Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1932’

In The Black

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 22, 2011

In the black is a great little turn of phrase for companies and individuals alike, especially during difficult economic times.  It means that the company is operating within its means and in keeping with revenues generated.  It’s long been standard accounting practice is to record positive numbers in black ink and negative numbers in red ink.

On January 28, 2001 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “A Debt To Repay” that addressed the subject of tax cuts and the U.S. national debt.  It read in part:

Despite a federal budget now operating in the black, the national debt now stands at $5.7 trillion (with a T).  The interest expense on the debt last year was $362 billion (with a B).  That means taxpayers put out more money in interest charges than they did for, say, national defense, which cost about $291 billion.

The Miami News ran a news story on April 15, 1960 about FM radio stations, most of which suffered considerably because of the television boom after World War II.  The article entitled, “FM Bouncing Back To Rival Sister AM” reported in part:

The number of independent FM stations has jumped past 100 “and most of the commercial stations are operating in the black,” Fogel said.  The FCC is being rushed with applications for new FM stations.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a United Press story entitled, “Utilities Lead In New York Decline” on May 18, 1932 as the Great Depression hit its third year.  It stated quite simply:

Consolidated Oil was firm on a statement by Harry P. Sinclair, chairman of the board, that the company was now operating in the black.

Back on February 22, 1923 the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Matthew C. Brush, president of American International Corporation and his denial of reports that were being circulated at the time claiming that American International was trying to see one of its largest proprietary companies, G. Amsinck & Co. It stated in part:

But there is no reason why we should want to sell Amsinck The company is in better shape than in years.  It is operating in the black and negotiations are practically concluded with important interests in two South American countries which give every indication of being profitable in the future.

While some may claim that “in the black” and “in the red” were considered slang back in the day, the term “in the black” appears to have had sufficient legitimacy in proper English to be used by at least one company president being quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 1923.  Idiomation was unable, however, to find an earlier published version of the expression.

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All Men Are Enemies

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 23, 2011

In Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, Major — one of the main characters — espouses the belief that rebellion is the path to freedom.  In fact, he is convinced that overthrowing the human race would instantly make all animals “rich and free.” Well, perhaps not all animals as Major is unsure as to whether wild animals count with regards to the rebellion.   He rallies the animals with cries that the animals must be united in order to overthrow man, stating clearly that, “all men are enemies. All animals are comrades.”

It’s an interesting point of view and certainly not an original concept created by George Orwell.  The concept of all men being enemies has been explored with that exact verbage in a number of books.

The Montreal Gazette reported on Richard Aldington‘s then most-recently published 344-page book, The Romance of Casanova.  The article began:

Richard Aldington is, indisputably, one of the most important of contemporary writers in English.  Death Of A Hero, was one of the most significant books of its era: The Colonel’s Daughter, All Men Are Enemies — even, Very Heaven — are fine examples of modern English prose, generous in concept, original in idea, brilliant in execution.  His current volume, The Romance of Casanova, is an annoyance, doing the author a literary disservice, and providing a source of considerable distress to his enthusiastic admirers.

Of course, the novel All Men Are Enemies was made into a film by Fox Films and went into production January 16, 1934 and wrapped up exactly one month later.  Hugh Williams, Helen Twelvetrees and Mona Barrie as the principals in the movie.  The story, published two years earlier in 1932, was described by movie critics as being a tedious but tasteful romance about a young Englishman who marries the wrong woman.

In fact, when the Los Angeles Times reviewed the movie, journalist Philip K. Scheuer wrote:

Beyond a perfunctory introductory caption explaining that “to the man who sets out on a brave and solitary way, all men are enemies,” there is nothing about the new film at Loew’s State to make its title particularly applicable.

Nearly a century before that, in the book, First Footsteps in East Africa or An Exploration of Harar, written by Richard F. Burton of the Bombay Army and published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1856, this is written:

One of these events throws the country into confusion, for the vendetta is rancorous and bloody, as in ancient Germany or in modern Corsica. Our Abban enlarged upon the unpleasant necessity of travelling all night towards the hills, and lying perdu during the day. The most dangerous times are dawn and evening tide: the troopers spare their horses during the heat, and themselves during the dew-fall. Whenever, in the desert,—where, says the proverb, all men are enemies — you sight a fellow creature from afar, you wave the right arm violently up and down, shouting “War Joga! War Joga!”—stand still! stand still! If they halt, you send a parliamentary to within speaking distance. Should they advance, you fire, taking especial care not to miss; when two saddles are emptied, the rest are sure to decamp.

The concept that all men are enemies, however, comes from Colossians 1:13 where the concept put forth is that all men are enemies in their minds until God transforms them through the work of salvation.

While George Orwell has the character Major state, “all men are enemies” in Chapter 1 of Animal Farm, the sentiment is one that has made itself well-known before and after the publication of this book.

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Political Football

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 17, 2011

A political football is an issue that becomes politically divisive.  In fact, it becomes a problem that doesn’t get solved because the politics of the issue get in the way.

On March 16, 1972 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a series entitled, “Busing Takes Front Stage on America’s Political Scene.”  The introduction to the series read:

Busing may be the political issue of the year.  An administration official already has referred to it as the “yellow peril.” And a victorious George Wallace made it the issue of Tuesday’s Florida primary.  In the first of a series of articles on the subject, we return to the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954 and examine how busing has become a political football.

In Connecticut, the Meriden Daily Journal wrote about President Hoover and the cash bonus “bugbear” of the previous two congresses on November 7, 1932. Entitled “The Bonus? It’s A Political Football But Not A Serious Issue.  No Congressional Battle Expected Over Cash Payment To War Vets” the first paragraph of the report written by Rodney Dutcher was:

The cash bonus bugbear of the last two congresses has become for the time a mere political football.  President Hoover kicked it into Governor Roosevelt’s territory and the Democratic candidate kicked it back — a weak, offside kick, if you ask the Republicans.  Neither of the candidates and neither of the parties wish to espouse it, although it figures in various congressional contests where members are capitalizing or defending their vote on the question at the last session.

In a news article published in the New York Times on April 10, 1909 about the British government’s inability to safeguard England’s supremacy at sea and the circular that had been issued that sought to “induce the nation to fling out the Government which betrayed it, for so only can Britain be saved.”  The article headline read:

Navy Scare Becomes Political Football: British Liberals Less Disturbed Since Unionists Pressed It Into Service

Back on November 30, 1869 New Zealand’s Daily Southern Cross newspaper ran a story on the nomination of candidates for five seats for Auckland City West.  Of the eight men who stood for election, it was Mr. French who proved all the more interesting due to this excerpt:

Mr. French said that he had come before the electors because he had been requested to take that proud position from many of his fellow electors.  as some of the electors were no doubt aware, during the past week from some cause unknown to him people had been trying to use him as a political football in order to kick him out of the field, and many of his friends had heard a report that he had retired from the contest, although during that period his advertisements had appeared in the paper stating that he solicited the votes and the interests of the electors.

The game of football as we know it today — complete with a set of rules — was first regularized in Cambridge in 1848 which helps explain why the term “political football” could not be traced back by Idiomation prior to 1869.

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Shoot The Breeze

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 10, 2011

In brief, to “shoot the breeze” means to chat, gab, sit around and talk.  The phrase has been around for decades.  In fact, The Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg (FL) reported on November 8, 1958 in an article entitled “TV Takes Dim View of ‘Bowery’ Chat” opened with:

Author Ben Hecht, who likes to include a little bit of everything on his nightly television chat, invited six Bowery bums to shoot the breeze with him on Friday night’s show.  But the anonymous gentlemen from Manhattan’s famous avenue of the down-and-out didn’t get close to mike or camera.  The management of stations WABC-TV was unwilling to take a chance on what they  might say.

It’s a phrase that’s been used by respected newspapers and on May 5, 1957, the New York Times ran an article about then-Senator Richard L. Neuberger’s suggestion to Congress, entitled “Congress Urged to Get, Not Shoot, the Breeze.

The Guide to U.S. Naval Academy 149 has an entry for the phrase “shoot the breeze” that states it means “to refight the Civil War, etc.”  In fact, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on April 20, 1942 that warned citizens that the new slang of the  modern Navy resembled  a completely separate language — a new and almost unintelligible jargon — a mixture of technical terms, abbreviations and sailorese.  To give readers a taste of the new jargon, the article included this line:

When two old seagoing friends get together again they’ll shoot the breeze but they won’t be hitting the shore until things are squared away.

Vic Bourasaw was aboard the U.S.S. Ramsay and stationed in Pearl Harbor at the time.  He wrote in his diary that his ship had the “Ready” duty beginning at 0800 on December 7, 1941 and then:

Our liberty was up at 0730. I came aboard about 0735 and went down to our (chief petty officer) quarters. There were eleven of us CPO’s. We were sitting around shooting the breeze and having our morning cup of mud (coffee).  There was some blasting as one of the chiefs remarked, starting at 0755. I got up and looked out from the forward hatch and what I saw caused me to say: “fellows man your stations we are being bombed by the Japs!”

Almost three weeks later, on December 26, 1941, he wrote the following:

Quite a few hours afterwards, while away aboard ship, shooting the breeze about our youngsters — seems like most of the men, older ones have kids or one at least. A Hawaiian girl that lives next door to us sure got a drag with me. Brought me over a shot of Alky. The liquor stores have been closed since Dec. 7th.

The phrase “shoot the breeze” is very likely a variation of “talking into the wind” which was recorded in an Ohio newspaper, The Portsmouth Times on March 26, 1932 when an article entitled “Dreamer’s Delayed Recognition” reported the following:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the hundredth anniversary of whose death was marked with fitting ceremonies last Tuesday here and abroad, would have said the same thing.  A half hundred other searching dreamers would have sold it.  And they, like Doctor Hauptman, would be talking into the wind.  Deep and endless pondering produces prophecies sand criticisms for which there can be no understanding audience until the world closes the gap between the moss mind and the scouts who run centuries before it.

Idiomation was unable to find any published version of “shoot the breeze” or “talk into the wind” prior to 1932 however the ease with which it was used in the Portsmouth Times story indicates that “talk into the wind” was an idiom that was understood in the 1930s.  It is, therefore, reasonable to believe that the phrase “talk into the wind” was part of every day language in the 1920s.

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Dead Ringer

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2011

A dead ringer is, or is perceived to be, an exact duplicate of someone else … a doppelgänger, if you wish.  Dead ringers have been around for as long as there have been people but the term hasn’t been around for quite as long.

On July 28, 1932, in a Los Angeles Times news exclusive on the John Gottlieb Wendel case involving Thomas Patrick Morris, the scandalous headline read:

WENDEL CLAIM SUBSTANTIATED: Asserted Heir to Fortune Scores at Hearing Declared “Dead Ringer” for Man He Calls “Poppa” – Story of Parentage Refuted by ex-Playmate

Back in 1893, according to the New York Daily News, an Ohio newspaper reported:

Israel Williams wearing a wig would be no longer Israel Williams, but would be a dead ringer for Wellington just before the battle of Waterloo.

And back on June 10, 1891, the Detroit Free Press published a story entitled:  “HE WAS NO TENDERFOOT: A Reporter’s Mistake Leads to Mutual Explanations.”  It read in part:

Mutual explanations followed and the reporter squared himself by securing evidence from several outsiders that the gentleman from Lorain was a dead ringer for the good looking statesman from Saginaw.

An earlier reference confirming the use of the term comes from the Oshkosh Weekly Times of June 1888, where there’s a court report of a man charged with being ‘very drunk’:

“Dat ar is a markable semlance be shoo”, said Hart looking critically at the picture. “Dat’s a dead ringer fo me. I nebber done see such a semblence.”

Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to located the term dead ringer published elsewhere prior to 1888 although from the way it was used in the Oshkosh Weekly Times, it’s obvious that the phrase was used by educated and uneducated folk alike by that time.

So what exactly is a ringer?

Back in the day, a ringer was a horse that was substituted for another horse and that looked so much like the original horse that it fooled the bookies.  In other words, it was a horse used to defraud bookies.  The Manitoba Free Press published this definition in October 1882:

A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ‘ringer.’

However, the word “ringer” goes back to the 1700s where “to ring” meant a coin was tested to see if it was genuine or counterfeit.  The test was to strike the coin with a finger or other object.  If it rang, it was genuine; if it didn’t ring — in other words, if it was dead — it was counterfeit.

And what of the word “dead” you might ask?   Used in the sense of “utter, absolute, quite” it was used in the term “dead drunk” which was first attested to in the 1590s and later by the term “dead heat” which was attested to in 1796.

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Sunday Driver

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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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Eat, Drink And Be Merry

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 13, 2010

The phrase “eat, drink and be merry” has been around quite some time.  In fact,  in 1932, Baltimore resident Frederick Philip Stieff published a collection of hundreds of recipes from handwritten recipe books and the title of that cookbook was none other than “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.”

Perhaps Frederick Philip Stieff had come across the copy of the Ashburton Guardian somewhere along the way as this newspaper carried a news story on page 3 entitled “Happiest Of All” and published  in the June 16, 1896 edition where the last two lines read: 

Happiest, perhaps, of all are they who have been lifted up by Mother Siegel’s remedy and placed where once again they can eat, drink and be merry.  And if all these could be gathered together they would make a greater host than the Greek poet ever dreamed of.

Still, the history of the phrase appears to go back at least to a restaurant founded in 1793 and located high above Paris on Montmartre’s Place du Tertre.  The historic eatery knowns as La Mère Cathérine — where the term bistro was first coined — saw Georges Jacques Danton, one of the leaders of the French Revolution and the first President of the Committee of Public Safety scratch the phrase  “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die” into the walls of this legendary establishment. 

Some will tell you that the phrase comes from Dante‘s “Inferno” completed in 1321 but the truth of the matter is, the phrase is much, much older than that and actually comes from the Bible.

More often than not, the phrase is used out of its original context with its meaning reversed. Paul used this quote from Isaiah 22:13 in 1 Corinthians 15:32 where he wrote: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Paul’s intention was to show the pointlessness of life for Christians if there was no belief in the resurrection.  If a Christian did not believe in the resurrection, he might as well enjoy himself as much as possible since there would be nothing to look forward to in death.

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Dragnet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 27, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to read is true.” 

Many of us are familiar with the opening voice over from the “Dragnet” radio and television series.

A dragnet is a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals and other individuals.  The term comes from the fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom or through a promising area of open water.  While the fishing reference has been around for centuries, the police reference isn’t nearly as old.

In a book entitled “Illinois Parole Law” published in 1942 by the Department of Public Welfare for the State of Illinois it was stated that:

Two-fifths of Illinois population is in Cook county and the board is continually endeavoring to adjust its work to the problems of the city.  Two reasons actuate it.  First, a desire to protect the city from persons who have in the past been guilty of crime, and, second, ad esire to protect the parolee from the police dragnet and the many temptations and handicaps of city life.

Ten years before that, on May 18, 1932, newspapers reported that Luigi Malvese, bootleg gangster, was ambushed and shot to death in front of the Del Monte Barbershop at 720 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, California.   It was reported that “a police dragnet rounded up some 1,000 usual suspects in an attempt to pressure the underworld to rein in its wild men.” Louis Dinato, Al Capone’s tailor, was among those rounded up.

But long before the gangsters of the Prohibition Era, back in 1917, Ordway Rider was shot and died from a bullet wound to the chest.  His death was a cause célèbre in Edwardian Boston, pushing stories of war off the front page of all the papers for days.  According to the February 23 edition of The Boston Globe, in an article entitled “Police Dragnet Out For Bandits” it was reported that:

 ” … Ordway Rider was shot and instantly killed on the night of Feb. 21st 1917 by Bandits. Robbery was the motive. He was manager of one of the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s stores. He was held in high esteem by the company. His age was 58-6months.”

That being said, the earliest published reference I could find that speaks of a police dragnet was found in The Chicago Daily Tribune which published a news story on January 19, 1896 with the headline, “Bicycle Thieves Caught in Meshes of Police Dragnet.”

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