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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 16th Century’ 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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The Half Of It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 3, 2017

Idioms don’t always mean the same thing from century to century.  In fact, these days when someone says another person doesn’t know or hasn’t seen the half of it, this usually means the situation is far worse than what most people can imagine it to be.  The key part of either phrase is what the half of it happens to be.

The more negative aspect of the expression is something that came about as part of the 20th century.  Until then, the half of it was most often a positive comment, although there were instances where it was also meant as a negative comment.  However, the half of it does mean there’s more to something than what meets the eye – or the expectations – of the person commenting.  In other words, the half of it falls short of the reality of the situation, and hasn’t addressed the most important aspect.

In 1999, Julienne Davis was tapped to play the role of Mandy, a drug-addicted prostitute in the movie, “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The role was a small one but one that left an impact on the storyline.  Charlotte O’Sullivan reviewed the movie in the Culture section of the Independent newspaper in the UK.  The headline read, “Film: Body Of Evidence” with this subtitle:  “In Eyes Wide Shut, Abigail Good Play A ‘Mysterious Woman.’  But That’s Not The Half Of It.”

Volume 72 of “Foundry” magazine published in 1944 by Penton Publishing Company.  The magazine published articles on foundry and die-casting manufacturing industry on metal casting technology, production processes, investment casting, and more.  In this issue, the following was written.

In other words — and probably other words are needed — you don’t know the half of it. For the past 5 years I have been teaching foundry practice. Stressing skills and the related subjects has been a hobby and at the same time a religion.

British prose writer P.G. Wodehouse saw Herbert Jenkins in London (UK) and Doubleday (US) publish his book “Hot Water” on 17 August 1932.  His career hit at the same time as the silver screen began to be a marvel of technology with dove-tailed with his success with magazines.  The story dealt with J. Wellington Gedge who somehow found himself caught up in a number of international situations, many of which upset him to no end.  In this book, the phrase appears as follows.

‘Do you now?’ he said. ‘Well, well!’  ‘Yessir. Mrs Gedge insisted on renting it. and I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the place. It makes me sick.  And that’s not the half of it.’  ‘No?’  ‘No, sir. Do you know what?’  ‘What?’

‘When she told me this morning, you could have knocked me down with a feather. What do you think?’

‘What?’

‘You’ll never guess.’

‘What?’

‘Do you know what she told me this morning?’

‘How the hell should I know what she told you this morning?’ said Mr. Slattery, momentary irritation causing him to deviate from his policy of courtliness. ‘Do you think I was hiding under the bed?’

‘She told me I’ve got to be American Ambassador to France.’

Mr. Slattery considered this.

‘You won’t like that.’

‘I know darned well I won’t like it. Ambassadors have to wear uniforms and knickerbockers . . . the sissies.’

There are countless examples of the half of it, including a letter written in 1571 by Scottish historian and humanist scholar George Buchanan (February 1506 – 28 September 1582) in his condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots.  At the time, he was convinced that the death of her husband was as a crime of passion brought on many liaisons he claimed the Queen had with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell  (1534 – 14 April 1578) who, he claimed, was also involved in the demise of the king consort Henry Stuart (7 December 1545 – 10 February 1567), Duke of Albany, known as Lord Darnley.

This is my fayth I wyll die in it. Excuse if I writ euill, ye may gesse the halfe of it, but I can not mende it because I am not weill at ease, and yit very glad to writ vnto you quhen the rest are sleepand, sithe I can not sleipe as thay do and as I would desire, that is, in your armes my deare loue, quhom I pray God to preserue from all euyll and send you repose, I am gangand to seke myne till the morne quhen I shall end my Bybill, but I am fascheit that it stoppies me to write newis of my self vnto you, because it is so lang.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, became the third and final husband of Mary, Queen of Scots when they wed on 15 May 1567 in the Chapel of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. 

SIDE NOTE 2:  To free himself to marry the Queen, he filed for divorce from his wife, Lady Jean Gordon (1546 – 14 May 1629) on grounds of consanguinity, although this required considerable research on his part to prove.  Lady Jean Gordon, however, secured a divorce on grounds of adultery with her maid and seamstress, Bessie Crawford.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Lady Jean Gordon was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly and Elizabeth Keith, and after her divorce from James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, she became the Countess of Sutherland when she married Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland on 13 December 1573.

The expression the half of it has its roots in the earlier expression by half which means by a great deal, which is attested to its use in verse by Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (477 – 525) known simply as  Boethius .  He was influenced by the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, and Augustine of Hippo.

To all folk likewise
This next example no less suits:
The comb of the honey cannot but seem
To each son of men sweeter by half,
If he have tasted before the honey
Aught that is bitter.

SIDE NOTE 4:  The translation of verses by Boethius from Latin to English was undertaken and completed by King Alfred (849 – 26 October 899).  He was also known as Alfred the Great, and ruled England from 21 April 871 until his death on 26 October 899.  During his reign, he improved the legal and military structures in England, and advocated for education to be taught in English.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Half at this point in history did not necessarily mean something was divided into two equal parts.  It simple meant divided in two where one part could be the same, smaller, or larger than the other part.

The word half is Old English and came from the Saxon word healf which is from the Old Norse halfr.  Old English began with the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century.  As such Idiomation pegs the half of it to the early 1500s based on George Buchanan’s use of the phrase in his writings about Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Scotch The Wheels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 25, 2017

Scotching may sound odd at first, but scotching is the act of preventing something with wheels from moving by blocking the wheels with a wedge, bar (iron or wooden), or large stone(s).  Long before parking brakes were invented, drivers found a way to keep their transportation from rolling off into the distance without them.  But even after parking brakes were around, drivers have still found themselves in situations where they have had to scotch the wheels.

The expression is still used today as seen in the Wilkes Journal Patriot newspaper published in North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) on 15 August 2016.  The story headline read, “Second Tractor Death Within One Week Occurs On Friday” and reported on the accident that had taken the life of 84-year-old Billy Marvin Church in the Cricket community.  The article read in part:

With one end of a rope attached to the front of the pickup and the other to the tractor, Church apparently pulled the pickup out of the ditch and intended for two split pieces of log firewood to scotch the wheels of the pickup and stop it from rolling down the slope.

Scotching the wheels was central to a lawsuit in the 1950s in Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. v Scoggins.  James H. Scoggins (Beulah’s husband), and James F. Scoggins, Douglas P. Scoggins, Russell L. Scoggins and Mrs. M. M. Adams (Beulah’s children) brought suit for damages in Bartow Superior Court against Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc. (a petition to strike Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc., was made through an amendment by the plaintiffs), Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc., F. G. Cole and Mrs. F. G. Cole (the petition against the Coles was dismissed), to recover for the alleged negligent homicide of Mrs. Beulah Scoggins.  The lawsuit saw many returns to court with judgements being rendered each time but one or the other party not being satisfied with the results.

Now, according to the filing, on 23 January 1951, the driver had left the bus when the bus started to roll down an incline while parked at the Peggy Ann Bus Stop just north of Cartersville, in Bartow County, Georgia.  At the driver’s urging, Mrs. Scoggins who was aboard the bus, jumped from the bus.  The lawsuit claimed that the injury and death of Mrs. Scoggins was as a direct result of the incident and were it not for the negligence of the company and its driver who knew the brakes on the bus to be in a defective condition, Mrs. Scoggins would not have been injured and died.

The expression was used in the judgement in 1952 as follows.

It was alleged that “scotch blocks” were furnished Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. to scotch the wheels of incoming buses, and that they were maintained on the premises of such defendant, and that it was negligent in not using them on the bus here involved.

In a Letter to the Editor written by C.W. Tonge to the publisher of “The Penny Mechanic and Chemist: A Magazine of the Arts and Sciences” in 1841 addressed the issue of paved street that were worn to the point of being slippery and a danger to horses pulling carts.  His letter provided a detailed explanation about the problem, how the problem was being dealt with, and what he suggested be done instead.  It certainly bore reasonable consideration.

The short story, “The Basket Woman”  by  Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1768 – 22 May 1849) and printed in Volume Ten of thirteen volumes published in 1826 talked about scotching the wheels of a carriage.

Paul went to work immediately, and fastened one end of the pole into the block of wood, so as to make something like a dry rubbing brush.  “Look, grandmamma, look at my scotcher:  I call this thing my scotcher,” said Paul, “because I shall always scotch the wheels with it; I shall never pinch my fingers again; my hands, you see, will be safe at the end of this long stick; and, sister Anne, you need not be at the trouble of carrying any more stones after me up the hill; we shall never want stone any more; my scotcher will do without any thing else, I hope.  I wish it was morning, and that a carriage would come, that I might run up the hill and try my scotcher.”

SIDE NOTE 1:  Maria Edgeworth was the first daughter of Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (31 May 1744 – 13 June 1817) by his first wife, Anna Maria Elers with whom he had four children  After his first wife’s passing in 1773, he was to marry three more times and go one to father eighteen more children.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Maria Edgeworth was homeschooled by her father who taught her law, politics, science, literature, and Irish economics at a time when educating women was not only disapproved of, but ridiculed by educated and uneducated men alike.  Her education, however, enabled her to hold her own in correspondences with learned men of the time who respected her insights and opinions.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Maria Edgeworth is acknowledged as a significant influence in Europe with regards to the evolution of the novel.   Her writing addressed issues of religion, politics, race, class, sex,  and gender.

A little over a hundred years earlier, Nonconformist minister and author Reverend Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) published, “A Discourse Concerning Meekness and Quietness of Spirit” on 21 November 1698 – a sermon on Acts 28:22.  In his discourse, he wrote about those who deserved the loudest applause, received reproof instead.  The idiom was used in Section III that dealt with instances where meekness was required in a special way.

We must not be like the reprobate Sodomites (Gen. xix. 9) or that pert Hebrew (Exod. Ii. 14.) that flew in the face of their reprovers (though really they were the vest friend they  had,) with, Who made thee a judge? but like David, who, when Abigail so prudently scotched the wheels of his passion, not only blest God that sent her, and blest her advice, but blest her (1 Sam. Xxv. 32, 33, and v. 35.) not only hearkened to her voice, but accepted her person.  

The previous century, English churchman, historian, and prolific author Thomas Fuller (June 1608 – 16 August 1661) published “The Holy State and the Profane State” in 1642.  The book was the most successful of Thomas Fuller’s books and was reprinted another four times after the first run sold out.  The book was published in four volumes with the first three outlining the characteristics of positive archetypes, and the fourth book illustrating profane people.

The idiom appeared in Point 4 of Chapter XXVIII: The Good Landlord and titled, “Inclosure Without Depopulating is Profitable to the Commonwealth.”

If a mathematician should count the wood in the hedges, to what a mighty forest would it amount?  This underwood serves for supplies to save timber from burning, otherwise our wooden walls in the water must have been sent to the fire.  Add to this, the strength of an inclosed country against a foreign invasion.  Hedges and counterhedges, having in number what they want in height and depth, serve for barricadoes, and will stick as birdlime in the wings of the horse, and scotch the wheeling about of the foot.  Small resistance will make the enemy to earn every mile of ground as he marches.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Two of Thomas Fuller’s most repeated quotes are “All things are difficult before they are easy” and “If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.”

In the early 15th century, scotch meant a notch or a groove with the origins of the word beyond seemingly impossible to trace.  Idiomation therefore pegs the expression scotch the wheels to the late 1500s which allows for the meaning of the idiom to make its way into Thomas Fuller’s writings.

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Bold As Brass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

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The Dickens

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 10, 2015

Whether it’s something you have a dickens of a time doing or something is happening like the dickens, most people don’t give a second thought as to what the dickens are in the first place.  What people do know is that the dickens seems to mean a lot.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on December 8, 2015 titled, “How Kitchen Tools Revolutionized American Cooking” written by Megan McArdle.  The article began with introducing readers to centenarian Chuck Williams who passed away on December 5.  Were it not for his trip to France in the 1950s, many of the fancy kitchen gadgets that are part of the kitchen arsenal may not have found their way into American kitchens as early as they did.  In the article, the writer shared this with readers:

I mean, yes, I know how to chop onions just fine. But doing so makes me cry like the dickens, unless I wear goggles.

A little over a hundred years ago, the idiom was found in literature including Issue No. 604 of the Secret Service series titled, “The Bradys’ Chinese Clew or The Secret Dens of Pell Street” by A New York Detective (that was the only identity given the author” and published August 19, 1910.  The publisher, Frank Tousey, was located in Union Square in New York City.  The words were used in this passage:

“Sit down,” replied Old King Brady.  “You are terribly wet, my boy.”
“Yes, it’s raining like the dickens.”
“Won’t you have something to eat?  A cup of coffee.  You get good coffee here.”
The boy sat down with a shudder.

In 1852, London publishers, Hope and Co., on Great Marlborough Street, published a book by the author Eireeneespaid’ published a book with an equally strange title, “Eireeneespaid’ Agathoontegigantaisophilos, the Good Natured Giant.”  This passage in the story used the dickens three times to make its point.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, he struggled on unconscious for a little while, though something or other, ever and anon, gave a nudge at the calf of his leg.  The outward man at length gave the alarm.  “What the dickens?” (it was an old expression of surprise handed down from his ancestors, but without any explanatory note or comment) “what the dickens?”  He put his hand to his attacked calf; it was a fat calf, a very fat calf, of course, Mr. Jarvis being a very fat man.  There was tangibly a sort of slimy moisture on the surface, “What the dickens?”

Some will insist that the idiom has to do with English writer and social critic, Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) but history easily disproves this.  Even if one disregards what Eireeneespaid’ wrote in his book in 1852, it’s difficult to believe that the idiom was an oblique reference to Charles Dickens.

Yes, it’s true that he wrote and published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and that the last name of the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is used to describe miserly people, the same cannot be said of Charles Dickens’s last name.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1840 the U.S. Federal Census Data showed that Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and New York.  By 1920, the Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and North Carolina.  The dickens you say!

In Volume 2 of “The Humourist: Being Essays Upon Several Subjects” in the essay titled, “Of Hopers” the idiom is used.  The book, published in 1725, predates Charles Dickens’s birth by nearly a century so it’s a fact that the dickens used in any form obviously has nothing to do with Charles Dickens.  The author of this collection of essays is identified as John Thomas Hope, however, he is also identified elsewhere as Thomas Gordon.

He would needs make me seat my self in his own Place within the Chimney, an Honour which I was at first determin’d to decline ; but I found him invincible in his Complaisance:  Pugh, said he, you are too modest,  Sir you don’t know me ;  what the Dickens!  Have not I been whip’d at the Cart’s Tail too?

In Cocker’s “English Dictionary” compiled by scrivener and engraver Edward Cocker (1631– 22 August 1676), identified as the late famous practitioner in Writing and Arithmetick, with the second edition published in 1715 by John Hawkins.  The first edition, published in 1704 also included the dickens.   The following definition is provided for the word dickens.

Dickens, a Corruption of Devilkins, or little Devils; as, the Dickens take you.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Edward Cocker was mentioned by Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) in 1664, who described him as “very ingenious and well read in all our English poets.”  When Edward Cocker died in 1675, it’s said that his last poem was titled, “Cocker’s Farewell To Brandy.”  The poem contained these lines:

Here lyes one dead, by Brandy’s might power,
Who the last quarter of the last flown hour,
As to his health and strength, was sound and well

In Act III, Scene ii in “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” by William Shakespeare (April 1564 – 23 April 1616) takes place on a street where Mistress Page and Robin (the page to Sir John Falstaff) are met by Ford (a gentleman living at Windsor).  The play was written in 1597 and published in 1602.

FORD
Well met, Mistress Page. Whither go you?

MISTRESS PAGE
Truly, sir, to see your wife. Is she at home?

FORD
Ay; and as idle as she may hang together, for want of company. I think, if your husbands were dead, you two would marry.

MISTRESS PAGE
Be sure of that — two other husbands.

FORD
Where had you this pretty weather-cock?

MISTRESS PAGE
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?

ROBIN
Sir John Falstaff.

FORD
Sir John Falstaff!

Around the same time of Shakespeare’s play, the play “Edward The Fourth” by English playwright, actor, and author Thomas Heywood (1575 – 16 August 1641), published in 1599, also used the term.  In Act III, scene i, Hobs, the Tanner of Tamworth and the Duchess share this exchange.

HOBS
Do you demand what’s dear?  Marry, corn and cow-hides.  Mass, a good nug lass, well like my daughter Nell.  I had rather than a band of leather she and I might smouch together.

DUCHESS
Cam’st thou not down the wood?

HOBS
Yes, mistress; that I did.

DUCHESS
And sawest thou not the deer imbost?

HOBS
By my hood, ye make me laugh.  What the dickens?  Is it love that makes ye prate to me so fondly?  By my father’s soul, I would I had job’d faces with you.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the dickens, however, since it was used by both William Shakespeare and Thomas Heywood in their respective plays, it indicates that the dickens was common usage at the time.  This puts the dickens to at least the mid-1500s.

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From Pillar To Post

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 18, 2015

When someone is said to be running from pillar to post, it’s another way of saying the person is running around in circles. In other words, they’re getting the run around and getting nowhere at all.

When Linda Kay Barber of Deer Park (WA) wrote a Letter to the Editor, the Spokesman-Review published it in their June 11, 1990 edition. She took issue with parents who weren’t putting their children first, whether they were dead beat non-custodial parents or parents who walked the picket line outside the Office of Support Enforcement. A line from her letter was plucked and became the letter’s headline: “Kids Kicked From Pillar To Post.”

When Hollywood was casting for the comedy series, “McHale’s Navy” starring Ernest Borgnine (24 January 1917 – 8 July 2012), producer Edward Montagne (20 May 1912 – 15 December 2003) saw Bobby Wright’s audition for another series titled, “It’s A Man’s World.” He cast the 20-year-old in the role of Radioman 2nd Class Willy Moss (credited as John Wright), and the story published in newspapers on Sunday, April 14, 1963 shared Bobby’s new-found fame in an article entitled, “From Pillar To Post.”

NOTE 1: Bobby Wright aka John Robert Wright Jr. (born 30 March 1942) is the son of Johnnie Wright (13 May 1914 – 27 September 2011) and country singer Kitty Wells (30 August 1919 – 16 July 2012), and the younger brother of country singer Ruby Wright (27 October 1939 – 27 September 2009) and Carol Sue Wright Sturdivant (born 12 June 1941).

Back on January 31, 1930 a story out of Washington dealing with prohibition was multifaceted. The upswing (or downswing depending if you were a Republican or a Democrat) of the discussion within the House Expenditures Committee about transferring dry enforcement from Secretary Melton’s bailiwick to that of the Attorney General was reported in the article.  On a related note, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the Jack Daniel Distillery Company of St. Louis was rendered when it was determined that the government failed to prove that whiskey in a bonded warehouse had been stolen by anyone associated with the Jack Daniel Distillery Company.  The article was headlined as “Dry Law Bounced From Pillar To Post As Capitol Talk Continues” and this was the first sentence in the article.

The prohibition discussion continued to bounce from pillar to post in Washington today, but concrete developments were few.

NOTE 2: Lemuel Motlow, nephew of Jasper “Jack” Daniel, moved part of the Jack Daniel Distillery Company operations to St. Louis (MO) after Tennessee adopted state prohibition in 1910.

Thieves made off with 16 barrels of whiskey and 118 cases of bourbon from the warehouse in December 1922, and then siphoned 893 barrels of whiskey through 150 feet of hose, and into waiting trucks in August 1923. The barrels (save for one that was left untouched for inspection) were refilled with water and vinegar. The stolen whiskey was resold on the bootleg market.

Lemuel Motlow was charged by the police in what was later come to be known as the “whiskey milking case” but the case against Lemuel Motlow never went to trial. Twenty three others, including former St. Louis circuit clerk Nat Goldstein and William J. Kinney, brother of a state senator who at the time was responsible for the Jack Daniel’s inspection, were tried a year later in Indianapolis and sentenced to time in the Leavenworth (KS) jail. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the distillery returned to its roots in Tennessee, setting up shop in Lynchburg.

The Sunday Herald of December 29, 1895 shared a news story of a middle-aged woman by the name of Mrs. Lizzie Bowen, and her 19-year-old boarder, Maude Mersin (whose real name was Mary Sheridan) who were known to cause considerable troubles for their neighbors. Maude, according to the news article, had a way of becoming acquainted with a great many young men, and was well-known in drinking establishments around town. She also spent an inordinate amount of time on the streets which was a polite way of reporting that she was a street-walker (which was the polite term for prostitute at the time).

Mrs. Bowen was no stranger to bad behavior herself and saw no problem with what neighbors were upset over. The trouble, however, cause the duo to be forced from their apartment on Elm Street, moving to new lodgings on White Street, where their troubles followed them. Forced to move from their apartment on White Street, they relocated to North Main Street where neighbors, familiar with the pair, continue to keep an eye on them.  The article was aptly entitled, “From Pillar To Post.”

NOTE 3: The article included an interesting saying Idiomation had not previously heard: “Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him.”

According to Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” the original idiom was from post to pillar and was in reference to the tennis courts. It may seem strange to think of tennis as being a game of a certain age, however, it is, and historical documents speak of the game of court tennis in 13th century literature. A new addition to the game of tennis happened during the reign of King Henry VIII when tennis rackets were introduced into the game.

It was found in “Contention Between Liberality And Prodigality” published in 1602 where it was written:

Every minute tost, like to a tennis-ball, from pillar to post.

When Richard Stanyhurst published his book “Thee First Foure Bookes Of Virgil His Aeneis Translated Into English Heroical Verse” back in 1582, the game of tennis and the phrase were tied to each other as well.

Free thee poast toe piler with thoght his rackt wyt he tosseth.

Long before the tennis racket came into play, there were other elements that were integral parts of the game (which have long since disappeared) and tennis was an intricate game of strategy and endurance. Among the structures were galleries, grilles, tambours, and dedans. The net (which was nothing more than a rope) was tied to a post at one end and to one of the pillars supporting the galleries at the other end, and thus, the idiom from post to pillar began.

How do we know that this? We can thank John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) for writing the following in his work, “The Assembly Of The Gods” published in 1420.

And when he thedyr came, Humylyté hym took
A token and bad hym go to Confessyon,
And shew hym hys mater with a peteous look.
Whyche doon, he hym sent to Contrycion.
And fro thensforth to Satysfaccion.
Thus from poost to pylour was he made to daunce,
And at the last he went forthe to Penaunce.

But it does seem odd that if someone was going post to pillar, as John Lydgate wrote, that person would be doing so for penance. So if this reference hasn’t anything — or much of anything — to do with royal tennis, then the reference must have to do with being taken from the pillory to the whipping post as mentioned in John Ray’s book “A Hand-Book Of Proverbs” published in 1670 where he included, “To be tost from post to pillory.”

The spirit of the idiom, however, is first found in the book by John Heywood (1497 – 1580) entitled “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies” published in 1562. In Part II, Chapter II of the section titled, “Proverbs” the following is found:

And from post to pillar, wife, I have been tossed
By that surfeit. And I feel a little fit
Even now, by former attempting of it.

Also in this same book, John Heywood also included the following:

Tossed from post to pillar: thou art a pillar strong;
And thou hast been a pillar, some say, too long.

And so it seems that the idiom was recognized and understood in 1562 (and meaning what the idiom means today) which indicates that back in the mid-1500s, from pillar to post (or actually from post to pillar) was already understood by the general population in England.

This indicates that somewhere between 1420 when the phrase first appeared in “Assembly Of The Gods” by John Lydgate and 1562 in “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies” by John Heywood, the spirit of the idiom became set to mean going from one thing to another, and not getting anywhere.

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In A Pickle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 13, 2015

When you find yourself in a pickle what that means is that you’ve found yourself in a position where you don’t know what to do, and where whatever you decide to do, you will probably have to deal with some unpleasant consequences.

On April 28, 1994, John N. Grigsby of the Toledo Blade newspaper published an intriguing story in his column “The Street Where You Live” all about the name of a street in Oregon Township. The column started by announcing that for years, residents in Oregon Township had wondered how Pickle Street got its name. Usually streets are named after early settlers, but in this case, not one settler named Pickle had ever lived in the township.

While there had been a farmer named Pickle at some point in the township’s history, by the time he settled in Oregon Township, the street had been named long before. Pickle Street had been known as County Road 183 and Brand Street and Stevens Street and Freedom Street, cut county commissioners decided in 1919 to settle on naming it Pickle Street. The column headline read, “Oregon Residents Caught In A Pickle Over Naming Of Thoroughfare.”

The Reading Eagle published a story back in 1934 by author Thornton W. Burgess in his column, “Nature Stories.” This one was titled, “Peter Rabbit Is In A Pickle.” The word pickle was used often throughout the story, including in this passage:

So, now you see what a pickle Peter was in. He was afraid to go over to that machine on account of the man, and he was afraid not to go because all the other little people would call him a coward and a boaster.

A little more than a century earlier, in 1820, Harry Broom (which was a pseudonym the author used) wrote a series of plays under the heading, “King In A Pickle.” The entire series was a satirical recounting of current affairs and lampooning King George IV and fellow royals, very much in the style of William Shakespeare.

SIDE NOTE:  The author was also responsible for another humorous book entitled, “A Nursery Guide For Ministers’ Wives.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, the bard used in a pickle in Act 5, Scene 1 of his play “The Tempest” published in 1610.

ALONSO:
And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

TRINCULO:
I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

But it’s an odd little poem from in the book “Proverbs and Epigrams” by John Heywood and published in 1562 that the words appears in the sense of a pickle being a difficult situation.

Time is tickell
Chaunce is fickell
Man is brickell
Freilties pickell
Poudreth mickell
Seasonyng lickell

This is the earliest published version Idiomation could find for in a pickle referring to a difficult situation, and for it to be cleverly used in John Heywood’s work indicates that the phrase was understoodin 1562 to mean a difficult situation. It’s reasonable to believe that at least a generation earlier, the idiom took on this meaning. Idiomation therefore pegs in a pickle to the early 1500s.

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Hocus Pocus

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 4, 2015

Hocus pocus science or legal hocus pocus or medical hocus pocus have to do with science, law, or medicine that relies on ignorance, laziness, or hypocrisy to be successful.  Through verbal misrepresentation, the goal is to take advantage of others for the benefit of the one using hocus pocus science or legal hocus pocus.  In other words, it’s nothing more than fraud.

In Ted Hoffman’s November 21, 1999 column, “Culture Shocked” — published by the Lakeland Ledger — he took on the issue of televangelist Peter Popoff in an article entitled, “Mumbo Jumbo, Hocus-Pocus.”  His article made it clear to readers what hocus pocus was!

Yet millions of us perpetuate and fall victim to mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, phony-baloney, pseudo-scientific tripe.  Astrology.  Crystals.  Psychics.  Tarot.  Channeling.  Magnetic healing.  Homeopathic medicines.  Creationism.  Psychic surgery and faith healing.  After-death contact. Reincarnation.  Past-life regression. Velveeta snorting.

On March 2, 1972 the Lodi News-Sentinel published a news article written by Andrew Tully who was covering the bail hearing of Angela Davis, a woman who was released on $105,000 USD bail for her involvement in the murder of four people in a courtroom shootout a year and a half earlier in August 1970.  The article was entitled, “Hocus Pocus Science” and ended with this paragraph.

In any event, the law has surrendered to a segment of public opinion.  Coke probably is swiveling in his grave, but not the 18th century playwright, Charles Macklin.  In “Love A La Mode,” Macklin observed that “the law is a sort of hocus-pocus science.”

In the Milwaukee Journal of March 31, 1936 the newspaper reported on a $150,000 USD libel suit that had been brought by Edward A. Ernest against the newspaper proper with regards to comments made about the merits of the spectro-chrome health machines — little machines that contained electric light bulbs and colored glass — invented by Dinshah P. Ghadiali (an inventor with a string of fake degrees, may of which were from diploma mills), and marketed and sold by Edward A. Ernest.   J.G. Hardgrove was acting counsel for the Journal.

The complaint had to do with a newspaper article that referred to the machines as “hocus pocus.”  Edward A. Ernest’s name was not mentioned in the article, however, he insisted in his lawsuit that the article held him up to ridicule.

J.G. Hardgrove proved that Edward A. Ernest came up with his own medical vocabulary to replace standard medical terminology with which to fool potential customers.  Rather than talk about cures, diseases, and diagnosis, Edward A. Ernest would talk about normalizing, and unbalance, and measurement instead.  When counsel for the Journal asked Edward A. Ernest about his concept of an auric vehicle — asking if it was six inches thick or a millionth of an inch thick — Edward A. Ernest replied that the invisible egg-shaped ovid’s size was unknown to him.

As the trial continued, the questions as well as the responses were said to bring “smiles from the jury” and is it any wonder why?

“Now, listen here, it follows that,” Burke started to say when Judge Smalley commented.  “If I understand what hocus pocus means, it means fraud, doesn’t it?”

Burke again started to give his definition when Hardgrove explained, “As applied to this machine it means a machine that can have no scientific basis.”

SIDE NOTEIn later years, a United States district court in Camden, New Jersey found Dinshah P. Ghadiali guilty on twelve counts of violating the federal pure food and drug ace, and confiscated his phony healing devices which were destroyed shortly afterwards.

Playwright Charles Macklin was quoted again, this time by the Gazette Times on August 7, 1907 by writer Erasmus Wilson in his article, “Quiet Observer.”  His column explained his position that “all good things are possible if persistently sought, and wrought for.”  Midway through his essay, he used the quote in its more complete form.

The law is a sort of hocus-pocus science that smiles in your face while it picks your pocket; and the glorious uncertainty of it is of more use to the professors than the justice of it.

In 1801, “The Sports and Pastimes Of The People Of England: From The Earliest Period” by English author and antiquary Joseph Strutt (27 October 1749 – 16 October 1802) explained that the term hocus pocus was a term applicable to a common cheat, and referenced Reverend John Tillotson’s “Sermon XXVI.”

In 1681, English writer, philosopher and clergyman, Joseph Glanvill (1636 – 4 November 1680), late Chaplain in Ordinary to his Majesty the King and Fellow of the Royal Society, wrote about hocus pocus in his book, “Saducismus Triumphatus.

And that here this name is not from any tricks of Legerdemain as in common jugglers that delude the fight of the people at a market or fair, but that it is the name of such as raise Magical Spectres to deceive mens fight, and so are most certainly witches, is plan from Exod.22.18  Thou shalt not suffer [Mecassephah] that is, a witch to live.  Which would a law of extream (sic) severity, or rather cruelty, against a poor hocus-pocus for his tricks of legerdemain.

Now what Reverend John Tillotson, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (1630 – 22 November 1694) wrote in his sermons about hocus pocus was this:

In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.

And English General Baptist minister, Thomas Grantham (1634 – 17 October 1692) — the Curate of High Barnet near London — used hocus pocus in his essay “A Marriage Sermon, Called A Wife Mistaken Or A Wife And No Wife” published in 1643.  The term is used many times, including in this passage:

We say that man is an excellent hocus-pocus, excellent in Lederdemain, and slight of hand, that can deceive one that looks upon him.  But he that can deceive the hearing and the feeling, he is far more excellent:  My sight may be deceived, for I may take that which is pictured to be lively and real; but my hearing, my feeling cannot be so easily deceiv’d.

And John Gee used the term in his book “New Shreds Of The Old Snare” that was published in 1624 where he wrote:

I alwayes thought they had their rudiments from some iugling Hocas Pocas in a quart pot.

Traveling further back in history, the term is found in the German edition of “The Taming Of The Shrew” by William Shakespeare (April 1564 – 23 April 1616) and published in 1590.

Hocus Pocus_Shakespeare
Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of hocus pocus and any of its variants earlier than the German publication.  However, the word was understood by the Germans around 1590 as well as the English.  As it was already part of the common man’s language, hocus pocus most likely dates back to the mid-1500s, if not earlier.

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Skittles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 24, 2015

Every once in a while you hear someone allege that another person is skittles, meaning that their thinking is all over the place.  And you may hear the word used in this sense:  “He had the skittles kicked out of him.”  If that’s happened to someone, then their thinking is also all over the place as they are bent over in pain.

That meaning is courtesy of the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie.  In the movie, the Gadgetmobile (voiced by American actor, political commentator, and comedian D. L. Hughley) crashes into the Dr. Claw’s limousine and upon impact, thousands of Skittles pour out of the glove compartment and air bag.  Penny (Inspector Gadget’s niece) arrives on the scene and notices that the Gadgetmobile “got the Skittles kicked out of him.”  Since the movie’s release in theaters over 15 years ago, this meaning for the word has made its way into every day jargon.

However, the new meaning is predicated on the fruit-flavoured bite-sized candy of the same name that debuted in England in 1974.

Historically speaking, the word does indeed, exist in Danish and Swedish, in the sense of a child’s marble.  This dates back to the mid-17th century and is of unknown origin.  So it’s not surprising that a colorful, bite-sized candy the size of a child’s marble would be a called a skittle by the manufacturer.

However, skittles is also a game that dates back to 1625 and is Scandinavian in origin.  The game is one where a wooden ball or disk is used to knock down ninepins, and is the forerunner to bowling.  Each of the ninepins is known as a skittle.  It didn’t take long before the game of skittles was popular in England as well as in Scandinavia and in other countries between Scandinavian and English shores.

But even before then, Skittle was a last name given to families who were weavers as another name for a weaving shuttle was a skittle.  The first recorded version of that name was for Agnes Skittle who married John Culpack at St. Nicolas in Colchester, Essex on September 17, 1581.  It was at this time in history that last names were introduced in England.  It was a way to keep accurate records for personal taxation purposes — a government program that was new to the empire ruled under Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) when she ruled England from 17 November 1558 through to her death in 1603.

And so, in the end, skittles refers to a game of old-fashioned bowling where pins are knocked down the old-fashioned way with a wooden ball or a disk, and the scoring — while different from modern-day bowling — demands a certain degree of skill from its participants.  It’s not much different from the skill required of weavers with their many skittles shuttling back and forth as it creates quality cloths.

In the end, whether it’s weaving or bowling, skittles tend to wind up all over the place when all is said and done!  The word, as far as Idiomation can find, dates back to at least the mid-1500s, and most likely well before then.

Thursday, Idiomation will take a closer look at the idiom beer and skittles to see what that’s all about.

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Fit As A Fiddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2015

When you’re fit as a fiddle, you’re healthy and well.  Ask any musician with a violin or fiddle and he or she will confirm that a fit fiddle is one that’s in excellent shape.   And how does one keep a fiddle fit?  As with any musical instrument, a well maintained fiddle is one the owner keeps in top condition which means the sounds emanating from the instrument will always equal the talent and ability of the person playing it.

When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were those who were concerned over his health … not because he appeared to be suffering from any health issues, but because he was far from being a young man at the time.  However, the Montreal Gazette of October 31, 1981 published a news story that was picked up from UPI that stated that all was well with the President.  The article was titled, “Reagan Fit As A Fiddle” and the first paragraph of the story read:

Two days of physical examinations at the National Naval Medical Center found U.S. President Ronald Reagan to be “fit as a fiddle,” a presidential aide said yesterday.

Over the years, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ran newspaper ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and these ads advocated taking Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to cure indigestion woes.  In fact, in the Spokesman Review of October 22, 1942 the ad copy read in part:

Say goodbye to those “morning blues.”  Next time you overeat, or stay up late at a gay party, take Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at bedtime and wake up feeling “fit as a fiddle.”

The saying was used in other newspaper advertisements.  Going back to May 12, 1909, the Pittsburgh Press ran one for Hires with the headline copy, “As Fit As A Fiddle On A Fine Spring Day.”

FIT AS A FIDDLE_IMAGE 1
On May 21, 1888, the Evening Post newspaper of Wellington in New Zealand published an article in the Sporting section titled, “Turf Notes” and written by the anonymous reported, Vigilant. The news was that the Wanganui Steeplechase had nine horses entered, and barring accidents, racing fans could expect to see all ready to run at post time.  One horse in particular seemed to be of enough interest to warrant mention by the reporter.

Faugh-a-Baalagh, 11st 12lb, is generally voted well in, and as he will have T. Lyford up on him and is reported as fit as a fiddle, whatever beats him will, I think, get the stakes.

Volume 15 of the “American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine” published in January 1844, discussed the strengths of a horse owned by Mr. G. Salvin.  In Monday’s race, the odds were 13 to 4 against The Cure, and 3 to 1 against The Cure in Thursday’s race, making him an equal favorite with another horse by the name of Ithuriel.

The Cure is an extraordinary good horse, and we have reason to believe the stable money is upon him.  If so, and his partly only mean it, then will our anticipations be realised in seeing him not far from No. 1.  The distance is the only obstacle in his path, but his friends assert that makes no difference.  He is, we hear, as “fit as a fiddle,” and none the worse of his being a little off at Newcastle.  It is understood that Sam Rogers will now have the steering of the “little gentleman” for the St. Leger.

English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) — known as John Wray until 1670 — included the idiom in his book ,”A Compleat Collection Of English Proverbs” first published in 1670.  Before it was included in John Ray’s book, it was used by English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 25 August 1632) in “The Batchelor’s Banquet” published in 1603 with a bit of a twist.  Instead, the word fine was inserted for fit, however the sense of being in top-notch shape was clear in the dialogue.

Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle, having on a white waistcoat, with a flaunting cambricke ruff about her neck, who liks a Doctris in facultie comes thus upon him.  Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our mistresse bot your selfe:  I will allure you on my credit that I doe what I can, yet for my life I cannot I, any way content her.

And in English playwright William Haughton’s Elizabethan era stage play, “Englishmen For My Money: A Pleasant Comedy Called A Woman Will Have Her Will” published in 1598, the idiom appears.  In the scene, we find the Italian Aluaro, the Frenchman Delion, and Frisco, who is described as Pisaro’s man and a clown.  Pisaro is a Portingale, and the story has to do with this three daughters — Laurentia, Marina, and Mathea — and their suitors.

FRISCO:
In Leaden-hall?  I trow I shall meete with you anone: In Leaden-hall?  What a simple Asse is this Frenchman.  Some more of this:  Where are you sir?

ALUARO:
Moy I be here in Vanshe-streete.

FRISCO:
This is excellent ynfayth, as fit as a Fiddle:  I in Tower-streete, you in Leaden-hall, and th third in Fanchurch-streete; and yet all three heare one another, and all three speake together:  either wee must be all three in Leaden-hall, or all three in Tower-streete, or all three in Fanchurch-streete; or all three Fooles.

The word fiddle is derived from the Old English word fithele, and in Old German it was fiedel.  The word came into vogue during the 14th century when Medieval fiddles became popular street musical instruments, due in large part to their portability.  Fiddles during the Middle Ages were described as having four strings, a hollow body, and an unfretted fingerboard, and was played with a bow.

It was an instrument equally favored by waits (official town musicians employed by the large English towns in which they lived), minstrels (who were first and foremost entertainers who were also musicians, and who traveled from town to town), and troubadours (who, even though they were musicians, interacted with royalty and nobility).

It can be guessed that those musicians who played fiddle — especially for aristocracy — would want their instrument to be in the best condition possible, and fit for performances.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published use of fit as a fiddle than the one found in William Haughton’s comedy, because it was used in the play, it was obviously an expression that was already known to the general population by the late 1500s.

Considering how language evolved during this era, it is very likely that the idiom most likely came into vogue during the early to mid-1500s.

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