Historically Speaking

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Archive for September, 2016

Miss A Trick

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 29, 2016

The word miss — in the sense of “fail to perceive” — has been around since the late 1600s, and the word trick — in the sense of “a quick or artful way of getting a result” — has been around since the early 1600s.  Oddly enough, the expression miss a trick has not been around since the 1600s even thought it means to fail to take advantage of an opportunity.

The Princeton Union-Eagle newspaper used the idiom in an OpEd piece by Luther Door writing about the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie split that was published in the paper on September 25, 2016.

Or, as USA Today (never one to miss a trick on such an important matter) put it in a headline on one of its TWO stories on Wednesday, “That’s all, folks: Brangelina’s 12-year run comes to an end.”

For those of you who remember Peter Falk’s Columbo on television during the 1970s, perhaps you also remember Mrs. Columbo played by Kate Mulgrew (she of Star Trek: Voyager fame).  Back on November 15, 1979, the UK edition of the TV Times ran an article on Kate Mulgrew that included this tidbit.

“It was bliss when I moved to New York by myself and put down a lipstick and came back half an hour later to find it still there,” she says with a laugh. It’s a strong, raucous laugh and it matches her deep voice and strong face. She’s eating, drinking, smoking, talking and wise-cracking non-stop and she doesn’t miss a trick. You somehow get the feeling Peter Falk would approve of Kate Mulgrew, even if he doesn’t approve of Mrs. Columbo.

Years earlier in 1943, in the book “The Gastronomical Me” by M.F.K. (Mary Frances Kennedy) Fisher — a book about food, and eating and drinking — she used the idiom in one of her chapters.  The chapter was dated two years earlier in 1941, and the author was en route to Guadalajara (Mexico).  Once at the hotel with the rest of the hotel guests she’d met on the plane, five or six of the passengers at a table asked her to sit and have a drink with them (feeling sorry for her as she was travelling alone).  The discussion that ensued was one where everyone planned on making the most of their first night in town.

They were making plans for “seeing the town” after dinner, and asked me to go with them.  I said I was going to bed, and they looked strangely at me.  “You’ve been here before, then?” they asked, and when I said no, they laughed again, daringly, and said they weren’t going to waste any time in bed; they weren’t going to miss a trick.

Thirty years earlier, “Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine” saw the expression used in a story by American social reformer and author, Mrs. John (Hall) Van Vorst (1873 – 18 May 1928) formerly Bessie McGinnis.  The story was published in the April 1913 edition (as well as in the North Carolina Christian Advocate on March 27, 1913), in the story “Don’t Trifle With Money.”

“All is fair in love and the detective business.  And look here, Miss Boyd” — Silverton lifted his forefinger.  “Don’t support, because you refuse, that the matter’s going to be dropped.  It’s going to be pushed right straight through, and just think what a feather it would be in your cap to face Mr. Walton with his crime!  It’s a nice little job, and we aren’t going to leave a stone unturned.  I guess we’ll have the public sympathy in our favor, and we’re not going to miss a trick.  Understand?”

SIDE NOTE 1:  Bessie Van Vorst was also the author of “Bugsby’s Daughter” and “Sacred Quality” among other titles. When she wasn’t writing as Mrs. John Van Vorst, she was publishing stories under the pseudonym Esther Kelly.  After the death of her first husband, she married French Senator and author Henri Robert “Hughes” Le Roux.

The idiom also appeared in the story, “Miss Devereux of the Mariquita: A Story of Bonanza Days in Nevada” by American military officer and author of more than 40 adventure books, Richard Henry Savage (12 Jun 1846 – 11 October 1903) published in 1895.  This paragraph in Chapter II titled, “Mr. Robert Devereux Declines A Drink” made it clear that missing a trick then meant the same thing is means these days.

Mr. Berard noticed as he drove back along C Street several knots of earnest looking men eagerly eying his great roan trotter.  He never fancied that they objected to the carmine-cheeked, mouse-eyed little French queen of Faro at his side.  But, even cool gray-eyed sports can miss a trick, now and then.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Richard Henry Savage was the author of “My Official Wife” as well as “The Flying Halcyon” and “The Masked Venus” among other novels.

Missing tricks are something people were warning against fifty years before that!  In 1844, American novelist and dramatist Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie (5 March 1819 – 21 July 1870) published a book titled, “The Fortune Hunter, Or, The Adventures Of A Man About Town.”  Now, Anna had an interesting history in that she was born in France and died in England, but her father was an American merchant, and her mother was the granddaughter of Francis Lewis, a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence.  Perhaps this is why she wrote as she did.

“Certainly — certainly:  Brainard, my dear fellow, hope to find you better when I call again — must get well — good morning, Mr. Ellery — Brainard, good morning my dear fellow, speedy recovery to you — speedy recovery!”

“And now, Brainard,” said Ellery, “play your cards well; be sure you don’t miss a trick.  I believe in my soul, that if you had not made such a fool of yourself about that Miss Walton, you would have been married to Esther before this.”

“Miss Walton — ah! do not mention her!”

“What! so tender on the subject yet?  A pretty fool you would have made of yourself if you had married her!”

SIDE NOTE 3:  Francis Lewis (March 21, 1713 – December 31, 1802) was born in Llandaff, Wales, and was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York.  He was a member of the Committee of Sixty as well as of the New York Provincial Congress, and signed the American Articles of Confederation which was an agreement serving as the first constitution of the United States.  The thirteen original states signed this agreement which was created on November 15, 1777 and ratified on March 1, 1781.

An earlier published version of this saying could not be found.  However, the ease with which it was used in Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie’s book in 1844 indicates that the expression was understood by society.  Idiomation therefore pegs this to at least one generation earlier, putting in the 1820s and perhaps earlier.

It’s certain that it wasn’t an expression back in the 1600s though even if both miss and trick together would imply the spirit of the expression we know and use today.

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Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cool Beans

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 22, 2016

When you hear someone comment with cool beans (aka kewl beans, kool beans, and cool beanz), it means that the speaker approves of the comment or the situation that prompted him/her to say cool beans.  Not only is this an idiom, according to Time magazine, it’s been in the Oxford dictionary since 2014.

For fans of the sitcom, “Full House” which aired from 22 September 1987 through to 23 May 1995, DJ Tanner used the expression so often that fans and followers of the show followed suit.  But the writers of “Full House” weren’t the originators of the expression.

The idiom shows up in Marlene Fanta Shyer’s book “Grandpa Ritz and the Luscious Lovelies” published by Scribner Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) in 1985.  There on page 30, this appears:

“It’s cool beans!” That’s what Betsy always says when she thinks something is fantastic, and I couldn’t help wondering what she’d say if she could see me now.

In the 1960s, quaaludes, amphetamines and barbituates known as uppers and downers were referred to as cool beans because they resembled jellybeans. They were also known as beans, wacky beans, and cool beans.

The drug-induced positive reaction would therefore be attributed to cool beans thereby creating a positive impression of cool beans.

The reference to cool beans didn’t appear elsewhere in Idiomation’s research. While cool beans as an item is from the 1960s, the expression indicating approval is from sometime between the 1960s and 1985 when it appeared in Marlene Fanta Shyer’s book.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Love Many, Trust Few

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 20, 2016

Last Tuesday, paddle your own canoe was shared with Idiomation’s fans, followers, and visitors.  The entry mentioned an autograph book inscription that included the canoe comment:  Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

While we were able to track down the second half of that autograph book inscription, the first half left people hanging.  With no further ado, let’s take on the first half of that expression.

The quote is a variation on a line from the William Shakespeare so-called problem play, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”   Many consider this play a problem play because it’s neither a comedy nor a tragedy.  It was written sometime between 1601 and 1608.

The play takes place in the French court of Rousillon, and is about a young woman named Helena who seeks to catch the eye of, and marry, a man of higher social standing than her current social standing.  She is the daughter of the recently deceased court physician, and her mark is Bertram, a young nobleman who is morning for his late father, the Count of Rousillon.

The expression is used in Scene I, Act I.  The Countess of Rousillon, her son Bertram, Helena, and LaFeu enter, dressed in black. The audience quickly learns that the Countess of Rousillon has just buried a second husband (explaining the black garments).

COUNTESS:
Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father
In manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtue
Contend for empire in thee, and thy goodness
Share with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use, and keep thy friend
Under thy own life’s key: be cheque’d for silence,
But never tax’d for speech. What heaven more will,
That thee may furnish and my prayers pluck down,
Fall on thy head! Farewell, my lord;
‘Tis an unseason’d courtier; good my lord,
Advise him.

So the original saying was actually love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.  At what point did the saying become love many instead of love all?

In 1846, the expression was still as William Shakespeare had written it.  In “The Christian Pioneer Monthly Magazine” edited by Reverend Joseph Foulkes Winks (12 December 1792 – 28 May 1860), the idiom was included without proper attribution in the section titled, “Facts, Hints, and Gems.”

By 1870, the “Saint’s Herald: Volume 17” (published as a semi-monthly magazine by te Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) dropped the one-letter word between trust and few, and the saying was published as love all, trust few, do wrong to none.

Nine years later, in 1879, it was no longer love all, trust few, do wrong to none.  It was now love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

Where and how the paddle and canoe were added during the decade between the “Saint’s Herald” and the autograph book inscription is still a mystery.  If anyone knows the answer, we’d love to read all about it in the comments below.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Step On A Duck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 15, 2016

To step on a duck is to fart, but not just any old fart.  The step on a duck fart is said to be one that is so loud that it sounds like the squawking of a duck in distress.  The idiom is usually spoken by a bystander wishing to point out the fart to everyone nearby and not an attempt by the person to deflect his or her embarrassment at the indelicate passing of gas.

The expression seems to be so well-known that Jim Dawson published a book in 2010 titled, “Did Somebody Step On A Duck: A Natural History of the Fart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Jim Dawson is a California-based writer who specializes in American pop culture.  A decade before publishing “Did Somebody Step On A Duck” he published “Who Cut THe Cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart” which went on to become a top-seller.

Oddly enough, thirty-five years ago, Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, asked if somebody stepped on a duck when he broke wind loudly at dinner in the 1980 movie, “Caddyshack” starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Scott Colomby.  The movie was written by Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, and Douglas Kenney of National Lampoon magazine fame.

The history of this expression is difficult to trace.  Idiomation’s research found a recipe for a duck fart shot consisting of Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Crown Royal (and poured in that order) hailing from Anchorage, Alaska.  It was created by bartender Dave Schmidt while working at the Peanut Farm Bar and Grill (on the corner of Old Seward Highway and International Street) in December 1987.  The media covered the story of the shot in an article in the Anchorage Daily News newspaper.

Oddly enough, before White Sox announcer and former professional baseball player Hawk Harrelson (born September 4, 1941) made the term more family friendly in the 1980s, the duck snort was called a duck fart.  And what is a duck snort or a duck fart in baseball terms?  It’s a ball that softly hit ball that goes over the infielders and lands in the outfield for a hit.

And in the 1940s, according to “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” compiled and published by Jonathon Green, a duck fart referred to the plopping sound a stone made when it fell into the water.

But there doesn’t seem to be any indication how stepping on a duck came to mean farting loudly.  To this end, the expressions seems to reach back only as far as 1980.  However, there’s a lot of history behind the concept, not the least of which is a political connection.

As many of us know, there’s a certain juvenile humor when it comes to farting, not the least of which is a popular poem that was written as a result of an unfortunate incident on March 4, 1607 involving Henry Ludlow in the House of Commons.  The poem (which was endlessly copied, recopied, and shared liberally) published in 1607 was titled, “The Censure of the Parliament Fart.”  The incident happened as Sir John Crooke was giving a speech, and he took the fart as a personal insult.  For readers’ amusement, this is the opening volley of the poem.

Never was bestowed such art
Upon the tuning of a Fart.
Downe came grave auntient Sir John Crooke
And redd his message in his booke.
Fearie well, Quoth Sir William Morris, Soe:
But Henry Ludlowes Tayle cry’d Noe.
Up starts one fuller of devotion
Then Eloquence; and said A very ill motion
Not soe neither quoth Sir Henry Jenkin
The Motion was good; but for the stincking
Well quoth Sir Henry Poole it was a bold tricke
To Fart in the nose of the bodie pollitique.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir John Crooke sat in Parliament in 1584, 1597, and 1601.  Henry Ludlow sat in the 1601 and 1604 Parliament as a member of the Inner Temple.  In other words, the two were in Parliament together in 1601.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  The poem became so famous by 1610 that it was cited in Ben Jonson’s play, “The Alchemist.”  The play (which opens with a fart) includes a reference to the poem by Sir Epicure Mammon.

All this being said, the connection between stepping on a duck and loud farts is one that escaped Idiomation’s research.  Perhaps one of Idiomation’s readers has proof as to who first wrote or said this, or where it first appeared in print.

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Paddle Your Own Canoe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 13, 2016

Back when autograph books were popular among schoolgirls, it was a given that one page would say love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.  In fact, F.G. Bosse suggested the phrase as an appropriate inscription in his book “Selections For Autograph and Writing Albums” published by Charles A. Lilley in 1879.

To paddle your own canoe means to be in control of your life and to set your own course.  It was used in the article “8 Tips For Starting Your Own Agribusiness” on February 15, 2016 on the Farmers Weekly website.  The writer interviewed Hanna Moule, 34, who launched her rural surveying firm in 2010 with nothing more than a laptop, a car, and a few clients.  Her first tip was this:

1.  Paddle your own canoe — “I took on my second employee to do cross-compliance and record keeping,” Hannah says.  “It’s bread-and-butter work that many land agents wouldn’t take on, but it builds a relationship that leads to return work.”

The expression has been around for a long time, and is still in use today.  It’s a proverb that’s found its way into many songs such as the one by Indiana pioneer poet Sarah Tittle (S.T.) Bolton (18 December 1814 – 5 August 1893) titled “Paddle Your Own Canoe” published in 1854.

Where’er your lot may be
Paddle your own canoe.

There was also a song mentioned in the Laura Ingalls Wilder (7 February 1867 – 10 February 1957) book titled, “By The Shores Of Silver Lake” where paddle my own canoe or paddle your own canoe is found in the verses shared in the book.  The lyrics were sung to the tune of “Rosin The Bow.”

PADDLE MY OWN CANOE

I’ve traveled about a bit in my time
And of troubles I’ve seen a few
But found it better in every clime
To paddle my own canoe.

My wants are few. I care not at all
If my debts are paid when due.
I drive away strife in the ocean of life
While I paddle my own canoe.

The love your neighbor as yourself
As the world you go traveling through
And never sit down with a tear or a frown
But paddle your own canoe.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The fifth book in the series, “By The Shores of Silver Lake” covered Laura’s childhood when the family lived near de Smet, South Dakota in 1879.

The phrase was used in 1865 by American writer and politician Charles Henry Smith using the pseudonym Billy Arp (15 June 1826 – 24 August 1903) in his book titled, “Billy Arp, So Called: A Side Show of the Southern Side of the War.”  It was registered with the Metropolitan Record Office in 1866.

Charles Henry Smith adopted his pen name, Billy Arp, in April 1861 after President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation ordering Southern rebels to retire peaceably.  He wrote the equivalent of an Open Letter to the President under his pen name, and that letter made him a household name.

In one letter, to Mr. John Happy (which he titled, ‘Billy Arp To His Old Friend‘) he began by saying:

I want to write to you personally about some things that’s weighin on me.  I look on you as a friend, and I feel lik dropping a few lines by way of unberthening my sorrowful reflections.  For the last few years you have travelled round right smart, and must have made a heap of luminous observations.  I hear you are no wliving in Nashville, where you can see all sides of every thing, and read all the papers, where you can study Paradise Lost without a Book, and see the devil and his angels, without drawing on the imagination, and I thought maybe you might assist me in my troubled feelings.

Yes, that was all one sentence.  Regardless, Billy Arp then launched into asking when the government was going to quit persecuting his people, and other important matters affecting those living in the Southern states.  At one point, he talked about the Constitution which, he said, had been smuggled into an “abolishun mush.”  The phrase appeared in this passage:

They built a fence around the institution as high as Haman’s gallows, and hemmed it in, and laid siege to it jest like an army would besege a city to starve out the inhabitants.  They kept peggin at us untell we got mad — shore enuff mad — and we resolved to cut loose from ’em, and paddle our own canoo.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Bill Arp had a weekly column in the Atlanta Constitution that was syndicated to hundreds of newspapers.  At the time, no one had more verified regular readers than Bill Arp.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  Bill Arp wrote 30 such letters over the course of the war, and into the early 1870s.  The theme of his letters was unwaivering in its support of the Confederacy, and its dislike of Union policies.

Back in 1807, Sicnarf (a pseudonym for the real author, and coincidentally, Francis spelled backwards) published “The Selangor Journal: Jottings Past and Present” in which he mentioned that in Malaysia, rather than loan money to entrepreneurs starting their own coffee plantation, they would let them make their own way.   It was, quite literally, a sink-or-swim scenario for those who started their own businesses.

They let each poor fellow paddle his own canoe, and if he capsizes and stretches out his hand in despair for someone to save him, offers all he posses — all his money, all his property only to save him from ruin, they won’t do it.  He may die and perish.  There are hundreds of thousands of things, which the Planters’ Association could do; but they don’t do them.

There’s no published mention of paddle your own canoe prior to its use in this book from 1807.  Somewhere between 1807 and 1865, the expression paddle your own canoe came to mean you were in charge of your destiny.  All this leads Idiomation to wonder what this might have to do with loving many and trusting few as F.G. Bosse suggested as a proper inscription for autograph books.

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