Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1821’

Blue Blazes

Posted by Admin on January 16, 2021

When you hear someone ask the question, “What in blue blazes?” do you ever wonder what blue blazes are and if they are, indeed, blue?

Blazes is a slang expression referring to the fires of Hell, and blue is an alliterative intensifier. The use of blue blazes is meant to express extreme confusion, surprise, or aggravation. The interesting thing is that it’s more often heard in the US than in other English speaking countries.

Back on 5 August 2020, KXAN News in Austin (TX) reported on an Alabama man who woke to find an alligator swimming in his backyard pool, KXAN shared the news story on Facebook with the question: “What in the blue blazes is this?

There was is also an implication of great speed in the expression, as seen back in 1951 when Lottie Noel’s horse Blue Blazes, ridden by Noel Anderson was trying to win races.

Back in 1940, Harry Douglas created the character Blue Blaze for Marvel Comics. His first appearance was in Mystic Comics 1 and he appeared in ten issues before disappearing in 1942.

Back in 1936, Raymond Kane directed a short comedy film titled, “Blue Blazes” and starred Buster Keaton (4 October 1895 – 1 February 1966). The story followed Buster Keaton’s character who decided he wanted to be a fireman. He wasn’t a particularly good fireman, but when he has a chance to save three women trapped in a burning building, it’s a chance to prove his worth.

You can watch the 19 minute movie on YouTube by clicking here.

That wasn’t the only movie titled, “Blue Blazes.” The husband-and-wife team of handsome American silent western star, Lester Cuneo (25 October 1888 – 1 November 1925) and silent screen actress and camera operator, Francelia Billington (1 February 1895 – 24 November 1934) produced a silent movie Western by that name. It was a well-used plot of a loser who tries to hide in the West where he comes to the aid of a female rancher and her widowed mother to defend them against the dastardly mortgage lender who wants to be socially inappropriate with the younger of the two women.

The idiom was found in “Chapter 22: Private Dennis Hogan, Hero” in the book “Danger Signals: Remarkable, Exciting and Unique Examples of the Bravery, Daring and Stoicism in the Midst of Danger of Train Dispatchers and Railroad Engineers” by former railroad engineer John A. Hill (22 February 1858 – 24 January 1916) and Jasper Ewing Brady, 1st Lieutenant 19th United States Infantry, Late Captain Signal Corps U.S. Volunteers, published by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1902. The book was copyrighted by S.S. McClure Co in 1898 and in Doubleday & McClure in 1899, and lastly by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1900.

At four o’clock on the afternoon in question Denny was aroused from his reverie by the sounder opening up and calling “FN” like blue blazes. He answered and this is what he took.

Denny was the messenger boy as well as operator and without waiting to make an impression copy, he grabbed his hat and flew down the line to the colonel’s quarters. That worthy was entertaining a party at dinner, and was about to give Hogan fits for bringing the message to him instead of to the post adjutant; but a glance at the contents changed things and in a moment all was bustle and confusion.

For weeks the premonitory signs of this outbreak had been plainly visible, but true to the red-tape conditions, the army could not move until some overt act had been committed. The generous interior department had supplied the Indians with arms and ammunition and then Mr. Red Devil under that prince of fiends incarnate, Sitting Bull, started on his campaign of plunder and pillage.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  John Alexander Hill was a co-founder of the McGraw-Hill Book Company along with James Herbert McGraw (17 December 1860 – 21 February 1948), the predecessor corporation of today’s McGraw Hill Financial and McGraw-Hill Education.

Remember the racing horse, Blue Blazes, from 1951 that was mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the only racing horse by that name. In “The General Stud Book Containing Pedigrees of Race Horses from the Earliest Accounts to the Year 1896 Inclusive” published in 1897 by Weatherby and Sons in London, Blue Blazes was also mentioned (although it was a different horse from the one who ran races in 1951). The book listed thorough-bred stock from England and duly certified them as thorough-breds.

The euphemistic oath is found in Chapter 10 of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. It’s made clear the expression is one with a hefty punch.

“Well,” said Joe, meditatively – not, of course, that it could be in anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was the way at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply about everything that was discussed over pipes; “well – no. No, he ain’t.”

“Nevvy?” said the strange man.

“Well,” said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation, “he is not – no, not to deceive you, he is not – my nevvy.”

“What the Blue Blazes is he?” asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to be an inquiry of unnecessary strength.

In the book, “Real Life in Ireland by a Real Paddy” which attributes the idiom to 1821 is found in Chapter 15.

Blood and blue blazes, swore old Mrs. Tarpaulin. I’ll send the fellow to hell that dares attack me at my moorings in blanket bay.

In 1812, “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass” by the American author, book agent, and Anglican minister, Mason Locke Weems (11 October 1759 – 23 May 1825) passage was a clear demonstration of how the two words and Hell fit together so very well.

Ye steep down gulphs of liquid fire! Ye blue blazes of damnation! But hush, thou false zeal, hush! and curse not him who Christ hath commanded you to pray for.

The book obviously sold well as by 1818, it was in its sixth printing, and the old title, “God’s Revenge Against Drunkenness” had been replaced with “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass.”

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Mason Lock Weems, also known as Parson Weems, wrote the first biography of George Washington (22 February 1732 – 4 December 1799) titled, “The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington” which was published in 1800.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: He is the source of the well-known albeit unverifiable and thoroughly questionable story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree as a child, and what was said by the child to his father at the time.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4: Mason Lock Weems is also known for his biography of U.S. military officer Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion (1732 – 26 February 1795) who was so nicknamed by the British for his elusive tactics.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to blue blazes, however, for it to be used so freely by Mason Locke Weems — an Anglican minister no less — it most certainly was around at the start of the 19th century, and quite possibly earlier depending on how aged old Mrs. Tarpaulin was in the 1821 book “Real Life In Ireland by a Real Paddy.”

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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.

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Smart As A Whip

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2015

When someone is said to be smart as a whip, it means that person is able to think and reason logically to a high degree, with a small degree of error in  his or her thinking.  In other words, intellectually speaking, they are blindingly brilliant.

On March 11, 2003 the column by Chip and Jonathan Carter entitled, “Inside The Video Games” reviewed the game “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” for the Rome News-Tribune.  The game was available for Xbox and would be available for the PlayStation2 in May.  The reviewers loved the game, going so far as to say that the “game play is a work of art.”  What’s more, both Chip and Jonathan gave the game an overall rating of A+ for overall awesomeness.  As a sort of play on the fact that Indiana Jones has a penchant for whips, the review was titled, “Smart As A Whip.”

The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire published their “Around The Town” column on March 13, 1965 with the idiom in the article, “Some Old Timers Are Smart As A Whip.”  It set the tone for the piece, and began with this paragraph.

Some of the senior citizens who call at the office to talk about the days of their youth are as smart as a whip and can recall their early days here with much more facility, I have found, than the later generations.  If you can make them feel easy you usually wind up with a fund of information about Nashua, of their time anyway.

The Bend Bulletin newspaper of October 17, 1952 ran an ad for Lester Hou’s Central Oregon Motors in Redmond, Oregon.  The dealership was a Mercury dealership, and they were proud to trumpet the benefits of the Merc-O-Matic drive.  At the time, there were three choices for a transmission on a Mercury:  Standard, Touch-O-Matic Overdrive, and No-Shift Merc-O-Matic Drive.  They blended a second idiom into the advertisement by stating that “whip smart and saddle fancy” was an old Western saying.

The same advertisement for other dealerships were published in other newspapers such as the Spokane Daily Chronicle, the Spokesman-Review, the Ellensburg Daily Record, and other major newspapers in America.  The copy was the same from newspaper to newspaper, and the idiom that was upfront and bolded was “Smart as a whip.”

In the November 30, 1938 edition of the Times Daily, the newspaper ran a photograph of Mrs. Angier Priscilla Duke (the former Priscilla St. George) in black boots, creamy tan whipcord breeches, plaid sports coat, man-tailored shirt, and a foulard tie.  She was a fetching woman, and the photograph was captioned, “Smart As A Whip.”

Priscilla wed Angier Duke (30 November 1915 – 29 April 1995) in Tuxedo Park on January 2, 1937.  He was the son of Angier Buchanan Duke and Cordelia Drexel Biddle of Philadelphia which means that the 21-year-old bridegroom was not only a member of the Duke family but the Biddle family as well.  The Duke family fortune came from the American Tobacco Company that was founded in 1890 by his great-uncle James Buchanan Duke, and the Biddle family fortune was due to banking.

The bride’s father was the grandson of the late George F. Baker Sr. who, upon his death, was hailed as the last great titan of Wall Street, and was known to be the financial genius of First National Bank.  The bride’s mother was a first cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Their wedding was followed by what the newspapers called “a grand tour, round-the-world honeymoon” that kept them away from New York for eight months.  Unfortunately, she was the first of his four wives, and they divorced in 1939, just two years after they wed.

The 1882 book “Picturesque B. and O.: Historical and Descriptive” by Joseph Gladding Pangborn (9 April 1848 – 17 August 1914) provided an enchanting account of crossing the American countryside by way of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company trains as they headed out from the Jersey City depot.

The Pangborn family was one that was rich in American history.  Joseph Gladding Pangborn’s father signed up for volunteer service in the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, and was fatally wounded at Forth Ethan Allen in Virginia.  His mother’s family was steeped in American history.  John Gladding had arrived at Newburyport, Plymouth Colony in 1660,and settled in Bristol, Rhode Island where he and his wife, Elizabeth Rogers raised four children.

The American Civil War broke out, and at fourteen years of age, he enlisted with the Union Army as a drummer boy.  He was assigned to the Forty-fourth Regiment New York Infantry.  In 1865, he served in Texas, and in 1866 he returned to his home in Albany, New York.  He became a reporter and worked for the New York Times, the New York Tribune, The Republican (in Chicago), and the Kansas City Times.

By 1876, he had moved on to a new career with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and on May 1, 1880, he joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a general advertising agent, then moving on to special representative status.

When the book was published, it contained 70 sketches along with the prose. And early in the book, smart as a whip was used.

Young Luap was, in his way, as striking a possession as any in the menagerie, and although the last of the Four to be trotted out, was by no means entitled to such place by reason of characteristics lacking; indeed, he possessed them to such a degree as to almost require an apology for not mentioning him first.  Smart as a whip, but far from as pliable, he comprehended more in a moment than the balance of the quartet could grasp in a week.

In the “Dictionary of the Gaelic Language” by Norman Macleod, the idiom is recorded as smart as a lash and is considered to be a provincial term.

But it’s in the “Recreative Review, or Eccentricities of Literature and Life” in Volume 1 that the connection between being smart and whips is made in an essay that begins on page 336. In the essay published in 1821, a passage talks about the virtues of whipping a boy to improve him.

But the practice is an old one.  Doctor Tempete is mentioned by Rabelais as a celebrated flaggelator of school-boys, in the college of Montaigne, in Paris. Buchanan was wont to tickle his royal disciple, James the First, and joked with the ladies of the court about it.  And, with respect to that of our public schools, it may be of service; for every one must allow it makes a boy smart.

The fact of the matter is that as early as the 17th century the word smart meant both to be strong, quick, and intense in manner and to be painful.  So while a whip might cause pain and smart, someone would be strong, quick, and intense in manner in the same way a whip is strong, quick, and intense.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published variation to the idiom than the one in 1821, it is reasonable to believe that the idiom goes back at least to 1800, and most likely much earlier.

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All Sense And No Nonsense

Posted by Admin on January 14, 2013

When you hear someone say someone is all sense and no nonsense what they are saying is that the person appears sensible, direct, efficient, and practical. In other words, what they say is what they mean and what they say and do is usually well-thought out long before they say and do what they mean to say and do.

In Thomas D. Taylor’s short story “Skeleton Key” published in 2013, the narrator shares this with the reader:

The man was hardly more than a boy though he must have been in his mid-twenties. He was blond, fair looking but resembled an accountant more than a jock. He had glasses, wispy hair and was dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans. The woman he was with wore white shorts and a blue and white striped top. She was also blond but had no characteristics of the familiar stereotype. This one was all sense and no nonsense.

While the phrase isn’t heard very often these days, it was used in an advertisement in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on February 26, 1943 where the headline read:

All Sense And No Nonsense About These Slack Suits For Your Working Hours.

The slack suits they were selling were described thusly:

Designed primarily for play, slack suits have been taken up with gusto by today’s busy women for their working hours. They’re comfortable as an old shoe, yet are so beautifully tailored and styled, they give you that neat, concise look that’s important these days.

Back in 1873, the expression was found in “The National Teacher: A Monthly Educational Journal: Volume III” edited by Emerson Elbridge White. In the Editorial Department, on page 507, the following was written:

School Commissioner Harvey has attended a large number of the institutes in Ohio this year, rendering valuable assistance. His public addresses are highly commended by the press. An eminent educator who heard him at a recent institute, writes: “Commissioner Harvey is capital — all sense and no nonsense. No teacher can hear him without benefit.”

Taking the phrase apart, the no nonsense part of the phrase actually originates from the phrase to stand no nonsense which, according to numerous dictionaries, was sporting slang back in 1821.

The word nonsense itself entered the English language from the French word nonsens sometime in the 1610s. The French word meant that something was either ridiculous or wildly unreasonable.

Since the expression was used in a published magazine in 1873, it is reasonable to believe that the expression all sense and no nonsense was in use at least one generation prior to 1873, putting it at sometime in the late 1840s or early 1850s.

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