousand pounds would Mrs Swann have exposed the mush of potato on the carpet under her feet. She could not conceive in what ignominy the dreadful affair would end, but she was the kind of woman that nails her colours to the mast.

It was an expression used in Australia and New Zealand and can be found in the news story of April 28, 1887 entitled, “Criticisms On The Speech” and published in the Political Intelligence column in the Otago Daily Times. Near the end of this column, the following is found:

The local press with one voice condemn the Governor’s Speech. The Times says it is poor and thin, and does not show much of the nailing of colours to the mast. The Post says it is more than ordinarily vapid and uninteresting, and cunningly planned so as to afford as few pegs as possible on which to hang hostile amendments.

In writing the book entitled “Life Of Pius IX” by author T. Adolphus Trollope (1810–1892) and published by Craig and Taylor in Detroit back in 1877, he chose to use the idiom twice in his book. The first occasion presented itself here:

It is in this respect that the next Conclave will most materially differ from the last. In many other respects the situation is very analogous. It is once again a question of ” nailing colours to the mast,” or ” transaction ; ” of war to knife, or more or less sincere conciliation ; of refusing to yield an inch, at the risk (denied to exist, however, by some of those who have to make the decision) of utter rout and overthrow, or of giving a little to preserve the rest. But the world has progressed since the death of Gregory the Sixteenth. Both parties to the great contest have thought much since that time.

And the second occasion presented itself here:

The “nailing of colours to the mast” is an operation which, if often of doubtful political expediency, has always appealed to emotions and sympathies, which have their root in the noblest portion of the complex nature of mankind, and has rarely, so far as ensuring the admiration and applause of the crowd goes, appealed in vain. But religious — or rather ecclesiastical — prejudices and hatreds, which have their root in some of the meanest and lowest passions of humanity, have prevented the contemporary world of Pius the Ninth and his little band of counsellors from awarding to them the meed of appreciation on this score, which has been fairly their due. No ship of war going down, with every man of her crew standing at their guns, rather than strike their colours to the enemy, has shown to the world a more indomitable preference of duty to expediency than has the absolute and consistent refusal of the Pontiff to bend to the storm which has raged around him.

Irish statesman, barrister, literary critic and author, John Wilson Croker (20 December 1780 – 10 August 1857) was the subject of a series of diaries entitled, “The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late John Wilson Croker.” He was the Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 through to 1830, and a Member of Parliamant for 25 years. In Volume 3, a letter from Sir Robert Peel to John Wilson Croker and dated January 28, 1844 began thusly:

My Dear Croker,

Many thanks for the extract from Ashburton’s letter. I read over two or three times that part of it which advises the nailing of colours to the mast. This is good advice from Ashburton. I never heard him make a speech in the course of which he did not nail, unnail, renail, and unnail again his colours.

The idiom was a favorite of Sir Robert Peel and can be found in his letters written to others. In a letter from Sir Robert Peel to Lord Kenyon who, at the time, was threatening to quit the King’s service, dated March 26, 1835, the following can be found:

It may be swamped or not, but independent it will no longer be, but will pass every measure, however infamous, which the House of Commons sends up. I anxiously trust you will nail your colours to the mast, and not quit our Sailor — and now repentant — King.

The poem “Marmion: A Tale Of Flodden Field” was written by Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832). He began work on this epic poem in 1806, and saw it published in January of 1808. Within this poem the follow stanza is found:

Even then dishonour’s peace he spurn’d,
Her sullied olive-branch return’d,
Stood for his country’s glory fast,
And nail’d her colours to the mast!

The fact of the matter is that flying flags was an established the naval military practice at the time, where displaying one’s signal flags or insignia(the ship’s colours) from the mast of a ship during battle showed loyalty.

Back in August 1807, the Hereford Journal reported on the naval engagement between British and American ships, where disgraced Navy Commodore James Barron failed to resist a British attack on his flagship, the Chesapeake. Barron was later court martialed, on the request of his junior officers, and a verdict was rendered that saw James Barron expelled from the Navy for five years. The news article, highly critical of Barron’s decision, stated in part:

You ought to have nailed your colours to the mast, and have fought whilst a timber remained on your ship.

The naval ships of the 1700s and 1800s used to fly their nautical battle colours (flags) so other ships could identify them. If the flag was struck, or lowered, it was a mark of submission. It quickly became a habit for the enemy to fire upon the ship’s mast, thereby disabling the colours in trying to force the other ship to submit. More often than not, though, captains would hoist what remained of the flag thanks to the ship’s rigging, allowing the ship’s flag to fly again. This was known as nailing the colours to the mast. This act rendered it almost impossible to surrender when engaged in battle.

You’re probably wondering how this practice came to be accepted by captains the world over.

It all began with British Admiral Adam Duncan (1 July 1731 – 4 August 1804) of the HMS Venerable and sailor Jack Crawford (22 March 1775 – 10 November 1831) at the Battle of Camperdown on October 11, 1797. The HMS Venerable was surrounded by three Dutch ships when the top of its main mast was shot off. Risking his life, Jack Crawford took the flag, climbed the broken mast while still under fire, and nailed the flag to the top of the broken mast. In the end, the Dutch were defeated as the Dutch flagship Vrijheid was surrendered to Admiral Adam Duncan.

Now was this the first instance of nailing one’s colours to the mast?

Hardly. History reports that on September 23, 1779 — at the Battle of Flamborough Head — British Naval Captain Richard Pearson of the HMS Serapis, nailed the British ensign to the ensign staff before going into battle against — and surrendered to — the Continental Navy ship Bonhomme Richard.

It was as the 1700s drew to an end, however, that the phrase came into its own as an idiom and not just as a nautical term. Idiomation tags this idiom to 1790 on the basis that it was used in Sir Walter Scott’s poem of 1808 (which he began writing in 1806) after at least two historical events that made loud statements about taking a stand against all costs.

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Hit The Nail On The Head

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 23, 2013

When you hear that someone in a discussion has hit the nail on the head it means that the person has driven the point home, having summed it up in a few, understandable words or sentences. It’s oftentimes used in politics and business, but even in everyday conversation, you’ll hear people talk about those who have hit the nail on the head.

When the political debates of 2010 were the rage in the media, everyone watched as Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul discussed matters in a televised debate anchored by George Stephanopolous and Diane Sawyer. When the transcripts were released, what people thought they had heard could be checked against the written word. In the transcripts, Rick Perry was quoted as having said:

Yeah, well, I — I’m — I’m stunned, ’cause — the fact of the matter is, you know, Michele kinda hit the nail on the head when we talked about the individual mandate. Both of these gentlemen have been for the — individual mandate. And I’m even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could’ve talked to Obama and said — “You’re goin’ down the wrong path,” because that is exactly the path that you’ve taken Massachusetts.

Politics seems to make liberal use of the expression, including in the September 26, 1972 article “Political Tools” published in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The news story addressed the presidential campaign of that year, which saw George McGovern going head-to-head against then-President Richard Nixon. Four paragraphs into the article, the following was written:

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird hit the nail on the head when he said that “it is a despicable act of a presidential candidate to make himself a spokesman for the enemy.” One news account called Laird’s observation “some of the harshest rhetoric of the 1972 presidential campaign.” Considering some of the rhetoric Desperate George [McGovern] has engaged in, particularly comparing Nixon to Adolf Hitler, this characterization os Laird’s remark is a gross misstatement of the facts.

Again with a political reference, the Evening Independent newspaper published a story entitled, “Hitchcock Sends Ultimatum He Will Take Issue To Upper Chamber If Compromise Fails” on January 27, 1920. In sharing news of the failure of the bipartisan conference in Washington, DC to reach a compromise, resulting in the peace treaty ratification fight that was ongoing in the Senate, this was reported:

Senator Hitchcock declined to speculate on the possibility of so early a renewal of hostilities but most Democrats declared nothing was to be gained by further secret conferences.

“It looks as if the jig’s up,” declared Senator McNary, Republican, Oregon, a leader of the “mild reservations” group, and this seemed to hit the nail on the head, in the opinion of most senators.

Things didn’t change much in the years leading up to 1920, as shown in the news article “Republication Ratification Meeting” in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 27, 1883. The story was about a meeting held to give feedback on the level of satisfaction with the action of the Sate Republican Convention’s choice of candidates. An extensive piece, halfway down the fourth column readers were greeted by this from J.M. Forbes who could not be in attendance, but who sent his thoughts in a letter that was read aloud by Henry Packman, had this to say about nominee, George D. Robinson:

The brilliant orator, the ally and mouthpiece of the faction, whose shining words everybody reads, has for once hit the nail on the head and proclaimed the truth, that there is room for only two parties in this State, and that we must choose between the two, leaving all minor issues for future consideration. We accept his and their challenge, and declare …”

The letter goes on for a bit, outlining five major points, but the article continues for another two columns before finally signing off.

Various reputable sources claim that the expression — meaning a person is communicating effectively or gets to the point — dates back to the early 16th century without providing proof to substantiate that claim.  But Idiomation continue to research for sources and English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher yielded up the phrase. Together, they wrote an early 17th century comedic stage play entitled “Love’s Cure” in 1612, then revised it in 1625, and finally published it in 1647. It was also known as “The Martial Maid.” In Act II, scene 1 of this play, regardless of which version you read, you will find the following:

METALDI
I give Place : the Wit of Man is wonderful.
thou hast hit the Nail on the Head,
and I will give thee six Pots for’t,
tho’ I ne’er clinch Shooe again.

French Renaissance writer, doctor, humanist, monk and scholar, François Rabelais (4 February 1494 – 9 April 1553) wrote “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.” The third book, “Le Tiers Livre” in which the passage appears was published in 1546. In Chapter XXXIV, readers find the idiom in this passage:

Let us come to where we left off, quoth Panurge. Your words, being translated from the clapper-dudgeons to plain English, do signify that it is not very inexpedient that I marry, and that I should not care for being a cuckold. You have there hit the nail on the head. I believe, master doctor, that on the day of my marriage you will be so much taken up with your patients, or otherwise so seriously employed, that we shall not enjoy your company. Sir, I will heartily excuse your absence.

Despite ongoing research, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression which appears unchanged over the centuries. It is therefore, highly probably that the expression dates back to at least the early 1500s as reputable sources claim, especially in light of that fact that it was used with easy by François Rabelais.

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Nailed It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 21, 2013

If you aren’t building anything that requires a hammer but someone tells you that you’ve nailed it, what they mean is that you’ve succeeded in doing something well. You hear it said most often when discussing political matters, but it really can be said about any situation that’s done well.

When “Post On Politics” — a blog from the Palm Beach Post — discussed the Florida primaries on August 25, 2010, they talked about the results of the major GOP Governor primary polls as well as the Senate primary polls. The article was entitled, “Pollsterpalooza: Who Nailed It, Who Didn’t, In Pre-Primary Surveys.”

The Deseret News of July 20, 1987 published a story entitled, “Slow And Steady Falso Wins British Open” written by journalist Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. The writer spoke of a golf tournament in Muirfield, Scotland that finished with dashing, flashing and hard-charging at the 116th British Open. And he wrote of the old hare-and-tortoise theme being one of no hares, three tortoises and a slow Walrus. In all, however, someone was going to emerge victorious and in this case it was Nick Faldo of Great Britain.

Faldo, in the twosome ahead of Azinger, needed to sink a five-foot putt so save par on 18, and calmly nailed it.

On August 29, 1965 the Miami News carried a story out of Philadelphia about the Los Angeles Dodgers beating the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League game the night before. It was quite the series that year, and new stories bear that fact out. In this article, this was reported:

Before the Dodgers nailed it, however, Manager Walt Alston called on 21-game winner Sandy Koufax in the ninth inning to get the final three outs. It was Koufax’s first relief appearance of the season.

It wasn’t just men who could nail it. The Lawrence Journal World newspaper of May 13, 1959 shared a news bite by Robert C. Ruark in an article entitled, “Wayne Made Error On Clare” that made use of the idiom when speaking about ex-Ambassador Luce’s wife, Clare.

Our gal Clare is the undisputed mistress of our times of the delicate art of cutting folks into shreds. Mr. Morse’s hid is not the first she has tacked to the barn, and possibly will not be the last. This time she nailed it by severe lady-like refusal of the post to Brazil, playing the part of dutiful wife beautifully.

The Vancouver Sun of September 25, 1931 published a news story entitled, “Labor Stands On Own Feet.” The story was about the morning’s session of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the reaffirmation of its stand in favor of independent political action. The story included this information:

After bouncing over the fence once of twice it was thrown back to home plate, where “Paddy” Draper veteran of 31 years as secretary-treasurer of the Congress, nailed it in a fighting speech. There was a misunderstanding among the delegates without any ground for it, he asserted. Moving non-concurrence in these resolutions might result in giving the impression that the Congress was opposed to independent political action whereas this was the farthest thing away from this Congress.

Going back to Philadelphia, this time to the December 2, 1894 edition of the Philadelphia Record in the news article, “Yale Defeats Princeton.” The final score was 24-0 in front of 20,000 spectators. According to the newspaper, it was the worst thrashing ever administered to the Jerseymen except for the thrashing they got in 1890 when they were beaten by the Blues at Eastern Park by a score of 32-0. Furthermore, the newspaper announced that Princeton was outclassed at every point while Yale showed unexpected strength. The story shared game highlights including the following one:

Barnard received instructions to kick the ball out of danger, but his attempt was so poor that the oval only advanced five yards, and was saved for Princeton by Trenchard, who nailed it in great style. Another punt by Barnard was more successful, for Butterworth was forced outside Princeton’s 40-yard line by Holly. Yale then began a series of short rushes, and the Tigers were forced to retreat toward their goal line.

Despite efforts to find an earlier published date for the expression than the one from the Philadelphia Record, none were found. That being said, that the expression nailed it was used so easily in this newspaper story indicates that it was an accepted expression during that era and as such, it most likely dates back to the generation before, putting it at about 1875.

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Happy-Go-Lucky

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 18, 2013

If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re a happy-go-lucky type, what they’re saying is that they are happy most of the time and rarely worry. It’s not that they don’t have worries of their own or that they don’t experience anger or sadness or other emotions. It’s just that happy-go-lucky types roll with the punches and made do as best they can in a cheerful sort of way.

On October 13, 2010 the Sporting News website carried a story about the NBA’s famous Boston Celtics who saw the team one quarter away from an NBA championship. With quotes from their coach, Doc Rivers, sports fans had an inside glimpse into the season. The online story was entitled, “Chemistry Of Happy-Go-Lucky Celtics Bound To Be Tested Beyond Limited Minutes.”

The Oscars of 1966 saw some incredible actors walking away with golden statues in hand. The Eugene Register-Guard of April 19, 1966 listed out who won, what category they won and why they won. Sandwiched in-between all the listings was this one:

The award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role went to Martin Balsam in “A Thousand Clowns.” He played the older brother of happy-go-lucky Jason Robards.

On December 1, 1934 the Lewiston Evening Journal on their page entitled, “Social World.” While there were a great many announcements about parties and clubs and mixers and such, this one talked about the goings-on of the Happy Go Lucky club.

Miss Eudora Ashton was hostess to the Happy Go Lucky club Friday evening at her home, South Goff Street, Auburn. Cards were in play and high score was won by Stanton Drake and low by Mrs. Philip Tetu. The next meeting of the club will be with Mr. and Mrs. Roland Juneau, 19 Fourth Street, Auburn, Friday.

For those of you who read the Kate Douglas Wiggin (28 September 1856 – 24 August 1923) book “Rebecca Of Sunnybrooke Farm” this passage about Rebecca’s relations will ring familiar with you. But for those who either don’t remember the passage or who haven’t read the book published in 1903, the American educator and author provided a snapshot of what happy-go-lucky might look like to others.

It was in this happy-go-lucky household that Rebecca had grown up. It was just an ordinary family; two or three of the children were handsome and the rest plain, three of them rather clever, two industrious, and two commonplace and dull. Rebecca had her father’s facility and had been his aptest pupil. She “carried” the alto by ear, danced without being taught, played the melodeon without knowing the notes. Her love of books she inherited chiefly from her mother, who found it hard to sweep or cook or sew when there was a novel in the house.

In the July 4, 1868 edition of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, a Letter To The Editor discussed the Principalship of Edinburgh University and the election of Sir James Y. Simpson to the office. The author asked a great many questions and provided detailed facts to support those questions, including this:

His reputation in his own profession nobody doubts or denies; but his greatest achievement — the invention of chloroform — was more of the nature of a happy-go-lucky experiment than the inevitable result of real scientific thought. The principle of a universal anaesthetic had been previously discovered by the discoverer of ether, and all that was done by Professor Simpson was the devising of a more generally applicable and a more convenient embodiment of that principle.

In southeast Australia, in the eastern Victorian region of Gippsland, there’s a small town named Walhalla which, at its peak, boasted 2,500 residents although these days, it has fewer than twenty. It popped up during the gold rush of the 1850s as did other communities including the town of Happy-Go-Lucky. In time, the town was renamed Pearson, but when it was Happy-Go-Lucky, it had a population of 300 as well as a post office to call its own. Unfortunately, it became a ghost town and today, only ruins remain of what was formerly a Happy-Go-Lucky place.

When Herman Melville wrote and published “Moby Dick” in 1851, and used the expression in Chapter XXVII entitled, “Knights And Squires” where he described the second mate thusly:

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangement of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box.

In 1699, the account entitled “A True and Just Relation of Major General Sir Thomas Morgan’s Progress in France and Flanders with the Six English in the Years 1657 and 1658 at the Taking of Dunkirk and Other Important Places” was written by Sir Thomas Morgan and included this passage:

The Redcoats cried, “Shall we fall in order, or go happy-go-lucky?”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  That being said, since the Redcoats allegedly used the expression in 1657 and 1658, it’s safe to say that it was part of every day language.  As such, it most likely dates back to the beginning of the 17th century.  As always, Idiomation encourages readers to find earlier published instances of any phrase on the blog.

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Goody Two Shoes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 14, 2013

Usually when you hear someone say that someone else is a goody two shoes, it’s a comment said with a lack of affection. That’s because a goody two-shoes is someone who always followed the rules, and most often to the point of being annoying to those who choose to either follow some of the rules or none of the rules, as suits their fancy. In other words, a goody two-shoes, also known as a goody goody, is someone who is uncommonly good.

Don’t think for a minute that a goody two shoes is well-loved by others because he or she isn’t, as shown by this article dated May 11, 2009 a entitled, “Goody Two Shoes Don’t Fit” and published by Independent Newspapers of South Africa that opens with this paragraph:

Everyone despises a Miss Goody Two Shoes, and Isidingo’s Thandi has to be the epitomé of goody two shoes. She’s the kind of girl who bought teacher an apple every day and covered her essay books in pretty pink paper with cherubs. Uggghhh!

Back on July 13, 1986 the Milwaukee Journal carried a news story by Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times which lamented TV shows about the law and the legal process. Still, the writer was hoping that “L.A. Law” from NBC would change all that. The article was entitled, “TV’s Goody-Two-Shoes-Type Lawyers Are Rarely Found In The Real World.”

When the editors of the St. Petersburg Times included a bit in the October 7, 1944 edition about the movie being written about Cole Porter’s life, the comment was kept to two sentences in the column entitled, “Lint From A Blue Serge Suit.” These two sentences were as follows:

The scripters working on Cole Porter’s screen biography, “Night And Day,” are having story trouble. The composer’s life, it appears, is too goody-goody for “dramatic purposes.”

When Justice Jerome make a tour through Harlem on his campaign, the New York Times wrote all about it and published it in their October 24, 1901 edition. Among many things, Justice Jerome took issue with Andrew Carnegie’s claim that New York’s streets were well-kept and clean when, according to him, the streets were almost perilous to public health. Rousting those who attended his speech, at one point he was quoted as saying:

Will you have four years more of gamblers’ domination? On the platform opposed to such I stand and will stick on that platform, and with the decent people of New York will go down to defeat on it if necessary. If it comes to a question of standing with the churches and honest, decent people of this city against crooks and gamblers, I prefer to stand with the decent people even at the risk of being called a Puritan and goody-goody. We can keep our skirts clean and win — and if we do win — God help the other fellows.

Back in the 1870s, the Oxford English Dictionary had an entry for goody goody in which the definition stated that a goody goody was “characterized by inept manifestations of good or pious sentiment.” It wasn’t much of a compliment then, to be a goody goody.

And forty years before that, the expression goody referred to anyone or anything that was sentimentally proper. Another forty years before that, and the expression goody was an exclamation of pleasure.

But it was the nursery tale written by John Newbery and published in 1765 that started the Goody Two-Shoes idiom with his story “The History Of Little Goody Two Shoes.” The story was about a little orphan named Margery Meanwell who only had one shoe. When a rich man gives her a complete pair, she keeps repeating that she now has two shoes thereby earning her nickname, Little Goody Two-Shoes. The story follows Little Goody Two Shoes into adulthood where her kindness, virtue, and gentleness are rewarded with great happiness in the end … a variation on the Cinderella story, if you will.

That being said, the moral of the story was that if you acted correctly and with virtue, you would be rewarded.

So how did all that tie in with the word goody, you ask? Back in the mid-1500s, goody was the shortened form of goodwife and a goodwife was described as a married woman who led a humble yet good life.

So while the idiom proper dates back to 1765, its roots stretch out two hundred years earlier.

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Mad As A Box Of Frogs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 9, 2013

When Jerry Flowers made mention last month of a certain situation that was as crazy as a box of frogs, Idiomation leapt into action to hunt down the meaning and history of this idiom, also known as mad as a box of frogs. The next time someone says that a person or situation is as mad as a box of frogs, you can be certain what’s being described is a crazy state of mind. It’s an odd expression to say the least since having a box of frogs isn’t something most people would keep, but it certainly goes to the heart of how crazy being mad as a box of frogs surely is. The description given on the website rateyourmusic.com some time in 2012 by member mon_amie_la_rose1 gave this retrospective description of a performance by Polly Jean (PJ) Harvey at the Newcastle Riverside on April 7, 1992.

She was pretty much a cult artist at this time, mad as a box of frogs, great show!

Model Paula Hamilton make it into the Mirror newspaper in the UK on May 29, 2011 with a brief story entitled, “Paula Hamilton’s As Mad As A Box Of Frogs” which related the story of about how showbiz foes were turning on Paula.  Claiming to be a dyslexic dyspeptic autistic, the story reported this about Paula Hamilton:

When her exasperated showbiz foes rounded on her because she’s mad as a box of frogs, potty Paula Hamilton stormed: “I’m just one big funny joke!”

Not to be outdone, when Ex-Security Minister Admiral Lord West spoke out against the £3.4 million sale of Harrier jump-jets to the US and referred to is as complete madness, the Sun newspaper carried the story in their June 16, 2011 edition. The story was entitled, “Mad As Box Of Frogs.” When the Herald de Paris newspaper carried a story by BBC music reporter Ian Youngs on January 9, 2009 the subject of the story was singer Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots whose music was a described as being influenced by Kylie Minogue, David Bowie and Gary Numan. In the article, the recording artist was quoted as saying:

“There are tons of credible pop artists. Look at David Bowie – he’s a massive selling artist, and he’s bloody weird, absolutely mad. Kate Bush – mad as a box of frogs.”

Back on April 16, 2004 the Independent newspaper out of Ireland carried a news story on sports personality, David Beckham and Sarah Marbeck, a self-described model and alleged Beckham mistress. But as the story began to unravel, those who followed the story were informed that the woman didn’t have the kind of relationship she initially claimed to have with David Beckham. The story was entitled, “Beckham’s ‘Mistress No. 2’ Is Revealed As A Bit Of A Slapper: Now There’s A Slapper” and had this to say about the woman.

Following the revelations that a) she is as mad as a box of frogs and b) she worked as a not particularly successful hooker in Australia and Singapore, media gossip site popbitch.com yesterday carried some even stranger claims about the woman.

Prior to this date, the expression doesn’t seem to appear in writing or on the Internet. However, on a number of Irish forums and in discussion groups, the expression is claimed as an Irish expression with no other culture laying claim to it.  If this is true, then the expression has seen an impressive resurgence in the UK and Ireland over the past decade. That being said, Idiomation was unable to pinpoint when this expression first came into use. Perhaps some of our readers has the answer. If so, Idiomation would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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Spruce Goose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 7, 2013

When you hear someone talk about a Spruce Goose, it refers to a very specific item at a very specific time in history and is an updated version of the idiom white elephant. A white elephant is a valuable possession that the owner cannot get rid of and where the cost of ownership seems to be more than it’s worth. To this end, a Spruce Goose is just another white elephant.

The late rapper Johnny Burns (1979 – 2000) aka DJ Quik aka Mausberg’s song “Ring King” has the expression Spruce Goose in the lyrics:

I flow like the Spruce Goose, sting worse than a bullet from a deuce-deuce
I’m ’bout to cut loose and react with raw tactics
Rights and lefts be bustin’ like fully automatic, I love static

So does rapper Danny! aka American record producer, Danny Swain’s song “Rhyme Writer Crime Fighter” where he says:

I slayed spooked troops in my youthful days
And flew away in the Spruce Goose, ruthless ways
Now you could say my style was aloof but hey
I gotta stay elusive

But rap fans appear to be perplexed by the expression Spruce Goose, as evidenced by the many questions in various music and rap forums asking what it means.  Strangely enough, one may also wonder if the lyricists understand the expression as well.

In the July 2003 edition of Wired Magazine, Chuck Squatriglia wrote used the expression Spruce Goose in an article about aircrafts.  He wrote in part:

The “Spruce Goose” was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived — its wingspan was 319 feet — the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane.

While it’s surprising that so many these days seem to be unfamiliar with the Spruce Goose, the fact of the matter remains that it was a seminal part of American aviation history.  Back on November 14, 1993, the Seattle Times newspaper carried a story out of McMinnville, Oregon that stated:

Congress has approved $4.5 million for the museum that will serve as the new roost for the Spruce Goose flying boat. The money, included in the defense appropriations bill approved Wednesday, will get the museum through planning and into the construction phase, said museum director Howard Lovering.

In other words, this airplane was of significant historical importance that it warranted being preserved in a museum supported by money approved by Congress.

But for whatever reason, the importance of this airplane seems to escaped the memories of Americans over the decades. In fact, in a Letter to the Editor published in the February 24, 1971 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, William J. Carter of Yankeetown wrote this about the airplane.

Designed to answer a desperate World War II call for transport in a Pacific area where the sea would have to supply the runways, the huge airframe housed eight nacelles for propeller driving piston-engine units, the largest power units then existing

Later in the letter he also wrote:

Rather than scorn a great pioneer’s effort to meet emergency needs in wartime, we should join Howard Hughes to such other pioneers of multi-engined aircraft as Sikorsky and Dornier, whose creations were airborne, one in 1914 and the other in the 1920s, when lesser men were living with small dreams and small aspirations.

On January 20, 1954 the Milwaukee Journal ran a series of articles on Howard Hughes, with the article in this edition dedicated to the Spruce Goose. The article contained the following facts about the airplane:

Weight – 425,000 pounds
Height at tail – 2 1/2 stories
Wingspan – 320 feet, just big enough to touch both goalposts on a football field
Hull – 220 feet long, 30 feet high, 25 feet wide
Engines – Eight of 3,000 horsepower each
Gas load – 14,000 gallons, enough to drive your car around the earth more than eight times if there were a highway at the equator
Payload – 750 soldiers fully equipped or a 60 ton tank, something that 100 World War II cargo planes were needed to carry

It was a magnificent example of aeronautical engineering at a time when aluminum was scarce due to the war, and ships were being destroyed by enemy fire. The Spruce Goose — erroneously dubbed since it was built from birch plywood and not spruce — was a solution to that problem. The Milwaukee Journal article was aptly entitled, “$41,000,000 Spruce Goose Climbed 70 Feet.”

The Schenectady Gazette of October 31, 1947 reprinted a story out of Hollywood that had been posted the day before. Entitled, “Howard Hughes To Launch Huge Plane Tomorrow” the story began thusly:

Millionaire plane designer Howard Hughes announced tonight he would launch his giant 200-ton flying boat Saturday morning at Lost Angeles harbor. The $23,000,000 flying boat will be floated from its graving dock at Terminal Island to undergo dockside tests for several hours.

The launch took place two days before a Senate committee investigating Howard Hughes’ government contracts resumed in Washington the following Monday.

And five years before the Hercules — because that was the plane’s real name — took to the skies, Henry J. Kaiser and then 36-year-old Howard Hughes were in the news as reported in the St. Joseph Gazette of September 19, 1942 in an article entitled, “Will Build 3 Cargo Planes: Kaiser And Hughes Get Authorization For Big Craft.” The article shared general details about the venture which included the following:

Neither Kaiser nor Hughes will make any profit from the job, arranged through a letter of intent from the defense plant corporation, but Kaiser was directed to draw plans for a factory in which the giant twin-hulled flying boats could be manufactured in volume should the army and navy find the experimental ships successful.

Putting the situation into perspective, by July 1942, America had just lost 800,000 tons of supply ships to German U-boats. The cargo planes were meant to address this problem.

It was also reported in the article that if the ships were successful, the earliest that Kaiser and Hughes would begin turning the ships out would sometime in 1945. When the war ended, it was expected that this project would also come to an end. Instead, Howard Hughes invested more of his money into bringing the Hercules project to its conclusion.

As readers can see, the Hercules aka Spruce Goose — while successful in that it did fly — was an expensive proposition at best and one that certainly expanded the knowledge base in aviation, but it cost Howard Hughes dearly both to persist with the project and then to house the project once completed.

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