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

Do The Graceful

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2021

Last week on social media, people were talking about the idiom to do the graceful which they claimed was an expression from the Victorian era and meant to charm or fascinate others. As Idiomation had never heard that idiom before, it seemed odd that such an idiom existed however since it was a topic of hot discussion in various author and writer groups online, it was worth researching.

At first glance, the idiom seems to be missing a word. It seems wanting in that respect as in do the graceful thing. However there is one thing Idiomation has learned, it is to never assume a word is missing or that the idiom is used in its entirety. For that reason, Idiomation researched the exact idiom: do the graceful.

Before Idiomation delves into what we learned, first off, it must be noted that the idiom actually means to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean to charm or fascinate others, although charm and fascination may be used in order to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation.

Now let’s get on with what Idiomation uncovered about this idiom.

In Episode 10 of the Sourcegraph podcast, Matt Holt, author of a number of open-source projects including the popular Caddy web server, was interviewed. In the podcast, he talked about his motivation for creating the Caddy web server, and the challenges of maintaining the open-source project. In this interview, he used the idiom.

We even have graceful reloads working in Windows, which is not something other web servers really offer because the way we handle network and do the graceful.

The Detroit Free Press reported on page 6 of the Saturday, 7 December 1935 edition that influential Republicans claimed to have solved the riddle of Palo Alto after going after Herbert Hoover weeks earlier to ask him what he was up to and why. Here is what the newspaper published in part.

Mr. Hoover quietly informed the curious that he did not want and would not seek the nomination. Barring a miracle, he senses that the surest way to re-enthrone the despised New Deal would be for him to run again. He promised to renounce the unoffered crown but he reserved the right to decide when he should take himself out of the race. His ulterior motive gives a tip on when he will do the graceful.

The idiom was found in The Mitre which was a monthly publication for the students of Bishop’s University and the Boys of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. The copy Idiomation found was from October 1902. In this edition, the rules for how freshman were to act was included as a welcome to the new men entering the college that Fall. Of course, the rules listed weren’t part of the College rules handed to each new student upon registration at the College, but new students were advised to “carefully study and literally follow” the rules including this one:

2. Freshman when they meet their seniors on the street, should always do the graceful, and touch their trencher or cap.

It was in The Newfoundlander newspaper of 12 February 1875 that an article about the hasty actions of Grand Duke Alexis — a Russian aristocrat who had fascinated a number of society belles in New York when he visited the United States of America — included the idiom. Before embarking on his voyage to America, the Grand Duke had fallen head over heels in love with the daughter of a high official of the Council of Empire, declared his passion, enjoyed the reciprocation of that passion, and secretly married. The marriage remained a secret for nearly three months, and as the saying at the time went, “marriage, like murder, will out.”

The voyage to America, and the very long return home by way of Japan and Siberia, was meant to cure the Grand Duke Alexis of his love, with the hopes that while he was cooling his heels with other women of high breeding, his family and their representatives could talk his mistake into leaving him for a generous financial settlement. But here’s what happened instead according to the newspaper.

But she would do nothing of the sort, not even when she was told that she could name the financial terms and receive the money when and where she wished. She loved Alexis and had married him, and would remain his wife until death should do the graceful for one of them. Possibly the Count hoped that the pale warrior would begin on her at an early date, but if he thought so he did not say so. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and was as unsuccessful as the most earnest admirer of pig-headed constancy in love could desire. Next day, the diplomat called again, but she would not see him, and after trying the intercession of a Russian lady of high position who happened to be in Geneva, he gave up the effort and took the train for Paris.

Indeed, in 1875 the expression was used by many. Another example was found in the Yerington Times edition of 28 November 1875 — Yerington being in Nevada — with regards to a gathering at the state capitol on Thanksgiving Day. At the local theater, the writer of the article took in a show where he and his friend found John Jack and the Firmin Sisters (Katie and Annie) performing before a “large and fashionably dressed audience.” Once the performance concluded, the benches were cleared and the orchestra began to play music to the delight of those in attendance.

It was reported that the reporter and some new-found friends from the Tribune did their best to “keep time with the music and off the ladies’ dresses” and they admitted that “the trails of only some fifteen or twenty dresses will probably have to visit the dressmaker’s to recuperate from the havoc by [their] No. 11’s.” Once all that was admitted, the idiom appeared.

Miss F. certainly has the charm of dispelling the gloom that settles around a timid reporter’s soul as he finds himself trying to do the graceful among strangers, and the gentleman who procured the introduction has been instrumental in setting a “little bird singing in our heart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Annie Firmin and John Jack were married, but she still was known as Miss Annie Firmin to theater patrons and promoters.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Annie Firmin was represented by Mrs. John Drew who was one of the premiere theatrical agents in Philadelphia. Over the years Mrs. Drew represented Annie Firmin, Annie became well known throughout the theatrical profession as a reputable and respected actress. and long before she met the actor John Jack.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: John Jack (1 February 1836 – 16 September 1913) began his career as a call boy in the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he made his appearance as an actor where he quickly built up an enviable reputation as a performer of diverse professional talents and abilities including a sought after reputation as a stage manager.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Annie was John Jack’s second wife whom he married years after the death of first wife, Adelaide Reed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: At the outbreak of the American Civil War through to the end, John Jack severed his theatrical connections and enlisted in the Federal Army. He sustained wounds that sent him to hospital, but even wounded, when there was a threat of rioting in connection with drafting difference forces into the war, he recruited other injured men to address the insurrection.

The idiom also appeared in the Wednesday, 23 March 1870 edition of the Port of Spain Gazette from Trinidad. The Gazette shared a news article from London dated 1 March 1870 with regards to the political news that Lord Derby had refused to accept the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It was thought that Lord Derby’s acceptance of the post would have been a guarantee that his fellow Conservatives would have considered all the changes the majority in the lower House sought.

The Duke of Richmond was suggested by Lord Salibury, which was seconded by Lord Derby and supported by Lord Carnarvon. The article then described the fanfare that goes with the ceremony in the House of Lords.

Seating himself, he puts on his cocked hat, then he salutes the Lord Chancellor, and rising, goes back to the woolsack to pay his respects to the noble and learned lord. The cocked hat is the greatest trouble on these occasions, as noble lords are apt to knock off that unwonted covering, in an endeavour to do the graceful.

Wondering if perhaps the expression was a relatively new one in that era, Idiomation continued researching and found this passage in the Daily Evansville Journal of Evansville (IN) in Vanderburgh County on 22 May 1862 under the heading “River News.”

The ever prompt and swift gliding Bowen, with Capt. Dexter and Billy Lowth to do the graceful, will leave at the usual hour this afternoon for Cairo and all down river towns. Pay your money early and secure state-rooms.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of the idiom however since the Victoria era was from 1837 through to 1901, Idiomation confirms the idiom was definitely used during the Victorian era. That Idiomation was unable to find a published version prior to 1862 lends credence to the claim it is an idiom from the Victorian era.

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No Fuss, No Muss

Posted by Admin on May 8, 2021

Whether you say no fuss, no muss or the other way around, it means something can be done without a lot of effort or difficulty. If we take the idiom apart, a fuss is a state of excitement and it’s usually over something that isn’t worth worrying about in the first place. When you muss something, you mess it up … not beyong being able to fix it again, but just enough to make what was previously tidy a little bit untidy.

It’s only been since 2009 when the expression seems to have added another component to become, “No fuss, no muss, no coconuts” according to HR and Recruiting expert, Jason Pankow who used the expression his Fistful of Talent website that year, and continues to be used by people such as printmaker and artist JD Donnelly a decade later, and blogger Allison Fitzgibbon in blog articles in 2020.

Fuss first appeared in writing in 1792, and an extended version — fussify — appeared in writing in 1832.

Since muss was from the mid 1800s and fuss was from the late 1700s, there’s only about 50 years between the first printing of both words separately.

The idiom was mentioned on the Cinema Blend website where Conner Scherdtfeger’s article of 16 May 2018 indicated that The Flash was known for using the expression, “No fuss, no muss.” Then I found a reference in the Amazing Spiderman archive of 11 June 2014 referring to Electro and there was the idiom again.

A bit more research and in “The Avengers” movie of 2012 where Robert Downey Jr. plays the role of Tony Stark / Iron Man, Tony Stark uses that expression.

In the 28 October 2000 edition of Billboard magazine, in the article “Sites + Sounds” talk about touch-screen music downloading was the main topic of discussion. The concept was powered by Diamond Multimedia which had invested $3 million USD into the technology. The concept was that shoppers went to music stores, plugged in the portable player, browsed through the available music on the platform, bought the music files, and immediately downloaded their purchases to that portable player. The process was hailed as one that would only take a few minutes start to finish. The article included this comment.

S3, of course, has plenty to gain through championing any developments that will make the process of moving music onto digital devices — such as its own Rio line — a less-exerting and, thus, more mainstream occurrence.No fuss, no muss, no hassles,” says Hardie of the goal.

Although many articles claimed the idiom was a result of 1960s advertising companies, the fact of the matter is they are wrong in asserting that is when the idiom first became popular.

In fact, on page 130 of the April 1946 edition of Popular Photography, I found an advertisement for a FotoFlat which, according to the advertisement, was America’s most popular dry mount with its ‘modern thermoplastic dry mount membrane.’ The advertisement from Seal Inc of Shelton (Connecticutt) began with these words:

… better than ever
… the professional way

no fuss, no muss, no bother

Idiomation kept researching and found that on page 36 in Volume 43 of The Meyer Druggist back in 1922, the idiom was found in an advertisement for Puritan malt sugar syrup available at Meyer Brothers Drug Company of St. Louis (Missouri). The advertisement bragged:

Insist on Puritan malt sugar syrup made from choicest barley and imported bohemian hops. No boiling, no spoiling. No fuss, no muss. Simple and easy to make. Success the first time.

In Volume 22 of American Magazine published in July of 1921, on page 76, was an advertisement for a Rotospeed Stencil Duplicator from the Rotospeed Company of Dayton (Ohio) selling for $43.50 USD that guaranteed to speed up sales with advertising that went direct to customers for pennies which would make up for the price of the machine within months.

This machine prints form letters that are equal in every respect to typewritten originals, yet there’s no type to set — no trouble — no muss. Simply write the letter on the typewriter or by hand — put it on the machine — turn the handle — that’s all. You can make 1,000 copies at a cost of 20c.

While muss was there, fuss was missing. Did this indicate the expression happened sometime between 1921 and 1922? More research revealed that was not the case!

On page 33 of the 13 October 1913 Saturday Evening Post, there was an advertisement for Blaisdell colored pencils from the Blaisdell Pencil Company of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). The first paragraph was compelling with this claim:

There is no mystery in the universal popularity of Blaisdell colored pencils. The superior gritless leads are smooth-writing and long-wearing. They never break in sharpening and there is no waste. Just nick a Blaisdell between the perforations and pull the narrow strip of paper straighaway. Quick as a wink your pencil is sharpened — no fuss, no muss.

The Clare Sentinel newspaper of Clare (Michigan) carried an advertisement in their 16 May 1901 edition (Volume 9, No. 25) placed by the Standard Oil Company advertising their wickless blue flame oil stove. On the left hand side of the advertisement, readers found the idiom: No fuss, no muss.

Standard Oil Company advertisement from May 1901

Of course, that same advertisement made its way into The Conservative newspaper of Nebraska City (Nebraska) and in The Youth’s Companion magazine (Volume 75) that same month, and undoubtedly a great many other newspapers, magazines, and publications. This indicates the expression was already widespread and well-known.

Volume 6 of the Safety Valve published in 1892 carried an advertisement from Bradley & Company of Syracuse (New York) all about steam boilers purified by he Bunnell Feed-Water Filter. The advertisement claimed the following:

Water is purified before entering Boilers. No hot, heavy, dirty pans to handle. Five minutes a day keeps it in order. No fuss, no muss, nothing disagreeable. No guessing, it performs exactly as guaranteed.

Back in 1892, you certainly couldn’t ask for more than that from a water filter on your boiler!

A few earliers, in 1887 in Lebanon (Ohio), lawyer Madison Elmer Gustin ran for public office as township and village clerk with the slogan, “no fuss, no muss, just vote for Gus.” Not only was he elected that year, he served in public office in various capacities until his death in 1935.

Remember when Idiomation stated there was only about 50 years between fuss and muss appearing in writing separately (late 1700s to mid 1800s)? With the earliest verifiable published version Idiomation could find for no fuss, no muss being 1887 — and used as a political slogan that was meant to be understood by everyday people who voted in elections — it is safe to assume it wasn’t much after the appearance of the word muss in the mid-1800s that fuss joined forces with that word to become no fuss, no muss.

Still, the earliest Idiomation can tag for no fuss, no muss is 1887.

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Hot Seat

Posted by Admin on April 17, 2021

There are conflicting versions of where the idiom “in the hot seat” or “on the hot seat” originated although all versions point to the idiom meaning the person in or on the hot seat is faced with harsh criticism and judgement.

Some say the expression alludes to the electric chair and dates back to the 1930s. Others say the expression was coined by Harpo Marx in the 1930s.

Some say the electric chair meaning is American English and others say the precarious, difficult, dangerous position meaning is British English.

Is it possible both meanings are correct? Is it possible that the idiom did come from the 1930s and as such can be attributed to more than one source of origin?

The Australian Women’s Weekly newspaper ran an article in the 14 January 1959 edition that was written by Ross Campbell and titled, ‘The Hot Seat.” The article was a hilarious piece about a situation — real or imagined — that happened between Ross Campbell and his wife. The many ways in which how a man sits and the direct correlation to that man’s success in life outlined how Ross Campbell wound up in the hot seat, and how those young men who lounge about are sitting pretty even though an article Ross Campbell’s wife read said they soon would be.

A decade earlier, the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane (Australia) reported on 23 August 1949 that Harold Merchant, 35, sat tight in the cabin of his 20-ton trailer the day before and cheated death by electrocution for the third time. A 25-tone power shovel hit a tramway crosswire resulting in 600 volts of electricity running through Harold Merchant, and his passenger, Frank Gorry. This was thanks in no small measure to the fifteen rubber tires on the trailer Merchant was pulling. The headline read:

Tyres saved him from ‘hot seat

There’s no doubt that the hot seat isn’t the place you really want to find yourself even when you come out of the situation on the plus side!

It’s a fact that in the 1930s, celebrities who visited William Randolph Hearst at his mansion in San Simeon would sometimes wear out his or her welcome, and as that welcome began to wear out, that guest was placed further and further away from their host, William Randolph Hearst who was only interested in having the most current and influential guests at the head of the table. The last seat was the one closest to the large fireplace in the room and, as you can imagine, that made the seat very hot indeed.

Supposedly Harpo Marx (23 November 1888 – 28 September 1964) found himself at the bottom of the guest list thereby earning himself the ‘hot seat‘ position for the evening. He knew that meant he was on the way out in terms of being a welcome guest. Supposedly, when he found himself in the hot seat, he immediately coined the phrase.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It’s alleged that his fall from grace with William Randolph Hearst had to do with Harpo sneaking down into the vault at the mansion one cold, snowy night, and getting the stored mink coats out of storage so he could dress the statues in the gardens in fur … to keep them warm. The guests awoke to the prank and enjoyed it immensely. William Randolph Hearst did not enjoy the prank at all. Up until that point, Harpo had been a frequent weekend guest.

What is known is that Harpo Marx did, indeed, visit the Hearst mansion in the 1930s. Hearst had an autograph book always at the ready and insisted that all Hearst visitors sign it upon arrival. Alongside Harp Marx’s signature was a quick caricature of Harpo with a harp that was drawn by Harpo.

What that means is that both possibilities are still in play based on what Idiomation uncovered, so Idiomation came at the idiom from another direction.

The first execution by electrocution (which replaced death by hanging) was in September of 1890 at Auburn Prison in Auburn (New York) when the state tried to make good on the death sentence that had been handed to American vegetable peddler and murderer William Kemmler (9 May 1860 – 6 August 1890) by the Courts.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: George Westinghouse, one of the leading developers of electrical power, was very vocal in his objection to having electrical power used in this manner. It took until 1899 for the design of the electric chair to be sufficiently improved that death by electrocution became the preferred method of execution in most States in the U.S.

In the Saturday Evening Post edition published on 18 August 1925, a young boy who had murdered his grandmother just so he could steal her money found himself arrested, charged, and found guilty of her murder. The following was reported:

In a town in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1925, a judge sentenced a boy fifteen years old to the electric chair. The boy twirled his hat, had nothing to say, remained in a self-satisfied calm. It was the judge whose voice shook. He was sorry that the law gave him no tether of leniency! A few minutes afterwards the boy was in his cell playing jazz on a phonograph. A newspaper reporter said he heard the lad announce that he was not afraid to die “in the hot seat,” and that anyway, “they won’t get me; I’ve got friends who will save me.”

This definitively places the electric chair reference to at least 1925 (and possibly earlier) in America, a few years before Harpo Marx is alleged to have coined the phrase at William Randolph Hearst’s mansion. However, because the idiom is in quotation marks, we also know it wasn’t a well-known phrase in 1925.

That being said, back in the day, intensive police interrogations under bright lights was often used as a technique to break suspects and make them talk. The manual, “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” recommends interrogations take place in a small, soundproof room with nothing on the walls, one small desk, two chairs for detectives to sit in if they choose to take a seat, and a third chair (with no arm rests and as uncomfortable as possible) where the suspect will sit for the duration of the interrogation.

Up until 1937, as long as the suspect signed a waiver stating the confession was given voluntarily, confessions could be obtained by way of “third degree” techniques which included deprivation of food and/or water and/or sleep, bright lights, physical discomfort, long isolation, and physical abuse (as long as no marks from said abuse could be seen on the suspect’s body). That changed in 1937 when it was determined by the Courts that such confessions were inadmissible.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Seating a suspect in an uncomfortable chair in a small room temperature (or lower) room (with a two-way mirror to allow for outside observation of the interrogation) is still allowed. While the two-way mirror is meant to provide transparency with regards to how the interrogation is conducted, it has been found to add anxiety and stress for the suspect which detectives are allowed to exploit within reason. Interrogators are also allowed to use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to secure a confession from a suspect.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: In 1937, putting suspects through the third degree in New York became a criminal offense after the use of third degree tactics was deemed illegal in that state. From 1930 through to 1937, appellate courts reversed convictions obtained through various forms of third degree where the result of the interrogation led to a confession being submitted as evidence.

Most people tend to use the words interview and interrogation interchangeably when speaking about police investigations. A police interview is used to gather information and objective facts by asking open-ended questions that allow interviewees to supply evidence. A police interrogation is used to extract a confession when police have sufficient evidence (thanks to the police interviews) to connect the suspect to the crime or crimes about which they are interviewing the suspect.

Keep in mind that the first police department in America was established in New York City in 1845 with New Orleans and Cincinatti (1852), Boston and Philadelphia (1854) Chicago and Milwaukee (1855) and Baltimore and Newark (1857) following suit. The primary focus was to prevent crime and disorder, and there were no detectives. That means that before these police departments were established, there were no hot seats courtesy of law enforcement.

While all of that is, without a doubt, very interesting, that still left Idiomation with a period between 1899 and 1925 when being in the hot seat or on the hot seat was an expression known to a segment of society that might or might not tie the idiom directly to the electric chair. The doubt is there due in no small part to a New York City detective.

In New York City, Inspector Thomas Brynes (15 June 1842 – 07 May 1910) headed up the detective bureau from 1880 to 1895, at which time he was forced to resign. He coined the phrase “giving the third degree” to describe his interrogation techniques for getting suspects to confess to crimes they were suspected of having committed. The first degree was the officer who arrested the suspect. The second degree was investigating the facts. The third degree was the interrogation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Inspector Brynes was also responsible for coining and popularizing the expression rogues’ gallery which was a photo gallery of criminals with detailed information on the crimes they had committed.

This is where the interrogation hot seat and the electric chair hot seat seem to meet up when it comes to language, which further narrows the period for the idiom’s first appearance to somewhere during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Try as Idiomation might though, there are segments of this search that elude Idiomation. The research will continue but for now, while the hot seat is pegged to sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s, the context under which the expression was first used continues to elude us … much in the same way a brilliant criminal mastermind tends to elude law enforcement until he or she is caught and brought to justice.

In other words, Idiomation remains on the case.

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The Customer Is Always Right

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2021

Many of us have grown up hearing adults say the customer is always right (which may or may not be true) and not given that expression a second thought. It means that if someone is unhappy about a product, a service, or a situation, whoever is responsible for providing that product, service or creating that situation is responsible for fixing the problem so the unhappy person is happy once again.  It usually applies to businesses, but occasionally someone will use the idiom about a social situation.

In 1944, an article titled “Are Customers Always Right” appeared in The Rotarian magazine, authored by Hughston M. McBain (9 February 1902 – 19 May 1977), then-President of Marshall Field & Co in Chicago.

War, with all its ersatz goods and shortages of competent help, has vastly multiplied these problems — raising anew the old question: Is the customer always right?

My own answer — based on statistic involving some 500,000 regular patrons of our Chicago store — is that 85 to 90 percent of complaining customers are definitely and demonstrably right, that 90 percent believe they are right, and that less than one percent are bent on “gypping” the merchant.

The article stated that while sellers had an obligation to the buyer, so too did the buyer have an obligation to the seller. While Mr. McBain was quick to point out that WWII had put the relationship under “almost unendurable strains,” sellers were still running with unwavering policy that the customer is always right even in the face of taking “terrible losses on returns” they were also “holding customer confidence” through liberal adjustments and credits.

So the customer may not always be right, but a good business will leave the impression that this is true even when it isn’t.

In January 1911, the Kansas City Star reported on a local country store modeled after Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Selfridge’s in London.

Scott has done in the country what Marshall Field did in Chicago, Wannamaker did in New York and Selfridge in London. In his store he follows the Field rule and assumes that the customer is always right.

The phrase “the customer is always right” is oftentimes claimed to have been originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge (11 January 1858 – 8 May 1947), the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London (and former Marshall Field’s employee). It’s said though that he never intended for the expression to be taken literally. What he was striving for was to sell people on the idea that customers shopping at his department store were special — more special than if they were shopping at some other department store — and by virtue of being special, the staff treated them better than staff would treat them at some other department store.

But did Selfridge really coin the expression? The December 1909 edition of “Good Housekeeping Magazine” is certainly familiar with the expression.

We have made a deep study of all this and our policy of regarding the customer as always right, no matter how wrong she may be in any transaction in the store, is the principle that builds up the trade. She is wrong, of course, lots of times. She takes advantage of privileges accorded her; she is inconsiderate of the earnest efforts of sales people; she causes delay and loss through carelessness or ignorance, but it all goes down in the budget of expenses for running the store and is covered, like other expenses, in the price of the goods.

It’s doubtful, if Selfridge coined the phrase in London, that it would be so casually discussed in an American magazine in 1909. So perhaps the idiom wasn’t coined by Selfridge after all.

A year earlier in 1908, the Swiss hotelier César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was quoted as saying le client n’a jamais tort which translates into the customer is never wrong.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: César Ritz founded the Hôtel Ritz in Paris as well as the Ritz and Carlton Hotels in London. His last name is the origin of the word ritzy and what it means.

However, it was Marshall Fields (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) who was famous for saying, “Give the lady what she wants” as well as “The customer is always right” when he partnered with Potter Palmer at his first department store in the US. He was quoted by the Boston Herald on 3 September 1905 using that exact saying. A few weeks later on 24 September 1905, he was quoted using the same idiom in the Boston Daily Globe. In fact, what was reported was this:

Every employe, from cash boy up, is taught absolute respect for and compliance with the business principles which Mr. Field practices. Broadly speaking, Mr. Field adheres to the theory that “the customer is always right.” He must be a very untrustworthy trader to whom this concession is not granted.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Harry Gordon Selfridge began his career working for the Marshall Field store in Chicago before building his London store. At the time, it was well-known that Marshall Field’s stores prided themselves in putting the customer first.

In fact, in the November 1919 edition of “System: The Magazine of Business” the history of Marshall Field’s use of the idiom was given a clear explanation as to how it came about.

Field, it is well known, was the first to say “the customer is always right.” It was Potter Palmer, Field’s predecessor and for a time his partner, who had originated the practice of accepting returns from any customer who was not satisfied, and refunding the purchase price. This made the customer the sole judge whether he should keep the merchandise. Field’s policy went a long step farther and made the customer the sole judge, or practically the sole judge, of all issues between himself and the house.

Except that the idiom was the first to not only say “the customer is always right” but to put it into practice as the central creed of the Palmer system. Having opened a small store on Lake Street in Chicago in 1852, he set about creating a business unlike any other.

Because he didn’t have much credit or money, and unable to have a large stock for his store, he found a different way to attract customers. He took the time to display his goods in the most attractive way on store shelves and tables, and gook to using the overlooked space in the store’s windows. He catered primarily to women and took the time the educate himself on what items were of special interest to women even if their husbands and fathers disagreed with their wives and daughters.

He hired sales staff and instructed them to memorize the names and preferences of their customers. They were not allowed to use pressure tactics to induce a sale, and were directed to attend to the purchasing needs of their customers. And no matter how difficult or demanding a customer might be, he directed his staff to remember the customer was always right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Potter Palmer (20 May 1826 – 4 May 1902) was an American businessman who was responsible for most of the development of most of the downtown district and Lake Shore Drive areas of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Potter Palmer was responsible for a number of innovations in retail business including “bargain days” (which were the predecessors to “sales days”), money back guarantees, and free home delivery of all purchases made at his store.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Potter Palmer’s store was the one store in Chicago at the time where women could go unescorted without concern whether their person or their reputation might be damaged in shopping at a store unescorted.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Potter Palmer built a ball field in 1868 for the Chicago White Stocking baseball club which later became the Chicago Cubs baseball club (not to be confused with the Chicago White Sox which adopted the abandoned Chicago White Stocking name originally in a completely different baseball league).

The spirit of the expression exists in Germany where businesses insist der Kunde ist König or the customer is king. In Japan, the saying is okyakusama wa kamisama desu (お客様は神様です) which means the customer is god.  That expression was made popular by Haruo Minami (19 July 1923 – 14 April 2001).

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier account of the expression than that dating back to Potter Palmer and his store in Chicago in 1852, and acknowledges that the first print version of the adage is credited to Potter Palmer’s protégé Marshall Field. Idiomation therefore puts this expression to 1852 with a nod to Marshall Field with a secondary nod to Harry Gordon Selfridge who worked for Marshall Field before opening his own store in London.

One last note: Remember that when you live by the adage the customer is always right, you are also defaulting to giving that customer the benefit of the doubt which is another idiom for another entry.

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Blue Blazes

Posted by Admin on January 16, 2021

When you hear someone ask the question, “What in blue blazes?” do you ever wonder what blue blazes are and if they are, indeed, blue?

Blazes is a slang expression referring to the fires of Hell, and blue is an alliterative intensifier. The use of blue blazes is meant to express extreme confusion, surprise, or aggravation. The interesting thing is that it’s more often heard in the US than in other English speaking countries.

Back on 5 August 2020, KXAN News in Austin (TX) reported on an Alabama man who woke to find an alligator swimming in his backyard pool, KXAN shared the news story on Facebook with the question: “What in the blue blazes is this?

There was is also an implication of great speed in the expression, as seen back in 1951 when Lottie Noel’s horse Blue Blazes, ridden by Noel Anderson was trying to win races.

Back in 1940, Harry Douglas created the character Blue Blaze for Marvel Comics. His first appearance was in Mystic Comics 1 and he appeared in ten issues before disappearing in 1942.

Back in 1936, Raymond Kane directed a short comedy film titled, “Blue Blazes” and starred Buster Keaton (4 October 1895 – 1 February 1966). The story followed Buster Keaton’s character who decided he wanted to be a fireman. He wasn’t a particularly good fireman, but when he has a chance to save three women trapped in a burning building, it’s a chance to prove his worth.

You can watch the 19 minute movie on YouTube by clicking here.

That wasn’t the only movie titled, “Blue Blazes.” The husband-and-wife team of handsome American silent western star, Lester Cuneo (25 October 1888 – 1 November 1925) and silent screen actress and camera operator, Francelia Billington (1 February 1895 – 24 November 1934) produced a silent movie Western by that name. It was a well-used plot of a loser who tries to hide in the West where he comes to the aid of a female rancher and her widowed mother to defend them against the dastardly mortgage lender who wants to be socially inappropriate with the younger of the two women.

The idiom was found in “Chapter 22: Private Dennis Hogan, Hero” in the book “Danger Signals: Remarkable, Exciting and Unique Examples of the Bravery, Daring and Stoicism in the Midst of Danger of Train Dispatchers and Railroad Engineers” by former railroad engineer John A. Hill (22 February 1858 – 24 January 1916) and Jasper Ewing Brady, 1st Lieutenant 19th United States Infantry, Late Captain Signal Corps U.S. Volunteers, published by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1902. The book was copyrighted by S.S. McClure Co in 1898 and in Doubleday & McClure in 1899, and lastly by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1900.

At four o’clock on the afternoon in question Denny was aroused from his reverie by the sounder opening up and calling “FN” like blue blazes. He answered and this is what he took.

Denny was the messenger boy as well as operator and without waiting to make an impression copy, he grabbed his hat and flew down the line to the colonel’s quarters. That worthy was entertaining a party at dinner, and was about to give Hogan fits for bringing the message to him instead of to the post adjutant; but a glance at the contents changed things and in a moment all was bustle and confusion.

For weeks the premonitory signs of this outbreak had been plainly visible, but true to the red-tape conditions, the army could not move until some overt act had been committed. The generous interior department had supplied the Indians with arms and ammunition and then Mr. Red Devil under that prince of fiends incarnate, Sitting Bull, started on his campaign of plunder and pillage.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  John Alexander Hill was a co-founder of the McGraw-Hill Book Company along with James Herbert McGraw (17 December 1860 – 21 February 1948), the predecessor corporation of today’s McGraw Hill Financial and McGraw-Hill Education.

Remember the racing horse, Blue Blazes, from 1951 that was mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the only racing horse by that name. In “The General Stud Book Containing Pedigrees of Race Horses from the Earliest Accounts to the Year 1896 Inclusive” published in 1897 by Weatherby and Sons in London, Blue Blazes was also mentioned (although it was a different horse from the one who ran races in 1951). The book listed thorough-bred stock from England and duly certified them as thorough-breds.

The euphemistic oath is found in Chapter 10 of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. It’s made clear the expression is one with a hefty punch.

“Well,” said Joe, meditatively – not, of course, that it could be in anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was the way at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply about everything that was discussed over pipes; “well – no. No, he ain’t.”

“Nevvy?” said the strange man.

“Well,” said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation, “he is not – no, not to deceive you, he is not – my nevvy.”

“What the Blue Blazes is he?” asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to be an inquiry of unnecessary strength.

In the book, “Real Life in Ireland by a Real Paddy” which attributes the idiom to 1821 is found in Chapter 15.

Blood and blue blazes, swore old Mrs. Tarpaulin. I’ll send the fellow to hell that dares attack me at my moorings in blanket bay.

In 1812, “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass” by the American author, book agent, and Anglican minister, Mason Locke Weems (11 October 1759 – 23 May 1825) passage was a clear demonstration of how the two words and Hell fit together so very well.

Ye steep down gulphs of liquid fire! Ye blue blazes of damnation! But hush, thou false zeal, hush! and curse not him who Christ hath commanded you to pray for.

The book obviously sold well as by 1818, it was in its sixth printing, and the old title, “God’s Revenge Against Drunkenness” had been replaced with “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass.”

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Mason Lock Weems, also known as Parson Weems, wrote the first biography of George Washington (22 February 1732 – 4 December 1799) titled, “The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington” which was published in 1800.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: He is the source of the well-known albeit unverifiable and thoroughly questionable story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree as a child, and what was said by the child to his father at the time.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4: Mason Lock Weems is also known for his biography of U.S. military officer Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion (1732 – 26 February 1795) who was so nicknamed by the British for his elusive tactics.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to blue blazes, however, for it to be used so freely by Mason Locke Weems — an Anglican minister no less — it most certainly was around at the start of the 19th century, and quite possibly earlier depending on how aged old Mrs. Tarpaulin was in the 1821 book “Real Life In Ireland by a Real Paddy.”

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2021

Most people are under the impression that this expression is rife with sexual innuendo. The fact of the matter is, there’s a mariner history to that expression, even if the current nudge-nudge-wink-wink-know-what-I-mean commentary and looks are associated with it these days.

To understand the expression, it’s important to go back to the Golden Age of Sail. This was a period from 1571 through to 1862 that corresponds with the early modern period when international trade and naval warfare was the main staple of sailing ships. Of course, sailing ships included frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners. All of this continued until steamboats started to take trade away from sailboats.

Ships during this time period carried their guns in two large batteries, one on each broadside. A few were mounted to fire directly ahead which left sailing warships weak, especially on the bow and most especially the stern of the ship, both of which were vulnerable to raking fire.

Ships at the mercy of raking fire had no guns with which to defend themselves, and with the rudder at the stern, the ability to maneuver the ship rendered the ship literally dead in the water even with intact masts and sails.

Rumor has it that the brass monkey was the dimpled plate that sat beside ship guns, stacked in a pyramid, and when the weather or cold, they would freeze and slip off the plate.

Unfortunately that is not true!

As reasonable as that may sound, it’s an sailor’s tale according to the official U.S. Navy website, Naval History and Heritage Command.

That being said, there were a lot of monkeys on sailing ships according to the website. In 1650, a monkey was a specific kind of cannon, and the lever used to fire it was known as the monkey’s tail. By 1682, a powder monkey was responsible for carrying gun powder to cannons. Monkey spars were small masts and yards on vessels, and monkey blocks were used in rigging.

What’s more, warships didn’t store round shot on deck around the clock on the off chance they might go into battle. One thing that was definitely a commodity on ships at sea was space, and decks were kept as clear as possible to allow room for hundreds of sailors to go about their day completing their assigned tasks. If a ship hit rough seas, the captain and crew couldn’t — and wouldn’t — risk the danger of round shots breaking free on deck and rolling around loose. Round shots were only brought on deck when the decks were cleared for action, and action was about to take place!

Besides, leaving round shots exposed to the elements was only going to worsen their condition over time, long before they saw action in battle … which leads to another reason to disbelieve the mythos of the dimpled plate. You see, if round shots were placed on a brass plate so they wouldn’t rust to an iron plate, they would still be in danger of rusting to each other. But generally speaking, metals — including brass — don’t shrink because of cold weather.

So where did this idiom come from?

In “An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion” published in The Worcester Magazine of June, 1843, something closely related to the expression was used in this way:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so independent of the weather, which was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The Canadian Rebellion was actually two rebellions in Upper Canada as well as in Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838.

The rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriotes [sic] was the more serious and violent rebellions (in November of 1837 and the following year in November of 1838).

The rebellion in Upper Canada was led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December of 1837. In 1838, Mackenzie fled to the U.S. where he lived until he was pardoned in 1948 which allowed him to return to Canada.

The end result was the union of the two colonies in 1841, which was subsequently referred to as the Province of Canada.

American author Herman Melville mentioned brass monkeys in his 1847 novel “Ormoo.” Thing is, the way the author mentioned them had nothing to do with balls or how cold it was.

It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’”

A decade later, C.A. Abbey wrote in his book, “Before the Mast in the Clippers: The Diaries of Charles A. Abbey” about brass monkeys as well and his expression had nothing to do with noses or how hot it was.

It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey.”

So what should we believe about all this nonsense having to do with brass monkeys?

Perhaps this is the answer to that question. During the 19th and 20th centuries, small monkey figures were cast in brass by artisans in China and Japan, which were sold in souvenir shops. Usually they came in a sett of three to represent “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” but most people are unaware of the fact that some sets included a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Should someone have all four monkeys, they are actually a valuable collector’s item these days.

So perhaps the expression has far more to do with the fourth monkey in a set of Wise Monkeys, and brasses historical and enduring importance due to its hardness and workability that dates back to ancient Roman times.  As to who first coined the expression and exactly when this expression came into being, one can only peg it to somewhere in the late 19th century or early 20th century — most likely the early 20th century — based on the vague history of the expression.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Maritime, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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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