Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 7, 2011

In the video games, Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: First Strike, the phrase “ollie, ollie, oxen free” is used a number of times to pass along information to other members of the team.  In Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, if a player shoots an enemy and then hides, the player is hunted down with the phrase “Ollie, ollie, oxen free! Come out, come out wherever you are!”

Aside from that, it’s hard to find published references to the phrase “ollie, ollie, oxen free.”

Children’s sayings were hardly recorded until the 1950s, and even then, the sayings are very variable. That’s because they’ve been passed down orally from one generation to the next, with no adult intervention or correction.  And so, errors in passing the sayings down from generation to generation is not unlike the misheard lyrics of popular songs over the decades.

The most likely explanation for the phrase is that it is a corruption of the German “Alle, alle auch sind frei” which, when translated, means “Everyone, everyone also is free.”  

When “alle, alle auch sind frei” is said in a normal speaking voice, phonetically it sounds somewhat like this: aw-luh aw-luh owhk zint fry. Imagine how it sounds when excited children are running about, shouting this at the top of their lungs and it’s easy to see how it becomes this: aw-luh aw-luh owxin fry. With minimal effort, it easily becomes: ollie, ollie, oxen free.

It may also be a corruption of “allez, allez” which is a Norman addition to the English language from French and is pronounced “all-ay, all-ay.” The word “allez” in French, of course, means “go.” The ensuing “in kommen frei” was a phrase popular in Dutch/German New York and Pennsylvania and meant “come in free.”  In this case, “Allez, allez, in kommon frie” may have morphed into a French-English hybrid: “Allez, allez, come in free!”

What we do know is that French court historian and poet, Jean Froissart (1337 – 1405) wrote of having played hide-and-go-seek in England as well as in France.  We also know that the game of hide-and-seek is nearly identical to the game described by the 2nd-century Greek writer Julius Pollux.

Idiomation was unable to located the phrase used in the game of hide-and-seek that was used to call hiders back to “home base” in either Froissart’s era or Pollux’s era.

Advertisements

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Any Excuse Will Serve A Tyrant

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 18, 2011

On September 12, 2010, Tisaranee Gunasekara, journalist for the Asian Tribune — published in Bangkok by World Institute For Asian Studies — wrote an article entitled, “Our Rajapakse Future.” The article dealt with police punishing family members of alleged wrongdoers just prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment in Sri Lanka. The quote highlighted for the article was:

Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

It’s a phrase that’s not oftentimes used, however, when it is used, it’s meaning is straightforward and clear. An interesting entry was published on February 21, 1980 in the “Wallop Reports to Wyoming” column of the Sundance Times, the official newspaper for Crook County, City of Sundance and the U.S. Land Office. It began with:

During childhood we are told many stories designed to teach a lesson about life. Some learn their lesson the first time; others must be reminded.

The column ended thusly:

There is another fable whose moral is: Any excuse will serve a tyrant. It is time we quit giving the Russians excuses and began teaching them the lesson they so bitterly deserve. But to do that we must show national resolve. We can no longer hesitate or equivocate.

And even the Los Angeles Times, back on March 15, 1967, used the phrase in an article about communist China:

Maxims even those that are rewritten, as most of Mao’s are, can be useful. The Red Chinese should heed one written by Aesop which says: Any excuse will serve a tyrant.  It could prepare them for anything the little red book might say.

Although rarely quoted, this forthright, candid saying does indeed come from Aesop’s fable, The Wolf and The Lamb.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 17, 2011

Whether you say it in French as “l’union fait la force” or in English as “united we stand, divided we fall” or any other language, the phrase means that people who join together as a group are much harder to defeat than if they were fighting the battle separately.

It’s been the official motto of Kentucky since 1942, the words inscribed in the official state seal of Missouri, and for gamers, it’s the 3rd mission in a first person tactical military game from British game developer Codemasters “Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.”

E Pluribus Unum” is the motto the US government adopted for its motto for its official seal back in 1776. Translated from Latin, the phrase means “one out of many.” Interestingly enough, that motto certainly upholds the dictum “united we stand, divided we fall” which was particularly fitting for what was then a country with many divisions.

John Dickinson liked the phrase so much that he used it in his revolutionary war song “The Liberty Song.” In the song, first published in the Boston Gazette in 18 July 1768, he wrote:

Then join in hand, brave Americans all—
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!

The phrase, however, originated with Aesop.  It is found directly in his fable, “The Four Oxen and the Lion” and indirectly in his fable, “The Bundle of Sticks.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2011

Political strategist, Ralph Reed, was quoted in the “Hotline” column of  The National Journal on July 27, 1999 as having said:

There is a sense in presidential politics that familiarity breeds contempt. There is a time and a place to pet the pigs and kiss the babies, but that comes a little bit later.

The phrase, familiarity breeds contempt, has been used quite a bit over the years and even 100 years ago, the phrase was part of every day language as seen in the article “Advice On How To Keep A Servant” written by E.T. Stedman and published in the New York Times on August 6, 1901.

There should be sympathy and politeness on both sides, yet, while always remembering the Golden Rule, the mistress should also remember that ” familiarity breeds contempt.” We cannot do without a kitchen stove, still it is not to be placed with the piano In the parlor.

From November 1867 through to June 1868, Anthony Trollope — one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era — wrote “He Knew He Was Right” and saw it published in 1869.  In this book, he wrote:

Perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt.

However, more than 200 years before Anthony Trollope, Thomas Fuller wrote and published “Comment On Ruth.” Even though it was published in 1654, it was, in fact, one of Thomas Fuller‘s earliest compositions and was delivered by Thomas Fuller at St. Benet’s in Cambridge as far bas as 1630.  In printed form, readers find the following:

With base and sordid natures familiarity breeds contempt.

Richard Taverner wrote the book “Garden of Wisdom” published in 1539 and in this book he wrote:

Hys specyall frendes counsailled him to beware, least his ouermuche familiaritie myght breade him contempte.

However, Chaucer wrote how familiarity breeds contempt in his Tale of Melibee published in 1386.  The word “hoomlynesse” means familiarity and the word “dispreisynge” means contempt.  It is easy, therefore, to see that the following is an early version of the phrase:

Men seyn that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse engendreth dispreisynge’.

However, nearly 400 years before Chaucer, in Scala Paradisi, it is St. Augustine who is credited for having said:

Vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parit contemptum.

And before, St. Augustine, it was Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Lucius Apuleis (124 – 170 A.D.) who is credited for having written:

Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.

Ultimately, however, the moral “familiarity breeds contempt” is from Aesop (620 – 564 BC) and his fable, The Fox and the Lion.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Red Skies At Night, Sailors Delight

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2011

Weather folklore has been around for centuries and sometimes what works in one part of the world, doesn’t work nearly as well in other parts.  Regardless, all sorts of interesting rhymes have come into existence due to weather folklore and “red skies at night, sailors delight” is just one of those rhymes.

In North America, we know the entire rhyme as being:

Red sky at night, sailors delight,
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But in the United Kingdom, it’s not sailors who pay attention to the skies.  It’s shepherd’s that keep an eye on the colour of the sky.

Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
Red sky in morning, shepherds warning.

William Shakespeare — who appears often in Idiomation entries — wrote the poem Venus and Adonis in 1592 with the following weather folklore included:

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.

Going back to the Bible, the following passage is found in Matthew 16:1-3:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns and in 340 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. But as to when the rhyme “red skies at night” came into existence during that time is anyone’s guess.

Now, the question whether weather folklore has any basis in science is an interesting question to ask.  The fact of the matter is that when we see a red sky at night, this means that light from the setting sun has a high concentration of dust particles which usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. So yes, a red sky at night means one can expect that good weather will follow

Likewise, if you experience a red sun at morning, take heed.  A red sunrise is reflecting the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. What this means is that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content can be found in the atmosphere and it’s reasonable to believe that rain is on its way.

