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Posts Tagged ‘1853’

Talk Like A Dutch Uncle

Posted by Admin on September 1, 2011

To talk like a Dutch uncle is another interesting expression. In Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” the use of the phrase “talk like an uncle” meant that one was being given a severe reproof since an Uncle’s rebuke was something to be respected.  This is evidence by the Latin classics onwards.  Since the rivalry between England and Holland had created the situation where anything Dutch was seen as something hateful, a “Dutch uncle” was one whose comments were to be respected while being nonetheless more strict and caustic than those of an uncle from other countries.

American comedian Jimmy Durante was known for asking, “Who do you think you are: my Dutch uncle?

On July 2009, the Public Health Alert published Volume 4, Issue 7 of its magazine.  Its mission is to investigate lyme disease and chronic illnesses in the USA according to its banner.  In this edition, the cover story was written by Scott Forsgren who interviewed Dr. Garth Nicolson, PhD, professor at the University of Texas in Houston and an instructor at Baylor College of Medicine.  In the course of the interview, Dr. Nicolson was quoted as saying:

I always felt the internet would help humanity learn how to live better, naturally.  As more consumers demand metal-free dentistry, this will create the change in the profession.  WHen I started 35 years ago, I had to talk like a Dutch uncle to get people to remove mercury fillings and root canals — it was tough.

Cutter Laboratories 1897- 1972: A Dual Trust” was a book that took more than one volume to tell the story of the founder of Cutter Laboratories.  Volume I was entitled, “Robert Kennedy Cutter: Building And Guiding A Family Pharmaceutical Firm” published in 1971.  A number of taped interviews were transcribed for this volume, and in one of the passages, Robert Cutter says:

And I recall that I wanted to have a job done by a printer whom I felt that for that particular type of printing would do a better job than Brent would do. And I had to talk like a Dutch uncle because my aunt kept reminding me of the many years that Mr. Brent had carried the laboratories when he didn’t get paid promptly at all.

Time Magazine published a news story on December 1, 1947 that dealt with voluntary health insurance.  It claimed that President Roosevelt had been shocked to learn that 4 million men had been rejected as 4Fs.  The article was entitled, “Medicine: Dutch-Uncle Talk” and the opening paragraph stated:

Elder Statesman Bernard M. Baruch is a doctor’s son. In the last few years, vigorous, health-minded Bernie Baruch has given millions for the advancement of medical education and research. Last week he talked like a Dutch uncle to a Manhattan gathering of 600 medicos and hospital administrators. It is high time, he said, that doctors give up their stiff-necked opposition to compulsory health insurance.

In the book “Cleek: The Man Of The Forty Faces” written by Brooklyn born American actor and author, Thomas W. Hanshew (1857 – 1914) published in 1912,  readers find the following in Chapter 3:

“Share the blame of my lateness with me, Mr. Narkom,” said Cleek as he tossed aside his hat and threw the fag-end of his cigarette through the open window. “You merely said ‘tea-time,’ not any particular hour; and I improved the opportunity to take another spin up the river and to talk like a Dutch uncle to a certain young man whom I shall introduce to your notice in due time. It isn’t often that duty calls me to a little Eden like this. The air is like balm to-day; and the river — oh, the river is a sheer delight.”

Thomas W. Hanshew wrote over 150 novels over the span of his life, many of which were under the pen name Charlotte May Kingsley.

The New York Times published a quick note in their January 9, 1881 edition that explained the meaning of the expression and referenced Brewers’ “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.”

Martim de Albuquerque published a comment in “Notes and Queries” in 1853 that in some parts of America, when a person was determined to give another a regular lecture, he was often be heard to say he wanted to “talk like a Dutch uncle.”  Since this was a common expression in 1853 in America, it most assuredly is an expression that came to America from England.

But long before America, in February 1563,  Huguenot Jean de Mere assassinated the Catholic Duc de Guise which led to de Mere being publicly executed.  It is alleged that he blamed his actions on “the pressures and sorrows by my Dutch uncle bestowed.”  While Idiomation was unable to find proof that this was indeed what Jean de Mere actually said while having proof that the expression was common in America in 1853, Idiomation feels safe in hazarding a guess that the expression can be pinned to at least one generation before Martim de Albequerque‘s writings, putting it somewhere around 1825.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2011

In case you are wondering, yes, “shake” is a recognized unit of time.  At the time of the first atomic bomb, scientists needed a term for an interval of time equal to 10 nanoseconds. Since two shakes of a lamb’s tail is very quick, scientists coined the word “shake” to describe this unit of time.  But where does this phrase come from originally?

In the Toledo Blade newspaper of March 30, 1961 in the “Tell Me Why” column, A. Leokum started the column by writing:

Suppose you ask someone to do something for you quickly.  He might say:  “I’ll do it in a minute.”  But he might also say: “I’ll do it before you can say Jack Robinson” or “I’ll do it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”  The point is that when we set up a unit of time such as an hour or a minute, we are doing it by agreement or convention.  We have decided that so much and so much time shall be called a “minute” or “hour.”  But in setting up divisions of time there are certain natural events that can guide us.

That being said, two shakes of a lamb’s tail was a recognized time unit in the 1920s as evidenced in Pittsburgh (PA) in an advertisement that ran in The Gazette Times newspaper on May 3, 1920.  The advertisement for The Men’s Store of Pittsburgh: The Only Place In Western Pennsylvania Where You Can Buy New York’s Finest Rogers Peet Clothes read:

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail!  Replenishing your wardrobe may take even less time than that — our stock of Spring Suits and Overcoats is so ample.  A size for every build.  They’re “made to fit” not “to measure.”  Highest type of tailoring. Prices reasonable.

Back on September 28, 1881 a Letter to the Editor appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail in New Zealand.  The letter began with:

A Brooklyn man spent seven hours writing an essay to prove that a woman is inferior to a man, and then spent two hours more and a heap of profanity in an ineffectual attempt to thread a needle, a job which a woman finally did for him in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

A generation before that on August 26, 1853 in an article entitled “Turning The Tables” and published in the New Zealand newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, the following was published:

A correspondent of the ‘Dublin Warder’ shows how an old acquaintance once turned the tables upon the bailiffs.  Two smart-looking fellows dressed as sailors, and with a rolling seaman-like gait, called at his house, and chucking the servant under the chin, told her to tell her master that they had brought commands from his brother, who was at that time at sea.  The credulous debtor eagerly opened the door and was soon in the arms of the bailiffs.  After complimenting them upon t heir ingenuity, he invited them into a back parlour, and begged they’d wait till he’d send off a bit of a note to a friend that he expected would arrange it for him.  “The messenger was back in the shakin’ of a lamb’s tail; and, my dear life, ’twasn’t long till the tables wor rightly turned, and the brace o’ shoulder tappers frightened out o’ their seven sinses by the arrival of a press gang; and, says Misther Blake, throwin’ the freemason’s sign to the officer, who happened, as Providence would order it, to be a Leithrim man. Here’s a pair o’ light active chaps that have deserted their ship and are disgracin, the blue jacket by actin’ as bailiffs.”  Sure that was a sore day for the disguised bailiffs, for notwithstanding their entreaties, they were obliged to go with the gang!

In the end, the phrase first appeared in Richard Barham’s book “Ingoldsby Legends” published in 1840 however that it was used with such ease in a news article in 1853 gives reason to believe that the phrase existed in modern language long before 1840.

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


Posted by Admin on August 18, 2010

Movie and television scripted criminals have invested countless hours into getting away from the “cops.”  How did police officers come to be known as cops in the first place?

Undoubtedly, some of you have heard the urban myth that cop stands for Constable On Patrol.  As plausible as that story sounds, there’s absolutely no fact to that claim.

The word cop first appeared in English in 1695, meaning “to catch.”  It was an off-shoot of the Middle French word caper meaning “seize, to take” and the French word came from the Latin word capere meaning “to take.”

The slang term cop was originally used among thieves in the U.K. with a “copper” being the common, garden variety street thief. Irony turned the tables on the word copper when in 1846 when criminals apprehended by the police were said to have themselves been copped — in other words, caught — by the coppers.  

In 1853, the New York City police adopted full uniforms.  Up until that time, police in major cities in America such as New York and Chicago, were identified by eight-pointed star shaped copper badges over their left breasts instead of a complete uniform identifying them as star police, coppers and cops from the early 1800s onward.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Let Her Rip

Posted by Admin on April 15, 2010

R.I.P. is the abbreviated form of Latin phrase requierscat in pace which means rest in peace.  Now anyone who has ever let her rip, will vouch for the fact that doing so is the farthest thing from being quiet, sedate, calm and peaceful.

In 1798 the phrase among mariners meant to move with slashing force as their ships cut through the ocean waves.  This is due in large part to the fact that in 1775, mariners referred to rough water as a rip.

The phrase “let her rip” is an American colloquialism that can be traced back to 1853.  The phrase is found in the 1859 edition of the Bartlett’s American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, and the phrase is described as a common slang expression that is a derivation of the British phrase “Let everything rip.”

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

Kangaroo Court

Posted by Admin on March 22, 2010

The term “kangaroo court” is an expression that compares the jumping ability of kangaroos to a court that jumps to conclusions on an invalid basis. Such courts are set up in violation of established legal procedure, and are characterized by dishonesty and/or incompetence.

Despite the fact that a kangaroo is from Australia, the term is American and dates back to the California Gold Rush of 1849. Gold miners established kangaroo courts comprised of their fellow gold miners in order to deal with claim jumpers.

The first recorded use being in Texas in 1853.  The term “kangaroo court” was used interchangeably in Texas with the term “mustang court.”

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