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Archive for August 3rd, 2017

The Half Of It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 3, 2017

Idioms don’t always mean the same thing from century to century.  In fact, these days when someone says another person doesn’t know or hasn’t seen the half of it, this usually means the situation is far worse than what most people can imagine it to be.  The key part of either phrase is what the half of it happens to be.

The more negative aspect of the expression is something that came about as part of the 20th century.  Until then, the half of it was most often a positive comment, although there were instances where it was also meant as a negative comment.  However, the half of it does mean there’s more to something than what meets the eye – or the expectations – of the person commenting.  In other words, the half of it falls short of the reality of the situation, and hasn’t addressed the most important aspect.

In 1999, Julienne Davis was tapped to play the role of Mandy, a drug-addicted prostitute in the movie, “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The role was a small one but one that left an impact on the storyline.  Charlotte O’Sullivan reviewed the movie in the Culture section of the Independent newspaper in the UK.  The headline read, “Film: Body Of Evidence” with this subtitle:  “In Eyes Wide Shut, Abigail Good Play A ‘Mysterious Woman.’  But That’s Not The Half Of It.”

Volume 72 of “Foundry” magazine published in 1944 by Penton Publishing Company.  The magazine published articles on foundry and die-casting manufacturing industry on metal casting technology, production processes, investment casting, and more.  In this issue, the following was written.

In other words — and probably other words are needed — you don’t know the half of it. For the past 5 years I have been teaching foundry practice. Stressing skills and the related subjects has been a hobby and at the same time a religion.

British prose writer P.G. Wodehouse saw Herbert Jenkins in London (UK) and Doubleday (US) publish his book “Hot Water” on 17 August 1932.  His career hit at the same time as the silver screen began to be a marvel of technology with dove-tailed with his success with magazines.  The story dealt with J. Wellington Gedge who somehow found himself caught up in a number of international situations, many of which upset him to no end.  In this book, the phrase appears as follows.

‘Do you now?’ he said. ‘Well, well!’  ‘Yessir. Mrs Gedge insisted on renting it. and I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the place. It makes me sick.  And that’s not the half of it.’  ‘No?’  ‘No, sir. Do you know what?’  ‘What?’

‘When she told me this morning, you could have knocked me down with a feather. What do you think?’

‘What?’

‘You’ll never guess.’

‘What?’

‘Do you know what she told me this morning?’

‘How the hell should I know what she told you this morning?’ said Mr. Slattery, momentary irritation causing him to deviate from his policy of courtliness. ‘Do you think I was hiding under the bed?’

‘She told me I’ve got to be American Ambassador to France.’

Mr. Slattery considered this.

‘You won’t like that.’

‘I know darned well I won’t like it. Ambassadors have to wear uniforms and knickerbockers . . . the sissies.’

There are countless examples of the half of it, including a letter written in 1571 by Scottish historian and humanist scholar George Buchanan (February 1506 – 28 September 1582) in his condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots.  At the time, he was convinced that the death of her husband was as a crime of passion brought on many liaisons he claimed the Queen had with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell  (1534 – 14 April 1578) who, he claimed, was also involved in the demise of the king consort Henry Stuart (7 December 1545 – 10 February 1567), Duke of Albany, known as Lord Darnley.

This is my fayth I wyll die in it. Excuse if I writ euill, ye may gesse the halfe of it, but I can not mende it because I am not weill at ease, and yit very glad to writ vnto you quhen the rest are sleepand, sithe I can not sleipe as thay do and as I would desire, that is, in your armes my deare loue, quhom I pray God to preserue from all euyll and send you repose, I am gangand to seke myne till the morne quhen I shall end my Bybill, but I am fascheit that it stoppies me to write newis of my self vnto you, because it is so lang.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, became the third and final husband of Mary, Queen of Scots when they wed on 15 May 1567 in the Chapel of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. 

SIDE NOTE 2:  To free himself to marry the Queen, he filed for divorce from his wife, Lady Jean Gordon (1546 – 14 May 1629) on grounds of consanguinity, although this required considerable research on his part to prove.  Lady Jean Gordon, however, secured a divorce on grounds of adultery with her maid and seamstress, Bessie Crawford.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Lady Jean Gordon was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly and Elizabeth Keith, and after her divorce from James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, she became the Countess of Sutherland when she married Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland on 13 December 1573.

The expression the half of it has its roots in the earlier expression by half which means by a great deal, which is attested to its use in verse by Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (477 – 525) known simply as  Boethius .  He was influenced by the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, and Augustine of Hippo.

To all folk likewise
This next example no less suits:
The comb of the honey cannot but seem
To each son of men sweeter by half,
If he have tasted before the honey
Aught that is bitter.

SIDE NOTE 4:  The translation of verses by Boethius from Latin to English was undertaken and completed by King Alfred (849 – 26 October 899).  He was also known as Alfred the Great, and ruled England from 21 April 871 until his death on 26 October 899.  During his reign, he improved the legal and military structures in England, and advocated for education to be taught in English.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Half at this point in history did not necessarily mean something was divided into two equal parts.  It simple meant divided in two where one part could be the same, smaller, or larger than the other part.

The word half is Old English and came from the Saxon word healf which is from the Old Norse halfr.  Old English began with the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century.  As such Idiomation pegs the half of it to the early 1500s based on George Buchanan’s use of the phrase in his writings about Mary, Queen of Scots.

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