Historically Speaking

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Archive for the ‘Mythology’ Category

Firing Arrows

Posted by Admin on February 21, 2014

Mere days ago, Joelle Kovach of the Peterborough Examiner newspaper in Peterborough, Ontario (Canada) reported on the ongoing Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) review in an article titled, “Police Chief’s Aarrows’ Comment ‘Shakespearian,’ Not Racist: Former Police Board Chairwoman.” Police Chief Rodd Murray had been quoted in the media in 2011 (as problems between Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett and the Peterborough-Lakefield police services board, and the Mayor’s vocal criticisms of the Peterborough-Lakefield Community Police Services, were at their height) as having said, “We have real bad guys firing real bullets at us. We don’t need politicians firing arrows at us.”

Brent Whetung filed a letter of complaint to the police board wherein he stated, “We as First Nation people are sometimes harassed by ignorant or racist people who ridicule us by using the term shooting arrows.”

On February 6, 2014, an article by Tom McLeish (professor of Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University in the UK) entitled, “Business Drops The Baton In Higher Ed Innovation” was published on the National Centre for Universities and Business website. The article addressed Sir Andrew Witty’s aims to connect the intellectual power of universities with prosperity and growth. The closing paragraph in the article was this:

We need to recruit their entrepreneurial energy to address the problems of energy, climate, healthcare and sustainability. Firing arrows into the air may not be the answer -– readdressing the economics of R&D investment by business will be.

In the WikiHow entry entitled, “How to Defend Against Verbal Bullying” the following advice is given by one of the 22 contributors to the Wiki article:

Imagine an archer (bully) firing arrows (words) at a ghost (you). As a ghost, you are slightly amused and bored by the silly archer. The ghost cannot be hurt by the arrows. The ghost doesn’t run away or fire arrows back. The ghost just yawns. What can the archer do to the ghost? Nothing but keep firing arrows that never hit the target. The ghost smiles when the archer finally gets bored or frustrated and gives up.

According to scientists, the origins of the bow and arrow are prehistoric, and are found on nearly all the continents.

In Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of archery and heroic excellence. There’s a Turkish expression firing arrows of criticism that has been shortened to simply firing arrows. In William Shakespeare’s 1602 play, “Hamlet” the main character speaks of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Back in 247 BC, the Parthian empire was so skilled in the art of archery that not even Rome could conquer them. Among many useful war-related inventions, the Parthians had a saddle with a stirrup that enabled warriors on horseback to turn and fire arrows at their enemies while riding away at full gallop during a strategic retreat. This shot was known as the Parthian shot, and the Parthian shot gave birth to the dismissive final remark expression: a parting shot.

Another common expression referring to someone having more than one approach to a problem is to have more than one arrow in one’s quiver (a quiver being the correct term dating back to the 14th century that describes the case used for carrying or holding arrows). The implication is that one of those “arrows” will hit the “target” … in other words, one of those possible solutions will be the one that works best at resolving the problem at hand.

And so, while Idiomation cannot say for certain when or where the expression firing arrows first originated, Idiomation can assure readers and visitors that the expression has been around for a very long time, and in some countries at a time when people were unaware of North or South America.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greek, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Raining Cats And Dogs

Posted by Admin on July 31, 2013

If it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s no need to worry. The idiom refers to a heavy downpour that doesn’t look like it will let up any time in the near future.  Just make sure to take an umbrella with you and to dress warmly to guard against the cutting wind.

The phrase is popular, and it’s found in all sorts of expected — and unexpected — places. In fact, on the Benton County website in Philomath, Oregon there just happened to be a juried art exhibition happening from June 21 to July 27, 2013 at the Benton County Museum. You’ll never guess the name of the exhibition … or may you will. Yes, it was dubbed “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

On Christmas Eve day (December 24) of 1959, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal carried a quick story out of San Marino, California. It was an odd little story about residents being pelted by pelts. The investigating officer spoke with the reporter who wrote:

Officer Martin Boyle said he heard of it raining cats and dogs — but never Persian lamb and muskrat pelts. The furs, packaged in sacks, fell in a three block area.

The Pittsburg Press edition of May 4, 1930 discussed the documented incidents of all sorts of objects falling from the skies during unusually heavy rainfalls. Among the items listed were: lichens, leaves, hay, toads, frogs, fish, mussels, oranges, pebbles, and in one case in Charleston (SC) a 2-foot long alligator! The title of the article was, of course, “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

And the New York Times published an article on October 25, 1890 about a local mayoralty candidate by the name of Mr. Scott who appeared at a number of locations one rainy evening to shake hands with voters and greet large and enthusiastic audiences waiting to catch a glimpse of him. He charmed audiences everywhere he went with his story of having been a hard-working man all his life, and promising to continue with that work ethic if New Yorkers saw fit to elect him Mayor. The article began with this paragraph:

Although Old Improbabilities at Washington promised to coax the stars into view last night, the shades of the late Mr. Tweed must have pulled the string behind his back, so that when the people’s candidate for Mayor got ready to sally forth it was raining cats and dogs. Nothing daunted, Mr. Scott put on his cork-soled shoes and his long mackintosh and jumped into his carriage between the drops.

Going back in time to the previous century, the “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” by Irish author, clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was published in London through the agency of Mary Barber as well as in Dublin by George Faulkner in 1738.

Come, Sir John, I foresee it will rain terribly. Lady Smart. Come, Sir John, do nothing rashly; let us drink first Lord Sparkish. I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs. But pray, stay, Sir Sir John.

When English dramatist Richard Brome (1590 – 1643) wrote “The City Wit, or, The Woman Wears The Breeches: A Comedy” in 1629 (it was later revised in 1647 and printed in 1653), an earlier version of the idiom appeared in Act IIII, Scene I. In this scene, Sarpego (identified as a Pedant) says this:

SARPEGO:
From henceforth Erit Fluvius Deucalionis
The world ſhall flow with dunces; Regnabitque, and it
ſhall raine
Dogmata Polla Sophon, Dogs and Polecats, and fo forth.

Now polecats aren’t really cats at all. They’re actually more closely related to weasels and ferrets than to cats, however, the idiom “it’s raining cats and dogs” can easily be seen in stating “it shall rain dogs and polecats.”

But even before Richard Brome’s play, there was a saying used by sailors to describe particularly lively cats, and that was to say: The cat has a gale of wind in her tail.  But most telling of all is that Norse mythology put forth that cats represented the wind and dogs represented the rain, and so when a storm had both wind and rain together, it was figuratively cats and dogs.

This means that the idiom proper dates back to 1629, but the concept has its roots in Norse mythology which goes back long before the 17th Century, long before the 10th Century, long before the days of the Roman Empire.  In other words, it’s way back there in time.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Mythology, Norse | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Since Hector Was A Pup

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2010

This phrase first began to appear in North American newspapers around 1906 and became a catchphrase in the 1920s, especially among flappers.  It was an extension of an earlier idiom — “as dead as Hector” — which was widely used in the 1860s.

The reference is to Hector, the son of King Priam of Troy and his second wife Hecuba — a symbol of the consummate warrior — and one of the chief participants in the tale of the siege of Troy by the Greeks in Homer’s epic The Iliad.  King Priam, as we all know, was killed in single combat by the Greek champion Achilles.

Hecuba was responsible for the murder of Polyxena, who was the murderer of Hecuba’s older son, Polydorus.  The gods turned Hecuba into a dog as punishment for taking Polyxena’s life which, literally speaking, made Hector his mother’s pup.

What’s more, by the early twentieth century, “pup” was well established as a mildly dismissive comment that referred to a young person who was particularly inexperienced in the ways of the world.

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