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Archive for December, 2015

The Dickens

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 10, 2015

Whether it’s something you have a dickens of a time doing or something is happening like the dickens, most people don’t give a second thought as to what the dickens are in the first place.  What people do know is that the dickens seems to mean a lot.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on December 8, 2015 titled, “How Kitchen Tools Revolutionized American Cooking” written by Megan McArdle.  The article began with introducing readers to centenarian Chuck Williams who passed away on December 5.  Were it not for his trip to France in the 1950s, many of the fancy kitchen gadgets that are part of the kitchen arsenal may not have found their way into American kitchens as early as they did.  In the article, the writer shared this with readers:

I mean, yes, I know how to chop onions just fine. But doing so makes me cry like the dickens, unless I wear goggles.

A little over a hundred years ago, the idiom was found in literature including Issue No. 604 of the Secret Service series titled, “The Bradys’ Chinese Clew or The Secret Dens of Pell Street” by A New York Detective (that was the only identity given the author” and published August 19, 1910.  The publisher, Frank Tousey, was located in Union Square in New York City.  The words were used in this passage:

“Sit down,” replied Old King Brady.  “You are terribly wet, my boy.”
“Yes, it’s raining like the dickens.”
“Won’t you have something to eat?  A cup of coffee.  You get good coffee here.”
The boy sat down with a shudder.

In 1852, London publishers, Hope and Co., on Great Marlborough Street, published a book by the author Eireeneespaid’ published a book with an equally strange title, “Eireeneespaid’ Agathoontegigantaisophilos, the Good Natured Giant.”  This passage in the story used the dickens three times to make its point.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, he struggled on unconscious for a little while, though something or other, ever and anon, gave a nudge at the calf of his leg.  The outward man at length gave the alarm.  “What the dickens?” (it was an old expression of surprise handed down from his ancestors, but without any explanatory note or comment) “what the dickens?”  He put his hand to his attacked calf; it was a fat calf, a very fat calf, of course, Mr. Jarvis being a very fat man.  There was tangibly a sort of slimy moisture on the surface, “What the dickens?”

Some will insist that the idiom has to do with English writer and social critic, Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) but history easily disproves this.  Even if one disregards what Eireeneespaid’ wrote in his book in 1852, it’s difficult to believe that the idiom was an oblique reference to Charles Dickens.

Yes, it’s true that he wrote and published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and that the last name of the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is used to describe miserly people, the same cannot be said of Charles Dickens’s last name.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1840 the U.S. Federal Census Data showed that Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and New York.  By 1920, the Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and North Carolina.  The dickens you say!

In Volume 2 of “The Humourist: Being Essays Upon Several Subjects” in the essay titled, “Of Hopers” the idiom is used.  The book, published in 1725, predates Charles Dickens’s birth by nearly a century so it’s a fact that the dickens used in any form obviously has nothing to do with Charles Dickens.  The author of this collection of essays is identified as John Thomas Hope, however, he is also identified elsewhere as Thomas Gordon.

He would needs make me seat my self in his own Place within the Chimney, an Honour which I was at first determin’d to decline ; but I found him invincible in his Complaisance:  Pugh, said he, you are too modest,  Sir you don’t know me ;  what the Dickens!  Have not I been whip’d at the Cart’s Tail too?

In Cocker’s “English Dictionary” compiled by scrivener and engraver Edward Cocker (1631– 22 August 1676), identified as the late famous practitioner in Writing and Arithmetick, with the second edition published in 1715 by John Hawkins.  The first edition, published in 1704 also included the dickens.   The following definition is provided for the word dickens.

Dickens, a Corruption of Devilkins, or little Devils; as, the Dickens take you.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Edward Cocker was mentioned by Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) in 1664, who described him as “very ingenious and well read in all our English poets.”  When Edward Cocker died in 1675, it’s said that his last poem was titled, “Cocker’s Farewell To Brandy.”  The poem contained these lines:

Here lyes one dead, by Brandy’s might power,
Who the last quarter of the last flown hour,
As to his health and strength, was sound and well

In Act III, Scene ii in “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” by William Shakespeare (April 1564 – 23 April 1616) takes place on a street where Mistress Page and Robin (the page to Sir John Falstaff) are met by Ford (a gentleman living at Windsor).  The play was written in 1597 and published in 1602.

FORD
Well met, Mistress Page. Whither go you?

MISTRESS PAGE
Truly, sir, to see your wife. Is she at home?

FORD
Ay; and as idle as she may hang together, for want of company. I think, if your husbands were dead, you two would marry.

MISTRESS PAGE
Be sure of that — two other husbands.

FORD
Where had you this pretty weather-cock?

MISTRESS PAGE
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?

ROBIN
Sir John Falstaff.

FORD
Sir John Falstaff!

Around the same time of Shakespeare’s play, the play “Edward The Fourth” by English playwright, actor, and author Thomas Heywood (1575 – 16 August 1641), published in 1599, also used the term.  In Act III, scene i, Hobs, the Tanner of Tamworth and the Duchess share this exchange.

HOBS
Do you demand what’s dear?  Marry, corn and cow-hides.  Mass, a good nug lass, well like my daughter Nell.  I had rather than a band of leather she and I might smouch together.

DUCHESS
Cam’st thou not down the wood?

HOBS
Yes, mistress; that I did.

DUCHESS
And sawest thou not the deer imbost?

HOBS
By my hood, ye make me laugh.  What the dickens?  Is it love that makes ye prate to me so fondly?  By my father’s soul, I would I had job’d faces with you.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the dickens, however, since it was used by both William Shakespeare and Thomas Heywood in their respective plays, it indicates that the dickens was common usage at the time.  This puts the dickens to at least the mid-1500s.

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Never Trouble Trouble Till Trouble Troubles You

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 3, 2015

If you think something or someone might cause problems, don’t address it until it actually causes problems, and that’s what’s meant when you hear someone say never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!  In this respect, it’s related to let sleeping dogs lie, don’t meet troubles halfway, and don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.

On September 10, 2010, SB Nation (a grassroots network of fan-centric sports communities) added “Schadenfreude Fridays” to their regular offerings.  The first article in the new column took a look at some of the lesser games that were available back in the 8-bit days of the NES gaming system.

In reviewing the game “Bad Street Brawler” the reviewer stated that the video game wasn’t fun to play and that it was one of a small handful of games that were outright terrible.  The review of the game began with this comment.

BSB greeted players with protagonist Duke Davis’s motto, “Never Trouble Trouble ‘Til Trouble Troubles  You.”  On the strength of that alone we could probably include this game on the list, but its awfulness goes so much deeper.

Robert N. St. Clair thought the idiom should be the title of a play, and so he wrote, “Never Trouble Trouble: A Rollicking Face In Three Acts” in 1938.  A prolific playwright of comedic dramas, this play was part of the collection of plays he wrote in this genre.  While it was one of his earlier works, it was one worth noting for its humor.

Idiomation found the idiom in a poem by Fanny Windsor, titled, “Never Trouble Trouble” and published in Volume XIX, Number 5 of The Manifesto from May 1889.  The magazine was published in Shaker Village, New Hampshire.

My good man is a clever man,
Which no one will gainsay;
He lies awake to plot and plan
‘Gainst lions in the way.
While I, without a thought of ill,
Sleep sound enough for three;
For I never trouble trouble till
Trouble troubles me.

That same year, Volume 2 (from M to Z) of “The Salt-Cellars: Being A Collection of Proverbs Together With Homely Notes Thereon” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon and published by Alabaster Passmore and Sons in London (England) included the idiom found in Fanny Windsor’s poem.

It was also part of the advice that Abraham Lincoln (12 February 1809 – 15 April 1865) gave Reverend Phineas Densmore Gurley’s daughter, Frances Mary Gurley (9 July 1841 – 22 August 1907), and her husband, Civil War Union Officer, Major William Anthony Elderkin (15 May 1839 – 1 January 1900), when they married on June 9, 1861.  The Reverend Gurley (12 November 1816 – 30 September 1868) was the chaplain of the United States Senate as well as the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

A man needs a wife as much in war as he does in peace. I think he needs her more.  Stay with your husband when you can. Don’t let a third party interfere between you two; stay by yourselves. Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.

In the Dunstable New Hampshire Telegraph newspaper edition of July 20, 1836, the expression showed up in a bit of advice about the weather.

The Weather – After all, the weather seems to be such as to promise something to the farmer.  We shall have no famine at present.  Grass, grain, fruit, potatoes, and a thousand other things look well and promising.  Corn is backward, but has changed its color within a day or two, and shot up surprisingly.  No use in long face.  “Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you,” was good advice, coming from a good source.

In November 1779, the United States Congress voted unanimously to nominate John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) on a mission to negotiate the end of the war and a peace treaty with Britain as well as a commerce agreement.  His diplomatic assignments took him to Paris in 1779 and later on, to the Netherlands in 1780.

At the time, John Adams (who later became the second President of the United States) had to negotiate with France as well as with Britain because of the Treaty of Alliance which stipulated that, until the allies agreed jointly to ending the war, in the eyes of signatories to the Treaty of Alliance, the war was not ended.

On May 12, 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, that including the proverb.

Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

The proverb was included in the 1741 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

The proverb is actually a rewording of an earlier proverb found in John Ray’s “A Handbook of Proverbs” published in 1670.  John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was a clergyman, biologist, and naturalist, and is called the father of English natural history.  The proverb upon which this proverb is based is this:

Let your trouble tarry till its own day comes.

And before that, the spirit of never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you is found in a quote by Roman philosopher, playwrite, orator, and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. – A.D. 65).  Seneca was a tutor to Nero, and Nero kept him on as an advisor when he became Emperor in 54 A.D.  He retired as Nero’s advisor in 62 A.D., and three years later, Nero accused Seneca of conspiring against him, forcing his former tutor and advisor to commit suicide.  In his works, Seneca wrote this:

Quid iuvat dolori sui occurrere?
What help is it to run out to meet your troubles?

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you prior to 1741.  This indicates that somewhere between 1670 and 1740, the proverb was reworded.  Idiomation therefore pegs the date to 1740, with a nod to Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

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Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 1, 2015

It wasn’t all that long ago that children had to give serious concern to the threat of having their mouth washed out with soap!  These days, the threat of having someone wash your mouth out with soap is said to draw attention to a rude or offensive word or comment that someone else has made.

In the past, a child’s mouth was washed out with soap for swearing, lying, biting, verbal disrespect, and using tobacco.  Although it’s supposedly no longer an acceptable form of punishment, in July of this year, a 23-year-old man in Great Britain was ordered to pay 100 GBP after washing a six-year-old’s mouth out with soap after the child kicked a pensioner’s walking stick and used foul language towards the senior.

In 2000, when President Bill Clinton announced that he hoped to make American debt free for the first time since 1835, Vice-President Al Gore added to that proclamation by saying that the U.S. should continue to pay down the debt even when the economy slows.  Economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow had this to say about Mr. Gore’s pronouncement.

He should wash his mouth out with soap.

Some of you may be familiar with the movie, “A Christmas Story” in which nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, who had the misadventure of helping his father change a flat tire.  The family had gone out to buy the yearly Christmas tree after supper, and on the way home, the suffer a flat tire. While Idiomation won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, suffice it to say that things go awry, and Ralphie says:

Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!

The end result is that once home, safe and warm, Ralphie’s mother has him chomp down on a new bar of Lifebuoy soap.  And you’ll never guess who he blames for having said the word he had spoken.

The April 1937 edition of Boys’ Life magazine published a humorous cartoon of a little old lady, a pastor, and a parrot.  The little old lady was pleased to share with the pastor that she had washed the parrot’s mouth out with soap.  One can only wonder where the parrot heard the bad words (and from whom) that led to the punishment.

Boys' Life_1937
In the October 1916 edition of Young Men magazine (Volume 42) an article titled, “The Cordon of the Inner Circle” talked about adolescent males across the United States who were feeling the “tightening cordon of common high ideals for their school and their own thinking, speaking, and doing.”  These young men, through Bible study groups, were standing up for their principles and putting them across to their peers.

After creating public sentiment against profanity among their high school mates, members of one Inner Circle determined that the only remedy for one of the leaders was to “treat him like a kid.”  So they captured him and washed his mouth out with soap and water.

The magazine was a publication of the Young Men’s Christian Associations — or what we’ve come to know as the YMCA.

In 1892,a collection of child study pamphlets were collated and printed under the title, “Collection of Pamphlets on Child Study.”  In one particular case, a study conducted by Margaret E. Schallenberger of Stanford University addressed the fictional scenario of a child named Jennie whose actions were well-intended but ill-conceived.

The set-up was that Jennie, having received a beautiful new box of paints, painted all the chairs in the parlor one afternoon while her mother was away on errands.  Upon her return, Jennie ran to meet her, and said, “Oh, mamma, come and see how pretty I have made the parlor.”

The respondents were children and adolescents who were not yet parents, and they were asked what they would have said or done if the respondents were Jennie’s mother.  The study reported the following:

Often the feeling of revenge is shown in the piling up of punishments, as in the following:  “If I had been Jennie’s mother, I would of painted Jennie’s face and hands and toes.  I would of switcher her well.  I would of washed her mouth out with soap and water, and should stand her on the floor for half an hour.”

For those who are interested, of the 2,000 respondents under the age of six, 1,102 boys and girls said they would whip Jennie.  Out of 2,000 respondents asked who were eleven years old, 763 said they would whip Jennie.  And of 2,000 respondents who were sixteen years old, only 185 would whip Jennie.  The data from the study showed a decline (although it wasn’t a uniform decline) from year to year, and indicated that as children matured, they were less likely to consider whipping as a best method of punishment.

Interestingly enough, of those same children under the age of six, none considered explaining to Jennie why what she had done was wrong.  At eleven years of age, 181 thought to explain things to Jennie, and at sixteen, 751 thought that explaining what she had done wrong would be effective.

Back in 1832, the practice of putting soap in another person’s mouth as punishment was alive and well in England, not just in America.  The case in question was one of a man (identified as Mr. Smith from the town of Rugby) whose wife left him and took up with Frank Treen (from the town of Harborough just three miles away from the town of Rugby), with whom she had a child.  Frank Treen demanded support money to pay from the husband for his wife.  The husband thought he was obligated to give Frank Treen support money for his wife, so he did.

However, he was informed by another source that while his wife lived in adultery, there was no obligation on him to pay for her, and so he stopped paying.  But when his wife’s lover died, the courts determined that not only was he responsible for paying for his wife (whom he had not divorced during the time she lived with Frank Treen), but for the bastard child as well.  The information about the situation included the following factual commentary.

It appeared that he had not lived with his wife for about seven or eight years; that when they lived together, they were constantly quarrelling; and that one evening, on the man’s return home, he found his wife intoxicated; upon which, being a miller, he threw his wife into the mill pond.  Be he dragged her out again immediately.  However, perceiving a piece of kitchen soap lying on the ground near the spot, he crammed it into his wife’s mouth, saying, “She has had plenty of water to wash with, she ought now to have a little soap.”  However they lived together for a year after this fracas.

It could be said that somewhere along the line someone decided that because the adage was that cleanliness was next to Godliness, Proverbs 21:23 should be taken at its word.

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue, keeps his soul from trouble.

That being said, while the punishment was very real for a very long time, with the move to a kinder, gentler parenting approach has led to the rise of the expression as the actual activity disappears from parenting options.

Idiomation has been unable to put an exact date on when the threat moved into idiom territory.  Perhaps one of our readers or visitors has the answer and is willing to share it in the Comments Section below.

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