Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1895’

A Loaded Wagon Makes No Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 4, 2018

The figurative meaning of saying a loaded wagon makes no noise is that people of means and good intentions don’t talk about their finances, their holdings, or the good deeds they do. In other words, bragging isn’t something someone engages in if they are of good character.

Literally speaking, a light wagon with no suspension and post-spoking rattles, shakes, and bounces over every slight imperfection, with the empty bed acting as a soundboard. In contrast, a loaded wagon is less likely to be shaking over every pebble on the path, and is muffled and dramatically quieter.

In the figurative sense, Volume 30 of “The Railroad Trainman” published in July 1913 made this point as it pertains to men and women in the work environment. The article was titled “Too Much Busy-Ness” and addressed the issue of women who made a lot of noise about their various committee meetings and convention addresses and other charitable acts.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

The woman of real executive ability goes about her duties quietly; she has mentally organized her work. Whether she moves about in her own house or engages in outside endeavors, she is calm and composed — and effective.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: This monthly magazine was published in Cleveland, Ohio by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen located at 1207 American Trust Building, and under the watchful eye of the Editor and Manager, D.L. Cease. The yearly subscription price was $1.00 per year, payable in advance.

In Volume 8 of the magazine “The Florida School Journal” published in June 1895, the section titled “School Buildings” found on page 20 made use of the expression. The magazine’s editor and publisher was V.E. Orr and the magazine commanded a price of one dollar per annum.

A good school building in which every convenience is for the management and teaching of those who are aiming at culture or preparation for some calling is a very desirable thing, but mortar and brick do not make a good school. In Middle Tennessee are found many excellent buildings some of which are very suitable for the purpose for which they were made. We have observed that many of our best schools have but little to say about their appliances beyond the mention of their conveniences and favorable means of instruction. It seems in this case the loaded wagon makes the least noise. We recently noticed a statement made by a college president calling attention to his four-story building as an inducement to young men and ladies to enter his school. Just what advantage accrues to young women, especially in climbing two or three flights of stairs four or five times a day, is not easily seen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE : V.E. Orr published Orr’s U.S. and Library Maps, Orr’s U.S. and Outline Maps, and Orr’s U.S. and Georgia Maps. Along with publishing “The Florida Journal” he also published “The Georgia Teacher” and was headquartered in Atlanta (GA).

INTERESTING QUESTION: Is V.E. Orr related to Brunswick Public Schools of Brunswick (GA) Superintendent of Schools (and later State School Commissioner) and American cartographer Gustavus John Orr (9 August 1819 – 11 December 1887)?

Tracking the origins of this saying proved more difficult than anticipated, leading Idiomation to the mid-1800s when, as the movies often claim, the West was being won, and the common road wagon was clearly defined by the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, in Merrick v Phelps, in 1848. When one spoke of a wagon, the Court understood this to mean the following:

A one-horse wagon, with a single fixed seat, and two full grown persons sitting thereon, one of them driving, is a “wagon” but not a “loaded wagon” within the charter of the Hartford and New London Turnpike Company.

This was an important ruling insofar as it made dealing with two wagons meeting on a narrow road much easier. No loaded wagon or cart could be made to get off the road to afford passage to another vehicle unless the other vehicle was another loaded wagon. The heavier loaded wagon was granted the right of way at the expense of the lesser loaded wagon or the cart that was on the road headed in the direction from which the loaded wagon came.

There was no argument to be had. The greater loaded wagon was going to benefit far more people than the lesser loaded wagon, or the cart, and so it was to pass by without commentary from either party.

Prior to article published in the “The Florida School Journal” in 1895, the expression managed to keep itself hidden. One could suppose this means its origins are loaded which would explain why it makes no noise the more one searches for evidence of its existence.

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Yellow Journalism

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 27, 2016

My friend, the late Jerry Flowers (8 January 1947 – 7 November 2016), used the rallying cry, “Commit journalism” to move his friends to action.   It was one of the things I remember most fondly about conversations with Jerry who believed in promoting the highest ideals regardless of the profession in which one was engaged.

The complete opposite from the kind of journalism is yellow journalism.    Yellow journalism is sensationalist, exaggerated reporting that relies heavily on distorted stories that have little to no legitimate facts.  It also uses unnamed sources to provide believable sound bites and the stories are published with scandalous headlines to draw attention to itself.  Reporting lies and rumors as fact is a large part of yellow journalism.  The major focus of yellow journalism is to excite public opinion and to sell more newspapers than might otherwise be sold.

Yellow journalism is easy to spot as it generally has all five of these characteristics which are easily identifiable.

  1. Fearmongering headlines in large print;
  2. Pictures that are used out-of-context to lend credence to the fake story;
  3. Pseudoscience, fake interviews, and/or false information from alleged experts;
  4. Scare tactics and highly charged emotional words and symbols used; and
  5. Dramatic sympathy for the underdog fighting the system in an effort to get the word out.

You may assume that yellow journalism is a term that came about during WWII and that it was an insult aimed at the Japanese.  You would be incorrect if that was your guess as to where the term originated.  The term yellow journalism goes back much further than WWII.

Back in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst (29 April 1863 – 14 August 1951) was the owner and publisher of the New York Journal newspaper, and József Pulitzer (10 April 1847 – 29 October 1911) was the owner and publisher of the New York World newspaper.  The techniques of yellow journalism have their humble beginnings in the New York World newspaper in the 1880s although the term yellow journalism hadn’t been invented yet.

In the Spring of 1893, the New York World ran a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums and this cartoon strip, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, was titled, “Hogan’s Alley.”  The break-out character from the cartoon strip was the Yellow Kid.  William Randolph Hearst hired Richard F. Outcault (14 January 1863 – 25 September 1928) away from the New York World to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.  József Pulitzer hired a new cartoonist who continued to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.

yellow-kid

The competition between the newspapers raged on with each newspaper trying to outdo the other right down to the Yellow Kid.  It wasn’t long before the sensationalist stories and outrageous pictures in both newspapers became known as the competition of the “yellow kids.”  Shortly thereafter, such  journalism was labeled yellow journalism.

When the U.S. battleship Maine was sunk in the Havana harbor in Cuba, the rush was on to get a newspaper out that would outsell the competitor.  Since both newspapers had fanned the anti-Spanish public opinion flames for years, the publishers felt it was to them to beat their competitor to the news stands.  The publishers directed their reporters to write stories intended to tug at the heartstrings of Americans.

An illustrator by the name of Frederic Sackrider Remington  (October 4, 1861 – December 26, 1909) worked for William Randolph Hearst and was stationed in Havana.  He sent a cable to William Randolph Hearst that read:   “Everything is quiet.  No trouble here.  There will be no war.  Wish to return.  Remington.”

In response, William Randolph Hearst cabled back, “Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.  Hearst.”

new-york-journal_maine-destroyed

Both newspapers carried all manner of atrocities from scandals to the Buldensuppe mystery (where a man was allegedly found headless, armless, and legless) leading up to the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine.  Once the battleship was sunk, every atrocity was fair game for publication:  Female prisoners, executions, rebels fighters, starving children, and American women stripped naked by soldiers.

It wasn’t long before there were countless other tabloids hitting the market, and each of them tried to out tall tale tell each other with their stories.  However, the two newspapers responsible for this style of reporting, were at the head of their class, and yellow journalism flourished.

The expression yellow journalism therefore dates back to the days of William Randolph Hearst and József Pulitzer and the mid-1890s.

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

Pardon My French

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 11, 2011

When someone asks you to pardon their French and they’re not speaking French, what they really mean is that they would like listeners to excuse their use of inappropriate, taboo or swear words.

For example, on September 11, 2009 the Daily Record of Glasgow, Scotland published an article by Grant Lauchlan entitled, “Cookery Kookery” which reviewed the movie “Julie and Julia.”  The lead off paragraph read:

Pardon my French but if you don’t know your poulet sauté aux herbes de Provence from your pissaladire, then you probably won’t have heard of Julia Child. She was America’s answer to Delia Smith and Fanny Craddock combined, a national treasure who wrote Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

On August 24, 1987 the Milwaukee Journal ran a story written by Calvin Trillin for his column “Uncivil Liberties” entitled, “French Verbs? You Can Get Along Beautifully  Without ‘Em.”

My two years of high school French seemed to consist mainly of looking through the Kansas City Star for articles mentioning France, cutting them out and gluing them into a scrapbook — an experience that left me with few verbs but a nearly tournament-level skill in gluing.  We didn’t have any Francophones in our family — although anytime my Uncle Oscar used words that caused my mother to say, “Oscar! The children!” he followed them quickly with “Pardon my French.” 

Maybe the Milwaukee Journal was more partial to running stories with pardon my French in it than other newspapers.  In the July 22, 1939 edition carried the column written by Louella O. Parsons, Motion Picture Editor for the International News Service. Among the tidbits of news was this:

The exhibitors from Maine to California who have been raising heck (pardon my French) with MGM because Greer Garson hasn’t started a picture since her success in “Mr. Chips” will be glad to know that she faces the camera on Monday, with Robert Taylor as her co-star and Lew Ayres importantly featured.  The paying customers will see the captivating lady with the red hair in “Remember” authored and directed by Normal McLeod, with Milton Bren producing.

Back on August 2, 1908 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Cock Of The Walk” that used a variation of the expression pardon my French.  In the story, the following exchange happens between Bridget the cook and the master of the house.

“I haven’t accused you of anything of the sort.  All I want to know is what became of that bottle, Bridget!”

“Then Oi’ll tell ye about that bottle, and then, mind ye, Oi’ll leave.  Last night Oi had company in the kitchen.  ‘Twas the cook and another iv the serants from the Van Bullion house across the street.  Oi had been telling them how much leeway Oi had in this house, even to being considered as one above the pale iv servants in any mansion, not excludin’ the White House.  There was a sneer on the face iv the Van Bullion cook, Sir, that Oi was tempted to efface wid a smash iv me fist; but, as is becoming a cook iv yours, Sir, Oi held my dignity and resolved to rub it in.  Excuse my French, Sir!”

However, the expression seems to have first appeared in the March 1895 edition of Harper’s Magazine in a story by Francis Hopkinson Smith entitled, “A Waterlogged Town.”  The story read in part:

“Do not the palaces interest you?” I asked inquiringly, in my effort to broaden his views.

“Palaces be durned!  Excuse my French.  Palaces!  A lot of cave-in old rookeries; with everybody living on the second floor because the first one’s so damp ye’d get your die-and-never-get-over-it if you’d lived in the basement, and the top floors so leaky that you go to bed under an umbrella; and they all braced up with iron clamps to keep ’em from falling into the canal, and not a square inch on any one of ’em clean enough to dry a shirt on!  What kind of holes are they for decent — Now see here, “haying his hand confidingly on my shoulder, “just answer me one question — you seem like a level-headed young man, and ought to give it to me straight.  Been here all summer, ain’t you?”

Now even though Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, that it would be used so easily in Harper’s Magazine in 1895 suggests that it was a common expression for the era and as such it is not unreasonable to place it at a generation or more prior to this, dating it to least 1875.

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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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Boxing Day

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 7, 2011

Boxing Day — the day after Christmas Day — is a holiday celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries.

On December 23, 1895 in the Southland News Notes of the Otaga Witness newspaper, it was reported that:

With regard to the formation of a rifle association for Southland, and the holding of a championship meeting in connection therewith, after discussion is was resolved — “That a rifle association be formed to be called the Southland Rifle Association.”  Correspondence with several country clubs having been read it was proposed — “That as of the 1st January  had been found an inconvenient date for country clubs, the first meeting of the association be held at Invercargill on Boxing Day, December 26.”

Back on December 22, 1868 the Nelson Evening Mail ran advertisements on page 3 and in Column 1, Alfred Greenfield, Provincial Secretary of the Superintendent’s Office in Nelson (New Zealand) announced that:

The public offices will be closed on —
Friday, 25th instant, Christmas Day.
Saturday, 26th instant, Boxing Day.
Friday, 1st January, New-year’s Day.

On December 30, 1845 in the Sydney Morning Herald, there was a brief article entitled  “Christmas And Boxing Day.”   It stated:

A by no means bad test of the manner in which Christmas Day was passed throughout the town and district was afforded by Friday’s Police Court presenting not a single case of drunkenness on the free list, or indeed any other charges.

It continued by stating later in the same article:

Saturday’s police list exhibited the same gratifying report of Boxing Day as that day’s list did of Christmas Day.  Not a single free case of drunkenness, and only three charges for such offence on the bond list, all ticket holders, and who were discharged, one of them stating by the way that he had taken “a spell” from drink for five years until the previous day; the bend advised him to go and take another spell for another five years.

That the day after Christmas should be referred to as Boxing Day attests to the fact that the term was understood to mean the day after Christmas and was not in question.

It is said that Boxing Day originated in England under Queen Victoria’s reign and since the phrase cannot be found in publications in reference to the day after Christmas prior to her reign, it is likely to be an accurate representation of when the day after Christmas became known as Boxing Day.

Historians, however, are still at odds as to why the day after Christmas is referred to as Boxing Day.

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More Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 5, 2011

It’s hard to imagine how the expression “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” came about, however it seems to have been a cause of great amusement over the generations. 

In the Milwaukee Journal of July 27, 1938 the newspaper ran an article entitled, “Zoo Curator To Live On Island With 50 Monkeys For Medical Experiments.”  The headline sounded outrageous and in keeping with the headline, Steven M. Spencer wrote:

If anything is “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” it must be a whole island of monkeys with a few apes thrown in for good measure.  And if anyone is capable of raising monkeys and apes on an island and deriving amusement and useful knowledge therefrom, it would be Primatologist Michael I. Tomilin, whose gruff and dour Russian exterior masks a rich fund of wit and an unusual aptitude for scientific “monkey business.”

In 1913,  French mathematician Émile Borel — whose speciality at that time was hyperbolic geometry and special relativity — used monkeys as central characters in his research, “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité.”

Concevons qu’on ait dressé un million de singes à frapper au hasard sur les touches d’une machine à écrire … [translation: Let us imagine a million monkeys typing haphazardly on typewriters …”

It was the predecessor of the infinite monkey theorem that believes that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will likely write something worth reading.  Of course, the idea of a million monkeys sitting behind typewriters and working diligently at creating literary works is, in itself, a funny concept.

But getting back to the saying, more fun than a barrel of monkeys, the Los Angeles Times carried a news article on February 18, 1896 entitled, “At The Play House” that reported:

… the merry little dwarf, is as funny as a barrel of monkeys when he does nothing but walk around the stage …

Just a few months earlier, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a story on September 28, 1895 about the Republican Convention in Syracuse, New York that stated that the affair was “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

And a year before that, on July 15, 1894, the same newspaper ran an article entitled, “Why They Love Cats” with “heart tales from the owners of ugly and pretty felines.”  In one story, readers were treated to this passage:

He rides every dog dat comes along dat is big enough to carry him but he never goes more dan a block. Den he comes back a his chops and like he had really enjoyed himself.  We has more fun wid dis eat dan a barrel of monkeys.

The saying, based on that story alone, was obviously used by people from different class distinctions.  And the ease with which the saying was used in the story indicates that it was part of every day speech among people of different social classes.

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Swing For That

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 28, 2010

In the story “The Poacher’s Wife” written by Eden Phillpotts and published in 1906, the reference to “swing for him” is made and references being hanged for a crime against the character, Henry Vivian:

I’ll pay him well for his bananas, and I’ll pay him better for something else, which is to help me against that young bloodhound, Henry Vivian. I don’t care what I do against him, for he’ll ruin me if he can ; and if I was guilty I’d say nought, but I’m innocent. And if I’ve got to swing, I’ll swing for him.

The New York Times ran a story on September 15, 1895 entitled “Jim Talbot To Be Tried For Murder Done Fourteen Years Ago: Tracked By His Victim’s Brother.” It was to be a famous trial for murder held at Caldwell, KS with a number of interested parties, from curious spectators to vengeful adversaries, attending.  The article read in part:

Were it not for the hounding of John Meagher he would get free, so many years having elapsed since the tragedy, but the twin brother of the dead Mayor of Caldwell swears that Talbot will either swing for that or that he will shoot him on sight if the man is released.

The first published version Idiomation could find was in a copy of The Lady’s Magazine, published 1787. The reference comes in the dialogue of a comedy called The Embarrassed Husband:

“Murder him? No, no – it is not worth while to swing for him.”

And so whether someone is willing to “swing for that” or “swing for him” or “swing for her” the meaning is clearly that the person in question is willing to be hanged for a criminal — or perceived criminal — act they are about to commit.

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Lush

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 9, 2010

Dr. Thomas Lushington (1590-1661) was an English chaplain and Rector of Burnham-Westgate and it has been well documented that he was quite fond of drinking.  Oddly enough, his descendants allegedly became brewers of fine ales.

Almost 100 years after Lushington‘s death, the Harp Tavern became host to a club of hard drinkers known as The City of Lushington, that was  founded in 1750 and ran until 1895.  Lushington had a chairman, the ‘Lord Mayor,’ and four ‘aldermen,’ who presided over the wards of Poverty, Lunacy, Suicide, and Jupiter (the supreme Roman god who presided over all human affairs).   The members of the club were referred to as lushes.

By 1810, the phrase  ‘Alderman Lushington is concerned‘ meant that an individual was inebriated. By the 1920s, all that remained of the phrase was the word “lush” which mean someone who was habitually drunk.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

It’s In A Wewoka Switch

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 24, 2010

Wewoka is a small town in Oklahoma and situated at the junction of State Highway 56 and U.S. Highway 270.  The town was originally located in 1849 in what was considered to be the Seminole Nation, Indian Territory (I.T.).   After the U.S. Civil War, Elijah J. Brown, was selected by the U.S. government to lead Seminole refugees from Kansas to the Seminole Nation, Indian Territory.

Not too much later, in 1895, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway after 1902) ran its line from McAlester to Oklahoma City, passing through Wewoka.  They also installed side tracks.

In the early 1900s, freight would oftentimes go missing once a train had been redirected to the side tracks, and items that went missing were said to be “lost in the Wewoka Switch.”

In the 1920s, when thousands of freight shipments destined elsewhere went missing, they were soon found hidden at the Wewoka Switch.  Soon, the railroad company made it a policy to check Wewoka first whenever they were advised of a lost shipment.   It got to be such a habit that soon a rubber stamp was created that read: “Search Wewoka Switch.”

It didn’t take too long before the saying became: “It’s in a Wewoka Switch” meaning that whatever or whoever was involved in questionable — possibly illegal — activities was quite obviously tangled up in a tight spot.

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