Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Cherry On Top

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 12, 2017

When someone asks another to do something for them and adds the comment with a cherry on top it’s meant to push the decision in their favor by way of begging.  It’s generally something that a child might say to get their way, or that might be used by an adult to express a level of satisfaction that’s higher than what could already be expected or anticipated.

When ESPN reported on the Clemson Tigers winning the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama Crimson Tide, it was easy to see how much this win meant to the team as well as to their coach Dabo Swinney.  When he also won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year two years running, he was quoted in the article.

“I just assumed that I didn’t have a chance to win it because I didn’t think you could win it back-to-back years,” Swinney said before Wednesday’s ceremony at Toyota Center.  “That’d just be the cherry on top of the week I’ve had.  That’d be awesome.”

In the 1972 book, “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story” the New York writer and sports editor of Life magazine, David Wolf, used the idiom to explain on of Connie Hawkins’ basketball moves.  Cornelius Lance “Connie” Hawkins (born 17 July 1942) was a teenager who had been wrongfully implicated in a fixing scandal, and it was thanks to David Wolf’s magazine article of May 18, 1969 that Connie Hawkins was cleared in 1969.

People would put quarters on top of the backboard and Jackie would jump up and pick ’em off. He had this shot called “The Double Dooberry with a Cherry on Top.’ On a fastbreak, he’d take a pass at the foul line and jump toward the basket, holdin’ the ball in his two hands.  While he was going forward and up, hanging in the air, he would lower the ball down to his waist, raise it over his head, lower down again, raise it back up, and then slam in a dunk.  Nobody in the world can do that shot but him.  People went crazy every time he did it.

hawkins_life-magazine

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1975, singer-songwriter Paul Simon and Connie Hawkins appeared on Saturday Night Live where they played a game of one-on-one basketball to the tune of Simon’s hit song, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”  Despite the difference in heights (Paul Simon is 5 feet 3 inches tall to Connie Hawkin’s 6 feet 8 inches), the skit ended with Paul Simon winning against Connie Hawkins.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Connie Hawkins was a Harlem Globetrotter over a four year period from 1963 to 1967.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  David Wolf (who died in 2009) became a boxing manager with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (born 4 March 1961) being his best fighter.

Back in the 1950s, every amateur chef and homemaker knew that the piece de resistance on any dish was the maraschino cherry on top.  Even the Atlantic Monthly had something to say on the subject in 1955 on page 95.

And of course the Esperanto of pastry cooks, easy enough to decipher after one or two sorties as supercargo,  makes it completely unsurprising to find a cherry on top of anything called Jubilee, or tooth-shattering morsels of nut brittle scattered here and there with the menu cue Noisette, on any ship from a transatlantic liner to a freighter.  This lingo is international to the point of banality.

The newspapers, book, and magazines of the fifties all talk about cherries on top as being part of a culinary trend.  Idiomation was unable to find any other meaning to cherry on top during this era.  However, the idiom was used in “Vasodilator Agents in Management of Wound Shock: A Critical Review” edited by Ben Eiseman and Peter Bosomworth published in November 1962 with the support of the Surgeons General, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, and the National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  It was published by the National Academy of Science of the National Research Counsil in Washington, D.C..

The idiom was used in the Summation written by Ben Eiseman, M.D.,  Program Chair at the University of Kentucky Medical School in Lexington (KY).  The review was presented at a conference, and summarized the experimental and clinical evidence on the effect of shock of pharmacologic agents used to lower peripheral arterial resistance.

Studies in shocked man, except for the persistent interest of Dr. Nickerson and a few others, have been few and the field still remains wide open.  Interpretation of case reports where vasodilators were used as the cherry on top of an accumulated array of other pharmacologic debris in a therapeutic old-fashion cocktail, are largely worthless.

Somewhere between 1955 and 1962, cherries on top became more than just a culinary finishing touch.  They became a figurative bonus for whatever it was added to, from favors to research.

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

Dutch Reach

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 10, 2017

Idiomation came across the expression Dutch reach in an article published by CBC Manitoba on January 10, 2017. The article reported that St. Boniface (MB) councilor was promoting the Dutch reach as a way to fight collisions between bicyclists and parked motorists. The article read in part:

Allard has authored a motion asking the city to work with Manitoba Public Insurance to popularize the “Dutch reach,” a manoeuvre intended to ensure people in cars don’t fling open their doors and into the path of oncoming cyclists without warning.

It was a topic of discussion on the Road Bike Review website in September 2016 with some cyclists supporting the concept while others felt it wouldn’t reduce the number of door prizes cyclists get while cycling city streets.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: A door prize is the colloquial expression for a traffic collision in which a cyclist is struck by a car door.

The practice was mentioned in Martine Power’s article for the Boston Globe on September 22, 2013. The practice was also mentioned in a New York Times article dated July 30, 2011 and written by contributing writer Russell Shorto.

The practice however was not called the Dutch reach in either of those article even though the practice has been the law in the Netherlands for decades.

In 2016, retired American physician Michael Charney named the practice the Dutch reach. After the death of a cyclist in Somerville (MA) in the summer of 2016, Michael Charney, in partnership with the Somerville Police Department, promoted the “Dutch Reach’’ on an electronic sign board that was positioned outside the city’s Veterans Memorial Rink

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Dr. Michael Charney swapping driving a car for driving a bike in 1992, and has been an ardent cycling advocate in Cambridge (MA) over the years.

This means that the term Dutch reach is about six months old even, and mainstream media and politicians are already making use of the expression in articles about car doors and cyclists. Idiomation therefore pegs Dutch reach to 2016 as attributed to retired American physician Michael Charney.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mike and Ike

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 29, 2016

Nostalgia is big, and over the last few years, this nostalgia has included diners in the style of the 1930s through to the 1960s.  Mike and Ike is lunch counter slang for salt and pepper shakers, and while you may not hear it used often these days, when it is used, it brings with it all the nostalgia of days gone by when diners were the rage.  In fact, Idiomation hadn’t considered researching Mike and Ike until Howard and Suzie at The Diner in Sevierville (TN) mentioned it on The Diner’s Facebook page.

the-diner_idiomation_image-1

As fast food restaurants moved in on diner territory, the need for calling orders eliminated the need for diner lingo until most of it either disappeared from modern usage or made a place for itself in modern language.  But while diners were in vogue, the lingo amused both the cook and the customers, so waitresses made the most of it.

Diner lingo got its start in the early 1930s.  It’s where the terms OJ for orange juice and BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich originate.   Over easy, sunny side up, hash browns, and mayo also made the successful jump from diner lingo to mainstream dialogue.  In other words, lots of diner lingo from back then has survived to be part of mainstream conversation today.  But where did Mike and Ike get their start?

On September 29, 1907 American cartoonist Rube Goldberg saw his cartoon strip “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” published in the newspaper, and the public immediately took to the antics of the two characters.  As the cartoon evolved, so did the publication of the “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” cartoons.

mike-and-ike

Just like the salt and pepper shakers found on tables at diners, the characters Mike and Ike were always side by side in their exploits.  By the 1930s, Mike and Ike was firmly entrenched as the lingo for salt and pepper shakers, and in 1936, the American Dialect Society noted the idiom and its definition on page 44 of Volume 11 that year.

The expression also appeared in the book, “Salads and Herbs” compiled by Cora Lovisa Brackett Brown (3 January 1861 – 1939), Rose Johnston Brown (1883 – 1952), and Robert Carlton “Bob” Brown II (14 June 1886 – 7 August  1959), and published in 1938 by J.B. Lippincott Company.  The book was packed with heirloom recipes for salads and herbs (of course), as well as seasoning, flowers, berries, herbal teas and vinegards, and wild herbs.  On page 125 of this book, the author wrote:

Salt and pepper shakers are dubbed “the twins” and affectionately referred to as “Mike and Ike.”

salads-and-herbs

The term has fallen into disuse over the last few decades, but should you ever find yourself having a meal at a diner that’s still uses diner lingo to spice up the atmosphere, you’ll be in the know when you check to see if Mike and Ike can be found at your table.  The idiom dates back to the early 1930s but wouldn’t it be fun for you and a friend to order Adam and Eve on a raft, drop one on the brown, and a pair of drawers the next time you’re eating at a local diner?

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

Yellow Journalism

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yellow-kid

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

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

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

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

new-york-journal_maine-destroyed

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

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

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

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

Enough To Feed Coxey’s Army

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 8, 2016

When someone says there’s enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it means there’s an excess beyond what’s needed.  The expression is a southern expression that originated with American reformer and eccentric Jacob Sechler Coxey (16 April 1854 – 18 May 1951) and has its roots in the march he led to Washington (D.C.) in 1894.  The history of this expression is one that’s true Americana, and ties in with Tuesday’s entry soapbox.

The November 26, 2016 edition of the NFTV News Online published a story by Correspondent, Briana Vanozzi titled, “Celebrating Thanksgiving With A Tribute For Troops Abroad Battleship New Jersey.”  The idiom was used in this paragraph.

It’s often said on thanksgiving that we cook enough to feed an army.  It turns out when you’re tasked with just that, it takes many volunteer groups, county organizations and an entire catering company to make it happen.  “We have well over 50 battleship volunteers, I believe another 20 volunteers form our caterer,” continued Willard.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Willard is Jack Willard, Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, of the Battleship New Jersey.

The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Florida published an article on September 4, 1985 titled, “Chefs In Tampa Expand On Standard Cuban Dishes.”  Food Editor, Charlyne Varkonyi included this paragraph in her story.

Adella Gonzmart, owner of the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, says her grandfather used to serve the broth and beans as a soup. The meat and potatoes were served separately on a platter. But the soup was enough to feed an army so customers stopped ordering entrees.

In 1955, Ford Motor Company published a book titled, “Lincoln and Mercury Times Combined with Fine Cars.”  A story accompanied by paintings by American artist Rhoda Brady Stokes (1902 – 1988) including this passage:

She had it all done and was shelling peas, and it looked like she had enough to feed an army. We all went to church in the surrey.

The Spokesman-Review of December 20, 1910 carried a story out of Ritzville, Washington that told of Mrs. Katie Holland’s testimony in court.  Her son, Paddy Holland, was accused of murdering the young school teacher, Miss Josephine Putnam.  Part of her testimony included this:

Mrs. Holland told of the checkered career of her boy, of his birth during a supposed fatal illness of her husband, the boy’s dumbness in school, joined Coxey’s army, discharged from the army after the Spanish-American war, boyhood injury, and his love for his mother.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Others who took the stand were of the opinion that Paddy was insane as evidenced by the fact that he rode five miles on horseback in his shirt sleeves on a raw, cold day; he looked at a book for an hour and a half with the book upside down; he had a habit of saying goodbye three times when he went to the fields to work; he proposed marriage to a German girl who consistently refused to speak to him; attempted to ride a reputed vicious horse in spite of the fact he was a very poor rider; he would apologize up to fifty times whenever he breached etiquette;  and more.

On page 7 of the Lewiston Evening Journal of April 17, 1894 spoke of Coxey’s Army and how hardworking Americans grew weary of having their generosity abused by members of the ragtag army of homeless unemployed men.

This week finds Coxey’s hosts down in Maryland – so much nearer Washington.  The disease which affects Coxey has become epidemic and sporadic cases are coming to notice all over the country.  A detachment of the “Industrial Army” is making its way through California en route to Washington; another branch is in Nebraska, and Morrison Swift, the Boston crank, is to start out Saturday from the Hub.  Meanwhile everybody in the regions through which they pass is tired of feeding them and allowing their barns to be used as bed-chambers.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  The men in Coxey’s Army were called bums, tramps, hoboes, fuzzytails, ringtails, and jungle buzzards.  Men who were part of Coxey’s Army stated clearly that there was a difference between hoboes, tramps and bums.  According to them, a hobo will work, a tramp won’t work, and a bum couldn’t work if he wanted to work.   On this basis, they claimed to be hoboes although most were content to refer to them as stiffs.

When the Daily Argus News of May 10, 1894 was published, it spoke of a branch of Coxey’s Army under the leadership of General Randall, and of the anticipated march through South Bend, Indiana.  Here is what was reported in part:

They came from New Carlisle, sixteen miles west.  The New Carlisle people treated them well.  Sullivan says they will move to Elkhark, fifteen miles east, passing through Mishawaka, Randall will proceed to this city this afternoon.  He will be hurried through the city, fed, camped, and passed on to the next point.  No public speaking will be permitted.

General Randall had been incarcerated in La Porte, Indiana days earlier and upon his release he threatened to sue the Mayor for alleged malicious prosecution.  By the time he was released from his six-day stay in jail, the men in his camp were starving as the citizens of La Porte refused to help the men in any way and their meager provisions had run out.  At a meeting the evening of his release, he appealed for townsfolk to feed his men.

Coxey’s Army wasn’t above committing crimes.  In fact, one branch of his army stole a train from the Northern Pacific Railway near Butte, Montana.  It took and order from President Grover Cleveland and a number of U.S. Marshals to recover the train and subdue Coxey’s Army.

Everywhere branches of Coxey’s Army marched, they expected to be fed and housed by the inhabitants of the towns through which they marched.  Southern states were more accommodating than northern states to this end, however, none appreciate the imposition these men placed on their communities.

Give Me The West” by Scottish-born American financial journalist and author B.C. Forbes (14 May 1880 – 6 May 1954) was published in the May 16, 1920 edition of The American Magazine, and this is the first published version of enough to feed Coxey’s army .

In 1910 he took Sam Blythe and Will Loeb and myself with him.  The cavalcade that crossed the Gibbon and the Fire Hole and went on down into the Madison looked like a mob of land stampeders piling into virgin territory.  The first stop we made was at Grayling, a beautiful little suburban post office which has since been taken over by the Montana Power Company and now lies under fifty feet of water.  We pitched our tents in Red Canyon, three miles distant from the town site.  We had thirty-one horses, five wranglers, two cooks, six Japanese waters and enough grub to feed Coxey’s army going and coming.  Harry, known along the frontier as ‘Harry Hardup’ for the reason that he owns only one hundred and fifty thousand acres of land and twenty thousand head of stock, ordered up a pitcher of lemonade and superintended the laying out of the camp site.  As soon as night falls, Harry east three troughs, a couple of elk steaks, drinks another quart of lemonade, smokes another box of cigars and climbs into the hay.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes was the founder of Forbes magazine.

Believe it or not, while the current idiom enough to feed an army can sometimes be traced back to enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it can also be traced back to much older origins.  But enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army (its variation) links directly to 1920 and Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes’ story!

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

Soapbox

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 6, 2016

Oftentimes on social media and in real life, people will apologize for getting on their soapbox after speaking their minds.  Usually what they have to say is something they are passionate about and they feel compelled to share that passionate view with others.  When someone figuratively stands on his or her soapbox, that person is expression his or her opinion about a particular subject very vocally.

The Associated Press out of London reported on British communist and military trade unionist leader Jack Dash’s passing on June 9, 1989 and included the term in the obituary.  He was described as a “fervent British patriot” while at the same time reported that he “unswervingly defended the Soviet line.”  The obituary read in part:

The Transport and General Workers’ Union to which he belonged barred Communists from holding union office, so Mr. Dash operated strictly from the soapbox and became known as “unofficial king of the docks.”

In the October 29, 1945 edition of the Pittsburgh Press, Florence Fisher Perry wrote about attending an event to hear Roger Nash Baldwin (21 January 1884 – 26 August 1981), co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, speak at the First Unitarian Church in a Forum series.  Her article, “I Dare Say: Leftward The Course Of Thinking” made reference to soap box orators.

As always seems to be the case, the more Leftist ones is, the more articulate one becomes with the result that most of what we hear from lecturers, forums, dramatists, and definitely soap box orators, is Leftist talk.  The Rightists in any typical audience may feel deeply and even angrily, but they’re not apt to stand up and express themselves.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  When the ACLU was first established, Roger Nash Baldwin stated that “Communism, of course, is the goal.”  As he became more and more disillusioned with Soviet-style communism, he began to refer to communism as it was in Russia as the new slavery. 

The Afro American newspaper edition of August 13, 1927 spoke about Garveyism and race riots in an article titled, “Go It Garvey.”  Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, and orator Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914.  Garveyism promoted the concept that African-Americans should be returned to African by way of his shipping and passenger line, the Black Star Line, and that European colonial powers be made to leave Africa.  In this article, the term was used thusly:

Constitutional rights, and racial equality advocated by every intelligent person constitute the Garvey creed, which soap box orators spout in fiery language.

In American novelist, journalist, and social activist John Griffith “Jack” London’s book titled, “The Road” and published in 1907, in the short story titled, “Two Thousand Stiffs,” he wrote of his hobo experiences back in 1894.  At the time he was working for an electric railway power plant shoveling coal.  He quit the job when he determined he was being exploited, and headed west to join General Kelly’s Army, meeting up with them in Omaha (NE).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Stiff was the slang term for a tramp in the 1890s.

This army wasn’t an army in the military sense, however, its members intended on marching to Washington (D.C.) to join General Coxey’s Industrial Army in protest of unemployment numbers.   Army life didn’t suit him as much as he thought it might, and a month later, he left General Kelly’s Army in Hannibal (MO) and became a bona-fide hobo.  He wound up being arrested in Buffalo (NY) on June 29 of that year, charged with vagrancy, and spent thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary upon conviction.   Years later, when he wrote about what happened, he used the term soapbox to explain

The city had treacherously extended its limits into a mile of the country, and I didn’t know, that was all.  I remember my inalienable right of free speech and peaceable assembly, and I get up on a soap-box to trot out the particular economic bees that buzz in my bonnet, and a bull takes me off that box and leads me to the city prison, and after that I get out on bail.  It’s no use.  In Korea I used to be arrested about every other day.  It was the same thing in Manchuria.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Charles T. Kelly was known as General Kelly, leader of General Kelly’s Army.  His group of slightly more than 2,000 unemployment men intended to march from San Francisco (CA) to meet up with Jacob Coxey’s Industrial Army, where they would continue marching to Washington (D.C.).  Unfortunately, few of the men in General Kelly’s Army were interested in making the trek on foot past the Ohio River.  A thousand men made it as far as Des Moines (IA).  By the time they arrived in Washington (D.C.), there were hardly any men left in his army.  His men added another hundred to General Coxey’s numbers when they marched on Washington (D.C.).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Prominent political figure and labor-rights advocate Jacob Coxey was known as General Coxey, leader of the Industrial Army.  He decided to lead a march to Washington (D.C.) to protest unemployment.  He claimed in the media that his Industrial Army would have more than 100,000 unemployed men by the time it arrived in Washington, however, he was mistaken.  By the time he reached Washington, there were only five hundred unemployed men with him.  Undeterred, he moved forward with his plan to have the United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland see things his way, and found himself arrested for trespassing on public property.  His followers abandoned him, and upon his release from jail he was sent back to his home state of Ohio.

In 1904, mainstream media in America referred to those making speeches at the National Convention of the Socialist Party of America as soap-box orators.  The Socialist Party of America was a Marxist group with headquarters originally in St. Louis (MO).  In January 1904, it was determined that their headquarters would be moved to Chicago (IL) as determined by Referendum B 1904.  Although the convention was referred to by the media as the First National Convention of the Socialist Party of America, it was actually the second  — the first having been the Unity Convention held in Indianapolis (IN) held from July 29 to August 1, 1901.  

The concept of a Speaker’s Corner has been around for some time, with some locations such as Hyde Park in the UK dating back to the late 1800s. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 stated that some areas in parks would be permitted to be used to allow people to meet and speak their mind in a peaceful way in public.  In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, manufacturers used wooden crates to ship wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. The heavier the merchandise, the stronger the box had to be, and soap was (and still is) some of the heaviest merchandise being shipped. This meant that wooden crates carrying soap were among the strongest.

When wooden crates that had once carried soap were turned over into makeshift platforms, they could easily bear the weight of an adult without fear of breaking while the person stood on it.  They were also very easy to carry around, making quick escapes possible for those who stood on their soap boxes delivering unscheduled speeches.

The tradition of soapbox speaking was seen in the 1992 general election in the UK when Tory leader John Major took his campaign to the people directly and delivered many political addresses from an upturned soapbox.

The term soap box referring to speaking one’s mind dates back to the late 1800s and continues to be used even in conversations more than 125 years later.

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

Scribbledehobble

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 8, 2016

It’s not often you hear some words but when you do, they stick in your mind either because they’re unique or because they’re amusing and entertaining as well as unique.  Scribbledehobble is one of those words.  It can mean hurried, messy writing, or it can be a reference to the workbook with ideas written down quickly with little to no concern for appearance.

Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) decided to give the notebooks in which he jotted down names, words, ideas, turns of phrase and anecdotes a name.  The name he gave to one of them was scribbledehobble.

There’s some question as to the exact date James Joyce came up with this word.  It’s a fact that when Thomas E. Connolly transcribed and published one of James Joyce’s notebooks in 1961, it was under the title, “Scribbledehobble” in keeping with the first word in the book’s text.

This notebook held the notes for his book “Finnegans Wake” that was published in 1939, and was seventeen years in the writing after his book “Ulysses” was published in 1922.

SIDE NOTE 1:  “Finnegans Wake” is a book that few have read due in large part to the enormous complexity of the text that was written, for the most part, with idiosyncratic language.

Some scholars believe the word was a hybrid of the words scribble and hobbledehoyHobbledehoy is a word that dates back to the early 1500s, and refers to someone or something that is clumsy and awkward.  The word has appeared in many novels over the generations.

It was used in Chapter 47 of the book “Little Women” by American novelist and poet, Louisa May Alcott (29 November 1832 – 6 March 1888), published in 1868.  The book was about four sisters who lived at home with their mother in New England while their father was away fighting in the Civil War.  The family had lost its fortune, but the family managed to make do and to continue living in the house they had always known.

“Now don’t be a wet-blanket, Teddy. Of course I shall have rich pupils, also–perhaps begin with such altogether. Then, when I’ve got a start, I can take in a ragamuffin or two, just for a relish. Rich people’s children often need care and comfort, as well as poor. I’ve seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward ones pushed forward, when it’s real cruelty. Some are naughty through mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers. Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that’s the very time they need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustle them about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at once from pretty children into fine young men.”

It was also used by English writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome (2 May 1859 – 14 June 1927) in his collection of humorous essays, “Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow” published in 1886.  This was the second published book for the writer, and it established him as a leading English humorist.

The shy man, on the other hand, is humble–modest of his own judgment and over-anxious concerning that of others. But this in the case of a young man is surely right enough. His character is unformed. It is slowly evolving itself out of a chaos of doubt and disbelief. Before the growing insight and experience the diffidence recedes. A man rarely carries his shyness past the hobbledehoy period. Even if his own inward strength does not throw it off, the rubbings of the world generally smooth it down. You scarcely ever meet a really shy man–except in novels or on the stage, where, by the bye, he is much admired, especially by the women.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Jerome K. Jerome’s quotes are well-known even if they may not be propertly attributed to him.  Two of his most noteable quotes are, “It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you aren an exceptionally good liar” and “I like work; it fascinates me.  I can site and look at it for hours.”

Even James Fenimore Cooper (15 September 1789 – 15 September 1851) spoke of “the hobbledehoy condition” in which America found itself in his book “The Pioneers, or The Sources of the Susquehanna; a Descriptive Tale” published in 1823.  This book was the first of five novels which became known as the Leatherstocking Tales.

This period in the history of a country may be likened to the hobbledehoy condition in ourselves when we have lost the graces of childhood without having attained the finished forms of men.

It isn’t difficult to see how James Joyce would feel compelled to mesh scribble with hobbledehoy to come up with scribbledehobble to describe either hurried, messy writing or the workbook with ideas written down quickly with little to no concern for appearance.  Idiomation pegs this to the around 1920 with thanks to James Joyce for his creativity in coming up with this new word.

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

Icing On The Cake

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 1, 2016

The best part of any cake is the icing, or so most people say.  When the icing on the cake is something other than the sugary topping we all know, it means a pleasing situation was made even better due to an unexpected bonus.  Of course, there are those who are pessimists and who will use the expression sarcastically but most people seem to be optimists when it comes to using this idiom.

This year, the Chicago Cubs are battling it out with the Cleveland Indians for the title of World Cup winners for 2016.  After Game 5, Chicago was trailing two games to Cleveland’s three.  The idiom was used in the New York Daily newspaper article, “Eddie Vedder, Jon Lester Help Give Retiring Cubs Catcher David Ross A Night To Remember At Wrigley Field” published on October 31, 2016.

That Ross was able to contribute to the Cubs’ first World Series home win in 71 years was icing on the cake. His fourth-inning sacrifice fly proved to be the game-winning RBI, while he also threw out Francisco Lindor trying to steal second, doing his best to counter Jon Lester’s well-documented issues with holding runners on base.

Canadian-born character actor and playwright John McLiam (24 January 1918 – 16 April 1994) wrote and published his play, “The Sin Of Pat Muldoon” in 1957.

PAT:
You’re wasting your time.  The things you call sin have been to me the beauties of life.  They’ve helped me to know more of myself and people and the world I live in.

FATHER:
Sin is death to the soul.  Sin is an insult to God.

PAT:
There are sins and there are sing, but the sins I speak of are the chocolate icing on the cake of life.  Father, you ought to be more careful, if nobody sinned, you’d be out of a job.

FATHER:
Since you won’t recognize me as your priest, you may perhaps accept me as a man and friend of your family.  There is something I must say to you.

PAT:
Go ahead.  Shoot the works.

In Victorian times (20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901), the more refined the sugar used in making icing for cakes, the whiter the icing.  Because it was difficult to secure very fine sugar and because it was a costly luxury, the whiter the icing on a cake, the wealthier the family was thought to be.  Of course, if you were already enjoying cake, this was a good thing.  If you were enjoying cake with icing, this was an even better thing.  And enjoying cake with very white icing was the best thing imaginable.   But how far back does icing actually go?

The previous century, in 1769, Elizabeth Raffeld published her book, “The Experienced English Housekeeper.”  In this very helpful tome, the author shared the first published recipe for confectionery icing for cakes.  That being said, icing for cakes had been around for over 200 years at the time of publication even if this was the first published recipe for icing.

According to this recipe book, sugar and icing were part of making a Good Great Oxford-shire Cake.  Here are the directions as they are found in “The Compleat Cook, Expertly Prescribing The Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish Or French, For Dressing Of Flesh And Fish, Ordering Of Sauces Or Making Of Pastry” published in 1658.

ice-the-cake_1658

To make a very Good Great Oxford-shire Cake

Take a peck of flower by weight, and dry it a little, & a pound and a halfe of Sugar, one ounce of Cinamon, half an ounce of Nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of Mace and Cloves, a good spoonfull of Salt, beat your Salt and Spice very fine, and searce it, and mix it with your flower and Sugar; then take three pound of butter and work it in the flower, it will take three hours working; then take a quart of Ale-yeast, two quarts of Cream, half a pint of Sack, six grains of Amber-greece dissolved in it, halfe a pint of Rosewater, sixteen Eggs, eight of the Whites, mix these with the flower, and knead them well together, then let it lie warm by your fire till your Oven be hot, which must be little hotter then for manchet; when you make it ready for your Oven, put to your Cake six pound of Currans, two pound of Raisins, of the Sun stoned and minced, so make up your Cake, and set it in your oven stopped close; it wil take three houres a baking; when baked, take it out and frost it over with the white of an Egge and Rosewater, well beat together, and strew fine Sugar upon it, and then set it again into the Oven, that it may Ice.

But nearly 200 years before that recipe, frosting (or icing — whichever term you prefer) was already happening to cakes.  Marchpanes became frosted marchpanes in 1494 when a paste of almonds and granulated sugar was used to add a decorative topping to them.

Even with all this information about icing and cakes, when did the icing on the cake become the saying we know it to be and not just something that pastry chefs did, and continue to do, to cakes?

Hostess Bakery was mass producing cupcakes by 1919, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s that buttercream frosted cupcakes made with confectioner’s sugar, butter, cream, and flavorings began to appear.  So those yummy Hostess cupcakes weren’t just yummy cupcakes in the 1950s.  They were yummy cupcakes with frosting.  They were iced!  BONUS!

Oddly enough, Idiomation was unable to find the expression published prior to John McLiam’s play “The Sin Of Pat Muldoon.”  This means that the icing on the cake meaning an added bonus to an already good thing happening has only been happening for about seventy years.  Idiomation therefore pegs this expression to the mid-1950s, and it may just be John McLiam who coined that phrase.

So does icing on the cake mean the same thing as frosting on the cake, frosting your cookies or cherry on top (from the French idiom la cerise sur le gâteau)?  Idiomation is looking into the historical backgrounds of these three expressions, and will publish findings in the near future.

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

To The Manor Born

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 27, 2016

Although the term isn’t used much these days, there was a time, not that long ago, that people would say he (or she) was to the manor born.  The problem with this idiom is that since the middle of the 19th century, writers and authors have had their way with switching out manor and manner.  To this end, the idiom has split off in two directions, with the incorrect version being the more popular of the two.

Using the word manor means that the person is born to wealth and privilege.  Using the word manner means the person has been accustomed to something since birth.   Yes, where homophones are present, wordplay and puns, along with honest mistakes, often follow.

To the manner born:  Familiar with something since birth.
To the manor born:  Privileged since birth.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Sometimes it’s difficult to trace back idioms because the way vowels are pronounced has changed over the centuries.  In Chaucer’s time, me was pronounced may, shire was pronounced sheer, house and flour were pronounced hoose and floor, domesday was pronounced doomsday, and so on.  Chaucer’s word lyf was pronounced leef and eventually it became the word life which we use in modern language today. 

Earlier this month, on October 17, 2016 on the Private Wealth website that claims to advise “the exceptionally affluent,” writer Greg Bresiger published an article titled, “Horatio Alger Is Alive And Well In The United States.”  The article discussed creating wealth in the United States as well as the fact that America is surpassing Asia when it comes to creating new billionaires.  The opening paragraph used the idiom to catch readers’ attention.

It’s a good time for the self-made American billionaire, and those who made their wealth on their own are doing better than those to the manor born, a new report says.

In 1912, Church of England priest, historian, and author, Peter Hempson (P.H.) Ditchfield (20 April 1854 – 16 September 1930) published a book titled, “The Old English Country Squire” in which he wrote the following.

And those who come to take its place in the countryside are poor substitutes for the old squire. They are not to the manner born. Though not ill-disposed they are ignorant of country customs and the deep-seated feelings of the country-folk.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Reverend Ditchfield was the Grand Chaplain of the Freemasons of England in 1917, and of the Mark Masons in 1918, as well as the Secretary of the Berkshire Archaeological Society for 38 years until 1929, when he became its President.

In the “Proceedings of the Illinois State Convention of Colored Men, Assembled at Galesburg” covering the convention from October 1866 (and published in 1867), the idiom was used in describing what happened to the Indigenous peoples in America.

During the war, a purpose briefly existed, of virtually ostracising an entire class of Americans, “native and to the manor born,” as a means of placating the unappeasable spirit, that at the moment was endeavoring, with fire and sword, to fulfill its long-cherished purpose to “rend the Union, from turret to foundation,” that upon the debris of the government framed by Washington and the fathers, and consecrated with the blood, and tears, and prayers of the American people of “the times that tried men’s souls,” a government should be erected, having for its chief corner stone, a political class distinction, subversive of their rights of, and degrading to universal humanity.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The purpose of the convention was to discuss the subject of disabilities, educational and political, that affected persons of color in the State of Illinois.  The discussion focused on the impediment persons of color experienced when trying to rise above their current situation, and to set in motion effective agencies for the purpose of securing the permanent removal of agencies that prevented that progress.

Ultimately, the first published version of the idiom is found in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” in Act I, scene iv, published in 1602.

HORATIO:     
Is it a custom?

HAMLET:      
Ay, marry, is’t:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour’d in the breach than the observance.

So whether you’re to the manor born or to the manner born, you have William Shakespeare to thank for the idiom with a side nod to Hamlet.  Without Hamlet as a source of inspiration, it’s possible William may not have thought of writing that expression.

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

Fill The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 11, 2016

Idiomation shared the history behind foot the bill and fit the bill.  This time around, we’re looking at the history behind fill the bill, and what this expression means.  To fill the bill is to supply exactly what is needed to meet the needs of a specific situation.

On November 19, 2015 the HR Gazette website published an article about HR managers, and how to pick the one that’s best for your company.  The article discussed non-traditional graduates as opposed to traditional college students, and the advantages and disadvantages therein.  The article was titled, “Hiring An HR Manager: Can You Fill The Bill?

On February 1, 2000, the Latin Trade magazine decided to publish an article about fraudulent companies in South America.  Costa Rica correspondent Julie Dulude’s story began with an article published in the magazine Business Insurance that had been published in March 1999, and focused on a business calling itself Camelot Insurance Company, S.A.  The reporter’s investigation turned up a handful of companies with Camelot in their names.  The problem is that addresses are listed as local landmarks followed by compass directions, and so every lead was investigated by the reporter.  When she used the idiom, this is what she wrote.

Finding the next two addresses turned out to be a wild goose chase. The tenants at an apartment complex that seemed to me “exactly 75 meters west of the Colegio Metodista” knew nothing. “Ay corazon, since the school occupies the whole block, it could be on either this street or the parallel one,” offered the gardener.

Next door was a vacant lot and across the street a cemetery, so I headed for the parallel street. A yellow house next door to a construction site appeared to fill the bill. “Let me find my glasses,” said a middle-aged woman who came out to help. And then: “The problem is that it doesn’t say whether they mean the elementary or the high school. You see, the Colegio Metodista has a high school in Sabanilla, which is considered part of San Pedro.”

Filling the bill is something that was known nearly 100 years earlier.  In the book “The Lair of the White Worm” by Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) published in 1911 the expression fill the bill was used.

There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish  to keep — Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it.

Nearly twenty years earlier, in 1890 a passionate Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 34 of “Manford’s Magazine” reader James Billings of Hico, Texas.  The title of the letter was “Fill The Bill” and Mr. Billings to the expression fill the bill to task and wrote a passionate letter on the subject.

Shall that sinner be given up, as a subject beyond the reach of the mercy, and the love and power of God?  Is there no arm of infinite love, and goodness that can be stretched out to life this poor soul into the life of repentance, and to feel God’s forgiveness?  Is there no balm of mercy in Gilead to save?  Is there not mercy and goodness enough in God’s divine purposes to fill the bill, in every case?  God is love; and as it is an inexhaustible fountain, there is compassion sufficient to fill all bills, to meet all demands, and redeem all souls.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Billings (15 November 1811 – 2 November 1898) was the new Universalist missionary in Texas, and had a noticeable presence as both a Universalist minister and a publisher.  In Hico, Reverend Billings and his wife, the thrice married and thrice widowed Mary Charlotte Ward Granniss Webster Billings (11 July 1824 – 2 March 1904), made a number of sound real estate investments on behalf of the Texas Convention, and opened All Souls Church in Hico, Texas in 1889.

Some sources state that fill the bill is American theatrical slang that dates back to 1882 where a lead performer’s name was the biggest name on the show’s poster with lesser performers listed in smaller letters and engaged to round out the program.  Idiomation doesn’t doubt that this may be true, however, the idiom was used in slightly more than twenty years earlier by the Illinois State Agricultural Society, and in the context we understand it to mean today.

On page 471 of Volume 4 of the “Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society” for 1859, there was a vote on whether to go with Wilson’s Albany, Necked Pine, Early Washington, or Iowa for general cultivation.  Notes were taken at this meeting and these words were attributed to Dr. Warder with regards to the best strawberry plants for farmers.

The Iowa is not a good bearer.  Only on in ten of its blossom produce fruit usually.  It runs too much and need thorough harrowing, which done, it bears well.  It has a high flavor but requires rough treatment.  It bears early, is good to have, though a little soft.  Austin or Shaker’s Seedling, Dr. W. hopes well from because of its great vigor, but doubts if it fills the bill.  Instead of the berries weighing at the rate of twelve to the pound, it take fifty weight a pound.  Has more confidence in Downer’s Prolific.  Downer is a reliable man, and the fruit and plant are both exceedingly satisfactory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference however the term was used easily by Dr. Warder with the expectation that his colleagues would understand the meaning of fill the bill.  We therefore peg this expression to the early 1800s.

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