Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1605’

Needle In A Haystack

Posted by Admin on May 17, 2010

Some will tell you that the first use of this expression is found in the book Don Quixote de la Mancha written by Miguel de Cervantes from 1605 through to 1615.   The expression ‘needle in a bottle of hay‘  is found in Part III, Chapter 10 of this great literary work.

An old alternative for the word ‘haystack‘ which was current in this expression from the 16th through to the 18th century, was “bottle of hay.”   ‘Bottle‘ is an old word for a ‘bundle of hay’ or ‘bundle of straw’, from the Old French word ‘botel‘ meaning ‘a bundle.’

But when all is said and done, there is a Fujian proverb that dates back 2,000 years from the Minnan dialect — also known as Ancient Chinese –that sounds oddly like the more modern phrase and has the same meaning.   In the “Chinese Proverbs in the Amoy Vernacular” published in March, 1887 the following proverb can be found:  “To dive into the sea, to feel for a needle.”

Posted in China, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sorry Sight

Posted by Admin on May 14, 2010

Finally, we have come across a phrase written by Shakespeare for which he and he alone can take credit!   In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth written in 1605, the phrase “sorry sight” makes its first appearance — not once, but twice — in Act 2, Scene 2.

MACBETH:
Hark! Who lies i’ the second chamber?

LADY MACBETH:
Donalbain.

MACBETH:
This is a sorry sight.
[Looking on his hands]

LADY MACBETH:
A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.

Sometimes finding the origins of a phrase, cliché, expression or word is as easy to find as a needle in a haystack.   Sometimes it’s easy as pie!

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »