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Posts Tagged ‘Boston Evening Transcript’

Towheaded

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2017

Idiomation has friends of all ages so when a soon-to-be centenarian asked Idiomation to research the history on towheaded, we were more than pleased to oblige this lovely lady’s request.  When Idiomation asked her what she knew the word to mean, she said that twoheaded referred to someone, usually a young child, with light-colored or untidy hair (a definition confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary).  Of course, she also said that it didn’t have to be either/or since a towheaded child could have untidy light-colored hair as she and her two younger sisters did back when they were little.

In Adam K. Raymond’s article, “The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry” was published on 5 July, 2017 on the Vulture website, the expression was used.  The journalist wrote about streaming’s impact on the music industry and how streaming numbers are boosted by way of questionable methods.  Halfway through the article, he wrote:

Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom.

It was used in a movie review in the February 26, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Journal written by David Handler.  In reviewing the “Walking Tall” television series that hit the small screen as a result of the movie’s big screen success, the writer was unimpressed with the first episode which he referred to as being “so slow and preachy that the result is an amazingly dull hour of TV.”  His review included this observation.

Buford holds down the fort every week now surrounded by a cheery office, coffee pot, shiny cars, clean-cut and courteous deputies, a wheezing pappy and curvaceous dispatcher whose life’s dream is to be step-mother to Buford’s two towheaded teenagers (his wife was killed in the first movie).

The expression was used on Page 10 of The Pittsburgh Press on 4 August 1954 in the continuation of a story from the front page.  Titled “Baird, Bride Out Of Hiding” on Page 10, it referred to Dr. Baird’s second elopement.    The first page headline scandalously shared, “Choir Director and Bride Finally Come Out Of Hiding.”

J. Julius Baird, the composer, organist, and conductor of the Bach Choir for 20 years, had married his first wife in 1928, and they divorced in 1953. There were two children from the first marriage – 24-year-old John Jr. and 7-year-old Leslie. His second marriage to a 19-year-old woman was one that raised more than a few eyebrows.  He had met her three years earlier as a choir girl in the Calvary Episcopalian Church Choir he directed.

Two weeks before marrying the former Barbara Stouffer (daughter of Mrs. Edward W. Estes), he resigned as the choir director of Calvary Church and the Bach Choir in Pennsylvania, and accepted his new position as choir director of Grace Episcopalian Church in Colorado Springs , Colorado.   The newspaper included this tidbit using the expression.

Leslie, 7, lives with his father and calls the new Mrs. Baird “Mom” although he knows she isn’t his real mother.

He’s very excited and pleased about the whole thing,” Dr. Baird said.

Leslie, a tow-headed youngster who was pulling the cat’s tail nodded in agreement.

When the Prescott Evening Courier edition of 24 October 1939 was published, Olen W. Clements’ article about a 165-pound 5 foot 7 inch tall University of Texas sophomore named Jack Crain was printed under the title, “Rabbit Crain Saving Texas.”   Jack Crain was an impressive player by all accounts, and according to the reporter, he “put the phft-t-t back in football.”  When it came to describing this player, Olen W. Clements had this to say about Rabbit Crain.

He was a towheaded kid from Nocona, Tex., who sells cowboy boots to make his way through school.

The Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of 11 July 1864 published an article titled, “A Woman’s Faith.”  Although no writer’s name was included with the article, it spoke loudly to what the writer considered the “petty faults caused by vanity” that could befall women, and cheered on the “radiant charm which transforms the coarsest into something almost angelic.”

In clairvoyant rapport with a thought that will carry you to their homes, and you will find in every single instance some woman, possibly sensible in other respects, but deluded in this one point, and absolutely believing that the towheaded or rough-whiskered specimen who is her especial property is an incarnation of the virtues and graces, and possesses the wisdom of Solomon with the acuteness of the celebrate John Bunsby.  A very curious and fortunate circumstance it is for men that Providence arrange it so.  It has done more for them than can ever be undone by woman’s rights’ conventions.

Jumping back another generation, the Hassel family had a perfect to differentiate two cousins named John (the families moved to Tennessee when Tow Headed” John Hassel was six years old.  To know which John Hassel was being talked about, one cousin was known as “Black John” Hassel while the other was known as Tow Headed” John Hassel.  The boy known as “Tow Headed” John Hassel was born in Tyrell, North Carolina on 12 April 1800, son of Zebulon Elder Hassel and Elizabeth Jennette, and he passed away in 1859.

It seems that twoheaded was a popular nickname as a generation earlier people such as Samuel Hamilton (born in 1774) was known as Samuel Towhead Hamilton.  He married Nellie Black and had seven children (none of whom were known as towheaded) with his wife before dying in 1832.

There was also Charles Towheaded Moorman (born on 28 June 1746) who married Judith Moon (born on 26 June 1748) on 10 May 1776.  Unfortunately, Charles was disowned by Cedar Creek, Virginia for marrying out of unity and by a priest.  He left this mortal coil in 1803 while living in Bedford County, Virginia.

So how far back does the nickname reach?  William III, the  Duke of Aquitaine (915 – 3 April 963) was called towhead because of his hair.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William III’s son was William IV who succeeded him.  His sister, Adelaide married Hugh Capet (941 – 23 October 996), and he became the first King of the Franks when he succeeded the last Carolingian king, Louis V.

SIDE NOTE 2:  William IV battled Hugh Capet upon his rise to power as the King of France.  William IV refused to recognize Hugh Capet as the rightful heir to the throne, and protected (and defended) Louis, song of Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (son of Louis IV of France) who, as the last legitimate Carolingian heir, he considered the next in line for the throne.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (953 – 993) was a sixth generation descendant of Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814).

Although Idiomation could find no earlier published mention of towheaded than for the Duke of Aquitaine, the term can be placed to around 900.  However, there is more to share.  It’s possible that the word tow is related to the Old Norse noun, which meant “uncleansed wool or flax, unworked fiber of thread.”  Uncleansed wool or  flax is light-colored and so this may be the word that is responsible for towheaded but without evidence to support that guess, it is nothing more than a guess on Idiomation’s part.

Posted in Idioms from the 10th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Shilly Shally

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 10, 2015

If someone is shilly shallying, they are acting irresolutely.   In other words, those who shilly shally can’t be pinned down one way or another to an action or a decision leaving others with no idea where that person stands.

The Glasgow Herald published a Letter To The Editor written by Alex C.M. MacNeill in March 4, 1977 where the author voiced his displeasure at the inaction of the political parties.  He took issue with the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties equally as the first (and only) sentence of his brief letter made clear.

The present attitude in Scotland to the shilly-shallying of the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties over devolution recalls to mind the saying attributed to one of the German conductors of the old Scottish Orchestra who was having trouble with a recalcitrant or incompetent brass-player:  “With your damn nonsense will I twice once put up.  But always?  Sometimes?  Never!”

In the October 16, 1942 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Joseph Shechtman wrote about shilly shally and willy nilly.  According to him, these phrases came about as a corruption of how the real words were pronounced.  For those who asked, “Shall? Shall I?” that became shilly shally.

The Boston Evening Transcript used the expression as part of the title on an article that was published on July 28, 1915 in its recounting what Sheriff Kinkead had done just hours earlier in front of what the newspaper referred to as “plenty of witnesses.”  Yes, Sheriff Kinkead and his men settled a strike by appealing to the strikers sense of patriotism for the United States of America as many who were striking were foreigners who had come to America to find a better for themselves and their families.  The article was entitled, “Busting Through Shilly-Shally.”

Interesting Side Note:  The writer of this article stated that Mrs. Wendell Phillips of Boston (MA) invented the phrase shilly shally.

In Chapter 20 of a serialized story published in The Age newspaper on June 29, 1901 the word was used in this passage.

“Mr. Vickers, have you heard of Pyrotid?” inquired Christ, confidentially.

“Sir,” said Mr. Vickers with dignity, “I am not a betting man.”

“It is not the name of a horse, but of a singular mineral,” said Chris.  “It is worth four pounds a ton, and there are two hundred thousand tons of it on Drellincourt Farm.  I found that out by the aid of a little shilly-shallying; but I admit that I got my cue regarding its existence from Mellor, for, Mr. Vickers, in the profession to which I belong it is absolutely necessary for one to understand men.”

The Deseret News published an extended article on March 5, 1889 about U.S. President Harrison’s message which, it was believed, would please his party and not disappoint the opposition.  The President delivered his message the day before, and within a day, even the British press was complimentary in its comments about his message.

The “Tribune” this morning says the strong and patriotic appeal will go to the hearts and convictions of the American people and will produce results hereafter.  The “Times” finds nothing impressive in the President’s remarks.  It thinks the tone and manner commonplace.  The “World” regards it as the deliverance of a sincere and extremely clear-minded man, and says there will be no shilly-shally foreign policy.

In Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Chapter X of the serialized story “On The Church Steps” by Sarah C. Hallowell (1833 – 1914) was published.  The author used the expression in such a way as to indicate that it was an expression that people from every social class knew and used.

Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited too.

“Tell you what,” said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs, “I’ve got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev’ that they hevn’t gone by the other road. Old gal said there was two?”

Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) used this expression in a letter dated October 1792 where he discussed George Washington’s comments about transforming the American government into a monarch (which he did not support, but which was strongly considered as an option by more than the handful the President dismissed there might be).  He wrote of a dispute between General Schuyler (20 November 1733 – 18 November 1804) on one side of the table (who favored hereditary descent), and Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney (25 February 1746 – 16 August 1825) and Thomas Jefferson on the other (who opposed hereditary descent).

I told him, that though the people were sound, there was a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation; that the Secretary of the Treasury was one of those; that I had heard him say that this Constitution was a shilly-shally thing, of mere milk and water, which could not last, and was only good as a step to something better.  That when we reflected, that he had endeavored in the convention, to make an English constitution out of it, and when failing in that, we saw all his measures tending to bring it to the same thing, it was natural for us to be jealous; and particularly, when we saw that these measures had established corruption in the Legislature, where there was a squadron devoted to the nod of the Treasury, doing whatever he had directed, and ready to do what he should direct.

The expression found its way into the book, “The Eagle and the Robin: An Apologue” translated from the original Aesop fable by H.G.L. Mag, and printed and sold by H. Hills in Black-fryars near the Waterside in 1709.

You are suppos’d to undermine
The foe, in some immense design.
A pen can bite you with a line;
There’s forty ways to give a sign,
Well, all on fire away he stalk’d
Till come to where the Eagle walk’d.
Bob did not shilly-shally go,
Nor said one word of friend or foe;
But flirting at him made a blow,
As game-cocks with their Gauntlets do.

The earliest version of the expression Idiomation found is in the comedic play, “The Committee, Or The Faithful Irishman” by Sir Robert Howard, and published in 1665.  English playwright and politician Robert Howard (January 1626 – 3 September 1698) was the son of Thomas Howard, First Earl of Berkshire, and his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Second Earl of Exeter.

His play was published (along with three others) in his book, “Four New Plays” although there are indications that the play had been performed long before it was finally published in 1665.  In fact, Pepys wrote about taking in a performance of “The Committee” on June 12, 1663, and other diaries mention the play being performed before an audience in 1662.

MRS. DAY:
Well, Mrs. Arabella, I hope you have considered enough by this time.  You  need not use so much consideration for your own good; you  may have your estate, and you may have your Abel; and you may be worse offered.  Abel, tell her your mind; ne’er stand, shilly-shally. Ruth, does she incline, or is she wilfull?

MRS. RUTH:
I was just about the point when your honor interrupted us.  one word in your ladyship’s ear.

ABEL:
You see, forsooth, that I am somebody, though you make nobody of me.  You see I can prevail.  Therefore pray say what I shall trust to; for I must not stand shilly-shally.

MRS. ARABELLA:
You are hasty sir.

Unable to find an earlier published version for shilly-shally, and given that it was used in Sir Robert Howard’s play published in 1665 (and performed earlier), it is reasonable to assume that it was a commonly used expression in England in the 1600s.  Idiomation therefore sets the date for this expression to at least 1600.

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

Kick The Bucket

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2014

If someone has kicked the bucket, they have shuffled off this mortal coil and gone on to the afterlife.  Yes, when someone kicks the bucket, they have died.

Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the days when someone intent on committing suicide would stand on a bucket, slip the noose around his or her neck, and then literally kick the bucket.  Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the bucket of holy water that was placed at the feet of a corpse that had been laid out for viewing.  And some will say that back in the sixteenth century the beam from which a butchered pig was hung was called a buquet (not to be confused with a bouquet which is an arrangement of flowers).  So where did the idiom come from since there are so many different stories about its origins?

If you believe the Spokane Daily Chronicle of May 30, 1911, the expression comes from England and first appeared in print in 1725.  The news bite alleged the following:

… it dates back to Old England, when about the year 1725, one Balsover hanged himself to a beam while standing on the bottom of a bucket, and then kicked the bucket away, says the New York Times.

It was a believable explanation because three years later on November 26, 1914, the Toledo Blade newspaper carried an almost identical explanation to the question:  What is the origin of the saying “to kick the bucket?”

Now, where the New York Times got the story back in 1911 is unclear, however, the Meriden Daily Republican published a similar story in July 20, 1880 edition of their newspaper, so the story was circulating long before the New York Times grabbed hold of it.  It could be because the Boston Evening Transcript of January 24, 1878 used the term in this clever bit of reporting.

Ah Chung, a San Francisco murderer, has kicked the bucket, literally as well as metaphorically.  On Jan. 13 a prison-keeper found him hanging by the neck in his cell.  He had passed a cord through the air-holes at the back of his cell, fastened that end, and made a noose of the other end, put out the gas, and planted himself upon a water bucket.  Then he kicked the bucket.

The expression was used in jokes published in a number of magazines and newspapers in the early 1800s, oftentimes recounted as such:

Two gentlemen were walking in the High-street, Southampton, last week, about that hour which the industrious damsels of the mop and brush usually devote to cleansing the pavement before the door.  It happened that the bucket used upon such occasions was upon the stones, and one of the gentlemen stumbled against it.
“My dear friend,” exclaimed the other, “I lament your death exceedingly!”
“My death!”
“Yes, you have just kicked the bucket.”
“Not so,” rejoined his friend.  “I have only turned a little pale (pail).”

The idiom was also found in the “Standard Recitations for the Use of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies” published in 1800.  The following was determined appropriate recitation for junior pupils.

He never did a decent thing
He was’t worth a ducat;
He kicked and kicked until he died,
And then he kicked the bucket.

In Francis Grose’s 1785 edition of the “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the definition for kick the bucket is as follows.

To die.  He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day.  To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

It would seem that kicking and buckets and death have had a long association, as the spirit of the expression is found in William Shakespeare’s Play “Henry IV Part II” in Act IV, Scene 2.  The play was published in 1597.  Bear in mind that a gibbet meant to hang.

Here shall charge you, and discharge you with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer; come off, and on, swifter then the gibbets on the brewer’s bucket.

When you look at gibbets (to hang) and bucket in this context, it’s all about dying.  Whether it’s about an animal being slaughtered or a person committing suicide, the beam (or bucket, as the beam was called) is what ties them together.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the mid-1500s since it was used with such ease by William Shakespeare.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hit The Nail On The Head

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 23, 2013

When you hear that someone in a discussion has hit the nail on the head it means that the person has driven the point home, having summed it up in a few, understandable words or sentences. It’s oftentimes used in politics and business, but even in everyday conversation, you’ll hear people talk about those who have hit the nail on the head.

When the political debates of 2010 were the rage in the media, everyone watched as Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul discussed matters in a televised debate anchored by George Stephanopolous and Diane Sawyer. When the transcripts were released, what people thought they had heard could be checked against the written word. In the transcripts, Rick Perry was quoted as having said:

Yeah, well, I — I’m — I’m stunned, ’cause — the fact of the matter is, you know, Michele kinda hit the nail on the head when we talked about the individual mandate. Both of these gentlemen have been for the — individual mandate. And I’m even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could’ve talked to Obama and said — “You’re goin’ down the wrong path,” because that is exactly the path that you’ve taken Massachusetts.

Politics seems to make liberal use of the expression, including in the September 26, 1972 article “Political Tools” published in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The news story addressed the presidential campaign of that year, which saw George McGovern going head-to-head against then-President Richard Nixon. Four paragraphs into the article, the following was written:

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird hit the nail on the head when he said that “it is a despicable act of a presidential candidate to make himself a spokesman for the enemy.” One news account called Laird’s observation “some of the harshest rhetoric of the 1972 presidential campaign.” Considering some of the rhetoric Desperate George [McGovern] has engaged in, particularly comparing Nixon to Adolf Hitler, this characterization os Laird’s remark is a gross misstatement of the facts.

Again with a political reference, the Evening Independent newspaper published a story entitled, “Hitchcock Sends Ultimatum He Will Take Issue To Upper Chamber If Compromise Fails” on January 27, 1920. In sharing news of the failure of the bipartisan conference in Washington, DC to reach a compromise, resulting in the peace treaty ratification fight that was ongoing in the Senate, this was reported:

Senator Hitchcock declined to speculate on the possibility of so early a renewal of hostilities but most Democrats declared nothing was to be gained by further secret conferences.

“It looks as if the jig’s up,” declared Senator McNary, Republican, Oregon, a leader of the “mild reservations” group, and this seemed to hit the nail on the head, in the opinion of most senators.

Things didn’t change much in the years leading up to 1920, as shown in the news article “Republication Ratification Meeting” in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 27, 1883. The story was about a meeting held to give feedback on the level of satisfaction with the action of the Sate Republican Convention’s choice of candidates. An extensive piece, halfway down the fourth column readers were greeted by this from J.M. Forbes who could not be in attendance, but who sent his thoughts in a letter that was read aloud by Henry Packman, had this to say about nominee, George D. Robinson:

The brilliant orator, the ally and mouthpiece of the faction, whose shining words everybody reads, has for once hit the nail on the head and proclaimed the truth, that there is room for only two parties in this State, and that we must choose between the two, leaving all minor issues for future consideration. We accept his and their challenge, and declare …”

The letter goes on for a bit, outlining five major points, but the article continues for another two columns before finally signing off.

Various reputable sources claim that the expression — meaning a person is communicating effectively or gets to the point — dates back to the early 16th century without providing proof to substantiate that claim.  But Idiomation continue to research for sources and English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher yielded up the phrase. Together, they wrote an early 17th century comedic stage play entitled “Love’s Cure” in 1612, then revised it in 1625, and finally published it in 1647. It was also known as “The Martial Maid.” In Act II, scene 1 of this play, regardless of which version you read, you will find the following:

METALDI
I give Place : the Wit of Man is wonderful.
thou hast hit the Nail on the Head,
and I will give thee six Pots for’t,
tho’ I ne’er clinch Shooe again.

French Renaissance writer, doctor, humanist, monk and scholar, François Rabelais (4 February 1494 – 9 April 1553) wrote “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.” The third book, “Le Tiers Livre” in which the passage appears was published in 1546. In Chapter XXXIV, readers find the idiom in this passage:

Let us come to where we left off, quoth Panurge. Your words, being translated from the clapper-dudgeons to plain English, do signify that it is not very inexpedient that I marry, and that I should not care for being a cuckold. You have there hit the nail on the head. I believe, master doctor, that on the day of my marriage you will be so much taken up with your patients, or otherwise so seriously employed, that we shall not enjoy your company. Sir, I will heartily excuse your absence.

Despite ongoing research, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression which appears unchanged over the centuries. It is therefore, highly probably that the expression dates back to at least the early 1500s as reputable sources claim, especially in light of that fact that it was used with easy by François Rabelais.

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On The Heels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 23, 2013

Every once in a while, you’ll hear someone say that the police are hot on the heels or right on the heels of a suspected criminal. The idiom brings to mind one person in earnest pursuit of another and that’s exactly what this idiom means. When one person is hot on the heels of another, it means that person is following someone very closely, and perhaps has almost caught up to them and their actions. It can also mean that something comes very shortly after something else as can sometimes happen when laws are passed in government.

With the fast advancements in technology (especially over the past two decades), the New Straits Times in Malaysia published an article on April 12, 2000 about Sabeer Bhatia, a then-31-year-old high-tech guru who founded Hotmail. Hotmail made him independently wealthy, famous and hard at work trying to repeat his Hotmail success with a new venture: Arzoo.com. The article, of course, was entitled, “Hot On The Heels Of Hotmail.”

The Calgary Herald published a news story from the Ottawa bureau about Mike Pearson’s last day of campaigning in Canada. The story, published in the March 31 edition back in 1958, and written by Charles King, chronicled in a few quick words, what the Liberal party leader accomplished in his travels. The story was entitled, “Pearson In Top Form At Close” and opened with this teaser:

Mike Pearson’s last day of campaigning was unquestionably his best. The Liberal leader, following hot on the heels of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, outdrew the Conservative chief at every stop in a 300-mile sweep of Ottawa Valley points. Things looked so good for the Liberals that party hangers-on almost wept that the campaign was in its last hours.

An interesting and humorous news article was published in the Boston Evening Transcript about Mr. Carnegie, William Ellis Corey and Charles “Charlie” Schwab, the Carnegie Steel Company and the United States Steel Corporation. The story entitled, “The Head Of The Steel Trust” began with a subheading that read: Mr. Cory denies that he began to work for Mr. Carnegie for a dollar a day. It was less and he was only sixteen. William Ellis Corey had moved from Pittsburgh to New York, and newsmen quickly learned that he was a man of very few words. So few, in fact, that his friends were only willing to make two statements to print media about him, these being that “he will direct his energies wholly to the affairs of the corporation” and that “he does not speculate in any way, and never has.” Still, he was the subject of a great deal of media interest, and the article chronicled his history including this:

All the time Mr. Corey was following hot on the heels of Mr. Schwab, along every step of their common way, until he drew up on even terms when the highest goal in sight was reached — the presidency of the Carnegie Steel Company. Each of the two men was elected to this office, with its $50,000 salary in his thirty-fifth year. Then, in the race for the laurels of youthful supremacy, Mr. Corey has won by becoming president of the United States Steel Corporation at the age of thirty-seven; and there are times when he does not look a day more than thirty-five.

It was a term that was well-known and well-used by authors. In H.G. Wells’ novel “The War Of The Worlds” published in 1898 used vivid imagery to place his readers at the center of the excitement in his story. The idiom appeared three times without in this novel. The first time he used it here:

About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with my wife in the summerhouse talking vigorously about the battle that was lowering upon us, I heard a muffled detonation from the common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. 

The second time he used it here:

The thunderclaps, treading one on the heels of another and with a strange crackling accompaniment, sounded more like the working of a gigantic electric machine than the usual detonating reverberations. The flickering light was blinding and confusing, and a thin hail smote gustily at my face as I drove down the slope.

The third time he used it here:

So close on the heels of this as to seem instantaneous came a thud behind me, a clash of glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and the plaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude of fragments upon our heads. I was knocked headlong across the floor against the oven handle and stunned. 

French novelist, poet and playwright Jules Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) published “Around The World In 80 Days” in 1873. It came after publication of such classics as  “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” in 1864,  and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea” in 1870. In the novel “Around The World In 80 Days” the author used the idiom on the heels in this passage:

The thought then struck Passepartout, that he was the cause of this new misfortune! Had he not concealed Fix’s errand from his master? When Fix revealed his true character and purpose, why had he not told Mr. Fogg? If the latter had been warned, he would no doubt have given Fix proof of his innocence, and satisfied him of his mistake; at least, Fix would not have continued his journey at the expense and on the heels of his master, only to arrest him the moment he set foot on English soil. Passepartout wept till he was blind, and felt like blowing his brains out.

And a generation before being found in Jules Verne’s book, Irish doctor and journalist, Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan (27 February 1797 – 29 May 1880) published a book entitled, “History of New Netherland Or, New York Under the Dutch: Volume II” published in 1848. He was a well-traveled man, born in County Cork in Ireland, studied medicine in Dublin (Ireland) and Paris (France), and finally immigrating to Canada in 1823 where he involved himself in the political reform movement. The idiom in appeared in his 1848 tome as follows:

In Holland, Van de Donck was still hot on the heels of Van Tienhoven. Prevented by the order of the States General from returning to New Netherland, the latter passed the winter in Amsterdam, where he succeeded in seducing a young woman, named Elizabeth Jansen Croon van Hoochvelt, under a promise of marriage, having represented himself as a single man.

William Shakespeare’s “History of Troilus and Cressida” published in 1609, carries a variation of the idiom using at instead of on as seen in this passage:

ACHILLES
Look, Hector, how the sun begins to set;
How ugly night comes breathing at his heels;
Even with the vail and dark’ning of the sun,
To close the day up, Hector’s life is done.

Ultimately, however, the version that seems to have started it all is found in the late 14th Century Middle English alliterative romance story, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The story takes place at Christmas time in Camelot when the Green Knight rides into the hall on horseback, whereupon he immediately challenges everyone there to a Christmas sport. It’s a fascinating tale in many respects and borders on the horror genre in its own way. That being said, this passage is found in the story:

As he spurred through a spinney to spy the shrew,
there where he heard the hounds harry him on,
Reynard came rushing through the rough grove,
and all the rabble in a race, right at his heels.

It’s doubtful that the expression existed much before this piece as the word heel was from the Old English word hēla back in the 12th century, and was a variation of the Old Norse word hæll. Idiomation therefore places this expression at sometime in the mid-1300s.

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Cakewalk

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 10, 2013

Whenever something is easy, sure or certain, you might hear someone describe it as a cakewalk. It seems like a funny moniker for something easy, sure or certain, especially in light of the word’s history. A cakewalk is a dance with strutting steps based on a promenade. A promenade is a march of guests into a ballroom that signals the opening of a formal ball. What this means is that a cakewalk is a less formal version of a promenade where participants showcase intricate and eccentric dance steps.

It originated with African American slaves used cakewalks as subtle satire that mocked the elegance of ballroom dances at gatherings hosted by their white owners. But it wasn’t just African American slaves who danced cakewalks. There’s also a Scottish competitive highland dance that’s known as a cakewalk, after it was seen performed in the U.S.

The cakewalk (which is only performed at the top level of competition) that was introduced to Scotland from the United States by dancer, judge and examiner James L. McKenzie (1905-1992) who was also one of the founders of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance. The inclusion of a cakewalk made sense to James L. McKenzie in light of the history of highland dancing. For several centuries, highland dancing was used as exercise to keep the Scottish regiments fit and ready for battle. For example, a typical six-step Highland Fling requires a dancer to execute complicated steps while jumping vertically (without assistance) up into the air 192 times. So what may be considered a negative in America is seen as a positive in the world of highland dancing.

Readers are probably curious to know how far back the expression cakewalk goes, and Idiomation has done the research to track it as far back as possible until the trail goes cold.

On October 17, 2010 Eva Moskowitz spoke with the New York Daily News about the opening of Success Academy, a charter school on the upper West Side. Just like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Harlem Success schools had become high profile charter schools, the same was anticipated for this new charter school. In the article, Eva Moskowitz was quoting as saying:

“We think there’s tremendous parental need and demand” on the West Side, says Moskowitz. “It’s an anxiety-producing experience, no matter what your race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, to find a great public school for your child. Just because you have more means doesn’t mean that it’s a cakewalk.”

The Petersburg Times published an article by journalist Fred Girard on February 11, 1970 that announced that Hugh Durham, head coach of the Florida State Seminoles had watched his 100th game as head coach. The team had defeated the Florida Southern Moccasins with a score of 98 to 74. There was a lot of excitement over the win as well as over the coach’s 100th game. The article was entitled, “It’s a Cakewalk For Hugh 98-74.”

Going back a generation, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a story out of New York in their July 2, 1939 edition that was all about the upcoming Jack Dempsey fight … one that involved an emergency appendectomy at Polyclininc Hospital. The Executive Officer, A.A. Jaller, reassured the media that the surgeon, Dr. Robert Emery Brennan felt positive about the recovery, quoting Jack Dempsey’s temperature was being 100.8 degrees with a pulse of 70 and respiration of 22. The article was entitled, “Jack Dempsey Sure He Can’t Lose This Fight” and read in part:

Earlier the old Manassa Mauler had sent word through his secretary, Ned Brown, to “tell ’em all hello. How could a guy lose with so many seconds in his corner? It’s a cakewalk.”

On February 22, 1907 the New York Times carried the sensational news report about a trial where the husband of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw was being tried for the murder of Stanford White. The article talked about how she had burst into tears “as she told how Stanford White had given her champagne and forced her to receive his attentions.” At the time of the incidents, Evelyn wasn’t yet married to her husband, Harry Thaw.  Details were shared in the article including the following:

Q. – Do you know a place in Paris called the Dead Rate?
A. – Yes.
Q. – What sort of a place is it?
A. – It was a café.
Q. – Did it seem to you reputable the night you were there?
A. – Well, I don’t know. People were sitting about eating and drinking, that is all, and somebody danced.
Q. – Wasn’t that about 2 o’clock in the morning?
A. – Probably.
Q. – And wasn’t it a cakewalk?
A. – I remember distinctly a Russian dance.
Q. – Was this before or after Mr. Thaw had proposed to you in Paris and you had refused him?
A. – It was after, I think it was the next year, 1904.
Q. – With whom did you go to the Dead Rat?
A. – With Mr. Thaw and I think a Mr. Shubert, the theatrical manager, and with another man, who had been a theatrical manager, but I don’t remember his name.

The cakewalk was confirmed in a letter produced in evidence by the District Attorney that was written by Thaw while he was in Paris which read in part:

I had not introduced the young ladies to [Evelyn Nesbit], but they all grinned sweetly and asked her too, and about three dozen men. The night before the Grand Prix there was an impromptu soiree at the Café de Paris. Somebody got Miss Winchester cakewalking about 2 o’clock. Much applause. After some coaxing [name withheld] began by herself. Belmont was at another table with Rosenfeld.

If the cakewalk was known at the turn of the 20th century, then how far back does the cakewalk reach? According to a story entitled, “May Irwin, Ragtime And The Cake Walk” published in the Boston Evening Transcript of February 14, 190,2 the dance had quite a history as evidenced by this passage:

In a similar manner Miss Irwin learned to do her cakewalk from genuine Negroes, but not on a Virginia plantation, as might be inferred. On the contrary, it was up among the Thousand Islands where she has a beautiful summer home. At a hotel the colored employees were getting up a cakewalk for their own entertainment and nobody was to be allowed to attend. By bribery Miss Irwin and two friends were smuggled into the rear of the great dininghall, from which the tables and chairs had been cleared for the festivities. The dapper young waiters and the prim little chambermaids walked for the cake in the most unsatisfactory manner, unsatisfactory to the cook of the establishment, a bouncing Ethiopian with avoirdupois going beyond the reach of obesity pills. Finally, with a grunt of disgust she started. “Let me show you how to do it,” and show them she did, but by far the most interested spectator was the plump, blond actress who spent the rest of the night gyrating before a full-length mirror until she acquired that grotesque gait with which Miss Irwin never fails to secure a laugh when she ambles down to the footlights. With the ragtime and the cakewalk it is not strange that she feels indebted to the Negro.

And the Morning Herald published at story entitled, “President’s Reception” on March 22, 1899 gave news that President McKinley had enjoyed a full day of quiet and rest at Jekyl Island. Among the tidbits of information on the President’s time away from the White House. Among the tidbits was this:

Tonight an old-fashioned cakewalk, participated in by the colored people about the island, was given at the clubhouse and was attended by the President, club members and guests of the island.

Delving back even further, the expression appeared in Harper’s Magazine in October, 1879

Reader, didst ever attend a cake walk given by the colored folks?

he cakewalk, as you know from reading the intro to this entry, came from African American slaves, and the last slaves were freed in 1865.  The dance was first mentioned during the Antebellem Era (1800 – 1860) since freed slaves already spoke about cakewalks in days gone by at the time of their freedom.

Liza Jones, was born a slave of Charley Bryant near Liberty, Texas. She was one of the African Americans whose story was part of the compilation, “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interview with Former Slaves: 1936 – 1938.” The compilation was prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project assembled by the Library Of Congress Project that formed part of the Works Projects Administration, and published in 1941. She remembered the day the soldiers came and her family were no longer slaves.

“When de Yankees come to see iffen dey had done turn us a-loose, I am a nine year old nigger gal. That make me about 81 now. Dey promenade up to de gate and de drum say a-dr-um-m-m-m-m, and de man in de blue uniform he git down to open de gate. Old massa he see dem comin’ and he runned in de house and grab up de gun. When he come hustlin’ down off de gallery, my daddy come runnin’.”

The Civil War ended in 1865 which means that Liza Jones was born in  1855 or 1856. When it came to talk about the cakewalk, she had this to say about it:

“Dey had nice parties in slavery time and right afterwards. Dey have candy pullin’ and corn shuckin’s and de like. Old Massa Day and Massa Bryant, dey used to put dey niggers together and have de prize dances. Massa Day allus lose, ’cause us allus beat he niggers at dancin’. Lawd, when I clean myself up, I sho’ could teach dem how to buy a cake-walk in dem days. I could cut de pigeon wing, jes’ pull my heels up and clack dem together. Den us do de back step and de banquet, too.”

That being said, the trail went cold and Idiomation was unable to peg an earlier date for cakewalk than the Antebellum era, and so the expression dates back to between 1800 and 1860, just before the U.S. Civil War.

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Beat About The Bush

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 2, 2011

When you hear someone say, “Don’t beat around the bush” they want the other person to cut to the chase and say exactly what he means to say.  This usually happens when at least one person involved in the conversation would rather avoid talking about a difficult or embarrassing subject rather than address it directly.

Avoiding the awkward play on words between the phrase and former Presidents George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush — and there were plenty such references in the media over the decades — Idiomation found the phrase used as part of a news headline in the March 28, 1940 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The article spoke about the Cromwell incident in Canada and the Surits affair in Paris, and how diplomats appear to sometimes be too forward and direct with their comments, running the risk of offending those with whom they are speaking.

They Didn’t Beat About The Bush

On November 13, 1905 the Boston Evening Transcript published a news story entitled, “More Southern Revolt Against Disfranchisement” dealing with Georgia which has stayed out of the disfranchisement movement while maintaining “white supremacy.”  The article reported on comments made by Hoke Smith, former secretary of the interior in the second Cleveland administration.

Mr. Smith has the candor of his convictions.  He says he is “in favor of passing a State law to disfranchise the Negro.”  He does not beat about the bush; nor is he affected by the consideration that the Constitution of the United States stands in the way of his project with its prohibition of the denial and abridgment of the right to vote “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”  Perhaps he thinks that the Constitution does not interest the Georgians.

In Chapter 19 of Mark Twain‘s book, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” published in 1889,  this comment is made by Hank Morgan, a 19th century resident of Hartford, CT who, after being rendered unconscious by a blow to the head, wakes up to find himself in medieval England.  He undertakes an adventure with a girl named Sandy and as they travel, he says at one point:

“There’s no use in beating about the bush and trying to get around it that way, Sandy, it’s SO, just as I say. I KNOW it’s so. And, moreover, when you come right down to the bedrock, knight-errantry is WORSE than pork; for whatever happens, the pork’s left, and so somebody’s benefited anyway; but when the market breaks, in a knight-errantry whirl, and every knight in the pool passes in his checks, what have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware. Can you call THOSE assets? Give me pork, every time.  Am I right?”

In Chapter 7 of Charles Dicken‘s book, “The Old Curiosity Shop” published in 1840, this comment is made to Dick Swiveller about a young lady by the name of Nell Trent.

“The girl has strong affections, and brought up as she has been, may, at her age, be easily influenced and persuaded. If I take her in hand, I will be bound by a very little coaxing and threatening to bend her to my will.  Not to beat about the bush (for the advantages of the scheme would take a week to tell) what’s to prevent your marrying her?”

The expression has its origins in the hunting days of medieval times.  Noblemen would routinely employ young men to do the dangerous work of flushing animals out of the undergrowth so the nobleman could make his kill.  The best way of accomplishing this was for the young men to go into the bushes with a wooden board and stick to make noise.  The noise would hopefully frighten the animal out of the bushes and in the direction of the waiting nobleman.

Of course, this wasn’t always the best option as sometimes animals such as wild boar would become dangerous and charge in the direction of the noise.  This made young men reluctant to enter areas of dense undergrowth in case they happened to disturb a wild boar.  To circumvent this danger while still appearing to the noblemen to be doing their jobs, the young men would sometimes literally beat around the bush.  The problem with this was that while they were basically doing the job they were to do, they were avoiding the main point of the activity altogether.

This activity and the phrase are attested to in the works of  George Gascoigne (1535 – 1577) published in a poem from 1572 that reads in part:

brother Trsjiiti eke, that gemme of gentle deedes.
To thinke bowe he abused was, alas my heart it bleedes:
He bet about the bushe, whiles other caught the birds …

Generydes: A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas”  a medieval poem published in 1440 has this to say about the practice of beating the bushes in order to flush out birds while also alluding to things less literal:

Euer wayteng whanne the lavender shuld bryng
That she promysed att hir departeng.
Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take,
And wheder that I be on of thoo or noo,
I me reporte onto the letterys blake
And reasons wish it may not be forsake
He that entendith villany of shame
it is no synne to quyte hym with the same.

That the expression is found in a poem from 1440 indicates that the phrase was a common phrase used by everyday people and one can guess that the phrase dates back at least one generation to approximately the 1410s.

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Bogey Golf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 28, 2011

Bogey golf is a strange term that is oftentimes misunderstood and refers to the level of proficiency of the player.  If a par 4 hole is completed in 5 swings, the player has scored a bogey. And if a player accomplishes this on every hole, he is playing bogey golf.

Colonel Bogey is a name given in golf to an imaginary player whose score for each hole is settled by the committee of the particular club and is supposed to be the lowest that an average player could do it in.  If you get a bogey, it means you have played the hole in fewer strokes than what is set for that hole.

Officially, Colonel Bogey was recognized by the United States Golf Association in December 1956, and the bogey was given its first official definition, according to a number of news reports.  The Colonel was officially identified as “a quiet, modest and retiring gentleman, uniformly steady but never over-brilliant” … or so reported the Miami News on December 16, 1956 in their news article, “Colonel Bogey Gets Recognized.”

The Eugene Register newspaper carried a news story on June 19, 1991 that was written by journalist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hardly Worth An Extra Day.”  The story was about the 91st U.S. Open golf tournament and the trials and tribulations of Scott Simpson compared to golden boy, Payne Stewart‘s ease with the course.  His final paragraph summed it up with:

I yield to no man in my admiration for bogey golf.  But why keep poor Scott Simpson twisting in th wind when you knew he was going to go over the cliff at 16.  Just remember, 16 is not sweet in the Simpson household.  You might not want to sing about cool, clear water, either.

On July 12, 1963 the Deseret News published an article written by journalist Henry W. Thornberry entitled, “New Zealand Southpaw Grabs Title In British Open Playoff.” His focus was on the British Open Playoff being held at Lytham-St. Anne’s in England and two golfers in particular — Bob Charles and Phil Rodgers.

The 25-year-old Rodgers, who trailed by five strokes after the first two of the afternoon round, narrowed that deficit to one by the 25th hole.  But after Charles had matched Rodgers’ long birdie putt on the 26th, the Yank lapsed into bogey golf and rapidly dropped out of contention.

The April 25, 1922 edition of the Evening News from San Jose, California reported on the Indian Pow Wow that was due to take place from May 8 to 14 in Del Monte, California.  The article entitled “Calif. Indians Plan Big Pow Wow” included this interesting bit of information:

Features of the meeting will be a trapshooting tournament, a golf tournament, with side competitors on the links, and a series of field sports.  The program follows:

Monday, May 8 – 100 target preliminary race; blind bogey golf tournament.
Tuesday, May 9 – Start of 300 target trapshooting tournament; qualifying round for four-day golf tournament ….

And the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of October 29, 1895 reported on Varsity sports, covering football, track and field, bowling and golf.  The headline read, “Harvard At Secret Practice” and based on results it would appear that secret practice was definitely a winning factor … at least when it came to golf!

Three players tied for first place in the “bogeygolf tournament of the Country Club, which was played on Saturday.  Not only that, but no less than seven tied for second place.  There were almost forty-five players, and the figuring out of their scores and their relative positions was such a task that the results were not posted until yesterday.

Now in the 19th century, British golfers were said to be “chasing the Bogey Man” when it was obvious they were trying to achieve the perfect score.  It was such a popular term that it became the subject of a very popular 19th century music hall song entitled, “Here Comes The Bogey Man.”  By 1914, a second popular song was spawned entitled, “Colonel Bogey March.”

While golfers love to score a bogey, it’s even more exciting when it’s a double bogey (two strokes over par) or a triple bogey (three strokes over par).  It’s also very important not to confuse the term birdie with bogey as a birdie is the opposite of a bogey.   A birdie indicates on stroke under par rather than over.  And just as with bogeys, a player can lay claim to an eagle (two shots under par), an albatross (three shots under par) or a condor (four strokes under par) which would be a hole-in-one on a par 5 hole.

While Idiomation thoroughly enjoyed tracking down the origins of “bogey golf” no published references to either bogey golf or Colonel Bogey could be found in newspapers before 1895. 

That being said, Idiomation would like to remind readers that the “bogey” referring to golf should not be confused with the “bogey” referring to a frame upon which a railway carriage was placed.

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