Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1883’

Pink Elephants

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 5, 2014

If someone accuses you of seeing pink elephants, it means you are suffering from hallucinations … mostly likely caused by a state of inebriation.

In 1992, the “Confrerie van de Roze Olifant” (Brotherhood of the Pink Elephant) was founded to promote the Belgian beers made by the Huyghe Brewery aka Brouwerij Huyghe. The brewery has been in operation since 1654 and its best known beer is called Delirium Tremens (which is Latin for “trembling madness“). It has an alcohol content of 8.5% and was named “Best Beer In The World” at the 2008 World Beer Championships held in Chicago, Illinois.

In the May 14, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal, journalist Jean Spender wrote about former Alaska governor’s speech at a fundraising breakfast for the Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, D.C. She was quoted as having said:

Look out, Washington. There’s a whole stampede of pink elephants coming this November.

So where does this idiom come from, and what’s with all this talk of pink elephants as opposed to blue or green or bright yellow elephants?

Back in 1953, a Looney Tunes cartoon named “Punch Trunk” referred to pink elephants when a drunk looks at his watch and then says to a tiny grey elephant “You’re late!” Staggering away, he adds as an aside for the audience’s benefit,”He always used to be pink.”

Aha! What this means is that before 1953, there were pink elephants in some idiomatic form or another. And, of course, there was. In Disney‘s 1941 animated feature, “Dumbo” Timothy Q. Mouse and Dumbo the Elephant accidentally find themselves inebriated when they drink water that’s been spiked with champagne. Thanks to this mishap, they hallucinate pink elephants singing, dancing and playing marching band instruments. It would be easy to stop there and say it was obviously an expression that originated with Dumbo but that’s not quite right.

In the December 1938 edition of Action Comics #7, Superman lifts an elephant over his head while performing at the circus. As with most stories, there has to be an non-believer in the crowd and in this case, it’s a drunk. Upon witnessing Superman‘s feat of strength, the drunk says, “I don’t mind seeing pink elephants, but (hic) this is too much!

The expression appears in the National Provisioner, published by the Food Trade Publishing Company and heralded as the “official organ of the American Meat Packers Association.”  In the October 17, 1908 edition, the following excerpt is found with regards to the Packers’ Convention in Chicago. In fact, the following is attributed as being part of the “aftermath of the convention.”

Listen to the gentle dill-dill bird carolling sweet lays and the voice of the placid niph blending his voice in beatific unison. And see — see the pink elephants with green mosquito jockeys astride racing over the walls — what’s that? It’s 11 o’clock. Say, send a boy up with a pitcher of ice water, will you? In a hurry please.

In Chapter II of Jack London’s novel “John Barleycorn” published in 1903, the author provides an excellent definition of how alcohol and pink elephants are associated.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers.

But are there such things as pink elephants? As a matter of fact, yes. In fact, albino elephants — which are far more common in Asian elephants than African elephants — are reddish-brown or pink. In Thailand, they are called chang phueak which, when translated, is pink elephant.

In 1877, Queen Victoria became the Empress of India even though India had been under British control since 1858.  Six years after Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India, Toung Taloung, wintered for a time at the London Zoological Gardens before continuing its journey to join the Barnum, Bailey and Hutchison Circus in New York City. While in London, journalists and citizens were disappointed to learn that the alleged “white” elephant wasn’t white at all, but rather a reddish-brown — or rather, a dirty dusty rose.

Sometime between 1883 and 1903 — twenty years between Toung Taloung‘s appearance at the London Zoological Gardens and Jack London’s story — pink elephants, while very rare, were associated with the hallucinations of those who partook of alcoholic beverages.

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Dog And Pony Show

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2014

If you’ve ever heard newscasters talk about the dog and pony show, you undoubtedly have a sense that such a presentation is an elaborate and overblown event to promote something to the general population. It’s an expression that’s used pejoratively for the most part, and as such, the connotations and associations are usually negative.

The Jewish Week newspaper of March 2, 2014 published an article by Douglas Bloomfield about the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. While the idiom was used in the headline, it was also used in the opening paragraph.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference going on at the Washington Convention Center is the best dog and pony show in town, replete with a variety of interesting breakout groups, intelligent speakers, training sessions for activists, hasbarah, hands-on lobbying for the rank and file and the star power of meeting a glad-handing herd of pandering politicians.

Just a few weeks earlier on December 5, 2013, Matthew Vadum had written a news article that was carried by ww.frontpagemag.com that looked at the flaws in the Affordable Health Act proposed by the Obama administration. The article was entitled, “Obama’s Pointless Dog And Pony Show.”

In an article entitled “Special: More Than 77 Years Under The Tent” written by Eugene H. Kirkham and published in the June 18, 1979 edition of the “Circus Report: America’s Favorite Circus Weekly” the idiom was used in a non-idiom way. Sandwiched between advertisements and help wanted ads, and interspersed with articles such as the one on the latest rules covering both performing and non-performing animals and show reports, the article by article by Eugene H. Kirkham began by way of a quick introduction to the subject of the story.

On the cloudy morning of April 24th, on a small fair ground in Madison, NC, some circus fans walked on the back lot of Circus Genoa. It was their pleasure and surprise to be greeted by a short and grizzled man, the real and only Frank “Blacky” Boyd Martin. A man that has been in show business for 77 years. Since 1902 at Darlington, SC, when he ran off with the Gentry Bros. Dog and Pony Show, he has been on the road with about every circus and most carnivals that have played in the U.S.A.

With the mention of the Gentry Bros. Dog and Pony Show, research uncovered the many names the Gentry Brothers used to promote their show (1887 to 1922) from the simply titled “Gentry’s Famous Dog & Pony Show” to the showy version known as “Professor Gentry’s Equine and Canine Paradox” and countless incarnations between the two.

The dog and pony shows were small time shows masquerading as circuses that were run on a shoestring budget and consisted of a group of musicians of varying levels of talent and ability, a ringmaster, and animal acts that were mostly made up of dogs and ponies. The success of the dog and pony show relied heavily on the proprietor’s ability to aggressively market the show through lithographed pictorial posters and handbills with flashy words accompanied by engaging sketches.

The oldest dog and pony show was “Morris’ Equine and Canine Paradoxes” which began touring in 1883. When Henry B. Gentry of Bloomington, Indiana hooked up with the show at the tender age of 17 in 1886, he learned the art of showmanship and animal training quickly, setting off with his own dog and pony show the following year when he inherited the show from his mentor … a show that was deeply in debt and deserted by its creator.

Not to be deterred by such circumstances, Henry B. Gentry saw potential in the dog and pony show, and determined that it would be a success. By 1897, Henry B. Gentry’s show had grown to an impressive 14 cars. Four years after that, there were four Gentry shows on the road with Henry and his three brothers each managing a show. The shows also included — along with the dogs and ponies — monkeys, pigs, goats, and eventually, elephants.

By 1906, the dog and pony shows were left behind as Henry B. Gentry’s shows became full-fledged circuses in the truest sense of the word.

In Volume 98 of “The Bankers’ Magazine” covering January to June 1919, in the article “Purchaser of Note Must Take It Without Notice Of Defect To Be Holder In Due Course” the expression was used. It addressed the lawsuit of Security State Bank of Wichita v J.N. Seaunier filed in the Supreme Court of Kansas (178 pac. Rep. 239).

Among other things, it appeared that the doctor traveled around the country advertising himself through the medium of a dog and pony show, that he claimed the ability to detect and cure cancer, and that the bank at the time of taking the note held mortgages on the doctor’s show outfit. The note involved was given by the defendant to the doctor for services to be rendered by the doctor in curing the defendant’s wife. The trial court gave judgment for the bank without giving the jury an opportunity to pass on the question whether the note had been obtained by fraud.

The idiom dog and pony show came to mean an elaborate and overblown event that promoted something that may not be what it promises to be because the original dog and pony shows were advertised as mini-circuses and while entertaining, they did not live up to the billing. The expression originated in 1883 with Professor Morris’ cut-rate circus show and in time, as the 20th century wore on, the idiom became a negative comment about a presentation that promises far more than it ever delivers … no matter how amusing or entertaining.

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Like Ugly On An Ape

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 22, 2013

It’s not often that you hear an expression that’s so bold in its delivery, but like ugly on an ape is one of those expressions.  On October 30, 1988 the New York Times published an article by William Safire that opened with this paragraph:

“I knew the minute I said ‘card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.,’” George Bush told Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, “a couple of your best columnists would jump all over me like ugly on an ape.”

It must have made an impression on author, Larry Niven as his book “The Man-Kzin Wars 2” published in 1989 used it in the book’s description:

Born and bred to hunting, they had never encountered a species they couldn’t treat as prey – until they met the canny pseudo-pacifists from Planet Earth. They nearly overwhelmed humanity on first contact, but fast as you can say “Ghengis Khan” or “Alexander the Great” the seemingly harmless monkey boys were all over the pussycats like ugly on an ape, with space fleets and strategic thinking that left the Warrior Race quite dazzled.  But that was then and this is now.  The pain of lost battles has faded and the Kzinti are back, spoiling for a fight, Larry Niven’s Known Space is again aflame with war.

So where did this expression come from originally, and how did it make it into a former U.S. president’s every day jargon?

It’s a fact that Gunsmoke (a television program that ran from 1955 through to 1975) where Festus Haggin — a role played by Ken Curtis (July 2, 1916 – April 28, 1991) — was known to use a number of colorful and amusing phrases to express himself.  Among the many that made their way into American culture of the day was “I’ll get on to you like ugly on an ape.”

Now according to the Texas Monthly magazine and writer Anne Dingus in the December 1969 edition, like ugly on an ape is an old Texas saying.  A number of Texans confirm this to be a fact.

Like ugly on an ape appeared in the early part of the 20th century as ugly as an ape and was a common expression referring to the physical appearance of an individual or how he presented himself in polite society.  Contrary to popular misconception these days, it was not a comment on one’s cultural heritage and as such, was not intended to insult those of African descent.

On September 22, 1883 the saying was found on the front page of the New York Clipper and Theatrical Journal, founded by Frank Queen in 1853.  It was found in the poem “An Actor” written for the New York Clipper by Cupid Jones, that offered this up as the first verse:

He was ugly as an ape,
Stupid, and vain, and vicious;
He had no chic, he had no shape,
His style was meretricious.

And in the New York Evening Express of 1843, in an article entitled, “Purchasing A Husband” the following quick story was published:

Susan, a country girl desirous of matrimony, received from her mistress the present of a five pound bank note for a marriage portion.  Her mistress wished to see the object of Susan’s favor, and a very diminutive fellow, swarthy as a Moor, and ugly as an ape, made his appearance before her.

“Ah, Susan,” said her mistress, “what a strange choice you have made!”

“Lo, ma’am,” said Susan, “in such hard times as them, when almost all the tall fellows are gone for soldiers, what more of a man than this can you expect for a five pound note?”

In the end, it’s uncertain when this idiom became part of the American lexicon, however, it is claimed by Texans as a long-standing Texas saying.  As such the Republic of Texas came about in 1835 and the expression certainly dates to at least a generation prior to that when you consider when the Republic was established and the use of the expression in a northern newspaper in 1843.

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Black Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 31, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

With regards to cutting or turning out the lights or electric power.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, this expression most often referred to the stage and theatre lights in a theater.  However, at the start of World War II, it  also came to mean darkening an entire city to hide it from enemy bombers.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Lima, Peru was reported on in the February 5, 1985 edition of the New Straits Times in Peninsular Malaysia.  The news story entitled, “Rebels Black Out Pope’s Lima Tour” described the uproar associated with Pope John Paul’s visit.

Peruvian guerillas, defying 15,000 men and Pope John Paul’s call for peace, last night blew up power pylons and blacked out Lima as the Pope rode through the city, police said.

Back on June 14, 1955 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story about the flash floods unleashed by torrential desert cloud bursts.  The news article, entitled, “Floods Black Out Las Vegas; Trains Stalled” reported that the flash floods had blacked out the city.  The damage costs were expected to run at least $100,000 and quite possibly as much as $500,000.  Power was quickly restored in most sections of Las Vegas however 80 percent of all telephones were still out of order the following day.

On January 9, 1940 the Miami News reported on a train accident near Ware, Hertfordshire in England.  The story was entitled, “Two Trains Crash; Score Injured In Black-Out.” The Miami News reported:

Two London-Northeastern railway passenger trains collided in the black-out last night, trapping scores of women and children in wrecked coaches.  Although several coaches were telescoped and both engines were overturned, no one was killed and only 25 were injured.

Just 2 years earlier, on May 31, 1938 the New York Times published an article entitled, “New Raid on Japan Forces Black Out Over A Wide Region.”  It stated in part:

Japan had a raid scare when two mysterious planes, supposed to be Chinese, flew along the whole western side of Kyushu island last night and early today. All the region was “blacked out” for three hours.

As a side note here, Japan’s electricity system was started in 1883 when the Tokyo Electric Light Company — now known as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — was founded.  Demand grew for electricity and in 1895, the company purchased equipment from AEG while its competitor, Osaka Electric Lamp purchased equipment from General Electric. Since the founding of electric companies in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, there have been reports of black outs.

In theatre circles, a black out means to extinguish all of the stage lights at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness.  While it is a term oftentimes associated with a performance, it has also been used to mean a performance is not to take place on that day. 

The Baltimore Sun ran a news story on September 18, 1901 that spoke of Baltimoreans of all classes uniting to pay tribute to deceased President McKinley.  The article stated that the bells of nearly all the Catholic and Episcopal churches would be tolled from 2 to 8 o’clock in the afternoon and that theatres would be “draped in somber black out of respect to the dead President.”  In other words, there would be no performances in the theatres on that day.

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