Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Hastings’

Double Dutch

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2011

When’s the last time you heard someone say they heard someone speaking double Dutch?  Anyone who is accused of speaking double Dutch is being accused  by the listener of speaking gibberish.  Double Dutch also happens to be a jump rope game that uses two jump ropes swung simultaneously in opposite directions in a crisscross fashion.

In Chapter IX: Dr. Bauerstein in Agatha Christie’s book “The Mysterious Affair At Styles” written in 1916 and published by John Lane in the United States in October 1920 — published in the UK on January 1921 — the following conversation is written:

“You miss a lot. A really perfect bit of old china–it’s pure delight to handle it, or even to look at it.”

“Well, what am I to tell Poirot?”

“Tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s double Dutch to me.”

“All right.”

I was moving off towards the house again when he suddenly called me back.

“I say, what was the end of that message? Say it over again, will you?”

” ‘Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.’ Are you sure you don’t know what it means?”

I asked him earnestly.

He shook his head.

“No,” he said musingly, “I don’t. I — I wish I did.”

E.W. Hornung‘s book, “Raffles, Further Adventures Of The Amateur Cracksman” — which was also entitled “The Black Mask” in some countries — was published in 1899.  In this book, the following passage is found:

“Ah,” said he, “that was before I knew you were altogether without experience; and I must say that I was surprised even at Mr. Maturin’s engaging you after that; but it will depend upon yourself how long I allow him to persist in so curious an experiment. As for what is the matter with him, my good fellow, it is no use my giving you an answer which would be double Dutch to you; moreover, I have still to test your discretionary powers. I may say, however, that that poor gentleman presents at once the most complex and most troublesome case, which is responsibility enough without certain features which make it all but insupportable. Beyond this I must refuse to discuss my patient for the present; but I shall certainly go up if I can find time.”

In the John Davis book “Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America” published in January 1803, the following exchange happens between the First-mate and Mr. Adams:

First-mate. – You lie! It was one of my countrymen, Madoc ap Owen Gwyneth; I can give you chapter and verse for it.

Madoc wyf mwydic ei wedd
Jawn genau Owen Gwynedd;
Ni fynnwn dir, fy awydd oedd
Na aa mawr ond y Moroedd.

Mr Adams. – What devil language is that? Is it double Dutch coiled against the sun?

First-mate. – It is Welch.  It is what the full-breasted girls talk in the mountains.  If the frigate don’t blow us out of the water, and this fair wind holds, I hope next month to be bowsing some of their jibs up.  If they knew I was coming, they would give the Olive a tow.

By now, readers are possibly asking themselves why the English speak disparagingly about the Dutch language.  The fact of the matter is that when William the Conqueror defeated the British at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he made French the official language among nobility and the upper classes.  Up until that point, English and Dutch were dialects of the same language, sharing a basic Germanic vocabulary.  When English was reinstated as the official language of Britain in the 14th century, generations of peasants had changed the language to such an extent that it no longer resembled Dutch. 

To muddle things up more, some English words had become extinct, some Dutch words survived, and a large number of French words had infiltrated language in Britain in general.  By the time the Dutch Golden Age arrived there were over 2,000 words of Dutch origin in the English language.  And by the time the 16th century arrived, the word Dutch was an insult for anything the English regarded as inferior or contrary to English practice.

All this is why the English have referred to language they cannot understand as double Dutch.  While there is some Dutch in the English language, when a listener cannot make heads or tails of the conversation and it has become incomprehensible to him, it’s as if there’s double the amount of Dutch in the conversation than what someone is used to hearing normally.  This is what, in the opinion of the English of the 16th century, made the language inferior to English and so it is tagged as double Dutch by the listener.

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Au Contraire

Posted by Admin on September 22, 2010

The phrase “au contraire” means to strongly  suggest that the opposite of what is being presented is really the case.  However, over the decades, the phrase has taken on a slightly campy context and is found in cartoons, books, plays, films, etc., when drama and humour are meant to tackle an impossible situation as presented by the character.

The first major struggle in England was to get legal texts into English instead of in French or Latin.  The problem of using English came about in 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  In defeating the Anglo-Saxons, William became the King of England.  William and his followers spoke a type of French and all of their legal documents were in Latin, and French.  

English, by contrast, was considered the language of the defeated class who was also considered to be of lower class than that of their vanquisher. 

Even though English was the language of the common man in England, all legal proceedings were in French until the Statute of Pleading was enacted in 1362.  This statute stated that all pleas were to be “pleaded, shewed, defended, answered, debated, and judged in the English Tongue.” 

So while the phrase “au contraire” has been used by anglophones for centuries, it became part of the English language some time after 1362 despite its humble French beginnings.

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

Heavens To Murgatroyd

Posted by Admin on June 21, 2010

The phrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd” is considered to be a mild oath even though Snagglepuss from The Yogi Bear Show was known to use the phrase on a regular basis.  Before Snagglepuss, Bert Lahr  — the actor who played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz — spoke the phrase in the 1944 film Meet the People starring Dick Powell and Lucille Ball.

But who was Murgatroyd and what did he do that made him so famous that his name is known to this very day?

The surname is derived from the Medieval personal name Margaret and the Middle English word “royd” which means “clearing.”  So Mergatroyd is actually Margaret’s clearing.

Murgatroyd is a family name in the English aristocracy, found written down in books in Yorkshire where the family held a seat as Lords of the Manor prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.    The language of the courts after the Battle of Hastings was french for the next three centuries however, the name resurfaced in 1379 when John Mergetrode was listed as holding estates in the shire.

So when you hear someone say “Heavens to Murgatroyd” that’s quite a distance from beautiful place to beautiful place!

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »