Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

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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