Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘A Christmas Carol’

Kith and Kin

Posted by Admin on February 27, 2021

Kith and kin originally meant one’s country and relatives, and eventually became a phrase that referred to one’s friends and family.

These days, kith is one of those words that has managed to survive until this day without a meaning beyond this expression which means it’s what linguists refer to as a fossil word. But when this wasn’t the case, kith had a life all its own in language. Its roots are found in the Middle English word kitthe which means homeland or native region, which is from the Old English word cydd.

It’s also part of a select group of phrases known as irreversible binomials. Other irreversible binomials include aid and abet, quick and dirty, and chop and change. An irreversible binomial is where the words always appear in the same order and are never found switched around.

On 6 July 2020, newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Chef Kwame Onwuachi who opened the Kith and Kin restaurant three years earlier in Washington’s Wharf district on the ground floor of the InterContinental Hotel was leaving his restaurant and would no longer be the Executive Chef for Kith and Kin.

The Chicago Tribune ran a news article on 01 December 1995 titled, “Scottish Immigrants Find a Home Away From Home: Retirement Facility Keeps Culture Alive.” The article was about the first philanthropic organization in Illinois known as the St. Andrew Society that was founded 150 years earlier in 1845 by U.S. Army Captain George McClennan. McClennan made a name for himself as a prominent general for the North during the Civil War, and was, of course, of Scottish descent.

The St. Andrew Society was kicking off a capital campaign and the following was reported:

The Scottish Home retirement and nursing home in North Riverside is the heart and soul of the society today, said Alexander Kerr Jr., the society’s president. The home was originally built in 1910, and to mark the society’s 150th anniversary, members have kicked of the $7 million “Kith and Kin” capital campaign, to add a special health-care wing to the current home.

Harold Riffe wrote in his column “Fair and Mild” in the Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail of 03 July 1960 that the expression kissing cousins was, in his opinion, a corruption of kith and kin which he chalked up to a lisp.

As for “kissin’ cousins’ that was only a logical and easy projection of the “kith and kin” idea, and, I might add, a very nice projection, too.

Thuth doth a lithp have romanth!

In 1928, English author and self-styled clergyman Montague Summers (10 April 1880 – 10 August 1948) wrote “The Vampire, His Kith and Kin” wherein he set forth his philosophy of vampirism. His writings focused primarily on witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, and he was the first to translate the 15th century witch hunter’s manual, “Malleus Maleficarum” into English.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers was ordained a deacon of the Church of England but did not move past that level due in large part to his interest in Satanism and the occult. In time, he began presenting himself as a Catholic priest even though he was not a member of any Catholic order or diocese and was not a Catholic. He was also never ordained a priest of any religious order.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: He was acquainted with Aleister Crowley and while Aleister Crowley adopted the persona of a witch, Montague Summers adopted the persona of a learned witch-hunter.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers has the phrase “Tell me strange things” engraved on his headstone, and his manservant Hector Stuart-Forbes is buried with him in the same plot.

American teacher and children’s author Martha Finley (26 April 1828 – 30 January 1909) wrote a number of books over the years, including “Elsie’s Kith and Kin” which was published in 1886 and was the 12th book in the Elsie series of books. In all, Martha Finley wrote twenty-eight Elise Dinsmore books over almost forty years, and the series made Martha Finley one of the most renowned children’s authors of her era with book sales that were second only to Louisa May Alcott.

The expression was used in “A Christmas Carol” by English novelist, journalist, illustrator, and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). The book was published on 19 December 1843 and the expression is found in this passage.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your Family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this Earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves; not us.”

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable property of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s) that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.

The National Bard aka the Bard of Ayrshire, Scottish poet Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) used the expression in the text of “My Lord A-Hunting” published in 1787. The third verse reads thusly:

My lady’s white, my lady’s red,
And kith and kin o’ Cassillis’ blude;
But her ten-pund lands o’ tocher gude;
Were a’ the charms his lordship lo’ed.

As you can see, the meaning of kith and kin that is understood in the 21st century hasn’t changed in several centuries. In fact, in the Middle English narrative poem by William Langland (1332 – 1390) the idiom is found in “The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman” which is believed to have been written sometimes after the Good Parliament of 1376 and after the Papal Schism of 1379, and was most likely completed some time between 1382 and 1387. The poem was, however the product of thirty year’s labor ad the poem was in a near-constant state of revision during that time.

ORIGINAL: Fer fro kitth and fro kynne yuel yclothed ȝeden.
TRANSLATION: Far from kith and from kin they evil-clothed went.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of this idiom however it is an idiom that undoubtedly reaches back much, much farther in light of the fact that Old English was spoken from the 5th through to 11th centuries, and well after the Norman invasion of 1066.

Considering that the oldest surviving literature written in Old English is “Caedmon’s Hymn” from the 7th century, it is possible that an earlier example of the idiom was published prior to William Langland’s epic poem. It’s just that Idiomation did not uncover the idiom in other literary texts prior to Willian Langland’s epic poem.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dog Days

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2010

When someone talks about dog days, they either mean those blisteringly hot days in the dead of summer or they’re referring to a period of stagnation.  Either way, dog days are draining days.

The traditional “dog days” of summer fall between early July and mid-August and are noted for their extreme heat and humidity.  In the Mediterranean, this period coincided with hot days that were plagued with disease and discomfort.

Sirius is the “dog star” from the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Big Dog”), hence the name.  Sirius, the “dog star,” is within the constellation Canis Major and is the brightest in the heavens.

During this time of year, the star Sirius is at its brightest and can be seen rising alongside the sun.  In fact, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, just happens to be August 16.  

Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Prologue of Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975 and is set in the first week of August.  In the novel, the author wrote:

These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

There is a very descriptive use of the phrase “dog days” in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel,  A Christmas Carol, that states:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

And in William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII written in 1613, Porter and his Man are talking in the Palace Yard in Act 5, Scene 4.

MAN
The spoons will be the bigger, sir.  There is a fellow somewhat near the door, he should be a brazier by his face, for o’ my conscience twenty of the dog-days now reign in’s nose.  All that stand about him are under the line; they need no other penance.”

The phrase actually dates back to the Egyptians.  They believed that the star gave off extra heat and humidity to augment the already formidable heat of the sun.  In fact, dog days coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile which was important for a good harvest.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Egypt, Greece, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead As A Doornail

Posted by Admin on May 26, 2010

The phrase “dead as a doornail” is an odd sort of phrase.  After all, one would scarcely think of a doornail as being alive so referring to it as being dead is equally amusing.  However, the term has nothing to do with whether a nail is a living, breathing entity.  When a nail is hammered into a piece of wood and the end is flattened so the nail cannot be removed, the nail is said to be dead since it can’t be removed and reused.

The earliest known version of this phrase is found in the English poem “William of Palerne” written by William Langland some time between 1335 and 1361, as commissioned by Humphrey de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford. The poem was a translation of the poem “Guillaume de Palerne” written in 1200, by William of Palerne as commissioned by Countess Yolande, daughter of Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders by William of Palerne.  In the English version, the following line is found:

“For but ich haue bote of mi bale I am ded as dorenail.”

Of course, William Shakespeare being the prolific writer he was found a place for the phrase in his play of 1592, “Henry VI” in Part II, Act IV, Scene 10 where Jack Cade says to Alexander Iden, a poor esquire of Kent:

JACK CADE:
Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was
broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I
have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and
thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as
dead
as a doornail
, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

In 1843, Charles Dickens use the phrase with great effect in his work  “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” where he wrote:

“Old Marley was as dead as a door–nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door–nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin–nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door–nail.”

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »