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Posts Tagged ‘Calgary Daily Herald’

Cats Always Land On Their Feet

Posted by Admin on August 5, 2013

Every once in a while, someone will say that a cat always lands on its feet when talking about how some people wind up coming out of bad situations without suffering any negative consequences. It’s based on the belief that cats actually have a way of always landing on their feet. But is it a fact or a myth? And if it’s a myth, how did it become an idiom?

It would seem that, according to journalist Kathy Antoniotti of the Akron Beacon Journal, the tale that a cat always lands on its feet is a myth, as discussed in their article of August 4, 2013 entitled, “9 Superstitions and Myths About Cats.” Taking on a select number of superstitions, myths and old wives’ tales about cats, she discussed the belief that cat’s always land on their feet by writing this:

Cats always land safely on their feet: Although cats are amazingly flexible, a cat can be injured in a fall. They have been known to break their front legs and jaws if they land on their feet.

When the Sunday Herald in Connecticut published an article on why a cat always lands on its feet in their October 2, 1960 edition of the newspaper, journalist Chapman Pincher included diagrams from Dr. Donald McDonald of London, England. The article was brief but detailed, and stated clearly that cats who were blindfolded fell in a heap and sustained injuries. Interestingly enough, cats that were born without the normal balancing organs present in the ears still managed to land safely on all four feet, and so it would seem that sight is the primary sense needed for a cat to land safely on its feet from any height. The article was aptly entitled, “A Cat Always Lands On Its Feet.

Back in the Calgary Daily Herald on November 23, 1933, the newspaper carried a news article written by Howard W. Blakeslee who was the Associated Press Science Editor at the time. The story was from Massachusetts, a little less comprehensive than the article published in the 1960 newspaper example, and began with this paragraph:

Solutions of some household mysteries — how a fly dodges a swat, why a cat always lands on its feet, how your canary hovers in the air — were shown to the National Academy of Sciences today.

Of course, the description of how the cat mystery was resolved was disconcerting as the article stated that a cat was dropped over a table from a height of 18 inches, where the cat immediately flailed about in the air until it managed to right itself when it was “barely more than four inches above the table.”

Historically speaking, Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, is said to have thrown cats from a tower in 962.  The town (located in Belgium) marked the event with a cat festival, and up until 1817, it was recorded that cats were thrown from a 70-meter tower to mark the event.  However, starting in 1818, toy cats were thrown from the tower instead.  The cat festival is celebrated every three years, with the next one scheduled for 2015.

But where did the myth originate that so many people repeat as an idiom these days?

To find the answer to that, we have to go to the Middle East. There you will find an ancient folk legend, according to Encyclopaedia Iranica, that explains that once upon a time, the first Imam, Alī, blessed the cat’s back by caressing it. Because of this folk legend, the expression gorba-ye Mortażā-Alī or “Alī’s cat” began to be used to refer to people in difficulty who always found a way out of their troubles, thereby “landing on their feet.” The legend appears to go trace back to the 7th century.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Middle East | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All Dressed Up And No Place To Go

Posted by Admin on April 6, 2011

There’s a song called “When You’re All Dressed Up And No Place To Go” was written by Benjamin Hapgood Burt (1880-1950) and Silvio Hein (1879-1928) for the 1913 play, “The Beauty Shop” and appeared in the J.C. Williamson’s production of “Mr. Manhattan.”

When the light shines bright o’er the town at night,
And it’s laughter, wine, and song,
Life is one delight if you stand in right
But it’s fierce when you stand in wrong.
Though your soul may cry for the life on high,
And your coin you would gladly blow,
‘Tis a bitter cup to be all dressed up
When you’ve no place at all to go.

It was a well-used phrase as evidenced by a headline that ran in the Calgary Daily Herald on January 8, 1914 just 3 months after “The Beauty Shop” had opened on Broadway. The story told the story of how the Edmonton Eskimos had made a come back, defeating the Calgary Chinooks with a score of 8 to 4 in a scheduled inter city hockey game.  The headline read:

Eskimos Defeat Chinooks By Fine Combination
All Dressed Up And No Place To Go

Jumping back nearly a hundred years before, to Winslow, Maine a headstone dating back to 1837 bears this inscription:

In memory of Beza Wood.
Departed this life on November 2, 1837, age 45 years.
Here lies one Wood enclosed in wood, one Wood within another.
The outer wood is very good, we cannot praise the other

End elsewhere in Thermon, Maryland a headstone dating back to the same year reads:

Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.

And so, in the end, the atheist is the last person left standing, so to speak.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Whitehall Mandarin

Posted by Admin on March 18, 2011

It was only just recently that the expression Whitehall mandarin was brought to the attention of Idiomation.  Unfamiliar with the Whitehall reference but familiar with what mandarins are, Idiomation decided to research this expression.

On January 12, 2011, the Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article written by Hugh Muir that stated:

In came Lord Adonis, carrying with him, many thought, the airs of the minister he once was. He wants the institute to do policy, while Lord Sainsbury wanted it to focus on improving Whitehall‘s competence. Now, to the bemusement of staff, Lord A has gone off on a round-England jaunt to promote the government’s plan to impose elected mayors on the big cities. And he was missed last week, when the institute had the chance to slam the government over select committee criticism of the Eric Pickles chaotic bonfire of the quangos. All they could muster up in the boss’s absence was former mandarin Ian Magee, whose performance on the Today programme did little to rouse the troops. Much muttering among the lower ranks.

It was because of Hugh Muir that Idiomation began to wonder what it meant when someone in government in the UK was referred to as a mandarin.  The Glasgow Herald ran an article by Allan Laing on April 8, 1981 entitled “Great Escape Veteran Still Fighting Prison Camp Pay Battle” in which he wrote:

A committee of ex-Servicemen has been formed under the chairmanship of the Earl of Kimberley in the hopes that the Whitehall mandarins can find the resources to honour what many consider to be the last — and one of the most important — of Britain’s wartime debts.  The campaign has already prompted the Government to carry out an investigation into the PoW claims. Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, Under-Secretary of State for Defence, has given a pledge that he will announce the results of the inquiry “at a later date.”

Scotland’s evening newspaper, the Evening Times, reported on the amendments to the Finance Bill on July 2, 1968 in an article entitled, “Why Not Largs?” It read in part:

Hotels in Millport are exempted from the levy of 37s 6d per man, 18s 9d per woman; but hotels in Largs still have to pay.  Troon is exempt, but not Ardrossan. And so it goes on … Clearly M.P.s will have to start all over again and try to knock sense into the Whitehall mandarins who thought up this ill-considered scheme. The idea may have been sound in intention, but it has been badly bungled all the way in execution.  Scotland depends heavily on tourism for revenue. 

Austin Coates published a light-hearted account of his time as a magistrate dealing with two legal systems and cultures in Hong Kong during the 1950s.  The book was entitled, “Myself A Mandarin.”

It is said that the concept of the welfare state was started in London in 1940 by a group of bureaucrats under the leadership of Sir William Beveridge.  This group was comprised of Whitehall mandarins for the most part and although they did not originate the idea of the welfare state, they built upon the idea as set forth by Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898). 

However, the Whitehall mandarins existed prior to 1940 as shown by an article in the January 2, 1929 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald in an article entitled, “Soccer Teams Requested To Hold Standing: Unusual Request By Foreign Office Causes Amusement And Scorn.”  The article reported that:

The Daily Express severely criticizes the foreign office, saying “the views of the Whitehall mandarins seems to be that unless our footballers are fairly certain of winning, British prestige would receive an irreparable blow, the peace of Europe would be endangered and Sir Austen Chamberlain would have to do whatever Stressemann told him.  It does not matter in the least whether we beat the Germans at soccer or are beaten by them, but it does matter a great deal that we should be free and willing to meet them in the friendly strifes and rivalries of peace.”

By the time 1925 arrived, British barrister, Baron Claud Schuster, had spent a decade as Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor’s Office and was described as a Whitehall Mandarin.  Schuster’s contacts and service led to greater influence over policy decisions than a Permanent Secretary normally would have had.

The term mandarin is associated with the concept of the scholar-official who is not only educated in the literary arts and Confucian learning but who also performs civil service duties. In China, mandarins were selected between the years 605 through to 1905 on merit by way of an extremely rigorous imperial examination.  In the western world, the word mandarin refers to any civil servant — although it’s most often a senior civil servant — and usually the reference is in a satirical context.

Whitehall is a road that is recognized as the centre of Her Majesty’s Government in Britain; the road is lined with government buildings housing various government departments and ministries.  Because of this, Whitehall has been used as an overall term to refer to any governmental administration in the U.K.

With regards to the civil service, open competitive examination was introduced in Great Britain in 1854.  At that time, the phrase “civil service” was applied to the most officials serving the state in a professional capacity.  It is most likely that the expression Whitehall mandarin followed shortly after competitive examinations were introduced.

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