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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 18th Century’ Category

Keep Your Powder Dry

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2021

If someone tells you to keep your powder dry, they are really telling you to remain cautious, stay calm, and be ready for a possible emergency or a sudden change for the worse. Some may claim it’s the ancestor idiom to the phrase take care but it really isn’t since take care doesn’t really cover everything keep your powder dry covers.

For those who may not understand what that means, this harkens back to the day when weapons required loose gunpowder to fire. For gunpowder to work properly, it must be kept dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Gunpowder is known as one of the “Four Great Inventions of China” and was invented during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th century, and when guns appeared in the 13th century, gunpowder found another opportunity beyond arrows, rockets, bombs, and fire lances. It was particularly popular during the days of flintlock when powder and flintlock were carried in a horn slung to one side. It was susceptible to moisture, and if it wasn’t dry, it tended to clump and misfire instead of ignite and fire properly. By the 19th century, smokeless powder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose were invented, and gunpowder saw its popularity decrease.

On 19 September 2020, the Washington Post reported on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the article, “Trump Says He Will Nominate Woman To Supreme Court Next Week.” It was clear what he meant when he used the idiom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

The idiom was used in the 1945 movie, “Keep Your Powder Dry” starring Lana Turner (8 February 1921 – 29 June 1995), Laraine Day (13 October 1920 – 10 November 2007), and Susan Peter (3 July 1921 – 23 October 1952) as three Women’s Army Corps (WAC) recruits. Lana Turner’s character is a spoiled rich party girl who signs up in the hopes it will make her look more responsible to the trustees of her trust fund will give her the rest of her inheritance thereby leaving her free to party even more than she already does.

Susan Peter’s character is that of a young wife whose husband is in the Army who is doing something productive to help the cause while her husband is fighting, and Laraine Day’s character is an Army brat who can’t wait to join the military so she can be a soldier every bit as good as her father.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Lana Turner’s character is top of her class when it comes to identifying aircrafts but not because she’s an excellent student while in class. It has to do with how many pilots she dated before she joined the corps.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Agnes Moorehead (6 December 1900 – 30 April 1974) — which many remember as Samantha Steven’s mother, Endora, in the 1960s series “Bewitched” — plays the role of the company commander, exuding an understated but unmistakable authority. She plays the role with dignity and compassion without breaking the military chain of command.

Margaret Mead used the idiom in the title of her book “And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America” published in 1943.

The Times Literary Supplement of 1908 made use of the idiom in this passage:

In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Times Literary Supplement was a supplement to the British daily national newspaper The Times (which was known as The Daily Universal Register from 1785 through to 1788 when it changed its name) when it first appeared in 1902 but by 1914, it was its own separate publication. Among the distinguished writers and authors who contributed to the publication are T.S. Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.

The idiom appeared in print in 1888 in the book “Irish Minstrelsy: Being A Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics, and Ballads with Notes and Introduction by Henry Halliday Sparling” in a poem by Irish British Army officer, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Commissioner of the Treasury of Ireland, Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker (1 September 1777 – 25 November 1855) and publishing under a pseudonym. Every stanza ends with a slightly different variation of the idiom, but always ends with keep your powder dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The poem was originally published in 1834 in The Dublin University Magazine titled “Oliver’s Advice: An Orange Ballad” and was a well-known poem of over fifty years by the time it was printed in the 1887 publication.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: William Blacker and his cousin, Valentine Blacker (19 October 1778 – 4 February 1825) were both lieutenant colonels in the British Army as well as published authors. Sometimes they published under pseudonyms (William Blacker occasionally published under the name of Fitz Stewart), and this is why there are instances were they are confused with each other.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Father C. Mayer wrote an arrangement of a song titled, “Boys, Keep Your Powder Dry: A Soldier’s Song.” It was published by Blackmar & Brothers, and lithographed by B. Duncan and Company of Columbia, South Carolina in 1863. The idiom was used as the last line in each verse as well as in the chorus.

Not they who are determined to conquer or to die;
And harken to this caution, “Boys, keep your powder dry.”

Across the ocean and back in England, Punch magazine was having a grand time with politics on 25 February 1859 when it reported on Lord Palmerston’s efforts to alert the House of Commons to what he felt was the menacing aspect of continental affairs. It was printed in the same column that Mr. Punch advised Queen Victoria to keep her powder dry. The column was followed by a poem that addressed the issue of keeping her powder dry, as well as a cartoon.

Now shortly before Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker’s poem was published in 1834, the idiom was bandied about by the Lords sitting for Parliament in the United Kingdom. One such occasion was 28 February 1832, in the discussion of education in Ireland was the subject, when William Pleydell-Bouverie (11 May 1779 – 9 April 1869), 3rd Earl of Radnor stated:

On that occasion, Mr. Archdal concluded his speech by saying, “My friends, I will now only add the words used by Oliver Cromwell to his army, when marking through a ford, ‘My boys trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry.'”

Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is repeatedly attributed to Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658). It is claimed that when Cromwell’s troops were about to cross a river to attack the enemy, he concluded his address to the troops with this idiom.

Allegedly, Oliver Cromwell said this to his regiment in 1642 when it was about to attack the enemy at the Battle of Edgehill, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this to the soldiers in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this every time there was a battle that involved crossing a river to get to the enemy’s side.

But did Oliver Cromwell ever say this? According to the Cromwell Museum there isn’t any evidence he ever said that. None. Not even once.

That doesn’t mean Oliver Cromwell didn’t say it, only that there’s no proof he said it. Maybe he said it, then again, maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, however, it is very sound advice, don’t you agree?

Idiomation tags this expression to the 1820s with the earliest published version found in the 1832 papers that show the 3rd Earl of Radnor using the idiom indicating others understood what he meant when he talked about keeping one’s powder dry.

But who said it first is still up in the air.

To add a little extra fun to today’s entry, here’s “Keep Your Powder Dry” from the movie of the same name (back in the 1940s, face powder was the kind of make-up most women wore so enjoy the double meaning of the expression keep your powder dry).

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Cause Célèbre

Posted by Admin on February 20, 2021

The expression cause célèbre came up in last week’s entry on Idiomation, and this got Idiomation wondering as to how old that expression is, and whether the origins of the expression really are found in France as the spelling implies. For those who may not be sure what a cause célèbre is, it’s an issue or incident responsible for widespread controversy and usually leads to heated public debates on the subject.

It is, to translate the expression word for word, a famous cause, that it is so controversial in nature that it seems everyone is talking about the cause of the controversy and what is being said about it as well as by whom.  Examples of a cause célèbre would be the ongoing Julian Assange saga, the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the Rodney King incident, and the Amanda Knox trial to name just a few.

The word cause in English is from the Latin word causa that refers to judicial process, and has to do with the reason or motive for a legal decision, or the grounds for action. It has been used in this sense since circa 1200.  When it is used in the sense of a side taken in a controversy, that dates back to circa 1300, so let’s take a look at where in the timeline cause célèbre came to be a recognized expression.

Hillary Clinton used the expression in August of 2015 when defending the situation when she was the U.S. Secretary of State and intelligence officials determined that over 300 messages on her private email account on her private email server were potentially classified, and an inspector general stated at least two of the email messages contained top secret information. When asked at a press conference about the emails and email server, she was quoted by a number of mainstream media sources as saying:

In retrospect, this didn’t turn out to be convenient at all and I regret that this has become such a cause celebre. But that does not change the facts, the facts are stubborn — what I did was legally permitted.

From March through to June 2011, the Old Vic Theatre in London (England) presented the stage play “Cause Célèbre: A Woman of Principle” to mark the centennial of its author, English author, dramatist, and screenwriter, Terence Rattigan (10 June 1911 – 30 November 1977). It wasn’t the first time the play had been performed. In 1987, a television version starring Helen Mirren as Alma Rattenbury was broadcast. Before that, a stage version co-written by Terence Rattigan and Robin Midgely was presented on 4 July 1977 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Eighteen months earlier, it had been broadcast on BBC on 27 October 1975 as a radio play.

The story was inspired by the trial of Alma Rattenbury (the former Alma Pakenham) and her teenage lover, George Percy Stoner (19 November 1916 – 24 March 2000), who, along with Alma, murdered Alma’s third husband, Francis Mawson Rattenbury (11 October 1867 – 28 March 1935) in 1935.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Although Francis was Alma’s third husband, Alma was Francis’ second wife.  In 1923, he left his first wife of 24 years, Florence Nunn and their two children, for 27-year-old Alma.  He publicly flaunted his affair with Alma, and because of that and other bad behaviors, he was shunned by his former clients and associates to such a degree that he had to move away from Victoria (British Columbia, Canada). 

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Alma committed suicide days after being acquitted of murder and of being an accessory after the fact,  George was convicted and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment, then released seven years into his sentence to join the army and fight in the Second World War, after which he did not return to prison.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1:  Francis Mawson Rattenbury was the architect for the British Columbia Parliament Building, the Provincial Courthouse of British Columbia, the chateau styled Empress hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the 18-room, 3-story Burns Manor for then-Senator Pat Burns in Calgary (Alberta, Canada).  He also designed a number of hotels and stations for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway which weren’t built due to the death of the company’s president, Charles Melville Hays, who, in 1912, was a passenger on the RMS Titanic. 

On 11 June 1910, The Star newspaper in Christchurch (New Zealand) carried the news story by Charles Morrimer of the London Graphic of the trial of the Korean accused of murdering Prince Ito Hirobumi (14 October 1841 – 26 October 1909).  It was reported that the accused “had every possible advantage which the law allowed; he was warmly housed, decently fed, humanely treated.” He was defended by English lawyer, John Charles Edward (J.E.) Douglas (12 September 1876 – 18 December 1915), son of Canadian born Royal Navy officer Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas (8 February 1842 – 12 March 1913), and the accused spoke with his foreign counsel through an interpreter.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Admiral Sir Archibald Douglas was born in Quebec (Canada) as the son of a physician, and died in Newnham (England), and was the first Canadian to obtain a naval cadetship. He was also the director of the first British naval mission to Japan. He rose to be a Sea Lord of the Admiralty under Goschen and Lord Selborne and, finally, Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: He was an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) from 1893 through to 1895.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: John Charles Edward (J.E.) Douglas was appointed Registrar of the British Supreme Court for China in Shanghai in August 1901, and served in that position until 1907. From 1907 to 1915, he was in private practice at the bar in Shanghai before signing up for war service.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 3: Admiral Douglas’ son, J.E. Douglas was a Major in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. He was killed in action in Flanders on 18 December 1915 at the age of 39.

The court system was unlike the British court system as the Japanese court system had availed itself of the German Criminal Code in creating their own.

The accused, along with the accused accomplices, sat politely in the courtroom, and it was reported that the “Oriental public was much too well-behave to express either approvation or disapprovation.”

The Japanese, when they tried Prince Ito’s murdered, stood in a blaze of light — all eyes fixed on them. They knew it perfectly well. The case proved even more than a cause celebre: it proved a test case — and Japan’s modern civilization was as much on trial as any of the prisoners.

In the end, the accused murderer got the death sentence. One of the accomplices was sentenced to three years imprisonment with yard labor, and the other two accomplices received eighteen months imprisonment a piece.

The article ended with this:

He had the hero’s crown almost within his grasp, and he left the Court proudly. Has this cause celebre, so beautifully conducted, so wisely judged, ended as a score for the murderer and his misguided fellow patriots after all?

The 11 October 1900 edition of the Bismarck Tribune of Bismarck, North Dakota reported on the will of a certain Mr. Musgrove in the paper’s column, “Around The State.”

In the Musgrove will case at Grafton, Mrs. O.E. Sauter, wife of Judge Sauter of the Seventh district, is the beneficiary under the will, and Judge Sauter is named as the executor. The cause promises to become a cause celebre in Walsh county and will probably get to the supreme court [sic] before it is done. Musgrove was assistant state health officer at the time of his death. His property is said to be valued at $15,000 to $20,000.

It was on 20 March 1858 that The Hobart Town Daily Mercury newspaper reported on a criminal trial centered around the steamy story of a married man by the last name of Guillot who was carrying on not only with one young woman, but with two young women in town at the same time: The lovely Laurence Thouzery and the equally lovely Blanche de Jeufosse, daughter of the late cavalry officer, Mr. Jeufosse of the village of St. Aubin-sur-Gaillon.

Upon learning of the affair between her daughter, Blanche and Mr. Guillot, the mother convinced her gamekeeper to defend the honor of the family, which he did, and which subsequently led to Mr. Guillot’s passing. The accused and all parties that could be prosecuted in the matter were acquitted on all charges as the courts determined the killing of Mr. Guillot was justified and in accordance to law.

The title of the news article was: A New Cause Celebre.

The expression was very popular for titles of newspaper articles and books, including the 1850 book by French politician and free person of color born in Martinique, Cyrille Charles Auguste Bissette (09 July 1795 – 22 January 1858) titled, “Une Cause célèbre coloniale, Mme Marlet, de la commune de Robert, Martinique.”

In 1779, a 180 page book was published in French. with detailed footnotes, by publishers in London (England) titled, “Cause Celebre Contenant L’assassinat commis le dix-neuf de Decembre 1771, en la personne de Mademoiselle Warrimont, de la Ville de Visez, au Pays de Liege.” In English, this reads, “Cause Celebre Containing the Assassination Committed the Nineteenth of December 1771 on Miss Warrimont from the Village of Viset in Liege.”

At the end of the search, the phrase originated with the 37-volume compilation of famous legal cases in France titled, “Nouvelles Causes Célèbres” published in 1763. This was a collection of reports of well-known French court decisions from the 17th and 18th centuries, and prior to the publication of this series, Idiomation was unable to find a previously published case of the expression.

The expression — and the celebration of sensationalization as well perhaps — is therefore pegged to 1763 thanks to the title of the series.

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Benefit of the Doubt

Posted by Admin on February 6, 2021

When someone is given the benefit of the doubt, it means they are allowing for the possibility that what is being purported as factual may actually be true even if it doesn’t sound like it may be. In other words, no matter how outlandish something being claimed might sound, accepting it at face value for the time being is how what is being claimed is interpreted.

In fact, Paul Faulkner of the University of Sheffield published a paper in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies in February 2018 which was titled, “Giving The Benefit of the Doubt.” The abstract began thusly:

Faced with evidence that what a person said is false, we can nevertheless trust them and so believe what they say – choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is particularly notable when the person is a friend, or someone we are close to. Towards such persons, we demonstrate a remarkable epistemic partiality. We can trust, and so believe, our friends even when the balance of the evidence suggests that what they tell us is false. And insofar as belief is possible, it is also possible to acquire testimonial knowledge on those occasions when the friends know what they tell us. This paper seeks to explain these psychological and epistemological possibilities.

In 2000, the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 was passed (Public Law 106-475, 106th Congress, 2nd Session) in which the following is found:

SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.

Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“Sec. 5107. Claimant responsibility; benefit of the doubt

“(a) Claimant Responsibility.  Except as otherwise provided by law, a claimant has the responsibility to present and support a claim for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.
“(b) Benefit of the Doubt.  The Secretary shall consider all information and lay and medical evidence of record in a case before the Secretary with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary. When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the Secretary shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.”

Back in 1987, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020) stated in the Federal Judicial, Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 17-18 at instruction 21 that the following was true:

There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty. If on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

In 1910, American novelist and social activist Jack London (12 January 1876 – 11 November 1915) saw his short story “The Benefit of the Doubt” published.  In this story, the benefit of the doubt is a central theme as seen in this passage.

Both Patsy’s attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney rested their cases, letting everything go before the Court without argument. Watson protested against this, but was silenced when the Prosecuting Attorney told him that Public Prosecutor and knew his business.

“Patrick Horan has testified that he was in danger of his life and that he was compelled to defend himself,” Judge Witberg’s verdict began. “Mr. Watson has testified to the same thing. Each has sworn that the other struck the first blow; each has sworn that the other made an unprovoked assault on him. It is an axiom of the law that the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt. A very reasonable doubt exists. Therefore, in the case of the People Versus Carter Watson the benefit of the doubt is given to said Carter Watson and he is herewith ordered discharged from custody. The same reasoning applies to the case of the People Versus Patrick Horan. He is given the benefit of the doubt and discharged from custody. My recommendation is that both defendants shake hands and make up.”

In the years leading up to Jack London’s short story and in subsequent years, many authors have thought “The Benefit of the Doubt” to be a wonderful title for their writing. This includes, Mary Clare Wilson Spenser (2 May 1842 – 4 October 1923) whose first book by that name was published in 1882.

General Sir Charles James Napier (10 August 1782 – 29 August 1853), in writing to Keith Young on 21 February 1844, expressed concern for a man accused of murdering a European woman especially in light of the fact that the accused was a local. The man was subject to Sio Kari law under the then-colonial government of the Sindh region in southern Pakistan. Of this particular case, he wrote:

On this occasion both Captain Preedy and yourself have decided that there is no proof against this man — the murderer of Mrs. Barnes. I shall therefore, as you are so satisfied and so impressed, give him the benefit [of the doubt] at your request. But by this weakness, for such it is, I am guilty of having murdered every man I have hanged in this and other countries; for so help God! in the whole course of a long life, and the experience of some thousands of trials, I never saw proofs more perfect of guilt, except where the crime was avowed, than those against Buska Chandia. As to its afterwards appearing that he was innocent, I should not believe it if all Scinde swore to it. I am quite ready to take that chance; but as you seem to consider that Preedy tried him, and you are both, I consider, blind to facts, he shall escape.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: General Sir Charles James Napier was a Major General of the Bombay Army where he led the military conquest of Sindh before becoming the Governor of Sindh as well as the Commander-in-Chief of India.

Multiple dictionaries indicate that the expression is from the 1850s and from General Sir Charles James Napier’s correspondence, this supports the claim the expression was in use — or implied in certain circumstances — during his time in Bombay.

However, in France, there is a court record of a seamstress named Marie Maire who was accused of infanticide in 1786. While Marie Maire admitted to having miscarried a child in her fourth or fifth month of pregnancy (she wasn’t certain how long she had been pregnant), she denied being responsible for the child’s death. But no body could be found to substantiate the accusation against her so when her lawyer urged the judges to “give her the benefit of the doubt in light of the fact that public opinion always exaggerates … public clamor rarely leads to truth” the parliament of Dijon acquitted her of the charges against her on 13 February 1786.

This was reported in “Causes célèbres” published in 1787. The case of Marie Maire was listed as Case 511 and is found on pages 188 and 189.

In the case of Rex v Preston in 1770, the closing arguments and the judge’s instructions to the jury have never been found in the case of Captain Preston who, along with eight other soldiers, was arrested and charged with firing into a crowd of protesting Bostonians on 5 March 1770 which resulted in the death of five people.

John Adams (yes, the same John Adams who was the second President of the United States of America) argued in his closing arguments that “the best rule in doubtful cases, is, rather to incline to acquittal than conviction … If you doubt the prisoner’s guilt, never declare him guilty.”

Robert Treat Paine was the lawyer arguing for the Crown, and in his closing statements (per Volume 3 of the Legal Papers of John Adams) and Paine agreed that jurors would have to acquit if they had any doubts, but if they had any doubts, those doubts had to be reasonable.

If therefore in the examination of this Cause the Evidence is not sufficient to Convince you beyond reasonable Doubt of the Guilt of all or any of the Prisoners by the Benignity and Reason of the Law you will acquit them, but if the Evidence be sufficient to convince you of their Guilt beyond reasonable Doubt the Justice of the Law will require you to declare them Guilty.

So while there are no records of the closing arguments or the judge’s instructions to the jury in this case from 1770, it’s doubtful John Adams — the future President of the United States of America — would misrepresent what Robert Treat Paine said in making his closing arguments to the Court.

Interestingly enough, the standard of reasonable doubt was neither new nor innovative, and existed in traditional English law. So the concept dates back to considerably longer than most people realize.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version or variation of the expression and therefore it is pegged at 1786 in France with a serious acknowledgement to traditional English law which has been in place since the Norman Conquest of 1066.

 

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ignorance Is Bliss

Posted by Admin on March 1, 2018

Ignorance is bliss, or so some would have you believe. For those who offer this up as sage advice, it is usually because they feel the other person is more comfortable not knowing facts than knowing them. In other words, what you do not know, cannot hurt you.

The expression was very popular in the entertainment industry over the years.

Punk rockers, The Ramones included a song with this title on their “Brain Drain” CD in 1989. Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar included a song with this title on his “Overly Dedicated” CD in 2010.  The BBC had a comedy quiz on radio from 1946 through to 1950 titled, “Ignorance Is Bliss” and in 2009, “House” had an episode with that title.

If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s history, perhaps it’s because ignorance is bliss in some instances. Or perhaps not.

The Jefferson County Post edition of 19 August 2013 published an article by the Editor in the Stranger Than Fiction column. The history of surgeries and medical procedures was the main theme, beginning with an introduction that spoke of doctors being far more responsible for President James Garfield’s death in 1881 than the assassin who fired a bullet and injured him. The title of the column was “Ignorance Is Bliss.”

In 1911, the phrase was used in Volume 12 of “The Post Office Clerk” in an article by New Yorker, C.P. Franciscus in his article “The Fallacy Of A Proverb.” The author saw fit to add an extra note directed specifically at the indifferent and apathetic members of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks in the hopes that it the article would “create a DOUBT of the correctness of theory and the stability of your attitude.”

This applies to all for notwithstanding our protestations of innocence, we know more than once. Remorse has tormented us and Conscience has compelled a plea of guilty — and usually we urge in extenuation our ignorance. Thus we see the fallacy of the oft quoted proverb “If ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.” Before quoting it again try to realize how utterly ridiculous and incompatible such sentiments are with truth. Ignorance is the handmaid of poverty, the companion of sloth, the paramour of disease, and the forerunner of dissolution and death. It is the weapon of the tyrant, the despot, the demagogue, and trickster. It has enslaved millions and still holds in bonds of serfdom countless thousands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Christopher C.P. Franciscus was a clerk of the New York Post Office as well as the president of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks. He was elected to the position in 1918.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was organized in 1899, and was created by merging the United National Association of Post Office Clerks with the National Association of Post Office Clerks.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was incorporated under the laws of Maryland on 25 January 1900 and its first president was Joseph P. Healy of New York City. The first national convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ from September 3 through 6, 1900 and saw 72 delegates representing 50 branches attend. The estimated membership at the time was 4,000 members.

In an 1850 edition of the Punch, or The London Charivari magazine, the question “Where is bliss to be found?” was asked and answered.

The poet who told us that “ignorance is bliss” was certainly right as far as pantomime bliss is concerned, for it would be much better to be ignorant of such bliss altogether. A walk through the “Halls of Happiness” after the curtain goes down, when clown is being released from the top of the pole, upon which his popularity has placed him, and the other heroes and heroines of the night descend from their uncomfortable elevation into the arms of the carpenters, while the fireman extinguishes the sparks still remaining with his heavy highlows, and prepares his hose for the night — such a ramble behind the scenes would afford sad proof of the emptiness of all theatrical felicity.

Even English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) weighed in on the subject of ignorance being bliss. In Chapter VIII of “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” where readers learned how Mr. Winkle shot at the pigeon and killed the crow, then shot at the crow and wounded the pigeon, and all manner of other interesting things, the expression is found.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden-gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appears; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. ‘Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! There are times when ignorance is bliss, indeed.

However, it was English poet, classical scholar, and Pembroke College professor, Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) who wrote “Ode On A Distance Prospect Of Eton College” in 1742 that was published by English bookseller, poet, and playwright Robert Dodsley (13 February 1704 – 23 September 1764) in 1747 that say the first publication of the expression where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

In the end, ignorance isn’t really bliss unless not being in the know is somehow better.  All that being said, ignorance is bliss dates back to 1742 thanks to Thomas Gray and all those who came after him.

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If You’re Not A Socialist At Twenty, You Have No Heart

Posted by Admin on December 12, 2017

Recently, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an article stating no one knows for certain who the first person was who coined the phrase, “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.”

In some respects that is true.

The phrase and its many variations have been attributed to a great many men  over the years:

  • British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1981) in a book of quotations published in 1997 that was compiled by Canadian educator Laurence J. Peter (16 September 1919 – 12 January 1990)
  • French politician, physician, and journalist Georges Clemenceau (28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929)
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) in a 1986 edition of the Hartford Courant newspaper
  • French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) in a book by scientist, journalist, and politician Francisco Bulnes (4 October 1847 – 1924)
  • King Oscar II of Sweden (21 January 1829 – 8 December 1907) in a 1923 edition of the Wall Street Journal
  • Irish playwright, critic and polemicist George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) in a speech given in 1933 at the University of Hong Kong
  • American poet Robert Frost (26 March 1874 – 29 January 1963)
  • American writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant (5 November 1885 – 7 November 1981)
  • Prime Minister of France Aristide Briand (29 March 1862 – 7 March 1932)
  • British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)
  • American filmmaker George Huang used it in his 1994 movie “Swimming With Sharks“and has been tagged as the originator of the phrase

Even American entrepreneur, business magnate, inventor, and industrial designer Steve Jobs (24 February 1956 – 5 October 2011) was incorrectly identified as the person who first coined the phrase!

However, the spirit of the phrase can be found in a number of variations.  In 1875, French literary figure and theater director Jules Claretie  (3 December 1840 – 23 December 1913) wrote a biography where he attributed a similar sounding quote to French jurist and politician Anselm Batbie (31 May 1828 – 12 June 1887).

« Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

TRANSLATION: He who is not a republican at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.

While it might seem reasonable to declare the trail for this expression begins at some point in Anselm Batbie’s life, the fact of the matter is, there’s a quote even older than that one with the spirit of the saying in question.

In 1799, John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) was quoted in a Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) journal entry as having said this phrase that has been reworded so often. It was spoken in a conversation between Dr. Ewen and the President, and recorded in Jefferson’s journal.

A boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty.

According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, John Adams’ reputation was one of a “blunt-speaking man” with an “independent mind.”

So while the CBC is technically correct in its assertion, fact checkers for Paul Kennedy’s radio program “Ideas” at CBC didn’t delve too deeply into the subject otherwise they would have attributed the spirit of the expression to the second President of the United States of America — John Adams.  Idiomation has determined the roots date back to 1799.

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Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Admin on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

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Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Admin on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

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Bold As Brass

Posted by Admin 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.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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