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Archive for the ‘Ancient Civilizations’ Category

Naked Truth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 13, 2018

When someone says they want the naked truth, what they are looking for is a complete and unembellished version of the facts.

There’s an old Roman fable that tells the tale of Truth and Falsehood. While Truth was swimming in the river, Falsehood stole his clothes and left behind different clothes for Truth to wear. Rather than put someone else’s clothes on, Truth made the decision to go naked instead. In other words, he would rather be his authentic naked self.

From this fable came the expression nudaque veritas or, in English, the naked truth. The concept of the naked truth is from Ancient Rome, and quite likely much earlier.

The phrase has been used in a great many novels, movies, and television series. There was the 1914 silent Italian film as well as the 1957 British comedy film and the 1992 American comedy film. In the 1915 silent movie “Hypocrites” there was a character known as the Naked Truth.  There were a number of music CDs from such artists as Lil’ Kim in 2005, Sarah Hudson in 2005, Jeanette in 2006, and others. There’s even a quartet in Atlanta (GA) called the Naked Truth!

There was a Russian television program hosted by Svetlana Pesotskaya named The Naked Truth and an American television sitcom starring American actress Téa Leoni from 1995 to 1996 on ABC and from 1996 t0 1998 on NBC.  There’s a Naked Truth statue in St. Louis (MO) that stands as a memorial to three German-American newspaper men: Carl Schurz, Emil Pretorius, and Carl Daenzer.

There’s even a cellphone app by that name!

But when was the exact phrase naked truth first published in English?

Many sources allege the phrase was first published by Scottish Jacobean courtier and poet from the court of King James VI Alexander Montgomerie (1550 – 22 August 1598), and that it was first included in his best known poem “The Cherrie and the Slae” which was written sometime in 1584 although it was completed in 1597. The poem’s existence is based on the fact that a passage was found in James VI’s manifesto “Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie” in late 1584. The phrase was used in this section of the poem.

Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.

It also appeared in “Faultes, faults, and nothing else but faultes” by English author and soldier (he fought in Queen Mary’s war with France, 1557 to 1558) Barnabe Rich (1540 – 10 November 1617) and published in 1606. This implies the phrase was already known to the public.

A naked tale doth most truly set forth a naked truth, and verity then shines most brightly, when she is in least bravery.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Barnabe Rich was a distant relative of Lord Chancellor Rich.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Barnabe Rich’s book “Farewell to Militarie Profession” published in 1581 was the source for Wiliam Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

It also appeared in a letter to the right Honorable Sir William West, Knight and Lord De la Warre written by English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier John Lylie (1553 – 27 November 1606) and published as “Eupheus” subtitled “The Anatomy of Wit: Verie pleasaunt for all Gentlemen to Read, and Most Necessarie to Remember” on 5 December 1578 — six years before Alexander Montgomerie included the phrase in his poem.

If thefe thinges be true, which experience trieth, that a naked tale doeth soft truelye fet soorth the naked trueth, that where the countenaunce is faire, there need no colours, that painting is meeter for ragged walls than fine marble, that veritie then shineth most bright when fhe is in leaft brauerie, I fhall fatiffie mine ovvne minde, thought I cannot feed their humors, which breatly feeke after thofe that fift the fineft meale, and beare the whiteft mouthes.

Now both naked and truth date back in English to the 14th century, with the word truth meaning correctness and accuracy from the 1560s, and naked meaning what it means today. This indicates the expression naked truth dates back to the 1560s (making it the 16th century) for it to have been used in 1578 with an expectation readers would understand what the expression meant.

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

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2018

You have seen the memes and the posters on social media and heard people insist that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and while Idiomation can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that statement, Idiomation has tracked down the expression’s history.

It means that hardship or difficult experiences are responsible for building a stronger character, usually with regards to morals and ethics, but also with regards to physical and mental health. It is meant to celebrate the resilience of individuals as well as the ability to cope and adapt where adversity — and in some cases, loss — occurs.

Last year on 15 February 2017, Science Daily shared a research paper that identified cellular recycling processes linked to the beneficial effects on individuals who underwent brief bodily stresses. The data collected by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the resulting paper published in Nature Communications was aptly titled, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”

In the article “Hard Winter For The Guerrillas” written by Middle East correspondent David Hirst and published in the 2 January 1971 edition of the Guardian Weekly newspaper in London, a modified version of this expression found its way into the first paragraph in this way.

“The blow which does not kill you makes you stronger than before.” Three months have passed since Jordan’s “10-day war” between army and guerrillas, but it has not been long enough to provide convincing evidence that this Arabic saying, which Yaser Arafat cited after the fighting stopped, applies to the Palestinian resistance movement. In fact, most of the evidence points the other way.

Even in the 50s, this expression was one most people considered a nugget of wisdom. It even found its way into Dissent magazine from the Foundation for the Independent Study of Social Ideas in 1954 (the year this magazine was founded).

A girl tells of an aunt who taught her what Nietzsche taught some of us: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The last pages bleed. But these kids could teach us all grace under pressure. They have grown up too fast for real. Many of the older ones have made it to college, and maybe they will thrive on what they have been through.

It appeared in Volume 76 of “Printers’ Ink” published on 6 July 1911. The article was written by Bert Moses and was a tribute to George P. Rowell ( 4 July 1838 – 28 August 1908) whose influence on advertising had far-reaching effects. He was thought of, according to the writer, as the pioneer of modern advertising.

He delighted as much to tell of his failures as of his successes. Once he took a whole page to advertise Ripans Tabules in a great New York daily at a cost of $800.

The only result he could trace was one mail order for 50 cents.

This was not a serious loss to him — it was experience — and he realized that all experience which does not kill you is good.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: George P. Rowell was the founder of the Advertising Agency of Geo. P. Rowell and Company which he founded on 5 March 1865. He founded Printers’ Ink in 1888 which was the first journal for advertisers established for the serious discussion of advertising as a business force. He was the founder of Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory in 1869 which focused on providing accurate information about the circulations of newspapers competing for advertising patronage.

However, nearly this exact phrase appears in the book by German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) titled “Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer” written in 1888 and published in 1889. He was known for his critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, and in this book, he coined the expression albeit in German, not English.

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The original title for his book was “A Psychologist’s Idleness” and was written between 26 August and 3 September 1888 when he was vacationing in the small village of Sils Maria which is one of two villages along with Segl Baselgia which make up Sils im Engadin, in the Swiss canton of the Grisons.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Friedrich Nietzsche was born on King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia’s birthday and his parents decided to christen their newborn son Friedrich Wilhelm in honor of the King’s 49th birthday.

While it’s a fact that the expression was expressed in writing by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in 1888, the spirit of the expression is found in the King James version of the Bible where in Romans 5, verses 3 through 5, this is written.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

And so, this expression is stamped on 1888 with a nod to the Christian Bible, and most likely a great many other historical cultures long before the Christian Bible was written, where strength of character was forged through emotional, mental, and physical endurance.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 19th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An Empty Wagon Makes A Lot Of Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 9, 2018

When someone says an empty wagon makes a lot of noise it means people who know very little to nothing on a subject often talk the most on said subject. It also means that people tend to talk a lot about nothing pretending all of that nothing is something. In a nutshell, those who are most ignorant are oftentimes also the most vocal and opinionated.

To be noted, the expression also appears as an empty barrel makes a lot of noise and an empty vessel makes a lot of noise (both of which are facts).

Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., published an article in April 2013 written by Canadian B2B sales veteran Tibor Shanta. The article was titled, “An Empty Wagon – Sales eXchange 194.” The opening paragraph began with this.

We have all heard the expression that an empty wagon makes the most noise, no doubt from an older relative trying to tell us that we were talking a lot, saying very little of substance, worth hearing, or had as near the level of impact as the noise we were making saying it. Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of empty wagons when it comes to sales and sellers, usually in lack of substance or delivering on the hype.

The March 1920 edition of “Etude: The Music Magazine” ran a regular column by W. Francis Gates (18 March 1865 – 22 December 1941) titled, “Pianographs.” The column shared witty bits of wisdom including this one:

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Aside from being an excellent musician and a respected music teacher, he was also a music critic for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

In last week’s entry about loaded wagons going quietly, the empty wagon was also addressed in the article found in “The Railroad Trainman” magazine.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

Volume 65 of “The Unitarian Register” of January 7, 1886 published in Boston by magazine editor Samuel J. Barrows had a regular feature titled, “Brevities.” In this feature, the expression was found as a shared comment from another publication.

A writer in the Herald of Gospel Liberty thinks that “noise is no sign of spiritual power. Men who make so much noise on their way to the heavenly city should be watched closely, for ‘an empty wagon makes the most noise.'”

Wagon seems to have been substituted for vessel in the early 1800s as found in “A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages: Volume II” compiled by Italian literary critic, poet, writer, translator, linguist and author Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti (24 April 1719 – 5 May 1789) and published in 1797. Under the entry for empty the following is found.

The concept of an empty vessel making the loudest noise was found in the “Dictionaire royal, françois-anglais et anglois-françois: tiré des meilleurs Auteurs qui on écrit dans ces deux Langues” compiled by French-English lexicographer, journalist and writer Abel Boyer (24 June 1667 – 16 November 1729) and published in 1700. Under the entry for empty readers find:

EMPTY Adj.
Ex. An Empty Glass, Un verre vide
An Empty Vessel, Un tonneau vide
P. Empty Vessels make the greatest Noise, Les tonneaux vides font le plus de bruit.

In the preface of his book, B0yer states that when a P is used in the work, it refers to a proverb or a proverbial expression. Dictionaries state that proverbs are short sayings that express a truth based on common sense or cultural experience, and are considered formulaic language.

Indeed, William Baldwin used the expression in his book, “A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse gathered and Englished by Wylm Baldwin” published in 1547 by Edward Whitchurch. Over time the title has been shortened to “A Treatise of Moral Philosophy” however the original title indicates the expression was not of his own making. In his work, the saying was expressed in this way.

As empty vessels make the loudest sound; so they that have least wit are the greatest babblers.

He may have borrowed the thought from English poet John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) who wrote a similar thought in his 1426 tome titled, “Pilgrimage of Man, Englished by John Lydgage, from the French of Guillaume de Deguilleville 1330.”

A voyde vessel maketh outward a gret sound, mor than what yt was ful.

INTERESTING NOTE 2: The work John Lydgate translated from French into English was “Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine” written and published by French Cistercian and writer Guillaume d’Eguilleville (1295 – 1358) at Chaalis Abbey 40 kilometers north of Paris, at Fontaine-Shaalix, near Ermenonville, now in Oise, in 1330.

INTERESTING NOTE 3: The Chaalis Abbey was founded on 10 January 1137 by Louis VI and in memory of Charles the Good (1084 – 2 March 1127), Count of Flanders, who was assassinated in Bruges thanks to the powerful Erembald family. It was consecrated in 1219 by Brother Guerin, Bishop of Beauvais.

INTERESTING NOTE 4: Charles the Good, also known as Charles I, was the son of King Canute IV (1042 – 10 July 1086) of Denmark and Adela of Flanders (1064 – April 1115). King Canute IV was assassinated in Odense Cathedral in 1086.

INTERESTING NOTE 5: Adela of Flanders was the daughter of Robert I, Count of Flanders, also known as Robert the Frisian (1035–1093) and Gertrude of Saxony (1030 – 4 August 1113). The marriage forged an alliance between Flanders and Denmark against William the Conqueror (1028 – 9 September 1087).

Some attribute the saying to Greek philosopher Plato however no source could be found to prove the claim other than what was written by English preacher and publisher David Thomas  (1813 – 1894) in “The Homilist” published in 1866. David Thomas attributed the quote William Baldwin’s quote to Plato but did not give the source supporting his claim, and it’s the William Baldwin quote that’s bandied about as being written by Plato.

Idiomation, however, did find the Kashmiri proverb which translates to say empty vessels make much noise.

INTERESTING NOTE 6: Kashmir is in northern India, and located mostly in the Himalayan mountains. It shares borders with Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The Kashmiri are an ethnic group native to the Kashmir Valley.

Contrary to what U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (Democrat – Florida) claimed in late October 2017, whether it’s an empty wagon, vessel, or barrel, it’s not a racist expression, even if she claims she “looked it up in the dictionary because [she] had never heard of an empty barrel.”

Idiomation tracked the variation of the expression to 1330 with a nod to the Kashmiri proverb for which Idiomation could not find an exact date other than it precedes the 1330 date of Guillaume d’Eguilleville.

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

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.

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.

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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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