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Archive for the ‘Idioms of the 5th Century’ Category

The Half Of It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 3, 2017

Idioms don’t always mean the same thing from century to century.  In fact, these days when someone says another person doesn’t know or hasn’t seen the half of it, this usually means the situation is far worse than what most people can imagine it to be.  The key part of either phrase is what the half of it happens to be.

The more negative aspect of the expression is something that came about as part of the 20th century.  Until then, the half of it was most often a positive comment, although there were instances where it was also meant as a negative comment.  However, the half of it does mean there’s more to something than what meets the eye – or the expectations – of the person commenting.  In other words, the half of it falls short of the reality of the situation, and hasn’t addressed the most important aspect.

In 1999, Julienne Davis was tapped to play the role of Mandy, a drug-addicted prostitute in the movie, “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  The role was a small one but one that left an impact on the storyline.  Charlotte O’Sullivan reviewed the movie in the Culture section of the Independent newspaper in the UK.  The headline read, “Film: Body Of Evidence” with this subtitle:  “In Eyes Wide Shut, Abigail Good Play A ‘Mysterious Woman.’  But That’s Not The Half Of It.”

Volume 72 of “Foundry” magazine published in 1944 by Penton Publishing Company.  The magazine published articles on foundry and die-casting manufacturing industry on metal casting technology, production processes, investment casting, and more.  In this issue, the following was written.

In other words — and probably other words are needed — you don’t know the half of it. For the past 5 years I have been teaching foundry practice. Stressing skills and the related subjects has been a hobby and at the same time a religion.

British prose writer P.G. Wodehouse saw Herbert Jenkins in London (UK) and Doubleday (US) publish his book “Hot Water” on 17 August 1932.  His career hit at the same time as the silver screen began to be a marvel of technology with dove-tailed with his success with magazines.  The story dealt with J. Wellington Gedge who somehow found himself caught up in a number of international situations, many of which upset him to no end.  In this book, the phrase appears as follows.

‘Do you now?’ he said. ‘Well, well!’  ‘Yessir. Mrs Gedge insisted on renting it. and I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the place. It makes me sick.  And that’s not the half of it.’  ‘No?’  ‘No, sir. Do you know what?’  ‘What?’

‘When she told me this morning, you could have knocked me down with a feather. What do you think?’

‘What?’

‘You’ll never guess.’

‘What?’

‘Do you know what she told me this morning?’

‘How the hell should I know what she told you this morning?’ said Mr. Slattery, momentary irritation causing him to deviate from his policy of courtliness. ‘Do you think I was hiding under the bed?’

‘She told me I’ve got to be American Ambassador to France.’

Mr. Slattery considered this.

‘You won’t like that.’

‘I know darned well I won’t like it. Ambassadors have to wear uniforms and knickerbockers . . . the sissies.’

There are countless examples of the half of it, including a letter written in 1571 by Scottish historian and humanist scholar George Buchanan (February 1506 – 28 September 1582) in his condemnation of Mary, Queen of Scots.  At the time, he was convinced that the death of her husband was as a crime of passion brought on many liaisons he claimed the Queen had with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell  (1534 – 14 April 1578) who, he claimed, was also involved in the demise of the king consort Henry Stuart (7 December 1545 – 10 February 1567), Duke of Albany, known as Lord Darnley.

This is my fayth I wyll die in it. Excuse if I writ euill, ye may gesse the halfe of it, but I can not mende it because I am not weill at ease, and yit very glad to writ vnto you quhen the rest are sleepand, sithe I can not sleipe as thay do and as I would desire, that is, in your armes my deare loue, quhom I pray God to preserue from all euyll and send you repose, I am gangand to seke myne till the morne quhen I shall end my Bybill, but I am fascheit that it stoppies me to write newis of my self vnto you, because it is so lang.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, became the third and final husband of Mary, Queen of Scots when they wed on 15 May 1567 in the Chapel of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. 

SIDE NOTE 2:  To free himself to marry the Queen, he filed for divorce from his wife, Lady Jean Gordon (1546 – 14 May 1629) on grounds of consanguinity, although this required considerable research on his part to prove.  Lady Jean Gordon, however, secured a divorce on grounds of adultery with her maid and seamstress, Bessie Crawford.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Lady Jean Gordon was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly and Elizabeth Keith, and after her divorce from James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, she became the Countess of Sutherland when she married Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland on 13 December 1573.

The expression the half of it has its roots in the earlier expression by half which means by a great deal, which is attested to its use in verse by Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (477 – 525) known simply as  Boethius .  He was influenced by the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, and Augustine of Hippo.

To all folk likewise
This next example no less suits:
The comb of the honey cannot but seem
To each son of men sweeter by half,
If he have tasted before the honey
Aught that is bitter.

SIDE NOTE 4:  The translation of verses by Boethius from Latin to English was undertaken and completed by King Alfred (849 – 26 October 899).  He was also known as Alfred the Great, and ruled England from 21 April 871 until his death on 26 October 899.  During his reign, he improved the legal and military structures in England, and advocated for education to be taught in English.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Half at this point in history did not necessarily mean something was divided into two equal parts.  It simple meant divided in two where one part could be the same, smaller, or larger than the other part.

The word half is Old English and came from the Saxon word healf which is from the Old Norse halfr.  Old English began with the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century.  As such Idiomation pegs the half of it to the early 1500s based on George Buchanan’s use of the phrase in his writings about Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Holy See

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 2, 2015

Contrary to popular misconception, the Roman Catholic Pope is not the Holy See.  The Pope is the bishop of the diocese which means he is the bishop over the entire universal Church.  The Holy See is also called the See of Saint Peter, the Apostolic See, and the Diocese of Rome.  Supported by the Roman Curia (the Court of Rome), the Pope forms the main governing body of the Roman Catholic Church.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Holy See is a sovereign entity, and yet it is not a nation.  The only reason there are visible national borders is for practical reasons, and those reasons are part of Mussolini’s doing.

But the bottom line is this:  The Holy See is the throne from which the head of the Roman Catholic controls the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy See embodies all the rules that make the Roman Catholic Church the Roman Catholic Church.

As it was explained to Idiomation, the Holy See — in business terms — is actually the Roman Catholic Church Inc., and the Pope is the CEO of said corporation.  Roman Catholics are more like the business prospects and customers of the corporation, and while Roman Catholics have a stake in what happens with the corporation, they are not de facto shareholders.

The Victoria Advocate reported on July 12, 2000 that the United Nations vote that was taken earlier resulted in a 416 to 1 vote in favor of the Holy See retaining its status as permanent observer (a status it had held since 1964) at the United Nations.  A campaign promoted as “See Change” had been launched to have its status redesignated so it would be treated as a non-governmental organization (NGO).  The article was titled, “House Backs Status Of  Holy See At U.N.

On May 2, 1940 the Montreal Gazette carried a news story from Paris (France) reporting that the Italian government and the Vatican weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on important points as WWII raged on.  Francesco Giunta (21 March 1887 – 8 June 1971), a Fascist and national councillor, went as far as to state in his speech exactly one week earlier at the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, “The Vatican is the chronic appendicitis of Italy.”  The first paragraph of the story read thusly:

Reports reaching here from competent sources in Rome disclose that tension is mounting between the Italian Government and the Vatican over the Holy See‘s refusal to follow Italy’s lead in adopting a pro-German war attitude.

Less than twenty years earlier, however, news reports out of Berlin (Germany) reflected a different relationship between Germany and the Vatican when it came to addressing the Duisburg railway accident.  In fact, it was reported on July 7, 1923 by the Associated Press, and printed in many newspapers around the world, by way of a semi-official joint statement from German Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno (2 July 1876 – 3 January 1933) and Monsignor Giuseppe Pacelli (2 March 1876 – 9 October 1958) — the Monsignor later became Pope Pius XII — that there was agreement.  The news story reported the following:

Chancellor Cuno declared that it was a question of incidents arising from the excitement of an harassed people who in desperation endeavored to act in self-defense.  The German government was, however, at one with the Holy See in condemning all criminal use of force.

In the October 18, 1839 edition of the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reprinted an excellent article previously published in the Baltimore American.  The article shared the history of the Ottoman Empire with readers, beginning with the fall of Bagdad in 1055 and ending with the battle where John Sobieski (17 August 1629 – 17 June 1696) repulsed the Turks under the walls of Vienna.  The Holy See was mentioned midway through the history lesson.

In 1571, Cyprus was taken from the Venetians; and now the Christian nations of Europe began to be filled with anxious apprehensions of this formidable power.  The Pope exerted himself to stop the further progress of the infidels who, carrying their religion on the points of their swords, made every place Mahometan which fell under their sway.  A league was formed by the Holy See with the Venitians, and Philip II, of Spain, then the most wealthy sovereign in Europe.

Yes, the article alternated between Venetian and Venitian, and it’s not a typographical error on the part of Idiomation.

The Holy See is from the Latin Sancta Sedes, which means Holy Chair.  Technically speaking, the term for a dioceses where the bishop lives is called a See.

So the Diocese of Chicago (which happens to be one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States) is really the See of Chicago and the cathedral residence is Holy Name Cathedral (formally identified as the Cathedral of the Holy Name).  Holy Name Cathedral is also the parish church of the Archbishop of Chicago.

The Holy See was first understood to be indisputably in Rome when Pope Gelasius I (Pope from 1 March 492 through to 19 November 496) stated, “Est ergo prima Petri apostoli sedes” which translates to say, “Therefore, the first is the seat of the Apostle Peter.”

Later on, Pope Leo III (Pope from 26 December 795 – 12 June 816) further entrenched the understanding that Rome was the Holy See when he wrote, “Nos sedem apostolicam, quae est caput omnium Dei ecclesiarum judicare non audemus” which translates to say, “We dare not judge the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the Churches of God.”

As an interesting side note, Pope Leo III had enemies (many of whom were relatives of Pope Adrian I who was pope from 1 February 772 until his death on 25 December 795) in Rome and Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814) — who became Charles I of France — protected Pope Leo III from those enemies.

Idiomation therefore pegs the term Holy See as we understand it to mean to the papacy of Pope Gelasius I, with a further boost to the term thanks to the papacy of Pope Leo III.

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Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2011

if someone tells you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, what they’re suggesting to you is that you shouldn’t criticize or question something good being offered to you with no strings attached. 

Throughout recorded history, the horse has been a prized possession of man.  The horse has plowed fields, hauled goods, pulled carriages, carried riders and more.  Back in the day when horses were bought and sold, it was good business practices to check the age and health of a horse by examining its lower jaw and its teeth.  A horse’s history could be told by what one found in its mouth.  That being said, it was also considered the height of bad manners to examine a horse’s mouth when the horse was being given as a gift.

Even back on December 5, 1926 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Those Who Take Casual Gifts May Fina A String Attached” that read:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth is a saying that has become largely obsolete with the diminishing ranks of horses in New York. Yet the danger persists: and it is as true today as it was true yesterday that gifts do not invariably fall out of a clear sky in this metropolis

That was all fine and dandy but on June 28, 1854 the same newspaper published a news article entitled, “Naval Rules And Regulations.”  It read in part:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Chesterfield says, never quote a proverb; but “French On The Lessons In Proverbs,” a more recent and learned authority, and also dispute the proverb.  It had been much better for those old Trojans if they had looked their gift horse in the mouth; and since that memorable example of gift-bearing treachery, one has often reason to exclaim, “Timco Danaos et dona ferentes.  The free gift Manual looks very much like an attempt to steal into the service, once again, obsolete and repudiated rules, which never could be introduced in an open, frank and legal manner.

With regards to the book,  The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb: Miscellaneous Prose, 1798-1833, The Athenceum of February 16, 1833 reviewed the book and is quoted as saying:

Here is a portrait of Mrs. Conrady. We agree with the writer that ‘ no one that has looked on her can pretend to forget the lady.’  The point ought to be cleared up. That we must not look a Gift horse in the mouth.

Now John Heywood (1497-1580) wrote the following in his book, “A Dialogue of the Effectual Proverbs.”

Where gifts be given freely — east, west, north or south —
No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.
And though her mouth be foul she hath a fair tail —
I consider this text, as is most my avail.
In want of white teeth and yellow hairs to behold,
She flourisheth in white silver and yellow gold.
What though she be toothless, and bald as a coot?
Her substance is shoot anker, whereat I shoot.”

St. Jerome of Stridonium (347 – 420), an Illyrian Catholic priest is believed to have first used the phrase in reply to his literary critics. His exact words: “Never inspect the teeth of a gift horse.”

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