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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 10th Century’ Category

Towheaded

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2017

Idiomation has friends of all ages so when a soon-to-be centenarian asked Idiomation to research the history on towheaded, we were more than pleased to oblige this lovely lady’s request.  When Idiomation asked her what she knew the word to mean, she said that twoheaded referred to someone, usually a young child, with light-colored or untidy hair (a definition confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary).  Of course, she also said that it didn’t have to be either/or since a towheaded child could have untidy light-colored hair as she and her two younger sisters did back when they were little.

In Adam K. Raymond’s article, “The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry” was published on 5 July, 2017 on the Vulture website, the expression was used.  The journalist wrote about streaming’s impact on the music industry and how streaming numbers are boosted by way of questionable methods.  Halfway through the article, he wrote:

Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom.

It was used in a movie review in the February 26, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Journal written by David Handler.  In reviewing the “Walking Tall” television series that hit the small screen as a result of the movie’s big screen success, the writer was unimpressed with the first episode which he referred to as being “so slow and preachy that the result is an amazingly dull hour of TV.”  His review included this observation.

Buford holds down the fort every week now surrounded by a cheery office, coffee pot, shiny cars, clean-cut and courteous deputies, a wheezing pappy and curvaceous dispatcher whose life’s dream is to be step-mother to Buford’s two towheaded teenagers (his wife was killed in the first movie).

The expression was used on Page 10 of The Pittsburgh Press on 4 August 1954 in the continuation of a story from the front page.  Titled “Baird, Bride Out Of Hiding” on Page 10, it referred to Dr. Baird’s second elopement.    The first page headline scandalously shared, “Choir Director and Bride Finally Come Out Of Hiding.”

J. Julius Baird, the composer, organist, and conductor of the Bach Choir for 20 years, had married his first wife in 1928, and they divorced in 1953. There were two children from the first marriage – 24-year-old John Jr. and 7-year-old Leslie. His second marriage to a 19-year-old woman was one that raised more than a few eyebrows.  He had met her three years earlier as a choir girl in the Calvary Episcopalian Church Choir he directed.

Two weeks before marrying the former Barbara Stouffer (daughter of Mrs. Edward W. Estes), he resigned as the choir director of Calvary Church and the Bach Choir in Pennsylvania, and accepted his new position as choir director of Grace Episcopalian Church in Colorado Springs , Colorado.   The newspaper included this tidbit using the expression.

Leslie, 7, lives with his father and calls the new Mrs. Baird “Mom” although he knows she isn’t his real mother.

He’s very excited and pleased about the whole thing,” Dr. Baird said.

Leslie, a tow-headed youngster who was pulling the cat’s tail nodded in agreement.

When the Prescott Evening Courier edition of 24 October 1939 was published, Olen W. Clements’ article about a 165-pound 5 foot 7 inch tall University of Texas sophomore named Jack Crain was printed under the title, “Rabbit Crain Saving Texas.”   Jack Crain was an impressive player by all accounts, and according to the reporter, he “put the phft-t-t back in football.”  When it came to describing this player, Olen W. Clements had this to say about Rabbit Crain.

He was a towheaded kid from Nocona, Tex., who sells cowboy boots to make his way through school.

The Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of 11 July 1864 published an article titled, “A Woman’s Faith.”  Although no writer’s name was included with the article, it spoke loudly to what the writer considered the “petty faults caused by vanity” that could befall women, and cheered on the “radiant charm which transforms the coarsest into something almost angelic.”

In clairvoyant rapport with a thought that will carry you to their homes, and you will find in every single instance some woman, possibly sensible in other respects, but deluded in this one point, and absolutely believing that the towheaded or rough-whiskered specimen who is her especial property is an incarnation of the virtues and graces, and possesses the wisdom of Solomon with the acuteness of the celebrate John Bunsby.  A very curious and fortunate circumstance it is for men that Providence arrange it so.  It has done more for them than can ever be undone by woman’s rights’ conventions.

Jumping back another generation, the Hassel family had a perfect to differentiate two cousins named John (the families moved to Tennessee when Tow Headed” John Hassel was six years old.  To know which John Hassel was being talked about, one cousin was known as “Black John” Hassel while the other was known as Tow Headed” John Hassel.  The boy known as “Tow Headed” John Hassel was born in Tyrell, North Carolina on 12 April 1800, son of Zebulon Elder Hassel and Elizabeth Jennette, and he passed away in 1859.

It seems that twoheaded was a popular nickname as a generation earlier people such as Samuel Hamilton (born in 1774) was known as Samuel Towhead Hamilton.  He married Nellie Black and had seven children (none of whom were known as towheaded) with his wife before dying in 1832.

There was also Charles Towheaded Moorman (born on 28 June 1746) who married Judith Moon (born on 26 June 1748) on 10 May 1776.  Unfortunately, Charles was disowned by Cedar Creek, Virginia for marrying out of unity and by a priest.  He left this mortal coil in 1803 while living in Bedford County, Virginia.

