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

TPing The Yard (or House)

Posted by Admin on October 29, 2019

Have you ever TP’d someone’s yard? If that expression is unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because you know the expression as rolling someone’s yard, house wrapping, or yard rolling.

You might think every grown-up in the world hates the idea of possibly waking up to their house or yard being TP’d but in 2019, one mother in San Clemente reveled in the fact that a group of unknown persons had done just that to her family’s home and front yard.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015, some fans celebrated by TP’ing head coach Joel Quenneville’s yard in Hinsdale (IL). No one really knows whether the coach was angry or impressed with the effort put into TP’ing his property.

Of course, in 2011, the police in the Wisconsin Dells had a thing or two to say about TP’ing yards and TP’ing houses. Offenders, if caught, could be subjected to any number of charges from littering to trespassing to harassment and disorderly conduct. If the offenders were minors, their parents could also find themselves facing a charge of allowing juveniles to violate curfew. The police in Wisconsin Dells take TP’ing seriously

The activity and the expression were cemented into pop culture in an episode of South Park on 2 April 2003 when the main characters decide to “TP” their art teacher’s home. The episode ends with one of the main characters making his way towards the White House armed with bags of toilet paper with a plan to “TP” the White House.

Now back in 1879, the Scott brothers founded the Scott Paper Company, and became the first company to sell toilet paper on rolls. But 8 years earlier, Zeth Wheeler patented rolled and perforated toilet paper which he sold through his company the Albany Perforated Wrapper Paper Company.

Over in England, British businessman Walter Alcock created toilet paper on a roll in 1879, using perforated squares instead of the common flat sheets in use.

The original inventor of flat sheet toilet paper, Joseph C. Gayetty, saw his first commercially packaged toilet paper go from flat sheets in 1857 to perforated sheets on a roll in under fifteen years!

But it was Johnny Carson, one of America’s most loved comedians and late night talk show hosts, who set off an odd panic in December of 1973 when he claimed there was a toilet paper shortage in the U.S.  You may doubt Idiomation on this one, but you can’t call into question what the New York Times had to say about Johnny’s roll in the toilet paper shortage of ’73.

It’s doubtful that anyone would have wasted toilet paper on trees or houses back in the early days of toilet paper on a roll, and for that reason Idiomation doubts the expression was in use during the first 50 years of its existence.

One way to trace back when the expression was first used in cases where it’s unlikely the expression will be found in many newspapers, magazines, or books, is to see what the lyrics of various popular songs of the time were.

SIDE NOTE 1: Who knew that there were so many songs with toilet paper in the lyrics? Over at lyrics.com, there were eight web pages devoted to lyrics with toilet paper specifically mentioned in songs!

In 1993, Weird Al Yankovic’s CD Alapalooza had a song titled, “Young, Dumb, & Ugly” that threatened to “toilet paper your lawn.”

However, as Idiomation continued researching this expression, a newspaper article written by Times Staff writer, Lisa Rogers, and published on 2 October 2011 in the Gadsden Times, pegged the activity in Alabama to the early 1960s at least.

One of the best known traditions is rolling the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn after football victories. Even before the traditional tree rolling started in the early 1960s at Toomer’s it was a tradition especially at Hallowe’en.

But how much earlier did this activity, and the subsequent expressions, come into being?

Oddly enough, on 29 November 1928, a court case [14 Tax Case 490, (1929) Sc 379] was heard in Edinburgh (Scotland) regarding toilet paper and an appeal against an Income Tax assessment. The Appellant purchase a very large quantity of toilet paper from a bankrupt German firm, and had the toilet paper sent to his England where he was connected with the film business.

It was determined the purchase fit the description of “an adventure” but it was questionable whether it was “in the nature of trade” within the meaning of Section 238 of the Income Tax Act of 1918. By definition, it could not be considered a purchase for personal use, while at the same time, by definition, the trade would have to be one that would be more than a single transaction. That the inventory was for the purpose of resale with profit was not in question, however, an argument made that it would be used in a film venture cast doubt on the profit from resale if no resale was to happen.

It’s doubtful that toilet paper in 1929 would be used frivolously to TP houses and yards even if it was used in this manner by the 1950s and 1960s.

Toilet papering became a verb in the early 1960s. In fact, the 28 October 1961 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal in Lincoln (NB) referred to it as a verb.

Halloween pranks have changed now, says Stan Miller of University High School, but the devilish intentions haven’t.

“T.P.-ing” has replaced tipping over outhouses as a major Halloween prank, he commented to correspondent Ramona Brakhage.

Idiomation therefore puts the idiom — whether it’s TPing a house or a yard or rolling a house or yard — to some time during the 1950s, although the exact date is unknown, and with the word toilet paper being used as a verb, the expression dates back to at least the mid 1950s.

P.S. As an added note, contrary to what Cottonelle tweeted back in 2015, no one has ever seen the need to introduce left-handed toilet paper. Toilet paper rolls are for those who are left-handed, right-handed, and ambidextrous.

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A Mile A Minute

Posted by Admin on September 3, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say they were going a mile a minute but you didn’t think they were moving quite that fast? If someone is moving a mile a minute, they aren’t literally moving sixty miles per hour. They are moving very quickly and the idiom implies they are moving very quickly.

As in the idiom going like sixty, it was once believed that going faster than thirty miles per hour might kill you or drive you insane. We now know that it’s not impossible to travel at rates much faster than that and survive intact as shown by astronauts. For example, the speed needed for Apollo 11 to break free of the Earth’s gravitational field was seven miles per second which is 25,200 miles per hour (7 miles times 60 seconds times 60 minutes).

SIDE NOTE 1: Apollo 10 was clocked at 24,790 miles per hour on their way back from a lap around the Moon in 1969.

SIDE NOTE 2: The average person can handle 5 Gs which is the equivalent of 49 miles per second squared. Fighter pilots endure up to 9 Gs while wearing special compressed suits. Air Force Officer John Stapp was able to withstand 46.2 Gs.

What most people do not know is that a mile wasn’t always a mile the way a mile is defined in recent times. The medieval English mile was 6,600 feet long and the old London mile was 5,000 feet long. The Middle Ages mile in what is now Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia was an arbitrary measure that was anywhere between 3.25 and 6 English miles.

For the English, an inch was the size of 3 average size barley corns, and 12 of these inches made up a foot. Three feet was a yard, and 5 1/2 yards (16.5 feet) was known as a perch, a pole, or a rod. Forty perches or poles or rods was a furlong, and eight furlongs was a mile.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603), it was decreed that a mile was exactly 320 perches with for a total of 5,280 English feet.

SIDE NOTE 3: At the time, a French foot was 12.8 English inches, and a Spanish foot was 10.95 English inches. This is why Queen Elizabeth I decreed that a mile was measured in English feet as the English foot was 12 English inches.

It was determined during this time that a mile that could be walked in 20 minutes which made it easier for everyone to have an idea how long it would take to get from one place to another.

So somewhere between the Middle Ages and today, the idiom a mile a minute meaning the speed at which something is done made its way into the English language.

Johnny Green and His Orchestra recorded a song for the Brunswick Label in 1935. It was a snappy little jazz number titled, “A Mile A Minute” written by the Queen of Tin Pan Alley (so named by Irving Berlin) Bernice Petkere (11 August 1901 – 7 January 2000) with “Carefree” written by American lyricist Edward Hayman (14 March 1907 – 16 October 1981) and American songwriter Ray Henderson (1 December 1896 – 31 December 1970) on the B side.

SIDE NOTE 4: Johnny Green and His Orchestra sometimes recorded and performed under the alias Jimmy Garfield and His Orchestra.

The billboard advertising a ‘Brilliant Screen Adaptation of the Wonderful Novel by the Distinguished American Author, Robert W. Chambers‘ (26 May 1865 – 16 December 1933) to be shown at the Opera House in Hawera was published in the 24 October 1916 edition of the Hawera and Normanby Star newspaper on page 7. Near the bottom of the advertisement, other notices for shows at the Opera House were included including one for a 15 star artist vaudeville review titled, “Full Steam Ahead.” The teaser read:

A mile a minute, high-pressure aeroplane laugh-maker.

Not to be left out, manufacturers of the Hudson automobile came out with a 1912 Mile-A-Minute Roadster in 1912. Here’s a photo of one in 1920 with a lot of miles on the odometer.

On 29 June 1899, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had an advertisement for the L.A.W. Meet and Cyclists’ Carnival in Patchogue (NY) featuring “Mile A Minute Murphy” who had been “paced by locomotive. Charles Minthorn Murphy (October 1870 – 16 February 1950) was an American cycling athlete. He was also the first man to ride a bicycle for one mile in under a minute.

Idiomation did not find a published version that spoke of going a kilometer a minute which means this idiom is rooted in the Imperial measurement of speed. Idiomation did, however, find out that someone can actually talk nineteen to the dozen (which sounds like an amazing feat all in itself) when talking a mile a minute, and that people who do, are often thought of as motor mouths.

It would appear that the idiom a mile a minute came into being when cars were clocked at sixty miles per hour because there’s no mention of a mile a minute before motor cars came to be — even if go like sixty existed when trains were the mode of transportation.

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Crazy Like A Fox

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2019

Back in 2014, Idiomation tracked down the roots of crazy as a loon (sometimes known as crazy like a loon). Its origins reached back to 1800, but what about crazy like a fox?

When someone is crazy like a fox, it’s understood the person in question is able to outwit others very easily thanks to its cunning nature and intelligence.

How smart are foxes? According to an article published on 11 January 1896 in the Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, foxes will circle back to their earlier trail, run backwards in it for a while, and then take off in another direction knowing it will cause confusion for the dogs and humans tracking it.  Undoubtedly, if a person saw a fox running backwards, that person most likely would think the fox was crazy. After all, what animal runs backwards in the direction it can’t see if danger is approaching?

According to the reporter, the trick worked for the fox, and left those tracking it at a loss as to where the fox went, so it’s not so crazy after all.  That’s a pretty smart move!

Chicago Tribune television writer Allan Johnson wondered in his column of 8 April 1999 about a network’s sanity when it came to moving the animated series Futurama to a new time slot. Even the series’ creator, Matt Groenig of Simpson’s fame questioned the network’s move.  Johnson started his column with this introduction which, of course, includes a lovely play on words both for the idiom as well as for the network involved.

Futurama’s network may be crazy as a Fox for moving the animated series from sure success on Sunday nights to a possibly deadly Tuesday night berth.

The idiom at that point had been around at least 50 years.  Back in 1926, American comedian and actor Charley Chase starred in a silent movie titled, “Crazy Like A Fox.”

SIDE NOTE 1: This is the movie where Oliver Hardy played a small role just before he teamed up with Stan Laurel to become Laurel and Hardy.

SIDE NOTE 2: In 1937, while at Columbia Picture, Charley Chase filmed a remake of the movie with sound, and retitled it, “The Wrong Miss Wright.”

SIDE NOTE 3: Charley Chase directed a number of Three Stooges movies during his time with Columbia Pictures, most of which were for Hal Roach.

On 18 January 1907, the Spokane Press newspaper of Washington state, published a short article titled, “Parker Says He Is Insane.” Prize fighter, William Parker aka Denver “Kid” Parker proclaimed to a group of people the morning this edition was published that everyone was insane, and perfect sanity could only be had after death. The article stated in part:

One often hears the remark, “Kid Parker is crazy.” The kid this morning pleaded guilty to being crazy but “crazy like a fox.” The kid has some ideas that one seldom finds in the average prize fighter.

Just a few months later, the New York Sun newspaper was publishing “Knockerino Points Out A Few Flaws.” In the 9 June 1907 edition, the fictional story continued with Mr. Knockerino entering the dining car of an early train for Philadelphia and spied an acquaintance having breakfast alone at a table. He sat down without being invited and began talking. His monologue included this tidbit.

“I’ll just sit in for a beaker of Java, and let you tell me all you know, old pallie. Ha! Yu’re there with the tank’s breakfast, eh? Grapefruit to take up the lost motion and a salt mackerel to give the machinery a tune up, hey? I guess that isn’t the souse’s morning meal or nothing! What? That’s what you have every morning whether you’ve been out the night before or not? Behave that cutting up! Didn’t I see you at 2 o’clock this morning licking up the beads of the hiss fluids like as if somebody’d tipped you off that they were going to stop making it and you wanted to get yours down all at once before the shutdown? I’m as crazy as a fox, hey?”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of crazy like a fox or crazy as a fox, so the expression is from around 1900.

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Klutzery

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2018

Just as one who is an archer practices archery, someone who is clumsy is involved in klutzery. The word klutz is from the German word klotz which means boor or a clod, and that word comes from Middle High German and literally means a block or ball.  A person who is described as a klutz is either very clumsy or stupid and socially inept.

The word is being found more and more often in daily conversations and in books and magazines, and some even go as far as to use the word in a mildly affectionate way.  In an essay by Jacob Greene, Ph.D. (English) published in April 2016 on the Augmented Writing website, the writer included the word in this passage.

On the contrary, Rickert sees klutzery as “something to be cultivated for itself,” arguing that it is “the very ground of style, of composition, and development.”

In an article published on Wanderlust Lust in November 2014, Kristin Brumm also used it in an affectionate way in this sentence.

That is why I have chosen to see my accident not as an unfortunate mishap or evidence of spectacular klutzery, but rather the Universe hearing my wishes and creating for me the time and space to write.

Four years before that, Mike Achim used it in his article published on Fevered Mutterings in November 2010.

“The Art Of Unfortunate Travel“, choosing as a theme the cock-ups, mishaps, klutzery and 100% foolproof schemes gone awry …

But even though klutzery enjoyed this treatment, it wasn’t the first time the word had been used by writers and authors.

“Phantom of the Paradise” written by former editor at the SoHo Weekly News, Bjarne Rostaing and published by Dell Publishing in New York and W.H. Allen in London in 1975, the word klutzery is used in this capacity.

Swan was offended by musical klutzery, and he had been exposed to a lot of it over the past several hours. He was through being amused with Philbin’s plastic-hippie clothes and the endless line of no-talent kids. So when Winslow Leach arrived Swan was not put off by his ill-fitted jeans, bad hair and ugly spectacles.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE:  Bjarne Rostaing exposed the 1984 U.S. Olympic blood doping scandal for Sports Illustrated. He also won an AFI First Place Award for a sports video, and has written a number of books.

Believe it or not, the word is found in a government document two years earlier, and if it’s used in a government document, it’s obvious the word was known and understood by the population overall. The word klutzery was part of the comments made by the Honorable Louis C. Wyman of New Hampshire in the House of Representatives on 7 December 1973.

Now understand, despite my mechanical klutzery, I’m not mindful of the carnage brought on by misuse of those dangerous horseless carriages over the years. My argument certainly isn’t with highway safety. Or even some form of safety-belting for those who want it.

The word klutz made its way into mainstream English in the mid-1960s. American comedian, actor, director, and writer Carl Reiner (born 20 March 1922) gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 1959 where he shared that a klutz was “a dancer who dances as good as he can, but instead of just applause he also gets laughter.” Before that interview, the word klutz doesn’t show up in any English newspapers, magazines, or books unless it’s a mentioned as a surname.

This means that somewhere between Carl Reiner’s interview in 1959 and the government document in 1973 (just under 14 years) klutzery became a thing, and people knew and understood what klutzery was.

Now that we know about archers and archery and klutzes and klutzery, perhaps it’s time to find out about jugglery.

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Egg On Your Face

Posted by Admin 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 Admin 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 Admin 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 Admin 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 Admin 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 Admin 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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