Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1903’

Pink Elephants

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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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