Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1837’

Do The Graceful

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2021

Last week on social media, people were talking about the idiom to do the graceful which they claimed was an expression from the Victorian era and meant to charm or fascinate others. As Idiomation had never heard that idiom before, it seemed odd that such an idiom existed however since it was a topic of hot discussion in various author and writer groups online, it was worth researching.

At first glance, the idiom seems to be missing a word. It seems wanting in that respect as in do the graceful thing. However there is one thing Idiomation has learned, it is to never assume a word is missing or that the idiom is used in its entirety. For that reason, Idiomation researched the exact idiom: do the graceful.

Before Idiomation delves into what we learned, first off, it must be noted that the idiom actually means to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean to charm or fascinate others, although charm and fascination may be used in order to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation.

Now let’s get on with what Idiomation uncovered about this idiom.

In Episode 10 of the Sourcegraph podcast, Matt Holt, author of a number of open-source projects including the popular Caddy web server, was interviewed. In the podcast, he talked about his motivation for creating the Caddy web server, and the challenges of maintaining the open-source project. In this interview, he used the idiom.

We even have graceful reloads working in Windows, which is not something other web servers really offer because the way we handle network and do the graceful.

The Detroit Free Press reported on page 6 of the Saturday, 7 December 1935 edition that influential Republicans claimed to have solved the riddle of Palo Alto after going after Herbert Hoover weeks earlier to ask him what he was up to and why. Here is what the newspaper published in part.

Mr. Hoover quietly informed the curious that he did not want and would not seek the nomination. Barring a miracle, he senses that the surest way to re-enthrone the despised New Deal would be for him to run again. He promised to renounce the unoffered crown but he reserved the right to decide when he should take himself out of the race. His ulterior motive gives a tip on when he will do the graceful.

The idiom was found in The Mitre which was a monthly publication for the students of Bishop’s University and the Boys of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. The copy Idiomation found was from October 1902. In this edition, the rules for how freshman were to act was included as a welcome to the new men entering the college that Fall. Of course, the rules listed weren’t part of the College rules handed to each new student upon registration at the College, but new students were advised to “carefully study and literally follow” the rules including this one:

2. Freshman when they meet their seniors on the street, should always do the graceful, and touch their trencher or cap.

It was in The Newfoundlander newspaper of 12 February 1875 that an article about the hasty actions of Grand Duke Alexis — a Russian aristocrat who had fascinated a number of society belles in New York when he visited the United States of America — included the idiom. Before embarking on his voyage to America, the Grand Duke had fallen head over heels in love with the daughter of a high official of the Council of Empire, declared his passion, enjoyed the reciprocation of that passion, and secretly married. The marriage remained a secret for nearly three months, and as the saying at the time went, “marriage, like murder, will out.”

The voyage to America, and the very long return home by way of Japan and Siberia, was meant to cure the Grand Duke Alexis of his love, with the hopes that while he was cooling his heels with other women of high breeding, his family and their representatives could talk his mistake into leaving him for a generous financial settlement. But here’s what happened instead according to the newspaper.

But she would do nothing of the sort, not even when she was told that she could name the financial terms and receive the money when and where she wished. She loved Alexis and had married him, and would remain his wife until death should do the graceful for one of them. Possibly the Count hoped that the pale warrior would begin on her at an early date, but if he thought so he did not say so. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and was as unsuccessful as the most earnest admirer of pig-headed constancy in love could desire. Next day, the diplomat called again, but she would not see him, and after trying the intercession of a Russian lady of high position who happened to be in Geneva, he gave up the effort and took the train for Paris.

Indeed, in 1875 the expression was used by many. Another example was found in the Yerington Times edition of 28 November 1875 — Yerington being in Nevada — with regards to a gathering at the state capitol on Thanksgiving Day. At the local theater, the writer of the article took in a show where he and his friend found John Jack and the Firmin Sisters (Katie and Annie) performing before a “large and fashionably dressed audience.” Once the performance concluded, the benches were cleared and the orchestra began to play music to the delight of those in attendance.

It was reported that the reporter and some new-found friends from the Tribune did their best to “keep time with the music and off the ladies’ dresses” and they admitted that “the trails of only some fifteen or twenty dresses will probably have to visit the dressmaker’s to recuperate from the havoc by [their] No. 11’s.” Once all that was admitted, the idiom appeared.

Miss F. certainly has the charm of dispelling the gloom that settles around a timid reporter’s soul as he finds himself trying to do the graceful among strangers, and the gentleman who procured the introduction has been instrumental in setting a “little bird singing in our heart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Annie Firmin and John Jack were married, but she still was known as Miss Annie Firmin to theater patrons and promoters.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Annie Firmin was represented by Mrs. John Drew who was one of the premiere theatrical agents in Philadelphia. Over the years Mrs. Drew represented Annie Firmin, Annie became well known throughout the theatrical profession as a reputable and respected actress. and long before she met the actor John Jack.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: John Jack (1 February 1836 – 16 September 1913) began his career as a call boy in the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he made his appearance as an actor where he quickly built up an enviable reputation as a performer of diverse professional talents and abilities including a sought after reputation as a stage manager.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Annie was John Jack’s second wife whom he married years after the death of first wife, Adelaide Reed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: At the outbreak of the American Civil War through to the end, John Jack severed his theatrical connections and enlisted in the Federal Army. He sustained wounds that sent him to hospital, but even wounded, when there was a threat of rioting in connection with drafting difference forces into the war, he recruited other injured men to address the insurrection.

The idiom also appeared in the Wednesday, 23 March 1870 edition of the Port of Spain Gazette from Trinidad. The Gazette shared a news article from London dated 1 March 1870 with regards to the political news that Lord Derby had refused to accept the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It was thought that Lord Derby’s acceptance of the post would have been a guarantee that his fellow Conservatives would have considered all the changes the majority in the lower House sought.

The Duke of Richmond was suggested by Lord Salibury, which was seconded by Lord Derby and supported by Lord Carnarvon. The article then described the fanfare that goes with the ceremony in the House of Lords.

Seating himself, he puts on his cocked hat, then he salutes the Lord Chancellor, and rising, goes back to the woolsack to pay his respects to the noble and learned lord. The cocked hat is the greatest trouble on these occasions, as noble lords are apt to knock off that unwonted covering, in an endeavour to do the graceful.

Wondering if perhaps the expression was a relatively new one in that era, Idiomation continued researching and found this passage in the Daily Evansville Journal of Evansville (IN) in Vanderburgh County on 22 May 1862 under the heading “River News.”

The ever prompt and swift gliding Bowen, with Capt. Dexter and Billy Lowth to do the graceful, will leave at the usual hour this afternoon for Cairo and all down river towns. Pay your money early and secure state-rooms.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of the idiom however since the Victoria era was from 1837 through to 1901, Idiomation confirms the idiom was definitely used during the Victorian era. That Idiomation was unable to find a published version prior to 1862 lends credence to the claim it is an idiom from the Victorian era.

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Slick Willie

Posted by Admin on October 6, 2015

Slick Willie is a term that, upon hearing it, is understood to mean something uncomplimentary towards the person to whom it refers.  Those who are called Slick Willies are cunning and deceptive people who are superficially appealing and polished, but who are shallow and glib, and able to deftly execute convincing arguments that favors the con man and defrauds the mark.

While watching a rerun of Season 3 of Shark Tank,  founder, president and chief executive officer of FUBU, Daymond John used the term when referring to one of the people pitching to the sharks, and then categorically that he was out.

In Norwalk (CT), in the April 3, 1992 edition of The Hour newspaper, an article by Walter Mears addressed the situation with Bill Clinton.  He mentioned that on NBC-TV’s “Meet The Press” that a questioner had stated that Bill Clinton was tagged with the name Slick Willie as far back as when he was still a governor in Arkansas.  From the Monica Lewinski affair to his Vietnam draft status, from business dealings long before he was a political force to his business dealings once he was a political force, and many situations over the years, the term Slick Willie seemed to be tied to Bill Clinton’s reputation.  The article began with this paragraph:

Long before his scarred presidency, Richard Nixon wrote the book on political image problems.  Now Bill Clinton is struggling with a sequel, Tricky Dick, meet Slick Willie.

Slick Willie was also the name given to a bank robber who began his career in 1919 and continued until well past his media reported death on September 6, 1951.  William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton (30 June 1901 – 2 November 1980) was infamous for his carefully planned bank robberies and jailbreaks for which he was notorious.  He supposedly died from wounds inflicted in a holdup according to the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 6, 1951, and allegedly Philadelphia’s underworld  was atwitter over Slick Willie‘s misreported demise.

William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton was known by a number of names.  While his birth certificate stated he was William Sutton, his many aliases included William Bowles, James Clayton, Richard Courtney, Leo Holland, Julian Loring, Edward Lynch, and many others.  How famous was Slick Willie?  On March 9, 1950, he led his team of three into a branch of the Manufacturers Trust Company in New York City at 8:30 AM and strolled out of the branch with $63,942 USD (the equivalent of $636,202 USD in 2015 terms) in hand.

He was also incorrectly credited for masterminding the million dollar Brinks Express Company robbery in Boston on January 17, 1950.  The caper netted the group over $1.2 million USD in cash and over $1.5 million USD in checks, money orders, and securities.  Billed as the crime of the century by the media as well as law enforcement, it was the work of an eleven-member gang.  When the case was cracked, it was revealed that Joseph ‘Big Fernand’ McGinnis was actually the man behind the heist, and not William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton.  But that Slick Willie had been originally tagged as most likely to have pulled the caper off speaks loudly to Slick Willie‘s reputation.

The article reporting on Slick Willie‘s passing — which appeared in newspapers across America — was titled, “Slick Willie Dead Says Philly Paper.”  As mentioned earlier in this article, news of Slick Willie‘s death was premature.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  William ‘Slick WillieSutton didn’t die in 1951.  In fact, he died in 1980 aged 79.  True to the slickness of his character, when he was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”  

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1970, William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton promoted the new photo credit card program in a television commercial he did for the New Britain, Connecticut, Bank and Trust Company, not long after his release from Attica State Prison on Christmas Eve 1969.

Now, back as early as the mid 1800s, the term slick meant something rendered smooth on the surface, and generally referred to oil on water, or to the oilyness — or slickness — of a person’s character.

It was used by Canadian politician, judge, and author Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) in his first book titled, “The Clockmaker, or, The Sayings And Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville” which was published in the Nova Scotian as a serial in 1835 and 1836.  In the novel, Sam Slick was a Yankee clock peddler who used his vast understanding of human nature to make sales.

Haliburton’s novel was Canada’s first international bestseller, and was extremely popular not only in Canada, but in the U.S. and Britain as well.  Sam Slick’s take on Canadians (and Canada) and Americans (and America) mocked everyone equally in the comic fiction.  Sam Slick was so popular that Haliburton went on to publish a number of memorable Sam Slick books.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  It should be noted that the first Sam Slick novel established Thomas Chandler Haliburton as one of the founders of North American humor.

Perhaps it’s due in some small measure to the success of Haliburton’s character Sam Slick and his behavior that Cambria County politician, William Slick, was derisively called Slick Willie by some at the Constitutional Convention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where proposals for amendments to the American Constitution were discussed at Harrisburg in May of 1837.

And back in 1590, the term slick referred to someone or something that was clever in deception.

So the meaning of the word slick has a long history when it comes to slippery characters.  While it’s true that Sam Slick was the original term, within two years of the name being published, Slick Willies were being outed in America.  This puts the earliest known version of Slick Willie to 1837 with many nods to the definition for slick, in the spirit of the idiom, in the 250 to 300 years preceding Slick Willie making it into the lexicon.

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Devil May Care

Posted by Admin on July 3, 2013

When someone has a devil-may-care attitude, what it means is that he or she doesn’t worry about the results or consequences of his or her actions, and recklessly so. It’s actually a shortened idiom. The entire idiom is, “The devil may care, but I do not.”

In New Delhi, the Indian Express newspaper published on June 24, 2011 reported on the ICICI Banks, and their treatment of customers. It told the story of one customer in particular who had applied for a loan with which he hoped to buy a car, but he found out that a second loan in his name existed … one the customer hadn’t applied for, and for which he hadn’t signed. When he addressed the matter with the bank, the bank’s response was to have their customer charged with a criminal offence.

“How callous a banker can get is well illustrated by this case … It is a classic case where the respondent bank (ICICI) has adopted a devil-may-care attitude,” a district consumer forum bench headed by its president Rakesh Kapoor said while asking the bank to pay the damages. The bench, which also included its members S c Jain and Prem Lata, passed the judgment on a complaint filed by Delhi resident Anil Kumar Arora.

As for the final outcome of the criminal charges against the customer, the courts had this to say about the bank:

“The amount of harassment to which the complainant was subjected, against whom a criminal case was also filed, speaks volumes about the reckless, arbitrary, careless and callous manner in which this case was dealt with in the office of the ICICI bank,” the bench said.

Jumping back to November 10, 1943 journalist E.V.W. Jones covered the story of 19-year-old Nancy Oakes who begged a Bahamas Supreme Court jury to find her husband, Alfred de Marigny, innocent of the charge of murdering her millionaire father, Harry Oakes. It was a brutal murder followed by a sensational trial, and newspapers across that United States and Canada carried the Associated Press story entitled, “Nassaur Case May Go To Jury Today: Nancy Stands By Accused DeMarigny.” The article read in part:

The debonair De Marigny, pictured by the prosecution as a devil-may-care fortune hunter who killed his father-in-law because he feared he might lose a share of a vast estate, wept silently in the prisoner’s cage when his young wife started her testimony.

Now some who are painted as having a devil-may-care attitude are well-loved by the population as evidenced in the news article published in the Baltimore Morning Herald of November 26, 1903. Originally posted in the New York Evening Post, the article began with asking questions about the policy of pinpricks to which President Roosevelt was being subjected by Republican senators. The article included this paragraph for the newspapers’ readerships to consider:

It seems to us that the President’s betrayal of uneasiness only lays him open to fresh badgering. His unconcealed anxiety about the New York situation will give delight to every Hanna boomer West and South. As a rule, the country does not like to see a President advertising his eagerness for renomination.  Where is the big, good-natured, devil-may-care Roosevelt that we had fondly hoped was in the White House? The more worriment he confesses the more will his tormentors be encouraged to bait him. And if, by perchance advocating ship scandals, or letting down in the civil service, or throwing more offices to Platt, he makes it plain that his ambition is consuming, he will thereby but play into the hands of his enemies, and make his own ultimate disappointment the more probably.

Back on March 17, 1860 the New York Times published an article entitled, “The Slave-Trade: The Actual Character Of The Traffic.” The story was from St. Paul De Loando off the West Coast of Africa and had been written on January 25, 1860 (taking nearly 2 months to make to American shores for publication). The story carried this bit of insight:

The second class of slave-trade society are the semi-genteel cut-throats. This class includes in its ranks captains, supercargoes and officers of slavers. The law could make these gentry oscillate for half an hour between heaven and earth, with a rope around their necks, but it don’t. Out here they — especially the first two — are a well-dressed set, with plenty of money. They knock around in a devil-may-care style, drink plenty of liquor, are patronized by cutthroat number one and his set, and are often labeled “first-rate fellows.” They are not at all debarred from society here. Entirely unprincipled they are, of course; and some of them look as though they would cut your throat for a trifle.

A number of dictionaries state that the first published use of the expression was 1837 however none of them provided a source to support the claim. Idiomation, however, found it in “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens and published in 1837. Chapter 29 opens with this paragraph:

In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago–so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it — there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath.

It’s doubtful, however, that Charles Dickens was the first to coin the expression as it also appeared in “The Warwickshire Hunt from 1795 to 1836” written by an author known only as Venator, and published in 1837 as well. In the prefatory remarks, the following is found:

This is the sort of witchering, not easily defined — but, by its votaries, pretty sensibly felt, in hunting the fox. The light-hearted high-spirited stripling, when cigaring it careless to cover, with a kind of a knowing demi-devil-may-care twist of his beaver, receives in his transit a benison from every real friend of the chase he may chance to pass; and the airy, eager zeal of the youthful aspirant to rolls, tumbles, and the brush, will flush his memory with the frolic gayety of other days, and animate his mind with reflections most welcome to his heart.

Philip Morin Freneau (2 January 1752 – 1832) wrote his poem “The Expedition of Timothy Taurus, Astrologer” in 1775. One of the verses includes the idiom as follows:

Then the soldier went out, to refresh at the inn —
Perhaps he did not — if he did it’s no sin —
he made his congee, and he bowed to us all,
And said he was going to Liberty Hall:
‘Tis certain he went, but certainly where
I cannot inform, and the devil may care.

That the thought wasn’t finished is immaterial as the implication is that the speaker in this poem does not care. Of note as well is the fact that the expression is used with the knowledge that readers understand what is meant by the author,

Idiomation believes the expression reaches back at least another 2 generations, to the 1720s.  This is based on Idiomation’s suspicions that the spirit of the idiom is a result of the Golden Age of Piracy (1715 – 1725) where on the High Seas pirates recklessly went about their business with no worry or concern as to any consequences resulting from their actions. The only being that might care about their actions would be, of course, the Devil hence the expression.

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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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Out Of The Blue

Posted by Admin on June 10, 2011

The expression out of the blue — also known as out of the clear blue sky and a bolt out of the blue — is used by Brits, Australians and Americans. out of a clear blue sky means something happens suddenly and unexpectedly, without warning or preparation.

On December 8, 2009 Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills wrote a piece entitled, “Holy mackerel! One Year Since Blagojevich Arrest” which was published in the Seattle Times.  Christopher Wills wrote in part:

When the news arrived, Rep. Bill Black thought at first it was somebody’s lame idea of a joke. But it was true: The FBI had arrested the governor of Illinois, hauling him away wearing a track suit and handcuffs … [snip] … Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, didn’t come out of the blue.  Federal prosecutors had long been investigating whether the governor, then in the middle of his second term, had used his official powers illegally – to pressure groups into making campaign contributions, for instance, or to award government jobs and contracts to political allies.

On July 13, 1971, the Miami News ran a story on Reggie Jackson‘s hit, estimated at close to 600 feet since it hit against the facade over the upper deck at Tiger Stadium’s right-centre field, in a story entitled, “Bolt From The Blue.”  The story’s first paragraph read:

After eight years of All-Star Frustration the American League finally won … and it came like a bolt out of the blue.  Reggie Jackson’s bolt, not Vida Blue’s.  While the fans came to see Blue pitch, they all went home talking about Jackson’s home run that helped the Americans stop an eight-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over the Nationals in last night’s 42nd All-Star Game.

The Youngstown Vindicator ran an interesting news story on June 16, 1905 entitled, “Czar’s Uncle Quits; Grand Duke Alexis Resigns Post As Head Of The Russian Navy.”  The news bite related:

Although from time to time since the war began there have been rumors that the grand duke would retire on account of the savage criticism, not to use harsher terms, directed against the administration of the navy, especially in the construction of ships, the announcement of his resignation came like a bolt out of the blue.  Consequently it was assured that some sudden event precipitated it and ugly stories immediately came to the surface.

On May 15, 1880, John Brown Gordon (1832 – 1904) former Confederate soldier with an Alabama regiment and an American businessman and politician who dominated Georgia after the Reconstruction period, tendered his resignation to Governor Alfred H. Colquitt.   He claimed that he was carrying out a long cherished desire to retire from public life after 20 years in public service, either at war or in politics.  This story was reported by the media four days later on the 19th and the Atlanta Constitution reported that the resignation had come as “a bolt out of the blue.”  The fact of the matter is that the change had been in the works for several months leading up to his resignation.

The earliest citation is found in Thomas Carlyle‘s book The French Revolution published in 1837:

Royalism s extinct; ‘sunk,’ as they say, ‘in the mud of the Loire;’ Republicanism dominates without and within: what, therefore, on the 15th day of May 1794, is this?  Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims: Hebert, Pere Duchesne, Bibliopolist Momoro, Clerk Vincent, General Rosin; high Cordelier Patriots, red-capped Magistrates of Paris, Worshippers of Reason, Commanders of Revolution.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version for the phrase out of the blue.

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All Dressed Up And No Place To Go

Posted by Admin on April 6, 2011

There’s a song called “When You’re All Dressed Up And No Place To Go” was written by Benjamin Hapgood Burt (1880-1950) and Silvio Hein (1879-1928) for the 1913 play, “The Beauty Shop” and appeared in the J.C. Williamson’s production of “Mr. Manhattan.”

When the light shines bright o’er the town at night,
And it’s laughter, wine, and song,
Life is one delight if you stand in right
But it’s fierce when you stand in wrong.
Though your soul may cry for the life on high,
And your coin you would gladly blow,
‘Tis a bitter cup to be all dressed up
When you’ve no place at all to go.

It was a well-used phrase as evidenced by a headline that ran in the Calgary Daily Herald on January 8, 1914 just 3 months after “The Beauty Shop” had opened on Broadway. The story told the story of how the Edmonton Eskimos had made a come back, defeating the Calgary Chinooks with a score of 8 to 4 in a scheduled inter city hockey game.  The headline read:

Eskimos Defeat Chinooks By Fine Combination
All Dressed Up And No Place To Go

Jumping back nearly a hundred years before, to Winslow, Maine a headstone dating back to 1837 bears this inscription:

In memory of Beza Wood.
Departed this life on November 2, 1837, age 45 years.
Here lies one Wood enclosed in wood, one Wood within another.
The outer wood is very good, we cannot praise the other
.

End elsewhere in Thermon, Maryland a headstone dating back to the same year reads:

Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.

And so, in the end, the atheist is the last person left standing, so to speak.

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Go By The Board

Posted by Admin on February 14, 2011

The phrase “go by the board” has fallen out of use, however,at one point, it was quite popular and without a doubt, it’s still an interesting expression, even today. Nautical in nature, the phrase refers to the board of a ship where, when masts of sailing ships  fell over it was said they had go[ne] by the board.

Strangely enough, though, the phrase also has 2 other meanings.  One refers to following the rules of a game while the other refers to bending the law to get what one wants.  Both of these meanings came about as a result of the American indulgence in betting and card playing which was one of many pass times the British colonists brought with them to the New World.

In 1921, American novelist, short story writer, and designer Edith Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her book, “The Age of Innocence.”  The following is included in her book:

He had not to wait a moment for the answer. “To beg you, Monsieur–to beg you with all the force I’m capable of–not to let her go back.–Oh, don’t let her!” M. Riviere exclaimed.

Archer looked at him with increasing astonishment. There was no mistaking the sincerity of his distress or the strength of his determination: he had evidently resolved to let everything go by the board but the supreme need of thus putting himself on record. Archer considered.

“May I ask,” he said at length, “if this is the line you took with the Countess Olenska?”

The phrase is found in The Gettysburg Republican Compiler dated November 1837 wherein it states:

Those banks that do not resume speedily will go by the board.

One of the earliest references to the expression “go by the board” is found in the introduction to the first volume of the Wittenberg Edition of Martin Luther‘s writings back in 1539 wherein he wrote:

I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board!

Idiomation is unable to find a published version of this phrase earlier than the Martin Luther reference however the ease with which Martin  Luther used the expression indicates that the phrase was common place in the early 1500s and quite possibly before then.

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In The Limelight

Posted by Admin on April 27, 2010

Long before electricity lit the stages of Victorian theatres for actors and performers, lime was used as a source of illumination, especially in lighthouses.   For generations it was known that the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen on a lime surface produced a very bright light.  English chemist Goldsworthy Gurney discovered the limelight effect in the 1820s.  London’s Covent Garden Theatre was the first venue to use limelight on stage in 1837.  The use of limelight was meant to augment —  and not replace — the traditional theatre lighting of gaslights and torches. 

Within a decade, limelight was the lighting choice of theatres around the world.  However, as bright as this light source was, the entire stage could not be lit up all at once.  It could only provide spot lighting albeit excellent spot lighting.  What this meant was that, during performances where more than one actor or performer was on stage,  only some actors or performers could logically be in the spotlight while others were in the background.

Of course, the more well-known and the more talented actors and performers routinely found themselves in roles that required that they be in the limelight.  And, of course, those who routinely found themselves in the limelight enjoyed a certain level of “fame” for being in the limelight.

Even though Thomas Edison‘s electric lighting rendered limelight obsolete by the late 19th century, the term continues to this day and refers to any position of public attention in which an individual may find himself or herself.

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