Historically Speaking

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Archive for November, 2016

Scribbledehobble

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 8, 2016

It’s not often you hear some words but when you do, they stick in your mind either because they’re unique or because they’re amusing and entertaining as well as unique.  Scribbledehobble is one of those words.  It can mean hurried, messy writing, or it can be a reference to the workbook with ideas written down quickly with little to no concern for appearance.

Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) decided to give the notebooks in which he jotted down names, words, ideas, turns of phrase and anecdotes a name.  The name he gave to one of them was scribbledehobble.

There’s some question as to the exact date James Joyce came up with this word.  It’s a fact that when Thomas E. Connolly transcribed and published one of James Joyce’s notebooks in 1961, it was under the title, “Scribbledehobble” in keeping with the first word in the book’s text.

This notebook held the notes for his book “Finnegans Wake” that was published in 1939, and was seventeen years in the writing after his book “Ulysses” was published in 1922.

SIDE NOTE 1:  “Finnegans Wake” is a book that few have read due in large part to the enormous complexity of the text that was written, for the most part, with idiosyncratic language.

Some scholars believe the word was a hybrid of the words scribble and hobbledehoyHobbledehoy is a word that dates back to the early 1500s, and refers to someone or something that is clumsy and awkward.  The word has appeared in many novels over the generations.

It was used in Chapter 47 of the book “Little Women” by American novelist and poet, Louisa May Alcott (29 November 1832 – 6 March 1888), published in 1868.  The book was about four sisters who lived at home with their mother in New England while their father was away fighting in the Civil War.  The family had lost its fortune, but the family managed to make do and to continue living in the house they had always known.

“Now don’t be a wet-blanket, Teddy. Of course I shall have rich pupils, also–perhaps begin with such altogether. Then, when I’ve got a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish. Rich people’s children often need care and comfort, as well as poor. I’ve seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward ones pushed forward, when it’s real cruelty. Some are naughty through mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers. Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that’s the very time they need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustle them about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at once from pretty children into fine young men.”

It was also used by English writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome (2 May 1859 – 14 June 1927) in his collection of humorous essays, “Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow” published in 1886.  This was the second published book for the writer, and it established him as a leading English humorist.

The shy man, on the other hand, is humble–modest of his own judgment and over-anxious concerning that of others. But this in the case of a young man is surely right enough. His character is unformed. It is slowly evolving itself out of a chaos of doubt and disbelief. Before the growing insight and experience the diffidence recedes. A man rarely carries his shyness past the hobbledehoy period. Even if his own inward strength does not throw it off, the rubbings of the world generally smooth it down. You scarcely ever meet a really shy man–except in novels or on the stage, where, by the bye, he is much admired, especially by the women.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Jerome K. Jerome’s quotes are well-known even if they may not be propertly attributed to him.  Two of his most noteable quotes are, “It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you aren an exceptionally good liar” and “I like work; it fascinates me.  I can site and look at it for hours.”

Even James Fenimore Cooper (15 September 1789 – 15 September 1851) spoke of “the hobbledehoy condition” in which America found itself in his book “The Pioneers, or The Sources of the Susquehanna; a Descriptive Tale” published in 1823.  This book was the first of five novels which became known as the Leatherstocking Tales.

This period in the history of a country may be likened to the hobbledehoy condition in ourselves when we have lost the graces of childhood without having attained the finished forms of men.

It isn’t difficult to see how James Joyce would feel compelled to mesh scribble with hobbledehoy to come up with scribbledehobble to describe either hurried, messy writing or the workbook with ideas written down quickly with little to no concern for appearance.  Idiomation pegs this to the around 1920 with thanks to James Joyce for his creativity in coming up with this new word.

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Icing On The Cake

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 1, 2016

The best part of any cake is the icing, or so most people say.  When the icing on the cake is something other than the sugary topping we all know, it means a pleasing situation was made even better due to an unexpected bonus.  Of course, there are those who are pessimists and who will use the expression sarcastically but most people seem to be optimists when it comes to using this idiom.

This year, the Chicago Cubs are battling it out with the Cleveland Indians for the title of World Cup winners for 2016.  After Game 5, Chicago was trailing two games to Cleveland’s three.  The idiom was used in the New York Daily newspaper article, “Eddie Vedder, Jon Lester Help Give Retiring Cubs Catcher David Ross A Night To Remember At Wrigley Field” published on October 31, 2016.

That Ross was able to contribute to the Cubs’ first World Series home win in 71 years was icing on the cake. His fourth-inning sacrifice fly proved to be the game-winning RBI, while he also threw out Francisco Lindor trying to steal second, doing his best to counter Jon Lester’s well-documented issues with holding runners on base.

Canadian-born character actor and playwright John McLiam (24 January 1918 – 16 April 1994) wrote and published his play, “The Sin Of Pat Muldoon” in 1957.

PAT:
You’re wasting your time.  The things you call sin have been to me the beauties of life.  They’ve helped me to know more of myself and people and the world I live in.

FATHER:
Sin is death to the soul.  Sin is an insult to God.

PAT:
There are sins and there are sing, but the sins I speak of are the chocolate icing on the cake of life.  Father, you ought to be more careful, if nobody sinned, you’d be out of a job.

FATHER:
Since you won’t recognize me as your priest, you may perhaps accept me as a man and friend of your family.  There is something I must say to you.

PAT:
Go ahead.  Shoot the works.

In Victorian times (20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901), the more refined the sugar used in making icing for cakes, the whiter the icing.  Because it was difficult to secure very fine sugar and because it was a costly luxury, the whiter the icing on a cake, the wealthier the family was thought to be.  Of course, if you were already enjoying cake, this was a good thing.  If you were enjoying cake with icing, this was an even better thing.  And enjoying cake with very white icing was the best thing imaginable.   But how far back does icing actually go?

The previous century, in 1769, Elizabeth Raffeld published her book, “The Experienced English Housekeeper.”  In this very helpful tome, the author shared the first published recipe for confectionery icing for cakes.  That being said, icing for cakes had been around for over 200 years at the time of publication even if this was the first published recipe for icing.

According to this recipe book, sugar and icing were part of making a Good Great Oxford-shire Cake.  Here are the directions as they are found in “The Compleat Cook, Expertly Prescribing The Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish Or French, For Dressing Of Flesh And Fish, Ordering Of Sauces Or Making Of Pastry” published in 1658.

ice-the-cake_1658

To make a very Good Great Oxford-shire Cake

Take a peck of flower by weight, and dry it a little, & a pound and a halfe of Sugar, one ounce of Cinamon, half an ounce of Nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of Mace and Cloves, a good spoonfull of Salt, beat your Salt and Spice very fine, and searce it, and mix it with your flower and Sugar; then take three pound of butter and work it in the flower, it will take three hours working; then take a quart of Ale-yeast, two quarts of Cream, half a pint of Sack, six grains of Amber-greece dissolved in it, halfe a pint of Rosewater, sixteen Eggs, eight of the Whites, mix these with the flower, and knead them well together, then let it lie warm by your fire till your Oven be hot, which must be little hotter then for manchet; when you make it ready for your Oven, put to your Cake six pound of Currans, two pound of Raisins, of the Sun stoned and minced, so make up your Cake, and set it in your oven stopped close; it wil take three houres a baking; when baked, take it out and frost it over with the white of an Egge and Rosewater, well beat together, and strew fine Sugar upon it, and then set it again into the Oven, that it may Ice.

But nearly 200 years before that recipe, frosting (or icing — whichever term you prefer) was already happening to cakes.  Marchpanes became frosted marchpanes in 1494 when a paste of almonds and granulated sugar was used to add a decorative topping to them.

Even with all this information about icing and cakes, when did the icing on the cake become the saying we know it to be and not just something that pastry chefs did, and continue to do, to cakes?

Hostess Bakery was mass producing cupcakes by 1919, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s that buttercream frosted cupcakes made with confectioner’s sugar, butter, cream, and flavorings began to appear.  So those yummy Hostess cupcakes weren’t just yummy cupcakes in the 1950s.  They were yummy cupcakes with frosting.  They were iced!  BONUS!

Oddly enough, Idiomation was unable to find the expression published prior to John McLiam’s play “The Sin Of Pat Muldoon.”  This means that the icing on the cake meaning an added bonus to an already good thing happening has only been happening for about seventy years.  Idiomation therefore pegs this expression to the mid-1950s, and it may just be John McLiam who coined that phrase.

So does icing on the cake mean the same thing as frosting on the cake, frosting your cookies or cherry on top (from the French idiom la cerise sur le gâteau)?  Idiomation is looking into the historical backgrounds of these three expressions, and will publish findings in the near future.

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