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Mountain Out Of A Moleskin

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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.

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Good Things Come In Threes

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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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Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

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Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 1, 2015

It wasn’t all that long ago that children had to give serious concern to the threat of having their mouth washed out with soap!  These days, the threat of having someone wash your mouth out with soap is said to draw attention to a rude or offensive word or comment that someone else has made.

In the past, a child’s mouth was washed out with soap for swearing, lying, biting, verbal disrespect, and using tobacco.  Although it’s supposedly no longer an acceptable form of punishment, in July of this year, a 23-year-old man in Great Britain was ordered to pay 100 GBP after washing a six-year-old’s mouth out with soap after the child kicked a pensioner’s walking stick and used foul language towards the senior.

In 2000, when President Bill Clinton announced that he hoped to make American debt free for the first time since 1835, Vice-President Al Gore added to that proclamation by saying that the U.S. should continue to pay down the debt even when the economy slows.  Economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow had this to say about Mr. Gore’s pronouncement.

He should wash his mouth out with soap.

Some of you may be familiar with the movie, “A Christmas Story” in which nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, who had the misadventure of helping his father change a flat tire.  The family had gone out to buy the yearly Christmas tree after supper, and on the way home, the suffer a flat tire. While Idiomation won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, suffice it to say that things go awry, and Ralphie says:

Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!

The end result is that once home, safe and warm, Ralphie’s mother has him chomp down on a new bar of Lifebuoy soap.  And you’ll never guess who he blames for having said the word he had spoken.

The April 1937 edition of Boys’ Life magazine published a humorous cartoon of a little old lady, a pastor, and a parrot.  The little old lady was pleased to share with the pastor that she had washed the parrot’s mouth out with soap.  One can only wonder where the parrot heard the bad words (and from whom) that led to the punishment.

Boys' Life_1937
In the October 1916 edition of Young Men magazine (Volume 42) an article titled, “The Cordon of the Inner Circle” talked about adolescent males across the United States who were feeling the “tightening cordon of common high ideals for their school and their own thinking, speaking, and doing.”  These young men, through Bible study groups, were standing up for their principles and putting them across to their peers.

After creating public sentiment against profanity among their high school mates, members of one Inner Circle determined that the only remedy for one of the leaders was to “treat him like a kid.”  So they captured him and washed his mouth out with soap and water.

The magazine was a publication of the Young Men’s Christian Associations — or what we’ve come to know as the YMCA.

In 1892,a collection of child study pamphlets were collated and printed under the title, “Collection of Pamphlets on Child Study.”  In one particular case, a study conducted by Margaret E. Schallenberger of Stanford University addressed the fictional scenario of a child named Jennie whose actions were well-intended but ill-conceived.

The set-up was that Jennie, having received a beautiful new box of paints, painted all the chairs in the parlor one afternoon while her mother was away on errands.  Upon her return, Jennie ran to meet her, and said, “Oh, mamma, come and see how pretty I have made the parlor.”

The respondents were children and adolescents who were not yet parents, and they were asked what they would have said or done if the respondents were Jennie’s mother.  The study reported the following:

Often the feeling of revenge is shown in the piling up of punishments, as in the following:  “If I had been Jennie’s mother, I would of painted Jennie’s face and hands and toes.  I would of switcher her well.  I would of washed her mouth out with soap and water, and should stand her on the floor for half an hour.”

For those who are interested, of the 2,000 respondents under the age of six, 1,102 boys and girls said they would whip Jennie.  Out of 2,000 respondents asked who were eleven years old, 763 said they would whip Jennie.  And of 2,000 respondents who were sixteen years old, only 185 would whip Jennie.  The data from the study showed a decline (although it wasn’t a uniform decline) from year to year, and indicated that as children matured, they were less likely to consider whipping as a best method of punishment.

Interestingly enough, of those same children under the age of six, none considered explaining to Jennie why what she had done was wrong.  At eleven years of age, 181 thought to explain things to Jennie, and at sixteen, 751 thought that explaining what she had done wrong would be effective.

Back in 1832, the practice of putting soap in another person’s mouth as punishment was alive and well in England, not just in America.  The case in question was one of a man (identified as Mr. Smith from the town of Rugby) whose wife left him and took up with Frank Treen (from the town of Harborough just three miles away from the town of Rugby), with whom she had a child.  Frank Treen demanded support money to pay from the husband for his wife.  The husband thought he was obligated to give Frank Treen support money for his wife, so he did.

However, he was informed by another source that while his wife lived in adultery, there was no obligation on him to pay for her, and so he stopped paying.  But when his wife’s lover died, the courts determined that not only was he responsible for paying for his wife (whom he had not divorced during the time she lived with Frank Treen), but for the bastard child as well.  The information about the situation included the following factual commentary.

It appeared that he had not lived with his wife for about seven or eight years; that when they lived together, they were constantly quarrelling; and that one evening, on the man’s return home, he found his wife intoxicated; upon which, being a miller, he threw his wife into the mill pond.  Be he dragged her out again immediately.  However, perceiving a piece of kitchen soap lying on the ground near the spot, he crammed it into his wife’s mouth, saying, “She has had plenty of water to wash with, she ought now to have a little soap.”  However they lived together for a year after this fracas.

It could be said that somewhere along the line someone decided that because the adage was that cleanliness was next to Godliness, Proverbs 21:23 should be taken at its word.

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue, keeps his soul from trouble.

That being said, while the punishment was very real for a very long time, with the move to a kinder, gentler parenting approach has led to the rise of the expression as the actual activity disappears from parenting options.

Idiomation has been unable to put an exact date on when the threat moved into idiom territory.  Perhaps one of our readers or visitors has the answer and is willing to share it in the Comments Section below.

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 30, 2015

It’s perhaps not an idiom that’s heard very often, but if someone is told to bloom where he or she is planted, that means they should do their best under the current set of circumstances.  It doesn’t mean a person can’t be transplanted elsewhere at a later date, and bloom in the new location.  It means that just because the current location may not be all a person would like it to be is no reason not to do your best and thrive where that person is.

The Basin Republican Rustler of May 24, 2007 in Wyoming published an advertisement from the Wyoming Real Estate Network that painted an idyllic picture of ten acres of land just waiting for the right person to build a dream home. Smartly priced at $120,000 the realtors hoped to catch people’s attention with the headline, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”

The Ocala Star Banner of August 29, 1987 ran the Paul Harvey column dealing with the issue of blooming where one is planted. From a religious as well as a political standpoint, the writer spoke about people, churches, and nations exceeding their grasp. He wrote about American adopting the good neighbor policy and all the while neglecting that one of the most important aspects of being a good neighbor is to mind one’s own business.

Paul Harvey was of the opinion that if the United States started minding its own business that other countries might be inspired to follow suit, leading to affection and not resentment towards America and Americans. The article was title, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”

Over the generations, people have attributed bloom where you are planted to the Bible, and while that’s not exactly correct, the idiom does have a connection to the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is credited with having said the following:

Truly charity has no limit; for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by His Spirit dwelling in each one of us, calling us to a life of devotion and inviting us to bloom in the garden where He has planted and directing us to radiate the beauty and spread the fragrance of His Providence.

And while the idiom may not appear in the Bible word for word, the spirit of bloom where you’re planted is found in a number of Bible passages including, but not limited to, 1 Corinthians 7:7-24 as well as Psalm 92:13 and Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Later American graphic artist and children’s book illustrator Mary Engelbreit (born 5 June 1952) made the phrase popular when she included it — as well as artwork based on the phrase — in her book, “Mary Englebreit: The Art and the Artist“published in 1996.

As we know, Paul Harvey used the phrase a decade earlier than the publication of Mary Engelbreit’s book, and it was used in a way that demonstrated that the readers of his column knew what it meant to bloom where one was planted.

In fact, the American Church in Paris (France) has sponsored the “Bloom Where You’re Planted” full-day seminar since 1970.

What all this means is that the spirit of the idiom has been around for centuries, but no matter how much research was done, Idiomation was unable to find a definitive date for when this exact phrase was first published.

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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.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Religious References, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where The Bear Sits In The Buckwheat

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 5, 2014

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

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Where the bear sits — or stands — in the buckwheat means that the speaker is being very direct and straightforward in explaining a position that the speaker feels addresses an important matter.  Not surprising, there’s a variation on the idiom that substitutes a ruder word for sit.

Connecticut psychotherapist, Gary Greenberg used the ruder form of the idiom as the title of a blog article on his site on September 4, 2013 as he wrote about his book titled, “The Book Of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry.”

In Vyvyan Rothfeld-Brunst‘s poem “The Bear In The Buckwheat” the ruder version is used in the second stanza:

And sure, it could be that for him
there was no connection.
When he came out with the line one morning
at a sales meeting, off-hand and slightly abashed,
like a good Canadian, it was:
“So I told him where
the bear sh*ts in the buckwheat.

What’s interesting is that the poet claims in the first stanza that Cape Breton (Canada) is the “only place” she “tracked the phrase.”

James P. Leary, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Scandinavian Studies Department and the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, used the ruder version in his essay, “Hanging Out:  Recreational Folklore In Everyday Life” published in 1983 in “Handbook of American Folklore” edited by Richard Mercer Dorson.  In his essay, he included this passage:

Men at the Ritz and related establishments shake dice, make bets over six packs, buy each other drinks, share “snoose,” and, most importantly, talk.  Discussions and good-natured arguments over politics, economics, morality, meteorology, and athletics are invariably localized, fattened with expressive language (“That’ll show ’em where the bear sh*ts in the buckwheat“), and punctuated by witty aphorisms (“My home is in heaven; I’m just here on vacation”).

While Idiomation was able to find a vast number of anecdotal stories about the origin of the idiom, published versions were nearly impossible to find.  Idiomation is therefore unable to peg a general date when this idiom first came into use.

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Back To The Salt Mines

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 24, 2014

Going back to the salt mines idiomatically means that you are resuming work on a task that you don’t find very appealing, whether you’re talking about work, school, or some other activity.  The implication is that the work is requires long hours and is taxing on the person doing the work.  And it shouldn’t be mistaken to mean the same as thing as going back to the drawing board.

Before Idiomation looks at the origins of the expression, an interesting side note is that the word salary has its roots in the word salt.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, salary is from the Latin word salarium.

ad. L. salarium, orig. money allowed to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt, hence, their pay; subst. use of neut. sing. of salarius pertaining to salt, f. sal salt.

When it comes to salt mines, the best known and most productive ones are in Poland (on the north side of the Carpathians); in Salzburg (on the north side of the Alps); in Valentia, Navarre, and Catalonia in Spain; in Cheshire, England; and in Transylvania, Hungary, Bavaria, Switzerland, and Russia.

John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater Jr. wrote the biography “Pure Goldwater” published in 2008.  The book was compiled from the late Senator’s letters and journals as well as guest editorials he wrote and various radio addresses.  John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater Jr. admit in the book’s Preface to correcting typos, spelling out abbreviations, adding appropriate punctuation, and including minor editorial clarifications where needed.     The following excerpt is from page 93 in Part II titled, “The Senate Years: 1952 – 1965” in Chapter 7, “Learning How Washington Worked.”

After only a day in Arizona I returned to Washington, back to the salt mines.  Committee work had started on Banking and Currency, and surprisingly, I am finding the work to be delightful.  My business background and training is proving to be most valuable … We haven’t started work on the labor committee yet, but that comes up probably in two weeks …

In the Volume 42, Edition No. 3 edition of “Boy’s Life: The Boy Scout Magazine” published in March 1952, the short story titled, “Rattlesnake Country” by Arnold Bateman and illustrated by Frank Vaughn was published on page 11, and continued on page 48.

The wagon came up at noon and they sprawled in its shade to eat. Barney stayed close to Max, so Nate had no choice to talk any more slow-down stuff.  But when Max grunted and said, “All right, boys, let’s get back to the salt mines,” Nate drifted closer, his eyes hard.

“Not so fast, this afternoon, get it?” he muttered.  “Get some sense in your noggin.  The more we do, the more we’ll have to.  I’ve told Lewis’s gang a few things; they’d better not make us look too bad.  We get paid whether we do a little or a lot.  Watch it, now!”

In the book “Murder Day By Day” by American author, humorist and columnist, Irvin S. Cobb (23 June 1876 – 11 March 1944) published in 1933 he referenced the idiom in all its variations by omitting the specifics and just going with the rest.  The Duke of Paducah from Paducah, Kentucky published 60 books and 300 short stories.  When he became the youngest managing editor at the age of nineteen when he took on the job at the  Paducah Daily News.  In other words, he knew how to write, and how to write effectively.  In this novel, the following passage with the abbreviated idiom was included:

“That would be Terence,” he said.

“Well, Gilly, it’s back to the mines for me, and this day I’ll need to have my brain grinding in two — three different places at once.”

It’s a fact that mining salt has been around for centuries — at least 800 years in North America and before that, stretching back to ancient civilizations.  It’s possible that those who worked the salt mines back in the day used the idiom as well but without evidence, it’s only a guess.

What is known is that in ancient Roman times, prisoners were given the task of salt mining.  It’s also a fact that the life expectancy of prisoners working in salt mines wasn’t very long.  The reason for this was because a prisoner working in the salt mines suffered ongoing health issues (not unlike the physical impact experienced by lepers as well as mental impact experienced by those with Alzheimer’s) that eventually led to death.

But since the idiom back to the salt mines seems to be a variation — with overlapping use in literature — of back to the grindstone and back to the jute mill and back to the boiler factory and back to whatever other industry incorporated hard work and drudgery, Idiomation was unable to identify when this expression came into vogue.

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