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

Egg On Your Face

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 3, 2018

To have egg on your face usually has a negative connotation even though it’s been a cosmetic remedy for facial blemishes for at least 300 years. When someone says another has egg on their face, it means that person looks foolish or has been embarrassed at their own hands or has made a serious mistake, although the first two meanings are more often associated with the idiom than the latter.

On the USA Today website, an article titled, “Recruiting Column: Keep Your Options Open” published on 22 April 2015 advised high school students going through the college recruiting process to be wary of how they approached the situation. A quick play-by-play on the pitfalls and power ups for student athletes were touched upon in this brief write-up. The second last paragraph included this comment.

Until you sign a National Letter of Intent, you have to keep your options open. Even college coaches will agree that you really need to be pursuing and communicating with as many schools as possible so you don’t end up with egg on your face.

In a newspaper article from the Associated Press on 7 April 1974 titled, “Keep Those Tapes Rolling” Jerry Buck interviewed American television host and media mogul Merv Griffin (6 July 1925 – 12 August 2007). In discussing how his television shows ran, Merv Griffin had this to say about the process:

We never stop the taping. I don’t care if the walls fall down. My orders are to keep the cameras going, even if I’ve got egg on my face. That’s equally interesting.

On page 5 of the January 4th edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1936, there was a news story titled, “Show Hostess You Enjoy Her Hospitality” written by Emily Kimbrough. The idiom egg on my face was used within the context we use today.

Even the American Management Association included this idiom in an article in their journal in 1934, warning those in managerial positions not to ignore or overlook problems as they came up.

If you try to sweep it under the rug, everyone ends up with egg on their faces.

Despite Idiomation’s most ardent efforts, the expression could not be found in published format earlier than 1934. However, because it was used in an article by the American Management Association where the intended readership was management at all levels, this indicates the expression was known and understood in 1934, and therefore had to be part of everyday language.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the early 1900s.

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Another Thing Coming

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 8, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, having another thing coming as opposed to another think coming doesn’t mean the same thing. If you’ve got another thing coming, this means the outcome of a situation is expected to take a turn other than anticipated, and usually that turn is for the worse.

Judas Priest’s song “Another Thing Coming” was a misuse of the phrase as the lyrics imply another think coming, but the song title and the lyrics propelled the song from the 1982 album “Screaming For Vengeance” up the charts to reach #66 in the UK and #4 in the US that year.

Judas Priest wasn’t the first band to have a song with that phrase in the title. Birmingham (AL) band Hotel released a song by that name from their debut album on MCA Records in 1979. The song entered the Billboard charts at #90, and even though the band didn’t break through as hoped, they were compared to well-known bands such as Ambrosia and Player.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Two founding members of Hotel went on to found “Split The Dark.” When that group broke up, guitarist/vocalist Damon Johnson went on to work with Alice Cooper, and Thin Lizzy.

The phrase was misused in the New York Herald newspaper in an article about the ups and downs of life as a Hollywood actor back in 1919:

If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you’ve got another thing coming.

Although the phrase in its entirety was used in the New York Herald, in 1906, the spirit of the expression was found in The Wilshire Editorials written by land developer, serial entrepreneur, advertising billboard owner, publisher, and outspoken millionaire socialist Gaylord Wilshire (7 June 1851 – 7 September 11927) as he railed against the Wall Street Journal in his editorial titled, “Wall Street Journal Turns Moralist.”

But if we did, then we have another thing coming, for this is the cry-baby talk I find in this morning’s December 16 editorial: Business and the Law.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The famous Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (CA) is named after Henry Gaylord Wilshire by Henry Gaylord Wilshire. This happened in 1887 when he bought 35 acres of land to the west of Westlake (which came to be known as MacArthur Park in later years). Seven years later, he began to create an exclusive residential subdivision and decided the subdivision would have a wide street down the center named after himself. Originally it was four blocks long and ran between Westlake and Sunset (now known as Lafayette) Parks.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Gaylord Wilshire donated the street to Los Angeles with the stipulation that no rail lines or heavy trucking would ever be allowed along his boulevard.

Idiomation dates the full expression to 1918 with a serious nod to Gaylord Wilshire in 1906.

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Top Banana

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 14, 2017

Fictional Titi Vlar asked fictional Missy Barrett on her Facebook page if she knew the history of the expression top banana. Idiomation is always pleased to step up to the plate and assist real and fictional people alike when it comes to tracking down the meaning and history of expressions, phrases, sayings, clichés, and more.

Whenever you hear someone being referred to as the top banana, that person is the lead person in a group or organization, or who is heading up an undertaking. Of course, when it comes to the entertainment industry, the top person is the usually the headlining comedian in a musical comedy, vaudeville, or burlesque show. The comedian’s straight man was second banana to the top banana.

On December 12, 2017 an article posted by Today.com reported the following:

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have yet to make any official announcement about their wedding cake, there’s a pretty big rumor that has people going absolutely bananas … <snip> … [Dole] offered the services of their “top banana” chef to personally bake the cake that will be served after the couple’s ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: A banana is 75% water.

In the December 10, 200 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Michael Evans reported how Westpac Bank boss, Gail Kelly, had gone from being ranked the world’s 18th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in September of 2009 to angering hundreds of thousands of Westpac customers when they were advised by the bank’s retail chief about supercharged interest rates.

How much was the increase, you ask? Variable mortgage rates rose by 45 basis points, nearly twice the level of the Reserve Bank’s 25 basis point increase, and Gail Kelly’s popularity slipped badly because of it. The news story was aptly titled, “How The Top Banana Slipped.”

New York City is always a great place for unexpected news stories and on August 31, 1991 the New York Times reported on a situation that happened at a housing project in East Harlem in the middle of the day. According to reporter Seth Faison Jr, the spectacle included a crowd of spectators, a phalanx of Housing Police, a crew of EMS workers, a truckload of firefighters, and a monkey in a tree. The monkey was a real monkey owned by Sandra Rodriguez who lived in the Washington Houses project on East 104th Street.

And just like the story about Australia’s Gail Kelly, this article was also aptly titled with the amusing headline, “Monkey Shows Police Just Who’s The Top Banana.”

American lyricist and songwriter Johnny Mercer (18 November 1909 – 25 June 1976) and American screenwriter, playwright, and theatrical producer Hy Kraft (30 April 1899 – 29 July 1975) were responsible for the Broadway play titled, “Top Banana” starring American entertainer and comedic actor Phil Silvers (11 May 1911 – 1 November 1985). Silvers played the part of Jerry Biffle, an ex-burlesque comic who has become a television star on the Blendo Soap Program, and displays a Milton Berle style egocentric personality.

The show opened on November 1, 1951 (closing on October 4, 1952 with a total of 350 performances and a nearly month-long layoff from August 3 to August 31) and in the magazine Cue: The Weekly Magazine of New York Life the expression was part of their published review.

Phil Silvers, the man in the glasses on your right, is a changed man. For one thing, the comic who is *top banana” in the soon-to-arrive musical of the same name is no longer a frustrated actor in search of dignity.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Two years after the Broadway production closed down, many of the original actors in the play reprised their roles in the United Artists movie of the same name.

Bananas were a popular fruit as far as composers were concerned. George Gershwin blended bananas into his songs “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and “But Not For Me.” In 1926, Ted Waite wrote the very popular “I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana” and in 1923 the big novelty hit song was “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: One of the earliest comic novelty songs involving bananas that was a song dates back to 1904 vaudeville when Elizabeth Murray, Raymond Teal, and Willie Tilden included “The Banana Man” by Hamilton and Fischer in their respective acts.

But while all this is very interesting, it gets us no closer to the origin of the expression top banana.

The first full cargo of bananas reached the United States in 1871 when Captain Lorenzo D. Baker landed in Boston after a long trek across the ocean.  Bananas caught on with the American public, and it wasn’t long before bananas were featured in family photographs.  I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to as strange as that sounds.  The Washington Banana Museum in Auburn (WA) has evidence to support this.

Scant years later, a number of fraudulent banana peel claims against streetcar lines were common in America, beginning in the 1890s. This was reported by the Street Railway Review on January 15, 1895. In 1910, the New York Times reported that Anna H. Sturla was arrested for the 17th time in 4 years, claiming she had slipped on a banana peel and been injured.

By the time women like Anna H. Sturla were making a living from banana peel lawsuits, cities were passing laws against discarding banana peels on city streets. St. Louis city council was among the first cities to pass a law outlawing the “throwing or casting” of banana peels on any and all public thoroughfares. New York City, under the guidance of former Civil War military man Colonel George Waring, organized the uniformed “White Wings” workers to sweep, clean, and dispose of waste — mostly because of the banana peel problem. They worked in shifts and disposed of garbage at city-owned composting facilities throughout the city.

Vaudeville comedian “Sliding” Billy Watson aka William Shapiro (1876 – 1939) found fame with his banana peel pratfall and he claimed to be the originator of the gag but vaudeville comedian Cal Stewart (his copyrighted stage persona name was Uncle Josh) was already a hit on stages and in recordings with his banana peel-laden sidewalk jokes.

With the banana peel gag already in play, vaudeville entertainer Rose Bacon incorporated the banana con into her comedy routine in the early 1900s.

There was a young lady named Hannah
Who slipped on a peel of banana.
More stars she espied
As she lay on her side
Than are found in the Star Spangled Banner.

A gentleman sprang to assist her;
He picked up her glove and her wrister;
‘Did you fall, Ma’am?’ he cried:
‘Did you think,’ she replied,
‘I sat down for the fun of it, Mister?’

So how is it that banana peels went from being a popular treat and fodder for vaudeville acts to the phrase top banana in 50 years?

This has proven difficult indeed to track. While the term top banana was obviously used long before burlesque comedian Frank Lebowitz rose to fame, his name is most closely associated with the phrase due to his use of bananas in his stage act. But as we all know, bananas and their peels were already established as props for vaudeville and burlesque acts long before the 1950s hit.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The American burlesque era is from 1840 to 1960. To burlesque meant to make fun of operas, plays, and social habits of the upper classes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The difference between vaudeville and burlesque came about in the 1920s when burlesque introduced strip teases in the hopes it would draw audiences away from vaudeville and over to burlesque shows. The American strip tease is thought to have originated with Little Egypt’s 1893 Chicago World’s Fair performance of the hootchie-kooch.

Oddly enough, there’s a little known fact about bananas that take them from being a popular fruit that is responsible for a great many vaudeville gags and being the best of the bunch. During the flapper era of the 1920s, if a person was bananas they were crazy.

The best comedians in vaudeville and burlesque specialized in slapstick comedy which included the banana peel gag. The better they were at the banana peel gag, the harder the audiences laughed. The harder the audiences laughed, the better the chances those comedians would play to packed houses night after night. It wasn’t long before stage managers were referring to the best comedians as the top bananas.

So while Idiomation was unable to identify who coined the phrase top banana or the exact year the expression came into use, it dates back to American vaudeville and burlesque houses in the 1920s.

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Mountain Out Of A Moleskin

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 12, 2017

Until recently, Idiomation was under the impression the expression was to make a mountain out of a molehill. However, while watching a black-and-white Sherlock Holmes movie from 1946 titled, “Dressed To Kill” (aka “Prelude To Murder“) starring Basil Rathbone (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967) as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce (4 February 1895 – 8 October 1953) as Dr. Watson, Dr. Watson spoke of making a mountain out a moleskin.

Now whether it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin or making a mountain out of a molehill, it’s all about making a big deal out something that doesn’t warrant that much attention in the first place.

After some research, the first hint of the expression was found on page 14 of the Evening Review newspaper of East Liverpool, Ohio on Friday, May 11, 1934. It appeared in a comic by American cartoonist, Cliff Sterrett, titled, “Polly and Her Pals” which ran from 4 December 1912 through to 1958. In the comics section of the newspaper, it’s difficult to determine if this was how the expression was used, or if it was a misuse for the purpose of comedy.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Clifford Sterrett (12 December 1883 – 28 December 1964) was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. His mother died when he was two years old, so his father sent him and his younger brother Paul to Alexandria, Minnesota to be raised by their aunt, Sallie Johnson, and their father moved to Seattle, Washington. Sterrett was of Scandinavan ancestry.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Polly Perkins of “Polly and Her Pals” was a young woman who was part of the Suffragette movement leading into the 1920s flapper generation of the Jazz Age. The strip included her parents, Paw and Maw, her cousin Ashur Earl Perkins who was renown for giving bad advice, Paw’s sister-in-law Carrie and her spoiled brat daughter named Gertrude, the Japanese houseboy Neewah who pretended not to always know what was going on, the black housecat Kitty, and, of course, Polly herself.

However, in a radio program dating back to July 20, 1935 Anne Leah McCord (1890? – 19 March 1941) of Pulaski, Tennessee (born about 1890 according to the 1940 U.S. Census) used the idiom in the segment “Bulls and Boners” from the radio show “Radio Guide.” This show was produced in Chicago, Illinois and for those sending letters in to the show, the address was 731 Plymouth Court.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3 : Anne Leah McCord of Pulaski was the associate editor of The Record, The daughter of General Laps D. McCord and Betty Thomas McCord, she accompanied her father’s family to Nashville when he became Secretary and Adjutant-General for Governor Robert L. Taylor. When the Governor was elected to the U.S. Senate, Ms. McCord’s father became his secretary, and the family moved to Washington, D.C.

When Senator Taylor passed away, the McCords returned to Pulaski. She passed away on 19 March 1941 and was survived by her sisters Mary Boyd McCord and E.R. Reynolds and her brothers Laps D. McCord Jr and Elwood McCord (who lived in St Louis, Missouri).

Still uncertain whether it was a misused idiom, Idiomation continued to find the idiom published in a serious commentary. The expression was used on September 30, 1954 by the Honorable member for Mundingburra, Mr. Aikens with regards to the Townsville Regional Electricity Board, payments to two ex-managers, Mr. Beynon and Mr. Sleeman, and the problem with the turbo alternator at the new power station at Murder Island. In the records of the Queensland Parliamentary Debates of the Legislative Assembly the following is recorded.

