Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1783’

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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

White As A Hound’s Tooth

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2013

Similar to the expression clean as a hound’s tooth (and sometimes used interchangeably with that expression), white as a hound’s tooth refers to the flawlessness of a person’s character or the perfect attributes of an item (large or small).

If it’s a romantic twist of phrase you’re looking for when it comes to using the expression, there’s not too many out there that than the piece entitled, “On Winter’s Trace” in Florence Fisher Parry’s column “I Dare Say” in the March 23, 1943 edition of the Pittsburgh Press. It read in part:

Dark shadows winnowing under the sea, seeking out death. Metal birds banking in the sky, seeking out death. Ships, no longer white as a hound’s tooth, seeking out death. Men and machines, seeing out death ….

Spring.

So I walked out where the air was cold against my forehead  I walked around what a few years ago had been swarded rows of proud old mansions. But now, along the noble facade of the street, great weedy gaps, piled with mossy rubble, gaped like empty cavities where once had smiled a pearly row of teeth … razed for taxes .. razed because there must be an end of wealth, and end of the steeples in the temperature-chart of the New World Doctors.

It’s always interesting to see how the expression is used and when it was found in the book, “Diseases Of Occupation And Vocational Hygiene” edited by George M. Kober, M.D., LL.D. et al, and published in 1916, the connection was with arsenic. In fact, this is what was included in the text:

In order to obtain white arsenic (arsenious acid) the ore is roasted and the arsenic so volatilized is collected in flues and chambers. This so-called “arsenic soot,” in the collection of which elaborate precautions in the shape of overalls and respirators are necessary to guard against the effects on the skin, is again submitted to heat in a refining furnace and the fumes again deposited in flues as white as a hound’s tooth.” Subsequently, the material is ground and packed in barrels usually by automatic arrangements preventing dust.

When the Newark Sunday newspaper of May 22, 1892 ran a story entitled, “The Large Ships.” The iron ship certainly sounded amazing.

She is 333 feet long, 48 feet broad, and 28 feet deep. Her four masts are each square-rigged, but she is far from clumsy aloft, is easily handled, and has run fourteen knots an hour for a while day. We are much impressed by her exceptional size; but for beauty she compares unfavorably with such a ship as the Thermopylae, or a large wooden-built ship of America having bright lofty spars and decks as white as a hound’s tooth. Iron decks do not lend themselves readily to adornment.

In the Irish Penny Journal, No. 1, Volume 1 published on July 4, 1840 a story written by Mrs. S. C. Hall and entitled, “The Irish In England: The Washerwoman” gives a birds’ eye view of how the Irish washerwoman, Biddy, and the English in the house, from the Mistress through to the other servants employed by the house.

The only regular washerwomen extant in England at this present moment, are natives of the Emerald Isle.

We have—I pray you observe the distinction, gentle reader—laundresses in abundance. But washerwomen!—all the washerwomen are Irish.

The Irish Washerwoman promises to wash the muslin curtains as white as a hound’s tooth, and as sweet as “new mown hay;” and she tells the truth. But when she promises to “get them up” as clear as a kitten’s eyes, she tells a story. In nine cases out of ten, the Irish Washerwoman mars her own admirable washing by a carelessness in the “getting up.” She makes her starch in a hurry, though it requires the most patient blending, the most incessant stirring, the most constant boiling, and the cleanest of all skillets; and she will not understand the superiority of powder over stone blue, but snatches the blue-bag (originally compounded from the “heel” or “toe” of a stocking) out of the half-broken tea-cup, where it lay companioning a lump of yellow soap since last wash—squeezes it into the starch (which, perhaps, she has been heedless enough to stir with a dirty spoon), and then there is no possibility of clear curtains, clear point, clear any thing.

In the “Journal of Llewellin Penrose: A Seaman” written by William Williams, and originally published in 4 volumes in 1783, the following is found:

I thought every minute of their absence an hour, so great was my anxiety. In about four hours they returned, and gave the following account of their expedition Bell said he found her to be Bermudian built sloop; she mounted guns, and had altogether a warlike appearance; her bottom was as white as a hound’s tooth. As they drew near her, he plainly heard some one say i English, “a rope for the boat,” with an oath tacked to the end of it. He then hailed them in Spanish, and was answered in the same language.

Without a doubt, the saying was used with great ease in 1783 and although it has probably been around for generations in maritime communities, Idiomation was unable to find the expression published any earlier than 1783. That being said, the phrase is definitely part of the 18th century with a great likelihood that it goes back a bit farther than that.

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

Clean As A Hound’s Tooth

Posted by Admin on February 20, 2013

The saying clean as a hound’s tooth means that an individual or group of individuals is above-board and honest, transparent and forthcoming. It can also refer to cleanliness and spotlessness … immaculate, in fact.

On February 16, 1971 the Lewiston Morning Tribune printed an article about the efforts put into bailing out the Penn Central railroad the previous summer, when it was experiencing financial difficulties. It came to light that Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans had a substantial amount of his own money at stake in having the railroad subsidized with a federal loan guarantee, and since he was involved on both sides of the fence, a conflict of interest existed. The article was entitled, “Not As Clean As A Hound’s Tooth” and ended with this sentence:

It must be most embarrassing to President Nixon, who once made the old phrase, “clean as a hound’s tooth,” famous all over America.

The old phrase was also a favorite of Dwight Eisenhower according to the Spokesman-Review, in an article published on June 24, 1958 entitled, “Phrase-Makers Relax; Use Up Reserve Stocks.” The story, republished from the New York Times, referred to the previous week as one that would be remembered for its metaphor glue, and perhaps as the great cliché festival.

On that day in Chicago, Adlai E. Stevenson, who in 1952 came to prominence as an eschewer of the ready-made phrase in favor of originality, accused Adams of “holier-than-those self-righteousness.”

Stevenson also made contemptuous reference to President Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign promise of government “clean as a hound’s tooth” which, of course, was the President’s phrase, not Stevenson’s.

The expression was used in a newspaper advertisement in the Vancouver Sun newspaper on March 19, 1931 promoting the “utterly odorless” Canadian made Bon Ami powder and cake. It read in part:

Just try it. You’ll be amazed. A little Bon Ami — a damp cloth — a few months’ time — and your woodwork will be clean as a hound’s tooth.” It won’t be scratched either, nor will your hands be reddened.

In the story “Whirligigs” by American author, O. Henry (1862–1910) and published in 1910, the following passage can be found:

“My precinct is as clean as a hound’s tooth,” said the captain. “The lid’s shut down as close there as it is over the eye of a Williamsburg girl when she’s kissed at a party. But if you think there’s anything queer at the address, I’ll go there with ye.”

On the next afternoon at 3, Turpin and the captain crept softly up the stairs of No. 345 Blank Street. A dozen plain-clothes men, dressed in full police uniforms, so as to allay suspicion, waited in the hall below.

Jumping back just a few more years, when the November 9, 1897 edition of the New York Times reported in the article, “Street Cleaning For The Next Four Years” that:

The department must be kept as clean as a hound’s tooth.

Now American frontiersman, Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson (December 24, 1809 – May 23, 1868) lived in Taos, New Mexico from 1828 to 1831, and according to PBS and the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau at least one of Kit Carson’s acquaintances said that Kit Carson was clean as a hound’s tooth.

And in fact, American military officer and explorer, John Charles Fremont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890) hired Kit Carson as a guide (at a $100 per month) to take his expedition through the South Pass in Wyoming. When asked his opinion of Kit Carson, he was quoted as saying that Kit Carson was as morally clean as a hound’s tooth.

In the “Journal of Llewellin Penrose: A Seaman” written by William Williams, and originally published in 4 volumes in 1783, the following is found:

I thought every minute of their absence an hour, so great was my anxiety. In about four hours they returned, and gave the following account of their expedition  Bell said he found her to be Bermudian built sloop; she mounted guns, and had altogether a warlike appearance; her bottom was as white as a hound’s tooth. As they drew near her, he plainly heard some one say i English, “a rope for the boat,” with an oath tacked to the end of it. He then hailed them in Spanish, and was answered in the same language.

The date for the expression clean as a hound’s tooth is therefore pegged at some time between 1783 and 1800, allowing for a few years so the new version could make its way into the English language.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Coast Is Clear

Posted by Admin on May 9, 2011

When there’s no visible danger on the horizon, either literally or figuratively, then the coast is clear.   These days, people tend to use the phrase when they are about to do something they shouldn’t be doing in the first place and they have done their best to escape detection, usually by authorities such as teachers, security guards, police officers, coast guards and other enforcement figures.

Dear Abby ran a letter in her column that was printed in the Toledo Blade newspaper on November 12, 1958.  The letter from a reader named “Happy” read in part:

My neighbor across the court is a sly one and she thinks she is getting away with something.  She can fool her husband but she can’t fool me.  When she leaves her window shades half-up that means “the coast is clear.”  When she hangs something upside down on the clothesline it means “not tonight.”

Back on March 14, 1900, the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Burr Raids A Gambling Room: No Official Move Against the Gambling Commission.”  The story dealt with the fact that a number of gambling houses had overrun New York City and there was evidence that some precinct captains and officers were looking the other way.  It read in part:

Superintendent Burr of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, with six detectives from the West Forty-seventh Street Station, last night made a raid on a large gambling room at 1487 Broadway and arrested sixteen men.  They found a faro game going, red and black, Klondike, poker, and confiscated the paraphernalia.  The Police Department and the District Attorney’s office have shown the gamblers and their protectors plainly that there is nothing to be feared from them.  In that direction the coast is clear enough, but they have reckoned without their host if they believe that all power to stop the systematic bribery ends there.

Going back another 40 years, the Weekly Dispatch newspaper published in St. Thomas, County of Elgin in Ontario (Canada) ran a fictional story written by Captain Oakum entitled, “A Yarn Of Tom Wilkie: His Enemies and Friends.”  A snippet from the story shows how the phrase was used in 1860.

“By no means, not an hour after the money’s gone.”

“But suppose the gentleman should fly off the handle at the first exposure — what are your plans?”

“Live in Carson’s stow-away till the coast is clear and then make tracks for parts unknown.  I have, you know, funds enough for that emergency.  Nothing has been overlooked; you are safe, however, under every circumstance.”

“Brother, I am sorry that a man of your talents should put them to so bad a use.  Let me entreat you, even now to take the back track.  I have seemed to sympathise with you, that I might learn the curse you intended to pursue; that course will surely lead you to ruin; and all for what? — to obtain the means for gambling.”

Nearly 100 years before the publication of Captain Oakum’s story, Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote a letter to Daniel Gould on May 6, 1783.   It was written just 3 weeks after the U.S. Congress ratified the provisional treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain and 3 months after a general armistice between the United States and Great Britain took effect.  It was nearly 2 months after George Washington alerted Congress that the army was on the brink of mutiny as well as nearly 2 months after Washington had addressed his officers in what later become known as the “Newburgh Conspiracy” where he appealed to their honour and loyalty.  The letter Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote read in part:

The prospect of speedily returning to the likes of private life fills my heart with raptures.  The definitive treaty is not signed or, if signed, is not come to hand.  Carlson is in possession of New York and no prospect of his speedily leaving it.  To quit the field before our coast is clear would argue of a total want of sense.  Neither shall we, but we remain inactive without imployment, and under such restrictions that we can make no arrangements for Domestic life.

In the town of Groningen (Holland), a statue with an inscription below it can be found.  Since 1673, it has commemorated an historically documented siege when the besiegers were unable to prevent supplies from being into the town which led to their eventual retreat.  The words beneath the image translate loosely to be:  while the coast is clear, there is little to fear.

In the William Shakespeare play “Henry VI” written and published in 1591, the following exchange is found in Part 1:

MAYOR:
I’ll call for clubs if you will not away
[Aside] This cardinal’s more haughty than the devil.
GLOUCESTER:
Mayor, farewell.  Thou dost but what thou mayst.
WINCHESTER:
Abominable Gloucester, guard they head,
For I intend to have it ere long.
[Exeunt, severally, Gloucester and Winchester with their Servingmen]
MAYOR:
See the coast clear and then we will depart.
[Aside] Good God, these nobles should such stomachs bear!
I myself fight not once in forty year.

The Spanish equivalent to the phrase the coast is clear is “no hay Moros en la costa” which means there are no Moors on the coast.  This literal expression dates back to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) during the Crusades.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »