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Posts Tagged ‘1865’

I’ll Be Swizzled

Posted by Admin on March 28, 2011

Idiomation first heard the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” while watching the 1950s movie, “Harvey” based on the book of the same name by Mary Chase.  The movie, shot in August 1950, starred Jimmy Stewart in the main role.  The following humourous scene appears in the movie.

VETA – Well he hustled me into the sanitarium and dumped me down in that tub of water and treated me as though I was a —

MYRTLE – A what?

VETA – A crazy woman. But he did that just for spite.

JUDGE – Well, I’ll be swizzled.

In searching for the origins of the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” Idiomation found a review by the American Record Guide dated September/October 2009.  The reviewer had this to say about David Matthews’ Dutton Vocalion CD:

His music is freely tonal, which means that his symphonies take from the structure of the great romantics, but his language moves in and out of standard tonality where the mood suits him… If one is to apply a label to Matthews, it must be that the man is a new sort of romantic; but I’ll be swizzled if I know what kind. I can’t stop playing this.

Although the phrase is rarely used these days, it appears to have been a staple in years gone by.  In the Milwaukee Journal of January 24, 1939 the following can be found in Richard S. Davis’ column “And So It Goes” as he reports on one gentleman’s bitter complaint against the dictates of fashioneers:

Another of these “exquisite creations” is entitled “coast to coast” which garbs the male physique in “a map of the United States, showing all the state capitals and representing the major industry of each commonwealth.”

All I can say to that it “whew!” (faintly).  I suppose on thrusts a leg into California and another in Florida while the head emerges from the depths of Lake Erie.  Somehow, I have a feeling that I would probably find myself in Rocky Mountain National Park the next morning — with a St. Bernard licking my face. No, I’ll be swizzled if I’ll become a sleeping travel bureau.

In the book, “The Idyl Of Twin Fires” written by Walter Prichard Eaton and published in 1914, the phrase appears in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker, which leads readers to believe that it was a common phrase during that era.

“Don’t you worry,” said Bert. “I’ll see he treats yer right.”

“It isn’t that,” I said sadly. “It’s that I’ve just remembered I forgot to include any painters’ bills in my own estimate.”

Bert looked at me in a kind of speechless pity for a moment. Then he said slowly: “Wal, I’ll be swizzled! Wait till I tell maw! An’ her always stickin’ up fer a college education!”

A generation before that, the Camden Democrat newspaper ran a story in their “Scraps of Humor” column on March 28, 1874 that read in part:

He said, “I did it, mother, with my little hatchet, but I’ll be swizzled if I can tell the whole truth about this little affair.”

Now most mothers would have kissed that brave, truthful lad on his noble brow, and kept right on using the meal out of that barrel just the same, but this one didn’t.  She said, “Come across my lap, my son; come across my lap.”

He came, and for a while there rose a cloud of dust from the seat of his trousers that effectually his the son from view, and the old woman now sports goggles and is lavish in the use of Pettit’s eye salve.

In Alfred B. Street’s book, “Woods and Water: Summer In The Saranacs” published in 1865, the phrase appears again in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker as follows:

“Ef he’d a gone down there, nothin’ could ha’ saved him, I bleeve, fur that aire hole was jest one bed o’ sharp p’inted rocks and he knowed it. Well, I’ll be swizzled ef that aire critter, jest as that aire log was a pitchin’ down that aire cobumbus like o’ water, didn’t reach out and ketch hold on a branch o’ hemlock a growin’ from a pint o’ the bank, and swing himself up jest like a squirrel. Didn’t we hooray!”

While Idiomation could not trace the phrase proper back further than 1865, Idiomation can confirm that the first use of the word swizzle is from 1790 and is in reference to a intoxicating drinks made from rum.  It is believed that it is most likely a variant of the word switchel which is a  drink of molasses and water mixed with rum.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Harvest Moon

Posted by Admin on December 23, 2010

The harvest moon is a lunar phenomenon that takes place during autumn, with the full moon closest to the Fall equinox, and roughly around traditional harvest time. The moon is much closer to the earth at that point, and takes on a very different yellow hue.  This is primarily due to the dust in the earth’s stratosphere. 

In the Wall Street Journal of November 23, 1955 the newspaper published an article with this intriguing lead:

A week from now the harvest moon of song and story will be big and golden as a Thanksgiving pumpkin in the sky. And a man on Long Island ha started to slice it up. For $1, Mr. Robert Coles. with the Hayden Planetarium, will sell you a deed to n one-acre plot in Copernicus Crater.

What many don’t know is that the Harvest Moon is part of American history.  It was a steam operated gunboat that was part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  It left Boston on February 18, 1864 and arrived just off Charleston, South Carolina, February 25 1864, and the day after it arrived in Charleston, Rear Admiral John Adolphus Dahlgren made the steamer his flagship. A little over a year later, on March 1, 1865 the Harvest Moon struck a torpedo in Winyah Bay, South Carolina,  where the bulkhead shattered and then sank.

In 1747, Scottish Astronomer James Ferguson published his first work entitled “A dissertation on the Phenomena of the Harvest Moon” for the Royal Society of London; he later became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in November 1763.

On October 27, 1415, Hottric Abendon gave a sermon at the Council of Constance — the 15th ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, held from November 16, 1414 to April 22, 1418 — that cried out for the reformation of the Church of England.  In the text of the sermon, the Harvest Moon was referenced by stating:

When the harvest moon comes and the barns are full, then those beneficed men will be at home.

The term was part of everyday language in 1415 which means it was in use at least the generation prior to this sermon being given by Dr. Abendon.

The Asian Mid-Autumn or Harvest Moon Festival, also known as the Moon Cake Festival, fell on September 21 this year.  The bearing of lanterns and the origin of mooncakes that are central to this festival date back to a 14th century revolt by the Chinese against the Mongols. 

In 1376, the Chinese overthrew the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty (1280-1376) in an uprising brilliantly devised and carried out by lantern-bearing messengers who delivered mooncakes with hidden messages inside.

The Moon Cake Festival itself dates back to the Tang dynasty in 618 AD so one could say that the Harvest Moon, known by many names, has been around since at least 618 AD.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Still Waters Run Deep

Posted by Admin on November 15, 2010

The phrase “still waters run deep” has been around for a while.  It serves to remind people that those who are quiet may prove to be very complex or passionate even though they don’t show that side of themselves to the general public.    

Prolific and respected English Victorian-era novelist, Anthony Trollope, wrote in his book, He Knew He Was Right, published in  1869:

That’s what I call still water.  She runs deep enough . . . .  So quiet, but so clever.

Still Waters Run Deep” was a play by well-known editor of Punch magazine, biographer and popular British dramatist, Tom Taylor (1817-1880).  It was produced on stage on May 14, 1855 with Alfred Wigan as John Mildmay and his wife, Mrs. Wigan, in the role of Mrs. Sternbold.

However, the phrase “still waters run deep” existed before that time.  In the Third Series, volume 7 of “Notes and Queries” that was published in January 1865, the following query is found: 

STILL WATERS RUN DEEP. I have been accustomed to hear this phrase used for the last fifty years. Where does it first occur in print? 

It would appear that the phrase was already well-known and found in every day conversations around 1810.  Going back further yet, the phrase “still waters run deep” was attested in the United States in the 1768 works of William Smith.’  And before then, the phrase was included in James Kelly’s 1721 collection of proverbs.  And it was T. Draxe who recorded the adage in 1616 when he published: 

Where riuers runne most stilly, they are the deepest.

In the end, however, the phrase “still waters run deep” can be traced back to around 1300 in the Middle-English historical and religious poem of nearly 30,000 lines long entitled Cursor Mundi, ‘in the segment entitled “Cato’s Morals.”  A great deal of the text focuses on the history of the Cross and is considered as an accepted summary of universal history.  In this poem the following is found: 

 “There the flode is deppist the water standis stillist.”

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

Smart Alec

Posted by Admin on August 12, 2010

In 1873, J.H. Beadle wrote in his book The Undeveloped West:

“I had the pleasure of seeing at least a score of SMART ALECKS  relieved of their surplus cash.”

It would appear that after the American Civil war, smart alecks were not very well liked.  But even before during that war, it would appear that the phrase was already well known.  In Carson, Nevada, the local newspaper, The Carson Appeal, published on October 17, 1865 spoke of Nevada having joined the Union:

“Halloa, old SMART ALECK  — how is the complimentary vote for Ashley?”

The Ashley to whom the newspaper referred was Delos Rodeyn Ashley (1828 – 1873) who was elected as a Republican to  the United States Representative from Nevada for the 39th and 40th Congresses from 1865 to 1869.

However, we owe the phrase “smart alec” to the exploits of  New York City’s celebrated pimp, thief, and confidence man, Alec Hoag and his capers of the 1840s.  Hoag, along with his wife Melinda and an accomplice known as “French Jack”, operated a  standard fraud practised by many con artists known as the “panel game.”  This game proved to be a very effective method for prostitutes and their pimps to relieve customers of their money and other valuables. 

The adjective smart as it’s used in this phrase — meaning impudent — dates back to the 15th century, and doesn’t appear that often outside of this expression although once in a while you do hear someone say, “Don’t get smart with me!”

It is said that the police hung the nickname of  “smart Alec” on Alex Hoag because he proved to be a very resourceful thief who outsmarted most everyone — including the police — for the duration he, his wife and their accomplice played the “panel game.”

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 19th 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 »