I have only a few words to say to finish my statement about the Townsville generator. We all realise now that it was a much more serious thing than the Honourable member for Fortitude Valley would have had us believe. He tried to create the impression that I was making a mountain out of a molehill or, as a northern member of the Labour Party said, on a memorable occasion, “A mountain out of a moleskin.” However I think I have convinced the Committee that it was a very serious breakdown, so serious that it brought upon the manager and his staff the severest possible censure from the State Electricity Commission.

In America, the idiom also showed up in a news article written by Bob Ingram and published in the 13 November 1954 edition of the El Paso Herald-Post on page 7.

After reading statements by the extremists in Tucson and Lubbock papers this week, I’m convinced that last Saturday’s incidents at Tucson were a tempest in a T-pot and that they’re making a mountain out of a moleskin. The two biggest schools in the Border Conference certainly should be playing each other.

By the 1950s, the idiom was being used as an accepted expression. Idiomation continued to search for other published examples of the saying and found one instance in the Franklin News-Herald newspaper from Franklin, Pennsylvania in the 30 June 1936 edition.  Mr. Dion was quoted as saying:

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce must rehabilitate the spirit of the land. The furrier is the man who can make a mountain out of a moleskin. It is queer that we in this section of the country continue to enjoy cool weather, while crops in the mid-west are burning up with the heat and the lack of rain.

It was also found in the Radioland publication of July 1934 Jane Ace (Goodman Aces’ wife) was quoted in the segment titled, “Microphone Miniatures” under the story “Funny Men’s Wives.” The article gave a quick glimpse in the life of what life was supposedly like for her, Mary Livingston (Jack Benny’s wife), and Gracie Allen (George Burns’ wife).

When I try to be suggestive about us all going out somewhere they don’t even listen. We we girls play Russian Bank. But we can’t even do that in peace. Every minute some husband will interrupt our game to tell us a new gag. I don’t see why they go to so much trouble about ages — it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin.

American theater writer, lyricist, and screenwriter Jo Swerling (8 April 1897 – 23 October 1964) wrote a story titled “Ashes of Fortune” published in Volume 97 of “The American Magazine” in May 1924. The story was illustrated by J. Henry.

“My dear young friend,” he said pompously, “you are simply making a mountain out of a moleskin. All you got to do is to fill out the check yourself, for the amount the feller deposited.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 4: Jo Swerling’s family emigrated from Czarist Russia to the Lower East Side of New York City. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines including “Vanity Fair” in the 1920s.

In Volume 36 of “The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness” published in 1912. In the segment titled, “The Trunk In The Attic” it was announced that the winners of the three best love, friendship, or human interest letters would each win fifty dollars each per the details of the contest provided in the November edition.  American actress, playwright, and novelist Louise Closser Hale (13 October 1872 – 26 July 1933) was responsible for making the wise decision as to which entries would be announced as winners.

The second letter chosen was one the judge felt was one of “the longest husband-and-wife effusion” that had been submitted. In her own words, she stated without hesitation that “one can go on forever before marriage, but after — there is very little to say.” This letter included the expression in this passage.

Reached here this afternoon and saw Brown about the deed. He told me he would make it all right when he returns to Hayville, which will be the latter part of this week. So you needn’t worry, because he is a man of his word as well as deed, and besides, when you spoke of it I thought you were making a mountain out of a moleskin, or whatever that old adage is.

The question was one of what else was a moleskin besides what a mole wears? At the turn of the century, a moleskin was a kind of fustian, double-twilled and extra strong, and cropped before dyeing.

IMPORTANT NOTE 5: A fustian is a heavy cloth woven from cotton and flax, and used primarily in making menswear.

IMPORTANT NOTE 6: A fustian is also a pompous or pretentious speech or writing from at least the time of William Shakespeare.

In Germany, people make elephants out of mosquitoes (aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen) and in Russia, people make elephants out of a fly. In Finland, people make a little ox out of a fly (tehdä kärpäsestä härkänen) and in Wales, people make a mountain out of an anthill (gwneud mynydd o dwmpath morgrug).

But in Sweden, the expression göra en höna av en fjäder is to make a mountain out of a moleskin.

Earlier Idiomation mentioned that American cartoonist Clifford Sterrett was of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavia is the term common used to refer to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. It’s possible that while the idiom was making its way across the ocean from England via magazines, Scandinavians were already using the expression word-for-word in America.

Idiomation pegs this expression to the early 1900s with a serious nod to the Swedish expression.

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Out For A Rip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 13, 2017

Idiomation decided to research the saying out for a rip after reading about a Kingston (Ontario, Canada) rapper claiming that his trademark on the phrase was jacked by Coca-Cola Inc. when it appeared on one of their bottles.  He claims he ‘created’ the expression that was part of a rap piece and video he put out on YouTube in 2013. He trademarked the expression with CIPO (Canadian Intellectual Property Office) in April 2016.

For those who aren’t familiar with the expression, going out for a rip means to go out for a drive, usually off-roading, but also snowmobiling and other similar rides.   It can also mean going out for a good time without any vehicles involved as in hanging out with your friends and kicking back, taking it easy.  It also means going out on a bender.

For those who question the definition, a CBC story from 8 March 2015 titled, “10 Slang Terms All Saskatchewan People Should Know” places out for a rip in the #4 spot on the list.    The expression is part of what Blue Sky refers to as unique terminology in Saskatchewan.    The term was tagged as slang, not as a term ‘created’ by a rapper in Ontario.

SIDE NOTE #1:  For entertainment purposes only, Idiomation is sharing Insightrix’s hilarious
video that includes even more unique terminology from Saskatchewan in Western Canada.

On 11 May 2009, forum member 1969GTS wrote about his friend’s Mustang and his Dart.  The expression was used twice in his very brief comment, proving that out for a rip was around long before 2013.

Just a few years earlier, on the Urban Country website, James D. Schwartz wrote about his cousin’s 2000 Yamaha YZF-R6 motorcycle in the article, “Thrill Of The Year.”  The first paragraph included the expression.

Slang, unlike jargon (special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand) or colloquialisms (informal or everyday language understood across multiple social platforms), is language with a specific social context.  It is also referred to as liminal language.  Language experts agree that slang is generally in circulation for at least a decade before it finds its way into written form.

This being the case, the earliest published version of out for a rip Idiomation found in the 2005 article on the Urban Country website implies that the phrase originated sometime in the early to mid-1990s at the very least, although there are anecdotal claims all over the Internet that out for a rip was used in Canada as early as the late 1970s.

SIDE NOTE #2:  Rip in the sense of moving rapidly goes back to 1826 believe it or not, and back in 1826 rip was considered slang.   Whether it was going on a bender or going out on a rip, it was a given back in the early to mid-1800s that whichever one you did, it was going to be fast and at the time, those going out on a rip were going to have a grand time of things.

So if Kingston rapper B. Rich wants to claim he ‘created’ the expression out for a rip, anyone using that expression is pretty much hooped (Canadian slang for being in trouble, possibly beyond repair).  Whether we live in the city or out in the boonies (Canadian slang for the suburbs), best we just settle on getting a two-four (Canadian slang for a case of 24 beers), and wait-see (Canadian slang for being patient as one awaits the outcome of a situation) who’s going to hang a Larry (Canadian slang for going left with a secondary meaning of losing) and who’s going to hang a Roger (Canadian slang for going right with a secondary meaning for winning).

Then again, this rapper could be pulling a Gene Simmons (Idiomation slang) by throwing some shade (American slang) on Coca-Cola Inc.

I wonder if it’s too early to start looking at snowbankers (more Canadian slang) and figuring out how many loonies (even more Canadian slang) that could set some Canadians back come winter.

UPDATE (14 JULY 2017):  Even Brendan Richmond aka B. Rich knows he didn’t ‘create’ the expression which makes it as trademarkable as what Gene Simmons had hoped to trademark recently.  Controversy is one of the ways that celebrities, quasi-celebrities, and wanna-be’s get attention from the media.  In this December 2013 interview with Peter Hendra, the rapper admitted he heard the expression used by someone else at a gas station.  The gas station employee filling the rapper’s gas tank made a comment using the expression.  In other words, B. Rich aka Brendan Richmond didn’t ‘create’ the expression.  He just told the media in recent interviews that he did.  Quelle surprise!

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Legal Beagle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 11, 2017

Sometimes a profession is known by a nickname that’s actually complimentary and this is the case with the term legal beagle which refers to a lawyer, most specifically one who is keen. skillful, and astute.  In fact, the term is so respected that there’s a Legal Beagle website that (according to their website) strives “to be an excellent resource for legal information based on facts and procedure.”  Bottom line, calling a lawyer a legal beagle is a compliment.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Sometimes the term legal eagle is used in place of legal beagle.  Both terms are sometimes substituted for the expression, Philadelphia lawyer!

Just last month on 13 June 2017, Cal Hobson of Norman (OK) wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Norman Transcript newspaper.  His letter referred to comments made to The Purcell Register newspaper by Rep. Tim Downing, R-Purcell, Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan.  From the tone of his letter, he was displeased with what these area lawmakers had to say about the most recent session in which they were involved.

I’m no legal beagle, not even a lawyer, as is Downing, but I did serve 28 sessions in the Oklahoma Legislature during recessions and even a depression, so if they think this last session was the “hardest ever,” it just underscores how little they do know.

SIDE NOTE 2: (from the ABOUT US section of the newspaper’s website):  The Norman Transcript is Norman’s oldest continuous business. Its history surpasses that of the City of Norman and of the University of Oklahoma, being founded in 1889 when the area was opened to settlement.

One of the persons on the settler train headed to Norman was Ed P. Engle, a newspaperman who, when the train arrived in Norman, walked one block west through three-inch high prairie grass to stake a business lot at what is now the northeast corner of the intersection of West Main Street and Santa Fe Avenue.

The first edition of Norman’s pioneer newspaper came off the press a few weeks later on July 13, 1889.

In the 24 August 1992 edition of People magazine, an article about Denver (CO) attorney Linda Cawley who specialized in canine contracts and litication (yes, that’s how her business card read according to People magazine).  Her work covered all things canine from owners divorcing and in need of a canine custody agreement through to suits against veterinarians and breeders and on to criminal defense of dogs who were accused of biting.  The article was titled, “Legal Beagle.”

In 1946, the New York Times reviewed the most recent offering by prolific American author Erle Stanley Gardner (17 July 1889 – 11 March 1970), “The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife” published in 1945.  The book was published in 1946 and the story line was one that tugged at the heartstrings.   In the opinion of Perry Mason fans, this was one of the more intriguing and captivating books in the Perry Mason series.  This is what the New York Times reviewer had to say in part about the book.

And guess who her lawyer is. Perry Mason, of course — the “legal beagle” with a list of acquittals as long as the D. A.’s face.   Mason is the only person in the world who believes his client innocent. So what does the lady do? She FIRES him!

The term legal beagle is difficult to find prior to the 1940s, however, Idiomation found the term legal eagle in the book “The Little Lawyer and Legal Adviser” written by Napa and San José attorney Henry Alexander Gaston (9 August 1823 – unknown ) described at the start of the book as a former member of the Legislature of California and late Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada.  His book was self-published in 1880 with the help of A.L. Bancroft and Company located at 721 Market Street in San Francisco (CA).  It’s in this book that the term legal eagle was explained to readers.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The Reno Gazette-Journal of Reno, Nevada reported on Henry Gaston’s resignation as Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada in the 30 April 1879 edition.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Henry Alexander Gaston married Josephine Ballou in July of 1848 in Richmond, Berkshire, Massachusetts.  He was listed as an occupational lawyer involved in the mining business.

Idiomation decided to back things up and begin anew with researching legal eagle since the term legal eagle is a complimentary term for a lawyer as well.  It’s also often used interchangeably with the expression legal beagle.   The Long Island Pulse magazine edition published on 27 April 2011 quickly proved that the term is very complimentary towards attorneys.

In the 5 February 1977 edition of People magazine, Jim Jerome wrote about Rod Stewart in the article, “Da Ya think I’m Sexy?”  In the first paragraph, mention of Rod Stewart’s split from Britt Ekland, with whom he was involved over a two-year period, made mention of a lawsuit and the legal representation Britt Ekland secured.

A 34-year-old bachelor, Rod was sued by one of his numerous ex-ladies, Britt Ekland, for $15 million, assisted by the legal eagle also gunning for Lee Marvin.  Rod, however, made a substantial out-of-court settlement before the case came to trial.

Research also uncovered a book by the American Bar Center published in 1958 by the American Law Student Association.  In this book, there were three entries worth noting:  One a publication titled “Legal Eagle” at American University, the second was a publication titled, “Legal Beagle” at the Washington College of Law, and the third was “The Legal Eagle” at North Carolina College.  Just a few years before that, in one of the American Eagle bulletins from 1952, the term legal eagle found its way into a short blurb about one of the well-known men in the forest products industry.

That blur whizzing through the Bay Area a month or so ago would be our own D. Draper Fairbrother, sales manager, Government adviser, legal eagle, and lukewarm gardener.  Old D.D.F. was plucked from Bilgewater Gulch by the National Production Authority to reign in Washington, D.C., as an “expert, wooden box nailed.”

SIDE NOTE 5:  D. Draper Fairbrother was born David Draper Fairbrother  (29 August 1912 – 10 April 1961) in Kansas, and passed away in 1961.   His father was Benjamin Henry Fairbrother and his mother was Clara Grace Fairbrother.  He rose to the rank of Navy Captain during World War II.

SIDE NOTE 6:  After the war, he returned to America with his German-born war bride, Gertrude, who had lived in Shanghai for 20 years.

In Volume 9 of “The Legal Aid Brief Case” published by the National Legal Aid Association in 1950, mention was made of the Attorneys Messenger Service publication “The Legal Eagle.”  In this case, the AMS publication included an article by Michel Lipman of the San Francisco Bar in the bulletin’s March 1950 issue and titled, “Equal Justice For The Poor.”

The legal eagle / legal beagle situation is what linguists call reduplicatives with others including fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, namby-pamby, and wishy-washy.   As much as Idiomation would love to be able to definitively peg legal eagle or legal beagle in reference to  lawyers to a date – or even a particular decade – the closest Idiomation can determine is that both expressions, as they refer to lawyers and their abilities, most likely began to make their way into English sometime in the mid to late 1930s.

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Blurb

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

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Mansplaining

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2017

The word mansplaining seems to be everywhere these days from pop culture to news reporting.  If you don’t already know what it is, it’s the process of a male explaining something to another person  (usually female) in such a way that is perceived to be condescending or patronizing.  Oftentimes the speaker is explaining a simple situation that is already easily understood by the majority of people.

Some believe that mansplaining, if left unchecked, leads to gaslighting, and it’s easy to understand why that might be.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning the victim’s recollections, memories, perceptions, and sanity.   The term was derived from the play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patric Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1940, the movie “Gas Light” starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick  Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).   

SIDE NOTE 3:  In 1944, the movie “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the same 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 4:  MGM bought the remake rights to “Gas Light” with a caveat that demanded all existing prints of the 1940 movie version be destroyed

SIDE NOTE 5:  The play was known as “Angel Street” in the United States.

On April 13, 2008 author Rebecca Solnit wrote an OpEd column for the Los Angeles Times wherein she outlined what mansplaining was and how negative it was towards those who were made to endure it.  While the author didn’t use the term mansplaining per se in her OpEd piece, the sense of the word was at the heart of her writing.

By 2010, the word mansplainer had landed on the New York Times list of New Words of 2010.

mansplainer

Even so, it took until 2012 before mansplaining became a word that was used and understood by the public in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

On August 1, 2012 GQ writer Marin Cogan used the term in his article, “The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney’s Gaffes.”  The article began thusly:

As a lady who covers politics, I’m intimately familiar with the mansplainer. You know who I’m talking about: he’s the supremely self-impressed dude who feels the need to explain to you — with the overly simplistic, patient tone of an elementary school teacher— really obvious shit you already knew. Like why you need to drink fluids when you have the flu, for example. Or how to avoid getting blisters when you’re breaking in a new pair of flats. Or how to adjust your side view mirrors. I could go on.

In Lily Rothman’s article, “A Cultural History of Mansplaining” appeared in The Atlantic on November 1, 2012.  The writer began with warning readers that the word was relatively new, but that the idea proper had been around for much, much longer.  The opening paragraph stated:

Not all that long ago, an American statesman of considerable influence wrote an opinion piece for this very publication, about a political issue that directly affects women. It was perhaps the finest example of mansplaining ever published.

In August 2014, Oxford Dictionaries announced that it had added mansplain to its dictionary, and mansplain — with its related variations — officially became a word that could be found in a dictionary.

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Cherry On Top

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 12, 2017

When someone asks another to do something for them and adds the comment with a cherry on top it’s meant to push the decision in their favor by way of begging.  It’s generally something that a child might say to get their way, or that might be used by an adult to express a level of satisfaction that’s higher than what could already be expected or anticipated.

When ESPN reported on the Clemson Tigers winning the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama Crimson Tide, it was easy to see how much this win meant to the team as well as to their coach Dabo Swinney.  When he also won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year two years running, he was quoted in the article.

“I just assumed that I didn’t have a chance to win it because I didn’t think you could win it back-to-back years,” Swinney said before Wednesday’s ceremony at Toyota Center.  “That’d just be the cherry on top of the week I’ve had.  That’d be awesome.”

In the 1972 book, “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story” the New York writer and sports editor of Life magazine, David Wolf, used the idiom to explain on of Connie Hawkins’ basketball moves.  Cornelius Lance “Connie” Hawkins (born 17 July 1942) was a teenager who had been wrongfully implicated in a fixing scandal, and it was thanks to David Wolf’s magazine article of May 18, 1969 that Connie Hawkins was cleared in 1969.

People would put quarters on top of the backboard and Jackie would jump up and pick ’em off. He had this shot called “The Double Dooberry with a Cherry on Top.’ On a fastbreak, he’d take a pass at the foul line and jump toward the basket, holdin’ the ball in his two hands.  While he was going forward and up, hanging in the air, he would lower the ball down to his waist, raise it over his head, lower down again, raise it back up, and then slam in a dunk.  Nobody in the world can do that shot but him.  People went crazy every time he did it.

hawkins_life-magazine

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1975, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and Connie Hawkins appeared on Saturday Night Live where they played a game of one-on-one basketball to the tune of Simon’s hit song, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”  Despite the difference in heights (Paul Simon is 5 feet 3 inches tall to Connie Hawkin’s 6 feet 8 inches), the skit ended with Paul Simon winning against Connie Hawkins.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Connie Hawkins was a Harlem Globetrotter over a four year period from 1963 to 1967.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  David Wolf (who died in 2009) became a boxing manager with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (born 4 March 1961) being his best fighter.

Back in the 1950s, every amateur chef and homemaker knew that the piece de resistance on any dish was the maraschino cherry on top.  Even the Atlantic Monthly had something to say on the subject in 1955 on page 95.

And of course the Esperanto of pastry cooks, easy enough to decipher after one or two sorties as supercargo,  makes it completely unsurprising to find a cherry on top of anything called Jubilee, or tooth-shattering morsels of nut brittle scattered here and there with the menu cue Noisette, on any ship from a transatlantic liner to a freighter.  This lingo is international to the point of banality.

The newspapers, book, and magazines of the fifties all talk about cherries on top as being part of a culinary trend.  Idiomation was unable to find any other meaning to cherry on top during this era.  However, the idiom was used in “Vasodilator Agents in Management of Wound Shock: A Critical Review” edited by Ben Eiseman and Peter Bosomworth published in November 1962 with the support of the Surgeons General, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, and the National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  It was published by the National Academy of Science of the National Research Counsil in Washington, D.C..

The idiom was used in the Summation written by Ben Eiseman, M.D.,  Program Chair at the University of Kentucky Medical School in Lexington (KY).  The review was presented at a conference, and summarized the experimental and clinical evidence on the effect of shock of pharmacologic agents used to lower peripheral arterial resistance.

Studies in shocked man, except for the persistent interest of Dr. Nickerson and a few others, have been few and the field still remains wide open.  Interpretation of case reports where vasodilators were used as the cherry on top of an accumulated array of other pharmacologic debris in a therapeutic old-fashion cocktail, are largely worthless.

Somewhere between 1955 and 1962, cherries on top became more than just a culinary finishing touch.  They became a figurative bonus for whatever it was added to, from favors to research.

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Mike and Ike

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 29, 2016

Nostalgia is big, and over the last few years, this nostalgia has included diners in the style of the 1930s through to the 1960s.  Mike and Ike is lunch counter slang for salt and pepper shakers, and while you may not hear it used often these days, when it is used, it brings with it all the nostalgia of days gone by when diners were the rage.  In fact, Idiomation hadn’t considered researching Mike and Ike until Howard and Suzie at The Diner in Sevierville (TN) mentioned it on The Diner’s Facebook page.

the-diner_idiomation_image-1

As fast food restaurants moved in on diner territory, the need for calling orders eliminated the need for diner lingo until most of it either disappeared from modern usage or made a place for itself in modern language.  But while diners were in vogue, the lingo amused both the cook and the customers, so waitresses made the most of it.

Diner lingo got its start in the early 1930s.  It’s where the terms OJ for orange juice and BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich originate.   Over easy, sunny side up, hash browns, and mayo also made the successful jump from diner lingo to mainstream dialogue.  In other words, lots of diner lingo from back then has survived to be part of mainstream conversation today.  But where did Mike and Ike get their start?

On September 29, 1907 American cartoonist Rube Goldberg saw his cartoon strip “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” published in the newspaper, and the public immediately took to the antics of the two characters.  As the cartoon evolved, so did the publication of the “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” cartoons.

mike-and-ike

Just like the salt and pepper shakers found on tables at diners, the characters Mike and Ike were always side by side in their exploits.  By the 1930s, Mike and Ike was firmly entrenched as the lingo for salt and pepper shakers, and in 1936, the American Dialect Society noted the idiom and its definition on page 44 of Volume 11 that year.

The expression also appeared in the book, “Salads and Herbs” compiled by Cora Lovisa Brackett Brown (3 January 1861 – 1939), Rose Johnston Brown (1883 – 1952), and Robert Carlton “Bob” Brown II (14 June 1886 – 7 August  1959), and published in 1938 by J.B. Lippincott Company.  The book was packed with heirloom recipes for salads and herbs (of course), as well as seasoning, flowers, berries, herbal teas and vinegards, and wild herbs.  On page 125 of this book, the author wrote:

Salt and pepper shakers are dubbed “the twins” and affectionately referred to as “Mike and Ike.”

salads-and-herbs

The term has fallen into disuse over the last few decades, but should you ever find yourself having a meal at a diner that’s still uses diner lingo to spice up the atmosphere, you’ll be in the know when you check to see if Mike and Ike can be found at your table.  The idiom dates back to the early 1930s but wouldn’t it be fun for you and a friend to order Adam and Eve on a raft, drop one on the brown, and a pair of drawers the next time you’re eating at a local diner?

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