Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Holy Deadlock

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 20, 2015

Back in 1979, former Genesis guitarist Anthony “Ant” Phillips (23 December 1951) recorded an album named, “Sides.”  The songs leaned towards the more negative view of life with titles such as Nightmare, Bleak House, Holy Deadlock (to name just three).  Critics didn’t speak well of the album, and Christopher Currie had this to say about the song “Holy Deadlock” specifically.

Holy Deadlock” begins in a quasi-reggae manner which bears the obvious imprint of The Police, but sadly isn’t a good enough song to exist as a successful stylistic hybrid.  The music doesn’t develop after the initial thematic statement, and the lyrics are generally a waste of time (a series of clichés involving a man’s loss of revenue through divorce, presented as humor).  The chorus melody has some interesting tricks, but, again, there really isn’t terribly much to speak of here.

The idiom was found in text of a community announcement placed in the Delaware County Daily Times of Chester, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1971 which read:

The first in a series of Laymen on the March with God’s Message for the Now Generation, will be/ 7:30 p.m Sunday at Macedonia Seventh Day Adventist Church, 310 Lamokin St. The speaker will be E. L. Tillery. The subject: “Has Holy Wedlock Become Holy Deadlock?”

In the book “Learned Men” by Gustavus Swift Paine (1886 – 1958), republished in London in 1959 (but previously published prior to 1923) the idiom appeared in Chapter, “Private Fortunes.”

His name is all we know about him. Someone, or a number of men, chased the lovers along a road from London and brought the lady back to her husband. What the conflicts of the Overalls were or how the couple made out as they lived on in holy deadlock after the lady thus eloped and got caught we know not. Other wives of translators worried their husbands almost beyond bearing. Not all of the learned men profited by the advice of their fellow translator Francis Dillingham, who, though he never married, set forth how to keep a wife in proper subjection.

It’s accepted by most literary critics that the idiom was coined by English humorist, novelist, playwright, and law reform activist, Alan Patrick (A.P.) Herbert (24 September 1890 – 11 November 1971) in his satirical novel of the same name.  The novel took exception at the divorce laws of the era, and highlighting the need for a liberalization of these laws.  The book was an immediate success, selling more than ninety thousand copies and receiving a great deal of positive acclaim from critics and readers alike.  Even the legal experts wrote favorable reviews and commentaries of the book.

However, there is ample published evidence that A.P. Herbert was not the originator of the phrase.  In McClure’s Magazine of September 1922, the idiom appeared in the article “Living and Play Acting” by Laurette Taylor.

For the sake of the people who know nothing and care less about the theater I would like to mention that Hartley and I are joined in holy deadlock and as a wife I have a right to look to him for his love, honor, obedience and plays.

Earlier than that, in the Current Opinion magazine of 1915 edited by Edward J. Wheeler, in Volume 59, a small article appeared under the heading, “The Cynical Compositor.”  The magazine was published by a company in New York known as “The Current Literature Publishing Company” located on West 29th Street.

“B.L.T.” in his “Lino-type or Two” column of the Chicago Tribune culls a gem from the Cheyenne State Leader:

The spacious home of Judge and Mrs. John A. Riner was the scene of a beautiful wedding last evening when their youngest daughter, Dorothy, was joined in holy deadlock to Mr. Dean Prosser.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the term, it was nonetheless a commonly used phrase that mocked the more traditional term holy wedlock.

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