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

Break A Leg

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 3, 2015

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard the expression break a leg although they may not always recognize it as a wish of good luck to another.  But it is.  The idiom is a theatrical superstition where performers believe that wishing a person “good luck” is considered bad luck, and so they wish them bad luck instead by way of broken bones.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The industry standard when it comes to stages is for the stage to be sloped one inch per foot of stage space.  Data shows that theatrical productions with the maximum stage slope account for the highest percentage of injuries from sprains to fractures among performers.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a news article by Mary H. Williams in the column “Charlotte Life” on January 23, 1992 where the idiom introduced the writer’s comments about Jan Brandes of Port Charlotte and her debut with the Players of Sarasota.

Break a leg!” is a traditional parting phrase for performers preparing to go on stage.  Of course, this isn’t as brutal as it sounds.

It’s considered bad luck to wish an actor good luck, and somehow this phrase has taken hold in the thespian world.

Irish nationalist Robert Wilson Lynd published an article titled, “A Defence of Superstition” in the October 1, 1921 edition of the British liberal political and cultural magazine, New Statesman.  In his opinion, the theatre was the second-most superstitious institution in England with horse racing being the top most superstitious. It was Lynd’s assertion that one should wish participants something insulting such as ‘May you break a leg!‘ as wishing a participant luck was considered, according to superstition, bad luck.

Four years after this article was published, American romance and women’s fiction author, Faith Baldwin (October 1, 1893 – March 18, 1978) used it in her novel “Thresholds” published in 1925 as proven by this excerpt:

Rupert said, smiling a little: “Isn’t that a Teutonic expression employed before the chase?”

She laughed, lazily, over the lifted glass. “Not exactly. I believe that would be bad luck or something. You say, ‘I hope you break a leg’ — or your neck — or some such hope of calamity.”

In German, the saying is “Hals und Beinbruch” or break your neck and leg.  It’s been reported in numerous historical documents that German Air Force pilots used the phrase during the First World War.

In French, one says “Merde!” which translates into “Sh*t!” or, for those who are too shy to use such a coarse wish,  “cinq lettres” or “five letters” … one for each letter in the French word they don’t want to say.

In Spanish, the phrase is “mucha mierda” or “lots of sh*t.”

Some believe it’s a misheard version of the Yiddish phrase “Baruch aleichem” which means “bless you” and when said aloud, it sounds similar to break a leg (bah rak a lay kem) to those who don’t speak Yiddish.

But back in 1684, according to “A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English” to break a leg was to seduce someone.  According to John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley who were responsible for creating this seven-volume work published in 1905, their tome states that this is what was meant by break a leg way back when.  Their dictionary was a result of researching multiple dictionaries that dated back as far as 1440 and included, but weren’t limited to, the works of John Palsgrave (1530), John Withals (1553), Peter Levins (1570), Cladius Hollyband (1593), John Bullokar (1616), Thomas Blount (1656), Richard Head (1674), E.B. Gent (1696), Nathan Bailey (1737), Francis Gross (1785), John Jamieson (1808), John R. Bartlett (1848), Charles Pascoe (1881), and Albert Barrere (1887).

Going with the definition of break a leg from 1684, what better luck could you wish a performer headed on stage than that he should seduce the audience that awaited him?

However, the meaning of the idiom as we understand it today, dates back to 1921 regardless of how well it applied to the theatre in 1684.  So the next time you find yourself in front of an audience, don’t be shy:  Break a leg!

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Cute As A Button

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 6, 2015

Children are said to be cute as a button although every once in a while someone might refer to a young woman in this way. What it means is that the person who’s said to be cute as a button is charming and attractive while implying the person is small or young, like a child is.

On March 30, 2014, snlgamers.com published an article from writer, David Graham that discussed Nintendo’s history. The article was titled, “Hanafuda: Nintendo’s Past” and gave a detailed accounting of where Nintendo began and how it became what it is a hundred years later. Along the way, the writer included this passage.

We think of Nintendo as the wholesome video game company. Mario and Kirby are as cute as a button and the company in general feels squeaky clean, especially compared to other industry titans.

Back on October 30, 1995, journalist Tony Kronheiser’s story, “Those 15 Minutes Of Fame Will Ruin The Kid” about 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier from Old Tappan in Bergen County (New Jersey) hit the newsstands. It’s not that Tony wasn’t aware that his comments might not be appreciated by some, however, as a journalist, he felt compelled to write the story nonetheless.

The boy in question had leaned over the right field railing at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the American League Championship at the bottom of the 8th inning with one out and the Orioles leading 4 to 3. He stretched his baseball gloved hand out over Tony Tarasco, and gave the New York Yankees a home run in the process.

The journalist knew that his comments would be unpopular with a segment of the population but that didn’t stop him from writing about the situation as it was. And he predicted that some of his detractors might even think this of him:

Tony, this is the lowest you’ve ever sunk. He’s a 12-year-old boy, and he’s cute as a button. So what if he hurt the Orioles? Stop pandering to the Washington audience. All the kid did was try to catch a fly ball. You’d have done the same thing yourself.

As it was, the Baltimore Orioles lost the pennant that year, and over the years, Jeffrey Maier went on to play high school and college baseball, and then worked for minor-leagues baseball teams. And the journalist was right: Jeffrey Maier never escaped from being forever thought of as The Kid.

In the Deseret News edition of April 16, 1954 stores were in full swing with spring fashions and nothing said cute as a button for a little girl than a strappy little patent leather number as seen in this newspaper advertisement.

Cute As A Button_1954
In the book, “The Best Plays of 1938 – 39” edited by Burns Mantle, the idiom appeared in “Kiss The Boys Good-Bye.” It was a comedy in three acts, written by American author (and later U.S. Ambassador) Clare Boothe  (10 March 1903 – 9 October 1987) and later known as Clare Boothe Luce after marrying Henry “Harry” Luce (3 April 1898 – 28 February 1967), the founder of Time and Fortune magazines.

The Old South, the last illusion of the New North —

Lift me down (TOP lifts her down.)

… destroy that — and comes the Revolution!

I declare you’re strong …

Personally, I think she’s cute as a button

Why, you damn Yankee pole-cat! Here I come!

The idiom as we know it is actually an abbreviated version of cute as a button quail. For those who aren’t familiar with button quail, they’re tiny, extra-fluffy, docile members of the quail family. They have an extensive vocabulary with multiple chirps and coos that are understood by other button quail, and yet, their chirps and coos are very quiet … perhaps so as not to disturb others in the vicinity.

The proper name for button quail is Chinese Blue Breasted Quail (Excalfactoria chinensis) and are native to only a few provinces in southeast China. European tourists visiting China in the late 1800s and early 1900s fell in love with them and took them back home with them to add to their persona aviaries.

American soldiers during WWI encountered them in these homes in Europe. Soon afterwards they were brought to America. However, rather than arrive with their proper name, American soldiers reported that these little birds were about the size of their uniform coat buttons when they first hatched, and that’s where the idiom began.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1920s.

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Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 2, 2015

Catfishing is when someone creates a false online identity for the express purposes of luring someone into a romantic relationship.

The term was used in the 2010 pseudo-documentary, “Catfish.”  It chronicles the story of Nev Schulman who met a woman on Facebook and a romantic relationship developed between them.  She led him to believe that she was young and available. He tracks her down in real life and finds out that she’s in her forties and married.

In this pseudo-documentary, a fake story is included from the early 1900s that states that catfish are the natural enemy of cod, and that fishermen shipping live cod from Alaska to China used to throw catfish into the barrels along with the cod to keep the cod active.  In keeping the cod active (as they allegedly swam for their lives in the barrel) this made the cod flesh firm and tasty instead of mushy.

This is an urban myth.

Firstly, seals, and not catfish, are enemies of cod.  Secondly, while transporting the cod from Alaska to China, the cod would need to be fed to stay alive while the catfish would supposedly have an endless supply of food thanks to the cod in the barrels with them.  Upon arrival, how many cod would still be alive and thriving in those barrels?  Thirdly, saltwater catfish are scavengers which excludes cod as their prey.

The urban myth, however, arises from a short story “The Catfish” by British war correspondent, campaigning journalist, political commentator, and suffragist Henry W. Nevinson (11 October 1856 – 9 November 1941) in his book “Essays In Rebellion” published in 1913.  Near the end of the story — which reads more like a sermon than a short story — the author wrote this:

At present in this country, for instance, and, indeed, in the whole world, there seem to be more catfish than cod, and the resulting liveliness is perhaps a little excessive, a little “jumpy.”

All that aside, the title of the pseudo-documentary “Catfish” stuck with popular culture, and the subject of the pseudo-documentary took on the title.

As an interesting side note, however, there have been bait-and-switch situations involving catfish, that harken to the spirit of the catfishing, and that have nothing to do with the pseudo-documentary.  This includes, but isn’t limited to, the investigation reported in the Boston Globe newspaper in 2011.  At restaurants and in fresh fish markets there was a hoax of another color (pardon the reworked idiom)!  Flounder fillet, which was priced at $23 per pound, turned out to be a Vietnamese catfish, priced at $4 per pound, and known as the nutritionally inferior swai.

When you reflect on the fact that catfish are typically bottom-feeder, the description is particularly apt in many respects.  After all, only a low-life bottom-feeder would lure someone into a relationships by means of a fictional online persona, right?

What this proves is that some idioms like catfishing have very abbreviated histories that date back a few short years.  In this case, catfishing dates back to 2010 and no further.

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That’s How The Cookie Crumbles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 30, 2015

When life happens and you can’t change or control the outcome, you have no other option than to accept the outcome and live with the results.  At this point, people will sometimes tell you that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  The British may say such is life while the French may say c’est la vie, but for most of us, we say that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

While some don’t worry sweat the small stuff like cookies crumbling, some are so focused on getting to the cause or causes that they devote serious research to the subject.  Such was the case back in 2003 when a PhD student from Loughborough University decided it was high time the mystery was solved.  Thanks to his work being published in the Institute of Physics journal “Measurement, Science, and Technology” others who pondered the same question were now able to read the data in Qasim Saleem’s research paper, “A Novel Application Of Speckle Interferometry For The Measurement Of Strain Distributions In Semi-Sweet Biscuits.”

So while bakers have known the answer for generations, since 2003, scientists have also been privy to that answer.  And no, I’m not pranking you, dear reader.

It was on April 5, 1990 that the Spokane Chronicle announced that a Girl Scout in Bend, Oregon had been the victim of a con artist.  A counterfeit $5 bill was passed to the Girl Scout who had been selling cookies outside a local K-Mart store the previous Sunday.  The article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles” … a rather mean headline for such a story in light of the fact that this story was about an unethical adult victimizing a child.

The Girl Scouts seem to have gotten more than just a little attention with that headline for other related stories.  The Bryan Times reported on January 24, 1984 that in Tennessee they would expected to collect sales taxes on the cookies they were selling and to remit the amount collected beginning in 1985.  In previous years, the Girl Scouts had failed to collected sales taxes on cookie sales.  As with the story in 1990, the story in 1984 was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

And in the Tuscaloosa News in Alabama, a little news story tucked into the April 10, 1969 edition mentioned that in Detroit (Michigan), after already having spent thirteen months in jail awaiting trial, Fred Jackson would continue to cool his heels in jail because he couldn’t post the $10,000 USD bond required to make bail.  Because of overcrowded dockets and undermanned courtrooms, Fred Jackson’s trial had been postponed five times.  Finally, it was reported that the trial was slated for the following Monday.  Charged with having stolen five boxes of cookies, the article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

You’d imagine that the word cookies has been around nearly as long as cookies have been, but you’d mistaken if you believe that.  You see, the Dutch word for a little cake is koekje (pronounced the way you’d pronounce cookie in English) and the word was adopted by the British in 1703.   And you’d imagine that shortly after the word was incorporated into English, that the phrase would show up shortly thereafter.  But it seems that the crumbliness of cookies wasn’t a topic of discussion among most people in the 18th century.

In the fiction book “The Knute Rockne Kid” by Frank J. Bruno, the expression is used in the dialogue in Chapter 48 that recounts a situation that happened in the hospital on December 11, 1948.  In this part of the book, Mario Calvino (the protagonist of the novel) and Norm Cooper (the antagonist that eventually becomes his friend) are talking.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks.
“Come on, sap.  What are you feeling miserable about?”
“I feel like it’s all my fault.”
“Again, Mario, you’re full of shit.  All you did was pass the ball and place it where it was supposed to be.  I caught it and ran for the touchdown.  What else were you supposed to do?  What else was I supposed to do?”
“That’s right.  We both did the right thing.  It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
As he was talking, I noticed, or imagined that I noticed, his jaw moved mechanically and stiffly, like the jaw of a ventriloquist’s dummy.  It dawned on me that Norm was using a massive amount of willpower to retain his composure.  He was showing to me that he was a human being with great character and courage.

However, this book was published in 2015, and the use of the expression in this book doesn’t necessarily prove that it was in use in 1948.

The good news is that on November 17, 1958 a country & western song recorded by Johnnie and Jack for the RCA Victor label was making ripples according to Billboard magazine was entitled, “Poison Love.”  On the B side was “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

So we know that fans of country & western music were familiar with the idiom in the fifties.

Slightly more than thirty years earlier, in 1927, American actor, playwright, screenwriter, and producer, Edward Bartlett Cormack (19 March 1898 – 26 September 1942) wrote a play entitled, “The Racket” that was also made into a film by the same name the following year.  The movie was one of the first to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929 back when it was still called “Best Picture, Production.”

SIDE NOTE:  The play and movie were banned in Chicago because of the portrayal of a corrupt police force, a corrupt city government, and the gangsters who controlled both the police force and the city government.  Keep in mind that during this time period, Al Capone and his organization were an integral part of Chicago’s workings.

The movie used more idioms than Carter has little liver pills, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles slipped in alongside others like ‘his goose is cooked‘ and ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

At this point, the trail went cold, and Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  However, because it was used in “The Racket” in 1928, it was expected that the moving picture audience would understand what was meant.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to sometime in the early 1920s or late 1910s.

Idiomation would have loved to pinpoint the very first published version of this idiom, but as the saying goes, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles.

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That Dog Won’t Hunt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 11, 2015

It’s not often you hear someone say that dog won’t hunt and have it refer to something other than actual hunting.  The idiom refers to suggesting losing propositions for serious consideration.

Just a shy of a decade ago, on Jun 29, 2005 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Idaho published an OpEd piece written by Murf Raquet that addressed the issue of licensing county dogs and who would pay for the licensing.  Part of the problem was that many of the dogs in the county were strays, and that the county was seen by many as a dumping ground for unwanted pets.

The Humane Society of the Palouse was looking to Moscow and Latah County to fund the animal shelter with an increase from the previous approved amount of $10,000 USD to $30,000 USD, and county commissioners got the idea into their heads that the additional monies could come from licensing dogs in the county.  But not everyone saw things the way the county commissioners saw things!

But there are many other deserving groups that also look to the country for funding.  The county well is not deep enough to satisfy everyone.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the funds unless we increase the revenue,” Commissioner Tom Stroschein said.

Well, that revenue won’t come from licensing in rural Latah — that dog won’t hunt.

In the “Outdoors Section” of the Times Daily on January 26, 2002 journalist Dennis Sherer used the idiom in his column titled, “Dog Days Coming To Mt. Hope.”  The article began thusly:

Growing up in Walker County — where most folks speak southern English — I often heard the phrase “that dog won’t hunt.”

I cannot recall hearing someone say the phrase in reference to an actual hunting dog.  But it was a polite way in Walkerese to tell someone that what they were suggesting was not likely to work.

In the August 7, 1987 edition of The Dispatch, Tom Wicker wrote an article about Ronald Reagan’s peace plan for Nicaragua.  He wrote that the plan was most likely nothing more than a ploy to win votes for renewed military aid for the CIA organized and controller Contras fighting in Nicaragua. The article was entitled quite simply, “That Dog Won’t Hunt.”

In the fourth book of Volume XIV of the “American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage” magazine published by the American Dialect Society in 1939, the idiom was listed.

‘If the’ ain’t no fools, the’ ain’t no fun,’ said usually in self-derision; and ‘That old dog won’t hunt,’ meaning that an excuse offered will not serve. These and the numerous specimens which follow have simply been grouped by the present writer under the heading of Miscellaneous, explanations being made only when the meaning is not clearly evident.

During the Civil War, however, the expression was this:  Pride is a dog that won’t hunt.  During the Civil War, the expression was abbreviated to that dog won’t hunt and it has stayed that way ever since.

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Whistle-Stop Campaign

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 9, 2015

Every once in a while, you’ll hear or read about a whistle-stop campaign, and it’s usually in the weeks leading up to an election (although not always).    A whistle-stop campaign refers to a series of brief appearances in a string of stops along a set route.

Of course, whistle-stop campaigns left the railway and took to the highways in 1992 when Bill Clinton decided to he and Al Gore would run with a whirlwind intercity bus tour to meet the people.  But the more traditional whistle-stop campaign had a good run — and continues to have good runs from time to time — with the railroads that criss-cross America.

On May 15, 1976 the Gadsden Times reported on the showdown battle between Ronald Reagan (6 February 1911 – 5 June 2004) and President Gerald Ford (14 July 1913 – 26 December 2006).  It was part of the “red, white and blue Presidential Express” train and the headline read, “Ford On Whistlestop Campaign.”

On September 14, 1964 the Lawrence Journal World newspaper announced that wife of Lyndon B. Johnson (27 August 1908 – 22 January 1973) would be making the first ever whistle-stop campaign by a First Lady.  The train was aptly named the “Lady Bird” and was scheduled to travel 1,682 miles from start to finish.  The editor okayed the headling, “Mrs. Johnson Plans Whistle-Stop Campaign.”

On March 1, 1956 the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph announced that President Dwight Eisenhower (14 October 1890 – 28 March 1969) stated that leading up to the election, he wouldn’t engage in “whistle-stop” talking while Democrats trumpeted the fact that their candidate would be making multiple personal appearances in a vigorous campaign.  The article was entitled, “Whistle-Stop Campaign Ruled Out By President.”

Back in 1948 when Harry S. Truman (8 May 1884 – 26 December 1972) was running for President, he decided to visit Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California by train.  A special platform was set up at the rear of the train and it was from that Pullman railway carriage platform that Harry Truman gave speeches, sometimes as often as eight speeches each day.

Time magazine compared the campaign to a vaudeville act, and in Seattle, someone in a balcony shouted out, “Give ’em hell, Harry!

SIDE NOTE 1:  This phrase entered politics as a slogan meaning blunt, straight-forward campaigning.

Senator Robert A. Taft (8 September 1889 – 31 July 1953) stated to the media that Truman was “blackguarding Congress at every whistle station in the West” during his campaign tour.  Taking the Senator’s comments in stride, Truman stated that Los Angeles was the biggest whistle-stop he had visited on the tour.

While it’s true that campaigning via the railroad wasn’t new when Truman ran in 1948 (it had originated in 1896 with Democrat William Jennings Bryan (19 March 1860 – 26 July 1925) who traveled 18,000 miles by rail and gave 600 speeches in an attempt to unseat President William McKinley (29 January 1843 – 14 September 1901) who chose to campaign from his front porch in Canton, Ohio), after his comments about Los Angeles, such campaigns were noted in the media as being whistle-stop campaigns.

Four years later, on October 11, 1952 the Associated Press sent out a story to the newspapers titled, “Whistle Stopper Truman Pours It On In New York.”  The article began by stating this:

Whistle stopper Harry S. Truman lends a hand to Adlai Stevenson here today in the biggest “whistle stop” of them all.

He turns his “give ’em hell” technique from the rear platform of his 16-car campaign train to a park in Harlem to try to help build up a big enough Democratic margin in New York City to overcome normal Republican majorities upstate.

Two years before the first whistle-stop campaign, George Taft and Ava Gardner starred in a 1946 movie entitled, “Whistle Stop” that was based on the novel of the same name written by author Maritta M. Wolff (25 December 1918 – 1 July 2002).  When her novel was published in 1941 at the tender age of 22, it was declared a literary sensation, and critics referred to it was the most important first novel of the year.  She went on to write five more novels.

When George Bush ran for office in 1992, he did so by taking a page out of Harry Truman’s whistle-stop campaign handbook as he campaigned by train in Ohio and Michigan in a whirlwind trip before returning to Washington, D.C.

Originally, the term whistle-stop meant any small towns along the railroad lines that were of little to no importance to anyone except those who lived there, and those who visited there.  Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to refer to any town or city on a political whistle-stop campaign as being of little to no importance to anyone, most especially the candidate!

And now for a little history lesson:  For those who aren’t aware of the history of how railroads came to be, it was in 1851 that the Illinois Central was chartered to build a railroad to open up the entire state of Illinois to development and commerce, with an eye on transcontinental travel.  It required that federal legislation be enacted to allow for the first land grant railroad, and it set a precedent for all other railroad routes stretching back and forth across the United States.

SIDE NOTE 2:  The first presentation to Congress on the subject of a transcontinental railroad for the U.S. was made by Asa Whitney  (1791 – August 1874) in 1845, after returning from a trip to China from 1842 to 1844.

Back when the railroad was stretching across the country, not every town with a station could count on the train stopping.  In fact, most often, if a passenger wanted to disembark, he had to ask the conductor to inform the engineer to stop and let him (or her) off at the specific train station.  The conductor would pass along the message to the engineer by pulling on the signal cord, and in return, the engineer would sound the whistle twice to let the conductor know he’d gotten the message.  This is how some town became known as whistle-stop towns.

So while there were whistle-stop towns for decades before Harry S. Truman ran his campaign in 1948, it was indeed in 1948 that the idiom whistle-stop campaigning was coined by Harry S. Truman, with a considerable amount of help from Senator Robert A. Taft.

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Jesus Boots

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 28, 2015

You may have heard someone talk about Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, or Jesus slippers at some point in your life, and you may have thought you knew what kind of boots, shoes, sandals, or slippers they meant.  You may have been right.  Jesus boots (or shoes or sandals or slippers) are sandals that resemble the sandals depicted in paintings of Jesus of  Nazareth.

In the New Strait Times of June 28, 2004 — in the Life & Times section — Debra Chong wrote an article entitled, “Straits Sea-crets.”  The article dealt with her week-long experiences onboard a 48-meter floating laboratory along  with what she called a wacky pack of scientists as they journeyed through the Straits of Malacca on the Scientific Expedition to the Seas of Malaysia aka SESMA.  The beginning of the adventure began with frustration and delays, with the cast-off finally happening five hours later than scheduled, and well past high tide.  She wrote this about the situation.

There is disappointment all around, but everybody keeps the peace.  Should our complaints cross the captain, we might have to “pu on (our) Jesus boots and walk to shore,” as warned by Tan Sri Halim Mohammad (boss of the Halim Mazmin Group and kind provider of the “floating lab” he calls his ship) in his stern bon voyage message.

When Felicity Jackson reviewed the most recent book by Sylvia Sherry for the Glasgow Herald on June 22, 1985 her opinion was clearly stated.  The review began with this statement.

Even the title “A Pair Of Desert Wellies” by Sylvia Sherry (£6.95: Jonathan Cape) raised suspicions about how a writer must be tempted to capitalise on the success of an earlier novel, in this case the popular “A Pair Of Jesus Boots.”  The opening chapters tediously rework much of the plot of the first book but it picked up in pace and dialogues.

One of the more humorous comments was found in the Boca Raton News as written by Lillian M. Bradicich in her column, “From Cupcakes To Cocktails” and published on April 11, 1971.  Between Easter and the performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” which the writer had seen on stage, she was more than a little fuzzy warm about all things religious.  Her column included this descriptive tidbit.

Centuries of gold and marble build-up have been chopped away, and the young people accept Jesus for what He really is.  Their desire to identify with Him is manifest everywhere in the “Jesus hair styles”, “Jesus sandals“, “Jesus music”, and “Jesus love.”  

Eating in a pizza parlor these days is like sitting in the ‘upper room’ surrounded by Apostles .. and it had to be as edifying the night we overheard a bearded young man telling his girl that “Jesus didn’t keep quoting scriptures to people.  He went where He was really needed, and said what really needed to be said.”

On July 30, 1968 the Morning Record newspaper carried a story about Evangelist Billy Graham who was in Bern, Switzerland for the week-long Baptist Youth World Conference that was attended by more than 5,000 Baptist youth from 65 countries.  The article was about how, in Billy Graham’s opinion, the youth of the sixties were searching for the meaning of life, and that the solution they were seeking could be found in the Bible.  He was quoted saying:

“The youth of our time does not demonstrate against the church.  This shows they search for the teaching of Jesus.”

“Jesus had long hair.  So have our hippies.  And at least in the United States, they wear Jesus boots (sandals) and this seems to express their hidden longing for God.”

Thirty years earlier, the Free Lance-Star newspaper William T. Ellis’ column “Religion Day By Day” in their March 21, 1938 edition with a story about a child in Sunday school who said that her white sandals were Jesus shoes because they looked like the sandals Jesus wore in pictures she had seen.  The article talked about being shod with the Gospel of peace, being busy about the errands of Jesus, and going only where He led his followers. The title of the article in the column was simply, “Deborah’s Jesus Shoes.”

Although this is the earliest published version Idiomation was able to find that linked modern sandals to Jesus’s sandals, there was one other mention of Jesus boots much earlier in 1902 that referred to bare feet as Jesus boots.  Published in the Toronto Mail and Empire and published in many affiliated newspapers across Canada, “Doukhobors Face Death By Cold: Several Thousand Reach Yorkton Destitute” the events of October 28 were carried in the October 31, 1902 newspapers.

It was reported that sixteen hundred Doukhobors composed of men, women, and children (including infants in arms) had marched on Yorkton (Saskatchewan), camping on October 27 without shelter while the temperature dipped to a frigid eleven degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The story related how some wore rubber boots while others wore coarse sandals fashioned from binder twine while still others were barefooted.  The reference was found in this passage.

Siemon Tcherninkov, who talks little English, and whose bare feet bore witness to his insane zeal, explained tat they were “looking for new light, and looking for Jesus.”  When asked where his boots were, he held up his naked foot and cried, “Jesus boots!” while the light of insanity gleamed fitfully from his eyes.

Dominion immigration agent, C.W. Speers worked hard to get the sick, the women, and the children into immigration sheds and other buildings, and much of his work was made all the harder for him as the sick and the women went to these shelters against their will.  The unrest was so bad that special constables were being sworn in, and it was reported that the Riot Act would undoubtedly have to be read to the Doukhobors.  As a Plan B measure, the government was ready to call in one hundred and fifty Italian laborers who were working on railway construction in the vicinity if the Doukhobors became even more unruly, and violent.

Seven miles away, seven hundred more Doukhobors were camped near Pollock’s Bridge.  Another four hundred were on their way.

While it was acknowledged that the Doukhobors were primarily a peaceful group, there were concerns that they were suffering some sort of collective insanity.  What’s more, they had no troubles letting others know that they had killed and buried five priests of the Russian church, and when infants had died en route to Yorkton, they had thrown them into the bushes by the roadside.

All that being said, while the term Jesus boots was used in the 1902 article, it’s the article from 1938 that is used in the spirit in which Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, and Jesus slippers is commonly used.

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 20th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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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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.

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


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