Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1850’

Ignorance Is Bliss

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 1, 2018

Ignorance is bliss, or so some would have you believe. For those who offer this up as sage advice, it is usually because they feel the other person is more comfortable not knowing facts than knowing them. In other words, what you do not know, cannot hurt you.

The expression was very popular in the entertainment industry over the years.

Punk rockers, The Ramones included a song with this title on their “Brain Drain” CD in 1989. Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar included a song with this title on his “Overly Dedicated” CD in 2010.  The BBC had a comedy quiz on radio from 1946 through to 1950 titled, “Ignorance Is Bliss” and in 2009, “House” had an episode with that title.

If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s history, perhaps it’s because ignorance is bliss in some instances. Or perhaps not.

The Jefferson County Post edition of 19 August 2013 published an article by the Editor in the Stranger Than Fiction column. The history of surgeries and medical procedures was the main theme, beginning with an introduction that spoke of doctors being far more responsible for President James Garfield’s death in 1881 than the assassin who fired a bullet and injured him. The title of the column was “Ignorance Is Bliss.”

In 1911, the phrase was used in Volume 12 of “The Post Office Clerk” in an article by New Yorker, C.P. Franciscus in his article “The Fallacy Of A Proverb.” The author saw fit to add an extra note directed specifically at the indifferent and apathetic members of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks in the hopes that it the article would “create a DOUBT of the correctness of theory and the stability of your attitude.”

This applies to all for notwithstanding our protestations of innocence, we know more than once. Remorse has tormented us and Conscience has compelled a plea of guilty — and usually we urge in extenuation our ignorance. Thus we see the fallacy of the oft quoted proverb “If ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.” Before quoting it again try to realize how utterly ridiculous and incompatible such sentiments are with truth. Ignorance is the handmaid of poverty, the companion of sloth, the paramour of disease, and the forerunner of dissolution and death. It is the weapon of the tyrant, the despot, the demagogue, and trickster. It has enslaved millions and still holds in bonds of serfdom countless thousands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Christopher C.P. Franciscus was a clerk of the New York Post Office as well as the president of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks. He was elected to the position in 1918.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was organized in 1899, and was created by merging the United National Association of Post Office Clerks with the National Association of Post Office Clerks.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was incorporated under the laws of Maryland on 25 January 1900 and its first president was Joseph P. Healy of New York City. The first national convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ from September 3 through 6, 1900 and saw 72 delegates representing 50 branches attend. The estimated membership at the time was 4,000 members.

In an 1850 edition of the Punch, or The London Charivari magazine, the question “Where is bliss to be found?” was asked and answered.

The poet who told us that “ignorance is bliss” was certainly right as far as pantomime bliss is concerned, for it would be much better to be ignorant of such bliss altogether. A walk through the “Halls of Happiness” after the curtain goes down, when clown is being released from the top of the pole, upon which his popularity has placed him, and the other heroes and heroines of the night descend from their uncomfortable elevation into the arms of the carpenters, while the fireman extinguishes the sparks still remaining with his heavy highlows, and prepares his hose for the night — such a ramble behind the scenes would afford sad proof of the emptiness of all theatrical felicity.

Even English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) weighed in on the subject of ignorance being bliss. In Chapter VIII of “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” where readers learned how Mr. Winkle shot at the pigeon and killed the crow, then shot at the crow and wounded the pigeon, and all manner of other interesting things, the expression is found.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden-gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appears; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. ‘Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! There are times when ignorance is bliss, indeed.

However, it was English poet, classical scholar, and Pembroke College professor, Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) who wrote “Ode On A Distance Prospect Of Eton College” in 1742 that was published by English bookseller, poet, and playwright Robert Dodsley (13 February 1704 – 23 September 1764) in 1747 that say the first publication of the expression where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

In the end, ignorance isn’t really bliss unless not being in the know is somehow better.  All that being said, ignorance is bliss dates back to 1742 thanks to Thomas Gray and all those who came after him.

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Crawfishing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2015

Crawfishing happens when someone breaks a promise or backs out or retreats from a previously stated position or agreement. It’s an expression that isn’t used often but when it is, it’s to great effect.

The Walker County Messenger edition of September 22, 1989 ran a story about Chickamauga entitled, “Chickamauga Is A Cherokee Word Meaning River Of Death.”  The article was based on Frank Moore’s book published in 1865, “The Civil War In Song And Story.”  The article ended with this paragraph:

The remnant of the tribe was also afterwards called the “Chickamauga tribe.”  We hope General Bragg will call his great victory the Battle of Chickamauga, and not “Peavine Creek” or “Crawfish Springs” as suggested in Rosecran’s dispath.  He was certainly crawfished out of Georgia, but we prefer “Chickamauga,” or “River of Death.”

On October 14, 1964 the Herald-Journal newspaper run a short news story out of San Antonio about Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr., and GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.  The article entitled, “Says Barry Craw-fished On Firm States Rights Issue” also used the word in the second of two paragraphs.

“Some people are dissatisfied to some extent, at his craw-fishing on strong states rights and constitutional government,” Johnson said at a new conference at the Southern Governors Conference.

In the Spokane Daily Chronicle of August 5, 1931 an article was published about the power development project on the Yakima River in the state.  The U.S. Commissioner of Reclamations, Dr. Elwood Mead, refused to accept the state’s offer as presented by Washington State Director of Conservation and Development, Erle J. Barnes.  There were allegations  made that the Federal bureau had diverted $1.5 million USD in appropriation for the Cle Elum dam to the Owyhee and Deadwood dams in Idaho that would serve Idaho and Oregon.  To make matters worse, the federal bureau demanded an unconditional power permit which, according to the state, would allow the bureau to engage in the power business in every state in the Union.  It was in the second paragraph of this news article that crawfishing was mentioned.

Director Barnes accused Dr. Mead of “crawfishing” and of ignoring the advice of B.E. Stoutemyer, district counsel for the reclamation bureau, who notified Barnes yesterday that Dr. Mead had rejected a compromise agreement on the power question reached at a conference between state and federal reclamation officials at Yakima last week.

It was used in the Masonic Voice in Volume 16 published in 1857 which included the expression in the Editor Review for December 1856.  The editor was Cornelius Moore.

You have heard of the duel that did not come off between the Irish patriot Meagher and Lieut. Gov. Raymond, editor of the Times.  The general impression is that Raymond crawfished a little in this matter.  If he had had the pluck, he might have served his opponent as Cartwright did, especially if he had any religious scruples about fighting.

Crawfishing meaning to break a promise or back out of an agreement doesn’t seem to appear before the 1850s.  However, referring to such behavior as crawfishing may be based on the definitions found in reference and resource books during this period.  In the “New American Cyclopaedia” edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana and published in 1859, the behavior of crawfish is detailed thusly:

Crawfish swim rapidly by means of the tail, whose strokes propel them backward; they crawl well on the bottom, and are sometimes seen at a considerable distance from streams, using holes filled with water, and occasional pools, as places of retreat.  from their propensity to eat carrion, Audubon calls them “little aquatic vultures.”  They are fond of burrowing in the mud, and from this habit are often great pests, undermining levees and embankments, frequently to the serious loss of the miller and the planter; it is stated that on account of the depredations of these animals, the owners of the great dam in the Little Genesee river have been once compelled to rebuild it.

The entry continues with references to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and the crawfish that are peculiar to that specific region in America.

Idiomation therefore pegs the spirit of crawfishing to the 1850s as the term was used freely in literature from the American Civil War era with the understanding that it would be understood by readers.

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Dollars To Doughnuts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 4, 2013

When you’re betting dollars to doughnuts, what you’re really doing is betting on an almost certainly sure thing. In other words, dollars have a value, while doughnuts — being shaped like zeros — have none.

In the magazine, SaskBusiness the editor, Keith Moen, authored an article on what he referred to as “messy, fear-mongering campaigns” in 2003 and again in 2004. Published on June 1, 2004, his point was that Canada couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be thought of as a Third World country, the Canadian economy didn’t succeed on the backs of slaves or serfs, and no Canadian he knew of was oppressed under a dictatorship. The editorial ended with these words of wisdom to their readership:

Yet that tax reduction line which separates good from evil must surely be a blurred one, as I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that most of our good public servants take advantage of their pension plans — even if they’re RRSP-eligible, which of course qualifies as a tax reduction strategy.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It seems more than just a little self-serving and hypocritical. Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black … or a jalapeno trying to be as cool as a cucumber.

It’s the sort of expression that’s part of the lingo but doesn’t necessarily show up in print as often as one would expect. Sure, it’s shown up in movie dialogue often enough, but it’s not in print as often as it once was. In the Schenectady Gazette of January 19, 1948 it was found in the article “Big Talk, But …” where Under Secretary Of State Robert Lovette discussed the ongoing U.S. presence in Berlin. Not everyone thought that was such a good idea as evidenced by this excerpt from the article:

It’s a dollar to doughnuts bet that the Russian leaders are chuckling up their sleeves. For Russia has every important advantage. Russia’s proximity to Germany, its military might, its diplomatic methods based on the blackjack, its Communist philosophy that appeals to many Europeans who can’t understand democracy, all put Russia in a better position than any of the other occupying powers to dictate to the Germans effectively.

It was such a well-known saying that it appeared as the title of a serial story by author Edith Ellington, and carried by such newspapers as the San Jose News in early 1941. Yes, the soap opera-style serial story was entitled, “Dollars To Doughnuts.”

The Oxnard Daily Courier of June 1, 1914 carried a United Press story entitled, “Tango Commercialized Approaches Its End.” The story claimed the death knell of the tango when it announced that a group of financiers on Wall Street had banded together to corner the tango talent market. It was described in this way:

Society takes up a fad. It flourishes on the Avenue and makes a noise like a dollar. Then the keen nosed mew of money, scenting currency, take hold of it and organize it. The craze then takes on a commercial aspect. Society hears about it and abandons the fad. The lower strata learn that society has dropped the fad, so each in turn drops it.

That has been the history of a long procession of freak things. Never before perhaps did anything so intangible as a dance go through this evolution, but it is dollars to doughnuts that with the money kings playing ping-pong with the tango, it will lose its popularity.

As we all know, the tango still exists and has been seen every season that “Dancing With The Stars” has been on television in recent history.

Back on May 16, 1890 that matter of bills and gags, Republicans and Democrats in the House, and what senators had to say about all manner of things was reported in the article, “Shutting Off The Debate.” With regards to the Dependent Pension bill and the Service bill, the following was shared with readers of then New York Times.

The Dependent Pension bill of the Senate and the Service Pension bill of the House are now in the hands of conferees  the House conference Committee having been announced to-day. Some fear is expressed by the ever-anxious lest there shall be a disagreement, so obstinate that there will be a dead-lock, and no pension legislation. The pension agents may be relied upon to break the dead-lock, and as they are more interested in the Senate bill than in that of the House, it is “dollars to doughnuts” that the Senate bill, in one respect at least, will come out of the conference victorious, notwithstanding Gen. Hawley’s injunction to the Senate that it was “not to be stampeded by claim agents.

A few years prior, the expression could be found in the Daily Nevada State Journal on February 6, 1876 in a front page story that stated:

Whenever you hear any resident of a community attempting to decry the local paper… it’s dollars to doughnuts that such a person is either mad at the editor or is owing the office for subscription or advertising.

Five weeks later, the same newspaper printed this in their publication on March 11, 1876 in an article found on page 3:

Several Benoites took advantage of the half fare tickets offered to those who were to attend the ball given by the railroad boys at Carson last night, and attended it. It’s dollars to doughnuts all enjoyed themselves.

For it to appear in a newspaper without quotation marks around the expression indicates that its meaning was understood by readers. For it to be part of the jargon in 1876 implies that it was in use in the preceding decade at the very least.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about doughnuts in her story “Farmer Boy” based on the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband. The setting for the story is 1866 and the following passage is found in the story:

That was Saturday night. All day long Mother had been baking, and when Almanzo went into the kitchen for the milkpans, she was still frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of the new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and twisting the strips.Her fingers flew, you could hardly see them. The strips seem to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat.

Plump! They went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up, to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat, and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.

The ease with which doughnuts were made is evident in this passage … certainly much easier than making a dollar in 1866.

American author Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) — who best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — included doughnuts in his novel, “Knickerbocker’s History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty” published in 1809. The author described doughnuts or, should I say, his main character, Diedrich Knickerbocker, described them thusly:

Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks —- a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.

That being said, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) anthropologist, Paul R. Mullins, Ph.D. wrote a book entitled, “Glazed America: A History Of The Doughnut” that the “first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes.”

It can safely be guessed that the expression came into vogue sometime in the 1850s, giving the word doughnut time to ensconce itself in the English language and backdating the ease with which the expression dollars to doughnuts was used in newspapers by 1876.

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Off The Cuff

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 4, 2011

When you spontaneously say or do something without preparation or rehearsal, this is what’s meant by saying or doing something off the cuff.

The AFP Global Edition published a news story on September 8, 2009 entitled “Barack Obama Is Warning About Stupid Facebook Posts.”  The story dealt with President Obama’s advice to a group of high school students about the consequences of social networking sites and the prospective employers who view comments posted by job applicants.  He shared the following with these teenagers:

Obama’s advice about the perils of modern technology were born of bitter experience, as he has fallen victim to the YouTube age of modern campaign politics several times himself when off-the-cuff remarks or events have shown up on web videos or blogs.  At one stage, his 2008 election campaign was rocked by inflammatory past speeches by his former pastor Reverence Jeremiah Wright which were posted on YouTube.

Just a little over a year before that, Larry Richter wrote a news story for the New York Times entitled, “The Candidates Speak Off The Cuff, And Trouble Quickly Follows.”  The opening paragraph stated:

At this rate, both John McCain and Barack Obama may want to rethink their fondness for town-hall-style meetings. Both have embroiled themselves in controversies this week as a result of departing from scripted campaign speeches and speaking off the cuff.

On December 2, 1950 the News And Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina ran a news story on Page 4 entitled, “Confusion Over The Bomb.” The story began with this revelation:

Mr. Truman’s irresponsible remarks about use of the atomic bomb, first announced off the cuff at a press conference and later partially retracted or “clarified” in a White House statement, may have placed the country in grave peril.  It should be obvious that if Russia thinks the United States intends to use the bomb, the Kremlin might very well try to beat Mr. Truman to the punch. 

Now back in 1882, the tune for “America, The Beautiful” is said to have come to Samuel Ward while he was on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island going back to his home in New York City.  After a relaxing summer’s day, he found himself inspired.  Worried he might forget the tune in his head, he asked fellow passenger and close friend, Harry Martin, to give him his shirt cuff so he could jot down the tune.  There are many who claim that this is the first use of the expression “off the cuff” both figuratively and literally.

Now as lovely as that story sounds, it is not the origin of the expression “off the cuff.”  In fact, Gustave Flaubert (1821 -1857)  wrote a letter to his mother in 1850 apologizing for writing to her off the cuff.  In return, his mother wrote to him while he was in Constantinople, praising him on the tone and style of the letters he had written and sent to her that year, reassuring him that she was unaware they had been written “off the cuff.”

But it’s still unclear how the expression “off the cuff” came about in the first place.  Some say that bartenders used to keep track of patron’s tabs and of the bar prices with special markings they made on the starched cuffs of their shirts.  Supposedly, at a glance, bartenders could quote a price or tally a tab seemingly ‘off the cuff.’  While that certainly sounds plausible, it brings to mind a couple of problems: what happened when the bartender was ill for the day or another bartender took over for the balance of the day?  So, one can discount that explanation entirely as well.

It’s a fact that back in the day, men’s formal white shirts collars and cuffs were made of celluloid and were occasionally used as improvised notepads in dire circumstances.   Mrs. Hannah Lord Montague of Troy, New York invented the detachable collar in 1827 as a way to solve the ongoing difficulties she was experiencing with her husband’s “ring around the collar” problem.  It didn’t take long for her invention to catch on but it did take until the mid-1800s for cuffs to be made similarly to the collars. 

This seems to jive with Gustave Flaubert‘s use of the expression “off the cuff” which implied his words were easily cast off just as the new-fangled collars and cuffs could be cast off — and new ones put on — by the wearer.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version or mention of cuffs that could easily be written on prior to the invention of the cuffs thanks to Mrs. Hannah Lord Montague.

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Savoir Faire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 21, 2010

In a New York Times article published on November 24, 1929, journalist Edwin Clark wrote: 

Good Queen Anne, a dull and stubborn woman, resigned during a celebrated period of English history, a period comparable to that of Elizabeth or Victoria. The second oldest daughter of James II. she lacked the Stuart charm, intelligence and savoir faire.

The phrase “savoir faire” was in reference to the more genteel nuances of well-mannered behaviour.  Even those of modest upbringing could aspire to a certain “savoir faire” without appearing pretentious to those above and below their social class.

In 1850, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to Mrs Jameson, stating:  

I have read “Shirley” lately; it is not equal to “Jane Eyre” in spontaneousness and earnestness. I found it heavy, I confess, though in the mechanical part of the writing – the compositional savoir faire – there is an advance.” 

In fact, throughout the 1800s, it appears that the phrase “savoir faire” was well known and well used.   W.P. Robertson wrote in a letter dated 1838 to Thomas Fair, Esq. that: 

Monsieur and Madame Bonpland arrived in Buenos Ayres from France.  The fame, the talents, and the science of the one — the accomplishments and fascinating matters of the other — and the savoir faire and unaffected urbanity of both — made their society to be generally sought in the capital of the provinces of the River Plate.

However prior to the 1800s, the term was used solely by the French.

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