Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1500s’

Hair of the Dog

Posted by Admin on September 11, 2021

You may have heard someone say the morning after a night of heavy drinking that they need some hair of the dog to help them deal with their hangover and other physical symptoms of having overindulged in alcohol. They usually mean they need another shot of alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms of having a hangover. It doesn’t work, and yet, it’s been a long-touted remedy. How long?

On 18 March 2006, Robert Riley’s “On The Street” column in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper asked people how they took care of a hangover. The first answer was from Tyler Hehn, a Junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln (NB) who responded: “I’ve got to go with the hair of the dog that bit you, but a little Gatorade or water to rehydrate never hurt.”

It’s a phrase many have heard for years, and even Ann Landers used the expression in her column of 9 September 1983 that was carried by the Southeast Missourian where a reader congratulated Ann Landers on her list of the characteristics of a compulsive gambler. The writer shared his or her list entitled, “Alcoholic: How Can You Tell?”

The third question on the list was: In the morning, do you crave a “hair of the dog that bit you?”

Perhaps one of the most descriptive commentaries using the idiom is from the Wilmington (DE) Sunday Morning Star of 27 September 1936 in the “Local Color: The Week’s Odds and Ends” by Charles M. Hackett (1909 – 29 September 1970).

One of the better-known grog shops was having trouble this week. It was just beginning to blossom with the lads and lassies trying the hair of the dog for excessive hangover trouble when, outside, a pneumatic concrete breaker went into action. The anguished faces inside told the story of heads rent with clatter.

A few decades earlier, in The Pittsburgh Gazette of 11 April 1902 shared a quick commentary between news of the availability of lecture tickets in support of the Stone ransom fund and what the newspaper reported as a ‘pernicious pest’ who was setting off false alarms. It read as follows:

The governors of the Carolinas were together at Charleston Wednesday in honor of the president but the recording angels of the daily papers are silent as to whether any hair of the dog was in demand yesterday.

The complete idiom is actually the hair of the dog will cure the bite, but over time, it has been whittled down to just the first half of that claim with the second half implied. The expression comes from the ancient notion that the hair of a dog is an antidote to its bite.

As the saying went, similia similibus curantur, or like is cured by like. In many respects, it seems to be the theory that drives homeopathy.

On page 92 of Volume 15 of The New Sporting Magazine published in 1838, the magazine identified this idiom as a proverb.

The proverb “Take a hair of the dog that bit you” recommending a morning draught to cure an evening’s debauch, is derived from the prescription which recommended as a cure for the bit of a dog, that some of his hairs should be bound over the wound.

That same year, in the book “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” compiled by Irish author and antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker (15 January 1798 – 8 August 1854), one of the stories recounted how two men who had overindulged in poteen awoke the next morning with hangovers.

Back they both went most lovingly to the house, and Jack wakened up Coomara; and perceiving the old fellow to be rather dull, he bid him not be cast down, for ’twas many a good man’s case; said it all came of his not being used to the poteen, and recommended him, by way of cure, to swallow a hair of the dog that bit him.

The second edition was printed in 1838 and in the publisher’s preface to the new edition, it was stated that the book had been out of print for a number of years. Research indicates the first part was published in 1825, and the next two parts were published in 1828.

Two centuries earlier, Randle Cotgrave (unknown – 1634) mentioned the hair of the dog as a cure for hangovers in his book “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues” published in 1611.

In drunkennes to fall a quaffing, thereby to recouer health, or sobrietie; neere vnto which sence our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Randle Cotgrave was possibly the son of William Cotgreve of Christleton in Cheshire. It is certain that Randle Cotgrave belong to Cheshire, and that he was a scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge on the Lady Margaret foundation on 10 November 1587. Later, he became secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, eldest son of Thomas Cecil, First Earl of Exeter. Subsequently, he became the registrar to the Bishop of Chester. He married Ellinor Taylor of Chester, and had four sons: William, Randolf, Robert, and Alexander. He also had a daughter named Mary.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: A copy of Randle Cotgrave’s book was presented to Prince Henry, eldest son of James 1, and in return, Randle Cotgrave received from Prince Henry ten pounds as a gift, not as payment. This Randle Cotgrave’s death was given in Cooper’s “Memorials of Cambridge” as 1634.

John Heywood included the phrase in a drinking reference in his book, “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Proverbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.

I praie the leat me and my felowe haue
A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.
And bytten were we both to the brayne aryght.
We sawe eche other drunke in the good ale glas.

A more recognizable translation is this:

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A
hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both drunk.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

Yes, back in John Heywood’s day, if you were bitten to the brain, it was another way of saying you were drunk.

At the end of the day, since the idiom was known and used in 1546, it’s safe to say it was a common expression of the day, and while the first published reference Idiomation could find for this idiom is 1546, it was already a well-known expression among those looking to get over a hangover.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pig In A Poke

Posted by Admin on December 10, 2019

When you hear someone talk about buying a pig in a poke, they aren’t talking about real pigs. It’s a comment made to indicate that a deal has been foolishly accepted without having done due diligence to confirm that the deal is what it is purported to be. At the end of the day, a pig in a poke is a blind bargain, and usually it’s not much of a bargain for the person buying it.

So how did buying a pig in a poke come to mean this?

Back in the 1500s, a poke was the word for a cloth sack, and merchants sold piglets in these pokes, almost always sight unseen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The word poke comes from the French word poque, and as is the case with many French words, when the item is smaller than average, ette or et is added to the word. The word pocket came about this way, and originally it meant a small bag.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: This expression, contrary to popular belief, is not responsible for the idiom to let the cat out of the bag. After all, sight unseen, a cat in a bag would not be mistaken for a piglet in a sack. Additionally, the idiom to let the cat out of the bag only began to appear in the 18th century and if the two expressions were linked in some way, they would both appear within a few years of each other.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: While the two idioms mentioned in #2 are not related, it is important to note that the French do indeed use the expression acheter un chat en poche when talking about a bad deal, and it is from that expression that many mistakenly believe letting the cat out of the bag is an extension of buying a pig in a poke.

In 1530, London grocer Richard Hilles published his book titled “Common-place Book” in which he gave the following advice:

When ye proffer the pigge, open the poke.

But that advice was gleaned from a poem titled “The Proverbs of Hendyng” published in 1275 which warned:

Wan man ȝevit þe a pig, opin þe powch.
[When a man gives thee a pig, open the pouch.]

This concept is the basis for the warning caveat emptor  — let the buyer beware — in commercial law.

Idiomation was unable to trace the idiom back before 1275, however, it is a very sound piece of advice and because it is, it is likely the spirit of the expression dates backs several hundred years earlier even without being published elsewhere.

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

Till The Cows Come Home

Posted by Admin on October 16, 2014

You’ve probably heard people from your grandparents’ generation add until the cows come home to some of their conversations.  It generally means something will be stretched over a very long period of time, and oftentimes it’s used to describe an activity that’s perceived as being futile or unproductive.

On December 16, 2003 the Business Wire sent out a press release about the new Ben & Jerry’s minisite.  It was cleverly titled, “Macromedia Studio MX 2004 Takes Ben & Jerry’s From Cow To Cone.”  The site was set to create what it hoped would be a “euphoric user experience” thanks to the extensive use of Flash video.  The second paragraph included the idiom.

“Macromedia can talk about great experiences until the cows come home, but once you see a well designed site in action, it really makes an impact,” said Al Ramadan, executive vice president of marketing, Macromedia. “Ben & Jerry’s utilizes the professional tools in Studio MX 2004 to effectively communicate the playfulness of their brand and deliver an interesting educational experience.”

During the 1960s, Clyde McPhatter recorded for Mercury Records.  Billboard magazine included a comment in the February 6, 1961 edition on his latest release, “Tomorrow Is A-Comin’” with a nod to the flip side, “I’ll Love You Till The Cows Come Home.”  The quip let readers know that both songs had the strong Clyde Otis touch (which was a favorable comment).

And of course, as many of you already know, the idiom was used in the 1933 Marx Brothers movie, “Duck Soup,” where Groucho Marx says:

I could dance with you till the cows come home.  Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.

Back in 1932, American author, Thorne Smith (27 March 1892 – 21 June 1934) wrote a book entitled, “Topper Takes A Trip.”  Topper was Thorne Smith‘s most popular creation, and sold millions of books in the 1930s, and again in paperback form in the 1950s.  Many people remember the original Topper story, about the middle-aged, henpecked banker, Cosmo Topper (the book was published in 1926).

“I don’t care if he can do himself into a pack of bloodhounds,” replied Mr. Topper.  “Where have you been all this time?  Answer me that.”

“All right,” said Marion in an injured voice.  “Don’t bite my head off.  I don’t mind about the hair.  You can chew on that till the cows come home.”

“I don’t care to chew on that until the cows start out even,” said Mr. Topper.  “I’m not a hair chewer.”

It’s in the Boston Review of October 1805 that the poem in three parts, “The Powers of Genius” written by John Blair Linn, co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia is reviewed.  The reviewer, seemingly unimpressed with the poem, included this comment in his review.

Now, to use a rustick phrase, a man may make lines like these “till the cows come home.”  Mr. Linn, too, is frequently adjectively vulgar.

In Exshaw’s Magazine, the story, “The Adventure of the Inn” published in 1778 is where this passage is found.

“By Jafus,” answered Dermot, enraged at the word lie, “but if you was my godfather’s own brother, but I’d smite your eye out for that.”  And brandishing a large cudgel, let it fall so emphatically upon the hard head of the sturdy Boardspeg, that he reeled Aeneas, beneath the ponderous pebble, flung by the brawny backed Diomed, and bit the dust.  “Take that till the cows come home,” said the athletic hero, ready to repeat his blow, had not his furious arm been arrested by the hand of Wilson.

Prior to that Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745), the Dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin (Ireland) wrote “Polite Conversation:  Dialogue II” published in 1736.  The main characters are Lord Sparkish, Lord and Lady Smart, Miss Notable, Sir John Linger, Lady Answerall, Mr. Neverout, and Colonel Atwitt.  At one point in the discussion, the following exchange occurs.

NEVEROUT
O my Lord, I know that ; why Brandy is Latin for a Goose, and Tace is Latin for a Candle.

MISS NOTABLE
Is that Manners, to shew your  Learning before Ladies ? Methinks you  are grown very brisk of a sudden ; I think the Man’s glad he’s alive.

SIR JOHN LINGER
The Devil take your Wit, if this be Wit ; for it spoils Company :  Pray, Mr. Butler, bring me a Dram after my Goose ; ’tis very good for the Wholsoms.

LORD SMART
Come, bring me the Loaf; I sometimes love to cut my own Bread.

MISS NOTABLE
I suppose, my Lord, you lay longest a Bed To-day.  

LORD SMART
Miss, if I had said so, I should have told a Fib ; I warrant you lay a Bed till the Cows came Home : But, Miss, shall I cut you a little Crust now my Hand is in?

Now, Alexander Cooke (who died shortly before 25 February 1613 — that date he was buried according to St. Savior’s Southwark parish records) was an actor in the King’s Men as well as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men that were the acting companies of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries.  He also wrote a play, “Pope Joan” in 1610 that was based on the mythical female pope described in 13th century writings.

If there be any lazy fellow, any that can not away with work, any that would wallow in pleasures, he is hasty to be priested.  And, when he is made one, and hath gotten a benefice, he consorts with his neighbour priests, who are altogether given to pleasures; and then both he, and they, live, not like Christians, but like epicures; drinking, eating, feasting, and revelling, till the cows come home, as the saying is; playing at tables, and at stool-ball; and when they are well crammed and tippled, then they fall by the ears together, whooping, and yelling, and swearing damnably, by God and all the Saints in Heaven.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom than the one in Alexander Cooke’s play, there is an undated saying from Wigan, Lancashire:  Her con fradge till ceaws come wom.  The translation is this:  She can talk till the cows come home.

So while the saying obviously dates back considerably further than 1610, a specific date cannot be set in stone. Idiomation therefore feels it is safe to state that it was undoubtedly a common phrase used in the 1500s, and most likely long before that.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Posted by Admin on August 9, 2013

If someone says you’re like a cat on a hot tin roof, it would seem that you can’t keep still. You’re restless. Imagine for a moment, if you will, what it might be like if you were actually a cat who was literally trying to walk about on a hot tin roof. You wouldn’t be still for very long and you’d probably be pretty jumpy about being up there in the first place.

Back in 1955, Tennessee Williams wrote a play by that name that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. Its success was in part due to the play’s theme which dealt with how complicated the rules of social conduct were in the Southern U.S. at the time. But was the expression something Tennessee Williams came up with for the play or did it exist long before Tennessee Williams put pen to paper?

The idiom cat on a hot tin roof is actually based on the earlier version cat on hot bricks which means exactly the same thing.

NOTE:  Before continuing, note that the version using hot bricks is still in use today as evidenced by the news story by 3News out of New Zealand published on November 27, 2011 and entitled, “Joyce A Cat On Hot Bricks Before Election.”

On December 1, 1933 the New York Times published an article entitled,”Britain Is Assured On Our Money Plan: We Are As Safe From Unbridled Inflation As Are The British” The story was about Ambassador Robert W. Bingham who gave a speech (at the American Society in London) defending President Roosevelt’s monetary policies. Keep in mind that 1933 was right in the middle of the Great Depression that continue up until the outbreak of World War II, and so money matters — for individuals, for companies, and for governments — were a reason for being restless. The news story made use of the idiom in this way:

… exchange fluctuations to the benefit of everybody concerned and contrasts this with the dollar, “which jumped about like a cat on hot bricks. …

The Philadelphia Record edition of June 10, 1894 provided a description of British Prime Minister (5 March 1894 to 22 June 1895), Archibald Philip Primrose — the 5th Earl of Rosebery and 1st Earl of Midlothiany –that was in drastic contrast to the calm and collected demeanor that was expected of Lords. In fact, the description was one that the reporter described as “intensely agitated.” The article was entitled, “Hounding A Premier: He Went Wild Over The Derby.” Of course, that Lord Rosebery was the owner of the Derby winner that year certainly explains the behavior which doesn’t seem so outrageous in today’s terms.

“His Lordship could not keep still in his box, and hopped about from paddock to ring like a cat on hot bricks; Prime Ministerial dignity was not his forte just then. At that part of the race when Matchbox appeared to have the measure, his face moved convulsively. When his horse had passed the winning post, the Premier took off his hat, waved it wildly three times around his head in a dazed kind of manner, and then dashed onto the course to lead the favorite in.”

That being said, however, tin roofs were used in America at the turn of the 1800s when the Pennsylvania Statehouse — better known as Independence Hall — in Philadelphia was finished with tin shingles. Even Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned a study on tin shingle roofs, felt compelled to have tin shingles used when roofing Monticello. But the tin roof was most popular in America between 1860 and 1920.   It’s safe to say that Tennessee Williams didn’t coin the phrase, and picked it up in conversation.

Of course, before either cat on a hot tin roof or cat on hot bricks was in vogue, the idiom was to be a cat on a hot bakestone, which was found in Rev. E. Cobham Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” published in 1894, where idiom was explained as meaning a person was “in a great hurry to get away.” It further explained that the bake-stone in the north (of a house) was a large stone on which bread and oat-cakes were baked.

When English naturalist, John Ray also known as John Wray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) wrote his “Collection of English Proverbs” in 1670 which included the expression using the hot bake-stone reference. In fact, he recorded it as “to go like a cat upon a hot bake-stone.” And so, we know from this that the idiom dates back to before the publication of John Ray’s book since it’s included as a proverb.

It’s also cited as a Yorkshire proverb in literature of the day, along with the idiom, “as nimble as a cat on a haite backstane” which dates back to the 14th century.  At that point, the trail went cold. Idiomation feels that since it was a proverb in the 14th century that it most likely dates back to at least the beginning of the 14th century, and if it’s possible to trace it back to an earlier date, please feel free to add your comments and where you gathered the information.

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

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Posted by Admin on November 18, 2010

We all know that it’s better to do something rather than just talk about the problem or talk about doing something.  After all, actions speak louder than words.  Leading by example is something that society has cherished for centuries now.  So who first coined the phrase actions speak louder than words?

In Miranda Stuart’s book, “Dead Men Sing No Songs” published in 1939, the author wrote:

Deeds speak louder than words. First she tells you the most damning things she can, and then she begs you to believe he’s innocent in spite of them?

Her words paraphrased Abraham Lincoln’s comments when, in 1856, he wrote:

Actions speak louder than words’ is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North, ‘Give us the measures, and you take the men.’

But in 1736, in a work entitled “Melancholy State of Province” the following is found:

Actions speak louder than Words, and are more to be regarded.

Back on American soil, in 1692 Gersham Bulkeley wrote in his book Will and Doom:

Actions are more significant than words.

Reaching back a little further, in the “Hansard Parliamentary History of England”  J. Pym is credited in 1628 with these words from a speech he made:

‘A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver,’ and actions are more precious than words.

Just a few years earlier, in the 1500s, French writer Michel de Montaigne, is quoted as stating:

Saying is one thing and doing is another.

But wait — the journey back isn’t over yet!  If one travels back two more centuries, one learns that Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone — also known as St. Francis of Assisi — made the following statement sometime between an epiphany he had in 1206 and his death in 1226:

Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

But if you really want to get back to the roots of the phrase, credit goes to the Bible and the writings of James and John.  Yes, in James 2:15-17, one can read:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works is dead, being alone.

And this is found in 1 John 3:17-18:

But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Yes, the spirit of the phrase “actions speak louder than words” goes back … way back!

Posted in Bible, Christian, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Fat Of The Land

Posted by Admin on September 14, 2010

When a person has the best of everything in life, word has it that he or she is living off the fat of the land.  So how did come to mean that and from where does the phrase, the fat of the land,  originate?

In a news story published in the The Quebec Saturday Budget newspaper on February 8, 1890 in a story entitled, “On Behalf of Ireland’s Cause: The American Press to be Bought With British Gold to Malign the League” the story read in part:

The Chicago Times of the second instant, says editorially ‘hold no convention, is the advice to the executive of the National League in America from the gentlemen over the sea, but send us more money.  As to the money part, that has been the cry from time immemorial.  Since 1886, this one agency of the League alone has collected a quarter of a million of money and the demand is for more.  Men who are living as Members of the British Parliament on funds raised in America, and living on the fat of the land, or gossip does them great injustice, will naturally cry with the horse-leech’s daughter ‘Give, give.’

In the 1500s, the fat of something was considered to be the best or richest part.  In fact, if you read any of the recipes from that time period, you will soon appreciate the fact that fat was where it was at! 

But in the end, this phrase is from The Bible as well in Genesis 45:17-18 where it is written:

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;  And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blackmail

Posted by Admin on August 6, 2010

Even if a Jack-of-all-trades knows the ins and outs of keeping a stiff upper lip, he could find himself in quite the kettle of fish should someone try to blackmail him.

Mail is an Anglo-Norse term used in Medieval Scotland in the mid 1500s when referring to rent or tribute. During the time of border warfare between England and Scotland, freebooters extorted payment from farmers in exchange for protection and immunity from plunder. 

Tribute was paid in grain, meat, the lowest coinage (copper) or labor and was referred to as reditus nigri, or “blackmail.”  The reason for paying tribute in this fashion was because the farmers weren’t financially able to pay tribute with silver, referred to as reditus albi, or “white rent.” 

Farmers felt forced and coerced into a paying what was demanded for tribute or rent under threat that if the blackmail was not paid in full, no protection would be extended to the farmer and his family.  In time, the word came to mean any payment extorted by threat of exposure.

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After The Fact

Posted by Admin on July 19, 2010

The use of the phrase “after the fact” as it relates to crimes dates from the first half of the 1500s. 

The word became standard in British law and was first recorded in 1769 in the phrase “accessories after the fact” referring to persons who assisted a lawbreaker after a crime had been committed.

I suppose it’s almost criminal that this entry is so brief however should I unearth more information on the phrase, I promise to add it after the fact.

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