Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Subscribe

  • Meta

Posts Tagged ‘1665’

Shilly Shally

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2015

If someone is shilly shallying, they are acting irresolutely.   In other words, those who shilly shally can’t be pinned down one way or another to an action or a decision leaving others with no idea where that person stands.

The Glasgow Herald published a Letter To The Editor written by Alex C.M. MacNeill in March 4, 1977 where the author voiced his displeasure at the inaction of the political parties.  He took issue with the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties equally as the first (and only) sentence of his brief letter made clear.

The present attitude in Scotland to the shilly-shallying of the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties over devolution recalls to mind the saying attributed to one of the German conductors of the old Scottish Orchestra who was having trouble with a recalcitrant or incompetent brass-player:  “With your damn nonsense will I twice once put up.  But always?  Sometimes?  Never!”

In the October 16, 1942 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Joseph Shechtman wrote about shilly shally and willy nilly.  According to him, these phrases came about as a corruption of how the real words were pronounced.  For those who asked, “Shall? Shall I?” that became shilly shally.

The Boston Evening Transcript used the expression as part of the title on an article that was published on July 28, 1915 in its recounting what Sheriff Kinkead had done just hours earlier in front of what the newspaper referred to as “plenty of witnesses.”  Yes, Sheriff Kinkead and his men settled a strike by appealing to the strikers sense of patriotism for the United States of America as many who were striking were foreigners who had come to America to find a better for themselves and their families.  The article was entitled, “Busting Through Shilly-Shally.”

Interesting Side Note:  The writer of this article stated that Mrs. Wendell Phillips of Boston (MA) invented the phrase shilly shally.

In Chapter 20 of a serialized story published in The Age newspaper on June 29, 1901 the word was used in this passage.

“Mr. Vickers, have you heard of Pyrotid?” inquired Christ, confidentially.

“Sir,” said Mr. Vickers with dignity, “I am not a betting man.”

“It is not the name of a horse, but of a singular mineral,” said Chris.  “It is worth four pounds a ton, and there are two hundred thousand tons of it on Drellincourt Farm.  I found that out by the aid of a little shilly-shallying; but I admit that I got my cue regarding its existence from Mellor, for, Mr. Vickers, in the profession to which I belong it is absolutely necessary for one to understand men.”

The Deseret News published an extended article on March 5, 1889 about U.S. President Harrison’s message which, it was believed, would please his party and not disappoint the opposition.  The President delivered his message the day before, and within a day, even the British press was complimentary in its comments about his message.

The “Tribune” this morning says the strong and patriotic appeal will go to the hearts and convictions of the American people and will produce results hereafter.  The “Times” finds nothing impressive in the President’s remarks.  It thinks the tone and manner commonplace.  The “World” regards it as the deliverance of a sincere and extremely clear-minded man, and says there will be no shilly-shally foreign policy.

In Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Chapter X of the serialized story “On The Church Steps” by Sarah C. Hallowell (1833 – 1914) was published.  The author used the expression in such a way as to indicate that it was an expression that people from every social class knew and used.

Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited too.

“Tell you what,” said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs, “I’ve got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev’ that they hevn’t gone by the other road. Old gal said there was two?”

Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) used this expression in a letter dated October 1792 where he discussed George Washington’s comments about transforming the American government into a monarch (which he did not support, but which was strongly considered as an option by more than the handful the President dismissed there might be).  He wrote of a dispute between General Schuyler (20 November 1733 – 18 November 1804) on one side of the table (who favored hereditary descent), and Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney (25 February 1746 – 16 August 1825) and Thomas Jefferson on the other (who opposed hereditary descent).

I told him, that though the people were sound, there was a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation; that the Secretary of the Treasury was one of those; that I had heard him say that this Constitution was a shilly-shally thing, of mere milk and water, which could not last, and was only good as a step to something better.  That when we reflected, that he had endeavored in the convention, to make an English constitution out of it, and when failing in that, we saw all his measures tending to bring it to the same thing, it was natural for us to be jealous; and particularly, when we saw that these measures had established corruption in the Legislature, where there was a squadron devoted to the nod of the Treasury, doing whatever he had directed, and ready to do what he should direct.

The expression found its way into the book, “The Eagle and the Robin: An Apologue” translated from the original Aesop fable by H.G.L. Mag, and printed and sold by H. Hills in Black-fryars near the Waterside in 1709.

You are suppos’d to undermine
The foe, in some immense design.
A pen can bite you with a line;
There’s forty ways to give a sign,
Well, all on fire away he stalk’d
Till come to where the Eagle walk’d.
Bob did not shilly-shally go,
Nor said one word of friend or foe;
But flirting at him made a blow,
As game-cocks with their Gauntlets do.

The earliest version of the expression Idiomation found is in the comedic play, “The Committee, Or The Faithful Irishman” by Sir Robert Howard, and published in 1665.  English playwright and politician Robert Howard (January 1626 – 3 September 1698) was the son of Thomas Howard, First Earl of Berkshire, and his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Second Earl of Exeter.

His play was published (along with three others) in his book, “Four New Plays” although there are indications that the play had been performed long before it was finally published in 1665.  In fact, Pepys wrote about taking in a performance of “The Committee” on June 12, 1663, and other diaries mention the play being performed before an audience in 1662.

Well, Mrs. Arabella, I hope you have considered enough by this time.  You  need not use so much consideration for your own good; you  may have your estate, and you may have your Abel; and you may be worse offered.  Abel, tell her your mind; ne’er stand, shilly-shally. Ruth, does she incline, or is she wilfull?

I was just about the point when your honor interrupted us.  one word in your ladyship’s ear.

You see, forsooth, that I am somebody, though you make nobody of me.  You see I can prevail.  Therefore pray say what I shall trust to; for I must not stand shilly-shally.

You are hasty sir.

Unable to find an earlier published version for shilly-shally, and given that it was used in Sir Robert Howard’s play published in 1665 (and performed earlier), it is reasonable to assume that it was a commonly used expression in England in the 1600s.  Idiomation therefore sets the date for this expression to at least 1600.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dutchman’s Draught

Posted by Admin on September 23, 2011

When someone talks about a Dutchman’s draught, it’s just one of the many allusions to the reputed fondness for heavy drinking among the Dutch.  Idiomation is unaware of any studies to support the stereotype that the Dutch drink more than any other cultural group however the history between the English and the Dutch is well-documented and so stereotypes are bound to endure.

In fact, back in 1665 there was a British pamphlet entitled “The Dutch Boare Dissected” that was filled with what would be considered hate speech in today’s society.  Most of the English idioms negatively referring to the Dutch first appear around this era.  The sentiment continued in a number of literary works including John Arbuthnot’s 1712 story, “The History of John Bull.”  It took until the 18th century for the French to replace the Dutch as the bull’s-eye of English insults, once the French had established themselves as a major naval adversary of the British.

On May 9, 1880 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “The Dutch And Their Land: Holland Through A Telescope.”  The date line reads Utrecht, April 23 and the reporter dedicates the entire story to extolling the virtues of Holland and the people who call the country home.  The reporter writes in part:

The area of their possessions amounts to 660,000 square miles, and the population to 23,500,000 souls.  The towers of Amsterdam, which we see through the sacristan’s telescope, common views of Zuyder Zee, which furnishes the ballad-monger with the similie as to a Hollander’s capacity for drinking:

“Singing, O, that a Dutchman’s draught might be
 As deep as the rolling Zuider Zee.”

In the January 29, 1870 edition of Punch’s Almanack, in the column “More Happy Thoughts” the following is found:

German, English and French is being spoken freely; English, I think, predominating. There are three languages that puzzle me; I subsequently find they are Russian, Dutch and Greek.  The Dutch I always though was a rolling sort of tongue, so to speak; but, on reflection, I fancy this idea was mainly founded upon the remembrance of having heard, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s draught should be,” by a bass singer, late at night, years ago.

The Examiner was promoted as “A Sunday Paper on Politics, Domestic Economy and Theatricals.”  In the edition published on January 1, 1826 the paper referenced the expression on page 357 in the theatrical column, where readers can find this passage:

The music being chiefly selection, requires little notice; it wanted what Wzaza has recently taught us to look for in operas, — we mean sounds in ideal association with the story.  Miss Stephens was once encored; and the old glee of the “Dutchman’s Draught” with new words, was well sung by Yarnold, Nicol and G. Smith, and also loudly encored.

The song “Dutchman’s Draught” appeared in a play in three acts entitled, “The Law Of Java” which was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden on May 11, 1822.  Act I begins with Dutch soldiers singing:

Mynheer Vandunck, though he was never drunk
Sipp’d Brandy and Water, gaily;
And he quench’d his thirst
With two arts of the first
To a pint of the latter daily;
Singing, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s Draught could be
As deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee!”

Water well mingled with spirit, good store
No Hollander dreams of scorning;
But, of water alone, he drinks no more
Than a rose supplies when a dew-drop lies
On its bloom, in a summer morning;
For a Dutchman’s Draught should potent be,
Though deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee.

Now English playwright, George Colman the Younger (1762 — 1836) was educated at Westminster School, Oxford and Aberdeen and he is the composer of “Mynheer Van Dunck” which starts off the play “The Law of Java.” It was a popular singing song that is found in numerous song books over the years including John McClure‘s “The Stag’s Hornbook” published in 1925 that listed the song as one of the 40 classics.

That the expression Dutchman’s draught was used easily in a song in a play back in 1822 indicates that the audience was familiar with the expression which dates it to somewhere in the mid 1700s.  And because it’s a fact that most negative idioms about the Dutch sprung up after 1665, the expression dates to somewhere between 1665 and 1750.

Idiomation was unable to establish an exact date for the expression Dutchman’s draught.  At the very least, however, it’s an expression of the 18th century and quite possible of the 17th century.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spic And Span

Posted by Admin on June 14, 2010

Most of us know “Spic and Span” to be a well-known cleaning product that’s been around since 1933 when two housewives — Elizabeth MacDonald and Naomi Stenglein — came up with the formula in Saginaw, Michigan.  It’s been said that Naomi referred to her spotless home as being “spick and span” and with that, the two women decided to drop the “k” from the word spick and to market their product as “Spic and Span.”

However, the term “spic and span” dates back more than  400 years, to Sir Thomas North‘s translation of Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes” in 1579:

They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke and spanne newe.

This term combined two nouns that are now obsolete:  spick, which was a “nail” or “spike,” and span, which was a “wooden chip.” In the 1500s, a sailing ship was considered “spicke and spanne newe” when every spike and chip was brand-new.

Spicke and spanne newe” later became simply “spicke and span” and first appeared in the diary of Samuel Pepys  in 1665 where he wrote:

My Lady Batten walking through the dirty lane with new “spicke and span” white shoes.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »