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Posts Tagged ‘1896’

Crazy Like A Fox

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2019

Back in 2014, Idiomation tracked down the roots of crazy as a loon (sometimes known as crazy like a loon). Its origins reached back to 1800, but what about crazy like a fox?

When someone is crazy like a fox, it’s understood the person in question is able to outwit others very easily thanks to its cunning nature and intelligence.

How smart are foxes? According to an article published on 11 January 1896 in the Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, foxes will circle back to their earlier trail, run backwards in it for a while, and then take off in another direction knowing it will cause confusion for the dogs and humans tracking it.  Undoubtedly, if a person saw a fox running backwards, that person most likely would think the fox was crazy. After all, what animal runs backwards in the direction it can’t see if danger is approaching?

According to the reporter, the trick worked for the fox, and left those tracking it at a loss as to where the fox went, so it’s not so crazy after all.  That’s a pretty smart move!

Chicago Tribune television writer Allan Johnson wondered in his column of 8 April 1999 about a network’s sanity when it came to moving the animated series Futurama to a new time slot. Even the series’ creator, Matt Groenig of Simpson’s fame questioned the network’s move.  Johnson started his column with this introduction which, of course, includes a lovely play on words both for the idiom as well as for the network involved.

Futurama’s network may be crazy as a Fox for moving the animated series from sure success on Sunday nights to a possibly deadly Tuesday night berth.

The idiom at that point had been around at least 50 years.  Back in 1926, American comedian and actor Charley Chase starred in a silent movie titled, “Crazy Like A Fox.”

SIDE NOTE 1: This is the movie where Oliver Hardy played a small role just before he teamed up with Stan Laurel to become Laurel and Hardy.

SIDE NOTE 2: In 1937, while at Columbia Picture, Charley Chase filmed a remake of the movie with sound, and retitled it, “The Wrong Miss Wright.”

SIDE NOTE 3: Charley Chase directed a number of Three Stooges movies during his time with Columbia Pictures, most of which were for Hal Roach.

On 18 January 1907, the Spokane Press newspaper of Washington state, published a short article titled, “Parker Says He Is Insane.” Prize fighter, William Parker aka Denver “Kid” Parker proclaimed to a group of people the morning this edition was published that everyone was insane, and perfect sanity could only be had after death. The article stated in part:

One often hears the remark, “Kid Parker is crazy.” The kid this morning pleaded guilty to being crazy but “crazy like a fox.” The kid has some ideas that one seldom finds in the average prize fighter.

Just a few months later, the New York Sun newspaper was publishing “Knockerino Points Out A Few Flaws.” In the 9 June 1907 edition, the fictional story continued with Mr. Knockerino entering the dining car of an early train for Philadelphia and spied an acquaintance having breakfast alone at a table. He sat down without being invited and began talking. His monologue included this tidbit.

“I’ll just sit in for a beaker of Java, and let you tell me all you know, old pallie. Ha! Yu’re there with the tank’s breakfast, eh? Grapefruit to take up the lost motion and a salt mackerel to give the machinery a tune up, hey? I guess that isn’t the souse’s morning meal or nothing! What? That’s what you have every morning whether you’ve been out the night before or not? Behave that cutting up! Didn’t I see you at 2 o’clock this morning licking up the beads of the hiss fluids like as if somebody’d tipped you off that they were going to stop making it and you wanted to get yours down all at once before the shutdown? I’m as crazy as a fox, hey?”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of crazy like a fox or crazy as a fox, so the expression is from around 1900.

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

More Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys

Posted by Admin 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.

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

Talk Is Cheap

Posted by Admin on November 19, 2010

The phrase “talk is cheap” is actually a shortened version of at least two other commonly used American idioms —  “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whisky”  and “talk is cheap but  it takes money to buy a farm.” 

The phrase means that it’s easier for someone to say that he or she will do something than to actually do it.  In its earlier incarnations an example was provided to assist with internalizing that message.

An article headling in the Portsmouth Times published on August 21, 1958 carried the headline:  “United Nations: Talk Is Cheap.”  The story was about another skirmish in the Middle East and reported in part:

Those who have criticized the United Nations for doing nothing but talk can be thankful there has been a place to talk, which is cheap and much to the preferred over armed conflict, which is costly.

Years earlier, on October 2, 1926 in the Gridley Herald and the Lyon County Reporter — just two of several newspapers who carried the same Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Bell System advertisement, the focus was on talk being cheap. It was a quirky yet effective advertisement with a quaint story that stated:

Talk is cheap — but it takes money to buy a farm!” Many a school yard argument of boyhood days has been ended with this homely bit of philosophy.  For the American telephone user, talk is truly cheap — cheaper than anywhere else in the world.  But it takes money to keep his telephone service cheap and to make it ever and ever cheaper.

Bell was pushing their motto of “one policy, one system, universal service.’  What’s interesting about this is that it implied that the phrase “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy a farm” went back at least one generation, to when the decision makers in the home and business worlds were merely school children.

Indeed, the L.A. Times printed an article in July 23, 1896 wherein a news story reported:

It is that talk is cheap, but that it takes votes to elect a President. The Detroit Journal calls the platform adopted at the Chicago convention “a platform of cranks, by cranks, for cranks.”

The earliest date for publication of the phrase “talk is cheap” is found in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 21, 1891. 

Although no one can say on what date exactly Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum said “talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer” but it’s believed it was some time after 1856, when the Jerome Clock Company of East Bridgeport in Connecticut —  the company in which Barnum had invested heavily — declared bankruptcy.  P.T. Barnum lost all the money he had invested into, and loaned to, the company which was a sizeable amount by then.  For P.T. Barnum, this began four very long — and expensive — years of litigation and public humiliation.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Eat, Drink And Be Merry

Posted by Admin on September 13, 2010

The phrase “eat, drink and be merry” has been around quite some time.  In fact,  in 1932, Baltimore resident Frederick Philip Stieff published a collection of hundreds of recipes from handwritten recipe books and the title of that cookbook was none other than “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.”

Perhaps Frederick Philip Stieff had come across the copy of the Ashburton Guardian somewhere along the way as this newspaper carried a news story on page 3 entitled “Happiest Of All” and published  in the June 16, 1896 edition where the last two lines read:

Happiest, perhaps, of all are they who have been lifted up by Mother Siegel’s remedy and placed where once again they can eat, drink and be merry.  And if all these could be gathered together they would make a greater host than the Greek poet ever dreamed of.

Still, the history of the phrase appears to go back at least to a restaurant founded in 1793 and located high above Paris on Montmartre’s Place du Tertre.  The historic eatery knowns as La Mère Cathérine — where the term bistro was first coined — saw Georges Jacques Danton, one of the leaders of the French Revolution and the first President of the Committee of Public Safety scratch the phrase  “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die” into the walls of this legendary establishment.

Some will tell you that the phrase comes from Dante‘s “Inferno” completed in 1321 but the truth of the matter is, the phrase is much, much older than that and actually comes from the Bible.

More often than not, the phrase is used out of its original context with its meaning reversed. Paul used this quote from Isaiah 22:13 in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Paul’s intention was to show the pointlessness of life for Christians if there was no belief in the resurrection.  If a Christian did not believe in the resurrection, he might as well enjoy himself as much as possible since there would be nothing to look forward to in death.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Admin on August 27, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to read is true.” 

Many of us are familiar with the opening voice over from the “Dragnet” radio and television series.

A dragnet is a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals and other individuals.  The term comes from the fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom or through a promising area of open water.  While the fishing reference has been around for centuries, the police reference isn’t nearly as old.

In a book entitled “Illinois Parole Law” published in 1942 by the Department of Public Welfare for the State of Illinois it was stated that:

Two-fifths of Illinois population is in Cook county and the board is continually endeavoring to adjust its work to the problems of the city.  Two reasons actuate it.  First, a desire to protect the city from persons who have in the past been guilty of crime, and, second, ad esire to protect the parolee from the police dragnet and the many temptations and handicaps of city life.

Ten years before that, on May 18, 1932, newspapers reported that Luigi Malvese, bootleg gangster, was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Del Monte Barbershop at 720 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, California.   It was reported that “a police dragnet rounded up some 1,000 usual suspects in an attempt to pressure the underworld to rein in its wild men.” Louis Dinato, Al Capone’s tailor, was among those rounded up.

But long before the gangsters of the Prohibition Era, back in 1917, Ordway Rider was shot and died from a bullet wound to the chest.  His death was a cause célèbre in Edwardian Boston, pushing stories of war off the front page of all the papers for days.  According to the February 23 edition of The Boston Globe, in an article entitled “Police Dragnet Out For Bandits” it was reported that:

 ” … Ordway Rider was shot and instantly killed on the night of Feb. 21st 1917 by Bandits. Robbery was the motive. He was manager of one of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s stores. He was held in high esteem by the company. His age was 58-6months.”

That being said, the earliest published reference I could find that speaks of a police dragnet was found in The Chicago Daily Tribune which published a news story on January 19, 1896 with the headline, “Bicycle Thieves Caught in Meshes of Police Dragnet.”

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