Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1902’

Make No Bones About It

Posted by Admin on March 6, 2012

When someone says they make no bones about what they’re about to say, what they’re trying to convey is that they are going to plainly state how they think or feel on a subject even though it might embarrass or offend others.  In other words, the speaker is about to be forthright and candid while giving his or her opinion to the audience at large.

The Rock Hill Herald ran a story on July 28, 1976 about Lawrence Paros of Providence, Rhode Island and author of the book “The Great American Cliché.”  He had moved to Rhode Island in 1971 to direct a federal learning program for high school students, however, he grew tired of what he referred to as working within the system, quit and began collecting clichés that became the basis of his book filled with 50,000 entries.  The newspaper article was entitled: 

Make No Bones About It, He’s The King Of Clichés

Back on June 16, 1902, the New York Times published an article dealing with the beet sugar Senators, the United States government’s Reciprocity bill and a rebate of between twenty and fifty percent.  In the end, the government would not yield to the Senators’ demands and the newspaper reported that one Senator stated the following:

“It threatens beet sugar men with ostracism if we do not abandon the plan of Cuban relief to which he told us time and time again he would make no objection.  Even now, in spite of his message, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d sign a rebate bill and make no bones about it.”

In Part II: Chapter VIII of the book “The Idiot” written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger in 1868 and 1869 – and translated by Frederick Whishaw for publication in 1887, the author wrote:

“As to the article,” said Hippolyte in his croaking voice, “I have told you already that we none of us approve of it! There is the writer,” he added, pointing to the boxer, who sat beside him. “I quite admit that he has written it in his old regimental manner, with an equal disregard for style and decency. I know he is a cross between a fool and an adventurer; I make no bones about telling him so to his face every day. But after all he is half justified; publicity is the lawful right of every man; consequently, Burdovsky is not excepted. Let him answer for his own blunders. As to the objection which I made just now in the name of all, to the presence of your friends, I think I ought to explain, gentlemen, that I only did so to assert our rights, though we really wished to have witnesses; we had agreed unanimously upon the point before we came in. We do not care who your witnesses may be, or whether they are your friends or not. As they cannot fail to recognize Burdovsky’s right (seeing that it is mathematically demonstrable), it is just as well that the witnesses should be your friends. The truth will only be more plainly evident.”

The expression hasn’t been used as often as one might think, however in the book “Paraphrase Of Luke” by Desiderius Erasmus and translated into English by Nicholas in 1548, the command given to Abraham with regards to sacrificing his son, Isaac, is given as:

He made no bones about it but went to offer up his son.

Going back almost another 100 years, the Paston Letters reveal that a version of the expression was used in a letter written in 1459.   For those who may not know about the Paston Letters, it is a collection of letters and papers, consisting correspondence from members, friends and acquaintances of the Paston family, written between 1422 and 1509.  In 1459, a dispute arose between Paston and Sir John Fastolf’s family.  When the verdict in the case was rendered with no objection from either side, Paston wrote:

And fond that tyme no bonys in the matere.
Translation:  and found that time no bones in the matter

This is a significant passage since the expression during the 1400s was that people were making bones about things which indicated that people were raising a fuss over things.  There’s some discussion that the original expression relates to soups with bones in them, with implication being that soups with bones in them were unpleasant to swallow.

In any case, the fact that the expression was already in common usage, having found a place in Paston’s letter of 1459, indicates that the expression is most likely from at least two generations before it was used. This puts the saying to at least 1400.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lose Your Marbles

Posted by Admin on March 2, 2011

We all know that marbles is a child’s game.  It was first recorded by that name in 1709, however, the game itself existed as far back as the 13th century in Germany where the game was known as tribekugeln.  Back in the day, marbles was played with small balls of polished marble or alabaster but over the centuries, the game has remained the same even if the marbles themselves have changed.

The word marble is Middle English from the Old French word marbre which is from the Latin word marmor which is from the Greek word marmaros and marmaros means “shining stone.”  

But to say that someone has lost his or her marbles is to mean that the speaker believes the other person has suddenly become mentally incompetent for an undetermined length of time.  On February 11, 1995 the Pittsburg Post-Gazette wrote about former American President Bill Clinton and the baseball strike with an opening paragraph that stated:

As you all know, President Clinton lost his marbles earlier this week.  While the rest of the nation struggled with the profound problems that truly plague humanity — war, famine, death, pestilence and the O.J. trial — Mr. Bill concentrated on ending the inane major-league baseball strike.  And to make matters worse, he failed miserably.

From yesterday’s entry at Idiomation what it means to “go bananas” and on May 10, 1975 the Youngstown Vindicator ran a story by William Safire courtesy of the New York Times News Service.  It was entitled, “The Catch 22 Question — Did Nixon Go Bananas?”  The story read in part:

There is a delicious inconsistency in the Nixon story: How could an intelligent man, a canny politician, blunder so egregiously in covering up a foolish crime — unless he had indeed lost his marbles?  The historian who figures this out might earn a niche in history himself.

Losing one’s marbles is a serious matter for young children.  In fact, the seriousness of the matter was recounted in the St. Petersburg Times on June 11, 1939 when the newspaper reported on “Marbles Lost in 1863 Found.”

In 1863, eight-year-old Augustus Pigman lost 16 prized marbles when he tossed them under a porch stoop to keep them from the hands of pursuing playmates.  Workmen demolishing the building a few days ago learned of the long lost marbles, recovered and returned all of them.  At 84, retired druggist Pigman is beyond the “knuckle down” age but will send the marbles to his three-year-old son in New York.

Now back in the 1920s, if someone lost control, it was said that the person had ‘let his marbles go with the monkeywhich was taken from a story about a boy whose marbles were carried off by a monkey.  And as far back as 1902, to “lose your taw’” meant to “go crazy.” 

As a side note, a taw is a large, fancy marble used for shooting and an “alley taw” is made of alabaster.

And so, while Idiomation was unable to find any published connection between marbles and mental instability prior to 1902, Idiomation did find a comic ballad published on January 28, 1871 entitled, “A Horse Chestnut or a Chestnut Horse.”  The ballad satirizes the philosophy of logic and shows how language that is thought to be rigid in meaning can take on other meanings depending on the context in which language is used.

An Eton stripling, training for the law
A dunce at syntax – but a dab at taw
One happy Christmas laid upon the shelf
His cap and gown and store of learned pelf.

The ballad shows how a horse chestnut and a chestnut horse can be made to appear to be the same thing if one chooses one’s words carefully and specifically.  And with that, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their marbles in such a case.

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

The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

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

It’s In A Wewoka Switch

Posted by Admin 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.

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

Call Of The Wild

Posted by Admin on June 17, 2010

American author, Jack London (1876 – 1916) was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from writing.

Prospectors intermittently discovered gold in the Yukon region of Canada in the 1870s and 1880s. News of their finds attracted modest numbers of other prospectors hoping to find great deposits of the precious metal.  Jack London was among those prospectors. Although he didn’t strike gold, London did return from the Great White North with the “The Call Of The Wild” manuscript, published in 1903 and that based on his experiences while he was a prospector.  

The Saturday Evening Post who purchased the manuscript on January 26, 1903 insisted on having 5,000 words cut from the original and London complied with that request.

London calls the law of survival in the untamed wild northlands as “the law of club and fang.”  What’s more, the novel puts forth that heredity and environment are the major forces that shape human beings and inborn instincts influenced by economic, social, cultural and familial factors dictate how people react in any given situation.

The phrase “Call of the Wild” originates with Jack London.

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

On The Carpet

Posted by Admin on March 3, 2010

Whenever you hear that someone has been called up on the carpet, you know there’s trouble brewing for that person.

This term started in the early 1700s and referred to the cloth — known as a carpet — covering a conference table.  It came to mean that something was “under consideration or discussion.”

In 19th-century America, however, carpet meant “floor covering.”  In the day, only the boss had carpet in his office while all other offices sported bare floors.  And the only time an employee would be summoned to the boss’s office rather than to his superior’s office was when a reprimand was in order.

The first recorded use of the term “on the carpet” that referenced being reprimanded by an employer was in 1902.

One of the most famous recorded uses of the term “on the carpet” was in December 1929, Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adam delivered a blistering reprimand to Smedley Darlington Butler, commander the naval base at Quantico in Virginia, declaring that he was doing so at the direct personal order of the President of the United States.

This is the first time in my service of thirty-two years,” Butler is alleged to have said to Adams, “that I’ve ever been hauled on the carpet and treated like an unruly schoolboy. I haven’t always approved of the actions of the administration, but I’ve always faithfully carried out my instructions. If I’m not behaving well it is because I’m not accustomed to reprimands, and you can’t expect me to turn my cheek meekly for official slaps!”

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »