Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘American Dialect Society’

Mike and Ike

Posted by Admin on December 29, 2016

Nostalgia is big, and over the last few years, this nostalgia has included diners in the style of the 1930s through to the 1960s.  Mike and Ike is lunch counter slang for salt and pepper shakers, and while you may not hear it used often these days, when it is used, it brings with it all the nostalgia of days gone by when diners were the rage.  In fact, Idiomation hadn’t considered researching Mike and Ike until Howard and Suzie at The Diner in Sevierville (TN) mentioned it on The Diner’s Facebook page.

the-diner_idiomation_image-1

As fast food restaurants moved in on diner territory, the need for calling orders eliminated the need for diner lingo until most of it either disappeared from modern usage or made a place for itself in modern language.  But while diners were in vogue, the lingo amused both the cook and the customers, so waitresses made the most of it.

Diner lingo got its start in the early 1930s.  It’s where the terms OJ for orange juice and BLT for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich originate.   Over easy, sunny side up, hash browns, and mayo also made the successful jump from diner lingo to mainstream dialogue.  In other words, lots of diner lingo from back then has survived to be part of mainstream conversation today.  But where did Mike and Ike get their start?

On September 29, 1907 American cartoonist Rube Goldberg saw his cartoon strip “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” published in the newspaper, and the public immediately took to the antics of the two characters.  As the cartoon evolved, so did the publication of the “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike)” cartoons.

mike-and-ike

Just like the salt and pepper shakers found on tables at diners, the characters Mike and Ike were always side by side in their exploits.  By the 1930s, Mike and Ike was firmly entrenched as the lingo for salt and pepper shakers, and in 1936, the American Dialect Society noted the idiom and its definition on page 44 of Volume 11 that year.

The expression also appeared in the book, “Salads and Herbs” compiled by Cora Lovisa Brackett Brown (3 January 1861 – 1939), Rose Johnston Brown (1883 – 1952), and Robert Carlton “Bob” Brown II (14 June 1886 – 7 August  1959), and published in 1938 by J.B. Lippincott Company.  The book was packed with heirloom recipes for salads and herbs (of course), as well as seasoning, flowers, berries, herbal teas and vinegards, and wild herbs.  On page 125 of this book, the author wrote:

Salt and pepper shakers are dubbed “the twins” and affectionately referred to as “Mike and Ike.”

salads-and-herbs

The term has fallen into disuse over the last few decades, but should you ever find yourself having a meal at a diner that’s still uses diner lingo to spice up the atmosphere, you’ll be in the know when you check to see if Mike and Ike can be found at your table.  The idiom dates back to the early 1930s but wouldn’t it be fun for you and a friend to order Adam and Eve on a raft, drop one on the brown, and a pair of drawers the next time you’re eating at a local diner?

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

That Dog Won’t Hunt

Posted by Admin on June 11, 2015

It’s not often you hear someone say that dog won’t hunt and have it refer to something other than actual hunting.  The idiom refers to suggesting losing propositions for serious consideration.

Just a shy of a decade ago, on Jun 29, 2005 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Idaho published an OpEd piece written by Murf Raquet that addressed the issue of licensing county dogs and who would pay for the licensing.  Part of the problem was that many of the dogs in the county were strays, and that the county was seen by many as a dumping ground for unwanted pets.

The Humane Society of the Palouse was looking to Moscow and Latah County to fund the animal shelter with an increase from the previous approved amount of $10,000 USD to $30,000 USD, and county commissioners got the idea into their heads that the additional monies could come from licensing dogs in the county.  But not everyone saw things the way the county commissioners saw things!

But there are many other deserving groups that also look to the country for funding.  The county well is not deep enough to satisfy everyone.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the funds unless we increase the revenue,” Commissioner Tom Stroschein said.

Well, that revenue won’t come from licensing in rural Latah — that dog won’t hunt.

In the “Outdoors Section” of the Times Daily on January 26, 2002 journalist Dennis Sherer used the idiom in his column titled, “Dog Days Coming To Mt. Hope.”  The article began thusly:

Growing up in Walker County — where most folks speak southern English — I often heard the phrase “that dog won’t hunt.”

I cannot recall hearing someone say the phrase in reference to an actual hunting dog.  But it was a polite way in Walkerese to tell someone that what they were suggesting was not likely to work.

In the August 7, 1987 edition of The Dispatch, Tom Wicker wrote an article about Ronald Reagan’s peace plan for Nicaragua.  He wrote that the plan was most likely nothing more than a ploy to win votes for renewed military aid for the CIA organized and controller Contras fighting in Nicaragua. The article was entitled quite simply, “That Dog Won’t Hunt.”

In the fourth book of Volume XIV of the “American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage” magazine published by the American Dialect Society in 1939, the idiom was listed.

‘If the’ ain’t no fools, the’ ain’t no fun,’ said usually in self-derision; and ‘That old dog won’t hunt,’ meaning that an excuse offered will not serve. These and the numerous specimens which follow have simply been grouped by the present writer under the heading of Miscellaneous, explanations being made only when the meaning is not clearly evident.

During the Civil War, however, the expression was this:  Pride is a dog that won’t hunt.  During the Civil War, the expression was abbreviated to that dog won’t hunt and it has stayed that way ever since.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Have Kittens

Posted by Admin on January 3, 2014

If you’ve wondered what the expression have kittens means, it means to be very worried, upset, or angry about something. It’s a somewhat dramatic way of expressing that worry, upset or anger, but it clearly underscores the degree to which a person is worried, upset, or angry. To have kittens is the same thing as to have a cow or to have a [hairy] canary, and the expression, while rarely heard, is known in every English speaking country around the world.

In the UK, the Independent newspaper of September 6, 2013 published an article entitled, “Who Profits From The Economic Recovery Decides Party Fortunes?” The article by Andrew Grice addressed the challenge both political parties have in convincing low income workers that their party is a friend to low income workers. The subject of the recommendations made by the Down Street Policy Unit have some alarmed to the point where the article stated:

The Treasury, which is said to be “having kittens” about Number 10’s work, will veto the “profits plan” as “unworkable and anti-aspiration.”  Business groups are nervous too. They want the focus to be on improving skills and are worried that a higher wages floor would cost jobs.

Dan Stannett’s book “Daniel and the Lion’s Den: The True Story Of An Eight-Hour Inmate” published in 2007 also made use of the idiom.   The story was based on the author’s experiences with the prison system in April 1976 in a Virginia prison that had fewer than 10,000 inmates in it. Not to be mistaken for one on the wrong side of the law, it must be noted that Dan Stannett spent 25 years in law enforcement. In his book, the following passage uses the idiom having kittens.

While Jim was being warm and happy waiting on his relief, he would be relieved early. The shift sergeant with a Kojak haircut came out and was having kittens while Jim England was giving the pissed off sergeant his best-looking John Wayne impression. “What the hell do you think you’re doing’?” the sergeant asked.

David Bealsey wrote a book entitled, “The Jenny: A New York Library Detective Novel” that was published in 1994. The year in which the story takes place is vague. The story states the night watchman makes $15,000 per year. We know that in New York City, a night watchman drew a salary of slightly overly $1,000 per year in 1884 based on newspaper accounts, and we know that a century later, in New York City, a night watchman drew a salary of just over $15,000 per year in 1985.  So it would seem that the story takes place in the latter half of the 20th century. In the story, the author wrote:

“Let’s go to your place,” I said as we got in.
Arbie gave her address to the driver.
“Storey saw me,” I gasped between breaths.
“I was having kittens,” Arbie said. “You were so long!”
“I heard Storey on the phone, “I explained. “After he left, the same guy called again. I picked up the receiver so he knew someone was there. He must have got in touch with Storey about it. But look!” I flicked on the light in the back of the cab. “We’ve got New’s stamps.”

In 1960, the P. G. Wodehouse (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) book “Jeeves in the Offing” (which was also known as “How Right You Are, Jeeves”) was first published in the United States on 4 April 1960 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, and subsequently, in the United Kingdom on 12 August 1960 by Herbert Jenkins, London. It was the eighth Jeeves novel, and chronicled yet another visit by Bertie Wooster to his Aunt Dahlia at Brinkley Court. The idiom appeared in Chapter VII as follows:

‘Gone?’
‘Gone.’
‘Are you sure?’
I said that sure was just what I wasn’t anything but.
‘It is not possible that you may have overlooked it?’
‘You can’t overlook a thing like that.’
He re-gurgled.
‘But this is terrible.’
‘Might be considerably better, I agree.’
‘Your uncle will be most upset.’
‘He’ll have kittens.’
‘Kittens?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Why kittens?’
‘Why not?’

Graham Seal claims that the expression goes back to at least the early 20th century. This appears to be correct as the expression is shared in Volume 5 of the “Dialect Notes” printed by the Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company of New Haven, Connecticut and published by the American Dialect Society, covering the years 1918 through to 1927. The idiom is attributed as an established idiom in 1918.

According to the BBC, particularly painful pregnancies were thought to be as a result of a witch’s curse. Instead of being with child, the woman was thought to have kittens inside her, clawing to get out. Women who believed this to be true and who were experiencing pain over the course of their pregnancy would become hysterical at the thought that they and their babies had been cursed by a witch.

In fact, there are records dating back to 1654 that show that a woman appealed to a Scottish court for permission to abort. Her reason for making the request was because she had ‘cats in her bellie.’ In fact, in the 1960s, it was reported that people in parts of the highlands of Banffshire dreaded cats for that very reason.

That being said, have kittens is difficult to find in newspapers, magazines and books with the trail going cold right before the turn of the century, in the late 1890s. Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to about 1900s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »