Historically Speaking

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Archive for October, 2016

To The Manor Born

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 27, 2016

Although the term isn’t used much these days, there was a time, not that long ago, that people would say he (or she) was to the manor born.  The problem with this idiom is that since the middle of the 19th century, writers and authors have had their way with switching out manor and manner.  To this end, the idiom has split off in two directions, with the incorrect version being the more popular of the two.

Using the word manor means that the person is born to wealth and privilege.  Using the word manner means the person has been accustomed to something since birth.   Yes, where homophones are present, wordplay and puns, along with honest mistakes, often follow.

To the manner born:  Familiar with something since birth.
To the manor born:  Privileged since birth.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Sometimes it’s difficult to trace back idioms because the way vowels are pronounced has changed over the centuries.  In Chaucer’s time, me was pronounced may, shire was pronounced sheer, house and flour were pronounced hoose and floor, domesday was pronounced doomsday, and so on.  Chaucer’s word lyf was pronounced leef and eventually it became the word life which we use in modern language today. 

Earlier this month, on October 17, 2016 on the Private Wealth website that claims to advise “the exceptionally affluent,” writer Greg Bresiger published an article titled, “Horatio Alger Is Alive And Well In The United States.”  The article discussed creating wealth in the United States as well as the fact that America is surpassing Asia when it comes to creating new billionaires.  The opening paragraph used the idiom to catch readers’ attention.

It’s a good time for the self-made American billionaire, and those who made their wealth on their own are doing better than those to the manor born, a new report says.

In 1912, Church of England priest, historian, and author, Peter Hempson (P.H.) Ditchfield (20 April 1854 – 16 September 1930) published a book titled, “The Old English Country Squire” in which he wrote the following.

And those who come to take its place in the countryside are poor substitutes for the old squire. They are not to the manner born. Though not ill-disposed they are ignorant of country customs and the deep-seated feelings of the country-folk.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Reverend Ditchfield was the Grand Chaplain of the Freemasons of England in 1917, and of the Mark Masons in 1918, as well as the Secretary of the Berkshire Archaeological Society for 38 years until 1929, when he became its President.

In the “Proceedings of the Illinois State Convention of Colored Men, Assembled at Galesburg” covering the convention from October 1866 (and published in 1867), the idiom was used in describing what happened to the Indigenous peoples in America.

During the war, a purpose briefly existed, of virtually ostracising an entire class of Americans, “native and to the manor born,” as a means of placating the unappeasable spirit, that at the moment was endeavoring, with fire and sword, to fulfill its long-cherished purpose to “rend the Union, from turret to foundation,” that upon the debris of the government framed by Washington and the fathers, and consecrated with the blood, and tears, and prayers of the American people of “the times that tried men’s souls,” a government should be erected, having for its chief corner stone, a political class distinction, subversive of their rights of, and degrading to universal humanity.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The purpose of the convention was to discuss the subject of disabilities, educational and political, that affected persons of color in the State of Illinois.  The discussion focused on the impediment persons of color experienced when trying to rise above their current situation, and to set in motion effective agencies for the purpose of securing the permanent removal of agencies that prevented that progress.

Ultimately, the first published version of the idiom is found in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” in Act I, scene iv, published in 1602.

HORATIO:     
Is it a custom?

HAMLET:      
Ay, marry, is’t:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour’d in the breach than the observance.

So whether you’re to the manor born or to the manner born, you have William Shakespeare to thank for the idiom with a side nod to Hamlet.  Without Hamlet as a source of inspiration, it’s possible William may not have thought of writing that expression.

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Fill The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 11, 2016

Idiomation shared the history behind foot the bill and fit the bill.  This time around, we’re looking at the history behind fill the bill, and what this expression means.  To fill the bill is to supply exactly what is needed to meet the needs of a specific situation.

On November 19, 2015 the HR Gazette website published an article about HR managers, and how to pick the one that’s best for your company.  The article discussed non-traditional graduates as opposed to traditional college students, and the advantages and disadvantages therein.  The article was titled, “Hiring An HR Manager: Can You Fill The Bill?

On February 1, 2000, the Latin Trade magazine decided to publish an article about fraudulent companies in South America.  Costa Rica correspondent Julie Dulude’s story began with an article published in the magazine Business Insurance that had been published in March 1999, and focused on a business calling itself Camelot Insurance Company, S.A.  The reporter’s investigation turned up a handful of companies with Camelot in their names.  The problem is that addresses are listed as local landmarks followed by compass directions, and so every lead was investigated by the reporter.  When she used the idiom, this is what she wrote.

Finding the next two addresses turned out to be a wild goose chase. The tenants at an apartment complex that seemed to me “exactly 75 meters west of the Colegio Metodista” knew nothing. “Ay corazon, since the school occupies the whole block, it could be on either this street or the parallel one,” offered the gardener.

Next door was a vacant lot and across the street a cemetery, so I headed for the parallel street. A yellow house next door to a construction site appeared to fill the bill. “Let me find my glasses,” said a middle-aged woman who came out to help. And then: “The problem is that it doesn’t say whether they mean the elementary or the high school. You see, the Colegio Metodista has a high school in Sabanilla, which is considered part of San Pedro.”

Filling the bill is something that was known nearly 100 years earlier.  In the book “The Lair of the White Worm” by Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) published in 1911 the expression fill the bill was used.

There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish  to keep — Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it.

Nearly twenty years earlier, in 1890 a passionate Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 34 of “Manford’s Magazine” reader James Billings of Hico, Texas.  The title of the letter was “Fill The Bill” and Mr. Billings to the expression fill the bill to task and wrote a passionate letter on the subject.

Shall that sinner be given up, as a subject beyond the reach of the mercy, and the love and power of God?  Is there no arm of infinite love, and goodness that can be stretched out to life this poor soul into the life of repentance, and to feel God’s forgiveness?  Is there no balm of mercy in Gilead to save?  Is there not mercy and goodness enough in God’s divine purposes to fill the bill, in every case?  God is love; and as it is an inexhaustible fountain, there is compassion sufficient to fill all bills, to meet all demands, and redeem all souls.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Billings (15 November 1811 – 2 November 1898) was the new Universalist missionary in Texas, and had a noticeable presence as both a Universalist minister and a publisher.  In Hico, Reverend Billings and his wife, the thrice married and thrice widowed Mary Charlotte Ward Granniss Webster Billings (11 July 1824 – 2 March 1904), made a number of sound real estate investments on behalf of the Texas Convention, and opened All Souls Church in Hico, Texas in 1889.

Some sources state that fill the bill is American theatrical slang that dates back to 1882 where a lead performer’s name was the biggest name on the show’s poster with lesser performers listed in smaller letters and engaged to round out the program.  Idiomation doesn’t doubt that this may be true, however, the idiom was used in slightly more than twenty years earlier by the Illinois State Agricultural Society, and in the context we understand it to mean today.

On page 471 of Volume 4 of the “Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society” for 1859, there was a vote on whether to go with Wilson’s Albany, Necked Pine, Early Washington, or Iowa for general cultivation.  Notes were taken at this meeting and these words were attributed to Dr. Warder with regards to the best strawberry plants for farmers.

The Iowa is not a good bearer.  Only on in ten of its blossom produce fruit usually.  It runs too much and need thorough harrowing, which done, it bears well.  It has a high flavor but requires rough treatment.  It bears early, is good to have, though a little soft.  Austin or Shaker’s Seedling, Dr. W. hopes well from because of its great vigor, but doubts if it fills the bill.  Instead of the berries weighing at the rate of twelve to the pound, it take fifty weight a pound.  Has more confidence in Downer’s Prolific.  Downer is a reliable man, and the fruit and plant are both exceedingly satisfactory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference however the term was used easily by Dr. Warder with the expectation that his colleagues would understand the meaning of fill the bill.  We therefore peg this expression to the early 1800s.

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Fit The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 6, 2016

When someone finds something that fits the bill, that person has found something that, or someone who, is suitable for a specific purpose.   The person or object doesn’t have to be perfect for the situation, but the person or object has to do the job for which he/she/it has been selected.

Just last month, Headlines and Global News (HNGN) reported on the break-up between Zayn Malik (former member of boy band One Direction) and Victoria’s Secret model, Gigi Hadid.  Supposedly Zayn’s mother was behind the break-up, and going with that rumor, the headline read, “Zayn Malik’s mother to Gigi Hadid: She Doesn’t Fit The Bill.”

Back in 1986, when technology was ramping up in the music industry, Electronic Musician published an article in their May edition that talked about the Mac computer.    The editors informed their readership that if they wanted their “introduction to computers to be absolutely painless” the Mac would “probably fit the bill.”  As it was, back in 1986, the Mac did just that and revolutionized a large part of the live performance and recording aspects of the industry.

In 1890, the idiom was used in an article on page 426 of “The Kansas City Medical Record: Volume VII, No. 11.”  The magazine began publication in 1884 and continued through to 1911.  In all, there were twenty-eight volumes with illustrations published by the Kansas City (MO) publishers, Ramsey, Millett & Hudson.

Thus one writes in making his application: ‘I am a graduate of the Medical College of, and I think I can fit the bill. Is there any vacancies now? Is the examination as rigid as reported? I am a lover of surgery and hope I will fit the bill.

SIDE NOTE:  Ramsey, Millett & Hudson was a business owned by John H. Ramsey, H.S. Millett, and Frank Hudson, and they promoted themselves as printers, lithographers, binders, wood engravers, and book publishers.

While the idiom fit the bill was published in 1890, prior to this date, Idiomation has found many references to filling the bill with the same sense as fitting the bill, but fit the bill was conspicuously absent in newspapers, magazines, and books.

Fill the bill was an expression modified in the space of one generation, where fill was replaced with fit to become the expression we use today.  It would seem the idiom isn’t as old as one might think, but perhaps fill the bill will fare better next Tuesday on Idiomation.

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Foot The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 4, 2016

The person who, or organization that, foots the bill is the person who, or organization that, pays the bill or settles the outstanding debt.  Yes, whoever foots the bill is the one who is responsible for payment due.

Just last week, on September 27, 2016 WFLA Channel 8 reporter Mark Douglas reported on what was going on with the Largo Building Department.  From those who were under state investigation to a whistleblower action against the city, Mark Douglas shared that taxpayers are on the hook for paying the legal defense costs for the department.  The article on the website was titled, “You Paid For It: Taxpayers Once Again Foot The Bill For Building Officials Accused Of Breaking Laws.”

Forty years earlier on September 5, 1976, Elaine Dundy, writing for the New York Times, reported on the 90-minute animated film based on psychoanalyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Erik Erikson’s eight stages of man.  According to Erik Erikson (15 June 1902 – 12 May 1994), every stage carried with it a crucial conflict that needed to be resolved before the individual could move on to the next stage.  Any unresolved stage supposedly resulted in an emotional crisis.

The stages according to Erik Erickson were as follows:

  1. Hope: trust vs. mistrust (infancy, 0 to 2 years)
  2. Will: autonomy vs. shame and doubt (early childhood, 2 to 4 years)
  3. Purpose: initiative vs. guilt (preschool, 4 to 5 years)
  4. Competence: industry vs. inferiority (school age, 5 to 12 years)
  5. Fidelity: identity vs. role confusion (adolescence, 13 to 19 years)
  6. Love: intimacy vs. isolation (early adulthood, 20 to 39 years)
  7. Care: generativity vs. stagnation (adulthood, 40 to 64 years)
  8. Wisdom: ego integrity vs. despair (maturity, 65 through to death)

Faith and John Hubley (well-known for their work on “Mr. Magoo” and other cartoons) were saddled with running every storyboard past an advisory panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, educators, students, and network executives before moving on to the next stage.  The idiom was used in this paragraph describing the situation.

“Everybody Rides the Carousel” has been in the works for 10 years. First, permission from Erikson himself has to be obtained, then the rights from his publisher and last but not least the money to underwrite the project. After several failed attempts by the husband-and-wife team with both public television and other commercial networks, CBS agreed to foot the bill — with a condition.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) identified seven stages in his play, “As You Like It” in Act 2, scene 7 in a monologue delivered by Jaques.  Shakespeare identifies the stages as follows: Infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and second childhood.

Australian historian and professor at the University of Melbourne, Sir Ernest Scott (21 June 1867 – 6 December 1939) edited, “Australia: A Reissue of Volume VII, Part I of the Cambridge History of the British Empire” which was published in 1933.  The expression is found on page 357 of this publication.

Queensland would set the other colonies an example in dealing with a procrastinating mother country and save Australia from the “irremediable disaster” of further foreign occupation in New Guinea.  She offered to foot the bill.  But the elderly parent was not to be bolted by her youngest child.  Lord Derby first enquired of the Foreign Office whether he could be assured that no foreign Power would set up a claim to the territory Queensland had annexed, and on receiving an answer that Lord Granville thought no such action intended by any foreign Power, he declined to approve the annexation.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Originally from Northampton, England, Sir Ernest Scott migrated to Australia in 1892 where he lived until his death.  Upon his death, his widow, Emily Scott (who was also his second wife) funded the establishment of the Ernest Scott Prize for History that continues to be awarded annually for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand.

In Chapter XIII of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), and published on December 10, 1884, the author made use of the idiom.  The story is set sometime between 1835 and 1845, and takes place on the Mississippi River running through Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, with specific attention to St. Petersburg, Missouri.  At the time, slavery was legal, and the dilemma Huck faced in the story was whether to turn in his friend (and runaway slave), Jim.  The expression appears in this passage in the story.

“Why THAT’S all right. Miss Hooker she tole me, PARTICULAR, that her uncle Hornback –“

“Great guns! is HE her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light over yonder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of a mile out you’ll come to the tavern; tell ’em to dart you out to Jim Hornback’s, and he’ll foot the bill. And don’t you fool around any, because he’ll want to know the news. Tell him I’ll have his niece all safe before he can get to town. Hump yourself, now; I’m a- going up around the corner here to roust out my engineer.”

