Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for November, 2013

Small Business Saturday (not an idiom)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 30, 2013

Today is Small Business Saturday — sandwiched between big businesses’ Brown Thursday and Black Friday on one side and big businesses’ Cyber Monday on the other.  Yes in the midst of the marketing and promotion at large corporations and big box stores, Saturday is a quieter, gentler event that shines the spotlight on entrepreneurs.

So today, on Small Business Saturday, I’d like to remind everyone that books and music make for excellent gifts, and with Christmas less than a month away, books and music would be wonderful gifts for friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.

For young readers between the ages of 8 and 12, there’s the Missy Barrett Adventure series that debuted this past summer.   Missy Barrett is an amazing child who has a knack for being at just the right place when adventures and mysteries break out.  Check out “Guess Where I Am, Mommy” and “Houston, We Have No Problem” for the inquisitive child in your life!

Guess Where I Am Mommy_Cover_Kindle_02 Houston We Have No Problem_Cover

If you have a young adult reader that’s looking for something interesting to sink his or her teeth into, then “Grand Theft: Cookie” is a great choice!  Adult justice and television show reality collide with childhood innocence in ways that will have readers crying and laughing at how society can impact on children raised in today’s world.

Grand_Theft-_Cookie_Cover_for_Kindle

If the someone you’re buying books for loves quick reads with a message and lots of fun getting to the message, then you should pick up a copy of “Barracudas and Impalas” where readers are caught up in the excitement of Missy Barrett’s telephone conversation with her grandfather about the Classic Car Show she attended.  Part of the Missy Barrett Conversation series, watch for new titles in 2014!

Barracudas_And_Impal_Cover_for_Kindle

Sometimes people like to read short stories, “A Summer Of Somebodies: Cautionary Tales For Modern Times” is a collection of nine cautionary tales for modern times that gives readers a glimpse into the future that all of us are hurtling towards at an alarming rate.  Starting with “FluxInTime and the Batman Blacklist Boogie Band” and right through to the last story, readers will enjoy the spectrum of stories in this collection!

A_Summer_Of_Somebodi_Cover_for_Kindle

Glass On A Stick” is the story of Jenna Barrett (and the book where Missy Barrett makes her first appearance) —  a single parent of three children, some who are diagnosed with serious health conditions.  When people in the autism community start contacting her about a group of advocates, she can’t begin to imagine the degree to which some will bully and harass others just to make a name for themselves.  With 374 pages spread across 24 chapters, this book is guaranteed to keep readers turning pages just to find out what happens next.

Glass_On_A_Stick_Cover_for_Kindle

Idiomation: Historically Speaking is a blog I’ve owned and authored since January 2010.  That first month, there were 16 hits to the blog … and all of them from my teenage son.  Nearly four years later, the blog gets hundreds of hits every day and has been linked to by such esteemed places as The Smithsonian!  Earlier this year, I published 75 of the most popular idioms from my blog in a resource book entitled, “Idiomation: Book 1.”   Whether you’re buying for a literature or history buff, or someone for whom English is a second language, for a friend who is a literal thinker or a someone with learning disabilities, this first book in a series of Idiomation books is a great way to show that you care about what interests them.

Idiomation-_Book_I_Cover_for_Kindle

And for the audiophiles on your list, there are these three CDs to choose from.  “Countdown To Midnight” was released on November 29, 2007 with 12 songs.  “Armistice Day” climbed to #3 on the World: Native American song charts and quickly became a favorite of those who support the Idle No More movement.  The beautiful ballad “Infinity Squared” reached #16 on the Adult Contemporary Pop chart and “How Do I Begin To Believe” made it to #7 on the Southern Rock chart.
elyse_bruce_2012_2013002003

If it’s instrumental music you’re looking for, then you may find “Quietudes” released in June of 2005 or “Dreamtime” released in August of 2011 to be just right!  “Quietudes” is a steal at just under $6 USD for 6 extended play instrumental compositions.

elyse_bruce_2012_2013002002

Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed “Dreamtime” CD  is priced at just under $9 USD for 9 extended play instrumental compositions.   Beginning with “Moon Chimes” and ending with “Such Splendor” the CD is a journey through emotions that leave the listener feeling relaxed and refreshed.

elyse_bruce_2012_2013002001

Whether you’re visiting this page on Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday or any of the other 363 days in a year, be sure to click through and add these books and CDs to your shopping cart.  You’ll be glad you did.

Elyse Bruce

Posted in Advertising | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Black Friday

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 29, 2013

The expression Black Friday — outside of its use to describe the Friday after American Thanksgiving — is applied to any Friday when a public calamity happens. It’s most often applied to calamities that are associated with finances, however.

On July 16, 1966 the Leader-Post newspaper reported about Britain’s new economic crisis where millions of pounds were wiped off market value of shares according to a news story entitled, “Wilson Hit Hard On Black Friday.” The second paragraph reported:

It was called Black Friday in the financial district. It was a Black Friday for Wilson politically as well, with a stunning byelection defeat of the government and reports of a cabinet tussle between two senior ministers.

When the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal was rolled out on April 10, 1932 one of the news stories dated April 9, 1932 and out of Washington that dealt with the long deferred investigation of the New York stock exchange situation where a group of traders planned to raid the market in an attempt to collapse the market. The article read in part:

One member of the senate banking and currency committee declared the reports indicated the raiders hoped to cause a more sensational decline on prices than occurred on the “Black Friday” of October 1929.

Jumping back almost 50 years, an article was published on February 23, 1881 in the Owosso American newspaper that talked about the Funding Bill that forced banks to call in their loans and where brokers refused to buy stock on margins. It was reported that the stock exchange was in pandemonium. It was also reported that while the fall in stocks was significant, it was nothing equal to the panic of 1873. The article was entitled, “Another Black Friday In Wall Street.”

It was the New York Times edition of March 1, 1870 that spoke of the original Black Friday of September 24, 1869 when Jay Gould and James Fisk Jr. cause the gold market to collapse in an attempt to corner it. The Congressional Committee appointed to ask into the circumstances of that day head that Messrs. Gould and Fisk along with their associates had tried to force gold to 100 premium and in doing so, the gold market actually collapsed when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered a release of government gold for sale. The created the situation where gold prices to plummeted thereby creating a panic in the stock market. The article was entitled, “The History Of Black Friday.”

At the time, Black Friday caused a scandal as some speculated that President Ulysses S. Grant (27 April 1822 – 23 July 1885) had been complicit in the scheme. This potential scenario was offered up in light of the fact that the president’s brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin (May 24, 1808 – March 28, 1881) and Secretary of the Treasury, George Sewall Boutwell (January 28, 1818 – February 27, 1905) were involved in the scheme, coupled with the fact that President Grant had personal associations with Messrs. Gould and Fisk Jr.

The use of the expression Black Friday first appeared with this scandal and for this reason, Black Friday is pegged to this event in history back in 1869.

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

Brown Thursday

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 28, 2013

If you’re wondering about Brown Thursday, wonder no longer as it’s the latest idiom hooked into the Black Friday mythos. Brown Thursday is supposedly the shopping day before Black Friday. In other words, Brown Thursday is the day formerly known as American Thanksgiving.

On November 28, 2013, CBS Pittsburgh posted an article to their website entitled, “Brown Thursday Shoppers Line Up To Cash In On Deals.” The article began with this paragraph:

Shoppers looking for bargains set their alarms for 6 a.m. when some stores like Kmart opened for Brown Thursday.

Even CBS television station affiliate, Channel 5 WCSC in Charleston, South Carolina was looking for stories from viewers on their Brown Thursday shopping experiences, On their Facebook page they posted:

Some stores are already open for “Brown Thursday” deals. Are you out shopping, or standing in line for sales?

In the November 22, 2013 edition of USA Today, an article entitled, “The New Black Friday Is Brown Thursday” the new idiom was referred to thusly:

As most have probably heard, more retail outlets are diving into what they hope will be an even bigger money-making trend this year. Instead of opening their doors the Friday after Thanksgiving, they are trying to pull shoppers in even earlier, at 6 a.m. on the holiday. Another growing trend? Calling the holiday Brown Thursday. One comedian said that people who use that phrase should be choked on sight.

Even the Las Vegas Express edition of November 24, 2013 had this to say about the new idiom in an article entitled, “Thanksgiving Now Being Called Brown Thursday By The Media.”

First off, that just sounds disgusting. Who in their right mind will be going around saying “It’s Brown Thursday!”? It sounds like they are excited to go poop. But, the problem is how the media loves to try to make up buzz words to catch on.

But believe it or not, the earliest reference for Brown Thursday was found on Jezebal.com in a blog article written by Jenna Sauers on November 21, 2011  entitled, “Forget Black Friday, This Season It’s All About Brown Thursday” where she wrote:

Sears, which opened on Thanksgiving day in 2010, won’t do so again this year. (“There was a sentiment from customers to keep Thanksgiving as a holiday,” admitted a sheepish-sounding spokesperson.) But the overall trend is still for longer hours, hence why shopping on Thanksgiving, by the way, now has a name: Brown Thursday

It wasn’t just the fodder of blog, however.  It was also written about on the InStyle magazine website (a registered trademark of Time Inc.) in an article published on November 22, 2011 entitled, “Brown Thursday 2011: The New Black Friday?

Just as retailers originally didn’t like the idiom Black Friday, consumers aren’t enamored with the idiom Brown Thursday.  Still the media seems to be pushing this idiom as the replacement name for American Thanksgiving, and so Idiomation pegs this unfortunate idiom to 2011.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Black Friday

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 27, 2013

Black Friday is almost upon us again this year and the yearly mythos about where this idiom originated is in full swing already. Most people are of the mistaken belief that Black Friday was a term coined by retailers to describe the one day each year when they turned a profit according to the accounting records.

While that’s an interesting and plausible explanation for the expression, it’s not exactly accurate.

Back in the 1960s, if you lived in Philadelphia, you know that the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving was a day of snarled traffic, overcrowded parking garages, and overworked police officers if you dared go into the downtown core. It got to be so much of a problem that police officers began to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday.

On Black Friday, officers were forced to work 12-hour shifts where most of that shift was spent directing traffic to help unclog the car and pedestrian jams that impeded the flow of traffic. Retailers, who were looking to encourage shoppers to come out on that Friday despite the terrible traffic, tried (and failed) to have the day called “Big Friday.” But the effort failed.

Back in January 1966, in the American Philatelist newspaper, a Philadelphia merchant by the name of Earl Apfelbaum, a dealer in rare stamps, wrote this about the day:

Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

Even earlier than that, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin used the idiom to describe the day after Thanksgiving. In the November 25, 1994 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Joseph P. Barrett told a story about how the Friday after Thanksgiving came to be known as Black Friday.

In 1959, the old Evening Bulletin assigned me to police administration, working out of City Hall. Nathan Kleger was the police reporter who covered Center City for the Bulletin.

In the early 1960s, Kleger and I put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term “Black Friday” to describe the terrible traffic conditions.

Later in the article he added this:

The following year, [Police Commissioner Albert N. Brown] put out a press release describing the day as ”Big Friday.” But Kleger and I held our ground, and once more said it was ”Black Friday.” And of course we used it year after year.

The funny thing about that is that the issue of traffic congestion on the Friday following Thanksgiving wasn’t an issue back in November 1951 when Black Friday was described by Industrial Relations Editor M.J. Murphy for the magazine “Factory Management and Maintenance” in an article entitled, “Tips to Good Human Relations for Factory Executives.” What M.J. Murphy wrote was as follows:

“Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis” is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects. At least that’s the feeling of those who have to get production out, when the “Black Friday” comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick — and can prove it.

The story of Black Friday being a term coined by retailers to describe the one day each year when they turned a profit according to the accounting records is after-the-fact marketing spin that started showing up decades later to put a positive shine on a negative phrase.

Of course, there have been other Black Fridays throughout history, and most of those have had to do with financial matters and massacres. But Black Friday — the one that falls the day after American Thanksgiving — has its roots firmly planted in Philadelphia.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hail Mary Pass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 22, 2013

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say he or she has thrown a Hail Mary or that someone he or she knows made a Hail Mary pass.  Unless you’re in the know, you might think these people are religious zealots. They’re not. What they mean is that, with no other viable options in their opinion, someone has gone with a desperate last-ditch effort to resolve a serious problem with only the smallest of chances of success.

How did this idiom come to be, and is it an idiom that’s been around for a really long time, taking into account how long ago Jesus’ mom, Mary lived?

Many believe (and incorrectly so) that it was coined by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in a December 28, 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, with only 26 seconds to go in the championship game, and Drew Pearson caught it, made the winning touchdown and made the Dallas Cowboys the winners. Later on, Roger Staubach told the medias,”I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

So if it’s not right that Roger Staubach coined the idiom, who did and when?

Fritz Barzilauskas played in the National Football League from 1947 to 1951 and before that, he was a star player at Yale. Acting as a scout for Yale years later, the article that quoted him in the October 13, 1959 edition of the Hartford Courant was about the “spectacular 65-yard heave” that came at the 24 second mark in the Cornell versus Yale game the previous Saturday. He was quoted as saying:

“They call it their Martin Luther play,” Barzilauskas said. “The same thing at Notre Dame would be called the Hail Mary pass.”

Back on December 30, 1940 Associated Press staff writer, John Wilds, wrote about the upcoming Orange Bowl game that would see Georgetown take on Mississippi State. Joe McFadden, the Hoyas’ quarterback, was described as the freckle-faced Irishman who ran the team. The article stated in part:

McFadden — a great actor in the huddle — is willing to call any play from a straight line buck to a ‘Hail Mary’ pass with never a thought of the second-guessers.

Jumping back 8 years to January 1932, newspapers from the Moberly Monitor (which ran the story on 8 January 1932) to the Fairbanks Daily News (which ran the story on 24 January 1932) ran a story about the annual banquet of the American Football Coaches’ Association. In the article, the story told by Jim Crowley (September 10, 1902 – January 15, 1986) — one of the University of Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen coached by Knute Rockne — had to do with the game on October 28, 1922 between the North Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Tech.  This is what Jim Crowley reportedly said:

In 1922 Notre Dame had nine sophomores on the team that went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. In the first half Tech got a field goal and things looked pretty dark for us. In the third period Layden punted to Red Barron, who muffed. We recovered on the 20-yard line and tried three plays in vain. It was fourth down.

It so happened that we had a Presbyterian on the team. He stopped play and said to us, ‘Boys, let’s have a Hail Mary’. Well, we prayed, and Layden soon went over for a touchdown.

Believe it or not, the formula was repeated. Again Layden kicked, again Barron fumbled, again we tried three plays in vain. ‘Let’s have another Hail Mary’, said the Presbyterian. Well, again Layden went over for a touchdown.

After the game I discussed the strange series of events with our Presbyterian. ‘Say, that Hail Mary is the best play we’ve got’, he exclaimed.

While the idiom got its start in football, it has since spread out and is found in any number of situations (including business, politics, and technology) where a long-shot desperate last-ditch move is made in the hopes of coming up the winner. It’s an idiom that’s even made it into the geek community such as in the board game Blood Bowl.

That being said, the earliest published mention of the Hail Mary Pass is from 1932 and clearly stamps the expression as being from 1922.

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

Lame Duck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 18, 2013

Lame ducks are such interesting creatures, figuratively speaking. In politics, a lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and in most cases the successor to that politician has either already been elected to replace him or is being groomed to replace him. In legislative terms and still within the framework of politics, a lame duck is a session that’s inactive. If you’re talking game design, a lame duck is a player in the game who can’t win and yet remains in the game as an active player. In all nutshell, a lame duck is a person or thing that finds himself or herself or itself less capable, and currently disabled, helpless, ineffective, or inefficient.

The Seattle Times republished a news story by Washington Post reporter, David A. Fahrenthold on December 17, 2010 that talked about the most recent session of Congress where frantic legislators hurried all sorts of things. The article, stated:

In 1933, historians say, the country ratified a constitutional amendment intended to kill off sessions like this, where defeated legislators return to legislate. The headline in The Washington Post was “Present Lame-Duck Session Will Be Last.”

So what was this Lame Duck session to which David A. Fahrenthold referred?

On March 2, 1932 Senator George W. Norris put forward a proposal that would later be ratified on January 23, 1933 and take effect on October 15, 1933. This proposal became known as the twentieth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the amendment was to reduce the amount of time between election day and the beginning of Presidential, Vice Presidential and Congressional terms. In other words, the amendment called for Congress and each new President to take office in January instead of March (as had been the customary practice), thereby eliminating the lame-duck session of Congress.

It was such an interesting news story that newspapers across the U.S. and abroad kept abreast of the unfolding proposal. This included the Milwaukee Journal of August 2, 1932 that reported on the proposal in a story entitled, “Lame Duck Amendment.”

The lame duck amendment, it will be recalled, proposes to make the federal government more immediately responsible to the will of the people by ending the “short session” of congress and by putting congressmen and president into office in the January following the November elections. Under present constitutional provisions, a defeated president remains in office more than four months after his defeat and a defeated congressman has the same time in which to continue in a course that has been disapproved by the voters. The new congressman, unless a special session is called, must wait thirteen months before taking over the duties to which he has been elected.

While additional details were provided in the story, one last bit should be included and that is to say that the lame duck amendment was seen as a desirable amendment from the standpoint of voters. And why might that be? As the newspaper put it:

Every congressman and every person ambitions to be a congressman figures that some day he may be a “lame duck” seeing what advantage he can from his last days in congress.

Another reason for putting forth this proposal had to do with the 1876 election where Samuel J. Tilden took the popular vote, and neither he nor Rutherford B. Hayes had the majority of the votes of the Electoral College. Because of this, Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes both claimed the same electoral votes in some of the states, thereby complicating matters considerably.

The Manufacturers and Farmers Journal of July 18, 1895 ran a story about the Valkyrie III, a sailing yacht of great acclaim. The article was entitled, “Valkyrie III Criticised: She Showed Herself A Lame Duck In A Strong Breeze.” The article began with this description of the yacht:

Valkyrie III is not exactly the same cutter in light and heavy winds. In light winds she proved herself alongside of Britannia and Ailsa, at Rothesay, June 29, the fastest light-weather yacht under canvas ever built in this country but on the 3rd, with a strong breeze, she showed herself a veritable lame duck.

In 1847, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote and published a book entitled, “Vanity Fair.” In Chapter 13, which was entitled, “Sentimental And Otherwise,” comments about Amelia’s father (identified in the story as Mr. Sedley) and his poor business decisions of late are discussed by Mr. Osborne and George. The discussion is important insofar as George is engaged to be married to Amelia, and this information could lead to calling off the engagement.

“I don’t deny it; but people’s positions alter, sir. I don’t deny that Sedley made my fortune, or rather put me in the way of acquiring, by my own talents and genius, that proud position, which, I may say, I occupy in the tallow trade and the City of London. I’ve shown my gratitude to Sedley; and he’s tried it of late, sir, as my cheque-book can show. George! I tell you in confidence I don’t like the looks of Mr. Sedley’s affairs. My chief clerk, Mr. Chopper, does not like the looks of ‘em, and he’s an old file, and knows ‘Change as well as any man in London. Hulker & Bullock are looking shy at him. He’s been dabbling on his own account I fear. They say the Jeune Amelie was his, which was taken by the Yankee privateer Molasses. And that’s flat—unless I see Amelia’s ten thousand down you don’t marry her. I’ll have no lame duck’s daughter in my family. Pass the wine, sir—or ring for coffee.”

To this end, it would seem that the expression is from the London Stock Market and refers to investors who were unable to pay their debts. Animals seem to be a favorite expression when it comes to stock markets; terms such as the well-known bulls and bears of the stock market. However the term dove was also used in London and is a British slang term meaning someone is a sucker, and rook, which means a swindler or to swindle, is actually a species of European crow.

The Edinburgh Advertiser reported on October 22, 1772 that many people had gone broke in the London stock market (Exchange Alley).  The newspaper story stated:

Yesterday being the settling day for India stock, the bulls had a balance to pay to the bears to the amount of 23 per cent. Only one lame duck waddled out of the alley, and that too for no greater a sum than 20,000 £.

And the Berrow’s Worcester Journal edition of September 12, 1771 published an announcement that advertised a catalogue of new books and plays “just going to be published” could be found with the names of the respective authors alongside. One such book was entitled, “The Lame Duck” by Lauchlin Macleane.

Going back just a few months prior, the Oxford Magazine of January 1771 published by “A Society of Gentlemen, Members of the University of Oxford” reviewed books, shared essays, printed letters and more. Of particular note was what was found on page 151 (just ahead of the Poetical Essays) where the following was published:

Being asked the other day why he did not visit his old friend at the Tower, he answered, “Because I am lame.” “No,” replied his Catechist, “You are not yet, to our misfortune, a lame Duck; but your back is broke by the weight of your contract, and it makes you so unweildy, that you cannot travel so far as the Tower.”

In a letter dated 28 December 1761 the Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, wrote to the British envoy in Tuscany, Sir Horace Mann, he wrote this:

I had rather have a bronze than a thousand pounds in the Stocks; for if Ireland or Jamaica are invaded, I shall still have my bronze: I would not answer so much for the funds, nor will I buy into the new loan of glory. If the Romans or the Greeks were beat, they were beat; they repaired their walls, and did as well as they could; but they did not lose every sesterce, every talent they had, but he defeat affecting their Change-Alley.

The discussion was, obviously, about the stock market (which was known as Change-Alley at this point in history). Further in this same letter he wrote:

How Scipio would have stared if he had been told that he must not demolish Carthage, as it would ruin several aldermen who had money in the Punic actions. Apropos — do you know what a Bull, a Bear, and a Lame Duck are? Nay, nor I either — I am only certain they are neither animal nor fowl, but are extremely interested in the new subscription. I don’t believe I apply it right; but I feel as if I should be a lame duck if the Spaniards take the vessel that has my altar on board.”

While Horace Walpole may not have understood the term very well, it was a term that was understood by many who were involved with, or in, the Stock Market as seen in an etching on paper that is in the British Museum (museum number: J, 1.24) lettered with the title and captions in the image and annotated in ink, and entitled, “A Scene in Change-Alley, among the Bull, Bears, & Lame Duck.” This etching dates back to 1770.

Interestingly enough, Ducks-and-Drakes is a game that dates back to the 1580s that involved skipping flat stones on water. Figuratively speaking, if you were playing at Ducks-and-Drakes it meant the person was throwing something away recklessly. It would seem then, that long before the London Stock Exchange, the word duck was associated with losing important things, money being one such thing.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of lame duck than those found in the 1770s although for the term to be established in 1770 (albeit not well with some of the upper class who would have been knowledgeable about the Stock Market), the expression would go back at least one generation to 1750. That being said, the game of Ducks-and-Drakes seems to be the point of origin that led to the expression lame duck, and as such, Idiomation is pegging this expression to the 1580s.

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

The Fourth Wall

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 11, 2013

Thanks to philosopher, writer and art critic, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) the concept of the fourth wall became an integral part of 19th-century theater thanks to the growing realism in theater productions. The fourth wall put forth the idea that there was an imaginary boundary between fictional stage presentations and the audience. More and more often, breaking the fourth wall is happening in comic books and video games. Or as Russ Buchanan wrote, the fourth wallrepresents the willing suspension of disbelief and frame of mind that casts the audience as passive observers of the actors, who carry out the action pretending nobody’s watching.”

In other words, acknowledgement of the audience, or speaking directly to the audience is known as breaking the fourth wall. It’s not an aside. It’s not a soliloquy. It’s a break in the otherwise contained pseudo-reality happening on stage, in film, in comic books and in video games where the actor interacts directly with the audience.  In the movie “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” Matthew Broderick’s character, Ferris, breaks the fourth wall repeatedly as he addresses the audience throughout the movie.

On September 8, 2013 the South Wales Echo published a short article under “News, Opinion and Commentary” entitled, “TV Times Past.” The show in questions from TV times past was Moonlighting which ran from 1986 to 1989 and starred Cybill Shepherd and a young Bruce Willis just starting out in the industry. The article included this bit midway through the article:

Take, for example, the smouldering on-screen chemistry between Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd, the wise-cracking scripts and such groundbreaking innovations as having characters break the fourth wall by talking into the camera to the folks at home.

In the Entertainment section of the Bryan Times on March 31, 1976, the editor chose to run with the story by UPI Television Writer, Joan Hanauer’s story entitled, “Helter Skelter Adapted From Manson Murders.” Her story spoke about the upcoming two-part CBS made-for-television movie which she labeled as the epitome of actuality drama.

The acting is uniformly excellent: George DiCenzo plays Bugliosi as a dedicated prosecutor, and who at times must speak directly to the audience, a novelty for many actors accustomed to the “fourth wall” concept of theater, in which the audience is presumed to be watching the action through an invisible or removed “fourth wall.”

Mention of the “fourth wall” is difficult to find in publications prior to the latter part of the 20th century. So how do we know that the term existed prior to this date? We know this thanks to the book by Denis Diderot entitled «Discours sur la poesie dramatique» and published in 1758 where he writes about theater, stating to the actors: “Imagine on the border between the scene and the spectators a big wall. Play as if the curtain was never opened.”

It became a favorite of Realist and Naturalist plays, as the play kept the audience safely concealed behind the fourth wall while at the same time, acknowledging them only when needed.

The concept was adapted by French actor, theatre manager, film director, author, and critic, André Antoine (31 January 1858 – 19 october 1943) for his naturalistic plays at the Théâtre Libre (founded in 1887). Unsure as to which wall was to be the fourth wall, he would have his sets built with all four walls and only decide afterwards which of the four walls was, indeed, the fourth wall … the one that needed to be removed from the scene.

Truth be told, however, technically the fourth wall has always been a part of staged performance art going back to Ancient Greece and beyond. It’s just that Denis Diderot formulated the concept and described it in more concrete wording.  But the fact that the word was used between italics in the 1976 newspaper review of the made-for-television movie, “Helter Skelter” indicates that the expression was a relatively new one for reporters and journalists at least.  As such, Idiomation pegs its use to the generation before and 1950.

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

English On It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 8, 2013

The idioms put some English on it is most often associated with baseball and refers to the pitcher giving the ball curve while it’s in the air, on its way to the batter.  That idiom, along with and put some reverse English on it, are  found in billiards halls the world over when talking about a ball that drops into a pocket with the aid of some spin. And it also refers to communications intended to distort or deceive others.

On December 8, 2002 Joe Goddard of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article entitled, “Ramblers Thump Valpo” which made quick work of the basketball game between the Loyola Ramblers and Valparaiso Crusaders in the Horizon League that ended in a score of 80 to 62. In the brief article, the following was written in part:

“I had to get it over him, so I put some English on it.” Most of Tsimpliaridis’ shots were from the perimeter. He shot 7-for-9 from the field.

On December 19, 1953 Bill Beck, Sports Editor for the St. Petersburg Times wrote about an odd sport that played the walls like handball, demanded the strategy and rhythm of tennis, required the skills of baseball infielding, and allowed spectators to place bets as if they were at a race track: Jai-Alai. It didn’t catch on, contrary to Bill Beck’s hopes, but it certainly gave insight into the game, the players and Adriano Aguiar, who managed the lone American of the 32-man team. In the end, this is what Bill Beck had to say of the game:

You will find the players not only retrieve and return the ball, but put “Englishon it.  You will find they fire it so close to the wall, their opponent cannot get his cuesta (wicker racket-type glove) between ball and wall for return.

The Palm Beach Post newspaper of November 21, 1921 also carried the idiom in a somewhat modified form in an article entitled, “Preparing For Failure.” The story dealt with the surprise disarmament conference announced by President Harding, which led to a number of metropolitan newspapers stating that “the administration” was considering measures against “agitators” who were trying to force “real disarmament” to eliminate the chances of war. The article read in part:

Toward the end of the dispatch there lies the secret:

“The hope of the president for a continuation of the conferences like the present one became known at a moment when the arms delegates reached a stage in their deliberations strongly suggesting itself that further negotiations will be necessary to consummate the task begun here.”

That surely is putting the “reverse Englishon it.  It must not be forgotten for a moment that the men at this conference are all politicians, and that they want to keep their jobs more than anything else. The hopes of the peoples all over have been aroused by this disarmament (beg pardon) by this limitation or armaments conference.

In the New York Times article of February 1, 1879 the idiom appeared in altered form — with the meaning intact regardless of the use of the word reverse — in an article reporting on a billiards tournament. It was clear that the “English” in question was going to be “put on it” as the Brunswick and Balke Championship Tournament entered its second week of play. The stakes were high, and at one point, it was reported:

It was a difficult shot from every direction, and before essaying it, the Frenchman, amid general laughter took off his dress-coat, and came up again in the full brilliancy of his diamond-studded and much-starched shirt. He then stroked his mustache, drew his cue backwards and forward, and struck the cue ball. Failing to count, he retired, laughing quietly, and gave Sexton an opportunity of gathering 4 points. The latter made a very pretty “kiss” shot, with “reverse English” in the twelfth inning, but retired after scoring 7 billiards.

Ten years prior to the newspaper article in the New York Times, Mark Twain used the expression in Chapter XII of his book “Innocents Abroad” published in 1869 in which he wrote:

We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement—one of those wretched old things with dead cushions, and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible “scratches” that were perfectly bewildering. We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square—and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement. We expected to fare better here, but we were mistaken. The cushions were a good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of caroms. The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would infallibly put the “English” on the wrong side of the hall. Dan was to mark while the doctor and I played.

It appears  that the expression is as a result of billiards, but how did this come about?

The earliest mention of the game of billiards is in “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” published in 1591 where the author speaks of “all thriftles games that may be found … with dice, with cards, with billiards.”  It’s mentioned in William Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra.”  But it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that changes were made to the game and how the game was meant to be played. Of particular note was the introduction of the leather cue tip in 1823 which allowed players to add side-spin to the ball, and this was new advancement was introduced to billiards players the world over, including those in America.

By 1860, the French were referring to spin imparted to a billiards ball as anglé … a clever play on words since anglé meaning angled and anglais meaning English share the same pronunciation. This play on words quickly caught on with other billiards players, and when someone put spin on a billiards ball, they were playing a ball that was anglé / anglais which was literally translated to the word: English.

The expression, put English on it, is therefore from 1860 and has its roots firmly planted in the game of billiards.

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

Fire-Eating

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 6, 2013

When someone delivers a fire-eating speech or uses fire-eating language, you can assume there’s some element of danger or surprise involved. After all, who isn’t impressed and in awe of the circus fire-eater? However, in every day terms, someone who is a fire-eater is usually a belligerent person or a militant partisan and by extension, fire-eating language or fire-eating speeches are meant to be hostile and aggressive. In politics, fire-eating refers to extremist political views that deviate significantly from mainstream, accepted political beliefs.

Just three years ago, on August 22, 2010 the Daily Banter published a story by Bob Cesca entitled “The Screeching, Fire-Eating Mob” in which he addressed a violent video making the rounds online at the time. He began his article with this:

This video is disgraceful and makes me ashamed to be an American. Here we see a throng of ignorant fire-eaters protesting against Park 51 and subsequently accosting an African-American man who made the mistake of looking vaguely “muslim-ish” (John Cole’s word).

In “Religion and the American Civil War” edited by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout and Charles Reagan Wilson and published in 1998 by Oxford Press, a number of authors discussed the subject in various essays. Whether it was Drew Gilpin Faust or Christopher Grasso, Samuel S. Hill or Phillip Shaw Paludan, or any of the other contributers, the subject remained fresh and presented fact after fact for consideration. In Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s essay “Church, Honor, and Secession” the following was written:

[Benjamin Morgan] Palmer insisted that the southern white people’s “providential trust” required them “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as now existing.” His widely distributed sermon had as much impact for secession in the lower South as Breckinridge’s for Unionism in the border states. Yet even this fire-eating divine conceded that the relationship of master and slave was scarcely all that the church could hope for.

The expression fire-eating was a favorite of author Robert Black in his book “Facism In Germany” written in 1974 and published in two volumes by Steyn Publications of London, England in 1975. Robert Black was the pseudonym used by Robin Blick and the more than 800-page book examined the roots of facism and Marxism in Germany as well as Italy and Russia within the context of its effects on Germany. The word fire appeared 44 times in this work and fire-eating appeared three times. Two of those instances are as follows:

Yet right up to the last days of peace, the SPD maintained what appeared to be a firm anti-war stand. The Austrian ultimatum to Russia was denounced in fire-eating language on 25 July, the SPD manifesto directly calling upon all party members and supporters ‘to express immediately in mass meetings the unshakable will to peace of the class-conscious proletariat’.

and

Neither were the German diplomatic corps in Moscow taken in by Stalin’s fire-eating speeches on the prospects of revolution in Germany, which in order to preserve his Communist credentials, he was obliged to make more often than harmonious Soviet-German relations would have otherwise found politic.

The Sunday News Journal of September 25, 1957 ran a news story entitled, “Ike’s Action Draws Fire Eating Words.” It discussed the reaction some Senators had to President Eisenhower’s decision to address segregation and integration in schools in the southern states. The legality of the President’s move was questioned and some were concerned that it would cause more trouble than it intended to prevent. Eisenhower, however, defended his actions as he was concerned that mob rule might overtake the situation of riots over school integration in Arkansas, and thereby menace the safety of the United States of America as well as the free world. This was the news story’s opening paragraph:

Officials’ reaction to Pres. Eisenhower’s federalization of the Arkansas National Guard in an effort to bring about racial integration in the public schools tended to split along South-North lines with Dixie condemnation ranging from fire eating talk of armed resistance to much milder condemnation.

On September 19, 1939 the Milwaukee Journal made no bones in the headline it ran with the story by Alfred F. Pahlke on Adolf Hilter’s speech where he announced Germany’s agreement with Russia. The reporter stated that Hitler’s voice was “deceptive, merely the lull between barrages of machine gun oratory when the words from the mountaineer’s throat, never soft or tender, burst forth as hard as bullets pelting the enemy” and that Hitler’s voice had “few shadings, few stops and registers” but that had “the most of his limited variety.” The article was entitled, “Fire Eating Herr Hitler Now Weighing Words.”

A generation earlier on May 21, 1913, the Mansfield Shield carried a story on the front page that came out of Washington as reported by the United Press. The story related how President Woodrow Wilson had called Mississippi Senator Sisson to his office to ask him if the speech he intended on delivering to the House intended to use language that might be construed by the Japanese as inviting belligerency thereby complicating the situation between the U.S. and Japan. That article was entitled, “President Sends For And Admonishes Fire-Eating Southern Legislator.”

It seems that politics is the place where the expression is most often used as seen in the New York Times on March 27, 1893. Just as the fighting continues in Northern Ireland, so it was back in 1893 with the Irish in Ulster continuing to rise up against the British. The article stated, “If Ulster has to fight for her liberties she will put into the field an army of 50,000 men, decently armed and equipped.” The headline that accompanied the story read, “Those Fire-Eating Ulsterman Will Defy Parliament And Raise An Army.”

It was in the October 24, 1856 edition of the New York Times that great pains were taken to conceal the identity of the author of a letter printed in the paper that day, carrying the headline, “A Queer Development: A New Plot Of The Pro-Slavery Democracy.” The newspaper prefaced the letter with a statement that the newspaper owed it to fairness to say that “the writer of the letter [takes] pains to conceal his identity, ensurring us that events will vindicate the truth of his statements, but that under no circumstances can he be known in connection with them.” In the letter that followed that comment, the following was written in part:

If it should turn out, therefore, when those packages are opened that the electors of four or five Southern States cast their votes for some new Democrat — Douglas, or Wise, or Jefferson Davis — his name will go into the House as the third candidate, and Mr. Fillmore will be ruled out! The balance of power will thus be transferred from the Fillmore men to the fire-eating section of the Democracy: and with such a rod in their hands they anticipate an easy victory.

In the late 1840s, the Wilmot Proviso was introduced repeatedly into the House Of Representatives. It led to spirited debates about the Tariff of Abominations which led to the Nullification Crisis. Those outspoken Southern nationalists who supported the concept of an independent Southern nation and who argued in favor of “disunion” became known as fire-eaters and their spirited comments became known as fire-eating.

And over in England nearly a generation earlier, in the book entitled,  “A Defence of the Loyal Inhabitants of Dudley” written by a member of the Pitt Club, dated December 2, 1819 and published by J. Fawcett in London (England) in 1820, the following passage is found on page 78:

It is one, who is precluded the advantage of coming into personal contact with them, or he would not have condescended to pamphletizing this exposure, not that he assumes to himself, any invincibility of power, he is no fire-eater; but he would most strenuously endeavour to make His Majesty’s ministers, eat their own words, by double mouthfuls, in the presence of the assembled representatives of the nation.

Prior to that, Robert Powell was presented with a purse of gold and a large silver medal by the Royal Society in 1751 for his 60-year career which included fire-eating … the sort that includes flames and great physical danger. Idiomation was unable to find any mention of fire-eating being anything other than what Robert Powell and others engaged in at the time.

Of interest is the fact that the word fire is from the Middle English word furen which means to arouse or to excite, and dates back to the late 1300s. Fire-eaters first appeared in European courts in the 1667 when a fire-eater by the name of Richardson when his act was recorded in the Journal des Savants and later by diarist John Evelyn on October 8, 1672 in London. Prior to that, Sir Henry Walton had written a letter dated June 3, 1633 that detailed the performance of a fire-eater he’d seen perform in his travels.

With the use of the word fire-eater in a publication written in 1819 and published the following year, and the fire-eating feats recorded in 1751 (a 68-year span between the two dates), Idiomation feels that the real feat and the new meaning of the expression happened between these two dates. It is therefore reasonable to believe it came into existence sometime in the 1780s.

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

Horse Collar Tackle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2013

What would football or rugby be without perfect tackles, high tackles, diving tackles, grass cutter tackles, broken tackles, slam tackles, and wing tackles? But one tackle that’s been banned in the last ten years by the National Football League (NFL), the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the horse collar tackle.

So what exactly is a horse collar tackle? When the defender reaches a hand inside the ball carrier’s collar by their necks from behind and pulls the player down, that’s a horse collar tackle. The dangers associated with this kind of tackle are that it can cause severe injuries to the tackled player’s neck, broken legs and ankles, and tears to ligaments in the knees and ankles.

The rule instituted in 2005 that forbids the use of the horse collar tackle was euphemistically referred to as the “Roy Williams Rule” due in large part to the fact that the 2004 NFL season saw 6 major injuries thanks to horse collar tackles. Four of those six major injuries were a result of Roy Williams’ horse collar tackles. On May 23, 2005 and as reported in a number of newspapers including the May 25, 2005 edition of the Lewiston Tribune, owners of NFL teams voted 27 to 5 to ban the tackle. The 5 times that didn’t want it banned were the Dallas Cowboys (the team with Roy Williams), the Detroit Lions, the New England Patriots, the New Orleans Saints, and the San Francisco 49ers. In the Lewiston Tribune the Associated Press story entitled, “Owners Prohibit Horse Collar Tackle” the article stated in part:

The owners’ only definitive action was the 27-5 vote to ban the horse collar tackle, in which a defender grabs the back inside of an opponent’s shoulder pads and yanks the player down. Dallas safety Roy Williams does the tackle as well as anybody, but he seriously injured All-Pro received Terell Owens of Philadelphia with the maneuver last season.

On August 28, 2013 Jaimie Uribe of Fort Lauderdale, under the headline “Around The League” posted this to his Google Plus account:

Can’t hit high, cant hit low, cant hit from the blindside, cant hit with unnecessary force, cant grab from the horse collar, can’t grab from the facemask, cant hit with the arm, helmet, or shoulder, oh yeah, and can’t trip someone either as that is just too rough. Is the NFL one rule away from jumping the shark?

Now the game of football (more or less as we know it) in America has been around since 1889 and the rules have evolved ever since. In 1974, there were serious changes in the rules to add action, color and tempo to the games. Four years later, more rule changes were made, this time permitting a defender to maintain contact with a receiver within five yards of scrimmage. Restricted contact was allowed after that point.

But nowhere in all the research done was Idiomation able to identify when horse collar tackle was first used.  Idiomation’s best guess is that it was some time after 1978 and before 2000. If readers or visitors have additional links they can provide to help pin point the origin of the expression, please post them in the Comments section below.

Posted in Football, Idioms from the 21st Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »