Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Ancient Rome’

Naked Truth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 13, 2018

When someone says they want the naked truth, what they are looking for is a complete and unembellished version of the facts.

There’s an old Roman fable that tells the tale of Truth and Falsehood. While Truth was swimming in the river, Falsehood stole his clothes and left behind different clothes for Truth to wear. Rather than put someone else’s clothes on, Truth made the decision to go naked instead. In other words, he would rather be his authentic naked self.

From this fable came the expression nudaque veritas or, in English, the naked truth. The concept of the naked truth is from Ancient Rome, and quite likely much earlier.

The phrase has been used in a great many novels, movies, and television series. There was the 1914 silent Italian film as well as the 1957 British comedy film and the 1992 American comedy film. In the 1915 silent movie “Hypocrites” there was a character known as the Naked Truth.  There were a number of music CDs from such artists as Lil’ Kim in 2005, Sarah Hudson in 2005, Jeanette in 2006, and others. There’s even a quartet in Atlanta (GA) called the Naked Truth!

There was a Russian television program hosted by Svetlana Pesotskaya named The Naked Truth and an American television sitcom starring American actress Téa Leoni from 1995 to 1996 on ABC and from 1996 t0 1998 on NBC.  There’s a Naked Truth statue in St. Louis (MO) that stands as a memorial to three German-American newspaper men: Carl Schurz, Emil Pretorius, and Carl Daenzer.

There’s even a cellphone app by that name!

But when was the exact phrase naked truth first published in English?

Many sources allege the phrase was first published by Scottish Jacobean courtier and poet from the court of King James VI Alexander Montgomerie (1550 – 22 August 1598), and that it was first included in his best known poem “The Cherrie and the Slae” which was written sometime in 1584 although it was completed in 1597. The poem’s existence is based on the fact that a passage was found in James VI’s manifesto “Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie” in late 1584. The phrase was used in this section of the poem.

Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.

It also appeared in “Faultes, faults, and nothing else but faultes” by English author and soldier (he fought in Queen Mary’s war with France, 1557 to 1558) Barnabe Rich (1540 – 10 November 1617) and published in 1606. This implies the phrase was already known to the public.

A naked tale doth most truly set forth a naked truth, and verity then shines most brightly, when she is in least bravery.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Barnabe Rich was a distant relative of Lord Chancellor Rich.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Barnabe Rich’s book “Farewell to Militarie Profession” published in 1581 was the source for Wiliam Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

It also appeared in a letter to the right Honorable Sir William West, Knight and Lord De la Warre written by English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier John Lylie (1553 – 27 November 1606) and published as “Eupheus” subtitled “The Anatomy of Wit: Verie pleasaunt for all Gentlemen to Read, and Most Necessarie to Remember” on 5 December 1578 — six years before Alexander Montgomerie included the phrase in his poem.

If thefe thinges be true, which experience trieth, that a naked tale doeth soft truelye fet soorth the naked trueth, that where the countenaunce is faire, there need no colours, that painting is meeter for ragged walls than fine marble, that veritie then shineth most bright when fhe is in leaft brauerie, I fhall fatiffie mine ovvne minde, thought I cannot feed their humors, which breatly feeke after thofe that fift the fineft meale, and beare the whiteft mouthes.

Now both naked and truth date back in English to the 14th century, with the word truth meaning correctness and accuracy from the 1560s, and naked meaning what it means today. This indicates the expression naked truth dates back to the 1560s (making it the 16th century) for it to have been used in 1578 with an expectation readers would understand what the expression meant.

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Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Back To The Salt Mines

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 24, 2014

Going back to the salt mines idiomatically means that you are resuming work on a task that you don’t find very appealing, whether you’re talking about work, school, or some other activity.  The implication is that the work is requires long hours and is taxing on the person doing the work.  And it shouldn’t be mistaken to mean the same as thing as going back to the drawing board.

Before Idiomation looks at the origins of the expression, an interesting side note is that the word salary has its roots in the word salt.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, salary is from the Latin word salarium.

ad. L. salarium, orig. money allowed to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt, hence, their pay; subst. use of neut. sing. of salarius pertaining to salt, f. sal salt.

When it comes to salt mines, the best known and most productive ones are in Poland (on the north side of the Carpathians); in Salzburg (on the north side of the Alps); in Valentia, Navarre, and Catalonia in Spain; in Cheshire, England; and in Transylvania, Hungary, Bavaria, Switzerland, and Russia.

John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater Jr. wrote the biography “Pure Goldwater” published in 2008.  The book was compiled from the late Senator’s letters and journals as well as guest editorials he wrote and various radio addresses.  John W. Dean and Barry M. Goldwater Jr. admit in the book’s Preface to correcting typos, spelling out abbreviations, adding appropriate punctuation, and including minor editorial clarifications where needed.     The following excerpt is from page 93 in Part II titled, “The Senate Years: 1952 – 1965” in Chapter 7, “Learning How Washington Worked.”

After only a day in Arizona I returned to Washington, back to the salt mines.  Committee work had started on Banking and Currency, and surprisingly, I am finding the work to be delightful.  My business background and training is proving to be most valuable … We haven’t started work on the labor committee yet, but that comes up probably in two weeks …

In the Volume 42, Edition No. 3 edition of “Boy’s Life: The Boy Scout Magazine” published in March 1952, the short story titled, “Rattlesnake Country” by Arnold Bateman and illustrated by Frank Vaughn was published on page 11, and continued on page 48.

The wagon came up at noon and they sprawled in its shade to eat. Barney stayed close to Max, so Nate had no choice to talk any more slow-down stuff.  But when Max grunted and said, “All right, boys, let’s get back to the salt mines,” Nate drifted closer, his eyes hard.

“Not so fast, this afternoon, get it?” he muttered.  “Get some sense in your noggin.  The more we do, the more we’ll have to.  I’ve told Lewis’s gang a few things; they’d better not make us look too bad.  We get paid whether we do a little or a lot.  Watch it, now!”

In the book “Murder Day By Day” by American author, humorist and columnist, Irvin S. Cobb (23 June 1876 – 11 March 1944) published in 1933 he referenced the idiom in all its variations by omitting the specifics and just going with the rest.  The Duke of Paducah from Paducah, Kentucky published 60 books and 300 short stories.  When he became the youngest managing editor at the age of nineteen when he took on the job at the  Paducah Daily News.  In other words, he knew how to write, and how to write effectively.  In this novel, the following passage with the abbreviated idiom was included:

“That would be Terence,” he said.

“Well, Gilly, it’s back to the mines for me, and this day I’ll need to have my brain grinding in two — three different places at once.”

It’s a fact that mining salt has been around for centuries — at least 800 years in North America and before that, stretching back to ancient civilizations.  It’s possible that those who worked the salt mines back in the day used the idiom as well but without evidence, it’s only a guess.

What is known is that in ancient Roman times, prisoners were given the task of salt mining.  It’s also a fact that the life expectancy of prisoners working in salt mines wasn’t very long.  The reason for this was because a prisoner working in the salt mines suffered ongoing health issues (not unlike the physical impact experienced by lepers as well as mental impact experienced by those with Alzheimer’s) that eventually led to death.

But since the idiom back to the salt mines seems to be a variation — with overlapping use in literature — of back to the grindstone and back to the jute mill and back to the boiler factory and back to whatever other industry incorporated hard work and drudgery, Idiomation was unable to identify when this expression came into vogue.

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Head Over Heels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 19, 2013

You may have heard someone you know say he or she is head over heels in love with someone or something. They may be standing right before you making it obvious they are literally head over heels, but what does the idiom mean? What it means is that they are completely enamored with a person or an idea or an item. They may be obsessed or infatuated or engaged or any number of things when it comes to that person, idea or item, but whatever the emotion may be, it’s intense and encompassing. In other words, it has turned the speaker’s world upside down … the opposite of what he or she is used to feeling.

When it comes to love, no one seems immune.  Of course, rumor has it that the bigger they are, the harder they fall!  On April 18, 2008 the New York Daily News ran with a story by feature writer, Nicole Carter, that made the world sit up and take notice of what was going on in Russia. It seemed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was divorcing his wife at the time, was involved with an Olympic Gymnast named Alina Kabayeva. As with many scandals that erupt at the most inopportune time, it came with a snappy headling: “Why Vladimir Putin Fell Head Over Heels In Love With Gymnast.”

Considering that the words in love are added to the idiom indicates that there are times when someone can be head over heels and the expression has little (or nothing) to do with love.  As we have all heard, politics makes for strange bedfellows and back on January 25, 1956 the Lewiston Evening Journal shared the news that something odd was going on in the world of American politics. While few details could be pulled from the article entitled, quite simply, “For Nixon” it began with this eye-opener!

For whatever a poll is worth — the California Republicans are head-over-heels for Vice President Richard Nixon if President Eisenhower doesn’t rerun. So says the daily newspaper, Los Angeles Times. If Ike should run, majorities in both parties are for him.

Back in April 1922, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation released a movie to theaters that starred Mabel Normand, Hugh Thompson and Russ Powell. The movie told the story of three men involved in the life of a perky Italian acrobat who has come to America at a theatrical agent’s bidding. Interestingly enough, because the acrobat is such an adorable spitfire, there’s mayhem a plenty, and maybe more than even she expected when she falls for the theatrical agent’s partner. While it’s true this movie is from the silent movies era, the intertitles didn’t detract from the movie that was known as “Head Over Heels.”

The New York Times has always published articles of political interest to a wide cross-section of its readership. It’s a long-held tradition that can be seen in this article dated May 9, 1860 dealing with the American Anti-Slavery Society and it’s 27th anniversary held at the Cooper Institute. Most of the attendees who half-filled the institute were women. The gathering put forth resolutions condemning slavery. When Wendell Phillips stepped up to the podium to speak, he had a great deal to say about the situation including this quote attributed to a Mr. Seward:

Let it be marked that they (the Abolitionists) didn’t know anything, that they were turned head over heels with their passions — couldn’t see an inch beyond their own ignorance and mistakes — were mere boys — madmen — strong-minded men and women, who did not know anything.

When David Crockett wrote his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee” which was published by Carey, Hart & Co. in 1834. As he wrote about his early days as a young man, fond memories surfaced including this one:

The next day, I went back to my old friend, the Quaker, and set in to work for him for some clothes; for I had now worked a year without getting any money at all, and my clothes were nearly all worn out, and what few I had left were mighty indifferent. I worked in this way for about two months; and in that time a young woman from North Carolina, who was the Quaker’s niece, came on a visit to his house. And now I am just getting on a part of my history that I know I never can forget. For though I have heard people talk about hard loving, yet I reckon no poor devil in this world was ever cursed with such hard love as mine has always been, when it came on me. I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl, whose name the public could make no use of; and I thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all belonged to me, I would give them if I could just talk to her as I wanted to; but I was afraid to begin, for when I would think of saying any thing to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choak me like a cold potatoe.

But he certainly wasn’t the first to use the idiom. In fact, the idiom in years leading up to Davey Crockett’s autobiography was usually intended to mean that an individual had been hit with such force that it toppled him over as evidenced in Herbert Lawrence’s book, “The Contemplative Man, or The History of Christopher Crab, Esq., of North Wales” published by J. Whiston in 1771. Rather than describe a romantic encounter, Herbert Lawrence wrote this:

He gave such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels.

Oddly enough, an earlier variant of the idiom head over heels appears to be heels over head as seen in the Medieval poem, “Patience” from the 14th century:

ORIGINAL TEXT
He [Jonah] glydez in by þe giles, þur glaymande glette … Ay hele ouer hed hourlande aboute.

TRANSLATION
He [Jonah] passed in by the gills, through sticky slime … All heels over head tumbling about.

In the end, however, the idiom seems to originate in Ancient Rome when Roman poet, Gaius Valerius Catallus (84 – 54 BC) wrote his seventeenth poem in “Catulli carmina.” It reads in part:

quendam municipem meum de tuo volo ponte
ire praecipitem in lutum per caputque pedesque,
verum totius ut lacus putidaeque paludis
lividissima maximeque est profunda vorago.

The passage per caputque pedesque translates to over head and heels. So while the more modern romantic version goes to Davey Crocket in 1834, while the original idiom goes to Catallus

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Cut From The Same Cloth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 12, 2011

If you and a friend are cut from the same cloth it means you and your friend share many similarities.  It could be that you and your friend seem to have been reared in a similar fashion or that circumstances molded both of you into having a similar mindset.  Tailors use fabric from the same piece of cloth when making a garment to make sure the pieces match perfectly.  Because there are slight differences between dye lots, it’s important to make garments from the same fabric so that the dye is even.

On August 10, 2008 the Sunday Mercury newspaper in Birmingham, England reviewed the CD “The Long Walk Home” by Neil Ivison and the Misers.  Reviewed by Paul Cole, the opening line of the review was this:

Midland songwriter Neil Ivison is a singer cut from the same cloth as Paul Rodgers but his debut album isn’t a nostalgia trip, instead offering contemporary class and an energy that suggests barnstorming live gigs.

Almost 30 years earlier, the News and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, published an article about Pastor Dr. R.L. Maddox and the Easter Sunday announcement he made to his congregation of 850 church followers.  Perhaps it was coincidental that then-President Jimmy Carter‘s son, Jack, and daughter in law, Judy Carter, were part of the congregation at the time of his announcement as reported in the story, “Ga. Paster To Join Carter Staff.”  The article began with this paragraph:

Dr. R.L. Maddox, who says he is “cut from the same cloth” as President Carter, said Sunday he will leave the First Baptist Church of Calhoun to become a White House speech writer.

The December 25, 1904 edition of the New York Times reviewed Donizetti’s Comedy at the Opera House which was hailed as a sparkling performance. Entitled, “L’Elisir d’Amore and Fidelio Given” the unnamed reviewer gave a succinct and extremely positive review of the performances.  The reviewer stated in part:

It is of the same sort, cut from the same cloth and possessed of the same brilliant gayety.  Its music is still fresh and buoyant — melody of the most facile Donizettian type, graceful and fluent and consorted most dextrously with the rippling comic action.  It is all music that singers of the coloratura style delight to employ their powers in.

On February 10, 1888 the Atlanta Constitution ran a story entitled, “The Bogus Lard Ring” which dealt with members of the Georgia delegation in congress who were opposed to the Dawes and Butterworth bills.  It would appear that the purpose of these bills was designed so additional taxes could be levied on the production of cotton seed oil thereby handicapping the growing southern industry. The article, harsh in its opinion of the proposed bills, stated in part:

It is of a piece with the entire republican system of taxation; it is cut from the same cloth.

Idiomation could continue jumping back in time, however, the earliest version of this saying goes back to Ancient Rome and Latin where the saying was “eiusdem farinae” sometimes written as “ejusdem farinae” which translates into “of the same flour.”   Back in ancient times, it was as important to use flour that was milled at the same time so that one knew what to expect from baked goods.  It’s no different than using the same bolt of fabric so one knows what to expect from a garment that is cut from the same cloth.

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Beat The Air

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 1, 2011

When someone beats the air, it’s because he or she is fighting without accomplishing anything.  If you imagine someone’s arms flailing about at nothing, that’s a good literal representation of the figurative meaning of the phrase beat the air.

On July 17, 2006, the Boston Globe published a story by staff writer, Ron Borges in their Sports section about a boxing match between Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley entitled, “Mosley Back In Picture: Vargas Fades Out.”  It began by reporting the following:

This rematch ended far more decisively than their meeting Feb. 25. Although Mosley stopped [Fernando Vargas] both times, the first fight ended when referee Joe Cortez stepped in to prevent Vargas from fighting the last two rounds because his left eye was swollen shut. When Cortez waved his hands, Vargas beat the air with his fists and insisted he would have beaten down the tiring Mosley had he been given the chance.

The Hartford Courant published a short news article entitled, “Let’s Talk It Over” on December 17, 1944 that stated in part:

How easy it is to pass the buck for our failures, to flounder through life blaming somebody else or even some thing else instead of ourselves. I’m thinking of Hannah, nearing 30. She has a job of a sort ….

It explains how desperate Hannah is to secure a husband and includes this bit of insight:

No wonder he always runs. What a pity no one tips Hannah off. What a shame for her to beat the air from one year to the next.

In New Zealand, the Marlborough Express published a news story on April 21, 1904 about then Opposition leader, Mr. Massey and how the electorate in New Zealand saw both him and his party.  The following is an excerpt of that news story.

It is too late in the day to go back to first principles to find a line of party cleavage.  And to tell the people that the present Government has fallen away from the lines of grace laid down by Mr. Ballance is to beat the air to no purpose.  The old lines are obliterated beyond all human power of redrawing, as Mr. Massey himself admitted when he contended that there is nothing to find fault with in the legislation of the Government, which is the party in power.

On November 5, 1841 the Public Ledger newspaper republished a story run in the Morning Herald entitled, “The Corn-Law Repealers And The Government.”  Lord Melbourne who was said to have “contempt for facts and realities” verbally attacked the Duke of Wellington for “simply stating a truth as palpable to everyone who will use his senses as the nose that completes and adorns his face, and on Saturday morning he was forthwith denounced as a monster and a modern Herod.”  The Duke of Wellington had angered Lord Melbourne because the Duke “announced a fact adverse to dishonest and unsuccessful agitation” and Lord Melbourne was now painting him as “cruel” because the Duke refused to deceive the public.  This comment was included in the story:

Unfortunately for the whig press it might “as well beat the  entrenchant air” as attack the Duke of Wellington; the character of the noble Duke is a national concern; and in whig abuse of his grace the people of England feel themselves insulted.

Going back several centuries to the days of the Apostles, the lower regions of the atmosphere was referred to as air as opposed to the higher regions of the sky which was referred to as the heavens (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 9:2; 16:17).  Ancient philosophers regarded air as an element since they didn’t know that air is essentially a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen with a small amount of carbon dioxide.  This is important to note as the expression beat the air is found in the Bible.  In fact, the earliest published version of the phrase beat the air is attributed to St. Paul.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.  (1 Corinthians 9:26)

While it’s true that boxing was a sport that ancient Romans and ancient Greeks enjoyed, and while it’s true that there are accounts of boxers beating the air prior to a boxing match, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase.

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