Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘16th Century’

Keep Your Powder Dry

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2021

If someone tells you to keep your powder dry, they are really telling you to remain cautious, stay calm, and be ready for a possible emergency or a sudden change for the worse. Some may claim it’s the ancestor idiom to the phrase take care but it really isn’t since take care doesn’t really cover everything keep your powder dry covers.

For those who may not understand what that means, this harkens back to the day when weapons required loose gunpowder to fire. For gunpowder to work properly, it must be kept dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Gunpowder is known as one of the “Four Great Inventions of China” and was invented during the Tang Dynasty of the 9th century, and when guns appeared in the 13th century, gunpowder found another opportunity beyond arrows, rockets, bombs, and fire lances. It was particularly popular during the days of flintlock when powder and flintlock were carried in a horn slung to one side. It was susceptible to moisture, and if it wasn’t dry, it tended to clump and misfire instead of ignite and fire properly. By the 19th century, smokeless powder, nitroglycerin, and nitrocellulose were invented, and gunpowder saw its popularity decrease.

On 19 September 2020, the Washington Post reported on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in the article, “Trump Says He Will Nominate Woman To Supreme Court Next Week.” It was clear what he meant when he used the idiom.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

The idiom was used in the 1945 movie, “Keep Your Powder Dry” starring Lana Turner (8 February 1921 – 29 June 1995), Laraine Day (13 October 1920 – 10 November 2007), and Susan Peter (3 July 1921 – 23 October 1952) as three Women’s Army Corps (WAC) recruits. Lana Turner’s character is a spoiled rich party girl who signs up in the hopes it will make her look more responsible to the trustees of her trust fund will give her the rest of her inheritance thereby leaving her free to party even more than she already does.

Susan Peter’s character is that of a young wife whose husband is in the Army who is doing something productive to help the cause while her husband is fighting, and Laraine Day’s character is an Army brat who can’t wait to join the military so she can be a soldier every bit as good as her father.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Lana Turner’s character is top of her class when it comes to identifying aircrafts but not because she’s an excellent student while in class. It has to do with how many pilots she dated before she joined the corps.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Agnes Moorehead (6 December 1900 – 30 April 1974) — which many remember as Samantha Steven’s mother, Endora, in the 1960s series “Bewitched” — plays the role of the company commander, exuding an understated but unmistakable authority. She plays the role with dignity and compassion without breaking the military chain of command.

Margaret Mead used the idiom in the title of her book “And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America” published in 1943.

The Times Literary Supplement of 1908 made use of the idiom in this passage:

In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Times Literary Supplement was a supplement to the British daily national newspaper The Times (which was known as The Daily Universal Register from 1785 through to 1788 when it changed its name) when it first appeared in 1902 but by 1914, it was its own separate publication. Among the distinguished writers and authors who contributed to the publication are T.S. Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.

The idiom appeared in print in 1888 in the book “Irish Minstrelsy: Being A Selection of Irish Songs, Lyrics, and Ballads with Notes and Introduction by Henry Halliday Sparling” in a poem by Irish British Army officer, Member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Commissioner of the Treasury of Ireland, Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker (1 September 1777 – 25 November 1855) and publishing under a pseudonym. Every stanza ends with a slightly different variation of the idiom, but always ends with keep your powder dry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The poem was originally published in 1834 in The Dublin University Magazine titled “Oliver’s Advice: An Orange Ballad” and was a well-known poem of over fifty years by the time it was printed in the 1887 publication.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: William Blacker and his cousin, Valentine Blacker (19 October 1778 – 4 February 1825) were both lieutenant colonels in the British Army as well as published authors. Sometimes they published under pseudonyms (William Blacker occasionally published under the name of Fitz Stewart), and this is why there are instances were they are confused with each other.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Father C. Mayer wrote an arrangement of a song titled, “Boys, Keep Your Powder Dry: A Soldier’s Song.” It was published by Blackmar & Brothers, and lithographed by B. Duncan and Company of Columbia, South Carolina in 1863. The idiom was used as the last line in each verse as well as in the chorus.

Not they who are determined to conquer or to die;
And harken to this caution, “Boys, keep your powder dry.”

Across the ocean and back in England, Punch magazine was having a grand time with politics on 25 February 1859 when it reported on Lord Palmerston’s efforts to alert the House of Commons to what he felt was the menacing aspect of continental affairs. It was printed in the same column that Mr. Punch advised Queen Victoria to keep her powder dry. The column was followed by a poem that addressed the issue of keeping her powder dry, as well as a cartoon.

Now shortly before Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker’s poem was published in 1834, the idiom was bandied about by the Lords sitting for Parliament in the United Kingdom. One such occasion was 28 February 1832, in the discussion of education in Ireland was the subject, when William Pleydell-Bouverie (11 May 1779 – 9 April 1869), 3rd Earl of Radnor stated:

On that occasion, Mr. Archdal concluded his speech by saying, “My friends, I will now only add the words used by Oliver Cromwell to his army, when marking through a ford, ‘My boys trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry.'”

Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is repeatedly attributed to Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658). It is claimed that when Cromwell’s troops were about to cross a river to attack the enemy, he concluded his address to the troops with this idiom.

Allegedly, Oliver Cromwell said this to his regiment in 1642 when it was about to attack the enemy at the Battle of Edgehill, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this to the soldiers in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar, and allegedly Oliver Cromwell said this every time there was a battle that involved crossing a river to get to the enemy’s side.

But did Oliver Cromwell ever say this? According to the Cromwell Museum there isn’t any evidence he ever said that. None. Not even once.

That doesn’t mean Oliver Cromwell didn’t say it, only that there’s no proof he said it. Maybe he said it, then again, maybe he didn’t. At the end of the day, however, it is very sound advice, don’t you agree?

Idiomation tags this expression to the 1820s with the earliest published version found in the 1832 papers that show the 3rd Earl of Radnor using the idiom indicating others understood what he meant when he talked about keeping one’s powder dry.

But who said it first is still up in the air.

To add a little extra fun to today’s entry, here’s “Keep Your Powder Dry” from the movie of the same name (back in the 1940s, face powder was the kind of make-up most women wore so enjoy the double meaning of the expression keep your powder dry).

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2021

When it’s not possible to have two good things at the same time, especially two things that aren’t possible to have together, people usually say you can’t have your cake and eat it. The idiom is an example of the price that opportunity throws into any situation, and underscores that you cannot both have and not have something at the same time.

The expression has been around for generations, and for this reason, Idiomation chose to jump back about 150 year to see if it was used back then. We weren’t surprise to find it in a number of places.

On 28 April 1872, English art critic, watercolorist, author, poet, and philosopher John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) wrote a letter to his friends that began with questions about the Pope blessing the marriage of the Marquis of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart (12 September 1847 – 9 October 1900) to his romantically and politically beloved Duchess of Norfolk, Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard (21 February 1854 – 15 January 1932). In his letter, he wrote:

Abstinence may, indeed, have its reward, nevertheless; but not by increase of what we abstain from, unless there be a law of growth for it, unconnected without abstinence. “You cannot have your cake and eat it.” Of course not; and if you don’t eat it, you have your cake; but not a cake and a half!

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent newspaper of h, South Yorkshire (England) devoted a large swath of space in the 17 April 1872 edition to report on the wedding that had taken place the day previous, and wedding guests. The wedding was by all accounts a large and fancy affair with Archbishop Monsignor Capel, Father Stanton, Father Gordon, and six other officiating clergymen required to perform the ceremony.

To add to the pomp of the occasion, the reporter listed the music performed in the Oratory, the composers of each piece — ranging from Gounod to Chopin — as well as the soloists and the conductor, Herr Schulthes. The names of members of the nobility who attended the wedding breakfast was also included which, as you can imagine, took up a considerable amount of space as well. Some of the weddings gifts (and the names of those who were responsible for those gifts) were also included in the article.

English naturalist and botanist, John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) included the idiom — albeit switched around — in his book, “A Complete Collection of Proverbs” published in 1742 as:

You can’t eat your cake, and have your cake.

The idiom was found in the “Dictionarium Brittanicum Or A More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary Than Any Extant” by English teacher, philologist and lexicographer Nathan Bailey (c. 1691 – 27 June 1742) published in 1730.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: In his dictionary, Nathan Baily was the first to include the origin of words from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; advice on pronounciation; hard and technical words found in the arts, sciences, and mysteries; and dialect, slang, and taboo words (something that was left out of most dictionaries until well into the 19th century).

In Anglo-Welsh poet John Davies (c. 1565 – 1 July 1618) of Hereford’s book, “The Scourge of Folly. Consisting of satyricall Epigramms, and others in honor of many noble and worthy Persons of our Land Together with a pleasant (though discordant) Descant vpon most English Prouerbes: and others” published in 1611, the proverb was written in two parts.

A man cannot eat his cake and have it still;
That may he, unless his retention be ill.

English playwright, poet, and writer John Heywood (c. 1565 – July 1618) included it in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546 with this variation:

What man, I trowe [= believe] ye rave.
Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?

The question as to whether someone could have their cake and eat it was asked in a letter from Tudor politician and nobleman Thomas Howard (c. 1473 – 25 August 1554), 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540), 1st Earl of Essex, and chief minister and advisor to King Henry VIII of England, on 14 March 1538. In his letter, Thomas Howard wrote:

The great sickness continues here, and I am banished by it from my two “starting holes,” Catellacre and Bongaye. I require you to send me, by this bearer, my will, which ye have sealed in a box. I must alter things therein, for my substance in money and plate is not so good now — a man can not have his cake and eat his cake. You thought you knew who would buy my manor of Walton, that was of the house of Lewes, at 40 years’ purchase, let me know his name and prick him to conclude for it. I am forced to sell muchland for lack of money, and divers are on hand with me to buy, with whome I would not meddle if I might sell Walton after that price.

Interestingly enough, an expanded version of the idiom is found in the spirit of the French idiom.

On ne peut pas avoir le beurre, l’argent du beurre, et la sourire de la crémière.
You cannot have the butter, the money from the sale of the butter, and the milkmaid’s attentions.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: While the English idiom uses what was a luxury item back in the day, the French idiom uses what was a commodity during that same time period.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to someone having their cake and eating it (or not eating it) prior to the letter to Thomas Cromwell from Thomas Howard, placing this idiom squarely in 1538.

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If Worse Comes To Worst

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2021

Last week, Idiomation took on the benefit of the doubt. The opposite to that is to assume the worst, and worse yet is if worse comes to worst! But where did the expression if worse comes to worst come from and what does it really mean?  It means if the worst that could possibly happen actually does happen, then you have gone from whatever your current situation is to an even worse situation. In fact, it’s gone to the very worst situation possible.

Now you may have heard the expression as if worse comes to worse and you may have heard the expression as if worst come to worst as well, and at the end of the day, the three expressions are mild variations of the other two.

In the July 2004 article “It’s The Economy, Right? Guess Again” published in the New York Times and written by Louis Uchitelle that addressed the issue of whether then-campaigning Senator John Kerry’s comments on an Administration under his leadership was sound. Considering what John Kerry had to say on cutting the deficit, budget surpluses, and recreating the economy of the Bill Clinton years, the journalist reported John Kerry’s words as spoken and presented them for the loud comments they were.

“Health care is sacrosanct,” Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.

“Listen,” he said, “if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities.”

And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro (TN) ran an article in their 09 November 1941 edition with the expression. The interviewee was a man by the name of Sterling Owen ‘Dump’ Edmonds (28 March 1871 – 14 March 1954) and following in his father’s footsteps, he was a mastermind in mechanics.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling’s father was more than just a mechanic in Eagleville. He also owned and operating a funeral home, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and a grain hauling business all at the same time.  He said in 1911 he got the idea to invent a trailer truck, and then he went ahead and built a trailer truck. Then he patented the idea in 1916. It was the kind of invention that interested the government, and because of that, his trailer truck idea was used by the U.S. Government during the first World War.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1916, Sterling Edmonds filed a worldwide patent for a six-wheel truck. In 1917, Sterling Edmonds filed his patent for automotive towage. In 1932, he created the So-Easy Jacks for big trucks.  He also came up with a great many other inventions including a revolving sign with cylinders at filling stations, the automatic lipstick tube, hydraulic lifts for dump trucks, a revolving rural mailbox, milk coolers and insulated receptacles for milk bottles, and he suggested guardrails on roads.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling Edmonds was married to Ethel Morrow whose uncle, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was the founder of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg (TN).

When he was interviewed in 1941 by Mary B. Hughes for her article, “Eagleville Inventor of Trailer Truck Gave Patent to U.S. In World War I” he had this to say about his then-most recent invention the pressure pump, and the difficulties he had obtaining materials due to the war.

“But,” says Edmonds philosophically, “if worse comes to worst, I’ll dismiss it from my mind and invent something else.”

As yet, however, business at the Edmonds shop in the Eagleville community hasn’t felt the pinch of priorities. “My pumps are going at the rate of two a day and I have more orders than I can fill,” commented the crossroads Edison.

The idiom has been around quite some time, and is used by English trader, writer, pamphleteer and spy, Daniel Defoe (1660 – 24 April 1731) in his book “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” which was published on 25 April 1719. This passage is found in Chapter XIV titled, “A Dream Realised.”

I looked upon my present condition as the most miserable that could possibly be; that I was not able to throw myself into anything but death, that could be called worse; and if I reached the shore of the main I might perhaps meet with relief, or I might coast along, as I did on the African shore, till I came to some inhabited country, and where I might find some relief; and after all, perhaps I might fall in with some Christian ship that might take me in: and if the worst came to the worst, I could but die, which would put an end to all these miseries at once. Pray note, all this was the fruit of a disturbed mind, an impatient temper, made desperate, as it were, by the long continuance of my troubles, and the disappointments I had met in the wreck I had been on board of, and where I had been so near obtaining what I so earnestly longed for—somebody to speak to, and to learn some knowledge from them of the place where I was, and of the probable means of my deliverance.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: The first edition of Defoe’s book credited Robinson Crusoe as the author which, of course, led readers to believe Robinson Crusoe was real and that the book was a detailed accounting of true incidents that happened to Robinson Kreutznaer over the course of 28 years.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Defoe was a bit of a bad boy before publishing “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” His small business went bankrupt in 1692, and his political pamphleteering got him in so much trouble he was arrested and tried for seditious libel in 1703. This may explain why the first edition stated it was written by Robinson Crusoe.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Defoe only began writing fiction once he turned 60. He died in London one day after the 12th anniversary of the publication of “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.”

Going back two more generations to English poet, translator, playwright, and literary critic, John Dryden (19 August 1631 – 12 May 1700) wrote “Sir Martin Mar-All, Or, The Geign’d Innocence: A Comedy” published in 1668. In Act II, Scene I, Lady Dupe and Mrs. Christian are speaking and the dialogue makes use of the idiom.

LADY DUPE
Therefore you desire his lordship, as he loves you, of which you are confident, henceforward to forbear his visits to you.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But how, if he should take me at my word?

LADY DUPE
Why, if the worst come to the worst, he leaves you an honest woman, and there’s an end on’t: But fear not that; hold out his messages, and then he’ll write, and that is it, my bird, which you must drive it to: Then all his letters will be such ecstasies, such vows and promises, which you must answer short and simply, yet still ply out of them your advantages.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But, madam! he’s in the house, he will not write.

Thomas Middleton (1580 – 4 July 1627) wrote the Jacobean play, “The Phoenix” which was performed at Court before King James on 20 February 1604. Middleton, along with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, were among the most prolific and successful of playwrights during the time period.  In his play, “The Phoenix” in Act III, Scene I Proditor tells Phoenix his plan to pretend that the duke’s son plotted to murder the duke which will then allow Proditor’s men to murder the prince. From there things only go downhill! This prompts the inclusion of this in the dialogue:

The worst comes to the worst.

But it was in the pamphlet “Have With You to Saffron-Walden, Or, Gabriel Harveys Hunt Is Up” written by Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – 1601) printed in 1596 that has the first published version of the expression. It was written as a response to Gabriel Harvey’s 1593 pamphlet that attacked Thomas Nashe. To make it absolutely clear to any interested party who, specifically, Thomas Nashe wrote about, the author included Gabriel Harvey’s birthplace of Saffron Walden in the title.  In this instance, Nashe was comparing dying by drowning to dying by burning.

O, you must not conclude so desperate, for every tossing billow brings not death in the mouth of it; besides, if the worst come to the worst, a good swimmer may do much,
whereas fire rapit omnia secum, sweepeth clean where it seizeth.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The pamphlet also includes a reference to the line Fee-fi-fo-fum and identifies it as an old rhyme with obscure origins back in 1596!

For Thomas Nashe to use the expression so easily in his pamphlet in 1596, it had to be an expression that was known and understood by those who read such pamphlets, and as such while the first published version is 1596, it’s a safe determination that the expression was around in the 1550s if not earlier.

In many ways, the expression if worse comes to worst brings to mind the idiom when push comes to shove which, it would appear, is the next idiom to be hunted down on Idiomation.

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Pig In A Poke

Posted by Admin on December 10, 2019

When you hear someone talk about buying a pig in a poke, they aren’t talking about real pigs. It’s a comment made to indicate that a deal has been foolishly accepted without having done due diligence to confirm that the deal is what it is purported to be. At the end of the day, a pig in a poke is a blind bargain, and usually it’s not much of a bargain for the person buying it.

So how did buying a pig in a poke come to mean this?

Back in the 1500s, a poke was the word for a cloth sack, and merchants sold piglets in these pokes, almost always sight unseen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The word poke comes from the French word poque, and as is the case with many French words, when the item is smaller than average, ette or et is added to the word. The word pocket came about this way, and originally it meant a small bag.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: This expression, contrary to popular belief, is not responsible for the idiom to let the cat out of the bag. After all, sight unseen, a cat in a bag would not be mistaken for a piglet in a sack. Additionally, the idiom to let the cat out of the bag only began to appear in the 18th century and if the two expressions were linked in some way, they would both appear within a few years of each other.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: While the two idioms mentioned in #2 are not related, it is important to note that the French do indeed use the expression acheter un chat en poche when talking about a bad deal, and it is from that expression that many mistakenly believe letting the cat out of the bag is an extension of buying a pig in a poke.

In 1530, London grocer Richard Hilles published his book titled “Common-place Book” in which he gave the following advice:

When ye proffer the pigge, open the poke.

But that advice was gleaned from a poem titled “The Proverbs of Hendyng” published in 1275 which warned:

Wan man ȝevit þe a pig, opin þe powch.
[When a man gives thee a pig, open the pouch.]

This concept is the basis for the warning caveat emptor  — let the buyer beware — in commercial law.

Idiomation was unable to trace the idiom back before 1275, however, it is a very sound piece of advice and because it is, it is likely the spirit of the expression dates backs several hundred years earlier even without being published elsewhere.

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To A T

Posted by Admin on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

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

Naked Truth

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2018

When someone says they want the naked truth, what they are looking for is a complete and unembellished version of the facts.

There’s an old Roman fable that tells the tale of Truth and Falsehood. While Truth was swimming in the river, Falsehood stole his clothes and left behind different clothes for Truth to wear. Rather than put someone else’s clothes on, Truth made the decision to go naked instead. In other words, he would rather be his authentic naked self.

From this fable came the expression nudaque veritas or, in English, the naked truth. The concept of the naked truth is from Ancient Rome, and quite likely much earlier.

The phrase has been used in a great many novels, movies, and television series. There was the 1914 silent Italian film as well as the 1957 British comedy film and the 1992 American comedy film. In the 1915 silent movie “Hypocrites” there was a character known as the Naked Truth.  There were a number of music CDs from such artists as Lil’ Kim in 2005, Sarah Hudson in 2005, Jeanette in 2006, and others. There’s even a quartet in Atlanta (GA) called the Naked Truth!

There was a Russian television program hosted by Svetlana Pesotskaya named The Naked Truth and an American television sitcom starring American actress Téa Leoni from 1995 to 1996 on ABC and from 1996 t0 1998 on NBC.  There’s a Naked Truth statue in St. Louis (MO) that stands as a memorial to three German-American newspaper men: Carl Schurz, Emil Pretorius, and Carl Daenzer.

There’s even a cellphone app by that name!

But when was the exact phrase naked truth first published in English?

Many sources allege the phrase was first published by Scottish Jacobean courtier and poet from the court of King James VI Alexander Montgomerie (1550 – 22 August 1598), and that it was first included in his best known poem “The Cherrie and the Slae” which was written sometime in 1584 although it was completed in 1597. The poem’s existence is based on the fact that a passage was found in James VI’s manifesto “Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie” in late 1584. The phrase was used in this section of the poem.

Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.

It also appeared in “Faultes, faults, and nothing else but faultes” by English author and soldier (he fought in Queen Mary’s war with France, 1557 to 1558) Barnabe Rich (1540 – 10 November 1617) and published in 1606. This implies the phrase was already known to the public.

A naked tale doth most truly set forth a naked truth, and verity then shines most brightly, when she is in least bravery.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Barnabe Rich was a distant relative of Lord Chancellor Rich.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Barnabe Rich’s book “Farewell to Militarie Profession” published in 1581 was the source for Wiliam Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

It also appeared in a letter to the right Honorable Sir William West, Knight and Lord De la Warre written by English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier John Lylie (1553 – 27 November 1606) and published as “Eupheus” subtitled “The Anatomy of Wit: Verie pleasaunt for all Gentlemen to Read, and Most Necessarie to Remember” on 5 December 1578 — six years before Alexander Montgomerie included the phrase in his poem.

If thefe thinges be true, which experience trieth, that a naked tale doeth soft truelye fet soorth the naked trueth, that where the countenaunce is faire, there need no colours, that painting is meeter for ragged walls than fine marble, that veritie then shineth most bright when fhe is in leaft brauerie, I fhall fatiffie mine ovvne minde, thought I cannot feed their humors, which breatly feeke after thofe that fift the fineft meale, and beare the whiteft mouthes.

Now both naked and truth date back in English to the 14th century, with the word truth meaning correctness and accuracy from the 1560s, and naked meaning what it means today. This indicates the expression naked truth dates back to the 1560s (making it the 16th century) for it to have been used in 1578 with an expectation readers would understand what the expression meant.

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

Bold As Brass

Posted by Admin on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

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

Skittles

Posted by Admin on March 24, 2015

Every once in a while you hear someone allege that another person is skittles, meaning that their thinking is all over the place.  And you may hear the word used in this sense:  “He had the skittles kicked out of him.”  If that’s happened to someone, then their thinking is also all over the place as they are bent over in pain.

That meaning is courtesy of the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie.  In the movie, the Gadgetmobile (voiced by American actor, political commentator, and comedian D. L. Hughley) crashes into the Dr. Claw’s limousine and upon impact, thousands of Skittles pour out of the glove compartment and air bag.  Penny (Inspector Gadget’s niece) arrives on the scene and notices that the Gadgetmobile “got the Skittles kicked out of him.”  Since the movie’s release in theaters over 15 years ago, this meaning for the word has made its way into every day jargon.

However, the new meaning is predicated on the fruit-flavoured bite-sized candy of the same name that debuted in England in 1974.

Historically speaking, the word does indeed, exist in Danish and Swedish, in the sense of a child’s marble.  This dates back to the mid-17th century and is of unknown origin.  So it’s not surprising that a colorful, bite-sized candy the size of a child’s marble would be a called a skittle by the manufacturer.

However, skittles is also a game that dates back to 1625 and is Scandinavian in origin.  The game is one where a wooden ball or disk is used to knock down ninepins, and is the forerunner to bowling.  Each of the ninepins is known as a skittle.  It didn’t take long before the game of skittles was popular in England as well as in Scandinavia and in other countries between Scandinavian and English shores.

But even before then, Skittle was a last name given to families who were weavers as another name for a weaving shuttle was a skittle.  The first recorded version of that name was for Agnes Skittle who married John Culpack at St. Nicolas in Colchester, Essex on September 17, 1581.  It was at this time in history that last names were introduced in England.  It was a way to keep accurate records for personal taxation purposes — a government program that was new to the empire ruled under Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) when she ruled England from 17 November 1558 through to her death in 1603.

And so, in the end, skittles refers to a game of old-fashioned bowling where pins are knocked down the old-fashioned way with a wooden ball or a disk, and the scoring — while different from modern-day bowling — demands a certain degree of skill from its participants.  It’s not much different from the skill required of weavers with their many skittles shuttling back and forth as it creates quality cloths.

In the end, whether it’s weaving or bowling, skittles tend to wind up all over the place when all is said and done!  The word, as far as Idiomation can find, dates back to at least the mid-1500s, and most likely well before then.

Thursday, Idiomation will take a closer look at the idiom beer and skittles to see what that’s all about.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Posted by Admin on March 14, 2014

Most of us have heard the expression measure twice, cut once and although it makes sense in a literal sense, in a figurative sense it also makes sense. If you’ve heard this said, it was probably said as a warning to another to plan and prepare for something in a careful, thorough manner before taking action. In other words, think before you act.

Whether it’s a mistake cutting a piece of wood or a mistake of another sort, not taking the time to make sure of what you’re doing will cost you time or money, and most likely both.

On page 76 of the book “Bible 2.0” by Nathan Smithe, published on 20 April 1969, the expression appears in such a way that the meaning is clear-cut. The book itself, however, is a little less clear. It’s a rewriting of the Bible in what is supposed to be satire. In fact, if you look it up online, the book’s description alleges that it’s the story of “God and Jebus and The Holy Toaster and Gilberto McCheasyfries the Sheep and a slew of others.”

Some will say it’s sacrilegious while others will say it’s the best version of the Bible yet. But regardless of where you sit in the religious discussion, the book certainly shakes things up with the first verse that begins very simply with: “In the beginning there was nothing, and then God was all like, “Wassup …” Well, you get the idea.

But you know what? Skip the coffee. I don’t trust you to get it right. You’d probably spit in it but you’d spit in a wrong amount. There’s a wrong and a right way to do everything. ‘Measure twice, cut once‘ that’s what Jeffrey Duhmur would always say. Boy that guy has some stories. Fascinating guy. His breath stinks though. Seriously get that guy a tic-tuc! And another …” God said.

While the expression is measure twice, cut once is an English proverb, the Russian proverb is measure seven times, cut once. But in the book “A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases Based On MacIntosh’s Collection” first published in Edinburgh in 1785, it states that the idiom is based on the older Gaelic expression: Better measure short of seven, than spoil all at once.  For those who familiar with kilts, a kilt for a grown man takes seven yards and so it’s easy to see why it would be important to measure the yardage twice lest an unfortunate situation arise.

Numerous sources state that the adage is from Medieval times, and was used by carpentry guilds as much as by tailors, however, none provided proof to substantiate their claims. That being said, it was listed in books at the end of the 19th century as a Cheshire proverb that was used in 1688 as “score twice before you cut once” … again without a reference as to where this information was found.

However, Idiomation found the autobiography of Italian goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, soldier and musician, Benvenuto Cellini (3 November 1500 – 13 February 1571). Benvenuto Cellini started writing his autobiography in 1558, and just before his last trip to Pisa in 1563, he stopped writing. It can be assumed that in 1560, the idiom existed but with seven as the magic number for measuring, and not two. The idiom was found in this passage:

While he and the others were inspecting them, taking up now the dies and now the medals in their hands, I began to speak as submissively as I was able: “If a greater power had not controlled the working of my inauspicious stars, and hindered that with which they violently menaced me, your Holiness, without your fault or mine, would have lost a faithful and loving servant. It must, most blessed Father, be allowed that in those cases where men are risking all upon one throw, it is not wrong to do as certain poor and simple men are wont to say, who tell us we must mark seven times and cut once. Your Holiness will remember how the malicious and lying tongue of my bitter enemy so easily aroused your anger, that you ordered the Governor to have me taken on the spot and hanged; …

Idiomation was unable to trace back earlier than 1560. That it was used in a biography during the Medieval era, however, proves that this was indeed a maxim that was well-known and to which guilds adhered. The exact date of the idiom in any of its incarnations is unknown. If readers or visitors to this blog are able to share an earlier published version of measure twice, cut once, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »