Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1861’

Devil’s Lane

Posted by Admin on June 16, 2015

Did you know that the devil’s lane is the narrow area between two spite fences erected by disputing neighbors?

This definition is attested to in Volume 75 of the Farm Journal published in 1951 when Anna Shoemaker of New Jersey wrote a letter to the editor with the following opening sentence:

When I was a child, our farm was next to that of a cranky old man who always had a “devil’s lane” between his property and ours. Instead of a single fence, there were two.

On March 9, 1900, the Pittsburgh Press published a story by Colonel William Lightfoot Vischer in the Friday evening edition.  The story was about two men who had been the best of friends until two years earlier when a serious misunderstanding happened between them at hog killing time.  After that, the two men had erected two fences between their respective properties.

 As we drove the doctor remarked:  “Those youngsters will probably get paddled.”
“For what?” I asked.
“You observed that lane they came from, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and I intended to ask what it meant.”
“It means that these two farmers are bitter enemies.  The boy, Sam, is the son of Tom Riggins, whose house we passed just yonder, and the girl is the daughter of Dick Rutherford.  This is his place, just ahead of us.  The dividing line between their farms lies inside of those two zig-zag fences, and the men hate each other so that they’d rather die than join in a partnership line, hence each has built on his own, and thus we have such an eyesore as that.  Country people, knowing the cause of a double fence, call it the Devil’s Lane.”

In Chapter 15 of the “Tell Tale Rag And Popular Sins of The Day” by the blind Methodist lay preacher, Reverend George W. Henry (1801 – 1888) and published in May 1861, the author used the idiom.

He said his master had a sore quarrel with a neighboring farmer, which was of long standing.  They hated each other so intensely that they would not unite their line fences, so each built a fence near the line, making was it commonly called “the devil’s lane.”

Now the word lane is from the Old English word lanu that means narrow hedged-in road.  But despite Idiomation’s most valiant attempts, no earlier mention of the devil’s lane than the one found in George W. Henry’s book in 1861 could be found.

Perhaps one of our eagle-eyed readers or visitors has uncovered an earlier published version of devil’s lane.  If so, please leave a message in the Comments section below.

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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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