Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1931’

Cutting Edge

Posted by Admin on September 14, 2011

If someone is cutting edge, it means they’re trendy and right up-to-date and if something is cutting edge, it’s the latest go-to design or technology.  But how long has there been a cutting edge is the question.

On August 17, 2009 the Computers and Internet Community magazine published an article by Russell Blanc outlining the top 5 reasons FiOS customers in New York were recommending FiOS to their friends and family.  It read in part:

Savvy New York customers choose Verizon FiOS TV and Internet service because it gives them a great deal.  In New York FiOS is one of the most recommended cable and Internet services because Verizon FiOS uses cutting edge technology to provide ultra fast and high quality TV and Internet service.

On October 12, 1982 the Montreal Gazette ran an article entitled, “California Is Still On Cutting Edge.”  It began by stating:

Out on the edge of the frontier, where the world drops of, there is always the cutting edge of society.  Frank Lloyd Wright once said that if you imagined the United States as a table and you tipped it up and all the junk and detritus fell to one side — well, that would be California.

On February 18, 1965 the following was part of an article published in the Gettysburg Times of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the column, “News In Review: Our Army In Viet Nam.”  The question in the column was: what’s wrong with our Army?  The answer was quite simple according to the journalist and he proceeded to outline what was wrong in great detail.  The story included these final words:

In other words, there are too many in the Army who do not actually think of themselves as fighting men.  It is much more pleasant to have MOS classifications as planners and suppliers.  They are, of course, strongly committed to standing firmly behind the man, behind the man, behind the Man With The Gun.  It is further unfortunate that too often promotion is more readily achieved back in the wonderland of military bureaucracy than within the formations of the “cutting edge.”

On April 20, 1950 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a situation between Russia and the United States in their article entitled, “A Warning For The Western Powers.”  The first paragraph read:

The United States protest to Russia over the shooting down of an unarmed American plane is strong but yet restrained.  A Government less careful of its responsibilities to peace might easily have given a sharper cutting edge to its demands.  Having used every possible means to verify its contentions, Washington has put on record a series of facts that expose the Soviet Note of April 11 as a shameless concoction.  At first sight that document bore all the marks of a guilty conscience, but not until the American investigations were complete could it be finally branded as a tissue of lies and distortions.

Now some dictionaries claim that the phrase is circa 1950, however, Idiomation found an earlier reference in the Milwaukee Journal dating back to February 20, 1938 in an article entitled, “The Navy, Its Size And Job, And Line Of Defense, Should Defence Ever Be Necessary.”  Dateline Washington, D.C., the article began thusly:

There is more to the United States navy than greets the eye when you see that file of wallowing battlewagons plunging towards you in the newsreel.  What you see in that picture is merely the cutting edge of an enormous machine that spreads literally around the world.  The navy is something more than just ships cruising under a tropic sky, operated by natty uniformed young men “seeing the world” on picturesque shore leave in Yokohama or Algiers. Behind all this is a sheer administrative and business problem that makes the navy “big business” with a vengeance. 

The article then goes on to describe some of the jobs in the navy that require smoothness and precision in the course of a day’s work including keeping 535 vessels and 1,122 airplanes in excellent working condition, and guarding and operating naval property that cost American taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $3,000,000,000 USD.

The expression, however, actually dates back to 1931 when a new alloy for metal turning tools was announced.  Newspapers across America stated that:

The new metal, with extremely durable cutting edge, has been formed from a combination of metal carbides.

And thus began the use of the expression “cutting edge” to describe the latest and greatest in fashion, technology and design.

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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 »

Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels

Posted by Admin on January 4, 2011

On May 9, 1965 the New York Times carried an article in the Resort’s Travel section entitled, “Sesquicentennial For Stroudsburg.”  It spoke of the preparations in the Pocono Mountain vacation land community that was preparing for its sesquicentennial celebration in June and how women would be wearing 100-year-old costumes and men would be sporting beards.

There will be contests in various events, street dancing and even the distribution of wooden nickels. Gov. William W. Scranton is scheduled to participate. The observance is being held to commemorate the incorporation of the area as a borough in 1815.

Back on August 6, 1951, Milton Esterow wrote a Special Report to the New York Times about Norwalk, Connecticut’s 300th Anniversary that had taken place the day before.  The headline announced, “City Goes Colonial for Its Party.”  In the article, Milton Esterow wrote:

This was the menu in Norwalk’s eating places 300 years ago.  Some of the citizens were bedecked in Colonial garb and stores accepted purchased with wooden nickels marked “Tercentenary.”  In 1649, when New York was New Amsterdam and Norwalk teas known as Norwaake, the town was settled by colonists from Hartford under Roger Ludlow, Deputy Governor of the Connecticut Colony.

But was it ever legal currency in any country, including America?  The answer, according to the International Organization of Wooden Money Collectors which was founded in 1964 is that Canada, America and other countries have occasionally struck wooden currency confirmed that wooden nickels have been struck and used as legal currency from time to time.

When the Citizen’s Bank of Tenino, Washington failed in 1931, the local Chamber of Commerce held a meeting that resulted in the local newspaper printing up the first issue of wooden money in the United States. 

However, the concept of wooden nickels was alive and well before the Depression Era as evidenced by an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 11, 1925 reported:

He was the kind of man who calls back, “Dont take any wooden nickels” as he disappears through the door.

Since the phrase was reported so casually in 1925 with no explanation as to what the phrase meant, it is reasonable to believe the phrase was already in use prior to the Depression years. 

Going back to the turn of the 20th Century America, the phrase was used as a warning for those from the country headed into the city for any number of reasons.  It was meant as a humourous warning about city slickers and their fancy ways so country folk wouldn’t get scammed and conned out of their money and goods.

It is doubtful that any wooden nickels — real or imaginary — existed prior to the turn of the 20th Century and for one simple reason. Prior to 1866, there was no such currency as a nickel in either Canada or the United States. There were half-dimes in America up until 1873 and these were made of silver.

That being said, the term nickel was used for other coins before it came to mean a five-cent piece. The original Indian Head cent was referred to as a nickel or “nick.”  This is because when it was first produced, it was made from a copper nickel alloy from 1859 through to 1964.  

A three-cent nickel was produced in 1865, and it, too, was composed of a copper nickel alloy. The three-cent nickel wasn’t particularly popular and it was discontinued 1889.

The warning not to accept “wooden” items has been in existence since the mid-1800s in America.  Back then, some peddlers were known to mix wooden nutmeg and wooden cucumber seeds in with the real nutmeg and cucumber seeds.  So it’s easy to see why honest folk needed to heed the warning.

So while the phrase “don’t take any wooden nickels” is a turn of the 20th Century phrase, the concept pre-dates the phrase by at least another 50 years.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shaggy Dog Story

Posted by Admin on October 13, 2010

Have you ever had to sit through a long, drawn-out anecdote with an ending so absurd or anticlimactic for a punch line that there’s nothing to amusing about the story when all is said and done?  That’s a shaggy dog story!

The phrase “shaggy dog story” is an American idiom. In May of 1937, Esquire magazine published a story where in the following line is found:

One of the more sporting ways of finding out which ones are not [sane] is to try shaggy-dog stories on them.

Just 6 years earlier, Eric Partridge‘s story “The Shaggy Dog Story” appeared in the weekly left-wing British political magazine, The Statesman, in 1931. You may recognize his name as he is also the author of Slang Today and Yesterday, published in 1933, as well as his well-known Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English published in 1937.

Isaac Asimov published a short story in 1991 entitled “Shah Guido G.” When a reader protested that the story with its anticlimactic ending was “nothing but a shaggy dog story,” the author pointed out that the title “Shah Guido G.” could also be read as “Shahgui [i.e. shaggy] Dog,” indicating this had been his intention.

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The Third Degree

Posted by Admin on August 26, 2010

Everyone knows that if you’re given the third degree, that you’re under “intense interrogation by police” or some other authority figure.

The police reference has been around since 1900, and is a reference to the Third Degree of master mason in Freemasonry dating back to changes made in 1721, four years after the first Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was founded in London, England.  The third degree ceremony involved an interrogation ceremony before the degree was conferred upon the Freemason. 

In American, the third degree defined the seriousness of a particular type of crime and is recorded as early as 1865.  In 1910, Richard H. Sylvester,  Chief of Police for Washington, DC divided police procedures into the arrest as the first degree, transportation to jail as the second degree, and interrogation as the third degree.    

And in 1931 the Wickersham Commission found that use of the third degree was widespread in the United States and was misused at times to extract confessions from suspects.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fuzz

Posted by Admin on August 24, 2010

The word came to mean the police  in American in 1929, when it was used as underworld slang and it gained popularity in the 1930s.   The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang marked the word as being  of unknown origin in its 1929 edition.  Two years later in 1931, it was recorded in Tramp and Underground Slang as meaning: “a detective, prison guard or turnkey.”

The explanation for hanging the term fuzz on the police is that when the police arrived at the scene of a crime, there was always a fuss.  And so, when a gang of small-time drug or liquor dealers and runners were  about to be raided by the police, they would refer to this as a fuss which eventually became fuzz.  The word fuzz stuck as slang for law enforcement officers.

The term surfaced in Britain in the 1960s and was used in both the UK and the US during the hippie era of the 60s.

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