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Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2017

It’s been long said that dead men tell no tales, and if you’ve committed a crime to which there were witnesses, it’s believed that permanently silencing those witnesses prevents them for sharing what they know with the authorities.  The good news is that technology and forensics have advanced to the point where this adage is no longer true.  Advancements in science have made it so that dead men still tell tales.

Now that the macabre has been addressed, Idiomation is free to tell the tale of where dead men tell no tales first began.

For those of you who love movies, you’ll be happy to hear that the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is titled, “Dead Men Tell No Secrets” and is scheduled for theater release on 26 May 2017.  In this movie, the evil Captain Salazar and his crew escape from the Devil’s Triangle and set their sights on killing every pirate at sea, but most especially, on killing Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp.  As you know, whether it’s telling tales or keeping secrets, it’s a fact that pirates believe that dead men neither tell tales nor secrets.

The idiom is most often associated with pirates but it’s not exclusively a pirate expression.

The Star and Sentinel newspaper of January 18, 1882 published the story of Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune who squelched the efforts of certain newspaper pundits interested in reviving the Cokling-Garfield quarrel by “directing their assaults against Mr. Blaise as Mr. Garfield’s evil genius.”  It had to do with the nomination of Judge Robertson by the President.

It follows that this “friend of Garfield” or some accomplice must have stolen the telegram, and then presuming that it had been delivered to the President and that “dead men tell no tales,” undertook to cover up the theft of the deliberate lie that the President showed him the dispatch and allowed him to copy it.

It also appeared in the work of English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) in the September 26, 1797 edition of the Porcupine’s Gazette.  While it wasn’t an exact version of the idiom, it was nonetheless a very close relative.

Not content with deserting my service, he appears desirous to pre­judice the public against me, and my brethren, asserting in strong terms, that we are enemies to the noble science of blood-letting: This is abominable and contrary to the truth. For I am, and shall be no­lens volens, an advocate for the practice, and it is my creed that it will cure all diseases—as our good allies the French have clearly pro­ved in their practice,—I have also another reason for commencing the business of a physician; In fact, the villainous liquors my wine mer­chant obliges me to supply my guests with, has lately caused in the latter severe and harsh expostulations, and, as I am a conscientious man, I wish to follow a quiet business, and I prefer that of the lancet, be­cause you know Mr. P. dead men never tell tales.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Cobbett’s pseudonym for this work was Peter Porcupine.

The idiom was used more than a century earlier by John Dryden, in Act IV scene i of his play “The Spanish Fryar or The Double Discovery” published in 1681. This work was a comedy in five acts, and was first performed at Duke’s Theater. The idiom appears in the conversation between Lorenzo (who is the son of Alphonso) and Dominic (the Spanish Fryar).

LORENZO
And make what haste you can to bring out the Lady.  What say you, Father? Burglary is but a venial Sin among Souldiers.

DOMINIC
I shall absolve them, because he is an enemy of the Church – there is a Proverb, I confess, which says, That Dead-men tell no Tales; but let your Souldiers apply it to their own Perils.

LORENZO
What, take away a man’s Wife, and kill him too! The Wickedness of this old Villain startles me, and gives me a twinge for my own Sin; though it come far short of his: hark you Souldiers, be sure you use as little Violence to him as is possible.

English cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon (1512 – 1567) wrote about dead men and tales in 1560 when he penned this passage in Chapter 22 of “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting.”

For he that hath his body loaden with meat and drink, is no more meet to pray unto God than a dead man is to tell a tale; neither can the mind of such one any more fly unto God with heavenly desires, than a ship, too much cumbered with burdens and at the point to sink, can any longer float upon the waters.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Thomas Becon was the chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556), Prebendary of Canterbury, during the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and when Mary I came to power, he was put on trial for treason and heresy against the Roman Catholic Church.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Thomas Becon married and had three children: two sons (Theodore and Basil) and a daughter (Rachel).  His daughter married William Beswicke of Horsmanden who was the High Sheriff of Kent in 1616.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Until 1974, the High Sheriff was known simply as the Sheriff.  At the time William Beswicke was the Sheriff, he was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.

Long before Thomas Becon talked of dead men telling no tales, there was a Persian poet named Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  (1203 – 9 December 1292) — known as Saadi as well as Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz– who wrote about this in 1250.  This was his advice on how to deal with quacks and charlatans.

So I finished the rogue, notwithstanding his wails,
With stones, for dead men, as you know, tell no tales.

But the sense of the idiom is older than that.  The Latin phrase mortui non morden when translated word-for-word is dead men don’t bite.  However, the phrase is used to underscore the belief that killing one’s enemies or victims is the surest way for them to never speak of what happened, and as such, the phrase mortui non morden really means dead men tell no tales.

