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Posts Tagged ‘1885’

As The Crow Flies

Posted by Admin on January 21, 2011

The phrase as the crow flies refers to the shortest distance between two points. But here’s something else you may not know about crows.  British coastal vessels used to carry a cage of crows with them in the days before radar (this is also why the lookout perch on sailing vessels is known as the crow’s nest).  When released while at sea, crows fly towards the nearest land which was particularly useful back in the day if the ship’s captain was sailing in foggy waters and was unsure as to where land lay.  The reason crows fly towards the nearest land is because crows detest large expanses of water.
It wasn’t until 1934 that a patent was granted in the United States to Taylor, Young and Hyland for a system for detecting objects by radio and further interest in radar development was shown in America by the Naval Research Laboratory, US Army Signal Corps, RCA and AT&T Bell Laboratories.  Research and development continued throughout the 1930s in countries around the world.

In The Living Age magazine, in Volume 0164, Issue 2121 published on February 14, 1885, the magazine contained a story that said:

Towards evening, they sky above the mountains opposite to my place of observation yielded a series of the most splendidly-coloured iris-rings; but on lowering the selenite until it had the darkness of the pines at the opposite side of the Rhone valley, instead of the darkness of space as a background, t he colours were not much diminished in brilliancy.  I should estimate the distance across the valley, as the crow flies, to the opposite mountains, at nine miles; so that a body of air nine miles thick can, under favourable circumstances, produce chromatic effects of polarization almost as vivid as those produced by the sky itself.

Over a century before that, the London Review Of English And Foreign Liturature, by W. Kenrick published in 1767 provides this passage:

The Spaniaad [sic], if on foot, always travels as the crow flies, which the openness and dryness of the country permits; neither rivers nor the steepest mountains stop his course, he swims over the one and scales the other.

In 1540, Garci Lopez de Cardenas led a party to the Grand Canyon.  Pedro de Castaneda Najera recorded the event and said that the Spaniards estimated the width of the canyon to the north to be:

… three or four leagues as the crow flies across to the other bank of the stream which flowed between [the rims].

In the accounts of Sultan Mahmud‘s Kanauj campaign of AD 1018, there are multiple references to “as the crow flies” when stating distances.  And 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer, Josephus (37 AD – 100 AD) used the term “as the crow flies” when stating distances.  For example, the distance from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives was six furlongs (3,637 feet) but only five furlongs (3,031 feet) as the crow flies

As a side note, the most important works by Josephus were The Jewish War written around 75 AD that dealt with the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation and Antiquities of the Jews written around 94 AD that dealt with the history of the world from a Jewish perspective.

It is very likely that the phrase “as the crow flies” goes back even further however Idiomation was unable to find any records going back beyond this date for this particular phrase.

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

I Brook No Truck With You

Posted by Admin on July 2, 2010

The expression “I brook no truck with you” is a double whammy expression in that both “brook” and “truck” have literal meanings as well as figurative meanings.  On a literal level, the expression makes no sense whatsoever.  However, figuratively, there’s quite an interesting history to be uncovered!  

Let’s deal with “truck” first and then come back to “brook.”   Truck comes from the French “troquer” meaning “to barter”.  So “to truck” is to become involved with something or someone.  This meaning comes from the Middle English word trukien first used in 1175.

Mark Twain’s book The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was set in Missouri in the 1830’s and first published in February 1885.  In the novel, Huckleberry Finn says:

It was just like I thought, He didn’t hold no truck with the likes of me.”

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,’s novel The Sign of the Four was the second novel he wrote that featuredSherlock Holmes.  It was published in 1890 but set in Victorian England in 1887 while referencing the Indian Rebellion (in India) of 1857.  In the novel, readers find the following passage:

‘How can I decide?’ said I. ‘You have not told me what you want of me. But I tell you now that if it is anything against the safety of the fort I will have no truck with it, so you can drive home your knife and welcome.’

Now on to the word “brook” which also has an interesting history.  Brook comes from the Middle English word brouken which means “to use.”  Brouken comes from the Old English word brucan which is akin to the Old High German word bruhhan which means “to use.”  The word “brook” in this sense came to mean “to tolerate.”

When “brook” and “truck” are coupled in the expression “I brook no truck with you” it means the individual speaking tolerates absolutely no dealings with and completely rejects any association with the person or persons with whom — or of whom — he or she is speaking.

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wing It

Posted by Admin on June 30, 2010

This expression comes from the theatre in reference to an actor studying his part in the wings (the areas to either side of the stage).  Such an actor may find himself or herself suddenly called on the stage to replace another actor slated to be on stage or currently on stage who cannot complete his or her role. 

The term was eventually extended to other kinds of improvisation based on unpreparedness including prompters who fed lines to entertainers on stage who had either forgotten their lines or who did not know them well enough in the first place but who found themselves on stage anyway. 

In Philip Godfrey’s 1933 book “Back-stage: A Survey of the Contemporary English Theatre From Behind the Scenes” the author wrote:

He must give a performance by ‘winging it‘ – that is, by refreshing his memory for each scene in the wings before he goes on to play it.”

By the mid-1900s, the phrase meant any performance — prepared or not — where improvisation takes the lead and all else (and everyone else) follows in the hopes that they will get to the anticipated destination or goal.

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


Posted by Admin on April 19, 2010

Southpaw came into vogue in 1885 thanks to Finley Peter Dunne aka Mr. Dooley, a famed Chicago sports journalist and humorist … and it had everything to do with the great all American pass time, baseball.

All major league baseball diamonds are laid out so the afternoon sun is to the batter’s back so he can see the ball coming at him from the pitcher’s mound.  This means that the batter faces east.

Of course, since the batter is facing east, the pitcher must be facing west.  Since science claims that 85% of people are right-handed, these leaves 15% of the population to be left-handed.  And when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound, his throwing arm is, of course, facing south.

Since a left-handed pitcher pitches with his ‘south paw’ those who routinely use their left hand to write were soon referred to as ‘southpaws.’

While that incident certainly helped to popularize the word, the term south paw referring to a person’s left hand is attested as far back as 1848 in the slang of pugilism.  A boxer who leads with the right hand and stands with the right foot forward, using the left hand for the most powerful blows was known as a southpaw almost 40 years before Finley Peter Dunne aka Mr. Dooley used the term.

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