Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1908’

If My Grandmother Had Wheels …

Posted by Admin on January 3, 2011

The expression, while humorous, underscores the fact that people will sometimes throw irrelevant questions or comments into a discussion thereby changing the original focus of what was already being discussed (see the video included below).

Back in 1984, while watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, I heard Scotty exclaim, “Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”  It was an interesting take — this counterfactual thinking — on what was allegedly an everyday-life situation for Scotty!  But where did this expression come from and where would Idiomation find the earliest published version?

Just 6 years before the movie’s release, the New York Times ran an article on February 27, 1978 entitled “Albany’s patronage Roots Hidden By Change In Law” written by Steven R. Weisman.  He reported:

[Assemblyman Stanley Fink, the majority leader] asked her a question and she replied with a phrase she translated as, “If my grandmother had wheels, I would have been a bus.”

Nearly a decade before that, The Pittsburg Press ran an article on August 26, 1970 written by Wauhillau La Hay entitled “Hormone Theory Drawn Into Women’s Lib Debate.”  Here readers were treated to the following:

Dr. Ramey noted that “Dr. Berman says genetics is destiny.  I think what he’s trying to say is that human beings with ovaries should not enter the White House as president.  That if I did not have a certain XY (chromosomes) in my blood, I’d go th the men’s room, not the ladies’ room.  That’s like saying if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a station wagon,” Dr. Ramey declared. 

She argued against the position that women are inferior because they suffer from discomfort during menstrual periods, saying “Pioneer women crossing the plains didn’t take time out for cramps, did they?”  Her audience cheered.

The English saying is a direct translation of the Spanish:  “Si mi abuela tuviera ruedas seria una bicicleta” (If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.).

However, the sense of the phrase is found in the older French expression:  “Avec des si et des mais, on mettrait Paris en bouteille” (With ifs and buts, we would bottle Paris.)

The earliest published variation of the expression about grandmother having wheels that Idiomation could find is in the book, Jiddische Sprichwörter , written by Ignaz Bernstein and B.W. Segel, published in Frankfurt, Germany in 1908.

This video is a perfect example of the use of the idiom.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Bosom Buddies

Posted by Admin on December 21, 2010

There was the song “Bosom Buddies” from the 60’s musical “Mame” and the 80’s TV show “Bosom Buddies” with Tom  Hanks and Peter Scolari playing men who cross-dress to successfully rent a room in an all-female building, but the phrase bosom buddies goes farther back than that!

It’s an updated American version of “bosom friend” or “bosom pal.”  The phrase “bosom buddy” has become more widely used because of the alliteration.  The term buddy is an Americanism.

In the book Anne of Green Gables written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, Anne refers to her friend, Diana Barry as her bosom friend

In the book  A Dictionary Of Biography by Richard Alfred (R.A.) Davenport published in 1832, the term bosom friend is used no fewer than 5 times in such passages as:

Peter Artedi, a Swedish physician and naturalist, born in 1705, was drowned at Amsterdam in his thirtieth year.  He was the fellow student and bosom friend of Linnaeus, who, in honour of him, gave the name of Artedia, to one class of umbelliferous plants.  His only work is the Ichthyologia, or History of Fishes, which was published by Linnaeus, after the author’s death.

The poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631) alluded to his student and English pastoral poet, William Browne (1591-1643) in a poem published in 1615 where he wrote:

Then the two Beaumonts and my Browne arose,
My dear companions whom I freely chose
My bosom friends; and in their several way
Rightly born poets.

The phrase bosom friends is used with such ease in this poem as to imply that the phrase was already used in every day English of the Elizabethan era.

Before its use in literary circles, the British had a saying that went like this:   “A bosom friend afar brings a distant land near.”   This saying was a direct translation of the Chinese phrase “Hǎi nèi cún zhī jǐ tiān yá ruò bǐ l.”

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Thick As Thieves

Posted by Admin on December 14, 2010

The cliché thick as thieves, means that two or more people have a very close relationship with one another and are intimately allied.  It sometimes also implies that two or more people are involved in some sort of conspiracy.  In other words, they are in cahoots with one another.

On Tuesday, June 16, 1809, the Telegraph newspaper in Nashua, New Hampshire ran a story by Meredith Nicholson, author of “The House of a Thousand Candles.”  The story was “The Port of Missing Men” and made use of the phrase “thick of thieves.”

The old man leaned upon the table heavily.

“That amiable Francis” —

“The suggestion is not dismaying.  Francis would not know an opportunity if it offered.”

“But his mother — she is the devil!” blurted the old man.

“Pray drop that,” said Armitage in a tone that caused the old man to look at him with a new scrutiny.  “I want the paper back for the very reason that it contains that awful indictment of her.  I have been uncomfortable ever since I gave it to you, and I came to ask you for it that I might keep it safe in my own hands.  But the document is lost.  Am I to understand that Francis has it?”

“Not yet.  But Rambaud has it, and Rambaud and Francis are as thick as thieves.”

“I don’t know Rambaud.  The name is unfamiliar.”

“He has a dozen names — one for every capital.  He even operated in Washington, I have heard.  He’s a blackmailer who aims high — a broker in secrets, a scandal peddler.  He’s a bad lot, I tell you.  I’ve had my best men after him, and they’ve just been here to report another failure.  If you have nothing better to do” — began the old man.

In the book “The Parson’s Daughter” written by Theodore E. Hook and published by Carey, Lea and Blanchard in 1833, the author wrote this on page 184:

“Exactly,” said the Squire.  “She and my wife are thick as thieves, as the proverb goes: they know each other’s secrets, and lay their heads together, to do all the mischief they can.  However, it would be a great match for her if it was brought about.  He is a good fellow, and she is a good girl.”

The phrase “thick as thieves” was actually a translation of the French idiom “s’entendre comme larron en foire” which in English means “like thieves at a fair.”  The French phrase means to be complicit with another in an activity which may or may not be lawful. 

 French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) published the short story “The Three Clerks of Saint Nicholas” in his larger work “Droll Stories — Volume 2” in which the following is found:

The host bustled about, turned the spits, and prepared a glorious repast, for these three dodgers, who had already made noise enough for a hundred crowns, and who most certainly would not even have given up the copper coins which one of them was jingling in his pocket. But if they were hard up for money they did not want for ingenuity, and all three arranged to play their parts like thieves at a fair.

The French phrase comes from the Latin proverb:  Intelligunt se mutuo, ut fures in nundinis, which translates into English as “A thief knows a thief, as a wolf knows a wolf.”

Based on the Latin proverb, individuals being thick as thieves is something the world has known about for centuries.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eaten Out Of House and Home

Posted by Admin on May 4, 2010

Old Mother Hubbard was eaten out of house and home by her many children.  The three bears were eaten out of house and home thanks to Goldilocks and her voracious appetite.  So who exactly is responsible for this phrase?

The Rise of Historical Criticism, written and published in complete form in 1908 by late-Victorian playwright and celebrity Oscar Wilde used the phrase.    Charles Darwin used the phrase in his book On The Original of the Species published in 1859.

The earliest published version of the phrase can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part II) written in 1597 where Mistress Quickly says:

It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his: but I will have some of it out again, or I will ride thee o’ nights like the mare.”

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