Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1893’

Dutch Treat

Posted by Admin on August 29, 2011

A Dutch treat, also known as going Dutch or a Dutch date, refers to an outing where everyone involved pays his or her own expenses.

Just three days ago, the Leesville Daily Leader newspaper in Louisiana published a story about the local Chamber of Commerce’s newest developments in the community entitled, “Fort Polk Progress Seeks To Predict Region’s Destiny.”  More than 44 area business leaders were in attendance at the meeting which took place over the lunch hour.  A photo accompanied the news article with the following description included:

The Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce conducted its general membership meeting for August at Catfish Junction Wednesday during a dutch treat luncheon. Speaker for the event was Mike Reese, of Fort Polk Progress.

On October 16, 1974 the St. Petersburg Times ran the Ann Landers column aptly titled that day as, “Husband’s Dutch Treat Lunches Worry Her.”  A woman in her 60s, married to her husband for 36 years, was worried about the latest work arrangement at her husband’s new job.  The distraught wife wrote in part:

He has been going to lunch nearly every day with his secretary, who is in her 30s.  He told me about it himself, making a big deal out of the fact that they go Dutch.

The Day newspaper published an interesting human interest story on November 14, 1931 that reported that a group of University of California co-ed students announced to the media they were in favour of splitting the cost of a “date” between a man and a woman provided the man met their standards of the perfect date. 

A date was rated as follows:  20% for intelligence, 20% for personality, 15% for cultural and social background, 15% for personal appearance, 10% each for courtesy and for dance ability, and 5% each for physical fitness and for social poise.  However, the catch was that if such a man existed, he wouldn’t allow the woman to go Dutch; he’d pay for the date.  The news story was entitled:

College Girls Describe Perfect Male Escort For ‘Dutch Treat’

On July 21, 1893 the Morning Herald of Baltimore, Maryland published a news story that set tongues wagging.  It told the story of the exploits of 13 Newport women who set society talking by engaging in a unique feast.  In fact, what they did was so unheard of that they made the idea fashionable.  Yes, they had a “very jolly dinner without the men and boldly braved superstition” by actually having what the newspaper headline announced was a “Ladies’ Dutch Dinner.”  The story reported in part:

In the private dining-room, trimmed and decorated with yellow striped silk, the women referred to decided to have their “Dutch treat” or, in other words, each lady was to pay her own expenses, little realizing that they were setting the seal of their approval on a custom which needed it.  Had this custom been inaugurated before Newport would have been benefited in a substantial manner, and many families would not have ceased their social functions as summarily as they did.

The term, according to the The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, dates back to 1870.  Idiomation is willing to concede that this is most likely the correct year for the expression since the 1893 article states “the seal of their approval on a custom which needed it.”  It was a known social convention that hadn’t been given a place in society until people such as those delightful 13 Newport women brought society up to speed on the option.

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Duck Soup

Posted by Admin on August 23, 2011

When someone mentions that a task or assignment is duck soup, what they’re telling you is that it can be very easily accomplished.  The expression gained popularity due in large part to the 1933 Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup” but the Marx Brothers aren’t the ones who coined the expression.

On January 26, 1962 the Ottawa Citizen newspaper published a story entitled, “Oil Blaze Duck Soup To Texan Fire-Killer.”  The story reported on how Red Adair, a Texan,  nonchalantly put out an oil well fire and immediately flew back to Texas to take on another oil well fire.  The story reported the following:

With the help of others he doused the flames with chemicals Thursday, then filled the well with a special mud to stop the oil from flowing.

“It was duck soup compared to some of the fires I’ve fought,” said Adair.  How much the Sun Oil Company of Calgary, which brought in the well recently, will pay him has not been announced.  But an official said the company had already spent $100,000 before he arrived — the fire broke out last Friday — and any fee charged would be worth it. 

On December 24, 1943 the Ellensburg Daily Record in Washington state published a news story entitled, “Rocket Planes Duck Soup To Yankee Fighters.”  It was the height of World War II and the article began with this:

German planes mounting the new rocket guns are “duck soup” for American fighter planes, says Wellwood Beall, vice-president in charge of engineering at Boeing Aircraft Company.  Beall, just back from watching Fortresses perform over Europe, reported bombers have taken some “terrific punishment” from rockets but that he could find no cases of a direct hit.

“Ships carrying rocket guns are slow, inaccurate and duck soup for American fighter planes,” he said. “Our boys line up to see who’ll shoot them down.”

The Milwaukee Journal published an article on August 8, 1931 about Burleigh Grimes of Owen, Wisconsin who was an aging but effective spitballer playing with the St. Louis Cardinals at the time.  The article was entitled, “Grove! Pooh!   He’ll Be Duck Soup Says Grimes.”  Burleigh Grimes was quoted in the story as saying:

“Sure, there’s one way we can lose,” Burleigh explained.  “If we don’t hit, we can’t win.  If we don’t make runs, we can’t win.  But let us make a few runs and we’ll knock ’em over in a hurry.  Grove!  Pooh! says he’s got ’em scared to death in that league.  Who’s he got to beat? We bet im last year, didn’t we?  And he’ll be duck soup for us this October.  And now about Earnshaw?  I guess he’ll have another streak like he had last year? I guess not.”

On August 12, 1918 the Toronto World newspaper printed a news story by Ida L. Webster.  This reporter wrote about two baseball games played on the same afternoon between Toronto and Buffalo. The news story was entitled:

Leading Leaflets Took Two Games: Bisons Proved To Be Duck Soup For Howley’s Wild Men On Saturday.

According to “The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang” the expression “duck soup” first appeared in a newspaper cartoon in 1902 drawn by T.A. Dorgan.  The cartoon shows a man in a Police Court juggling a bottle, pitcher, plate and salt shaker and the caption underneath read: Duck Soup.

However, Idiomation was able to find an even earlier printed reference in the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 23, 1897 on page 10 in a story containing 1,792 words.  In other words, it was a sizeable news story!  A business interviewed for the story stated:

I am out of the business and so this fight is duck soup for me.

We kept researching and came across the expression in the Detroit Free Press on October 24, 1893 on page 8 in an article entitled, “Salting Western Mines: How Eastern Strangers Are Taken In By Sharpers.”  The article was 2,295 words in length and dealt with the subject of con men who made their schemes work.  The article stated that a salted mine was so called because the con man easily fooled “eastern tenderfoots” headed west to grow rich overnight with his con game.  The story underscored the fact that suckers made for fine food for mining sharks.  The story included these two sentences:

The McDonalds were “duck soup.” They were quietly moved over to Alder Gulch by a syndicate of sharpers who needed more money to develop properties.

Since the expression duck soup was used in such a prominent newspaper in 1893, it can be assumed that the general population of the day understood the meaning of duck soup.  This places the expression in the vocabulary of the day. That the expression appears in quotation marks, however, implies that it may have been a relatively new expression at the time.  It can therefore be assumed that the expression dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1880s.

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Dead Ringer

Posted by Admin 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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Egghead

Posted by Admin on December 8, 2010

An airhead is someone who hasn’t got any sensible or realistic ideas and appears to be lacking in intelligence.  The opposite of an airhead is an egghead, who is very studious and is, quite naturally, an intellectual.

Far from being a compliment in the United States over the past 75 years or so, egghead has been used as an anti-intellectual epithet, directed at people who are described as being out-of-touch with ordinary people and hyperfocused on intellectual interests and pursuits only.

The term egghead was used during the 1952 Presidential campaign, when Stewart Alsop — a powerful Connecticut Republican and the brother of newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop — labeled Adlai Stevenson an egghead because of Stevenson’s perceived intellectual air.  In Alsop‘s syndicated column of September 1952, Alsop wrote:

After Stevenson’s serious and rather difficult atomic energy speech in Hartford, Conn., this reporter remarked to a rising young Connecticut Republican that a good many intelligent people, who would be considered normally Republican, obviously admired Stevenson.  “Sure,” was the reply, “all the eggheads love Stevenson.  But how many eggheads do you think there are?”

Alsop defined the word egghead as “what the Europeans would call ‘intellectuals’ … interested in ideas and in the words used to express those ideas.”

A 1918 letter written by Carl Sandburg to his former newspaper boss, Negley Dakin Cochran indicates that Chicago newspapermen used the term egghead to refer to highbrow editorial writers out of touch with the common man.  In his letter, Carl Sandburg wrote:

Egg heads is the slang here for editorial writers here.  I have handed in five editorials on Russia and two on the packers, voicing what 95 percent of the readers of The News are saying on the [trolley] cars and in the groceries and saloons but they have been ditched for hot anti-bolshevik stuff … At that it isn’t so much the policies of the papers as the bigotry and superstition and flunkeyism of the Egg Heads.

Before Sandburg’s use of the term, however, author Owen Johnson published a story in 1909 entitled “The Triumphant Egghead” in the book “The Eternal Boy: Being The Story of the Prodigious Hickey.”  Hickey is the main character in the book and he gave nicknames to his friends. 

In the Masillon (OH) Evening Independent newspaper, an article published on December 5, 1910 quoted Mr. Johnson as stating that the nicknames came from friends with whom he attended school.

In the Varmin” he said, “I was writing of a period from 1893 to 1897, when there was a particularly bright lot of youngsters in Lawrenceville: pioneers of a peculiar sort of English literature I called them … [snip] … all of them appear off and on in the book.”

I was unable to find a published reference that pre-dates 1893, however, for the term to be so easily used in stories in 1893, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the term was already established as a word referring to an individual of certain developed intellectual abilities.

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Saved By The Bell

Posted by Admin on May 28, 2010

There are those who will tell you in dead earnest that “saved by the bell” originated sometime during the 15th Century during the Renaissance era.  They are, of course, mistaken but it is a mistake that seems to have established a life of its own and is rarely questioned, even by knowledgeable individuals.

The claim is that back in the day, people were pronounced dead before their time and interred only to be dug up at a later date.  Once unearthed, scratch marks on the inside of the coffin were noticed in some of the coffins which, of course, instilled fear in the living that they, too, might be mistakenly buried alive.  While the fear persisted, there was no way devised at that time to alert people to anyone living being buried alive.

In fact, well into the 18th Century, famous people were still concerned with the possibility of being buried alive.

“All I desire for my own burial is not to be buried alive.” – Lord Chesterfield (1694 – 1773)   

“Have me decently buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in less than two days after I am dead.” – George Washington (1732 – 1799)

With all the fear around the subject, plans for safety coffins began to show up in patent offices around the world.  One such safety box was referred to “The Improved Burial Case” by Franz Vester of  Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1868.  Unfortunately, coffins hold very little air and the average otherwise healthy  person would pass out within an hour or two once a coffin was sealed.   Even if the individual could alert the world above him or her that he or she was living, unearthing the coffin in time is nearly impossible even using today’s technology.

Instead, the facts prove out that the practice of being “saved by the bell” comes from the sport of boxing.   In fact, this option was a mandatory option under the Marquess of Queensberry rules ,which were introduced in England in 1867.

The phrase appeared in print shortly thereafter and was soon used as a figurative expression for being saved, as from an unpleasant occurrence, by a timely interruption.

Martin Flaherty defeated Bobby Burns in 32 rounds by a complete knockout. Half a dozen times Flaherty was saved by the bell in the earlier rounds.” – The Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, February 1893

Floored in the first session by a terrific right to the jaw, the bell saving the Jersey boy at the count of seven.”—Ring magazine, November 1932

Saved by the bell, a boxer saved from being counted out because the end of the round is signalled.”—Boxing Dictionary by F. C. Avis, 1954
 
If, in future, the bell interrupts a count, the count will continue until the boxer is counted out—unless he gets up in the meantime  . . .  The expression ‘saved by the bell ‘ will, therefore, become an anachronism.” — Times, 18 May 1963

So the match goes to this phrase being a boxing term and not at all related to safety coffins or the Renaissance era.

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