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

Vegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article included this paragraph as well:

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

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

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

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

Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassroots

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Tribune of September 09, 1907 reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Deadlock

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 20, 2015

Back in 1979, former Genesis guitarist Anthony “Ant” Phillips (23 December 1951) recorded an album named, “Sides.”  The songs leaned towards the more negative view of life with titles such as Nightmare, Bleak House, Holy Deadlock (to name just three).  Critics didn’t speak well of the album, and Christopher Currie had this to say about the song “Holy Deadlock” specifically.

Holy Deadlock” begins in a quasi-reggae manner which bears the obvious imprint of The Police, but sadly isn’t a good enough song to exist as a successful stylistic hybrid.  The music doesn’t develop after the initial thematic statement, and the lyrics are generally a waste of time (a series of clichés involving a man’s loss of revenue through divorce, presented as humor).  The chorus melody has some interesting tricks, but, again, there really isn’t terribly much to speak of here.

The idiom was found in text of a community announcement placed in the Delaware County Daily Times of Chester, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1971 which read:

The first in a series of Laymen on the March with God’s Message for the Now Generation, will be/ 7:30 p.m Sunday at Macedonia Seventh Day Adventist Church, 310 Lamokin St. The speaker will be E. L. Tillery. The subject: “Has Holy Wedlock Become Holy Deadlock?”

In the book “Learned Men” by Gustavus Swift Paine (1886 – 1958), republished in London in 1959 (but previously published prior to 1923) the idiom appeared in Chapter, “Private Fortunes.”

His name is all we know about him. Someone, or a number of men, chased the lovers along a road from London and brought the lady back to her husband. What the conflicts of the Overalls were or how the couple made out as they lived on in holy deadlock after the lady thus eloped and got caught we know not. Other wives of translators worried their husbands almost beyond bearing. Not all of the learned men profited by the advice of their fellow translator Francis Dillingham, who, though he never married, set forth how to keep a wife in proper subjection.

It’s accepted by most literary critics that the idiom was coined by English humorist, novelist, playwright, and law reform activist, Alan Patrick (A.P.) Herbert (24 September 1890 – 11 November 1971) in his satirical novel of the same name.  The novel took exception at the divorce laws of the era, and highlighting the need for a liberalization of these laws.  The book was an immediate success, selling more than ninety thousand copies and receiving a great deal of positive acclaim from critics and readers alike.  Even the legal experts wrote favorable reviews and commentaries of the book.

However, there is ample published evidence that A.P. Herbert was not the originator of the phrase.  In McClure’s Magazine of September 1922, the idiom appeared in the article “Living and Play Acting” by Laurette Taylor.

For the sake of the people who know nothing and care less about the theater I would like to mention that Hartley and I are joined in holy deadlock and as a wife I have a right to look to him for his love, honor, obedience and plays.

Earlier than that, in the Current Opinion magazine of 1915 edited by Edward J. Wheeler, in Volume 59, a small article appeared under the heading, “The Cynical Compositor.”  The magazine was published by a company in New York known as “The Current Literature Publishing Company” located on West 29th Street.

“B.L.T.” in his “Lino-type or Two” column of the Chicago Tribune culls a gem from the Cheyenne State Leader:

The spacious home of Judge and Mrs. John A. Riner was the scene of a beautiful wedding last evening when their youngest daughter, Dorothy, was joined in holy deadlock to Mr. Dean Prosser.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the term, it was nonetheless a commonly used phrase that mocked the more traditional term holy wedlock.

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

Is The Pope Catholic?

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 8, 2015

When a question is asked to which the answer is obvious, you sometimes hear someone ask the rhetorical question:  Is the Pope Catholic?  The answer to that question (regardless of what religion, if any, you may observe) is a resounding YES!  The idiom is a polite way of inferring that the person asking the initial question is either stupid or needlessly ignorant.

In 1999, John Cantwell Kiley published a book entitled, “Is The Pope Catholic: A Novel Autobiography.”  The book is entirely fictional and is centered around Pope Peter II (a pope who never existed except in the mind of the author and on the pages of this novel).  As the author states in the Preface:  “The 21st century will be a spiritual century or there will be no century at all.”

This isn’t the first time the idiom has been used for entertainment purposes.  On April 23, 1987, Ira Rifkin of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote an article about two Irish Roman Catholic brothers (one working as a counselor, the other working as a psychologist) from Boston who came up with an alternative to bingo for Catholics who enjoyed games.  The game was a cross between “Trivial Pursuit” and “Monopoly” and was named, “Is The Pope Catholic?

The board was set up so players advanced along a rosary, starting off as altar boys and finally becoming Pope.  All players had to do was to answer questions about topics such as pagan babies, Patron Saints, spiritual works of mercy, the Commandments,and more.  The game was four years in the making and cost the two brothers $50,000 USD to develop.  Do board game aficionados consider the game a vintage board game?  Is the Pope Catholic?

At the Proposed Amendments to Federal Transportation Laws Hearings of April and May, 1962, Senator Monroney asked Mr. Carter:  “Do they still have in the furniture business, from your competition in Baltimore or other large centers, the switch-up, the “nail to the floor” selling, in some of these things, when bait advertising is used?”  The answer Mr. Carter gave in response to this question was:

My little boy has a saying, “Is the Pope Catholic?”  I am sure there are many, many areas in this type of merchandising where you have the bait and switch.

In other words, back in 1962 this expression was so well-known that even children were known to use it.  Four years earlier it was also found in the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company “Field Notes” Volume 58/59 where George G. Everhart of Kansas City, Missouri was quoted on page 9 as saying:

Is the Pope Catholic?  This is a smart answer!  Certainly making the Million Dollar Round Table adds a lot of prestige and stature.”

In the September 16, 1967 edition of Billboard magazine, an interview with Voyle Gilmore, then Capitol Records’ A&R vice-president, he told a story that dated back to the late 1950s about American jazz singer Keely Smith and Frank Sinatra.

“Easing back in his swivel chair, Gilmore, 55 years old, streaks of gray in his hair and a former band drummer in the San Francisco area, explained:  “I had been after him to record a duet with Keely Smith.  He came in with two tunes, one from a Bob Hope picture which he’d promised Hope he would record.  So I called Keely one afternoon.  I asked her, ‘Do you want to make a record with Frank Sinatra?’  She said:  ‘Is the Pope Catholic?‘  I’ll never forget that.  We made the record but it didn’t sell well.”

The saying was a recognized and established expression if everyone from insurance agents to singers to little boys were using it in every day conversations.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, it’s safe to say that it was floating about in the lexicon in the early 1950s and possibly in the late 1940s.

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

Holy Toledo!

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 6, 2015

Driving through Toledo, Ohio recently, the idiom Holy Toledo came to mind.  Today, Toledo is thought of as a quiet and conservative town, but it wasn’t also so.  In fact, from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, Toledo’s reputation was anything but quiet and conservative.  It was known as a den of inequity overrun by gangsters and mobsters and crooked politicians — an immoral and corrupt city where it was open season for gang violence, illegal bootlegging, gambling, and corruption.

For example, in the 1890s, the Governor of Ohio, William McKinley (yes, the same William McKinley who was elected President of the United States of America in 1896) was debt ridden.  People such as Andrew Carnegie, Charles Taft, and other wealthy associates came to his rescue, and once elected President, McKinley repaid their help with special favors and special privileges.

In the 1930s, Purple Gang member Yonnie Licavoli was running Toledo’s bootlegging and gambling interests and was perceived as untouchable by the police.  Licavoli’s biggest claim to fame was that he was one of the few people ever to tell Al Capone where he could and couldn’t go with his business, locking him out of Detroit, and living to tell the tale.

What this means is that Toledo was oftentimes called “Holy Toledo” as a euphemism because it was the farthest thing from holy.  But everyone understood that, just like everyone understood that the expression Holy Toledo was meant to be one of surprise or astonishment (as are many idioms that being with Holy such as holy cow, holy smoke, and holy moley).

The expression remained in use well after the Depression era as well.

Taking a peek at how it’s been used over the last few decades, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette of January 13, 2009 described Toledo as Ohio’s Glass City as well as Frog Town, and revealed that the population of Toledo was officially larger than the population of Pittsburgh by more than five thousand residents!  The article by journalist Rich Lord was titled, “Holy Toledo, Look What City Just Passed Us By In Population.”

The Miami News edition of May 12, 1980 published an article about Danny Thomas who supposedly startled his audience at a $100-a-plate fundraiser in Lansing, Michigan by admitting that he hated no-caffeine coffee.  It was a shock because just a few years earlier, he was the spokesman for a commercial that peddled a no-caffeine coffee.  The story headline read:  “Holy Toledo! Danny Thomas Has Been Lying All Along.”

Back on October 11, 1971 there was an article published by Sports Illustrated about the Toledo Rockets who, at the time, were enjoying the nation’s longest winning streak. Writer Joe Jares discussed how Ohio University came close to putting a period at the end of all that for the Toledo Rockets were it not for what the writer referred to as “this hobgoblin quarterback named Chuck Ealey.”  The quarterback had a remarkable history, having played in 57 games of varsity football in high school and college, with each game being a winner. The article was aptly entitled, “Holy Toledo! Chuck Ealey Nearly Lost One.”

In the book “Red War” by  mystery and detective author, Judson Pentecost Philips (August 10, 1903 – March 7, 1989) and journalist Thomas Marvin Johnson, published by Doubleday Doran in 1936, the expression was used.

“You seem to know everything, Mr. McWade.”
Holy Toledo, I wish I did!” groaned the Westerner.  “But there ain’t one of us can figger out what’s up — except somebody’s in for a well double-crossin’.”

Unfortunately, there’s considerable confusion about how the expression initially came about and it doesn’t appear in publications prior to the mid-1930s.

What is known about Toledo, Ohio is that it was named after Toledo in Spain, and that city in Spain is known as the “Holy City of Toledo.”  Likewise, it would seem that Toledo, Ohio was known back in the day for having as many churches as it had bars and taverns, with the greatest concentration of churches located on Collingwood Boulevard. But there’s no proof to substantiate this as being the reason for the saying.

It’s also a fact that comedian Danny Thomas (6 January 1912 – 6 February 1991) — who was raised in Toledo, Ohio, attended Woodward High School as well as the University of Toledo, and began his professional career in 1932 — popularized the expression Holy Toledo in his comedy routines.  Between the comedian’s use of the expression and it’s appearance in “Red War” published in 1936, it’s safe to say the saying was used and understood by most everyone during the 1930s.

As a note of interest, back in the 1590s, Toledo steel (from Spain, not Ohio) was used in the manufacture of medieval swords.  Toledo, Spain had been a steel working center since the 5th century BC.  Toledo steel swords were chosen by Hannibal for his army, and legions from the Roman Empire relied on Toledo steel swords. In other words, Toledo steel swords set the standard in excellent weaponry.

The Toledo steel swords were the swords that defeated Muslim armies during the Holy Wars in medieval times.  And it was Toledo steel rapiers that became the choice of French Musketeers.  The reputation of Toledo steel swords was so widespread that even Japanese Samurai had their katana and wakizashi forged in Toledo with Toledo steel.

In another side note, it was in 1085 that Toledo, Spain became one of the recognized centers of Christian culture after it was liberated from the Moors by Alfonso VI of Castile, Leon and Galicia (June 1040 – July 1109). When the Crusades began (1095 – 1291) it was Toledo steel swords that went into holy battle.

While it would exciting to peg Holy Toledo to the Crusades or to Medieval times, the fact of the matter is that Idiomation was unable to find the idiom published before the 1930s and as such, the best that can be guessed at is that it first came into use sometime in the 1920s, gaining ground in the 1930s.

