Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1927’

In A New York Minute

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2011

People believe that everything happens more quickly in New York City than anywhere else in the world and so it makes sense to hear the phrase “in a New York minute” and to expect it’s going to be faster than any other minutes.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many things to do in New York City what with Broadway shows, music in parks and on streets as well as in restaurants with city views and sidewalk cafés, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, horse-drawn carriages, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, Wall Street, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and more.

In the Spartanburg (SC) Herald Journal edition of October 20, 1986, page 3 has an article that states:

“Welcome to Houston,” wrote Forbes magazine in 1983, “where lizard-skin boots go with pin stripes, and business is done quicker than a New York minute.”

The phrase — evidently a Southernism used with particular frequency in Texas — was given further national currency as the title of a song by Ronnie McDowell that made the country music top 40 in 1985.

On September 14, 1985 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on court proceedings in its story “Immunity Johnson’s Toughest Decision.” The story dealt with the case of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong who was charged with 16 counts of selling cocaine to players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.  The paper reported in part:

[U.S. Attorney J. Alan] Johnson was asked if he could charge any of the players with crimes if he learns later that any of them were selling drugs.  “Not only could I, but I’d do it in a New York minute,” he responded. 

No ball players were called to testify during the trial yesterday.  But defense attorney Adam O. Renfroe Jr. dais he believes the emphasis of the trial has shifted away from his client and that professional baseball has been put on trial.

Although it can’t be proven, it’s believed that the phrase may have something to do with a misreading  of news reports about Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh‘s tour of the country in his Spirit of St. Louis.  He and the plane arrived one minute ahead of schedule and of course, the headlines on that day in October 1927 read:

LINDBERGH ENDS NATIONAL TOUR: Lands on Mitchel Field at New York Minute Before He Is Due.

The news stories stated that the crowd cheered and jostled as the Spirit of St. Louis crossed over the field, banked, sideslipped and dipped to earth at 1:59 p.m.  The plane then taxied into a police-ringed hangar and Lindbergh, bareheaded and leather-jacketed, stepped into a car which bore him between cheering crowds to the airport’s operations office.  While the crowd outside pushed against the windows and shouted for another view of Lindbergh, he greeted newspaper men.

However, it’s also possible that the phrase draws on such historical events as the Underground Railway between Brooklyn and New York City.  On January 24, 1890 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a news article entitled, “Brooklyn To New York In A Minute.”  The story commented on Major B.S. Henning, the leading spirit in the Henning Gravity Tunnel Company and the newly formed East River Railway Company, where the details of the one-minute Brooklyn-to-New York scheme was laid out for newspapermen.

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Sunday Driver

Posted by Admin on December 24, 2010

When you’re in a vehicle following another that is holding up traffic because it appears to be driven aimlessly, with no destination in mind and very slowly, the driver of that vehicle is said to be a Sunday driver.

The Norwalk (Connecticut) Hour newspaper published an article on July 20, 1933 entitled, “Saturday Driver Worse Than Sunday.”  The article read in part:

Saturday, not Sunday, is the most dangerous day to operate an automobile on the highways of the state, statistics collected by the State Motor Vehicle Department show.  For long years, the “Sunday driver” has borne the blame of his fellow drivers as the cause of the most of the week end crashes.  Has the “Sunday driver” started driving Saturday since the depression?

Sunday drivers have been the bane of travellers around the world for a number of decades it would appear. In a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, J. Martin Haas wrote the following on October 12, 1932:

It has been my custom for a number of years to take my family each Sunday on little trips on the suburban roads surrounding New York City.  My observations made on these drives lead me to believe that the crying need is not for more traffic regulations but for education, if possible, of the so-called “Sunday driver” than which there is no greater menace.

Four years earlier on March 11, 1928, another New York Times reader wrote the Editor on the subject of the Sunday driver.  In his letter he stated:

The “Sunday driver” is, in fact, often a nuisance and sometimes a danger on the road. When father and the family pile into their Sunday-go-to-country car for the weekly outing, whoever drives –and it’s just as likely to be mother or daughter as father or son — may lack the calm assurance required.

A tongue-in-cheek piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on May 10, 1927 entitled “Traffic Rules for the Sunday Driver.”  It began with this:

On account of only taking out your car on Sundays, you are entitled to a lot of special privileges.  For one thing, you can drive anywhere on the road you please.  This entitles you to select your own ditch.

In 1898, Alexander Winton started selling the first commercially successful gasoline cars in the US.  By the end of 1899, he had sold 22 cars.  With only 22 cars on the roads entering the 20th century, Sunday drivers didn’t appear to be a concern to other drivers. 

By 1903, one could purchase a gas Oldsmobile for $650, a Stanley steam Runabout for $650, a Cadillac for $750, the first model A Ford for $750, and a Baker electric Runabout for $850.  Ten years later in 1913, Henry Ford began making his cars on assembly lines. 

This made the motor car more affordable to the average American.  Ford began paying his loyal employees $5 per day and the price of Ford cars dropped down to $290 per car.  That year, 250,000 Ford cars were sold!

With 97,225,000 Americans in the US in 1913, that meant that 1 in about 400 Americans owned a Ford vehicle.  As car manufacturing increased, so did the number of car owners. 

On July 18, 1917 the Chicago Daily Tribune carried a story about a William Butterfield Sunday entitled “Billy Sunday Hits Trail to Court; Driver Is Fined.”  The 96 word news bite read in part:

For violating a traffic ordinance, Motorcycle Officer Frank Ervin took Sunday and his car to police headquarters The case was booked in the name of William Butterfield Sunday.  He was fined and Sunday promised to pay more attention to traffic rules in the future.

Perhaps this is where the term “Sunday driver” originated however that is only conjecture on the part of Idiomation.

While the earliest published reference to a Sunday driver that Idiomation could find dated back to 1928, based on how the term was used in the New York Times letters to the Editor, it appears to have been a relatively new term that was entering the American jargon with great ease.  Somewhere in the 15 years between 1913 and 1928, the annoying and dangerous “Sunday driver” was born.

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It’s In The Bag

Posted by Admin on October 6, 2010

The term “it’s in the bag” means that something is virtually secured.  An American colloquialism, it came into being in the early 20th century.

The current version was coined because of a tradition of the New York Giants baseball team. In Ohio, The Mansfield News reported in May 1920 that:

An old superstition was revived at the Polo grounds, New York, recently when Eddie Sicking was dispatched to the clubhouse with the ball bag at the start of the ninth possession of one run lead. This superstition originated during the run of twenty-six consecutive victories made by the Giants in 1916, the significance of it resting in a belief that if the bag is carried off the field at that stage of the game with the Giants in the lead the game is in the bag and cannot be lost.

And it continued to be used in the 1920s, especially with regards to sporting events.  On July 17, 1927 the Los Angeles Times reported:

“In the bag, big boy, it’s in the bag.”  Thusly has the sport fan spoken for lo, these many years, whenever the probably outcome of any wrestling match was discussed.

It was part of The Hartford Courant article on September 21, 1930 with regards to a boxing match where it was reported:

The following remark has been heard time and time again, “It’s in the bag.” Now that the featherweight champ Bat Battalino and Louie “Kid” Kaplan are matched to go over the ten round route I have heard the above remark, as I have said, time and time again, meaning that Bat will win the match.

And so, when you hear it’s in the bag, this Americanism means it’s over and done with — and decided — before the main event even takes place, whether it’s sports or any other competition.

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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Posted by Admin on April 20, 2010

The phrase is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard but that’s not quite correct.  The phrase is actually an amalgamation of two advertising campaigns and not, as is oftentimes claimed, solely from a 1927 advertisement in the advertising trade journal, Printers’ Ink

In the December 8, 1921 issue, the slogan was: “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words.”    It referred to the benefits of advertising with pictures on street cars.

In the March 10, 1927 issue, the slogan was:  “One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words.”   This referred to a baking soda ad campaign conducted by Barnard’s firm.    To give the ad more kick, Barnard’s firm claimed it was a Chinese proverb so that people would take it more seriously.  And, as was the case in the early 20th century, Chinese proverbs were immediately credited to Confucious because he is the best known of all Chinese philosophers.

However, even with amalgamating both ads from Printers’ Ink together, Barnard is not the first person to come up with this idea.  That honour goes to newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club.  In March 1911 — a decade before Barnard’s 1921 advertisement — Brisbane gave an instructional talk wherein he stated:  “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

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