Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1890’

Fit The Bill

Posted by Admin on October 6, 2016

When someone finds something that fits the bill, that person has found something that, or someone who, is suitable for a specific purpose.   The person or object doesn’t have to be perfect for the situation, but the person or object has to do the job for which he/she/it has been selected.

Just last month, Headlines and Global News (HNGN) reported on the break-up between Zayn Malik (former member of boy band One Direction) and Victoria’s Secret model, Gigi Hadid.  Supposedly Zayn’s mother was behind the break-up, and going with that rumor, the headline read, “Zayn Malik’s mother to Gigi Hadid: She Doesn’t Fit The Bill.”

Back in 1986, when technology was ramping up in the music industry, Electronic Musician published an article in their May edition that talked about the Mac computer.    The editors informed their readership that if they wanted their “introduction to computers to be absolutely painless” the Mac would “probably fit the bill.”  As it was, back in 1986, the Mac did just that and revolutionized a large part of the live performance and recording aspects of the industry.

In 1890, the idiom was used in an article on page 426 of “The Kansas City Medical Record: Volume VII, No. 11.”  The magazine began publication in 1884 and continued through to 1911.  In all, there were twenty-eight volumes with illustrations published by the Kansas City (MO) publishers, Ramsey, Millett & Hudson.

Thus one writes in making his application: ‘I am a graduate of the Medical College of, and I think I can fit the bill. Is there any vacancies now? Is the examination as rigid as reported? I am a lover of surgery and hope I will fit the bill.

SIDE NOTE:  Ramsey, Millett & Hudson was a business owned by John H. Ramsey, H.S. Millett, and Frank Hudson, and they promoted themselves as printers, lithographers, binders, wood engravers, and book publishers.

While the idiom fit the bill was published in 1890, prior to this date, Idiomation has found many references to filling the bill with the same sense as fitting the bill, but fit the bill was conspicuously absent in newspapers, magazines, and books.

Fill the bill was an expression modified in the space of one generation, where fill was replaced with fit to become the expression we use today.  It would seem the idiom isn’t as old as one might think, but perhaps fill the bill will fare better next Tuesday on Idiomation.

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

In A New York Minute

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2011

People believe that everything happens more quickly in New York City than anywhere else in the world and so it makes sense to hear the phrase “in a New York minute” and to expect it’s going to be faster than any other minutes.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many things to do in New York City what with Broadway shows, music in parks and on streets as well as in restaurants with city views and sidewalk cafés, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, horse-drawn carriages, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, Wall Street, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and more.

In the Spartanburg (SC) Herald Journal edition of October 20, 1986, page 3 has an article that states:

“Welcome to Houston,” wrote Forbes magazine in 1983, “where lizard-skin boots go with pin stripes, and business is done quicker than a New York minute.”

The phrase — evidently a Southernism used with particular frequency in Texas — was given further national currency as the title of a song by Ronnie McDowell that made the country music top 40 in 1985.

On September 14, 1985 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on court proceedings in its story “Immunity Johnson’s Toughest Decision.” The story dealt with the case of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong who was charged with 16 counts of selling cocaine to players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.  The paper reported in part:

[U.S. Attorney J. Alan] Johnson was asked if he could charge any of the players with crimes if he learns later that any of them were selling drugs.  “Not only could I, but I’d do it in a New York minute,” he responded. 

No ball players were called to testify during the trial yesterday.  But defense attorney Adam O. Renfroe Jr. dais he believes the emphasis of the trial has shifted away from his client and that professional baseball has been put on trial.

Although it can’t be proven, it’s believed that the phrase may have something to do with a misreading  of news reports about Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh‘s tour of the country in his Spirit of St. Louis.  He and the plane arrived one minute ahead of schedule and of course, the headlines on that day in October 1927 read:

LINDBERGH ENDS NATIONAL TOUR: Lands on Mitchel Field at New York Minute Before He Is Due.

The news stories stated that the crowd cheered and jostled as the Spirit of St. Louis crossed over the field, banked, sideslipped and dipped to earth at 1:59 p.m.  The plane then taxied into a police-ringed hangar and Lindbergh, bareheaded and leather-jacketed, stepped into a car which bore him between cheering crowds to the airport’s operations office.  While the crowd outside pushed against the windows and shouted for another view of Lindbergh, he greeted newspaper men.

However, it’s also possible that the phrase draws on such historical events as the Underground Railway between Brooklyn and New York City.  On January 24, 1890 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a news article entitled, “Brooklyn To New York In A Minute.”  The story commented on Major B.S. Henning, the leading spirit in the Henning Gravity Tunnel Company and the newly formed East River Railway Company, where the details of the one-minute Brooklyn-to-New York scheme was laid out for newspapermen.

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

Sour Grapes

Posted by Admin on September 16, 2010

The phrase “sour grapes” hints at a rich history with many twists and turns along the way and the phrase surely doesn’t disappoint to this end.  In fact, it has been used often and prolifically and always to good effect.

In 1890, the New York Times published an article on April 23rd with a headline that read:  “Any Sour Grapes Here?  Bulkeley Is Not Seeking A Renomination For Governor.”  Nearly a decade before that, in 1882, his book “The Tyne And Its Tributaries,” William James Palmer wrote:

The ambition to become connected with the house of Stuart, ascribed to the grandfather, had realization in the marriage of his son to Mary Tudor, youngest natural daughter of Charles II.  But the sour grapes were left for the son of the marriage, and the beheading on Tower Hill, February 24, 1716, seems to have followed in almost natural sequence.

John Wycliffe (1324 – 1384), an Oxford-educated English theologian, lay preacher, reformist and university teacher was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century.  In 1371, the popularity of his doctrines were seenseen in the oft-repeated complaints of Archbishop Arundel, who wrote that “Oxford was a vine that brought forth wild and sour grapes, which, being eaten by the fathers, the teeth of the children were set on edge; so that the whole Province of Canterbury was tainted with novel and damnable Lollardism, to the intolerable and notorious scandal of the University.”

Rabbi Raschi,  born at Troyes in 1040, is credited with a story about a fox and a wolf who visit a Jewish house to prepare food for the Sabbath.   Upon arriving at the house, the wolf is chased away while the fox is welcomed.  When the wolf asks the fox for an explanation, the fox replies: 

This has happened not on thy account but on account of thy father who helped prepare the food and then swallowed every fat bit.  The fathers eat sour grapes and the chidlren’s teeth are set on edge.

The fable owes some of its story line to the Greek philosopher, Aesop.  In the Aesop fable “The Fox and the Grapes” the fox sees a cluster of ripe grapes hanging from the vine.  Despite her most ardent efforts, she cannot reach them and rather than admit defeat she proclaims, “The grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

And yes, the phrase even appears in the Old Testament of the Bible in Jeremiah 31: 28-33:

And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the LORD.

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fat Of The Land

Posted by Admin on September 14, 2010

When a person has the best of everything in life, word has it that he or she is living off the fat of the land.  So how did come to mean that and from where does the phrase, the fat of the land,  originate?

In a news story published in the The Quebec Saturday Budget newspaper on February 8, 1890 in a story entitled, “On Behalf of Ireland’s Cause: The American Press to be Bought With British Gold to Malign the League” the story read in part:

The Chicago Times of the second instant, says editorially ‘hold no convention, is the advice to the executive of the National League in America from the gentlemen over the sea, but send us more money.  As to the money part, that has been the cry from time immemorial.  Since 1886, this one agency of the League alone has collected a quarter of a million of money and the demand is for more.  Men who are living as Members of the British Parliament on funds raised in America, and living on the fat of the land, or gossip does them great injustice, will naturally cry with the horse-leech’s daughter ‘Give, give.’

In the 1500s, the fat of something was considered to be the best or richest part.  In fact, if you read any of the recipes from that time period, you will soon appreciate the fact that fat was where it was at! 

But in the end, this phrase is from The Bible as well in Genesis 45:17-18 where it is written:

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;  And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | 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 »