Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

The Customer Is Always Right

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2021

Many of us have grown up hearing adults say the customer is always right (which may or may not be true) and not given that expression a second thought. It means that if someone is unhappy about a product, a service, or a situation, whoever is responsible for providing that product, service or creating that situation is responsible for fixing the problem so the unhappy person is happy once again.  It usually applies to businesses, but occasionally someone will use the idiom about a social situation.

In 1944, an article titled “Are Customers Always Right” appeared in The Rotarian magazine, authored by Hughston M. McBain (9 February 1902 – 19 May 1977), then-President of Marshall Field & Co in Chicago.

War, with all its ersatz goods and shortages of competent help, has vastly multiplied these problems — raising anew the old question: Is the customer always right?

My own answer — based on statistic involving some 500,000 regular patrons of our Chicago store — is that 85 to 90 percent of complaining customers are definitely and demonstrably right, that 90 percent believe they are right, and that less than one percent are bent on “gypping” the merchant.

The article stated that while sellers had an obligation to the buyer, so too did the buyer have an obligation to the seller. While Mr. McBain was quick to point out that WWII had put the relationship under “almost unendurable strains,” sellers were still running with unwavering policy that the customer is always right even in the face of taking “terrible losses on returns” they were also “holding customer confidence” through liberal adjustments and credits.

So the customer may not always be right, but a good business will leave the impression that this is true even when it isn’t.

In January 1911, the Kansas City Star reported on a local country store modeled after Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Selfridge’s in London.

Scott has done in the country what Marshall Field did in Chicago, Wannamaker did in New York and Selfridge in London. In his store he follows the Field rule and assumes that the customer is always right.

The phrase “the customer is always right” is oftentimes claimed to have been originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge (11 January 1858 – 8 May 1947), the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London (and former Marshall Field’s employee). It’s said though that he never intended for the expression to be taken literally. What he was striving for was to sell people on the idea that customers shopping at his department store were special — more special than if they were shopping at some other department store — and by virtue of being special, the staff treated them better than staff would treat them at some other department store.

But did Selfridge really coin the expression? The December 1909 edition of “Good Housekeeping Magazine” is certainly familiar with the expression.

We have made a deep study of all this and our policy of regarding the customer as always right, no matter how wrong she may be in any transaction in the store, is the principle that builds up the trade. She is wrong, of course, lots of times. She takes advantage of privileges accorded her; she is inconsiderate of the earnest efforts of sales people; she causes delay and loss through carelessness or ignorance, but it all goes down in the budget of expenses for running the store and is covered, like other expenses, in the price of the goods.

It’s doubtful, if Selfridge coined the phrase in London, that it would be so casually discussed in an American magazine in 1909. So perhaps the idiom wasn’t coined by Selfridge after all.

A year earlier in 1908, the Swiss hotelier César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was quoted as saying le client n’a jamais tort which translates into the customer is never wrong.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: César Ritz founded the Hôtel Ritz in Paris as well as the Ritz and Carlton Hotels in London. His last name is the origin of the word ritzy and what it means.

However, it was Marshall Fields (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) who was famous for saying, “Give the lady what she wants” as well as “The customer is always right” when he partnered with Potter Palmer at his first department store in the US. He was quoted by the Boston Herald on 3 September 1905 using that exact saying. A few weeks later on 24 September 1905, he was quoted using the same idiom in the Boston Daily Globe. In fact, what was reported was this:

Every employe, from cash boy up, is taught absolute respect for and compliance with the business principles which Mr. Field practices. Broadly speaking, Mr. Field adheres to the theory that “the customer is always right.” He must be a very untrustworthy trader to whom this concession is not granted.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Harry Gordon Selfridge began his career working for the Marshall Field store in Chicago before building his London store. At the time, it was well-known that Marshall Field’s stores prided themselves in putting the customer first.

In fact, in the November 1919 edition of “System: The Magazine of Business” the history of Marshall Field’s use of the idiom was given a clear explanation as to how it came about.

Field, it is well known, was the first to say “the customer is always right.” It was Potter Palmer, Field’s predecessor and for a time his partner, who had originated the practice of accepting returns from any customer who was not satisfied, and refunding the purchase price. This made the customer the sole judge whether he should keep the merchandise. Field’s policy went a long step farther and made the customer the sole judge, or practically the sole judge, of all issues between himself and the house.

Except that the idiom was the first to not only say “the customer is always right” but to put it into practice as the central creed of the Palmer system. Having opened a small store on Lake Street in Chicago in 1852, he set about creating a business unlike any other.

Because he didn’t have much credit or money, and unable to have a large stock for his store, he found a different way to attract customers. He took the time to display his goods in the most attractive way on store shelves and tables, and gook to using the overlooked space in the store’s windows. He catered primarily to women and took the time the educate himself on what items were of special interest to women even if their husbands and fathers disagreed with their wives and daughters.

He hired sales staff and instructed them to memorize the names and preferences of their customers. They were not allowed to use pressure tactics to induce a sale, and were directed to attend to the purchasing needs of their customers. And no matter how difficult or demanding a customer might be, he directed his staff to remember the customer was always right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Potter Palmer (20 May 1826 – 4 May 1902) was an American businessman who was responsible for most of the development of most of the downtown district and Lake Shore Drive areas of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Potter Palmer was responsible for a number of innovations in retail business including “bargain days” (which were the predecessors to “sales days”), money back guarantees, and free home delivery of all purchases made at his store.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Potter Palmer’s store was the one store in Chicago at the time where women could go unescorted without concern whether their person or their reputation might be damaged in shopping at a store unescorted.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Potter Palmer built a ball field in 1868 for the Chicago White Stocking baseball club which later became the Chicago Cubs baseball club (not to be confused with the Chicago White Sox which adopted the abandoned Chicago White Stocking name originally in a completely different baseball league).

The spirit of the expression exists in Germany where businesses insist der Kunde ist König or the customer is king. In Japan, the saying is okyakusama wa kamisama desu (お客様は神様です) which means the customer is god.  That expression was made popular by Haruo Minami (19 July 1923 – 14 April 2001).

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier account of the expression than that dating back to Potter Palmer and his store in Chicago in 1852, and acknowledges that the first print version of the adage is credited to Potter Palmer’s protégé Marshall Field. Idiomation therefore puts this expression to 1852 with a nod to Marshall Field with a secondary nod to Harry Gordon Selfridge who worked for Marshall Field before opening his own store in London.

One last note: Remember that when you live by the adage the customer is always right, you are also defaulting to giving that customer the benefit of the doubt which is another idiom for another entry.

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

Argue With A Fence Post

Posted by Admin on October 13, 2015

Someone who would argue with a fence post is someone who enjoys arguing for argument’s sake.  In fact, they’re so argumentative and so stubborn that they don’t care who their opponent is.  Someone who will argue with a fence post is someone who will argue with anyone at any time … and sometimes with everyone all the time.

Robert Reno’s column in the News-Journal of November 18, 1993 took on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and what Bill Clinton was up to at the time.  While  he could have stated his position with more bite, he chose to say that Clinton’s first year as president taught Americans that their President was a master of the art of moving target politics.  The article titled, “Clinton A Moving Target” made good use of the idiom in this paragraph.

And where did they find him this week?  In their own bed, on NAFTA at least.  Clearly — unless he self-destructs from the weight of his own style — the Republicans are never going to defeat this guy by debating him.  That’s his briar patch.  He’d argue with a fence post.

The idiom was also used in an article in the “Lutheran Society for Worship, Music and the Arts” magazine published in 1961 by the University of Virginia.

Has the church neglected the Upper Ten?  We have.  We have piously sat back on our own justification by faith and said:  “Poor fellow! Just educated himself right out of his faith.  Read too much, heard too much, intellectualized too much.  I really feel sorry for him”; or “Well, after all, you can’t argue with a fence post, and he doesn’t want the truth; he only wants an argument.”

Philip Beaman published a book of idioms titled, “Eastern North Carolina Sayings: From Tater Patch Kin to Madder than a Wet Setting Hen” in February 2014.  For those who haven’t heard of the author, he comes from a family of nine children, and was raised on a tobacco farm in rural East North Carolina.  Despite holding four college degrees and having invested 35 years as an educator, he continues to live in rural North Carolina.  Philip Beaman’s book is filled with idioms he heard as a child.  Born in 1936, that means that what he heard was were established sayings members in the community understood in the 1940s including the one about arguing with a fence post.

It’s difficult to trace back this idiom although it’s considered to be primarily a southern expression.  That being said, Idiomation came at this challenge from the other direction.  What society understands a fence to be is found in legal documents in England as early as the 1600s, and the term as we understand it to mean, was used in laws that were made in Virginia beginning in 1631.

By 1646, fence laws were such that the legal definition of a lawful fence was one that was four and a half feet above ground and at least a half-foot below ground.  In other words, the fence, by law, had to be substantial at the bottom, and it had to be a sturdy fence.  Fence posts were to be no farther than twelve feet apart, and on the forty-two inches that were above ground, they were to have at least three boards firmly attached to them.  The fences were to be made of timber which was plentiful in most of western Virginia.

What’s more, the laws that were enacted at the time were strict and could not be argued because of the great amount of detail that was part of the law on fences.  Additionally, any filed fence agreements between landowners were binding between successive generations and successive landowners.

In other words, once a fence was erected and once there was a filed fence agreement between neighbors, nothing could be done to bring that fence down.  It was to stay up and it was to be maintained by both property owners who shared the fence between them.

If the idiom in its entirety is considered, it would seem that the idiom sprung from the fence laws of Virginia.

He would argue with a fence post, then pull up the post and argue with the hole.

Based on the fence laws, arguing with the fence post or the hole in which it was sunk would have no effect on the fence post or the hole, no matter how much the other person argued the point.  If someone argued over the fence laws of the day, they weren’t going to get anywhere and they knew they weren’t going to get anywhere. it would have to be someone who loved to argue to argue any aspect of the fence law.

While Idiomation was unable to peg an exact date when the idiom was first used, the reason for the idiom seems to lead directly back to the fence laws of Virginia in the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Grassroots

Posted by Admin on January 27, 2015

Whenever you hear someone talk about a grassroots movement or a grassroots organization or any other sort of grassroots construct, what they’re talking about is something that wasn’t adapted from an existing situation.  The other part is that whatever is described as being grassroots is basic and fundamental.  In other words, it is something that is from, and involves, everyday people in contrast with those things that are from what is perceived to be from, and involving, the elite whether one is talking what is corporate or what is political.  It’s all about getting back to basics.

That being said, the elite have been known to co-opt the word to push their own agendas without marginalizing the meaning of the expression.  An example of this is from June 10, 2004 as proven by the Boca Raton News about the Test Drive4W program that was run in support of President Bush’s campaign.  The program saw thousands of volunteers across American making phone calls and going door-to-door contacting voters to increase the number of voters who would be casting a ballot that November.  The newspaper ran the article under the heading, “Bush Campaign Testing Its Massive Grass-roots Organization.”

The term, however, isn’t used only in politics.  The Dispatch newspaper published in Lexington, North Carolina on August 5, 1986 published a news article about the National Opera Company that toured with the slogan, “Let’s knock the high hat off of opera.”  The opera company, founded (and financed) in 1948 by the late Raleigh lawyer and businessman, A.J. Fletcher, was one that focused on operas sung in English.

The opera company was known for many things not the least was travelling without a grand orchestra, without grand scenery, and without anything else that could be considered grand.  The snobbishness that many associated with opera was decidedly absent when it came to the National Opera Company, and for this reason, the article was titled, “Company Presents Grass Roots Opera.”

Going back to February 20, 1964 the Palm Beach Post newspaper published an article titled, “Currency Use Proposal Would Help Foreigners.”  The proposal mentioned in the news story was an idea proposed by Tom Hall Miller, president of American Partners, Inc., and it was presented to the House Agriculture Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.  The article read in part:

American Partners, Miller told the committee, is incorporated as a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, former less than 2 years ago, to promote the private enterprise concept at the grassroots level in developing countries by recruiting the interest of U.S. citizens and organizations in giving financial and technical help to establish and expand small businesses in countries requiring such assistance.

