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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

Ignorance Is Bliss

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 1, 2018

Ignorance is bliss, or so some would have you believe. For those who offer this up as sage advice, it is usually because they feel the other person is more comfortable not knowing facts than knowing them. In other words, what you do not know, cannot hurt you.

The expression was very popular in the entertainment industry over the years.

Punk rockers, The Ramones included a song with this title on their “Brain Drain” CD in 1989. Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar included a song with this title on his “Overly Dedicated” CD in 2010.  The BBC had a comedy quiz on radio from 1946 through to 1950 titled, “Ignorance Is Bliss” and in 2009, “House” had an episode with that title.

If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s history, perhaps it’s because ignorance is bliss in some instances. Or perhaps not.

The Jefferson County Post edition of 19 August 2013 published an article by the Editor in the Stranger Than Fiction column. The history of surgeries and medical procedures was the main theme, beginning with an introduction that spoke of doctors being far more responsible for President James Garfield’s death in 1881 than the assassin who fired a bullet and injured him. The title of the column was “Ignorance Is Bliss.”

In 1911, the phrase was used in Volume 12 of “The Post Office Clerk” in an article by New Yorker, C.P. Franciscus in his article “The Fallacy Of A Proverb.” The author saw fit to add an extra note directed specifically at the indifferent and apathetic members of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks in the hopes that it the article would “create a DOUBT of the correctness of theory and the stability of your attitude.”

This applies to all for notwithstanding our protestations of innocence, we know more than once. Remorse has tormented us and Conscience has compelled a plea of guilty — and usually we urge in extenuation our ignorance. Thus we see the fallacy of the oft quoted proverb “If ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.” Before quoting it again try to realize how utterly ridiculous and incompatible such sentiments are with truth. Ignorance is the handmaid of poverty, the companion of sloth, the paramour of disease, and the forerunner of dissolution and death. It is the weapon of the tyrant, the despot, the demagogue, and trickster. It has enslaved millions and still holds in bonds of serfdom countless thousands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Christopher C.P. Franciscus was a clerk of the New York Post Office as well as the president of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks. He was elected to the position in 1918.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was organized in 1899, and was created by merging the United National Association of Post Office Clerks with the National Association of Post Office Clerks.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was incorporated under the laws of Maryland on 25 January 1900 and its first president was Joseph P. Healy of New York City. The first national convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ from September 3 through 6, 1900 and saw 72 delegates representing 50 branches attend. The estimated membership at the time was 4,000 members.

In an 1850 edition of the Punch, or The London Charivari magazine, the question “Where is bliss to be found?” was asked and answered.

The poet who told us that “ignorance is bliss” was certainly right as far as pantomime bliss is concerned, for it would be much better to be ignorant of such bliss altogether. A walk through the “Halls of Happiness” after the curtain goes down, when clown is being released from the top of the pole, upon which his popularity has placed him, and the other heroes and heroines of the night descend from their uncomfortable elevation into the arms of the carpenters, while the fireman extinguishes the sparks still remaining with his heavy highlows, and prepares his hose for the night — such a ramble behind the scenes would afford sad proof of the emptiness of all theatrical felicity.

Even English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) weighed in on the subject of ignorance being bliss. In Chapter VIII of “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” where readers learned how Mr. Winkle shot at the pigeon and killed the crow, then shot at the crow and wounded the pigeon, and all manner of other interesting things, the expression is found.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden-gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appears; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. ‘Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! There are times when ignorance is bliss, indeed.

However, it was English poet, classical scholar, and Pembroke College professor, Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) who wrote “Ode On A Distance Prospect Of Eton College” in 1742 that was published by English bookseller, poet, and playwright Robert Dodsley (13 February 1704 – 23 September 1764) in 1747 that say the first publication of the expression where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

In the end, ignorance isn’t really bliss unless not being in the know is somehow better.  All that being said, ignorance is bliss dates back to 1742 thanks to Thomas Gray and all those who came after him.

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

Bold As Brass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cattywampus

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 7, 2016

Beginning in 1919, moonshine was outlawed and so many of the farmers in the southern United States hid their stills deep in the caverns that dotted their countryside.  In the evening, when all the work on the farm was done and the menfolk wanted to gather without the womenfolk knowing about it, all it took was the sound of a shotgun to set things in motion.

The sound of a shotgun meant that one of the farmers had seen a Wampus Cat, a fearsome variation of cougar with glowing eyes, that haunted the forests of East Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky.  When the shot was fired, everyone within earshot came running.

Of course, once everyone was gathered, they’d slip on down into the cavern where the moonshine still was hidden away, and indulge in some man cave time away from the women.  In 1943, all that changed due to changes in the law regarding moonshine.  But the fact that the cattywampus was blamed only served to make the fictional animal all the more real over the years.

In 1916, the Fourth Estate (which was a “newspaper for the makers of newspapers and investors in advertising” according to its tagline) carried an interesting tidbit about the cattywampus in its New Year’s Day edition.

The “Wampus Cat” is the latest creation of Charles H. Gatchell, cartoonist for the Cleveland (Ohio) Press and creator of the “Colonel Al Ibi” series.  Someone in the office remarked recently that “Gatch” was a “Wampus Cat” at making cartoons, and “Gatch” immediately drew up plans and specifications for what he thought a “Wampus Cat” ought to look like.

Imagine the consternation among the art staff when a scientific subscriber wrote in and stated that there really is such an animal as a “Wampus Cat” and that it doesn’t look anything like “Gatch’s” characterization.

On page 225 of Volume 4 of “Dialect Notes” published by the University of Alabama Press in 1917, a definition for catawampus (or wampus cat) was included.

Catawampus (or wampus) cat, n.phr. A virago.  “She’s a regular catawampus cat.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  A virago is the word used to describe a domineering, aggressive woman.

Charles Dickens’ serialized story “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” published in 1843 through 1844 used the word catawampous in the sense that’s found in the stories of the southern U.S. States.  Perhaps it’s because he had returned from a six-month voyage to America with his wife, Catherine, in 1842 that he included it in this story.

