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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2018

You have seen the memes and the posters on social media and heard people insist that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and while Idiomation can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that statement, Idiomation has tracked down the expression’s history.

It means that hardship or difficult experiences are responsible for building a stronger character, usually with regards to morals and ethics, but also with regards to physical and mental health. It is meant to celebrate the resilience of individuals as well as the ability to cope and adapt where adversity — and in some cases, loss — occurs.

Last year on 15 February 2017, Science Daily shared a research paper that identified cellular recycling processes linked to the beneficial effects on individuals who underwent brief bodily stresses. The data collected by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the resulting paper published in Nature Communications was aptly titled, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”

In the article “Hard Winter For The Guerrillas” written by Middle East correspondent David Hirst and published in the 2 January 1971 edition of the Guardian Weekly newspaper in London, a modified version of this expression found its way into the first paragraph in this way.

“The blow which does not kill you makes you stronger than before.” Three months have passed since Jordan’s “10-day war” between army and guerrillas, but it has not been long enough to provide convincing evidence that this Arabic saying, which Yaser Arafat cited after the fighting stopped, applies to the Palestinian resistance movement. In fact, most of the evidence points the other way.

Even in the 50s, this expression was one most people considered a nugget of wisdom. It even found its way into Dissent magazine from the Foundation for the Independent Study of Social Ideas in 1954 (the year this magazine was founded).

A girl tells of an aunt who taught her what Nietzsche taught some of us: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The last pages bleed. But these kids could teach us all grace under pressure. They have grown up too fast for real. Many of the older ones have made it to college, and maybe they will thrive on what they have been through.

It appeared in Volume 76 of “Printers’ Ink” published on 6 July 1911. The article was written by Bert Moses and was a tribute to George P. Rowell ( 4 July 1838 – 28 August 1908) whose influence on advertising had far-reaching effects. He was thought of, according to the writer, as the pioneer of modern advertising.

He delighted as much to tell of his failures as of his successes. Once he took a whole page to advertise Ripans Tabules in a great New York daily at a cost of $800.

The only result he could trace was one mail order for 50 cents.

This was not a serious loss to him — it was experience — and he realized that all experience which does not kill you is good.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: George P. Rowell was the founder of the Advertising Agency of Geo. P. Rowell and Company which he founded on 5 March 1865. He founded Printers’ Ink in 1888 which was the first journal for advertisers established for the serious discussion of advertising as a business force. He was the founder of Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory in 1869 which focused on providing accurate information about the circulations of newspapers competing for advertising patronage.

However, nearly this exact phrase appears in the book by German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) titled “Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer” written in 1888 and published in 1889. He was known for his critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, and in this book, he coined the expression albeit in German, not English.

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The original title for his book was “A Psychologist’s Idleness” and was written between 26 August and 3 September 1888 when he was vacationing in the small village of Sils Maria which is one of two villages along with Segl Baselgia which make up Sils im Engadin, in the Swiss canton of the Grisons.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Friedrich Nietzsche was born on King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia’s birthday and his parents decided to christen their newborn son Friedrich Wilhelm in honor of the King’s 49th birthday.

While it’s a fact that the expression was expressed in writing by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in 1888, the spirit of the expression is found in the King James version of the Bible where in Romans 5, verses 3 through 5, this is written.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

And so, this expression is stamped on 1888 with a nod to the Christian Bible, and most likely a great many other historical cultures long before the Christian Bible was written, where strength of character was forged through emotional, mental, and physical endurance.

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Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 19th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Make Your Bed And Lie In It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 11, 2018

If you make your bed and lie in it, you are accepting the consequences of your actions. This generally refers to consequences that are unpleasant at best, and refers to actions taken that can either be lawful or unlawful.

As a play on the phrase, Joanna Tovia used the term in an article she wrote in 2014 for houzz.com.au. The article dealt with the many different names for bed items from coverlets to scarves and on to ruffles and valances, and as the title promised, a lot of confusing terms suddenly made sense. The headline was “Make Your Bed And Lie In It: Baffling Bed Terms Demystified.”

The August 8, 1974 edition of “The New York Review of Books” Margot Hentoff reviewed two books. The first was “Beyond Monogamy” from Johns Hopkins and the other was “Divorced in America” by writer Joseph Epstein. In the second paragraph of her review, the expression slipped in very nicely with a bit of literary license while discussing sexual behaviors spoken of in both books.

We make our beds and lie in them tossing, sometimes exchanging them for others — leaving behind, in most cases, a great pile of linen.

In 1903, English novelist Mrs. Edward Kennard (1850 – 1936) published her book, “A Professional Rider.” She was already a well-known authoress, having written and published such books as “Automobile Adventures of Mrs. Fenks” and “The Golf Lunatic” among others.

Chapter II was titled, “As You Make Your Bed, So Must You Lie” and on page 29, the expression was used by Colonel Hope of Hopetown Manor who had just been informed by Miss Walker that his daughter had left seminary for young ladies that was situation in the High Street of market town Foxington, and eloped with a young man in an inferior position of life to her own. The concern aside from the one of marrying below her station in life was that the Colonel’s daughter would come into a sizeable fortune upon her father’s death and as such, her inheritance was in danger because the romantic entanglement.

“Why!” he exclaimed. “From what you tell me, it must be Dick Garrard, the horse dealer. If so, he is one of the biggest scoundrels unhung. Oh! Lord!” And with a groan, he brought his hand down heavily on the table. “I will never forgive either of them,” he added presently, in a husky voice. “Never — never, so long as there is life in my body. As she has made her bed, so must she lie. As for you, Madam,” he went on, withering Miss Walker with a glance full of wrath. “Words fail to describe my contempt for the laxity of your conduct. I entrusted my child to your care, believing yours to be a staid and respectable establishment. You have failed signally — failed miserably and wickedly in your trust. I hold yo responsible for all that has occurred. Good day.” He took up his hat and rushed out of the room like a whirlwind, leaving Miss Walker and Miss Jemima crushed to the ground by the severity of his criticisms.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Mrs. Edward Kennard was the former Mary Eliza Faber, daughter of Charles Wilson Faber who was the director of the Great Northern Railway and the Metropolitan Railway, and Mary Beckett who was the daughter of Sir Edmund Beckett.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1870, she married former journalist Edward Kennard who bought the Barn Estate on the borders of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, thereby becoming a landed gentleman and moving up the social ladder.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: She was personally acquainted with such authors as Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Jumping back another century to 1806, Volume 9 of “Cobbett’s Political Register” edited by English pamphleteer, farmer, journalist and member of British parliament William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835), had an entry about the debate on the state of England’s affairs. Lord Castlereagh (18 June 1769 – 12 August 1822) had taken exception to Mr. Windham’s plan which was to call for an inquiring into the conduct of Lord Wellesley (20 June 1760 – 26 September 1842), but once the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs came to office, all the blustering stopped, and the state’s finances were suddenly in excellent shape. There were those, however, who had their doubts.

Let us, therefore, hear no more complaints about the Bed of Roses. Let those who are upon it make the best of it. The old women say to their daughters, “as you make your bed so you must lie in it” and the same may we say to the ministers. They took to the Pitt inheritance without any complaint; and the people have a right to demand of them a complete responsibility for all the mischief that shall happen.

When James Kelly included it in his book “A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs” published in 1721, it held nearly 3,000 proverbs and was arranged with notes and illustrations. While the expression wasn’t one of the Scottish proverbs, as you make your bed so you must lie on it was the definition for the Scottish proverb: Bode a robe and wear it, bode a pock and bear it.

The book “Outlandish Proverbs” by Welsh-born poet, orator and Anglican priest George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was published in 1640 and a variation of the expression was found therein: He that makes his bed ill, lies there.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  In 1640, the word outlandish  meant foreign.  It did not have the same meaning as it does in the 21st century which is to look or sound bizarre or unfamiliar

And in 1590, “Marginalia” by English writer and scholar Gabriel Harvey (1552 – 1631) shared the proverb as lett them take there owne swynge : and go to there bedd, as themselves shall make it.

There was a 15th century French proverb that stated: Comme on faict son lict, on le treuve, which, translated to English, is: As one makes one’s bed, so one finds it.

The French proverb is attributed to Monseigneur Sainct Didier by Guillaume Flamant in his book “La Vie et Passion de Monseigneur Sainct Didier, Martir et Evesque de Lengres” which was published in 1482, and based on work done by Guillaume de Dufort in 1315 and 7th century biographer Warnacher I of Lorraine, Count of Franks in Burgundy.  Warnacher I of Lorraine died in the fourth year of the reign of Merovingian King Theudebert II of Austrasia which, at the time, included the cities of Poitiers, Tours, Vellay, Bordeaux, and Châteaudun, as well as the Champagne, the Auvergne, and Transjurane Alemannia.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Monseigner Sainct Didier is also known as Desiderius of Langres who was the bishop of Langres in France. He was decapitated by invading Vandals in 411 when the city was captured and sacked, five years after the Seubians, Quadi, Burgundians and Vandals crossed the Rhine.

This puts the proverb to the beginning of the 5th century at the very least, and here is where the trail goes cold. However, the saying bears an uncanny similarity to what is written in Galations 6:7 which reads: For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Idiomation therefore pegs this particular idiom to the 5th century with a nod to Galatians 6:7 in the Christian Bible.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms of the 5th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

From Dan To Bathsheba

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 2, 2017

If someone has been from Dan to Bathsheba, it’s fair game to say that they’ve traveled a great distance and covered a great deal of territory.  It’s not quite the same thing as going to Hell and back, so it’s not wise to use the two expressions interchangeably.

On October 21, 2012 National Peoples News published an article about the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Ibrahim Lamorde (from 23 November 2011 through to 9 November 2015 ) and a speech given by former Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan (in office from 2010 to 2015) at the funeral services for Kaduna (Nigeria) Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa (1 December 1948 – 15 December 2012).

It is highly commendable that the intellectual President of the Nigerian federation has gone spiritual with the problems of the country to solve it from the spiritual substantiated planes of the esoteric wealth and this will surely witness rapid social, economic and industrial Development as well as will guarantee peace in the polity from Dan to Bathsheba.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Governor Yakowa died in a helicopter crash along with the former National Security Adviser General Owoye Andrew Azazi.  The were flying to Port Harcourt from Beyelsa State where they  had attended the funeral of Oronto Douglas’ father.

On Page 4 of the May 24, 1957 edition of the Beatrice Daily Sun in Nebraska reported on how the Soviet military attaché gave Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Ali Abu-Nuwwar (1925 – 15 August 1991) 100,000 dinars to distribute among army officers to oppose Hussein bin Talal (14 November 1935 – 7 February 1999), King of Jordan (11 August 1952 – 7 February 1999).  Upon his return to Jordan, Abu-Nuwwar met with Jordanian Prime Minister, Sulayman al-Nabulsi (1908 – 1976) in the hopes that the King could be pressed into establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The King refused both proposals on the basis that they would lead to Soviet domination over Jordan.” An army coup d’etat was then set. Twice postponed, it finally miscarried when one garrison misunderstood its orders and started fighting at 1500 hours (3 p.m.) instead of at 0500 hours the next morning.” This exposed the plot and enabled it to be crushed. Against reports of this kind, the raucous “Voice of the Arabs,” Radio Cairo, is stirring up trouble all over the Middle East. All this propaganda presents a challenge for the U.S. Information Agency to do a factual and efficient job in this part of the world, if it is to be saved from a Communist takeover. The Upper Room One of the usually accurate members of the Nebraska editorial fraternity, describing how his fellow citizens would react if he adopted a certain policy, wrote: “I would be cursed from Dan to Bathsheba.”

The November 2, 1907 issue of the New Zealand Observer in Aukland, New Zealand saw the expression shared in the  “Pars About People” column with regards to a politician by the name of C.H. Izard who served in the House of Representatives.  Charles Hayward (C.H.) Izard (1860 – 18 September 1925) was an established lawyer in Wellington and a Liberal member in the New Zealand Parliament for Wellington North from 6 December 1905 through to 17 November 1908.

Nobody ever had the hardihood to accuse C.H. Izard, the member for Wellington South, of beiung a religious man, and certainly a remark that he made in the House last week would seem to furnish proof ot the fact that he has not burnt the midnight oil in the pursuit of theological knowledge. In the course of debate, Mr. Izard made the startling announcement that he didn’t intend to travel from Dan To Bathsheba.  It is to be hoped not, indeed.  Mr. Izard’s Christian name is not David.

SIDE NOTE 2: C.H. Izard was the eldest son of Charles Beard Izard who immigrated to New Zealand in May 1860, and went on to represent the constituency of Wellington South and Suburbs in the tenth Parliament from 1887 to 1890.

In 1840,  Volume III of “The Literary World: A Journal of Popular Information and Entertainment with Numerous Engravings” edited by English author and antiquary John Timbs (17 August 1801 – 6 March 1875) remarked on a new book by German historian Friedrich Ludwig Georg von Raumer (14 May 1781 – 14 June 1873) titled, “Italy and the Italians.”  The review was extensive, leading readers to feel that the review was nearly as detailed as the book itself.

A German is not the man to travel from “Dan to Bathsheba” and say “all is barren.”  His characteristic mental energy, zeal, and patience, his comprehensive views of the various phases of the social system, his painstaking investigation of antiquities, his accurate appreciation of art, his aptitude for the studies of literature, and his industry and success in inquiring into the phenomena of nature – are all qualities which pre-eminently fit the German for travelling, and remind one of Johnson’s neat amplification of the Spanish proverbs:  “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”

SIDE NOTE 3:  John Timbs also published under the pseudonym of Horace Welby.

The New York Journal of February 13, 1797 provided a short entry with regards to the Federalist persecution of the Tallow Chandlers.  The issue in question was self-defense of property and person, with an argument that even “good peaceable Quakers” had the right to defend themselves.

But even suppose the Tallow Chandlers once situated upon the pinnacle of Bunker’s Hill, what security have they that they shall long remain there undisturbed?  As soon as that will be known or heard, rolling along, with the accompanyments of wealth, will come from nabob. Some wise and pompous Treaty maker, or may be some son of Exculapius with his wife and we will not suppose with how many concubines, who perhaps finding his delicate smellers a little offended, and casting his eyes, will exclaim, “you dirty stinking dogs, you shall continue there no longer.  March for Kingsbridge.”  Thus, drive from pillar to post, even “from Dan to Bathsheba” the chandlers will have no rest for the sole of their feet, and like the rolling stone will be able to gather no moss.

The original saying is actually from Dan to Beersheba and is a biblical phrase used nine times in the Old Testament of the Bible.  It refers to the settled areas of the tribes of Israel situated between Dan to the North and Beersheba to the South.   Dan was Jacob’s fifth son and his was the last of the tribes to receive a portion in the Land of Promise.  The territory extended from the west of Ephraim and Benjamin to the sea, and included the cities of Lydda, Ekron, and Joppa along the northern boundary.  Beersheba was the site of a well that was dug by the Prophet Abraham about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.  The well was used to water his flocks

Somewhere along the line, however, people confused Beersheba with Bathsheba, and references to both are found littered along the way through to the 18th century when Bathsheba won out.

Since the expression is found in the Bible (using Beersheba not Bathsheba) with detailed information that includes an explanation of how Dan came to be an area belonging to the tribe of Dan, what is meant by from Dan to Bathsheba or rather, Beersheba, pegs this idiom to the Old Testament of the Bible.

Posted in Bible, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Move The Goalposts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

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

Let Your Mouth Overload Your Back

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 15, 2015

When someone warns you to not let your mouth overload your back, it’s one of many similar idioms including the colloquial Texas phrase that became popular in the 1920s: “Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass.”  It’s also related to the expression that you shouldn’t let your mouth write a check that your butt can’t cash.  Or make promises you can’t keep.

In other words, someone who lets their mouth overload their back will talk the talk but prove unable to walk the walk (which is also an idiom).

On April 12, 2015 Tom Aswell’s article in the Louisiana Voice took on the matter of Bobby Jindal’s comments about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the Hilary Clinton email server scandal.  The article opened with this paragraph.

My granddad had an admonition for someone (more than once, that someone was me) who he thought was running his mouth off a little too much: “Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your jaybird ass.”

In the Evening News edition of September 7, 1990 the question was asked by a journalist whether President Bush and the United Nations had overstepped their boundaries with comments about Iraq.  At the time, Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and both the U.N. Security Council and President Bush immediately denounced Iraq’s actions.  They demanded an immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces, and the restoration of the government of the emir of Kuwait.  Carl Rowan began his article with this paragraph.

When I was a schoolboy, saying bravely that I should “teach that schoolyard bully a lesson,” I always had a wise pal who would say, “Never let your mouth overload your ass.”

In Volume 11 of the Georgia State Bar Journal published in 1974, the idiom was used on page 32 when the author of the article stated that in his enthusiasm to propose a grand program a year earlier, he had forgotten the old adage about letting his mouth overload his butt.

What this shows is that the idiom in its many variations is as popular now as it’s been in the past regardless of the varying descriptors used to describe the mouth or what the mouth may be overloading.

Because there are many variations of the idiom found over the centuries, Idiomation searched long and hard for the spirit of the idiom.  It was found in the Bible in Ecclesiastes 5:6.

“Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?”

The Bible passage warns that you shouldn’t let your mouth overload your abilities otherwise you’ll get yourself into trouble when it comes time to back up those words.

What’s your favorite version of this expression?  Feel free to share in the Comments Section below.

Posted in Bible, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Weak As Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 14, 2015

When someone says another person is weak as water, it could mean it usually means the other person is easily influenced.  After all, water always chooses the path of least resistance in nature, and likewise, if someone is weak as water, they won’t want to cause waves.  They’ll also choose the path of least resistance.

It was in the newspaper The Age of Thursday, March 23, 1978 that news of the Australian federal government’s decision to free Queensland Aborigines from state laws governing the administration of Aboriginal reserves. According to the Aboriginal Affairs Minister at the time, the legislation would override the Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Act. But not everyone was impressed with the announcement.

The Queensland state government last night declared it would use every weapon available to block the legislation. The acting Queensland Premier, Mr. Knox, said he was astounded by the move. “We will oppose this attempt both politically and in the courts,” Mr. Knox said.

In Hong Kong, the Queensland Premier, Mr. Bjelke-Petersen, said the Federal Government’s actions were “as weak as water.”

On July 30, 1951 an Associated Press story written by William F. Arbogast went national and reported on the final congressional approval for an economic controls bill that President Truman would then be expected to sign even though he disagreed with the bill. If the bill wasn’t signed into law by the next evening, all existing government controls over things such as wages, prices, and rents would come to a screeching halt. Added to the situation was the fact that there wasn’t even enough time for the President to veto the vote by Congress. The article was aptly titled, “Weak As Water Controls Bill Nears Final Approval By Congress Once More Leaving Consumers Holding The Bag.”

Of course, sometimes newspapers and books yield up interesting situations such as the one mentioned in the Palm Beach Post newspaper of May 18, 1923 that ran a full-page under the headline, “Questions For Consideration At Mass Meeting Tonight To Discuss Municipal Ownership of Public Utilities.”   The issue at heart was that of the water supply to West Palm Beach, and included such questions as these:

Will they sell the water plant at actual cost and deduct the $20,000 or more estimated losses they will incur each year during the next eight years?

Who has been trying to enact a law in the State Legislature to take away power of increase and reduction of public utilities rates from municipal authorities and place this power with the State Railroad Commission?

Can three men who reside in Tallahassee fix public utility rates for all Florida and do justice to all concerned?

Did anybody ever try to put a yellow rope around Lorenzo Garland’s neck?

Is the request of the Water Company for an increase in rates as weak as water?

Who is willing to be the goat and stand up against the corporations who own public utilities and their agents, hirelings, and retained attorneys?

The Bryan Times of June 29, 1882 published a story by Rose Terry Cooke entitled, “Just Like A Man” that shared typical male and female interactions as seen through the eyes of the author. Halfway through the story, Sarah and her mother segue into this part of their discussion.

“Bless your soul and body,” Put in her mother; “I never see the thing yet you wa’n’t afeard of, Sary, horse or not.”

“Oh I know it, ma, but I am awfully afeard of a skittish horse; Tom, he don’t really sense it, and he says Jenny ain’t ugly, she’s just full of play; and I s’pose she is; she’s knowing as a dog, and I give her a bite of somethin’ every time he fetches her ’round, and she knows me real well, but she will jump and lash out and sky sometimes, and it makes me just as weak as water, so’t I don’t never drive her if I can help it.”

Reaching back into history, the expression is identified as a proverb in John Ray’s “A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs” that was first published in 1674. John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as the author of “Historia Plantarum.”  Since John Ray has identified this as a proverb, a quick search of the Christian Bible reveals that, indeed, it does appear in the Christian Bible in Ezekiel 21.

 “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes.   And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that it is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,’” declares the Lord God.

On a related parallel note, water isn’t actually weak. Water determines its own path in nature (and sometimes in the city as well). It can be transformed into liquid, gas, or a solid (ice). It can erode stone, concrete, and other hard substances. It can sustain bacteria and other living organisms. In other words, water is anything but weak.  But Idiomation digresses on the matter of the idiom at hand.

Back on topic, the Book of Ezekiel is found in the Old Testament, so it’s more than two thousand years old. What history tells us is that Ezekiel was taken to Babylon in the first captivity and served as a religious counselor to the Hebrews that lived along the banks of the Kebar River around 597 B.C. Portions of the Book of Ezekiel, however, were written prior to Jerusalem’s fall in 586 B.C. This puts the expression to the time the Book of Ezekiel was written. It may be older than that, but Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of this expression.

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Bell, Book and Candle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 19, 2015

When someone talks about bringing bell, book, and candle, they mean that something unusual, unexpected or bizarre will soon happen.  It’s important to note that these three items — book, bell, and candle — are all used in the celebration of the Roman Catholic mass.  Back in the day, if you wanted to curse a Catholic, all you had to do was to do it “by bell, by book, and by candle, and by all that is Holy.”  In saying this, you closed the book (Bible), silenced the bell, and put out the candle damning the person to spiritual death.

Knowing this, it’s almost humorous to note that in the December 4, 2008 edition of the Southern Herald in Liberty, Mississippi mention was made that the Liberty Bell, Book and Candle store had relocation, making sure to mention that its current location was across from the Courthouse and that its previous location had been near the Liberty Baptist Church.

The Boca Raton News of November 24, 1986 published an article on “The World’s Most Haunted Country.”  The article referred, of course, to the many haunted houses and locations in Britain — a country whose first official ghost-hunter was Dr. Robert Morris, identified as an American expert who had been inaugurated as the Koestler Chair in Parapsychology at Edinburgh University.

No need to bring garlic, or bell, book and candle, but a camera might be useful.  Patient visitors have been rewarded with film evidence at a number of sites, including historic Littlecote House near Newbury, scene of a grisly murder in 1575; and Borley Rectory, Suffolk, once proclaimed “Britain’s most haunted house.”

In the third edition (revised and corrected) of “The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe” the concept of bell, book and candle is addressed in Volume 5.  John Foxe (1516 – 18 April 1587) was an English historian, martyrologist, and author.The segment was published earlier in 1803 in the book “The Book Of Martyrs, or Christian Martyrology Containing an Authentic and Historical Relation of Many Dreadful Persecutions Against the Church Of Christ.”   Volume 5 covered three hundred years of history from the time of King Henry VIII’s reign and it’s in the section titled, “The Pope’s Curse with Book, Bell, and Candle” that is pegged at 1533 that the following is found:

At last, the priests found out a toy to curse him, whatsoever he were, with book, bell, and candle; which curse at that day seemed most fearful and terrible.  The manner of the curse was after this sort.

The text of the Pope’s Curse is clear.  You were in big trouble once the Pope’s Curse was put on you.

Pope's CurseBack in 1485, English author, knight, land owner, and Member of Parliament, Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire (1405 – 14 March 1471) used it in “Morte d’Arthur” in Book XXI, Chapter 1:

Sir, said the noble clerk, leave this opinion, or else I shall curse you wyth book and belle and candell.  

Do thou thy worst, said Sir Mordred, wit thou well I shall defy thee.  

Sir, said the bishop, and wit you well I shall not fear me to do that me ought to do.  Also where ye noise where my lord Arthur is slain, and that is not so, and therefore ye will make a foul work in this land.

Peace, thou false priest, said Mordred, for, and thou charge me any more, I shall make strike off they head.

So the bishop departed, and did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done.  And then Sir Mordred sought the bishop of Canterbury for to have slain him.  Then the bishop fled, and took part of his goods with him, and went nigh unto Glastonbury, and there he was as priest hermit in a chapel, and lived in poverty and in holy prayers: for well he understood that mischievous war was at hand.

Idiomation traced the book, bell and candle curse back to the “Cursor Mundi: The Cursor O The World: A Northumbrian Poem of the 14th Century” published in 1300.

Cursor MundiThe last two lines make mention of bell, book and candle, but in reverse order.

Curced in kirc an sal ai be wid candil, boke, and bell.

That being said, it is interesting to learn that in all, there are one hundred and third two curses from the Church of Rome including one all-inclusive universal curse on all heretics in the world that can is held for use on Holy Thursday if the Pope so wishes.  Many of these curses go back to the first Nicaean Council in Bythynia, convened by Constantine the Great (27 February 272 – 22 May 337) — also known as Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus — in 325 AD!

Among the attendees was Nicholas of Myra, the bishop upon whose life the Santa Claus legend is based, and the Pope at the time was Sylvester I who rose to the position on January 31, 314 and remained Pope until his death in 335 in Rome.

While it’s true that some claim the curse is directly related to witchcraft, the fact of the matter is, the curse is one hundred percent vested in Christianity with nary a bit of witchcraftery.  How far back the curse goes is anyone’s guess, but it certainly doesn’t pre-date Christianity.

The Edict of Milan in 313 guaranteed Christians of their legal rights and the return of confiscated property to their rightful Christian owners.  That being said, Marcion of Sinope’s heretical “New Testament” is responsible for Christians establishing and recognizing their New Testament canon around 140 AD — one that recognized the 27 books of the New Testament that was written around 45 AD.

What this means is that it’s a safe bet that the Pope’s Curse with bell, book and candle was one that happened after sometime after 314 AD, but Idiomation is unable to peg the exact date the curse came into being.

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My Brother’s Keeper

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 17, 2015

It was October 20, 2010 and President Barack Obama was at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.  The President was there to address a crowd anxious to hear him speak.  At one point in his speech, he shouted:

So we believe in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility. We believe in a country that prizes innovation and entrepreneurship. But we also believe in a country where we look after one another; where we say, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. That’s the America I know. That’s the choice in this election.

When the idiom my brother’s keeper is used, it implies that you are responsible for what someone else does or for what happens to that person.  It’s been an idiom that’s been discussed in literal, figurative, and metaphorical terms for centuries, and has led to a great many philosophical debates.

The Prescott Evening Courier newspaper of September 16, 1965 published an editorial that began with discussing an accident near Stanfield, Arizona where a truck driver burned to death while a passing motorist ignored his cries for help.  The editorial then discussed that, according to psychiatrists, society was moving towards developing a shell of non-involvement that set people at ease when they chose not to involve themselves in helping those in need.  The editorial was titled, “My Brother’s Keeper.”

A little more than thirty years earlier, G.R. Ingram, Secretary of the Nelson County Farmers Union (in North Dakota) wrote and published a poem in the Mouse River Farmers Press on November 30, 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The poem entitled, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” ended with this stanza:

To each of us upon this earth
God sets a task:
To aid and cheer our fellow man
His hand to grasp.
To show to him, as best we can
The way to save his home and land,
That Faith in God means faith in man —
This is our task.

Almost a hundred years before that, in the “Church of England Magazine” edition of June 5, 1841 (Volume X, No. 287) the subject and idiom were discussed at length in the article, “The Social Feelings Enlisted and Hallowed by Christianity.”  While the author isn’t credited, his article includes this passage:

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was once the language of a conscience-stricken criminal.  But the words may issue from our lips in a different spirit.  Am I, indeed, my brother’s keeper?  Is it true that God hath committed to my keeping the soul of a brother for whom Christ died, and whom he desires to bring to glory?  Is it true that we are joined more closely and more mysteriously than limb to limb?  Is it true, in the thousand ways that I can see, and in a multitude of ways which I cannot see, that we touch and affect each other, so that no little act of either of us can be sure to end with himself?

In 1703, Laurence Clarke compiled a complete history of the Christian Bible that was printed by Princeton University.  It was entitled, “A Compleat History of the Holy Bible: Contained in the Old and New Testament In Which Are Inserted the Occurences That Happened During the Space of Four Hundred Years, From The Days of the prophet Malachi, to the birth of our Blessed Saviour.”  The title is actually longer than this, however, the gist of the subject matter is obvious in the portion of the title that’s been shared here.  The idiom is found in this passage in the book:

And as if he had been affronted by being questioned about his Brother, he surlily answered, “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” But the Lord not only charged him with the Murder of his Brother, but convicted him of it too.

Based on this, it’s obvious that the idiom is from the Old Testament.

In Genesis 4:9 God asks Cain where Able is and Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to hide the fact that he does know where Able is and what has happened to him.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the Christian Bible, Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd, and in a fit of jealousy, Cain murdered Abel.  Afterwards, he denied having any knowledge of where his brother could be found.  In other words, he tried to hide the fact that he had murdered his brother by claiming no responsibility for his brother.

The idiom therefore dates back to the Old Testament of the Bible and Idiomation is unable to find an earlier version of it as this idiom dates back to a time when papyrus was in use.

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Cross To Bear

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 5, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say that a difficult situation is the cross they have to bear.  What they mean by that is that they must accept an unpleasant situation or responsibility because there is no way to avoid dealing with it.  What’s more, it’s a situation or responsibility that can’t be shared or passed along to someone else.  The idiom refers to an emotional or mental burden that brings with it a marked amount of stress and suffering, and, despite its origins, has nothing to do with a physical burden.

The expression, of course, alludes to the crucifixion of Christ who was made to carry his own cross as was the custom during Roman Times.

The idiom was used in the Herald-Journal on January 4, 2007 in an article about the diverse student population and how there were concerns that displaying a cross in the sanctuary in the campus chapel at Virginia’s College of William and Mary might upset some of the non-Christian students attending there.  The second oldest college in America, it was founded at the request of the Anglican Church.  The article by J.R. Labbe was entitled, “Is Tolerating Tolerance A College’s Cross To Bear?

You might wonder if the idiom always has a religious aspect to it.  It doesn’t.  On March 28, 1957 the Milwaukee Sentinel published a news story entitled, “Resemblance to James Dean Riles Actor Dean Stockwell.”  The former child actor was now a striking 20-year-old in film and while his portfolio of performances was impressive, he wasn’t finding himself on easy street.  In fact, the article reported this:

All is not rosy for young Stockwell.  He has a cross to bear:  The late James Dean.  He has the same hair and much the same brooding handsomeness of Dean.

The “Class Leader’s Treasury” by respected Methodist Pastor, Reverend John Bate, was published in March of 1881, and published by the Wesleyan Conference Office in England.  Reverend Bate was also the author of “Cyclopedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths.”  It’s on page 440 of the “Class Leader’s Treasury” that the following is found:

You would find a heavier cross to bear on turning back than you have to bear in going forward, to say nothing of what you would find when you came to the City of Destruction.

It was undoubtedly a favorite expression of religious men, and it was used in a poem collected by Reverend John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw Churches, and included in the “Olney Hymns In Three Books” published on February 15, 1779.  He attributes the poem to the late Dr. Watts. This was part of Hymn 51 in “Book 1 on Select Texts of Scripture.”

Lord, we return thee what we can!
Our heart shall sound abroad,
Salvation, to the dying Man,
And to the rising God!

And while thy bleeding glories here
Engage our wond’ring eyes,
We learn our lighter cross to bear,
And hasten to the skies.

It was used in 1607 to refer to the act of suffering troubles patiently.  It was in the play by John Webster and Thomas Dekker titled, “The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas Wyat” in scene 14 that the term was used.  As you may or may  not know, The Wyatt Rebellion was led by Tudor courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (his father being English poet and ambassador Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder) during the reign of Mary I of England.

It was, however, in a letter to Catharine of Aragon (16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536), written by Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (27 October 1466 – 12 July 1536) — also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam — that the idiom is found. The letter was written after her divorce from Henry VIII in 1533.

It is most rare to find a lady born and reared in courts, who binds her hope on acts of devotion, and finding her solace in the word of God. Would that others, more especially widows, would learn to follow your example; and not widows only, but unmarried ladies too, for what so good as the service of Christ? He is the Rock — the Spouse of pious souls — and nearer than the nearest humanitie. A soul devoted to this Husband is at peace alike in good and evil times. He knows what is best for all; and is often kindest when He seems to turn the honey into gall. Every one has his cross to bear; without that cross no soul can enter into rest!”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, and therefore, it’s assumed that the saying, “we all have our cross to bear” is thanks to Erasmus, dating back to 1533.

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With A Grain Of Salt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2014

When you take something with a grain of salt, you don’t take what’s being said or written as being completely factual or true.  In fact, it could be said that you aren’t taking it at face value.

Interestingly enough, it sometimes appears as a Latin phrase as in the news article entitled, “Republicans Smell Blood In Presidential Race” written by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake for the Washington Post on August 10, 2011.  The article spoke about data collected from the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center that looked at whether Americans wanted Obama to face a primary challenge.  Along with the statistics and the poll results, the writers added:

Polls are, of course a snapshot in time and are rightly taken cum grano salis. But, it’s not hard to read between the data points on this particular survey.

Of course, the expression was also used in English as in the article by NFL National Lead Writer, Ty Schalter when he wrote, “Detroit Lions’ Success: Take It With A Grain Of Salt” published a bit more than a month later on September 22, 2011.  He even included the idiom in the article.

As fans, we are tempted to tap the brakes. To pull back on the reins. To take this early success with a grain of salt.

In 1935, Robert Harry Lowie wrote and published a book titled, “The Crow Indians.”  As you can imagine, the book was about the Crow Indians living on a reservation near the core of the tribal territory southeast of Billings, Montana and northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming, and were identified in the book as being related to the Sioux of the Dakotas.  In describing the politics of the camp the author wrote about, he wrote the following.

Appointed by the camp chief, the police were considered subordinate to him; and he could thus, according to Leonard, a fur trader of the thirties, veto every one of their acts.   However, the statement must be taken with a grain of salt.  The chief himself was not an autocrat, and the constabulary normally acted only on special occasions, such as those mentioned above.  Apart from these, the people hardly felt the weight of authority.

Nearly 100 years earlier, in “The Baptist Magazine” a letter was published, dated July 13, 1836 where the author was identified by only an initial, E.  The letter was published with the title, “Baptists In Scotland.”

I had almost forgotten to take notice, as I intended to do, of one of your correspondent’s statements, in detailing some of the principles of the Scotch Baptists, in the first paragraph of his letter.  He says, they “contend for a plurality of elders,mutual exhortation by the brethren on the Lord’s day, and disapprove of pastoral support.”  The first peculiarity here stated may possibly be held by many of us as a principle, but being so often departed from in practice, the assertion requires to be qualified with a grain of salt; a plurality of elders being rather looked upon as desirable, than as absolutely indispensible.  The exhortation of the brethren is generally practised, although not, I hope, in every possible case, dogmatically insisted upon; but the third statement in the above quoted sentence, that we disapprove of pastoral support, I positively deny without any qualification at all.

Interestingly enough, in Italy there is an expression:  avere sale in zucca.  Zucca (meaning pumpkin) is a humorous reference to one’s head and one’s intelligence and ability to reason.  When one is told to have salt in their pumpkin, they’re being reminded to use a little bit of intelligence and common sense to reason things out.  In other words, good judgment and some intellect is reflected in reference to the grain of salt needed to do so.

And since Italian is a romance language that derives from Latin, the connection between avere sale in zucca and cum grano salis is easily made.  In fact, up until the 20th century, the Latin cum grano salis was preferred over the English variant with a grain of salt.

But why salt?  What is the importance of salt that it should be linked to intellect and judgement?

In ancient times, salt was a necessity of life and was used as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a unit of monetary exchange, and in ceremonies.  In fact, in 2 Chronicles 13, verse 5 the covenant of salt (one which can never be broken because it is an irrevocable pledge that promises undying fidelity to God) is spoken of thusly:

Should you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?

Even Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) spoke of the need for salt when he wrote:  A civilized life is impossible without salt.  Strangely enough, Pliny also mentioned the last line in a formula of 72 ingredients that were to be taken as an antidote for poison in his book Historia Naturalis.  The formula was found at the palace of King Mithridates VI in 63 BC when it was seized by the armies of Rome by General Pompey aka Pompey the Great (106-48 BC).  And what was that last line of this amazing formula, you ask?

Pliny translated the formula with this last line included:  To be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt.

Medieval writers, transcribing the writings of Pliny the Elder understood this to mean that Pliny was skeptical of the account given by General Pompey (106-48 BC) — also known as Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus — regarding the poison antidote and the many ingredients therein.  However, Pliny the Elder used the Latin term most associated with his era which would have been addito salis grano.  Instead they attributed the Medieval Latin equivalent which was cum grano salis.

What this appears to mean is that with a grain of salt was first used in Medieval times with the meaning we use these days.   That being said, the value of salt, continues to be as important to our lives now as it was centuries ago, and you don’t need to take that comment with a grain of salt.

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