Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1800s’

Forty Winks

Posted by Admin on August 20, 2019

The language of slumber is one that has some strange twists and turns to it, where sense seems to be nonsense, and nonsense sometimes makes sense.

If you need to catch or take forty winks, you need a nap because forty winks isn’t a good night’s sleep. But why do people call a nap forty winks?

A blink doesn’t last long. It doesn’t even last a second. But if all you need is a few minutes rest, then forty winks should be enough … especially during the day.

But how long is a blink? A blink is longer than a jiffy (read up on shake of a lamb’s tail for more details on this) so scientifically speaking, forty winks should be about 15 seconds long. Since most naps are far longer than 15 seconds, the idiom is meant to imply a forty wink nap is not dissimilar from how short employers feel a coffee break should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi. A fermi is about the size of a nucleon.

A full cycle nap according to scientists and medical researchers is 90 minutes long. A cat nap is much shorter at 7 minutes.

That being said, the number forty has been used since long before Biblical times to describe an indefinite time — long but not too long. Shakespeare used the number in some of his plays in this way, and even Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) used the number similarly in a letter to his father in law, John Danvers, when he ended it with this closing.

I have forty businesses in my hands: your Courtesie will pardon the haste of
Your humblest Servant,
George Herbert.

SIDE NOTE 2: George Herbert was the brother of the 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. They and their eight siblings were the grandchildren of Sir Edward Newport, Lord of Cherbury. They were also the grandchildren of Sir Richard Newport, ruler of souther Powys. THeir father, Richard Herbert was the sheriff and deputy lieutenant of the county of Montgomery.

That being said, a wynk (wink) meant a sleep in the 14th Century when William Langland (1332 – 1400) wrote “Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman” published in 1377. In fact, in his epic poem, there is a lot of wynkyng, none of which involved anything but sleep.

In Volume I, in “Passus Quintus de Visione, ut supra” (which was the second vision the dreamer had which is retold in this poem), the poet wrote:

Thanne waked I of my wynkyng,
And wo was withalle,
That I ne hadde slept sadder,
And y-seighen moore.

So how and when did forty get hitched to winks (or wynks) — and separated from one wink (or wynk) meaning a sleep — to mean a nap?

Back in 1960, the B-side on the Neil Sedaka release “Stairway To Heaven” was written by Barry Mann and Larry Kolber, and told the story of a lonely guy far away from his gal, but he knew she was just “Forty Winks Away” in his dreams.

On 15 March 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post titled, “Gretchen’s Forty Winks.” The number forty appears a number of times in the story, but in relation to taking a nap, it is found in this passage.

When Tompkins dropped them in front of their house at eleven Roger and Gretchen stood for a moment on the sidewalk looking at the winter moon. There was a fine, damp, dusty snow in the air, and Roger drew a long breath of it and put his arm around Gretchen exultantly.

‘I can make more money than he can,’ he said tensely. ‘And I’ll be doing it in just forty days.’

‘Forty days,’ she sighed. ‘It seems such a long time–when everybody else is always having fun. If I could only sleep for forty days.’

‘Why don’t you, honey? Just take forty winks, and when you wake up everything’ll be fine.’

She was silent for a moment.

In Act III, Scene I of the play “Deacon Brodie or the Double Life” by Robert Louis Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) and William Ernest (W.E.) Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) and published in 1882 (just a few years before Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886), the characters Jean, Smith, and Moore find themselves in a public place in Edinburgh, loitering. The exchange with forty winks mentioned is found at the beginning of the scene.

MOORE:
Wot did I tell you? Is he ‘ere, or ain’t he? Now, then. Slink by name and Slink by nature, that’s wot’s the matter with him.

JEAN:
He’ll no be lang; he’s regular enough, if that was a’.

SMITHER:
Badger, you brute, you hang on to the lessons of your dancing-master. None but the genteel deserves the fair: does they, Duchess?

MOORE:
O rot! Did I insult the blowen? Wot’s the matter with me is Slink Ainslie.

SMITH:
All right, old Crossed-in-love. Give him forty winks, and he’ll turn up as fresh as clean sawdust and as respectable as a new Bible.

MOORE:
That’s right enough; but I ain’t agoing to stand here all day for him. I’m for a drop of something short, I am. You tell him I showed you that (showing his doubled fist). That’s wot’s the matter with him.

SIDE NOTE 3: Deacon William Brodie was a cabinet maker, town councilman, and head of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons in Edinburgh by day, and the head of a burglary gang who had a serious gambling addiction and two mistresses by night. He was caught during an armed robbery at Chessel Court in 1786 and hanging two years later on 1 October 1788.

SIDE NOTE 4: The character of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver was inspired by William Ernest Henley who suffered from tuberculousis of the bone from the time he was 12 years of age, resulting in the amputation of his left leg below the knee at age 20.

SIDE NOTE 5: William Ernest Henley’s daughter, Margaret, was the inspiration for Wendy in the J.M. Barrie children’s classic, Peter Pan. Unfortunately, she was a sickly child and died on 11 February 1894 at age five. The play first opened on 27 December 1904 at the Duke of York Theater in London.

In Volume 55 of the Westminster Review published in mid-1851, an extensive article discussed electro-biology as a repackaging of charlatanism, somnolism, phycheism, and mesmerism. The expression forty winks — in quotation marks — was used.

The Fakirs of India are said to throw themselves into a trance by looking at the tips of their noses; but whether trance be induced, or sleep, by that or any corresponding process, must always depend, more or less, upon the constitution of the patient. The same visual or mental effort that would give to one person his quiet “forty winks” after dinner, would throw an epileptic person into a fit.

SIDE NOTE 6: Mesmerism is named after Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (23 May 1734 – 5 March 1815) which he introduced to society in 1770. He is considered the father of hypnosis. It was not accepted as a viable therapy until 1958 when the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure.

Back in 1828 when George Eliot was Mary Ann Cross — and long before she married her husband Mr. Evans — she wrote in her journal that she had “forty winks on a sofa in the library.”

Dr. William Kitchiner (1775 – 1827) wrote a self-help guide, published in 1821, which was titled, “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life by Food, CLothes, Air, Exercise, Wine, Sleep, and More.” Already known for his previous books, including “The Cook’s Oracle”, The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review of London (England) reviewed the Dr. Kitchiner’s latest book in its November 24th edition that year.

The review begins with letting readers know that not only is Dr. Kitchener the author of a number of books, but also the author of a book on telescopes which proved him to be “an excellent optician.” The reviewer also saw fit to state that the author was known to his friends as “a musical amateur, an advocate for good living at the least possible expense, for indulging in all the luxuries of epicurism, with due care to avoid its injurious effects.” A nod to the author’s age — that being 43 years of age at the time the book was published — is mentioned as well.

The review included this passage:

Sleep is a subject on which our author acknowledges his feelings are tremblingly alive; he is fond of a ‘forty-winks‘ nap in an horizontal posture, as the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion, either of body or mind.

Idiomation was unable to find an early published version of forty winks meaning a nap — not a long sleep — prior to 1821 when it is used in quotations. So while winks (and wynks) clearly referred to sleep for a few hundred years, forty winks meaning a nap seems to have come about in the early 1800s.

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

Daffy

Posted by Admin on May 12, 2016

Watching the movie about J. Edgar Hoover starring Leonardo DiCaprio, there was a scene between Hoover and his mother that spoke of a certain schoolmate of J. Edgar’s who had committed suicide years earlier.  She asked her son if he knew why he was called “Daffy” and then revealed that it was short for daffodil.  While it wasn’t stated outright, the implication was that a daffodil — or rather, a daffy — was a homosexual.

Back in 1935, it was understood that a daffodil was an effeminate young man in the vein of pansies and millies.  In “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” the term with this definition is pegged to the 1920s.  Interestingly enough, however, in this same dictionary, there’s an entry for daffy-down-dilly which refers to a dandy, and dates back to the mid-1900s according to Cassell’s.  The “Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English” by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley published in 1905 confirms the claim in Cassell’s dictionary.

American romance novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 1804 – 19 May 1864) published a novel in 1843 titled, “Little Daffydowndilly.”   The story is about a little boy who only likes to do things that are agreeable to him, and dislikes work of any kind.  His mother has indulged her son to this end, and when he finds himself old enough to attend school, he finds the schoolmaster to be unreasonable in his expectations and believes him to be overly stern.  As the story unfolds, Little Daffydowndilly learns a lot about himself and his schoolmaster.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Nathanial Hawthorne is better known as the author of “The Scarlet Letter.”

Two years earlier, playwright William Leman Rede (31 January 1802 – 3 April 1847) wrote, “Sixteen-String Jack: A Romantic Drama In Three Acts” where he used daffy-down-dilly in Act i, Scene 2.  The scene begins with Bobby Buckhorse, the waiter at the “Cock and Magpie” and Nelly.

BOBBY:
I’m here, my daffy-down-dilly.

NELLY:
Don’t down-dilly me! but take some daffy to the back parlour.

BOBBY:
Back parlour’s served: I saw three brandy’s cold, one egg-hot, and a qartern with three outs, go in.

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  “Sixteen-String Jack” was a play about English criminal and highwayman, John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann (1750 – 30 November 1774) who was known for his charm and quick wit.  His attire was said to be overly showy.

It’s easy to see how a flashy dressing rogue such as John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann could be thought of as effeminate, even as he waylaid the countryside with his nefarious deeds.

Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric, Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) used daffy-down-dilly in his short story, “A Punning Letter to the Earl of Pembroke” published on June 13, 1709.

There is a published reference to daffy-down-dilly recorded in Mother Goose or rather, what was known then called Mother Hubberd, back in 1593.

Daffy-down-dilly is new come to town
With a yellow petticoat, and a green gown.

The term is what’s known as a sandwich word which are, by nature, generally naughty.  That being said, calling a lawyer a daffy-down-dilly from 1483 onward was a serious accusation of double-dealing, and playing both ends against the middle for the lawyer’s own personal gain.  In other words, it was a conflict of interest that the lawyer chose to work to his advantage.

Idiomation finds that while daffy-down-dilly has been an insult for a great many centuries, it evolved to mean an effeminate male by the late 1700s and early 1800s.  This eventually evolved to mean a homosexual by the 1920s.  Idiomation therefore pegs this to 1800 as well as to 1920 because one really doesn’t know where the line was drawn between being effeminate and being a homosexual in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Heeled

Posted by Admin on August 16, 2013

While the expression “to be heeled” has fallen out of favor with gun lovers these past few decades, it lives on in newspaper articles and books. What it means to be heeled, is to be packing a pistol or two. Yes, if you’re heeled, you’re armed.

The expression was well-enough known during the 20s that it was included in a headline in the Spokesman Review of Spokane, WA of July 2, 1929 where readers read the story of a gentleman from Illinois who was riding on a bus with a number of ladies. He drew his pistol and said he intended to shoot the high heels off the ladies’ shoes on the basis that he did not approve of high heels. While he didn’t shoot any innocent high heels, that fact that he was heeled brought the Evanston, WY civil authorities to the bus to make a determination about the situation.

The reporter obviously had a sense of humor as he wrote: “The gentleman will be examined to see if he is sane, not that it makes much difference. Probably he is as sane, in his way, as the ladies who wort the high heels. Maybe saner.

The article was titled, “Heeled and Well Heeled.

The Independent newspaper in Miles City, MT published an article on April 3, 1907 that originally hailed out of San Francisco just a few days earlier. This was the story of Abraham Ruef who had been arrested at the Trocadero with regards to an ongoing bribery and graft investigation, and rumor had it that plans had been made by Mr. Ruel’s business associates to rescue him from the Elisor Biggy and his guards. When reporters asked Elisor Biggy if this was indeed true, he was quoted as saying:

Though I think the matter should not be exploited, it is a fact that every man openly identified with the prosecution of the bribers and grafters is ‘going heeled,’ and that some of the more prominent of them are employing bodyguards. Though it may sound sensational to those not familiar with the local situation, it is a fact that for a month we have been keeping a special lookout for an attempted rescue of Ruef, and we shall be happily surprised if these investigations and impending prosecutions end without a ‘gun play.’

Strangely enough, Mark Twain used the expression in his book, “Letters From Hawaii” dated April 1866 and written while he was in Honolulu.

And in Honolulu, when your friend the whaler asks you to take a “fid” with him, it is simple etiquette to say, “Here’s eighteen hundred barrels, of salt!” But, “Drink hearty!” is universal. That is the orthodox reply, the world over.

In San Francisco, sometimes, if you offend a man, he proposes to take his coat off, and inquires, “Are you on it?” If you are, you can take your coat off, too. In Virginia City, in former times, the insulted party, if he were a true man, would lay his hand gently on his six-shooter and say, ‘Are you heeled?’ But in Honolulu, if Smith offenders Jones, Jones asks (with a rising inflection on the last word, which is excessively aggravating), “How much do you ?” Smith replies, “Sixteen hundred and forty pound — and you?” “Two ton to a dot, at a quarter past eleven this forenoon — peel yourself; you’re my blubber!”

A number of excellent dictionaries have pegged this expression to the early 1800s and as coming from the Wild West. Even Peter Watt’s “Dictionary of the Old West,:1850-1900” has the expression pegged to the Wild West of the 1800s.  Unless one of Idiomation’s readers can offer a link to an earlier published version that the Mark Twain version, it would be greatly appreciated.

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At The Drop Of A Hat

Posted by Admin on April 24, 2013

Nothing says urgency quite like doing something at the drop of a hat. When someone does this, it means they will stop what they’re doing at the time and immediately go on to something else without preparation or warning … and sometimes without stopping to think about the possible repercussions of their actions.

Back on June 5, 2009 the New Hampshire Business Review published an article entitled, “Sorry, Wrong Number.” It recounted (in 4 short paragraphs) the situation of Peter Burling, former Democratic State Senator from Cornish whose telephone service provider had claimed in a report to credit agencies that a matter of $17 had not been paid. The fact of the matter is that the bill had been paid long again by electronic payment. The article included this sentence.

That report apparently was enough for American Express to lower the credit limit on Burling’s longstanding account, something that — as many of us are finding out first-hand of late — credit card companies are happy to do at the drop of a hat.

On April 30, 1940 the St. Petersburg Times reported the latest on what was happening on the war fronts in Europe in an article entitled, “Allied Troops Throw Back Nazi Attack On Norwegian Rail Line: This Happened In The Past 24 Hours.” Not only was the activity in Norway reported, but news of special diplomatic envoy, Adolfo Alessandrini’s anticipated visit to New York was reported as well. The article included this in the news story:

Nevertheless, it would be premature to conclude that Russia would remain non-belligerent under all conditions while Italy would dash into the war at the drop of a hat. In the utterances of the Soviet leaders and press it has already been stated that Russia could not remain indifferent to any disturbances that might transpire on the Balkan-Black sea zone. ON her side, Italy has lit it be known that she regards the Balkans as her especial sphere of interests.

Going back almost another 50 years, the Easton Free Press newspaper of June 8, 1894 published an alarming article entitled, “Cripple Creek’s War.” Reporting on what was happening in Manown in Pennsylvania, readers were informed that 4,000 miners were willing to surrender to the militia but not to deputies, where deputies were protecting what they referred to as “negro laborers.” The story read in part:

Sheriff Bowers was waited on by a large delegation of deputies, who urged him to allow them to accompany him to Bull Hill. This may precipitate a row. The town is still intensely excited, and there was little sleep in camp last night. The presence of the militia does not bring any relief. The deputies want non of their aid, and strikers stand ready for a scrimmage at the drop of a hat.

In the book, “Life And Adventures Of A Country Merchant: A Narrative of His Exploits at Home, during His Travels, and in the Cities; Designed to Amuse and Instruct” by American novelist, John Beauchamp Jones (March 6, 1810 – February 4, 1866) and published in 1854, the following dialogue is found:

“Hang it, Polly! Ain’t you going to have me, after all your propositions and entreaties? You said you’d marry me at the drop of a hat! Once we were half married! And again, when I pleaded my honour, you said you would see if I couldn’t be made to disregard it.”

Some reference books identify this as the earliest use of the expression but I found on that goes back even further to October 12, 1837 in the Register of Debates in Congress where the following is recorded:

They could agree in the twinkling of an eye — at the drop of a hat — at the crook of a finger — to usurp the sovereign power; they cannot agree, in four months, to relinquish it.

Based on how the phrase is used in this instance, it’s clear that the expression was understood by those who read the Register which means it was already a recognized expression back in 1837. Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to trace the idiom back any further than this date and can only guess that it probably came into vogue at the very least in at the turn of that century.

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The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cop

Posted by Admin on August 18, 2010

Movie and television scripted criminals have invested countless hours into getting away from the “cops.”  How did police officers come to be known as cops in the first place?

Undoubtedly, some of you have heard the urban myth that cop stands for Constable On Patrol.  As plausible as that story sounds, there’s absolutely no fact to that claim.

The word cop first appeared in English in 1695, meaning “to catch.”  It was an off-shoot of the Middle French word caper meaning “seize, to take” and the French word came from the Latin word capere meaning “to take.”

The slang term cop was originally used among thieves in the U.K. with a “copper” being the common, garden variety street thief. Irony turned the tables on the word copper when in 1846 when criminals apprehended by the police were said to have themselves been copped — in other words, caught — by the coppers.  

In 1853, the New York City police adopted full uniforms.  Up until that time, police in major cities in America such as New York and Chicago, were identified by eight-pointed star shaped copper badges over their left breasts instead of a complete uniform identifying them as star police, coppers and cops from the early 1800s onward.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »