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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 19th Century’ Category

Baptism Rain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 15, 2018

Earlier this week, weather forecaster Heather Haley reported that [rain] sprinkles were expected earlier in the day with the possibility of baptism rain following. Having never heard of baptism rain before, Idiomation decided to research the expression.

The expression has its roots in Psalms 68:7-9 that talks about plentiful rain confirming man’s baptism which, according to Psalmists, illustrates the concept of being baptised in the cloud (meaning a rain cloud). The fact that the rain is plentiful clearly states that it’s more than a few [rain] sprinkles.

At least that’s what American theologian and poet Absalom Peters (19 September 1793 – 18 May 1869) had to say on the subject in his book dealing with the Scripture Doctrine of Christian baptism that was published in Massachusetts in 1848 at the behest of the Berkshire Association of Great Barrington on Jun 6, 1848.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Absalom Peters was a Congregational minister who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1816 and Princeton Seminary College in 1819. He was the Professor of pastoral theology and homiletics in the Union Theological Seminary of New York from 1842 to 1844, and the pastor of the First Church of Williamstown (MA) from 1844 to 1857.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: He was the son of General Absalom Peters (25 March 1754 – 29 March 1840), a descendant of William Peters. His ancestor, William Peters of Fowy, Cornwall, England was a Puritan who emigrated to New England in 1634. This William Peters was the grandfather to William Peters of Andover (MA) who was Absalom Peters’ great-grandfather.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Absalom Peters was the uncle of former Governor of Connecticut John Samuel Peters (21 September 1772 – 30 March 1858) and cousin of former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice John Thompson Peters (May 30, 1805 – July 24, 1885).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Throughout his life, it is claimed that Absalom Peters never fell ill. If this is fact, this is truly amazing as he was nearly 76 years old at the time of his death.

Baptism rain as an expression doesn’t date back to the Christian Bible even though its roots begin there.

There are a number of Southern expressions that are spoken without having been written in a book, and a great many that have made it into books. Mercy drops, showers of blessings, blessings rain down, and more.

Idiomation spoke with the librarians at the local library, and most of them knew the expression baptism rain from childhood, having heard it from older relatives discussing the weather.  The best definition given for baptism rain was a rain that was a fair bit more than a sprinkle but not as much as a flood although it might cause flooding in some parts.

Idiomation opens the door to hearing from others on this topic. If you have answers, we would love to read what you have to share in the Comments section below.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2018

You have seen the memes and the posters on social media and heard people insist that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and while Idiomation can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that statement, Idiomation has tracked down the expression’s history.

It means that hardship or difficult experiences are responsible for building a stronger character, usually with regards to morals and ethics, but also with regards to physical and mental health. It is meant to celebrate the resilience of individuals as well as the ability to cope and adapt where adversity — and in some cases, loss — occurs.

Last year on 15 February 2017, Science Daily shared a research paper that identified cellular recycling processes linked to the beneficial effects on individuals who underwent brief bodily stresses. The data collected by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the resulting paper published in Nature Communications was aptly titled, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”

In the article “Hard Winter For The Guerrillas” written by Middle East correspondent David Hirst and published in the 2 January 1971 edition of the Guardian Weekly newspaper in London, a modified version of this expression found its way into the first paragraph in this way.

“The blow which does not kill you makes you stronger than before.” Three months have passed since Jordan’s “10-day war” between army and guerrillas, but it has not been long enough to provide convincing evidence that this Arabic saying, which Yaser Arafat cited after the fighting stopped, applies to the Palestinian resistance movement. In fact, most of the evidence points the other way.

Even in the 50s, this expression was one most people considered a nugget of wisdom. It even found its way into Dissent magazine from the Foundation for the Independent Study of Social Ideas in 1954 (the year this magazine was founded).

A girl tells of an aunt who taught her what Nietzsche taught some of us: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The last pages bleed. But these kids could teach us all grace under pressure. They have grown up too fast for real. Many of the older ones have made it to college, and maybe they will thrive on what they have been through.

It appeared in Volume 76 of “Printers’ Ink” published on 6 July 1911. The article was written by Bert Moses and was a tribute to George P. Rowell ( 4 July 1838 – 28 August 1908) whose influence on advertising had far-reaching effects. He was thought of, according to the writer, as the pioneer of modern advertising.

He delighted as much to tell of his failures as of his successes. Once he took a whole page to advertise Ripans Tabules in a great New York daily at a cost of $800.

The only result he could trace was one mail order for 50 cents.

This was not a serious loss to him — it was experience — and he realized that all experience which does not kill you is good.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: George P. Rowell was the founder of the Advertising Agency of Geo. P. Rowell and Company which he founded on 5 March 1865. He founded Printers’ Ink in 1888 which was the first journal for advertisers established for the serious discussion of advertising as a business force. He was the founder of Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory in 1869 which focused on providing accurate information about the circulations of newspapers competing for advertising patronage.

However, nearly this exact phrase appears in the book by German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) titled “Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer” written in 1888 and published in 1889. He was known for his critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, and in this book, he coined the expression albeit in German, not English.

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The original title for his book was “A Psychologist’s Idleness” and was written between 26 August and 3 September 1888 when he was vacationing in the small village of Sils Maria which is one of two villages along with Segl Baselgia which make up Sils im Engadin, in the Swiss canton of the Grisons.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Friedrich Nietzsche was born on King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia’s birthday and his parents decided to christen their newborn son Friedrich Wilhelm in honor of the King’s 49th birthday.

