Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1980’

Step On A Duck

Posted by Admin on September 15, 2016

To step on a duck is to fart, but not just any old fart.  The step on a duck fart is said to be one that is so loud that it sounds like the squawking of a duck in distress.  The idiom is usually spoken by a bystander wishing to point out the fart to everyone nearby and not an attempt by the person to deflect his or her embarrassment at the indelicate passing of gas.

The expression seems to be so well-known that Jim Dawson published a book in 2010 titled, “Did Somebody Step On A Duck: A Natural History of the Fart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Jim Dawson is a California-based writer who specializes in American pop culture.  A decade before publishing “Did Somebody Step On A Duck” he published “Who Cut THe Cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart” which went on to become a top-seller.

Oddly enough, thirty-five years ago, Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, asked if somebody stepped on a duck when he broke wind loudly at dinner in the 1980 movie, “Caddyshack” starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Scott Colomby.  The movie was written by Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, and Douglas Kenney of National Lampoon magazine fame.

The history of this expression is difficult to trace.  Idiomation’s research found a recipe for a duck fart shot consisting of Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Crown Royal (and poured in that order) hailing from Anchorage, Alaska.  It was created by bartender Dave Schmidt while working at the Peanut Farm Bar and Grill (on the corner of Old Seward Highway and International Street) in December 1987.  The media covered the story of the shot in an article in the Anchorage Daily News newspaper.

Oddly enough, before White Sox announcer and former professional baseball player Hawk Harrelson (born September 4, 1941) made the term more family friendly in the 1980s, the duck snort was called a duck fart.  And what is a duck snort or a duck fart in baseball terms?  It’s a ball that softly hit ball that goes over the infielders and lands in the outfield for a hit.

And in the 1940s, according to “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” compiled and published by Jonathon Green, a duck fart referred to the plopping sound a stone made when it fell into the water.

But there doesn’t seem to be any indication how stepping on a duck came to mean farting loudly.  To this end, the expressions seems to reach back only as far as 1980.  However, there’s a lot of history behind the concept, not the least of which is a political connection.

As many of us know, there’s a certain juvenile humor when it comes to farting, not the least of which is a popular poem that was written as a result of an unfortunate incident on March 4, 1607 involving Henry Ludlow in the House of Commons.  The poem (which was endlessly copied, recopied, and shared liberally) published in 1607 was titled, “The Censure of the Parliament Fart.”  The incident happened as Sir John Crooke was giving a speech, and he took the fart as a personal insult.  For readers’ amusement, this is the opening volley of the poem.

Never was bestowed such art
Upon the tuning of a Fart.
Downe came grave auntient Sir John Crooke
And redd his message in his booke.
Fearie well, Quoth Sir William Morris, Soe:
But Henry Ludlowes Tayle cry’d Noe.
Up starts one fuller of devotion
Then Eloquence; and said A very ill motion
Not soe neither quoth Sir Henry Jenkin
The Motion was good; but for the stincking
Well quoth Sir Henry Poole it was a bold tricke
To Fart in the nose of the bodie pollitique.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir John Crooke sat in Parliament in 1584, 1597, and 1601.  Henry Ludlow sat in the 1601 and 1604 Parliament as a member of the Inner Temple.  In other words, the two were in Parliament together in 1601.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  The poem became so famous by 1610 that it was cited in Ben Jonson’s play, “The Alchemist.”  The play (which opens with a fart) includes a reference to the poem by Sir Epicure Mammon.

All this being said, the connection between stepping on a duck and loud farts is one that escaped Idiomation’s research.  Perhaps one of Idiomation’s readers has proof as to who first wrote or said this, or where it first appeared in print.

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Like A Hen Needs A Flag

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2013

When people want something they don’t need, you sometimes hear them say they need it like a hen needs a flag. Hens aren’t particularly in need of flags and obviously the useless of the need is why the expression exists. However, tracing back the history on this idiom proved almost impossible.

In Harlan Ellison’s book, “Stalking The Nightmare” famous author Stephen King wrote in the book’s Foreword:

It drives my wife crazy, and I’m sorry it does, but I can’t really help it. All the little sayings and homilies. Such as: There’s a heartbeat in every potato; you need that like a hen needs a flag; I’d trust him about as far as I could sling a piano; use it up, wear it out, do it in, or do without; you’ll never be hung for your beauty; fools’ names, and their faces, are often seen in public places.

Stephen King first used it in his 1980 novella “The Mist” (and included in his anthology of short stories “Skeleton Crew” published in 1986) where he wrote:

I was the closest, and I grabbed Norm around the waist and yanked as hard as I could,  rocking back on my heels. For a moment we moved backward, but only for a moment. it was like stretching a rubber band or pulling taffy. The tentacle yielded but gave up its basic grip not at all. Then three more tentacles floated out of the mist towards us. One curled around Norm’s flapping red Federal apron and tore it away. It disappeared back into the mist with the red cloth curled in its grip and I thought of something my mother used to say when my brother and I would beg for something she didn’t want us to have-candy, a comic book, some toy.  “You need that like a hen needs a flag,” she’d say.

Now several sources claim that the expression is a southern expression, however, it doesn’t seem to appear very often other than in recent online forum discussions. Some members have posted that their grandparents used the expression back in the 40s and 50s although Idiomation couldn’t find any proof of the phrase’s existence during that period.

Without any documentation, the best we can guess at is that the expression originated with Stephen King in 1980. If readers are able to provide documentation that proves it was an expression prior to that, Idiomation welcomes that information.

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Snowball’s Chance In Hell

Posted by Admin on January 11, 2011

The expression snowball’s chance in Hell means you have no reasonable hope whatsoever of achieving something you are hoping to achieve.  The concept, of course, is that no matter how cold snow is, even when compacted into a snowball, the chances it will still be snow — or water — once it’s introduced to Hell are nil.

Now there are those who will ask, “But why would anyone want to toss a snowball into Hell? Everyone knows about the fires of Hell, right?”  Well, Hell isn’t always perceived by all people as being one huge pit of never-ending fire.

Zamhareer is one Hell pit in Islamic tradition that is characterized by extreme blizzards, ice and snow that no living being can bear.  But then there are other pits of Hell that are definitely identified as the extreme opposite of Zamhareer

In Dante’s Divine Comedy the final ring of Hell at the centre of the world is a frozen lake called Cocytus. But overall, Hell‘s a pretty hot place.

In Canada, on September 11, 1980, in the Ottawa Citizen then-Quebec Premier René Lévesque was quoted as saying the following after a day-long debate on the proposed Charter of Rights that would nullify parts of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language:

Trudeau is asking for something that is not practical, something unrealistic.  He wanted to divide and conquer while giving an appearance of generosity.  But a lot of people saw him coming; I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting his charter in.

In the end the score was Snowball 1, Quebec 0.  And that wasn’t the first time snowballs and Hell had been mentioned or implied as part of politics in North America.

Back on August 20, 1956, the Victoria Advocate of Victoria (TX) ran a story on page 4 of that day’s newspaper in the “Matter of Fact” column by Joseph and Stewart Alsop.  It discussed the impression left at the Democratic convention.

As for the outcome, well, they really did not think Stevenson had a snowball’s chance in Hell of carrying their particular states if Eisenhower’s health held up.  Of course, you had to remember the big Democratic gains in 1954.  But if you were really honest about it, the President’s health was the one real factor to watch.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent News of September 2, 1938 reported the inside story of the Pope-Clark primary in Idaho and President Roosevelt’s reluctance to back defeated Senator Pope as an independent candidate.

Jim Farley was given a fill in on the intrigue when he passed through the state (of Idaho) on his return trip from Alaska.  It convinced him that Mr. Pope, running as an independent, wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance to beat the machine.  So he phoned Hyde Park by long distance, begging F.D.R. to make no commitments until he had learned the facts.

While the expression has been used in many situations, it seems that it’s a favourite when speaking of extreme situations in politics.

An etymology dictionary Idiomation consulted claimed that the expression dates back to 1931 but did not provide a source to support that claim. 

The earliest publication of the expression Idiomation was able to find goes back to  1938 and is used with such familiarity as to imply it was a well used expression by that time.

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