Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1862’

Do The Graceful

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2021

Last week on social media, people were talking about the idiom to do the graceful which they claimed was an expression from the Victorian era and meant to charm or fascinate others. As Idiomation had never heard that idiom before, it seemed odd that such an idiom existed however since it was a topic of hot discussion in various author and writer groups online, it was worth researching.

At first glance, the idiom seems to be missing a word. It seems wanting in that respect as in do the graceful thing. However there is one thing Idiomation has learned, it is to never assume a word is missing or that the idiom is used in its entirety. For that reason, Idiomation researched the exact idiom: do the graceful.

Before Idiomation delves into what we learned, first off, it must be noted that the idiom actually means to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean to charm or fascinate others, although charm and fascination may be used in order to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation.

Now let’s get on with what Idiomation uncovered about this idiom.

In Episode 10 of the Sourcegraph podcast, Matt Holt, author of a number of open-source projects including the popular Caddy web server, was interviewed. In the podcast, he talked about his motivation for creating the Caddy web server, and the challenges of maintaining the open-source project. In this interview, he used the idiom.

We even have graceful reloads working in Windows, which is not something other web servers really offer because the way we handle network and do the graceful.

The Detroit Free Press reported on page 6 of the Saturday, 7 December 1935 edition that influential Republicans claimed to have solved the riddle of Palo Alto after going after Herbert Hoover weeks earlier to ask him what he was up to and why. Here is what the newspaper published in part.

Mr. Hoover quietly informed the curious that he did not want and would not seek the nomination. Barring a miracle, he senses that the surest way to re-enthrone the despised New Deal would be for him to run again. He promised to renounce the unoffered crown but he reserved the right to decide when he should take himself out of the race. His ulterior motive gives a tip on when he will do the graceful.

The idiom was found in The Mitre which was a monthly publication for the students of Bishop’s University and the Boys of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. The copy Idiomation found was from October 1902. In this edition, the rules for how freshman were to act was included as a welcome to the new men entering the college that Fall. Of course, the rules listed weren’t part of the College rules handed to each new student upon registration at the College, but new students were advised to “carefully study and literally follow” the rules including this one:

2. Freshman when they meet their seniors on the street, should always do the graceful, and touch their trencher or cap.

It was in The Newfoundlander newspaper of 12 February 1875 that an article about the hasty actions of Grand Duke Alexis — a Russian aristocrat who had fascinated a number of society belles in New York when he visited the United States of America — included the idiom. Before embarking on his voyage to America, the Grand Duke had fallen head over heels in love with the daughter of a high official of the Council of Empire, declared his passion, enjoyed the reciprocation of that passion, and secretly married. The marriage remained a secret for nearly three months, and as the saying at the time went, “marriage, like murder, will out.”

The voyage to America, and the very long return home by way of Japan and Siberia, was meant to cure the Grand Duke Alexis of his love, with the hopes that while he was cooling his heels with other women of high breeding, his family and their representatives could talk his mistake into leaving him for a generous financial settlement. But here’s what happened instead according to the newspaper.

But she would do nothing of the sort, not even when she was told that she could name the financial terms and receive the money when and where she wished. She loved Alexis and had married him, and would remain his wife until death should do the graceful for one of them. Possibly the Count hoped that the pale warrior would begin on her at an early date, but if he thought so he did not say so. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and was as unsuccessful as the most earnest admirer of pig-headed constancy in love could desire. Next day, the diplomat called again, but she would not see him, and after trying the intercession of a Russian lady of high position who happened to be in Geneva, he gave up the effort and took the train for Paris.

Indeed, in 1875 the expression was used by many. Another example was found in the Yerington Times edition of 28 November 1875 — Yerington being in Nevada — with regards to a gathering at the state capitol on Thanksgiving Day. At the local theater, the writer of the article took in a show where he and his friend found John Jack and the Firmin Sisters (Katie and Annie) performing before a “large and fashionably dressed audience.” Once the performance concluded, the benches were cleared and the orchestra began to play music to the delight of those in attendance.

It was reported that the reporter and some new-found friends from the Tribune did their best to “keep time with the music and off the ladies’ dresses” and they admitted that “the trails of only some fifteen or twenty dresses will probably have to visit the dressmaker’s to recuperate from the havoc by [their] No. 11’s.” Once all that was admitted, the idiom appeared.

Miss F. certainly has the charm of dispelling the gloom that settles around a timid reporter’s soul as he finds himself trying to do the graceful among strangers, and the gentleman who procured the introduction has been instrumental in setting a “little bird singing in our heart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Annie Firmin and John Jack were married, but she still was known as Miss Annie Firmin to theater patrons and promoters.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Annie Firmin was represented by Mrs. John Drew who was one of the premiere theatrical agents in Philadelphia. Over the years Mrs. Drew represented Annie Firmin, Annie became well known throughout the theatrical profession as a reputable and respected actress. and long before she met the actor John Jack.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: John Jack (1 February 1836 – 16 September 1913) began his career as a call boy in the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he made his appearance as an actor where he quickly built up an enviable reputation as a performer of diverse professional talents and abilities including a sought after reputation as a stage manager.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Annie was John Jack’s second wife whom he married years after the death of first wife, Adelaide Reed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: At the outbreak of the American Civil War through to the end, John Jack severed his theatrical connections and enlisted in the Federal Army. He sustained wounds that sent him to hospital, but even wounded, when there was a threat of rioting in connection with drafting difference forces into the war, he recruited other injured men to address the insurrection.

The idiom also appeared in the Wednesday, 23 March 1870 edition of the Port of Spain Gazette from Trinidad. The Gazette shared a news article from London dated 1 March 1870 with regards to the political news that Lord Derby had refused to accept the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It was thought that Lord Derby’s acceptance of the post would have been a guarantee that his fellow Conservatives would have considered all the changes the majority in the lower House sought.

The Duke of Richmond was suggested by Lord Salibury, which was seconded by Lord Derby and supported by Lord Carnarvon. The article then described the fanfare that goes with the ceremony in the House of Lords.

Seating himself, he puts on his cocked hat, then he salutes the Lord Chancellor, and rising, goes back to the woolsack to pay his respects to the noble and learned lord. The cocked hat is the greatest trouble on these occasions, as noble lords are apt to knock off that unwonted covering, in an endeavour to do the graceful.

Wondering if perhaps the expression was a relatively new one in that era, Idiomation continued researching and found this passage in the Daily Evansville Journal of Evansville (IN) in Vanderburgh County on 22 May 1862 under the heading “River News.”

The ever prompt and swift gliding Bowen, with Capt. Dexter and Billy Lowth to do the graceful, will leave at the usual hour this afternoon for Cairo and all down river towns. Pay your money early and secure state-rooms.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of the idiom however since the Victoria era was from 1837 through to 1901, Idiomation confirms the idiom was definitely used during the Victorian era. That Idiomation was unable to find a published version prior to 1862 lends credence to the claim it is an idiom from the Victorian era.

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

Back Forty

Posted by Admin on January 31, 2014

Every once in a while you’ll hear someone talk about the back forty. When you do, what they’re talking about is a remote and uncultivated or undeveloped piece of land of indefinite size, and not necessarily forty acres in size.

Malaysian born and University of Wisconsin educated Ken Chew is the mayor of Moraga in California, with this term being his second go at being Moraga’s mayor. He has a reputation for saying what he thinks and not mincing his words according to an article published in the January 1, 2014 edition of the Lamorinda Weekly newspaper. Among many subjects discussed in the article by journalist, Sophie Braccini, was a certain section of land leased to a local country club.

The preliminary list includes what is always the first goal in Moraga: fiscal sustainability and a balanced budget. Chew would like to see refinement of the capital improvement plan for all of the town’s assets. “We are doing very well with our roads, but the town owns other properties and we need to be very clear on the maintenance and/or future of these assets,” he said, including the land known as the “Back 40” that the town leases to the Moraga Country Club.

The book “A History Of Appalachia” by Richard Drake, professor emeritus of history at Berea College, published in 2001, discusses Appalachia, from the 1800s onwards, and in great detail, with numerous sources. In this book, the author included this passage:

Most sociologists and anthropologists who have looked into small Appalachian rural communities have found that the local community, apparently fairly democratic, is actually divided by family reputation, income differentials, and the degree of uban sophistication. Other useful analyses trace the distance from urban ways, placing the person closest to the city as “superior” with the rural “back forty” places next, and the remote “holler” as the poorest and least powerful.

In the book “A Stretch On The River: A Novel of Adventures on a Mississippi River Towboat” written by Richard Pike Bissell (1913 – 1977) and published in 1950, the idiom back forty was also used. The story is about the son of a wealthy family who, rather than being drafted to fight in the war, chose to work on a Mississippi River towboat.  The author weaves his tale of a typical trip up the river in such a way that reader is left with an accurate picture of the era when towboating on the Mississippi was an exciting and viable employment for eager, young men. On page 56 of the book, the following is found:

“I seen him. A forty-miler if I ever seen one. By the time we get to Rock Island lock he’ll decide he’s got to go home to help get the hay in or breed the bull or plow the back forty. I seen his brand a many times before.”

A newsletter out of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin known as “Our Boys” was published quarterly by the Wisconsin Home and Farm School Association. In Volume 10 published in January of 1916, under the keen eye of Editor and Business Manager, W.J.C. Ralph, and Associate Editor, R.M. Bradford, the following was announced:

Early in the winter a couple of acres of land was cleared up on the backforty.” The trees were cut into logs, posts and firewood.

Back in 1832, it was determined that 40 acres was the right amount of land that should be made available to settlers in the US Midwest as the population expanded westward. Forty acres was agreed by the government to be small enough and at a low threshold price to advance the frontier. This was in place until 1862 when the Homestead Act of 1862 (which was officially repealed in 1976) determined that 160 acres should be made available at no charge to anyone who would was willing to live on the land and cultivate it for at least five years. In other words, settlers were provided sweat equity in exchange for their land.

Shortly after the Homestead Act of 1862, during the spring and summer of 1865, in South Carolina, there was also a push to provide freed slaves with forty acres and a mule under Sherman’s Special Field Order, No. 15. As can be imagined, it was a highly successful program that provided freed slaves with the opportunity to own property. The concept began to take shape in 1816 when the American Colonization Society was formed and the issue of resettlement for freed African Americans was discussed.

A quarter section was half a mile by half a mile — 160 acres — and was made up of four quarters, each being 40 acres in size. The back forty was usually the forty acres furthest away from the homestead, and was definitely the last to be cultivated since it was the least likely to provide a bountiful crop if cultivated.

Forty acres was accepted by the mid-1750s as a sufficient amount of land with which a farmer’s needs could be reasonably supported. It was determined that forty acres of good land was all a farmer needed for a herd of two hundred sheep, or one of twenty cows, and that forty acres would result in a sufficient number of lambs and calves, wool, butter, cheese and other commodities, to make the land profitable for a farmer.

That being said, the back forty meaning an uncultivated or undeveloped piece of land is pegged to 1862 at the time of the Homestead Act.

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

The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Backhanded (Left-Handed) Compliment

Posted by Admin on September 30, 2010

Back-handed is synonymous with left-handed and so a backhanded compliment is no different than a left-handed compliment.  A backhanded or left-handed compliment is a compliment with an insult at the centre. 

In the Presbyterian Review published in 1880 and edited by Samuel J. Wilson, James Eells et al, it was reported that:

But other Jewish Rabbis, as Gratz and Friedlander, have since repeated the view of Geiger.  Delitzsch proves the preposterous folly of this left-handed compliment to our Lord. Rabbi Hillel, who died about A.D. 10, was, no doubt, the greatest of Jewish Rabbis and Pharisees, even if we deduct from the fabulous traditions about his learning and wisdom. 

Thomas Henry (T.H.) Huxley (1825 – 1895) wrote about Scottish philosopher and historian, David Hume in his book “Hume (English Men of Letters Series)” published in 1879. 

Ten years later, he cannot even thank Gibbon for his History without the left-handed compliment, that he should never have expected such an excellent work from the pen of an Englishman.

In the Scientific American Journal, Volume 1007, Issue 19 published on November 8, 1862, on page 295, the following was reported:

Left-Handed Compliment – When Mr. Whiteside finished his five hours’ oration on kars, Lord Palmerston replied that the honorable gentleman’s speech was highly creditable to his physical powers.

But the term left-handed has a definition in the sense of questionable or doubtful that dates back to the early 1600s.  In 1614, Ranald Oig seized Edinburgh Castle, that led to Thereon Angus Oig, a younger brother of the imprisoned Sir James Macdonald of Islay, to set about recovering the castle “for the king.”

One of his kinsman was a man by the name of Left-handed Coll Keitache.  It is said that Ranald Oig escaped by sea, and Thereon Angus Oig retained the castle, offering to restore it to the Bishop of the Isles on conditions.  Sir James Macdonald went to Lochaber, Morar, and Knoydart, and then to Sleat to continue his mission.  In the end, he fled from the island and Left-handed Coll Keitach found himself employed by his enemies against his former associates, which he did to the best of his abilities.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Pigs Fly

Posted by Admin on June 28, 2010

The phrase “when pigs fly”  is one of my favourites and is a common humorous euphemism for the word “never.”  It dates back to the early 1600s when more than a few writers alleged that pigs could fly with their tails pointed forward … quite an impossible feat.

The Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pondered the possibility of ‘whether pigs had wings’ which implies an unspoken question as to whether pigs could fly hence the wings reference.  It is  most likely that this question happened in Mr. Carroll’s book due to the 1862 publication The Proverbs of Scotland where the following can be found:

If a pig had wings, it could fly.

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