SIDE NOTE 3:  It took Mark Twain seven years to write “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” mostly because he wrote the majority of it in 1876 and didn’t pick the story back up (to finish writing the story) until August 1883.

In 1844, the idiom appeared in the “Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools of the State of New York.”

And yet this monstrous power has been conferred upon those officers, subject to no control from any quarter, and the board of supervisors is obliged, without the least exercise of its own discretion, to foot the bills.  Some amendments, therefore, I repeat, are imperiously demanded.

Three years earlier on December 13, 1841, the Directors and Superintendent of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum presented their third annual report on the condition of the institution to the Fortieth General Assembly.  The Superintendent was listed as William M. Awl, M.D., with the following listed as directors:  Samuel Parsons, M.D.; Colonel Samuel Spangler; Adin G. Hibbs, Esquire; N.H. Swayne, Esquire; and Dr. David L. McGugin. Three others were listed along with the Superintendent and Directors, these being Dr. Samuel M. Smith, M.D. (Assistant Physician), George S. Fullerton (Steward), and Mrs. C.W. Atcherson (Matron).

In Document No. 14, under “Labor and Employment,” the expression was used with the meaning it has today.

And here is the amount of this labor, as estimated by a committee of themselves, which we should think exceedingly moderate, if we had to foot the bill:  “As near as can be calculated, three acres of ground on the east half of lot, in front of L.A., have been filled up to the average depth of nine inches, amounting to 3,637 cubic yards.  And taking into consideration the extra labor of leveling the same, together with leveling the same, together with leveling the ground from whence the earth was taken, it should probably be estimated at sixteen cents per yard, which will amount to five hundred eighty one dollars and ninety two cents.”

It showed up in Part I of Volume XII of the Gales & Seaton’s Register “Debates In Congress.”  The debate in question was dated March 17, 1836 and dealt with a Land Bill put forth in the Senate.  The Senate was urged to proceed with a Bill to appropriate, for a limited time, the proceeds from the sale of public lands.  The Bill was not popular with everyone, and the issue was hotly debated.  The idiom appeared here:

As might be expected, after making a decision against these claimants, the Judiciary of Virginia deemed it expedient, inasmuch as the United States, and not Virginia would ultimately be obliged to foot the bill, to reverse that decision, and the claimants, and children and heirs of claimants, come in forty years after the service was performed, and obtain scrip for incredible quantities of public lands; from four to six, and, I believe as high as ten, thousand acres to each person.

Sliding back to the winter of 1818, is the book by American lawyer, Estwick Evans (1787 – 1866) titled, “A Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles Through The Western States and Territories.”  The book claimed to be “interspersed with brief reflections upon a great variety of topics: Religious, moral, political, sentimental, etc., etc.”  The tome was printed by Joseph E. Spear of Concord, New Hampshire in 1819.  According to Payton R. Freeman, Clerk for the District of New Hampshire, the book was deposited in the Office of the District of New Hampshire on December 10, 1818 (the forty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America).  It was resubmitted on January 18, 1819 to correct typographical and other errors in the preceding work that Peyton r. Freeman stated were “few and inconsiderable” and “not deemed worth while to notice them.”  On page 183 of this book, the following is found:

When I arrived at Buffalo, I had travelled twenty-four miles, without meeting any habitation, excepting a very few scattering log huts.  Some of these were destitute of provisions; and at others of them a piece of bread, and a drink of water cost me two York shillings.  Not far from this place, my dogs, knowing no law but that of nature, and having forgotten my lecture to them upon theft, helped themselves to the first repast presented, leaving their master to foot their bills.  According to the phraseology of our Grand Juries, they very modestly “took, stole, and carried away” a piece of beef of the weight of three pounds, with an intention to convert the same to their own use.

Foot, meaning to add up and set the sum at the bottom of a column, is attested to in the late 15th century.  In “Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV: Office of the Stable and Gifts Disbursed” for 1480, the meaning of foot referring to a total sum is found.

Velvet, xxxij yerdes grene and blac; bokeram longe, xij yerdes*
*Here follows in the MS a general inventory of all the articles mentioned in the preceding pages, entitled “The foote of the deliveree of stuff.”

Because the foote was the total sum owed for what was delivered and registered in the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV in 1480, the spirit of footing the bill (paying what was owed) is found in this accounting.

What this means is that as early as 1480, footing meant to add up a column of numbers to arrive at the final sum in reference to monies owed to a merchant.  Footing the bill was to confirm the exact amount owed to another with the intent of paying said outstanding amount.

Undoubtedly, the idiom appeared in print sometime between the accounting of Edward IV’s wardrobe accounts and Estwick Evans’ unfortunate incident with his dogs.  Idiomation suspects a published version of this idiom can be found dating back to before Estwick Evans’ book in 1818. It just hasn’t been uncovered to date.

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