Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1600’

Jay

Posted by Admin on April 9, 2015

Now that Idiomation has tracked down jaywalking, jay driving, and jay town, the matter of what a jay is still remains to be solved!  Thanks to ongoing thorough research, the expression flap a jay cropped up.

To flap a jay is to swindle someone who is easily fooled, where flap means to manage adroitly and turn over … at least that’s according to the “Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.”   This dictionary was compiled and edited by Albert Barrère (died 1896) — author of “Argot And Slang” — and American humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903) — author of “The English Gypsies And Their Language” and other novels — and published in 1889.  The book included English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang as well as pidgin English, Gypsy jargon and what Messrs. Barrère and Leland considered to be irregular phraseology.

In the December 19, 1884 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, warning words of wisdom were shared with readers about jays, not meaning the birds.  In fact, readers were warned of the dangers of larcenists who preyed upon gullible people.

The intending larcenist will strike up a conversation with a likely looking jay in a public conveyance and win his friendship.

While it wasn’t an expression that was used at great length over the generations, it is one that survived intact over the years.

Elizabethan dramatist, poet, and translator George Chapman (1559 – 12 May 1643) influenced the Stoicism movement.  It was his translation of “Homer” that was the standard English version for generations.  And it was Chapman who found himself imprisoned along with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 by order of King James I of Britain because the king found their play, “Eastward, Ho!” offensive to their countrymen.

On November 16, 1632, the play “The Ball” by George Chapman and James Shirley was performed for the first time, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert.  The play centers on Lady Lucina who finds amusement in mocking and ridiculing her unwanted suitors.  The play makes the most of how easily it is to play those who are easily led to believe things that aren’t as they seem, thereby taking advantage of them.  The following happens in Act Two of this play.

LUCINA
You will see me again.  Ha, ha, ha!  Scutilla.

SCUTILLA
Here, madam, almost dead with stifling my laughter.  Why, he’s gone for a licence; you did enjoin him no silence.

LUCINA
I would have ’em all meet, and brag o’ their several hopes, they will not else be sensible, and quit me of their tedious visitation.  Who’s next?  I would the colonel were come, I long to have a bout with him.

SOLOMON
Mr. Bostock, madam.

LUCINA
Retire, and give the jay admittance.

Enter Bostock

BOSTOCK
Madam, I kiss your fair hand.

LUCINA
Oh, Mr. Bostock!

William Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbeline” published in 1623 was set in Ancient Britain and is based on legends that were well-known at the time.  In Shakespeare’s play, Imogen (the daughter of King Cymbeline) runs off and marries Posthumus (who is below her status) instead of Cloten (who is of equal status to Imogen).  Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo who bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen.  It’s a familiar enough scenario when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays.

In Act III, Scene iv which takes place in the country ner Milford-Haven, a discussion takes place between Piranio and Imogen in which Imogen says:

IMOGEN
    I false! Thy conscience witness: Iachimo,
    Thou didst accuse him of incontinency;
    Thou then look’dst like a villain; now methinks
    Thy favour’s good enough. Some jay of Italy
    Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:
    Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion;
    And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls,
    I must be ripp’d:–to pieces with me!–O,
    Men’s vows are women’s traitors! All good seeming,
    By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
    Put on for villany; not born where’t grows,
    But worn a bait for ladies.

What this shows is that jay in Shakespeare’s play and in George Chapman’s play was a word that was known to their audiences.  This means it is accepted that the word and its associated meaning goes back to at least 1600, and most likely to the mid to late 1500s.

It also seems that the word and the behavior attributed to those who are accused of being jays is related to the European bird, Garrulus glandarinus, which was more commonly known as the jai in Old French from the Late Latin word gaius which means a jay.

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Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Posted by Admin on August 8, 2011

The next time you hear someone is between the devil and the deep blue sea, express your condolences.  What it means is that the poor soul has found himself or herself having to choose between two equally unpleasant situations.

On June 23, 2009 the Birmingham Mail in England published as news story entitled, “Press Whistleblowers Deserve to Be Protected.”  It dealt with manner in which reporters have been treated in the past with regards to journalistic confidentiality and refusing to provide police with the sources for some of their stories.  The story began with this paragraph:

It is no secret that the provincial press is battling for survival, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, the devil being the economic slump and the deep blue sea the internet revolution.

Back in 1931, Cab Calloway recorded the Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen jazz standard, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”  It’s such a fun song that even George Harrison covered the song in 1988 showing how timeless the song truly is!

On November 24, 1950 the St. Petersburg Times published an article written by Marquis Childs entitled, “Democrats Are Caught Between The Devil And Deep Blue Sea.”  It dealt with rising prices, the consumer price index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and everything tied to it.  The journalist launched into the story with this opening paragraph:

The more the Democrats contemplate the months ahead, the more they realize the trap they are in.  That old phrase — between the devil and the deep blue sea — has rarely applied with such literalness as it does to the party in power.

The Devil and the Deep Sea” is the title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1898, and reprinted in subsequent short story collections in the early 1900s.

On March 4, 1875 the Colonist newspaper in Nelson, New Zealand reprinted a news story from the Otago Daily Times entitled, “A New Doctrine Of Election.”  The story focused on Mr. Hare’s system of representation which was not well received by everyone.

This is to endanger the success of the party triumphing by splitting votes.  More seats were lots to Mr. Gladstone at the last election by this mistake than in any other way.  If any one thinks that we are exaggerating the possible difficulties of the situation, let him recall the elections he remembers best and he will find that the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea has been offered within his experience — not infrequently.

In nautical circles, the devil is a seam in the planking of a wooden ship on, or below, the waterline.  When sailors fell from a footrope, they would either land on deck which was known as the devil plank or in the water which would be, of course, the deep blue sea.  Understandably then, sailors talked about what little choice they had for their deaths when falling from a footrope, since their only choices were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In Robert Monro’s  book “His Expedition With The Worthy Scots Regiment Called Mackeyes” published in 1637, the following passage is found:

I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea; for sometimes our owne cannon would light short, and grase over us, and so did the enemies also, — till I directed an officer to our owne batteries, acquainting them with our hurt, and desiring they should stell or plant their cannon higher.

Since it was used with such ease in 1637, one can safely assume it was an established phrase at the time and most likely dates back to the early 1600s, if not farther.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase.

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To Thine Own Self Be True

Posted by Admin on June 1, 2010

As with yesterday’s phrase, “to thine own self be true” is oftentimes mistaken as a direct quote from the Bible.  It is actually taken from Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

 Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
 The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
 And you are stay’d for.
 There … my blessing with thee!
 And these few precepts in thy memory
 Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
 Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
 Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
 Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
 Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
 But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
 Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.  Beware
 Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
 Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
 Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
 Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement.
 Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
 But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
 For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
 And they in France of the best rank and station
 Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
 Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
 For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
 And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!

Of course, it’s easy to see how this could happen as what Polonius tells his son is actually Shakespeare reworking the Ninth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  

In other words, one should not lie to himself or herself.  When one does not lie to himself or herself, it follows that he or she does not lie to others no matter what the situation.  The Ninth Commandment is phrased in an absolute manner that does not permit exceptions and so one can only be true to himself or herself in following the Commandments.

So while Shakespeare may have coined the phrase “to thine own self be true” the spirit of the phrase has a very long history that reaches back thousands of years into the Old Testament.

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Neither A Borrower Nor A Lender Be

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2010

Surely with Biblical passages that reference lending and borrowing, the Bible must be the origin of this phrase.

Ex. 22:25  “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”

Deut. 23:19  “You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent.” 

Luke 6:34 “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” 

Oddly enough, however, the Bible is not the origin of this phrase.  It is actually an original phrase written by none other than William Shakespeare in his play Hamlet in Act 1, scene 3 and is spoken by Polonius.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edges of husbandry.”

When Shakespeare’s play was staged around 1600, history shows that borrowing was epidemic among the gentry.  This epidemic resulted in more than a few cases of landowners selling off their estates piece by piece to maintain their ostentatious lifestyles in London.

Wisely enough, those with money to spare had that money because they knew better than to borrow money against their assets and they knew better t han to loan money to others.

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Laughing Stock

Posted by Admin on May 6, 2010

There are those who claim that William Shakespeare is responsible for the phrase “laughing stock” because it appeared in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, that was first performed some time between 1600 and 1601.  In Act 3, scene 1, Sir Hugh Evans says to Doctor Caius:

“Pray you let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours; I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.”

As much as would like to credit Shakespeare for this phrase, alas, he cannot lay claim to it.  In the 1533 book An other boke against Rastel by John Frith, the following passage can be found:

“Albeit … I be reputed a laughing stock in this world.”

The origin of the phrase is linked with the medieval practice of putting people into stocks as a punishment for a variety of crimes.  Despite the discomfort this caused those who were in the stocks, what was worse was the torture and ridicule they suffered at the hands of their fellow villagers.

The laughing part of “laughing stock” is a given.  However, the word “stock”  first appeared in English in 862, adapted from the German word meaning tree trunk.  What’s more, at the time, the word stock meant “something or someone treated as the object of an action, more or less habitually.”

Just as a person who was publicly scorned was referred to as a pointing stock, and a person who was frequently whipped was a whipping stock, those who were frequently laughed at were known as laughing stocks.

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