Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Ancient China’

Rob Peter To Pay Paul

Posted by Admin on July 20, 2011

Tuesday’s entry at Idiomation stated that making ends meet wasn’t the same as robbing Peter to pay Paul.  That expression means that the solution to a problem creates a new problem that is just as urgent and important to resolve as the original problem.  In other words, in order to solve the first problem, you must take tagged resources from another area, now leaving you with the same problem for the second problem as you were facing with the first problem.

For example, let’s say you have a mortgage payment due in 3 days and a bank loan payment due tomorrow but you don’t have the financial resources to pay both debts due.  If you take money set aside for the mortgage payment and pay the bank loan, this leaves a deficit in the money set aside for the mortgage even though the bank loan has been paid.   You have just robbed Peter to pay Paul.

It’s a phrase that’s found in many languages.  The French know it as “Decouvrir saint Pierre pour couvrir saint Paul.”  The Spanish know it as “Desnudar a uno santo para vestir a otro.”  The German know it as “Dem Peter nehmen und dem Paul geben.”  Yes, this is an expression that has certainly had an impact on a number of cultures around the world that have been touched by Christianity.

Now it’s true that the apostles Peter and Paul share the same Saints’ Day on June 29.  However, before the Reformation, Church taxes had to be paid to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When there wasn’t enough money to pay both taxes, creative financing was introduced. 

At about the same time, Westminster Abbey was known as the Abbey of St. Peter.  After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Abbey of St Peter in the west was the focus of political power, while St Paul’s Cathedral in the east was the focus of the City’s commerce and trade.  The two Churches were linked by the Thames which was the main highway of London.

King Henry VIII then designated the Abbey of St. Peter to become a second Cathedral with its own bishop and diocese. Some of the lands belonging to the Abbey of St. Peter were sold off and used to repair St Paul’s Cathedral.  For many who were loyal to the Abbey of St. Peter, this was seen as robbing [St.] Peter to pay [for St] Paul.

Now that may seem to answer the question as to the origin of the phrase, seeing that two churches — St. Paul’s Church and two different St. Peter Churches — use the exact two names found in the phrase.  However, there is proof of the phrase’s existence prior to this time.

The expression was a common expression nearly 200 hundred years prior to the Church incident.  Oxford scholar, priest and theologian John Wyclif — well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church which he believed to be contrary to the Bible — had this to say in his book “Select English Works” in 1380.

Lord, hou schulde God approve that you robbe Petur and gif is robbere to Poule in ye name of Crist?

While many would like to believe that the phrase is somehow found in the Bible, the fact of the matter is that a similar phrase is found in the Ancient Chinese idiom:

Dismantle the east wall to patch up the west wall.

While this may not refer to either Peter or Paul, the spirit of the phrase is the identical and so while the original expression using the names dates back to at least the 1300s, the original spirit of the expression dates back to Ancient China.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, China, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hold Your Horses

Posted by Admin on April 27, 2011

The expression hold your horses has been around for a long time and both literally and figuratively means to hold back instead of charging forth into something you may not know enough about at the time.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in the Toledo Sunday newspaper of August 3, 1903 entitled, “Say, Mr. Councilman!” that reads in part:

It wouldn’t do you any  harm, Mr. Councilman, to go down to Columbus and take a street car ride.  You can get seven of ’em for a quarter.  You can ride 15 miles for less than 4 cents.  On nice, big, comfortable cars at that.

It isn’t necessary to fight the company.  No necessity for fighting anybody.  This is a business deal.  You are the agent of the people.  They rely on you to see that they don’t get the worst of it.  It’s a big deal.  So wait a minute.  Take your time.  Hold your horses.  Keep your shirt on.  Don’t be a crab.  Or a clam.  Or a dodo. Invoice your stock.  Figure out what you’ve got to sell.  And to whom it belongs.  See if it isn’t worth eight tickets for a quarter and universal transfers, anyhow.

Be true to the people.  Never mind who helped pay your campaign expenses.  There’s no politics in this.  You own no allegiance to any party or politician in strictly business matters.  Here’s a change and a time to do your own thinking.  And your own voting.

In 1855, the steamship George Law, with Lieutenant G. .V. Fox of the United States Navy commanding, left Aspinwall at 12:30 a.m. on March 16 and arrived at Quarantine at 10:30 a.m.k on March 24..  On March 26, 1855 the New York Times reported on what was going on once the steamship arrived at its destination.

The blow given all kinds of business by the Bank failures has been a severe one, and perfectly paralyzing for a time; how long it will last it is impossible to conjecture, but it will probably require a month or so to get things straight again.  Thus far there have been no failures among our merchants, there being an almost entire suspension of payment among them.  No man thinks of forcing collections, knowing it is useless, and there is a sort of mutual understanding and forbearance in that respect that is very creditable to all, and shows a general good feeling.  It certainly is policy, as anything like stringent measures at this time would result in general disaster and ruin.  Consequently there is no money to be had, and we must, in turn, rely on the good sense and good nature of creditors at the East.  That we shall be able to pay after a time is without a doubt, but just at this moment “it can’t be did,” so “hold your horses.”

An edition of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper from September 1844, ran an article that had this line in it:

Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.

At the time, hoss was the slang term for horse and was used interchangeably by people living in America.  In fact, in 1814 Connecticut-born David Humphreys (1752–1818) wrote a comedic play entitled “The Yankey in England” which was published in 1815.  During the Revolutionary War, he had been a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington, and was appointed sole commissioner in Algerine affairs in 1793, among other high-profile posts. “The Yankey in England” told the story of an American Whig and Tory officers meeting a French nobleman and an adventuress.  In the play, he wrote:

The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump.

As early as the 14th century, cannons and mortars of bronze, brass, or iron mounted on two-wheeled carriages became part of military manoeuvres.  Since horses were also part of military manoeuvres, it is very likely that this  expression was part of the language of the day.

What’s more, in Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus’ funeral games sees the son of Atreus call out to Antiochus with the suggestion that he hold his horses.  Let’s not forget that during Roman times, Romans had a man at the ready to hold their horses in the midst of battles. 

And since gunpowder is a Chinese invention, and since horses were also part of the Chinese military even then, it’s very likely that the expression hold your horses has its origins in ancient China.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »