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Archive for September, 2021

Keep Your Powder Dry

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2021

If someone tells you to keep your powder dry, they are really telling you to remain cautious, stay calm, and be ready for a possible emergency or a sudden change for the worse. Some may claim it’s the ancestor idiom to the phrase take care but it really isn’t since take care doesn’t really cover everything keep your powder dry covers.

For those who may not understand what that means, this harkens back to the day when weapons required loose gunpowder to fire. For gunpowder to work properly, it must be kept dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Gunpowder is known as one of the “Four Great Inventions of China” and was invented during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th century, and when guns appeared in the 13th century, gunpowder found another opportunity beyond arrows, rockets, bombs, and fire lances. It was particularly popular during the days of flintlock when powder and flintlock were carried in a horn slung to one side. It was susceptible to moisture, and if it wasn’t dry, it tended to clump and misfire instead of ignite and fire properly. By the 19th century, smokeless powder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose were invented, and gunpowder saw its popularity decrease.

On 19 September 2020, the Washington Post reported on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the article, “Trump Says He Will Nominate Woman To Supreme Court Next Week.” It was clear what he meant when he used the idiom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

The idiom was used in the 1945 movie, “Keep Your Powder Dry” starring Lana Turner (8 February 1921 – 29 June 1995), Laraine Day (13 October 1920 – 10 November 2007), and Susan Peter (3 July 1921 – 23 October 1952) as three Women’s Army Corps (WAC) recruits. Lana Turner’s character is a spoiled rich party girl who signs up in the hopes it will make her look more responsible to the trustees of her trust fund will give her the rest of her inheritance thereby leaving her free to party even more than she already does.

Susan Peter’s character is that of a young wife whose husband is in the Army who is doing something productive to help the cause while her husband is fighting, and Laraine Day’s character is an Army brat who can’t wait to join the military so she can be a soldier every bit as good as her father.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Lana Turner’s character is top of her class when it comes to identifying aircrafts but not because she’s an excellent student while in class. It has to do with how many pilots she dated before she joined the corps.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Agnes Moorehead (6 December 1900 – 30 April 1974) — which many remember as Samantha Steven’s mother, Endora, in the 1960s series “Bewitched” — plays the role of the company commander, exuding an understated but unmistakable authority. She plays the role with dignity and compassion without breaking the military chain of command.

Margaret Mead used the idiom in the title of her book “And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America” published in 1943.

The Times Literary Supplement of 1908 made use of the idiom in this passage:

In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Times Literary Supplement was a supplement to the British daily national newspaper The Times (which was known as The Daily Universal Register from 1785 through to 1788 when it changed its name) when it first appeared in 1902 but by 1914, it was its own separate publication. Among the distinguished writers and authors who contributed to the publication are T.S. Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.

The idiom appeared in print in 1888 in the book “Irish Minstrelsy: Being A Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics, and Ballads with Notes and Introduction by Henry Halliday Sparling” in a poem by Irish British Army officer, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Commissioner of the Treasury of Ireland, Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker (1 September 1777 – 25 November 1855) and publishing under a pseudonym. Every stanza ends with a slightly different variation of the idiom, but always ends with keep your powder dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The poem was originally published in 1834 in The Dublin University Magazine titled “Oliver’s Advice: An Orange Ballad” and was a well-known poem of over fifty years by the time it was printed in the 1887 publication.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: William Blacker and his cousin, Valentine Blacker (19 October 1778 – 4 February 1825) were both lieutenant colonels in the British Army as well as published authors. Sometimes they published under pseudonyms (William Blacker occasionally published under the name of Fitz Stewart), and this is why there are instances were they are confused with each other.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Father C. Mayer wrote an arrangement of a song titled, “Boys, Keep Your Powder Dry: A Soldier’s Song.” It was published by Blackmar & Brothers, and lithographed by B. Duncan and Company of Columbia, South Carolina in 1863. The idiom was used as the last line in each verse as well as in the chorus.

Not they who are determined to conquer or to die;
And harken to this caution, “Boys, keep your powder dry.”

Across the ocean and back in England, Punch magazine was having a grand time with politics on 25 February 1859 when it reported on Lord Palmerston’s efforts to alert the House of Commons to what he felt was the menacing aspect of continental affairs. It was printed in the same column that Mr. Punch advised Queen Victoria to keep her powder dry. The column was followed by a poem that addressed the issue of keeping her powder dry, as well as a cartoon.

Now shortly before Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker’s poem was published in 1834, the idiom was bandied about by the Lords sitting for Parliament in the United Kingdom. One such occasion was 28 February 1832, in the discussion of education in Ireland was the subject, when William Pleydell-Bouverie (11 May 1779 – 9 April 1869), 3rd Earl of Radnor stated:

On that occasion, Mr. Archdal concluded his speech by saying, “My friends, I will now only add the words used by Oliver Cromwell to his army, when marking through a ford, ‘My boys trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry.'”

Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is repeatedly attributed to Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658). It is claimed that when Cromwell’s troops were about to cross a river to attack the enemy, he concluded his address to the troops with this idiom.

Allegedly, Oliver Cromwell said this to his regiment in 1642 when it was about to attack the enemy at the Battle of Edgehill, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this to the soldiers in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this every time there was a battle that involved crossing a river to get to the enemy’s side.

But did Oliver Cromwell ever say this? According to the Cromwell Museum there isn’t any evidence he ever said that. None. Not even once.

That doesn’t mean Oliver Cromwell didn’t say it, only that there’s no proof he said it. Maybe he said it, then again, maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, however, it is very sound advice, don’t you agree?

Idiomation tags this expression to the 1820s with the earliest published version found in the 1832 papers that show the 3rd Earl of Radnor using the idiom indicating others understood what he meant when he talked about keeping one’s powder dry.

But who said it first is still up in the air.

To add a little extra fun to today’s entry, here’s “Keep Your Powder Dry” from the movie of the same name (back in the 1940s, face powder was the kind of make-up most women wore so enjoy the double meaning of the expression keep your powder dry).

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bad Penny

Posted by Admin on September 18, 2021

Anytime you hear someone refer to a person or situation cropping back up as a bad penny, you know that can’t be good news. In fact, the bad penny in question is usually considered to be fake and definitely unwelcome.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It has been thought for centuries that when you drop a penny in a wishing well and the wish does not come true, it’s because the penny was bad or counterfeit, not that the wish wasn’t worth granting.

For those who are wondering, the English penny was set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) back in the 14th century. At first, it was made of silver, then copper, and eventually bronze (beginning in 1860). The English penny had two plural forms: Pence and pennies.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In archery, a penny is a measure of weight for arrows that is equal to one-twelfth of the weight of a new British silver shilling.

But earlier than that, in Middle English, any coin of a small denomination was called a penny.

For movie buffs, they may recall in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Elsa Schneider says to Indiana Jones, “I never expected to see you again” his response is, “I’m like a bad penny. I always turn up.”

As Idiomation researched the expression, two idioms were found in Volume I, Chapter IX of the 2-volume book, “Good In Everything” by Mrs. Rose Parker Foot née Harris, and published by Hurst and Blackett (successors to Henry Colburn) in 1857.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” exclaimed Emily.

“But I suppose he’s to return, like a bad penny, isn’t he?” asked Henry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Rose Parker Foot was born in 1826 in London, Middlesex, UK. Her father was Charles Harris, esquire of Guildeford, and a surgeon, and her mother was Sarah Rose Holt. She married Joseph James Foot, eldest son of Joseph Foot, esquire of Stoke Newington, at St. Pancras on New Year’s Day in 1845, and aside from her brief literary career, she became the mother of six.

In Volume II of John Foster Kirk’s 1864 book, “The History of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy” a bad penny tax was discussed in the chapter titled, “Book IV, Chapter II: The Swiss Confederacy.” This volume begins in 1469. At the time, the prince-bishop of Liege was Philip the Prince of Savoy, and Edmund the Duke of Somerset as well as the knights of the Toison d’Or were in positions of power.

A tax on commodities being the common research in such cases, Hagenbach laid an impost, popularly known as the “Bad Penny” on wine — an article of domestic production, of universal consuption, and et not of absolute necessity.

In the 1815 book, “Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain” the American-French-Swiss painter, art critic, and author, Louis Simond (1767 – 1831) wrote:

Lord Chatham has one in the same hall by Bacon, 1802, overloaded likewise with thread-bare allegories, but you have at least here the figure of the illustrious man whose memory is intended to be honoured, which is certainly better than the bad penny of Nelson.

An example is found in 1742 in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus that discusses bad stamps and Ancient Greece, where the author writes:

We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.

The term bad penny was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem Piers Plowman, composed between 1372 and 1389.

Men may lykne letterid men to a badde peny.

Between 760 and 760 AD, in London (England), the broad flan penny was established as the principal denomination until the 14th century (see above). While pennies in the 12th century were 92 percent silver and 8 percent copper, by the time the 14th century rolled around, pennies contained more copper and less silver, making it difficult to know how much of each metal was used in minting pennies. The harder it was to know what was a real penny, the easier it was to produce and pass a counterfeit penny as the real deal.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: If you look under the date on the heads-side of an American penny, you might see a mint mark under the year. If the letter is a D, the coin was minted in Denver (Colorado). If the letter is an S, this is a much older penny that was minted in San Francisco (California). Pennies are no longer minted in San Francisco. And if there’s no letter, that means your penny was minted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: In 2018, the U.S. Mint stated it cost twice as much to produce a penny than what it was worth.

In Canada, the last penny minted was on 4 May 2012, following Denmark, Australia, and Ireland’s lead. Perhaps it won’t be long before people start to forget what various penny idioms mean. But until that happens, Idiomation is happy to say a bad penny has been around since the mid-1300s at least for William Langland to use it so readily in his prose poem.

If it was used much earlier, Idiomation hasn’t found a published account but Idiomation is always open to the possibility. After all, this bad penny might turn up again at some later date should Idiomation uncover more information worth sharing.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hair of the Dog

Posted by Admin on September 11, 2021

You may have heard someone say the morning after a night of heavy drinking that they need some hair of the dog to help them deal with their hangover and other physical symptoms of having overindulged in alcohol. They usually mean they need another shot of alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms of having a hangover. It doesn’t work, and yet, it’s been a long-touted remedy. How long?

On 18 March 2006, Robert Riley’s “On The Street” column in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper asked people how they took care of a hangover. The first answer was from Tyler Hehn, a Junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln (NB) who responded: “I’ve got to go with the hair of the dog that bit you, but a little Gatorade or water to rehydrate never hurt.”

It’s a phrase many have heard for years, and even Ann Landers used the expression in her column of 9 September 1983 that was carried by the Southeast Missourian where a reader congratulated Ann Landers on her list of the characteristics of a compulsive gambler. The writer shared his or her list entitled, “Alcoholic: How Can You Tell?”

The third question on the list was: In the morning, do you crave a “hair of the dog that bit you?”

Perhaps one of the most descriptive commentaries using the idiom is from the Wilmington (DE) Sunday Morning Star of 27 September 1936 in the “Local Color: The Week’s Odds and Ends” by Charles M. Hackett (1909 – 29 September 1970).

One of the better-known grog shops was having trouble this week. It was just beginning to blossom with the lads and lassies trying the hair of the dog for excessive hangover trouble when, outside, a pneumatic concrete breaker went into action. The anguished faces inside told the story of heads rent with clatter.

A few decades earlier, in The Pittsburgh Gazette of 11 April 1902 shared a quick commentary between news of the availability of lecture tickets in support of the Stone ransom fund and what the newspaper reported as a ‘pernicious pest’ who was setting off false alarms. It read as follows:

The governors of the Carolinas were together at Charleston Wednesday in honor of the president but the recording angels of the daily papers are silent as to whether any hair of the dog was in demand yesterday.

The complete idiom is actually the hair of the dog will cure the bite, but over time, it has been whittled down to just the first half of that claim with the second half implied. The expression comes from the ancient notion that the hair of a dog is an antidote to its bite.

As the saying went, similia similibus curantur, or like is cured by like. In many respects, it seems to be the theory that drives homeopathy.

On page 92 of Volume 15 of The New Sporting Magazine published in 1838, the magazine identified this idiom as a proverb.

The proverb “Take a hair of the dog that bit you” recommending a morning draught to cure an evening’s debauch, is derived from the prescription which recommended as a cure for the bit of a dog, that some of his hairs should be bound over the wound.

That same year, in the book “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” compiled by Irish author and antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker (15 January 1798 – 8 August 1854), one of the stories recounted how two men who had overindulged in poteen awoke the next morning with hangovers.

Back they both went most lovingly to the house, and Jack wakened up Coomara; and perceiving the old fellow to be rather dull, he bid him not be cast down, for ’twas many a good man’s case; said it all came of his not being used to the poteen, and recommended him, by way of cure, to swallow a hair of the dog that bit him.

The second edition was printed in 1838 and in the publisher’s preface to the new edition, it was stated that the book had been out of print for a number of years. Research indicates the first part was published in 1825, and the next two parts were published in 1828.

Two centuries earlier, Randle Cotgrave (unknown – 1634) mentioned the hair of the dog as a cure for hangovers in his book “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues” published in 1611.

In drunkennes to fall a quaffing, thereby to recouer health, or sobrietie; neere vnto which sence our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Randle Cotgrave was possibly the son of William Cotgreve of Christleton in Cheshire. It is certain that Randle Cotgrave belong to Cheshire, and that he was a scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge on the Lady Margaret foundation on 10 November 1587. Later, he became secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, eldest son of Thomas Cecil, First Earl of Exeter. Subsequently, he became the registrar to the Bishop of Chester. He married Ellinor Taylor of Chester, and had four sons: William, Randolf, Robert, and Alexander. He also had a daughter named Mary.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: A copy of Randle Cotgrave’s book was presented to Prince Henry, eldest son of James 1, and in return, Randle Cotgrave received from Prince Henry ten pounds as a gift, not as payment. This Randle Cotgrave’s death was given in Cooper’s “Memorials of Cambridge” as 1634.

John Heywood included the phrase in a drinking reference in his book, “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Proverbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.

I praie the leat me and my felowe haue
A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.
And bytten were we both to the brayne aryght.
We sawe eche other drunke in the good ale glas.

A more recognizable translation is this:

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A
hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both drunk.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

Yes, back in John Heywood’s day, if you were bitten to the brain, it was another way of saying you were drunk.

At the end of the day, since the idiom was known and used in 1546, it’s safe to say it was a common expression of the day, and while the first published reference Idiomation could find for this idiom is 1546, it was already a well-known expression among those looking to get over a hangover.

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