Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1833’

Penny Wise And Pound Foolish

Posted by Admin on February 1, 2011

A few months after World War II, in Oregon, the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper ran an article on February 26, 1946 entitled, “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?” 

The story was about the proposed junior college for veterans at Klamath Falls that would use up nearly all of the estimated $450,000 USD in state reserves.  The alternate site for the junior college was the Vanport (Portland) facilities where there would be marginal costs for remodelling as there were already 4,300 vacant housing units on site, equipped and ready for immediate use. 

Over the decades leading up to that article and since then, the phrase has been used to point out the flawed thinking with regards to public, as well as private, expenditures.

In Michigan, the Ludington Daily News ran an article entitled “Fixing The Blame” on September 27, 1901 that reported:

The members of the city council who are seeking to hold up the electric light contract should remember that it is not always good policy to antagonize those men who seek to build up and improve our city.  The city can afford to be liberal in its dealings with any man, or with any enterprise that desires to do something which will benefit the city.  Compared with contracts existing in other towns, the proposition of Mr. Stearns is a very liberal one and the council cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish in its treatment of the matter.  Good man have been driven out of other cities by such an indifferent policy.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia on April 11, 1833 (but written by, and signed, “a breeder of Australian wool on March 27, 1833) the anonymous author wrote:

And it is to the want of this consistency in breeding that the undoubted degeneration of our wools is to be attributed; a degeneration which will fearfully augment, unless immediately and universally counteracted by the general infusion of pur imported blood into all our breeding animals, and by the total exclusion of that “penny wise, pound foolish” system of partial improvement, through the means of which, the bulk of our fleeces are evidently retrogading [sic].  There can exist no excuse whatever on the part of our breeders, to justify them in obstinately persisting in their present course.

English poet and dramatist, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published The Spectator in 1712, in which he wrote:

I shall not speak to the point of cash itself, until I see how you approve of these my maxims in general : but I think a speculation upon “many a little makes a mickle, a penny saved is a penny got, penny wise and pound foolish, it is need that makes the old wife trot” would be very useful in the world: and, if you treated them with knowledge, would be useful to yourself, for it would make demands for your paper among those who have no notion of it at present.  But of these matters more hereafter.

Later in the same book, Joseph Addison wrote:

I know several of my fair readers urge in defense of this practice, that it is but a necessary provision they make for themselves, in case their husband proves a churl, or miser; so that they consider this allowance as a kind of alimony, which they may lay their claim to, without actually separating from their husbands.  But, with submission, I think a woman who will give up herself to a man in marriage, where there is the least room for such an apprehension, and trust her person to one whom she will not rely on for the common necessaries of life, may very properly be accused (in the phrase of a homely proverb) of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The phrase is found in E. Topsell’s book “Four-footed Beasts” published in 1607:

If by couetousnesse or negligence, one withdraw from them their ordinary foode, he shall be penny wise, and pound foolish.

But, in the end, it is a Scottish proverb.  According to the Registers of the Stationers’ Company, the book “The Chapman of a Peneworth of Wit” dates back to before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and contains the phrase.  As a side note,in 1560 John Sampson aka John Awdeley aka Sampson Awdeley paid for the rights to republish “The Champan of a Peneworth of Wit” in parts under the title, “Penny-wise, Pound-foolish.”

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

Thick As Thieves

Posted by Admin on December 14, 2010

The cliché thick as thieves, means that two or more people have a very close relationship with one another and are intimately allied.  It sometimes also implies that two or more people are involved in some sort of conspiracy.  In other words, they are in cahoots with one another.

On Tuesday, June 16, 1809, the Telegraph newspaper in Nashua, New Hampshire ran a story by Meredith Nicholson, author of “The House of a Thousand Candles.”  The story was “The Port of Missing Men” and made use of the phrase “thick of thieves.”

The old man leaned upon the table heavily.

“That amiable Francis” —

“The suggestion is not dismaying.  Francis would not know an opportunity if it offered.”

“But his mother — she is the devil!” blurted the old man.

“Pray drop that,” said Armitage in a tone that caused the old man to look at him with a new scrutiny.  “I want the paper back for the very reason that it contains that awful indictment of her.  I have been uncomfortable ever since I gave it to you, and I came to ask you for it that I might keep it safe in my own hands.  But the document is lost.  Am I to understand that Francis has it?”

“Not yet.  But Rambaud has it, and Rambaud and Francis are as thick as thieves.”

“I don’t know Rambaud.  The name is unfamiliar.”

“He has a dozen names — one for every capital.  He even operated in Washington, I have heard.  He’s a blackmailer who aims high — a broker in secrets, a scandal peddler.  He’s a bad lot, I tell you.  I’ve had my best men after him, and they’ve just been here to report another failure.  If you have nothing better to do” — began the old man.

In the book “The Parson’s Daughter” written by Theodore E. Hook and published by Carey, Lea and Blanchard in 1833, the author wrote this on page 184:

“Exactly,” said the Squire.  “She and my wife are thick as thieves, as the proverb goes: they know each other’s secrets, and lay their heads together, to do all the mischief they can.  However, it would be a great match for her if it was brought about.  He is a good fellow, and she is a good girl.”

The phrase “thick as thieves” was actually a translation of the French idiom “s’entendre comme larron en foire” which in English means “like thieves at a fair.”  The French phrase means to be complicit with another in an activity which may or may not be lawful. 

 French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) published the short story “The Three Clerks of Saint Nicholas” in his larger work “Droll Stories — Volume 2” in which the following is found:

The host bustled about, turned the spits, and prepared a glorious repast, for these three dodgers, who had already made noise enough for a hundred crowns, and who most certainly would not even have given up the copper coins which one of them was jingling in his pocket. But if they were hard up for money they did not want for ingenuity, and all three arranged to play their parts like thieves at a fair.

The French phrase comes from the Latin proverb:  Intelligunt se mutuo, ut fures in nundinis, which translates into English as “A thief knows a thief, as a wolf knows a wolf.”

Based on the Latin proverb, individuals being thick as thieves is something the world has known about for centuries.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

From Scratch

Posted by Admin on June 16, 2010

In April 1887, the Fort Wayne Gazette reported on a cycling race where everyone started “from scratch” and no handicaps were considered.   From that point onward, the term “from scratch” was used to refer more specifically to the starting point for competitors who received no odds, which heralded the advent of the “scratch” game — a game without handicaps.

“It was no handicap. Every man was qualified to and did start from scratch.”

However, the term “from scratch” is even older than that.  John Nyren‘s “Young Cricketer’s Tutor” from 1833 records this line from a 1778 work by Cotton:

“Ye strikers… Stand firm to your scratch, let your bat be upright.”

Later on, James Joyce used “from scratch” in this sense in his 1922 masterpiece “Ulysses,” in which he wrote of a “poor foreign immigrant who started from scratch as a stowaway and is now trying to turn an honest penny.” The version of the phrase “from scratch” is a better known version these days.

The term “from scratch” as it pertains to cooking means the dish is prepared from fresh ingredients rather than from a packaged mix.  None of the steps are eliminated as they are with packaged foods. In this context it means any food that is prepared from the very beginning by the chef, baker or cook.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Racing, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Kit and Caboodle

Posted by Admin on March 2, 2010

The word boodle comes from the Middle Dutch word boedel meaning “estate” and became part of the English language in 1833.    In 1848, the prefix “ca” was added to the word boodle to mean a considerable amount of property or a large amount of money.

The word kit has been part of the English language since the 14th Century and refers to a collection of tools or implements required by a tradesman.  Thieves, just like any other trade, had kits which gave them access to homes and businesses that were otherwise safeguarded by locks.

And so, a thief with a kit could make off with the caboodle from someone’s home or business without having to pay a penny for everything stolen.  And if he was never arrested for the theft, it was said he had made off with the whole kit and caboodle.

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