Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for February, 2014

Firing Arrows

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 21, 2014

Mere days ago, Joelle Kovach of the Peterborough Examiner newspaper in Peterborough, Ontario (Canada) reported on the ongoing Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) review in an article titled, “Police Chief’s Aarrows’ Comment ‘Shakespearian,’ Not Racist: Former Police Board Chairwoman.” Police Chief Rodd Murray had been quoted in the media in 2011 (as problems between Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett and the Peterborough-Lakefield police services board, and the Mayor’s vocal criticisms of the Peterborough-Lakefield Community Police Services, were at their height) as having said, “We have real bad guys firing real bullets at us. We don’t need politicians firing arrows at us.”

Brent Whetung filed a letter of complaint to the police board wherein he stated, “We as First Nation people are sometimes harassed by ignorant or racist people who ridicule us by using the term shooting arrows.”

On February 6, 2014, an article by Tom McLeish (professor of Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University in the UK) entitled, “Business Drops The Baton In Higher Ed Innovation” was published on the National Centre for Universities and Business website. The article addressed Sir Andrew Witty’s aims to connect the intellectual power of universities with prosperity and growth. The closing paragraph in the article was this:

We need to recruit their entrepreneurial energy to address the problems of energy, climate, healthcare and sustainability. Firing arrows into the air may not be the answer -– readdressing the economics of R&D investment by business will be.

In the WikiHow entry entitled, “How to Defend Against Verbal Bullying” the following advice is given by one of the 22 contributors to the Wiki article:

Imagine an archer (bully) firing arrows (words) at a ghost (you). As a ghost, you are slightly amused and bored by the silly archer. The ghost cannot be hurt by the arrows. The ghost doesn’t run away or fire arrows back. The ghost just yawns. What can the archer do to the ghost? Nothing but keep firing arrows that never hit the target. The ghost smiles when the archer finally gets bored or frustrated and gives up.

According to scientists, the origins of the bow and arrow are prehistoric, and are found on nearly all the continents.

In Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of archery and heroic excellence. There’s a Turkish expression firing arrows of criticism that has been shortened to simply firing arrows. In William Shakespeare’s 1602 play, “Hamlet” the main character speaks of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Back in 247 BC, the Parthian empire was so skilled in the art of archery that not even Rome could conquer them. Among many useful war-related inventions, the Parthians had a saddle with a stirrup that enabled warriors on horseback to turn and fire arrows at their enemies while riding away at full gallop during a strategic retreat. This shot was known as the Parthian shot, and the Parthian shot gave birth to the dismissive final remark expression: a parting shot.

Another common expression referring to someone having more than one approach to a problem is to have more than one arrow in one’s quiver (a quiver being the correct term dating back to the 14th century that describes the case used for carrying or holding arrows). The implication is that one of those “arrows” will hit the “target” … in other words, one of those possible solutions will be the one that works best at resolving the problem at hand.

And so, while Idiomation cannot say for certain when or where the expression firing arrows first originated, Idiomation can assure readers and visitors that the expression has been around for a very long time, and in some countries at a time when people were unaware of North or South America.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greek, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

If Looks Could Kill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 5, 2014

Every once in a while you hear someone talk about a run-in they’ve had with a third party, and they state if looks could kill … oftentimes leaving the rest of the sentence unfinished. What they mean is that the third party was so angered by what the person had said or done, that they cast a nasty look in that person’s direction.

In the “Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board: Volume 351” the firing of David W. Lindgren on April 1, 1999 is addressed. Among other issues in this hearing was the fact that during voir-dire evidence, it was revealed that the witness had overheard other voir-dire testimony as he stood by the closed witness room door. Among the many twists and turns, the following was recorded:

Asked whether he stared at Lindgreen, George testified that he simply gazed at each driver, including Lindgren, in the room at various times, making eye contact per his training on how to address a group. George does not expressly deny staring at Lindgren, or giving him a “if looks could kill” stare at the beginning of the meeting, nor does he assert that he never saw the “Big O” on Lindgren’s shirt.

Author Henrik Ibsen (20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) wrote a number of plays including “The League Of Youth: A Comedy In Five Act” which was published in English in 1965 by Penguin Books (it was originally published in 1869). Madame Rundesholme — referred to as Madam in the play — is the widow of a local tradesman, Daniel Hejre is Daniel Hejre, Lundedstad is the farmer Anders Lundedstad, Mr. Stensgard is a lawyer, and Thora is Chamberlain Brattesberg’s daughter. The action takes place near a market town in the southern part of Norway. The expression is found in this passage.

MADAM:
Yes, of course I accept him. A girl’s got to be careful of philanderers, but when you’ve got it in black and white that a certain person’s intentions are honourable, why then … Oh look, here’s Mr. Stensgard, too! Well, Mr. Stensgard, aren’t you going to congratulate me?

HEJRE [to LUNDESTAD]:
If looks could kill …!

BRATTSBERG:
I’m sure he is, Madam Rundesholme, but won’t you congratulate your future sister-in-law?

MADAM:
Who’s that?

THORA:
Ragna — she’s engaged, too.

In the Saturday Evening Post edition of May 7, 1921, the story “Fifty Candles” by American novelist and playwright, Earl Derr Biggers (August 26, 1884 – April 5, 1933) was shared with the readership. The story was said to be from the records of the district court at Honolulu for the year 1898, stretching twenty years, and landing squarely in San Francisco, and the life of one Chang See. Interestingly enough, for those who don’t recognize the author’s name, he is primarily remembered for his detective stories featuring Chinese-American detective, Charlie Chan (first introduced to readers in 1925 in the novel “The House Without A Key.”). But flirting with the idea of incorporating Asian culture into his stories was something that struck the author’s fancy after a trip to Honolulu where he wrote he did some “harmless loitering on the beach at Waikiki.”  In the Saturday Evening Post story, the following was written:

Harry Childs had never been in high favor in that court, and if looks could kill he would then and there have preceded his client into eternity. Outwardly, however, the judicial calm was unruffled.

Rolling back to January 1853 and “The New Monthly Magazine: Volume 97” in a story entitled, “Lisette’s Castles In The Air.”  It is attributed as being from the Danish author and poet, H.P. Holst (22 October 1811 – 4 June 1893) and transcribed by a Mrs. Bushby.

Her embarrassment adds fuel to the flames; the demon of jealousy is again at work in Ludvig’s mind, he utters not a syllable, but darting at her a glance that, if looks could kill, would have annihilated her on the spot, he seizes his hat, and is about to leave her. Lisette is in the greatest consternation. She tries to detain him. “Ludvig — dear Ludvig! I have — can you forgive …?”

“What have you done? What am I called on to forgive? You false, deceitful one!” he cries, passionately interrupting her, while he endeavours to break away from her.

“Oh, do not be so violent, Ludvig! I have been amusing myself with my dreams again. I have again been building castles in the air. Forgive me this once more! There is what I have been writing.”

Going back to April 1804 and the book “Oriental Customs, Or An Illustration Of The Sacred Scriptures By An Explanatory Application Of The Customs And Manners Of The Eastern Nations, And Especially The Jews, Therein Alluded To Together With Observations On Many Difficult And Obscure Texts, Collected From The Most Celebrated Travellers, And The Most Eminent Critics” written by Church of England clergyman, Samuel Burder (1773 – 1836). This book is introduced in the Preface as one that purports to provide mature examination of authenticated revelations, and determines the credibility of the Bible as connected with customs found in cultures of the East (meaning the Middle East and Asia). The following is written in the section entitled, “No. 532: Galatians ii.1.”

They believed that great mischief might ensue from an evil-eye, or from being regarded with envious and malicious looks. Pliny relates from Isigonus, that “among the Triballians and Illyrians there were certain enchanters, who with their looks could bewitch and kill those whom they beheld for a considerable time, especially if they did so with angry eyes.” (Nat. Hist. lib. vii.cap.2.)

And so the concept of looks being able to kill is traced back to the Triballians and the Illyrians by way of this passage. Triballians were an ancient tribe that inhabited what is now known as southern Serbia and western Bulgaria, and were influenced by the Celts, the Scythians, and the Illyrians. Illyrians were an ancient tribe that inhabited the western Balkans and the southeastern costs of the Italian peninsula. The tribe appears to have died out, according to historical records, in the 7th century. Both tribes are mentioned in Greek texts from as early on as the 4th century BC.

Pliny, is Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), who was a Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher. At the age of 23, he was a junior officer in the Roman army, and from there he moved up the ladder to become a commander of a cohort, and then secured the position of commander of an ala. During this time, his knowledge and ability grew, and became more and more respected. What this means is that he had opportunity and occasion to interact with the tribes to which he referred in his writings. It is here that Pliny referred to some Triballian and Illyrian “[women] who had double eye balls, [who] had power to hurt others on whom they fixed their eyes.”

Greek mythology dates back to between 900 and 800 BC, and while it’s possible that the abilities attributed to some Triballian and Illyrian women may be as a result of the myth of Perseus and Medusa.  Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters (the three sisters being Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale). It was said that Medusa had the ability to turn to stone those who gazed upon her countenance.

That being said, Greek mythology seems to pre-date the Triballians and Illyrians, and so it is reasonable to identify this idiom as being one that comes straight from the Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2014

The other day, I heard someone say, “Diem sero, et una mina breva.” The English version of that idiom is a day late and a dollar short.  What the idiom means is that action taken was taken late and is of no use. An opportunity has not only been missed, but if it had been snagged, it would have been to no avail as there was inadequate preparations made that would have resulted in a favorable outcome. In other words, it’s the same thing as saying too little, too late.

People who are accused of being a day late and a dollar short are seen as disorganized, careless people with poor time management skills that inconveniences everyone else affected by such behavior.

A Letter to the Editor by Steve Kopa of Weirton, West Virginia to the Herald Dispatch on January 28, 2014 dealt with the recent spill where 7,500 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals seeped into the Elk River. The corporation responsible for this filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy nearly immediately after this disaster. The first paragraph of Steve Kopa’s letter read:

Regarding the Elk River chemical spill, as usual our fearless leaders are using an old phrase: “a day late and a dollar short.” That means a missed opportunity and being inexcusably unprepared.

The U.S. Department of Commerce: National Bureau of Standards published a report for the 59th National Conference on Weights and Measures in July of 1973. The editors were Sandra J. Wilson and Richard N. Smith, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Frederick B. Dent, and National Bureau of Standards Director, Richard W. Roberts were listed on the front page of the report.

There is need to explain your work, your tools and your activities in order to gain public support and public understanding. With your guidance, the services of government need not be, as they have been many times in the past, a day late and a dollar short of the needs and demands of the public.

In the “Contact Point” newsletter of the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons: School of Dentistry published in 1949, one of the contributors, identified as K.G.H., signed off on his column with the expression.

Must call this quits now, as I’m a day late and a dollar short with it now.

A syndicated one-panel cartoon was published in many American newspapers on March 3, 1939 using the expression as part of the punchline. The cartoon — known as “Out Our Way” — was drawn and written by Canadian cartoonist, J.R. Williams (March 30, 1888 – June 17, 1957).  The panel showed two men listening to an inventor describe his labor-free pick , for which he said he had applied to have patented. Two blue-collar workers are passing by and one says to the other:

No, he’s in the same fix as th’ rest of us. It’s called progress. I just learn about half the traffic rules an’ they change ’em. You can’t beat progress. You’ll always be a day late an’ a dollar short.

The Continental Congress of the United States authorized the issuance of the US dollar on August 8, 1786, however, Americans preferred gold and silver for currency. With the National Banking Act of 1863, the dollar become the only recognized currency in the U.S. It wasn’t until March 14, 1900 and the Gold Standard Act that it was decided that gold was the sole standard by which paper money would be redeemed.

As history has shown, suspending gold convertibility during the Great Depression of the 1930s worsened the situation with global economies, and America wasn’t exempt from the effects of this suspension. The effects on the American dollar were felt across the country and abroad.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of a day late and a dollar short, that it was used so freely in the one-panel cartoon published in 1939 scant months before the start of World War II (1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945) may indicate that the expression has its roots in the Great Depression. This idiom is therefore reasonably pegged to some time in the 1930s.

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