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Posts Tagged ‘A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature’

Go Like Sixty

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2019

If you say you’re going like sixty, you probably also say you’re going a mile a minute. The idiom going like sixty means you — or the person or thing to which you are referring — is going fast or doing something very quickly.

Most people believe the idiom relates to cars or trains, and in fact, that would make sense. In 1848, the Boston and Main Railroad was the first to have an authenticated average speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). However, that was 51 years before the car named La Jamais Contente, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was clocked doing 60 miles per hour on 1 May 1899 in Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France.

SIDE NOTE 1: The car was equipped with Michelin rubber tires, and his father, Constant Jenatzy, was a manufacturer of rubber products which was a novelty during this era.

The Cash Box magazine edition of 28 February 1948 Volume 9, No. 22) used the idiom on Page 11, in the Record Reviews section. Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart” was the Disk O’ The Week and directly beneath that review was a review for Johnny Moore’s song “Teresa.”

Subtle and warm tones of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and a ditty that should go like sixty. With piper Charles Brown to spill the vibrant and haunting vocal score to “Teresa,” the deck stacks up for a slew phono play. Instrumental tones offered her are excellent with a wonderful guitar spot by Oscar Moore rounding out the side.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Cash Box was touted as the confidential weekly to the coin machine industry, and this magazine even had a “roving reporter” interviewing and reporting on items of interest to lovers of jukebox hits.

Flying Grandma or Going Like Sixty” by Maude Squire Rugus was published by University Lithoprinters of Ypsilanti (MI) in 1942, and did well with book lovers everywhere.

The phrase “like sixty” appeared in Chapter One of James T. Farrell’s “Young Lonigan” (the first book of the trilogy).

“Spike Kennedy, Lord have mercy on his soul, he was bit by a mad dog and died, would get up on one of the cars and throw coal down like sixty, and they’d scramble for it.”

In Volume XXIII, Volume 1 of “The Irrigation Age” published in November of 1907, an advertisement was published that referred to goes like sixty. It had nothing to do with a car, but it did have to do with speed.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Gilson Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850 on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington in Wisconsin). The company was making gas engines by 1898, and established a manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada).

From the 1904 short story, Holding Up A Train by O. Henry:

What it was there for, I don’t know. I felt a little mad because he had fooled me so. I stuck the harp up against his mouth.

“If you can’t pay – play,” I says.

“I can’t play,” says he.

“Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

He caught hold of the harp, turned red as a beet, and commenced to blow. He blew a dinky little tune I remembered hearing when I was a kid:

Prettiest little gal in the country – oh!
Mammy and Daddy told me so.

I made him keep on playing it all the time we were in the car. Now and then he’d get weak and off the key, and I’d turn my gun on him and ask what was the matter with that little gal, and whether he had any intention of going back on her, which would make him start up again like sixty.

The first usage in the New York Times newspaper of that exact phrase happened on 24 August 1895, when it was reported that a group of kids got locked and trapped in a railroad freight car and the train started up. They weren’t found for quite some time, and when they were found, they described their hair-raising adventure, with one boy quoted as saying the train “was going like sixty.

This would indicate that the expression actually has nothing to do with how fast a car traveled in 1895 (as the record for a car traveling that fast was still 4 years away), and is related to how fast a train traveled in the 1890s.

According to John Stephen Farmer Henley in 1903, the book “Household Words” published an issue on 18 September 1886 which stated to go like sixty meant rapidity of motion. This was confirmed by Frank Vizetelly and Leander Jan De Bekker in their book, “A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature.”

However, back in 1848, when the Boston and Main Railroad traveled at authenticated average speeds of 60 miles per hour, it was thought that traveling at such a rate would cause passengers to suffocate as the surrounding air rushed past them. Many spoke of being winded after riding a thoroughbred horse that could hit 40 miles per hour for short bursts, and after riding a galloping horse at 30 miles per hour for longer than short bursts.

There were reports of railway madmen in rail cars who calmed back down as trains slowed down upon arriving at train stations. The speed of the train was blamed for the insanity known as “delirium furiosum” that overcame those who suffered from railway mania — as was reported in “The Medical Times and Gazette” in July of 1863.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to between 1850 and 1860 to give enough time for the hysteria of traveling at 60 miles per hour to gain traction among the fearmongers and naysayers.

As an added bonus, here’s what some people in the 1920s had to say about all that medical mayhem about train speeds the Bavarian psychiatrists were going about a few decades earlier.

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