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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 20th Century’ Category

Calling Shotgun

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 19, 2015

Calling shotgun is, in many ways, no different than calling first dibs.

In the January 17, 2006 edition of the Reading Eagle, Devin Cremer (who, at the time, was a junior at Twin Valley High School in Reading, Pennsylvania) discussed what the article called, “Rules Of Engagement: Calling Shotgun.”  He made it clear that calling shotgun was one of those split-second decisions that we sometimes have to make, and then he made sure he explained what the rules were for calling shotgun.

First and foremost:  You must have complete, 100 percent clear visibility of the vehicle in order to call shotgun.  It is not acceptable to call shotgun while inside of a building, or when an object obscures the view of the vehicle that is to be driven.

Terry Marotta wrote mentioned calling shotgun in an article in the Bangor Daily News on January 31, 1995.  He wrote about the three principles that made a family functional, which, he wrote, were the same three principles that made living in society functional.  The article was entitled, “Sacrifice, Restraint, Affection Important Virtues Of Family Life.”  Part way through the article, calling shotgun was mentioned.

Often you become most aware of sacrifice in its absence.  Take the custom of kids calling shotgun as they race toward the family car.  I hated this custom when I was 6 and I hated it at 36. And I made sure, once I had kids of my own, that whatever goody was awarded, it sure didn’t go to the one who, in a froth of self-interest, was braying for it the loudest.

Based on the writer’s statement, calling shotgun has been around since at least the mid-seventies.  But where did it really come from, and when did it start?

In the book “Poorboy At The Party” by American journalist and author Robert Gover (2 November 1929 – 12 January 2015) and published in 1966 by Simon and Schuster, the author referred to the seat next to the driver of a car as the shotgun seat.

He got up and staggered to the shotgun seat and tossed me the keys.

SIDE NOTE:  Robert Gover was friends with musician Jim Morrison (8 December 8 1943 – 3 July 1971) and in 1968, the two were arrested for causing a disturbance at the Pussycat A Go Go in Las Vegas.

The expression actually has its roots in the days of stagecoach travel when two people were riding upfront:  the driver, and the express messenger.  The express messenger was colloquially referred to as the shotgun messenger.

American investigative journalist, lawyer, novelist, editor, and short story writer Alfred Henry Lewis ( 20 January 20 1855 – 23 December 1914) published his book “Faro Nell and Her Friends: Wolfville Stories” and in this book, the author included a passage about riding shotgun in Chapter IV titled, “Old Monte, Official Drunkard.”

That lack of war instinct in Monte ain’t no speecific drawback.  Him drivin’ stage that a-way-, he ain’t expected none to fight.  The hold-ups onderstands it, the company onderstands it, everybody onderstands it.  It’s the law of the trail.  That’s why, when the stage is stopped, the driver’s never downed.  Which if thar’s money aboard, an’ the express outfit wants it defended, they slams on some sport to ride shotgun that trip.  It’s for this shotgun speshulist to give the route agents an argyooment.  Which they’re licensed to go bombardin’ each other ontil the goin’ down of the sun.

The book had beautiful illustrations created by W. Herbert Dunton (28 August 1878 – 18 March 1936) and John Norval (J.N.) Marchand (1875-1921), and was published in 1913 by G.W. Dillingham Company.

The expression was used in an earlier book by Alfred Henry Lewis entitled, “The Sunset Trail” which was published in April 1905 by A.S. Barnes & Co.  It’s found in the short story titled, “The Worries Of Mr. Holiday.”

Wyatt and Morgan Earp were in the service of the Express Company.  They went often as guards — “riding shotgun,” it was called — when the stage bore unusual treasure.

But riding shotgun and calling shotgun are two different expressions.  It was in the popular TV series, “Gunsmoke” with James Arness (26 May 1923 – 3 June 2011) which ran from 1955 to 1975 that expressions from the television version of the Wild West era were transplanted and superimposed on popular culture of the day.

In Season 2 (1957), Ira Pucket (played by Edgar Stehli) got a job riding shotgun on the stagecoach.  In Season 4 (May 1959) Marshal Matt Dillon (played by James Arness) helped a gunman get a job riding shotgun on a stagecoach.  In Season 7 (1962), Harvey Easter (played by Abraham Sofaer) convinced Charlie Fess (played by Harry Bartell) to quit riding shotgun on the stagecoach.  In Season 8 (1963), Quint Asper (played by Burt Reynolds) agreed to ride shotgun for Sam Gordon (played by Glenn Strange), the driver on the morning stagecoach.  Nearly every season of the show had someone riding shotgun on the stagecoach.

What does this mean for the idiom?  It means that sometime during the late 1950s, the passenger seat in a car became known as the shotgun seat, and if you wanted that prized seat (complete with extra leg room), you had to call it or lose it hence the idiom calling shotgun.

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Smof

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 12, 2015

It’s as important to keep abreast of the new idioms, sayings, and acronyms as it is to know what the more aged ones mean and where they come from, and today’s entry is simply this word:  SMOF.

SMOF is an acronym for “Secret Master Of Fandom” and is a well-known phrase in science fiction circles.  According to scifi enthusiasts, the word was coined by American science fiction author, Jack Laurence Chalker (17 December 1944 – 11 February 2005) who retired from teaching in his mid-thirties (after teaching in Baltimore for twelve years) to write novels and short stories full-time.

He is best known for the Well World series of books, however, Amazon lists several of his books available for sale, however, he was far more prolific than just the listed novels.  The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org) has a comprehensive list of the author’s works.  But even that list isn’t exhaustive as he wrote 205 works according to the Online Computer Library Center.

The details as to what the acronym means and who coined it is great, however, the acronym has come into its own as a word and is applied to the idea that there is a secret conspiracy group that controls the masses of scifi fandom.  These SMOFs are allegedly responsible for trends in scifi genres and subgenres, media, authors, films, and television series, as well as changes to the aforementioned.

Those who are recognized within the specific scifi fandoms are sometimes referred to as SMOFs due to the work they put into fandoms, thereby causing waves of changes within the scifi fandom community.  The acronym has also become a verb in that when convention organizers or scifi gurus talk among themselves out fandoms, they are said to be smoffing.

Now while it’s true that scifi fans insist that Jack L. Chalker coined the phrase, the term appears in the New York Times on September 6, 1971 which is five years before Jack L. Chalker’s first book, “A Jungle Of Stars” was published.  The article stated:

Except for those who wanted to gafiat, the fen of science fiction fandom for whom fiawol descended on Boston this weekend for their annual worldcon to smof and to buy old fanzines.

Three years prior to that in the November 1968 edition of the Proper Boskonian — science fiction fanzine published by the New England Science Fiction Association — an article appeared entitled, “Smoffing Is A Way Of Life.”

And three years before that, in 1965, American science fiction and horror author and critic, Theodore Sturgeon (26 February 1918 – 8 May 1985) was mentioned in “D. Eney Proceedings: Discon 1962” and when another American science fiction author and critic, Peter Schuyler (P.S.) Miller (21 February 1912 – 13 October 1974) spoke about Sturgeon.

He [i.e. Theodore Sturgeon] is also, in case he is willing … no, not in case he is willing; anyway, whether he likes it or not .. an Honorary Member of SMOF.

Theodore Sturgeon (who was born Edward Hamilton Waldo, and who was a distant relative of US writer Ralph Waldo Emerson) was considered to be one of the most influential writers of the Golden Age of science fiction.   He was responsible for writing the back story for Spock and the Vulcans in the original series episode, “Amok Time” for which he received a Hugo Award nomination.

Peter Schuyler Miller was also a technical writer, amateur historian, and amateur archaeologist who was a descendant of Colonel Philip Peter Schuyler (1736 – 1808) who defended Fort Schoharie (NY) during the Revolutionary War, and the colonial governor of New York and first mayor of Albany, Colonel Peter F. Schuyler (1657 – 1724)

What this means is that the word smof and the acronym SMOF existed before Jack Laurence Chalker is credited for coining the term in 1971.  How far back it goes, however, is unknown to Idiomation.

Perhaps one of our avid fans who is knowledgeable in the area of science fiction history has the answer.  If so, please feel free to share the information along with a link in the Comments Section below.

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Jesse James (as in gambling)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 30, 2015

Perhaps you’re at a casino or watching a movie about players in a casino, and they’re playing a game of craps.  When someone rolls a four and a five, others call it a Jesse James.  You’re confused.  After all, wasn’t Jesse James a noted outlaw from the late 1800s?

Most of us know the stories about the juvenile delinquent Jesse Woodson James aka Jesse James (5 September 1847 – 3 April 1882) who robbed his bank in 1869 and his first train in 1873 (the same year that Russian thistle seeds were accidentally scattered to the wind somewhere in South Dakota) and made life impossibly difficult for the law who chased after him and his gang across Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.  Not only did he rob trains, he robbed banks, and was a murderer.

SIDE NOTE:  Gamblers use amusing terms when gambling.  This LINK shares some of the most popular ones.

Some gamblers will tell you that the Jesse James got its name because the outlaw was shot dead with a bullet to the back of his head from a 45 held by Bob Ford, a new recruit to the Jesse James gang.

In a column written by gaming guru, Mark Pilarski for the Casino City Times on December 10, 1999, the writer refers to the Jesse James.

NINE: “Center field,” “center of the garden,” “ocean liner niner,” “Nina from Pasadena,” “What shot Jesse James? A forty-five.”

There’s a website that offers to share the author’s method for winning at craps.  The website was set up on April 15, 1999 and it was recently updated so readers can only guess that this gamble paid off for Johnny Craps.  The page in question where the idiom is found is titled, “An Old Timer’s Guide To Beating The Craps Table” and the first paragraph promises readers that they, too, can learn to play craps just like renowned gambler Johnny Craps.

Snakes eyes, Little Joe, Jesse James, Boxcars: All part of the craps lingo. If you’re a shooter, you already know that this game can be a cruel, relentless mistress in any happy marriage. Somewhere in the world, there’s a guy pulling his hair out at a casino due to a bad run. But not every player need fall victim to the unremitting nature of this world famous dice game. Taking a lesson from the renowned Johnny, average players can elevate their craps game to a new level.

According to Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor, co-authors of the book “Vice Slang” published by Routledge in 2007, the idiom was first used by Steve Kuriscak in 1985 in his book “Casino Talk.”  They also make mention that in Thomas L. Clark’s book, “The Dictionary of Gambling and Gaming” published in 1987, he puts the use of Jesse James in gambling to 1981.

In William M. Reddig’s book “Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend” published in 1947 by J.B. Lippincott Company, the following was shared with readers about Jesse James.

Jesse James found relaxation in the gambling halls during periods when he lived incognito in Kansas City, and was not molested.  When they were not figuring on deals in lots, grain, hogs and cattle and other matters of commerce, the citizens exercised their financial genius at chuck-a-luck, faro, three-card monte, roulette, high five, keno, poker and, occasionally, craps.

Now while the game of craps was originally invented by Sir William of Tyre back in 1125 AD during the Crusades and was known as Hazard (after the castle where the game began), the renamed French version known as Le Crapaud was introduced to New Orleans in the early 1800s by French-Creole American nobleman, Bernard de Marigny (28 October 1785 – 3 February 1868) — his full name and title was Marquis Antoine Xavier Bernard Phillippe de Marigny de Mandeville — whose family owned a large plantation.

SIDE NOTE:  Le Crapaud translates in English to the frog.  The game was named thusly because of the stance players took while playing the game.

From there, the modern game of craps was developed thanks to the efforts of American dice maker, John H. Winn, back in 1865 … just four years before Jesse James began his career as an outlaw.

However, it’s not until 1981 that the craps term Jesse James begins to appear in print and therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that the term is a relatively recent one that dates back to sometime in the 1970s.

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Gold Digger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2015

Beware of gold diggers as the only interest gold diggers have lies in how much wealth other people have allegedly built for themselves that gold diggers can lay their hands on.  The focus of a gold digger is to  entrench himself or herself in the relationship with a primary focus of material gain for the gold digger.  Many mistakenly believe that gold diggers are only women, but gold diggers — being equal opportunity scammers and opportunists — can be male or female.

UPDATE 21 APRIL 2015:  The term is still in vogue as gold digger found its way into this TMZ article published online on April 21, 2015.

Lamar says he’s ecstatic with the ruling telling TMZ, “I want her to go on television and apologize the same way that she went on there and accused me of being a gold digger and tricking her into having a baby.

The Ottawa Citizen published a quick news article on March 16, 1983 about Canadian actress Erin Fleming (13 August 1941 – 15 April 2003) and American comedian Julius HenryGroucho” Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977).  She was accused — by the Bank of America lawyer acting as the executor of the late comedian’s estate — of misappropriating nearly half a million dollars in gifts.  The lawyer was quoted by the journalist in the article.

“If she was only a gold digger it would have been all right,” Bank of America attorney Brin Schuman said, “but what she did was dig away at his heart, dig away at his soul, dig away at the man.”

Fifty years before that new story, the Milwaukee Journal edition of May 23, 1933 ran the story of the divorce trial between Eugenia Woodward Jelke (1905 – 1990) and her successful Wall Street broker husband, Ferdinand Frazier Jelke (5 February 1880 – 30 August 1953).  She, of course, was the daughter of Allan Harvey “Rick” Woodward (16 September 1876 – 23 November 1950) who was a successful mining engineer, president of Woodward Iron, and owner of the Birmingham Barons baseball team in Birmingham, Alabama, and Annie Jemison, daughter of Civil War era politician Robert Jemison (17 September 1802 – 16 October 1871).

It was a nasty divorce with a great many accusations being hurled back and forth between the parties.  He sued for divorce on the grounds of having been unfaithful to him and extreme cruelty; she sued for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Judge Walsh denied each party’s divorce petition
on June 1, 1933 on the grounds that Mr. and Mrs. Jelke were equally guilty, and no one person was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  On April 21, 1934 it was reported by the media that Eugenia had moved to Nevada to become a resident so she could file for purposes of being able to legally divorce Frazier.  They had already signed a separation agreement months earlier.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  After Eugenia divorced Frazier, she married William Hitt.

The reporter on this particular day sent a quick article back from the court room in Newport, Rhode Island, to his publisher, that began with this sensational paragraph.

Mrs. Eugenia W. Jelke testified at her divorce trial Tuesday that her millionaire husband caller her a “dirty little gold digger,” blackened her eye, threw her across a room, and threatened to knock out her teeth.

Just a few years earlier, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story on January 26, 1928 about a different kind of gold digger.  This one had been charged with grand larceny in the first degree.  Among many outrageous claims this gold digger had made was to state that American entrepreneur Marshall Field (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) — founder of Marshall Field and Company — was a close relation (an uncle, no less).  And he was male … not a successful swindler who was short and unremarkable looking.  The article began with this shocking revelation:

A jury composed largely of married men heard evidence Thursday against Robert Whitman, alias “Lord Beaverbrooke,” the masculine gold digger.  The leading prosecution witness to support the charge of grand larceny was Mrs. Rose Burken, who said the fictitious nobleman had robber her of jewelry valued at more than $70,000.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been arrested on charges such as these.  In fact, his reputation preceded him, and he was known to many police precincts.  How well-known was he?  According to the Dansville Breeze newspaper of Dansville, New York, this was published about the man in the March 21, 1928 edition.

Police of various cities who have been interested in “Lord Beaverbrook” have estimated that he has married from ten to fifty women in his 49 years of life and has profited hugely thereby.  Once when arrested in St. Louis while New York detectives were seeking him, he gave $15,000 cash bail and jumped it, immediately.  In court the other da he said he was born in San Francisco and “had loved on both sides of the continent.”

At the end of the trial, Robert Whitman was found guilty of grand larceny, having stolen $90,000 worth of jewels from Mrs. Burken.

American novelist, playwright, and Olympic water polo player, Rex Ellingwood Beach (1 September 1877 – 7 December 1949) published his novel “The Ne’er-Do-Well” in 1911.  Among many interesting twists and turns in his life, he found himself in Alaska in 1900 and for five long years, he was a prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Being unsuccessful in this attempt, he turned to writing.

His second novel, “The Spoilers” was a novel inspired by real events he witnessed during his prospecting years, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a best-selling novel the year the novel was published.  But it was in his novel, “The Ne’er-Do-Well” that the term gold digger cropped up, in this context.

“Good heavens! You’ve told me so a dozen—”

“Ah! Then you have nothing except my word. Well, sir, now that I come to think it over, I believe my name is Locke, after all.” He grinned. “Anyhow, I love my little room and I think I’ll keep it. Please don’t be peevish. I want you to do me a favor.” He removed the ring from his finger, and, handing it to the Purser, said “I want you to get me two diamonds’ and a ruby’s worth of shirts and collars; and also a safety razor. My mind has stopped working, but my whiskers continue to grow.”

The officer managed to say with dignity: “You wish to raise money on this, I presume? Very well, I’ll see what can be done for you, Mr. Locke.” As he turned away, Kirk became conscious that the woman in the next chair had let her book fall and was watching him with amused curiosity. Feeling a sudden desire to confide in some one, he turned his eyes upon her with such a natural, boyish smile that she could not take offence, and began quite as if he had known her for some time:

“These people are money-mad, aren’t they? Worst bunch of gold-diggers I ever saw.” Surprised, she half raised her book, but Kirk ran on: “Anybody would think I was trying to find a missing will instead of a shirt. That purser is the only man on the ship my size, and he distrusts me.”

The woman murmured something unintelligible. “I hope you don’t mind my speaking to you,” he added. “I’m awfully lonesome. My name is Anthony, Kirk Anthony.”

Evidently the occupant of the next chair was not a football enthusiast, for, although she bowed her acknowledgment, her face showed that the name carried no significance.

However, in the “Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” published in 1906, the definition under gold digger was this:

One who digs for or mines goldThis word is almost exclusively used to designate placer miners, or those who dig and wash auriferous detrital material (gravel and sand).  Those who are engaged in mining in the wild rock are called quartz miners.

While there is overlap between the mining term and the social term, that overlap happened sometime between 1906 and 1911.  As such, gold digger appears to have been first published in 1911 with the transition in meanings understood in the intervening five years between the dictionary definition and the new meaning.

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Jay Driving

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 2, 2015

On Tuesday, Idiomation researched the history of jaywalking, and, in the process, learned that there was such a term as jay driving!  Rather than just leave the discovery at that, Idiomation decided to delve a little more into the history of the expression.

Jay drivers, as you know are drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in their proper lanes, wandering all over the road, putting everyone else in peril.  The term didn’t disappear in the early 1900s once traffic laws were in place and jay walkers were being cited and fined for crossing the street where they weren’t supposed to be crossing, and it didn’t appear at the turn of the century and make a quick exit either!

The St. Petersburg Times edition of December 10, 1948 talked about jay drivers by posting this amusing cartoon and important public service announcement in the newspaper.

JERKO THE JAY DRIVER_IMAGE 1
The problem of jay drivers plagued Miami during the 1930s which undoubtedly prompted the Miami Daily News — dubbed the oldest paper in Miami — to published this article on August 3, 1937.

MIAMI NEWS_IMAGE 2
Things were so impossible between jay walkers and jay drivers, that the National Safety Council honed four important rules for those interested in being good jay walkers.  Published in the December 28, 1934 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin newspaper of Williamsport (PA), the last rule (of which there were only four) shared this bit of insight.

Let the motorist do the worrying.  It’s his privilege as a driver.  If you’re not hit the first time, don’t get discouraged.  There’s a jay-driver on almost every street and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you will meet.

Jay drivers and jay walkers seem to have been the bane of most people’s existence during the Roaring Twenties.  The Eugene Register-Guard voiced its displeasure over the two with this simple comment in their August 11, 1924 edition that read:

The penalty for jay-walking and jay-driving should be made so severe that those brainless individuals would learn to obey the traffic laws.

On September 7, 1923, The Evening Independent newspaper published an article that hailed a novel suggestion, as they called it, that was made by Mr. Horrigan that addressed the conditions and needs of St. Petersburg as a tourist resort.  The fact of the matter was, as was pointed out “there are regular universal standard rules adopted by the A.A.A. that are used by almost every city, and certain laws passed by cities regulating traffic which are almost all alike so nothing need be said of them.  It is merely up to our officers to enforce them.”  The article included this commentary about jay drivers.

The trouble is with the drivers, and you will always have jay drivers, and no matter what rules you put into effect, the jay driver will not carry them out, or does not want to.

Yes, jay drivers had everyone up in arms with their dangerous jay driving.  Even columnist Richard Lloyd Jones of the Roundup Record-Tribune and Winnett Times (in Montana) commented on jay drivers and the “Safety First” movement that was meant to lessen danger everywhere except on streets and roads.  The  “Safety First” movement focused on making it safe for automobile owners to drive their vehicles, even if it came at the expense of pedestrian safety.  His comments included this paragraph.

Unless jay-driving is promptly stopped — unless every jay-driver is promptly jerked out of his seat and not allowed to return to the wheel, we are all going to be compelled to take our bumpers off and put on baskets.

One of the more unintentionally humorous comments included in the column was that every speedometer should be made to town-clock size (in other words, the size of the car’s tire) and mounted on the back of the vehicle so that everybody would be able to read the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.

An interesting statistic that was included in this story was this:  In 1920 there were 10,007 deaths due to influenza, and 10,163 deaths due to automobiles!

The Kansas City Star newspaper published on October 6, 1915 warned of an unusual number of motor car accidents over the days leading up to the article in their newspaper.  Not only were there a number of collisions, but the newspaper reported that in one instance, a car “skidded on a sharp curve and turned over.”  The newspaper wagged its editorial finger by ending the article with this remark:  Caution marks the competent driver; Recklessness belongs only to the jay.”  The article was aptly entitled, “Don’t Be A Jay Driver.”

Were pedestrians killed by horse-drawn vehicles before automobiles became popular? Of course they were, and at an alarmingly high rate to boot!  But this was because horses were easily spooked, and when panicked, oftentimes they would bolt into panicked crowds dragging their carriage or wagon behind them.  However, reporters for the New York Times back in 1888 wrote about horse-drawn carriages who seemed to “think that they own the [pedestrian] crossings.”  One reporter went as far as to point out:  “Pedestrian have right of way over crossings, and drivers are bound to respect that right, if the city authorities would only enforce the law.”

Is it any wonder that the same attitude carried over to automobiles?

In any case, the unfortunate reality of jay drivers is that Henry Hale Bliss (June 13, 1830 – September 14, 1899) is the first person in history to have been killed in an automobile fatality.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  On the 100th anniversary of this sad event, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site on September 13, 1999.  It’s said that the plaque was erected to promote safety on streets and highways.

The New York Times reported the story in great detail.  In the end, the driver was acquitted of manslaughter charges on the grounds that it was unintentional even though the driver’s car had crushed the victim’s head and chest the day before he died from his injuries.

FIRST FATAL AUTO ACCIDENT_IMAGE 4
So sometime between 1899 when the first ever fatal automobile accident happened and 1905 when the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1907 made mention of jay drivers, the words jay driver and jay driving were coined and quickly became known in English-speaking countries.

Now to find out what a jay really is, other than a bird or a baseball player in Toronto.

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Jaywalking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2015

Jaywalking is an interesting term.  Some think it refers to blue jays, but they’re mistaken.  Jaywalking is when a person crosses or walks in the street unlawfully or without regard for approaching traffic.  In most instances, if a person crosses the street anywhere but at a crosswalk or an intersection, they are technically jaywalking.

It was on September 19, 1997 that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article written by Jessica McBride titled, “Alderman Wants Jaywalking Rules Eased.”  The Alderman in question was Jeff Pawlinksi, and it seems that a jaywalking ticket kicked the discussion off for the alderman was the one issued to District Attorney Michael McCann on May 23 of that year.  The article read in part:

Jaywalking tickets are back in vogue as part of the “quality of life” policing strategy begun by Police Chief Arthur Jones last fall.  That philosophy holds that cracking down on smaller crimes, such as jaywalking, prevents larger ones.

But Milwaukee and it’s relationship with jaywalking is an interesting one to say the least.  More than thirty years earlier, on July 31, 1965 the Milwaukee Journal published an article about jaywalking and the ordinances in Milwaukee and other state laws that governed the offense.  In the article, it stated that the judge pointed out that two teachers who had received citations for jaywalking had been charged with violating the wrong city ordinance, and because of that, the two University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee teachers who had been cited, were let off the hook.  The article in question was titled, “Milwaukee: Things You Should Know About Jaywalking.”

The Telegraph newspaper of Nashua, New Hampshire published an article on December 27, 1945 that took on the issue of jaywalking.  It talked about the anti-jaywalking ordinance that took a year and a half to hammer out, and the newspaper wrote it was about time the jaywalking problem was properly addressed.  The article included this information on the recommended ordinance:

Nashua’s outgoing Board of Aldermen has recommended to the incoming board that such an ordinance be drawn up by the City Solicitor prohibiting jaywalking on Main Street from Hollis Street North to Fletcher Street, “pedestrian cross traffic between these two points to be permitted only on the designated well-painted and well-illuminated cross walks.”

In the 1937 movie “The Great O’Malley” Pat O’Brien (11 November 1899 – 15 October 1983) played the role of James Aloysius O’Malley.  He was a by-the-books sort of officer and when newspaper reporter Pinky Holden (played by Hobart Cavanaugh) wrote an article poking fun at the officer’s meticulous work habits, the Chief of Police put him on crossing guard duty instead.  One of the many tickets Officer O’Malley wrote out before winding up a crossing guard was a ticket to his own mother for jaywalking.

IMAGE 1
The word jay described someone who was naive or foolish and so when Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article in 1917 entitled, “Our Upstart Speech” by Robert P. Utter (23 November 1875 – 17 February 1936), Associates Professor of English at Amherst College, it’s not surprising that the word jaywalking was included.  The topic, of course, was slang and how it was finding its way into everyday language more and more often.  The author took on different kinds of slang, including college slang which included such words as prof for professor, exam for examination, dorm for dormitory, policon for political economy, and other terms.  In many respects, college slang was “texting” of its generation.  With regards to jaywalking, the author had this to say about the expression.

If these last long enough in our every-day vocabulary to lose the gloss of technicality we may reduce them to lower terms, even as the Bostonian, supposedly sesquipedalian of speech, has reduced “a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic regulations” to the compact jaywalker.

Some may insist that this was the earliest published use of the word, but they’d be wrong because five years earlier, in Kansas City, Missouri, the first ordinance criminalizing jaywalking was enacted to improve traffic conditions.  At the time, it was reported in the local newspaper that jaywalking was as bad as joy riding.  While the residents of Kansas City were concerned over losing a small personal liberty, they supported the new ordinance on the basis that the residents were averse to being thought of as “boobs, jays, ginks, or farmers” when their city was one of the top twenty large cities in the United States of America.  All of this was reported in the magazine “Automobile Topics: Volume 25, Number 9” published on April 13, 1912.

The first traffic laws in the U.S. were enacted in 1899, and on May 20, 1899, Jacob German, a New York City cab driver employed by the Electric Vehicle Company (one of New York City’s earliest cab companies), was arrested for driving his electric taxi down Lexington street in Manhattan at the dangerous speed of 12 mph.  He was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house for a time, and eventually set free.  Yes, Jacob German was the first person in the U.S. to be cited for speeding!

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The first man ever arrested and convicted of speeding was Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent in England.   He was stopped by an officer as he zipped by at 8 mph in a 2 mph zone.  On 28 January 1896, Walter was found guilty of the charge against him, and received a fine for speeding.

The New York City law paved the way for the first state speed limit law in Connecticut which was enacted on May 21, 1901.  The law was the first speed limit law and limited motor vehicle speeds to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads.  Two years later, in 1903, New York City adopted the first comprehensive traffic code.

So, as you can see, in 1912, it was quite progressive for any city to enact an ordinance that addressed the issue of jaywalkers.  That being said, Kansas City wasn’t the first place jaywalking or jaywalkers was used.  It popped up in an article in the Chicago Tribune on April 7, 1909 where the following was written:

Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jay walking.

However, two years before the Chicago Tribune article, the Guthrie Daily Leader newspaper in Oklahoma made mention of jaywalkers in the October 22, 1907 edition of the newspaper.

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The term, as you can see, was an off-shoot of the phrase jay driver which was used in newspaper stories with alarming regularity.  For example, this headline in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper of June 29, 1907 saw the phrase make the headlines as it did in many newspaper from 1905 onwards.

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And so the expression jaywalker was first published in 1907, less than a decade after the first traffic laws came into existence.  And since jaywalking is what jaywalkers do, the word jaywalking also came into vogue at the same time.

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Vegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 5, 2015

What is a vegan?  A vegan is someone who abstains from using animal products.  Not only do they not eat meat, fish, or poultry, they don’t use anything that uses animal products or by-products.  They don’t eat eggs, dairy products, or honey, and they don’t wear leather, fur, silk, or wool.  They don’t use cosmetics, crayons, medication in capsule form, or soaps that are derived from animal products.  And they are not to be confused with vegetarians.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune of December 10, 1997 led with a story on the front page of Section E with an article written by Jessica Wehrman that discussed the vegan lifestyle in detail.  The subheading read:  The trend toward a meatless diet is driven by religion and consideration for health, environment and animals.  Along with the article was a list of resources for readers interested in learning more about the vegan lifestyle, and, of course, the article was titled, “Going Vegan.”

In Volume 49 of “Today’s Health” published by the American Medical Association in 1971, the issue was discussed in an article.  It included this passage:

Does the word “vegan” mean vegetarian? Are vegetarians healthier than persons who eat animal products? A vegan is considered to be a strict vegetarian — that is, a person who eats no animal products.

And in Volume 106 of the “Journal of the Royal Society of Arts” an article can be found on page 117 that included this passage:

In some vegan women (teachers and housewives, for example) their dietary protein provided only 8.7 to 10. 1 per cent of their total dietary calories, as compared with an average of about 12 per cent in normal British post-war diets.

Interestingly enough, entering the 1950s, vegans can be found in a number of science fiction stories, especially those in the pulp fiction genre.

However, sandwiched between all the great science fiction stories that include extraterrestrial vegans lies the historical facts of vegans who do not consume animal products or by-products.

In November 1944, a strict vegetarian by the name of Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005) who was also a member of the Leicester Vegetarian Society decided to begin his own movement.  He and others had grown dissatisfied with vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

He issued his first newsletter entitled, “Vegan News” and he was quoted as stating that the word vegan was meant to represent “the beginning and end of vegetarian.”  The word, in a nutshell (pardon the pun) was a stand against vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

Shortly thereafter, the first vegan cookbooks were published:  “Vegetarian Recipes Without Dairy Produce” by Margaret B. Rawls, and “Vegan Recipes” by Fay K. Henderson.

Even today, within the vegetarian community there are factions:  pollotarians (those who eat chicken and eggs), pescetarians (those who eat fish), and flexetarians (those who eat primarily plants but occasionally include small amounts of meat).  But the only group to break away from the vegetarian movement and create a movement all their own are vegans.  All the others are vegetarians of a different color.

Idiomation conclusive pegs the term vegan to 1944 and Donald Watson.

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Freegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2015

The word freegan has been popping up in news stories more and more often of late.  What is a freegan?  A freegan is an activist who scavenges for free food to reduce consumption of resources.  Rather than buy food in a traditional grocery store or restaurant, a freegan consumes food that other people, stores, and organizations throw away.

But freeganism goes beyond just foraging for food in dumpsters.   Freegans embrace scavenging, volunteering, and squatting over buying, working, and renting, with a primary focus of living entirely off the grid (an impossibility, however, that is the ultimate goal).

Many freegans look at their lifestyle as a way to reduce the need to be gainfully employed, and refer to employment in negative terms.  They oftentimes feel that the money based economy in which we live impacts negatively on the core economy of home and family.

The word freegan is a mash-up of two words:  free and vegan.

On August 9, 2014 the Lacrosse Tribune published an article by Allison Geyer about activist Rob Greenfield.  This activist went a year without showering in the traditional sense from April 21, 2013 through to April 20, 2014 as his way to promote water conservation awareness.  In 2012, he traveled to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) on a one-way ticket and only took his passport, his cellphone, and the clothes on his back with him.  He hitchhiked back home to raise awareness that international travel is possible without money and possessions.

In 2014, the Ashland, Wisconsin native was biking from California to New York via a homemade bamboo-frame bike with only a tent, sleeping mat, some clothing, cellphone, computer, and solar charger for his bike lights to his name.  The article was entitled, “Free-Wheeling Freegan Bikes To Promote Sustainability.”

The word was used in a Gettysburg Times article by Bonnie Erbe on August 22, 2006.  Please note that The Post referred to is the Washington Post newspaper.

The Post reports on one 17-year-old who was “caught (by a store employee” dumpster diving, though he is neither homeless nor destitute.  He considers himself a ‘freegan‘ — a melding of the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’ — meaning he tries not to contribute to what he sees as the exploitation of land, resources and animals wrought by commercial production.”

While the Merriam Webster Dictionary claims the word was first used in 2006, the word appeared in the Houston Press on November 25, 2004 in a news story entitled, “Free Lunch.”  The article, written by Keith Plocek, told the story of Patrick Lyons who grew up near Rice University, attended Lamar High School, and who (at the time) worked at the Menil Collection.

The journalist shared the freegan belief with readers:  Whenever a product is purchased, the purchaser contributes to the problem of consumerism.  To get around and avoid consumerism as much as possible, a freegan must be willing to dig around dumpsters for his or her meals.

The article included this paragraph as well:

Lyons is a freegan. He doesn’t want to contribute to consumer society, so he eats for free whenever possible. Sometimes that means digging through Dumpsters behind grocery stores.

What’s more, the article stated that the local chapter of freegans had been in Houston for ten years, and that the national movement had been in existence for twenty-four years.  This means that the word freegan existed as early as 1980.

No earlier published mention of freegan was found before 1980, and so Idiomation pegs this word to 1980 when the movement began.

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Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Grassroots

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2015

Whenever you hear someone talk about a grassroots movement or a grassroots organization or any other sort of grassroots construct, what they’re talking about is something that wasn’t adapted from an existing situation.  The other part is that whatever is described as being grassroots is basic and fundamental.  In other words, it is something that is from, and involves, everyday people in contrast with those things that are from what is perceived to be from, and involving, the elite whether one is talking what is corporate or what is political.  It’s all about getting back to basics.

That being said, the elite have been known to co-opt the word to push their own agendas without marginalizing the meaning of the expression.  An example of this is from June 10, 2004 as proven by the Boca Raton News about the Test Drive4W program that was run in support of President Bush’s campaign.  The program saw thousands of volunteers across American making phone calls and going door-to-door contacting voters to increase the number of voters who would be casting a ballot that November.  The newspaper ran the article under the heading, “Bush Campaign Testing Its Massive Grass-roots Organization.”

The term, however, isn’t used only in politics.  The Dispatch newspaper published in Lexington, North Carolina on August 5, 1986 published a news article about the National Opera Company that toured with the slogan, “Let’s knock the high hat off of opera.”  The opera company, founded (and financed) in 1948 by the late Raleigh lawyer and businessman, A.J. Fletcher, was one that focused on operas sung in English.

The opera company was known for many things not the least was travelling without a grand orchestra, without grand scenery, and without anything else that could be considered grand.  The snobbishness that many associated with opera was decidedly absent when it came to the National Opera Company, and for this reason, the article was titled, “Company Presents Grass Roots Opera.”

Going back to February 20, 1964 the Palm Beach Post newspaper published an article titled, “Currency Use Proposal Would Help Foreigners.”  The proposal mentioned in the news story was an idea proposed by Tom Hall Miller, president of American Partners, Inc., and it was presented to the House Agriculture Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.  The article read in part:

American Partners, Miller told the committee, is incorporated as a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, former less than 2 years ago, to promote the private enterprise concept at the grassroots level in developing countries by recruiting the interest of U.S. citizens and organizations in giving financial and technical help to establish and expand small businesses in countries requiring such assistance.

The Republican party held a “Grass Roots Conference” in Springfield, Illinois back in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The Milwaukee Journal reported on this in the June 12, 1935 edition in an article entitled, “Grass Roots Conversion” that began with this paragraph:

The only proposals of the Grass Roots convention for reviving and regenerating the Republican party are bodily taken over from the Roosevelt program.  This is the significant, almost sensational, thing in the resolutions adopted at Springfield.  Where they go beyond the Republican platform of 1932, they go with Roosevelt.

The misperception of the term is that its earliest use was by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana in a speech he gave at the Progressive Party Convention of 1912 where he was quoted as saying, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”  However, there are earlier instances of the idiom being used in its current spirit that dates to before its utterance in 1912.

New York Tribune of September 09, 1907 reported:

In regard to his political views Mr. Perry has issued the following terse platform: “I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment.”

The Mr. Perry mentioned in the article was Adolphus Edward Perry (1867 – 1939) who, at the time, was the vice-chairman of the Oklahoma State Committee.  In political parlance, he was known as “Dynamite Ed.”  He was a man with an interesting past, having been born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada of American parents, and contributing greatly to the state of Oklahoma as an adult.

Jay Elmer House published a collection of short stories in 1905.  In the Foreword to his book, the author stated that “the people of whom I have written I knew intimately and well.  Most of them were, and are, my close friends.  In only one or two instances have I taken the trouble to conceal their identity under assumed names.  In nearly every incident or episode spread upon these pages I had a part.  It always seemed to me that the humble folk I knew in boyhood were as interesting as those of more pretentious circumstances with whom my lot has fallen in later years.”  This clearly explains the reason for entitling the book, “At The Grassroots.”

All that being shared, the term actually is a mining term that dates back to the 1870s, and refers to the soil just beneath the ground’s surface.  During the Gold Rush, advertisers oftentimes teased potential speculators with tales of gold being found “at the grass-roots” with the most basic of tools.  Unfortunately, more often than not, speculators who took these advertisers at their words found nothing but hard rock “at the grass-roots” whether they used basic tools or fancier tools, and came away with no gold at all.

The sense that basic tools could be used “at the grass-roots” grew into the sense that grass-roots meant getting back to basics.  For that reason, the literal sense of the idiom dates back to the mid-1870s while the figurative sense dates back to shortly thereafter.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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