Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1888’

A Face To Stop A Clock

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 1, 2011

The movie Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of Elwood P. Dowd had a number of interesting phrases and expressions, not the least of which was talk of having a face to stop a clock.  In the movie, Elwood says:

ELWOOD – Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey — can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like — and when you get back — not one minute will have ticked by.

When someone says his face would stop a clock, it means that the other person has an unexpectedly unattractive face. 

In the “Tale of the Tudors” from the Warner Brothers’ animated television series, Histeria! that ran from 1998 to 2000, the following is found:

Boys:     So for a while, our Henry grieves,
              Then he marries Anne of Cleves.
              Anne came from fine German stock,
Toast:   She had a face that could stop a clock.
Girls:    Their marriage was cancelled in less than a year,
              His fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was dear.
             But Henry found out that her love was not true.

The Dallas Morning News ran a story on January 12, 1986 that read:

The Goddess of Liberty might have a face that could stop a clock on the University of Texas Tower, but she suddenly has attracted her share of suitors. At least two groups want to move the 3000-pound zinc statue out of Austin and put her on permanent display elsewhere.

Just shy of 26 years before that news article, the Milwaukee Journal edition of January 13, 1961 ran the column written by Ione Quingy Griggs of the Journal Staff.  From what Idiomation can see, Mrs. Griggs was a cross between Miss Manners and Dear Abby, offering up advice to those who were at a loss as to how to proceed with a particular situation.  The topic that day was how to copy with a mother-in-law who picked people apart and respones from readers whose opinion differed from Ms. Griggs’ earlier published opinion on the matter.  The following, authored by “Troubled Owner Of Mink Coat,” is an excerpt fromher response.

I read with interest your suggestion that a daughter-in-law voice the words “I am sorry” to her mother-in-law.  In my case it should be my husband’s mother to say it.  But no, she is always right everybody is wrong!  I’m not one to hold grudges, but when she sits with a face to stop a clock because my husband gives me a mink coat for Christmas, I’m ready to give up.  The mink coat was a surprise.  Everyone but Gran raved about it.  She sat frozen faced!

The expression was also found in a news story published on October 19, 1888 in the Chicago Daily Tribune in a story entitled, “The Beautiful Boston Man.”

After the parade the other day a well known Bostonian who is unfortunate in having a face to stop a clock approached an offer of the Cadets in a patronizing sort of way and said, “I saw your company today old man It looked very well very well indeed.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, a face to stop a clock, however it can safely be assumed that if it was used in a news story in 1888 that it was a well-understood phrase among the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s readership and one can guess that the expression dates back at least to the  mid-1870s.

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Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Taken Leave Of Your Senses

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 4, 2011

If someone has taken leave of his or her senses it means that he or she is irrational.  It may be permanent or it may be temporary, but make no bones about it, the person has definitely lost his or her ability to make sound judgments.

Those who remember the Batman series from the 1960s starring Adam West a Batman and Burt Ward as Robin were reminded that even evil has its standards.  In the two-part episode “The Puzzles Are Coming” a shocked Puzzler exclaims at one point:

Have you taken leave of your senses?! I may be an Arch Villain, but I’m an American Arch Villain.

As a side note, the Puzzler was originally an adversary of Superman in the 1940’s comics.  The Batman series of the 1960s added the Puzzler when an episode originally written for the Riddler could not be filmed because the actor, Frank Gorshin, was unavailable at the time.  Rather than recast the Riddler, the producers introduced the Puzzler.

French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) published his novel “The Immortal” in 1888. In Chapter 15, the following dialogue is found:

“So you are going to be married,” said his father, whose suspicions increased.  “And who is the lady?”

“The Duchess Padovani.”

“You must have taken leave of your senses! Why she is five-and-twenty years older than you, and besides–and besides–‘ He hesitated, trying to find a respectful phrase, but at last blurted right out, ‘You can’t marry a woman who to every one’s knowledge has belonged to another for years.”

Twenty years earlier, on January 14, 1868 in the Hawke’s Bay (NZ) Herald, a series of jokes were published.  One of them had to do with the naming of a newborn child and the registrar who had duly noted the babe’s name in accordance with the father’s wishes.  In the story, the very next day, the wife of the proud father burst into the registrar’s room and the joke continues thusly:

“Fat the mischief has that havrin gomeril o’ a man o’ mine been doin’? Duncan, he says he ca’d the bairn.  Oh! but I’ll Duncan him!”

“What is the matter, my good woman?  Have you taken leave of your senses?” asked the astonished listener.

Leave o’ my senses — the bairn’s a lassie — confound you an’ my man thegither; but just waite, he’s got something this mornin’ and I’ll take good care he’ll get something mair gin I was yince hame.”

I won’t spoil the punch line but suffice it to say, the imaginary poor woman’s imaginary husband undoubtedly never forgot the imaginary lesson!

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase however that it is found in a published joke indicates that it was in use by the general population in 1868 and therefore, it is reasonable to believe it originated with the previous generation.

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Dead Ringer

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2011

A dead ringer is, or is perceived to be, an exact duplicate of someone else … a doppelgänger, if you wish.  Dead ringers have been around for as long as there have been people but the term hasn’t been around for quite as long.

On July 28, 1932, in a Los Angeles Times news exclusive on the John Gottlieb Wendel case involving Thomas Patrick Morris, the scandalous headline read:

WENDEL CLAIM SUBSTANTIATED: Asserted Heir to Fortune Scores at Hearing Declared “Dead Ringer” for Man He Calls “Poppa” – Story of Parentage Refuted by ex-Playmate

Back in 1893, according to the New York Daily News, an Ohio newspaper reported:

Israel Williams wearing a wig would be no longer Israel Williams, but would be a dead ringer for Wellington just before the battle of Waterloo.

And back on June 10, 1891, the Detroit Free Press published a story entitled:  “HE WAS NO TENDERFOOT: A Reporter’s Mistake Leads to Mutual Explanations.”  It read in part:

Mutual explanations followed and the reporter squared himself by securing evidence from several outsiders that the gentleman from Lorain was a dead ringer for the good looking statesman from Saginaw.

An earlier reference confirming the use of the term comes from the Oshkosh Weekly Times of June 1888, where there’s a court report of a man charged with being ‘very drunk’:

“Dat ar is a markable semlance be shoo”, said Hart looking critically at the picture. “Dat’s a dead ringer fo me. I nebber done see such a semblence.”

Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to located the term dead ringer published elsewhere prior to 1888 although from the way it was used in the Oshkosh Weekly Times, it’s obvious that the phrase was used by educated and uneducated folk alike by that time.

So what exactly is a ringer?

Back in the day, a ringer was a horse that was substituted for another horse and that looked so much like the original horse that it fooled the bookies.  In other words, it was a horse used to defraud bookies.  The Manitoba Free Press published this definition in October 1882:

A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ‘ringer.’

However, the word “ringer” goes back to the 1700s where “to ring” meant a coin was tested to see if it was genuine or counterfeit.  The test was to strike the coin with a finger or other object.  If it rang, it was genuine; if it didn’t ring — in other words, if it was dead — it was counterfeit.

And what of the word “dead” you might ask?   Used in the sense of “utter, absolute, quite” it was used in the term “dead drunk” which was first attested to in the 1590s and later by the term “dead heat” which was attested to in 1796.

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The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 14, 2011

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a book entitled The Screwtape Letters that presented the fictional correspondence between two fictional demons. The correspondence addressed one issue and one issue alone:  the best method with which to secure and safeguard mankind’s eternal damnation.  The book states clearly to the reader know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  What’s more, this extra bit about the road to Hell — quite the opposite of the narrow way into Heaven spoken of in the Bible in Matthew 7:13 -14 — is also found in the book:

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

In Baltimore’s The Morning Herald on January 2, 1888 they ran an article entitled “Better Pay Old Vows.”  The story was about the Reverend Wayland D. Ball, pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, who began the New Year with a sermon on using New Year’s Day to pay vows to God.  His sermon read in part:

We make some resolution of self-sacrifice, and then become happy over thinking how brave we are going to be and how good are going to become.  And contemplation is so much more pleasant and easy than performance that we are content with that.  but there is no virtue in good thoughts alone.  Religious emotion that comes from the mere making of vows is very often nothing but the Devil ticking us into a good humor with ourselves.  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

In a letter to the editor of the Daily Southern Cross in New Zealand on April 20, 1855 entitled “Taranaki Versus His Excellency And His Executive” the author, identified only by his initials, E.M., began his comments with:

Sir, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and his Excellency Colonel Wynyard appears anxious to complete the Taranaki portion of the pavement with the least possible delay.

That same year, the expression is found in H.G. Bohn’s Hand-book of Proverbs.  The proverb is from Portugal and states that:

Hell is paved with good intentions, and roofed with lost opportunities.

Even earlier than that, thought, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) is quoted as saying:

L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (Translated: “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”)

The expression has evolved since the days of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but the meaning remains the same.

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 12th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hell Bent For Leather

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2011

Such an odd phrase that paints such a vivid picture, the phrase “hell-bent for leather” has certainly established itself as a pack-a-punch expression.  The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reported on President Kennedy‘s visit to the Berlin Wall in a news article dated June 26, 1963.

There is no place which makes a better platform for hell-bent-for-leather speeches than the ground adjacent to the Berlin wall.  Here the passions of the West Berliners are likely to ignite the most impassive speaker.  Here it is routine to open old wounds, wave the flag, and goad the Russian Bear.

Thirty years earlier, on June 7, 1933 the Milwaukee Journal ran a news article on the rivalry between Max Schmeling and Max Baer and how it affected boxing.

“By gracious, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Max pop that Baer out of there in the first heat,” Mr. Carney said over a glass of beer.  “No sir, I wouldn’t.  You know, that boy’s a torment on those fellows who come running in.  Look at his record: three of the fellows he nailed in the first round were of the type that comes tearing in, hell-bent for leather.  Joe Monte was the first one.  Monte came out like a cyclone and a minute later — boof!  He was on the floor.”

Rudyard Kipling in his book The Story of the Gadsbys published in 1888 contains this phrase:

Gaddy, take this chit to Bingle, and ride hell-for-leather. It’ll do you good.

That being said, Hell bent is the operative phrase in the saying as the saying has been Hell bent for election, Hell bent for Sunday, Hell bent for breakfast and Hell bent for Georgia over the years.  Hell bent for election dates back to the State of Maine gubernatorial race of 1840 and Hell bent dates back to 1835 as shown by a passage on page 12 of the book “The Knickerbocker: New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 6” where it comments on a large encampment of savages Hell bent on carnage.

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Snap Shot

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 22, 2010

The term “snap shot” has had a colour albeit short life in comparison to other terms.  It can mean a brief overview of a situation or a quick biography or a photograph or to hunting or even to hockey!  The history of the term “snap shot” is certainly varied and interesting.

Being nearly hockey season, I think providing that meaning at this point is helpful to all non-sports fans alike.  So when “snap shot” is used while discussing hockey, it refers to a quick shot where the blade of the stick is drawn back a short distance and then rapidly driven forward, with the wrists snapping inward after the puck leaves the stick.  In other words, a “snap shot“has the accuracy of a wrist shot blended with the power of a slapshot.

If we’re talking photographs and photography, then a “snap shot” is something else altogether.  Way back in the day, on March 8, 1896 — and much to the delight of readers of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper — the following headline was published:

Ghatty’s Snap Shot Photographers A Tramp!

The sub-headling below read:

And It Brought Her Great Good Fortune, Where She Expected The Reverse.

Eight years earlier, in the Journal of the Bombay Natural  History Society, Volume 3 in the segment entitled “Notes on Sambhur and Sambhur Stalking” written by Mr. Reginald Gilbert and read at the Society’s meeting on August 6, 1888, the following account was shared:

The horn is here, and has been given by me to this Society. On the 27th December , 1886, when stalking with Mr. Barton near the Taptee River, a few miles from Asirghur, in the Central Provinces, I put up a monster stag sambhur out of a thick nullah. It ran down the nullah. I was standing on the top. I only saw him for a second or two, and had only time to take a snap-shot at him before he passed round a bend in the nullah. The shell hit his horn from behind and knocked it off, splitting it up as you see. I picked the horn up and here it is.  I never saw that sambhur again; but to the last day of my life I shall never forget him or cease to regret I missed him.

From reading these last two uses for the term “snap shot” one might think that while hunting version of the term continued into the 20th century, that the camera version was something that came about sometime after 1890.  Not so.

On March 14, 1839, John Herschel — whose father was renowned astronomer William Hershel, the discoverer of Uranus — presented his paper entitled “Note on the Art of Photography or The Application of the Chemical Rays of Light to the Purpose of Pictorial Representation”  to the Royal Society.  The subject of the paper related to the first glass-plate photograph which was taken by Herschel and it is this photograph to which he referred to as being a “snap shot.”  He also coined the terms “negative” and “positive” within the context of photography.  For those who are curious, the photograph was that of his father’s 40-foot telescope, already a half-century old at the time the shot was snapped.

The hunting term “snap shot” was coined in 1808 by English sportsman Sir Henry Hawker.  His use of the term was a gun shot at a fast-moving target that was both quick and without aim.

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