Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sealioning

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 30, 2018

If someone feigns civility and incessantly demands evidence from others to support their arguments in a discussion while at the same time refusing to produce evidence to support their own arguments in the same discussion, that person is sealioning.

Those who engage in sealioning aren’t interested in serious debate. They are interested in wasting other people’s time while appearing innocent and somewhat naive with regards to the topic at hand. Their questions are phrased in neutral terms with the intent of demonizing the other person.

You can identify sealioning relatively quickly as those who engage in this behavior would rather ask question after question without providing any answers themselves or offering an opinion. A cybermob following the person engaged in sealioning then jumps in to support the abusive behavior, throwing other questions at you, and bullying you into silence.

Why? Because when it comes to sealioning, mob rule is one of the key aspects of the activity. The purpose of sealioning is to harass the other person for reasons that are only known to the sealion and whoever is privy to the sealion‘s reasons for harassing the other person.

If you choose not to respond or you chose to stop responding to the person engaged in sealioning, you are then accused of realizing you are wrong but refusing to admit you are wrong.

One trait that stands out for those who engage in sealioning is the need for self-promotion and self-proclaimed expertise that may or may not have anything to do with the discussion at hand.

So what do you look out for if you suspect sealioning?

1. Incorrect statements are made without proof to substantiate the statements.
2. Cybermobbing tactics with two or more of the predators following suit.
3. Cruel and untrue ad hominem attacks on those who do not agree with them.
4. The need to be right at all costs even when they are provided with proof to the contrary.
5. Feigned offense for the sole purpose of discrediting and demonizing the other person.
6. Feigned politeness and courtesy in behavior and/or speech.

The first use of the word was on 19 September 2014 by cartoonist David Malki on Wondermark when he uploaded his cartoon, “The Terrible Sea Lion.”

Yes, sealioning is a very new expression so don’t tire it out.

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Deaf As A Doornail

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 23, 2018

Someone who is deaf as a doornail is someone who is, or is accused of being, almost completely if not completely deaf.  It’s a term used less often than dead as a doornail, however it is correct to use deaf as a doornail.  It’s also related to other similar expressions such as deaf as a post, deaf as a doorpost, and deaf as a doorknob.

In the April 7, 2017 DisArt Festival website review of Terry Galloway’s stage performance directed by Florida State University professor Donna Marie Nudd, the idiom found its way into the first sentence.

Terry Galloway has been deaf as a doornail since she was nine. She spent years living in relatively peaceful silence, until technology– in the form of a cochlear implant– caught up with her.

A hundred years earlier, the expression was used in a story titled “Boldero” by American novelist Henry Milner Rideout (25 April 1877 – 17 September 1927) and illustrated by Edmund Franklin (E.F.) Ward (3 January 1892 – 14 December 1990), and published on September 1st, 1917 in Volume 190 of “The Saturday Evening Post.”

Boldero raced down the levee slope and halted, facing the man.

The fire, though humble, cast a warm red glow on him who watched it. He looked up — a hawk-nosed, beardless, brown-faced little old man, with skeptical eyes.

“Can’t hear a word you’re saying,” declared this figure in a toneless voice. “You’ll have to speak louder. I’m deaf as a doornail.”

Uttering the words like an old and tiresome formula, he continued to warm his hands.

The expression is found in the article, “Scottish Pulpit Eloquence” published in “Relics of Literature” compiled and edited by Stephen Collet, A.M. in 1823. The article starts off by stating the extract is from a seventeenth century tract entitled, “A Sermon Preached in St. Giles Kirk, at Edinburg, common called Pockmanty Preaching, by James Row, some time Minister of Strowan.” It was determined that the year of the sermon by information in the tract that this sermon was written in 1643.  The expression appeared in this section:

The first of these general divisions was naturally susceptible of subdivision, and the preacher displayed much quaint ingenuity in pointing out in what respects the kirk had been affected in each of her five senses, particularly in that of hearing, “by the bringing of the organs,” since which she has become “as deaf as a door nail.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Stephen Collet was a pseudonym for Reuben Percy which was a pseudonym for English journalist and editor Thomas Byerley (1788 – 1826).  Thomas Byerley edited the “Literary Chronicles” as well as “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction.”

It appeared in the works of French Renaissance writer, physician, humanist, monk, and Greek scholar François Rabelais (4 February 1494 – 9 April 1553). In the Sir Thomas Urquhart translations of his books, the expression is found in “Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book III” also known as “The Third Book of Pantagruel” published in 1546.

This extract is from “Chapter 3. XXXIV – How Women Ordinarily Have The Greatest Longing After Things Prohibited.” The beginning of the chapter mentioned Pope John XXII (1249 – 4 December 1334) and the Abbey of Toucherome.

There are, quoth the physician, many proper remedies in our art to make dumb women speak, but there are none that ever I could learn therein to make them silent. The only cure which I have found out is their husband’s deafness. The wretch became within few weeks thereafter, by virtue of some drugs, charms, or enchantments which the physician had prescribed unto him, so deaf that he could not have heard the thundering of nineteen hundred cannons at a salvo. His wife perceiving that indeed he was as deaf as a door-nail, and that her scolding was but in vain, sith that he heard her not, she grew stark mad.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Pope John XXII was the second as well as the longest-reigning Avignon Pope, reigning from 5 September 1316 through to his dead on 3 December 1334. He was elected Pope by the Conclave of Cardinals after more than two years after the death of Pope Clement V.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Nearly a month after Pope John XXII’s death, Cardinal Jacques Fournier was elected Pope, taking the name of Benedict XII. Pope Benedict XII reigned from 30 December 1334 to his death on 25 April 1342.

According to modern-day carpenters as well as carpenters of the middle ages, in the 13th century, a doornail was a large-headed nail, easily clinched, for nailing doors, through the battens (a small board used to reinforce doors as well as for other building purposes). Clinching meant to bend the end of the nail to provide a secure fastening, thereby rendering it dead to any additional hammering.

By the time the 14th century arrived, small metal plates were nailed on doors to allow visitors to pound them with knockers to announce their arrival. The metal plates were secured to such doors with dead nails.  If no one was in the vicinity of the door being knocked on, it was difficult (and sometimes impossible) to hear someone knocking at the door even when someone was at home.  It certainly makes it easy to understand where the expression deaf as a door nail originates when the history of how doornails, deadness, and deafness intertwine is known.

You may also be interested in reading about being dead as a doornail.  If you are, CLICK HERE to read that entry.

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Pay Your Money and Take Your Chances

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 18, 2018

When you pay your money and take your chances, this refers to the element of luck or risk involved in choosing or making a decision.  You realize you have no control over the results, and you accept the risk involved even though the end results may not be to your liking.  In some respects, it’s a bit like being asked to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.  You’ll get what you get.

In January 2017, Today’s Parent magazine published an article about gluten-free, vegan and raw diets and why infants should not be fed health fad diets.  Written by Aaron Hutchins and titled, “No, Your Baby Shouldn’t Be Vegan Or Gluten-Free” it dealt with parents who were turning their backs on conventional nutrition as well as conventional medicine — and to the detriment of their children.  The article quoted Toronto-based chiropractor Brian Gleberzon who had this to say about using chiropractors to address such health issues as colic:

“It’s the same principle with your dentist or your chiropractor or psychotherapist,” he says. “There’s no guarantee they can help you. You pay your money and take your chances.”

In November 5, 2004 edition of the New Zealand Herald, an article title, “All Is Fare in the Power Struggle for Whenuapai” took on the possible conflict of interest the government had in light of the fact it held 80 percent ownership in Air New Zealand and was determining public policy for Whenuapai that would see budget travelers headed to the Gold Coast instead.  Some points made about duplicate passenger facilities at Whenuapai and the inconvenience of domestic passengers transferring to international flight at Mangere, there were claims that red herrings had been thrown into the arguments against Whenuapai.

The Economic Development Minister, Jim Anderton, claimed people were getting carried away with their fears and concerns, and insisted there were alternative uses for the airport in question, and that it could become an industrial park.  He was quoted as saying:

“Everyone is talking about one possible use, but there could be others – from universities to racetracks. You pay your money and take your chances.”

The February 1964 edition of the New York Forester magazine provided insightful commentary from Judge Irving Edelberg who spoke on the “Legal Aspects of Public and Private Lands Used For Recreational Purposes.”  He addressed the issue of trespassing and the legal ramifications therein as well as the responsibilities involved with those who were licensees and those who were invitees.  An invitee was someone who was invited by the land owner to use his land recreationally, oftentimes solicited to visit and encourage to partake of the recreational facilities offered by the land owner.  The idiom was used to make a point about the rights of the invitee and the responsibilities of the land owner.

In some “sitting” recreation, the saying goes that you “pay your money and you take your chances.”  But where you are invited to the recreational use of land, whether or not you pay your money, the user’s rights and the owner’s liability are not a matter of chance.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  The New York Foresters were a chapter of the Society of American Foresters and were their chapter was headquartered at the Conservation Department, State Campus Site in Albany, New York.

The 1912 edition of the American Florist magazine included an article on the heating system for growers who focused on roses.  The writer of the piece made it clear that there was “little economy in buying a boiler when starting into business that will only take care of the amount of glass erected the first season, for as a matter of fact one usually increases the number of houses annually, and the return tubular type of boiler of from 50 to 100 H.P. will always be found to be the best investment.”

When the article got to mentioning return tubular boilers — the portable and the brick-set — and the virtues therein, the writer determined the two were comparable.  In fact, the writer stated this in his article, he put his own twist on the expression by writing:

There is very little difference in price, so you pay your money and take your choice.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  With regards to the portable boiler, that “with its self-contained firebox, ashpit and saddle attached, [and] is made in any desirable horsepower.  This boiler takes up comparatively little room and if well covered with asbestos will be found very handy and economical.”

Something worth taking note of is that between the 1910s and the 1960s, the word chance was substituted for the word choice.

It was in Volume 26 of “The United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular And Volunteer Forces” published on 3 November 1888 that a Letter to the Editor dated 20 September 1888 regarding modern artillery made use of the earlier version of the expression.  The writer of the letter — A.D. Schenck, 1st Lieutenant, 24 U.S. Artillery, Jackson Barracks, Louisiana — was concerned about an article published in an earlier edition that included tables relating to horse artillery guns, and the measure of mobility the artillery would have to secure to keep pace with its troops.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  A.D. Schenck was Alexander DuBois Schenck (27 October 1843 – 16 September 1905).  Born in Franklin County (OH), he enlisted on April 17, 1861 as a Private in the 1st Ohio Infantry, Company F and on August 31, 1861 he was moved to the 2nd Ohio Infantry, Company B. He was promoted to Sergeant on August 31, 1861, later on becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the Artillery Corps of the U.S. Army. He died at Fort Stevens (OR) in 1905.  

What’s more, the writer of the letter made certain to underscore that his observations and opinion on the subject was not based upon the “experiences or judgment of this writer, but upon those of some of the most experienced and capable artillery officers in the French, German, and Russian services; in the latter case coupled with those of cavalry officers as to the character of horse artillery best suited to their requirements.”

The last paragraph o f his letter included the following comment:

These two very light field guns weigh the same, carry the same number of rounds, with very little difference in the weight of projectile, and both fire the same charge, giving the same muzzle energy.  But one has a “high” and the other a “very high” initial velocity.  To his customers it is evidently “you pay your money and take your choice.”  Any one who will examine the shrapnel and their relative effectiveness, and calculate the range tables of effective battle ranges, etc., will soon find a deal of difference in the power of those guns after the projectile leaves the muzzle and reaches battle ranges.

The first time the saying saw print was on page 18 of the June 3, 1846 edition of Punch magazine (Volume X, No. 16) in a cartoon entitled “The Ministerial Crisis.”  In the cartoon, a showman tells a customer, “Which ever you please, my little dear. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”

The cartoon addressed the crisis over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1845, the same year the Potato Famine hit Ireland and Great Britain.  The British landowners were against the repeal as the law made the import of grain prohibitively expensive, resulting in profits for those landowners whose farms grew grains.  This situation caused government problems and John Peel resigned as Prime Minister in 1845.  Lord Stanley, leader of the Protectionists, refused to form a government.  Lord Russell’s efforts failed.  Queen Victoria finally asked John Peel to form the government again, which he did, and once the repeal narrowly passed, he resigned again.

But oh! that certainly did cause an ongoing ruckus during the months this brouhaha was going on!

It’s believed by some the expression was a common stallholder’s cry to customers, and Cockney in origin.  Still others believe it was the showman’s call to customers to see the show, and still Cockney in origin.  The bottom line is the phrase existed before it was used in the 1846 cartoon Punch magazine published, as the magazine believed its audience would understand the idiom’s meaning without need for additional explanation.

In the early 1800s, the concept of taking your choice meant you were faced with a dilemma and you had to choose what you felt was the best from all that was being offered.  Idiomation therefore dates this idiom back to at least the 1820s based the cartoon and the belief by so many that its origins are rooted in Cockney slang which started in the early 19th century and was recognized as an established language in 1840 among market traders, costermongers (sellers of fruit and vegetables from handcarts) and street hawkers on the streets of London.

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Make Your Bed And Lie In It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Empty Wagon Makes A Lot Of Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Loaded Wagon Makes No Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Is Never Good Until Worse Happens

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ondt bliver aldrig godt for halv vaerre kommer.

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

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

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Top Banana

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 14, 2017

Fictional Titi Vlar asked fictional Missy Barrett on her Facebook page if she knew the history of the expression top banana. Idiomation is always pleased to step up to the plate and assist real and fictional people alike when it comes to tracking down the meaning and history of expressions, phrases, sayings, clichés, and more.

Whenever you hear someone being referred to as the top banana, that person is the lead person in a group or organization, or who is heading up an undertaking. Of course, when it comes to the entertainment industry, the top person is the usually the headlining comedian in a musical comedy, vaudeville, or burlesque show. The comedian’s straight man was second banana to the top banana.

On December 12, 2017 an article posted by Today.com reported the following:

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have yet to make any official announcement about their wedding cake, there’s a pretty big rumor that has people going absolutely bananas … <snip> … [Dole] offered the services of their “top banana” chef to personally bake the cake that will be served after the couple’s ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: A banana is 75% water.

In the December 10, 200 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Michael Evans reported how Westpac Bank boss, Gail Kelly, had gone from being ranked the world’s 18th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in September of 2009 to angering hundreds of thousands of Westpac customers when they were advised by the bank’s retail chief about supercharged interest rates.

How much was the increase, you ask? Variable mortgage rates rose by 45 basis points, nearly twice the level of the Reserve Bank’s 25 basis point increase, and Gail Kelly’s popularity slipped badly because of it. The news story was aptly titled, “How The Top Banana Slipped.”

New York City is always a great place for unexpected news stories and on August 31, 1991 the New York Times reported on a situation that happened at a housing project in East Harlem in the middle of the day. According to reporter Seth Faison Jr, the spectacle included a crowd of spectators, a phalanx of Housing Police, a crew of EMS workers, a truckload of firefighters, and a monkey in a tree. The monkey was a real monkey owned by Sandra Rodriguez who lived in the Washington Houses project on East 104th Street.

And just like the story about Australia’s Gail Kelly, this article was also aptly titled with the amusing headline, “Monkey Shows Police Just Who’s The Top Banana.”

American lyricist and songwriter Johnny Mercer (18 November 1909 – 25 June 1976) and American screenwriter, playwright, and theatrical producer Hy Kraft (30 April 1899 – 29 July 1975) were responsible for the Broadway play titled, “Top Banana” starring American entertainer and comedic actor Phil Silvers (11 May 1911 – 1 November 1985). Silvers played the part of Jerry Biffle, an ex-burlesque comic who has become a television star on the Blendo Soap Program, and displays a Milton Berle style egocentric personality.

The show opened on November 1, 1951 (closing on October 4, 1952 with a total of 350 performances and a nearly month-long layoff from August 3 to August 31) and in the magazine Cue: The Weekly Magazine of New York Life the expression was part of their published review.

Phil Silvers, the man in the glasses on your right, is a changed man. For one thing, the comic who is *top banana” in the soon-to-arrive musical of the same name is no longer a frustrated actor in search of dignity.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Two years after the Broadway production closed down, many of the original actors in the play reprised their roles in the United Artists movie of the same name.

Bananas were a popular fruit as far as composers were concerned. George Gershwin blended bananas into his songs “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and “But Not For Me.” In 1926, Ted Waite wrote the very popular “I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana” and in 1923 the big novelty hit song was “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: One of the earliest comic novelty songs involving bananas that was a song dates back to 1904 vaudeville when Elizabeth Murray, Raymond Teal, and Willie Tilden included “The Banana Man” by Hamilton and Fischer in their respective acts.

But while all this is very interesting, it gets us no closer to the origin of the expression top banana.

The first full cargo of bananas reached the United States in 1871 when Captain Lorenzo D. Baker landed in Boston after a long trek across the ocean.  Bananas caught on with the American public, and it wasn’t long before bananas were featured in family photographs.  I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to as strange as that sounds.  The Washington Banana Museum in Auburn (WA) has evidence to support this.

Scant years later, a number of fraudulent banana peel claims against streetcar lines were common in America, beginning in the 1890s. This was reported by the Street Railway Review on January 15, 1895. In 1910, the New York Times reported that Anna H. Sturla was arrested for the 17th time in 4 years, claiming she had slipped on a banana peel and been injured.

By the time women like Anna H. Sturla were making a living from banana peel lawsuits, cities were passing laws against discarding banana peels on city streets. St. Louis city council was among the first cities to pass a law outlawing the “throwing or casting” of banana peels on any and all public thoroughfares. New York City, under the guidance of former Civil War military man Colonel George Waring, organized the uniformed “White Wings” workers to sweep, clean, and dispose of waste — mostly because of the banana peel problem. They worked in shifts and disposed of garbage at city-owned composting facilities throughout the city.

Vaudeville comedian “Sliding” Billy Watson aka William Shapiro (1876 – 1939) found fame with his banana peel pratfall and he claimed to be the originator of the gag but vaudeville comedian Cal Stewart (his copyrighted stage persona name was Uncle Josh) was already a hit on stages and in recordings with his banana peel-laden sidewalk jokes.

With the banana peel gag already in play, vaudeville entertainer Rose Bacon incorporated the banana con into her comedy routine in the early 1900s.

There was a young lady named Hannah
Who slipped on a peel of banana.
More stars she espied
As she lay on her side
Than are found in the Star Spangled Banner.

A gentleman sprang to assist her;
He picked up her glove and her wrister;
‘Did you fall, Ma’am?’ he cried:
‘Did you think,’ she replied,
‘I sat down for the fun of it, Mister?’

So how is it that banana peels went from being a popular treat and fodder for vaudeville acts to the phrase top banana in 50 years?

This has proven difficult indeed to track. While the term top banana was obviously used long before burlesque comedian Frank Lebowitz rose to fame, his name is most closely associated with the phrase due to his use of bananas in his stage act. But as we all know, bananas and their peels were already established as props for vaudeville and burlesque acts long before the 1950s hit.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The American burlesque era is from 1840 to 1960. To burlesque meant to make fun of operas, plays, and social habits of the upper classes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The difference between vaudeville and burlesque came about in the 1920s when burlesque introduced strip teases in the hopes it would draw audiences away from vaudeville and over to burlesque shows. The American strip tease is thought to have originated with Little Egypt’s 1893 Chicago World’s Fair performance of the hootchie-kooch.

Oddly enough, there’s a little known fact about bananas that take them from being a popular fruit that is responsible for a great many vaudeville gags and being the best of the bunch. During the flapper era of the 1920s, if a person was bananas they were crazy.

The best comedians in vaudeville and burlesque specialized in slapstick comedy which included the banana peel gag. The better they were at the banana peel gag, the harder the audiences laughed. The harder the audiences laughed, the better the chances those comedians would play to packed houses night after night. It wasn’t long before stage managers were referring to the best comedians as the top bananas.

So while Idiomation was unable to identify who coined the phrase top banana or the exact year the expression came into use, it dates back to American vaudeville and burlesque houses in the 1920s.

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

If You’re Not A Socialist At Twenty, You Have No Heart

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 12, 2017

Recently, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an article stating no one knows for certain who the first person was who coined the phrase, “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.”

In some respects that is true.

The phrase and its many variations have been attributed to a great many men  over the years:

  • British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1981) in a book of quotations published in 1997 that was compiled by Canadian educator Laurence J. Peter (16 September 1919 – 12 January 1990)
  • French politician, physician, and journalist Georges Clemenceau (28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929)
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) in a 1986 edition of the Hartford Courant newspaper
  • French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) in a book by scientist, journalist, and politician Francisco Bulnes (4 October 1847 – 1924)
  • King Oscar II of Sweden (21 January 1829 – 8 December 1907) in a 1923 edition of the Wall Street Journal
  • Irish playwright, critic and polemicist George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) in a speech given in 1933 at the University of Hong Kong
  • American poet Robert Frost (26 March 1874 – 29 January 1963)
  • American writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant (5 November 1885 – 7 November 1981)
  • Prime Minister of France Aristide Briand (29 March 1862 – 7 March 1932)
  • British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)
  • American filmmaker George Huang used it in his 1994 movie “Swimming With Sharks“and has been tagged as the originator of the phrase

Even American entrepreneur, business magnate, inventor, and industrial designer Steve Jobs (24 February 1956 – 5 October 2011) was incorrectly identified as the person who first coined the phrase!

However, the spirit of the phrase can be found in a number of variations.  In 1875, French literary figure and theater director Jules Claretie  (3 December 1840 – 23 December 1913) wrote a biography where he attributed a similar sounding quote to French jurist and politician Anselm Batbie (31 May 1828 – 12 June 1887).

« Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

TRANSLATION: He who is not a republican at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.

While it might seem reasonable to declare the trail for this expression begins at some point in Anselm Batbie’s life, the fact of the matter is, there’s a quote even older than that one with the spirit of the saying in question.

In 1799, John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) was quoted in a Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) journal entry as having said this phrase that has been reworded so often. It was spoken in a conversation between Dr. Ewen and the President, and recorded in Jefferson’s journal.

A boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty.

According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, John Adams’ reputation was one of a “blunt-speaking man” with an “independent mind.”

So while the CBC is technically correct in its assertion, fact checkers for Paul Kennedy’s radio program “Ideas” at CBC didn’t delve too deeply into the subject otherwise they would have attributed the spirit of the expression to the second President of the United States of America — John Adams.  Idiomation has determined the roots date back to 1799.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »