Historically Speaking

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Swaboda

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2021

This past April (2021), while researching a completely different idiom, Idiomation found an expression that was intriguing: Swoboda movements. This week, we took on the arduous task of finding out what was meant by this expression, and what was uncovered was certainly unexpected!

The original passage Idiomation found was in a letter dated 8 December 1904, written by James Clark of Elgin (IL) who was a traveling agent for the Sherwin-Williams Company in Northern Illinois to his son, William, who had completed his first month of business experience in Johnes’ Hardware Store in Port Center in Michigan. In his letter to his son, James Clark wrote in part:

Have plenty of nerve always, but use your nerve with intelligence. Give your brain some exercise, put it through a few Swoboda movements just before you tackle the new proposition. Be just sufficiently afraid of making mistakes to realize that your thinking apparatus is one of the best mistake killers known to science.

References to Swoboda movements were sparse at best, however, we came across articles from such reputable magazines as the Kansas City Medical Records, Volume 28, Issue 9 in 1909, Volume 28 of the Advertising and Selling magazine in an article dated 28 September 1918, and other publications, and in advertisements aplenty in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Here’s the scoop on Swoboda.

Alois P. Swoboda (8 March 1873 – 13 December 1938) was an Austria-born American quack and physical culture mail-order instructor. In some ways, he may be thought of as the precursor to late night infomercials with his quackery and pseudo-scientific claims. He brazenly hawked his system as a one-size fits all cure for every disease known to man. He even went as far as to claim that his system was guaranteed by the government of the United States of America which, of course, it did not.

In Volume 70, Number 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of 16 March 1918, Swoboda was called out for his so-called medical advancement. In the article it stated:

Not that [the book explaining the Swoboda system] means anything but it sounds rather scientific and can be counted on to impress both the thoughtless and that still larger class of individuals who merely think they think. Swoboda is not the first to appreciate that a meaningless phrase, if couched in pseudo-technical language, paraded frequently and solemnly with a lavish use of italics, capitals and blackfaced type, may be counted on effectually to take the place of thought or common sense.

These days, most people are familiar — in varying degrees — with the Church of Scientology, and are aware that L. Ron Hubbard is responsible for establishing Scientology. What they don’t know is that L. Ron Hubbard’s uncle, American writer, publisher, anarchist, and traveling salesman Elbert Green Hubbard (19 June 1856 – 7 May 1915) was an enthusiastic backer of Alois P. Swoboda’s system, and that many of Swoboda’s teachings became part of the backbone of Scientology.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The ninth printing of “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was dedicatd by L. Ron Hubbard to his uncle, Elbert Green Hubbard.

For a time the expression Swoboda movements was trying to elbow its way into the English language, but like many buzz phrases over the generations, ultimately no one was interested in taking it much further than the occasional letter published in a newspaper story or magazine article, and so it remains firmly lodged between 1900 and 1905 forevermore.

As a side note, Alois P. Swoboda was mentioned in a Time Magazine article of 7 July 1930 but it had very little to do with his sytem, his movements, or the expression.

This short-lived expression dates back to 1900, and falls completely out of use within a few short years. But oh! what an interesting history that expression has, and what interesting side notes (behond the one in this entry) to boot!

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