Historically Speaking

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Archive for November, 2014

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 25, 2014

If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re waiting for the inevitable next step or conclusion to a situation or a conversation.  In other words, you are waiting for the unexpected that is expected albeit unknown.

The reason for this is because it’s human nature to create patterns that makes sense to human brains, and when the anticipated pattern is disrupted, it causes anxiety.  When the pattern is concluded, for good or for bad, the human experience is that the person anticipating the next step or the conclusion is able to move forward.  Unfortunately, that next step or conclusion is almost invariably thought of as being bad.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of November 20, 2005 published a story about the community of Plum in Allegheny County entitled, “U.S. Grand Jury Probe Heats Up Borough’s Ongoing Police Mess.”  From reading the article, it would seem that at the time, there were a lot of problems and a lot of blame to go around.  The police department had been besieged by scandals and lawsuits over a period of years, and all the details were spilling out all over the media.  It became so involved that even after the former police chief won a large sum in damages and back pay from a lawsuit he filed against the city claiming wrongful firing.  Well into the article, this paragraph used the idiom.

Thomas Ceraso, attorney for the ex-chief’s son, Detective Mark Focareta said an FBI request that his client provide a handwriting sample was postponed indefinitely, leaving him “scratching his head and waiting for the other shoe to drop, if it’s ever dropping.”

Back on June 6, 1986, Associated Press business writer, Steven Rosenfeld discussed the rampant speculation on the trading in securities on Wall Street that had been based on knowledge of confidential merger plans.  After Dennis Levine pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, tax evasion, and perjury, the business world was abuzz about who else was involved.  The article was titled, “Street Waits For The Other Shoe To Drop” and began with this paragraph:

Wall Street is anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop after an investment banker pleaded guilty to fraud and promised to cooperate with authorities in the biggest case yet of illicit insider trading.

Likewise, on April 22, 1944, the Pittsburgh Press published an article by Scripps-Howard Foreign Editor, William Philip Simms, that chronicled what the allies were doing to the Nazi forces.  The article was titled, “Germans In France Waiting For Other Shoe To Drop” and the first paragraph read thusly:

The Germans in France have the “invasion jitters” according to a recently-arrived underground leader.  The malady he said is akin to that induced by waiting for the other shoe to drop, but multiplied a thousand fold.  The first “shoe,” he said, was the terrific pounding the British and American Air Forces are dealing out daily to Germany and the invasion coast.”

A generation earlier, on March 20, 1921 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Noise And Your Neighbors” written by Helen Bullitt Lowry.  Her article discussed a situation where a John Howells (son of the late Dean Howells) rented an apartment — in the building at 130 West Fifty-seventh Street — to Mrs. R.T. Wilson Jr., a woman who gave musicales that oftentimes lasted until nearly 4 o’clock in the morning to the dismay of her neighbors.

When she was taken to court by neighbors, her argument was that the noise was of a high-class nature, and asserting that having a studio apartment in itself implied that she had every right to hold musicales until well after midnight.  Her neighbors’ argument was that it made no difference whether the music was good or bad, high-class or low brow, at 4 o’clock in the morning, no noise, expensive or otherwise, should be permitted in apartments at such an hour.

The article concluded with this paragraph:

If nine out of ten of us weren’t trying to be considerate the housing problem would be over in New York.  Like the gingham dog and the calico cat, we would all have eaten each other up and there’d be nobody left in town but the delegates to conventions.  If nine out of ten of us hadn’t heard that ‘drop that other shoe’ chestnut and molded our lives accordingly for the sake of the neighbor below us, what would be the end of us?  Both the sleepy artist and the giver of late parties would be in a bad way.

The writer of the article referred to the idiom as a chestnut meaning it was old and well-used by the time it was included in her narrative.

Some say that the reason it was an old chestnut is because, during the manufacturing boom of the mid 19th century (beginning in 1843 with an upswing in economic activity in the U.S.), apartment buildings went up with each floor being identical in design so that all the kitchens lined up with each other, all the livingrooms lined up with each other, and, of course, all the bedrooms lined up with each other.

If a tenant was already in bed when the tenant upstairs decided to go to bed, the tenant in the apartment below would hear the first shoe drop, and once he or she heard the second shoe drop, the noise was done for the night.  Of course, this was because the floors, walls, and ceilings weren’t sound-proofed at all.

The literal expression — with the accompanying trepidation that is associated with the idiom — is found in a news article entitled, “Had Waited And Waited” published in the Sentinel Hotel Column of the August 11, 1905 edition of the Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin.  The article recounts how a hotel guest was given a room directly above the room of a particularly nervous regular boarder, and advised of the situation.

When it came time for the guest to sleep, he took of one shoe and allowed it to drop to the floor.  He suddenly remembered what he had been told about the nervous boarder in the room below, and he very quietly took his other shoe off and carefully set it down beside its mate.  As he was dropping off to sleep, there was a knock at his door so he rose to answer it. The article ended with this:

“I trust you will pardon me for disturbing you, sir,” he said, “but I have the room below you and am an exceptionally nervous man. I heard you drop your shoe some time ago, and ever since I have tried in vain to go to sleep. I fear I shall be unable to do so unless I hear you drop the other one, if it will not be too much trouble.”

It’s unlikely that there is an earlier published version of this idiom, however, if readers or visitors know of one, feel free to share the link in the Comments section below.

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Down To Earth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 18, 2014

Someone who is down to earth is sensible and practical just like something that is down to earth is sensible and practical.  It’s also not a permanent state.  If someone or something is down to earth at the onset, there’s no guarantee that the person or the thing will remain so in the future.  It also doesn’t mean that someone or something that is unrealistic or foolhardy now won’t be down to earth at some point in the future.

This past weekend, supermodel Kate Upton arrived at LAX with Detroit Tigers baseball superstar Justin Verlander after a five-hour flight out of JFK.  The pair looked well-rested, and rather than put on airs, they walked through the airport like every other passenger.  The Mail newspaper ran the story with this headline:  Supermodel Kate Upton Proves She’s Down To Earth As She Wheels Her Own Luggage Through LAX With Beau Justin Verlander.

Back in June 2008, Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian newspaper in the UK wrote about Wayne Dyer‘s books as he reviewed the most recent (at the time) book on the stands.  What this journalist found troubling was what he called a confusing swing between eastern spirituality and Christian beliefs where contradictions in philosophy were commonplace.  To give readers a frame of reference, he spoke about the author’s unpretentious beginnings and where he went from there.

Dyer’s rags-to-Maui tale began in 1976 when, as a young psychotherapist, he published Your Erroneous Zones, a down-to-earth work of pop psychology; when it didn’t sell, he travelled the US, hassling bookshops and giving radio interviews until it became a hit. He’s produced more than 30 books since, each less down-to-earth than the last, along with CDs, TV shows and decks of “affirmation cards.”

When George H.W. Bush was elected the 41st President of the United States back in 1988, his wife Barbara Bush (who was also the mother of the 43rd President of the United States as well as the mother of the 43rd Governor of Florida) made an impression not only on the American people but on journalists as well.  One such journalist was Andy Rooney whose column was syndicated in a number of newspapers across the U.S.  On January 10, 1989 his article, “Barbara Bush Will Be A Down To Earth First Lady” he began his article by writing:

We sure don’t know much about what kind of a first lady Barbara Bush will be.  She seems down-to-earth and normal.  She certainly isn’t clamorous, but I think people would take down-to-earth over glamorous every time.  The best of both worlds, of course, would be down-to-earth and glamorous but that’s a rare combination.

The Miami Times decided to go with a story on November 30, 1965 that spoofed the subject’s profession.  Written by William J. Cromie, the story was about Astronaut Frank Borman who, at 37, was the sort of man movie stars are made of:  He was a blond-haired, blue-eyed Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who the journalist felt came across like an All-American high school football coach more so than the command pilot for the Gemini-Titan 7 spacecraft that was to be launched the following Saturday.  The interview was cleverly entitled, “Spaceman’s Family Is Down-To-Earth.”

The Herald-Journal of May 8, 1938 ran a large advertisement for the Carolina Theater for the movie, “In Old Chicago” starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche.  Just below that grand announcement was a smaller one for the movie, “Doctor Rhythm” starring Bing Crosby, Mary Carlisle, Beatrice Lillie and what the newspaper ad referred to as “a hundred other funmakers.”  This movie was playing at the theater on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Not being as big a movie as the Chicago movie, a testimonial was included.

Dear Dr. Rhythm:  You never saw anybody as bored as I was.  I couldn’t see.  I was in a rut.  I was living on burrowed time.  I’m down to earth again, thanks to you, and feel like digging in again!

The testimony was signed Mollie Mole … an apt name for a letter writer who claimed she was “living on burrowed” time.

Eighty before the Bing Crosby movie, in 1853, “Earlswood:  Or, Lights and Shadows of the Anglican Church” was written and published by 19th century English novelist, social and religious writer, composer and lyricist, Charlotte Anley (17 February 1796 – 6 April 1893).  She was an interesting woman in that she was an English Quaker to whom Protestants and Catholics alike listened.

Surely, in all this, there is no keeping back the blessed doctrine of atonement?  The work of our redemption is, indeed, a mystery far beyond the limits of human intelligence, but its announcement to man is clear and simple, brought down to earth in language suited to the meanest capacity.

And nearly a hundred years before that, in July 1759, an essay was written and published in Volume 21 of “The Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal by Several Hands” compiled by Ralph Griffiths and George Edward Griffiths.  The essay addressed the “substance of several discourses preached before the University of Cambridge” by W. Wefton, B.D. Fellow of St. John’s College.

The first advice he gives us is, to resolve to be serious; for simple as this remedy may seem, he says, it will in the end effectually root out, one of the most dangerous maladies that has infected the state, viz. that profusion of wanton and indiscriminate banter, which has taken possession of the appetites, the reason, and the heart.  The affections of men chained down to earth, and devoted to sense, are not more averse, we are told, to heavenly things, than the present age, abandoned to laughter and ridicule, is abhorrent of sedate and sober reflection.

The devotion to sense and being down to earth were easily linked in this passage, making it clear that being down to earth was the opposite of being abandoned to ridicule and laughter — qualities which were not well thought of by the author.

While several dictionaries attest to the phrase having come into existence in 1932, Idiomation found the phrase used in publications from the mid-1700s and as such, since it is used in publications with the same spirit as how the idiom is used today, it most likely was understood with this meaning in the early 1700s.

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Down With That

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 13, 2014

When someone says they are down with that, or down with it, this means they are in agreement with, or have knowledge of, what is being said or done.  The idiom saw a resurgence in popularity in the nineties thanks to rap and hip hop, however, its popularity in the seventies and in jazz circles cannot be overlooked.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of May 28, 2003 published an OpEd piece by Maureen Dowd titled, “Bushies Get Down And Dirty” where she talked about George W. Bush and his associates, whom she referred to as the then-President’s posse.  The article began with this introduction to the piece:

By rolling over Iraq, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld hoped to deep-six the 60s.  President Bush was down with that.  He never grooved on the vibe of the Age of Aquarius anyway.

Over at Wordsmith.com, a transcript of a chat held on February 6, 2008 with author of eight books and hundreds of articles, reviews, and chapters in books, Seth Lerer (he was also a professor at Stanford University at the time) had Seth Lerer use the idiom in a response.  When user Bellingham asked the question as to how his generation of college students would know if their use of language was correct, Seth Lerer replied:

As long as they know the rules when they’re in my class, I’m, as they say, down with that.

In the January 1972 edition of Ebony magazine the idiom was used as part of a quote on page 107, as part of the article by Bill Rhoden, “Pros Donate Talent To Help Black Youth.”  The article covered the story about the first annual 21st Century Professional Basketball Tournament held in Madison Square Garden the previous summer that was produced and sponsored by a black-founded-and-operated philanthropic organization that focused its efforts on economic development and education.

Buffalo’s Randy Smith, a former NSSFNS [National Scholarship Service For Negro Students] recipient, said he was determined to make the tournament, with or without his club’s blessings.  “That’s how most of the players felt,” said Smith.  “The tournament is designed to help black youngsters, and anytime there is something I can do to help the cause, hey, I’m down with it.”

The “Jazz Lexicon” by Robert S. Gold, and published in 1957, pegs the expression to 1935 although no proof is provided to substantiate that specific date.  The “Jazz Lexicon” does, however, have this to say about the jazz musician’s slang from the depression era.

The jazz slang speaker’s aloofness is tacitly justified by his feeling that only those who are down with the action ( aware of what is going on ) should have access to the speech of those who have paid their dues (suffered an apprenticeship in life generally and in the jazz life in particular.)

A definition for the idiom is found in the 1944 edition of Dan Burley’s book on page 15 of his “Original Handbook of Harlem Jive” which does, however, substantiate the assertions made in the “Jazz Lexicon.”

That being said, the word down with the sense of being aware dates back to 1812 as found in the “Flash Dictionary” by J. H. Vaux.  The dictionary states that down is sometimes synonymous with aware, and includes the many ways in which down makes reference to being aware, including, but not limited, to this example.

To put a person down to any thing, is to apprize him of, elucidate, or explain it to him.

It could then be said that someone who is down with that information, is one who has knowledge of the subject matter, and he will either be in agreement or disagreement this information.

Indeed, this is true, as evidenced by the comment in Sporting Magazine edition XXXIX published in 1812 where the following comment is found on page 285.

He supposed he was down (had knowledge of it).

The 1898 edition of “The English Dialect Dictionary” compiled by Joseph Wright, M.A., Ph.D., D.C.L., Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford claimed the use of the word down meaning to be aware is found in the 1811 edition of “Lex Balantronicum.”

For the spirit of the idiom to be found in 1811 indicates that the sense of the idiom was used in the late 1700s, and that is proved by its inclusion in Joseph Pearson’s “Political Dictionary” published in 1792 which “contains original anecdotes faithfully collected from his posthumous papers by two of his literary friends.”  You see, in this dictionary, the word down is also used in the sense of being aware.

So, being down with anything has been around for far longer than most of us would have thought.  That’s cool to know because Idiomation is down with that.

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Hitting On All Sixes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 11, 2014

When you’re working on something and everything’s going well, you might hear your grandpa tell you that you’re hitting on all sixes.  It’s a compliment, and it means you’re doing everything right.  So what does the number six have to do with doing things right?

It’s a car reference of course, referring to six cylinders.  When everything was aligned, there was no back firing, no jerking, no sudden stopping, and the car made its way down the street with no troubles at all.  In fact, a car that fired on all cylinders was a marvel to behold.

Back in 1948, in the Electrical Workers’ Journal, Labor Union 420 in Waterbury, Connecticut started their column off with some happy news about their union president.

Our venerable president, Walt Wright, has been laid up with midwinter illness, but by now should be out hitting on all sixes.

The Depression era of the 1930s saw a number of difficulties, not the least of which were between the police and criminal types.  Not to worry though because this was published in the 1933 edition of the “Police Yearbook” published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The defy that the average hoodlum has given to the country has been accepted by the law enforcing officers.  We here in the city feel that we can and will cope with the situation. We feel that we have a police force that are hitting on all sixes.

We know that we are having a little bad luck in losing some of our policemen.  That is an indication that every policeman is on his toes; he is willing to shoot it out with the fellow that heretofore was willing to take a chance with the judge.

The Michigan State Dental Society bulletin Volume 9 printed in 1927 found a creative way to use the idiom as well as evidenced by this announcement.

Speaking of mongrels, let me introduce Ed. Giffen; enuf Scotch to spend little and sufficient Hebrew to take all.   Ed goes to a Thanksgiving Keno party, guys a card for the usual two bits and walks off with a turkey, a good and a duck.  I claim that’s hitting on all sixes.  Ed certainly knows his proteins.

Some sources claim that the expression is from the 1920s, however, Idiomation found the idiom used in the a professional engineer magazine dated January 1918.  The magazine was known as “The Monad” and was the official published magazine from the American Association of Engineers, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.  It was billed as being devoted to the social and economic welfare of the technical engineer.  The column dedicated to the Valparaiso chapter included this comment.

“Montana” Calkins then proceeded to apply his highly specialized mechanical touch to the picture machine with the result that it finally got tired of stalling and started hitting on all sixes.

A year earlier, on March 29, 1917, the National Underwriter — the official weekly newspaper of the insurance industry — published this advertisement.
The National Underwriter_Volume 21_1917The advertisement was published in the April 3rd, April 12th, April 19th, and May 10th editions as well.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the idiom than those found in 1917, however, since the reference is rooted in automotive history, note that cars hail from the 1860s when they had up to four cylinders!

Cosmopolitan magazine published a car guide in 1906, which listed a number of cars with specs.  This is where the first six cylinder — forty horsepower — car is mentioned, manufactured by Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.  At this point in time, it should be noted that gaskets hadn’t been perfected yet, and so the seal between cylinders and cylinder heads was a real hit-or-miss situation that relied on T-heads resulting in valve life that lasted only a few hundred miles before it repairs were needed.  By 1909, there were about eighty car manufacturers who used the six cylinder engine in their cars.

It’s easy to see then how hitting on all sixes was a reference to all going well, and based on car history, Idiomation can state that the expression came into being some time after 1906.

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Enough To Give A Gopher Heartburn

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 6, 2014

The idiom it’s enough to give a gopher heartburn is one that describes how bad times are.  Science has proven that gophers, like all rodents, can suffer from digestive disorders, but it takes a lot of the wrong sorts of food to cause heartburn in a gopher.   So the idiom means that times have to be pretty terrible before it results in the unimaginable (in this case, a gopher with heartburn).

The November 30, 1976 edition of the Brandon Sun used the idiom in the column Sunbeams.  The journalist (who appeared to have a lot of news to cover in his column that day) wrote in part:

Thought of this last week when  just east of Sidney, I saw a demonstration of how a farmer can live with the wind … as Jake used to say in the W.O. Mitchell stories, “The wind she was blowin’ hard enough to give a gopher the heartburn on the north side of the highway the farmland had a heavy layer of combine trash spread evenly across it from one fence line to the other … south of the highway there were graders working on the new right-of-way and the loose material they were stirring up was turned into a black blizzard.

The idiom seems to be a Brandon Sun favorite as it was used five years earlier — on April 15, 1971 — when the fictional character and the idiom were included in a news story that included:

If Jake were still around he’d exclaim that it was “enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

And back on February 25, 1961, the Medicine Hat News included the idiom when it published a news story that stated:

In moments of desperation, he would say:  “Things are bad enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”  Right at this moment not only the gophers but also the two-legged prairie dwellers are in danger of this particular unpleasantness at the thought of grain companies closing down their grain elevators.  The forecast of such action was made a week ago by the chief statistician of the Board of Grain Commissioners.

The newspaper gave credit to the CBC radio series, “Jake and the Kid” where the scripts were written by W.O. Mitchell.

Canadian author, W.O. Mitchell (13 March 1914 – 25 February 1998) wrote the world recognized novel, “Who Has Seen The Wind” published in 1947.  It was the story of four-year-old Brian O’Connal growing up on the Canadian prairies (in the town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan), and the people who made up his world:  his father (a druggist), his mother, his Uncle Sean, his Scottish grandmother.  The story drew upon some of the author’s personal childhood memories with equal measures of humor and reality tying the story together.

In 1950, CBC Radio tapped W.O. Mitchell to write scripts for the series, “Jake and the Kid.”  In all, he created more than 300 radio scripts for the series between 1950 and 1958, and everything took place in the fictional community of Crocus, Saskatchewan. While many of the stories were compiled in book form and published in 1961, during those either years when the scripts were being broadcast as radio teleplays, some very unique idioms originated with the author.

As these were the days when there was censorship and many words couldn’t be broadcast over the airwaves, oftentimes what was originally written had to be re-written to fit the censors.  Since cursing was forbidden, W.O. Mitchell had to create swearing without actually swearing.  Originally, the gopher idiom made mention of his backside, which producers (and the author) knew wouldn’t fly past the censors.  In the re-writing, the expression became, “It’s enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

In the book “Jake and the Kid” the idiom was found in this passage on page 264.

Mr. Candy stood where his new red barn had been. Sammy and Brian halted; they stared at the utter, kindling ruin of what had once been a barn. No stick stood. In the strewn wreckage not even the foundation outline was discernible … Certainly the Lord’s vengeance had been enough to give a gopher the heartburn.

The idiom, therefore, is easy to peg to 1951 and was first uttered by a character created by W.O. Mitchell.   When all is said and done, you have to admit that Canadian authors have a way with words and quirky visualizations, don’t you agree?

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Kick The Bucket

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2014

If someone has kicked the bucket, they have shuffled off this mortal coil and gone on to the afterlife.  Yes, when someone kicks the bucket, they have died.

Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the days when someone intent on committing suicide would stand on a bucket, slip the noose around his or her neck, and then literally kick the bucket.  Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the bucket of holy water that was placed at the feet of a corpse that had been laid out for viewing.  And some will say that back in the sixteenth century the beam from which a butchered pig was hung was called a buquet (not to be confused with a bouquet which is an arrangement of flowers).  So where did the idiom come from since there are so many different stories about its origins?

If you believe the Spokane Daily Chronicle of May 30, 1911, the expression comes from England and first appeared in print in 1725.  The news bite alleged the following:

… it dates back to Old England, when about the year 1725, one Balsover hanged himself to a beam while standing on the bottom of a bucket, and then kicked the bucket away, says the New York Times.

It was a believable explanation because three years later on November 26, 1914, the Toledo Blade newspaper carried an almost identical explanation to the question:  What is the origin of the saying “to kick the bucket?”

Now, where the New York Times got the story back in 1911 is unclear, however, the Meriden Daily Republican published a similar story in July 20, 1880 edition of their newspaper, so the story was circulating long before the New York Times grabbed hold of it.  It could be because the Boston Evening Transcript of January 24, 1878 used the term in this clever bit of reporting.

Ah Chung, a San Francisco murderer, has kicked the bucket, literally as well as metaphorically.  On Jan. 13 a prison-keeper found him hanging by the neck in his cell.  He had passed a cord through the air-holes at the back of his cell, fastened that end, and made a noose of the other end, put out the gas, and planted himself upon a water bucket.  Then he kicked the bucket.

The expression was used in jokes published in a number of magazines and newspapers in the early 1800s, oftentimes recounted as such:

Two gentlemen were walking in the High-street, Southampton, last week, about that hour which the industrious damsels of the mop and brush usually devote to cleansing the pavement before the door.  It happened that the bucket used upon such occasions was upon the stones, and one of the gentlemen stumbled against it.
“My dear friend,” exclaimed the other, “I lament your death exceedingly!”
“My death!”
“Yes, you have just kicked the bucket.”
“Not so,” rejoined his friend.  “I have only turned a little pale (pail).”

The idiom was also found in the “Standard Recitations for the Use of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies” published in 1800.  The following was determined appropriate recitation for junior pupils.

He never did a decent thing
He was’t worth a ducat;
He kicked and kicked until he died,
And then he kicked the bucket.

In Francis Grose’s 1785 edition of the “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the definition for kick the bucket is as follows.

To die.  He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day.  To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

It would seem that kicking and buckets and death have had a long association, as the spirit of the expression is found in William Shakespeare’s Play “Henry IV Part II” in Act IV, Scene 2.  The play was published in 1597.  Bear in mind that a gibbet meant to hang.

Here shall charge you, and discharge you with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer; come off, and on, swifter then the gibbets on the brewer’s bucket.

When you look at gibbets (to hang) and bucket in this context, it’s all about dying.  Whether it’s about an animal being slaughtered or a person committing suicide, the beam (or bucket, as the beam was called) is what ties them together.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the mid-1500s since it was used with such ease by William Shakespeare.

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