Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for March, 2015

Jaywalking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2015

Jaywalking is an interesting term.  Some think it refers to blue jays, but they’re mistaken.  Jaywalking is when a person crosses or walks in the street unlawfully or without regard for approaching traffic.  In most instances, if a person crosses the street anywhere but at a crosswalk or an intersection, they are technically jaywalking.

It was on September 19, 1997 that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article written by Jessica McBride titled, “Alderman Wants Jaywalking Rules Eased.”  The Alderman in question was Jeff Pawlinksi, and it seems that a jaywalking ticket kicked the discussion off for the alderman was the one issued to District Attorney Michael McCann on May 23 of that year.  The article read in part:

Jaywalking tickets are back in vogue as part of the “quality of life” policing strategy begun by Police Chief Arthur Jones last fall.  That philosophy holds that cracking down on smaller crimes, such as jaywalking, prevents larger ones.

But Milwaukee and it’s relationship with jaywalking is an interesting one to say the least.  More than thirty years earlier, on July 31, 1965 the Milwaukee Journal published an article about jaywalking and the ordinances in Milwaukee and other state laws that governed the offense.  In the article, it stated that the judge pointed out that two teachers who had received citations for jaywalking had been charged with violating the wrong city ordinance, and because of that, the two University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee teachers who had been cited, were let off the hook.  The article in question was titled, “Milwaukee: Things You Should Know About Jaywalking.”

The Telegraph newspaper of Nashua, New Hampshire published an article on December 27, 1945 that took on the issue of jaywalking.  It talked about the anti-jaywalking ordinance that took a year and a half to hammer out, and the newspaper wrote it was about time the jaywalking problem was properly addressed.  The article included this information on the recommended ordinance:

Nashua’s outgoing Board of Aldermen has recommended to the incoming board that such an ordinance be drawn up by the City Solicitor prohibiting jaywalking on Main Street from Hollis Street North to Fletcher Street, “pedestrian cross traffic between these two points to be permitted only on the designated well-painted and well-illuminated cross walks.”

In the 1937 movie “The Great O’Malley” Pat O’Brien (11 November 1899 – 15 October 1983) played the role of James Aloysius O’Malley.  He was a by-the-books sort of officer and when newspaper reporter Pinky Holden (played by Hobart Cavanaugh) wrote an article poking fun at the officer’s meticulous work habits, the Chief of Police put him on crossing guard duty instead.  One of the many tickets Officer O’Malley wrote out before winding up a crossing guard was a ticket to his own mother for jaywalking.

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The word jay described someone who was naive or foolish and so when Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article in 1917 entitled, “Our Upstart Speech” by Robert P. Utter (23 November 1875 – 17 February 1936), Associates Professor of English at Amherst College, it’s not surprising that the word jaywalking was included.  The topic, of course, was slang and how it was finding its way into everyday language more and more often.  The author took on different kinds of slang, including college slang which included such words as prof for professor, exam for examination, dorm for dormitory, policon for political economy, and other terms.  In many respects, college slang was “texting” of its generation.  With regards to jaywalking, the author had this to say about the expression.

If these last long enough in our every-day vocabulary to lose the gloss of technicality we may reduce them to lower terms, even as the Bostonian, supposedly sesquipedalian of speech, has reduced “a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic regulations” to the compact jaywalker.

Some may insist that this was the earliest published use of the word, but they’d be wrong because five years earlier, in Kansas City, Missouri, the first ordinance criminalizing jaywalking was enacted to improve traffic conditions.  At the time, it was reported in the local newspaper that jaywalking was as bad as joy riding.  While the residents of Kansas City were concerned over losing a small personal liberty, they supported the new ordinance on the basis that the residents were averse to being thought of as “boobs, jays, ginks, or farmers” when their city was one of the top twenty large cities in the United States of America.  All of this was reported in the magazine “Automobile Topics: Volume 25, Number 9” published on April 13, 1912.

The first traffic laws in the U.S. were enacted in 1899, and on May 20, 1899, Jacob German, a New York City cab driver employed by the Electric Vehicle Company (one of New York City’s earliest cab companies), was arrested for driving his electric taxi down Lexington street in Manhattan at the dangerous speed of 12 mph.  He was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house for a time, and eventually set free.  Yes, Jacob German was the first person in the U.S. to be cited for speeding!

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The first man ever arrested and convicted of speeding was Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent in England.   He was stopped by an officer as he zipped by at 8 mph in a 2 mph zone.  On 28 January 1896, Walter was found guilty of the charge against him, and received a fine for speeding.

The New York City law paved the way for the first state speed limit law in Connecticut which was enacted on May 21, 1901.  The law was the first speed limit law and limited motor vehicle speeds to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads.  Two years later, in 1903, New York City adopted the first comprehensive traffic code.

So, as you can see, in 1912, it was quite progressive for any city to enact an ordinance that addressed the issue of jaywalkers.  That being said, Kansas City wasn’t the first place jaywalking or jaywalkers was used.  It popped up in an article in the Chicago Tribune on April 7, 1909 where the following was written:

Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jay walking.

However, two years before the Chicago Tribune article, the Guthrie Daily Leader newspaper in Oklahoma made mention of jaywalkers in the October 22, 1907 edition of the newspaper.

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The term, as you can see, was an off-shoot of the phrase jay driver which was used in newspaper stories with alarming regularity.  For example, this headline in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper of June 29, 1907 saw the phrase make the headlines as it did in many newspaper from 1905 onwards.

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And so the expression jaywalker was first published in 1907, less than a decade after the first traffic laws came into existence.  And since jaywalking is what jaywalkers do, the word jaywalking also came into vogue at the same time.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Beer And Skittles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 26, 2015

It’s not all beer and skittles they say, and when they say that, they mean that it’s not the easy life one might think or hope it would be.

Politics sometimes has a way of using colorful idioms to make a point and so it was on January 4, 1960 when Frank Macomber’s story appeared in the Lodi News Sentinel.  He shared the tales of woe that come with a Congressman’s life, including the chores of answering mail from constituents.  The article was entitled, “A Congressman’s Life Isn’t Always Beer And Skittles.”

It was back on February 6, 1931 that comic Hollywood actor Buster Keaton found himself the main topic of discussion in Mollie Merrick’s column that related the goings on in Hollywood for the rest of America to read.  Mollie Merrick related the story of “Kathleen Key, brilliant brunette beauty, who landed one on Buster Keaton’s jaw and wrecked his dressing room” the previous day “over a little discussion about money.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Kathleen Key was, she played the role of Tirzah in the 1925 movie, “Ben Hur.”

Kathleen Key

Kathleen Key

Buster claimed it all happened shortly after he gave the actress a check in the presence of two witnesses:  Cliff Edwards and Clarence Locan.  Buster Keaton said the check had been made out for $5,000 but that the actress demanded an additional $20,000. However, the check was supposed to originally be for $500 and was a bet between the actress and the comedian with regards to the actress losing 20 pounds in 10 days.

In the end, he claimed that he tore up the check and that the actress manhandled him “something awful” while the witnesses “left in a hurry.”  Mollie Merrick covered a lot of details in her story, and ended with this paragraph.

Perhaps there’ll be another check written.  There generally is when a movie star gets into trouble.  It’s the easiest way to straighten things out.  And may I add here that the movie folk often pay through the nose rather than have a scandal.  Being famous isn’t all beer and skittles.

Buster Keaton, at the time, was married to Natalie Talmadge, the youngest (according to Mollie Merrick at the time) of the very famous Talmadge sisters.

Life wasn’t all beer and skittles for Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) on that same date according to the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The newspaper ran a story out of London (England) that reported that Sinclair Lewis was inundated with mail from strangers demanding money from him but not because he owed money.  They demanded it from him because they were under the mistaken belief that as a Nobel prize winner, he was loaded with cash.  The article began very simply with this sentence:

Life is not all beer and skittles even for the winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Sinclair Lewis is beginning to find out.

It would seem that February 1931 had more than a few news articles alluding to beer and skittles!

It was in the Spring of 1876 through to the Spring of 1877 that letters under the heading of “Uppingham By The Sea” were published in The Times newspaper.  On January 27, 1878 the letters by John Huntley Skrine (3 April 1848 – 8 May 1923) were published as a book under the title, “Uppingham by the Sea: A Narrative of the Year at Borth.”  It was in Chapter IX titled, “The First Term: Making History” that the nature of skittles was clearly stated which helps to explain why beer or ale was associated with the game.

It was too narrow to be used, as was hoped, for games; unless, indeed, we had turned it into a skittle-alley.  But then skittles is a game of low connections.

A game of low connections?  Oh my!  And so, beer and skittles or ale and skittles was a pastime indulged in that required little more than an interest in playing the game and imbibing beer or ale.

In the book “Nature and Human Nature” by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) — who was also the author of “Sam Slick the Clock Maker” and other popular books of the era — published in New York City by Stringer and Townsend in 1855, the idiom appeared twice within sentences of each other in Chapter II entitled, “Clippers and Steamers.”

“It seemeth hard, Tom,” said Bill, tryin’ to comfor him — “it seemeth hard; but I’m an older man nor you be, Tom, the matter of several years;” and he gave his trowsers a twitch.  (“You know they don’t wear galluses, though a gallus holds them up sometimes,”) shifted his quid, gave his nor-wester a pull over his forehead, and looked solemncholly, “and my experience, Tom, is, that this life ain’t all beer and skittles.”

And just a bit further in this chapter:

“This life aint all beer and skittles.”  Many a time since I heard that anecdote — and I heard it in Kew Gardens, of all places in the world — when I am disappointed sadly I say that saw over, and console myself with it.

Jumping back to the turn of that century, in 1800, Volume Five of the “Queensland Agricultural Journal” included a comment from a correspondent of the “Agricultural Gazette” of New South Wales.   It would seem that beer and skittles was part of the lexicon down under as well.  The correspondent reported in part:

Now, a small farmer who clears £150 per annum may be classed amongst the happy men of the earth.  He calls no man master.  He lives comfortably, pays no rent, pays his way, has a healthy if laborious life, and takes his occasional holiday with his family without asking anyone’s permission.  Of course, farming is not all “beer and skittles.”

It was a well-known idiom, and appeared ten years earlier in the book “Letters On Education” by Catharine Macaulay.  Published in 1790, a letter is included in the book that reads thusly:

You will spare the rod at the peril of the boy’s soul; spare the lollipops and no harm is done.  Notice, I beg you, that what is at stake is the foundation view of all life.  We can hardly conceive the beautiful freedom from prejudice with which a child starts on living.  He is really prepared to believe that life is not all beer and skittles, though he hopes of course that it may prove to be.  Leave him alone and he will try to make it such.

It was in the account by William Hutton (30 September 1723 – 20 September 1815) of Birmingham which he published in 1781 that the activities of the “humbler class” were described as “completely suited to the lowest of tempers” and of “low amusement.” (The commentary sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)  These included, according to William Hutton, “skittles and ale.”

Cards and the visit are linked together, nor is the billiard table totally forsaken. One man amuses himself in amassing a fortune, and another in dissolving one.

About thirty-six of the inhabitants keep carriages for their own private use; and near fifty have country houses. The relaxations of the humbler class, are fives, quoits, skittles, and ale.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of skittles and ale or beer and skittles that retains the spirit of the idiom.  However, it was used easily to describe society in 1781 in Birmingham and since the game of skittles was well-known as early 1635, it’s reasonable to venture a guess that by 1700, ale and skittles — also known as beer and skittles by some — were considered inseparable by most in society.

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Skittles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 24, 2015

Every once in a while you hear someone allege that another person is skittles, meaning that their thinking is all over the place.  And you may hear the word used in this sense:  “He had the skittles kicked out of him.”  If that’s happened to someone, then their thinking is also all over the place as they are bent over in pain.

That meaning is courtesy of the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie.  In the movie, the Gadgetmobile (voiced by American actor, political commentator, and comedian D. L. Hughley) crashes into the Dr. Claw’s limousine and upon impact, thousands of Skittles pour out of the glove compartment and air bag.  Penny (Inspector Gadget’s niece) arrives on the scene and notices that the Gadgetmobile “got the Skittles kicked out of him.”  Since the movie’s release in theaters over 15 years ago, this meaning for the word has made its way into every day jargon.

However, the new meaning is predicated on the fruit-flavoured bite-sized candy of the same name that debuted in England in 1974.

Historically speaking, the word does indeed, exist in Danish and Swedish, in the sense of a child’s marble.  This dates back to the mid-17th century and is of unknown origin.  So it’s not surprising that a colorful, bite-sized candy the size of a child’s marble would be a called a skittle by the manufacturer.

However, skittles is also a game that dates back to 1625 and is Scandinavian in origin.  The game is one where a wooden ball or disk is used to knock down ninepins, and is the forerunner to bowling.  Each of the ninepins is known as a skittle.  It didn’t take long before the game of skittles was popular in England as well as in Scandinavia and in other countries between Scandinavian and English shores.

But even before then, Skittle was a last name given to families who were weavers as another name for a weaving shuttle was a skittle.  The first recorded version of that name was for Agnes Skittle who married John Culpack at St. Nicolas in Colchester, Essex on September 17, 1581.  It was at this time in history that last names were introduced in England.  It was a way to keep accurate records for personal taxation purposes — a government program that was new to the empire ruled under Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) when she ruled England from 17 November 1558 through to her death in 1603.

And so, in the end, skittles refers to a game of old-fashioned bowling where pins are knocked down the old-fashioned way with a wooden ball or a disk, and the scoring — while different from modern-day bowling — demands a certain degree of skill from its participants.  It’s not much different from the skill required of weavers with their many skittles shuttling back and forth as it creates quality cloths.

In the end, whether it’s weaving or bowling, skittles tend to wind up all over the place when all is said and done!  The word, as far as Idiomation can find, dates back to at least the mid-1500s, and most likely well before then.

Thursday, Idiomation will take a closer look at the idiom beer and skittles to see what that’s all about.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sheila’s Brush

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 19, 2015

On St. Patrick’s Day, Idiomation shared the history and meaning of the word begorrah.  It seems only fitting that Idiomation should also share the history and meaning of the idiom Sheila’s brush as there’s a connection between Paddy and Sheila, and it’s one that’s been known for many generations … especially among Atlantic Maritimers in Canada.

For those who know the idiom, Sheila’s brush refers to a fierce storm with heavy snowfall that happens in and about St. Patrick’s Day.  And this year, Sheila’s brush was particularly severe in the Maritimes up in Canada.  According to the Weather Network, weather forecasters were warning Newfoundlanders to prepare for 30 centimeters of snow before the day was over.  As  luck would have it, they got more than 40 centimeters of snow and wind gusts were up to 100 kilometers an hour in places such as Gander (Newfoundland).

Sheila's brush

SOURCE: The Weather Network

Sheila’s brush effectively shut down Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and everything within their borders.

While that may sound like a lot of snow, it’s nothing compared to Sheila’s brush in 2008 when two powerful storms hit the coast back-to-back, leaving places like Gander to deal with 120 centimeters of snow over the week of dueling snowstorms.

In the 1986 book, “Talamh an Eisc: Canadian and Irish Essays” edited by Cyril J. Byrne and Margaret Rose Harry and published by Nimbus Publications, Ireland no longer holds to the idiom.  However, those of Irish ancestry in Canada’s Maritime provinces know Sheila’s brush very well.

The people of Conche, like other Newfoundland-Irish people, have also retained and adapted certain folkloric items which are no longer found in the homeland.  As Herbert Halpert has demonstrated, the familiar Newfoundland weather belief of “Sheila’s brush,” a snow storm which occurs close to St. Patrick’s day, appears not to be known in Ireland.

It was in “Chafe’s Sealing Book” by Levi George Chafe (1861 – 1942) and published in 1923 that Sheila’s brush is mentioned.

They employed for that purpose schooners measuring forty to seventy five tons, strongly built, poles are suspended on their sides as some protection to their timbers against the ice.  The crews of the largest craft were from thirteen to eighteen men, who on finding their own guns are admitted berth free, the rest generally pay 40/ – for their berths.  About St. Patrick’s Day they start, most of them waiting until after Sheilah’s brush or the equinoxial gale has passed.  It is impossible to conceive a degree of perseverance and intrepidity greater than the people of Conception Bay in particular displayed in struggling by all means possible to get out of their harbour and bay till they reach Baccalieu.

On March 26, 1829 the popular St. John’s, Newfoundland newspaper The Newfoundlander reported on the celebrations of March 17 by the Benevolent Irish Society.  The article stated in part:

The company continued to retire, successively, until six o’clock on Sheelah‘s morning, at which hour, we understand, a few of the campaigners might have been seen, as usual, piously and patriotically employed in ‘drowning the shamrock.’

Yes, the day after St. Patrick’s Day was known as Sheila’s Day (with various spelling of the name).  It was mentioned in Volume 1 of John McGregor’s book, “British America” published on 2 January 1832 by T. Cadell of Strand, London, England.

St. Patrick’s day, and Sheelagh‘s day (the saint’s wife) the day following, are occasions on which the mass of the Newfoundland Irish revel in the full glory of feasting and drinking.  They are certainly at those periods beyond any control; and they completely forget themselves, fighting and drinking, until they are overcome by the one, or laid up by the other.  These excesses have become less frequent.

Even Anglican missionary, Newfoundland magistrate, and historian Lewis Amadeus Anspach (22 April 1770 – 1823) wrote of it in the first general history of Newfoundland titled, “History of the Island of Newfoundland” published in 1819, stating the following:

It is hardly in the power of any priest in the world to hinder an Irishman from getting gloriously drunk, if he is so inclined, on the whole of the 17th of March, as well as the next day in honour of Sheelagh.

While Idiomation was unable to find Sheila’s brush in publications of the day, the term was used colloquially among the Irish of Newfoundland in the 1800s, and Sheelagh (with many spellings of the name) was oftentimes mentioned in conjunction with St. Patrick’s name when speaking of the festivities in March.  Anecdotally, many Newfoundlanders speak of letters written by their forefathers to friends and family, discussing Sheelagh’s brush or Sheelagh’s broom (as it was sometimes also known).

That being said, it’s understood by seafaring men of the Maritimes that Sheila’s brush referred to the equinoxial gale that happened in March — winter’s final hurrah for the year.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to at least 1800 in Newfoundland among its inhabitants.

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Begorrah

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 17, 2015

Begorra is sometimes used on its own, sometimes used with the word faith as in faith and begorrah or with the word sure as in sure and begorrah.  The word is a way of saying by God without taking the Lord’s name in vain, which, of course, is one of the Ten Commandments.  

Believe it or not, the 42.ie is a sports news source published by The Journal in Dublin, Ireland, and while the 42.ie publishes news about rugby, football, and more, it also found time this year on March 14 to share the latest on “Irish Goodby” shorts being sold in America.  The announcement began with this paragraph:

TODAY’S BAD NEWS in begob-and-begorrah merchandise: these ‘Irish Goodbye’ shorts for American bros who want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

It also included this delightful photograph from the Chubbies website.

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Now it was in the Irish Times newspaper of March 4, 2010 that movie critic Donald Clarke took on a movie starring English actor, Matthew Goode, in his column “Whingeing About Cinema And Real Life Since 2009.”  The reviewer had set his sights on the movie, “Leap Year” which, according to him, propagated the typical “sort of sentimental twinkly version of Ireland” that American films tend to churn out.  The actor, however, didn’t take badly to any criticisms of the movie, and actually had a few concerns of his own regarding the movie.  The article was titled,Matthew Goode Kicks The Begorrah Out Of His Own Film!

The Spokane Daily Chronicle made a big deal out of what happened on St. Patrick’s Day a year earlier by publishing am abbreviated follow-up article on March 17, 1950.  It pointed out that the previous year, Spokane’s Irish American mayor, Arthur Meehan, had showed up at his office wearing a red tie.  The following year, it was reported that he showed up with what was described as a “shimmering green tie beyond description.”  The announcement published on page 5 was titled,Mayor Learned Lesson, Begorrah.”

Somewhere along the line, some people began to deny that the word had any affiliation with the people of Ireland.  In fact, it was in “The Trend: A Bulletin of Current History and Letters” Volume I edited by George Earle Raiguel that someone took exception to the claim that begorrah was Irish in any way.  An article entitled, “Lingual Growing Pains” written by Benjamin Musser was included in the edition published on September 7, 1922.  The article read in part:

Mr. Mencken should know that the profane begob and begorrah are unknown to Irish people:  they are words employed only by jokesmiths in cheap burlesque and pink papers.  It is rather in habits of pronunciation, of syntax, and even of grammar, Mr. Mencken continues, that we have been influenced by the Irish.

Unfortunately, Benjamin Musser was mistaken on this point as begorrah was mentioned in the “Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science” in Volume 44 published on August 1, 1867  — referenced by a medical professional no less!  The first part of the journal was dedicated to “Original Communications” with the first article dealing with aphasia, written by Dr. John Popham, physician to the Cork North Infirmary.  In his article, he wrote about a specific patient who used the word begorrah.

The use of oaths in aphasia has been often noticed.  I have now a patient in the infirmary whose answer to every question begins with, “Oh! Begorrah!”  After ejaculating this oath with great confidence in his powers of speech, the poor man comes to a full stop, ponders for the next word, and failing to find it, ends by making a frantic tug at his hair.  Dr. Falret thinks that swearing occurs chiefly in emotional states.  This is, I believe, often the case, but it also depends on the use of oaths as by-words from early habit.

English novelist Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) used it in his book, “The Kellys and the O’Kellys:  Landlords and Tenants” published in 1848. It is said that Anthony Trollope’s works provided a steady, consistent vision of the social structures of Victorian England, and since the word begorra is used in his novel in 1848, the word begorra was indeed used in Ireland and England at the time.

“Well—I’m shot av’ I know the laist in the world what all this is about!” said Martin, as he stood in the street, reading over the legally-worded letter—”‘conspiracy!’—well that’ll do, Mr Daly; go on—’enticing away from her home!’—that’s good, when the blackguard nearly knocked the life out of her, and mother brought her down here, from downright charity, and to prevent murdher—’wake intellects!’—well, Mr Daly, I didn’t expect this kind of thing from you: begorra, I thought you were above this!—wake intellects! faith, they’re a dale too sthrong, and too good—and too wide awake too, for Barry to get the betther of her that way. Not that I’m in the laist in life surprised at anything he’d do; but I thought that you, Mr Daly, wouldn’t put your hands to such work as that.”

The interjection appears in “Fardorougha, The Miser” by Irish writer and novelist William Carleton (20 February 1794 – 30 January 1869) and published in 1839.  The author was best known for his accurate sketches of stereotypical Irishmen, and as such, because begorra shows up in his writings, it’s to be believe that the word was, indeed, used in Ireland in the 1830s.  The word appears three times in this novel, with this being one of those three times.

“If it’s only the Bodagh got it,” replied his comrade, who was no other than Micky Malvathra, “blaizes to the hair I care. When my brother Barney, that suffered for Caam Beal (crooked mouth) Grime’s business, was before his thrial, hell resave the taisther the same Bodagh would give to defind him.”

“Damn it,” rejoined the other, “but to murdher a man in his bed! Why, now, if it was only comin’ home from a fair or market, but at midnight, an’ in his bed, begorra it is not the thing, Mickey.”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of begorrah than the one in 1839 despite the Merriam-Webster Dictionary claim it was first used in 1715 without quote the source material where it can be found.

That is was used so easily in William Carleton’s writing and because he is well-known for his accurate depiction of Irish life, use of the word begorrah is one that would have been entrenched in society at least in 1839.  Idiomation therefore pegs begorrah to at least 1800.

Should any readers, visitors, or followers know of an earlier published version of begorrah, please feel free to include it in the Comments Section below.

And as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Idiomation, we’ll close off this entry with this Irish blessing:  May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fit As A Fiddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2015

When you’re fit as a fiddle, you’re healthy and well.  Ask any musician with a violin or fiddle and he or she will confirm that a fit fiddle is one that’s in excellent shape.   And how does one keep a fiddle fit?  As with any musical instrument, a well maintained fiddle is one the owner keeps in top condition which means the sounds emanating from the instrument will always equal the talent and ability of the person playing it.

When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were those who were concerned over his health … not because he appeared to be suffering from any health issues, but because he was far from being a young man at the time.  However, the Montreal Gazette of October 31, 1981 published a news story that was picked up from UPI that stated that all was well with the President.  The article was titled, “Reagan Fit As A Fiddle” and the first paragraph of the story read:

Two days of physical examinations at the National Naval Medical Center found U.S. President Ronald Reagan to be “fit as a fiddle,” a presidential aide said yesterday.

Over the years, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ran newspaper ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and these ads advocated taking Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to cure indigestion woes.  In fact, in the Spokesman Review of October 22, 1942 the ad copy read in part:

Say goodbye to those “morning blues.”  Next time you overeat, or stay up late at a gay party, take Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at bedtime and wake up feeling “fit as a fiddle.”

The saying was used in other newspaper advertisements.  Going back to May 12, 1909, the Pittsburgh Press ran one for Hires with the headline copy, “As Fit As A Fiddle On A Fine Spring Day.”

FIT AS A FIDDLE_IMAGE 1
On May 21, 1888, the Evening Post newspaper of Wellington in New Zealand published an article in the Sporting section titled, “Turf Notes” and written by the anonymous reported, Vigilant. The news was that the Wanganui Steeplechase had nine horses entered, and barring accidents, racing fans could expect to see all ready to run at post time.  One horse in particular seemed to be of enough interest to warrant mention by the reporter.

Faugh-a-Baalagh, 11st 12lb, is generally voted well in, and as he will have T. Lyford up on him and is reported as fit as a fiddle, whatever beats him will, I think, get the stakes.

Volume 15 of the “American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine” published in January 1844, discussed the strengths of a horse owned by Mr. G. Salvin.  In Monday’s race, the odds were 13 to 4 against The Cure, and 3 to 1 against The Cure in Thursday’s race, making him an equal favorite with another horse by the name of Ithuriel.

The Cure is an extraordinary good horse, and we have reason to believe the stable money is upon him.  If so, and his partly only mean it, then will our anticipations be realised in seeing him not far from No. 1.  The distance is the only obstacle in his path, but his friends assert that makes no difference.  He is, we hear, as “fit as a fiddle,” and none the worse of his being a little off at Newcastle.  It is understood that Sam Rogers will now have the steering of the “little gentleman” for the St. Leger.

English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) — known as John Wray until 1670 — included the idiom in his book ,”A Compleat Collection Of English Proverbs” first published in 1670.  Before it was included in John Ray’s book, it was used by English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 25 August 1632) in “The Batchelor’s Banquet” published in 1603 with a bit of a twist.  Instead, the word fine was inserted for fit, however the sense of being in top-notch shape was clear in the dialogue.

Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle, having on a white waistcoat, with a flaunting cambricke ruff about her neck, who liks a Doctris in facultie comes thus upon him.  Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our mistresse bot your selfe:  I will allure you on my credit that I doe what I can, yet for my life I cannot I, any way content her.

And in English playwright William Haughton’s Elizabethan era stage play, “Englishmen For My Money: A Pleasant Comedy Called A Woman Will Have Her Will” published in 1598, the idiom appears.  In the scene, we find the Italian Aluaro, the Frenchman Delion, and Frisco, who is described as Pisaro’s man and a clown.  Pisaro is a Portingale, and the story has to do with this three daughters — Laurentia, Marina, and Mathea — and their suitors.

FRISCO:
In Leaden-hall?  I trow I shall meete with you anone: In Leaden-hall?  What a simple Asse is this Frenchman.  Some more of this:  Where are you sir?

ALUARO:
Moy I be here in Vanshe-streete.

FRISCO:
This is excellent ynfayth, as fit as a Fiddle:  I in Tower-streete, you in Leaden-hall, and th third in Fanchurch-streete; and yet all three heare one another, and all three speake together:  either wee must be all three in Leaden-hall, or all three in Tower-streete, or all three in Fanchurch-streete; or all three Fooles.

The word fiddle is derived from the Old English word fithele, and in Old German it was fiedel.  The word came into vogue during the 14th century when Medieval fiddles became popular street musical instruments, due in large part to their portability.  Fiddles during the Middle Ages were described as having four strings, a hollow body, and an unfretted fingerboard, and was played with a bow.

It was an instrument equally favored by waits (official town musicians employed by the large English towns in which they lived), minstrels (who were first and foremost entertainers who were also musicians, and who traveled from town to town), and troubadours (who, even though they were musicians, interacted with royalty and nobility).

It can be guessed that those musicians who played fiddle — especially for aristocracy — would want their instrument to be in the best condition possible, and fit for performances.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published use of fit as a fiddle than the one found in William Haughton’s comedy, because it was used in the play, it was obviously an expression that was already known to the general population by the late 1500s.

Considering how language evolved during this era, it is very likely that the idiom most likely came into vogue during the early to mid-1500s.

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Vegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 5, 2015

What is a vegan?  A vegan is someone who abstains from using animal products.  Not only do they not eat meat, fish, or poultry, they don’t use anything that uses animal products or by-products.  They don’t eat eggs, dairy products, or honey, and they don’t wear leather, fur, silk, or wool.  They don’t use cosmetics, crayons, medication in capsule form, or soaps that are derived from animal products.  And they are not to be confused with vegetarians.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune of December 10, 1997 led with a story on the front page of Section E with an article written by Jessica Wehrman that discussed the vegan lifestyle in detail.  The subheading read:  The trend toward a meatless diet is driven by religion and consideration for health, environment and animals.  Along with the article was a list of resources for readers interested in learning more about the vegan lifestyle, and, of course, the article was titled, “Going Vegan.”

In Volume 49 of “Today’s Health” published by the American Medical Association in 1971, the issue was discussed in an article.  It included this passage:

Does the word “vegan” mean vegetarian? Are vegetarians healthier than persons who eat animal products? A vegan is considered to be a strict vegetarian — that is, a person who eats no animal products.

And in Volume 106 of the “Journal of the Royal Society of Arts” an article can be found on page 117 that included this passage:

In some vegan women (teachers and housewives, for example) their dietary protein provided only 8.7 to 10. 1 per cent of their total dietary calories, as compared with an average of about 12 per cent in normal British post-war diets.

Interestingly enough, entering the 1950s, vegans can be found in a number of science fiction stories, especially those in the pulp fiction genre.

However, sandwiched between all the great science fiction stories that include extraterrestrial vegans lies the historical facts of vegans who do not consume animal products or by-products.

In November 1944, a strict vegetarian by the name of Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005) who was also a member of the Leicester Vegetarian Society decided to begin his own movement.  He and others had grown dissatisfied with vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

He issued his first newsletter entitled, “Vegan News” and he was quoted as stating that the word vegan was meant to represent “the beginning and end of vegetarian.”  The word, in a nutshell (pardon the pun) was a stand against vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

Shortly thereafter, the first vegan cookbooks were published:  “Vegetarian Recipes Without Dairy Produce” by Margaret B. Rawls, and “Vegan Recipes” by Fay K. Henderson.

Even today, within the vegetarian community there are factions:  pollotarians (those who eat chicken and eggs), pescetarians (those who eat fish), and flexetarians (those who eat primarily plants but occasionally include small amounts of meat).  But the only group to break away from the vegetarian movement and create a movement all their own are vegans.  All the others are vegetarians of a different color.

Idiomation conclusive pegs the term vegan to 1944 and Donald Watson.

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Freegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2015

The word freegan has been popping up in news stories more and more often of late.  What is a freegan?  A freegan is an activist who scavenges for free food to reduce consumption of resources.  Rather than buy food in a traditional grocery store or restaurant, a freegan consumes food that other people, stores, and organizations throw away.

But freeganism goes beyond just foraging for food in dumpsters.   Freegans embrace scavenging, volunteering, and squatting over buying, working, and renting, with a primary focus of living entirely off the grid (an impossibility, however, that is the ultimate goal).

Many freegans look at their lifestyle as a way to reduce the need to be gainfully employed, and refer to employment in negative terms.  They oftentimes feel that the money based economy in which we live impacts negatively on the core economy of home and family.

The word freegan is a mash-up of two words:  free and vegan.

On August 9, 2014 the Lacrosse Tribune published an article by Allison Geyer about activist Rob Greenfield.  This activist went a year without showering in the traditional sense from April 21, 2013 through to April 20, 2014 as his way to promote water conservation awareness.  In 2012, he traveled to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) on a one-way ticket and only took his passport, his cellphone, and the clothes on his back with him.  He hitchhiked back home to raise awareness that international travel is possible without money and possessions.

In 2014, the Ashland, Wisconsin native was biking from California to New York via a homemade bamboo-frame bike with only a tent, sleeping mat, some clothing, cellphone, computer, and solar charger for his bike lights to his name.  The article was entitled, “Free-Wheeling Freegan Bikes To Promote Sustainability.”

The word was used in a Gettysburg Times article by Bonnie Erbe on August 22, 2006.  Please note that The Post referred to is the Washington Post newspaper.

The Post reports on one 17-year-old who was “caught (by a store employee” dumpster diving, though he is neither homeless nor destitute.  He considers himself a ‘freegan‘ — a melding of the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’ — meaning he tries not to contribute to what he sees as the exploitation of land, resources and animals wrought by commercial production.”

While the Merriam Webster Dictionary claims the word was first used in 2006, the word appeared in the Houston Press on November 25, 2004 in a news story entitled, “Free Lunch.”  The article, written by Keith Plocek, told the story of Patrick Lyons who grew up near Rice University, attended Lamar High School, and who (at the time) worked at the Menil Collection.

The journalist shared the freegan belief with readers:  Whenever a product is purchased, the purchaser contributes to the problem of consumerism.  To get around and avoid consumerism as much as possible, a freegan must be willing to dig around dumpsters for his or her meals.

The article included this paragraph as well:

Lyons is a freegan. He doesn’t want to contribute to consumer society, so he eats for free whenever possible. Sometimes that means digging through Dumpsters behind grocery stores.

What’s more, the article stated that the local chapter of freegans had been in Houston for ten years, and that the national movement had been in existence for twenty-four years.  This means that the word freegan existed as early as 1980.

No earlier published mention of freegan was found before 1980, and so Idiomation pegs this word to 1980 when the movement began.

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