Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Never Trouble Trouble Till Trouble Troubles You

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 3, 2015

If you think something or someone might cause problems, don’t address it until it actually causes problems, and that’s what’s meant when you hear someone say never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!  In this respect, it’s related to let sleeping dogs lie, don’t meet troubles halfway, and don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.

On September 10, 2010, SB Nation (a grassroots network of fan-centric sports communities) added “Schadenfreude Fridays” to their regular offerings.  The first article in the new column took a look at some of the lesser games that were available back in the 8-bit days of the NES gaming system.

In reviewing the game “Bad Street Brawler” the reviewer stated that the video game wasn’t fun to play and that it was one of a small handful of games that were outright terrible.  The review of the game began with this comment.

BSB greeted players with protagonist Duke Davis’s motto, “Never Trouble Trouble ‘Til Trouble Troubles  You.”  On the strength of that alone we could probably include this game on the list, but its awfulness goes so much deeper.

Robert N. St. Clair thought the idiom should be the title of a play, and so he wrote, “Never Trouble Trouble: A Rollicking Face In Three Acts” in 1938.  A prolific playwright of comedic dramas, this play was part of the collection of plays he wrote in this genre.  While it was one of his earlier works, it was one worth noting for its humor.

Idiomation found the idiom in a poem by Fanny Windsor, titled, “Never Trouble Trouble” and published in Volume XIX, Number 5 of The Manifesto from May 1889.  The magazine was published in Shaker Village, New Hampshire.

My good man is a clever man,
Which no one will gainsay;
He lies awake to plot and plan
‘Gainst lions in the way.
While I, without a thought of ill,
Sleep sound enough for three;
For I never trouble trouble till
Trouble troubles me.

That same year, Volume 2 (from M to Z) of “The Salt-Cellars: Being A Collection of Proverbs Together With Homely Notes Thereon” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon and published by Alabaster Passmore and Sons in London (England) included the idiom found in Fanny Windsor’s poem.

It was also part of the advice that Abraham Lincoln (12 February 1809 – 15 April 1865) gave Reverend Phineas Densmore Gurley’s daughter, Frances Mary Gurley (9 July 1841 – 22 August 1907), and her husband, Civil War Union Officer, Major William Anthony Elderkin (15 May 1839 – 1 January 1900), when they married on June 9, 1861.  The Reverend Gurley (12 November 1816 – 30 September 1868) was the chaplain of the United States Senate as well as the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

A man needs a wife as much in war as he does in peace. I think he needs her more.  Stay with your husband when you can. Don’t let a third party interfere between you two; stay by yourselves. Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.

In the Dunstable New Hampshire Telegraph newspaper edition of July 20, 1836, the expression showed up in a bit of advice about the weather.

The Weather – After all, the weather seems to be such as to promise something to the farmer.  We shall have no famine at present.  Grass, grain, fruit, potatoes, and a thousand other things look well and promising.  Corn is backward, but has changed its color within a day or two, and shot up surprisingly.  No use in long face.  “Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you,” was good advice, coming from a good source.

In November 1779, the United States Congress voted unanimously to nominate John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) on a mission to negotiate the end of the war and a peace treaty with Britain as well as a commerce agreement.  His diplomatic assignments took him to Paris in 1779 and later on, to the Netherlands in 1780.

At the time, John Adams (who later became the second President of the United States) had to negotiate with France as well as with Britain because of the Treaty of Alliance which stipulated that, until the allies agreed jointly to ending the war, in the eyes of signatories to the Treaty of Alliance, the war was not ended.

On May 12, 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, that including the proverb.

Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

The proverb was included in the 1741 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

The proverb is actually a rewording of an earlier proverb found in John Ray’s “A Handbook of Proverbs” published in 1670.  John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was a clergyman, biologist, and naturalist, and is called the father of English natural history.  The proverb upon which this proverb is based is this:

Let your trouble tarry till its own day comes.

And before that, the spirit of never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you is found in a quote by Roman philosopher, playwrite, orator, and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. – A.D. 65).  Seneca was a tutor to Nero, and Nero kept him on as an advisor when he became Emperor in 54 A.D.  He retired as Nero’s advisor in 62 A.D., and three years later, Nero accused Seneca of conspiring against him, forcing his former tutor and advisor to commit suicide.  In his works, Seneca wrote this:

Quid iuvat dolori sui occurrere?
What help is it to run out to meet your troubles?

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you prior to 1741.  This indicates that somewhere between 1670 and 1740, the proverb was reworded.  Idiomation therefore pegs the date to 1740, with a nod to Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Advertisements

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 18th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

White Elephant

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 24, 2014

If you have a white elephant, what you’ve got is a valuable but burdensome possession you just can’t unload (no matter how much or little you’re asking for it) that’s costing you an arm and a leg to keep.

In the book, “Marjorie Daw, and Other Stories” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (published in 1969 as a reprint from the 1885 edition), the story, “A Rivermouth Romance” made great use of the idiom.

If Margaret Callaghan, when she meditated matrimony, indulged in any roseate dreams, they were quickly put to flight. She suddenly found herself dispossessed of a quiet, comfortable home, and face to face with the fact that she had a white elephant on her hands. It is not likely that Mr. O’Rourke assumed precisely the shape of a white elephant to her mental vision; but he was as useless and cumbersome and unmanageable as one.

It was indeed an idiom that was understood as it was used by Reader Charles (1814 – 1884) in his book “The White Elephantthat was published the year he died. The first chapter of the book began with this:

In the month of April 1828, Mr. Yates, theatrical manager found his nightly receipts fall below his nightly expenses. In this situation a manager falls upon one of two things — a spectacle or a star. Mr. Yates preferred the latter, and went of to Paris and engaged Mademoiselle Djek.

Mademoiselle Djek was a White Elephant of great size and unparallele sagacity. She had been for some time performing in a play at Fransconi’s, and created a great sensation in Paris.

In Volume 12 of “The Friend Religious and Literary Magazine” edited by Robert Smith and published in 1938, the story entitled, “Court Of Siam” was included. Written by John Crawford, it was originally published ten years earlier under the title of “Journal of an Embassy from the Governor-General of India to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China” and was dated April 8, 1822.

Upon enquiring into their history, we found that they were all either from the kingdom of Lao or Kamboja, and none from Siam itself, nor from Malay countries tributary to it, which last, indeed had never been known to afford a white elephant.

The rareness of the white elephant is, no doubt, the original of the consideration in which it is held. The countries in which it is found, and in which, indeed, the elephant in general exists in the greatest perfection and is most regarded, are those in which the worship of Buddha and the doctrine of the metempsychosis prevail.

Kings were usually the only ones able to afford white elephants as the upkeep for an elephant is an expensive undertaking for anyone, even a king. But if a king was displeased by a member of his court, the gift of a white elephant, while being a great honor, was also intended as a punishment in that the financial burden crippled the households of those with inferior monetary revenues and assets.

Between 1839 and 1873 — when a Letter to the Editor was published in the New York Times edition of May 28th — the term white elephant became known as a situation or an item that was costly. In the case of the Letter to the Editor, the white elephant in question had to do with the case of George Francis Train (24 March 1829 – 5 January 1904) that had been dragging on in the courts for months by that time.   Train had been charged with “issuing obscene publications.

Now, Train was not unknown to the American public. In fact, he was a well-known American entrepreneur who had been instrumental in establishing Credit Mobilier in the United States in 1864 as the Transcontinential Railroad was being built, and he had already made his name as a Civil War reporter.  The year his fortune was built by Credit Mobilier was the same year he began referring to himself as “Citizen Train.” He ran as an independent candidate for the office of President in 1872, and in 1873, he began charging admission fees to his campaign rallies where his primary focus was on attaining the position of Dictator of the United States.

Initially, the attempt was to have Mr. Train committed to an insane asylum, but on March 20, 1873 the following was reported:

Dr. Hammond, one of those commissioned by District Attorney Phelps to examine into his mental condition, says, with some reluctance, that the commission found Train to be a man of good education, of brilliant intellect, but undoubtedly of unsound mind. When, however, the usual form of commitment was presented for signature, Dr. Hammond refused to sign it, as he does not believe that Train can at all be considered a person dangerous or likely to do bodily harm either to himself or anybody else. The usual commitment will not be signed, and, of course, he cannot be transferred to the asylum. His latest assertion is that in thirty days not one stone in the bastile shall be left standing on another, and that the streets ot Sew York are to run with blood. Should this come to pass he may be dangerous enough, but his assertions are regarded only as idle words.

Six weeks later, it was reported on May 7, 1873 that the previous day the courts had ruled as follows:

The investigation which has been going on for the past few weeks before Chief Justice Daly and the Sherriff’s jury into the mental condition of George Francis Train was concluded this evening by a verdict rendered that he was, and is, sane and responsible for his acts. The District Attorney will now prosecute Train on the indictment found against him for publishing obscene literature in connection with the Woodhull-Ciaflin matter.

But the author of the Letter to the Editor, whose patience seemed to have reached an end, stated his opinion succinctly, writing:

For months the Courts have been trying to get rid of this dreadful person, but in vain. . . . In the meantime he is in the public hands, a white elephant of prodigious expensiveness in judicial time, patience and dignity.

In early 1864, and just weeks after the Gettysburg Address of November 1863, as the Civil War raged on, Ward Hill Lamon wrote about a discussion he had with Abraham Lincoln.

Jumping up from his reclining position he advanced, saying: “You know better than any man living that from my boyhood up my ambition was to be President. I am President of one part of this divided country at least; but you look at me! I wish I had never been born! It is a white elephant on my hands, and hard to manage. With a fire in my front and rear; having to contend with the jealousies of the military commanders, and not receiving that cordial co-operation and support from Congress which could reasonably be expected; with an active and formidable enemy in the field threatening the very life-blood of the government — my position is anything but a bed of roses.”

And it’s known that Belle Boyd — the famous Confederate spy who, when she was arrested and taken to General Patterson‘s headquarters for having shot a Union soldier for insulting her mother — was quoted in the Northern papers as saying that “like a white elephant” she was pointed out to thousands of troops coming into Virginia as being the most dangerous Rebel in the country.

Back in 1851, Geraldine Endsor (G.E.) Jewbury used the expression in “Letters.”

His services are like so many white elephants, of which nobody can make use, and yet that drain one’s gratitude, if indeed one does not feel bankrupt.

What is known about the idiom is that just about 40 years earlier, the idiom white elephant had positive connotations. In fact, Josef Semmelweiss (1788 – 1846) opened a wholesale business specializing in spices and general consumer goods in 1806 and named it zum Weißen Elefanten (at the White Elephant). By 1810, the business had made Josef Semmelweiss a rich man.

NOTE: Josef Semmelweiss was the father of Ignaz Semmelweis (1 July 1818 – 13 August 1865) who is regarded as the pioneer of antiseptic policy and prevention of nosocomial disease.

Somewhere in the forty or so years between the establishing of Josef Semmelweiss’ successful business where the idiom white elephant had a positive association and G.E. Jewbury’s use of the idiom which had a negative association, the shift in perception happened. Without proof of an earlier published reference, however, Idiomation is unable to take this idiom back any further than this point.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Deadline

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 25, 2011

The word deadline refers to a time limit and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s American newspaper jargon from around 1920 that blends two words together: dead and line.  This may well be true as an edition of The Age newspaper dated December 26, 1951 that dealt with the cease-fire agreement in Korea.

The Christmas good-will spirit left armistice negotiators unaffected, and today there was again no progress.  The deadline for agreement on an armistice is December 27 (Thursday).  The United Nations spokesman, General Nuckols, said that neither the Communists nor the United Nations had asked for an extension of the 30-day period of a cease-fire line agreement.

And true to what was found in the Oxford Dictionary, the Baltimore Sun newspaper ran a story on July 7, 1920 entitled, “Our Next President Will Be A Seasoned Newspaper Man.”  The article began by stating:

Harding and Cox have both served from printer’s “devil” to Editor, and both will be callous to such expression as “beat,” “trim,” “cut,” “kill” and “deadline.”

However, it appears that in 1920, the word deadline also had another meaning.  It was a more literal meaning of the word although still very much in keeping with the more figurative meaning.   This is confirmed by a news article carried by the New York Times on March 21, 1920 entitled, “Thieves Open Steamship Office Safe And Get $179.80” and reads in part:

Safe robbers manipulated the combination of the safe in the building of Bennet, Hvoslef & Co., steamship agents, at 18 Broadway, last Tuesday and escaped with $179.80.  The police believe the robbery was the work of expert safe burglars who have robbed more than half a dozen safes below the police “deadline” in the financial district within the last two months.  The robbers are alleged to have concealed their finger prints by rubbing the surface of the safe with a damp cloth.

On January 11, 1880 the New York Times published a story entitled “Rising Old Men” that dealt with men of a certain age attaining and retaining positions and power in public life as had never been seen before.  It read in part:

Of course, nature, when offended, is always sure to have her revenge, and coarse indulgences sometimes were the resort of old men, when driven from the wholesome air of genial society and left to themselves to gossip and gormandize, and sometimes to guzzle and to gamble.  The new civilization changes all of this, and people who have living thought and purpose, and who agree in taste and ideas, associate freely together without even the different uniform of age and youth; and sometimes the youngest heart of the company belongs to some gifted man or woman who has long passed the dead-line of 50, as this date is often called.

In 1863, after then-President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Deputy U.S. Marshals oftentimes employed the services of local farmers to serve as lookouts  to work the “dead line” between Arkansas and Indian Territory. 

And in 1864, there was more than one comment noted in documents of the “dead line” in the stockades.  In fact, the first prisoner to die crossing the “dead line” was Caleb Coplan, a private in Company A, 1st Ohio infantry.  Captured on September 19, 1864 at Chickamauga, Coplan ducked under the “dead line” on April 9, 1864 and was promptly shot by a sentry.  He died the following day.

In the Report of the Secretary of War dated October 31, 1865, it was reported that Captain Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the stockade where Coplan was shot and died “did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a “dead line” being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, where Wirz instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line” …. “

Captain Henry Wirz was court-martialed, and found guilty of charges of cruelty, murder and acts of inhumanity in May 1865.   The court-martial was presided over by U.S. Major General Lew Wallace.

A little more than 30 years before that, however, the Library of U.S. History documents a situation where the hewed log residence of Joel Sayre was used in 1831 as both a court and a jail.  With William Bonnet as jailer and William Bonnet Jr. and Silas Carney as guards, the “dead line” marked the limits of the jail and separated it from what was set aside to be the court room.

Two generations before that, however, in 1763 American colonists could not established homesteads on lands lying westward of the source of any river flowing through the Atlantic seaboard. The dead-line, as it was referred to, identified for colonists cut off them off from about half of Pennsylvania and half of Virginia as well as everything from that point westward.

Idiomation was unable to find a reference to dead lines prior to 1763 however the use of the word in 1763 implies it was used in every day language and dates back to at least 1750.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Change Horses In Midstream

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2011

To change horses in midstream refers to someone literally trying to move from one horse to another while crossing a stream.  Over time, it has also come to mean to make major changes after something has already begun.

On January 12, 2000 the Worcester Telegram and Gazette newspaper in Massachusetts reported on the 6-month moratorium on cell tower applications in the town of Spencer. It reported the following:

I don’t think we should change horses in midstream,” said Mr. Hicks. Both Mr. Hicks and Mr. Cloutier argued that the full board should be involved in the process leading to any decision whether to keep the current law firm or hire another.

David Lawrence wrote a news story for the Lewiston Daily Sun newspaper entitled, “Convention Ignores New World Crisis” that was published on July 12, 1960.  The story was about the national political conventions and the crisis going on in the world that could lead to war. He wrote in part:

As recently as 1956, the pressure of international issues was evident, and during the campaign the Suez crisis helped the Republicans because the country was in no meed to “change horses in midstream.”

The Arizona Republican reported in its story, “Oppose Change In Organization Of G.O.P. Committee” published on September 17, 1920:

In the belief that it would be the height of folly to change horses in midstream, Republican nominees for congress and state office have united in an effort to preserve the present efficient organization of the Republican state committee.

Now it may not be strictly a favourite expression of Republicans in the United States, but Republicans certainly appear to use the expression more often than Democrats.

To wit, a variation of the expression was popularized by, but did not originate with, Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1864 when he discovered that the National Union League was supporting him for a second term as President. 

Abraham Lincoln told the Republicans upon accepting his renomination that the honour had not come because he was the best man but because Republicans had come to the conclusion that “it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.”  He added further, “I am not so poor a horse that they  might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

The expression “don’t swap horses while crossing the river” had been around earlier in the century and evolved into today’s “don’t change horses in midstream.”

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

When Hell Freezes Over

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 12, 2011

If you say that something will happen when hell freezes over, you mean that it will never happen. 

For example, when the Eagles broke up in 1980, the band members stated the band play together again “when Hell freezes over.”  Well, Hell hadn’t frozen over by the time 1994 rolled around however, in 1994, the Eagles — consisting of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and Timothy Schmit — regrouped and released a live album entitled, “Hell Freezes Over.”

Of course, the Eagles were premature with their announcement about Hell as the U.S. Weather Station in Hell, Michigan can attest to the fact that in all the years the government has been tracking the weather in Hell, it only froze over once and that was in 2004 — 10 years after the Eagles‘ live album.

Back on October 27, 1928 the Afro American newspaper published in Baltimore, a story written by William Pickens reporting on Oscar DePriest who was allegedly forced to quit the race for Congress in Chicago was published.  The article read in part: 

“If he were guilty and afraid, he would agree to quit under condition that the indictment be dropped. But to their surprise, when they went to him and said:  “Now, won’t you withdraw?” — he replied:  “You go to hell, and when hell freezes over so you can skate around on it, bring me proof of that and maybe I’ll think about quitting.”

The man has more plain courage than any other politician I have ever met.  He laid all his cards on the table at a meeting in Chicago on October 14 … He told just how he stood, frankly stated his opposition to some of the most powerful leaders: said in bold but brief outline what he would do as Congressman and what he wouldn’t.

Back on November 23, 1863 during the Civil War, 2nd Lieutenant, Richard B. Dobbins from Company D of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion was captured at Pulaski, Tennessee.  Records show that he was sent to Camp Chase (OH). Was asked when he was going to take the oath, and his reply was, “When Hell freezes over.”   He was released by special order of President Lincoln, April 23, 1864.

While the earliest recorded version of “when Hell freezes over” appears to be 1864, the manner in which it was used implies that it was a common saying among those in the southern states.  It is not unreasonable to believe that the expression dates back at least to the 1850s if not farther back.

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

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 18, 2010

We all know that it’s better to do something rather than just talk about the problem or talk about doing something.  After all, actions speak louder than words.  Leading by example is something that society has cherished for centuries now.  So who first coined the phrase actions speak louder than words?

In Miranda Stuart’s book, “Dead Men Sing No Songs” published in 1939, the author wrote:

Deeds speak louder than words. First she tells you the most damning things she can, and then she begs you to believe he’s innocent in spite of them?

Her words paraphrased Abraham Lincoln’s comments when, in 1856, he wrote:

Actions speak louder than words’ is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North, ‘Give us the measures, and you take the men.’

But in 1736, in a work entitled “Melancholy State of Province” the following is found:

Actions speak louder than Words, and are more to be regarded.

Back on American soil, in 1692 Gersham Bulkeley wrote in his book Will and Doom:

Actions are more significant than words.

Reaching back a little further, in the “Hansard Parliamentary History of England”  J. Pym is credited in 1628 with these words from a speech he made:

‘A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver,’ and actions are more precious than words.

Just a few years earlier, in the 1500s, French writer Michel de Montaigne, is quoted as stating:

Saying is one thing and doing is another.

But wait — the journey back isn’t over yet!  If one travels back two more centuries, one learns that Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone — also known as St. Francis of Assisi — made the following statement sometime between an epiphany he had in 1206 and his death in 1226:

Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

But if you really want to get back to the roots of the phrase, credit goes to the Bible and the writings of James and John.  Yes, in James 2:15-17, one can read:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works is dead, being alone.

And this is found in 1 John 3:17-18:

But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Yes, the spirit of the phrase “actions speak louder than words” goes back … way back!

Posted in Bible, Christian, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

His Name Is Mud

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 30, 2010

When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln dead in 1865, he broke his leg trying to escape.  Booth sought — and received–  medical attention from a Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Now even though Mudd was convicted of being Booth’s co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death, and while it would be easy to conclude that the phrase came about as a result of this historic event, the fact of the matter is that the phrase “his name is mud” was already in use four decades before Lincoln was assassinated. 

Writing under the pen name John Bee, John Badcock’s book “Slang – A Dictionary of the Turf” published in 1823 stated:

“And his name is mud!” ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.

What’s more, the “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” also referenced the phrase in its 1820 edition and stated that the phrase indicated an individual who was “utterly disgraced or defeated.”

However, an even earlier published record, the phrase can be found in the book by Tuus Inimicus entitled “Hell upon earth: or the most pleasant and delectable history of Whittington’s Colledge.”   This book was first published in 1703.

The phrase, however, goes back even farther to St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-390) — an unopposed advocate, along with Didymus and Diodorus of Tarsus, of universal redemption — who wrote in his “Sermo Catecheticus Magnus” that “man is mud whom God has commanded to become God.”

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 4th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »