Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1599’

Cowards Die Many Deaths

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 25, 2013

It’s an expression that’s been used often — sometimes well, sometimes incorrectly — and packs a punch with its delivery.  What it means is that while those who are cowardly oftentimes experience the dread that comes from facing death whenever they are confronted with difficult situations they would rather not acknowledge or address. Those who are brave, however, face the challenges and obstacles that life throws at them and only experience the dread that comes from facing death when they actually face death.

The “many deaths” cowards experience is the repeatedly overwhelming fear that paralyzes the person emotionally (and sometimes physically as well if the level of fear is great enough), refusing to deal appropriately with the situation at hand. Those who are brave, deal with the situation at hand, and accept the roses and thorns that come with dealing with the situation at hand.

In a Letter to the Editor in the April 12, 1988 edition of the New York Times, Cameron S. Moseley of New York City wrote about a discussion he’d had with William Elwell of Waterbury (CT). Mr. Elwell talked about a visit from a former student of his who hadn’t excelled academically when he taught him. The former student was in the Army Air Forces and had this to say about his high school English class:

“I wanted to tell you that something I learned in your class helped get me through my missions as a tail gunner. I kept repeating it to myself over and over: Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

He ended the story by stating that it was moments like that one that made teaching Julius Caesar worth the effort.

The Fielding Star newspaper of September 4, 1916 chose an intriguing way to showcase the quote from Shakespeare’s play, announcing it thusly:

Melbourne, September 4.
Probate to the amount of £29,662 was paid on the estate of Madame Melba’s father (Mr. Mitchell).

Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” – Shakespeare.

The oft-repeated quote is found in Act II, Scene II of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599.

CAESAR:
Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

An earlier version of this concept is found in a manuscript by English poet, Michael Drayton (1563 – 23 December 1631) entitled, “Mortimeriados: The Lamentable Ciuell Vvarres of Edward the Second and the Barrons.” It was published in 1596 and contains this passage:

A person who lacks courage is disgraced each time he faces adversity.  

It appears to have been a common theme even back then. Since Shakespeare was the better known of the two, it’s understandable that Michael Drayton‘s version would be overlooked in favor of William Shakespeare‘s. That being said, it’s unlikely that the thought originated with either of these gentlemen and so while neither expression can be traced back any further than the 1590s, it’s not unlikely the expression was around since at least the 1550s and most likely long before then.

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

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 7, 2011

The truth of the matter is that a person can make a lot of money from work that most people refuse to do because they think it’s beneath them, dirty and unpleasant.  So when someone says “where there’s muck there’s brass” you can be certain that he or she is talking about the upside of a job to which others only see downsides.  The saying is sometimes known as “where there’s muck there’s money.”

John Ray published his book “A Collection of English Proverbs” in 1678 and included this similar proverb among the proverbs:

Muck and money go together.

That being said, the Dictionary of European Proverbs by Emmanuel Strauss identifies the date for this English proverb “Where there’s muck there’s money” to 1476.

The word muck dates back to the 13th century and is from the Germanic muk — also written as meuk — meaning “soft” which comes from the Old Norse words myki and mykr, meaning “cow dung.”   These trace back to the Latin word mūcus meaning … well you know what that means. 

So it is a well-established fact that muck has referred to the less desirable natural functions of humans and animals for centuries.

The word brass is from the Old English word “bræs” that refers to an alloy of copper and tin (now bronze) and that is an alloy of two parts copper and one part zine in modern times. Although it’s a mystery word with no known cognates beyond English, it seems to be related to the Old Frisian word “bres” meaning copper and the old Middle Low German word “bras” meaning metal. 

The word brass came to mean copper coins collectively in 1599 — and money in general in 1601 — and was a popular expression especially in the north of England.

The phrase “where there’s much there’s brass” came into its own around this time and helped spread the popularity of the word “brass” as slang for money.  The brass/money association came about because of the association between the colour of gold coins and the value of brass as a scrap metal at the time. 

It has remained a recognized slang term for money and in 1984 when the one pound coin was introduced during the Margaret Thatcher administration in the UK, that particular coin became know as the Brass Maggie.

On a completely different note, the Isle of Muck is a picturesque island just off the coast of Scotland that boasts a population of 34 people.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Possession Is Nine Tenths Of The Law

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 16, 2010

Most people mistakenly believe that possession is nine-tenths of the law.  In other words, they believe that if you have physical possession of an item, it establishes a stronger legal claim to owning it than claiming ownership even with documented proof to support the claim. 

However, possession alone does not imply that any person who holds any property is the rightful owner.  In fact, the nine-tenths to which the idiom refers has nothing whatsoever to do with percentages.  Here are the points to which it refers:

(1) a good deal of money;
(2) a good deal of patience;
(3) a good case;
(4) a good lawyer;
(5) a good counsel;
(6) good witnesses;
(7) a good jury;
(8) a good judge; and
(9) good luck. 

Of course, the one-tenth is having a judgment from the courts clearly stating that the individual is, indeed, the owner of the property in question.

T. Draxe first wrote about possession being nine-tenths of the law in 1616 but the concept goes back to old English common law. In fact, on June 27, 1599 William Shakespeare‘s father, John, was taken to court under Shackspeere contra Lambert.  On October 23, 1599, another entry of the case is recorded:

Yf the defendant show no cause for stay of publicacion by this day sevenight, then publicacion ys granted.

In the end, it appears that William’s father lost the court case, in part due to the fact that not only did he not have possession of the contested property, and in part because he was unable to prove ownership to the satisfaction of the courts.

So even though it’s mistakenly believed by a number of people that possession is nine-tenths of the law, if the courts determine that legal ownership lies with the other party, nine-tenths possession is more commonly referred to as “theft.”

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

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 7, 2010

American Actress and iconic vamp, Mae West (1892-1980) was quoted as saying, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”  

However, as original as it may have sounded when Mae West said those words, she was merely paraphrasing from Shakespeare’s play of 1599, “As You Like It” when Rosalind says to Orlando: 

“Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?”

But the spirit of the phrase reaches far back again to the Bible where,  in I Cor 12:31, the following can be found:

But earnestly desire the greater gifts.  And I show you a still more excellent way.”

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »