Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 3,379 other followers

  • IDIOMATION SERIES on Amazon!

    Available in digital eBook and paperback format.

    swirl

    BUY NOW BY CLICKING HERE!

    swirl

    BUY NOW BY CLICKING HERE!

    SIGN UP FOR OUR EMAIL NEWSLETTER


    ForEmail Marketing you can trust

  • August 2015
    S M T W T F S
    « Jul    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    3031  

Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 17th Century’ Category

Gay Blade

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2015

While many these days default to thinking of the term gay blade as an offensive comment made about flamboyant homosexuals, the word gay didn’t just one day adopt that meaning.   The word has always had a second meaning that dates back to 1637 where the secondary meaning was defined as being addicted to social pleasures and dissipation. In other words, the gay life was a life of loose morals and so males and females who were inclined to leading immoral lives were said to be gay. It only took three hundred more years for the word to refer to male homosexuals.

When the term gay blade first began showing up in literature, it had nothing to do with being addicted to social pleasures. It referred to a gallant young man who was usually adept as a swordsman. Even though there were other connotations for gay blade over the years, the more chivalrous meaning still managed to survive into the 20th century.

Back on May 27, 1981 newspapers were sharing the news that George Hamilton refused to change the name of us upcoming Zorro movie even when the people backing the movie objected to its title. He made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the movie was about a happy turn-of-the-century swordsman and that the movie title had a “nice turn-of-the-century ring to it.” And so, moviegoers were treated to antics of George Hamilton, Lauren Button, Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman in the very successful and very funny movie, “Zorro: The Gay Blade.”

In a Sundance, Wyoming advertisement titled, “What Kind Of Lad Is Your Dad” published in the Sundance Times of June 9, 1960, four stereotypes were suggested: Ranger Rider, Strong Silent Father, Snappy Pappy, and Gay Blade. Regardless of what kind of dad described your dad, Spearfish Clothier had an ensemble worthy of your dad.  The definition written up for the Gay Blade dad was one that easily fit a heterosexual male, a metrosexual male, or a homosexual male.

IMAGE 1

On April 21, 1944 the Deseret News published a story about American baseball Left fielder, Emil Frederick Meusel (9 June 1893 – 1 March 1963) nicknamed Irish. He began his career with the Washington Senators in 1914 and played on game before moving to the minors. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1918, and then to the New York Giants in 1921.   The article in the Deseret News – which really was just a list of baseball players and some relatively innocuously scandalous facts about them — began with this tidbit.

Irish Meusel, as gay a blade and dangerous a hitter as was ever trailed by John McGraw’s detective staff.

SIDE NOTE 1: Irish Meusel’s brother, Robert William “Long Bob” Meusel (19 July 1896 – 28 November 1977) played for the New York Yankees from 1920 to 1922, and his career ended with the Cincinnati Reds in 1930.

The term was found in a story in Volume 39 of “New Catholic World” back in July 1884. The magazine was published by the Paulist Press   and the term was used in the short story, “A Tragi-Comedy” by American writer, Catholic journalist, literary critic, novelist, and diplomat Maurice Francis Egan (24 May 1852 – 15 January 1924).

It was the happiest day of her life. Jack Dempsey, careless, free-and-easy Jack, looked at her wrinkled hands and sighed. What a glory it was to have a mother! He laughed and joked, kissed his hand out of the car-window right and left; but, for all that, he missed none of the tender, prideful glances that the worn, tired woman cast upon her son.   Jack, in his heart, felt sad; it seemed to him that a mother’s love is born to suffer – of all earthly things the nearest to heaven, yet of all earthly things most pathetic in its disappointments.

“He’s a gay blade,” said Mr. Devir.

“There’s no thought about him at all,” answered Mrs. Devir as Jack Dempsey bade them good-by. “They say his uncle wants to make a priest of him. He’ll never do it!”

It was in the short story, “The Farmer’s Daughter” by William Howitt and included in the anthology, “Heads of the People: Portraits of the English” illustrated by Joseph Kenny Meadows (1 November 1790 – August 1874), engraved by John Orrin Smith (1799–1843), and published in 1841.

She was altogether a dashing woman. She rode a beautiful light chestnut mare, with a switch tail, and her brother Ben, who was now grown up, with the ambition of cutting a figure as a gay blade of a farmer, was generally her cavalier. She hunted, and cleared gates and ditches to universal amazement. Everybody was asking, “Who is that handsome girl, that rides like an Arab?”

The anthology was filled with short stories by noted authors such as English dramatist and writer Douglas William Jerrold (3 January 1803 – 8 June 1857), English poet and critic Richard Hengist Horne (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884), English writer and editor Thornton Leigh Hunt (10 September 1810 – 25 June 1873), and English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackery (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863).

SIDE NOTE 2: Thornton Leigh Hunt was the son of English critic, essayist, poet, and writer, James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859).

As previously mentioned, a gay blade in the 17th century was a gallant young man usually adept as a swordsman. Don Juan (1582 – 21 August 1622) from the late 16th century and early 17 century – his full name being Don Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Second Count of Villamediana — was considered a gay blade by his peers.

The word blade is from the Middle English word blæd which meant sword in the late 1300s, and referred to a man by the 1590s, hence the play on words. The word gay is also from the Middle English word gay which meant impetuous, lively, and merry. From this comes the expression gay blade and yes, many gallant young men who were unusually adept as swordsmen back in the day were impetuous, lively, and merry as well as skilled.

Idiomation was unable to find any earlier mention of gay blade than the 17th century and therefore pegs the expression to the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Whippersnapper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 16, 2015

A whippersnapper is an inexperienced person who is irritatingly overconfident with his or her abilities, sometimes to the point of being offensive.  Yes, whippersnappers usually act as if they’re very important and believe themselves to know better than their elders. What’s more, they’re usually impolite and brazen, lazy, and lack motivation.

Even though the death knell was sounded for the term whippersnapper back in newspaper columns of the 1960s, the word cropped up in an article by Gary Borders entitled, “Modern Billingsgate Betrays Puerile Imbecility Of Pundits” which was published in the Rome News-Tribune on March 4, 2006. The article took on the subject of television news programs that features guests and hosts yelling angrily with each other instead of discussing matters in a logical fashion with facts to back up their opinions.

In his article, he wrote about the elderly Presbyterian minister, the Reverend James Russell (died 10 August 1847) who was the last editor of the Red Lander newspaper in San Augustine, Texas.

Russell had been running the newspaper for about a year when a young whippersnapper started a competing weekly, The Shield. Henry Kendall, who had a bad habit of stealing Russell’s hired help, owned the paper. His editor moonlighted as president of the other university in town, started by the Methodists. San Augustine could support neither two newspapers nor two universities.

The Reverend James Russell began to print some nasty comments in his editorials with increasing intensity. He was responsible for some of the insults that we still hear thrown about in the media today: right-wing, liberal, secularist, and religious right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: When the Reverend James Russell used his newspaper to state that Henry Kendall’s mother was a “woman of easy virtue” and his father was a liar and a murderer, Henry Kendall was incensed at the audacity the Reverend had to publish such insults. Ten days after the insults were printed in the Reverend’s newspaper, Henry Kendall shot him dead as the Reverend walked out of his office. The killing was noted as the first editorial killing in Texas.

In the Milwaukee Journal edition of June 28, 1967, even journalist Robert W. Wells lamented the demise of the term in his column, “All Is Wells.” In the column published that day he decried the fact that the literary pendulum had swung in favor of one syllable nouns and verbs drawn from graffiti of the day. With regards to whippersnapper, he wrote:

Thirty years earlier, on May 30, 1937, the St. Petersburg Times published O.O. McIntyre’s regular column, “Whip Snaps Of A Whippersnapper” where O.O. McIntyre reflected on a number of things. He wrote about the “best darned quartet you ever heard – there’s five of them.” He wrote about a woman’s model husband who “doesn’t drink, smoke or run after woman – just sorta stupid.” He wrote about how many residents in France were against the reduced utopian 40-hour work week that left people with too much time on their hands to do nothing. And that’s just some of what O.O. McIntyre wrote in his column of May 30, 1937.

There was an era when some crusty character — the heroine’s father, usually — could be relied on to open every discussion of juvenile delinquency by shouting: “You young whippersnapper!”

This confrontation between youth and age made for tense drama, but it has been abandoned. The whippersnapper is apparently as extinct as the New Zealand moa.

Whippersnapper was a favorite expression of English novelist, journalist, editor and educationalist George Manville Fenn (3 January 1831 – 26 August 1909) and appeared in many of his novels. It was also a favorite expression of influential poet, critic and editor William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903). And it was a favorite expression of English popular novelist, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (4 October 1835 – 4 February 1915), author of her sensation novel “Lady Audley’s Secret” published in 1862.

In the third volume of the Association Medical Journal of 1855 edited by Dr. John Rose Cormack, M.D. and published by the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association of London (England) the expression was used in the article, “Medical Practice Among The Poor.” It had originally been published in “Household Words” on October 21, 1854.

There are the young men entitled whippersnappers; to whom the poor are said by Messieurs Souchong, Sirloin, and Wick, to be shamefully and neglectfully handed over. Mr. Souchong, Sirloin, and their friends refuse on their own parts to take counsel of a whippersnapper; so do their betters with considerable unanimity. They wait until he has more experience; that is to say, until he has tried his prentice hand sufficiently among the poor. He would be happy enough to attend viscounts and bankers; but he is bidden by society to try his hand first among beggars.

Going back to 1742, English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) wrote, “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams” which included whippersnapper in his book.  The book is written in comic prose, and tells the story of the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams and his foot man, Joseph Andrews as they travel home from London.

“What dost thou think of Ms. Andrews?”

“Why, I think,” says Slipslop, “he is the handsomest, most properest man I ever saw; and if I was a lady of the greatest degree, it would be well for some folks. Your ladyship may talk of customs, if you please; but I am confidous there is no more comparison between young Mr. Andrews, and most of the young gentlemen who come to your ladyship’s house in London – a parcel of whippersnapper sparks; I would sooner marry our old parson Adams. Never tell me what people say, whilst I am happy in the arms of him I love. Some folks rail against other folks because other folks have what some folks would be glad of.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Henry Fielding, along with his half-brother, Sir John Fielding (16 September 1721 – 4 September 1780) who was also a magistrate as well as a social reformer, founded London’s first police force.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: British author, Sarah Fielding (8 November 1710 – 9 April 1768) was Henry Fielding’s sister. She wrote “The Little Female Academy” which is considered the first novel in English written especially for children.

In the 1600s, whipperginnie was a derogatory term for a woman, and snippersnapper was a derogatory term for a man.

It’s most likely that people blended whipperginnie and snippersnapper together during the mid-1600s and the new word was whippersnapper. It would make sense since the definition for whipperginnie (female) and snippersnapper (male) are the same, and both whipperginnie and snippersnapper share an identical definition with whippersnapper.  By the time Henry Fielding was using the word in his novel of 1742, the word was recognized among the general population which means that it was established in the English language as being a legitimate word with a recognized definition.

Idiomation therefore pegs whippersnapper to the late 1600s in light of these facts.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dibs (as in “first dibs”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 14, 2015

The well-used word dibs (as in first dibs) means to lay claim.  In other words, when someone says they have first dibs on something, they are laying claim of first rights or choice on whatever the something happens to be.  In other words, it’s a claim to the right to use or enjoy something exclusively or before anyone else … a sort of reservation, if you will.

The Wall Street Journal published a news article on January 14, 2001 that talked about how Chicagoans marked their claim for a parking spot after snow was shoveled out of the way.  The article discussed how lawn furniture, plastic milk crates, vacuum cleaners, lamps, fans, paint cans, step ladders, and other sundry items were used to lay claim to parking spots to prevent others from parking their vehicles in available cleared spots.

It’s called the dibs system — as in, “I got dibs on that space.”  And many here find it deplorable.

Even Jimmy Buffett has called first dibs, to Margaritaville no less, according to a news story in the Rome News-Tribune of January 7, 1998.  The story was about Emma and Neil Mathews who had run a restaurant by the name of Margaritaville in Kingman, Arizona for more than ten years.  The restaurant owners received a letter from the singer-songwriter advising them that he owned the name Margaritaville as a trademark, and that it was used to promote his own restaurants in Key West and New Orleans.  The article was entitled, “Buffet Says He Has Dibs On Name.”

The Daily Reporter of February 8, 1984 used the word not only in a story headline but in the story as well.  Jim Mayer of the Iowa News Service wrote about the regulations in Iowa that addressed the issue of deer killed by vehicles.  In fact, for the most part, the headline was the first sentence of the article.

Driver Has First Dibs On Deer Killed In Vehicular Accident, But Obey Rules. 

One of the helpful hints included this:

Oden said if a driver hits a deer and the deer is either killed or injured so badly that it has to be killed, the driver, or someone he designates, should notify officers, “preferably a conservation officer, highway patrol trooper, or sheriff.”  These officers can complete the paperwork, Oden said.  The form includes a tear-off portion that is given to the person claiming the deer.

During the Depression era, the word dibs was part of a much longer idiom and when someone was seen eating a piece of fruit, someone would inevitably shout out that they had dibs on the core, meaning the core of the fruit in case the first person had left anything on the core to be had.

In the poem, “I Got Dibs” by L.J. Wright and published in “Our Boys” magazine in October 1915, the sense of the word is clear.  The magazine was published quarterly by the Wisconsin Home and Farm School Association, with W.J.C. Ralph as Editor and Business Manager, and R.M. Bradford as Association Editor.  The fact that the poem was included in this issue demonstrates that the word was understood by children and adults alike.  The poem included these two stanzas.

When a morsel is left
In a cooking dish,
This short little sentence
will voice a boy’s wish.

Each boy cries out
As quick as he can,
“I got first dibs
On the baking pan.

The book, “A General Dictionary of Provincialisms” by William Holloway of Rye in Sussex, and published in 1888, gave a definition for dibs as well as provided an example.  It should be noted that his book was based upon previously published books from the late 1700s and early 1800s, which the author mentioned in the Preface.  With regards to dibs, he wrote the following commentary.

The small bones in the knees of a sheep or lamb, uniting the bones above and below the joint.  Five of these bones are used by boys, with which they play a game called “Dibs” in West Sussex.

The term is an abbreviation of a children’s game called dibstones that dates back to the 17th century, with first mention of the game being in 1690.   Here’s how the game was played:  Children would spread knucklebones from sheep on the ground and these became known as dibs.  The game was played much the way jacks is played these days.  The goal of the game was to capture as many knucklebones aka dibs as possible over the course of the game.  Each time a knucklebone was taken, the child shouted “Dibs!”  The game had an effect on these children, and as they became adults, they would continue to use the word dibs when they claimed something before anyone else had a chance to lay claim to it

Idiomation therefore pegs dibs to 1690 (and possibly earlier when the game first became popular among children) when the game of dibstones was played and the word dibs was shouted during the course of the game.

Now while Americans are busy calling first dibs, Canadians call shotgun.  Idiomation wonders how things went from knucklebones (or dibs) to shotguns.  Watch for the explanation next week on Idiomation.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Jay

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 9, 2015

Now that Idiomation has tracked down jaywalking, jay driving, and jay town, the matter of what a jay is still remains to be solved!  Thanks to ongoing thorough research, the expression flap a jay cropped up.

To flap a jay is to swindle someone who is easily fooled, where flap means to manage adroitly and turn over … at least that’s according to the “Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.”   This dictionary was compiled and edited by Albert Barrère (died 1896) — author of “Argot And Slang” — and American humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903) — author of “The English Gypsies And Their Language” and other novels — and published in 1889.  The book included English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang as well as pidgin English, Gypsy jargon and what Messrs. Barrère and Leland considered to be irregular phraseology.

In the December 19, 1884 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, warning words of wisdom were shared with readers about jays, not meaning the birds.  In fact, readers were warned of the dangers of larcenists who preyed upon gullible people.

The intending larcenist will strike up a conversation with a likely looking jay in a public conveyance and win his friendship.

While it wasn’t an expression that was used at great length over the generations, it is one that survived intact over the years.

Elizabethan dramatist, poet, and translator George Chapman (1559 – 12 May 1643) influenced the Stoicism movement.  It was his translation of “Homer” that was the standard English version for generations.  And it was Chapman who found himself imprisoned along with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 by order of King James I of Britain because the king found their play, “Eastward, Ho!” offensive to their countrymen.

On November 16, 1632, the play “The Ball” by George Chapman and James Shirley was performed for the first time, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert.  The play centers on Lady Lucina who finds amusement in mocking and ridiculing her unwanted suitors.  The play makes the most of how easily it is to play those who are easily led to believe things that aren’t as they seem, thereby taking advantage of them.  The following happens in Act Two of this play.

LUCINA
You will see me again.  Ha, ha, ha!  Scutilla.

SCUTILLA
Here, madam, almost dead with stifling my laughter.  Why, he’s gone for a licence; you did enjoin him no silence.

LUCINA
I would have ’em all meet, and brag o’ their several hopes, they will not else be sensible, and quit me of their tedious visitation.  Who’s next?  I would the colonel were come, I long to have a bout with him.

SOLOMON
Mr. Bostock, madam.

LUCINA
Retire, and give the jay admittance.

Enter Bostock

BOSTOCK
Madam, I kiss your fair hand.

LUCINA
Oh, Mr. Bostock!

William Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbeline” published in 1623 was set in Ancient Britain and is based on legends that were well-known at the time.  In Shakespeare’s play, Imogen (the daughter of King Cymbeline) runs off and marries Posthumus (who is below her status) instead of Cloten (who is of equal status to Imogen).  Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo who bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen.  It’s a familiar enough scenario when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays.

In Act III, Scene iv which takes place in the country ner Milford-Haven, a discussion takes place between Piranio and Imogen in which Imogen says:

IMOGEN
    I false! Thy conscience witness: Iachimo,
    Thou didst accuse him of incontinency;
    Thou then look’dst like a villain; now methinks
    Thy favour’s good enough. Some jay of Italy
    Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:
    Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion;
    And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls,
    I must be ripp’d:–to pieces with me!–O,
    Men’s vows are women’s traitors! All good seeming,
    By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
    Put on for villany; not born where’t grows,
    But worn a bait for ladies.

What this shows is that jay in Shakespeare’s play and in George Chapman’s play was a word that was known to their audiences.  This means it is accepted that the word and its associated meaning goes back to at least 1600, and most likely to the mid to late 1500s.

It also seems that the word and the behavior attributed to those who are accused of being jays is related to the European bird, Garrulus glandarinus, which was more commonly known as the jai in Old French from the Late Latin word gaius which means a jay.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poor As A Church Mouse

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 22, 2015

When the claim is made that someone is poor as a church mouse, it means they haven’t anything to spare.  It’s based on the fact that a church doesn’t have a cupboard or a pantry from which a mouse can steal away even the smallest food crumb.  The interesting fact about this idiom is that it isn’t just an idiom used in English although it’s been well-used in English over the years.

The author of a print ad placed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 26, 1957 was intended as a plea for donations to build the Milwaukee Boys’ Club described as a real club for a real boy.  The ad was referred to in fine print as “one of a series of weekly articles paid for by a member of the Club’s Board of Directors.”  The ad was titled, “As Poor As A Church Mouse” and began with this copy:

You must be an oldtimer if you can remember back when this expression was so common.  Those were the days before electricity, telephones, automobiles, radios, television and modern plumbing.

And indeed the author of that copy was correct.  The idiom wasn’t a recent one in the least.

The Pittsburgh Press printed a Letter to the Editor on March 29, 1935 that was written by Norvin Mack of 525 Sheridan Avenue in Pittsburgh. 

Norvin Mack wrote about the minimum government pay of $30 per month to soldiers along with free lodging, food, and medical care.  He stated that if a soldier had family — in other words, dependents — that the government would deduct $15 from his pay, match that amount, and send it along to his family.  To that end, the minimum pay was $45 per month.  He went on to extol the other virtues of being a soldier, and all this was to correct a story that had previously been published in the newspaper.

He was an outspoken sort, and included this paragraph in his letter.

As one who volunteered long before the draft was hardly thought of and who is now as poor as a church mouse I count it an honor to take my position with you on this momentous question.  I am supporting my family at common labor, not relief.  Plain selfishness urges me to welcome the immediate payment of the bonus but common sense forces the rejection of the plan.

It was in the Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph newspaper edition of April 16, 1912 that an article appeared discussing the move away from throwing rice at weddings and the move towards throwing confetti instead.  The sexton of a fashionable New York church was interviewed on the new tradition, and his opinion favored the switch.  He was quoted as saying:

“This confetti fashion is very welcome to us sextons.  When rice was used our churches were overrun with mice.  The saying “as poor as a church mouse” was then meaningless.  Why, in my church, where weddings are so popular, several hundreds of mice — fat chaps they were, too — found an ample food supply in the rice that was sprinkled over the brides.”

“Now that rice has been abandoned for paper confetti, these mice have all disappeared.  They were starved out.  They couldn’t live on paper.”

The title for the story was simply, “Poor As A Church Mouse:  Since Confetti Came Into Use, The Saying Has More Meaning Than At Former Times.”  How apt is that for a headline?

Episcopalian clergyman and American author Frederick William Shelton (1815 – 1881) wrote and published “Peeps From A Belfry: Volume 3” in 1856.  This volume opened with a short story titled, “The Seven Sleepers.”   In Shelton’s story, a clergyman by the name of Pettibones approaches Mr. Snapjohn, and after a very brief exchange, Mr. Snapjohn says:

Want money, I suppose.  I haven’t a cent, Sir — not a cent.  Gave five dollars the other day for church missions, don’t believe the heathen will ever see one cent of it.  It won’t do them any good, — not at all, Sir, not at all, so much money thrown into the sea.  I am tired and sick of such demands.  I’ve got nothing.  I tell you I’m as poor as a church mouse — I’m as poor as a church mouse.”

The saying appears in a number of publications throughout the 1700s and 1800s, and is found in other countries. In fact, in German poor as a church mouse is arm wie eine Kirchenmaus and it’s found in a Grimm’s Dutch-German dictionary published in 1719. And before that, it appears in “A Collection of English Proverbs” compiled by English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) and published in 1670 (who up until 1670 spelled his name John Wray).

Now, it’s also a fact that Anglo-Welsh historian and writer James Howell (1594 – 1666) published a proverb collection in 1659 entitled, “Paramoigraphy” wherein the idiom was listed as “hungry as a churchmouse.”  That being said, Grimm did mention in his 1719 book that the idiom was from the Scottish proverb puir as a kirkmouse.  Oddly enough though, the French had a similar phrase:  gueux comme un rat d’église.

Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than that from 1659 with a reference to the German and Scottish versions of the idiom, it’s likely that the phrase has existed for as long as mice and churches have co-existed which is to say, for centuries.  That being said, Idiomation is confident in pegging this idiom to the early 1600s, allowing it to become part of the vernacular in England.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Spare The Horses

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2014

Whenever you hear someone add don’t spare the horses to a directive, what you’ve heard is someone being told to hurry up with what they’re doing.  It’s not a negative statement, but rather, one that expresses the importance of speeding things up rather than continuing at the current pace.

When Jane Simon, journalist for The Mirror in London, England wrote her April 26, 2010 article, “We Love Telly: Pick Of The Day” she included a bit about Iron Chef UK — a spin-off of the American show which was a spin-off of the original Japanese show. While the four chefs contestants take on are impressive, it’s Olly Smith that Jane Simon writes most enthusiastically about with this comment:

Hyperactive even when he’s presenting some quite sensible item on Saturday Kitchen, here he’s been told to go for broke and don’t spare the horses.

“I’m like a Spitfire coming through the clouds!” he booms as he dashes in to peer into a frying pan. Or, my personal favourite: “Join us after the break when we shall erupt in a frenzy of judgment!”

In the crime thriller novel by Catherine Aird aka novelist Kinn Hamilton McIntosh (June 20, 1930 – ) entitled, “The Complete Steel” and published in 1969, the adventures of Detective Chief Inspector C. D. Sloan and his sidekick, Detective Constable Crosby continue. The story was published in the US under the title, “The Stately Home Murder” and was the third book in the series.

Detective Constable Crosby turned the police car …

“Home James and don’t spare the horses,” commanded Sloan, climbing in.

“Beg pardon, sir?”

Sloan sighed. “Headquarters. Crosby, please.”

Don’t Spare The Horses” was also a popular song by American actor, composer and songwriter, Fred Hillebrand (1893 – 1963) in 1934. The main focus of the song is about a date night gone terribly awry. It was recorded by “radio sweetheart number oneElsie Carlisle (28 January 1896 – November 1977) with Ambrose and the Mayfair Hotel Orchestra the year it was written. The recording was re-issued in 1966 on the Pearl Flapper label in an Ambrose compilation. These lyrics were transcribed from the 1938 edition of Song Fest.

HOME, JAMES, AND DON’T SPARE THE HORSES

It was in the gay nineties
One night at a swell affair
She was dressed in her best Sunday bustle
And wore a rat in her hair.

Her hero was both young and handsome,
But he was a terrible flirt.
He spent the entire evening
Making up to every skirt.

And when she gently reproached him,
He heeded her not at all,
And she, in her best Sunday bustle,
Went flouncing out on the hall,

She swept down the stairs most majestic
To her footman waiting below.
She spoke in accents loud and clear,
And told him where to go.

Home James, and don’t spare the horses,
This night has been ruined for me.
Home, James, and don’t spare the horses,
As ruined as ruined can be.

It’s still in the gay nineties,
In fact the very next day.
Our hero is somewhat remorseful,
And don’t know just what to say.

He thinks he’d better do something
To win her again for his own,
For she was his very best sweetheart
She was always good for a loan.

He went right straight to her mansion
And said “Forgive me dear.”
But, when he tried to embrace her,
She gave him a boot in the rear.

He swept down the stairs most majestic
And the doorman, he booted him too,
And as he threw him in the street,
She said “Humph to you.”

Home, James, and don’t spare the horses,
My suitor is just a bit tight,
Home, James and don’t spare the horses,
He’ll sleep in the stable tonight.

The song puts the expression to the 1890s, and magazines such as “McBride’s Magazine” and “Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine” corroborate this date with the publication of the story “Unc’ Ananias: A Virginia Story” written by American historian and author, Molly Elliot Seawell (October 23, 1860 – November 15, 1916) in July 1982.

“Certainly, certainly, my dear boy,” cried the Squire, taking Mrs. Cary’s arm. “I don’t wish to be informed of your and Patty’s private affairs, — not for the world; but — er — remember, you needn’t spare the horses. Of course I don’t know where you are going, as you haven’t seen proper to mention it, but — the sorrels are good for twenty miles before dark.” And in half a minute the Squire had whisked Mrs. Cary out of sight, although a crack in the door showed they were not out of hearing.

Not much further in this story, the following is written:

At this, Patty advanced and put her hand shyly in Jack’s. He led her out the door, calling out, —

“Good-by, Squire. I am to drive Miss Patty home, and afterwards — but never mind: I know you’d rather not hear.”

Don’t spare the horses, — don’t spare the horses, my boy,” shouted the Squire.

As Jack drove off in the trap with Patty, the gentlemen cheered, the ladies waved their handkerchiefs, and Squire Cary came out beaming, and asking right and left, “What’s all this? What’s all this?” Nobody volunteered to tell him.

And in “Erlesmere: or, Contrasts of Character” by L.S. Lavenu and published in 1862, this passage kicks off the first paragraph of the story:

“Drive hard, Nat, don’t spare the horses. My master gave particular orders that we should do the ten miles home in fifty minutes.” So speaking, Mr. Erle’s headgroom spring up behind Sir Fitzroy Herrode’s light barouche. The postilion touched the off horse, and the equipage plunged into the steam of a sunny December morning.

And “Ballou’s Monthly Magazine: Volume 2” published in 1855, there was a story entitled, “Courtship In The Dark” by Frederick Ward Saunders that included this passage:

“I suppose you want me to drive fast, don’t you, sir?” asked the coachman, in a significant tones, as he closed the door.

“Yes, drive like blazes, don’t spare the horses,” replied Cap. though for the life of him he couldn’t have told him where to drive.

The coachman mounted the box, cracked his whip, and off they went at a deuce of a pace, Mary crying like a watering-pot, and Cap. trying to comfort her, in which he succeeded admirably, for he had a peculiar knack of comforting good-looking young women in distress; and by the time they had gone a couple of miles, she became quite lively and chatty.

While the urban myth of Queen Victoria being responsible for the expression “Home, James, and don’t spare the horses” is widely recounted as the source for the idiom, it is nothing more than a fanciful tale … an urban myth. The habit of referring to coachmen as James dates back to the 1600s, with the name James being used as a name of convenience by those from wealthy or noble families when addressing the coachman.

With this information, the idiom can be pegged to the beginning of the 17th century. With that being said, “Home, James, and don’t spare the horses.”

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Like Turkeys Voting For Christmas

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 16, 2013

If people are like turkeys voting for Christmas, it means they have decided to accept a situation that will end badly for them. In other words, the action taken to resolve a situation is also ont that’s self-defeating at the same time. This doesn’t make for a good situation or a good solution no matter how you look at it.

When Nuala Nolan in Galway wrote to the Independent newspaper on January 4, 2011 she was concerned with the water distribution systems and the installation of water meters that would be unworkable with the next cold spell in Ireland. She wrote succinctly, and ended her Letter To The Editor with this question:

Are we not just like turkeys voting for Christmas when we agree to water charges in circumstances where the majority of working people will find a huge drop in their pay as a result of the recent Budget?

In the Financial Times article of November 28, 2010 entitled, “Europe Is Edging Towards The Unthinkable” by journalist, Wolfgang Münchau, the macro-arithmetics of the financial crisis in Europe were of great concern.   The eurozone strategy appeared to be the last bail-out option available, even though there was a small cushion amount between how much had already been spent and how much could be spent. He wrote in part:

Ms Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, were last week putting the final touches to their new bail-in rules, to introduce collective action clauses in sovereign bond contracts. I would not be surprised if at least one member state rejected the Franco-German diktat. For example, I cannot see how Spain or Italy can conceivably support them. To use a seasonal analogy, it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

It was on May 7, 2002 that Tobey Walne’s article “Equitable On The Brink” was published by the Daily Mail in London, England. The news story addressed Equitable’s assets and liabilities and the company’s current condition which was thought to possibly be worse than what was being presented. The second to last paragraph read:

Paul Braithwaite, chairman of the Equitable Members’ Action Group, says: ‘Equitable is running on paper-thin liquidity and the writing is on the wall. There are no prospects for it adding to holdings in stocks and shares or bringing back bonuses. For loyal policyholders, it has been like turkeys voting for an early Christmas.’

In 1978, Alistair Michie and English journalist and broadcaster, Simon Hoggart (born 26 May 1946) published a book entitled, “The Pact: The Inside Story of the Lib-Lab Government.” In 1977, James Callaghan (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005) of the Labor government forged an agreement with the Liberal party led by David Steel to safeguard against a successful motion of no confidence pushing through. The pact was confirmed on September 7, 1978 and the Labor government was able to remain in power until May 1979 when a general election was called. This passage appears in the book:

“Us voting for the Pact is like a turkey voting for Christmas,” said David Penhaligon. But they did agree that Steel should see Callaghan that afternoon.

The person identified as having used the idiom was David Charles Penhaligon (6 June 1944 – 22 December 1986) — a British politician from Cornwall, and a Liberal Member of Parliament for the constituency of Truro. But contrary to what the Oxford Dictionary says, he was not the originator of the expression as the idiom was used in The Alice Glenn Report, Volume 1, Number 3 dated May 1986.  Alice Glenn (17 December 1921 – 16 December 2011) a Fine Gael candidate for Dublin Central in Ireland, was an outspoken person during the 1986 Divorce Referendum in Ireland, and in her leaflet of May 1986 she entitled the front page story, “A Woman Voting For Divorce Is Like A Turkey Voting For Christmas.”

The expression is actually an Irish proverb: A turkey never voted for an early Christmas. Idiomation hasn’t found any resource book disputing that the proverb is, indeed, an Irish proverb, however, a date cannot be affixed to the proverb.

That being said, turkeys were brought from America to England and Ireland by William Strickland in 1526, and it’s believed that King Henry VIII was the first to enjoy roasted turkey. When turkeys were introduced to England and Ireland, families ate goose, boar or peacock at Christmas. By the early 1600s, turkey was found at major Tudor banquets held by those of financial means and power. As the 17th century rolled around, families of means were able to add turkey to the options for Christmas meals. Just as turkey replaced good as the main dish at Christmas, so it replaced it in the proverb which used to be: A goose never voted for an early Christmas.

It would be at this point (one would think) that if geese and turkeys could vote, that they would vote for the other to be served up for Christmas.  It would be unthinkable that they would vote for their own kind to be on the menu.  Likewise, no reasonable person would put themselves in danger and vote to be put in an untenable position.

Idiomation, therefore, pegs the original saying of a turkey  never voted for an early Christmas to the early 1600s, with the variation following afterwards, modified as proverbs often are.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy-Go-Lucky

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 18, 2013

If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re a happy-go-lucky type, what they’re saying is that they are happy most of the time and rarely worry. It’s not that they don’t have worries of their own or that they don’t experience anger or sadness or other emotions. It’s just that happy-go-lucky types roll with the punches and made do as best they can in a cheerful sort of way.

On October 13, 2010 the Sporting News website carried a story about the NBA’s famous Boston Celtics who saw the team one quarter away from an NBA championship. With quotes from their coach, Doc Rivers, sports fans had an inside glimpse into the season. The online story was entitled, “Chemistry Of Happy-Go-Lucky Celtics Bound To Be Tested Beyond Limited Minutes.”

The Oscars of 1966 saw some incredible actors walking away with golden statues in hand. The Eugene Register-Guard of April 19, 1966 listed out who won, what category they won and why they won. Sandwiched in-between all the listings was this one:

The award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role went to Martin Balsam in “A Thousand Clowns.” He played the older brother of happy-go-lucky Jason Robards.

On December 1, 1934 the Lewiston Evening Journal on their page entitled, “Social World.” While there were a great many announcements about parties and clubs and mixers and such, this one talked about the goings-on of the Happy Go Lucky club.

Miss Eudora Ashton was hostess to the Happy Go Lucky club Friday evening at her home, South Goff Street, Auburn. Cards were in play and high score was won by Stanton Drake and low by Mrs. Philip Tetu. The next meeting of the club will be with Mr. and Mrs. Roland Juneau, 19 Fourth Street, Auburn, Friday.

For those of you who read the Kate Douglas Wiggin (28 September 1856 – 24 August 1923) book “Rebecca Of Sunnybrooke Farm” this passage about Rebecca’s relations will ring familiar with you. But for those who either don’t remember the passage or who haven’t read the book published in 1903, the American educator and author provided a snapshot of what happy-go-lucky might look like to others.

It was in this happy-go-lucky household that Rebecca had grown up. It was just an ordinary family; two or three of the children were handsome and the rest plain, three of them rather clever, two industrious, and two commonplace and dull. Rebecca had her father’s facility and had been his aptest pupil. She “carried” the alto by ear, danced without being taught, played the melodeon without knowing the notes. Her love of books she inherited chiefly from her mother, who found it hard to sweep or cook or sew when there was a novel in the house.

In the July 4, 1868 edition of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, a Letter To The Editor discussed the Principalship of Edinburgh University and the election of Sir James Y. Simpson to the office. The author asked a great many questions and provided detailed facts to support those questions, including this:

His reputation in his own profession nobody doubts or denies; but his greatest achievement — the invention of chloroform — was more of the nature of a happy-go-lucky experiment than the inevitable result of real scientific thought. The principle of a universal anaesthetic had been previously discovered by the discoverer of ether, and all that was done by Professor Simpson was the devising of a more generally applicable and a more convenient embodiment of that principle.

In southeast Australia, in the eastern Victorian region of Gippsland, there’s a small town named Walhalla which, at its peak, boasted 2,500 residents although these days, it has fewer than twenty. It popped up during the gold rush of the 1850s as did other communities including the town of Happy-Go-Lucky. In time, the town was renamed Pearson, but when it was Happy-Go-Lucky, it had a population of 300 as well as a post office to call its own. Unfortunately, it became a ghost town and today, only ruins remain of what was formerly a Happy-Go-Lucky place.

When Herman Melville wrote and published “Moby Dick” in 1851, and used the expression in Chapter XXVII entitled, “Knights And Squires” where he described the second mate thusly:

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangement of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box.

In 1699, the account entitled “A True and Just Relation of Major General Sir Thomas Morgan’s Progress in France and Flanders with the Six English in the Years 1657 and 1658 at the Taking of Dunkirk and Other Important Places” was written by Sir Thomas Morgan and included this passage:

The Redcoats cried, “Shall we fall in order, or go happy-go-lucky?”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  That being said, since the Redcoats allegedly used the expression in 1657 and 1658, it’s safe to say that it was part of every day language.  As such, it most likely dates back to the beginning of the 17th century.  As always, Idiomation encourages readers to find earlier published instances of any phrase on the blog.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Grin Like A Cheshire Cat

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 7, 2013

When someone smiles or grins like a Cheshire cat, they’re smiling broadly … very broadly. Now, do cats actually smile? They do, but not the way humans do. According to animal experts and studies done, cats do a slow blink that’s the equivalent to a human smile.

You’re probably wondering why the expression is tied to a broad smile if cats do a slow blink. Some of you might even think that the expression originated with English author, Lewis Carroll who wrote about the Cheshire cat and its smile in his book, ” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that was published 1865.

Author William Makepeace Thackeray (July 18, 1811 – December 24, 1863) used the idiom in his book “The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family” that was published in 1855. The story is about Colonel Thomas Newcome, and his son Clive, and reflects the culture of its time. Some critics have said that it’s an accurate representation of Victorian life with liberal mention of culture, politics and expressions in languages other than English. In Chapter XXIV, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis:

For her own part, Rosey is pleased with everything in nature. Does she love music? Oh, yes. Bellini and Donizetti? Oh, yes. Dancing? They had no dancing at grandmamma’s, but she adores dancing, and Mr. Clive dances very well indeed. (A smile from Miss Ethel at this admission.) Does she like the country? Oh, she is so happy in the country! London? London is delightful, and so is the seaside. She does not really know which she likes best, London or the country, for mamma is not near her to decide, being engaged listening to Sir Brian, who is laying down the law to her, and smiling, smiling with all her might. In fact, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis in his droll, humorous way, “That woman grins like a Cheshire cat.” Who was the naturalist who first discovered that peculiarity of the cats in Cheshire?

In Volume III of the 5 volume collection entitled, “The Works of Peter Pindar, Esq To Which Are Prefixed Memoirs of the Author’s Life” readers will find an entry entitled, “Epistles to Lord Macartney and His Ship.” Peter Pindar was actually a pseudonym for English satirist John Wolcot (9 May 1738 – 14 January 1819), and this undertaking was published 1794. And right there in this entry, the following verse is found:

Yet, if successful, thou wilt be adored:
Lo, like a Cheshire Cat our Court will grin;
How glad to find as many Gems on board
As will not leave the room to stick a Pin!

In the 1811, 1788 and 1785  editions of “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, — considered in the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language — there’s an entry under “Cheshire Cat‘ and it reads:

He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shews his teeth and gums in laughing.

Now interestingly enough, I came across a letter that was written as a Reply to the entry “Grinning Like A Cheshire Cat” in the Cheshire Notes and Queries of August 18, 1882 in which the author, Alfred Burton, references the Slang Dictionary by John Camden Hotten, wrote:

In the Slang Dictionary (edition 1873, pp 115-116) there is a variation in the above saying which has not been given in “Notes and Queries.” To grin like a Cheshire cat — to display the teeth and gums when laughing.” Formerly the phrase was “To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.”

In researching this phrase, Idiomation came across a different reference book. This one was authored by Lieutenant-Colonel Egerton Leigh entitled, “A Glossary of Words Used In The Dialect of Cheshire” published in Long by Hamilton Adams and Co and in Chester by Minshull and Hughes in 1877.  In the dedication, Egerton Leigh stated that these were from “dialectal fragments of our old County” and he hoped they “now have a chance of not vanishing entirely, amid changes which are rapidly sweeping away the past.”  He attests to the fact that the saying, in its entirety is:  Grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.

Very telling, however, is the fact that in the You Asked Us column printed in the Montreal Gazette of June 4, 1977 stated, in replying to the question as to why the cat in Lewis Carroll’s book was from Cheshire, the explanation was this:

Carroll knew that his audience would recognize his playing with an expression common in England for at least a hundred years before Alice In Wonderland was published. To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese (chewing gravel or evacuating bones), meant to smile all over one’s face for no apparent reason.

According to the magazine Replies published on October 4, 1879, the idiom “He smiled like a Chasse cat was also used in the midland counties around the same time, and an article suggested that the idiom may actually have substituted either Chasse Cat or Cheshire Cat for the term House Cat.

An additional reference in other dictionaries that was uncovered was this one referring to English caricaturist and satirical poet, John Collier (18 December 1708–14 July 1786) who was known by the pseudonym of Tim Bobbin as well as Timothy Bobbin. His first significant illustrated piece appears in 1746.

To grin like a Cheshire cat is to display the teeth and gums whilst laughing (à la Tim Bobbin).

All that being said, the earliest that the Idiomation could come to determining how far back grin like a Cheshire cat goes, is at least to the early 1700s (and most likely much earlier) when all the evidence from various magazines and dictionaries are compiled.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Raining Cats And Dogs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 31, 2013

If it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s no need to worry. The idiom refers to a heavy downpour that doesn’t look like it will let up any time in the near future.  Just make sure to take an umbrella with you and to dress warmly to guard against the cutting wind.

The phrase is popular, and it’s found in all sorts of expected — and unexpected — places. In fact, on the Benton County website in Philomath, Oregon there just happened to be a juried art exhibition happening from June 21 to July 27, 2013 at the Benton County Museum. You’ll never guess the name of the exhibition … or may you will. Yes, it was dubbed “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

On Christmas Eve day (December 24) of 1959, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal carried a quick story out of San Marino, California. It was an odd little story about residents being pelted by pelts. The investigating officer spoke with the reporter who wrote:

Officer Martin Boyle said he heard of it raining cats and dogs — but never Persian lamb and muskrat pelts. The furs, packaged in sacks, fell in a three block area.

The Pittsburg Press edition of May 4, 1930 discussed the documented incidents of all sorts of objects falling from the skies during unusually heavy rainfalls. Among the items listed were: lichens, leaves, hay, toads, frogs, fish, mussels, oranges, pebbles, and in one case in Charleston (SC) a 2-foot long alligator! The title of the article was, of course, “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

And the New York Times published an article on October 25, 1890 about a local mayoralty candidate by the name of Mr. Scott who appeared at a number of locations one rainy evening to shake hands with voters and greet large and enthusiastic audiences waiting to catch a glimpse of him. He charmed audiences everywhere he went with his story of having been a hard-working man all his life, and promising to continue with that work ethic if New Yorkers saw fit to elect him Mayor. The article began with this paragraph:

Although Old Improbabilities at Washington promised to coax the stars into view last night, the shades of the late Mr. Tweed must have pulled the string behind his back, so that when the people’s candidate for Mayor got ready to sally forth it was raining cats and dogs. Nothing daunted, Mr. Scott put on his cork-soled shoes and his long mackintosh and jumped into his carriage between the drops.

Going back in time to the previous century, the “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” by Irish author, clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was published in London through the agency of Mary Barber as well as in Dublin by George Faulkner in 1738.

Come, Sir John, I foresee it will rain terribly. Lady Smart. Come, Sir John, do nothing rashly; let us drink first Lord Sparkish. I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs. But pray, stay, Sir Sir John.

When English dramatist Richard Brome (1590 – 1643) wrote “The City Wit, or, The Woman Wears The Breeches: A Comedy” in 1629 (it was later revised in 1647 and printed in 1653), an earlier version of the idiom appeared in Act IIII, Scene I. In this scene, Sarpego (identified as a Pedant) says this:

SARPEGO:
From henceforth Erit Fluvius Deucalionis
The world ſhall flow with dunces; Regnabitque, and it
ſhall raine
Dogmata Polla Sophon, Dogs and Polecats, and fo forth.

Now polecats aren’t really cats at all. They’re actually more closely related to weasels and ferrets than to cats, however, the idiom “it’s raining cats and dogs” can easily be seen in stating “it shall rain dogs and polecats.”

But even before Richard Brome’s play, there was a saying used by sailors to describe particularly lively cats, and that was to say: The cat has a gale of wind in her tail.  But most telling of all is that Norse mythology put forth that cats represented the wind and dogs represented the rain, and so when a storm had both wind and rain together, it was figuratively cats and dogs.

This means that the idiom proper dates back to 1629, but the concept has its roots in Norse mythology which goes back long before the 17th Century, long before the 10th Century, long before the days of the Roman Empire.  In other words, it’s way back there in time.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Mythology, Norse | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,379 other followers