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Posts Tagged ‘1560’

To A T

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

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

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 14, 2014

Most of us have heard the expression measure twice, cut once and although it makes sense in a literal sense, in a figurative sense it also makes sense. If you’ve heard this said, it was probably said as a warning to another to plan and prepare for something in a careful, thorough manner before taking action. In other words, think before you act.

Whether it’s a mistake cutting a piece of wood or a mistake of another sort, not taking the time to make sure of what you’re doing will cost you time or money, and most likely both.

On page 76 of the book “Bible 2.0” by Nathan Smithe, published on 20 April 1969, the expression appears in such a way that the meaning is clear-cut. The book itself, however, is a little less clear. It’s a rewriting of the Bible in what is supposed to be satire. In fact, if you look it up online, the book’s description alleges that it’s the story of “God and Jebus and The Holy Toaster and Gilberto McCheasyfries the Sheep and a slew of others.”

Some will say it’s sacrilegious while others will say it’s the best version of the Bible yet. But regardless of where you sit in the religious discussion, the book certainly shakes things up with the first verse that begins very simply with: “In the beginning there was nothing, and then God was all like, “Wassup …” Well, you get the idea.

But you know what? Skip the coffee. I don’t trust you to get it right. You’d probably spit in it but you’d spit in a wrong amount. There’s a wrong and a right way to do everything. ‘Measure twice, cut once‘ that’s what Jeffrey Duhmur would always say. Boy that guy has some stories. Fascinating guy. His breath stinks though. Seriously get that guy a tic-tuc! And another …” God said.

While the expression is measure twice, cut once is an English proverb, the Russian proverb is measure seven times, cut once. But in the book “A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases Based On MacIntosh’s Collection” first published in Edinburgh in 1785, it states that the idiom is based on the older Gaelic expression: Better measure short of seven, than spoil all at once.  For those who familiar with kilts, a kilt for a grown man takes seven yards and so it’s easy to see why it would be important to measure the yardage twice lest an unfortunate situation arise.

Numerous sources state that the adage is from Medieval times, and was used by carpentry guilds as much as by tailors, however, none provided proof to substantiate their claims. That being said, it was listed in books at the end of the 19th century as a Cheshire proverb that was used in 1688 as “score twice before you cut once” … again without a reference as to where this information was found.

However, Idiomation found the autobiography of Italian goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, soldier and musician, Benvenuto Cellini (3 November 1500 – 13 February 1571). Benvenuto Cellini started writing his autobiography in 1558, and just before his last trip to Pisa in 1563, he stopped writing. It can be assumed that in 1560, the idiom existed but with seven as the magic number for measuring, and not two. The idiom was found in this passage:

While he and the others were inspecting them, taking up now the dies and now the medals in their hands, I began to speak as submissively as I was able: “If a greater power had not controlled the working of my inauspicious stars, and hindered that with which they violently menaced me, your Holiness, without your fault or mine, would have lost a faithful and loving servant. It must, most blessed Father, be allowed that in those cases where men are risking all upon one throw, it is not wrong to do as certain poor and simple men are wont to say, who tell us we must mark seven times and cut once. Your Holiness will remember how the malicious and lying tongue of my bitter enemy so easily aroused your anger, that you ordered the Governor to have me taken on the spot and hanged; …

Idiomation was unable to trace back earlier than 1560. That it was used in a biography during the Medieval era, however, proves that this was indeed a maxim that was well-known and to which guilds adhered. The exact date of the idiom in any of its incarnations is unknown. If readers or visitors to this blog are able to share an earlier published version of measure twice, cut once, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Skin Of His Teeth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 17, 2011

If you know someone who tells you that something happened to him or her by the skin of his or her teeth, it means that person either narrowly escaped a negative experience or narrowly managed to succeed,  and it all happened at the last minute! 

In Ontario, the recent provincial election at the beginning of October (2011) was a real nail biter in some regions.  In fact, it was reported on the website www.viewmag.com that some candidates barely won their seats.

In Thunder Bay–Atikokan, Liberal Bill Mauro held on again by the skin of his teeth, although this time he increased his plurality to 452 votes over the NDP.

The Democratic Convention back in 1956 also had its nail biting moments during their primaries.  In fact, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the following in an article entitled, “Adlai Skins His Teeth” in their May 31, 1956 edition:

By the skin of his teeth, Adlai Stevenson has taken 22 of Florida’s 28 Democratic convention votes in an apathetic primary contest with Senator Estes Kefauver.  The closeness of the vote, however, will soon be forgotten.  The important thing is that Mr. Stevenson won.

It seems that the world of politics like to use the phrase moreso than others.  The phrase is found in the New York Times article of June 22, 1912 in an article entitled, “Democrats’ Method Of Nomination Best” where the following appears:

The Democratic way is really the better way.  It prevents a mere majority, by whatever means obtained, by bribery or force or promise, from compelling the party to accept the leadership of the candidate chosen by the skin of his teeth to do battle for the party.  Better make the choice of candidates a little harder than subject the party to defeat, even for the sake of making an Oyster Bay holiday.

On April 11, 1846 the Courrier de la Louisiane published a news story entitled, “Whig Victory” where the newspaper reported the following in part:

But in all the multitudinous and infinitely diversified changes and shiftings of political parties ever imagined, who expected to hear S.J. Peters affect to exult over a triumph of the Second Municipality?  And what is the triumph over which he exults?  He is re-elected by the skin of his teeth Alderman in the second ward, and two sound Democrats are elected in the same ward, where, four years ago, Peters would have told any man he was made who should have thought of opposing him or his Whig followers: Crossman is elected Mayor although is in a very small minority — other branch of this magnificent “triumph of the people!”

Now the phrase did appear in the King James Bible of 1611 with the entire verse being:

Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me. All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.

However, before the King James Bible, the phrase appeared in 1560 in the Geneva Bible, where, in Job 19:20, the literal translation of the original Hebrew is given as being:

I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe.

That being said, the phrase appears in Latin in the Medieval Latin Bibles produced by hand before the invention of printing and in Greek in Greek texts.  And so, the phrase dates back to Biblical times but how far back? 

Based on information provided in the Book of Job, readers know that it happened well after Noah and the flood and it happened in the time of Esau who was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham.  The name of Job is found in the Amarna letters of 1350 B.C. and in the Egyptian Execration texts of 2000 B.C. 

So while Idiomation is unable to put an exact date on the first use of the phrase skin of his teeth, it absolutely dates back far enough for readers to know it’s a very ancient saying.

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

Penny Wise And Pound Foolish

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2011

A few months after World War II, in Oregon, the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper ran an article on February 26, 1946 entitled, “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?” 

The story was about the proposed junior college for veterans at Klamath Falls that would use up nearly all of the estimated $450,000 USD in state reserves.  The alternate site for the junior college was the Vanport (Portland) facilities where there would be marginal costs for remodelling as there were already 4,300 vacant housing units on site, equipped and ready for immediate use. 

Over the decades leading up to that article and since then, the phrase has been used to point out the flawed thinking with regards to public, as well as private, expenditures.

In Michigan, the Ludington Daily News ran an article entitled “Fixing The Blame” on September 27, 1901 that reported:

The members of the city council who are seeking to hold up the electric light contract should remember that it is not always good policy to antagonize those men who seek to build up and improve our city.  The city can afford to be liberal in its dealings with any man, or with any enterprise that desires to do something which will benefit the city.  Compared with contracts existing in other towns, the proposition of Mr. Stearns is a very liberal one and the council cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish in its treatment of the matter.  Good man have been driven out of other cities by such an indifferent policy.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia on April 11, 1833 (but written by, and signed, “a breeder of Australian wool on March 27, 1833) the anonymous author wrote:

And it is to the want of this consistency in breeding that the undoubted degeneration of our wools is to be attributed; a degeneration which will fearfully augment, unless immediately and universally counteracted by the general infusion of pur imported blood into all our breeding animals, and by the total exclusion of that “penny wise, pound foolish” system of partial improvement, through the means of which, the bulk of our fleeces are evidently retrogading [sic].  There can exist no excuse whatever on the part of our breeders, to justify them in obstinately persisting in their present course.

English poet and dramatist, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published The Spectator in 1712, in which he wrote:

I shall not speak to the point of cash itself, until I see how you approve of these my maxims in general : but I think a speculation upon “many a little makes a mickle, a penny saved is a penny got, penny wise and pound foolish, it is need that makes the old wife trot” would be very useful in the world: and, if you treated them with knowledge, would be useful to yourself, for it would make demands for your paper among those who have no notion of it at present.  But of these matters more hereafter.

Later in the same book, Joseph Addison wrote:

I know several of my fair readers urge in defense of this practice, that it is but a necessary provision they make for themselves, in case their husband proves a churl, or miser; so that they consider this allowance as a kind of alimony, which they may lay their claim to, without actually separating from their husbands.  But, with submission, I think a woman who will give up herself to a man in marriage, where there is the least room for such an apprehension, and trust her person to one whom she will not rely on for the common necessaries of life, may very properly be accused (in the phrase of a homely proverb) of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The phrase is found in E. Topsell’s book “Four-footed Beasts” published in 1607:

If by couetousnesse or negligence, one withdraw from them their ordinary foode, he shall be penny wise, and pound foolish.

But, in the end, it is a Scottish proverb.  According to the Registers of the Stationers’ Company, the book “The Chapman of a Peneworth of Wit” dates back to before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and contains the phrase.  As a side note,in 1560 John Sampson aka John Awdeley aka Sampson Awdeley paid for the rights to republish “The Champan of a Peneworth of Wit” in parts under the title, “Penny-wise, Pound-foolish.”

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

After All Is Said And Done

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 20, 2010

George William (“A. E.”) Russell wrote and published a poem in 1913, entitled Epilogue wherein the phrase “after all is said and done” was contained in the first stanza of the poem.

Well, when all is said and done
Best within my narrow way
May some angel of the sun
Muse memorial o’er my clay.

In the William and Mary Quarterly magazine of 1916, there is a reference to James Rumsey in the book Letters of James Rumsey, Inventor of the Steamboat having used the phrase in 1792.  It was also recorded in 1560 according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms but there was no mention of who published this phrase at that time.

But the phrase is far older than that, going back to Aesop (ca. 620 – 564 BC), the pre-eminent teller of fables.  It’s the moral of his fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” the moral being:

After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »