Historically Speaking

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Archive for March, 2018

Sam Hill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 20, 2018

From time to time, you might hear some of the older folk wonder what in Sam Hill is going on with the younger generation. So who is this Sam Hill they mention, and how is it any of his business what’s going on with anyone?

Sam Hill saw widespread use from the mid 1830s onward, and is a 19th century euphemism (in other words, a minced oath) for Hell. It is used to express extreme confusion, surprise, or agitation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  This is what is commonly known as a bowdlerization (meaning it was censored because it was deemed by adults to be inappropriate for children to exposed to the actual word or expression) and coined after English physician Thomas Bowdler (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) whose best known published efforts was a version of Shakespeare that would not offend or corrupt 19th century women and children).

But getting back to Sam Hill and what the hubbub is all about, who in the world was Sam Hill in the first place, and why is he associated with swearing?

No, it was not from a surveyor named Samuel W. Hill (1819 – 1889) who swore a blue streak.

No, it was not from a lawyer named Samuel Hill (13 May 1857 – 26 February 1931) who also was said to swear up a storm.

No, it was not from the investigator and adjutant-general of Kentucky, Sam Hill (30 January 1844 – 30 May 1904) who was sent by Governor Simon Buckner (1 April 1823 – 8 January 1914) to figure out what was going on with the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

No, it was not from the Connecticut legislator named Sam Hill (he represented Guilford from 1727 through to 1752) who was a force to be reckoned with if you went up against him.

Many claim that one of those four people is the Sam Hill in the expression, and every single one of them would be mistaken.

Interestingly enough, in “Roughing It In The Busy: Or, Life In Canada” by Susanna Moodie (6 December 1803 – 8 April 1885) published in two volumes in 1852 by Richard Bentley publishers in London, England, she uses the expression in a passage of her book.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Susanna Moodie was the sister of English historical writer and poet Agnes Strickland (18 July 1796 – 8 July 1874) who wrote “Lives of the Queens of England” and Susanna dedicated her book to Agnes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Susanna Moodie was primarily known in the 1850s for her volumes of poetry published in 1831 under her maiden name of Susanna Strickland. In the foreword to her book, the publisher states that Susanna Moodie’s lyrical composition, “Sleigh Song” was extremely popular in Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Susanna Moodie was the wife of Scottish-born army officer, farmer, civil servant, and author John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie (7 October 1797 – 22 October 1869), author of “Ten Years In South Africa: Including a Particular Description of the Wild Sports of that Country.” As husband and wife, they settled in Belleville, Ontario, Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Susanna Moodie was also the sister of author, teacher, botanist, and naturalist Catharine Parr Traill (9 January 1802 – 29 August 1899), and of Samuel Strickland (1804 – 3 January 1867) author of “Twenty Seven Years In Canada West” among other books.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: All the Stricklands mentioned in this entry were siblings of English author Jane Margaret Strickland (18 April 1800 – 14 June 1888) who published her first book in 1854, published a biography about her sister Agnes Strickland in 1887, and cared for their mother Elizabeth Homer Strickland (1772 – 10 September 1864).

In Susanna Moodie’s book, she uses the expression Sam Hill in such a way that there’s no doubt Sam Hill was considered swearing back in the mid 1800s.

“Do you swear?”

“Swear? What harm? It eases one’s mind when one’s vexed. Everybody swears in this country. My boys all swear like Sam Hill; and I used to swear mighty bit oaths till about a month ago, when the Methody parson told me that if I did not leave it off I should go to tarnation bad place; so I dropped some of the worst of them.”

“You would do wisely to drop the rest; women never wear in my country.”

“Well, you don’t say! I always heer’d that were very ignorant. Will you lend me the tea?”

In Volume 15 of the 1841 edition of “The Ladies’ Companion and Literary Expositor” there was an article titled, “Memoirs of Mr. Samuel Hill” that was based on a Cape Cod Annual poem of the same name. Tongue in cheek, the take found in this 1841 publication by an unnamed author states that Sam Hill was a New Englander by virtue of the following facts:

Barkhemsted folks believe Mr. Hill to have been born there, merely because wooden-dishes were first fabricated within the precincts … Wethersfield seems to be quite certain that a man of Sam’s sensibilities must necessarily first have learned to weep among the onion patches of Piquaug. Hebron puts in her claim upon the principle of the pump; merely resting it upon the traditionary testimony as to his having frequently been subjected to involuntary ablution under the spout of that losel engine.

The author then goes on to dash the hopes of Barkhemsted, Wethersfield, Hebron, and a great many other locations with the deft sweep of his pen.

Sam Hill‘s history — and the extended history of the women he courted and what happened to the beaus who had previously courted those same women — is examined with the same attention to detail.

Mention is made of his legendary singing voice which is said to be “famous for his vocal (or rather his nasal excellence, for Sam’s melody was always most conspicuous through the nose)” in the neighboring parishes of Upper Schreechington, and East Gruntingburgh.

When all was said and done, the claim was that Sam Hill was a household name from Rye to Passamaquaddy, and yet no one knew Sam Hill, even though he clearly “possessed more attributes than anybody else in creation.” It was said that “no other individual was ever celebrated and sworn by for so great a diversity of opposite qualities” as Sam Hill was.

No true-blooded yankee ever had the toothache without ascribing to his ailment an intensity compared with my hero. His tooth aches “like Sam Hill.” If a fellow is swift of foot, the New-Englanders are unanimous in the opinion that he “runs like Sam Hill,” and if a cripple gets along leisurely in the world it is said of him at once that he limps like the same personage, and poor old Broom’s cattle on the Colchester turnpike always had the name of being “slow as Sam Hill.”

“What the Sam Hill is the matter with you?” is a common expression, whenever any thing extraordinary is discernible in a man’s deportment, and you “lie like Sam Hill,” if a neighbor’s word is distrusted. “True as Sam Hill” is equally in the mouths of those who would swear to the veracity of a favorite statement.

A man is said to be as smart, and he is said to be as dull as “Sam Hill” — and if he is very bold or very timourous, “Sam Hill” is still the standard by which his good and bad qualities are measured. Of course, as I have already remarked, my hero must have been possessed of all sorts of qualities, and have been gifted with more versatility of powers than even the admirable Chrichton himself.

In the end, the author of this piece writes this about himself as an author, and the piece he has published in this magazine:

This biography will be looked upon in various lights by the reader. One class will call it “stupid as Sam Hill,” and another will pronounce it “smart as Sam Hill.” This latter body of citizens are very sensible people, and my heart warms to them like — SAM HILL.

Sam Hill shows up in the August 21, 1839 issue of the Havana Republican newspaper of New York state in an article titled, “Majorjack On A Whaler.”

What in sam hill is that feller ballin’ about?

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 7: Majorjack refers to Gump-link character Major Jack Downing by American humorist Seba Smith (14 September 1791 – 28 July 1868). Seba Smith was among the first to use American vernacular in his humorous writings, and his style led the way for other American humorists such as Will Rogers (4 November 1879 – 15 August 1935).

Oddly enough, the expression Sam on its own without the addition of Hill as a last name referred to a know-nothing person. Need more be said about how people felt about Sam in general with or without a last name?

Idiomation takes this to mean that the expression Sam Hill was around since at least the turn of the 19th century, and most likely long before then although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the 1839 newspaper account.  It was, however, understood by the general public to have been included in that 1839 article so it was already in use among the people.

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To A T

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

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Another Thing Coming

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 8, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, having another thing coming as opposed to another think coming doesn’t mean the same thing. If you’ve got another thing coming, this means the outcome of a situation is expected to take a turn other than anticipated, and usually that turn is for the worse.

Judas Priest’s song “Another Thing Coming” was a misuse of the phrase as the lyrics imply another think coming, but the song title and the lyrics propelled the song from the 1982 album “Screaming For Vengeance” up the charts to reach #66 in the UK and #4 in the US that year.

Judas Priest wasn’t the first band to have a song with that phrase in the title. Birmingham (AL) band Hotel released a song by that name from their debut album on MCA Records in 1979. The song entered the Billboard charts at #90, and even though the band didn’t break through as hoped, they were compared to well-known bands such as Ambrosia and Player.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Two founding members of Hotel went on to found “Split The Dark.” When that group broke up, guitarist/vocalist Damon Johnson went on to work with Alice Cooper, and Thin Lizzy.

The phrase was misused in the New York Herald newspaper in an article about the ups and downs of life as a Hollywood actor back in 1919:

If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you’ve got another thing coming.

Although the phrase in its entirety was used in the New York Herald, in 1906, the spirit of the expression was found in The Wilshire Editorials written by land developer, serial entrepreneur, advertising billboard owner, publisher, and outspoken millionaire socialist Gaylord Wilshire (7 June 1851 – 7 September 11927) as he railed against the Wall Street Journal in his editorial titled, “Wall Street Journal Turns Moralist.”

But if we did, then we have another thing coming, for this is the cry-baby talk I find in this morning’s December 16 editorial: Business and the Law.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The famous Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (CA) is named after Henry Gaylord Wilshire by Henry Gaylord Wilshire. This happened in 1887 when he bought 35 acres of land to the west of Westlake (which came to be known as MacArthur Park in later years). Seven years later, he began to create an exclusive residential subdivision and decided the subdivision would have a wide street down the center named after himself. Originally it was four blocks long and ran between Westlake and Sunset (now known as Lafayette) Parks.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Gaylord Wilshire donated the street to Los Angeles with the stipulation that no rail lines or heavy trucking would ever be allowed along his boulevard.

Idiomation dates the full expression to 1918 with a serious nod to Gaylord Wilshire in 1906.

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Another Think Coming

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 6, 2018

The battle continues as to whether the expression is you’ve got another think coming or you’ve got another thing coming. This week on Idiomation, both expressions are shared on this blog so you can make an educated decision as to which expression works best for you.

The expression you’ve got another think coming is in many ways a well-worded mathematical equation with real life implications. In other words, if you think A and B are true, you will be surprised to learn they do not add up to X as you think it will. Yes, when you are told you have another think coming, you have been advised you are sorely mistaken in your beliefs and need to reconsider your original thought if you want to be right.

So if you think you this is an easy riddle to unravel, you might have another think coming … or not.

Most English teachers will tell you that think is a verb however in this instance think is actually a noun. A noun? Yes because a noun identifies the subject in a sentence while a verb ascribes action. So when that think is coming as a result of the first think, it’s obvious that the thinks in question are subjects and not actions. What those thinks are doing or are going to be doing are the verbs.

Think as a noun first appeared in dictionaries in 1834 and referred to the act of thinking or a period of thinking. In fact, there’s an expression from the late 1800s that clearly expresses this thought: A thing must be a think before it be a thing.

That sentence was from a novel by Scottish author, poet, and minister George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) titled “Home Again” and published in 1884. The concept is found in Chapter IV: A Living Force.

“I should so like to understand!” said Molly. “If you have a thought more beautiful than the narcissus, Walter, I should like to see it! Only if I could see it, it would be a thing, would it not? A thing must be a think before it be a thing. A thing is a ripe think, and must be better than a think — except it lose something in ripening — which may very well be the man’s thoughts, but hardly with God’s! I will keep in front of the things, and look through them to the thoughts behind them. I want to understand! If a thing were not a thought first, it would not be worth anything! And everything has to be thought about, else we don’t see what it is! I haven’t got it quite!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy literature, and mentored Lewis Carroll (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), the author of the Alice stories. He was also a literary influence on such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter de la Mare.

His books include “Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women” published in 1858 and “The Princess and the Goblin” published in 1872 among other titles.

Three years after George MacDonald shared his thoughts on thinking, the concept of having another think coming was published in the 9 April 1897 edition of the Daily Argus newspaper:

Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them.

It wasn’t something that was a one-off sharing of the idiom as it also appeared in the 29 April 1897 edition of the Washington Post newspaper in an article headline:  Another “Think” Coming To Them.

Two years after that, it was prominently featured in an article in the 24 September 1898 edition of the Quincy Whig newspaper:

Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn’t need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials.

So when someone has another think coming to them, know that this phrase is correct and was first published in this form in 1887 with the logic of it all courtesy of George MacDonald in 1884.

Idiomation is certain that after reading this entry, you can hardly wait to read the history and meaning of another thing coming.  Breathe easy, readers:  You need only wait for Thursday’s entry to finally know everything that needs to be known about both expressions!

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Ignorance Is Bliss

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 1, 2018

Ignorance is bliss, or so some would have you believe. For those who offer this up as sage advice, it is usually because they feel the other person is more comfortable not knowing facts than knowing them. In other words, what you do not know, cannot hurt you.

The expression was very popular in the entertainment industry over the years.

Punk rockers, The Ramones included a song with this title on their “Brain Drain” CD in 1989. Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar included a song with this title on his “Overly Dedicated” CD in 2010.  The BBC had a comedy quiz on radio from 1946 through to 1950 titled, “Ignorance Is Bliss” and in 2009, “House” had an episode with that title.

If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s history, perhaps it’s because ignorance is bliss in some instances. Or perhaps not.

The Jefferson County Post edition of 19 August 2013 published an article by the Editor in the Stranger Than Fiction column. The history of surgeries and medical procedures was the main theme, beginning with an introduction that spoke of doctors being far more responsible for President James Garfield’s death in 1881 than the assassin who fired a bullet and injured him. The title of the column was “Ignorance Is Bliss.”

In 1911, the phrase was used in Volume 12 of “The Post Office Clerk” in an article by New Yorker, C.P. Franciscus in his article “The Fallacy Of A Proverb.” The author saw fit to add an extra note directed specifically at the indifferent and apathetic members of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks in the hopes that it the article would “create a DOUBT of the correctness of theory and the stability of your attitude.”

This applies to all for notwithstanding our protestations of innocence, we know more than once. Remorse has tormented us and Conscience has compelled a plea of guilty — and usually we urge in extenuation our ignorance. Thus we see the fallacy of the oft quoted proverb “If ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.” Before quoting it again try to realize how utterly ridiculous and incompatible such sentiments are with truth. Ignorance is the handmaid of poverty, the companion of sloth, the paramour of disease, and the forerunner of dissolution and death. It is the weapon of the tyrant, the despot, the demagogue, and trickster. It has enslaved millions and still holds in bonds of serfdom countless thousands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Christopher C.P. Franciscus was a clerk of the New York Post Office as well as the president of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks. He was elected to the position in 1918.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was organized in 1899, and was created by merging the United National Association of Post Office Clerks with the National Association of Post Office Clerks.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was incorporated under the laws of Maryland on 25 January 1900 and its first president was Joseph P. Healy of New York City. The first national convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ from September 3 through 6, 1900 and saw 72 delegates representing 50 branches attend. The estimated membership at the time was 4,000 members.

In an 1850 edition of the Punch, or The London Charivari magazine, the question “Where is bliss to be found?” was asked and answered.

The poet who told us that “ignorance is bliss” was certainly right as far as pantomime bliss is concerned, for it would be much better to be ignorant of such bliss altogether. A walk through the “Halls of Happiness” after the curtain goes down, when clown is being released from the top of the pole, upon which his popularity has placed him, and the other heroes and heroines of the night descend from their uncomfortable elevation into the arms of the carpenters, while the fireman extinguishes the sparks still remaining with his heavy highlows, and prepares his hose for the night — such a ramble behind the scenes would afford sad proof of the emptiness of all theatrical felicity.

Even English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) weighed in on the subject of ignorance being bliss. In Chapter VIII of “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” where readers learned how Mr. Winkle shot at the pigeon and killed the crow, then shot at the crow and wounded the pigeon, and all manner of other interesting things, the expression is found.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden-gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appears; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. ‘Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! There are times when ignorance is bliss, indeed.

However, it was English poet, classical scholar, and Pembroke College professor, Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) who wrote “Ode On A Distance Prospect Of Eton College” in 1742 that was published by English bookseller, poet, and playwright Robert Dodsley (13 February 1704 – 23 September 1764) in 1747 that say the first publication of the expression where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

In the end, ignorance isn’t really bliss unless not being in the know is somehow better.  All that being said, ignorance is bliss dates back to 1742 thanks to Thomas Gray and all those who came after him.

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