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

Going Bodmin

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2019

If someone has gone bodmin or is going bodmin, you can rest assured the person is question is allegedly crazy or loopy, and probably in need of a nice long restful stay at a mental hospital. Even Bodmin Magazine agrees that going bodmin means the person being talked about has gone absolutely and utterly mad. The fact of the matter is that Bodmin is a respectable town in the UK, so why would anyone think an expression associated with Bodmin would mean that?

The quick answer is that the Cornwall County lunatic asylum — also known as St. Lawrence’s Hospital — opened on Westheath Avenue in Bodmin in 1815 on nine acres of land for the express purpose of dealing with those who were mentally unstable. The hospital was designed by John Foulston and George Wightwick. Cornwall County was the seventh English county to provide an asylum, and being one of the first asylums, word of its existence spread quickly and effectively.

By 1818, Bodmin had 112 cells, and accommodations for 72 patients. It became the first county in the South West to have an asylum for the insane long before the 1885 Act that stated asylums could only be built in certain areas, and long before the Care in the Community Act was passed in the 1990s.

According to historical records, the major mental disorders that were dealt with at Bodmin were mania, dementia, and melancholia. Of course, there were moral disturbances resulting from domestic troubles, religious excitement, fright and various shocks, among others, and physical disturbances caused by accident, injury, intemperance, or brain disease.

In its heyday, there were as many as 2,000 mental patients being treated at Bodmin, admitting both private patients and ‘pauper lunatics.’ By 2002, it was determined Bodmin was to be permanently closed, and so it was.

SIDE NOTE 1: The area known as Bodmin Moor is the setting for the novel “Jamaica Inn” by author Daphne du Maurier. Lost on Bodmin Moor in the dark, the remote location of the inn sparked her imagination, leading to the story about smugglers and cut-throats!

SIDE NOTE 2: Dozemary Pool in Bodmin is the legendary last resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.

But enough about Bodmin, and back to the expression!

In 2018, UK poet Andrew Siddle used the expression not only as the title of one of his poems, ‘He’s Going Bodmin‘, but repeatedly throughout the poem.

A few years earlier, on 2 March 2012, a delightful blog called Rusty’s Skewed News Views published a blog entry titled,”Cornwall Gone Bodmin for Pasty Contest.” The blog owner reported that “aspiring pastry chefs and an assortment of cooks from around the planet” had arrived in Cornwall for the first annual World Pasty Championships.

Back in 2004, the British television series “Doc Martin” starring Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham debuted with the first episode titled, ‘Going Bodmin.’ While the series begins with the doctor moving to the village of Port Isaac in Cornwall (England), by the end of this episode, Doc Martin has concluded he made a mistake moving to the village, and plans to return to London … which he doesn’t do as shown by the subsequent episode in the series. The series is currently in its ninth season.

The expression is a local expression. Any county that had a asylum became infamous in its own area by way of referencing the town in the county where the asylum was located. For example, in Exeter, people were ‘going Digby.”

While the expression wasn’t used often in written circumstances, it appears to have been the go-to expression in conversations. Idiomation therefore pegs this to scant years after the asylum in Bodmin was open for business meaning somewhere between 1818 and 1820.

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Wellington Boots

Posted by Admin on September 24, 2019

A while back, a friend of Idiomation asked why Wellington boots — which are sometimes referred to as Wellies — are called Wellington boots. Some of you may be wondering what a Wellington boot is in the first place, never mind the history behind the name.  Some people call them rubber boots while others call them galoshes. Still others call them muck boots, and a few call them rain boots. A few call them gumboots or gummies.

SIDE NOTE 1: In South Africa, gumboots inspired gumboot dances in the early 20th century. The dancers wear their gumboots and create rhythms by slapping their boots and bodies, stamping their feet, and singing.

Wellington boots were named early in the 19th century by Dublin-born Anglo-Irish soldier Arthur Wellesley (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), the First Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with the Hessian boots German soldiers wore. He had been sent to Flanders in late 1793 and fought at the Battle of the Boxtel in September the following year. His health was negatively affected by the damp environment, and the battle forced heavy losses and sickness on the men fighting with the Dutch and Austrian troops to invade France. The end result was that they were forced to retreat into Germany.

Hessian boots became incredibly popular during the reign of King George III after they were introduced in 1789. In short order, they became standard military issue footwear as popular with civilians as with military men. Some even took to calling them “Austrians” (with the word boot omitted) since they were originally a German boot made in the German state of Hesse.

Hessian boots reached nearly to the knees and had a a nice trim around the top. They were made of leather, and had semi-pointed toes and small heels as well as tassels at the top.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Duke of Wellington was famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo which ran from 15 June – 8 July 1815.

The Duke didn’t fancy the tassels all that much, so he charged his personal shoemaker with modifying the style of Hessian boots in 1811 to suit his own tastes. For one thing, those tassels were definitely gone as was the trim. He wasn’t impressed with the heel, and asked to have the boot made to be a bit more form fitting without the heel.

Aristocrats in England wanted to emulate the Duke, so they began asking their shoemakers to create Hessian-inspired boots that looked like the boots the Duke wore, and it wasn’t long before everyone with means to buy these boots were calling them Wellington boots. In fact, by 1817, everyone knew what kind of boot the Wellington boot was.

It was in 1853 that American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson (1808 – 1869) decided to introduce rubber to the Wellington boot. Hiram had bought the patent for vulcanization of natural rubber for footwear from self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear (yes, that Charles Goodyear). Goodyear (29 December 1800 – 1 July 1860) was using the process to make tires, so he saw no problem in allowing Hutchinson to use the process to make boots.

Wellington boots were sold to farmers looking for foot protection in their wet fields. The rubberized Wellingtons allowed them to work in their wet fields all day and still have clean, dry feet when the day was done. It’s easy to see how this impressed farmers everywhere. It wasn’t long before the rubber Wellington was a staple on farms and in cities throughout Europe.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Hessian boot inspired the creation of cowboy boots that became popular in American in the 1850s.

When the rubber Wellington boot left England on its way to the United States in the early 20th century, they also changed color. The British version remained the traditionally green while the version in the U.S. came in a variety of colors, with the most popular color being black boots for adults and yellow boots for children.

World War I provided soldiers in the flooded and mud-filled European trenches a chance to keep their feet warm and dry by wearing rubber Wellington boots, and so they did.

These days, Wellington boots are standard footwear for a number of jobs, mostly when the boot is reinforced with a steel toe to prevent injury as well.

It’s very easy to peg the year the term Wellington boots came into usage, so Idiomation has decided to share this YouTube video of gumboot dancing in South Africa with readers.

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A Country Mile

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2019

Just how long is a country mile you may wonder after hearing someone mention country miles or having read about country miles? After all, isn’t a mile a mile whether it’s in the city or in the country?

When someone talks or writes about a country mile they are talking or writing about deceptively long distances, and definitely longer than anticipated. Some will tell you this is because country roads tend to meander across the countryside whereas as city roads tend to be set up in grid formation. The layout of roads may be a fact, however, that’s not the reason a country mile is supposedly longer than any other mile.

As we learned from the research on a mile a minute, until Queen Elizabeth I standardized just how many feet were in a mile (5,280 feet), an Irish miles consisted of 6,720 feet, a Scots mile consisted of 5,928 feet, a Welsh mile was supposedly a very long stretch to walk, and other miles had varying numbers of feet in them.

Now, up until the 13th century when King Edward I conquered Wales, the Welsh mile was comprised 9000 paces feet where each foot was 9 English inches long.

The Scots mile — which was about 1.12 English miles — was still a thing when Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) mentioned it in the first verse of his narrative poem “Tam O’Shanter” published in 1791, and written the year previous.   In fact, it was so much a thing it had to be abolished three times: Once in 1685 by an act of the Scottish parliament, once in 1707 when the Treaty of Union was signed between Scotland and England, and once by way of the Weights and Measures Act of 1824. It would seem Scotland were really attached to their mile, and weren’t as willing to give it up in favor of the English mile as the English believed they should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: The Ottoman mile was 5,000 Ottoman feet long which was the equivalent of 1.18 English miles, and in 1933 it was replaced by the slightly shorter Turkish mile which is the equivalent of 1.15 English miles.

On 29 December 2016 the Jamaica Observer newspaper published an article titled, “Top 16 2016 Racing Moments.” At #13 on the chart, and headlined “The Finish of the Oaks” this race had to do with the Jamaica Oaks race where the win was described thusly:

What a race the 2016 edition of the Jamaica Oaks turned out to be. After winning the 1,000 Guineas by a country mile, Nuclear Affair with Aaron Chatrie aboard looked all over a winner in the Oaks, but a late race surge by A Thousand Stars (Robert Halledeen) ended with a short head victory by the latter. Two females engaged in all-out battle was something to behold.

On 1 March 1992, American Forests published an article about reforestation at Jersey’s famed Pine Barrents (at the time it was known as Pinelands) that had been a weapons test range named the Warren Grove Test Range. One sentence in the article read:

No doubt more than one wet-behind-the-ears pilot missed his target by a good country mile, and the small clearings grew into vast desolate stretches of Pine Barren sand.

In the 20 November 1971 edition of Cash Box magazine, “Walk A Country Mile” was mentioned as the flipside of the Tommy James release “Nothing To Hide” on Roulette Records.

SIDE NOTE 2: Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was Thomas Gregory Jackson, and was born on 29 April 1947 in Dayton (OH). Tommy James and the Shondells (formerly known as Tom and the Tornadoes) were known for hits such as the very well-known and oft-covered “Mony Mony” and equally engaging songs “Crimson and Clover” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

The mile became standardized by international agreement on July 1, 1959 by the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959. It was agreed a mile was equivalent to exactly 1609.344 meters. As mentioned earlier, until then all miles were not created equal.

The printing firm of Casper (C.C.) Childs (Jared W. Bell, General Agent) published an interesting tidbit about a country mile in “The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference: A Million of Facts on Common Place Book: Volume III” published in 1850. The entry in which the term is found, slightly modified, states:

Robin Hood shot a full mile; and, according to his bard, a north-country mile was equal to two statute ones.

For those who are interested, north-country England included the cities of Nottingham, York, and London. As we know, Robin Hood was constantly at odds with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Medieval statute miles were 1.3 international miles long, and while it’s doubtful that Robin Hood’s arrow was shot anywhere near 2.6 miles before landing, the exaggeration expected from the term “country mile” is found in this passage.

In the poem “The Villager’s Tale” by mariner and west-county from Bodmin, Frederick de Kruger (1798 – date unknown ) and published in 1829 in his book, “The Pirate and Other Poems” the expression finds a place in this stanza written by the poet. This was 5 years after the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 was passed in England, and because the printer of the book (Liddell and Son) and the seller (G.B. Whittaker) were located in London, it lends credence to the comparison between the two different kinds of miles.

The travelling stage had set me down
Within a mile of yon church-town;
‘T was long indeed, a country mile.

SIDE NOTE 4: Very little is known about Frederick de Kruger save that he was a mariner who survived three shipwrecks in the space of nine years and permished in the last shipwreck (which happened after 1829 but Idiomation was unable to identify what year it happened). He was born in Bodmin which is a civil parish and historic town in Cornwall, England. Bodmin is responsible for the expression to go Bodmin.

SIDE NOTE 5: The book by Frederick de Kruger was dedicated to Vice-Admiral Sir C. Penrose, K.C.B. of Ethy House, Cornwall. This would have been Sir Charles Vinicombe Penrose (20 June 1759 – 1 January 1830) who was a Royal Navy officer who became the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB). Penrose was also born in Cornwall.

Beyond 1829, Idiomation was unable to find any published instances of a country mile, but quite a bit about the various miles already mentioned in this entry. Idiomation suspects that country miles compared to other miles were spoken of for several years prior to the term being published in printed materials based on the history of the various miles in history.

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Go Like Sixty

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2019

If you say you’re going like sixty, you probably also say you’re going a mile a minute. The idiom going like sixty means you — or the person or thing to which you are referring — is going fast or doing something very quickly.

Most people believe the idiom relates to cars or trains, and in fact, that would make sense. In 1848, the Boston and Main Railroad was the first to have an authenticated average speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). However, that was 51 years before the car named La Jamais Contente, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was clocked doing 60 miles per hour on 1 May 1899 in Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France.

SIDE NOTE 1: The car was equipped with Michelin rubber tires, and his father, Constant Jenatzy, was a manufacturer of rubber products which was a novelty during this era.

The Cash Box magazine edition of 28 February 1948 Volume 9, No. 22) used the idiom on Page 11, in the Record Reviews section. Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart” was the Disk O’ The Week and directly beneath that review was a review for Johnny Moore’s song “Teresa.”

Subtle and warm tones of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and a ditty that should go like sixty. With piper Charles Brown to spill the vibrant and haunting vocal score to “Teresa,” the deck stacks up for a slew phono play. Instrumental tones offered her are excellent with a wonderful guitar spot by Oscar Moore rounding out the side.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Cash Box was touted as the confidential weekly to the coin machine industry, and this magazine even had a “roving reporter” interviewing and reporting on items of interest to lovers of jukebox hits.

Flying Grandma or Going Like Sixty” by Maude Squire Rugus was published by University Lithoprinters of Ypsilanti (MI) in 1942, and did well with book lovers everywhere.

The phrase “like sixty” appeared in Chapter One of James T. Farrell’s “Young Lonigan” (the first book of the trilogy).

“Spike Kennedy, Lord have mercy on his soul, he was bit by a mad dog and died, would get up on one of the cars and throw coal down like sixty, and they’d scramble for it.”

In Volume XXIII, Volume 1 of “The Irrigation Age” published in November of 1907, an advertisement was published that referred to goes like sixty. It had nothing to do with a car, but it did have to do with speed.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Gilson Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850 on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington in Wisconsin). The company was making gas engines by 1898, and established a manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada).

From the 1904 short story, Holding Up A Train by O. Henry:

What it was there for, I don’t know. I felt a little mad because he had fooled me so. I stuck the harp up against his mouth.

“If you can’t pay – play,” I says.

“I can’t play,” says he.

“Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

He caught hold of the harp, turned red as a beet, and commenced to blow. He blew a dinky little tune I remembered hearing when I was a kid:

Prettiest little gal in the country – oh!
Mammy and Daddy told me so.

I made him keep on playing it all the time we were in the car. Now and then he’d get weak and off the key, and I’d turn my gun on him and ask what was the matter with that little gal, and whether he had any intention of going back on her, which would make him start up again like sixty.

The first usage in the New York Times newspaper of that exact phrase happened on 24 August 1895, when it was reported that a group of kids got locked and trapped in a railroad freight car and the train started up. They weren’t found for quite some time, and when they were found, they described their hair-raising adventure, with one boy quoted as saying the train “was going like sixty.

This would indicate that the expression actually has nothing to do with how fast a car traveled in 1895 (as the record for a car traveling that fast was still 4 years away), and is related to how fast a train traveled in the 1890s.

According to John Stephen Farmer Henley in 1903, the book “Household Words” published an issue on 18 September 1886 which stated to go like sixty meant rapidity of motion. This was confirmed by Frank Vizetelly and Leander Jan De Bekker in their book, “A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature.”

However, back in 1848, when the Boston and Main Railroad traveled at authenticated average speeds of 60 miles per hour, it was thought that traveling at such a rate would cause passengers to suffocate as the surrounding air rushed past them. Many spoke of being winded after riding a thoroughbred horse that could hit 40 miles per hour for short bursts, and after riding a galloping horse at 30 miles per hour for longer than short bursts.

There were reports of railway madmen in rail cars who calmed back down as trains slowed down upon arriving at train stations. The speed of the train was blamed for the insanity known as “delirium furiosum” that overcame those who suffered from railway mania — as was reported in “The Medical Times and Gazette” in July of 1863.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to between 1850 and 1860 to give enough time for the hysteria of traveling at 60 miles per hour to gain traction among the fearmongers and naysayers.

As an added bonus, here’s what some people in the 1920s had to say about all that medical mayhem about train speeds the Bavarian psychiatrists were going about a few decades earlier.

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Forty Winks

Posted by Admin on August 20, 2019

The language of slumber is one that has some strange twists and turns to it, where sense seems to be nonsense, and nonsense sometimes makes sense.

If you need to catch or take forty winks, you need a nap because forty winks isn’t a good night’s sleep. But why do people call a nap forty winks?

A blink doesn’t last long. It doesn’t even last a second. But if all you need is a few minutes rest, then forty winks should be enough … especially during the day.

But how long is a blink? A blink is longer than a jiffy (read up on shake of a lamb’s tail for more details on this) so scientifically speaking, forty winks should be about 15 seconds long. Since most naps are far longer than 15 seconds, the idiom is meant to imply a forty wink nap is not dissimilar from how short employers feel a coffee break should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi. A fermi is about the size of a nucleon.

A full cycle nap according to scientists and medical researchers is 90 minutes long. A cat nap is much shorter at 7 minutes.

That being said, the number forty has been used since long before Biblical times to describe an indefinite time — long but not too long. Shakespeare used the number in some of his plays in this way, and even Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) used the number similarly in a letter to his father in law, John Danvers, when he ended it with this closing.

I have forty businesses in my hands: your Courtesie will pardon the haste of
Your humblest Servant,
George Herbert.

SIDE NOTE 2: George Herbert was the brother of the 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. They and their eight siblings were the grandchildren of Sir Edward Newport, Lord of Cherbury. They were also the grandchildren of Sir Richard Newport, ruler of souther Powys. THeir father, Richard Herbert was the sheriff and deputy lieutenant of the county of Montgomery.

That being said, a wynk (wink) meant a sleep in the 14th Century when William Langland (1332 – 1400) wrote “Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman” published in 1377. In fact, in his epic poem, there is a lot of wynkyng, none of which involved anything but sleep.

In Volume I, in “Passus Quintus de Visione, ut supra” (which was the second vision the dreamer had which is retold in this poem), the poet wrote:

Thanne waked I of my wynkyng,
And wo was withalle,
That I ne hadde slept sadder,
And y-seighen moore.

So how and when did forty get hitched to winks (or wynks) — and separated from one wink (or wynk) meaning a sleep — to mean a nap?

Back in 1960, the B-side on the Neil Sedaka release “Stairway To Heaven” was written by Barry Mann and Larry Kolber, and told the story of a lonely guy far away from his gal, but he knew she was just “Forty Winks Away” in his dreams.

On 15 March 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post titled, “Gretchen’s Forty Winks.” The number forty appears a number of times in the story, but in relation to taking a nap, it is found in this passage.

When Tompkins dropped them in front of their house at eleven Roger and Gretchen stood for a moment on the sidewalk looking at the winter moon. There was a fine, damp, dusty snow in the air, and Roger drew a long breath of it and put his arm around Gretchen exultantly.

‘I can make more money than he can,’ he said tensely. ‘And I’ll be doing it in just forty days.’

‘Forty days,’ she sighed. ‘It seems such a long time–when everybody else is always having fun. If I could only sleep for forty days.’

‘Why don’t you, honey? Just take forty winks, and when you wake up everything’ll be fine.’

She was silent for a moment.

In Act III, Scene I of the play “Deacon Brodie or the Double Life” by Robert Louis Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) and William Ernest (W.E.) Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) and published in 1882 (just a few years before Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886), the characters Jean, Smith, and Moore find themselves in a public place in Edinburgh, loitering. The exchange with forty winks mentioned is found at the beginning of the scene.

MOORE:
Wot did I tell you? Is he ‘ere, or ain’t he? Now, then. Slink by name and Slink by nature, that’s wot’s the matter with him.

JEAN:
He’ll no be lang; he’s regular enough, if that was a’.

SMITHER:
Badger, you brute, you hang on to the lessons of your dancing-master. None but the genteel deserves the fair: does they, Duchess?

MOORE:
O rot! Did I insult the blowen? Wot’s the matter with me is Slink Ainslie.

SMITH:
All right, old Crossed-in-love. Give him forty winks, and he’ll turn up as fresh as clean sawdust and as respectable as a new Bible.

MOORE:
That’s right enough; but I ain’t agoing to stand here all day for him. I’m for a drop of something short, I am. You tell him I showed you that (showing his doubled fist). That’s wot’s the matter with him.

SIDE NOTE 3: Deacon William Brodie was a cabinet maker, town councilman, and head of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons in Edinburgh by day, and the head of a burglary gang who had a serious gambling addiction and two mistresses by night. He was caught during an armed robbery at Chessel Court in 1786 and hanging two years later on 1 October 1788.

SIDE NOTE 4: The character of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver was inspired by William Ernest Henley who suffered from tuberculousis of the bone from the time he was 12 years of age, resulting in the amputation of his left leg below the knee at age 20.

SIDE NOTE 5: William Ernest Henley’s daughter, Margaret, was the inspiration for Wendy in the J.M. Barrie children’s classic, Peter Pan. Unfortunately, she was a sickly child and died on 11 February 1894 at age five. The play first opened on 27 December 1904 at the Duke of York Theater in London.

In Volume 55 of the Westminster Review published in mid-1851, an extensive article discussed electro-biology as a repackaging of charlatanism, somnolism, phycheism, and mesmerism. The expression forty winks — in quotation marks — was used.

The Fakirs of India are said to throw themselves into a trance by looking at the tips of their noses; but whether trance be induced, or sleep, by that or any corresponding process, must always depend, more or less, upon the constitution of the patient. The same visual or mental effort that would give to one person his quiet “forty winks” after dinner, would throw an epileptic person into a fit.

SIDE NOTE 6: Mesmerism is named after Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (23 May 1734 – 5 March 1815) which he introduced to society in 1770. He is considered the father of hypnosis. It was not accepted as a viable therapy until 1958 when the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure.

Back in 1828 when George Eliot was Mary Ann Cross — and long before she married her husband Mr. Evans — she wrote in her journal that she had “forty winks on a sofa in the library.”

Dr. William Kitchiner (1775 – 1827) wrote a self-help guide, published in 1821, which was titled, “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life by Food, CLothes, Air, Exercise, Wine, Sleep, and More.” Already known for his previous books, including “The Cook’s Oracle”, The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review of London (England) reviewed the Dr. Kitchiner’s latest book in its November 24th edition that year.

The review begins with letting readers know that not only is Dr. Kitchener the author of a number of books, but also the author of a book on telescopes which proved him to be “an excellent optician.” The reviewer also saw fit to state that the author was known to his friends as “a musical amateur, an advocate for good living at the least possible expense, for indulging in all the luxuries of epicurism, with due care to avoid its injurious effects.” A nod to the author’s age — that being 43 years of age at the time the book was published — is mentioned as well.

The review included this passage:

Sleep is a subject on which our author acknowledges his feelings are tremblingly alive; he is fond of a ‘forty-winks‘ nap in an horizontal posture, as the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion, either of body or mind.

Idiomation was unable to find an early published version of forty winks meaning a nap — not a long sleep — prior to 1821 when it is used in quotations. So while winks (and wynks) clearly referred to sleep for a few hundred years, forty winks meaning a nap seems to have come about in the early 1800s.

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Crazy As A Bed Bug

Posted by Admin on August 15, 2019

Have you ever heard someone claim someone else is crazy as a bed bug? Have you wondered how in the world someone would know if a bed bug was crazy?

The expression refers to someone who is behaving in a way that makes no sense at all. In other words, that person is acting so crazy that it’s crazier than what one would expect from a crazy person. Imagine the most eccentric lunatic, and that person would be crazy as a bed bug.

Bed bugs have been around for centuries, making their first literary appearance in Aristotle’s tome “Historia Animalia.” They have been the bane of people’s existence since long before Aristotle made mention of them in his tome.

It was a sufficiently interesting expression that in 1938, Dr. Anne E. Perkins wrote two articles for the American Speech magazine. The first was titled, Vanishing Expression of the Main Coast (Vol III, pp 138-141) and More Notes on Main Dialect (Vol. V, pp 118-131). In both articles, she claimed the expression as being unique to Ohio.

It wasn’t just an expression people in Ohio used as is found in a Rice v the State in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on November 6, 1907, and referred to a letter written in 1904. Convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the State penitentiary, Rice was found guilty of murdering his wife on 6 December 1904. He had administered strychnine from a fountain syringe into his wife, and, of course, she died.

In 1904, Mr. Rice and his wife lived in the small town of Joshua in Joshua County (TX) and the accused was well known for neglecting his wife in favor of women living in Fort Worth. It took an hour for his wife to die, and during this time she stated in front of witnesses and her husband that her husband was responsible for poisoning her.  At the time of the trial, it was learned that Mr. Rice had encouraged one of his female friends by the name of Nellie Long to send his wife strychnine poison in a fake headache compound with directions that only she was to use the remedy.

His appeal referenced testimony from the trial, included this:

He further testified that from his acquaintance and conversation with her he was so alarmed, that he wrote to J.M. Rice, brother of the defendant, at Ranger, Texas, on the subject. This letter of date June 23, 1904, written by E.J. Rice to J.M. Rice was read in evidence. This letter, among other things, recites that deceased had been on a visit to him but he, witness, was sorry to see Mandy, the deceased, crazy, but that she was as crazy as a bed bug and was jealous about Ward being too thick with other women and advised J.M. Rice to go and see defendant, and have him to have the deceased adjudged insane.

In 1893, H.A. Shands (Fellow in English, University of Mississippi) published a book titled, “Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi.” It was written as a thesis for his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Mississippi, with a focus on collecting dialect words and phrases — excluding slang phrases — that were peculiar or very common in Mississippi.  In his thesis, he included crazy as a bed bug but stated he was unsure of its origins, or whether it was an expression specific to Mississippi. As an added note, he stated in Germany the expression was ‘as impudent as a bed bug.’

A decade earlier, however, the expression had been used by the Anderson Intelligencer newspaper published in South Carolina on 06 November 1884 with regards to an unfortunate situation.  The article was published just two days after the presidential election of 1884 where Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York defeated Republican James G. Blaine of Maine in what is still considered one of the most acrimonious presidential campaigns in the history of presidential elections in the U.S.

SIDE NOTE 1: The 1884 presidential election was marked by bitter mudslinging and scandalous accusations

A well-known business man of Chicago surprised his friends, the other day by turning up as crazy as a bed bug. As he had no bad habits and was in a sound financial condition, people were puzzled over his sudden derangement, but the mystery was fully explained when it was discovered that the unfortunate man’s mind had been unhinged by reading campaign literature. The only wonder is that the entire country is not full of howling lunatics.

In October of 1874, the “History of Madison, the Capital of Wisconsin, including the Four Lake Country of Wisconsin” by Daniel S. Durrie (1819 – 1892), Librarian of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin was published.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Daniel S. Durrie was also known as Daniel Steele.

In Chapter VI, the story of Tom Jackson, a man of Scottish origin, was recounted. Tom Jackson (known as Jack by everyone) had come to Madison (WI) as a ship sawyer to assist in ripping out (with a whip-saw) a great deal of the lumber that was used in building the old Capital.

Jack was soon on his feet, as crazy as a bed-bug — could find nothing, and relieved himself by many a hard oath, directed at persons and things about him. In his searches for his pants, he caught hold of a sailor-jacket belonging to one of his room mates, and imagining the garment to be his breeches, thrust his feet through the sleeves, and finding them too short for his legs, uttered a fearful judgment upon the man who had cut off the legs of his pantaloons!

Two decades earlier, the expression was used when reporting on the testimony of an African-American brought up before the Mayor of Philadelphia for stealing chickens, as reported by the Missouri Whig newspaper in Palmyra (MO) 02 March 1854.  Supposedly, the accused gave this up as his reason for the caper.

“I was crazy as a bed bug when I stole dat pullet, coz I might hab stole the big rooster and neber done it. Dat shows ‘clusively to my mind dat I was laboring under de delirum tremendus.”

The interesting thing about bed bugs during this period is that they were also referred to as Kalamazoo bedbugs. That being said, no one ever said someone was crazy as a Kalamazoo bedbug.

While the English started using the word bug to refer to insects in 1642, the word bed bug referring to blood-sucking insects that were found in beds and bedding came into use in 1772.

It is thought that bed bugs were introduced into England by way of fir timber imported to rebuild London after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and once rebuilt, many of the new homes suffered from bugs that got into beds and bedding, and bit people. It wasn’t long before people realized bed bugs also enjoyed the creature comforts of heavy drapes and padded chairs.

By 1810, a slang term for an upholsterer was a bug-hunter.

But why are people who are acting irrationally said to be crazy as a bed-bug? Well, while bed-bugs have incredible survival instincts, and while bed-bugs are methodical in their feeding patterns, those raised welts on people and animals due to bed-bug bites cause intense itching — sometimes enough to figuratively drive a person crazy.

Although Idiomation wasn’t able to pinpoint an exact date for the expression, the fact that people with no access to education in 1854 were using the expression means it was an idiom understood by people from all classes. For this reason, Idiomation puts the idiom’s probable inception to a generation earlier to some point in the 1820s, and possibly earlier based on the slang term for an upholsterer.

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Sam Hill

Posted by Admin on March 20, 2018

From time to time, you might hear some of the older folk wonder what in Sam Hill is going on with the younger generation. So who is this Sam Hill they mention, and how is it any of his business what’s going on with anyone?

Sam Hill saw widespread use from the mid 1830s onward, and is a 19th century euphemism (in other words, a minced oath) for Hell. It is used to express extreme confusion, surprise, or agitation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  This is what is commonly known as a bowdlerization (meaning it was censored because it was deemed by adults to be inappropriate for children to exposed to the actual word or expression) and coined after English physician Thomas Bowdler (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) whose best known published efforts was a version of Shakespeare that would not offend or corrupt 19th century women and children).

But getting back to Sam Hill and what the hubbub is all about, who in the world was Sam Hill in the first place, and why is he associated with swearing?

No, it was not from a surveyor named Samuel W. Hill (1819 – 1889) who swore a blue streak.

No, it was not from a lawyer named Samuel Hill (13 May 1857 – 26 February 1931) who also was said to swear up a storm.

No, it was not from the investigator and adjutant-general of Kentucky, Sam Hill (30 January 1844 – 30 May 1904) who was sent by Governor Simon Buckner (1 April 1823 – 8 January 1914) to figure out what was going on with the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

No, it was not from the Connecticut legislator named Sam Hill (he represented Guilford from 1727 through to 1752) who was a force to be reckoned with if you went up against him.

Many claim that one of those four people is the Sam Hill in the expression, and every single one of them would be mistaken.

Interestingly enough, in “Roughing It In The Busy: Or, Life In Canada” by Susanna Moodie (6 December 1803 – 8 April 1885) published in two volumes in 1852 by Richard Bentley publishers in London, England, she uses the expression in a passage of her book.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Susanna Moodie was the sister of English historical writer and poet Agnes Strickland (18 July 1796 – 8 July 1874) who wrote “Lives of the Queens of England” and Susanna dedicated her book to Agnes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Susanna Moodie was primarily known in the 1850s for her volumes of poetry published in 1831 under her maiden name of Susanna Strickland. In the foreword to her book, the publisher states that Susanna Moodie’s lyrical composition, “Sleigh Song” was extremely popular in Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Susanna Moodie was the wife of Scottish-born army officer, farmer, civil servant, and author John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie (7 October 1797 – 22 October 1869), author of “Ten Years In South Africa: Including a Particular Description of the Wild Sports of that Country.” As husband and wife, they settled in Belleville, Ontario, Canada.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Susanna Moodie was also the sister of author, teacher, botanist, and naturalist Catharine Parr Traill (9 January 1802 – 29 August 1899), and of Samuel Strickland (1804 – 3 January 1867) author of “Twenty Seven Years In Canada West” among other books.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: All the Stricklands mentioned in this entry were siblings of English author Jane Margaret Strickland (18 April 1800 – 14 June 1888) who published her first book in 1854, published a biography about her sister Agnes Strickland in 1887, and cared for their mother Elizabeth Homer Strickland (1772 – 10 September 1864).

In Susanna Moodie’s book, she uses the expression Sam Hill in such a way that there’s no doubt Sam Hill was considered swearing back in the mid 1800s.

“Do you swear?”

“Swear? What harm? It eases one’s mind when one’s vexed. Everybody swears in this country. My boys all swear like Sam Hill; and I used to swear mighty bit oaths till about a month ago, when the Methody parson told me that if I did not leave it off I should go to tarnation bad place; so I dropped some of the worst of them.”

“You would do wisely to drop the rest; women never wear in my country.”

“Well, you don’t say! I always heer’d that were very ignorant. Will you lend me the tea?”

In Volume 15 of the 1841 edition of “The Ladies’ Companion and Literary Expositor” there was an article titled, “Memoirs of Mr. Samuel Hill” that was based on a Cape Cod Annual poem of the same name. Tongue in cheek, the take found in this 1841 publication by an unnamed author states that Sam Hill was a New Englander by virtue of the following facts:

Barkhemsted folks believe Mr. Hill to have been born there, merely because wooden-dishes were first fabricated within the precincts … Wethersfield seems to be quite certain that a man of Sam’s sensibilities must necessarily first have learned to weep among the onion patches of Piquaug. Hebron puts in her claim upon the principle of the pump; merely resting it upon the traditionary testimony as to his having frequently been subjected to involuntary ablution under the spout of that losel engine.

The author then goes on to dash the hopes of Barkhemsted, Wethersfield, Hebron, and a great many other locations with the deft sweep of his pen.

Sam Hill‘s history — and the extended history of the women he courted and what happened to the beaus who had previously courted those same women — is examined with the same attention to detail.

Mention is made of his legendary singing voice which is said to be “famous for his vocal (or rather his nasal excellence, for Sam’s melody was always most conspicuous through the nose)” in the neighboring parishes of Upper Schreechington, and East Gruntingburgh.

When all was said and done, the claim was that Sam Hill was a household name from Rye to Passamaquaddy, and yet no one knew Sam Hill, even though he clearly “possessed more attributes than anybody else in creation.” It was said that “no other individual was ever celebrated and sworn by for so great a diversity of opposite qualities” as Sam Hill was.

No true-blooded yankee ever had the toothache without ascribing to his ailment an intensity compared with my hero. His tooth aches “like Sam Hill.” If a fellow is swift of foot, the New-Englanders are unanimous in the opinion that he “runs like Sam Hill,” and if a cripple gets along leisurely in the world it is said of him at once that he limps like the same personage, and poor old Broom’s cattle on the Colchester turnpike always had the name of being “slow as Sam Hill.”

“What the Sam Hill is the matter with you?” is a common expression, whenever any thing extraordinary is discernible in a man’s deportment, and you “lie like Sam Hill,” if a neighbor’s word is distrusted. “True as Sam Hill” is equally in the mouths of those who would swear to the veracity of a favorite statement.

A man is said to be as smart, and he is said to be as dull as “Sam Hill” — and if he is very bold or very timourous, “Sam Hill” is still the standard by which his good and bad qualities are measured. Of course, as I have already remarked, my hero must have been possessed of all sorts of qualities, and have been gifted with more versatility of powers than even the admirable Chrichton himself.

In the end, the author of this piece writes this about himself as an author, and the piece he has published in this magazine:

This biography will be looked upon in various lights by the reader. One class will call it “stupid as Sam Hill,” and another will pronounce it “smart as Sam Hill.” This latter body of citizens are very sensible people, and my heart warms to them like — SAM HILL.

Sam Hill shows up in the August 21, 1839 issue of the Havana Republican newspaper of New York state in an article titled, “Majorjack On A Whaler.”

What in sam hill is that feller ballin’ about?

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 7: Majorjack refers to Gump-link character Major Jack Downing by American humorist Seba Smith (14 September 1791 – 28 July 1868). Seba Smith was among the first to use American vernacular in his humorous writings, and his style led the way for other American humorists such as Will Rogers (4 November 1879 – 15 August 1935).

Oddly enough, the expression Sam on its own without the addition of Hill as a last name referred to a know-nothing person. Need more be said about how people felt about Sam in general with or without a last name?

Idiomation takes this to mean that the expression Sam Hill was around since at least the turn of the 19th century, and most likely long before then although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the 1839 newspaper account.  It was, however, understood by the general public to have been included in that 1839 article so it was already in use among the people.

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Another Think Coming

Posted by Admin on March 6, 2018

The battle continues as to whether the expression is you’ve got another think coming or you’ve got another thing coming. This week on Idiomation, both expressions are shared on this blog so you can make an educated decision as to which expression works best for you.

The expression you’ve got another think coming is in many ways a well-worded mathematical equation with real life implications. In other words, if you think A and B are true, you will be surprised to learn they do not add up to X as you think it will. Yes, when you are told you have another think coming, you have been advised you are sorely mistaken in your beliefs and need to reconsider your original thought if you want to be right.

So if you think you this is an easy riddle to unravel, you might have another think coming … or not.

Most English teachers will tell you that think is a verb however in this instance think is actually a noun. A noun? Yes because a noun identifies the subject in a sentence while a verb ascribes action. So when that think is coming as a result of the first think, it’s obvious that the thinks in question are subjects and not actions. What those thinks are doing or are going to be doing are the verbs.

Think as a noun first appeared in dictionaries in 1834 and referred to the act of thinking or a period of thinking. In fact, there’s an expression from the late 1800s that clearly expresses this thought: A thing must be a think before it be a thing.

That sentence was from a novel by Scottish author, poet, and minister George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) titled “Home Again” and published in 1884. The concept is found in Chapter IV: A Living Force.

“I should so like to understand!” said Molly. “If you have a thought more beautiful than the narcissus, Walter, I should like to see it! Only if I could see it, it would be a thing, would it not? A thing must be a think before it be a thing. A thing is a ripe think, and must be better than a think — except it lose something in ripening — which may very well be the man’s thoughts, but hardly with God’s! I will keep in front of the things, and look through them to the thoughts behind them. I want to understand! If a thing were not a thought first, it would not be worth anything! And everything has to be thought about, else we don’t see what it is! I haven’t got it quite!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy literature, and mentored Lewis Carroll (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), the author of the Alice stories. He was also a literary influence on such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter de la Mare.

His books include “Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women” published in 1858 and “The Princess and the Goblin” published in 1872 among other titles.

Three years after George MacDonald shared his thoughts on thinking, the concept of having another think coming was published in the 9 April 1897 edition of the Daily Argus newspaper:

Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them.

It wasn’t something that was a one-off sharing of the idiom as it also appeared in the 29 April 1897 edition of the Washington Post newspaper in an article headline:  Another “Think” Coming To Them.

Two years after that, it was prominently featured in an article in the 24 September 1898 edition of the Quincy Whig newspaper:

Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn’t need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials.

So when someone has another think coming to them, know that this phrase is correct and was first published in this form in 1887 with the logic of it all courtesy of George MacDonald in 1884.

Idiomation is certain that after reading this entry, you can hardly wait to read the history and meaning of another thing coming.  Breathe easy, readers:  You need only wait for Thursday’s entry to finally know everything that needs to be known about both expressions!

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Baptism Rain

Posted by Admin 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 Admin 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.

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