Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1903’

Pipped At The Post

Posted by Admin on May 1, 2021

To be pipped at or on or to the post means to be defeated by someone by a very narrow margin or at a crucial moment. While it’s generally used when talking about a race or competition, but overall it has to do with not succeeding where success was almost guaranteed, or by the underdog gaining a small advantage at the last decisive moment resulting in the crowd favorite losing.

The pip in question has nothing whatsoever to do with the dots on a dice or domino. It has nothing to do with the diamond-shaped segments on a pineapple. It hasn’t any connection to the insignia on the shoulder of an officer’s uniform indicating rank. Those are all pips, but they aren’t the pip in the idiom.

The Oxford English Dictionary and Green’s Dictionary of Slang both refer to the pip as being depressed or out of sorts, and dates back to the 1830s. But from 1896 onward, the pip meant to annoy or irritate someone. From Idiomation’s point of view, losing at the last minute what was believed to be a guaranteed win would certain annoy and irritate the loser, so while the reason for the expression makes sense, when did it come about as an idiom?

The idiom is still in use today, as evidenced by the research paper published in Frontiers in Psychology on May 2019 titled, “Pipped at the Post: Knowledge Gaps and Expected Low Parental IT Competience Ratings Affect Young Women’s Awakening Interest in Professional Careers in Information Science” by Angela Schorr of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Siegen (Germany).

When Collins Dictionary released its words of the year that rise to use in the twelve months leading up to the list being published, most people thought Megxit was a shoe-in for first place in 2020 after Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, left the UK for Canada and subsequently America. But the pandemic had other plans and lockdown won the coveted first place by a nose as lexicographers announced lockdown as the word of the year.

The headline for the article on 10 November 2020 and written by Yahoo! News’ royal correspondent, Rebecca Taylor, announced:

‘Megxit’ Makes Shortlist of 2020 Word of the Year But Pipped to the Post by ‘Lockdown’

In the 18 March 2018 edition of the Messenger Newspaper in the UK they shared the news that The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide had named Altrincham as the best place to live in North West Britain. According to the guide, Altrincham was “a cool slice of suburbia with big family houses” and was a 25 minute ride on the tram if one wanted a little city living to go with that. The headline read:

Altrincham Pipped at the Post as Best Place to Live

The Canberra Times used the expression in a story published on 9 May 1988. The Syndey Swans were playing against Geelong Cats (who were favored to win the game) in Melbourne. The Swans were trailing badly by halftime, and in the third quarter, there was a 22 point margin between the two teams.

Then something unexpected happened, and things began to go horribly wrong for the Cats and incredibly right for the Swans. Then, according to the newspaper, Geeling rover Robert Scott set up a shot that really had little to no hope in succeeding. He went with a shot at goal from 50 meters out, at a 30 degree angle … into the wind. A true Hail Mary play if ever there was one!

The ball hit the post, resulting in the winning goal being played by the Cats. The headline read: Geelong Pipped at the Post by Swans.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #1: In the 1970s, when Digital Equipment Co was taken over by Compaq, there was a utility known as the Peripheral Interchange Program, or PIP. To transfer a file from disk to tape or another disk, users had to do so using this program and entering the correct commands, and because of this, to transfer was to pip. It isn’t, however, the same pip as in this Idiomation entry.

It appears the expression is mostly used by those who live in England, Ireland, and Australia as nearly all of the published instances were found in newspapers and books from England, Ireland, and Australia.

For example, the 5 September 1948 edition of the Sheffield Telegraph and Star told the story of a man who had been blind for at least 35 years and yet continued gardening and his relation to the Thomas Glossop Memorial Cup.

The gardening competition was started by the Abbeydale Amateur Gardening Society which had been started by Vicar of St. John’s Abbeydale. The cup was awarded on the most points scored.

Every year, the blind man did all his own gardening, raising his plants from seeds, and keeping his garden weed-free thrugh his sense of touch. He had won the gardening award from the time WWI broke out, up until his death in 1940. In 1958, the man’s son, Arthur H. Glossop, suggested the cup be the runner-up to the winner of The Kemsley Cup presented by The Star newspaper. He was quoted in the newspaper saying:

“My father always had a lot of sympathy for the man who was just pipped at the post, and I am delighted to think that his cup would be a consolation to such a competitor,” said Mr. Arthur Glossop.

In the 12 January 1926 edition of The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate newspaper reported on a horse race that was so close that the reporter wrote that “a majority of the onlookers thought that [Gadamin] had just got [to the finish line]” with regards to a the horse race in which Gadamin was racing.

It was an amazing race from a number of standpoints.

For one, this was said about one of the other horses: “Varney, from Vic Benyon’s stable, was also one of the field, but was not in the hunt until the race was practically over. He made up a lot of ground from the turn, and would probably be better suited by a longer trip.”

However the focus of the story was on the horse who didn’t win with the headline sharing the news.

Pipped On The Post: Gadamin’s Game Effort

Indeed, in the June 1903 edition of Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in the story, “Our Van” a detailed accounting of horse racing was written across several pages, and within that writing was this passage:

In a Maiden Two-Year-Old race we saw a race thrown away. In Newsboy one was found to beat Bass Rock, but Land, having accomplished this, took matters too easily, and was “pipped” on the post by Extradition. When will jockeys learn?

And there we see the word pipped in quotation marks which indicates the expression was just coming into its own.

In the 19th century Britain, to pip someone meant you wounded or killed that person, usually with a gun. It was an effective way to defeat one’s opponent. Being defeated at the finish line by one’s competitor who wasn’t the crowd favorite would also wound, and Idiomation suspects this is how the expression rose to popularity around the turn of the 20th century.

This leaves the earliest published version of pipped at or to or on the post to 1903 with only a few years before that to account for the use of the quotation marks in the 1903 article.

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Pink Elephants

Posted by Admin on March 5, 2014

If someone accuses you of seeing pink elephants, it means you are suffering from hallucinations … mostly likely caused by a state of inebriation.

In 1992, the “Confrerie van de Roze Olifant” (Brotherhood of the Pink Elephant) was founded to promote the Belgian beers made by the Huyghe Brewery aka Brouwerij Huyghe. The brewery has been in operation since 1654 and its best known beer is called Delirium Tremens (which is Latin for “trembling madness“). It has an alcohol content of 8.5% and was named “Best Beer In The World” at the 2008 World Beer Championships held in Chicago, Illinois.

In the May 14, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal, journalist Jean Spender wrote about former Alaska governor’s speech at a fundraising breakfast for the Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, D.C. She was quoted as having said:

Look out, Washington. There’s a whole stampede of pink elephants coming this November.

So where does this idiom come from, and what’s with all this talk of pink elephants as opposed to blue or green or bright yellow elephants?

Back in 1953, a Looney Tunes cartoon named “Punch Trunk” referred to pink elephants when a drunk looks at his watch and then says to a tiny grey elephant “You’re late!” Staggering away, he adds as an aside for the audience’s benefit,”He always used to be pink.”

Aha! What this means is that before 1953, there were pink elephants in some idiomatic form or another. And, of course, there was. In Disney‘s 1941 animated feature, “Dumbo” Timothy Q. Mouse and Dumbo the Elephant accidentally find themselves inebriated when they drink water that’s been spiked with champagne. Thanks to this mishap, they hallucinate pink elephants singing, dancing and playing marching band instruments. It would be easy to stop there and say it was obviously an expression that originated with Dumbo but that’s not quite right.

In the December 1938 edition of Action Comics #7, Superman lifts an elephant over his head while performing at the circus. As with most stories, there has to be an non-believer in the crowd and in this case, it’s a drunk. Upon witnessing Superman‘s feat of strength, the drunk says, “I don’t mind seeing pink elephants, but (hic) this is too much!

The expression appears in the National Provisioner, published by the Food Trade Publishing Company and heralded as the “official organ of the American Meat Packers Association.”  In the October 17, 1908 edition, the following excerpt is found with regards to the Packers’ Convention in Chicago. In fact, the following is attributed as being part of the “aftermath of the convention.”

Listen to the gentle dill-dill bird carolling sweet lays and the voice of the placid niph blending his voice in beatific unison. And see — see the pink elephants with green mosquito jockeys astride racing over the walls — what’s that? It’s 11 o’clock. Say, send a boy up with a pitcher of ice water, will you? In a hurry please.

In Chapter II of Jack London’s novel “John Barleycorn” published in 1903, the author provides an excellent definition of how alcohol and pink elephants are associated.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers.

But are there such things as pink elephants? As a matter of fact, yes. In fact, albino elephants — which are far more common in Asian elephants than African elephants — are reddish-brown or pink. In Thailand, they are called chang phueak which, when translated, is pink elephant.

In 1877, Queen Victoria became the Empress of India even though India had been under British control since 1858.  Six years after Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India, Toung Taloung, wintered for a time at the London Zoological Gardens before continuing its journey to join the Barnum, Bailey and Hutchison Circus in New York City. While in London, journalists and citizens were disappointed to learn that the alleged “white” elephant wasn’t white at all, but rather a reddish-brown — or rather, a dirty dusty rose.

Sometime between 1883 and 1903 — twenty years between Toung Taloung‘s appearance at the London Zoological Gardens and Jack London’s story — pink elephants, while very rare, were associated with the hallucinations of those who partook of alcoholic beverages.

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Duck Out

Posted by Admin on August 24, 2011

When someone ducks out it means they’re going to slip away, exit, go, leave, split, depart, skedaddle, take off, clear out, hightail, buzz off, beat it, make tracks, take a powder, fly the coop, vamoose, get out of Dodge and it’s oftentimes so the person ducking out can avoid doing something for which they are responsible or that puts the speaker in an uncomfortable position.

On August 7, 2011 the Calgary Herald published a story by reporter Kristen Odland entitled, “Taylor Shines For Stamps.”  It began by lamenting the fact that Larry Taylor had ducked out, leaving fans and media alike surprised by his quick exit.

Traditionally, the first one to duck out of the Calgary Stampeders’ dressing room post-game and post-practice following any media requests is soft-spoken wide receiver Romby Bryant.  But Saturday night as the remaining satisfied fans filed out of McMahon Stadium following a 32-20 Stampeders victory and the media swarmed into the home team’s jubilant locker room, it was speedy wide receiver and kick-returner Larry Taylor who was no where to be found.  Yeah, he’s that fast.

The Milwaukee Journal published a news story on September 6, 1969 about Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.  Both the title and the first paragraph used the expression duck out.  The title of the article was “Russ Due So Chinese Duck Out” and began with:

Chinese Premier Chou En-lai ducked out of Hanoi Friday before the Saturday arrival of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, and the maneuver increased international speculation that North Vietnam was caught in the middle in the bitter Russian-Chinese feud.

Ten years before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a story on September 2, 1959 entitled, “Congress Should Not Duck Out Because of Khrushchev.”  Public and media perception was that some in Congress simply didn’t want to be in Washington when Nikita Khrushchev arrived later in the month and some in Congress were pushing for a six-week recess or to have Congress adjourned.

From time to time, a brief news item appears in the newspaper that can’t help but make the most of a pun waiting to be made.  This was the case in the Reading Eagle edition of October 24, 1933 with the story, “Tries to Duck Out With Ducks: Court Stops Him.”  The article reported the following story from Chicago:

Joseph Duck believes in taking no chances.  He was about to walk out of a court room yesterday after winning a continuance of an alimony case when the judge noticed a bulky package under his arm.

“What is it?” inquired the court.

“Ducks,” said Duck.

He explained he had expected to go to jail and wished to eat duck dinners while there.  The court made him surrender the ducks to Mrs. Duck and her seven children.

On May 9, 1905, the Meriden Daily Journal reported on James J. Jeffries, champion heavyweight pugilist of the world who was retiring due to muscular rheumatism in his hands.  The article read in part:

“I have never known a day’s sickness and this makes life miserable,” he said.  “I am tired of the theatrical game and have informed the management that I want to duck out of the limelight at the end of the week.”

The earliest published version of duck out that Idiomation could find was in the Reading Eagle edition of August 9, 1903 in the story entitled, “Like A Dancing Dervish Is Corbett.”  The story discusses how pugilist Jim Corbett “jumps around Yank Kenny who impersonates Jim Jeffries in practice” and how this surprised boxing experts.

It looks as if Corbett’s only way to avoid those reachy sweeps at his ribs is to duck out of the enclosures, but Jim remains within the ropes and flits around in such a manner as to disarrange Yank’s plan of attack.

That the word is used with ease in this news article from 1903 and without quotation marks around the expression duck out which indicates it was an accepted part of the vocabulary of the time.  It is reasonable, therefore, to guess that the expression most likely dates back to the 1880s or 1890s.

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Black Out (as in unconscious)

Posted by Admin on May 30, 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 falling unconscious, this meaning originated with pilots who sometimes fainted briefly when pulling out of a power dive. It soon was transferred to other losses of consciousness or memory in the 1940s.

An unfortunate story was published in the May 28, 1979 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel in a news article entitled, “Boy Dies Making Self Black Out.” The article included this in the story:

After class was dismissed Wednesday afternoon, Paul and several companions went out on the playground, and he gave them a demonstration. Use two fingers, he pressed on the front of his neck to stop the air flow and blacked out.

Back on September 14, 1962 the Victoria Advocate published a story on then-31-year-old San Francisco Giants star outfielder, Willie Mays. He had been free of injuries and ailments in previous eight seasons with the Giants which is why a black-out spell was of concern to management at the time. The story was entitled, “Mays Due Hospital Tests After Black-Out Spell.” The first paragraph read:

Officials of the San Francisco Giants ordered a thorough physical examination Friday for star outfielder Willie Mays, who blacked out Wednesday night. Mays will stay in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital over night and have the tests Friday morning, according to Manager Alvin Dark.

The December 22, 1944 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Anti-Black-Out Suit” and reported:

Berger G-suits, designed to keep fliers from “blacking out” in steep dives and other maneuvers, are the latest togs for army and navy fighter pilots. The army’s ” G-suit “– the “G” is for gravity — is a pair of high waisted pneumatic pants with built-in suspenders and girdle, and air bladders over the abdomen and legs.

For pilots, greying out or blacking out was a serious problem when it happened. A black out was a complete loss of vision due to no blood getting to the eye even though the pilot was still conscious at the time. The loss of memory that was part of blacking out and falling unconscious was particularly disconcerting to pilot trainers, air force personnel, researchers and, of course, pilots. It was observed that black outs left pilot completely unaware that they have been unconscious and provided them with a false perception of how well they were coping with “positive G” or “eyeballs down G.”

In the mid-1920s, Royal Air Force pilots who were training for the Schneider Trophy became adept at knowing the point at which they would move from a black out to completely losing consciousness.

As an interesting side note, the first manned flight — which was 12-seconds long — was on December 17, 1903 and the first 5-minute manned flight was on November 9, 1904. The American government bought its first airplane in 1909 and the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown in 1912. On July 18, 1914 an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. In other words, blacking out became a new expression in the 20th century thanks in part to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

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Whiter Than White

Posted by Admin on October 26, 2010

Cleaning one’s clothes “whiter than white” has oftentimes been promised by laundry detergent manufacturers in all sorts of print and broadcast commercials over the decades.

In 1903, Professor Herman Giessler and Dr Herman Bauer from Stuttgart, Germany created the world’s first soap powder with a bleaching agent -– Persil.  It was launched in the UK in 1909 with the a slogan that made the most of the fact that it was an ‘Amazing Oxygen Washer.’  Persil went on to become the first laundry detergent to feature a man in TV advertising and it kept claiming that it would make your whites “whiter than white.”

But Persil didn’t coin the phrase.  That honour seems to go to a poem written by William Shakespeare in 1593 entitled “Venus and Adonis.”  One of the stanzas reads:

Who sees his true-love in her naked bed, 
Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white
But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed, 
His other agents aim at like delight? 
Who is so faint, that dare not be so bold 
To touch the fire, the weather being cold? 

And so, it was William Shakespeare, once again, who coined a phrase that has made its way into today’s English.

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Hit The Sack

Posted by Admin on October 5, 2010

The phrase “hit the sack” and the phrase “hit the hay” are actually variations on the same theme with both of them being American colloquialisms.  The expression referring to hay is from the early 1900s and the variant referring to a sack is from the 1940s.

It all started with Olympic heavyweight, Sam Berger who announced to reporters of the The Oakland Tribune in July 1903 that he was sleepy and, what’s more, “he was going to hit the hay.”

At the time, it was common for mattresses, or sacks, to be stuffed with either hay or straw, therefore “hitting the hay” was a literal thing.

The phrase “hit the sack” was in vogue during WWII.  In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote on Saturday, December 6, 1941 that it was payday for the enlisted men.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is how payday went for those enlisted men:

By the time various deductions were made, John Joniec and his Army buddies in Schofield Barracks had little mad money left. So they spent the day hanging out, shooting the breeze. About 11 p.m., they hit the sack.

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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.

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