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Archive for April, 2015

Jesse James (as in gambling)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 30, 2015

Perhaps you’re at a casino or watching a movie about players in a casino, and they’re playing a game of craps.  When someone rolls a four and a five, others call it a Jesse James.  You’re confused.  After all, wasn’t Jesse James a noted outlaw from the late 1800s?

Most of us know the stories about the juvenile delinquent Jesse Woodson James aka Jesse James (5 September 1847 – 3 April 1882) who robbed his bank in 1869 and his first train in 1873 (the same year that Russian thistle seeds were accidentally scattered to the wind somewhere in South Dakota) and made life impossibly difficult for the law who chased after him and his gang across Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.  Not only did he rob trains, he robbed banks, and was a murderer.

SIDE NOTE:  Gamblers use amusing terms when gambling.  This LINK shares some of the most popular ones.

Some gamblers will tell you that the Jesse James got its name because the outlaw was shot dead with a bullet to the back of his head from a 45 held by Bob Ford, a new recruit to the Jesse James gang.

In a column written by gaming guru, Mark Pilarski for the Casino City Times on December 10, 1999, the writer refers to the Jesse James.

NINE: “Center field,” “center of the garden,” “ocean liner niner,” “Nina from Pasadena,” “What shot Jesse James? A forty-five.”

There’s a website that offers to share the author’s method for winning at craps.  The website was set up on April 15, 1999 and it was recently updated so readers can only guess that this gamble paid off for Johnny Craps.  The page in question where the idiom is found is titled, “An Old Timer’s Guide To Beating The Craps Table” and the first paragraph promises readers that they, too, can learn to play craps just like renowned gambler Johnny Craps.

Snakes eyes, Little Joe, Jesse James, Boxcars: All part of the craps lingo. If you’re a shooter, you already know that this game can be a cruel, relentless mistress in any happy marriage. Somewhere in the world, there’s a guy pulling his hair out at a casino due to a bad run. But not every player need fall victim to the unremitting nature of this world famous dice game. Taking a lesson from the renowned Johnny, average players can elevate their craps game to a new level.

According to Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor, co-authors of the book “Vice Slang” published by Routledge in 2007, the idiom was first used by Steve Kuriscak in 1985 in his book “Casino Talk.”  They also make mention that in Thomas L. Clark’s book, “The Dictionary of Gambling and Gaming” published in 1987, he puts the use of Jesse James in gambling to 1981.

In William M. Reddig’s book “Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend” published in 1947 by J.B. Lippincott Company, the following was shared with readers about Jesse James.

Jesse James found relaxation in the gambling halls during periods when he lived incognito in Kansas City, and was not molested.  When they were not figuring on deals in lots, grain, hogs and cattle and other matters of commerce, the citizens exercised their financial genius at chuck-a-luck, faro, three-card monte, roulette, high five, keno, poker and, occasionally, craps.

Now while the game of craps was originally invented by Sir William of Tyre back in 1125 AD during the Crusades and was known as Hazard (after the castle where the game began), the renamed French version known as Le Crapaud was introduced to New Orleans in the early 1800s by French-Creole American nobleman, Bernard de Marigny (28 October 1785 – 3 February 1868) — his full name and title was Marquis Antoine Xavier Bernard Phillippe de Marigny de Mandeville — whose family owned a large plantation.

SIDE NOTE:  Le Crapaud translates in English to the frog.  The game was named thusly because of the stance players took while playing the game.

From there, the modern game of craps was developed thanks to the efforts of American dice maker, John H. Winn, back in 1865 … just four years before Jesse James began his career as an outlaw.

However, it’s not until 1981 that the craps term Jesse James begins to appear in print and therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that the term is a relatively recent one that dates back to sometime in the 1970s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Smart As A Whip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2015

When someone is said to be smart as a whip, it means that person is able to think and reason logically to a high degree, with a small degree of error in  his or her thinking.  In other words, intellectually speaking, they are blindingly brilliant.

On March 11, 2003 the column by Chip and Jonathan Carter entitled, “Inside The Video Games” reviewed the game “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” for the Rome News-Tribune.  The game was available for Xbox and would be available for the PlayStation2 in May.  The reviewers loved the game, going so far as to say that the “game play is a work of art.”  What’s more, both Chip and Jonathan gave the game an overall rating of A+ for overall awesomeness.  As a sort of play on the fact that Indiana Jones has a penchant for whips, the review was titled, “Smart As A Whip.”

The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire published their “Around The Town” column on March 13, 1965 with the idiom in the article, “Some Old Timers Are Smart As A Whip.”  It set the tone for the piece, and began with this paragraph.

Some of the senior citizens who call at the office to talk about the days of their youth are as smart as a whip and can recall their early days here with much more facility, I have found, than the later generations.  If you can make them feel easy you usually wind up with a fund of information about Nashua, of their time anyway.

The Bend Bulletin newspaper of October 17, 1952 ran an ad for Lester Hou’s Central Oregon Motors in Redmond, Oregon.  The dealership was a Mercury dealership, and they were proud to trumpet the benefits of the Merc-O-Matic drive.  At the time, there were three choices for a transmission on a Mercury:  Standard, Touch-O-Matic Overdrive, and No-Shift Merc-O-Matic Drive.  They blended a second idiom into the advertisement by stating that “whip smart and saddle fancy” was an old Western saying.

The same advertisement for other dealerships were published in other newspapers such as the Spokane Daily Chronicle, the Spokesman-Review, the Ellensburg Daily Record, and other major newspapers in America.  The copy was the same from newspaper to newspaper, and the idiom that was upfront and bolded was “Smart as a whip.”

In the November 30, 1938 edition of the Times Daily, the newspaper ran a photograph of Mrs. Angier Priscilla Duke (the former Priscilla St. George) in black boots, creamy tan whipcord breeches, plaid sports coat, man-tailored shirt, and a foulard tie.  She was a fetching woman, and the photograph was captioned, “Smart As A Whip.”

Priscilla wed Angier Duke (30 November 1915 – 29 April 1995) in Tuxedo Park on January 2, 1937.  He was the son of Angier Buchanan Duke and Cordelia Drexel Biddle of Philadelphia which means that the 21-year-old bridegroom was not only a member of the Duke family but the Biddle family as well.  The Duke family fortune came from the American Tobacco Company that was founded in 1890 by his great-uncle James Buchanan Duke, and the Biddle family fortune was due to banking.

The bride’s father was the grandson of the late George F. Baker Sr. who, upon his death, was hailed as the last great titan of Wall Street, and was known to be the financial genius of First National Bank.  The bride’s mother was a first cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Their wedding was followed by what the newspapers called “a grand tour, round-the-world honeymoon” that kept them away from New York for eight months.  Unfortunately, she was the first of his four wives, and they divorced in 1939, just two years after they wed.

The 1882 book “Picturesque B. and O.: Historical and Descriptive” by Joseph Gladding Pangborn (9 April 1848 – 17 August 1914) provided an enchanting account of crossing the American countryside by way of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company trains as they headed out from the Jersey City depot.

The Pangborn family was one that was rich in American history.  Joseph Gladding Pangborn’s father signed up for volunteer service in the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, and was fatally wounded at Forth Ethan Allen in Virginia.  His mother’s family was steeped in American history.  John Gladding had arrived at Newburyport, Plymouth Colony in 1660,and settled in Bristol, Rhode Island where he and his wife, Elizabeth Rogers raised four children.

The American Civil War broke out, and at fourteen years of age, he enlisted with the Union Army as a drummer boy.  He was assigned to the Forty-fourth Regiment New York Infantry.  In 1865, he served in Texas, and in 1866 he returned to his home in Albany, New York.  He became a reporter and worked for the New York Times, the New York Tribune, The Republican (in Chicago), and the Kansas City Times.

By 1876, he had moved on to a new career with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and on May 1, 1880, he joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a general advertising agent, then moving on to special representative status.

When the book was published, it contained 70 sketches along with the prose. And early in the book, smart as a whip was used.

Young Luap was, in his way, as striking a possession as any in the menagerie, and although the last of the Four to be trotted out, was by no means entitled to such place by reason of characteristics lacking; indeed, he possessed them to such a degree as to almost require an apology for not mentioning him first.  Smart as a whip, but far from as pliable, he comprehended more in a moment than the balance of the quartet could grasp in a week.

In the “Dictionary of the Gaelic Language” by Norman Macleod, the idiom is recorded as smart as a lash and is considered to be a provincial term.

But it’s in the “Recreative Review, or Eccentricities of Literature and Life” in Volume 1 that the connection between being smart and whips is made in an essay that begins on page 336. In the essay published in 1821, a passage talks about the virtues of whipping a boy to improve him.

But the practice is an old one.  Doctor Tempete is mentioned by Rabelais as a celebrated flaggelator of school-boys, in the college of Montaigne, in Paris. Buchanan was wont to tickle his royal disciple, James the First, and joked with the ladies of the court about it.  And, with respect to that of our public schools, it may be of service; for every one must allow it makes a boy smart.

The fact of the matter is that as early as the 17th century the word smart meant both to be strong, quick, and intense in manner and to be painful.  So while a whip might cause pain and smart, someone would be strong, quick, and intense in manner in the same way a whip is strong, quick, and intense.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published variation to the idiom than the one in 1821, it is reasonable to believe that the idiom goes back at least to 1800, and most likely much earlier.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gold Bricking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 16, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone accusing another of gold bricking.  It sounds to some as if it should be a compliment, but it isn’t.  If you accuse someone of gold bricking, you’ve accused them of idling, of shirking responsibilities, or of getting someone else to do the job they were supposed to do.  In other words, the person accused of gold bricking has tricked someone into believing that it is of value for them to take the job off the slacker’s hands and do it for him (or her).

It was in the August 2, 2003 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a story from the Associated Press was picked up and posted.  It was part of the “Auto Racing Notebook” column and began with talk of Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and car owner Chip Ganassi.  It went on to talk about the U.S. Grand Prix in June, and Ralf Schumacher, among other topics.  While the article was entitled, “Ganassi Interested In Stewart” the photo by Tom Strattman (also of the Associated Press) was captioned thusly:

Gold-Bricking?  Ryan Newman, winner of last weekend’s race at Pocono, takes a break in the garage area before the start of practice yesterday for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Qualifying for the race is today.

On October 7, 1978 the Pittsburgh Press published a story from New York by George DeWan.  It was about the largest known accumulation of gold — valued at $75 billion US at the time of the story — and where it was stored.  While the journalist noted how safe the location was, he also provided a great of detail in his story.  The headline that went with this story was, “Fed Takes Pride In Being Noted For Goldbricking.”

The Pittsburgh Press was quick to report on gold bricking on July 27, 1952 when ir reported on qualifying for insurance for vets of the Korean War, and mentioned that some of the new laws had been introduced for family members as well.  The article was entitled, “New Law Cuts Goldbricking.”

Some dictionaries claim that the term came about during World War II, however, Idiomation has found the term published in earlier news stories.

Once again, it was in the Pittsburgh Press of January 28, 1934 ran a one paragraph article in the newspaper about a situation happening in Steubenville, Ohio the previous day.  There had been a lot of firings going on, and this is what was reported.

One hundred CWA workers were removed from the payroll here on charges of drunkenness, ineligibility and the old army game of “gold-bricking.”  Charges that some of the men were drunk on the job and that others were loafing, were investigated by the complaint board.  Others were not on the eligible list, the board found.

The article, was simply titled, “Fired for Gold-Bricking.”

And in the October 26, 1923 edition of the Reading Eagle, when it was reported that Socialist candidate for mayor, J. Henry Stump, claimed that the city garbage plant was mismanaged, the article was titled, “Candidate Stump Reviews Statement Made By Mr. Smith:  Asserts City Was Gold Bricked.”   In the story proper, the following was included:

Mr. Stump quotes Mr. Smith as admitting that the city was gold bricked in purchasing the garbage plant, and asserts that the erection of an entirely new plant at the time would have meant a large saving to the city.  Councilman Smith has charge of the city’s garbage disposal.

Perhaps the dictionaries attributing the term to World War II meant it was a term that came about during World War I.  Except that, too, would be incorrect.

The Sarnia Observer newspaper of July 22, 1898 republished a story that had been published in the Windsor Record originally.  The article stated that J.D. Moor, a produce dealer of St. Marys (Ontario)  had been robbed at pistol point and relieved of $9,000 CDN by C. Mott of Philadelphia and his accomplice, J.C. Brown, also of Philadelphia.  A third man, named Bedenfield, involved in the caper managed to escape arrest and couldn’t be found by the police.  Later on, it was learned that J.C. Brown was actually J.C. Blackwell, Bedenfield was actually George Mason,and C. Mott was none other than Chas. Watts, a known Chicago criminal.  This article was entitled, “Gold Bricked The Police: Moore’s Swindlers Were Fully Identified.”

One of the most successful gold brickers was American confidence man, Reed C. Waddell (1860 – 5 April 1895) who is credited for coming up with the gold brick game.  He wasn’t the first, of course, but he was the most successful of his time when it came to gold bricking, raking in $250,000 USD in a ten-year period.

But it was in October 1879 that gold bricking became known when newspapers across the U.S. reported that the bank president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio), Mr. Newell D. Clark had been hoodwinked by miners — led by Peter Lavin — requesting an advance on a 52-pound gold brick in their possession.  The ruse was that the corners of the brick were gold however the body was the brick was not, so when Mr. Clark had the blacksmith cut off one corner of the brick, and an assayer confirmed that the corner was gold, the president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) advanced $10,000 USD to the miners.

In other words, that gold brick was useless to the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) … and gold bricking became synonymous with being fooled or tricked.

To this end, the spirit of the word gold bricking, as it refers to shirking one’s responsibilities and convincing someone else to do the job, is carried over from the incident in 1879.

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Gold Digger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2015

Beware of gold diggers as the only interest gold diggers have lies in how much wealth other people have allegedly built for themselves that gold diggers can lay their hands on.  The focus of a gold digger is to  entrench himself or herself in the relationship with a primary focus of material gain for the gold digger.  Many mistakenly believe that gold diggers are only women, but gold diggers — being equal opportunity scammers and opportunists — can be male or female.

UPDATE 21 APRIL 2015:  The term is still in vogue as gold digger found its way into this TMZ article published online on April 21, 2015.

Lamar says he’s ecstatic with the ruling telling TMZ, “I want her to go on television and apologize the same way that she went on there and accused me of being a gold digger and tricking her into having a baby.

The Ottawa Citizen published a quick news article on March 16, 1983 about Canadian actress Erin Fleming (13 August 1941 – 15 April 2003) and American comedian Julius HenryGroucho” Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977).  She was accused — by the Bank of America lawyer acting as the executor of the late comedian’s estate — of misappropriating nearly half a million dollars in gifts.  The lawyer was quoted by the journalist in the article.

“If she was only a gold digger it would have been all right,” Bank of America attorney Brin Schuman said, “but what she did was dig away at his heart, dig away at his soul, dig away at the man.”

Fifty years before that new story, the Milwaukee Journal edition of May 23, 1933 ran the story of the divorce trial between Eugenia Woodward Jelke (1905 – 1990) and her successful Wall Street broker husband, Ferdinand Frazier Jelke (5 February 1880 – 30 August 1953).  She, of course, was the daughter of Allan Harvey “Rick” Woodward (16 September 1876 – 23 November 1950) who was a successful mining engineer, president of Woodward Iron, and owner of the Birmingham Barons baseball team in Birmingham, Alabama, and Annie Jemison, daughter of Civil War era politician Robert Jemison (17 September 1802 – 16 October 1871).

It was a nasty divorce with a great many accusations being hurled back and forth between the parties.  He sued for divorce on the grounds of having been unfaithful to him and extreme cruelty; she sued for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Judge Walsh denied each party’s divorce petition
on June 1, 1933 on the grounds that Mr. and Mrs. Jelke were equally guilty, and no one person was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  On April 21, 1934 it was reported by the media that Eugenia had moved to Nevada to become a resident so she could file for purposes of being able to legally divorce Frazier.  They had already signed a separation agreement months earlier.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  After Eugenia divorced Frazier, she married William Hitt.

The reporter on this particular day sent a quick article back from the court room in Newport, Rhode Island, to his publisher, that began with this sensational paragraph.

Mrs. Eugenia W. Jelke testified at her divorce trial Tuesday that her millionaire husband caller her a “dirty little gold digger,” blackened her eye, threw her across a room, and threatened to knock out her teeth.

Just a few years earlier, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story on January 26, 1928 about a different kind of gold digger.  This one had been charged with grand larceny in the first degree.  Among many outrageous claims this gold digger had made was to state that American entrepreneur Marshall Field (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) — founder of Marshall Field and Company — was a close relation (an uncle, no less).  And he was male … not a successful swindler who was short and unremarkable looking.  The article began with this shocking revelation:

A jury composed largely of married men heard evidence Thursday against Robert Whitman, alias “Lord Beaverbrooke,” the masculine gold digger.  The leading prosecution witness to support the charge of grand larceny was Mrs. Rose Burken, who said the fictitious nobleman had robber her of jewelry valued at more than $70,000.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been arrested on charges such as these.  In fact, his reputation preceded him, and he was known to many police precincts.  How well-known was he?  According to the Dansville Breeze newspaper of Dansville, New York, this was published about the man in the March 21, 1928 edition.

Police of various cities who have been interested in “Lord Beaverbrook” have estimated that he has married from ten to fifty women in his 49 years of life and has profited hugely thereby.  Once when arrested in St. Louis while New York detectives were seeking him, he gave $15,000 cash bail and jumped it, immediately.  In court the other da he said he was born in San Francisco and “had loved on both sides of the continent.”

At the end of the trial, Robert Whitman was found guilty of grand larceny, having stolen $90,000 worth of jewels from Mrs. Burken.

American novelist, playwright, and Olympic water polo player, Rex Ellingwood Beach (1 September 1877 – 7 December 1949) published his novel “The Ne’er-Do-Well” in 1911.  Among many interesting twists and turns in his life, he found himself in Alaska in 1900 and for five long years, he was a prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Being unsuccessful in this attempt, he turned to writing.

His second novel, “The Spoilers” was a novel inspired by real events he witnessed during his prospecting years, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a best-selling novel the year the novel was published.  But it was in his novel, “The Ne’er-Do-Well” that the term gold digger cropped up, in this context.

“Good heavens! You’ve told me so a dozen—”

“Ah! Then you have nothing except my word. Well, sir, now that I come to think it over, I believe my name is Locke, after all.” He grinned. “Anyhow, I love my little room and I think I’ll keep it. Please don’t be peevish. I want you to do me a favor.” He removed the ring from his finger, and, handing it to the Purser, said “I want you to get me two diamonds’ and a ruby’s worth of shirts and collars; and also a safety razor. My mind has stopped working, but my whiskers continue to grow.”

The officer managed to say with dignity: “You wish to raise money on this, I presume? Very well, I’ll see what can be done for you, Mr. Locke.” As he turned away, Kirk became conscious that the woman in the next chair had let her book fall and was watching him with amused curiosity. Feeling a sudden desire to confide in some one, he turned his eyes upon her with such a natural, boyish smile that she could not take offence, and began quite as if he had known her for some time:

“These people are money-mad, aren’t they? Worst bunch of gold-diggers I ever saw.” Surprised, she half raised her book, but Kirk ran on: “Anybody would think I was trying to find a missing will instead of a shirt. That purser is the only man on the ship my size, and he distrusts me.”

The woman murmured something unintelligible. “I hope you don’t mind my speaking to you,” he added. “I’m awfully lonesome. My name is Anthony, Kirk Anthony.”

Evidently the occupant of the next chair was not a football enthusiast, for, although she bowed her acknowledgment, her face showed that the name carried no significance.

However, in the “Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” published in 1906, the definition under gold digger was this:

One who digs for or mines goldThis word is almost exclusively used to designate placer miners, or those who dig and wash auriferous detrital material (gravel and sand).  Those who are engaged in mining in the wild rock are called quartz miners.

While there is overlap between the mining term and the social term, that overlap happened sometime between 1906 and 1911.  As such, gold digger appears to have been first published in 1911 with the transition in meanings understood in the intervening five years between the dictionary definition and the new meaning.

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Jay

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 9, 2015

Now that Idiomation has tracked down jaywalking, jay driving, and jay town, the matter of what a jay is still remains to be solved!  Thanks to ongoing thorough research, the expression flap a jay cropped up.

To flap a jay is to swindle someone who is easily fooled, where flap means to manage adroitly and turn over … at least that’s according to the “Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.”   This dictionary was compiled and edited by Albert Barrère (died 1896) — author of “Argot And Slang” — and American humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903) — author of “The English Gypsies And Their Language” and other novels — and published in 1889.  The book included English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang as well as pidgin English, Gypsy jargon and what Messrs. Barrère and Leland considered to be irregular phraseology.

In the December 19, 1884 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, warning words of wisdom were shared with readers about jays, not meaning the birds.  In fact, readers were warned of the dangers of larcenists who preyed upon gullible people.

The intending larcenist will strike up a conversation with a likely looking jay in a public conveyance and win his friendship.

While it wasn’t an expression that was used at great length over the generations, it is one that survived intact over the years.

Elizabethan dramatist, poet, and translator George Chapman (1559 – 12 May 1643) influenced the Stoicism movement.  It was his translation of “Homer” that was the standard English version for generations.  And it was Chapman who found himself imprisoned along with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 by order of King James I of Britain because the king found their play, “Eastward, Ho!” offensive to their countrymen.

On November 16, 1632, the play “The Ball” by George Chapman and James Shirley was performed for the first time, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert.  The play centers on Lady Lucina who finds amusement in mocking and ridiculing her unwanted suitors.  The play makes the most of how easily it is to play those who are easily led to believe things that aren’t as they seem, thereby taking advantage of them.  The following happens in Act Two of this play.

LUCINA
You will see me again.  Ha, ha, ha!  Scutilla.

SCUTILLA
Here, madam, almost dead with stifling my laughter.  Why, he’s gone for a licence; you did enjoin him no silence.

LUCINA
I would have ’em all meet, and brag o’ their several hopes, they will not else be sensible, and quit me of their tedious visitation.  Who’s next?  I would the colonel were come, I long to have a bout with him.

SOLOMON
Mr. Bostock, madam.

LUCINA
Retire, and give the jay admittance.

Enter Bostock

BOSTOCK
Madam, I kiss your fair hand.

LUCINA
Oh, Mr. Bostock!

William Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbeline” published in 1623 was set in Ancient Britain and is based on legends that were well-known at the time.  In Shakespeare’s play, Imogen (the daughter of King Cymbeline) runs off and marries Posthumus (who is below her status) instead of Cloten (who is of equal status to Imogen).  Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo who bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen.  It’s a familiar enough scenario when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays.

In Act III, Scene iv which takes place in the country ner Milford-Haven, a discussion takes place between Piranio and Imogen in which Imogen says:

IMOGEN
    I false! Thy conscience witness: Iachimo,
    Thou didst accuse him of incontinency;
    Thou then look’dst like a villain; now methinks
    Thy favour’s good enough. Some jay of Italy
    Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:
    Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion;
    And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls,
    I must be ripp’d:–to pieces with me!–O,
    Men’s vows are women’s traitors! All good seeming,
    By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
    Put on for villany; not born where’t grows,
    But worn a bait for ladies.

What this shows is that jay in Shakespeare’s play and in George Chapman’s play was a word that was known to their audiences.  This means it is accepted that the word and its associated meaning goes back to at least 1600, and most likely to the mid to late 1500s.

It also seems that the word and the behavior attributed to those who are accused of being jays is related to the European bird, Garrulus glandarinus, which was more commonly known as the jai in Old French from the Late Latin word gaius which means a jay.

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Jay Town

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 7, 2015

In researching the terms jaywalking and jay driving, Idiomation wondered what the term jay meant, and co research continued.  In our travels, we came across another popular expression of the day:  jay town.

The term was used in a story titled, “Home” that was published in “Good Housekeeping” magazine in the September 1920 edition.  The story was written by Kathleen Norris (16 July 1880 – 18 January 1966) and illustrated by Harry Russell (H.R.) Ballinger (4 September 1892 – 3 July 1993).  It was a story about a woman named Fanny Bromley Lucas and her dear friend Angela Phillips, and takes place over tea.  The story ran the gamut, talking about Arizona, California, Canada and Mexico.

He was my first beau; he’s the only man I’ve ever cared for or ever will.  But, Fanny, when we got home from our honeymoon, he was first with his uncle, and then in real estate with Joe Bonestell.  Nothing satisfied him.  This was a jay town, and the people were webfoots.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  Kathleen Norris represented Good Housekeeping at the Democratic convention in 1920.

The Lodi Sentinel of September 26, 1907 republished a news article from the New York Times about the Reverend Robert J. Burdette (30 July 1844 – 19 November 1914) of Pasadena, California.  The former Burlington Hawkeye newspaperman, as he had been known across America, had recently visited his home town of New York City, and was disappointed with what he experienced.  The article was entitled, “When New York Is A Jay Town” and included this in commentary in the first paragraph.

His reflection on his return home is that New York is a “jay town — in August.  There are a few of us, perhaps three and a half millions, who are in town every August, and maybe we are all “jays.”  

And indeed the term jay town was a derogatory term as it appeared in the 1909 edition of “Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase” compiled by British writer, novelist, playwright (and creator of one of the first female detectives in fiction) James Redding Ware (1832 – 1909) and published by G. Routledge & Sons in 1909.  This dictionary identified the term jay town as an Americanism from 1889 that mean something was valueless.  However, it’s an older term than that.  In Volume 8, Number 201 of “Life Magazine” published on November 4, 1886, Alan Dale wrote this about jay towns in a brief article for the magazine.

Between the acts I heard the remark from the lips of a swallow-tailed:  “What do these folks take us for?  If they had tried this on some jay town, it might have been less unpardonable.”  Of course I did not know what a “jay town” was, nor do I know yet, nor shall I ever know, but I felt it was something rightly opprobrious and pleasingly condemnatory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, however, the term was well enough known to be published in a national magazine (even though it was in quotation marks) and that means the term was one that, while unfamiliar to some, was familiar to many.  The expression is therefore tagged to at least 1880, and most likely dates back considerably earlier.

Research for the term jay continues.  Tune in again on Thursday to see what else Idiomation has uncovered.

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

Jay Driving

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 2, 2015

On Tuesday, Idiomation researched the history of jaywalking, and, in the process, learned that there was such a term as jay driving!  Rather than just leave the discovery at that, Idiomation decided to delve a little more into the history of the expression.

Jay drivers, as you know are drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in their proper lanes, wandering all over the road, putting everyone else in peril.  The term didn’t disappear in the early 1900s once traffic laws were in place and jay walkers were being cited and fined for crossing the street where they weren’t supposed to be crossing, and it didn’t appear at the turn of the century and make a quick exit either!

The St. Petersburg Times edition of December 10, 1948 talked about jay drivers by posting this amusing cartoon and important public service announcement in the newspaper.

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The problem of jay drivers plagued Miami during the 1930s which undoubtedly prompted the Miami Daily News — dubbed the oldest paper in Miami — to published this article on August 3, 1937.

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Things were so impossible between jay walkers and jay drivers, that the National Safety Council honed four important rules for those interested in being good jay walkers.  Published in the December 28, 1934 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin newspaper of Williamsport (PA), the last rule (of which there were only four) shared this bit of insight.

Let the motorist do the worrying.  It’s his privilege as a driver.  If you’re not hit the first time, don’t get discouraged.  There’s a jay-driver on almost every street and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you will meet.

Jay drivers and jay walkers seem to have been the bane of most people’s existence during the Roaring Twenties.  The Eugene Register-Guard voiced its displeasure over the two with this simple comment in their August 11, 1924 edition that read:

The penalty for jay-walking and jay-driving should be made so severe that those brainless individuals would learn to obey the traffic laws.

On September 7, 1923, The Evening Independent newspaper published an article that hailed a novel suggestion, as they called it, that was made by Mr. Horrigan that addressed the conditions and needs of St. Petersburg as a tourist resort.  The fact of the matter was, as was pointed out “there are regular universal standard rules adopted by the A.A.A. that are used by almost every city, and certain laws passed by cities regulating traffic which are almost all alike so nothing need be said of them.  It is merely up to our officers to enforce them.”  The article included this commentary about jay drivers.

The trouble is with the drivers, and you will always have jay drivers, and no matter what rules you put into effect, the jay driver will not carry them out, or does not want to.

Yes, jay drivers had everyone up in arms with their dangerous jay driving.  Even columnist Richard Lloyd Jones of the Roundup Record-Tribune and Winnett Times (in Montana) commented on jay drivers and the “Safety First” movement that was meant to lessen danger everywhere except on streets and roads.  The  “Safety First” movement focused on making it safe for automobile owners to drive their vehicles, even if it came at the expense of pedestrian safety.  His comments included this paragraph.

Unless jay-driving is promptly stopped — unless every jay-driver is promptly jerked out of his seat and not allowed to return to the wheel, we are all going to be compelled to take our bumpers off and put on baskets.

One of the more unintentionally humorous comments included in the column was that every speedometer should be made to town-clock size (in other words, the size of the car’s tire) and mounted on the back of the vehicle so that everybody would be able to read the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.

An interesting statistic that was included in this story was this:  In 1920 there were 10,007 deaths due to influenza, and 10,163 deaths due to automobiles!

The Kansas City Star newspaper published on October 6, 1915 warned of an unusual number of motor car accidents over the days leading up to the article in their newspaper.  Not only were there a number of collisions, but the newspaper reported that in one instance, a car “skidded on a sharp curve and turned over.”  The newspaper wagged its editorial finger by ending the article with this remark:  Caution marks the competent driver; Recklessness belongs only to the jay.”  The article was aptly entitled, “Don’t Be A Jay Driver.”

Were pedestrians killed by horse-drawn vehicles before automobiles became popular? Of course they were, and at an alarmingly high rate to boot!  But this was because horses were easily spooked, and when panicked, oftentimes they would bolt into panicked crowds dragging their carriage or wagon behind them.  However, reporters for the New York Times back in 1888 wrote about horse-drawn carriages who seemed to “think that they own the [pedestrian] crossings.”  One reporter went as far as to point out:  “Pedestrian have right of way over crossings, and drivers are bound to respect that right, if the city authorities would only enforce the law.”

Is it any wonder that the same attitude carried over to automobiles?

In any case, the unfortunate reality of jay drivers is that Henry Hale Bliss (June 13, 1830 – September 14, 1899) is the first person in history to have been killed in an automobile fatality.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  On the 100th anniversary of this sad event, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site on September 13, 1999.  It’s said that the plaque was erected to promote safety on streets and highways.

The New York Times reported the story in great detail.  In the end, the driver was acquitted of manslaughter charges on the grounds that it was unintentional even though the driver’s car had crushed the victim’s head and chest the day before he died from his injuries.

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So sometime between 1899 when the first ever fatal automobile accident happened and 1905 when the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1907 made mention of jay drivers, the words jay driver and jay driving were coined and quickly became known in English-speaking countries.

Now to find out what a jay really is, other than a bird or a baseball player in Toronto.

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