This version of the idiom was used by Plutarch (46 AD to 120 AD) in Part III of “The Life Of Pompey” covering Pompey’s return to Rome from 62 to 48 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC).   The chapter included this passage that spoke of Theodotus of Chios who Plutarch identifies as the person who was responsible for Pompey’s death.  This is an English translation of what Plutarch wrote.

It seems they were so far different in their opinions that some were for sending the man away, and others again for inviting and receiving him; but Theodotus, to show his cleverness and the cogency of his rhetoric, undertook to demonstrate, that neither the one nor the other was safe in that juncture of affairs.  For if they entertained him, they would be sure to make Caesar their enemy, and Pompey their master; or if they dismissed him, they might render themselves hereafter obnoxious to Pompey, for that inhospitable expulsion, and to Caesar, for the escape; so that the most expedient course would be to send for him and take away his life, for by that means they would ingratiate themselves with the one, and have no reason to fear the other; adding, it is related, with a smile, that “a dead man cannot bite.”

SIDE NOTE 6:  Yes, this is the Julius Caesar who was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

SIDE NOTE 7:  Julius Caesar’s successor was his grand-nephew Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) and is considered the first Roman Emperor.  He controlled the Roman Empire until his death.

Idiomation believes Plutarch to be the originator of this idiom as he clearly demonstrated the veracity of the claim in his writings that dead men tell no tales, with a nod to Saadi of Shiraz for the exact wording.

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

Yellow Journalism

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 27, 2016

My friend, the late Jerry Flowers (8 January 1947 – 7 November 2016), used the rallying cry, “Commit journalism” to move his friends to action.   It was one of the things I remember most fondly about conversations with Jerry who believed in promoting the highest ideals regardless of the profession in which one was engaged.

The complete opposite from the kind of journalism is yellow journalism.    Yellow journalism is sensationalist, exaggerated reporting that relies heavily on distorted stories that have little to no legitimate facts.  It also uses unnamed sources to provide believable sound bites and the stories are published with scandalous headlines to draw attention to itself.  Reporting lies and rumors as fact is a large part of yellow journalism.  The major focus of yellow journalism is to excite public opinion and to sell more newspapers than might otherwise be sold.

Yellow journalism is easy to spot as it generally has all five of these characteristics which are easily identifiable.

  1. Fearmongering headlines in large print;
  2. Pictures that are used out-of-context to lend credence to the fake story;
  3. Pseudoscience, fake interviews, and/or false information from alleged experts;
  4. Scare tactics and highly charged emotional words and symbols used; and
  5. Dramatic sympathy for the underdog fighting the system in an effort to get the word out.

You may assume that yellow journalism is a term that came about during WWII and that it was an insult aimed at the Japanese.  You would be incorrect if that was your guess as to where the term originated.  The term yellow journalism goes back much further than WWII.

Back in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst (29 April 1863 – 14 August 1951) was the owner and publisher of the New York Journal newspaper, and József Pulitzer (10 April 1847 – 29 October 1911) was the owner and publisher of the New York World newspaper.  The techniques of yellow journalism have their humble beginnings in the New York World newspaper in the 1880s although the term yellow journalism hadn’t been invented yet.

In the Spring of 1893, the New York World ran a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums and this cartoon strip, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, was titled, “Hogan’s Alley.”  The break-out character from the cartoon strip was the Yellow Kid.  William Randolph Hearst hired Richard F. Outcault (14 January 1863 – 25 September 1928) away from the New York World to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.  József Pulitzer hired a new cartoonist who continued to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.

yellow-kid

The competition between the newspapers raged on with each newspaper trying to outdo the other right down to the Yellow Kid.  It wasn’t long before the sensationalist stories and outrageous pictures in both newspapers became known as the competition of the “yellow kids.”  Shortly thereafter, such  journalism was labeled yellow journalism.

When the U.S. battleship Maine was sunk in the Havana harbor in Cuba, the rush was on to get a newspaper out that would outsell the competitor.  Since both newspapers had fanned the anti-Spanish public opinion flames for years, the publishers felt it was to them to beat their competitor to the news stands.  The publishers directed their reporters to write stories intended to tug at the heartstrings of Americans.

An illustrator by the name of Frederic Sackrider Remington  (October 4, 1861 – December 26, 1909) worked for William Randolph Hearst and was stationed in Havana.  He sent a cable to William Randolph Hearst that read:   “Everything is quiet.  No trouble here.  There will be no war.  Wish to return.  Remington.”

In response, William Randolph Hearst cabled back, “Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.  Hearst.”

new-york-journal_maine-destroyed

Both newspapers carried all manner of atrocities from scandals to the Buldensuppe mystery (where a man was allegedly found headless, armless, and legless) leading up to the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine.  Once the battleship was sunk, every atrocity was fair game for publication:  Female prisoners, executions, rebels fighters, starving children, and American women stripped naked by soldiers.

It wasn’t long before there were countless other tabloids hitting the market, and each of them tried to out tall tale tell each other with their stories.  However, the two newspapers responsible for this style of reporting, were at the head of their class, and yellow journalism flourished.

The expression yellow journalism therefore dates back to the days of William Randolph Hearst and József Pulitzer and the mid-1890s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rock Bottom

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2015

When someone hits rock bottom, the person finds himself or herself in the worst possible situation he or she ever imagined he or she would ever experience in life.  When something hits rock bottom, the item is at the absolute lowest price before it becomes a loss leader.  And when an organization, group, government, or other social structure hits rock bottom, it means that organization, group, government, or social structure has reached the lowest possible level.  In other words, you can’t go any lower than rock bottom.

The Beaver County Times published a Letter to the Editor on October 31,2003 entitled, “Hitting Rock Bottom.”  It was a brief snippet of a letter from Jerry Miskulin of Center Township that summed up his opinion in four sentences.

It’s like I always say about recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.  Sometimes they have to hit rock bottom to see straight.  America, financially, is going to have to hit rock bottom before it sees straight.  Maybe it would be best sooner before it’s too late.

In what reads as a humorous twist of fate, the Day newspaper in New London, Connecticut reported in September 13, 1983 that a certain construction company of Framingham, Massachusetts was the low bidder for construction of the first segment of the municipal sewer project.  Of ten bids received by Montville’s Board of Selectmen, it was announced that the lowest bid– the rock bottom bid, so to speak — came from Rockbottom Construction Inc.

The Milwaukee Sentinel edition of January 16, 1955 published the two page spread entitled, “Those Fabulous Patinos.”  It traced the highlights of the Simon Patino story that told of a lowly clerk in a general store in Bolivia who accepted title to a “worthless” silver mine as payment in full of a $250 bill at the store.  He was summarily fired by the owner for this crime, and the title to the “worthless” silver mine went with him.  But what had mistakenly been thought of as a silver mine was actually a rich tin mine at a time when tin was scarce in much of the world.  It wasn’t long before the “worthless” silver mine had made Patino a billionaire!

According to the story, 1954 was dubbed “the year the Patino luck ran out” where the third generation of Patino’s were largely responsible for the woes brought to the family fortune.  But among all the woes and strife of the third generation, there seemed to be one who from among them that had escaped the rule of bad luck:  Maria Christina, daughter of Antenor and Christina Patino.  She was happily married (unlike her other relations) to Prince Marc de Beauvau-Craon, mayor of Haroue in France, and a prominent, respected member of French society.

Maria Christina’s only big sorrow, I believe, was at the time of her marriage, in 1952 — when her father refused to allow her mother to attend the elaborate wedding.  As for the rock-bottom bad  luck of 1954, it did not touch Maria Christinia, except by indirection, but it kept other members of the Patino empre aware that their inheritance is a dual one — of fortune and misfortune.  It is as though fate were trying belatedly to balance the scales again, after tipping them so heavily in favor of old Simon, whose story might have been dreamed up by Horatio Alger.

The Sunday Morning Star newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware published an article by Stuart P. West in the March 27, 1921 edition that talked about the cuts western railroads made without reducing wages.  The headline read, “Optimists Believe Price Cutting Has Reached Rock Bottom” and this was part of the news story:

It cannot be expected that wages and other items of expense will be reduced sufficiently to counterbalance the slump in orders.  Still the shrinkage in gross earnings would be viewed with equanimity if manufacturing and production costs were at the same time being restored to a sound and normal basis.  As to the ability of the heads of American industry to accomplish this result there is certainly more ground for optimism than for pessimism.  Outside the railroads, wage reduction have been put into effect almost everywhere without friction.

Jumping back to 1884, the idiom rock bottom was already in use in magazines, catalogues and newspapers as well as in everyday language.  The front page of the Charles Stark catalogue has the idiom printed on its front cover to entice readers to buy from Charles Stark of Toronto, Ontario (Canada).

ROCK BOTTOM_Charles Stark_1884
Strangely enough, the term rock bottom didn’t always have a negative connotation.  In fact, in the Oregon News edition published on August 29, 1858 it was used in a complimentary way to describe one of the politicians running for office.  In an article where the editor quoted Colonel Tetrault — described as the Napoleon of the Democratic press in Oregon — the Colonel was determined to point out the  weak points in the Democrat party.

“Let us inquire what first brought about the organization of the Democratic party in Oregon. If any of the ultra politicians of the present day know the principal ennui, let them assign it.  We, for ourself, think we know full well that the location of the public buildings during the session of the Territorial Legislature had much to do with the then party organization in and we find men who opposed General Lane in 1851, still opposing him.”

So then a “rock-bottom democrat,” according to the Colonel, is one who goes for keeping the “public buildings” on the Salem “basalt.”

In the following manner does the Colonel point a significant finger at the post record: “In 1831, the first time General Lane was a candidate for office in Oregon, there was a Salemite run against him for Delegate to Congress, who received the support of some of the leading Democrats of the present day.”

However the sense of the idiom is still present.  When all else is stripped away, all that’s left is “rock bottom.”

The term is a mining term that came about at a time before power drilling techniques were developed, and was popularized in the 1840s.  When mining for ores, the farthest down a person could go before there was nothing to be mined or ores could not be accessed was called rock bottom.  In other words, you couldn’t go any lower than where you were when you hit rock bottom.

Idiomation therefore pegs rock bottom to sometime during the 1850s when it jumped from being a term used by miners to a term used to express situations, and then on to also refer to the lowest prices available for sought after items.

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Black Friday

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 29, 2013

The expression Black Friday — outside of its use to describe the Friday after American Thanksgiving — is applied to any Friday when a public calamity happens. It’s most often applied to calamities that are associated with finances, however.

On July 16, 1966 the Leader-Post newspaper reported about Britain’s new economic crisis where millions of pounds were wiped off market value of shares according to a news story entitled, “Wilson Hit Hard On Black Friday.” The second paragraph reported:

It was called Black Friday in the financial district. It was a Black Friday for Wilson politically as well, with a stunning byelection defeat of the government and reports of a cabinet tussle between two senior ministers.

When the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal was rolled out on April 10, 1932 one of the news stories dated April 9, 1932 and out of Washington that dealt with the long deferred investigation of the New York stock exchange situation where a group of traders planned to raid the market in an attempt to collapse the market. The article read in part:

One member of the senate banking and currency committee declared the reports indicated the raiders hoped to cause a more sensational decline on prices than occurred on the “Black Friday” of October 1929.

Jumping back almost 50 years, an article was published on February 23, 1881 in the Owosso American newspaper that talked about the Funding Bill that forced banks to call in their loans and where brokers refused to buy stock on margins. It was reported that the stock exchange was in pandemonium. It was also reported that while the fall in stocks was significant, it was nothing equal to the panic of 1873. The article was entitled, “Another Black Friday In Wall Street.”

It was the New York Times edition of March 1, 1870 that spoke of the original Black Friday of September 24, 1869 when Jay Gould and James Fisk Jr. cause the gold market to collapse in an attempt to corner it. The Congressional Committee appointed to ask into the circumstances of that day head that Messrs. Gould and Fisk along with their associates had tried to force gold to 100 premium and in doing so, the gold market actually collapsed when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered a release of government gold for sale. The created the situation where gold prices to plummeted thereby creating a panic in the stock market. The article was entitled, “The History Of Black Friday.”

At the time, Black Friday caused a scandal as some speculated that President Ulysses S. Grant (27 April 1822 – 23 July 1885) had been complicit in the scheme. This potential scenario was offered up in light of the fact that the president’s brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin (May 24, 1808 – March 28, 1881) and Secretary of the Treasury, George Sewall Boutwell (January 28, 1818 – February 27, 1905) were involved in the scheme, coupled with the fact that President Grant had personal associations with Messrs. Gould and Fisk Jr.

The use of the expression Black Friday first appeared with this scandal and for this reason, Black Friday is pegged to this event in history back in 1869.

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Spruce Goose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 7, 2013

When you hear someone talk about a Spruce Goose, it refers to a very specific item at a very specific time in history and is an updated version of the idiom white elephant. A white elephant is a valuable possession that the owner cannot get rid of and where the cost of ownership seems to be more than it’s worth. To this end, a Spruce Goose is just another white elephant.

The late rapper Johnny Burns (1979 – 2000) aka DJ Quik aka Mausberg’s song “Ring King” has the expression Spruce Goose in the lyrics:

I flow like the Spruce Goose, sting worse than a bullet from a deuce-deuce
I’m ’bout to cut loose and react with raw tactics
Rights and lefts be bustin’ like fully automatic, I love static

So does rapper Danny! aka American record producer, Danny Swain’s song “Rhyme Writer Crime Fighter” where he says:

I slayed spooked troops in my youthful days
And flew away in the Spruce Goose, ruthless ways
Now you could say my style was aloof but hey
I gotta stay elusive

But rap fans appear to be perplexed by the expression Spruce Goose, as evidenced by the many questions in various music and rap forums asking what it means.  Strangely enough, one may also wonder if the lyricists understand the expression as well.

In the July 2003 edition of Wired Magazine, Chuck Squatriglia wrote used the expression Spruce Goose in an article about aircrafts.  He wrote in part:

The “Spruce Goose” was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived — its wingspan was 319 feet — the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane.

While it’s surprising that so many these days seem to be unfamiliar with the Spruce Goose, the fact of the matter remains that it was a seminal part of American aviation history.  Back on November 14, 1993, the Seattle Times newspaper carried a story out of McMinnville, Oregon that stated:

Congress has approved $4.5 million for the museum that will serve as the new roost for the Spruce Goose flying boat. The money, included in the defense appropriations bill approved Wednesday, will get the museum through planning and into the construction phase, said museum director Howard Lovering.

In other words, this airplane was of significant historical importance that it warranted being preserved in a museum supported by money approved by Congress.

But for whatever reason, the importance of this airplane seems to escaped the memories of Americans over the decades. In fact, in a Letter to the Editor published in the February 24, 1971 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, William J. Carter of Yankeetown wrote this about the airplane.

Designed to answer a desperate World War II call for transport in a Pacific area where the sea would have to supply the runways, the huge airframe housed eight nacelles for propeller driving piston-engine units, the largest power units then existing

Later in the letter he also wrote:

Rather than scorn a great pioneer’s effort to meet emergency needs in wartime, we should join Howard Hughes to such other pioneers of multi-engined aircraft as Sikorsky and Dornier, whose creations were airborne, one in 1914 and the other in the 1920s, when lesser men were living with small dreams and small aspirations.

On January 20, 1954 the Milwaukee Journal ran a series of articles on Howard Hughes, with the article in this edition dedicated to the Spruce Goose. The article contained the following facts about the airplane:

Weight – 425,000 pounds
Height at tail – 2 1/2 stories
Wingspan – 320 feet, just big enough to touch both goalposts on a football field
Hull – 220 feet long, 30 feet high, 25 feet wide
Engines – Eight of 3,000 horsepower each
Gas load – 14,000 gallons, enough to drive your car around the earth more than eight times if there were a highway at the equator
Payload – 750 soldiers fully equipped or a 60 ton tank, something that 100 World War II cargo planes were needed to carry

It was a magnificent example of aeronautical engineering at a time when aluminum was scarce due to the war, and ships were being destroyed by enemy fire. The Spruce Goose — erroneously dubbed since it was built from birch plywood and not spruce — was a solution to that problem. The Milwaukee Journal article was aptly entitled, “$41,000,000 Spruce Goose Climbed 70 Feet.”

The Schenectady Gazette of October 31, 1947 reprinted a story out of Hollywood that had been posted the day before. Entitled, “Howard Hughes To Launch Huge Plane Tomorrow” the story began thusly:

Millionaire plane designer Howard Hughes announced tonight he would launch his giant 200-ton flying boat Saturday morning at Lost Angeles harbor. The $23,000,000 flying boat will be floated from its graving dock at Terminal Island to undergo dockside tests for several hours.

The launch took place two days before a Senate committee investigating Howard Hughes’ government contracts resumed in Washington the following Monday.

And five years before the Hercules — because that was the plane’s real name — took to the skies, Henry J. Kaiser and then 36-year-old Howard Hughes were in the news as reported in the St. Joseph Gazette of September 19, 1942 in an article entitled, “Will Build 3 Cargo Planes: Kaiser And Hughes Get Authorization For Big Craft.” The article shared general details about the venture which included the following:

Neither Kaiser nor Hughes will make any profit from the job, arranged through a letter of intent from the defense plant corporation, but Kaiser was directed to draw plans for a factory in which the giant twin-hulled flying boats could be manufactured in volume should the army and navy find the experimental ships successful.

Putting the situation into perspective, by July 1942, America had just lost 800,000 tons of supply ships to German U-boats. The cargo planes were meant to address this problem.

It was also reported in the article that if the ships were successful, the earliest that Kaiser and Hughes would begin turning the ships out would sometime in 1945. When the war ended, it was expected that this project would also come to an end. Instead, Howard Hughes invested more of his money into bringing the Hercules project to its conclusion.

As readers can see, the Hercules aka Spruce Goose — while successful in that it did fly — was an expensive proposition at best and one that certainly expanded the knowledge base in aviation, but it cost Howard Hughes dearly both to persist with the project and then to house the project once completed.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tar Heel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 21, 2013

If you ever find yourself in a tar heel fight, you best be ready for a fight you won’t get out of anytime soon. There’s a certain stick-to-it attitude that’s part of a tar heel fight that you don’t get from other kinds of fights. To understand how a tar heel fight differs from other fights, you first have to understand what tar heel means.

On May 7, 2008 the Montreal Gazette published a news article that had to do with the Democratic primary in North Carolina. After weeks of controversy over his former pastor, Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the primary held in that state, which helped him tremendously by giving some momentum to his campaign. The story was entitled, “Obama Bests Clinton In Tar Heel State.

When you hear tar heel, it almost always has something to do with North Carolina. There’s no two ways about it. Wherever you hear talk of North Carolina, talk of tar heels is never far behind. In fact, the Spokane Daily Chronicle of March 12, 1957 carried an Associated Press story that talked about the North Carolina Tar Heels, a basketball team that seemed to specialize in winning close games. The title of the article was, “Winning Close Ones A Tar Heel Specialty.”

It was the Lewiston Daily Sun of October 12, 1928 published an article on Governor Smith’s train campaign along a route that took him through Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. The article entitled, “Smith In Virginia and North Carolina: First Democratic Nominee To Make Personal Appeal For Southern Vote In Years” also reported on other nominees making similar train campaigns, and included this passage in the report:

Sen. Carter Glass, of Virginia, joined the train early in the morning at Washington. At Norlina and Henderson, the Governor received his first ovations in North Carolina, going to the rear platform to exchange greetings with well-wishers. At Norlina his train was boarded by Democratic leaders from the tar heel State who accompanied him to Raleigh.

Steuben Farmers’ Advocate newspaper reported on Chairman Daniel’s speech on July 15, 1896 — a speech that paid tribute to Senator Hill and made an eloquent plea for majority rule. He claimed that the Democratic party was ‘co-evil with the birth of sovereignty of the people‘ and said it could never die until the Declaration of American Independence was forgotten and sovereignty was crushed out. As he gave his speech, there were loud rounds of applause throughout, and more than a few when he was quoted as having said:

It sends forth pioneers from Plymouth Rock and waves over the golden wheat fields of Dakota. It has its strongholds in Alabama and Mississippi and its outposts in Minnesota, Florida and Oregon. It sticks like a tar heel down in the old north State and it writes sixteen to one on the saddle bags of the Arkansaw traveler.

In the diary of William B. A. Lawrence, the last narrative entry of February 6, 1863 also referred to tar heels, but as it pertained to soldiers from North Carolina. In this entry, the author wrote:

I know now what is meant by the Piney Woods of North Carolina and the idea occurs to me that it is no wonder we are called Tar Heels.

The manner in which William Lawrence used tar heels reflected respect, praise, and commendation for the soldiers from North Carolina. But he wasn’t the only one who felt this way about North Carolina’s soldiers. In fact, at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee in January 1863, North Carolina’s soldiers made an impression on the commanding General John S. Preston who, in addressing the troops, said:

This is your first battle of any consequence, I believe. Indeed, you Tar Heels have done well.

So how is it that residents of North Carolina came to be known as tar heels? North Carolina was the leader producer of naval stores (a category of building and maintenance supplies for sailing ships that included cordage, mask, turpentine, rosin, pitch and tar) from 1720 through to 1870. It makes sense then that the tar, pitch and turpentine for which they were known in particular would identify them.

In the end, tar heels can be tagged as being used in writing in early 1863 and because it was expected that soldiers would understand what General Preston meant when he used the expression when addressing his troops, the expression can be traced back another generation to sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s.

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Queen For A Day

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2013

You might think that the expression Queen for a day is self-explanatory and in many respects it is.  However, there’s a modern-day history to that expression. 

In the American legal system Queen for a day refers to a meeting that is set up when a Defendant believes he or she has information that can be leveraged in exchange for a favorable plea deal.  Before a Queen for a day deal can go through, three main points have to be met in the debriefing agreement.  But things can go awry since there are so many components to creating a successful Queen for a day deal.

The Lakeland Ledger edition of July 2, 2001 published a story compiled from Ledger wire services that trumpeted Betsy King’s win on the LPGA tour that year. Betsy King won the ShopRite Classic for the third time when she closed with a 4-under-par 67.  The story was aptly entitled:

King is Queen For A Day

All in good fun, the July 5, 1983 edition of The Robesonian published in Lumberton, NC detailed all sorts of festivities that took place across North Carolina for the 4th of July Independence Day celebration.  From traditional parades to sporting events, mudslinging to skydiving, the story covered the gamut including this interesting one in Greensboro:

Greensboro celebrate its 175th birthday Monday as the nation celebrated its 207th.  In Marion, Bruce Edwards became queen for a day when he wowed the crowd at the town’s first male beauty contest in his red minidress with blue pantyhose “and a girdle.”

On August 14, 1974 journalist Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote an article that was carried in the Edmonton Journal newspaper among others.  The subject of his story was a man by the name of Jack Bailey … a man with an interesting past where addiction and success had crossed paths.  For those who were unfamiliar with the name, the article included this:

Bailey’s trimmed moustache and semi-bald pate were familiar to millions of housewives during this 20 year run in radio and television with Queen For A Day.  By the time the show shut down 10 years ago, he had crowned more than 5,000 queens and bestowed $23 million worth of merchandise.

A generation before that interview, the Waycross Journal Herald had news about a new movie … a gala premiere program featuring Jack Bailey.  The article, published on April 12, 1951, began with this:

The world premiere of “Queen For A Day,” the Robert Stillman-United Artists picture based on the popular Mutual network program, will be held at the Lyric Theatre tomorrow night at eight o’clock with the kleig lights, crimson carpet,  Hollywood stars and all the colorful trappings of a film capital premiere.

A gala stage program will be presented by Jack Bailey, emcee of the Mutual network “Queen For A Day” program and a star of the film, prior to the initial showing of the picture.

The fact of the matter is that the show was very successful over the 20 years it ran, beginning in July 1945.  But even before the creation of the radio and television show, people were being called Queen For The Day.

In fact, the Providence News of March 16, 1928 proudly announced that Miss Louise Hutchins, a student at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, OK was elected queen of the engineering college’s St. Patrick Day’s festivities.  The article was entitled:

She’s Shamrock Queen For A Day

Undoubtedly, the expression goes back as far as the days when queens were first called queens.   However, at the beginning of this entry, it was mentioned that a “proffer” was also known as “queen for a day” meeting. 

According to an article by Todd Spodek in the January 2, 2010 edition of the Global Politician, the moniker has its roots in the vintage television show. In an essay by Benjamin A. Naftalis entitled, “Queen For A Day” Agreements and the Proper Scope of Permissible Waiver of the Federal Plea-Statement Rules published in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems in 2003, he wrote:

The term “Queen For A Day” derives from the popular 1950s television “sob show” Queen For A Day.  Host Jack Bailey (famed voice of Disney’s “Goofy”) would interview four women before a studio audience about their daily misfortunes.  Whoever was judged to be living the hardest life — as determined by the audience’s applause  meter — was crowned “Queen For A Day.”

It appears that the term began with the United States v Mezzanatto, 513 U.S. 196, 216 which appears to date back to 1990s.

And why would a proffer be colloquially known as a Queen For A Day deal?  Perhaps the answer can be found in the Shawn Hanley article of December 16, 1996 for the “Mass Media History Seminar” where the following quote is found:

“Sure ‘Queen‘ was vulgar and sleazy and filled with bathos and bad taste,” wrote producer Howard Blake in an article for Fact magazine. “That was why it was so successful. It was exactly what the general public wanted….We got what we were after. Five thousand Queens got what they were after. And the TV audience cried their eyes out, morbidly delighted to find there were people worse off than they were, and so they got what they were after.”

Based on that explanation, it certainly seems to fit (in legal terms, anyway).  However, the much kinder version of Queen For A Day is one that’s been around longer than Idiomation was able to trace, and so it’s being categorized as timeless.

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I’m The Queen Of England

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 24, 2013

When you hear someone mention that they’re the Queen of England (provided that the person really isn’t the Queen of England or that the person isn’t certifiable), it’s usually in conjunction with another phrase preceding the expression.  For example, when David Michael Green wrote an OpEd piece for OpEdNews.com that was published on November 22, 2007 the title of the article was:

If Conservatism Is The Ideology Of Freedom, I’m The Queen Of England

Back on September 27, 1989 the Denver Post newspaper published an article about Forrest Hiller’s amazing lottery win that paid out $6.5 million.  The story reported the following quote as being the winner’s initial reaction to winning the lottery:

“I thought, `Right, and I’m the Queen of England.'”

The fact of the matter is that there are a number of variations on the Queen of England theme.  Some know the idiom with the Queen of Sheba instead of the Queen of England as seen in Ann Lander’s response to a letter sent in to the Dear Ann column, and published in the Montreal Gazette on October 9, 1965:

Teen crime is up.  Teen drinking is up.  Teen car accidents are up.  If this picture doesn’t reflect a change in teenage behavior, then I’m the Queen of Sheba.

When it wasn’t the Queen of Sheba being maligned, Cleopatra’s identity was being sullied as seen in the sports article by Gayle Talbot, published in the Prescott Evening Courier of October 7, 1939.  The Cincinnati Reds were going into the third game of the 1939 World Series against the New York Yankees, and the story had sports fans on the edge of their seats.  The article, entitled, “Cincy Tired Of Ailing Yanks” reported in part:

“I’m weary of hearing that stuff,” said one of the most prominent of the Reds.  “Sure, they’re good.  They’ve knocked our ears down twice.  Maybe they’re even wonderful.  But I’m a little disappointed when Ruffing has to build up his alibi beforehand, and then sticks to it after he’s pitched that kind of a game.  If that guy had a sore arm, I’m Cleopatra, and I never saw the Nile in my life.”

The French are known to say:  “Et moi, je suis la reine d’Angleterre.” (And me, I’m the Queen of England!)

Likewise, those who speak Hebrew say:  “Ve’ani malkat anglia.” (And I’m the Queen of England.)

There are those who speak Czech who say:  “A já jsem čínský papež.” (And I’m the Chinese pope.)

The Greek tend to say:  “Κι εγώ είμαι ο αλί-μπαμπάς.” (And I’m Ali Baba.)

The Spanish respond with:  “Y yo soy la Reina de Saba.”  (I’m the Queen of Spain and Mexico.)

In the end, any identity can (and has) been slipped into the expression over the generations to express incredulity.  Entire cultural groups have been slipped into the expression as in “I’m a Dutchman” or animals as in “I’m a monkey’s uncle!”

Although Idiomation was unable to pinpoint the first time the Queen of England (and there have been more than a few) was used in this way, suffice it to say that it’s been around for longer than many care to remember.

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Spitballing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 10, 2013

When someone tells you that they’re spitballing, they could mean one of four things. They could literally mean that they’re making spitballs to use as trajectories. They could mean the baseball pitch that’s referred to as a spitball. They could mean they are making unfounded accusations against someone else. Or they could mean they’re brainstorming ideas.

Back on February 9, 2011 Rich Siegel wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for the Huffington Post entitled, “Someone Will Be With You Shortly.” He discussed his thoughts on the Middle East extremists and at one point he wrote:

Perhaps we’ve been going at it all wrong. What if, and I’m just spitballing here, instead of trying to prevent attacks on civilians we offered our Muslim brothers our least-liked people to satisfy their blood lust.

That’s right, I’m suggesting human sacrifice.

It served the Aztecs well. Ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians practiced the ritual. Even the Chinese offered up humans to their river gods.

It appears that the expression is one that’s been quite popular, especially in the realm of politics. Ed Morrissey posted an article to HotAir.com on June 16, 2010 that criticized President Barack Obama’s speech addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig incident 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Ed Morrissey’s comments were based, in part, on the political commentary on the subject by Andrew Malcolm as published in the Los Angeles Times on June 15, 2010.

For a man who has repeatedly claimed to be “fully engaged since Day 1,” and who repeated that claim last night, Obama gave every impression of still being in the spitballing stage of crisis management.

Obama didn’t even offer an original thought for spitballing.  In his short presidency, Obama has had two responses to any issue: appoint a czar or create a commission.

And the year before that, Patrick Sauer wrote an article published by the Huffington Post entitled, “Tim Geithner: Take My Toxic Assets, Please” where he discussed the banking conundrum of the times. There were more than a few idioms in the article, and interestingly enough, spitballing was one of them.

Angry folks are practically calling for a public guillotining of a Wall St. fat cat or two. Ironically, and I’m just spitballing here, that bloody spectacle would do boffo business on pay-per-view and easily cover the next TARP giveaway … So c’mon down hedge fund managers and financial CEOs, you’ve won The Lottery, Shirley Jackson style!

The Youngstown Vindicator edition of February 23, 1981 published an article by journalist, Dick West, that talked about how the freedom fighters of George Washington’s day would be called terrorists by 1980s standards. Humorous in its delivery, the point was clearly made. The article read in part:

And since there was no television in Washington’s time, the Tass commentary adds up to mere spitballing.

Nevertheless, if you close your eyes real tight, you can visualize how such events as the Boston Tea Party might have been reported on the nightly news with Walter Anchorman.

On December 1, 1949 the Milwaukee Sentinel published an article by George E. Sokolsky entitled, “Truman Policy: Peace At A Big Price.” The article addressed what the journalist felt was the result of Soviet Russia’s conquest of China and the policy of the Chinese Communists at the time. He stated:

The arrest of Angus Ward and William N. Stokes, our consular officers in Mukden, is now obviously due to a desire to make the U.S. “lose face” throughout Asia by failing to protect its representatives. It is good propaganda for the Russians, who would kill anyone who threw a spitball at Joe Stalin’s picture.

And so with this article, readers can see that politics and baseball’s spitball began to be associated with each other thanks to journalists such as George E. Sokolsky.

Years earlier, the Meridien Daily Journal published an article in their March 13, 1915 edition entitled, “On The Matter Of Spitballing.” Even back in 1915, according to the article by Frank G. Menke, spitball pitching wasn’t a common practice in the big league any more. Of interest, however, is the description of what a spitball pitch. The definition read:

The use of the spitball makes for great twirlers. History shows that mediocre pitchers who mastered the spitball quickly jumped into first rank in their particular department of the game. But history also shows that the spitball shortens a pitcher’s career.

One would think that spitballing in any other career would also have a similar effect, and so it does.

The good news about the expression spitballing is that not only does it already have a past, it already has a future. In the Star Trek novel, “Typhon Pact #2: Seize The Fire” by Michael A. Martin, published by Simon & Schuster, the following is found:

“Maybe his shipmates thought he was dead,” Riker said, spitballing, though without much conviction.

And so Idiomation pegs the longevity of the expression spitballing (in terms of throwing out ideas) to the 24th century thanks to Commander Riker, with a history that dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1940s (with a nod to the definition at the turn of the 20th century).

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