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Posts Tagged ‘British Parliament’

Leap In The Dark

Posted by Admin on June 30, 2011

When you leap in the dark it means that you are doing something without being sure what the end result will or might be.

Author John E. Ferling wrote a book entitled, “A Leap In The Dark: The Struggle To Create The American Republic” that was published by Oxford University Press in 2003.  The book paints “a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details and provocative in its fresh interpretations.”

Likewise, author James M. Skinner of the Department of History at Brandon University in Manitoba (Canada) wrote an article for the Manitoba Historical Society for their Spring 1993 magazine entitled, “A Leap in the Dark: The Transition from Film Censorship to Classification in Manitoba, 1970 – 1972.”  The article dealt with the Manitoba Film Censor Board which was established in 1923 under the Amusements Acts and the changes that came about with its reformation in 1972.

Edward Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby, served as Prime Minister in England no less than three times: 23 February to 17 December 1852; 20 February 1858 to 1 June 1859; and 28 June 1866 to 25 February 1868.  In February 1867, Disraeli introduced his Reform Bill months after Edward Stanley formed his third ministry on the resignation of Lord John Russell. Edward Stanley returned to Disraeli’s original proposals when the Commons found Members of Parliament demanding a more radical measure.  The legislation was passed on 9 August 1867. In his speech, following the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, Edward Stanley said:

No doubt we are making a great experiment and taking a leap in the dark but I have the greatest confidence in the sound sense of my fellow-countrymen, and I entertain a strong hope that the extended franchise which we are now conferring upon them will be the means of placing the institutions of this country on a firmer basis, and that the passing of this measure will tend to increase the loyalty and contentment of a great proportion of Her Majesty’s subjects.

Charles Morley, in the introduction to his book “Elements of Animal Magnetism” published in 1841 wrote:

In 1784 this Academy appointed a committee from their number to examine and report on animal magnetism; but instead of confining their attention to the facts which were laid before them, they sought the cause by which they were produced, and inquired into the existence of the fluid described by [Franz Anton] Mesmer, but it escaped their research.  They could not see, taste, or touch it; they could not collect it in masses, and could neither measure or weigh it; therefore they made a leap in the dark, and concluded that animal magnetism did not exist.

On December 3, 1787, the Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer newspaper published in Hartford, CT ran a Letter to the Editor that began, “It is unhappy both for Mr. Gerry and the public that he was not more explicit in publishing his doubts.”  The author, known only as “A Landholder” wrote:

In terms of art, which we often find in political to the honourable gentleman, it might have appeared more definite and ambiguous but to the great body of the people altogether and to accept it they must leap in the dark.

In 1675, Thomas Hobbes moved to Derbyshire to spend time with his friend, the 3rd Earl of Devonshire.  Four years later, Thomas Hobbes suffered a fatal stroke while working on yet another book.  His last words were recorded as being:

I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published or recorded version of this expression and with that, the honour of being the originator of the phrase goes to Thomas Hobbes in 1679.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Admin on March 16, 2011

A filibuster is a political delaying tactic found on the Senate floor in the U.S. and in Parliament in Canada and the United Kingdom.   In other words, a filibuster is an attempt to delay or stop a vote on an issue in a legislative body. 

The term filibuster was also used in the mid-1800s with regards to American adventurers intent on overthrowing governments in Central and South America. The legislative version of the term was first used in 1854 in the United States when opponents tried to delay the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Congress.

In the U.K. in 1874, Joseph Gillis Biggar made long speeches in the House of Commons to delay the passage of Irish coercion acts. Charles Stewart Parnell joined him in this effort thereby effectively obstructing the business of the House.  This then forced the Liberals and Conservatives to negotiate with the Irish Parliamentary Party on the subject of self-government in Ireland.

On October 28, 2010 President Barack Obama stated:

There are a couple of things that have changed in our politics that are gonna have to be fixed. One is the way the filibuster operates. As I said, that’s just not in the Constitution.

Nearly 70 years before that, on November 21, 1942 the Miami News ran an article entitled “Pepper Urges Anti-Filibuster Rule Be Enacted By Senate.”  The opening paragraphs read:

Sen. Claude Pepper (Dem., Fla.) reacted to a successful Southern filibuster against his anti-poll tax bill Saturday with an angry promise to stage an all-out fight for revision of senate rules so that such legislation-killing tactics would be impossible in the future.

“The time to permit filibusters has disappeared in America,” he told the senate.  “We cannot continue to give one-tenth of this body the authority to control the rest.”

He heatedly called for an amendment to the rules which would make it possible to choke off debate not only on bills before the chamber but also on time-wasting debate on points of order, a tactic frequently employed in filibusters.

Filibusters are legendary in American politics.  The Atlanta Independent newspaper of October 18, 1928 discussed events from the previous generation in an article entitled, “The Republican Party and Remedial Legislation.”

The last effort made by the Republican Party to enforce the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment by appropriate legislation was the Lodge Bill, introduced in the 51st Congress by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, under Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine as Speaker.  In 1890 this bill was put through the House, but died in the Senate, by reason of Democratic filibustering and swearing that before the bill should pass, they would filibuster the balance of the senate session.  In all of the democratic efforts to defeat remedial legislation for the relief of the Negro votes in the South, Tammany Hall was its ally, and contributed in every way possible to defeat Republican efforts.   When the Democrats got control of both branches of Congress in 1879, they proceeded to repeal and nullify every law on the books guaranteeing the colored man political equality.

On June 16, 1880 the New York Times reported on a filibuster in an article entitled, “Ben. Holladay’s Just Claim: Democrats Filibuster Against A Bill To Save A Public Servant From Ruin.”  The article dealt with the out-of-pocket expenses of one Ben Holladay who carried the mail for the Government via an overland route prior to the construction of the Pacific railroads.  He claimed to have suffered losses “caused by the depredations of hostile Indians” in carrying out these duties. The article read in part:

After a short debate upon the Mexican Pension bill, awakened by what had been said in regard to it, Mr. Wallace made another motion for an executive session.  It had become apparent that the opposition minority of Democrats intended to continue to filibuster, and for this reason the motion was passed by a vote of 27 to 26.

A New Zealand newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, published a news story entitled, “The St. Juan Outrage” on January 6, 1860 that stated:

The dispute was a geographical one, “Generalis sum Americanus et super geographicam,” thought General Harney.  Pacific envoys had been balancing the conflicting claims of their respective countries long enough.  Like Brennus of old — who, as far as benighted heather could be, was himself a Filibuster — the General determined to throw his sword into the scale.  Bent on a terrible campaign, he led off, conformably to all the principles of strategy, with a ruse de guerre.  There is nothing like lulling an enemy into false security.  The General opened hostilities against the Governor of Vancouver’s Island with an afternoon call — pacem duello miscuit.  The manoeuvre, though a daring one for times of peace, was happily effected without loss of life.

It is agreed that the first notable (albeit not the first) U.S. Senate filibuster took place in 1841 when dissident senators held the floor for 7 days straight in opposition to a bill about hiring the Senate printers.  Later that same year, another filibuster erupted with regards to the re-establishment of the Bank of the United States.  Henry Clay attempted to introduce a rule that would limit filibusters but he wasn’t able to get enough support to have the rule passed.

In 1821, shortly after Mexico gained its independence, James Long led the filibuster expedition known as the Long Expedition into Texas.  They successfully captured and held La Bahía for three days before being captured by Mexican forces. The fort remained in Mexican hands until the 1830s which led to then-President Santa Anna’s annulment of the Mexican Constitution of 1824.

But long before a filibuster was an American adventurer intent on overthrowing governments in Central and South America, and long before a filibuster had anything whatsoever to do with Senators and Members of Parliament, filibusters existed in the early 1600s.

Buccaneers, who were of English and French nationality, were the first to settle on the West Indian Caribee island of Saint Christopher.  The term “buccaneer” was derived from “boucan” or dried meat cured in the Indian style.  The French adventurers, already known as filibustiers, saw that term corrupted into filibuster.  These filibusters made repeated attempts up to 1678 to overthrow Spanish and Dutch possessions in the West Indies  and each attempt met with failure for the filibusters.  They moved on to such efforts as the 1688 attack against the Danish settlement on St. Thomas and other such expeditions.  In 1697, the French Governor of Hispanolia engaged 1,200 men which included 700 filibusters in an expedition against the Spaniards in the West Indies.

So while Jimmy Stewart’s famous filibuster scene in Frank Capra’s classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” falsely promotes the mythical yet endearing image of filibustering Senators as heroes of the people because they are standing up against a corrupt political establishment, the facts usually seem to  tell a completely different story.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

King’s Ransom

Posted by Admin on December 15, 2010

What exactly does it mean when someone says they’ve paid a King’s ransom for someone’s services or for an item?  A King’s ransom has always referred to the payment of a great deal of money to secure something the other person has in his or her possession, be it another person, an item, knowledge, experience, et al.

The History of American Yachts and Yachtsmen, published in 1901 spoke of a king’s ransom as it referred to Queen’s Cup:

Such is the brief history of the first dawn of American yachting history. A, comparatively speaking, valueless cup, but worth a king’s ransom by reason of the fifty years of glamour surrounding it, the cup which was presented under the now famous deed of gift to the New York Yacht Club July 8, 1867, to be preserved as a perpetual challenge trophy between the United States and foreign countries, not alone England, as is so often understood — but it hardly seems probable than any other country would now feel it exactly etiquette to try for it, at all events not until England has again won it, which seems a rather remote contingency,  judging from past history.

But almost 200 years before then, the British were desperate to rule the oceans.  In 1714, British Parliament passed the ‘Longitude Act’, stating that a reward of £20,000, a king’s ransom, was to be awarded to anyone who found a practical solution to the longitude problem. The longitude problem was the most exasperating scientific dilemma of the day and had been for centuries. In fact, the quest for a solution had occupied scientists for the better part of two centuries before the Longitude Act was passed.

In 1622, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha — carrying with it what was described as a king’s ransom in treasure consisting of 1,038 bars of silver, at least 7,175 ounces of gold (although gold smuggled aboard may have resulted in double or triple the amount recorded), and approximately 230,000 silver coins —  was sunk by driving wind and rain that tossed the ship onto the reefs and shoals off the Marquesas Keys, just off the coast of Florida. The ship went down in 50 feet of water and took all of the 260 lives aboard with her.

In 1525, during King Henry VIII‘s reign, according to public records held at the British Museum, Adrian de Croy, Lord of Beaurain entered into negotiations between Charles V of France and Henry VIII of England.  In a letter to a colleague, Beaurain wrote:

I cannot see how any peace be negotiated here for they are braver than ever.  As yet, the French show no intention of offering anything except their King’s ransom which is not our chief object.

In 1406, Prince James of Scotland had been sent to France to protect him from his uncle, the Duke of Albany, who had murdered James’s older brother, David.  However, before he could reach the safety of France, he was captured by the English off King’s Lynn and he spent the next 18 years of his life in the Tower of London, at the English court and in the English military service in France.  When Henry V died, the king’s ransom was negotiated and James was returned to Scotland (he was murdered some years later in 1437 at the Blackfriars Monastery in Perth by a group of lords led by the Earl of Atholl who just happened to be James’ uncle).

In 1346, King David of Scotland had assembled an army at Perth to invade England and on October 17, the Battle of Durham was fought.  The King was taken prisoner and held in the Tower of London.  While he was freed in 1357, the King’s ransom was outstanding 9 years later and the northern lords refused to give their rate towards the ransom and other financial obligations.

During the 7th crusade in 1260, Louis IX was taken prisoner in Egypt by the Turks who were in a position of strength and were led by the famous Mamluk general, Baybars.  They attacked Damietta and captured Louis IX and demanded that Louis IX‘s followers pay an enormous ransom worthy of a King’s place to secure his release. Prior to this event, no one had ever stated that they were holding a King ransom in exchange for financial enrichment, and for good reason.

The word ransom comes from the Old French word rançon, and earlier raenson which means”redemption.”   This comes from the Latin word redemptionem which means “a redeeming” from redimere. The verb is first recorded in the 13th century and therefore, it would be impossible to pay — much less demand — a king’s ransom prior to this date.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Iron Out The Kinks

Posted by Admin on June 22, 2010

Kink” is derived from the Dutch word “kink” which means to twist or  twirl  — as in a rope, wire, or a lock of hair — to such a degree as to create  especially a noticeable obstruction.   The phrase to “iron out the kinks” was well entrenched in American English as evidenced by various newspaper articles from the turn of the 20th Century.

The phrase was used by candidate William Randolph Hearst as reported in an article in the New York Times on October 23, 1906.   He reportedly said that he would spend the greater part of the week “in the city in an effort to iron out the kinks in the local situation and try to get his fusion to fuse.”

His opponent, Patrick E. McCabe, member of the State Committee and leader of the Democratic organization in Albany, was less convinced of Hearst’s ability to do so. 

However, the phrase is much older than this.  The Calendar Act passed in 1751 in the British Isles and her Dominions and in North America caused the loss of eleven days.  It was written that this Act presented to the British Parliament by Lord Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, was passed by the British Parliament in order to “iron out the kinks” in the Gregorian calendar.

The phrase to “iron out the kinks’ is an old expression that still fits all modern day mental, emotional and physical connotations.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »