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Archive for the ‘Ancient Civilizations’ Category

Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 17, 2017

As Idiomation shared on Thursday of last week, making a mountain out of a moleskin or a molehill is to over-react to a minor issue, or to make something very small into something bigger than what it happens to be. While the moleskin version has a short history, the better-known molehill version stretches much farther back in history.

We all know the expression to make a mountain out of a molehill is in use to this day. Whether it’s Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. writing an article for Psychology Today (13 December 2013, How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill) or Laura Cano Mora submitting her doctoral thesis titled, “How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill: A Corpus-Based Pragmatic and Conversational Analysis Study of Hyperbole In Interaction” everyone seems to understand the meaning of the phrase.

Even kids watching cartoons like “Phineas and Ferb” have heard the saying used in episodes such as “At The Car Wash” when the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz explains to Perry the Platypus how he came up with the idea for his Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-Inator.  It would seem that after he was told repeatedly by people from all walks of life (from his parents to the firefighters at the local Fire Department) to stop making mountains out of molehills, he decided that if he wasn’t already doing that, maybe it was time he started really doing that.  So he did.

English novelist, playwright, and short story writer Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) published his 1868 mystery novel “The Moonstone” to great acclaim.  In this novel, at one point Superintendent Seegrave says to Sergeant Cuff:

There is such a thing as making a mountain out of a molehill.

The point of his comment was that the Superintendent was of the opinion the Sergeant was making way too much of something as trivial as a tiny paint smudge on the door. He was wrong, of course, as that tiny paint smudge on the door proved very important after all.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Wilkie Collins was the son of English landscape painter William Collins (1788 – 1847) and is considered the pioneer of detective fiction. His talent lay in his ability to create, choreograph, and master intricate plots coupled with a unique narrative technique.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Wilkie Collins’ book “The Moonstone” set the standard by which all other detective fiction is measured. In this novel, the story was told from a number of points of view having to do with a stolen diamond taken from an Indian idol.

But the expression dates all the way back to 1548 when English playwright, cleric, and schoolmaster Nicholas Udall (1504 – 23 December 1556) used it in his work titled, “The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus Upon the New Testament.”  What he wrote was this:

The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.

The idiom to which Nicholas Udall referred was from Greek satirist Lucian (120 – 200 AC) in his work “Ode To A Fly” in which he compared an elephant to a fly. The Latin version of this was elephantem ex musca facere.  Of course, as was shared in a previous Idiomation entry, the elephant version is still in use in Russia to this day.

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Lucian, also known as Lucian of Samosata, was a satirist and rhetorician in Greece. He claimed to be an Assyrian however not everyone agreed with his claim. He mocked superstitions, religious practices, and beliefs in the paranormal although he claimed to believe in the existence of the gods.  

So while the moleskin version of this expression only dates back to the early 1900s, the molehill version is solidly nailed to 1548 with a nod to Ancient Greece. Oh, what a difference 350 or so years (plus another 110 or so years to catch up to 2017) can make when it comes to similar, and yet very different, expressions.

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Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2017

It’s been long said that dead men tell no tales, and if you’ve committed a crime to which there were witnesses, it’s believed that permanently silencing those witnesses prevents them for sharing what they know with the authorities.  The good news is that technology and forensics have advanced to the point where this adage is no longer true.  Advancements in science have made it so that dead men still tell tales.

Now that the macabre has been addressed, Idiomation is free to tell the tale of where dead men tell no tales first began.

For those of you who love movies, you’ll be happy to hear that the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is titled, “Dead Men Tell No Secrets” and is scheduled for theater release on 26 May 2017.  In this movie, the evil Captain Salazar and his crew escape from the Devil’s Triangle and set their sights on killing every pirate at sea, but most especially, on killing Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp.  As you know, whether it’s telling tales or keeping secrets, it’s a fact that pirates believe that dead men neither tell tales nor secrets.

The idiom is most often associated with pirates but it’s not exclusively a pirate expression.

The Star and Sentinel newspaper of January 18, 1882 published the story of Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune who squelched the efforts of certain newspaper pundits interested in reviving the Cokling-Garfield quarrel by “directing their assaults against Mr. Blaise as Mr. Garfield’s evil genius.”  It had to do with the nomination of Judge Robertson by the President.

It follows that this “friend of Garfield” or some accomplice must have stolen the telegram, and then presuming that it had been delivered to the President and that “dead men tell no tales,” undertook to cover up the theft of the deliberate lie that the President showed him the dispatch and allowed him to copy it.

It also appeared in the work of English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) in the September 26, 1797 edition of the Porcupine’s Gazette.  While it wasn’t an exact version of the idiom, it was nonetheless a very close relative.

Not content with deserting my service, he appears desirous to pre­judice the public against me, and my brethren, asserting in strong terms, that we are enemies to the noble science of blood-letting: This is abominable and contrary to the truth. For I am, and shall be no­lens volens, an advocate for the practice, and it is my creed that it will cure all diseases—as our good allies the French have clearly pro­ved in their practice,—I have also another reason for commencing the business of a physician; In fact, the villainous liquors my wine mer­chant obliges me to supply my guests with, has lately caused in the latter severe and harsh expostulations, and, as I am a conscientious man, I wish to follow a quiet business, and I prefer that of the lancet, be­cause you know Mr. P. dead men never tell tales.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Cobbett’s pseudonym for this work was Peter Porcupine.

The idiom was used more than a century earlier by John Dryden, in Act IV scene i of his play “The Spanish Fryar or The Double Discovery” published in 1681. This work was a comedy in five acts, and was first performed at Duke’s Theater. The idiom appears in the conversation between Lorenzo (who is the son of Alphonso) and Dominic (the Spanish Fryar).

LORENZO
And make what haste you can to bring out the Lady.  What say you, Father? Burglary is but a venial Sin among Souldiers.

DOMINIC
I shall absolve them, because he is an enemy of the Church – there is a Proverb, I confess, which says, That Dead-men tell no Tales; but let your Souldiers apply it to their own Perils.

LORENZO
What, take away a man’s Wife, and kill him too! The Wickedness of this old Villain startles me, and gives me a twinge for my own Sin; though it come far short of his: hark you Souldiers, be sure you use as little Violence to him as is possible.

English cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon (1512 – 1567) wrote about dead men and tales in 1560 when he penned this passage in Chapter 22 of “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting.”

For he that hath his body loaden with meat and drink, is no more meet to pray unto God than a dead man is to tell a tale; neither can the mind of such one any more fly unto God with heavenly desires, than a ship, too much cumbered with burdens and at the point to sink, can any longer float upon the waters.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Thomas Becon was the chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556), Prebendary of Canterbury, during the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and when Mary I came to power, he was put on trial for treason and heresy against the Roman Catholic Church.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Thomas Becon married and had three children: two sons (Theodore and Basil) and a daughter (Rachel).  His daughter married William Beswicke of Horsmanden who was the High Sheriff of Kent in 1616.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Until 1974, the High Sheriff was known simply as the Sheriff.  At the time William Beswicke was the Sheriff, he was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.

Long before Thomas Becon talked of dead men telling no tales, there was a Persian poet named Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  (1203 – 9 December 1292) — known as Saadi as well as Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz– who wrote about this in 1250.  This was his advice on how to deal with quacks and charlatans.

So I finished the rogue, notwithstanding his wails,
With stones, for dead men, as you know, tell no tales.

But the sense of the idiom is older than that.  The Latin phrase mortui non morden when translated word-for-word is dead men don’t bite.  However, the phrase is used to underscore the belief that killing one’s enemies or victims is the surest way for them to never speak of what happened, and as such, the phrase mortui non morden really means dead men tell no tales.

This version of the idiom was used by Plutarch (46 AD to 120 AD) in Part III of “The Life Of Pompey” covering Pompey’s return to Rome from 62 to 48 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC).   The chapter included this passage that spoke of Theodotus of Chios who Plutarch identifies as the person who was responsible for Pompey’s death.  This is an English translation of what Plutarch wrote.

It seems they were so far different in their opinions that some were for sending the man away, and others again for inviting and receiving him; but Theodotus, to show his cleverness and the cogency of his rhetoric, undertook to demonstrate, that neither the one nor the other was safe in that juncture of affairs.  For if they entertained him, they would be sure to make Caesar their enemy, and Pompey their master; or if they dismissed him, they might render themselves hereafter obnoxious to Pompey, for that inhospitable expulsion, and to Caesar, for the escape; so that the most expedient course would be to send for him and take away his life, for by that means they would ingratiate themselves with the one, and have no reason to fear the other; adding, it is related, with a smile, that “a dead man cannot bite.”

SIDE NOTE 6:  Yes, this is the Julius Caesar who was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

SIDE NOTE 7:  Julius Caesar’s successor was his grand-nephew Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) and is considered the first Roman Emperor.  He controlled the Roman Empire until his death.

Idiomation believes Plutarch to be the originator of this idiom as he clearly demonstrated the veracity of the claim in his writings that dead men tell no tales, with a nod to Saadi of Shiraz for the exact wording.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Politics, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fishing For The Moon In The Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2016

If someone tells you that your idea is nothing more than fishing for the moon in the water, they mean that you aren’t seeing things as they are, and your idea is a pipe dream.  It may sound nice and it might even look nice, but it’s not realistic in their opinion.

From June 16 to July 29, 2011 the James Cohan Art Gallery in New York City hosted an art show curated by Leo Xu, a curator and writer based in Shanghai, China.  The art show was titled, “Catch The Moon In The Water.”  The show featured artists such as Shanghai-based Zhou Tiehai; Beijing-based Guo Hongwei, Zhao Zhao, Chen Wei, Hu Xiangqian, Sun Xun and Liang Yuanwei; and Hangzhou-based Cheng Ran.

The press release stated that the title of the art show came from a poem by Chinese artist, calligrapher, scholar, government official, and poet Huang Tingjian (1045 – 1105) who lived during the Song Dynasty, and is considered one of the Four Masters of the Song Dynasty.   included this line:

Seize the flower in the mirror,
Catch the moon in the water.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The Song Dynasty began in 960 A.D. through to 1279 A.D.  It was preceded by the Tang Dynasty, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty.

In Oliver Stone’s movie “W” there’s a scene where George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. discuss what George wants to do with his life.

GEORGE BUSH SR
Who do you think you are?  A Kennedy?  You’re a Bush.  Act like one.  You can’t even hold a job.  We always worked for our living.  It’s damned time you joined the rest of us and decided just what it is you’re gonna do with your life.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
I know, Poppy. I’m — I’m — I’m just having
a devil of a time trying to figure it out.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
Well, then figure it out soon, Junior.  Your brother Jeb graduates Phi Beta Kappa.  What did you get? Cs?  You only get one bite at the apple, you know.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
Jeb’s not me and I don’t wanna be Jeb, Poppy.  Look, what I’d really love —  I mean, what I’d really love to do is to find something in baseball.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
What? You can’t play.  Coach? You’re fishing for the moon in the water.

The movie was released in 2008 and the script was written by Stanley Weiser, but four biographers who have written about the Bush family said that while the screenplay was based in fact, there was more caricature than three-dimensional character in the main roles.  That being said, the movie provided an opportunity to talk about fishing for the moon in the water.

The question, however, is whether this idiom was one that would have been known by George Bush Sr. at the time it was inserted into the movie’s timeline.   According to the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service, in the February 7, 1987 edition of the “Daily Report: People’s Republic of China,” an article was published with the idiom as its title.  It was listed thusly:

HK090605 Beijing RENMIN RIBAO in Chinese 7 Feb 87 p 6

[“International Jottings” by Yue Lin (2588 7207):  “Fishing For The Moon In The Water“]

While there aren’t many published references to this idiom in English, it’s a very well known saying in China.  Just as the Western world has Aesop’s fables, China has its own fables as well including this one.

One evening, a man went to the well to fetch water.  Looking into the well, he saw the moon shining back at him.

Alarmed, the man said, “I must hurry back home for my fishing rod, and fish the moon out of the well.”

Once he returned to the well, he lowered the hook in and waited for the moon to bite.  He waited and waited and waited until something tugged at the line.

The man pulled hard, but the moon pulled even harder until suddenly the line broke and the man fell flat on his back.

When he sat back up, he saw the moon was back in the sky as it should be and he was proud of his hard work.

The next day when he met his friends in the village, he proudly told them of his achievement the previous night, and not one person in the village dared tell him that the moon had always been in the sky and had never been in the well.

The fable was first recorded by Dao Shi (618 – 683) in his book, “Fa Yuan Zhu Lin (The Dharma Treasure Grove).”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 7th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Never Trouble Trouble Till Trouble Troubles You

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 3, 2015

If you think something or someone might cause problems, don’t address it until it actually causes problems, and that’s what’s meant when you hear someone say never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!  In this respect, it’s related to let sleeping dogs lie, don’t meet troubles halfway, and don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.

On September 10, 2010, SB Nation (a grassroots network of fan-centric sports communities) added “Schadenfreude Fridays” to their regular offerings.  The first article in the new column took a look at some of the lesser games that were available back in the 8-bit days of the NES gaming system.

In reviewing the game “Bad Street Brawler” the reviewer stated that the video game wasn’t fun to play and that it was one of a small handful of games that were outright terrible.  The review of the game began with this comment.

BSB greeted players with protagonist Duke Davis’s motto, “Never Trouble Trouble ‘Til Trouble Troubles  You.”  On the strength of that alone we could probably include this game on the list, but its awfulness goes so much deeper.

Robert N. St. Clair thought the idiom should be the title of a play, and so he wrote, “Never Trouble Trouble: A Rollicking Face In Three Acts” in 1938.  A prolific playwright of comedic dramas, this play was part of the collection of plays he wrote in this genre.  While it was one of his earlier works, it was one worth noting for its humor.

Idiomation found the idiom in a poem by Fanny Windsor, titled, “Never Trouble Trouble” and published in Volume XIX, Number 5 of The Manifesto from May 1889.  The magazine was published in Shaker Village, New Hampshire.

My good man is a clever man,
Which no one will gainsay;
He lies awake to plot and plan
‘Gainst lions in the way.
While I, without a thought of ill,
Sleep sound enough for three;
For I never trouble trouble till
Trouble troubles me.

That same year, Volume 2 (from M to Z) of “The Salt-Cellars: Being A Collection of Proverbs Together With Homely Notes Thereon” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon and published by Alabaster Passmore and Sons in London (England) included the idiom found in Fanny Windsor’s poem.

It was also part of the advice that Abraham Lincoln (12 February 1809 – 15 April 1865) gave Reverend Phineas Densmore Gurley’s daughter, Frances Mary Gurley (9 July 1841 – 22 August 1907), and her husband, Civil War Union Officer, Major William Anthony Elderkin (15 May 1839 – 1 January 1900), when they married on June 9, 1861.  The Reverend Gurley (12 November 1816 – 30 September 1868) was the chaplain of the United States Senate as well as the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

A man needs a wife as much in war as he does in peace. I think he needs her more.  Stay with your husband when you can. Don’t let a third party interfere between you two; stay by yourselves. Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.

In the Dunstable New Hampshire Telegraph newspaper edition of July 20, 1836, the expression showed up in a bit of advice about the weather.

The Weather – After all, the weather seems to be such as to promise something to the farmer.  We shall have no famine at present.  Grass, grain, fruit, potatoes, and a thousand other things look well and promising.  Corn is backward, but has changed its color within a day or two, and shot up surprisingly.  No use in long face.  “Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you,” was good advice, coming from a good source.

In November 1779, the United States Congress voted unanimously to nominate John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) on a mission to negotiate the end of the war and a peace treaty with Britain as well as a commerce agreement.  His diplomatic assignments took him to Paris in 1779 and later on, to the Netherlands in 1780.

At the time, John Adams (who later became the second President of the United States) had to negotiate with France as well as with Britain because of the Treaty of Alliance which stipulated that, until the allies agreed jointly to ending the war, in the eyes of signatories to the Treaty of Alliance, the war was not ended.

On May 12, 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, that including the proverb.

Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

The proverb was included in the 1741 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

The proverb is actually a rewording of an earlier proverb found in John Ray’s “A Handbook of Proverbs” published in 1670.  John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was a clergyman, biologist, and naturalist, and is called the father of English natural history.  The proverb upon which this proverb is based is this:

Let your trouble tarry till its own day comes.

And before that, the spirit of never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you is found in a quote by Roman philosopher, playwrite, orator, and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. – A.D. 65).  Seneca was a tutor to Nero, and Nero kept him on as an advisor when he became Emperor in 54 A.D.  He retired as Nero’s advisor in 62 A.D., and three years later, Nero accused Seneca of conspiring against him, forcing his former tutor and advisor to commit suicide.  In his works, Seneca wrote this:

Quid iuvat dolori sui occurrere?
What help is it to run out to meet your troubles?

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you prior to 1741.  This indicates that somewhere between 1670 and 1740, the proverb was reworded.  Idiomation therefore pegs the date to 1740, with a nod to Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 18th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bell, Book and Candle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 19, 2015

When someone talks about bringing bell, book, and candle, they mean that something unusual, unexpected or bizarre will soon happen.  It’s important to note that these three items — book, bell, and candle — are all used in the celebration of the Roman Catholic mass.  Back in the day, if you wanted to curse a Catholic, all you had to do was to do it “by bell, by book, and by candle, and by all that is Holy.”  In saying this, you closed the book (Bible), silenced the bell, and put out the candle damning the person to spiritual death.

Knowing this, it’s almost humorous to note that in the December 4, 2008 edition of the Southern Herald in Liberty, Mississippi mention was made that the Liberty Bell, Book and Candle store had relocation, making sure to mention that its current location was across from the Courthouse and that its previous location had been near the Liberty Baptist Church.

The Boca Raton News of November 24, 1986 published an article on “The World’s Most Haunted Country.”  The article referred, of course, to the many haunted houses and locations in Britain — a country whose first official ghost-hunter was Dr. Robert Morris, identified as an American expert who had been inaugurated as the Koestler Chair in Parapsychology at Edinburgh University.

No need to bring garlic, or bell, book and candle, but a camera might be useful.  Patient visitors have been rewarded with film evidence at a number of sites, including historic Littlecote House near Newbury, scene of a grisly murder in 1575; and Borley Rectory, Suffolk, once proclaimed “Britain’s most haunted house.”

In the third edition (revised and corrected) of “The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe” the concept of bell, book and candle is addressed in Volume 5.  John Foxe (1516 – 18 April 1587) was an English historian, martyrologist, and author.The segment was published earlier in 1803 in the book “The Book Of Martyrs, or Christian Martyrology Containing an Authentic and Historical Relation of Many Dreadful Persecutions Against the Church Of Christ.”   Volume 5 covered three hundred years of history from the time of King Henry VIII’s reign and it’s in the section titled, “The Pope’s Curse with Book, Bell, and Candle” that is pegged at 1533 that the following is found:

At last, the priests found out a toy to curse him, whatsoever he were, with book, bell, and candle; which curse at that day seemed most fearful and terrible.  The manner of the curse was after this sort.

The text of the Pope’s Curse is clear.  You were in big trouble once the Pope’s Curse was put on you.

Pope's CurseBack in 1485, English author, knight, land owner, and Member of Parliament, Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire (1405 – 14 March 1471) used it in “Morte d’Arthur” in Book XXI, Chapter 1:

Sir, said the noble clerk, leave this opinion, or else I shall curse you wyth book and belle and candell.  

Do thou thy worst, said Sir Mordred, wit thou well I shall defy thee.  

Sir, said the bishop, and wit you well I shall not fear me to do that me ought to do.  Also where ye noise where my lord Arthur is slain, and that is not so, and therefore ye will make a foul work in this land.

Peace, thou false priest, said Mordred, for, and thou charge me any more, I shall make strike off they head.

So the bishop departed, and did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done.  And then Sir Mordred sought the bishop of Canterbury for to have slain him.  Then the bishop fled, and took part of his goods with him, and went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there he was as priest hermit in a chapel, and lived in poverty and in holy prayers: for well he understood that mischievous war was at hand.

Idiomation traced the book, bell and candle curse back to the “Cursor Mundi: The Cursor O The World: A Northumbrian Poem of the 14th Century” published in 1300.

Cursor MundiThe last two lines make mention of bell, book and candle, but in reverse order.

Curced in kirc an sal ai be wid candil, boke, and bell.

That being said, it is interesting to learn that in all, there are one hundred and third two curses from the Church of Rome including one all-inclusive universal curse on all heretics in the world that can is held for use on Holy Thursday if the Pope so wishes.  Many of these curses go back to the first Nicaean Council in Bythynia, convened by Constantine the Great (27 February 272 – 22 May 337) — also known as Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus — in 325 AD!

Among the attendees was Nicholas of Myra, the bishop upon whose life the Santa Claus legend is based, and the Pope at the time was Sylvester I who rose to the position on January 31, 314 and remained Pope until his death in 335 in Rome.

While it’s true that some claim the curse is directly related to witchcraft, the fact of the matter is, the curse is one hundred percent vested in Christianity with nary a bit of witchcraftery.  How far back the curse goes is anyone’s guess, but it certainly doesn’t pre-date Christianity.

The Edict of Milan in 313 guaranteed Christians of their legal rights and the return of confiscated property to their rightful Christian owners.  That being said, Marcion of Sinope’s heretical “New Testament” is responsible for Christians establishing and recognizing their New Testament canon around 140 AD — one that recognized the 27 books of the New Testament that was written around 45 AD.

What this means is that it’s a safe bet that the Pope’s Curse with bell, book and candle was one that happened after sometime after 314 AD, but Idiomation is unable to peg the exact date the curse came into being.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Religious References, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Brother’s Keeper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 17, 2015

It was October 20, 2010 and President Barack Obama was at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.  The President was there to address a crowd anxious to hear him speak.  At one point in his speech, he shouted:

So we believe in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility. We believe in a country that prizes innovation and entrepreneurship. But we also believe in a country where we look after one another; where we say, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. That’s the America I know. That’s the choice in this election.

When the idiom my brother’s keeper is used, it implies that you are responsible for what someone else does or for what happens to that person.  It’s been an idiom that’s been discussed in literal, figurative, and metaphorical terms for centuries, and has led to a great many philosophical debates.

The Prescott Evening Courier newspaper of September 16, 1965 published an editorial that began with discussing an accident near Stanfield, Arizona where a truck driver burned to death while a passing motorist ignored his cries for help.  The editorial then discussed that, according to psychiatrists, society was moving towards developing a shell of non-involvement that set people at ease when they chose not to involve themselves in helping those in need.  The editorial was titled, “My Brother’s Keeper.”

A little more than thirty years earlier, G.R. Ingram, Secretary of the Nelson County Farmers Union (in North Dakota) wrote and published a poem in the Mouse River Farmers Press on November 30, 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The poem entitled, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” ended with this stanza:

To each of us upon this earth
God sets a task:
To aid and cheer our fellow man
His hand to grasp.
To show to him, as best we can
The way to save his home and land,
That Faith in God means faith in man —
This is our task.

Almost a hundred years before that, in the “Church of England Magazine” edition of June 5, 1841 (Volume X, No. 287) the subject and idiom were discussed at length in the article, “The Social Feelings Enlisted and Hallowed by Christianity.”  While the author isn’t credited, his article includes this passage:

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was once the language of a conscience-stricken criminal.  But the words may issue from our lips in a different spirit.  Am I, indeed, my brother’s keeper?  Is it true that God hath committed to my keeping the soul of a brother for whom Christ died, and whom he desires to bring to glory?  Is it true that we are joined more closely and more mysteriously than limb to limb?  Is it true, in the thousand ways that I can see, and in a multitude of ways which I cannot see, that we touch and affect each other, so that no little act of either of us can be sure to end with himself?

In 1703, Laurence Clarke compiled a complete history of the Christian Bible that was printed by Princeton University.  It was entitled, “A Compleat History of the Holy Bible: Contained in the Old and New Testament In Which Are Inserted the Occurences That Happened During the Space of Four Hundred Years, From The Days of the prophet Malachi, to the birth of our Blessed Saviour.”  The title is actually longer than this, however, the gist of the subject matter is obvious in the portion of the title that’s been shared here.  The idiom is found in this passage in the book:

And as if he had been affronted by being questioned about his Brother, he surlily answered, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” But the Lord not only charged him with the Murder of his Brother, but convicted him of it too.

Based on this, it’s obvious that the idiom is from the Old Testament.

In Genesis 4:9 God asks Cain where Able is and Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to hide the fact that he does know where Able is and what has happened to him.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the Christian Bible, Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd, and in a fit of jealousy, Cain murdered Abel.  Afterwards, he denied having any knowledge of where his brother could be found.  In other words, he tried to hide the fact that he had murdered his brother by claiming no responsibility for his brother.

The idiom therefore dates back to the Old Testament of the Bible and Idiomation is unable to find an earlier version of it as this idiom dates back to a time when papyrus was in use.

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Hair Of The Dog

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 23, 2014

For decades, it was said that the hair of the dog was the surefire cure for hangovers cause by drinking too much alcohol the night before.  In time, the expression came to mean any alleged cure-all whether it related to overindulgence in alcohol or addressing the most serious of business difficulties.   The full expression is actually the hair of the dog that bit you, and while it’s doubtful that a dog bite will cure your hangover, the idiom itself has an interesting past not only in literature, but in folklore as well.

In the February 19, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger’s views on the stimulus package that Barack Obama signed into law.  Among many aspects of the stimulus package, was the Making Work Pay tax credit that phased out for individuals earning $75,000 or more and couples earning $150,000 or more jointly.  Journalists referred to is as the hair of the dog strategy, and in fact, this specific article was titled, “Obama’s Hair Of The Dog Stimulus:  The President’s Spending Plan Asks Us To Go Against Instinct.”

In the book, “Bent’s Fort” by David Sievert Lavender, published in 1954.  The story was about Charles and William Bent, who established Bent’s Fort, and the trappers, traders, and mountain men that were part of the old Santa Fe trail.   The idiom is used in this passage.

Perhaps there was a post-wedding fandango on Saturday, May 2, or it may have been only a gentlemen’s gathering that cause Frank Blair to wake up Sunday morning feeling in need of the hair of the dog that had bitten him.  One eye-opener called for another.  Soon he was so tanked that George had to help him navigate toward home.  AS they crossed the plaza, they passed a crowd of loafers, some thirty or so, congregated about Steve Lee’s store.

It’s in the October 2, 1852 edition of “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc.” where a short definition for hair of the dog is found that reads as follows:

The hair of the dog now means the “wee sup o’whiskey” which is taken as a cure, by one who has been a victim of “dog’s nose.”

Of course, back in 1774, an author identified simply as Fidelio wrote and published “The Fashionable Daughter, Being A Narrative of True and Recent Facts By An Impartial Hand.”  In this book, the author spoke of the hair of the dog thusly.

This affair mortified his pride and emptied his purse not a little, though the universal opinion was that it doubled his cunning, while it increased hot his honesty.  As the suit had cost him money, he followed the old Caledonian proverb; and applied for a remedy to the decrease of his substance, which he ever reckoned the greatest evil, “a hair of the dog that bit him.”

Based on this passage, the idiom was considered an old Caledonian (meaning Gaelic) proverb.  However, a French and English dictionary composer by Randle Cotgrave and published in 1673 had not only the idiom but a definition included.

To take a remedy for a mischief from that which was the cause thereof; as to go thin clothes when a cold is taken; or in drunkeness to fill a quaffing, thereby to recover health; or sobriety, near that which sense our Ale-knights often use this phrase and say, give us hair of the dog that last bit me.

In Samuel Pepys diary, on April 3, 1661, he also spoke of the hair of the dog that bit him, describing his overindulgence in alcoholic beverages the night before.

Up among my workmen, my head akeing all day from last night’s debauch. To the office all the morning, and at noon dined with Sir W. Batten and Pen, who would needs have me drink two drafts of sack to-day to cure me of last night’s disease, which I thought strange but I think find it true.

Nearly 100 years prior to that entry, John Heywood spoke of the idiom in the 1562 edition of his book, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood.”

A pick-me-up after a debauch:  apparently a memory of the superstition, which was and still is common, that, being bitten by a dog, one cannot do better than pluch a handful of hair from him, and lay it on the wound.  Old receipt books advise that an inebriate should drink sparkingly in the morning some of the same liquor which he had drunk to excess overnight.

In fact, in the 1546 edition of “A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” by John Heywood, the following ditty is included.

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

As amusing as all that is, the fact of the matter is that the idiom has its roots in the Roman saying, similia similibus curantur which translates to mean like things cure like.  In other words, they believed the best antidote for whatever ailed you, was to have more of the same.

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End Crowns The Act

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 7, 2014

The idiom the “end crowns the act” has come full circle, with the modified version being most common these days while the original proverb being firmly entrenched in coats of arms.  What it means is that the ends justify the means, and so, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a course of action, if the end result if the best result possible, the means will be overlooked in favor of focusing on the success.

The idiom proved difficult to track down at first, with the first hint of it finally found in a newspaper article over 100 years ago.

In Volume 97, Number 102 of the San Francisco Call newspaper dated March 11, 1905 the story of George A. Janvrin was feted. He had saved 4-year-old Ramona A. Brunje from certain death where, had he not acted, she would have been trampled by a team of runaway horses.  For his bravery, he was awarded a bronze medal on which was engraved: “Presented to George Janvrin in recognition of his bravery in saving the life of a child.”  The medal was suspended from a bar had engraved on it: “The End Crowns The Act.”

In the American Journal of Numismatics, Volumes 33 through 35 that were originally published between July 1898 and April 1899, the idiom appears on page 145.

The end crowns the act, whether good or bad. Another very curious piece has on the obverse an escutcheon surmounting a lily cross, the points of which appear at the sides and base of the shield, the crook of a Bishop’s pastoral staff appears

With some effort, the phrase in modified form was found in “The Southern Review.”  In Volume V published in May of 1830, an article written by Thomas Moore entitled, “Lord Byron’s Character and Writings” includes this passage:

It is, however, not without some degree of reluctance, that we hazard an opinion as to its merits, before we have fairly heard the author out with his story.  The end not only “crowns the work,” as the proverb expresses it, but it does something more.  It explains, illustrates, reconciles all the parts, and, by discovering fully their relation to each other and to the whole, often shews the fitness and propriety of what, perhaps, at first appeared questionable or unsatisfactory.

This version using the word “work” instead of “act” was indeed the phrase most used during this period.  In fact, the idiom is found in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” by Charles Dickens, published in 1870, where this passage is found.

“But proof, sir, proof must be built up stone by stone,” said the Mayor.  “As I say, the end crowns the work.”

A hundred years prior to “The Southern Review” being published in 1830, the book by William Fleetwood (also known as the late Lord Bishop of Ely) entitled “A Plain Method of Christian Devotion” — translated from a book written by Pierre Jurieu — enjoyed its 26th printing.  Undoubtedly, this book was very popular with readers.  Not only was William Fleetwood (1 January 1656 – 4 August 1723) the Lord Bishop of Ely, he was regarded as the best preacher of his generation, and had the respect of Queen Anne (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714).  Economists and statisticians credit him for creating the price index, as presented in his book “Chronicon Preciosum” published in 1707.

Pierre Jurieu (24 December 1637 – 11 January 1713) was a French Calvinist controversialist who became a professor of theology and Hebrew at the Protestant Academy at Sudan in 1674 which is the year he published “Traité de la dévotion.”   His writings were considered unorthodox, however, he was considered a tireless worker for all aspects of the Calvinist cause.  It’s in the translated text that the idiom is found.

When once the man is come to that, he cannot be converted to God, he cannot be received but by cries and tears, and the voice of our Lord that worketh wonders.  This methinks should make us sensible of the interest we have in thinking upon God betimes, and consecrating our first years to devotion.  I know very well; that the end crowns the work; but I know also, that ’tis of the utmost important to begin well to end  happily.

Stepping back in time to 1641, again the phrase is modified in “Experience Historie and Divinitie:  Divided Into Five Books” by Richard Carpenter, Vicar of Poling, which the author and publisher described as “a small and obscure village by the seaside, neere to Arundel in Sussex.”  This book was published by Order from the House of Commons.  In this book, the idiom is also found.

The matter of the Action must be good: the manner of the performance good, and the End good.  Which thought it be extrinsecall to the Action, is intrinsecall to the goodnesse of it.  I suppose, if the matter and manner be indifferent, they are good in some degree; but the End crowns the goodnesse of the work; for, it is the most eminent of all that stirre in it.

The expression, again in modified form, also appeared in Act IV scene v of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Troilus and Cressida” written in 1602 and published in 1609.  The play is set during the Trojan War, and scene takes place in the Grecian camp when Hector speaks with Ulysses.

HECTOR
I must not believe you:
There they stand yet, and modestly I think,
The fall of every Phrygian stone will cost
A drop of Grecian blood: the end crowns all,
And that old common arbitrator, Time,
Will one day end it.

It has been mentioned in a number of texts that the idiom is a proverb, and indeed it is.  The end crowns the work in Latin is finis coronat opus and was incorporated into the Baker Coat of Arms in England during the 8th century.  As an interesting side note, the family name Baker prior to the 8th century was Boeccure.

While Idiomation would love to be able to pinpoint the exact era from which the Latin idiom was first used, the best that can be offered is that the idiom is from the Roman and Greek era.  Idiomation can say, however, that the more familiar version of this idiom these days is this:  The end justifies the means.

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With A Grain Of Salt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2014

When you take something with a grain of salt, you don’t take what’s being said or written as being completely factual or true.  In fact, it could be said that you aren’t taking it at face value.

Interestingly enough, it sometimes appears as a Latin phrase as in the news article entitled, “Republicans Smell Blood In Presidential Race” written by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake for the Washington Post on August 10, 2011.  The article spoke about data collected from the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center that looked at whether Americans wanted Obama to face a primary challenge.  Along with the statistics and the poll results, the writers added:

Polls are, of course a snapshot in time and are rightly taken cum grano salis. But, it’s not hard to read between the data points on this particular survey.

Of course, the expression was also used in English as in the article by NFL National Lead Writer, Ty Schalter when he wrote, “Detroit Lions’ Success: Take It With A Grain Of Salt” published a bit more than a month later on September 22, 2011.  He even included the idiom in the article.

As fans, we are tempted to tap the brakes. To pull back on the reins. To take this early success with a grain of salt.

In 1935, Robert Harry Lowie wrote and published a book titled, “The Crow Indians.”  As you can imagine, the book was about the Crow Indians living on a reservation near the core of the tribal territory southeast of Billings, Montana and northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming, and were identified in the book as being related to the Sioux of the Dakotas.  In describing the politics of the camp the author wrote about, he wrote the following.

Appointed by the camp chief, the police were considered subordinate to him; and he could thus, according to Leonard, a fur trader of the thirties, veto every one of their acts.   However, the statement must be taken with a grain of salt.  The chief himself was not an autocrat, and the constabulary normally acted only on special occasions, such as those mentioned above.  Apart from these, the people hardly felt the weight of authority.

Nearly 100 years earlier, in “The Baptist Magazine” a letter was published, dated July 13, 1836 where the author was identified by only an initial, E.  The letter was published with the title, “Baptists In Scotland.”

I had almost forgotten to take notice, as I intended to do, of one of your correspondent’s statements, in detailing some of the principles of the Scotch Baptists, in the first paragraph of his letter.  He says, they “contend for a plurality of elders,mutual exhortation by the brethren on the Lord’s day, and disapprove of pastoral support.”  The first peculiarity here stated may possibly be held by many of us as a principle, but being so often departed from in practice, the assertion requires to be qualified with a grain of salt; a plurality of elders being rather looked upon as desirable, than as absolutely indispensible.  The exhortation of the brethren is generally practised, although not, I hope, in every possible case, dogmatically insisted upon; but the third statement in the above quoted sentence, that we disapprove of pastoral support, I positively deny without any qualification at all.

Interestingly enough, in Italy there is an expression:  avere sale in zucca.  Zucca (meaning pumpkin) is a humorous reference to one’s head and one’s intelligence and ability to reason.  When one is told to have salt in their pumpkin, they’re being reminded to use a little bit of intelligence and common sense to reason things out.  In other words, good judgment and some intellect is reflected in reference to the grain of salt needed to do so.

And since Italian is a romance language that derives from Latin, the connection between avere sale in zucca and cum grano salis is easily made.  In fact, up until the 20th century, the Latin cum grano salis was preferred over the English variant with a grain of salt.

But why salt?  What is the importance of salt that it should be linked to intellect and judgement?

In ancient times, salt was a necessity of life and was used as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a unit of monetary exchange, and in ceremonies.  In fact, in 2 Chronicles 13, verse 5 the covenant of salt (one which can never be broken because it is an irrevocable pledge that promises undying fidelity to God) is spoken of thusly:

Should you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?

Even Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) spoke of the need for salt when he wrote:  A civilized life is impossible without salt.  Strangely enough, Pliny also mentioned the last line in a formula of 72 ingredients that were to be taken as an antidote for poison in his book Historia Naturalis.  The formula was found at the palace of King Mithridates VI in 63 BC when it was seized by the armies of Rome by General Pompey aka Pompey the Great (106-48 BC).  And what was that last line of this amazing formula, you ask?

Pliny translated the formula with this last line included:  To be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt.

Medieval writers, transcribing the writings of Pliny the Elder understood this to mean that Pliny was skeptical of the account given by General Pompey (106-48 BC) — also known as Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus — regarding the poison antidote and the many ingredients therein.  However, Pliny the Elder used the Latin term most associated with his era which would have been addito salis grano.  Instead they attributed the Medieval Latin equivalent which was cum grano salis.

What this appears to mean is that with a grain of salt was first used in Medieval times with the meaning we use these days.   That being said, the value of salt, continues to be as important to our lives now as it was centuries ago, and you don’t need to take that comment with a grain of salt.

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Manifest Destiny

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 10, 2014

When you hear talk of manifest destiny, what you’re hearing is someone discussing a policy of imperialistic expansion defended as necessary or benevolent. In fact, it was believed in the 19th century that God had given the United States of America not only a right, but a duty, to expand across North America even that expansion was at the expense of those who already inhabited the land.

Recently, the GAP offered T-shirts with the phrase Manifest Destiny emblazoned on them, and due to public outcry, they removed them from shelves quickly.  Why?  Because manifest destiny was the excuse used by non-Natives to abuse and destroy the livelihood, culture, heritage and way of life of the North American Indian who welcomed Europeans to North America’s shores.

In the book, “Providence and the Invention of the United States: 1607 – 1876” by Nicholas Guyatt and published in 2007, the author wrote:

Finally, and in the hands of more cynical exponents, manifest destiny could be used to make controversial objectives seem not only assured but consistent with the course of American history. During the Mexican War, as overzealous expansionists argued for the extension of the United States to the isthmus and even for the replacement of the existing Mexican population with a new wave of American settlers, this cynicism was assailed in the halls of Congress and threatened to contaminate the providential idiom entirely. But taken as a whole, manifest destiny proved remarkably durable over the ambiguousness and shifting ground on which manifest destiny’s proponents had briefly united.

In a speech by one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, Robert Charles Winthrop (12 May 1809 – 16 November 1894), as representative for the state of Massachusetts, to the House of Representatives on January 3, 1846, the following was said with regards to a resolution that had been table with regards to the termination of the joint occupation of Oregon:

I mean that new revelation of right which has been designated as the right of our manifest destiny to spread over this whole continent. It has been openly avowed in the leading Administration journal that this, after all, is our best and strongest title — one so clear, so re-eminent, and so indisputable, that if Great Britain had all our other titles in addition to her own, they would weight nothing against it. The right of our manifest destiny!

The idiom was one that American columnist and editor, John L. O’Sullivan (15 November 1813 – 24 March 1895) used in an editorial he wrote for the New York Morning News entitled, “Manifest Destiny” published on December 27, 1845 — one week before the expression was first introduced to Congress by Robert C. Winthrop. The editorial read in part:

To state the truth at once in its neglected simplicity, we are free to say that were the respective cases and arguments of the two parties, as to all these points of history and law, reversed — had England all ours, and we nothing but hers — our claim to Oregon would still be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.

John L. O’Sullivan had used the idiom earlier in an article he wrote for the United States Magazine and Democratic Review in the summer of 1845. The article was entitled, “Annexation.” In that editorial, he wrote that Americans had certain rights described as follows:

… by right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federatative self-government entrusted to us.

Many believe that John L. Sullivan coined the phrase, and while it’s true that he used the idiom, he did not coin it.

When American preacher and theologian, Andrews Norton (31 December 1786 – 18 September 1853) published his book entitled, “A Discourse on the Latest Form of Infidelity” on July 19, 1839 — one that was entered according to Act of Congress in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts — he had something to say about manifest destiny.

There is a favorite phrase, of frequent use in popular addresses — manifest destiny. It is said to be the manifest destiny of this race to spread over this whole continent, carrying with it its laws, institutions and enterprise. The expression is unfortunate, and requires qualification … Destiny implies a tendency to a fixed end without the power of any agent to prevent.

From this, the fact emerges that the idiom was used often in 1839 and with the expectation of being understood by those who heard it said or read it in published works.

Four years earlier, in a book entitled, “A Discourse Upon The Life, Character, and Services of the Honorable John Marshall” authored by U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story (18 September 1779 – 10 September 1845) and published on October 15, 1835 — also entered according to the Act of Congress that year by the publisher, James Munroe & Co., in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts — the following passage was included, attributed to Mr. Winthrop. The speech was made to the House being in Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union, and having to do with appropriations for the improvement of specific rivers and harbors.

We rejoice, too, that the great West is waking up to a consciousness of her own interests, and her own rights, in relation to the exercise of this power. We rejoice that she is rapidly reaching a strength and a maturity, when these interests must be consulted, and these rights allowed. We hail her advent to the political mastery over our affairs as most auspicious,in this respect at least, to the general welfare of the nation. We will go with her in the fulfillment of her “manifest destiny” in this way, if in no other. We look to her mighty and majestic voice, as it shall come up, at no distant day, from a vast majority of the whole people of the Union inhabiting her rich and happy valleys, to command the resumption of a policy which has been too long suspended; to overrule both the votes and the vetoes by which it has been paralyzed …

Years before, with the publication in 1821 of a book entitled, “In Commemoration of the First Settlement of New England” by Congressman for Massachusetts, Daniel Webster (18 January 1782 – 24 October 1852) and dated December 22, 1820 the following not only speaks of manifest destiny but speaks passionately about its place American society.

If otherwise, who is there in the whole breadth and length of the land, that will care for the consistency of the present incumbent of the office? There will then be new objects. Manifest destiny will have pointed out some other man. Sir, the eulogies are now written, the commendations of praise are already elaborated. I do not say everything fulsome, but everything panegyrical, has already been written out, with blanks for names, to be filled when the Convention shall adjourn. When manifest destiny shall be unrolled, all these strange panegyrics, wherever they may light, made beforehand, laid up in pigeon-holes, studied, framed, emblazoned and embossed, shall all come out, and then there will be found to be somebody in the United States whose merits have been strangely overlooked, marked out by Providence, a kind of miracle, while all will wonder, that nobody ever thought of him before, as a fit and the only fit man to be at the head of this great Republic!

It is most probable that with the use of the idiom in 1820, that it comes from some time after the American Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain when the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783. Five years later, the United States Constitution was adopted after New Hampshire ratified it. The concept of manifest destiny began to be seen in earnest with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (thereby doubling the size of the United States), the manifest destiny expansion of the North American continent was in full swing.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to sometime between 1783 and 1803, although the concept seems to have been around considerably longer. Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published mention of manifest destiny than Daniel Webster’s use in 1820.

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