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

Early To Bed, Early To Rise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2011

The proverb “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” is commonly misattributed To Benjamin Franklin, who quoted it in his Poor Richard’s Almanack back in 1732.

Back in 1639, John Clarke wrote and published “Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina” or ‘Proverbs English, and Latin’ and it contained the proverb, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Just a shade over a century before that, in 1532, author Anthony Fitzherbert wrote and published “The Book of Husbandry” which states the following:

One thinge I wyl aduise the to remembre, and specially in wynter-tyme, whan thou sytteste by the fyre, and hast supped, to consyder in thy mynde, whether the warkes, that thou, thy wyfe, & thy seruauntes shall do, be more auauntage to the tan the fyre, and candell-lyghte, meate and drynke that they shall spende, and if it be more auantage, than syt styll: and if it be not, than go to thy bedde and slepe, and be vppe betyme, and breake thy faste before day, that thou mayste be all the shorte wynters day about thy busynes. At grammer-scole I lerned a verse, that is this, Sanat, sanctificat, et ditat surgere mane. That is to say, Erly rysyng maketh a man hole in body, holer in soule, and rycher in goodes. And this me semeth shuld be sufficient instruction for the husbande to kepe measure.  

A similar expression dating back to 1496, provides an earlier version of the saying and appeared in “A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle” that provides this:

Also who soo woll vse the game of anglynge: he must ryse erly. Whiche thyng is prouffrable to man in this wyse / That is to wyte: moost to the heele of his soule. For it shall cause hym to be hole. Also to the encrease of his goodys. For it shall make hym ryche. As the olde englysshe prouverbe sayth in this wyse. Who soo woll ryse erly shall be holy, helthy and zely.

For those who don’t know, zely means to be happy and fortunate.  There’s no mention of going to bed early however the sense of the proverb is similar in tone to the later version.  The author introduces the text by stating “as the olde englysshe prouverbe sayth in this wyse” and this is to be noted because it establishes the fact that the proverb is considerably older than 1496.

Also in 1496, in the “Book of Hawking” mention that the proverb is an old saying is referenced thusly:

As the olde englysshe proverbe sayeth in this wise: who soo woll ryse erly shall be holy, helthy, and zely.

So it is reasonable to believe that the proverb goes back considerably farther than 1496. We have the Latin version:  “Sanat, sanctificat, et ditat surgere mane”  which translates to “That he may be healthy, happy, and wise, let him rise early.”

And we also have Aristotle writing, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Don’t Count Your Chickens Until Your Eggs Are Hatched

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 19, 2011

The saying has been around for years and everyone from your great-grandmother to your kindergarten teacher and all kinds of people in between.  On September 30, 1911 the Chicago Tribune reported on the Cubs and Giants game in the pennant struggle.  The news article read in part:

Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched is an old saying, and it holds good in baseball.

Poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680) used this advice in his poem, Hudibras, written in 1664:

To swallow gudgeons ere they’re catch’d,
And count their chickens ere they’re hatched.

English poet, Thomas Howell published a book entitled The Arbor of Amitie, wherein is comprised pleasant Poems and pretie Poesies, set foorth by Thomas Howell, Gentleman in 1568.  Two years later in 1570, in his new book,  New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets he wrote a poem that had this couplet:

Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

However it was Aesop’s fable from 570 B.C. entitled “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” 

A milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

“I’ll buy some fowls from the farmer next door,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to others. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs, I’ll buy a new dress for myself.  This way, when I go to market, all the young men will come up and speak to me!  Other girls will be jealous but I won’t care.  I will just look at them and toss my head like this.”

And with those words, the milkmaid tossed her head back.  The pail fell off her head and all the milk was spilled on the ground. She had no choice but to go home and tell her mother what had happened to the milk.

“Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 18, 2011

Back in 2008, it was reported in The Telegraph newspaper in the UK that the reason that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush had been uncovered by scientists. 

Human nature is such that supposedly individuals overvalue what he or she has and undervalue what he or she doesn’t have.  A sense of entitlement actually more to do with the fear of losing a desired possession than wanting it in the first place.

The earliest English version of the proverb is from the Christian Bible translated into English by William Tyndale in 1528 and before Tyndale, by John Wycliffe in 1382.  

However, the phrase  reaches back to 100 A.D. when Ancient Greek author Plutarch wrote Of Garrulity, where he states:

He is a fool who lets slip a bird in the hand for a bird in the bush.

However, back in 600 BC, Greek storyteller Aesop wrote a fable entitled “The Hawk and the Nightingale.”  The story went like this:

A Nightingale, perched on an oak, was spotted by a Hawk, who swooped down and snatched him.

The Nightingale begged the Hawk to let him go, insisting he wasn’t big enough to satisfy the hunger of a Hawk, who ought to pursue bigger birds.

The Hawk said, “I’d be crazy to release a bird I’ve already caught in favor of birds I don’t even yet see.”

The moral of this story is:  “A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dog Days

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 12, 2010

When someone talks about dog days, they either mean those blisteringly hot days in the dead of summer or they’re referring to a period of stagnation.  Either way, dog days are draining days.

The traditional “dog days” of summer fall between early July and mid-August and are noted for their extreme heat and humidity.  In the Mediterranean, this period coincided with hot days that were plagued with disease and discomfort.

Sirius is the “dog star” from the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Big Dog”), hence the name.  Sirius, the “dog star,” is within the constellation Canis Major and is the brightest in the heavens.

During this time of year, the star Sirius is at its brightest and can be seen rising alongside the sun.  In fact, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, just happens to be August 16.  

Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Prologue of Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975 and is set in the first week of August.  In the novel, the author wrote:

These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

There is a very descriptive use of the phrase “dog days” in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel,  A Christmas Carol, that states:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

And in William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII written in 1613, Porter and his Man are talking in the Palace Yard in Act 5, Scene 4.

MAN
The spoons will be the bigger, sir.  There is a fellow somewhat near the door, he should be a brazier by his face, for o’ my conscience twenty of the dog-days now reign in’s nose.  All that stand about him are under the line; they need no other penance.”

The phrase actually dates back to the Egyptians.  They believed that the star gave off extra heat and humidity to augment the already formidable heat of the sun.  In fact, dog days coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile which was important for a good harvest.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Egypt, Greece, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trompe l’œil

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 23, 2010

A “trompe l’oeil” is a painting rendered in such great detail as to deceive the viewer into believing it is reality.  The phrase literally means “tricking the eye” and the best examples of “trompe l’oeil.”

The story of how the style of painting came about is one that can neither be confirmed nor denied.  The story goes that in ancient Greece, there were two rival painters.  One was named Zeuxis (born circa 464 BC) and the other was named Parrhasius.  One day, to prove who was the master of his art, it was decided they would each paint the most perfect illusion of the real world on canvas with nothing more than paint and paintbrushes. 

It’s said that Zeuxis painted a likeness of grapes on his canvas that was so natural that birds flew down to peck at them.  Parrhasius brought in his canvas covered in a cloth.  Parrhasius invited Zeuxis to unveil the painting whereupon Zeuxis learned he had lost the contest. What at first glance appeared to be a cloth covering the canvas was, in reality, Parrhasius‘ painting.

The phrase was used to describe perspectival illusionism art in the Baroque period, however it is found in Ancient Greek and Roman murals such as those depicting Pompeii.  This genre of perspective drawing was mastered by Italian Renaissance painters of the late Quattrocento era.  The American 19th century still-life painter William Harnett specialized in “trompe l’œil” and prior to CGI use in films, trompe l’oeil traveling mattes in such movies as “Star Wars” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Idioms from the 19th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »