Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for January, 2017

Blurb

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

Advertisements

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

Mansplaining

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2017

The word mansplaining seems to be everywhere these days from pop culture to news reporting.  If you don’t already know what it is, it’s the process of a male explaining something to another person  (usually female) in such a way that is perceived to be condescending or patronizing.  Oftentimes the speaker is explaining a simple situation that is already easily understood by the majority of people.

Some believe that mansplaining, if left unchecked, leads to gaslighting, and it’s easy to understand why that might be.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning the victim’s recollections, memories, perceptions, and sanity.   The term was derived from the play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patric Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1940, the movie “Gas Light” starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick  Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).   

SIDE NOTE 3:  In 1944, the movie “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the same 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 4:  MGM bought the remake rights to “Gas Light” with a caveat that demanded all existing prints of the 1940 movie version be destroyed

SIDE NOTE 5:  The play was known as “Angel Street” in the United States.

On April 13, 2008 author Rebecca Solnit wrote an OpEd column for the Los Angeles Times wherein she outlined what mansplaining was and how negative it was towards those who were made to endure it.  While the author didn’t use the term mansplaining per se in her OpEd piece, the sense of the word was at the heart of her writing.

By 2010, the word mansplainer had landed on the New York Times list of New Words of 2010.

mansplainer

Even so, it took until 2012 before mansplaining became a word that was used and understood by the public in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

On August 1, 2012 GQ writer Marin Cogan used the term in his article, “The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney’s Gaffes.”  The article began thusly:

As a lady who covers politics, I’m intimately familiar with the mansplainer. You know who I’m talking about: he’s the supremely self-impressed dude who feels the need to explain to you — with the overly simplistic, patient tone of an elementary school teacher— really obvious shit you already knew. Like why you need to drink fluids when you have the flu, for example. Or how to avoid getting blisters when you’re breaking in a new pair of flats. Or how to adjust your side view mirrors. I could go on.

In Lily Rothman’s article, “A Cultural History of Mansplaining” appeared in The Atlantic on November 1, 2012.  The writer began with warning readers that the word was relatively new, but that the idea proper had been around for much, much longer.  The opening paragraph stated:

Not all that long ago, an American statesman of considerable influence wrote an opinion piece for this very publication, about a political issue that directly affects women. It was perhaps the finest example of mansplaining ever published.

In August 2014, Oxford Dictionaries announced that it had added mansplain to its dictionary, and mansplain — with its related variations — officially became a word that could be found in a dictionary.

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

Head-Desking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 24, 2017

Pop culture hits again, this time with head-desking which is exactly what you think it is.  Someone faced with a situation that is frustrating and seemingly unsolvable can literally and figuratively lead to head-desking.  To head-desk is to reach a perceived impasse that causes the person to experience a level of frustration that is so intense that one feels it must literally be smacked out of one’s head to relieve the pressure.

NaNoWriMo author Zanzibar 7. Schwarznegger published “Veneri Verbum” through Chizzy Press in 2015 where the word head-desk was used as a verb.  The novel is listed in the humorous science fiction & fantasy category and tells the story of Christopher Cullum and the problems he experiences as a writer.

“I can hear your thoughts here. Third-person narrative, but thoughts are transparent.  Thoughts are pretty much as transparent as glass, clear as a summer day.  Why do you have to have so many terrible sayings in your head?”  She leaned over to head-desk against the wall a few times.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Zanzibar 7. Schwarznegger is the humor/satire writer of the Figment series and The Chronicles of the Bobian, and is said to live in the Pacific Northwest.  Little else seems to be known about the author.

The activity was mentioned by Charles J. Muir (who also has ties to NaNoWriMo) in his 2013 book, “Word Ninja” in the chapter titled, “Smashing Writer’s Block: It’s All About The Tools” which is part of the “Write Life” segment of the book.

Writer’s block.  It’s pernicious.  Its sources are many, as are its manifestations.  It may drive you to head desking, to obsessively playing videogames, to cleaning things that have not seen a dust cloth in decades.  But the defining characteristic is this – you want to write, you try to write, and you can’t.

Now head-desking should not be mistaken for desking (which is also a thing).  In fact, desking was used in the book “The Path That Led To Africa” written by Michael Longford (30 May 1928 – 2005), with a Foreword by Peter Bottomley, and published in 2003.  The word desking appears in Chapter 3 titled, “Westminster In The Country (1939 – 1945).”

On another occasion, I can not remember exactly what offence I had committed, but I was sentenced by the Head of  House to be ‘desked’ for three days.  I do not remember any other boy ever being given this punishment while I was at school.  ‘Desking’ consisted of being made to spend the whole of one’s leisure time at one’s desk.   No one was allowed to speak to the delinquent boy at his desk, and he was not allowed to speak to anyone else, except at mealtimes, and then only to ask his neighbour to pass some item of food which was not within his own reach.  Desking is not a punishment which fills an offender with contrition or a resolve to behave better in future.

SIDE NOTE 2:  The author’s father was Captain Terence Ackley Fitzmaurice Longford and his mother was Dr. Geraldine Nora Longford née Geary who married in 1920.  Michael Longford attended Westminster School and Oxford University, served in the Royal Signals, and joined the Colonial Administrative Service before moving on to being secretary to Lord Twining, Governor in Tanganyika which gained its independence from Britain in 1961.  After his retirement from the British Civil Service, Michael Longford continued to work in various positions including being a member of the UK Committee of UNICEF.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Three years after Tanganyika gained its independence from the British Commonwealth, it found itself embroiled in the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 which overthrew the Sultan and his primarily Arab government.  Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika and became the nation of Tanzania.  The name was decided on by taking the first three letters of both countries and adding a suffix.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Michael Longford’s wife Jennifer May Longford née Stevenson (4 October 1929 – 5 March 2012) also had an interesting childhood.  Her mother, Frances Stevenson was the mistress of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) from 1912 (a year after she became governess to his daughter Megan in 1911) until they married in 1943, two years after the death of his first wife Margaret George née Owen (4 November 1864 – 20 January 1941).  Jennifer was 13 years old.

For years, there were rumors that Jennifer was the illegitimate daughter of Lloyd George’s political secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Tweed (1 January 1890–30 April 1940).  However, when her mother died in 1972, Jennifer discovered a note written by her mother to Lloyd George months before her birth wherein her mother stated she suspected she was pregnant with his child.  Twice, Jennifer Longford considered DNA testing to confirm her father was Lloyd George, however, she never went through with it.   It is generally accepted that Lloyd George was undoubtedly her father.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Tweed (1 January 1890–30 April 1940) was awarded the Military Cross in World War I and at the age of 26 was named the youngest lieutenant colonel in the British Army at the time. He became a political adviser to David Lloyd George from 1927 until Tweed’s death.

As interesting as all that is, head-desking appears to be a new expression over the last five years.  Idiomation was unable to find published versions of head-desk or head-desking earlier than 2012.  The repeat NaNoWriMo references and connections found while researching this entry seems to imply it’s because there’s not much more history to track.  We therefore peg this to 2010 to allow time for social media to move the word from obscurity to active verb status.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cherry On Top

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 12, 2017

When someone asks another to do something for them and adds the comment with a cherry on top it’s meant to push the decision in their favor by way of begging.  It’s generally something that a child might say to get their way, or that might be used by an adult to express a level of satisfaction that’s higher than what could already be expected or anticipated.

When ESPN reported on the Clemson Tigers winning the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama Crimson Tide, it was easy to see how much this win meant to the team as well as to their coach Dabo Swinney.  When he also won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year two years running, he was quoted in the article.

“I just assumed that I didn’t have a chance to win it because I didn’t think you could win it back-to-back years,” Swinney said before Wednesday’s ceremony at Toyota Center.  “That’d just be the cherry on top of the week I’ve had.  That’d be awesome.”

In the 1972 book, “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story” the New York writer and sports editor of Life magazine, David Wolf, used the idiom to explain on of Connie Hawkins’ basketball moves.  Cornelius Lance “Connie” Hawkins (born 17 July 1942) was a teenager who had been wrongfully implicated in a fixing scandal, and it was thanks to David Wolf’s magazine article of May 18, 1969 that Connie Hawkins was cleared in 1969.

People would put quarters on top of the backboard and Jackie would jump up and pick ’em off. He had this shot called “The Double Dooberry with a Cherry on Top.’ On a fastbreak, he’d take a pass at the foul line and jump toward the basket, holdin’ the ball in his two hands.  While he was going forward and up, hanging in the air, he would lower the ball down to his waist, raise it over his head, lower down again, raise it back up, and then slam in a dunk.  Nobody in the world can do that shot but him.  People went crazy every time he did it.

hawkins_life-magazine

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1975, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and Connie Hawkins appeared on Saturday Night Live where they played a game of one-on-one basketball to the tune of Simon’s hit song, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”  Despite the difference in heights (Paul Simon is 5 feet 3 inches tall to Connie Hawkin’s 6 feet 8 inches), the skit ended with Paul Simon winning against Connie Hawkins.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Connie Hawkins was a Harlem Globetrotter over a four year period from 1963 to 1967.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  David Wolf (who died in 2009) became a boxing manager with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (born 4 March 1961) being his best fighter.

Back in the 1950s, every amateur chef and homemaker knew that the piece de resistance on any dish was the maraschino cherry on top.  Even the Atlantic Monthly had something to say on the subject in 1955 on page 95.

And of course the Esperanto of pastry cooks, easy enough to decipher after one or two sorties as supercargo,  makes it completely unsurprising to find a cherry on top of anything called Jubilee, or tooth-shattering morsels of nut brittle scattered here and there with the menu cue Noisette, on any ship from a transatlantic liner to a freighter.  This lingo is international to the point of banality.

The newspapers, book, and magazines of the fifties all talk about cherries on top as being part of a culinary trend.  Idiomation was unable to find any other meaning to cherry on top during this era.  However, the idiom was used in “Vasodilator Agents in Management of Wound Shock: A Critical Review” edited by Ben Eiseman and Peter Bosomworth published in November 1962 with the support of the Surgeons General, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, and the National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  It was published by the National Academy of Science of the National Research Counsil in Washington, D.C..

The idiom was used in the Summation written by Ben Eiseman, M.D.,  Program Chair at the University of Kentucky Medical School in Lexington (KY).  The review was presented at a conference, and summarized the experimental and clinical evidence on the effect of shock of pharmacologic agents used to lower peripheral arterial resistance.

Studies in shocked man, except for the persistent interest of Dr. Nickerson and a few others, have been few and the field still remains wide open.  Interpretation of case reports where vasodilators were used as the cherry on top of an accumulated array of other pharmacologic debris in a therapeutic old-fashion cocktail, are largely worthless.

Somewhere between 1955 and 1962, cherries on top became more than just a culinary finishing touch.  They became a figurative bonus for whatever it was added to, from favors to research.

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

Dutch Reach

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 10, 2017

Idiomation came across the expression Dutch reach in an article published by CBC Manitoba on January 10, 2017. The article reported that St. Boniface (MB) councilor was promoting the Dutch reach as a way to fight collisions between bicyclists and parked motorists. The article read in part:

Allard has authored a motion asking the city to work with Manitoba Public Insurance to popularize the “Dutch reach,” a manoeuvre intended to ensure people in cars don’t fling open their doors and into the path of oncoming cyclists without warning.

It was a topic of discussion on the Road Bike Review website in September 2016 with some cyclists supporting the concept while others felt it wouldn’t reduce the number of door prizes cyclists get while cycling city streets.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: A door prize is the colloquial expression for a traffic collision in which a cyclist is struck by a car door.

The practice was mentioned in Martine Power’s article for the Boston Globe on September 22, 2013. The practice was also mentioned in a New York Times article dated July 30, 2011 and written by contributing writer Russell Shorto.

The practice however was not called the Dutch reach in either of those article even though the practice has been the law in the Netherlands for decades.

In 2016, retired American physician Michael Charney named the practice the Dutch reach. After the death of a cyclist in Somerville (MA) in the summer of 2016, Michael Charney, in partnership with the Somerville Police Department, promoted the “Dutch Reach’’ on an electronic sign board that was positioned outside the city’s Veterans Memorial Rink

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Dr. Michael Charney swapping driving a car for driving a bike in 1992, and has been an ardent cycling advocate in Cambridge (MA) over the years.

This means that the term Dutch reach is about six months old even, and mainstream media and politicians are already making use of the expression in articles about car doors and cyclists. Idiomation therefore pegs Dutch reach to 2016 as attributed to retired American physician Michael Charney.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »