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Archive for March, 2022

Burn Rubber

Posted by Admin on March 19, 2022

When someone in a car burns rubber it means they have accelerated so quickly the wheels have spun causing smoke to come off the tires. In most countries, burning rubber and burnouts are against the law with punishment for doing so varying in degree of severity. Of course, burn rubber often enough and the tires and brakes on that car are going to have to be replaced.

When no car is involved, burning rubber means to leave a place or situation as quickly as possible.

In the 2018 book “Soaring with the Eagles” by former corporate pilot Ron Little, in the segment titled “Waller Administration 1972 – 1976”, the author wrote:

Landing at an airport in north Mississippi with the governor once, a Trooper met us to take the governor to a meet with town officials. There was a dirt road from the airport with a turn off about a mile to the paved main road. The governor up front and pilots sat in the back. Waiting for instructions from the boss, the governor asked, “Can you drive?” The Trooper replies, “Yes, sir.

The governor said, “Come on, man. Burn some rubber, we’re late.”

Off we went, as the speed passed seventy, we in the back seat could hear the gravel hitting the wheel wells and thought, “This is it, we are goners.”

Cameron Tuttle wrote in the “The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Open Road” published in 1999 with another edition published in December 2012 that “no one will mess with a chick who burns rubber.” The author then goes on to describe how to burn rubber when the car is an automatic and how to burn rubber when the car is a stick-shift.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: This isn’t Cameron Tuttle’s only Bad Girl guidebook. There are three others: A Guide to Getting What You Want, A Guide to Getting Personal, and A Guide to the Party Life. This particular book has a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars rating with helpful positive reviews.

The Gap Band released a song in 1980 that was on their album The Gap Band III titled “Burn Rubber.” The song wasn’t about cars or racing. It was about a woman who did a man wrong. One of the most telling parts of this romance gone wrong were these lyrics:

You told me to go up the block
To get you a strawberry pop
When I got back to the flat
You had burned rubber out the back.

I went to the closet and saw no clothes
All I saw was hangers and poles
I went to the phone and called your mother
And told me that you had burned rubber on me, Charlie

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson originally named their band the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band in 1967 in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The group shortened its name to The Gap Band later on.

In Volume 176, Number 6 of Popular Science published in June 1960, the literal sense of burning rubber was eloquently described in describing the Dart in the article “Torture-Testing Cars for Police Patrol” by Bill Carroll. The article described in detail how Lt. Ron Root of the Pomona Police Department and Officer Gordon Browning of the Los Angeles Police Department put the following cars through their paces: Plymouth, Dart, Dodge, Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Ford.

The Dodge Dart was in production from 1959 through to 1976 with model years from 1960 through to 1976. The 1960 – 1962 models had a 118-inch wheelbase, which was four inches smaller than the usual Dodges. It had long rear quarter panels with red reflector buttons set into the bad edges of each fender just above the tail lights.

From a standstill he crosses the quarter-mile timing line at 80 m.p.h., reaches 115 on the 0.7-mile straight, brakes to 75 for the first sweeping left turn and to 60 for a right-angle bend, slams into second gear for a dangerous reverse left under a bridge. Full throttle now, rear wheels biting deep to burn rubber around a rough left at 75 and ease right between too-close telephone poles. Then up to 90 on the short back straight, brake again, drift right over a spring-bending hump, hold 80 around a sweeping “U.” The short straight is good for 100; brake to 65 for Turn 11 and again up to 100 — 110 — 115 on the long straight. Brake to 75 and start another lap.

In seven minutes, the Dart finishes four laps.

This description makes the Dart sound almost romantic in an automotive sense, don’t you think? It’s easy to see how burning rubber could become popular with teens and young adults in the 1960s.

But burning rubber was happening long before then. In fact, in a letter from the War Department Air Corps dated 6 April 1942 and addressed to all Americans, Colonel R. J. Jones of the Air Corps spoke about ways to help the war effort which had created shortages in crude and synthetic rubber. Among the items that required these were car tires.

Don’t speed around curves. Fast turns burn rubber off tires.

This means Americans were aware that burning rubber was happening during the WWII era and they knew how burning rubber happened. But they weren’t the first generation of drivers to burn rubber.

In an advertisement placed in the September 1933 edition of Popular Mechanics promoting the use of Ethyl at the pump, the copy began with: “Yessir, I used to burn rubber with the best of ’em. Now all the wife lets me do is read the news of the tracks. But I still use Ethyl in any car I drive.”

Idiomation couldn’t imagine this expression go back this far much less further yet, however research found the term used in an April 1921 article “Traffic Perils and the Law: How Can Safety be Assured to Motorist and Pedestrian?” written by Bailey Millar, author of Paradoxes of Prohibition and published in Volume 46 of Sunset Magazine.

A ball is tossed into the street and half a dozen little chaps run after it, stringing out in such a way that a motorist, driving at twenty miles an hour, finds it impossible to dodge them all, while the ever-so-quick setting of the brake, particularly on a down-grade, is of no avail. The driver may burn rubber for ten yards and yet have to endure the soul-sickening experience of running down and maiming or slaying one of that merry little party, all innocent of a fact, which looms like an Alp to most motorists, though many parents will not concede it, that in these days of the flying car and delivery truck no child should be permitted to play in the street.

Yes, it may seem darkly humorous that burning rubber and only driving twenty miles an hour are found in the same sentence, but readers need to remember cars were new-fangled contraptions back then, and not the technologically advanced transportation cars are these days.

Prior to this article, Idiomation was unable to find the expression as it refers to operating cars, tires, and speed. Idiomation did find, however, a number of articles throughout the 1910s that spoke of the process of vulcanization used to makes tires where it was repeatedly stated that the process did not burn rubber.

Idiomation therefore pegs the first published mention of burning rubber as we understand it to mean in 2022 to the article published in Sunset Magazine in 1921 which indicates that some time in the 10 years preceding this article, the term came to be understood to mean what it means today.

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

Knock On Wood

Posted by Admin on March 12, 2022

Have you noticed some people say something about a future occurrence followed by the expression knock on wood? If you have ever wondered what the means, that person doesn’t want to tempt fate after making a favorable claim, so they tack knock on wood to the end of their declaration. If you knock on wood, the superstition is that you should be able to avoid bad luck.

In the UK the idiom is touch wood while in the US the idiom is knock on wood but finding the origins of either idiom was wrought with all sorts of twists and turns along the way.

During the Victorian era, there was a children’s game called Tig Touch Wood which is now known as Tag. While it’s not the origin of the UK idiom, it’s an interesting fact worth keeping in mind. We will get back to this later on in this entry.

Back in the 18th century in the U.S., it was common practice for someone loading a rifle to knock on the wooden stock of that rifle to ensure the gun powder would settle properly. It increased the chances of the ensuing shot being a clean shot instead of backfiring on the shooter. But as with the Tig Touch Wood information, it’s not the origin of the US version of the idiom.

Interestingly enough, knock on wood wasn’t published in any books or magazines before 1892, but touch wood first began to appear in books in 1742, and when it did, it wasn’t the touch wood we know today.

Idiomation decided to track down the idiom touch wood first and found the Victorian era game in “The Boy’s Own Book: A Complete Encyclopedia of All the Diversions, Athletic, Scientific, and Recreative of Boyhood and Youth” compiled by William Clarke (1800 – 17 June 1838) and published in 1829 through an American publishing press, Munroe and Francis in Boston, and by Charles S. Francis in New York. The game was known as Touch and in some cases, Touch-iron or Touch wood.

It was accepted that in the North Country of England, the game of Touch Wood was known as Tig Touch Wood (mentioned earlier in this entry) — a derivative of the Saxon phrase tillan meaning to touch and ligbaere meaning flame or fiery. The game, however, was the same: Children chased after each other but were exempt by law of the game from capture while touching wood.

While that is amusing, stepping back even earlier, Idiomation learned that in the early 1800s tigwood was a rotten piece of wood used to catch the fire struck from a flint according to the Samuel Johnson and William Perry tome published in 1805 titled “The Synonymous, Etymological, and Pronouncing English Dictionary.” This is further confirmed by a poem by English poet and writer Charles Cotton (28 April 1630 – 16 February 1687) from over 150 years earlier titled, “Scarronides: Or, Virgil Travestie: A Mock Poem on the First and Fourth Books of Virgil’s Aeneid, in English Burlesque” wherein this stanza is found.

For each man had his flint and touch-wood
The world besides could shew no such wood:
The sticks they gather, leaves and briers,
And fall a making them good fires;
Then skellets, pans, and posnets put on
To make them porridge without mutton.

And in English philologist and lexicographer Nathan Bailey’s “An Universal Etymological English Dictionary” first published in 1730, touch wood is included and defined as a rotten wood for starting fires. Even the “Dictionnaire Royal François-anglois et Anglo-françois” published during that same time period agreed that Touch Wood was rotten wood used to start a fire.

Somewhere between the earlier meaning of rotten wood and the boys’ game, Touch Wood had a change of heart from being rotten wood with which to start a fire to part of the rules for playing the game, and all in the space of one generation or so it seems.

Additionally, the only good luck tied to touching wood seems to be in the children’s game more so than in starting fires.

The research took back Idiomation back to knock on wood, and in 1932, the expression was used in the Records and Briefs of the United States Supreme Court in the case between M. C. Schaefer Appellant, and Sam Macri et al Appellees, in the County of Multnomah, Oregon. Mr. Schaefer had requested and paid the official court reporter, Glen W. Walston, for three copies of a transcript of the proceedings, and upon checking the copies, he found them to be inaccurate. He brought this to the attention of the official court reporter in a letter dated, 1952. The complaint listed the series of events, including this:

You then said, ‘I’ve had an awful time on this; the girl I had on the first part of this work was drunk and we really had quite a time of it. I’ve made only one mistake in the last three years, and that wasn’t on my part; the typist typed “did” instead of “didn’t” in a brief.’ Your wife then, coming toward your office from another office, said: ‘Don’t say that; I heard that, you know what will happen when you say a thing like that.’ And you said, ‘Yes, I know, I should knock on wood. I think that should cover all the errors, and I will check my notes and write up all additional changes and mail this with the certificates to you in a few days.’

An excellent explanation of how people buy into the concept of knocking on wood being a call to good luck appeared in Volume 29 of Advertising and Selling magazine in the 15 May 1920 edition. The President of the Manternach Company, Michael C. Manternach (1884 – 3 July 1977), wrote an article titled, “Why the Summer Layoff Is Founded On Fallacy: What an Agency Head Things of the Custom of Dropping July and August Out of the Advertising Schedule.” Almost immediately, the writer took on facts and reason versus beliefs and superstition.

For instance: thousands of good, sensible American men and women “knock on wood” when sickness, loss of money or any other misfortune is mentioned. Or course, they do not really believe that “knocking on wood” can avert evil. The slightest reasoning would dispel such belief; the most superficial examination of facts would disprove it. Nevertheless, this custom positively controls the actions of thousands of sensible people because they do not submit it to the tests of reason and of fact. They “knock on wood” because others “knock on wood.”

A few years earlier in 1910, at the afternoon session of the Fifth Annual Report of the Railroad Commission of Indiana conducted by Commissioner McClure who opened the session by mentioning Item #6 on the program titled, “Whether It Is Advisable to Establish on the Railroads Committees of Safety: The Chicago and Northwestern Plan.” The plan was not original in that it was shared the plan was based on that devised by the United States Steel Corporation where the results of the plan were labeled wonderful.

Chairman Wood stated for the record that the E.J. & E. Railways had a similar safety plan, and he suggested Mr. Kirk, the representative for E.J. & E. Railway, a division of the Illinois Steel Company, enlighten everyone on their safety plan. In the transcript of this session, the following was recorded:

CHAIRMAN WOOD: Mr. Chairman, just another word. What I want to protest against is that there is so much here — there are so many fatalists amongst us. Every time I tell the superintendents about these accidents that happen they “knock on wood” but that is just about all they do. Now what Mr. Richards said about this is true and what do we do but “knock on wood.” Now can’t we do something? That is what this convention is for.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Chairman Wood was William J. Wood, Railroad Commissioner for Evansville, and Commissioner McClure was John F. McClure, Railroad Commissioner for Anderson.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The E.J. & E. Railway was the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway that ran between Waukegan, Illinois and Gary, Indiana. The railway became part of CN (Canadian National) Railway through a merger in 2009 when it became part of its Wisconsin Central (WC) subsidiary.

The idiom was in quotation marks which indicates it wasn’t a well-known idiom among railway men at least back in 1910 however it did exist as American Folklore as mentioned in the 1892 edition of the Journal of American Folklore.

Many people will not step across a tethered cow’s rope. They will go around the cow, or lift up the rope and go under. Many will not go under a ladder, even the masons at work.

If your right hand itch, you will get money. You should knock on wood, according to the saying.

That indicates that in 1892, knocking on wood for good luck was already a saying but no matter how much research was done, Idiomation was unable to trace the idiom further back than the mention in 1892.

Some will say the expressions date back to pagan times based solely on conjecture, and others say the expression dates back to a time when people believed good spirits lived in trees. Some even believe the woodstock on a firearm mentioned previously in this entry is the origin of the idiom.

The fact of the matter is that the origin of these two idioms which are related in spirit but perhaps not in origin remain unknown at this time. Idiomation will continue to search for the definitive answer for both these idioms which appear to be related but until then, this idiom is listed as unknown.

Posted in Unknown | 1 Comment »

Jump The Shark

Posted by Admin on March 5, 2022

When someone or something jumps the shark it means the person or thing has hit a new low in delivering quality, relying on gimmicks to hold people’s attention. Yes, when jumping the shark, whatever the action, it is perceived by others as a seriously misguided attempt to regain attention for someone or something that is no longer as popular as it once was.

Over the past few years, a number of politicians have allegedly been jumping the shark according to mainstream media including, but not limited to, President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump at the top, to Connecticut Governor Edward Milner “Ned” Lamont Jr. on through to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In 2021, Harvard University elected its first-ever atheist chaplain and earned the reputation as being the first Ivy League University to jump the shark by electing an atheist chaplain to lead their religious community. Yes, the man who described himself to the media and followers as being a “devout atheist” was named president of chaplains at Harvard University.

Opinion contributor Bernard Goldberg saw his OpEd piece published in The Hill on 21 October 2021 with the headline “What Will It Take To Get The Woke Folks to Jump The Shark?” The piece began with this tidbit of information:

On Sept. 20, 1997, Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, better known as “Fonzie,” or simply the “Fonz,” made history — of sorts. That’s the day he jumped the shark.

Bernard Goldberg was actually mistaken about the date Fonzie jumped the shark. That happened twenty years earlier on 20 September 1977.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News.

However, in 1997, Jon Hein created a website registered as, Jump The Shark, where he published a long list of television shows that had, in his opinion, jumped the shark, indicating at what point that had happened.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Jon Hein sold Jump The Shark Inc. for over $1 Million USD in 2006. According to an interview with Jon Hein, the website was always something he did in his spare time, and was never his day job. It was never his intent to make money from the website however when he was offered $1 Million USD by Gemstar (the owners of TV Guide) on 20 June 2006, he decided it was a fair offer and accepted it.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Jon Hein graduated from the University of Michigan in 1989 with a double major in communications and history.

On 23 October 2009, Steve Duran used the phrase in the title of his article “Who Or What Caused The NFL To Jump The Shark: Was It Goodell or London?” for the Bleach Report. It was the year after the housing crisis of 2008 in the US which was, at the time, considered to be the worst economic downturn in almost 80 years, and the NFL was charging fans and arm and a leg to attend games and watch them on pay-per-view.

There is an old saying in television, it’s called, “Jumping the Shark.” Fonzie jumped a shark while wearing his leather jacket and from that point forward the show stopped being relavent [sic]. Granted it was a long spiral down, but most assuredly the direction was down.

Just a few years earlier, Washington Post staff writer Ann Hornady reviewed Angeline Jolie’s movie “The Cradle of Life” and when her review was published on 25 July 2003, it wasn’t a particularly favorable one. It wasn’t completely unfavorable either, however it did end with this commentary.

There’s a phrase for franchises that have outlived their freshness: “jumping the shark,” referring to an infamous “Happy Days” episode featuring Fonzie on water skis. In “The Cradle of Life,” Lara Croft doesn’t jump the shark — she’s much too refined for such blatant pandering — but she does manage to take it for a ride.

Everything points to the television show “Happy Days” as being the moment when the spirit of jumping the shark came alive with character Arthur “Fonzie aka The Fonz” Fonzarelli played by American actor Henry Winkler jumped over a shark with water skis while wearing his trademark leather jacket.

But jumping the shark at that point in time was just a scene in a television episode and not an idiom.

According to Chris Hutchins of Cox News Service, that happened later. In an article printed in the Chicago Tribune on 20 March 2002 titled, “When Shows Jump The Shark” the journalist stated: “Jumping the shark was coined by Jon Hein of New York City.”

This led Idiomation back to Jon Hein who, as we knew at this point, was responsible for creating the Jump The Shark website in 1997. This meant that it was agreed by all parties that the phrase was coined sometime between the episode in 1977 and the creation of Hein’s website in 1997.

Tropedia indicates that Jon Hein coined the term with his college friends in the mid-1980s while still in college, and a number of reputable websites including IndieWire support that assertion based on an interview on the Howard Stern show in the summer of 2006.

The IndieWire article reported that Jon Heim created the site a decade after the idiom was coined, which means the idiom came about sometime in 1987.

However, other sources claim the idiom was coined by Jon Heim and his roommate Sean Connolly, not solely by Jon Heim, and not by Jon Heim and a group of college friends, in 1985 while they were attending the University of Michigan.

In fact, in an interview with the University of Michigan newspaper Michigan Today on 19 February 2016, Jon Heim shared with reporter Alan Glenn how the idiom came about.

I was sitting with my buddies at 807 South Division and we were talking about when our favorite shows started to go downhill. A couple examples came out, and somebody said, “Happy Days.” My roommate of four years, my freshman roommate all through graduation, Sean Connolly, who’s an ROTC guy, and very, very funny, said — not in a joking way — “When Fonzie jumped the shark.” There was a pause in the room because we all knew exactly what he meant … Throughout college, we’d use the phrase.

Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to late 1985 and attributes it to Sean Connolly as does Jon Hein.

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