Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1835’

Talking Turkey

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 18, 2013

When someone talks turkey, they’re being honest and direct about an issue. The intention is to discuss something seriously, and to resolve the issues that are part of the issue.

On November 23, 2013, Directors Magazine published an article with information compiled by Mark Newel, Jon Campbell and Lou Yost. The focus was on geographical locations across America that had key Thanksgiving themes in their names such as Turkey, Pilgrim, and Cranberry. The article was aptly titled, “USGS: Let’s Talk Turkey Across The Landscape.”

In Volume 39 of the Magazine of Business published in 1921, an article titled, “Over The Executive’s Desk” used the idiom repeatedly. The opening paragraph read thusly:

When business folks begin to “talk turkey,” interest grows. And those interested in the “talk” work, think and progress with increasing intensity. This is not theory; we all know it to be a fact. It was on this principle that the general sales manager of the American Slicing Machine Company based his campaign against tardiness and absenteeism in the office.

The American Clay Magazine reported on anything and everything relating to clay workers and the clay industry. Published by the American Clay Machinery Company, the company was touted as a brick manufacturer that not only made bricks, but one that also made a speciality of building machinery adapted to every peculiarity of clay regardless of location or country in which the clay was found. In one of the 1907 issues, one of the articles discussed the continuous kiln in Youngstown on the Bessimer yards, and within that article the following was stated:

But shaw! what’s the use of talking to you, Mr. Brickmaker, about the benefits of a brick home. What is necessary is for you to talk turkey to your customers or rather to those who ought to be your customers. You are missing a heap of good business every day and if you put up the rich argument you could get it. We’ve been trying to help you on the selling end of the game by printing selling talk and selling articles — matter which boosts brick.

In “John Beedle’s Sleigh Ride, Courtship, and Marriage” by Captain William L. McClintock of the U.S. Army and published by C. Wells in New York back in 1841, an amazing story that was actually a collection of anonymous writings published in the Portland Courier over the years, under the pen name of John Neal. Under the section of “Marriage” the following can be found in this book:

Patty Bean was not the first that I run against by a long shot. I never lost any thing for want of asking; and I was plaguy apt to begin to talk turkey always when I got sociable, if it was only out of politeness. Now then one would promise, and then fly off at the handle; but most all contrived some reason or other for giving me the bag to hold.

The Niles Weekly Register, Volume 52 of June 3, 1837 alleges that the Oneida Democrat attributed the phrase to a Native American Indian and told a humorous story that allegedly passed between a white man and a Native American Indian that resulted in the idiom.  This story first appears in print in 1837 but is repeated with multiple variations to the story throughout the 1840s with the story happening in a number of states, and the companion bird sometimes being a crow and sometimes an owl.  Based on this, the story is most likely an urban myth of the time period.

Prior to the publication of Captain McClintock’s story in book form in 1841, the complete story was printed in serialized form in Atkinson’s Casket of 1835, with attribution to the Portland Advertiser newspaper. In fact, in Atkinson’s Casket, Chapter III (where the idiom is used), is introduced in this way:

All who have heretofore read the “Sleigh Ride” and “The Courting” will need no further recommendation of the following, than to be informed that it is from the same gifted pen from the Portland Advertiser.

Since the idiom was used in this story dating back to at least 1835, it is reasonable to peg it to at least 1800 in light of the fact that Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published date for this idiom than the one in the Atkinson’s Casket edition of 1835.

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Like Ugly On An Ape

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 22, 2013

It’s not often that you hear an expression that’s so bold in its delivery, but like ugly on an ape is one of those expressions.  On October 30, 1988 the New York Times published an article by William Safire that opened with this paragraph:

“I knew the minute I said ‘card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.,’” George Bush told Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, “a couple of your best columnists would jump all over me like ugly on an ape.”

It must have made an impression on author, Larry Niven as his book “The Man-Kzin Wars 2” published in 1989 used it in the book’s description:

Born and bred to hunting, they had never encountered a species they couldn’t treat as prey – until they met the canny pseudo-pacifists from Planet Earth. They nearly overwhelmed humanity on first contact, but fast as you can say “Ghengis Khan” or “Alexander the Great” the seemingly harmless monkey boys were all over the pussycats like ugly on an ape, with space fleets and strategic thinking that left the Warrior Race quite dazzled.  But that was then and this is now.  The pain of lost battles has faded and the Kzinti are back, spoiling for a fight, Larry Niven’s Known Space is again aflame with war.

So where did this expression come from originally, and how did it make it into a former U.S. president’s every day jargon?

It’s a fact that Gunsmoke (a television program that ran from 1955 through to 1975) where Festus Haggin — a role played by Ken Curtis (July 2, 1916 – April 28, 1991) — was known to use a number of colorful and amusing phrases to express himself.  Among the many that made their way into American culture of the day was “I’ll get on to you like ugly on an ape.”

Now according to the Texas Monthly magazine and writer Anne Dingus in the December 1969 edition, like ugly on an ape is an old Texas saying.  A number of Texans confirm this to be a fact.

Like ugly on an ape appeared in the early part of the 20th century as ugly as an ape and was a common expression referring to the physical appearance of an individual or how he presented himself in polite society.  Contrary to popular misconception these days, it was not a comment on one’s cultural heritage and as such, was not intended to insult those of African descent.

On September 22, 1883 the saying was found on the front page of the New York Clipper and Theatrical Journal, founded by Frank Queen in 1853.  It was found in the poem “An Actor” written for the New York Clipper by Cupid Jones, that offered this up as the first verse:

He was ugly as an ape,
Stupid, and vain, and vicious;
He had no chic, he had no shape,
His style was meretricious.

And in the New York Evening Express of 1843, in an article entitled, “Purchasing A Husband” the following quick story was published:

Susan, a country girl desirous of matrimony, received from her mistress the present of a five pound bank note for a marriage portion.  Her mistress wished to see the object of Susan’s favor, and a very diminutive fellow, swarthy as a Moor, and ugly as an ape, made his appearance before her.

“Ah, Susan,” said her mistress, “what a strange choice you have made!”

“Lo, ma’am,” said Susan, “in such hard times as them, when almost all the tall fellows are gone for soldiers, what more of a man than this can you expect for a five pound note?”

In the end, it’s uncertain when this idiom became part of the American lexicon, however, it is claimed by Texans as a long-standing Texas saying.  As such the Republic of Texas came about in 1835 and the expression certainly dates to at least a generation prior to that when you consider when the Republic was established and the use of the expression in a northern newspaper in 1843.

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Shake A Stick At

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 5, 2011

Have you ever heard someone say, “There are more clichés here than you can shake a stick at?”  Have you ever wondered how many clichés that would have to be and why anyone would want to shake a stick at clichés in the first place … or anything else for that matter? 

In Ohio, back on February 15, 1951 the Portsmouth Times newspaper reported on the golf tournament being held in Harlingen, Texas in an article entitled, “Hottest Putter May Win Open At Harlingen.”  The first paragraph read:

The $10,000 Rio Grande Valley Open began today with more favorites than you could shake a stick at.  The Harlingen municipal course with its par 71 is quite short — only 6,095 yards — and the man with the hottest putter probably will be the follow taking home the $2,000 first money.  But the field of 137-119 professionals and 18 amateurs bulges with fellow who are death on the greens.

At the turn of the century, residents of Aurora, Illinois couldn’t help but love the serialized story, “All Short Of Wind” written by C.B. Lewis and published in the Aurora Daily Express on July 25, 1900.  In this chapter, Pap Perkins, the Postmaster of Jericho told about the meeting that discussed the advisability of starting a brass band.

But the meetin shouted him down, and it was five minits before Deacon Spooner could make his voice heard, and then he said, “There’s more p’ints bobbin up here than you kin shake a stick at, but we might as well hev one more. S’posin we hear from Lish Billings.   He’s the only man in Jericho who kin play on an accordion.  What d’you say, Lish?”

Jumping back to August 26, 1858, the New York Times ran a rather amusing yet politically charged news story entitled, “The Great Binghamion Programme Plots For The Capture of New York City.”  It addressed what had happened since a curiously accidental gathering at the house of Daniel S. Dickinson resulted in the appearance of a group acting contrary to the agenda of those authorized to act for Collector Schell in the City of New York.  The extensive reporting included the following :

Bill McConkey rose, terrible as Ajax in his wrath, wearing he “knew Fernando’s style, and that he would bet money — more money than Genet and Russell could shake a stick at together — that the original Report of the Committee in favor of fusion with the People’s, on the terms proposed, had been drawn up in Fernando’s hand.”  Messrs.  Beck, “Porcupine” and others rose clamorously, and cried, “That’s so!”  Mr. Orr said he was there “because he was opposed to the present close corporation in control of Tammany Hall; but dominant and tyrannical as he believed that body to be, it had never conceived, even in its secret heart, such a high-handed and flagrant outrage on popular rights as was the proposition before that meeting.

Frontiersman Davy Crockett, wrote and published a book in 1835 entitled “Tour to North and Down East.”  In the book, he wrote the following about an inn where he had stayed:

This was a temperance house, and there was nothing to treat a friend to that was worth shaking a stick at.

Just 5 years before that, on August 5, 1830 the Lancaster Journal in Pennsylvania published a news story that stated:

There’s no law that can make a ton of hay keep over ten. cows, unless you have more carrots and potatoes than you can throw a stick at.

And in that same Lancaster Journal in 1818 the following was published:

We have in Lancaster as many Taverns as you can shake a stick at.

Interestingly enough, it would seem that from that throughout the 1800s, the Lancaster Journal loved to shake or throw a stick at all manner of things regardless of the nature of the story published.  This leads Idiomation to believe that it was a more common expression in Pennsylvania than in other states at the time.  However, Idiomation was unable to find this American colloquialism in use prior to the 1800s.

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Send Shivers Down My Spine

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2011

When something sends shivers down your spine, it could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing depending on the circumstances. 

On July 21, 1961, Sylvia Porter of the Gadsden Times in Gardsden (AL) wrote an article entitled “Fiscal Agencies Get Praise” for the Your Money’s Worth column.  It read in part:

In plain words, there was a real risk a fortnight ago that these staggeringly big borrowings might flop and the danger was enough to send a shiver down the back of the most callous money expert.

On June 11, 1905 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a story entitled “Gypsy Blood Stirs All In Spring Time” and warned that Zingara blood called “every man to woods and fields when nature awakes” with this as a partial explanation on how it happened:

Down the road comes a lusty young voice singing an air that is vaguely familiar to you. It is full of strange minors of curious creepy trills which send a shiver of delight creeping down your spine.

On March 15, 1872, the West Coast Times reported on the Right Honourable Mr. Fox and his private Secretary, Mr. Brown, accompanied by the Chief Surveyor of Westland, Mr Mueller visiting the goldfields not far from Hokitika in New Zealand.

Ablutions were performed on the river bank, during which the snowy water was generally allowed to possess powerful cooking properties; the astonishment of the party can be therefore conceived when they observed Mr. Fox walk down to the river and take a “header” in a deep hole.  The sight was enough to send a shiver through any looker on who had just returned from bathing his face and hands in the ice stream, and we could almost expect to see the remains of the Premier floating down the stream in the shape of a big icicle, instead of which he returned to the camp as fresh and as warm and lively as a three old — just as if he had been in the habit of taking an iced bath every day of his life.

Now, it may be that the expression morphed from the nautical mock oath, “shiver my timbers” which became a mainstream comment in 1835.  Documentation indicates that “timbers” was the term used in 1748 to describe the pieces of wood that composed the frame of a ship’s hull.

By 1789, the expression “my timbers” was acknowledged to be a nautical oath.  Since there’s not much difference between the backbone of a ship’s hull and a person’s spine, it’s likely that the expression “shivers down the spine” was a modification of the nautical expression.

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Hell Bent For Leather

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2011

Such an odd phrase that paints such a vivid picture, the phrase “hell-bent for leather” has certainly established itself as a pack-a-punch expression.  The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reported on President Kennedy‘s visit to the Berlin Wall in a news article dated June 26, 1963.

There is no place which makes a better platform for hell-bent-for-leather speeches than the ground adjacent to the Berlin wall.  Here the passions of the West Berliners are likely to ignite the most impassive speaker.  Here it is routine to open old wounds, wave the flag, and goad the Russian Bear.

Thirty years earlier, on June 7, 1933 the Milwaukee Journal ran a news article on the rivalry between Max Schmeling and Max Baer and how it affected boxing.

“By gracious, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Max pop that Baer out of there in the first heat,” Mr. Carney said over a glass of beer.  “No sir, I wouldn’t.  You know, that boy’s a torment on those fellows who come running in.  Look at his record: three of the fellows he nailed in the first round were of the type that comes tearing in, hell-bent for leather.  Joe Monte was the first one.  Monte came out like a cyclone and a minute later — boof!  He was on the floor.”

Rudyard Kipling in his book The Story of the Gadsbys published in 1888 contains this phrase:

Gaddy, take this chit to Bingle, and ride hell-for-leather. It’ll do you good.

That being said, Hell bent is the operative phrase in the saying as the saying has been Hell bent for election, Hell bent for Sunday, Hell bent for breakfast and Hell bent for Georgia over the years.  Hell bent for election dates back to the State of Maine gubernatorial race of 1840 and Hell bent dates back to 1835 as shown by a passage on page 12 of the book “The Knickerbocker: New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 6” where it comments on a large encampment of savages Hell bent on carnage.

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It’s A Gas

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2010

Scientist Humphrey Davy noticed that nitrous oxide produced a state of induced euphoria which led to laughter followed by a state of stupor and, finally, a dreamy and sedated state.  Seeing no harm in the use of the gas, he introduced nitrous oxide to the British upper class as a recreational drug in 1799 at gatherings that were quickly coined “laughing parties.” 

At these “laughing parties” guests would take a whiff of nitrous oxide and then throw themselves in what were referred to as “nitrous oxide capers.”   These capers led guests to stumbling about, slurring their speech and falling down.  Davy noted that some people at these “laughing parties” found themselves in a state of induced euphoria due to the gas.

It didn’t take long for the term “it’s a gas” to become a sort of code for what one could expect if they attended a certain British upper class gathering.

It wouldn’t be until 1835 that nitrous oxide would be used medically but by then, the term “laughing gas” had stuck even with medical professionals.

While the “laughing parties” and “nitrous oxide capers” are things of the past, the term “it’s a gas” continues to imply that the event or activity is sure to amuse and bring gales of laughter to those attending the event or participating in the activity.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »