Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1300s’

One Bad Apple Spoils The Whole Barrel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 27, 2013

All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, and that’s because the one apple that’s gone bad gives off ethylene, speeding the ripening of all the other apples in the same barrel as the bad apple. But what does it mean when you’re talking about something other than a real apple?

If someone in a group is referred to as a bad apple, best be aware that this could be the downfall of the whole group. In other words, the negative influence of one in a group could prove to be the undoing of the entire group that would otherwise — without the negative influence — remain good.

Of course, it’s true that every group of people also has those who are malcontents, troublemakers, or dishonest. Unfortunately, if such people have sway or influence on others in their group, studies have shown that the standards of the group as a whole begin a downward trajectory towards the negative behavior.

The Windsor Daily Star chose to publish a Letter To The Editor written by Mrs. M. Starchuck of Sub P.O. No. 11, in their February 16, 1939 edition. The author of the letter entitled, “World Not So Bad After All” addressed the issue of complaints about how bad things are in the world. A realistic woman, she appears to also have been a woman of considerable optimism and warmth as she wrote in part:

Relief in some cases has been abused, making it harder for the honest persons to get justice. You know that one bad apple spoils the whole barrel. But cheer up. It can’t last forever, and it is always the darkest before the dawn. There are a good many big-hearted people in the old world yet, and willing workers to help the down-trodden.

And in the Chautauqua Farmer of June 20, 1894 printed a lengthy article on the world journey of Reverend Dr. Talmage whose sermon “Another Chance” addressed the matter of what was to happen to people when they passed away and moved on to that other plane when they left this mortal coil. The one chance given in life, according to Dr. Talmage, was the last change given before the verdict would be rendered on each of our earthly lives. There was no reversal of judgment in the next world, according to his sermon, and no hope of an opportunity to correct the mistakes of this life in the afterlife. His sermon stated in part:

The entire kingdom of the morally bankrupt by themselves, where are the salvatory influences to come from? Can one speckled and bad apple in a barrel of disease apples turn the other apples good? Can those who are themselves down help others up? Can those who have themselves failed in the business of soul pay the debts of their spiritual insolvents? Can a million wrongs make one right?

As readers of Idiomation know, the Poor Richard’s Almanack published by Benjamin Franklin oftentimes contained well-established sayings and the 1736 edition was no different where the following was found:

The rotten apple spoils his companion.

The saying hails from John Northebrooke in his book entitled, “A Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dauncing (etc.) Are Reproved” published in 1577. The passage exact passage was:

A penny naughtily gotten, sayth Chysostoms, is like a rotten apple laid among sounde apples, which will rot all the rest.

Long before John Northebrooke, however, there was Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400).  In his “Canterbury Tales” readers come across the following passage in unfinished “The Cook’s Tale.”

Uppon a proverbe that seith this same worde:
“Better ys rotten appulle out of an hurde
Than for to let hem rote alle the remenaunte.”
And ryght so it fareth by a ryotes servaunte.

This passage loosely translates as this:

About an old proverb, the words that say:
“A rotten apple‘s better thrown away
Before it spoils the barrel.” That is true
When dealing with a bad apprentice too.

That Chaucer should refer to this saying as an old proverb indicates that he is not the original author of the expression.  Unfortunately, the proverb to which Chaucer refers has eluded research and as such, Idiomation tacks this expression to at least the 13th Century since it is alleged to be a proverb.  It’s suspected, however, that the saying is far older than this even though it cannot be proven at this point on the Idiomation blog.

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Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Days On End

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 26, 2011

When something happens or continues for days on end, it means it’s continuing without any sign of stopping.  It’s an expression with a fair bit of history and reaches back several centuries.

In 1949, the expression was used in “The Royal Engineers Journal” where the following can be found with regards to the post D-Day invasion of northern France.

Often frozen and wet through by night, they proceeded to march and fight at top speed for days on end. This was the 6th Airborne, with wings on its feet as well as its shoulders, and a spirit which said, ‘Bash on regardless.’

Jack London (1876 – 1916) wrote and published “Adventure” in 1911.  In Chapter XVII entitled, “Making The Books Come True” the following passage is found:

The steamer from Sydney, the Kammambo, broke the quietude of Berande for an hour, while landing mail, supplies, and the trees and seeds Joan had ordered. The Minerva, bound for Cape Marsh, brought the two cows from Nogi. And the Apostle, hurrying back to Tulagi to connect with the Sydney steamer, sent a boat ashore with the orange and lime trees from Ulava. And these several weeks marked a period of perfect weather. There were days on end when sleek calms ruled the breathless sea, and days when vagrant wisps of air fanned for several hours from one direction or another. The land-breezes at night alone proved regular, and it was at night that the occasional cutters and ketches slipped by, too eager to take advantage of the light winds to drop anchor for an hour.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s book “A Study In Scarlet” which was published in 1887, the following is found in Part I, Chapter 1 where Dr. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, reminiscences about Sherlock Holmes in this fashion:

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. “I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground. You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”

“I always smoke `ship’s’ myself,” I answered.

“That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?”

“By no means.”

“Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”

I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” I said, “and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.”

Various books, documents, stories, newspaper accounts et al make use of the expression days on end.  Idiomation’s research unearthed that the word end comes from the Old English word ende which is from the Old Norse word endir which means “the opposite side” or “boundary.” The original sense of the word means “outermost part” and dates back to the 900s however this sense is obsolete except in phrases such as days on end.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the expression dates back to some time in the 1300s.

Posted in Idioms from the 10th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead Pan

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2011

When someone or something is expressed in an impassive, matter-of-fact way, that’s dead pan … expressionless, empty, blank, wooden, straight-faced, vacuous, impassive, inscrutable, poker-faced, and completely inexpressive.

When Snub Pollard, comedian of the pie-throwing days of silent movies, died in January 20, 1962 the headline run the following day in the New York Times read:

SNUB POLLARD, 72, FILM COMIC, DEAD: Dead-Pan Actor Was One of the Keystone Kops Appeared in Recent Movies

The news bite included this additional information:

Mr. Pollard was known to movie audiences of forty-five years ago as a little man with a dead-pan expression whose black mustache twitched and was often reversed.

On November 22, 1939 the St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent newspaper reported on Stan Laurel of Lauren and Hardy fame and his wife, Illiana.  It began with:

A charge that the Dead-Pan film comic, Stan Laurel, once ran down a Beverly Hills residential street, clad only in shorts, chasing his Russian-born wife, Illiana, who wore a thin negligee, was injected into their prolonged court battle.  The actress is asking that the Laurel divorce be set aside on grounds she was forced to agree to it.

In Pennsylvania, the Greensburg Daily Tribune ran the Today’s Sports Parade column by Henry McLemore, United Press Staff Correspondent, on its pages.  On April 1, 1935 he wrote about boxer, Joe Louis:

Putting the sport shot here and there: Old-timers say Joe Louis is the first killer of the ring with a dead pan they’ve seen in years … The Detroit negro is as cooly deliberate as a butcher working on a ham hock … There’s no Dempsey snarl, baring gleaming fangs or a mouthpiece … Just a fearsome fish eye as he shuffles in throwing anvils.

It wasn’t the first time Joe Louis had been referred to in this manned.  In New York state, the Rochester Evening Journal of November 8, 1924 ran an article entitled, “Tad’s Tidbits: Dead Pan Louie and the Low Class.”  In this story, he reported:

Mr. L. Angel Firpo is not boxing these days.  He isn’t even training.  In fact, he hasn’t even signed up for a match, and behind it all is a story of uncouth manners and rough-neck tactics.

One hardly thinks of manners and boxing being found in the same room together, but back in the 1920s, manners were important.  The article continues farther down with:

Mr. Romero Rojas, who is also a South American and who made quite a rep down there as a leather pusher, wishing to engage in a bout with Louie, adopted the American tactics of calling his rival names, using such terms as “piece of cheese,” “palooka,” “big punk,” etc. 

That sort of shocked Dead Pan and sent him to his room brooding for two days.  The idea of any one referring to Dead Pan as a piece of cheese was terrible to even think of!  Louie immediately cast Mr. Rojas from his life.  He cut his name off his calling list, and when they pass on the street now Louie doesn’t even give him a tumble.  As for a fight.  No chance.  Mr. Romero will never hear a word from Louie until he apologizes.

The word “pan” meant “skull” or “head” as far back as the 1300s and manuscripts from that era contains words such as “brain pan” and “head pan.” It wasn’t until the 19th century that vaudevillians began using the word “pan” as a slang term for face.  And “dead” means “dead.”

So, dead pan is as emotionless as you can possibly imagine … especially if you’re imagining a corpse.

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