Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1592’

Red Skies At Night, Sailors Delight

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2011

Weather folklore has been around for centuries and sometimes what works in one part of the world, doesn’t work nearly as well in other parts.  Regardless, all sorts of interesting rhymes have come into existence due to weather folklore and “red skies at night, sailors delight” is just one of those rhymes.

In North America, we know the entire rhyme as being:

Red sky at night, sailors delight,
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But in the United Kingdom, it’s not sailors who pay attention to the skies.  It’s shepherd’s that keep an eye on the colour of the sky.

Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
Red sky in morning, shepherds warning.

William Shakespeare — who appears often in Idiomation entries — wrote the poem Venus and Adonis in 1592 with the following weather folklore included:

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.

Going back to the Bible, the following passage is found in Matthew 16:1-3:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns and in 340 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. But as to when the rhyme “red skies at night” came into existence during that time is anyone’s guess.

Now, the question whether weather folklore has any basis in science is an interesting question to ask.  The fact of the matter is that when we see a red sky at night, this means that light from the setting sun has a high concentration of dust particles which usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. So yes, a red sky at night means one can expect that good weather will follow

Likewise, if you experience a red sun at morning, take heed.  A red sunrise is reflecting the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. What this means is that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content can be found in the atmosphere and it’s reasonable to believe that rain is on its way.

Advertisements

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

Helter Skelter

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 30, 2010

The phrase helter skelter means that something happens very quickly but in a disorganized and confused way.  The phrase has existed since long before Charles Manson or the Beatles used the phrase. 

In fact, on November 18, 1922 the Evening Post newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand ran an article about a very successful revue that read in part:

Helter-Skelter” was an apt name for the entertainment planned and presented last night at the Concert Chamber in aid of the Mayor’s City Improvement Fund by Mr. Pat Ward, who had gathered around him apt exponents of mirth and music. 

Almost a decade earlier, on September 14, 1914, the Poverty Bay Herald in New Zealand published a news story about WWI.  The headline read:

HELTER SKELTER RETREAT CONTINUES: British and French Vigorously pursuing five days incessant Fighting – Evidences of German Rout and Demoralisation

In the previous century, Bentley’s Miscellany authored by W. Harrison Ainsworth, Esq., and published in 1841, contained the following passage:

Mr. Rasp promised to comply, and moreover to set forth his friend’s military prowess to the best advantage.

“I think,” said he, “your division stormed the Press-yard, and captured the whipping-post, during the Loyal Aldersgate Street Volunteer campaigning in 1805.”

“Right, brother Ralph,” replied the comical coffin-maker, “and when the Finsbury awkward squad routed your left wing in the City Road, and you all ran helter-skelter into the boiled buttock of beef shop in the Old Bailey, we valiant sharp-shooters protected your flank, and covered your inglorious retreat!”  And he entertained the company with this appropriate recitation.

A little over a century before that, in 1731, Irish poet Jonathan Swift wrote “Helter Skelter” which is also known as “The Hue And Cry After The Attorneys Upon Their Riding The Circuit.”

Thomas Nashe made good use of the phrase helter skelter in his ‘Four Letters Confuted’ published in 1592:

Helter skelter, feare no colours, course him, trounce him.

In the end, E. Cobham Brewer wrote in his book, “The Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of Difficult Words”  that helter skelter is an Old English phrase that means “in tumultuous confusion.”   Old English is defined as English used up until the middle of the twelfth century or about 1160.  While the book itself was published in 1870, Brewer was a fastidious researcher therefore identifying the earliest known date for the phrase helter skelter to Old English was not done without great effort and fact-checking on Brewer’s part.

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sick As A Dog

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 14, 2010

Over the years, dogs have been subjected to incredibly bad press linguistically speaking so it comes as no surprise that the phrase “sick as a dog” goes back several hundred years.

Voltaire — the pen name of François-Marie Arouet — was born November 21, 1694 to a middle class family. As a child and through his whole life Voltaire was always ill. In a letter dated 1732 written to his friend Tieriot, Voltaire wrote:

My health and my affairs are shaken to an incredible degree.  I was not born to live in a city.  There is no health for me save in the solitude of La Rivière; I feel as if I were in hell when in this wretched city of Paris.  I finish by assuring you I am as sick as a dog, in other words, the most unfortunate creature in the world.

But in August 1592, playwright and dramatist Robert Greene — a colleague of William Shakespeare — over-indulged in Rhenish wine Robert and pickled herrings while dining with his friend, Thomas Nashe.  For a month afterwards, Greene was very ill — which eventually led to his death — and while sick, Gabriel Harvey penned the following ditty:

A rakehell, a makeshift, a scribbling fool:
A famous bayard in city and school.
Now sick as a dog, and ever brainsick:
Where such a raving and desperate Dick?

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

Dead As A Doornail

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 26, 2010

The phrase “dead as a doornail” is an odd sort of phrase.  After all, one would scarcely think of a doornail as being alive so referring to it as being dead is equally amusing.  However, the term has nothing to do with whether a nail is a living, breathing entity.  When a nail is hammered into a piece of wood and the end is flattened so the nail cannot be removed, the nail is said to be dead since it can’t be removed and reused.

The earliest known version of this phrase is found in the English poem “William of Palerne” written by William Langland some time between 1335 and 1361, as commissioned by Humphrey de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford. The poem was a translation of the poem “Guillaume de Palerne” written in 1200, by William of Palerne as commissioned by Countess Yolande, daughter of Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders by William of Palerne.  In the English version, the following line is found:

“For but ich haue bote of mi bale I am ded as dorenail.”

Of course, William Shakespeare being the prolific writer he was found a place for the phrase in his play of 1592, “Henry VI” in Part II, Act IV, Scene 10 where Jack Cade says to Alexander Iden, a poor esquire of Kent:

JACK CADE:
Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was
broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I
have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and
thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as
dead
as a doornail
, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

In 1843, Charles Dickens use the phrase with great effect in his work  “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” where he wrote:

“Old Marley was as dead as a door–nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door–nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin–nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door–nail.”

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »