Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1859’

Fill The Bill

Posted by Admin on October 11, 2016

Idiomation shared the history behind foot the bill and fit the bill.  This time around, we’re looking at the history behind fill the bill, and what this expression means.  To fill the bill is to supply exactly what is needed to meet the needs of a specific situation.

On November 19, 2015 the HR Gazette website published an article about HR managers, and how to pick the one that’s best for your company.  The article discussed non-traditional graduates as opposed to traditional college students, and the advantages and disadvantages therein.  The article was titled, “Hiring An HR Manager: Can You Fill The Bill?

On February 1, 2000, the Latin Trade magazine decided to publish an article about fraudulent companies in South America.  Costa Rica correspondent Julie Dulude’s story began with an article published in the magazine Business Insurance that had been published in March 1999, and focused on a business calling itself Camelot Insurance Company, S.A.  The reporter’s investigation turned up a handful of companies with Camelot in their names.  The problem is that addresses are listed as local landmarks followed by compass directions, and so every lead was investigated by the reporter.  When she used the idiom, this is what she wrote.

Finding the next two addresses turned out to be a wild goose chase. The tenants at an apartment complex that seemed to me “exactly 75 meters west of the Colegio Metodista” knew nothing. “Ay corazon, since the school occupies the whole block, it could be on either this street or the parallel one,” offered the gardener.

Next door was a vacant lot and across the street a cemetery, so I headed for the parallel street. A yellow house next door to a construction site appeared to fill the bill. “Let me find my glasses,” said a middle-aged woman who came out to help. And then: “The problem is that it doesn’t say whether they mean the elementary or the high school. You see, the Colegio Metodista has a high school in Sabanilla, which is considered part of San Pedro.”

Filling the bill is something that was known nearly 100 years earlier.  In the book “The Lair of the White Worm” by Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) published in 1911 the expression fill the bill was used.

There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish  to keep — Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it.

Nearly twenty years earlier, in 1890 a passionate Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 34 of “Manford’s Magazine” reader James Billings of Hico, Texas.  The title of the letter was “Fill The Bill” and Mr. Billings to the expression fill the bill to task and wrote a passionate letter on the subject.

Shall that sinner be given up, as a subject beyond the reach of the mercy, and the love and power of God?  Is there no arm of infinite love, and goodness that can be stretched out to life this poor soul into the life of repentance, and to feel God’s forgiveness?  Is there no balm of mercy in Gilead to save?  Is there not mercy and goodness enough in God’s divine purposes to fill the bill, in every case?  God is love; and as it is an inexhaustible fountain, there is compassion sufficient to fill all bills, to meet all demands, and redeem all souls.

SIDE NOTE 1:  James Billings (15 November 1811 – 2 November 1898) was the new Universalist missionary in Texas, and had a noticeable presence as both a Universalist minister and a publisher.  In Hico, Reverend Billings and his wife, the thrice married and thrice widowed Mary Charlotte Ward Granniss Webster Billings (11 July 1824 – 2 March 1904), made a number of sound real estate investments on behalf of the Texas Convention, and opened All Souls Church in Hico, Texas in 1889.

Some sources state that fill the bill is American theatrical slang that dates back to 1882 where a lead performer’s name was the biggest name on the show’s poster with lesser performers listed in smaller letters and engaged to round out the program.  Idiomation doesn’t doubt that this may be true, however, the idiom was used in slightly more than twenty years earlier by the Illinois State Agricultural Society, and in the context we understand it to mean today.

On page 471 of Volume 4 of the “Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society” for 1859, there was a vote on whether to go with Wilson’s Albany, Necked Pine, Early Washington, or Iowa for general cultivation.  Notes were taken at this meeting and these words were attributed to Dr. Warder with regards to the best strawberry plants for farmers.

The Iowa is not a good bearer.  Only on in ten of its blossom produce fruit usually.  It runs too much and need thorough harrowing, which done, it bears well.  It has a high flavor but requires rough treatment.  It bears early, is good to have, though a little soft.  Austin or Shaker’s Seedling, Dr. W. hopes well from because of its great vigor, but doubts if it fills the bill.  Instead of the berries weighing at the rate of twelve to the pound, it take fifty weight a pound.  Has more confidence in Downer’s Prolific.  Downer is a reliable man, and the fruit and plant are both exceedingly satisfactory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference however the term was used easily by Dr. Warder with the expectation that his colleagues would understand the meaning of fill the bill.  We therefore peg this expression to the early 1800s.

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

Dead To Rights

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2010

Although the phrase “dead to rights” was first published in the Vocabulum or The Rogue’s Lexicon by George Matsell in 1859, the history of the phrase can be split in two to explain how the phrase came to be.

Dead” is a slang use of the word that means “absolutely and without doubt”  and dates back to the 16th century England.  The phrase “to rights” has been used since the 14th century in England to mean “in a proper manner” or “in proper condition or order.”

So when someone has been caught “dead to rights” what’s happened is that they’ve been caught red-handed in the act of committing a crime or making a mistake.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eaten Out Of House and Home

Posted by Admin on May 4, 2010

Old Mother Hubbard was eaten out of house and home by her many children.  The three bears were eaten out of house and home thanks to Goldilocks and her voracious appetite.  So who exactly is responsible for this phrase?

The Rise of Historical Criticism, written and published in complete form in 1908 by late-Victorian playwright and celebrity Oscar Wilde used the phrase.    Charles Darwin used the phrase in his book On The Original of the Species published in 1859.

The earliest published version of the phrase can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part II) written in 1597 where Mistress Quickly says:

It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his: but I will have some of it out again, or I will ride thee o’ nights like the mare.”

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Posted by Admin on January 25, 2010

The term did not originate with Marvin Gaye but rather 100 years earlier. 

In 1859, Colonel Bernard Bee was the first person in America to build a telegraph line and soon others followed.  The wires were originally tied tightly to tree branches but lack of regular upkeep meant that the lines fell to the ground in loops.

During the Civil War, the militia used telegraph lines to transmit important information with regards to their whereabouts and what they had accomplished.  Unfortunately, with so many people having access to the telegraph lines, oftentimes the information was difficult to understand or conflicted with other information about the same regiment.

It didn’t take long before the term “heard it through the grapevine” came to mean the sharing of information that had no definite source, was generally false and was most likely to be a widespread rumour and therefore false.

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A Monkey’s Uncle

Posted by Admin on January 22, 2010

In 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” that presented his scientific theory claiming that branching patterns of evolution resulted from a process called natural selection.

In 1871, the publication of Darwin’s theory on the  evolution of man in the book “Descent of Man” was greeted by a great deal of skepticism and considerable derision.

The idea that man was related by a common ancestor to apes and monkeys was considered the most outrageous of claims.

“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” was originally a sarcastic remark by non-believers of Darwin’s theory and was intended to ridicule the theory of evolution.

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