While it’s a fact that the expression was expressed in writing by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in 1888, the spirit of the expression is found in the King James version of the Bible where in Romans 5, verses 3 through 5, this is written.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

And so, this expression is stamped on 1888 with a nod to the Christian Bible, and most likely a great many other historical cultures long before the Christian Bible was written, where strength of character was forged through emotional, mental, and physical endurance.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 19th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pay Your Money and Take Your Chances

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 18, 2018

When you pay your money and take your chances, this refers to the element of luck or risk involved in choosing or making a decision.  You realize you have no control over the results, and you accept the risk involved even though the end results may not be to your liking.  In some respects, it’s a bit like being asked to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.  You’ll get what you get.

In January 2017, Today’s Parent magazine published an article about gluten-free, vegan and raw diets and why infants should not be fed health fad diets.  Written by Aaron Hutchins and titled, “No, Your Baby Shouldn’t Be Vegan Or Gluten-Free” it dealt with parents who were turning their backs on conventional nutrition as well as conventional medicine — and to the detriment of their children.  The article quoted Toronto-based chiropractor Brian Gleberzon who had this to say about using chiropractors to address such health issues as colic:

“It’s the same principle with your dentist or your chiropractor or psychotherapist,” he says. “There’s no guarantee they can help you. You pay your money and take your chances.”

In November 5, 2004 edition of the New Zealand Herald, an article title, “All Is Fare in the Power Struggle for Whenuapai” took on the possible conflict of interest the government had in light of the fact it held 80 percent ownership in Air New Zealand and was determining public policy for Whenuapai that would see budget travelers headed to the Gold Coast instead.  Some points made about duplicate passenger facilities at Whenuapai and the inconvenience of domestic passengers transferring to international flight at Mangere, there were claims that red herrings had been thrown into the arguments against Whenuapai.

The Economic Development Minister, Jim Anderton, claimed people were getting carried away with their fears and concerns, and insisted there were alternative uses for the airport in question, and that it could become an industrial park.  He was quoted as saying:

“Everyone is talking about one possible use, but there could be others – from universities to racetracks. You pay your money and take your chances.”

The February 1964 edition of the New York Forester magazine provided insightful commentary from Judge Irving Edelberg who spoke on the “Legal Aspects of Public and Private Lands Used For Recreational Purposes.”  He addressed the issue of trespassing and the legal ramifications therein as well as the responsibilities involved with those who were licensees and those who were invitees.  An invitee was someone who was invited by the land owner to use his land recreationally, oftentimes solicited to visit and encourage to partake of the recreational facilities offered by the land owner.  The idiom was used to make a point about the rights of the invitee and the responsibilities of the land owner.

In some “sitting” recreation, the saying goes that you “pay your money and you take your chances.”  But where you are invited to the recreational use of land, whether or not you pay your money, the user’s rights and the owner’s liability are not a matter of chance.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  The New York Foresters were a chapter of the Society of American Foresters and were their chapter was headquartered at the Conservation Department, State Campus Site in Albany, New York.

The 1912 edition of the American Florist magazine included an article on the heating system for growers who focused on roses.  The writer of the piece made it clear that there was “little economy in buying a boiler when starting into business that will only take care of the amount of glass erected the first season, for as a matter of fact one usually increases the number of houses annually, and the return tubular type of boiler of from 50 to 100 H.P. will always be found to be the best investment.”

When the article got to mentioning return tubular boilers — the portable and the brick-set — and the virtues therein, the writer determined the two were comparable.  In fact, the writer stated this in his article, he put his own twist on the expression by writing:

There is very little difference in price, so you pay your money and take your choice.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  With regards to the portable boiler, that “with its self-contained firebox, ashpit and saddle attached, [and] is made in any desirable horsepower.  This boiler takes up comparatively little room and if well covered with asbestos will be found very handy and economical.”

Something worth taking note of is that between the 1910s and the 1960s, the word chance was substituted for the word choice.

It was in Volume 26 of “The United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular And Volunteer Forces” published on 3 November 1888 that a Letter to the Editor dated 20 September 1888 regarding modern artillery made use of the earlier version of the expression.  The writer of the letter — A.D. Schenck, 1st Lieutenant, 24 U.S. Artillery, Jackson Barracks, Louisiana — was concerned about an article published in an earlier edition that included tables relating to horse artillery guns, and the measure of mobility the artillery would have to secure to keep pace with its troops.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  A.D. Schenck was Alexander DuBois Schenck (27 October 1843 – 16 September 1905).  Born in Franklin County (OH), he enlisted on April 17, 1861 as a Private in the 1st Ohio Infantry, Company F and on August 31, 1861 he was moved to the 2nd Ohio Infantry, Company B. He was promoted to Sergeant on August 31, 1861, later on becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the Artillery Corps of the U.S. Army. He died at Fort Stevens (OR) in 1905.  

What’s more, the writer of the letter made certain to underscore that his observations and opinion on the subject was not based upon the “experiences or judgment of this writer, but upon those of some of the most experienced and capable artillery officers in the French, German, and Russian services; in the latter case coupled with those of cavalry officers as to the character of horse artillery best suited to their requirements.”

The last paragraph o f his letter included the following comment:

These two very light field guns weigh the same, carry the same number of rounds, with very little difference in the weight of projectile, and both fire the same charge, giving the same muzzle energy.  But one has a “high” and the other a “very high” initial velocity.  To his customers it is evidently “you pay your money and take your choice.”  Any one who will examine the shrapnel and their relative effectiveness, and calculate the range tables of effective battle ranges, etc., will soon find a deal of difference in the power of those guns after the projectile leaves the muzzle and reaches battle ranges.

The first time the saying saw print was on page 18 of the June 3, 1846 edition of Punch magazine (Volume X, No. 16) in a cartoon entitled “The Ministerial Crisis.”  In the cartoon, a showman tells a customer, “Which ever you please, my little dear. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”

The cartoon addressed the crisis over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1845, the same year the Potato Famine hit Ireland and Great Britain.  The British landowners were against the repeal as the law made the import of grain prohibitively expensive, resulting in profits for those landowners whose farms grew grains.  This situation caused government problems and John Peel resigned as Prime Minister in 1845.  Lord Stanley, leader of the Protectionists, refused to form a government.  Lord Russell’s efforts failed.  Queen Victoria finally asked John Peel to form the government again, which he did, and once the repeal narrowly passed, he resigned again.

But oh! that certainly did cause an ongoing ruckus during the months this brouhaha was going on!

It’s believed by some the expression was a common stallholder’s cry to customers, and Cockney in origin.  Still others believe it was the showman’s call to customers to see the show, and still Cockney in origin.  The bottom line is the phrase existed before it was used in the 1846 cartoon Punch magazine published, as the magazine believed its audience would understand the idiom’s meaning without need for additional explanation.

In the early 1800s, the concept of taking your choice meant you were faced with a dilemma and you had to choose what you felt was the best from all that was being offered.  Idiomation therefore dates this idiom back to at least the 1820s based the cartoon and the belief by so many that its origins are rooted in Cockney slang which started in the early 19th century and was recognized as an established language in 1840 among market traders, costermongers (sellers of fruit and vegetables from handcarts) and street hawkers on the streets of London.

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A Loaded Wagon Makes No Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 4, 2018

The figurative meaning of saying a loaded wagon makes no noise is that people of means and good intentions don’t talk about their finances, their holdings, or the good deeds they do. In other words, bragging isn’t something someone engages in if they are of good character.

Literally speaking, a light wagon with no suspension and post-spoking rattles, shakes, and bounces over every slight imperfection, with the empty bed acting as a soundboard. In contrast, a loaded wagon is less likely to be shaking over every pebble on the path, and is muffled and dramatically quieter.

In the figurative sense, Volume 30 of “The Railroad Trainman” published in July 1913 made this point as it pertains to men and women in the work environment. The article was titled “Too Much Busy-Ness” and addressed the issue of women who made a lot of noise about their various committee meetings and convention addresses and other charitable acts.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

The woman of real executive ability goes about her duties quietly; she has mentally organized her work. Whether she moves about in her own house or engages in outside endeavors, she is calm and composed — and effective.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: This monthly magazine was published in Cleveland, Ohio by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen located at 1207 American Trust Building, and under the watchful eye of the Editor and Manager, D.L. Cease. The yearly subscription price was $1.00 per year, payable in advance.

In Volume 8 of the magazine “The Florida School Journal” published in June 1895, the section titled “School Buildings” found on page 20 made use of the expression. The magazine’s editor and publisher was V.E. Orr and the magazine commanded a price of one dollar per annum.

A good school building in which every convenience is for the management and teaching of those who are aiming at culture or preparation for some calling is a very desirable thing, but mortar and brick do not make a good school. In Middle Tennessee are found many excellent buildings some of which are very suitable for the purpose for which they were made. We have observed that many of our best schools have but little to say about their appliances beyond the mention of their conveniences and favorable means of instruction. It seems in this case the loaded wagon makes the least noise. We recently noticed a statement made by a college president calling attention to his four-story building as an inducement to young men and ladies to enter his school. Just what advantage accrues to young women, especially in climbing two or three flights of stairs four or five times a day, is not easily seen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE : V.E. Orr published Orr’s U.S. and Library Maps, Orr’s U.S. and Outline Maps, and Orr’s U.S. and Georgia Maps. Along with publishing “The Florida Journal” he also published “The Georgia Teacher” and was headquartered in Atlanta (GA).

INTERESTING QUESTION: Is V.E. Orr related to Brunswick Public Schools of Brunswick (GA) Superintendent of Schools (and later State School Commissioner) and American cartographer Gustavus John Orr (9 August 1819 – 11 December 1887)?

Tracking the origins of this saying proved more difficult than anticipated, leading Idiomation to the mid-1800s when, as the movies often claim, the West was being won, and the common road wagon was clearly defined by the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, in Merrick v Phelps, in 1848. When one spoke of a wagon, the Court understood this to mean the following:

A one-horse wagon, with a single fixed seat, and two full grown persons sitting thereon, one of them driving, is a “wagon” but not a “loaded wagon” within the charter of the Hartford and New London Turnpike Company.

This was an important ruling insofar as it made dealing with two wagons meeting on a narrow road much easier. No loaded wagon or cart could be made to get off the road to afford passage to another vehicle unless the other vehicle was another loaded wagon. The heavier loaded wagon was granted the right of way at the expense of the lesser loaded wagon or the cart that was on the road headed in the direction from which the loaded wagon came.

There was no argument to be had. The greater loaded wagon was going to benefit far more people than the lesser loaded wagon, or the cart, and so it was to pass by without commentary from either party.

Prior to article published in the “The Florida School Journal” in 1895, the expression managed to keep itself hidden. One could suppose this means its origins are loaded which would explain why it makes no noise the more one searches for evidence of its existence.

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Whole Cheese

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 19, 2017

In the 1939 Bulldog Drummond movie “Secret Police” Aunt Blanche (played by Elizabeth Patterson) asks Gwen Clavering (played by Heather Angel) if she’s sure about marrying Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (played by John Howard). Gwen’s response is that Hugh Drummond is the whole cheese.

The expression whole cheese means that person is the real deal and not an imitation of what one perceives the person to be. The whole cheese, however, should not be mistaken for the big cheese who is an important, influential person. In other words, a person who is the whole cheese may also be a big cheese, but a big cheese isn’t always the whole cheese.

What cheese has to be with being the real deal is something that isn’t as easy to track down however.

From the news article titled “Those Cotton Associations” published on 1 February 1906 in both the Dallas Southern Mercury newspaper and the Farmers Union Password, the whole cheese is mentioned in an article about Colonel E.S. Peters, Vice-President of the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.

Col. E. S. Peters of Calvert served with distinguished honors for a number of years as “the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.” The Colonel was just about “the whole cheese.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Colonel E.S. Peters’ plantation was in the Brazos Valley, near Calvert, TX. In 1900, boll-weevils were threatening the cotton industry in Texas which supplied nearly 25% of the cotton worldwide. The Peters Plantation allowed entomologists to experiment on his land as it was in the most seriously affected portion of the boll-weevil territory. As a result, the experiments proved successful, and a full report was submitted by Congressman Slayden to the House Committee on Agriculture on December 17, 1903

In the September 6, 1904 edition of the Rat Portage Miner and News, a Letter to the Editor about Louis Hilliard’s farm was submitted and published.  Louis Hilliard’s farm was 180 acres in size with 70 acres already being farmed and another 40 acres of swamp land cleared and good to go. The writer of the letter felt this way about Rat Portage overall.

We think Rat Portage is the whole cheese, and that we are progressive and actually “up-to-date”. But as a matter of fact we have a bad attack of dry rot. Some of us have been here for twenty-four years, and I only know of two who have risked planting trees outside their fences, that is Messrs. Hose and Gerrie, and they have had to sit up nights to protect them from cattle.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Rat Portage was renamed Kenora (Ontario) in April 1905 against the wishes of taxpayers and without a vote for the name change being put to the voters. In fact, the taxpayers insisted that it be noted in the records that the change in name from Rat Portage to Kenora was done so “entirely against the will and wish of the majority of ratepayers to the town and by representations to the Lieutenant-Governor that were misleading.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Rat Portage had its origins in the Ojibwa name Waszuch Onigum that means portage to the country of the muskrats. As with many town names, it became colloquially known as Rat Portage. In 1892, an informal vote was held to decide if the town’s name should be changed. The name Rat Portage won out over other suggestions including Sultana (after the name of the largest gold mine on Lake of the Woods) and Sabaskong as well as Island City, Pequonga, and Lakeside.

During the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900 where President William McKinley (with running mate Theodore Roosevelt) ran against William Jennings Bryan, a lot was said about the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land. On 5 March 1900, Private Hambleton wrote to Sergeant Beverly Daley, and stated the following:

Of course, there are some boys who think Bryan is the whole cheese, but they don’t say too much.

On 23 September 1898, the article “Ward Conventions: Republicans Name Candidates for Justices and Constables” appeared in the Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City.  There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the motions and amendments and amendments to amendments at this convention.  I have no idea who Mr. Bonetti or Mr. Post were, and I don’t know who Joe Cottle was, but they seemed to have stirred things up quite a bit in the time they were at this convention.

Bonetti, who had been appointed sergeant-at-arms, was fain to cry, “Ladies and gentlemen, behave yourselves,” which they did, and after a discussion, a motion, two amendments and an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, offered by Joe Cottle, who was apparently the whole cheese, a collection was taken up and $10.35 raised which was confided to the car of Mr Post who placed the amount down in the deepest pocket he had and took a station near the door, where he could readily escape.

An untitled item in the Dallas Southern Mercury of 7 July 1898 found its way into the newspaper nearly three months earlier.  Sometimes the smallest mentions share the most interesting details.

The Democrats are having a hot time in Pennsylvania. Harrity has his war clothes and is determined to prove to Jim Jones that Jim Guffy is not the whole cheese in that State. The fight is a bitter one, and the aureate statesman has decided to give Guffy the “hottest shot he has in the shop.”

The use of the word cheese to indicate the best dates back to a mention in “The London Guide” in 1818 where the word used as slang is said to mean “the fashion, the best, the correct thing.”

Between 1818 and 1898, the word cheese in this context crops up often including in “The Clockmaker: The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville” by Canadian author and Nova Scotia politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865), published in 1835. In Chapter XIV, the author writes:

Whatever is the go in Europe will soon be the cheese here.

It also shows up in the story “Codlingsby” by British satirist and author William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863), published in 1850 in the his collection of stories titled, “Burlesques.” At one point, Godfrey de Bouillon, Marquis of Codlingsby, and Rafael Mendoza enter the outer shop of an old mansion on Holywell Street. They observe a medical student trying on an outfit for the masquerade to be held later that night when the following exchange is overheard.

“You look like a prince in it, Mr. Lint,” pretty Rachel said, coaxing him with her beady black eyes.

“It is the cheese,” replied Mr. Lint; “it ain’t the dress that don’t suit, my rose of Sharon; it’s the figure. Hullo, Rafael, is that you, my lad of sealing-wax? Come and intercede for me with this wild gazelle; she says I can’t have it under fifteen bob for the night. And it’s too much: cuss me if it’s not too much, unless you’ll take my little bill at two months, Rafael.”

Idiomation therefore pegs the expression the whole cheese to the late 1890s, with about ninety years of between cheese and the whole cheese.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, cheesy isn’t as nice a reference as cheese or whole cheese, but that’s something to research for another Idiomation entry at some later date in the near future.

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Thon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 20, 2017

In an effort to be politically correct and gender sensitive, government departments, agencies, organizations, businesses, and schools are trying to agree on a gender neutral pronoun that’s acceptable to everyone.   Some have considered using zie, sie, se, xe, ey, ve, tey, e, and hir while others have rejected those options as being awkward and contrived.  Others have suggested going with they, their, and them while others argue those options are too impersonal.  The dilemma is one that no other generation has ever faced.  Or is it?

What about the word thon?

The word thon is chiefly Scottish and is a mish-mosh of this and that with the pronoun yon.  It was most popular in the 1700s and 1800s, and although it made its way into the Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary in 1903, it was removed sixty years later … mostly because no one bothered to use it.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The gender neutral pronoun ou can be traced back to the 14th century as used by Cornish writer and translator John Trevisa (1326 – 1402).

SIDE NOTE 2:  John Trevisa is the 18th most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary, and cited as the source for evidence of a word after Geoffrey Chaucer and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The pronoun she first appeared in the mid-12th century to reduce the confusion and ambiguity of the gender neutral pronoun system that was used in English at the time.

In 1894, the word — and a variation therein — was used by Henry Graham Williams (1865 – date of death unknown) in his book, “Outlines of Psychology Designed for Use in Teachers Classes, Normal Schools, and institutes, and as a Guide for All Students of Applied Psychology.

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge.

In 1884, American attorney and composer of church music, Charles Crozat Converse (October 7, 1832 – October 18, 1918) wrote in a letter published in the August 2, 1884 edition of “The Critic and Good Literature” that a gender neutral pronoun should be used and that thon was such a pronoun (a word he lay claim to having created in 1858).

It was, according to Mr. Converse arrived at by “cutting off the last two letters of the English word that, and the last letter of the word one, and uniting their remaining letters in their original sequence in these two words” thereby producing the word thon.  The purpose of the pronoun was to bring equality to situations where stating a gender was to give one gender more respect than the other.  In his explanation, he wrote:

Use of it will so individualize and pronominalize (so to speak) this word as to show its manifest grammatical distinction from the words that and one of which it is born; and the mental process by which it leads its user to the noun it represents will, I think, be found to be easy and natural, it not being an arbitrary sign.

Oddly enough in a Letter to the Editor submitted to, and printed by, The New York Times on October 19, 1905, the history of the word thon was outed as having been in use thirty years before the Charles Crozat Converse lay claim to creating it.

So while people today are busy congratulating themselves on being gender sensitive and incredibly progressive in their thinking, the fact of the matter is that long before the term transgender or gender fluid was part of our language, people had a gender neutral pronoun.  It just never quite caught on.

Idiomation pegs this word to around 1825 based on The New York Times Letter to the Editor with a nice nod to Charles Crozat Converse in the process.  Isn’t it interesting to learn that the more things change, the more things stay the same … or revert to a much earlier time in history?

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happily Ever After

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 14, 2017

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Idiomation has taken on the fairy tale ending that states that two people live happily ever after.  It’s formulaic and predictable that fairy tales end this way, but who doesn’t love happy endings especially when so much strife and effort is involved to get to that happy ending?  And who was the first storyteller to decide that this was the perfect ending for fairy tales?

On May 28, 1998 the Matagorda County Advocate (a Thursday morning supplemental to the Victoria Advocate) published an article asking whether two people used to the space of their respective kitchens could “find true happiness and culinary success working together in one kitchen.”  The question had already been answered in the headline that proudly announced, “Live Happily Ever After In The Kitchen.”

Thirty-five years earlier, an advertisement in the St. Petersburg Times of October 31, 1963 promised young couples that if they purchased this neat, cozy, furnished two-bedroom home, the couple’s purse would appreciate the dollar wise price. It certainly sounded like the perfect investment for the perfect couple who had just begun their perfect life together, and the copy writer obviously felt likewise.  The advertisement ran with the bold letter title:  HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Perhaps one of the more humorous newspaper articles about living happily ever after is found in the May 3, 1920 edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper where American author and short story writer Fannie Hurst (18 October 1889 – 23 February 1968) reportedly had solved the puzzle of wedded bliss.  The United Press story from New York City stated the following:

Fannie Hurst, writer of love stories usually with a “happy ever after ending” does not believe the institution of marriage as generally followed is the open sesame to happiness.  In an interview today, the fifth anniversary of her marriage to Jacques Danielson, pianist and composer, Miss Hurst (for she still retains her maiden name) compared many of the present day marriages to prison bars.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Jacques Danielson (23 July 1875 – 3 March 1952) was Russian, not French or English as some may assume from his name.  He was born in Moscow, the son of Samuel and Anna (née Brook) Danielson.  He immigrated to the United States in 1892 and was the assistant to Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer Rafael Jossefy (3 July 1852 – 25 June 1915) at Steinway Hall in New York City.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Jacques Danielson and Fannie Hurst maintained separate residences throughout their marriage, and arranged to renew their marriage contract every five years, if they both agreed to do so.  As it was, their happy ever after lasted until Jacques Danielson’s passing in 1952.

Her suggestion was that women should not be bound by “moss back conventions” and each couple should adopt conditions that suit the temperaments of the married couple.  She went as far as to reveal that she and her husband had their own circle of friends, stating:

There is no reason why I should like his friends and he should like mine.  In fact, some of his friends bore me to tears.

It was used in Chapter 3 of “Peter Pan” published in 1904.

“Do you know,” Peter asked, “why swallows build in the eaves of houses?  It is to listen to the stories.  O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story.”

“Which story was it?”

“About the prince who couldn’t find the lady who wore the glass slipper.”

“Peter,” said Wendy excitedly, “that was Cinderella, and he found her, and they lived happy ever after.”

On Saturday, February 18, 1894 American novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser (27 August 1871 – 28 December 1945) wrote a letter to Emma Rector in response to a curt note she had sent him the night before admonishing him for his ungentlemanly behavior.  Theodore ended his letter to Emma with this line.

Then I’ll smoke right up and be ever so grateful and happy and we’ll get along after the fashion of “ye ancient fairy tale” very happily ever afterwards.

Even Leo Tolstoy seems to have thought the phrase was worthy of a novel.  In 1859 he published “Happy Ever After” which told the story of a young woman in her 20s who had lost her parents, fell in love with her father’s much older friend, and enjoyed a happy life as a married woman.  That is to say, until the couple are invited to a soirée by a young prince who spirits her heart away from her older husband.

That being said, Jacob and Wilhelm (otherwise known as the Grimm Brothers) ended a great many of their fairy tales with a cautionary note stating that those who died went on to live happy in the ever after – a somewhat less romantic and pleasant ending to a story. German philologist, jurist, and mythologist Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) and German author Wilhelm Carl Grimm (24 February 1786 – 16 December 1859) seem to be the pull pin moment in history where living happy in the ever after (as in once the lovers were dead) becomes living happy ever after or happily ever after (as in the lovers are still alive).

That being said, the spirit of the idiom happily ever after can be found in the 18th century phrase happy as the day is long although that’s not really ever after, is it? Idiomation pegs happy ever after and happily ever after to the early 1800s somewhere between the Brothers Grimm and Leo Tolstoy.

Happy Valentine’s Day friends and followers!

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Yellow Journalism

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 27, 2016

My friend, the late Jerry Flowers (8 January 1947 – 7 November 2016), used the rallying cry, “Commit journalism” to move his friends to action.   It was one of the things I remember most fondly about conversations with Jerry who believed in promoting the highest ideals regardless of the profession in which one was engaged.

The complete opposite from the kind of journalism is yellow journalism.    Yellow journalism is sensationalist, exaggerated reporting that relies heavily on distorted stories that have little to no legitimate facts.  It also uses unnamed sources to provide believable sound bites and the stories are published with scandalous headlines to draw attention to itself.  Reporting lies and rumors as fact is a large part of yellow journalism.  The major focus of yellow journalism is to excite public opinion and to sell more newspapers than might otherwise be sold.

Yellow journalism is easy to spot as it generally has all five of these characteristics which are easily identifiable.

  1. Fearmongering headlines in large print;
  2. Pictures that are used out-of-context to lend credence to the fake story;
  3. Pseudoscience, fake interviews, and/or false information from alleged experts;
  4. Scare tactics and highly charged emotional words and symbols used; and
  5. Dramatic sympathy for the underdog fighting the system in an effort to get the word out.

You may assume that yellow journalism is a term that came about during WWII and that it was an insult aimed at the Japanese.  You would be incorrect if that was your guess as to where the term originated.  The term yellow journalism goes back much further than WWII.

Back in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst (29 April 1863 – 14 August 1951) was the owner and publisher of the New York Journal newspaper, and József Pulitzer (10 April 1847 – 29 October 1911) was the owner and publisher of the New York World newspaper.  The techniques of yellow journalism have their humble beginnings in the New York World newspaper in the 1880s although the term yellow journalism hadn’t been invented yet.

In the Spring of 1893, the New York World ran a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums and this cartoon strip, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, was titled, “Hogan’s Alley.”  The break-out character from the cartoon strip was the Yellow Kid.  William Randolph Hearst hired Richard F. Outcault (14 January 1863 – 25 September 1928) away from the New York World to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.  József Pulitzer hired a new cartoonist who continued to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.

yellow-kid

The competition between the newspapers raged on with each newspaper trying to outdo the other right down to the Yellow Kid.  It wasn’t long before the sensationalist stories and outrageous pictures in both newspapers became known as the competition of the “yellow kids.”  Shortly thereafter, such  journalism was labeled yellow journalism.

When the U.S. battleship Maine was sunk in the Havana harbor in Cuba, the rush was on to get a newspaper out that would outsell the competitor.  Since both newspapers had fanned the anti-Spanish public opinion flames for years, the publishers felt it was to them to beat their competitor to the news stands.  The publishers directed their reporters to write stories intended to tug at the heartstrings of Americans.

An illustrator by the name of Frederic Sackrider Remington  (October 4, 1861 – December 26, 1909) worked for William Randolph Hearst and was stationed in Havana.  He sent a cable to William Randolph Hearst that read:   “Everything is quiet.  No trouble here.  There will be no war.  Wish to return.  Remington.”

In response, William Randolph Hearst cabled back, “Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.  Hearst.”

new-york-journal_maine-destroyed

Both newspapers carried all manner of atrocities from scandals to the Buldensuppe mystery (where a man was allegedly found headless, armless, and legless) leading up to the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine.  Once the battleship was sunk, every atrocity was fair game for publication:  Female prisoners, executions, rebels fighters, starving children, and American women stripped naked by soldiers.

It wasn’t long before there were countless other tabloids hitting the market, and each of them tried to out tall tale tell each other with their stories.  However, the two newspapers responsible for this style of reporting, were at the head of their class, and yellow journalism flourished.

The expression yellow journalism therefore dates back to the days of William Randolph Hearst and József Pulitzer and the mid-1890s.

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Soapbox

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 6, 2016

Oftentimes on social media and in real life, people will apologize for getting on their soapbox after speaking their minds.  Usually what they have to say is something they are passionate about and they feel compelled to share that passionate view with others.  When someone figuratively stands on his or her soapbox, that person is expression his or her opinion about a particular subject very vocally.

The Associated Press out of London reported on British communist and military trade unionist leader Jack Dash’s passing on June 9, 1989 and included the term in the obituary.  He was described as a “fervent British patriot” while at the same time reported that he “unswervingly defended the Soviet line.”  The obituary read in part:

The Transport and General Workers’ Union to which he belonged barred Communists from holding union office, so Mr. Dash operated strictly from the soapbox and became known as “unofficial king of the docks.”

In the October 29, 1945 edition of the Pittsburgh Press, Florence Fisher Perry wrote about attending an event to hear Roger Nash Baldwin (21 January 1884 – 26 August 1981), co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, speak at the First Unitarian Church in a Forum series.  Her article, “I Dare Say: Leftward The Course Of Thinking” made reference to soap box orators.

As always seems to be the case, the more Leftist ones is, the more articulate one becomes with the result that most of what we hear from lecturers, forums, dramatists, and definitely soap box orators, is Leftist talk.  The Rightists in any typical audience may feel deeply and even angrily, but they’re not apt to stand up and express themselves.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  When the ACLU was first established, Roger Nash Baldwin stated that “Communism, of course, is the goal.”  As he became more and more disillusioned with Soviet-style communism, he began to refer to communism as it was in Russia as the new slavery. 

The Afro American newspaper edition of August 13, 1927 spoke about Garveyism and race riots in an article titled, “Go It Garvey.”  Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, and orator Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914.  Garveyism promoted the concept that African-Americans should be returned to African by way of his shipping and passenger line, the Black Star Line, and that European colonial powers be made to leave Africa.  In this article, the term was used thusly:

Constitutional rights, and racial equality advocated by every intelligent person constitute the Garvey creed, which soap box orators spout in fiery language.

In American novelist, journalist, and social activist John Griffith “Jack” London’s book titled, “The Road” and published in 1907, in the short story titled, “Two Thousand Stiffs,” he wrote of his hobo experiences back in 1894.  At the time he was working for an electric railway power plant shoveling coal.  He quit the job when he determined he was being exploited, and headed west to join General Kelly’s Army, meeting up with them in Omaha (NE).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Stiff was the slang term for a tramp in the 1890s.

This army wasn’t an army in the military sense, however, its members intended on marching to Washington (D.C.) to join General Coxey’s Industrial Army in protest of unemployment numbers.   Army life didn’t suit him as much as he thought it might, and a month later, he left General Kelly’s Army in Hannibal (MO) and became a bona-fide hobo.  He wound up being arrested in Buffalo (NY) on June 29 of that year, charged with vagrancy, and spent thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary upon conviction.   Years later, when he wrote about what happened, he used the term soapbox to explain

The city had treacherously extended its limits into a mile of the country, and I didn’t know, that was all.  I remember my inalienable right of free speech and peaceable assembly, and I get up on a soap-box to trot out the particular economic bees that buzz in my bonnet, and a bull takes me off that box and leads me to the city prison, and after that I get out on bail.  It’s no use.  In Korea I used to be arrested about every other day.  It was the same thing in Manchuria.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Charles T. Kelly was known as General Kelly, leader of General Kelly’s Army.  His group of slightly more than 2,000 unemployment men intended to march from San Francisco (CA) to meet up with Jacob Coxey’s Industrial Army, where they would continue marching to Washington (D.C.).  Unfortunately, few of the men in General Kelly’s Army were interested in making the trek on foot past the Ohio River.  A thousand men made it as far as Des Moines (IA).  By the time they arrived in Washington (D.C.), there were hardly any men left in his army.  His men added another hundred to General Coxey’s numbers when they marched on Washington (D.C.).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Prominent political figure and labor-rights advocate Jacob Coxey was known as General Coxey, leader of the Industrial Army.  He decided to lead a march to Washington (D.C.) to protest unemployment.  He claimed in the media that his Industrial Army would have more than 100,000 unemployed men by the time it arrived in Washington, however, he was mistaken.  By the time he reached Washington, there were only five hundred unemployed men with him.  Undeterred, he moved forward with his plan to have the United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland see things his way, and found himself arrested for trespassing on public property.  His followers abandoned him, and upon his release from jail he was sent back to his home state of Ohio.

In 1904, mainstream media in America referred to those making speeches at the National Convention of the Socialist Party of America as soap-box orators.  The Socialist Party of America was a Marxist group with headquarters originally in St. Louis (MO).  In January 1904, it was determined that their headquarters would be moved to Chicago (IL) as determined by Referendum B 1904.  Although the convention was referred to by the media as the First National Convention of the Socialist Party of America, it was actually the second  — the first having been the Unity Convention held in Indianapolis (IN) held from July 29 to August 1, 1901.  

The concept of a Speaker’s Corner has been around for some time, with some locations such as Hyde Park in the UK dating back to the late 1800s. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 stated that some areas in parks would be permitted to be used to allow people to meet and speak their mind in a peaceful way in public.  In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, manufacturers used wooden crates to ship wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. The heavier the merchandise, the stronger the box had to be, and soap was (and still is) some of the heaviest merchandise being shipped. This meant that wooden crates carrying soap were among the strongest.

When wooden crates that had once carried soap were turned over into makeshift platforms, they could easily bear the weight of an adult without fear of breaking while the person stood on it.  They were also very easy to carry around, making quick escapes possible for those who stood on their soap boxes delivering unscheduled speeches.

The tradition of soapbox speaking was seen in the 1992 general election in the UK when Tory leader John Major took his campaign to the people directly and delivered many political addresses from an upturned soapbox.

The term soap box referring to speaking one’s mind dates back to the late 1800s and continues to be used even in conversations more than 125 years later.

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Fill The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 11, 2016

Idiomation shared the history behind foot the bill and fit the bill.  This time around, we’re looking at the history behind fill the bill, and what this expression means.  To fill the bill is to supply exactly what is needed to meet the needs of a specific situation.

On November 19, 2015 the HR Gazette website published an article about HR managers, and how to pick the one that’s best for your company.  The article discussed non-traditional graduates as opposed to traditional college students, and the advantages and disadvantages therein.  The article was titled, “Hiring An HR Manager: Can You Fill The Bill?

On February 1, 2000, the Latin Trade magazine decided to publish an article about fraudulent companies in South America.  Costa Rica correspondent Julie Dulude’s story began with an article published in the magazine Business Insurance that had been published in March 1999, and focused on a business calling itself Camelot Insurance Company, S.A.  The reporter’s investigation turned up a handful of companies with Camelot in their names.  The problem is that addresses are listed as local landmarks followed by compass directions, and so every lead was investigated by the reporter.  When she used the idiom, this is what she wrote.

Finding the next two addresses turned out to be a wild goose chase. The tenants at an apartment complex that seemed to me “exactly 75 meters west of the Colegio Metodista” knew nothing. “Ay corazon, since the school occupies the whole block, it could be on either this street or the parallel one,” offered the gardener.

Next door was a vacant lot and across the street a cemetery, so I headed for the parallel street. A yellow house next door to a construction site appeared to fill the bill. “Let me find my glasses,” said a middle-aged woman who came out to help. And then: “The problem is that it doesn’t say whether they mean the elementary or the high school. You see, the Colegio Metodista has a high school in Sabanilla, which is considered part of San Pedro.”

Filling the bill is something that was known nearly 100 years earlier.  In the book “The Lair of the White Worm” by Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) published in 1911 the expression fill the bill was used.

There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish  to keep — Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it.

Nearly twenty years earlier, in 1890 a passionate Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 34 of “Manford’s Magazine” reader James Billings of Hico, Texas.  The title of the letter was “Fill The Bill” and Mr. Billings to the expression fill the bill to task and wrote a passionate letter on the subject.

Shall that sinner be given up, as a subject beyond the reach of the mercy, and the love and power of God?  Is there no arm of infinite love, and goodness that can be stretched out to life this poor soul into the life of repentance, and to feel God’s forgiveness?  Is there no balm of mercy in Gilead to save?  Is there not mercy and goodness enough in God’s divine purposes to fill the bill, in every case?  God is love; and as it is an inexhaustible fountain, there is compassion sufficient to fill all bills, to meet all demands, and redeem all souls.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Billings (15 November 1811 – 2 November 1898) was the new Universalist missionary in Texas, and had a noticeable presence as both a Universalist minister and a publisher.  In Hico, Reverend Billings and his wife, the thrice married and thrice widowed Mary Charlotte Ward Granniss Webster Billings (11 July 1824 – 2 March 1904), made a number of sound real estate investments on behalf of the Texas Convention, and opened All Souls Church in Hico, Texas in 1889.

Some sources state that fill the bill is American theatrical slang that dates back to 1882 where a lead performer’s name was the biggest name on the show’s poster with lesser performers listed in smaller letters and engaged to round out the program.  Idiomation doesn’t doubt that this may be true, however, the idiom was used in slightly more than twenty years earlier by the Illinois State Agricultural Society, and in the context we understand it to mean today.

On page 471 of Volume 4 of the “Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society” for 1859, there was a vote on whether to go with Wilson’s Albany, Necked Pine, Early Washington, or Iowa for general cultivation.  Notes were taken at this meeting and these words were attributed to Dr. Warder with regards to the best strawberry plants for farmers.

The Iowa is not a good bearer.  Only on in ten of its blossom produce fruit usually.  It runs too much and need thorough harrowing, which done, it bears well.  It has a high flavor but requires rough treatment.  It bears early, is good to have, though a little soft.  Austin or Shaker’s Seedling, Dr. W. hopes well from because of its great vigor, but doubts if it fills the bill.  Instead of the berries weighing at the rate of twelve to the pound, it take fifty weight a pound.  Has more confidence in Downer’s Prolific.  Downer is a reliable man, and the fruit and plant are both exceedingly satisfactory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference however the term was used easily by Dr. Warder with the expectation that his colleagues would understand the meaning of fill the bill.  We therefore peg this expression to the early 1800s.

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