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

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 25, 2014

If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re waiting for the inevitable next step or conclusion to a situation or a conversation.  In other words, you are waiting for the unexpected that is expected albeit unknown.

The reason for this is because it’s human nature to create patterns that makes sense to human brains, and when the anticipated pattern is disrupted, it causes anxiety.  When the pattern is concluded, for good or for bad, the human experience is that the person anticipating the next step or the conclusion is able to move forward.  Unfortunately, that next step or conclusion is almost invariably thought of as being bad.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of November 20, 2005 published a story about the community of Plum in Allegheny County entitled, “U.S. Grand Jury Probe Heats Up Borough’s Ongoing Police Mess.”  From reading the article, it would seem that at the time, there were a lot of problems and a lot of blame to go around.  The police department had been besieged by scandals and lawsuits over a period of years, and all the details were spilling out all over the media.  It became so involved that even after the former police chief won a large sum in damages and back pay from a lawsuit he filed against the city claiming wrongful firing.  Well into the article, this paragraph used the idiom.

Thomas Ceraso, attorney for the ex-chief’s son, Detective Mark Focareta said an FBI request that his client provide a handwriting sample was postponed indefinitely, leaving him “scratching his head and waiting for the other shoe to drop, if it’s ever dropping.”

Back on June 6, 1986, Associated Press business writer, Steven Rosenfeld discussed the rampant speculation on the trading in securities on Wall Street that had been based on knowledge of confidential merger plans.  After Dennis Levine pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, tax evasion, and perjury, the business world was abuzz about who else was involved.  The article was titled, “Street Waits For The Other Shoe To Drop” and began with this paragraph:

Wall Street is anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop after an investment banker pleaded guilty to fraud and promised to cooperate with authorities in the biggest case yet of illicit insider trading.

Likewise, on April 22, 1944, the Pittsburgh Press published an article by Scripps-Howard Foreign Editor, William Philip Simms, that chronicled what the allies were doing to the Nazi forces.  The article was titled, “Germans In France Waiting For Other Shoe To Drop” and the first paragraph read thusly:

The Germans in France have the “invasion jitters” according to a recently-arrived underground leader.  The malady he said is akin to that induced by waiting for the other shoe to drop, but multiplied a thousand fold.  The first “shoe,” he said, was the terrific pounding the British and American Air Forces are dealing out daily to Germany and the invasion coast.”

A generation earlier, on March 20, 1921 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Noise And Your Neighbors” written by Helen Bullitt Lowry.  Her article discussed a situation where a John Howells (son of the late Dean Howells) rented an apartment — in the building at 130 West Fifty-seventh Street — to Mrs. R.T. Wilson Jr., a woman who gave musicales that oftentimes lasted until nearly 4 o’clock in the morning to the dismay of her neighbors.

When she was taken to court by neighbors, her argument was that the noise was of a high-class nature, and asserting that having a studio apartment in itself implied that she had every right to hold musicales until well after midnight.  Her neighbors’ argument was that it made no difference whether the music was good or bad, high-class or low brow, at 4 o’clock in the morning, no noise, expensive or otherwise, should be permitted in apartments at such an hour.

The article concluded with this paragraph:

If nine out of ten of us weren’t trying to be considerate the housing problem would be over in New York.  Like the gingham dog and the calico cat, we would all have eaten each other up and there’d be nobody left in town but the delegates to conventions.  If nine out of ten of us hadn’t heard that ‘drop that other shoe’ chestnut and molded our lives accordingly for the sake of the neighbor below us, what would be the end of us?  Both the sleepy artist and the giver of late parties would be in a bad way.

The writer of the article referred to the idiom as a chestnut meaning it was old and well-used by the time it was included in her narrative.

Some say that the reason it was an old chestnut is because, during the manufacturing boom of the mid 19th century (beginning in 1843 with an upswing in economic activity in the U.S.), apartment buildings went up with each floor being identical in design so that all the kitchens lined up with each other, all the livingrooms lined up with each other, and, of course, all the bedrooms lined up with each other.

