Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘18th century’

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

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Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

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Bold As Brass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Token Indian

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2015

If you hear someone talking about the token Indian in the group, it’s an offensive comment.  It means that there was need for at least one person to be included regardless of qualifications, and so someone was chosen to be that token person.  The reason for having a token person in a group is to give the appearance of being inclusive and to deflect any allegations of discrimination.  The bottom line, however, is that it’s extremely discriminatory and not inclusive in the least.

Father Theo’s Blog on WordPress on August 5, 2012 talked about the passage for Aboriginal professionals.  Theo Collins is a blogger, writer, educator, parent, musician, and historiographer living in British Columbia (Canada) and his blog focuses primarily on planet and climate change, Aboriginal issues, the blues, history, people and himself.  The entry that day was entitled, “I Was A Token Indian.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewed “American Outlaw” in their newspaper edition of August 17, 2001.  Written by Post-Gazette Book Editor, Bob Hoover, the immediately took pity on the American Western which he felt had been assailed in the movie.

It’s not that he felt that the movie was terrible (because he didn’t feel that way about it at all) but rather that the movie showed no respect for the cowboy tradition of John Ford, John Wayne, and Sam Peckinpaugh movies.  The problem was, according to the reviewer, that the movie looked more like “The Sopranos” in spurs (yes, that’s what he wrote).

And, that’s really what this movie’s about — lookin’ good.  It’s got the Western outfits, the steam-engine trains, the dynamite blasts, the shirtless studs and the token Indian.  Some of the jokes are funny, too.

Sixteen years earlier (almost to the day), on July 6, 1985 the Gettysburg Times published a news story written by Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press about sculptor Michael Naranjo.  In 1967, he was drafted into the U.S. army and the following year, a grenade cost him his sight, a little finger, and the dexterity of his right hand when he and his squad were ambushed in a Vietnamese rice field.   The article was titled, “Blind Indian Sculptor Seeks The Impossible” and explained how Michael Naranjo sought the impossible.  The article read in part:

I don’t want to be just your token Indian, or your token veteran, or your token handicapped artist.  I just want to be a plain old, good artist … Foremost and first, I am a sculptor,” he said at the opening of a month-long exhibition of his work in Pittsburgh.

The Montreal Gazette edition of April 30, 1980 also spoken of token Indians when it ran an article about what the president of the Indian Association of Alberta, Joe Dion, had to say about setting up a national legislative body to negotiate with the Canadian federal government.

“Indians want to make their own laws, administer justice, control resources, and look after social services within Confederation,” Dion said.

He also suggested that Indians also be allocated a block of seats in Parliament, with members elected by Indian constituencies.  And the Senate should have more than the one “token Indian senator.”

The term token Indian can be found littered across newspapers, magazines, and books over the decades and it’s understood what’s meant by the term.  However, it was in a 1946 coin collector’s almanac compiled by Hans M.F. Schulman and Hans Holzer where Idiomation found mention of a 1795 half-cent Washington token Indian head coin.

History shows that the third president of the United States and founding father Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) strongly encouraged commercial enterprises to extend credit to Indigenous peoples in America to create a debt situation that could only be satisfied by forcing Aboriginals to cede land to the U.S. government.  When an Indian did not have a debt, but rather, had a credit coming to him, he received a token since there was a shortage of coins in circulation during this era.

Three images were most often used to differentiate three tokens of differing values, and each had a pictorial that was recognized not only by settlers and colonials but by Native American Indians as well (a buffalo on the plains, a side-wheel steamer, and a warrior on horseback).  These tokens were meant to prove good faith trading and when accusations of unfairness by commercial enterprises surfaced, it was the Indian with the token or tokens who was named as proof that the commercial enterprise in question was fair to all, including Indians.

In other words, the Indian with the token became the known as the token Indian.

The practice dates back to the late 1700s when the U.S. government decided to involve itself in the Indian trade, hence the minting of tokens as well as half-cent token Indian coins that were put into circulation as real coinage.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom token Indian to the late 1700s.

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God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 29, 2010

After Hurricane Katrina, Spike Lee filmed a documentary entitled “If God Is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise.”  The filmmaker told the media that he named the film after a saying his grandmother used when he was a child.  But what, exactly, does the phrase mean?

The phrase “God willing and the creek don’t rise” means the speaker will arrive or complete a task if all goes well, hence the reference to God and the creek.  That being said, though, the creek in question isn’t a small brook or stream.   It’s a reference to the Creek Indians.

American farmer, statesman, and Indian Agent, Colonel Benjamin Hawkins (1754 – 1816), hailed from North Carolina. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a United States Senator as well as the General Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  His position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs put him in contact with all tribes south of the Ohio River. As principal agent to the Creek tribe, Hawkins moved to present-day Crawford County in Georgia to deal directly with the Creek Indians. 

As the representative for the Congress in the 1785 negotiations with the Creek Indians, he convinced the Creek to work with the American government rather than against it even though no formal treaty to that effect was ever signed.  The Treaty of New York was signed after Hawkins convinced George Washington to become involved.

One of the major problems the American government faced in acquiring lands settled by the Creek was that the government ignored the fact that the Creek and other North American Indians in the southern states had been farmers for centuries already.   Many began ranching when the deerskin trade took a major downturn.

The American government believed that their plan would assimilate North American Indians as American citizens, and that North American Indians would willingly dissolve their national sovereignty and cede their territories to the U.S. government.

By 1812, aroused by the Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, some members of the Upper Creek were in open revolt.  In other words, the Creeks were rising.

When Hawkins was asked to return to the nation’s capital, his response was always, “If God is willing and the Creek don’t rise.”  If the Creek rose, it was his job as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs to deal with the uprising and put an end to the rebellion.

Hawkins tendered his resignation in early 1815, but before he could resign, Andrew Jackson forced the Creek Confederacy into signing the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which stole two-thirds of Creek country from the Creek.  Hawkins reported later that he was “struck forcibly” by the unfairness of the treaty, as were the Creek.

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Slap On The Wrist

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 29, 2010

Since the 18th century the word “slap” was used figuratively as well as literally to mean an attack, slur, censure or reproof, either written or spoken. 

The Oxford English Dictionary  traces the phrase “slap on the wrist” to 1914 and defines it as “a  mild rebuke or criticism.”  So a slap on the wrist is a nominal or token punishment which may or may not be appropriate for the crime committed.

All you can do is cross your fingers and hope that if you get a slap on the wrist, it will be because you got caught red-handed with your hand in the cookie jar.

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