So how far back does the nickname reach?  William III, the  Duke of Aquitaine (915 – 3 April 963) was called towhead because of his hair.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William III’s son was William IV who succeeded him.  His sister, Adelaide married Hugh Capet (941 – 23 October 996), and he became the first King of the Franks when he succeeded the last Carolingian king, Louis V.

SIDE NOTE 2:  William IV battled Hugh Capet upon his rise to power as the King of France.  William IV refused to recognize Hugh Capet as the rightful heir to the throne, and protected (and defended) Louis, song of Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (son of Louis IV of France) who, as the last legitimate Carolingian heir, he considered the next in line for the throne.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (953 – 993) was a sixth generation descendant of Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814).

Although Idiomation could find no earlier published mention of towheaded than for the Duke of Aquitaine, the term can be placed to around 900.  However, there is more to share.  It’s possible that the word tow is related to the Old Norse noun, which meant “uncleansed wool or flax, unworked fiber of thread.”  Uncleansed wool or  flax is light-colored and so this may be the word that is responsible for towheaded but without evidence to support that guess, it is nothing more than a guess on Idiomation’s part.

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Days On End

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 26, 2011

When something happens or continues for days on end, it means it’s continuing without any sign of stopping.  It’s an expression with a fair bit of history and reaches back several centuries.

In 1949, the expression was used in “The Royal Engineers Journal” where the following can be found with regards to the post D-Day invasion of northern France.

Often frozen and wet through by night, they proceeded to march and fight at top speed for days on end. This was the 6th Airborne, with wings on its feet as well as its shoulders, and a spirit which said, ‘Bash on regardless.’

Jack London (1876 – 1916) wrote and published “Adventure” in 1911.  In Chapter XVII entitled, “Making The Books Come True” the following passage is found:

The steamer from Sydney, the Kammambo, broke the quietude of Berande for an hour, while landing mail, supplies, and the trees and seeds Joan had ordered. The Minerva, bound for Cape Marsh, brought the two cows from Nogi. And the Apostle, hurrying back to Tulagi to connect with the Sydney steamer, sent a boat ashore with the orange and lime trees from Ulava. And these several weeks marked a period of perfect weather. There were days on end when sleek calms ruled the breathless sea, and days when vagrant wisps of air fanned for several hours from one direction or another. The land-breezes at night alone proved regular, and it was at night that the occasional cutters and ketches slipped by, too eager to take advantage of the light winds to drop anchor for an hour.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s book “A Study In Scarlet” which was published in 1887, the following is found in Part I, Chapter 1 where Dr. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, reminiscences about Sherlock Holmes in this fashion:

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. “I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground. You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”

“I always smoke `ship’s’ myself,” I answered.

“That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?”

“By no means.”

“Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”

I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” I said, “and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.”

Various books, documents, stories, newspaper accounts et al make use of the expression days on end.  Idiomation’s research unearthed that the word end comes from the Old English word ende which is from the Old Norse word endir which means “the opposite side” or “boundary.” The original sense of the word means “outermost part” and dates back to the 900s however this sense is obsolete except in phrases such as days on end.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the expression dates back to some time in the 1300s.

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Apple Of My Eye

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 15, 2010

The phrase “apple of my eye” is best remembered for its inclusion in Sir Walter Scott‘s popular novel Old Mortality published in 1816 where he wrote:

Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.

Shakespeare used the phrase in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Act III, Scene 2 where Oberon says:

Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wakest, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.

But before Scott and Shakespeare, the phrase appeared in a work published in 885 entitled Gregory’s Pastoral Care which is attributed to King Aelfred the Great of Wessex.   During this era, the pupil of the eye was thought to be a solid object and because an apple was the most common round object around, the pupil was referred to as an apple.

Because one’s eyesight was particularly important, the phrase also took on a figurative sense when speaking of someone the speaker considered as precious to him or her as his or her own eyesight.  That the phrase was used in this way implies that the phrase had been in use for quite some time before it was included in King Aelfred the Great‘s book.

In the end, the phrase “apple of my eye” shows up time and again in the Old Testament of the Bible.

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  (Deuteronomy 32:10)

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.  (Book of Psalms 17:8)

Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.  (Proverbs 7:2)

Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.   (Lamentations 2: 18)

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

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Know The Ropes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2010

It’s not surprising to learn that the language of an island nation with a rich maritime history has a number of idioms related to sailing.  The earliest recorded use of this phrase dates back to England and the 10th century.

New sailors signing on with a ship had to acquaint themselves with knot tying as well as handling the ropes for each individual sail on the ship.  The better a sailor knew to tie and handle the ropes, the more valuable he was to the captain.
 
In this way, it paid to ‘know the ropes’ and a smart man was the one who learned the ropes as quickly and as efficiently as possible. 

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