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Posts Tagged ‘1851’

Kneehigh To A Grasshopper

Posted by Admin on January 15, 2022

Recently, Billie Morgan asked Idiomation to research Whoa Nellie. She shared that she had heard the expression since she was kneehigh to a grasshopper. Upon reading that, Heather Farley asked Idiomation to research kneehigh to a grasshopper‘s origins, and this week’s entry does just that.

First off, for those who may not know, when someone is kneehigh to a grasshopper it means they are (or were at the time) very young or are (or were at the time) very short in stature. At the beginning, referring to someone as kneehigh to a grasshopper was called ludicrous description by editors of various dictionaries, and yet, the expression persisted.

While the idiom fell out of favor for about 50 years beginning in 1960, in 2010, there was a marked uptick in the use of the expression. Of note is the fact that in the decade before it fell out of decade, there was a marked decline — as in a nosedive — from 1950 to 1960.

Idiomation suspects the United States War Department sincerely believed the idiom was one Russians might understand as they included it in their “Dictionary of Spoken Russian: English-Russian, Russian-English” published in 1945 with an entry on the Russian-English side.

And in 1924, the votes of fourteen leading children’s librarians regarding children’s books published in 1923 included a book by American novelist, illustrator, and children’s book author Anne Parrish (12 November 1888 – 5 September 1957) entitled “Knee-high to a Grasshopper” which was illustrated by her brother American painter George Dillwynn “Tim” Parrish (25 July 1894 – 6 August 1941). The book was 209 pages in length, and was published by MacMillan Publishers.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Anne Parrish was a runner-up for the Newberry Medal three times between 1925 and 1951. In 1925, her third collaboration with her brother titled, “The Dream Coach” was nominated.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: George Dillwynn “Tim” Parrish attended Harvard University where he became friends with American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright Edward Estin Cummings (14 October 1894 – 3 September 1962) known as e e cummings, and Pulitzer Prize winner, writer, and poet Conrad Aiken.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The year she published “Knee-high to a Grasshopper” she also published her first romantic novel, “Pocketful of Poses.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: In 1925, her novel “The Pereniial Bachelor” won the Harper Prize from the publisher, Harper & Brothers, and was the eighth best-selling book on the New York Times Best Seller list for all of 1925.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Anne Parrish’s book “All Kneeling” was published in 1928 which also made the annual best-sellers list. In 1950, it was made into a movie titled, “Born To Be Bad” which starred British-American actress Joan Fontaine (22 October 1917 – 15 December 2013) and American actor Robert Ryan (11 November 1909 – 11 July 1973).

The book was highly recommended by Elisabeth Knapp ( unknown – 15 April 1931), children’s librarian at the Detroit Public Library, and was suggested for even small libraries with limited selections available. Ms. Knapp went on to be come the chief of the Detroit Public Library Children’s Department.

In Volume 15 of “Popular Monthly” magazine published in 1883 and edited by English-born American engravor, illustrator and publisher Frank Leslie (29 March 1821 – 10 January 1880) a story was included titled, “On A Field Argent, A Swan Azure.” The story also appeared in Volume 8 of “Boys of England: A Young Gentleman’s Journal of Sport, Sensation, Fun, and Instruction” published in 1870 by Victorian editor and publisher Edwin John Brett (27 December 1827 – 15 December 1895). Unfortunately, in both cases, the author’s name has been omitted. The idiom is used in the story was in quotation marks.

All this was nine years ago. I am twenty-three, and have been married four years to a cousin of mine, or a cousin-germain, as the French call such a relation as he is to me; one Captain Belfait, who loved me so he says from the I was “kneehigh to a grasshopper.” My boy is a beautiful boy, too, but I have not forgotten “Petit Pierre,” nor has he forgotten me.

There was knee-high to a mosquito in 1824 and knee-high to a bumblee in 1833. There was knee-high to a splinter in 1841 and there was knee-high to a huckleberry in 1854. There knee-high to a bantam and knee-high to a cocksparrow in 1856, and knee high to a katydid in 1861. There was even knee-high to a duck in 1899 but being knee-high to a grasshopper — just a plain old grasshopper — is found in The Democratic Review in 1851:

You pretend to be my daddies; some of you who are not knee-high to a grasshopper!

The earliest idiom that used the comparison of being knee-high to anything is found in The Portsmouth Oracle in New Hampshire, published by Charles Turrell, back in 1814. This was the year farmer, shipbuilder, and statesman John T. Gilman (19 December 1753 – 1 September 1828) ran for Governor of New Hampshire.

“One … who, as farmer Joe would say, is about knee high to a toad.”

Knee-high to a toad?

Well, somewhere along the line, everything but the grasshopper seems to have fallen away and while the first published version with a grasshopper is in 1851, there were lots of other animals and insects and fowl who auditioned for the phrase before grasshoppers won the contest.

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Hold The Line

Posted by Admin on December 13, 2013

Sometimes holding the line has nothing to do with taking a position and defending it. Sometimes it simply has to do with waiting on the phone while an operator or administrative assistant puts you through to another extension. The caller holds the line instead of hanging up.

In the Boston Globe edition of November 26, 1962 the news story by Lloyd Shearer entitled “The President’s Time Of Decision” questions why any man in his right mind would want to become the President of the United States. Found on page 3 in section B6 of the newspaper, it included this line:

He asks Mr. Khrushchev please to hold the line and picks up the SAC phone.

On April 29, 1947, the Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida reported on the telephone company strike and its effect on customers placing long distance calls. The writer — known only as The Rambler — wrote about a long distance call he placed to his daughter in Washington. Setting up the story, he wrote:

He asked the operator here if the call could be put through quickly. She said she would try and told the Rambler to hold the line. He heard her asked [sic] Jacksonville for a line to Washington, then heard the Washington operator answer and get then umber of the telephone in Alexandria. Then he heard the ring of the bell in his daughter’s home and almost immediately, she answered.

The Boston Daily Globe published a serial story under the heading “The Web Of Intrigue” by Coralie Stanton and Heath Hosken back in 1913. Not every story or novel written by Coralie Stanton (1877 – unknown) and Heath Hosken was published in volume form, and many were serialized in various newspapers and magazines, including Munsey’s Magazine. Coralie Stanton was actually Mary Alice Cecil Seymour Keay and Heath Hosken was her husband, journalist and author Ernest Charles Heath Hosken (1875 – 1934) who sometimes went by the pen name, Pierre Costello. Their co-written stories as well as their solo efforts focused on romance and intrigue in exotic locales. The serialized story was described thusly: “The Snares of Clever and Designing Women Appear in High Relief in This Romance, the Plot of Which Centers About a Baffling Murder Mystery.”   It’s in the May 16, 1913 edition that the expression is used, when the question is asked of one of the story’s characters: Hadn’t he better hold the line?

It was in the book, “Regulations for United States Military Telegraph lines: U.S. Signal Corps” prepared under the direction of Brigadier-General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the Army in 1909, the following was written:

US Military Signals_Rule 89_1909

Although the U.S. Military rule has to do with the telegraph, in 1908 telephone companies also talked about holding lines — and giving them to others as they saw fit — as seen in this advertisement published in the American Telephone Journal (Volume 18) on page 9.  In fact it states that no subscriber “can hold the line to the detriment of services nor against the Emergency Signal.”  Don’t forget to check out the three-minute rule comment!

American Telephone Journal_Volume 18_1908

During the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) newspaper reporters competed for open telegraph lines and to hold the line while preparing their breaking news dispatches, they would have operator punch out verses from the Bible to their editors back home.

American painter and inventor, Samuel Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) had approached Washington almost two decades earlier with the proposal that he build an experimental 38-mile telegraph line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland that would follow the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad right-of-way. Congress set aside $30,000 USD in 1843 for that purpose, and the line was unveiled on May 1, 1844. Exactly one year later, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was established, and Samuel Morse patented the telegraph in 1847. In 1851, his telegraph was adopted as the standard for telegraphy in Europe and the United States.

This is important because it shows that holding the line was not possible before Samuel Morse invented the telegraph (which pre-dates the telephone by 25 years). To this end, Idiomation pegs the idiom hold the line as it pertains to communications to the start of the Civil War in 1861.

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