Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1919’

Mulligan

Posted by Admin on April 3, 2021

Recently Idiomation came across the expression mulligan which is a free shot, so to speak. It’s a do-over or a second chance that replaces the first attempt at something, and is only accepted among friends in informal circumstances. As can be expected, you can give a mulligan or you can take a mulligan but you can never borrow one or lend one out.

The Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale (CA) posted an OpEd piece by Thomas Elias title, “Primary Exposes Problems With Early Voting” on 22 March 2020. It dealt with early voting and the primaries, and how the election in 2020 exposed weaknesses in California’s early voting system. The names that appeared on the early voting ballots included names of candidates who had dropped out of the Presidential race. You can imagine how that affected the results when November rolled around. This is how the author of the piece summed matters up.

Some of those voters would have liked to take a mulligan and vote over again once their candidates dropped out shortly before Election Day. 

As Idiomation continued researching the expression, an Irish tale was shared that claims that back in the day, and long before the turn of the 20th century, a foursome of Irish lads took their practice drives at the first hole. The oldest man, displeased with how everyone’s first shot had gone, said in his thick Irish brogue, “Do them all again!” The American foursome behind them overheard his comment, liked the idea of a practice shot and repeated the phrase they thought they heard, “Do the Mulligan!”

With that story being shared, Idiomation decided to see if there was a connection between giving or taking a mulligan and golf.

Amateur golfer, hotelier, and Canadian David Bernard Mulligan, in an interview in 1952 with Sudbury Star sportswriter Don Mackintosh, told the story of how the expression came to be. It all happened at the Country Club of Montreal (established in 1910) — which involved driving across the mile-long Victoria Bridge to get to the golf course — some time in the mid-1920s, according to David Bernard Mulligan.

One day while playing in my usual foursome, I hit a ball off the first tee that was long enough but not straight. I was so provoked with myself that on impulse I stooped over and put another ball down. The other three looked at me with considerable puzzlement and one of them asked, “What are you doing?”

“’I’m taking a correction shot,’ I replied. ‘What do you call that?’ the partner inquired. Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘mulligan.’

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: On 22 July 1923, on page 55 of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper of Rochester (NY), the paper reported: The boulevard before reaching Victoria Bridge is delightful and the mile ride across the St. Lawrence over Victoria Bridge is slow but enjoyable.

The bridge was known beyond New York state, as the Chicago Tribune reported on 10 August 1924: Closing of the Victoria Bridge at Montreal for five days last week brought out the fact that the bridge is used daily by from 700 to 1,200 vehicles, of which over 70 percent come from the United States.

The story was so well known that when David Bernard Mulligan died on 27 December 1954, his obituary began with: “David B. Mulligan, 83, dean of hotel men and veteran golfer credited with originating the extra tee shot term of ‘taking a Mulligan‘ died here today after a long illness.

But even before the expression was used in golf, it was used in cricket where a bad ball off the wicket could be replayed as a mulligan according to the  Colorado Springs Gazette of 19 April 1919. Obviously for it to appear in a news story in 1919, it had to be an accepted term to used in the news story with the expectation of being understood by readers.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than a fortunate coincidence that his last name was already associated with a meaning for mulligan that meant “to take a hard swing at a ball.‘ You see, in 1920, Babe Ruth was already being referred to in newspaper articles as a Swat Mulligan. How do we know this? On 13 March 1920, the Evening World News newspaper in New York City ran an article titled, “Long-Range Hit Record For Baseball and Golf Ruth’s Chief Ambition” the first paragraph began with this:

Famous “Babe” has natural form for walloping home runs, but on links he’s developed special style that drives the little ball over 300 yards – Yankees star confident of flashing new Swat Mulligan stuff this year in both baseball and golf.

Nearly a year before that, Walter Hagen was deemed the “Swat Mulligan” of the golf links according to the Evening World News of 13 June 1919.

Conditions that make most golfers go blooey only make Hagen play harder. He always seems to have something in reserve. He plays both with his head and great hitting strength. Famous as a long drive, a favorite Hagen trick is to let opponents lead him from the tee to the point where they start pressing in Anxiety to rub it in. Then the Detroit wizard simply lets out a few kinks and it’s good night for the foolish golfer who thought he could out-distance the Swat Mulligan of the links.

What is particularly interesting about these examples is that mulligans in golf in the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen examples has nothing to do with the do-over version in the David Bernard Mulligan version.

A completely different version for the word mulligan comes from the Fresno Morning Republican newspaper in California in 1898 where the word was used as a stand-in term for any Irishman or Irishwoman.

And between the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen definition and the Fresno Morning Republican definition, is the hobo slang definition of the early 1900s where mulligan refers to making use of whatever happens to be available at the time.

That being said, a mulligan in terms of a second chance to replace a first attempt that wasn’t to the person’s liking is pegged at the mid-1920s and David Bernard Mulligan. Of course, Idiomation will continue its research into the other variations of mulligan … for interest’s sake.

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

Dog And Pony Show

Posted by Admin on March 3, 2014

If you’ve ever heard newscasters talk about the dog and pony show, you undoubtedly have a sense that such a presentation is an elaborate and overblown event to promote something to the general population. It’s an expression that’s used pejoratively for the most part, and as such, the connotations and associations are usually negative.

The Jewish Week newspaper of March 2, 2014 published an article by Douglas Bloomfield about the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. While the idiom was used in the headline, it was also used in the opening paragraph.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference going on at the Washington Convention Center is the best dog and pony show in town, replete with a variety of interesting breakout groups, intelligent speakers, training sessions for activists, hasbarah, hands-on lobbying for the rank and file and the star power of meeting a glad-handing herd of pandering politicians.

Just a few weeks earlier on December 5, 2013, Matthew Vadum had written a news article that was carried by ww.frontpagemag.com that looked at the flaws in the Affordable Health Act proposed by the Obama administration. The article was entitled, “Obama’s Pointless Dog And Pony Show.”

In an article entitled “Special: More Than 77 Years Under The Tent” written by Eugene H. Kirkham and published in the June 18, 1979 edition of the “Circus Report: America’s Favorite Circus Weekly” the idiom was used in a non-idiom way. Sandwiched between advertisements and help wanted ads, and interspersed with articles such as the one on the latest rules covering both performing and non-performing animals and show reports, the article by article by Eugene H. Kirkham began by way of a quick introduction to the subject of the story.

On the cloudy morning of April 24th, on a small fair ground in Madison, NC, some circus fans walked on the back lot of Circus Genoa. It was their pleasure and surprise to be greeted by a short and grizzled man, the real and only Frank “Blacky” Boyd Martin. A man that has been in show business for 77 years. Since 1902 at Darlington, SC, when he ran off with the Gentry Bros. Dog and Pony Show, he has been on the road with about every circus and most carnivals that have played in the U.S.A.

With the mention of the Gentry Bros. Dog and Pony Show, research uncovered the many names the Gentry Brothers used to promote their show (1887 to 1922) from the simply titled “Gentry’s Famous Dog & Pony Show” to the showy version known as “Professor Gentry’s Equine and Canine Paradox” and countless incarnations between the two.

The dog and pony shows were small time shows masquerading as circuses that were run on a shoestring budget and consisted of a group of musicians of varying levels of talent and ability, a ringmaster, and animal acts that were mostly made up of dogs and ponies. The success of the dog and pony show relied heavily on the proprietor’s ability to aggressively market the show through lithographed pictorial posters and handbills with flashy words accompanied by engaging sketches.

The oldest dog and pony show was “Morris’ Equine and Canine Paradoxes” which began touring in 1883. When Henry B. Gentry of Bloomington, Indiana hooked up with the show at the tender age of 17 in 1886, he learned the art of showmanship and animal training quickly, setting off with his own dog and pony show the following year when he inherited the show from his mentor … a show that was deeply in debt and deserted by its creator.

Not to be deterred by such circumstances, Henry B. Gentry saw potential in the dog and pony show, and determined that it would be a success. By 1897, Henry B. Gentry’s show had grown to an impressive 14 cars. Four years after that, there were four Gentry shows on the road with Henry and his three brothers each managing a show. The shows also included — along with the dogs and ponies — monkeys, pigs, goats, and eventually, elephants.

By 1906, the dog and pony shows were left behind as Henry B. Gentry’s shows became full-fledged circuses in the truest sense of the word.

In Volume 98 of “The Bankers’ Magazine” covering January to June 1919, in the article “Purchaser of Note Must Take It Without Notice Of Defect To Be Holder In Due Course” the expression was used. It addressed the lawsuit of Security State Bank of Wichita v J.N. Seaunier filed in the Supreme Court of Kansas (178 pac. Rep. 239).

Among other things, it appeared that the doctor traveled around the country advertising himself through the medium of a dog and pony show, that he claimed the ability to detect and cure cancer, and that the bank at the time of taking the note held mortgages on the doctor’s show outfit. The note involved was given by the defendant to the doctor for services to be rendered by the doctor in curing the defendant’s wife. The trial court gave judgment for the bank without giving the jury an opportunity to pass on the question whether the note had been obtained by fraud.

The idiom dog and pony show came to mean an elaborate and overblown event that promoted something that may not be what it promises to be because the original dog and pony shows were advertised as mini-circuses and while entertaining, they did not live up to the billing. The expression originated in 1883 with Professor Morris’ cut-rate circus show and in time, as the 20th century wore on, the idiom became a negative comment about a presentation that promises far more than it ever delivers … no matter how amusing or entertaining.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Basket Case

Posted by Admin on December 20, 2010

The term basket case usually refers to a person who is a nervous wreck.  It also refers to a country or organization as evidenced by a story run by the Los Angeles Times on September 23, 1994.  The headline read:

Haitian economy, infrastructure a basket case
Nation lacks everything, needs repair from ground up

However, back in 1971, due to the war for independence that Bangladesh waged against Pakistan, Bangladesh was labeled by an official in Henry Kissinger’s U.S. State Department as an “international basket case.”

A year earlier, in 1970, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was suffering from severely degraded ecosystems.  The U.S. National Park Service considered the park to be an “ecological basket case.”  Over the years, the damage was reversed but this does not negate the fact that 40 years ago, it was an “ecological basket case.”

Before that, it was a grim slang during World War I, referring to a person who is physically disabled in all four limbs because of paralysis or amputation.  This bulletin was issued by the U.S. Command on Public Information in March 28, 1919 on behalf of Major General M. W. Ireland, the U.S. Surgeon General and read in part:

The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.

The Syracuse Herald newspaper carried the story in March 1919 and added the following explanation to its readers:

By ‘basket case’ is meant a soldier who has lost both arms and legs and therefore must be carried in a basket.

The term was retired after WWI and resurrected in WWII when a denial from the Surgeon General Major General Norman T. Kirk was issued in May 1944 which stated:

… there is nothing to rumors of so-called ‘basket cases’ — cases of men with both legs and both arms amputated.

It is therefore easy to see that until the latter quarter of the 20th century, the term basket case referred to quadriplegics whose catastrophic wounds were as a result of a battle in which they were involved. 

The term basket case in this instance has been around since about the American Civil War.  In fact, there are American museums who have wicker body baskets, circa 1870, now on display.  It is believable that these baskets were indeed the basket cases in question and that the term originated with these baskets as the following item dated November 6, 1875 in The Constitution newspaper published in Atlanta, Georgia contained this as part of the advertisement:  12 Stylish Basket Case Suits $14.

References to basket cases prior to this date could not be found by Idiomation.

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

Dead Right

Posted by Admin on August 17, 2010

The phrase “dead right” and “dead to rights” are twin phrases in that they are nearly identical in use and meaning. 

The word dead was used from the 16th century on to mean “utter, absolute, quite.”   The “to rights” part of the phrase has been used since the 14th century to mean “in a proper manner” and later to mean “in proper condition or order.”

The implication of the phrase “dead right” or “dead to rights” was that every detail required by the law to make an arrest had been satisfied, making the arrest clean and justifiable.  In other words, it was a “fair cop.”

The San Francisco newspaper, The City Argus, reported in an 1881 news story:  “A man attempted to get into Banker Sather’s cash box and was caught ‘dead to rights‘ and now languishes in the city Bastille.”

The phrase dead right was commonly used by the police as early as 1919 to mean an individual committing a crime had been caught red-handed, as in: “Come clean! We have got you dead right!

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »