Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1930’

Ballpark Figure

Posted by Admin on July 10, 2021

When someone asks for a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, they are interested in a somewhat qualified number guesstimate and are willing to accept a very rough estimate where necessary. Sometimes the figure guessed at is pretty close to bang on and sometimes the estimate is so far off-base as to be completely without merit. That being said, one shouldn’t confuse a ballpark figure with a good faith estimate.

In the Fall of 2019, Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith told the media that the first space trips on New Shepard would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference, he stated new technology is never cheap but that the cost of a ticket for middle-class people would eventually be affordable. Until then, GeekWire‘s Alan Boyle reported Bob Smith “hinted at a ballpark figure.”

The Polk County Enterprise newspaper of Livingston (TX) — a semi-weekly newspaper that includes local, state, and national news along with advertising — ran an story with an interesting headline in Volume 117, Number 64, Edition 1 of their newspaper published on 12 August 1999. The article by Enterprise reporter, Emily Banks, reported County Judge John Thompson had asked Clyde Arrendell who was the chief appraiser of the Polk Central Appraisal District to a budget workshop. Emily Bank reported:

Emphasizing that all figres were “ballpark figures” Thompson reviewed the budget schedule, as well as the county’s tax history from 1982 forward.

The title of the news article was this: Court Studies Budget with Ballpark Figures.

In the book “Surviving in the Newspaper Business; Newspaper Management In Turbulent Times” written by William James (Jim) Willis (born 19 March 1946) and published in 1988, the writer paraphrased what Marion Krehbiel, former president of the major newspaper brokerage firm Krehbiel-Bolitho Newspaper Service, Inc. had stated in the late 1970s with regards to arriving at a fair market price for a small to medium size daily newspaper.

Krehbiel added a caveat to these indexes, however, when he noted in 1979 that this forumula is only meant to provide purchasers with a ballpark estimate of a newspaper’s worth.

The 24 June 1957 edition of The Des Moines Register included the column “Washington Memo” which purported to report on what was going on in Washington DC. In this edition, immediately after reporting on how an Army colonel felt about one of this tasks which came about after a Southern congressman “yelped about [the Army’s] handling of racial relations.” Here’s what readers learned next.

CODE: Pentagon language continues to produce new bafflers. One of them is “a ballpark figure” meaning a very rough estimate which doesn’t do much more than indicate that a given program is going to cost somebody an awful lot of money.

Kenneth Patchen (1911 – 1972) wrote “Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer” which was published by the New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1945. In this book, the concept of the ballpark figure is used in conjunction with being out in left field on page 101 in the chapter titled, “The Last Party I Ever Went To.”

“Miro complicates it simply because he doesn’t know how to handle his material.”
“But Arp does, I suppose.”
“Of course he does.”
“You’re way out in left field.”
“And you not even in the ball park.”
I poured it out. The sand looked very sticky and the leaves on the tree were getting sort of yellow around the edges.
“And what about De Niro? This is a serious young painter.”
“All right, what about Kamrowski? – or Lee Bell? – or Jackson Pollock? – or Arthur Sturcke?”

He wasn’t the first to coin the phrase though as some sources claimed. On 1 May 1944, The Morning Herald in Hagerstown (MD) was reporting that on what a senator claimed about U.S. aid for that year.

Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., said in a speech that total U.S. aid for the current year is about $250 million. He said “a ballpark figure” is that his proposal would halt $150 million to $180 million.

Idiomation realizes that many websites claim the expression dates back to the mid-sixties with the understanding we have of the idiom these days, but obviously it was around before then for it to be used in a newspaper article twenty years earlier with the expectation that readers would understand what the idiom meant.

Unable to find an earlier published version of ballpark figure, Idiomation pegs this idiom to at least ten to fifteen years earlier for it to be used to freely in a newspaper article in 1944.

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

Swaboda

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2021

This past April (2021), while researching a completely different idiom, Idiomation found an expression that was intriguing: Swoboda movements. This week, we took on the arduous task of finding out what was meant by this expression, and what was uncovered was certainly unexpected!

The original passage Idiomation found was in a letter dated 8 December 1904, written by James Clark of Elgin (IL) who was a traveling agent for the Sherwin-Williams Company in Northern Illinois to his son, William, who had completed his first month of business experience in Johnes’ Hardware Store in Port Center in Michigan. In his letter to his son, James Clark wrote in part:

Have plenty of nerve always, but use your nerve with intelligence. Give your brain some exercise, put it through a few Swoboda movements just before you tackle the new proposition. Be just sufficiently afraid of making mistakes to realize that your thinking apparatus is one of the best mistake killers known to science.

References to Swoboda movements were sparse at best, however, we came across articles from such reputable magazines as the Kansas City Medical Records, Volume 28, Issue 9 in 1909, Volume 28 of the Advertising and Selling magazine in an article dated 28 September 1918, and other publications, and in advertisements aplenty in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Here’s the scoop on Swoboda.

Alois P. Swoboda (8 March 1873 – 13 December 1938) was an Austria-born American quack and physical culture mail-order instructor. In some ways, he may be thought of as the precursor to late night infomercials with his quackery and pseudo-scientific claims. He brazenly hawked his system as a one-size fits all cure for every disease known to man. He even went as far as to claim that his system was guaranteed by the government of the United States of America which, of course, it did not.

In Volume 70, Number 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of 16 March 1918, Swoboda was called out for his so-called medical advancement. In the article it stated:

Not that [the book explaining the Swoboda system] means anything but it sounds rather scientific and can be counted on to impress both the thoughtless and that still larger class of individuals who merely think they think. Swoboda is not the first to appreciate that a meaningless phrase, if couched in pseudo-technical language, paraded frequently and solemnly with a lavish use of italics, capitals and blackfaced type, may be counted on effectually to take the place of thought or common sense.

These days, most people are familiar — in varying degrees — with the Church of Scientology, and are aware that L. Ron Hubbard is responsible for establishing Scientology. What they don’t know is that L. Ron Hubbard’s uncle, American writer, publisher, anarchist, and traveling salesman Elbert Green Hubbard (19 June 1856 – 7 May 1915) was an enthusiastic backer of Alois P. Swoboda’s system, and that many of Swoboda’s teachings became part of the backbone of Scientology.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The ninth printing of “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was dedicatd by L. Ron Hubbard to his uncle, Elbert Green Hubbard.

For a time the expression Swoboda movements was trying to elbow its way into the English language, but like many buzz phrases over the generations, ultimately no one was interested in taking it much further than the occasional letter published in a newspaper story or magazine article, and so it remains firmly lodged between 1900 and 1905 forevermore.

As a side note, Alois P. Swoboda was mentioned in a Time Magazine article of 7 July 1930 but it had very little to do with his sytem, his movements, or the expression.

This short-lived expression dates back to 1900, and falls completely out of use within a few short years. But oh! what an interesting history that expression has, and what interesting side notes (behond the one in this entry) to boot!

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

Hot Seat

Posted by Admin on April 17, 2021

There are conflicting versions of where the idiom “in the hot seat” or “on the hot seat” originated although all versions point to the idiom meaning the person in or on the hot seat is faced with harsh criticism and judgement.

Some say the expression alludes to the electric chair and dates back to the 1930s. Others say the expression was coined by Harpo Marx in the 1930s.

Some say the electric chair meaning is American English and others say the precarious, difficult, dangerous position meaning is British English.

Is it possible both meanings are correct? Is it possible that the idiom did come from the 1930s and as such can be attributed to more than one source of origin?

The Australian Women’s Weekly newspaper ran an article in the 14 January 1959 edition that was written by Ross Campbell and titled, ‘The Hot Seat.” The article was a hilarious piece about a situation — real or imagined — that happened between Ross Campbell and his wife. The many ways in which how a man sits and the direct correlation to that man’s success in life outlined how Ross Campbell wound up in the hot seat, and how those young men who lounge about are sitting pretty even though an article Ross Campbell’s wife read said they soon would be.

A decade earlier, the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane (Australia) reported on 23 August 1949 that Harold Merchant, 35, sat tight in the cabin of his 20-ton trailer the day before and cheated death by electrocution for the third time. A 25-tone power shovel hit a tramway crosswire resulting in 600 volts of electricity running through Harold Merchant, and his passenger, Frank Gorry. This was thanks in no small measure to the fifteen rubber tires on the trailer Merchant was pulling. The headline read:

Tyres saved him from ‘hot seat

There’s no doubt that the hot seat isn’t the place you really want to find yourself even when you come out of the situation on the plus side!

It’s a fact that in the 1930s, celebrities who visited William Randolph Hearst at his mansion in San Simeon would sometimes wear out his or her welcome, and as that welcome began to wear out, that guest was placed further and further away from their host, William Randolph Hearst who was only interested in having the most current and influential guests at the head of the table. The last seat was the one closest to the large fireplace in the room and, as you can imagine, that made the seat very hot indeed.

Supposedly Harpo Marx (23 November 1888 – 28 September 1964) found himself at the bottom of the guest list thereby earning himself the ‘hot seat‘ position for the evening. He knew that meant he was on the way out in terms of being a welcome guest. Supposedly, when he found himself in the hot seat, he immediately coined the phrase.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It’s alleged that his fall from grace with William Randolph Hearst had to do with Harpo sneaking down into the vault at the mansion one cold, snowy night, and getting the stored mink coats out of storage so he could dress the statues in the gardens in fur … to keep them warm. The guests awoke to the prank and enjoyed it immensely. William Randolph Hearst did not enjoy the prank at all. Up until that point, Harpo had been a frequent weekend guest.

What is known is that Harpo Marx did, indeed, visit the Hearst mansion in the 1930s. Hearst had an autograph book always at the ready and insisted that all Hearst visitors sign it upon arrival. Alongside Harp Marx’s signature was a quick caricature of Harpo with a harp that was drawn by Harpo.

What that means is that both possibilities are still in play based on what Idiomation uncovered, so Idiomation came at the idiom from another direction.

The first execution by electrocution (which replaced death by hanging) was in September of 1890 at Auburn Prison in Auburn (New York) when the state tried to make good on the death sentence that had been handed to American vegetable peddler and murderer William Kemmler (9 May 1860 – 6 August 1890) by the Courts.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: George Westinghouse, one of the leading developers of electrical power, was very vocal in his objection to having electrical power used in this manner. It took until 1899 for the design of the electric chair to be sufficiently improved that death by electrocution became the preferred method of execution in most States in the U.S.

In the Saturday Evening Post edition published on 18 August 1925, a young boy who had murdered his grandmother just so he could steal her money found himself arrested, charged, and found guilty of her murder. The following was reported:

In a town in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1925, a judge sentenced a boy fifteen years old to the electric chair. The boy twirled his hat, had nothing to say, remained in a self-satisfied calm. It was the judge whose voice shook. He was sorry that the law gave him no tether of leniency! A few minutes afterwards the boy was in his cell playing jazz on a phonograph. A newspaper reporter said he heard the lad announce that he was not afraid to die “in the hot seat,” and that anyway, “they won’t get me; I’ve got friends who will save me.”

This definitively places the electric chair reference to at least 1925 (and possibly earlier) in America, a few years before Harpo Marx is alleged to have coined the phrase at William Randolph Hearst’s mansion. However, because the idiom is in quotation marks, we also know it wasn’t a well-known phrase in 1925.

That being said, back in the day, intensive police interrogations under bright lights was often used as a technique to break suspects and make them talk. The manual, “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” recommends interrogations take place in a small, soundproof room with nothing on the walls, one small desk, two chairs for detectives to sit in if they choose to take a seat, and a third chair (with no arm rests and as uncomfortable as possible) where the suspect will sit for the duration of the interrogation.

Up until 1937, as long as the suspect signed a waiver stating the confession was given voluntarily, confessions could be obtained by way of “third degree” techniques which included deprivation of food and/or water and/or sleep, bright lights, physical discomfort, long isolation, and physical abuse (as long as no marks from said abuse could be seen on the suspect’s body). That changed in 1937 when it was determined by the Courts that such confessions were inadmissible.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Seating a suspect in an uncomfortable chair in a small room temperature (or lower) room (with a two-way mirror to allow for outside observation of the interrogation) is still allowed. While the two-way mirror is meant to provide transparency with regards to how the interrogation is conducted, it has been found to add anxiety and stress for the suspect which detectives are allowed to exploit within reason. Interrogators are also allowed to use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to secure a confession from a suspect.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: In 1937, putting suspects through the third degree in New York became a criminal offense after the use of third degree tactics was deemed illegal in that state. From 1930 through to 1937, appellate courts reversed convictions obtained through various forms of third degree where the result of the interrogation led to a confession being submitted as evidence.

Most people tend to use the words interview and interrogation interchangeably when speaking about police investigations. A police interview is used to gather information and objective facts by asking open-ended questions that allow interviewees to supply evidence. A police interrogation is used to extract a confession when police have sufficient evidence (thanks to the police interviews) to connect the suspect to the crime or crimes about which they are interviewing the suspect.

Keep in mind that the first police department in America was established in New York City in 1845 with New Orleans and Cincinatti (1852), Boston and Philadelphia (1854) Chicago and Milwaukee (1855) and Baltimore and Newark (1857) following suit. The primary focus was to prevent crime and disorder, and there were no detectives. That means that before these police departments were established, there were no hot seats courtesy of law enforcement.

While all of that is, without a doubt, very interesting, that still left Idiomation with a period between 1899 and 1925 when being in the hot seat or on the hot seat was an expression known to a segment of society that might or might not tie the idiom directly to the electric chair. The doubt is there due in no small part to a New York City detective.

In New York City, Inspector Thomas Brynes (15 June 1842 – 07 May 1910) headed up the detective bureau from 1880 to 1895, at which time he was forced to resign. He coined the phrase “giving the third degree” to describe his interrogation techniques for getting suspects to confess to crimes they were suspected of having committed. The first degree was the officer who arrested the suspect. The second degree was investigating the facts. The third degree was the interrogation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Inspector Brynes was also responsible for coining and popularizing the expression rogues’ gallery which was a photo gallery of criminals with detailed information on the crimes they had committed.

This is where the interrogation hot seat and the electric chair hot seat seem to meet up when it comes to language, which further narrows the period for the idiom’s first appearance to somewhere during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Try as Idiomation might though, there are segments of this search that elude Idiomation. The research will continue but for now, while the hot seat is pegged to sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s, the context under which the expression was first used continues to elude us … much in the same way a brilliant criminal mastermind tends to elude law enforcement until he or she is caught and brought to justice.

In other words, Idiomation remains on the case.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Close But No Cigar

Posted by Admin on July 18, 2011

Have you ever given something your best effort only to hear someone tell you, “Close but no cigar?”  It means that you came close to succeeding but in the end, you failed.

In 2010, the sports media appeared to be in love with the expression “close but no cigar.”  Whether it was the Toronto Sun newspaper reporting on the Blue Jays (May 10, 2011 Headline: Jays Close, But No Cigar) or the NHL website reporting on the San Jose Sharks (May 23, 2010 Headline: For Sharks, It’s Close, But No Cigar Again) or the Boston.com website reporting on the Red Sox (June 4, 2010 Headline: Allenson Close, But No Cigar), the expression found itself enjoying a renewed popularity with readers and writers alike.

Some sources claim that the first recorded published version of the expression is found in Sayre and Twist’s publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley:

Close, Colonel, but no cigar!

That is inaccurate.  On September 5, 1935 — the Annie Oakley movie was released in theatres across the U.S. on November 15, 1935 — the Reading Eagle newspaper a news article entitled, “Promenading In Pennsylvania Sports” reported the following:

A schedule of 14 P.I.A.A. games has just been released.  It was a “close, but no cigar” that deal by which Pretzels Pezzullo, Phillies’ left-hander, was to go to the Hazelton New York-Penn League Mountaineers.  Pretzels reached Hazelton, but had barely said, “howdy” before the Phils ordered him back to bolster their shaky pitching staff.

And the National Geographic published a story in their magazine in Volume 57 published in 1930 that included this passage:

They replied, making smoke at the same time and, as at Empress Augusta Bay, their salvos fell in patterns so tight they could be covered with a blanket, always close but no cigar, though on Claxton’s bridge, though on Craxton’s bridge the officers sloshed around in water two feet deep from the splashes of shells that dropped right alongside.

Cigars were popular carnival prizes for all sorts of games at the fair back in the 1900s.   Remember that smoking cigars was quite acceptable back in the day, when so many homes had smoking parlours and men wore smoking jackets.  Getting back to the carnivals, game barkers would shout out, “close, but no cigar” whenever a game was lost as a way of goading men into displaying their remarkable manly abilities when it came to tossing rings or ringing the bell with a good slam of the sledgehammer and more. 

Men would line up to prove that they had what it took to win the cigar that the previous good man had lost out on.  And the man who had lost would try again, in the hopes that the young lady accompanying him would forget his initial mishap and be impressed by his subsequent success.

There are stories that Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 often used the phrase, and the phrase can be found in any number of penny novel journals of the era.  Although Idiomation was unable to find any penny novel journals online from which to quote, that the expression was  used by game barkers in the 1900s is evidence enough that the expression “close but no cigar” was an established phrase in the 1910s.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Mud In Your Eye

Posted by Admin on January 31, 2011

Have you ever watched a movie and heard the expression, “Here’s mud in your eye?” It sounds awful but it’s actually an interesting way of wishing success or happiness to someone who is drinking with the person making the wish.  The history of the phrase is complex, confused and disputed by a number of sources and so Idiomation was unable to track back who first used the phrase.

This toast may have been popular with the soldiers slogging through the muddy trenches of WWI, but it did not originate with them, as many believe. Some say that back in the day the phrase symbolised a plentiful crop when farmers used to raise a glass to the success of a good harvest.  It was being bandied about in U.S. saloons as early as 1890 and was popular with the English fox hunting and race horse crowd before then.

According to Morten’s List, the roots are found in the Gospel of John (Chapter 9) where there’s mention of the medicinal qualities of “mud in the eye” but the toast doesn’t appear anywhere in the New Testament.

Back on Christmas Eve 1931, the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper ran a humourous parody of the well-loved poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”  Entitled simple as “Night Before Christmas” the poem went as follows:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the apartment house
Everybody was stirring, including a prohibition enforcement department souse
Who might better have remained home with his wife and kiddies, I think
But he apparently figured it was his privilege to snoop around and bum himself a drink.
He polished his badge, then rang each apartment bell,
And when admitted, rubbed his hands and exclaimed, “Well, well, well!
If any one in this her apartment is in illegal possession of bourbon and rye,
They better pour the evidence in a glass.  Thanks.  Here’s mud in your eye!”
And then, in a flash, he’d tip toe out the door
And go right back to some apartment he had called on before.
Consequently he was able to make a long report to his chief
In which he went into considerable detail to express the belief
That the particular district on which he was assigned to keep an eye
Was, thanks to his personal efforts, by now practically dry.

On May 14, 1930 the Pittsburgh Press ran an article written by Joe Williams entitled, “Tannery, That’s Where He’s Going: Colonel’s Hot Derby Tip” about the upcoming Derby in Louisville.  It read in part:

I am not surprised to learn that mud is the favorite dish of my hoss and that the theme song of his whole family has always been “Here’s Mud In Your Eye” — a song which is sung with splashing effect on training fields.  Tannery’s daddy, Ballot, was weaned on mud and his mammy, Blemish, wouldn’t leave the barns unless it was raining pitchforks and pearl necklaces, and nobody could ever persuade the old gal to carry a parasol and even put on her galoshes.  Well, this makes it pretty nice as I say I am not surprised because I have known for more than a week that my hoss was as good as in, and if he needs a muddy track I am sure that something will happen to see that he gets one.

The fact of the matter is that it’s a relatively new phrase with which to toast others when expressed as “mud in the eye” or “mud in your eye.” 

The phrase was used back in the 1930s but did the previous generation use the phrase?  It would appear the answer is “yes” as evidenced by a very popular song from 1905 that was heard at many American Baseball Leagues games, entitled, “Let’s Get The Umpire’s Goat” that includes these lyrics:

We’ll yell, “Oh, you robber! Go somewhere and die,
Back to the bush you’ve got mud in your eye!
Oh what an awful decision! Why don’t you put spectacles on?”
Let’s holler like sin, and then our side will win, when the umpire’s nanny is gone.

Idiomation was unable to trace the phrase back any further than this however it’s a given that if it was used so easily in 1905 in song lyrics, then it was likely common use for that generation which means it is not unreasonable to believe it was in use the generation before that, taking us back to the 1870s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

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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Genome

Posted by Admin on September 2, 2010

A genome is all the genetic information including hereditary material possessed by an organism.  People and other higher animals have two genomes — the chromosomal genome and the mitochondrial genome — which make up the total genome. In other words, a genome is the total genetic content of an organism.

The word genome dates to 1930. It was cobbled from the German Gen, gene + –om (from the Greek soma, body).

In the 1990s, genome went from being a highly specialized term not even in much usage in genetics to a word that is now in common general currency. As with all revolutions, the Genetics Revolution has ushered in a revolution in words.

The Genome Database (GDB) is the official central repository for genomic mapping data resulting from the Human Genome Initiative.  It was established at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland in 1990.

In 1999, the Bioinformatics Supercomputing Centre (BiSC) at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario assumed the management of GDB. The Human Genome Initiative is a worldwide research effort to analyze the structure of human DNA and determine the location and sequence of the estimated 100,000 human genes.

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