Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘American Thinker’

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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

Move The Goalposts

Posted by Admin on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

Posted in Bible, Football, Idioms from the 20th Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In Vivid, Living Color

Posted by Admin on November 24, 2010

Although movies had been filmed in colour since the 1920s, there were times when a movie theatre just had to make the most of it when promoting a new movie.  And there were times when advertisers made the most of the phrase “in vivid, living colour” outside of movie making situations.

As recently August 2009, the phrase “in vivid, living colour” was used in the daily internet publication,  American Thinker.  Devoted to the “thoughtful exploration of issues of importance to Americans” the entry entitled “ObamaCare and Bush League Democrats” the author, J. Robert Smith wrote:

At a recent town hall, a pretty little girl, whose mother was an early Obama supporter, read a question from a slip of paper.  The President, knowing that the ball would be teed-up, swung hard and level.  Bang!  To the delight of his fans, a homer.  But tee-ball doesn’t matter, not if you can’t manage the game.   The President watches TV and reads the daily rags.  Not even MSNBC or The New York Times can ignore widespread popular unrest.  In vivid living color, the President sees very un-Alinsky seniors and middle class Americans give the what-for to shrinking, mealy-mouthed Democrats — daily. 

Back in the early 1980s, as inflation was running rampant in America, stories abounded, telling the woeful tale of poor housing markets and mortgages in default among other things.  In an article in the Deseret News run in May 28, 1981, the editor ran a story entitled, “Pity Poor Folks Who Live High Above the Tide Of Inflation.”  It read in part:

He bought his second home when they weren’t so popular.  He put down as little as he could and he borrowed the rest at interest rates less than half those of today.  If pressed, he refinanced.  Now he may rent his place at big prices to those with money beyond their immediate means.  These are among the people who own those places the day-trippers envy.  Unlike so many hourly and salaried workers, they  have the ability to float rather than be swamped by the inflation tide.  Various studies have long shown the sharp dichotomy in the two styles of life, but there is nothing like a day trip to the prime resorts near every population center to bring home the point in vivid, living color.

For Christmas 1966, the Gettysburg Times newspaper ran an advertisement for Ziegler Studios that read:

Have Your Family Portrait Taken For Christmas!  There’s still time … and it’s a swell idea either for a gift, or a gift to yourselves and your home.  But HURRY … the deadline for accepting appointments is near … and so is Christmas!  Don’t think about it anymore … call us today and make your appointment for a setting in your home and our studio.  Nothing will give more than your family in vivid, living color mounted in an attractive frame.

It wasn’t just e-magazines, bad economies and professional photographers that made use of the term either.  The Ludington Daily News ran an article in the June 24, 1963 edition entitled “Food Ads Criticized By Agency” in which it was reported:

“Our American system of food distribution is really one of the greatest show on earth,” Whitney said.  “It’s a giant, multi-million-dollar spectacular, staged in vivid living color, and exploding with human interest, scientific marvels, humor, fascinating, behind-the-scenes adventure stories, the snob-appeal of food as a status symbol, the romance of foods of far-away places, the emotional warmth of a mother’s instinctive desire to feed her young.”

Talk about making a leap from five years earlier when, in October 1958, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an advertisement on page 6 in section C that promoted a movie that was reportedly a cinematic wonder on film of the “French love novel that shocked the world!” 

The movie was “A Certain Smile” and was released on September 22, 1958.  It starred Rossano Brazzi, Joan Fontaine and Johnny Mathis, who also sang the theme song, and was the first feature film for actor, Bradford Dillman (who went on to such movies as “The Plainsman” and “The Iceman Cometh”).  The movie hype was based in large part on the fact that the movie was “in vivid, living color!” 

So while the phrase may have been used in conversation, the first published use of the phrase “in vivid, living colour” appears to go back to this movie and no further.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »