Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1855’

Hold Your Horses

Posted by Admin on April 27, 2011

The expression hold your horses has been around for a long time and both literally and figuratively means to hold back instead of charging forth into something you may not know enough about at the time.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in the Toledo Sunday newspaper of August 3, 1903 entitled, “Say, Mr. Councilman!” that reads in part:

It wouldn’t do you any  harm, Mr. Councilman, to go down to Columbus and take a street car ride.  You can get seven of ’em for a quarter.  You can ride 15 miles for less than 4 cents.  On nice, big, comfortable cars at that.

It isn’t necessary to fight the company.  No necessity for fighting anybody.  This is a business deal.  You are the agent of the people.  They rely on you to see that they don’t get the worst of it.  It’s a big deal.  So wait a minute.  Take your time.  Hold your horses.  Keep your shirt on.  Don’t be a crab.  Or a clam.  Or a dodo. Invoice your stock.  Figure out what you’ve got to sell.  And to whom it belongs.  See if it isn’t worth eight tickets for a quarter and universal transfers, anyhow.

Be true to the people.  Never mind who helped pay your campaign expenses.  There’s no politics in this.  You own no allegiance to any party or politician in strictly business matters.  Here’s a change and a time to do your own thinking.  And your own voting.

In 1855, the steamship George Law, with Lieutenant G. .V. Fox of the United States Navy commanding, left Aspinwall at 12:30 a.m. on March 16 and arrived at Quarantine at 10:30 a.m.k on March 24..  On March 26, 1855 the New York Times reported on what was going on once the steamship arrived at its destination.

The blow given all kinds of business by the Bank failures has been a severe one, and perfectly paralyzing for a time; how long it will last it is impossible to conjecture, but it will probably require a month or so to get things straight again.  Thus far there have been no failures among our merchants, there being an almost entire suspension of payment among them.  No man thinks of forcing collections, knowing it is useless, and there is a sort of mutual understanding and forbearance in that respect that is very creditable to all, and shows a general good feeling.  It certainly is policy, as anything like stringent measures at this time would result in general disaster and ruin.  Consequently there is no money to be had, and we must, in turn, rely on the good sense and good nature of creditors at the East.  That we shall be able to pay after a time is without a doubt, but just at this moment “it can’t be did,” so “hold your horses.”

An edition of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper from September 1844, ran an article that had this line in it:

Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.

At the time, hoss was the slang term for horse and was used interchangeably by people living in America.  In fact, in 1814 Connecticut-born David Humphreys (1752–1818) wrote a comedic play entitled “The Yankey in England” which was published in 1815.  During the Revolutionary War, he had been a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington, and was appointed sole commissioner in Algerine affairs in 1793, among other high-profile posts. “The Yankey in England” told the story of an American Whig and Tory officers meeting a French nobleman and an adventuress.  In the play, he wrote:

The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump.

As early as the 14th century, cannons and mortars of bronze, brass, or iron mounted on two-wheeled carriages became part of military manoeuvres.  Since horses were also part of military manoeuvres, it is very likely that this  expression was part of the language of the day.

What’s more, in Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus’ funeral games sees the son of Atreus call out to Antiochus with the suggestion that he hold his horses.  Let’s not forget that during Roman times, Romans had a man at the ready to hold their horses in the midst of battles. 

And since gunpowder is a Chinese invention, and since horses were also part of the Chinese military even then, it’s very likely that the expression hold your horses has its origins in ancient China.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Posted by Admin on January 14, 2011

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a book entitled The Screwtape Letters that presented the fictional correspondence between two fictional demons. The correspondence addressed one issue and one issue alone:  the best method with which to secure and safeguard mankind’s eternal damnation.  The book states clearly to the reader know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  What’s more, this extra bit about the road to Hell — quite the opposite of the narrow way into Heaven spoken of in the Bible in Matthew 7:13 -14 — is also found in the book:

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

In Baltimore’s The Morning Herald on January 2, 1888 they ran an article entitled “Better Pay Old Vows.”  The story was about the Reverend Wayland D. Ball, pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, who began the New Year with a sermon on using New Year’s Day to pay vows to God.  His sermon read in part:

We make some resolution of self-sacrifice, and then become happy over thinking how brave we are going to be and how good are going to become.  And contemplation is so much more pleasant and easy than performance that we are content with that.  but there is no virtue in good thoughts alone.  Religious emotion that comes from the mere making of vows is very often nothing but the Devil ticking us into a good humor with ourselves.  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

In a letter to the editor of the Daily Southern Cross in New Zealand on April 20, 1855 entitled “Taranaki Versus His Excellency And His Executive” the author, identified only by his initials, E.M., began his comments with:

Sir, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and his Excellency Colonel Wynyard appears anxious to complete the Taranaki portion of the pavement with the least possible delay.

That same year, the expression is found in H.G. Bohn’s Hand-book of Proverbs.  The proverb is from Portugal and states that:

Hell is paved with good intentions, and roofed with lost opportunities.

Even earlier than that, thought, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) is quoted as saying:

L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (Translated: “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”)

The expression has evolved since the days of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but the meaning remains the same.

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 12th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In The Doldrums

Posted by Admin on July 14, 2010

The doldrums is the name of a place in the ocean typically found between 5° north and 5° south of the equator, and is also known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).   The doldrums are characterized by unstable trade winds and oftentimes, ships caught in the doldrums can be stranded due to lack of wind  in the belt of calms and very light winds.  

There are people who will tell you that the expression “in the doldrums” alludes to the maritime doldrums,.   However, the region now called the doldrums wasn’t named until the mid-19th century.  The earliest known reference to the region’s name in print is Matthew Maury’s The Physical Geography of the Sea published in 1855 that states:

The equatorial doldrums is another of these calm places. Besides being a region of calms and baffling winds, it is a region noted for its rains.

So where does the expression come from if not from the maritime doldrums?  

The word doldrums was used to mean a general state of low spirits in the early 19th century. For example, in private correspondence from Sir Thomas Lawrence to Lady Morgan on December 21, 1810. Sir Lawrence wrote:

My evil genius does haunt me, my dear madam, but not in your shape on the contrary, I believe that it takes you for my good one, for it is very studious to prevent my seeing you. To morrow I cannot, Sunday I cannot; but I will make it as early in this ensuing week as my distractions will admit.

Doldrums and bother,” are weak terms for ladies of your invention at least, they touch not my state.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the doldrums in its archaic and obsolete form as meaning a dull, drowsy, or sluggish fellow.  It comes from the Middle English word dold which is from the Old English Word dol.  The past participle of dold is dullen.  The word doldrum dates back to 1795 when the word dold meaning dull with the addition of the suffix rum or rums, to indicate the plural form thus indicating that the person to whom the doldrums referred was suffering from low or dull spirits.

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

Never Cast A Clout Until May Is Out

Posted by Admin on March 30, 2010

Ne’er cast a clout till May be out is an English saying with a long and difficult history.  In 1855, F. K. Robertson’s Whitby Gazette published the following rhyme:

The wind at North and East
Was never good for man nor beast
So never think to cast a clout
Until the month of May be out
.

The earliest published version of the rhyme can be found in Dr. Thomas Fuller’s  “Gnomologia” published in 1732. 

Since at least the early 15th century ‘clout’ has been used to mean a fragment of cloth or clothing and was spelled as clowt, clowte, cloot, or clute.   It’s here that the saying took on two meanings rather than just the original.  The new meaning was a reminder not to be too quick to shuck the warmer winter clothes before cooler days during the month of May were most likely over.

That being said, English farm-workers working the fields in their winter clothes throughout the month of May could suffer from heat exhaustion if they kept all their winter layers on until the end of May!   The flowering of the hawthorne (May) tree was a more reliable guide to the state of the weather.

This means that the original meaning goes back even further than the 15th century and indeed, it can be traced back to the 12th century.  During Medieval times in Brittany, a man proposed to his beloved by leaving a hawthorne (also known as a Mayflower) branch at the door of his beloved on the first of May. By leaving the branch at the door she accepted his proposal.

Traditionally, it was taboo to bring hawthorne into the house in Medieval England because it was feared it would bring death with it.  This is because the hawthorne blossom has a distinctive fragrance and in medieval times, the blossom was said to carry the ‘stench of death’.  (This is due to the trimethylene that the flowers give off as they deteriorate.) 

The exception to that rule was during May-Day celebrations (for one day only) when it was permitted to bring flowers into the house for decoration.  No marriages were allowed during the month of May and it was considered unlucky to marry in the hawthorne month since most people during Medieval times rarely bathed, June was usually one of the months in which most people had baths.  The exception to the rule, of course, would be those who lived in castles. 

It would make sense for the general population to keep at least some (but not all) of their winter clothes on until they could bathe and be fresh for any wedding celebrations coming up during the month of June.  This is verified by another English saying:  “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day.”  What’s more, washing in May was not a favoured activity as evidenced by yet another English saying:  “Wash a blanket in May; wash a dear one away.”

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »