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Archive for the ‘Unknown’ Category

Full Monty

Posted by Admin on April 10, 2021

Contrary to popular believe, the full monty is not a euphemism for stripping as the movie of the same name implied. In fact, literally, the full monty is actually a three-piece suit with a waistcoat and all the trimmings that go with such a suit including a spare pair of trousers, and figuratively, it means to pursue something to its absolute limits.

On 21 February 1993, the Sunday Life newspaper of Belfast in County Antrim reported on the goal David Montgomery of the Carrick Rangers Football Club scored against the Glentoran Football Club. Because of that goal, his team won the game. Of course, for obvious reasons, David Montgomery’s nickname was Monty, but the headline that went with the photograph and news story was:

The Full Monty: Carrick’s Co. Antrim Shield Hero David Montgomery (left0 Salutes the Fans After Tuesday’s Game.

In 1986, the book “Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street” was published. The book was compiled by Jeffery Miller and edited by Graham Nown. For those who may know, Coronation Street is a long-running, well-loved British soap opera. Because Jeffrey Miller included the expression his book nearly a decade earlier than the movie “The Full Monty” was released in theaters is that the expression was known in the mid-80s.

The podcast from České Podcasty in the Czech Republic talked about men in the 1970s “wearing the full Monty” so it appears the idiom was not only well known, but well known long before the movie was a glimmer in the scriptwriter’s eye.

So what’s the connection between clothes and this full Monty?

Sir Montague Burton (15 August 1885 – 21 September 1952) was born in Lithuania and was previously known as Moshe David Osinsky. He opened a shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in England in 1903, and within a decade it was a respected chain. It went on to become one of Britain’s largest high street clothing retailers.

What began as a single shop in 1903 turned into a chain of 400 shops by 1929. When WWII broke out, his business was responsible for making a quarter of the British military uniforms, and a third of the demobilization clothing. Demobilization clothing was civilian clothing provided to servicemen who were demobilized after WWII. The outfit, known as the “Full Monty” comprised of a hat, a three-piece suit or a jacket with flannel trousers, two shirts, a tie, a pair of shoes, and a raincoat.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The other manufacturers of demobilization clothing were Fifty Shilling Tailors which was established in 1905 by Henry Price in Leeds, and Simpsons of Piccadilly which was originally established by Simeon Simpson in 1894 as S. Simpson. His son, Alexander Simpson, joined the business in 1917 and in 1936 Simpsons of Piccadilly was established.

The tradition of giving servicemen after the war a new suit originated after WWI (yes, back in 1918) when servicemen exchanged their service uniforms for civilian clothes.

In a July 2005 article by the BBC, a number of former employees and children of former employees spoke of the “full Monty” as being this complete outfit, some of them remembering the term as far back as 1925.

The West Yorkshire Archive Service (which documents local history from the 12th century through to the present) has photographs of the Leeds factory of Montague Burton from the 1930s and includes photographs of the Australian Cricket Team visiting in the summer of 1938. One of the photographs identifies the Australian team’s captain, Don Bradman (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), being fitted for what is described as the “full Monty” at one of Burton’s stores.

So while this expression is a difficult idiom to research (Idiomation invested three days on this quest) with an inordinately large number of red herrings to chase after, the best Idiomation can confirm is that it appears most likely the expression is from Montague Burton based on the demobilization suits (1945) and the factory photos (1938).

What Idiomation can confirm is that the idiom existed long before the movie was filmed.

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

Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2021

Most people are under the impression that this expression is rife with sexual innuendo. The fact of the matter is, there’s a mariner history to that expression, even if the current nudge-nudge-wink-wink-know-what-I-mean commentary and looks are associated with it these days.

To understand the expression, it’s important to go back to the Golden Age of Sail. This was a period from 1571 through to 1862 that corresponds with the early modern period when international trade and naval warfare was the main staple of sailing ships. Of course, sailing ships included frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners. All of this continued until steamboats started to take trade away from sailboats.

Ships during this time period carried their guns in two large batteries, one on each broadside. A few were mounted to fire directly ahead which left sailing warships weak, especially on the bow and most especially the stern of the ship, both of which were vulnerable to raking fire.

Ships at the mercy of raking fire had no guns with which to defend themselves, and with the rudder at the stern, the ability to maneuver the ship rendered the ship literally dead in the water even with intact masts and sails.

Rumor has it that the brass monkey was the dimpled plate that sat beside ship guns, stacked in a pyramid, and when the weather or cold, they would freeze and slip off the plate.

Unfortunately that is not true!

As reasonable as that may sound, it’s an sailor’s tale according to the official U.S. Navy website, Naval History and Heritage Command.

That being said, there were a lot of monkeys on sailing ships according to the website. In 1650, a monkey was a specific kind of cannon, and the lever used to fire it was known as the monkey’s tail. By 1682, a powder monkey was responsible for carrying gun powder to cannons. Monkey spars were small masts and yards on vessels, and monkey blocks were used in rigging.

What’s more, warships didn’t store round shot on deck around the clock on the off chance they might go into battle. One thing that was definitely a commodity on ships at sea was space, and decks were kept as clear as possible to allow room for hundreds of sailors to go about their day completing their assigned tasks. If a ship hit rough seas, the captain and crew couldn’t — and wouldn’t — risk the danger of round shots breaking free on deck and rolling around loose. Round shots were only brought on deck when the decks were cleared for action, and action was about to take place!

Besides, leaving round shots exposed to the elements was only going to worsen their condition over time, long before they saw action in battle … which leads to another reason to disbelieve the mythos of the dimpled plate. You see, if round shots were placed on a brass plate so they wouldn’t rust to an iron plate, they would still be in danger of rusting to each other. But generally speaking, metals — including brass — don’t shrink because of cold weather.

So where did this idiom come from?

In “An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion” published in The Worcester Magazine of June, 1843, something closely related to the expression was used in this way:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so independent of the weather, which was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The Canadian Rebellion was actually two rebellions in Upper Canada as well as in Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838.

The rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriotes [sic] was the more serious and violent rebellions (in November of 1837 and the following year in November of 1838).

The rebellion in Upper Canada was led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December of 1837. In 1838, Mackenzie fled to the U.S. where he lived until he was pardoned in 1948 which allowed him to return to Canada.

The end result was the union of the two colonies in 1841, which was subsequently referred to as the Province of Canada.

American author Herman Melville mentioned brass monkeys in his 1847 novel “Ormoo.” Thing is, the way the author mentioned them had nothing to do with balls or how cold it was.

It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’”

A decade later, C.A. Abbey wrote in his book, “Before the Mast in the Clippers: The Diaries of Charles A. Abbey” about brass monkeys as well and his expression had nothing to do with noses or how hot it was.

It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey.”

So what should we believe about all this nonsense having to do with brass monkeys?

Perhaps this is the answer to that question. During the 19th and 20th centuries, small monkey figures were cast in brass by artisans in China and Japan, which were sold in souvenir shops. Usually they came in a sett of three to represent “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” but most people are unaware of the fact that some sets included a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Should someone have all four monkeys, they are actually a valuable collector’s item these days.

So perhaps the expression has far more to do with the fourth monkey in a set of Wise Monkeys, and brasses historical and enduring importance due to its hardness and workability that dates back to ancient Roman times.  As to who first coined the expression and exactly when this expression came into being, one can only peg it to somewhere in the late 19th century or early 20th century — most likely the early 20th century — based on the vague history of the expression.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Maritime, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Baptism Rain

Posted by Admin on February 15, 2018

Earlier this week, weather forecaster Heather Haley reported that [rain] sprinkles were expected earlier in the day with the possibility of baptism rain following. Having never heard of baptism rain before, Idiomation decided to research the expression.

The expression has its roots in Psalms 68:7-9 that talks about plentiful rain confirming man’s baptism which, according to Psalmists, illustrates the concept of being baptised in the cloud (meaning a rain cloud). The fact that the rain is plentiful clearly states that it’s more than a few [rain] sprinkles.

At least that’s what American theologian and poet Absalom Peters (19 September 1793 – 18 May 1869) had to say on the subject in his book dealing with the Scripture Doctrine of Christian baptism that was published in Massachusetts in 1848 at the behest of the Berkshire Association of Great Barrington on Jun 6, 1848.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Absalom Peters was a Congregational minister who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1816 and Princeton Seminary College in 1819. He was the Professor of pastoral theology and homiletics in the Union Theological Seminary of New York from 1842 to 1844, and the pastor of the First Church of Williamstown (MA) from 1844 to 1857.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: He was the son of General Absalom Peters (25 March 1754 – 29 March 1840), a descendant of William Peters. His ancestor, William Peters of Fowy, Cornwall, England was a Puritan who emigrated to New England in 1634. This William Peters was the grandfather to William Peters of Andover (MA) who was Absalom Peters’ great-grandfather.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Absalom Peters was the uncle of former Governor of Connecticut John Samuel Peters (21 September 1772 – 30 March 1858) and cousin of former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice John Thompson Peters (May 30, 1805 – July 24, 1885).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Throughout his life, it is claimed that Absalom Peters never fell ill. If this is fact, this is truly amazing as he was nearly 76 years old at the time of his death.

Baptism rain as an expression doesn’t date back to the Christian Bible even though its roots begin there.

There are a number of Southern expressions that are spoken without having been written in a book, and a great many that have made it into books. Mercy drops, showers of blessings, blessings rain down, and more.

Idiomation spoke with the librarians at the local library, and most of them knew the expression baptism rain from childhood, having heard it from older relatives discussing the weather.  The best definition given for baptism rain was a rain that was a fair bit more than a sprinkle but not as much as a flood although it might cause flooding in some parts.

Idiomation opens the door to hearing from others on this topic. If you have answers, we would love to read what you have to share in the Comments section below.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

An Empty Wagon Makes A Lot Of Noise

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2018

When someone says an empty wagon makes a lot of noise it means people who know very little to nothing on a subject often talk the most on said subject. It also means that people tend to talk a lot about nothing pretending all of that nothing is something. In a nutshell, those who are most ignorant are oftentimes also the most vocal and opinionated.

To be noted, the expression also appears as an empty barrel makes a lot of noise and an empty vessel makes a lot of noise (both of which are facts).

Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., published an article in April 2013 written by Canadian B2B sales veteran Tibor Shanta. The article was titled, “An Empty Wagon – Sales eXchange 194.” The opening paragraph began with this.

We have all heard the expression that an empty wagon makes the most noise, no doubt from an older relative trying to tell us that we were talking a lot, saying very little of substance, worth hearing, or had as near the level of impact as the noise we were making saying it. Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of empty wagons when it comes to sales and sellers, usually in lack of substance or delivering on the hype.

The March 1920 edition of “Etude: The Music Magazine” ran a regular column by W. Francis Gates (18 March 1865 – 22 December 1941) titled, “Pianographs.” The column shared witty bits of wisdom including this one:

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Aside from being an excellent musician and a respected music teacher, he was also a music critic for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

In last week’s entry about loaded wagons going quietly, the empty wagon was also addressed in the article found in “The Railroad Trainman” magazine.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

Volume 65 of “The Unitarian Register” of January 7, 1886 published in Boston by magazine editor Samuel J. Barrows had a regular feature titled, “Brevities.” In this feature, the expression was found as a shared comment from another publication.

A writer in the Herald of Gospel Liberty thinks that “noise is no sign of spiritual power. Men who make so much noise on their way to the heavenly city should be watched closely, for ‘an empty wagon makes the most noise.'”

Wagon seems to have been substituted for vessel in the early 1800s as found in “A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages: Volume II” compiled by Italian literary critic, poet, writer, translator, linguist and author Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti (24 April 1719 – 5 May 1789) and published in 1797. Under the entry for empty the following is found.

The concept of an empty vessel making the loudest noise was found in the “Dictionaire royal, françois-anglais et anglois-françois: tiré des meilleurs Auteurs qui on écrit dans ces deux Langues” compiled by French-English lexicographer, journalist and writer Abel Boyer (24 June 1667 – 16 November 1729) and published in 1700. Under the entry for empty readers find:

EMPTY Adj.
Ex. An Empty Glass, Un verre vide
An Empty Vessel, Un tonneau vide
P. Empty Vessels make the greatest Noise, Les tonneaux vides font le plus de bruit.

In the preface of his book, B0yer states that when a P is used in the work, it refers to a proverb or a proverbial expression. Dictionaries state that proverbs are short sayings that express a truth based on common sense or cultural experience, and are considered formulaic language.

Indeed, William Baldwin used the expression in his book, “A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse gathered and Englished by Wylm Baldwin” published in 1547 by Edward Whitchurch. Over time the title has been shortened to “A Treatise of Moral Philosophy” however the original title indicates the expression was not of his own making. In his work, the saying was expressed in this way.

As empty vessels make the loudest sound; so they that have least wit are the greatest babblers.

He may have borrowed the thought from English poet John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) who wrote a similar thought in his 1426 tome titled, “Pilgrimage of Man, Englished by John Lydgage, from the French of Guillaume de Deguilleville 1330.”

A voyde vessel maketh outward a gret sound, mor than what yt was ful.

INTERESTING NOTE 2: The work John Lydgate translated from French into English was “Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine” written and published by French Cistercian and writer Guillaume d’Eguilleville (1295 – 1358) at Chaalis Abbey 40 kilometers north of Paris, at Fontaine-Shaalix, near Ermenonville, now in Oise, in 1330.

INTERESTING NOTE 3: The Chaalis Abbey was founded on 10 January 1137 by Louis VI and in memory of Charles the Good (1084 – 2 March 1127), Count of Flanders, who was assassinated in Bruges thanks to the powerful Erembald family. It was consecrated in 1219 by Brother Guerin, Bishop of Beauvais.

INTERESTING NOTE 4: Charles the Good, also known as Charles I, was the son of King Canute IV (1042 – 10 July 1086) of Denmark and Adela of Flanders (1064 – April 1115). King Canute IV was assassinated in Odense Cathedral in 1086.

INTERESTING NOTE 5: Adela of Flanders was the daughter of Robert I, Count of Flanders, also known as Robert the Frisian (1035–1093) and Gertrude of Saxony (1030 – 4 August 1113). The marriage forged an alliance between Flanders and Denmark against William the Conqueror (1028 – 9 September 1087).

Some attribute the saying to Greek philosopher Plato however no source could be found to prove the claim other than what was written by English preacher and publisher David Thomas  (1813 – 1894) in “The Homilist” published in 1866. David Thomas attributed the quote William Baldwin’s quote to Plato but did not give the source supporting his claim, and it’s the William Baldwin quote that’s bandied about as being written by Plato.

Idiomation, however, did find the Kashmiri proverb which translates to say empty vessels make much noise.

INTERESTING NOTE 6: Kashmir is in northern India, and located mostly in the Himalayan mountains. It shares borders with Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The Kashmiri are an ethnic group native to the Kashmir Valley.

Contrary to what U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (Democrat – Florida) claimed in late October 2017, whether it’s an empty wagon, vessel, or barrel, it’s not a racist expression, even if she claims she “looked it up in the dictionary because [she] had never heard of an empty barrel.”

Idiomation tracked the variation of the expression to 1330 with a nod to the Kashmiri proverb for which Idiomation could not find an exact date other than it precedes the 1330 date of Guillaume d’Eguilleville.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 14th Century, Kashmir, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Loaded Wagon Makes No Noise

Posted by Admin on January 4, 2018

The figurative meaning of saying a loaded wagon makes no noise is that people of means and good intentions don’t talk about their finances, their holdings, or the good deeds they do. In other words, bragging isn’t something someone engages in if they are of good character.

Literally speaking, a light wagon with no suspension and post-spoking rattles, shakes, and bounces over every slight imperfection, with the empty bed acting as a soundboard. In contrast, a loaded wagon is less likely to be shaking over every pebble on the path, and is muffled and dramatically quieter.

In the figurative sense, Volume 30 of “The Railroad Trainman” published in July 1913 made this point as it pertains to men and women in the work environment. The article was titled “Too Much Busy-Ness” and addressed the issue of women who made a lot of noise about their various committee meetings and convention addresses and other charitable acts.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

The woman of real executive ability goes about her duties quietly; she has mentally organized her work. Whether she moves about in her own house or engages in outside endeavors, she is calm and composed — and effective.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: This monthly magazine was published in Cleveland, Ohio by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen located at 1207 American Trust Building, and under the watchful eye of the Editor and Manager, D.L. Cease. The yearly subscription price was $1.00 per year, payable in advance.

In Volume 8 of the magazine “The Florida School Journal” published in June 1895, the section titled “School Buildings” found on page 20 made use of the expression. The magazine’s editor and publisher was V.E. Orr and the magazine commanded a price of one dollar per annum.

A good school building in which every convenience is for the management and teaching of those who are aiming at culture or preparation for some calling is a very desirable thing, but mortar and brick do not make a good school. In Middle Tennessee are found many excellent buildings some of which are very suitable for the purpose for which they were made. We have observed that many of our best schools have but little to say about their appliances beyond the mention of their conveniences and favorable means of instruction. It seems in this case the loaded wagon makes the least noise. We recently noticed a statement made by a college president calling attention to his four-story building as an inducement to young men and ladies to enter his school. Just what advantage accrues to young women, especially in climbing two or three flights of stairs four or five times a day, is not easily seen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE : V.E. Orr published Orr’s U.S. and Library Maps, Orr’s U.S. and Outline Maps, and Orr’s U.S. and Georgia Maps. Along with publishing “The Florida Journal” he also published “The Georgia Teacher” and was headquartered in Atlanta (GA).

INTERESTING QUESTION: Is V.E. Orr related to Brunswick Public Schools of Brunswick (GA) Superintendent of Schools (and later State School Commissioner) and American cartographer Gustavus John Orr (9 August 1819 – 11 December 1887)?

Tracking the origins of this saying proved more difficult than anticipated, leading Idiomation to the mid-1800s when, as the movies often claim, the West was being won, and the common road wagon was clearly defined by the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, in Merrick v Phelps, in 1848. When one spoke of a wagon, the Court understood this to mean the following:

A one-horse wagon, with a single fixed seat, and two full grown persons sitting thereon, one of them driving, is a “wagon” but not a “loaded wagon” within the charter of the Hartford and New London Turnpike Company.

This was an important ruling insofar as it made dealing with two wagons meeting on a narrow road much easier. No loaded wagon or cart could be made to get off the road to afford passage to another vehicle unless the other vehicle was another loaded wagon. The heavier loaded wagon was granted the right of way at the expense of the lesser loaded wagon or the cart that was on the road headed in the direction from which the loaded wagon came.

There was no argument to be had. The greater loaded wagon was going to benefit far more people than the lesser loaded wagon, or the cart, and so it was to pass by without commentary from either party.

Prior to article published in the “The Florida School Journal” in 1895, the expression managed to keep itself hidden. One could suppose this means its origins are loaded which would explain why it makes no noise the more one searches for evidence of its existence.

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Bad Is Never Good Until Worse Happens

Posted by Admin on January 2, 2018

A bad situation is a bad situation but when something even worse happens, that bad situation looks good in comparison even if it isn’t good at all. In other words, one bad thing may be preferable to another bad thing, but neither bad thing is good in the first place. One just looks better when they are side by side.

The good-and-bad dichotomy is one that figures large in nearly everything whether it’s situations or events, and has a history that stretches as far back as the beginning of time. This is because life is always evolving and never static. Everything impacts on everything else.

In July 2013, the study “Mitochondrial Data: Bad Is Never Good Until Worse Happens” by Gitte Petersen, Ole Seberg, Argelia Cuenca, Jerrold I. Davis, Dennis W. Stevenson, and Marcela Thadeo was one of the Paper Abstracts presented at the 5th International Conference on Comparative Biology of Monocotyledons held in New York. The lead researcher, Gitte Petersen is Danish botanist as well as an Associate Professor of EvoGenomics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Volume 6 of “Wings of Oman” published on February 6, 2007 had the expression listed under the column “Wisdom Quotes” and attributed the quote as being a Danish proverb.

In the book “The Long Journey Home From Dak To: The Story of an Airborne Infantry Officer Fighting in the Central Highlands Republic of Vietnam” written by Warren M. Denny and published in 2003, the chapter titled, “The Slaughter On Hill 875” begins with this proverb. Like the magazine in 2007, it was listed as being a Danish proverb.

As it was listed as a Danish proverb, Idiomation decided to search the mid-19th century for indications of this proverb’s existence. An entry was found in the 1867 edition of “A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs Comprising of French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish, With English Translations” by British published Henry G. Bohn (4 January 1796 – 22 August 1884). On page 394, the original and the translation are found, with the original written:

Ondt bliver aldrig godt for halv vaerre kommer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Henry G. Bohn was the son of a German bookbinder who left Germany and settled in London (England) where Henry was born.

At this point, the trail went cold and Idiomation was unable to trace the expression in English or Danish back any further than 1867 even though Idiomation knows the expression to be considerably older than the mid-19th century.

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Mountain Out Of A Moleskin

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2017

Until recently, Idiomation was under the impression the expression was to make a mountain out of a molehill. However, while watching a black-and-white Sherlock Holmes movie from 1946 titled, “Dressed To Kill” (aka “Prelude To Murder“) starring Basil Rathbone (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967) as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce (4 February 1895 – 8 October 1953) as Dr. Watson, Dr. Watson spoke of making a mountain out a moleskin.

Now whether it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin or making a mountain out of a molehill, it’s all about making a big deal out something that doesn’t warrant that much attention in the first place.

After some research, the first hint of the expression was found on page 14 of the Evening Review newspaper of East Liverpool, Ohio on Friday, May 11, 1934. It appeared in a comic by American cartoonist, Cliff Sterrett, titled, “Polly and Her Pals” which ran from 4 December 1912 through to 1958. In the comics section of the newspaper, it’s difficult to determine if this was how the expression was used, or if it was a misuse for the purpose of comedy.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Clifford Sterrett (12 December 1883 – 28 December 1964) was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. His mother died when he was two years old, so his father sent him and his younger brother Paul to Alexandria, Minnesota to be raised by their aunt, Sallie Johnson, and their father moved to Seattle, Washington. Sterrett was of Scandinavan ancestry.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Polly Perkins of “Polly and Her Pals” was a young woman who was part of the Suffragette movement leading into the 1920s flapper generation of the Jazz Age. The strip included her parents, Paw and Maw, her cousin Ashur Earl Perkins who was renown for giving bad advice, Paw’s sister-in-law Carrie and her spoiled brat daughter named Gertrude, the Japanese houseboy Neewah who pretended not to always know what was going on, the black housecat Kitty, and, of course, Polly herself.

However, in a radio program dating back to July 20, 1935 Anne Leah McCord (1890? – 19 March 1941) of Pulaski, Tennessee (born about 1890 according to the 1940 U.S. Census) used the idiom in the segment “Bulls and Boners” from the radio show “Radio Guide.” This show was produced in Chicago, Illinois and for those sending letters in to the show, the address was 731 Plymouth Court.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3 : Anne Leah McCord of Pulaski was the associate editor of The Record, The daughter of General Laps D. McCord and Betty Thomas McCord, she accompanied her father’s family to Nashville when he became Secretary and Adjutant-General for Governor Robert L. Taylor. When the Governor was elected to the U.S. Senate, Ms. McCord’s father became his secretary, and the family moved to Washington, D.C.

When Senator Taylor passed away, the McCords returned to Pulaski. She passed away on 19 March 1941 and was survived by her sisters Mary Boyd McCord and E.R. Reynolds and her brothers Laps D. McCord Jr and Elwood McCord (who lived in St Louis, Missouri).

Still uncertain whether it was a misused idiom, Idiomation continued to find the idiom published in a serious commentary. The expression was used on September 30, 1954 by the Honorable member for Mundingburra, Mr. Aikens with regards to the Townsville Regional Electricity Board, payments to two ex-managers, Mr. Beynon and Mr. Sleeman, and the problem with the turbo alternator at the new power station at Murder Island. In the records of the Queensland Parliamentary Debates of the Legislative Assembly the following is recorded.

I have only a few words to say to finish my statement about the Townsville generator. We all realise now that it was a much more serious thing than the Honourable member for Fortitude Valley would have had us believe. He tried to create the impression that I was making a mountain out of a molehill or, as a northern member of the Labour Party said, on a memorable occasion, “A mountain out of a moleskin.” However I think I have convinced the Committee that it was a very serious breakdown, so serious that it brought upon the manager and his staff the severest possible censure from the State Electricity Commission.

In America, the idiom also showed up in a news article written by Bob Ingram and published in the 13 November 1954 edition of the El Paso Herald-Post on page 7.

After reading statements by the extremists in Tucson and Lubbock papers this week, I’m convinced that last Saturday’s incidents at Tucson were a tempest in a T-pot and that they’re making a mountain out of a moleskin. The two biggest schools in the Border Conference certainly should be playing each other.

By the 1950s, the idiom was being used as an accepted expression. Idiomation continued to search for other published examples of the saying and found one instance in the Franklin News-Herald newspaper from Franklin, Pennsylvania in the 30 June 1936 edition.  Mr. Dion was quoted as saying:

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce must rehabilitate the spirit of the land. The furrier is the man who can make a mountain out of a moleskin. It is queer that we in this section of the country continue to enjoy cool weather, while crops in the mid-west are burning up with the heat and the lack of rain.

It was also found in the Radioland publication of July 1934 Jane Ace (Goodman Aces’ wife) was quoted in the segment titled, “Microphone Miniatures” under the story “Funny Men’s Wives.” The article gave a quick glimpse in the life of what life was supposedly like for her, Mary Livingston (Jack Benny’s wife), and Gracie Allen (George Burns’ wife).

When I try to be suggestive about us all going out somewhere they don’t even listen. We we girls play Russian Bank. But we can’t even do that in peace. Every minute some husband will interrupt our game to tell us a new gag. I don’t see why they go to so much trouble about ages — it’s making a mountain out of a moleskin.

American theater writer, lyricist, and screenwriter Jo Swerling (8 April 1897 – 23 October 1964) wrote a story titled “Ashes of Fortune” published in Volume 97 of “The American Magazine” in May 1924. The story was illustrated by J. Henry.

“My dear young friend,” he said pompously, “you are simply making a mountain out of a moleskin. All you got to do is to fill out the check yourself, for the amount the feller deposited.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 4: Jo Swerling’s family emigrated from Czarist Russia to the Lower East Side of New York City. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines including “Vanity Fair” in the 1920s.

In Volume 36 of “The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness” published in 1912. In the segment titled, “The Trunk In The Attic” it was announced that the winners of the three best love, friendship, or human interest letters would each win fifty dollars each per the details of the contest provided in the November edition.  American actress, playwright, and novelist Louise Closser Hale (13 October 1872 – 26 July 1933) was responsible for making the wise decision as to which entries would be announced as winners.

The second letter chosen was one the judge felt was one of “the longest husband-and-wife effusion” that had been submitted. In her own words, she stated without hesitation that “one can go on forever before marriage, but after — there is very little to say.” This letter included the expression in this passage.

Reached here this afternoon and saw Brown about the deed. He told me he would make it all right when he returns to Hayville, which will be the latter part of this week. So you needn’t worry, because he is a man of his word as well as deed, and besides, when you spoke of it I thought you were making a mountain out of a moleskin, or whatever that old adage is.

The question was one of what else was a moleskin besides what a mole wears? At the turn of the century, a moleskin was a kind of fustian, double-twilled and extra strong, and cropped before dyeing.

IMPORTANT NOTE 5: A fustian is a heavy cloth woven from cotton and flax, and used primarily in making menswear.

IMPORTANT NOTE 6: A fustian is also a pompous or pretentious speech or writing from at least the time of William Shakespeare.

In Germany, people make elephants out of mosquitoes (aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen) and in Russia, people make elephants out of a fly. In Finland, people make a little ox out of a fly (tehdä kärpäsestä härkänen) and in Wales, people make a mountain out of an anthill (gwneud mynydd o dwmpath morgrug).

But in Sweden, the expression göra en höna av en fjäder is to make a mountain out of a moleskin.

Earlier Idiomation mentioned that American cartoonist Clifford Sterrett was of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavia is the term common used to refer to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. It’s possible that while the idiom was making its way across the ocean from England via magazines, Scandinavians were already using the expression word-for-word in America.

Idiomation pegs this expression to the early 1900s with a serious nod to the Swedish expression.

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Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Admin on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Good Things Come In Threes

Posted by Admin on February 9, 2017

How often do we hear people say that everything comes in threes, usually good things?  Often.  Of course, those same people say that bad things come in threes as well but that idiom and its history will have to wait for another day.

From the time we’re little and our parents read to us, people are wired to expect things in threes.  The three little pigs who had to deal with a big, bad wolf.  Goldilocks and the three bears.  The three blind mice who ran up the clock. The three little kittens that lost their mittens.  Genies always grant three wishes.  The best circus ever is the one that’s a three-ring circus, or so we’ve been told for generations now.

The American Constitution promises a trio of good things:  Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Even the planet we live on is the third from the sun!

Threescore and ten refers to the average person’s lifespan, and in the Bible, readers are reminded in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken.”  Let’s not forget that it was three wise men who traveled to the manger to visit the Holy Family.

How many people know that Trinidad was so named because Christopher Columbus (he who sailed with three ships), upon seeing three mountains on one body of land, decided he would name the islands after the Spanish word for trinity?

The concept is rooted in the Latin principle known as omne trium perfectum or, translated into English, the rule of three.  Confucius mentioned the rule of three in 500 B.C. in “Analects” when he wrote:  “Ko Wan Tze thought thrice before acting.  Twice would have been enough.”

So three is a big deal, and has been centuries.  But where did the saying good things come in threes originate?

The bottom line is that there isn’t a definitive answer to that question.  It’s superstition that leads people to believe that the number three has any magical properties or powers that other numbers do not have, and people have been superstitious for as long as people have existed.

Should one of Idiomation’s followers, fans, readers, or visitors be able to shed some light on where good things comes in threes was first published, Idiomation would love to read all about it in the Comments section below.

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Knick Knack Paddywhack

Posted by Admin on May 17, 2016

There are a lot of strange explanations as to what knick knack paddywhack means, but few stranger than the one Idiomation found online where this was offered up by a thoroughly serious ‘netizen.

Paddy is slang for a police officer and whack is slang for murder.  Nick is associated with the mob, and the mob has a knack for killing people even when there’s police protection in place.  So knick knack paddywhack is a way of saying that even the police aren’t safe, and if the mob has a hit out on someone, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening.

No.  That’s not what knick knack paddywhack means.  Full points to the person who came up with that creative explanation!

Paddywhackery (and yes, there is such a word) is the word that describes the stereotypical portrayal of the Irish in stage productions.  These stereotype Irishmen are charming, talkative ne’er-do-wells but lovable rogues nonetheless.  But does this mean that a paddywhack is some kind of Irishman?

In Francis Grose’s 1785 book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the term is one that refers to a brawny Irishman.  Paddy was short for Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and according to Francis Grose, all this made sense when viewed this way.  The verse quoted in the dictionary is this:

I’m paddywhack, from Ballyhack,
Not long ago turned soldier;
In storm and sack, in front attack,
None other can be bolder.

Idiomation found pinning down knick knack a little trickier than tracking paddywhack.  That being said, knick knack appears as knichts they knack in the traditional Scottish folk song titled, “The Ballad of Burd Isabel and Earl Patrick.”

The Knichts they knack their white fingers,
The ladies sat and sang,
‘Twas a’ to cheer bonnie Burd Bell,
She was far sunk in pain.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  The word first appeared in ballads of the 1200s as a poetic term for a young maiden.  By the 1400s, it was a term used by men of the upper class to refer to women of a lower social standard than they.

But what was knackingKnackers was a term for castanets and was first referred to as such in 1649 in “Fool’s Dance: An Allusion.”  Knacking would be to play the castanets in this instance.  However, knick-knack / nick nack was also a term used in the 1570s to mean an ingenious device or a specialised trick.  Knacking would be to use the device or practice one’s specialised trick in this instance.

So was a knick knack Paddywhack a brawny Irishman with a specialised trick or ingenious device who enjoyed dancing with castanets on his fingertips?  Not likely (although the visual is amusing)!

Or is knick knack actually a derivation of mack whack found in the song “Paddywhack” that was popular at the turn of the 19th century?

FIRST VERSE
Oh, here I am and that is flat,
I am just from the town of Bally hack;
And what a’ye say to that”
My name is gimlet-eyed paddy whack.

CHORUS
Di du mack whack,
And where are yee from?
The town of Bally hack
Where seven praties weigh a ton.

Or perhaps a misremembering of the words from “The Irish Duel” that was popular in Ireland and England at around the same time.

FIRST VERSE
Potatoes grow in Limerick,
And beef at Ballymore,
And buttermilk is beautiful,
But that you knew before;
And Irishmen love pretty girls,
Yet none could love more true,
Than little Paddy Whackmacrack
Lov’d Kate O’Donohoo.
With his fal de ral, fal de ral,
de ral, de ral, de ra.

What this means is that the mystery of Knick Knack Paddywhack remains.  If one of Idiomation’s readers or visitors can shed some light on this idiom, be sure to add it in the Comments section below.

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