“Snakes more,” says he; “rattle-snakes. You’re right to a certain extent, stranger. There air some catawampous chawers in the small way too, as graze upon a human pretty strong; but don’t mind THEM — they’re company. It’s snakes,” he says, “as you’ll object to; and whenever you wake and see one in a upright poster on your bed,” he says, “like a corkscrew with the handle off a-sittin’ on its bottom ring, cut him down, for he means wenom.”‘

IMPORTANT NOTE 2:  Charles Dickens did not enjoy his trip abroad in America.  He was appalled at the commonness of society (which included spitting tobacco into a spittoon) and insulted at how poorly he was treated by the press.  He held no hope for America achieving any sort of moral improvement, and disapproved of slavery.

It would be easy to let the trail end here, however, the fictional Wampus Cat isn’t the beginning of the expression catawampus or cattywampus.  The word appears in Volume 16 of Punch magazine published in 1849 where it’s used in a story titled, “A Few Days In The Diggins” by a “Free and Independent.”  The author, it would seem, wished to remain anonymous.  That being said, this is the passage that includes the word.

Toted my tools to Hiram K. Doughboy’s boarding shanty, and settled with him for blankets and board at 30 dollars per diem.  Catawampus prices here, that’s a fact; but everybody’s got more dust than he knows what to do with.

By 1864, the word cattywampus was understood in the United States of America to mean that something was askew, out of whack, or wrong which is the meaning the word carries to this day.  But back in the 1830s, the word was used as an adverb in the sense of “utterly and completely.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the word.  In light of the fact that cattywampus was published in the 1830s implies it was used in conversation in years leading up to the 1830s so Idiomation pegs this to a generation earlier to about 1800.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Pleased As Punch

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 7, 2016

When you’re pleased as punch, you’re more than just happy, you’re very satisfied with the end results of a situation or accomplishment.  And who wouldn’t be?  After all, isn’t punch (as in the beverage served in a large bowl at gatherings) pleasing?  But wait a minute!  Is the punch of the expression pleased as punch the same punch as the punch found in a punch bowl?

Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey (27 May 1911 – 13 January 1978) — and later on Vice-President of the United States of America — was particularly fond of saying he was pleased a punch.  In fact, he was so fond of the idiom that it was called his catch phrase.

However, back when Hubert Humphrey was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, newspapers began to use his catch phrase to paint him in a different way.  The Sarasota Herald-Tribune of March 12, 1972 published an article about his campaign, delighting readers with their description of Hubert Humphrey being a “tireless hand shaker, a skilled busser of babies, a man trying very hard to show that he’s still a viable leader.”  The opening paragraph said it all.

Sen. Hubert Horatio Humphrey of Minnesota is not saying he’s “pleased as punch” much anymore, but he is definitely in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Of course, this was followed up with pointing out that he had tried for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 and lost because he wasn’t much competition for the charming and charismatic John F. Kennedy.   The next comment was that he had won the nomination in 1968 and lost the election.  Oh my!  When his political life is framed in this way, there’s definitely a lot less to be pleased as punch over!

SIDE NOTE 1:  In the United Kingdom, insults and accusations are exchanged between rival members of Parliament, in what is referred to as “Punch and Judy politics.” Prime Minister David Cameron used the phrase in a speech he gave in 2005.

In the July 4, 1938 edition of Life magazine, the column “Life On The Newsfronts Of The World” led with a story about U.S. President Roosevelt.  Coming out of the Depression Era, things were looking up for America.  The New York Stock Exchange had recently posted six successive million-plus-shares days that say stock prices rise by fourteen percent.  The article began thusly:

Pleased as punch, President Roosevelt smiled contentedly into a battery of news cameras on the evening of June 24 as, according to custom, he posed for the press immediately before delivering his thirteenth fireside chat.

Roosevelt’s fireside chats — thirty in all — were first radio and then television addresses where the president spoke directly to Americans the way one imagined the president spoke with close friends.  The first one, on March 12, 1933 addressed the banking crisis after which public confidence was temporarily restored in some small measure.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Harry Butcher, a reporter for CBS News, coined the term “fireside chat” in time for Roosevelt’s address of May 7, 1933, and the term stuck, in large part because it was in keeping with the informality of Roosevelt’s addresses to the American public.

In Volume 121 of Harper’s Monthly Magazine published on June 1910 carried the story, “The Wild Olive” trumpeted as a novel by the author of “The Inner Shrine.”  Chapter XX titled, “Part IV: Conquest” opened with Evie and Miriam, and the situation of who Evie may or may not be engaged to — Herbert Strange or Norrie Ford.  Her uncle was of the opinion she was engaged to one and not the other, but Evie wasn’t so easily convinced.

“Well, I mean to be true to him — a while longer,” she said, at last, as if coming to a conclusion.  “I’m not going to let Uncle Jarrott think I’m just a puppet to be jerked on a string.  The idea!  When he was as pleased as Punch about it himself.  And Aunt Helen said she’d give me my trousseau.  I suppose I sha’n’t get that now.  But there’s the money you offered me for the pearl necklet.  Only I’d much rather have the pearl — Well, I’ll be true to him, do you see?  We’re leaving for Newport the day after to-morrow.  They say there hasn’t been such a brilliant summer for a long time as they expect this year.  Thank goodness, there’s something to take my mind off all this care and worry and responsibility, otherwise I should pass away.  But I shall show Uncle Jarrott that he can’t do just as he likes with me, anyhow.”

In Volume 2 of the book, “My Friend Jim” written by English novelist and short story author, William Edward Norris  (18 November 1847 – 1925) and published in 1886, the phrase comes up in a conversation between two friends discussing affairs of the heart as it has to do with a common friend of theirs, Beauchamp, and Lady Mildred (whose father is Lord Staines).  Chapter XVI begins by telling readers that murder will out, and that scandal (no matter how small) in time become public property despite all efforts to keep things quiet.  As the friends gossip about the situation at hand, the duplicity of relationships comes to light.

“Not yet; but he may do it any day.  In fact, it is quite certain that he has come here in order to do it.  He wrote to Lady Mildred, offering himself for a week, which he would hardly have done unless he had meant business.  From what he has let fall, I suspect that he has had a quarrel with Lady Bracknell, and has decided to cut himself off from her.  Old Staines is as pleased as Punch; he looks upon the thing as settled.  Harry, what the deuce am I to do?”

During this time period, pleased as Punch and proud as Punch were used interchangeably with the same meaning.  The Volume 38 of the “London Charivari” published on May 5, 1860, the poem, “The Little Man and the Little Plan, or, The New Reform Coach” is found.  The poem has no attribution, and so the poet’s name is unknown to readers.  What is known is that there was no love lost between the author and the Whigs in British parliament.

Proud as Punch, craned to catch the public praise, praise, praise,
But, to his great surprise, instead of cheers and cries,
Of “Bravo, Johnny Russell!” from the crowd, crowd, crowd,
All was scorn and sneer and scoff — “Throw him over!” “Pull him off!”

SIDE NOTE 3:  The “London Charivari” was also known by it’s other name — Punch magazine.

Charles Dickens himself used the expression in his 1854 novel, “Hard Times – For These Times” published in 1854.  It was the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, and the shortest of all the novels he wrote.  What’s more not one scene was set in London, having been set in the fictional town of Coketown (a generic milltown that was similar in some ways to Manchester as well as to Preston).  The novel was serialized in his weekly publication, “Household Words” between April 1854 and August 1854.

In Chapter VI, the action opens at Pegasus’s Arms, a public house in town. Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby arrive and, greeted by the young girl, Sissy, they are shown to a room where Sissy goes from room to room afterwards in search of her father, Signor Jupes.  It’s not long before they are joined by Mr. Childers and Master Kidderminster.

“When Sissy got into the school here,” he pursued, “her father was as pleased as Punch.  I couldn’t altogether make out why, myself, as we were not stationary here, being but comers and goers anywhere.  I suppose, however, he had this move in his mind — he was always half-cracked — and then considered her provided for.”

Miss Godfrey (half-sister of the husband of Anna May Chichester aka Lady Donegall who also corresponded with Thomas Moore) wrote a letter to Thomas Moore dated February 22, 1813 to Thomas Moore in which she described Bessy’s gown.  Interestingly enough, not only does she use the idiom pleased as Punch, she refers to the fact that poets use the expression as well!

We had a grand ball here the other night, and you cannot imagine the sensation that Bessy excited; her dress was very pretty, and ‘beautiful,’ ‘beautiful,’ was echoed on all sides.  I was (as the poet says) as pleased as Punch!

In Act I of “Secrets Worth Knowing: A Comedy In Five Acts” by English playwright, Thomas Morton (1764 – 28 March 1838), published in 1802, and performed at the Theatre-Royal in Covent Garden, England the idiom appears near the beginning of the play.  The conversation is taking place between the valet, the butler, the coachman, the cook, and the footmen as the audience learns that the master they knew has died, and they await the arrival of his heir.

COACHMAN
I pulls with you, Mr. Valet — young master must in the main be glad, for we all know that the old gemman, seeing that he run skittish, kept him upon low provender beyond sea.  So my verdict is, Mr. Butler, that we all smiles agreeably.

BUTLER
So say I.  Dam’me, I’ll look as pleased as Punch, ha! ha!

VALET
Softly.  And will you, Sir, who have but thirty ponds a-year, dare to be as pleased at seeing your master, as I, who have fifty?  No, no — subordination is every thing.

The idiom pleased as Punch is found in William Gifford’s, “The Baviad, and Maeviad,” published in 1797.

Oh! how my fingers itch to pull thy nose! As pleased as Punch, I’d hold it in my gripe.

While the earliest published version of pleased as punch that Idiomation found was from 1797, the fact of the matter is that the spirit of the idiom dates back to the 1660s, and can be traced directly back to the Punch and Judy shows.  This is because many of the early references — whether it’s proud as Punch or pleased as Punch — capitalize the word Punch.  This means that the word Punch isn’t actually a word, but rather a proper name.

The Punch and Judy puppet shows began popping up across Britain just as the restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660.  Under the reign of Charles II (14 May 1660 – 1685) and that of his brother, James II (1685 – 1688), the English, Scottish, and Irish monarchies were restored under one rule.  Charles II was a supporter of the Punch and Judy shows, that in October of 1662, Charles II ordered a royal command performance at Whitehall in the Queen’s Guard Chamber.

One might say that Charles II was pleased as Punch with the performance as the creator of the Punch and Judy show, Signor Bologna alias Pollicinella, was rewarded by Charles II with a gold chain and medal, along with a gift worth £25 at the time (according to online calculators, they put the equivalent of that amount to £3,500 in 2015 currency).  With that level of compensation from a King of England, it would be a good guess that Signor Bologna was also pleased as Punch.

Punch the puppet delighted in hurting others and getting away with hurting others.  Every time he physically assaulted another character and got away with it, it came with Punch‘s catchphrase, “That’s the way to do it!” which was always done in a sing-song voice.   In other words, Punch was proud to have done what he did, and he was pleased with the outcome of his assaults.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Two other phrases that came from the Punch and Judy shows are punch line and slapstick.

SIDE NOTE 5:  May 9 is International Punch Day.

So while Idiomation was only able to trace the first published version of pleased as Punch to 1797, it’s a safe bet that the term was in use long before 1797.  Idiomation’s guess is that shortly after the Punch and Judy shows received great praise from Charles II, the idiom pleased as Punch came into being in conversational English, and then in written English.

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

The Dickens

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 10, 2015

Whether it’s something you have a dickens of a time doing or something is happening like the dickens, most people don’t give a second thought as to what the dickens are in the first place.  What people do know is that the dickens seems to mean a lot.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on December 8, 2015 titled, “How Kitchen Tools Revolutionized American Cooking” written by Megan McArdle.  The article began with introducing readers to centenarian Chuck Williams who passed away on December 5.  Were it not for his trip to France in the 1950s, many of the fancy kitchen gadgets that are part of the kitchen arsenal may not have found their way into American kitchens as early as they did.  In the article, the writer shared this with readers:

I mean, yes, I know how to chop onions just fine. But doing so makes me cry like the dickens, unless I wear goggles.

A little over a hundred years ago, the idiom was found in literature including Issue No. 604 of the Secret Service series titled, “The Bradys’ Chinese Clew or The Secret Dens of Pell Street” by A New York Detective (that was the only identity given the author” and published August 19, 1910.  The publisher, Frank Tousey, was located in Union Square in New York City.  The words were used in this passage:

“Sit down,” replied Old King Brady.  “You are terribly wet, my boy.”
“Yes, it’s raining like the dickens.”
“Won’t you have something to eat?  A cup of coffee.  You get good coffee here.”
The boy sat down with a shudder.

In 1852, London publishers, Hope and Co., on Great Marlborough Street, published a book by the author Eireeneespaid’ published a book with an equally strange title, “Eireeneespaid’ Agathoontegigantaisophilos, the Good Natured Giant.”  This passage in the story used the dickens three times to make its point.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, he struggled on unconscious for a little while, though something or other, ever and anon, gave a nudge at the calf of his leg.  The outward man at length gave the alarm.  “What the dickens?” (it was an old expression of surprise handed down from his ancestors, but without any explanatory note or comment) “what the dickens?”  He put his hand to his attacked calf; it was a fat calf, a very fat calf, of course, Mr. Jarvis being a very fat man.  There was tangibly a sort of slimy moisture on the surface, “What the dickens?”

Some will insist that the idiom has to do with English writer and social critic, Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) but history easily disproves this.  Even if one disregards what Eireeneespaid’ wrote in his book in 1852, it’s difficult to believe that the idiom was an oblique reference to Charles Dickens.

Yes, it’s true that he wrote and published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and that the last name of the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is used to describe miserly people, the same cannot be said of Charles Dickens’s last name.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  In 1840 the U.S. Federal Census Data showed that Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and New York.  By 1920, the Dickens families were found mostly in Tennessee and North Carolina.  The dickens you say!

In Volume 2 of “The Humourist: Being Essays Upon Several Subjects” in the essay titled, “Of Hopers” the idiom is used.  The book, published in 1725, predates Charles Dickens’s birth by nearly a century so it’s a fact that the dickens used in any form obviously has nothing to do with Charles Dickens.  The author of this collection of essays is identified as John Thomas Hope, however, he is also identified elsewhere as Thomas Gordon.

He would needs make me seat my self in his own Place within the Chimney, an Honour which I was at first determin’d to decline ; but I found him invincible in his Complaisance:  Pugh, said he, you are too modest,  Sir you don’t know me ;  what the Dickens!  Have not I been whip’d at the Cart’s Tail too?

In Cocker’s “English Dictionary” compiled by scrivener and engraver Edward Cocker (1631– 22 August 1676), identified as the late famous practitioner in Writing and Arithmetick, with the second edition published in 1715 by John Hawkins.  The first edition, published in 1704 also included the dickens.   The following definition is provided for the word dickens.

Dickens, a Corruption of Devilkins, or little Devils; as, the Dickens take you.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Edward Cocker was mentioned by Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) in 1664, who described him as “very ingenious and well read in all our English poets.”  When Edward Cocker died in 1675, it’s said that his last poem was titled, “Cocker’s Farewell To Brandy.”  The poem contained these lines:

Here lyes one dead, by Brandy’s might power,
Who the last quarter of the last flown hour,
As to his health and strength, was sound and well

In Act III, Scene ii in “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” by William Shakespeare (April 1564 – 23 April 1616) takes place on a street where Mistress Page and Robin (the page to Sir John Falstaff) are met by Ford (a gentleman living at Windsor).  The play was written in 1597 and published in 1602.

FORD
Well met, Mistress Page. Whither go you?

MISTRESS PAGE
Truly, sir, to see your wife. Is she at home?

FORD
Ay; and as idle as she may hang together, for want of company. I think, if your husbands were dead, you two would marry.

MISTRESS PAGE
Be sure of that — two other husbands.

FORD
Where had you this pretty weather-cock?

MISTRESS PAGE
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?

ROBIN
Sir John Falstaff.

FORD
Sir John Falstaff!

Around the same time of Shakespeare’s play, the play “Edward The Fourth” by English playwright, actor, and author Thomas Heywood (1575 – 16 August 1641), published in 1599, also used the term.  In Act III, scene i, Hobs, the Tanner of Tamworth and the Duchess share this exchange.

HOBS
Do you demand what’s dear?  Marry, corn and cow-hides.  Mass, a good nug lass, well like my daughter Nell.  I had rather than a band of leather she and I might smouch together.

DUCHESS
Cam’st thou not down the wood?

HOBS
Yes, mistress; that I did.

DUCHESS
And sawest thou not the deer imbost?

HOBS
By my hood, ye make me laugh.  What the dickens?  Is it love that makes ye prate to me so fondly?  By my father’s soul, I would I had job’d faces with you.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the dickens, however, since it was used by both William Shakespeare and Thomas Heywood in their respective plays, it indicates that the dickens was common usage at the time.  This puts the dickens to at least the mid-1500s.

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

Almighty Dollar

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 13, 2015

When someone views material goods and possessions as more valuable than anything else in life, it’s said that the person has placed his or her faith in the almighty dollar.  It can also mean that the person in question feels that his or her financial worth makes him or her more powerful than anyone else with whom he or she comes into contact.

Ozzy Osbourne liked the phrase so much that back in 2007, he used it in his song “Almighty Dollar” on his album, “Black Rain.”

When Charles Dickens wrote “American Notes For General Circulation” in 1842, he made sure to include the almighty dollar in Chapter III entitled, “Boston.”  The passage wasn’t complimentary towards Boston or Bostonians in the least.  In fact, the author wrote that the influences and tendencies which he distrusted in America may have been only his personal views on the country, but he was also just as quick to add that perhaps he wasn’t mistaken at all in his summation of the country.

The fact of the matter is that, contrary to how it may seem in his book, Charles Dickens loved America and its people.  In fact, in the Preface to this book he wrote:

Prejudiced, I am not, and never have been, otherwise than in favour of the United States. I have many friends in America, I feel a grateful interest in the country, I hope and believe it will successfully work out a problem of the highest importance to the whole human race. To represent me as viewing AMERICA with ill-nature, coldness, or animosity, is merely to do a very foolish thing: which is always a very easy one.

However, when it came to writing about Boston, he was just as quick to remark the following:

It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe the almost imperceptible, but not less certain effect, wrought by this institution among the small community of Boston; and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires it has engendered; the affectionate friendships to which it has given rise; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts of that vast counting-house which lies beyond the Atlantic; and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.

When American author Washington Irving — author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — first visited Louisiana’s bayou country, the approach to life the people exhibited was one that appealed to Irving.  This easy-going way the people had became the basis for his story, “The Creole Village” published in the November 12, 1836 edition of Knickerbocker Magazine.

As we swept away from the shore, I cast back a wistful eye upon the moss-grown roofs and ancient elms of the village, and prayed that the inhabitants might long retain their happy ignorance, their absence of all enterprise and improvement, their respect for the fiddle, and their contempt for the almighty dollar.

It’s true that Edward Bulwer-Lytton added to Washington Irving’s idiom, by stretching the idiom out to become the “pursuit of the almighty dollar” as is seen in his novel “The Coming Race” published in 1871.

But Washington Irving can’t take full credit for the idiom, the spirit of which is found in English playwright, poet, and literary critic, Ben Jonson’s “The Forest” published in 1616, an older version of the idiom is found in the “Epistle To Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland” where Madam begins by saying:

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold,
And almost every vice, almighty gold,
That which, to boot with hell, is thought worth heaven

Even then, the phrase already implied what it means in today’s terms.  However, the phrase goes back even further than that with regards to Ben Jonson (11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) — a literary rival of William Shakespeare.  He used the very same line as in a letter to the Countess of Rutland in 1599 as he did in the epistle written 17 years later. Elizabeth was the Countess of Rutland from March 1599 — when she married Roger Manners,5th Earl of Rutland — until her death in 1612.

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold, and almost every vice — almighty gold.

From a historical perspective, it was after the Crusades (1095 to 1291) that gold began to climb within economies as the price for all commodities was measured by gold.  To this end, gold signed power in that whoever had the gold, held the power regardless of whether it was a King or a merchant.  This led to people perceiving gold as being powerful … all-powerful … even almighty.  Some even worshipped gold as much, if not more than, God Almighty.

So while Washington Irving may have been the first make mention of the almighty dollar, the spirit has been used by generations going back to at least the 13th century.  The religious overtone that seems to be part of the idiom is incidental, as commerce has shown.

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Throw Down The Gauntlet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 9, 2014

When someone throws down the gauntlet, they’re challenging someone to defend a belief, a comment, a principle, or another person. The expression exists to this day even though few people seem to know what a gauntlet is.  The word gauntlet is from the Old French word gantelet which means glove.

On October 3, 2014 the Guardian newspaper reported on the Conservative Party in Britain’s threat to no longer be a signatory to the European Human Rights Convention. If the happens, this could complicate life for those living in Britain who wish to file human rights complaints against their government. The article was titled, “Tory Plans for European Human Rights Convention Will Take UK Back 50 Years” and the second paragraph in the news story read:

The Conservative plans, outlined in an eight-page paper, throw down the gauntlet to the Council of Europe, the 47-country body that enforces the convention. Either the council accepts that the policy is a legitimate way of applying the convention, or the UK will withdraw from it.

In the 1902 and 1906 editions of “A Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language Designed to Suggest Immediately Any Desired Word Needed To Express Exactly A Given Idea” compiled by Francis Andrew March, LL.D., L.H.D., D.C.L., Litt.D., and his son, Francis Andrew March, Jr., A.M., Ph.D., the idiom was listed both as throw down the gauntlet and fling down the gauntlet.

Their resource book, however, was based on the 1852 edition of the “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in An Composition” by British physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer, Peter Mark Roget (18 January 1779 – 12 September 1869). He published his thesaurus in 1852, and for generations afterwards, students and scholars have reached for their “Roget’s Thesaurus” to help them find the right word when writing.

Back in 1850, in the book by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870), “David Copperfield,” the author used the expression in Chapter 28 titled, “Mr. Micawber’s Gauntlet.”

‘And here is Mr. Micawber without any suitable position or employment. Where does that responsibility rest? Clearly on society. Then I would make a fact so disgraceful known, and boldly challenge society to set it right. It appears to me, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, forcibly, ‘that what Mr. Micawber has to do, is to throw down the gauntlet to society, and say, in effect, “Show me who will take that up. Let the party immediately step forward.”‘

I ventured to ask Mrs. Micawber how this was to be done.

‘By advertising,’ said Mrs. Micawber – ‘in all the papers. It appears to me, that what Mr. Micawber has to do, in justice to himself, in justice to his family, and I will even go so far as to say in justice to society, by which he has been hitherto overlooked, is to advertise in all the papers; to describe himself plainly as so-and-so, with such and such qualifications and to put it thus: “Now employ me, on remunerative terms, and address, post-paid, to W. M., Post Office, Camden Town.”‘

The idiom was indeed well-known in the years leading up to “David Copperfield” being published and can be found in a Letter to the Editor of the London Magazine (also known as the Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer) written and published in Volume 51 in December 1782. The author of the letter took issue with parallels that had been drawn between Hume and Bolingbroke, in the September edition article, “Hume and Bolingbroke, A Parallel.” Perhaps the author objected to this comparison:

Bolingbroke’s genius was bold, picturesque, splendid, and oratorical, that of Hume seemed more acute, concise, and penetrating. The one is distinguished by a lofty and daring imagination, by an inexhaustible brilliancy of ideas, and by a diction peculiarily full, expressive, and tropical, the other by a clear and subtile understanding, by deep and accurate thinking, and by a stile uniformly emphatical and elegant.” 

In his Letter to the Editor, the author wrote:

We here throw down the gauntlet, and bid defiance to his most credulous and most admiring flatterers, to produce a theory, a dissertation, or even a single thought, which we cannot trace to the source, and refer to the original owner. To invent and to embellish; to create and to clothe; are very different operations. The ranks of the master and of the scholar are never to be confused.

The idiom was also in use in the early 1700s as shown in the book “Sermons Upon Several Occasions” by John Scott, published in 1704.   This sermon was preached before the Artillery Company of London at St. Mary Le Bow on September 15, 1680.  In Sermon III — based on Proverbs 28 — the following can be read.

Reason to love, not to desire any thing but what he hath fair hope to enjoy, not to delight in any thing but what is in his Power to possess and keep, it being, I saw, in his Power to be effected as he pleases, and to regulate his own Motions according as he thinks fit and reasonable; he may chose whether he will be a Coward or no, and should the grimmest Danger stare him in the Face, yet supposing him to have such a Command of himself, as not to desire what he cannot have, not to dread what he cannot prevent, not to grieve and vex at what he cannot avoid; he may throw down the Gauntlet to it, and defy it to do its worst.

Now some sources claim that the phrase originated as a result of something William de Haverford is said to have done in 1462. However, the only person by that name who may qualify for having been the person in the claim was approved by Henry III as Prior of Carmarthen back in 1253. It’s doubtful that nearly 200 years later, that Sir William de Haverford was having a wage dispute with Geoffrey Clare. And yet, perhaps the story was accurate with only the name of the person throwing down the gauntlet being incorrectly identified. Except that Geoffrey Clare was born in 953 and died in 1015, calling the story with the 1462 date into question unless it refers to another William de Haverford who was in the employ of another Geoffrey Clare.

Equally interesting is the fact that the spelling of the word gauntlet wasn’t always with the “u” included, and can be found in documents from the 1540s as gantlet.  The use of the “u” when spelling the word gauntlet first appeared in the book “A Brief History of the War With the Indians in New-England” by Reverend Increase Mather (1639 – 1723) which was published in 1676. His book presented his interpretation of the fighting between the English colonists in New England (and their Indigenous allies) and the Wampanoag, Naragansett, and other Indian nations of the region … a war that began in 1675.

What is known is that during Medieval times, full plate armor was in use by the end of the 14th century, with single plate protection for joints and shins worn over full chainmail armor being fashionable in the late 13th century. In fact, gauntlets were worn by knights in armor during the late 13th century and the gauntlet was used as a token to signify the knight’s personality and reputation. It was not uncommon, in French terms for a knight to “tender son gantelet” which means to present his gauntelet representing his word, his honor, and his reputation.

It was 15th century German fencing master, Hans Talhoffer (1410 – 1482), who wrote in his manuscript published in 1459 entitled, “Ms.Thott.290.2º “ that despite the fact that the Church disapproved of duels as a way to resolve conflicts between two parties. During the Renaissance, from the 14th to the 17th century, were increasingly accepted as the manner in which respectable gentlemen resolved disputes.  Respectable gentlemen, however, did not wear armor on a day-to-day basis.  They did, however, carry gloves, and with that a man’s word, honor, and reputation was transferred to his gloves.

With this information, Idiomation believes that the figurative act of throwing down the gauntlet dates back to the mid-1400s, and the literal meaning came into play in the early 1500s based on documentation from the 1550s that describes throwing down the gauntlet to defend one’s honor and reputation.

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If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2014

When wishing for things that are useless, you may hear someone respond to wishful thinking with if ifs and ands were pots and pans. The expression in modern times is more commonly known as ifs, ands or buts because language, as we know, is always evolving. However, over the generations, the idiom has oftentimes been reduced to merely ifs and ands.

In 1929, James Milton Carson published a 16-page booklet entitled, “The Ifs and Ands of Race Track Gambling In Florida.”  While Idiomation hasn’t had occasion to read the publication, the title says it all, don’t you think?

Just a touch over a century before that, the expression is found in the “Melodist, and Mirthful Olio: An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs, Recitations, Glees, Duets, Etc.” The Olio was the work of actor John Pritt Harley (February 1790 – 27 August 1858), edited by Charles Dixon, and printed and published in 1828 by H. Arliss of Cutter Lane in Cheapside. John Pritt Harley was known as an actor of great versatility as well as the manager and principal actor at the St. James’s Theatre in London where the comic burletta, “The Strange Gentleman”  — written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) — was first performed. The song in the Olio is entitled, “A Song Of Ifs And Ands” and begins with this verse:

If ifs and ands were pots and pans,
‘Twould cure the tinker’s cares;
If ladies did not carry fans,m
They’d give themselves no airs.

In the book “Letters from Hudson Bay” published by the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, an R. Staunton is quoted in 1723 as having written:

… Mr. Myat giving him but a very indifferent character, and not to have stocked one new gun this year; which made me call him to know what he can undertake in one year besides overhauling the English and mending the Indians’ guns that hunts for the factory. He replied with a great many ifs and ands.

English theologian and philosopher Ralph Cudworth (1617 – 26 June 1688) published his principal philosophical work, “The True Intellectual System of the Universe” in 1678. He was considered one of the most important of the Cambridge Platonists, a group of philosophers from the University of Cambridge who promoted rationalistic theology and ethics. The group also included such historical figures as Henry More (1614–1687), Benjamin Whichcote (1609–1683), Peter Sterry (1613–1672), John Smith (1618–1652), Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), and John Worthington (1618–1671). In his book, he wrote:

Thus, therefore, the idea of God, or an absolutely perfect being, including in it not an impossible, nor a contingent, but a necessary schesis, or relation to existence, it follows from thence absolutely, and without any ifs and ands, that he doth exist. For as of things contradictions, having therefore in the idea of them an impossible schesis to existence, we can confidently conclude, that they never where, nor will be.

In the play “Spanish Tragedie” Act II Scene, written by Thomas Kyd (6 November 1558 – 15 August 1594) and published in 1587, there is a brief exchange between Pedringano, servant of Bel-imperia and Lorenzo, Don Ciprian’s son (Don Ciprian being the Duke of Castile) as well as Bel-imperia’s brother. The play is one of many revenges, including Balthazar’s affirmation that he intends to kill Horatio for stealing Bel-Imperia’s love from him after hearing that Bel-Imperia has supposedly has feelings for Horatio, and Lorenzo spurs his friend on. The quick exchange between the servant and the brother is as follows:

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord!

LORENZO
Yet speak the truth, and I will guerdon thee
And shield thee from what-euer can ensue,
And will conceale what-euer proceeds from thee;
But, if thou dally once againe, thou diest!

PEDRINGANO
If madame Bel-imperia be in loue—

LORENZO.
What, villaine! ifs and ands?

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord! she loues Horatio!

And the expression is found in the account “Beheading of Lord Hastings” in the book “The History of Kyng Richard the Third” by Sir Thomas More, published in 1577. The account is alleged to have been written by Sir Thomas More in 1513, and describes an event that took place in 1432.

What quod the protectour thou servest me, I wene, wi ifes and with andes, I tel the thei haue so done, and that I will make good on they body traituor.

The story also implies that Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was familiar with the nursery rhyme:

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans
There would be no need for tinkers’ hands!

This would, indeed, seem to be the case since he used the shortened version in 1432.  Since the first recorded nursery rhyme dates back to the 13th century, and many nursery rhymes were recorded in English plays by the 16th century, it is reasonable to believe that the claim that Richard III was familiar with this specific nursery rhyme.

That being said, the most reasonable date for this idiom is somewhere between 1425 and 1450, when adults raising Richard III would have had occasion to recite the nursery rhyme to him as a child.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Down At Heel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 14, 2013

He’s down at heel. She’s down at heel. They’re down at heel. So what’s going on with those who are down at heel,or down at the heel? It means the opposite of well-heeled. In other words, those people are impoverished. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, those who are down at the heel are shabbily dressed because of poverty … shabby to the point of seedy.

The Glasgow Herald ran a story on February 25, 1960 about the salary increases for teachers in primary schools. It was suggested by some politicians that a marriage allowance such as the one provided to those in the Army should be considered. In fact, one politician was so distraught about the situation that the newspaper reported this:

Lieutenant-Colonel A. Forbes Hendry (West Aberdeen – Con.) said they should pay particular attention to the married teachers. It was not unusual to see young women teachers riding about in motor cars while the older, married teachers walked about looking very much down at heel — almost as down at heel as parish ministers.

The Deseret News edition of July 18, 1908 had an interesting tidbit on the American embassy in London as described by a businessman who had traveled extensively and visited various other American embassies in different parts of the world. He was quoted as saying:

Our embassy in London is one of the poorest business propositions I have ever come across. Besides the whole down-at-heel appearance of the place, it lacks certain necessities which even a second-rate business concern in a backwoods town would possess. There is not even a vault at the embassy to keeps state papers in; and the most valuable books and documents are placed promiscuously about the office where any one with a little ingenuity could abstract them if he wished. If there was a fire at the embassy, papers of the utmost importance would be lost simply for the want of the most ordinary business foresight.

In the novel “Little Dorrit” written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870),the idiom appears in Chapter 7.  The novel was originally published in monthly parts from December 1855 through to June 1857, and later as a complete novel. The story is a satirical look at government and society, and their respective shortcomings therein. The idiom appears in this passage in the book:

Tip tired of everything. With intervals of Marshalsea lounging, and Mrs Bangham succession, his small second mother, aided by her trusty friend, got him into a warehouse, into a market garden, into the hop trade, into the law again, into an auctioneers, into a brewery, into a stockbroker’s, into the law again, into a coach office, into a waggon office, into the law again, into a general dealer’s, into a distillery, into the law again, into a wool house, into a dry goods house, into the Billingsgate trade, into the foreign fruit trade, and into the docks. But whatever Tip went into, he came out of tired, announcing that he had cut it. Wherever he went, this foredoomed Tip appeared to take the prison walls with him, and to set them up in such trade or calling; and to prowl about within their narrow limits in the old slip-shod, purposeless, down-at-heel way; until the real immovable Marshalsea walls asserted their fascination over him, and brought him back.

Jumping back to 1732, the 10th edition of “A Gentleman Instructed In The Conduct Of A Virtuous And Happy Life” by English Jesuit theologian and writer, William Darrell (1651 – 28 February 1721) was published. Originally printed by E. Evets at the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s church-yard in 1704, the later edition includes this:

Sneak into a corner … down at heels and out at elbows.

Somewhere between William Shakespeare’s time and William Darrell’s time, however, the idiom changed slightly to become down at heels. Before that, it was said that those living in impoverished conditions were out at heels. The idiom is found in Shakespeare’s tragedy, “King Lear” published in 1608. Those of you studied this play in school remember that the title character goes mad after he is betrayed by two of his three daughters and his ill-conceived decision to disown his third daughter. Kent, is a nobleman who disguises himself as a peasant, and gets himself into a fair bit of trouble thanks to his outspoken ways. In Act II Scene ii, Shakespeare wrote this exchange between Kent and Gloucester:

KENT
Pray, do not, sir: I have watched and travell’d hard;
Some time I shall sleep out, the rest I’ll whistle.
A good man’s fortune may grow out at heels:
Give you good morrow!

GLOUCESTER
The duke’s to blame in this; ’twill be ill taken.

Just a few years before that play, Shakespeare’s 1602 comedy “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” hit the stage (although it’s believed it was written in 1597). The play was a snapshot of English life in a provincial town and seems to be based on the 1558 Italian play Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino.  In Act I, Scene iii, the following dialogue takes place:

NYM
The good humour is to steal at a minute’s rest.

PISTOL
‘Convey,’ the wise it call. ‘Steal!’ foh! a fico
for the phrase!

FALSTAFF
Well, sirs, I am almost out at heels.

PISTOL
Why, then, let kibes ensue.

FALSTAFF
There is no remedy; I must cony-catch; I must shift.

PISTOL
Young ravens must have food.

The expression goes back further than that even. When Elizabethan poet and dramatist, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632) wrote a play entitled, “North-Ward Hoe” in 1607.

DOLL: They fay Whores and bawdes go by clocks, but what Manafles is this to buy twelue houres fo deerely, and then bee begd out of ’em fo easily I heele be out at heeles shortly sure for he’s out about the clockes already : O foolifh young man how doest though fpend thy time?

But even in 1553, the expression was used in the book “The Art Of Rhetorique” authored by Sir Thomas Wilson (1520 – 1581). While Thomas Wilson was no stranger to the privilege of class, he had an interesting position from which to view the politics of class. At the time of the book’s publication, he was in the employ of Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk (widow of Charles Brandon who had been a close friend of Henry VII) as a tutor to her sons. It’s in this book that the idiom appears as out at heeles as shown in this passage:

Wherein me thinkes thei do like some rich snuges [misers] that havyng greate wealth, go with their hose [stockings] out at heeles, their showes [shoes] out at toes, and their coates out at both elbowes. For who can tell, if soche men are worth a grote [groat] when their apparell is so homelie, and al their behaviour so base? I can call them by non other name but slovens, that maie have good geare [clothes], and neither can nor yet will, ones [ever] weare it clenly. What is a good thing to a man, if he neither knowe the use of it, nor yet, though he knowe it, is hable [able] to use it?

For it to be used in this context in 1553, it is reasonable to believe that the term was an accepted figure of speech as early as 1500. Additionally, the word heel meaning the back of the foot became part of the English language some time during the 1400s and as such, once can assume that some time between 1400 and 1500, the idiom began to form.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Devil May Care

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 3, 2013

When someone has a devil-may-care attitude, what it means is that he or she doesn’t worry about the results or consequences of his or her actions, and recklessly so. It’s actually a shortened idiom. The entire idiom is, “The devil may care, but I do not.”

In New Delhi, the Indian Express newspaper published on June 24, 2011 reported on the ICICI Banks, and their treatment of customers. It told the story of one customer in particular who had applied for a loan with which he hoped to buy a car, but he found out that a second loan in his name existed … one the customer hadn’t applied for, and for which he hadn’t signed. When he addressed the matter with the bank, the bank’s response was to have their customer charged with a criminal offence.

“How callous a banker can get is well illustrated by this case … It is a classic case where the respondent bank (ICICI) has adopted a devil-may-care attitude,” a district consumer forum bench headed by its president Rakesh Kapoor said while asking the bank to pay the damages. The bench, which also included its members S c Jain and Prem Lata, passed the judgment on a complaint filed by Delhi resident Anil Kumar Arora.

As for the final outcome of the criminal charges against the customer, the courts had this to say about the bank:

“The amount of harassment to which the complainant was subjected, against whom a criminal case was also filed, speaks volumes about the reckless, arbitrary, careless and callous manner in which this case was dealt with in the office of the ICICI bank,” the bench said.

Jumping back to November 10, 1943 journalist E.V.W. Jones covered the story of 19-year-old Nancy Oakes who begged a Bahamas Supreme Court jury to find her husband, Alfred de Marigny, innocent of the charge of murdering her millionaire father, Harry Oakes. It was a brutal murder followed by a sensational trial, and newspapers across that United States and Canada carried the Associated Press story entitled, “Nassaur Case May Go To Jury Today: Nancy Stands By Accused DeMarigny.” The article read in part:

The debonair De Marigny, pictured by the prosecution as a devil-may-care fortune hunter who killed his father-in-law because he feared he might lose a share of a vast estate, wept silently in the prisoner’s cage when his young wife started her testimony.

Now some who are painted as having a devil-may-care attitude are well-loved by the population as evidenced in the news article published in the Baltimore Morning Herald of November 26, 1903. Originally posted in the New York Evening Post, the article began with asking questions about the policy of pinpricks to which President Roosevelt was being subjected by Republican senators. The article included this paragraph for the newspapers’ readerships to consider:

It seems to us that the President’s betrayal of uneasiness only lays him open to fresh badgering. His unconcealed anxiety about the New York situation will give delight to every Hanna boomer West and South. As a rule, the country does not like to see a President advertising his eagerness for renomination.  Where is the big, good-natured, devil-may-care Roosevelt that we had fondly hoped was in the White House? The more worriment he confesses the more will his tormentors be encouraged to bait him. And if, by perchance advocating ship scandals, or letting down in the civil service, or throwing more offices to Platt, he makes it plain that his ambition is consuming, he will thereby but play into the hands of his enemies, and make his own ultimate disappointment the more probably.

Back on March 17, 1860 the New York Times published an article entitled, “The Slave-Trade: The Actual Character Of The Traffic.” The story was from St. Paul De Loando off the West Coast of Africa and had been written on January 25, 1860 (taking nearly 2 months to make to American shores for publication). The story carried this bit of insight:

The second class of slave-trade society are the semi-genteel cut-throats. This class includes in its ranks captains, supercargoes and officers of slavers. The law could make these gentry oscillate for half an hour between heaven and earth, with a rope around their necks, but it don’t. Out here they — especially the first two — are a well-dressed set, with plenty of money. They knock around in a devil-may-care style, drink plenty of liquor, are patronized by cutthroat number one and his set, and are often labeled “first-rate fellows.” They are not at all debarred from society here. Entirely unprincipled they are, of course; and some of them look as though they would cut your throat for a trifle.

A number of dictionaries state that the first published use of the expression was 1837 however none of them provided a source to support the claim. Idiomation, however, found it in “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens and published in 1837. Chapter 29 opens with this paragraph:

In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago–so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it — there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath.

It’s doubtful, however, that Charles Dickens was the first to coin the expression as it also appeared in “The Warwickshire Hunt from 1795 to 1836” written by an author known only as Venator, and published in 1837 as well. In the prefatory remarks, the following is found:

This is the sort of witchering, not easily defined — but, by its votaries, pretty sensibly felt, in hunting the fox. The light-hearted high-spirited stripling, when cigaring it careless to cover, with a kind of a knowing demi-devil-may-care twist of his beaver, receives in his transit a benison from every real friend of the chase he may chance to pass; and the airy, eager zeal of the youthful aspirant to rolls, tumbles, and the brush, will flush his memory with the frolic gayety of other days, and animate his mind with reflections most welcome to his heart.

Philip Morin Freneau (2 January 1752 – 1832) wrote his poem “The Expedition of Timothy Taurus, Astrologer” in 1775. One of the verses includes the idiom as follows:

Then the soldier went out, to refresh at the inn —
Perhaps he did not — if he did it’s no sin —
he made his congee, and he bowed to us all,
And said he was going to Liberty Hall:
‘Tis certain he went, but certainly where
I cannot inform, and the devil may care.

That the thought wasn’t finished is immaterial as the implication is that the speaker in this poem does not care. Of note as well is the fact that the expression is used with the knowledge that readers understand what is meant by the author,

Idiomation believes the expression reaches back at least another 2 generations, to the 1720s.  This is based on Idiomation’s suspicions that the spirit of the idiom is a result of the Golden Age of Piracy (1715 – 1725) where on the High Seas pirates recklessly went about their business with no worry or concern as to any consequences resulting from their actions. The only being that might care about their actions would be, of course, the Devil hence the expression.

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