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

Gold Digger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jay Driving

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jaywalking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freegan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article included this paragraph as well:

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

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

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

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Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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 »

 
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