The Republican party held a “Grass Roots Conference” in Springfield, Illinois back in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The Milwaukee Journal reported on this in the June 12, 1935 edition in an article entitled, “Grass Roots Conversion” that began with this paragraph:

The only proposals of the Grass Roots convention for reviving and regenerating the Republican party are bodily taken over from the Roosevelt program.  This is the significant, almost sensational, thing in the resolutions adopted at Springfield.  Where they go beyond the Republican platform of 1932, they go with Roosevelt.

The misperception of the term is that its earliest use was by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana in a speech he gave at the Progressive Party Convention of 1912 where he was quoted as saying, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”  However, there are earlier instances of the idiom being used in its current spirit that dates to before its utterance in 1912.

New York Tribune of September 09, 1907 reported:

In regard to his political views Mr. Perry has issued the following terse platform: “I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment.”

The Mr. Perry mentioned in the article was Adolphus Edward Perry (1867 – 1939) who, at the time, was the vice-chairman of the Oklahoma State Committee.  In political parlance, he was known as “Dynamite Ed.”  He was a man with an interesting past, having been born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada of American parents, and contributing greatly to the state of Oklahoma as an adult.

Jay Elmer House published a collection of short stories in 1905.  In the Foreword to his book, the author stated that “the people of whom I have written I knew intimately and well.  Most of them were, and are, my close friends.  In only one or two instances have I taken the trouble to conceal their identity under assumed names.  In nearly every incident or episode spread upon these pages I had a part.  It always seemed to me that the humble folk I knew in boyhood were as interesting as those of more pretentious circumstances with whom my lot has fallen in later years.”  This clearly explains the reason for entitling the book, “At The Grassroots.”

All that being shared, the term actually is a mining term that dates back to the 1870s, and refers to the soil just beneath the ground’s surface.  During the Gold Rush, advertisers oftentimes teased potential speculators with tales of gold being found “at the grass-roots” with the most basic of tools.  Unfortunately, more often than not, speculators who took these advertisers at their words found nothing but hard rock “at the grass-roots” whether they used basic tools or fancier tools, and came away with no gold at all.

The sense that basic tools could be used “at the grass-roots” grew into the sense that grass-roots meant getting back to basics.  For that reason, the literal sense of the idiom dates back to the mid-1870s while the figurative sense dates back to shortly thereafter.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hot As A Two Dollar Pistol

Posted by Admin on April 10, 2014

Sometimes similar sounding idioms have different meanings.  Sometimes those similar sounding different meaning idioms have a common root.  Sometimes the idiom hot as a two-dollar pistol refers to how angry someone is.  Sometimes it means that others find that person attractive.  And in some cases, it refers to the weather.

In Gary C. Walker‘s 2008 novel, “Son Of The South” the idiom is used to describe a third party’s frame of mind.

It was late afternoon Thursday before Hank called me into the office. “Guess you know I went to see Lawrence?”  I nodded that I did.  Hank continued, “We talked for some time.  He was as hot as a two-dollar pistol at you.  You embarrassed him in front of his guests.  You cased him to lose face.  He thought you had deceived him by making believe you could read.  He was hoping he would never see your face around Anchor and Hope again.”

In Laurie Norlander‘s 2013 novel, “Mirror Images” the image is used to describe a third party’s physical attributes.

Frank shook his head.  “It’s hard to imagine someone like Chris killing himself.  What with all his money and a wife as hot as a two dollar pistol.”

And in Jessie Fernandes‘ 2011 novel, “Rough Ride On A High Horse” it describes the weather.

The next morning, I rose exhausted from a humid night filled with nightmares about Billy. It was as hot as a two-dollar pistol again.  The minute I opened the kitchen door, Buck raced out across the yard and into the pasture.  Cleo acted as lethargic as I felt and refused to leave the kitchen.  As soon as I finished setting Edna and Claude up for the day, Buck and I also sought the comfort of indoors.  Ceiling fans were adequate, but sometimes I envied Lynn’s air-conditioning.

The idiom was used in the 1944 movie “Trocadero.”  An interesting but little recognized bit of pop culture came about in this movie about a newspaper columnist in search of a good news story for his Sunday column.  In the story, the club decides to move from the traditional big band sound to add a swing band — a genre of music that was hot back east but not nearly as well known on the west coast.  Slipped into the dialogue, you’ll hear the comment about someone being as hot as a two-dollar pistol.

Did any handgun ever cost two dollars?  From what Idiomation found in the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalogue, pistols sold for anywhere between sixty-eight cents and up.  Here’s an image of the less expensive pistols available by mail order.

IMAGE 1
The mid-range pistols can be seen in this image from the Sears Roebuck catalogue of 1897.

IMAGE 2

In the Scientific American magazine (established in 1845) published an article in the December 13, 1879 edition that made reference to two-dollar pistols (and not in a complimentary fashion either) in an article entitled, “The Scientific American As An Educator Of The Young.”

The intellectual society which young people enjoy tells upon their moral and mental character not how powerfully than do their social affiliations.  The devourer of sensational stories is as little likely to excel in studies requiring patient effort and sobriety of mind, as the habitual reader of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN is to run away with a two-dollar pistol and a brierwood pipe, to hunt buffaloes and slay Indians on the plains.

The recognized marked brand names in the United States were Colt (1836), Remington (1848), Smith & Wesson (1857) and Winchester (1866).  They were promoted via print advertisements among other promotional and marketing avenues.  But with success comes knock-offs, and it wasn’t long before customers were being warned about counterfeits and patent infringements.

To combat this, Colt published a flyer called, “Simple Reasons For Preferring Colt’s Arm To All Others.”  It listed 14 reasons why Colt was the brand to buy.  Among those reasons, #5 and #7 addressed the issue of inferior quality of counterfeits and those that infringed on Colt’s patents.

5.  They leave no burning paper in the barrel after a discharge, to block the next cartridge into your face, as do the guns which open from behind.

7.  They are made of the best steel that can be procured for money, and have the strength to resist the explosive force of gunpowder, while the mongrel imitations and cheap arms are clumsily made of cast iron or inferior materials, and are more dangerous to their owners than they are to all others.

Obviously, a poorly made gun that kept burning paper in it would become hot at best (and blow up in your face at worst) with each shot fired.  And a poorly made gun would be one the manufacturer intended to sell at a cut-rate price.

History relates that a good pistol cost the equivalent of nearly a month’s wages for a cowboy; in the 1870s, a cowboy generally earned $25 per month.  Back in 1873, the Colt Peacemaker — also known as the gun that won the West — sold for $17.

A pistol that sold for $2 wasn’t much of a pistol at all.  In fact, it was a bargain basement pistol that no self-respecting cowboy would be seen carrying.

In the end, the expression — whether it’s used to mean hot as in the weather or hot to the touch or hot as in temperament — originates from the very real problems created by $2 pistols with their heated barrels and potential to explode when used.  For this reason, Idiomation pegs the expression to the 1850s when Colts, Remingtons, Smith & Wessons, and Winchesters were doing brisk sales, and counterfeiters were trying to muscle in on those sales.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Two-Gun Sam

Posted by Admin on April 7, 2014

Today’s idiom is one that is found in a conversation between Frannie Goldsmith and her father, Peter, in Chapter 6 of “The Stand.”

“I don’t know. I never had a pregnant daughter before and am not sure just how I should take it. Was it that Jess?”
She nodded.
“You told him?”
She nodded again.
“What did he say?”
“He said he would marry me. Or pay for an abortion.”
“Marriage or abortion,” Peter Goldsmith said, and drew on his pipe. “He’s a regular two-gun Sam.”

When Stephen King wrote about two-gun Sam was he thinking of the Yosemite Sam cartoon character?  You know the one. He’s the short cowboy with a fiery red handlebar mustache and huge voice who is known to have a hair-trigger temper, and who brandishes two guns most of the time.  Bugs Bunny has made quite the sport of antagonizing Two-Gun Sam at every turn.

In any case, just because Yosemite Sam is a literal two-gun Sam, does this mean that the idiom originated with the cartoon character?

Friz Freleng created Yosemite Sam (whose animation real name — as opposed to his animation nickname — is Samuel Michelangelo Rosenbaum) in 1944 for the animated short, “Stage Door Cartoon” where the character appeared as a southern sheriff.  The following year, he appeared in “Hare Trigger” alongside Bugs Bunny.

Fourteen years before Yosemite Sam was created, Volume 1 of “The Haverfordian” published in November 1930, made mention of Two-Gun Sam.  The magazine was a monthly publication that focused on fostering “the literary spirit among the undergraduates.”  Contributions were solicited, and considered for publication solely on their merits. The editor, Lockhart Amerman advised the Haverfordian readership of the following:

Beginning with this number and continuing for several more numbers, the HAVERFORDIAN will shoulder the white mans burden and publish “Uncle Bob’s Kiddies’ Page,” by Harris Shane, author of “Two Gun Sam,” “Blood on the Desert,” “The Maverick Murderers” and “Dainty Desserts for Summertime.

Going back to 19264 and a book of short stories titled, “Counter Currents.”  The stories were written by Elsie Janis and Marguerite Aspinwall and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.  In one of the short stories, the idiom was used a handful of times including, but are not limited to, page 149:

“Two of them,” Jinny decreed. “You can borrow mine if you haven’t an extra one. You’re to be Two-Gun Sam  — how’s that for a name?  Wear them low on your hips like that tin-horn gambling cowboy at Bar 13 last year.

And page 155:

“This, ladies and gentlemen,” turning on the room at large with a flourish, “is Two-Gun Sam, the Bad Man of the Stillwater Range.  Kind of short on patience and long on straight shooting.”

During the Civil War, a large side-wheel steamer known as the Uncle Sam was commissioned by the Union Navy and renamed the USS Black Hawk.  It was an impressive river gunboat armed with the following guns: two 30-pounder Parrot rifles, two 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two heavy 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two Union repeating guns, and one B&R gun.  It’s easy to see why it was colloquially referred to as the two-gun Sam.

In a song book compiled by George Stuyvesant Jackson entitled, “Early Songs Of Uncle Sam” the song “The Battle of Stonington” is included.  As students of American history know, the Battle of Stonington was part of the War of 1812.  While the book was published in the 20th century, it has a bibliography that proves the authenticity of the songs.  One of the verses of the “Battle of Stonington” figures two guns prominently.

What many may not know is that during the War of 1812, the cartoon character of Uncle Sam was first used to symbolize the United States government.  In September 1813, the name “Uncle Sam” began to appear in newspapers by journalists who opposed the war, using the term as an insult to American soldiers and government officials alike.

Why was calling anyone “Uncle Sam” an insult?

Because Sam was considered a euphemism in polite society for the devil.  If an individual linked Sam with something or someone he or she believed was evil, the implication was that the devil was obviously involved.

Idiomation therefore pegs two-gun Sam to the War of 1812 without a doubt.  Sorry about that, fans of Yosemite Sam.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Talking Turkey

Posted by Admin on December 18, 2013

When someone talks turkey, they’re being honest and direct about an issue. The intention is to discuss something seriously, and to resolve the issues that are part of the issue.

On November 23, 2013, Directors Magazine published an article with information compiled by Mark Newel, Jon Campbell and Lou Yost. The focus was on geographical locations across America that had key Thanksgiving themes in their names such as Turkey, Pilgrim, and Cranberry. The article was aptly titled, “USGS: Let’s Talk Turkey Across The Landscape.”

In Volume 39 of the Magazine of Business published in 1921, an article titled, “Over The Executive’s Desk” used the idiom repeatedly. The opening paragraph read thusly:

When business folks begin to “talk turkey,” interest grows. And those interested in the “talk” work, think and progress with increasing intensity. This is not theory; we all know it to be a fact. It was on this principle that the general sales manager of the American Slicing Machine Company based his campaign against tardiness and absenteeism in the office.

The American Clay Magazine reported on anything and everything relating to clay workers and the clay industry. Published by the American Clay Machinery Company, the company was touted as a brick manufacturer that not only made bricks, but one that also made a speciality of building machinery adapted to every peculiarity of clay regardless of location or country in which the clay was found. In one of the 1907 issues, one of the articles discussed the continuous kiln in Youngstown on the Bessimer yards, and within that article the following was stated:

But shaw! what’s the use of talking to you, Mr. Brickmaker, about the benefits of a brick home. What is necessary is for you to talk turkey to your customers or rather to those who ought to be your customers. You are missing a heap of good business every day and if you put up the rich argument you could get it. We’ve been trying to help you on the selling end of the game by printing selling talk and selling articles — matter which boosts brick.

In “John Beedle’s Sleigh Ride, Courtship, and Marriage” by Captain William L. McClintock of the U.S. Army and published by C. Wells in New York back in 1841, an amazing story that was actually a collection of anonymous writings published in the Portland Courier over the years, under the pen name of John Neal. Under the section of “Marriage” the following can be found in this book:

Patty Bean was not the first that I run against by a long shot. I never lost any thing for want of asking; and I was plaguy apt to begin to talk turkey always when I got sociable, if it was only out of politeness. Now then one would promise, and then fly off at the handle; but most all contrived some reason or other for giving me the bag to hold.

The Niles Weekly Register, Volume 52 of June 3, 1837 alleges that the Oneida Democrat attributed the phrase to a Native American Indian and told a humorous story that allegedly passed between a white man and a Native American Indian that resulted in the idiom.  This story first appears in print in 1837 but is repeated with multiple variations to the story throughout the 1840s with the story happening in a number of states, and the companion bird sometimes being a crow and sometimes an owl.  Based on this, the story is most likely an urban myth of the time period.

Prior to the publication of Captain McClintock’s story in book form in 1841, the complete story was printed in serialized form in Atkinson’s Casket of 1835, with attribution to the Portland Advertiser newspaper. In fact, in Atkinson’s Casket, Chapter III (where the idiom is used), is introduced in this way:

All who have heretofore read the “Sleigh Ride” and “The Courting” will need no further recommendation of the following, than to be informed that it is from the same gifted pen from the Portland Advertiser.

Since the idiom was used in this story dating back to at least 1835, it is reasonable to peg it to at least 1800 in light of the fact that Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published date for this idiom than the one in the Atkinson’s Casket edition of 1835.

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

Black Friday

Posted by Admin on November 29, 2013

The expression Black Friday — outside of its use to describe the Friday after American Thanksgiving — is applied to any Friday when a public calamity happens. It’s most often applied to calamities that are associated with finances, however.

On July 16, 1966 the Leader-Post newspaper reported about Britain’s new economic crisis where millions of pounds were wiped off market value of shares according to a news story entitled, “Wilson Hit Hard On Black Friday.” The second paragraph reported:

It was called Black Friday in the financial district. It was a Black Friday for Wilson politically as well, with a stunning byelection defeat of the government and reports of a cabinet tussle between two senior ministers.

When the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal was rolled out on April 10, 1932 one of the news stories dated April 9, 1932 and out of Washington that dealt with the long deferred investigation of the New York stock exchange situation where a group of traders planned to raid the market in an attempt to collapse the market. The article read in part:

One member of the senate banking and currency committee declared the reports indicated the raiders hoped to cause a more sensational decline on prices than occurred on the “Black Friday” of October 1929.

Jumping back almost 50 years, an article was published on February 23, 1881 in the Owosso American newspaper that talked about the Funding Bill that forced banks to call in their loans and where brokers refused to buy stock on margins. It was reported that the stock exchange was in pandemonium. It was also reported that while the fall in stocks was significant, it was nothing equal to the panic of 1873. The article was entitled, “Another Black Friday In Wall Street.”

It was the New York Times edition of March 1, 1870 that spoke of the original Black Friday of September 24, 1869 when Jay Gould and James Fisk Jr. cause the gold market to collapse in an attempt to corner it. The Congressional Committee appointed to ask into the circumstances of that day head that Messrs. Gould and Fisk along with their associates had tried to force gold to 100 premium and in doing so, the gold market actually collapsed when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered a release of government gold for sale. The created the situation where gold prices to plummeted thereby creating a panic in the stock market. The article was entitled, “The History Of Black Friday.”

At the time, Black Friday caused a scandal as some speculated that President Ulysses S. Grant (27 April 1822 – 23 July 1885) had been complicit in the scheme. This potential scenario was offered up in light of the fact that the president’s brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin (May 24, 1808 – March 28, 1881) and Secretary of the Treasury, George Sewall Boutwell (January 28, 1818 – February 27, 1905) were involved in the scheme, coupled with the fact that President Grant had personal associations with Messrs. Gould and Fisk Jr.

The use of the expression Black Friday first appeared with this scandal and for this reason, Black Friday is pegged to this event in history back in 1869.

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