Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘black out’

Brown Out (as in “censorship”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 6, 2011

Brown out as in “censorship” means that some information is available to the media and the general public, but not all of the information is made available.  An example of this would be to provide basic information to the media and general public about legal proceedings while maintaining that some of the information is confidential and cannot be shared with the media and the general public.

On November 6, 1955 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published an article entitled, “Current Events Reports: Probe On Government Secrecy” by Richard Spong.  It reported:

A House Government Operations subcommittee is beginning hearings on an alleged “brown out” of information by government agencies.  A new House Subcommittee study of federal agency information policy should, in the words of Chairman John E. Moss (D., Calif.) “show the public the extent to which there has been a brown out of information about the public’s business.”

A recent expression that Idiomation was unable to trace back prior to the early 1950s, a brown out as it refers to censorship is a derivative of the expression black out.

See “black out” for additional information.

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Brown Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 3, 2011

Brown out as in “no power” (electricity) is a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply, so named because it typically causes lights to dim.  A controlled power reduction decreases the voltage on the power lines, so customers receive weaker electric current.  Brown outs can be used if total power demand exceeds the maximum available supply. The typical household does not notice the difference.

On December 28, 1965 the New York Times ran a story entitled “Merchants Fight Rome Traffic Ban, Plan Brown-Out of Stores To Force End Of Test.”  The first paragraph read:

Merchants in central Rome voted tonight to “brown out” their stores and eventually close them if the city persisted in an experimental curb on movement of private vehicles in a 35-block shopping and residential area.

During World War II, the New York Times published an article on December 11, 1943 entitled, “WPB Aide Assaults Brownout Cheats; Lack Of Voluntary Cooperation In Saving Needed Power Scored By Vanneman.”  The first paragraph read:

An end of unnecessary brilliance in the lighting of the Broadway sector and some other parts of the city was urged yesterday by Donald K. Vanneman, government requirements representative of the War Production Board, who said that “too many” business establishments had failed to do their part in the voluntary brownout intended to conserve electric power, coal and other resources. 

As you can see, the expression brown out in this instance is a derivative of the expression black out from the World War II era.

See “black out” for additional information.

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Brown Out (as in “unconscious”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 2, 2011

Brown out as in “unconscious” is the dimming of vision caused by loss of blood pressure or hypoxia.  It is sometimes referred to as a grey-out

A brown out can be caused by any number of things however the most common causes are shock, standing up  too quickly, experiencing positive g-force, or, oddly enough, hyperventilation from such activities as the fainting game or self-induced hypocapnia.  

Full recovery from a brown out is rapid and can be reversed quickly and effectively by lying down.  This allows the cardiovascular system to allow blood to reach the brain.

Interestingly enough, brown outs are the reverse of red outs — reddening of the vision — which is the result of negative G forces.  During brown outs, individuals can still hear, feel and speak.

A brown out can also refer to a night of heavy alcohol consumption where the individual remembers some of what happened during the time alcohol was consumed but with periods of time within that time frame where there is no recollection of what happened.  This definition has been around since the early 1980s.

Even though it’s a lesser known expression, along with the expression black out, brown out has its roots in the 1940s.

See “black out” for additional information.

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Black Out (as in “censorship”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 1, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

Preventing or silencing information or communication, either in its entirety or in part, is derived from the 15th century word “blackening” which means to defame a person.  In other words, if someone was the subject of a negative commentary on his person, it was said that the speaker was “blackening” the subject’s reputation.

It’s only from a black out — keeping the “blackening” from being expressed to others — that the subject could maintain a pristine reputation, whether it was warrantedor not.

The Milwaukee Journal of May 21, 1984 ran a news bite with the headline, “Bucks Black Out USA Telecast” and continued with this additional information in the first paragraph:

The National Basketball Association playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics Monday night, scheduled to be televised by the USA Network, will be blacked out within a 35-mile radius of the City of Milwaukee.

On October 8, 1965 the Windsor Star ran a news story entitled, “Reds Black Out Moon Shot News” that reported on the Soviet space program.  It read in part:

The Soviets today placed a news black-out on the face of Luna 7 hours after the space rocket was to have reached the surface of the moon.  All indications were that the unmanned instrument probe failed to make a soft landing.

Oddly enough, a black out doesn’t always have to be caused by the media as shown by an article in the Palm Beach Post on September 25, 1950 entitled, “Smoke From Canadian Fires Black Out Much Of The North.”  The story addressed the thick layers of smoke coming from Canadian forest fires in northern Alberta and effecting the Great Lakes area with smoke that “brought the darkness of night to many cities in midday.”  The states most affected by the thickest smoke palls were Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, although the smoke had also spread as far south as Virginia and Iowa.  What is particularly interesting about this natural phenomena is that:

Some callers [to the Washington Weather Bureau] wondered whether the strange darkness had anything to do with atomic bombs.  Others thought tonight’s scheduled total eclipse of the moon had arrived sooner than expected.  Street lights were turned on early in many places.

Even back at the turn of the previous century, black outs occurred as read in a news story carried in the Poverty Bay Herald in New Zealand on August, 24, 1912 about Queen Mary and her son, the Prince of Wales (23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972). 

He is only permitted to read the London Times among the English papers, and his tutor is to carefully black out anything verging on the objectionable in the Paris Temps, the only French paper he is allowed to see.

The Prince of Wales — officially invested as such in a special ceremony at Caernarfon Castle on July 13, 1911 — became Edward VIII and abdicated the throne in order to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson.

iI should be noted here that the Prince of Wales was the eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George V and Queen Mary, and his great-grandmother was Queen Victoria.  When the First World War (1914–18) broke out, Edward was the minimum age required for active service and he was keen on enlisting as well as keen on serving on the front lines.

Back on track with this idiom, during the 1760s and 1770s, a political reformer and polemicist, writing under the pseudonym of Junius, portrayed the press as “an essential restraint for bad men and impediment to bad measures.”  In fact, in his book “Dedication to the English Nation” he wrote in 1772:

The liberty of the press is the palladium of all the civil, political, and religious rights of an Englishman.

Speaking for the radicals, he stated that he was not causing dissension by way of “blackening the reputations of the nation’s leaders.”  Instead, he believed the press should have, along with others powers, the right and freedom to expose a politician’s every action.  He stated that press prosecutions did more damage than the questions and news accounts originally published by the press.  This is, in part, how incomplete, false or delayed news reports were referred to as black outs.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Black Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 31, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

With regards to cutting or turning out the lights or electric power.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, this expression most often referred to the stage and theatre lights in a theater.  However, at the start of World War II, it  also came to mean darkening an entire city to hide it from enemy bombers.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Lima, Peru was reported on in the February 5, 1985 edition of the New Straits Times in Peninsular Malaysia.  The news story entitled, “Rebels Black Out Pope’s Lima Tour” described the uproar associated with Pope John Paul’s visit.

Peruvian guerillas, defying 15,000 men and Pope John Paul’s call for peace, last night blew up power pylons and blacked out Lima as the Pope rode through the city, police said.

Back on June 14, 1955 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story about the flash floods unleashed by torrential desert cloud bursts.  The news article, entitled, “Floods Black Out Las Vegas; Trains Stalled” reported that the flash floods had blacked out the city.  The damage costs were expected to run at least $100,000 and quite possibly as much as $500,000.  Power was quickly restored in most sections of Las Vegas however 80 percent of all telephones were still out of order the following day.

On January 9, 1940 the Miami News reported on a train accident near Ware, Hertfordshire in England.  The story was entitled, “Two Trains Crash; Score Injured In Black-Out.” The Miami News reported:

Two London-Northeastern railway passenger trains collided in the black-out last night, trapping scores of women and children in wrecked coaches.  Although several coaches were telescoped and both engines were overturned, no one was killed and only 25 were injured.

Just 2 years earlier, on May 31, 1938 the New York Times published an article entitled, “New Raid on Japan Forces Black Out Over A Wide Region.”  It stated in part:

Japan had a raid scare when two mysterious planes, supposed to be Chinese, flew along the whole western side of Kyushu island last night and early today. All the region was “blacked out” for three hours.

As a side note here, Japan’s electricity system was started in 1883 when the Tokyo Electric Light Company — now known as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — was founded.  Demand grew for electricity and in 1895, the company purchased equipment from AEG while its competitor, Osaka Electric Lamp purchased equipment from General Electric. Since the founding of electric companies in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, there have been reports of black outs.

In theatre circles, a black out means to extinguish all of the stage lights at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness.  While it is a term oftentimes associated with a performance, it has also been used to mean a performance is not to take place on that day. 

The Baltimore Sun ran a news story on September 18, 1901 that spoke of Baltimoreans of all classes uniting to pay tribute to deceased President McKinley.  The article stated that the bells of nearly all the Catholic and Episcopal churches would be tolled from 2 to 8 o’clock in the afternoon and that theatres would be “draped in somber black out of respect to the dead President.”  In other words, there would be no performances in the theatres on that day.

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

Black Out (as in unconscious)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 30, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious.

With regards to falling unconscious, this meaning originated with pilots who sometimes fainted briefly when pulling out of a power dive. It soon was transferred to other losses of consciousness or memory in the 1940s.

An unfortunate story was published in the May 28, 1979 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel in a news article entitled, “Boy Dies Making Self Black Out.” The article included this in the story:

After class was dismissed Wednesday afternoon, Paul and several companions went out on the playground, and he gave them a demonstration. Use two fingers, he pressed on the front of his neck to stop the air flow and blacked out.

Back on September 14, 1962 the Victoria Advocate published a story on then-31-year-old San Francisco Giants star outfielder, Willie Mays. He had been free of injuries and ailments in previous eight seasons with the Giants which is why a black-out spell was of concern to management at the time. The story was entitled, “Mays Due Hospital Tests After Black-Out Spell.” The first paragraph read:

Officials of the San Francisco Giants ordered a thorough physical examination Friday for star outfielder Willie Mays, who blacked out Wednesday night. Mays will stay in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital over night and have the tests Friday morning, according to Manager Alvin Dark.

The December 22, 1944 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Anti-Black-Out Suit” and reported:

Berger G-suits, designed to keep fliers from “blacking out” in steep dives and other maneuvers, are the latest togs for army and navy fighter pilots. The army’s ” G-suit “– the “G” is for gravity — is a pair of high waisted pneumatic pants with built-in suspenders and girdle, and air bladders over the abdomen and legs.

For pilots, greying out or blacking out was a serious problem when it happened. A black out was a complete loss of vision due to no blood getting to the eye even though the pilot was still conscious at the time. The loss of memory that was part of blacking out and falling unconscious was particularly disconcerting to pilot trainers, air force personnel, researchers and, of course, pilots. It was observed that black outs left pilot completely unaware that they have been unconscious and provided them with a false perception of how well they were coping with “positive G” or “eyeballs down G.”

In the mid-1920s, Royal Air Force pilots who were training for the Schneider Trophy became adept at knowing the point at which they would move from a black out to completely losing consciousness.

As an interesting side note, the first manned flight — which was 12-seconds long — was on December 17, 1903 and the first 5-minute manned flight was on November 9, 1904. The American government bought its first airplane in 1909 and the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown in 1912. On July 18, 1914 an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. In other words, blacking out became a new expression in the 20th century thanks in part to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

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