If a tenant was already in bed when the tenant upstairs decided to go to bed, the tenant in the apartment below would hear the first shoe drop, and once he or she heard the second shoe drop, the noise was done for the night.  Of course, this was because the floors, walls, and ceilings weren’t sound-proofed at all.

The literal expression — with the accompanying trepidation that is associated with the idiom — is found in a news article entitled, “Had Waited And Waited” published in the Sentinel Hotel Column of the August 11, 1905 edition of the Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin.  The article recounts how a hotel guest was given a room directly above the room of a particularly nervous regular boarder, and advised of the situation.

When it came time for the guest to sleep, he took of one shoe and allowed it to drop to the floor.  He suddenly remembered what he had been told about the nervous boarder in the room below, and he very quietly took his other shoe off and carefully set it down beside its mate.  As he was dropping off to sleep, there was a knock at his door so he rose to answer it. The article ended with this:

“I trust you will pardon me for disturbing you, sir,” he said, “but I have the room below you and am an exceptionally nervous man. I heard you drop your shoe some time ago, and ever since I have tried in vain to go to sleep. I fear I shall be unable to do so unless I hear you drop the other one, if it will not be too much trouble.”

It’s unlikely that there is an earlier published version of this idiom, however, if readers or visitors know of one, feel free to share the link in the Comments section below.

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Hitting On All Sixes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 11, 2014

When you’re working on something and everything’s going well, you might hear your grandpa tell you that you’re hitting on all sixes.  It’s a compliment, and it means you’re doing everything right.  So what does the number six have to do with doing things right?

It’s a car reference of course, referring to six cylinders.  When everything was aligned, there was no back firing, no jerking, no sudden stopping, and the car made its way down the street with no troubles at all.  In fact, a car that fired on all cylinders was a marvel to behold.

Back in 1948, in the Electrical Workers’ Journal, Labor Union 420 in Waterbury, Connecticut started their column off with some happy news about their union president.

Our venerable president, Walt Wright, has been laid up with midwinter illness, but by now should be out hitting on all sixes.

The Depression era of the 1930s saw a number of difficulties, not the least of which were between the police and criminal types.  Not to worry though because this was published in the 1933 edition of the “Police Yearbook” published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The defy that the average hoodlum has given to the country has been accepted by the law enforcing officers.  We here in the city feel that we can and will cope with the situation. We feel that we have a police force that are hitting on all sixes.

We know that we are having a little bad luck in losing some of our policemen.  That is an indication that every policeman is on his toes; he is willing to shoot it out with the fellow that heretofore was willing to take a chance with the judge.

The Michigan State Dental Society bulletin Volume 9 printed in 1927 found a creative way to use the idiom as well as evidenced by this announcement.

Speaking of mongrels, let me introduce Ed. Giffen; enuf Scotch to spend little and sufficient Hebrew to take all.   Ed goes to a Thanksgiving Keno party, guys a card for the usual two bits and walks off with a turkey, a good and a duck.  I claim that’s hitting on all sixes.  Ed certainly knows his proteins.

Some sources claim that the expression is from the 1920s, however, Idiomation found the idiom used in the a professional engineer magazine dated January 1918.  The magazine was known as “The Monad” and was the official published magazine from the American Association of Engineers, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.  It was billed as being devoted to the social and economic welfare of the technical engineer.  The column dedicated to the Valparaiso chapter included this comment.

“Montana” Calkins then proceeded to apply his highly specialized mechanical touch to the picture machine with the result that it finally got tired of stalling and started hitting on all sixes.

A year earlier, on March 29, 1917, the National Underwriter — the official weekly newspaper of the insurance industry — published this advertisement.
The National Underwriter_Volume 21_1917The advertisement was published in the April 3rd, April 12th, April 19th, and May 10th editions as well.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the idiom than those found in 1917, however, since the reference is rooted in automotive history, note that cars hail from the 1860s when they had up to four cylinders!

Cosmopolitan magazine published a car guide in 1906, which listed a number of cars with specs.  This is where the first six cylinder — forty horsepower — car is mentioned, manufactured by Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.  At this point in time, it should be noted that gaskets hadn’t been perfected yet, and so the seal between cylinders and cylinder heads was a real hit-or-miss situation that relied on T-heads resulting in valve life that lasted only a few hundred miles before it repairs were needed.  By 1909, there were about eighty car manufacturers who used the six cylinder engine in their cars.

It’s easy to see then how hitting on all sixes was a reference to all going well, and based on car history, Idiomation can state that the expression came into being some time after 1906.

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Enough To Give A Gopher Heartburn

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 6, 2014

The idiom it’s enough to give a gopher heartburn is one that describes how bad times are.  Science has proven that gophers, like all rodents, can suffer from digestive disorders, but it takes a lot of the wrong sorts of food to cause heartburn in a gopher.   So the idiom means that times have to be pretty terrible before it results in the unimaginable (in this case, a gopher with heartburn).

The November 30, 1976 edition of the Brandon Sun used the idiom in the column Sunbeams.  The journalist (who appeared to have a lot of news to cover in his column that day) wrote in part:

Thought of this last week when  just east of Sidney, I saw a demonstration of how a farmer can live with the wind … as Jake used to say in the W.O. Mitchell stories, “The wind she was blowin’ hard enough to give a gopher the heartburn on the north side of the highway the farmland had a heavy layer of combine trash spread evenly across it from one fence line to the other … south of the highway there were graders working on the new right-of-way and the loose material they were stirring up was turned into a black blizzard.

The idiom seems to be a Brandon Sun favorite as it was used five years earlier — on April 15, 1971 — when the fictional character and the idiom were included in a news story that included:

If Jake were still around he’d exclaim that it was “enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

And back on February 25, 1961, the Medicine Hat News included the idiom when it published a news story that stated:

In moments of desperation, he would say:  “Things are bad enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”  Right at this moment not only the gophers but also the two-legged prairie dwellers are in danger of this particular unpleasantness at the thought of grain companies closing down their grain elevators.  The forecast of such action was made a week ago by the chief statistician of the Board of Grain Commissioners.

The newspaper gave credit to the CBC radio series, “Jake and the Kid” where the scripts were written by W.O. Mitchell.

Canadian author, W.O. Mitchell (13 March 1914 – 25 February 1998) wrote the world recognized novel, “Who Has Seen The Wind” published in 1947.  It was the story of four-year-old Brian O’Connal growing up on the Canadian prairies (in the town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan), and the people who made up his world:  his father (a druggist), his mother, his Uncle Sean, his Scottish grandmother.  The story drew upon some of the author’s personal childhood memories with equal measures of humor and reality tying the story together.

In 1950, CBC Radio tapped W.O. Mitchell to write scripts for the series, “Jake and the Kid.”  In all, he created more than 300 radio scripts for the series between 1950 and 1958, and everything took place in the fictional community of Crocus, Saskatchewan. While many of the stories were compiled in book form and published in 1961, during those either years when the scripts were being broadcast as radio teleplays, some very unique idioms originated with the author.

As these were the days when there was censorship and many words couldn’t be broadcast over the airwaves, oftentimes what was originally written had to be re-written to fit the censors.  Since cursing was forbidden, W.O. Mitchell had to create swearing without actually swearing.  Originally, the gopher idiom made mention of his backside, which producers (and the author) knew wouldn’t fly past the censors.  In the re-writing, the expression became, “It’s enough to give a gopher the heartburn.”

In the book “Jake and the Kid” the idiom was found in this passage on page 264.

Mr. Candy stood where his new red barn had been. Sammy and Brian halted; they stared at the utter, kindling ruin of what had once been a barn. No stick stood. In the strewn wreckage not even the foundation outline was discernible … Certainly the Lord’s vengeance had been enough to give a gopher the heartburn.

The idiom, therefore, is easy to peg to 1951 and was first uttered by a character created by W.O. Mitchell.   When all is said and done, you have to admit that Canadian authors have a way with words and quirky visualizations, don’t you agree?

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