Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1785’

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 »

In A Jiffy

Posted by Admin on December 22, 2010

A jiffy is a length of time whose length no one seems to agree on. 

Yes, a “jiffy” is the length of time between successive microprocessor clock cycles if one is discussing the computer engineering “jiffy.”  Words has it that a 2-gigahertz microprocessor has a 0.5 nanosecond jiffy whereas a 3-gigahertz microprocessor has a 0.333 nanosecond “jiffy.” 

And just as correctly, a “jiffy” is the length of one alternating-current (AC) utility power cycle. In the United States and Canada, this “jiffy” is 1/60 second and in many other countries, this “jiffy” is 1/50 second.

For some, a “jiffy” is the length of time it takes for a beam of light to travel one foot in free space — about 1 nanosecond.  And for others, a “jiffy” refers to the length of time it takes a ray of light to travel 1 centimeter in free space.  There are even some for whom a “jiffy” is the length of time it takes a photon to travel from one side of a nucleon to the other.

Everyone, however, agrees on the fact that a “jiffy” is an indeterminate period of time.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune newspaper published a full page advertisement with an unusually large and detailed artistic image on August 23, 1970 entitled, “The Great Crochet Put-Ons: Make and Wear in a Jiffy – New 10-Styles-in-One Kit.” 

The ad started off with stating:  “What’s in gear for fall with the new mini, midi, or longuette?  Add-ons, that’s what.  Eye-catching crochet separates you can make yourself  — often in an afternoon!”  The kit contained patterns for 2 fringed vests, 2 skirts, 1 poncho and hat, 2 pull-overs, 2 regular vests, and 1 scarf and hat … all for $3.98!

Back on August 19, 1938 the Spokane Daily Chronicle ran an advertisement from the Porter Scarpelli Macaroni Company of Portland, Oregon that promised:

Warm Weather Menus Solved In A Jiffy!  

Yes, the Porter Scarpelli Macaroni Company promised:  “Soups, salads, meatless meals — all ready in a few moments!  Tasty! Cheaper! At your grocer’s — wrapped in cellophane!”

And on July 4, 1917 the Eugene Register Guard ran an advertisement for the Standard Oil Company’s New Perfection Oil Cook Stove.  The advertisement announced proudly: 

Cook with Pearl Oil.  A New Perfection Oil Cook Stove means kitchen comfort and convenience.  Ask your friend who has one.  Used in 1,000,000 homes.  Inexpensive, easy to operate.” 

And yes, they were easy to use as the larger print announced: 

Ready to cook in a Jiffy!  Just the touch of a match and your New Perfection Oil Cook Stove is ready for cooking.   No waiting for the fire to burn up.  Easier to operate than a coal or wood stove: No smoke or odor; no dust or dirt.  Bakes, broils, roasts, toasts — all year round.

In 1882, the old and most trusted friends of Elizabeth Prentiss decided that her memoirs should be written and so “The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss: Author of Stepping Heavenward” was published by Anson D. E. Randolph & Company.  From the diary entry of March 18, 1841 the following can be found:

Headache — Nannie sick; held her in my arms two or three hours; had a great fuss with her about taking her medicine, but at last out came my word must, and the little witch knew it meant all it said and down went the oil in a jiffy, while I stood by laughing at myself for my pretension of dignity.  The poor child couldn’t go to sleep till she had thanked me over and over for making her mind and for taking care of her, and wouldn’t let go my hand, so I had to sit up until very late — and then I was sick and sad and restless, for I couldn’t have my room to myself and the day didn’t seem finished without it.

The phrase appeared in Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1796 as “in a jiffy” as well as “in a jif.”

The earliest published use is in Rudolph Raspe’s book, “Baron Munchausen’s Travels” published in 1785 in which the following passage is found at the onset of Chapter 23:

In short, having given a general discharge of their artillery, and three cheers, I cracked my whip, away we went, helter skelter, and in six jiffies I found myself and all my retinue safe and in good spirits just at the rock of Gibraltar. Here I unhooked my squadron, and having taken an affectionate leave of the officers, I suffered them to proceed in their ordinary manner to the place of their destination. The whole garrison were highly delighted with the novelty of my vehicle; and at the pressing solicitations of the governor and officers I went ashore, and took a view of that barren old rock, about which more powder has been fired away than would purchase twice as much fertile ground in any part of the world!

The next time someone tells you they’ll be with you “in a jiffy” or that they’ll get to something “in a jiffy” it might be a good idea to clearly define how long their “jiffy” is.  It may not be the same “jiffy” as your “jiffy.”

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Down In The Dumps

Posted by Admin on July 15, 2010

The noun dumps has been used for “a state of depression” since the early 1500s, and the phrase “down in the mouth has alluded to the downturned corners of the mouth as a sign of misery since the mid-1600s.  It’s not surprise, then, that “down in the dumps” should mean a state of melancholy that is sustained over a period of time.

One of the earliest published uses of the word “dumps” as it refers to depression is found in Henry More’s A Dialoge of Comforte Against Tribulation from 1529:

What heapes of heauynesse, hathe of late fallen amonge vs alreadye, with whiche some of our poore familye bee fallen into suche dumpes.

In 1824, William Henry Beecher wrote a letter to his sister, Catharine (who lived in Hartford, Connecticut at the time) that stated in part;

“I am completely down in the dumps … I do think my future prospects are rather dull.”

But most telling is that the phrase is found in The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue compiled by Francis Grose and published in 1785:

DUMPS. Down in the dumps; low-spirited, melancholy.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »