Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Chaucer’

By Hook Or By Crook

Posted by Admin on February 18, 2013

When someone does something by hook or by crook, it means they did whatever was necessary (legal or otherwise) to get what they wanted.

On 14 January 2012, the Economist published an article about big shortfalls, slim their balance-sheets, and crippled credit flow in European economies as banks struggled to pull together the extra capital needed to build confidence the financial state of affairs. Despite creative accounting practices, banks appeared to be relying on “every trick in the book to avoid asking investors for more money” even though it appeared that the effort would prove fruitless. The headline read:

European Bank Capital: By Hook Or By Crook

Back on October 12, 1949 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “The Navy’s Day.” The news story was how the navy felt that the unification system administered by Defense Secretary Louis Johnson deprived the Navy of an essential role in the national defense. The first paragraph read:

Now that the Navy, by hook and by crook, has won for itself a hearing of its grievances before a congressional committee, we suggest that Defense Secretary Louis Johnson be consistent and place a gag rule on Louie Johnson. Let him follow through on his idea that public bickering is no good for unification.

Jumping back to December 27, 1890 the New York Times ran with a story entitled, “Farwell’s Bitter Fight: Long Jones Aiding Him In His Senatorial Struggle.” The concern was that Long Jones, Chairman of the Republican Central Committee, was out to oust “honestly-elected democratic State Senators.” With the General Assembly standing at 101 Democrats, 100 Republicans, and 3 Farmers’ Alliance, some politicians were convinced that Long Jones was set to snatch Democratic control of the Legislature by shelving John M. Palmer and electing Republican Charles B. Farwell instead. The story began with this announcement:

Charles B. Farwell means to be re-elected to the United States Senate if he and “Long” Jones can, by hook or by crook, bring it about.

The Morning Chronicle of Halifax, Nova Scotia shared with readers on June 6, 1865 that the New Brunswick Assembly had authorized the appointment of a delegation charged with traveling to England to correct impressions created by the Canadian Delegates with regards to where the maritime provinces stood on the question of a Federal Union of the British North America Colonies (this being 2 years prior to Confederation). The story was entitled, “A Move In The Right Direction” and reported the following in part:

It is quite clear that affairs have arrived at such a crisis in Canada that “something must be done,” and that very soon. The Canadian Delegates covet the resources and revenues of the Maritime Provinces — they envy our comparative freedom from taxation, Municipal and Provincial, and we may rest assured that, by hook or by crook, they will drag us into Confederation, if it be possible. With Mr. Cardwell’s declaration on record, however, that there was no intention on the part of the British Government to confederate the Provinces without their free consent, we feel that there is nothing to fear from that quarter.

In Chapter VII of “The Man In The Iron Mask” written by French playwright, historian, and author Alexandre Dumas (24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870) and published in 1848, the expression is found in the dinner scene. The Bishop of Vannes, M. de Baisemeaux, and Aramis (of musketeer fame) are sharing a meal together, and enjoying spirited conversation.

“Bravo!” said Baisemeaux; and he poured out a great glass of wine and drank it off at a draught, trembling with joy at the idea of being, by hook or by crook, in the secret of some high archiepiscopal misdemeanor. While he was drinking he did not see with what attention Aramis was noting the sounds in the great court. A courier arrived about eight o’clock, as Francois brought in the fifth bottle; and although the courier made a great noise, Baisemeaux heard nothing.

Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) wrote “The Fairie Queene” written between 1590 and 1596. The poem is an extended poem in three books. The first two books follows the journey of two knights, Redcrosse and Britomart, while the third deals with the destructive power of living an unchaste life. The pervasive theme throughout is that one can be transformed by evil as well as good, and in the end, Christian values and virtues are those which must be followed with unwavering faith. In Book iii, Canto i the poet wrote:

So as they gazed after her a while,
Lo where a griesly Foster forth did rush,
Breathing out beastly lust her to defile:
His tyreling iade he fiercely forth did push,
Through thicke and thin, both ouer banke and bush
In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke,
That from his gorie sides the blod did gush:
Large were his limbes, and terrible his looke,
And in his clownish hand a sharp bore speare he shooke.

The expression also appears in the British Pamphleteer, Philip Stubbes’ (c. 1555 – c. 1610) book, “The Anatomie of Abuses in England” published in 1583 he addresses the subject of the “impudence of Harlottes” and writes:

But which is more vayn, of whatfoeuer their petticots be, yet muft they haue kyrtles (for fo they call them eyther of filk, veluet, grograin, taffatie, faten or fearlet, bordered with gards, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what befydes. So that when they haue all thefe goodly robes vppon them, women feeme to be the fmalleft part of themfelues, not naturall women, but artificiall Women; not Women of flefh & blod, but rather puppits or mawmets of rages & clowtes compact together. So farre hath this cancker of pride eaten into the body of the common welth, that euery poore Yeoman his Daughter, euery Husband his daughter, & euery Cottager his Daughter, will not fpare to flaunt it out in fuche gownes, petticots, & kirtles as thefe. And not withftanding that their Parents owe a brafe of hunndred pounds more than they are worth, yet will they haue it, quo iure quaue iniuria, eyther by hooke or crooke, by right or wrong, as they fay, wherby it commeth to paffe that one can fearily know who is a noble woman, who is an honorable or worshipfull Woman, from them of the meaner forte.

Two hundred years before Philip Stubbes’ use of the expression by hook or by crook, it can be found in John Gower’s book “Confessio Amantis“, written between 1386 and 1390. The poem consists of a prologue, an epilogue, and eight books between the two. Because of the number of surviving manuscripts, historians feel that John Gower gave Geoffrey Chaucer of “Canterbury Tales” fame a run for his money, so to speak.

Perjurie is the fecond hote,
Which fpareth nought to fwere an othe,
Though it be fals and god be wrothe,
That one fhall fals witneffe bere,
That the other fhall the thing forfwere,
Whan he is charged on the boke.
So what with hepe, and what with croke
They make her maifter ofte winne
And woll nought knowe, what is finne
For covetife, and thus men fain,
They maken many a fals bargein.

Yes, as John Gower puts it, man is known to make bargains, even at the expense of his own soul, to get what he wants.

One of the earliest instances where the expression is used is found in one of John Wycliffe’s Controversial Tracts, written circa 1370 wherein he writes:

… sillen sacramentis, as ordris, and oere spiritualte, as halwyng of auteris, of churchis, and churche verdis ; and compellen men to bie alle this with hoke or croke.

The era of Middle English is between 1154 and 1485. During this time period, a crook was understood to mean a dishonest trick and a hook referred to metal bent at an angle. It is easy to see how someone who did something by hook or by crook would be someone who used everything at his disposal to get what he wanted.

Idiomation therefore puts the expression to something during the 1200s, with the earliest published version being John Wycliffe’s in 1370 — understanding that the expression was part of the vernacular long before the publication in John Wycliffe’s writings.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2011

Political strategist, Ralph Reed, was quoted in the “Hotline” column of  The National Journal on July 27, 1999 as having said:

There is a sense in presidential politics that familiarity breeds contempt. There is a time and a place to pet the pigs and kiss the babies, but that comes a little bit later.

The phrase, familiarity breeds contempt, has been used quite a bit over the years and even 100 years ago, the phrase was part of every day language as seen in the article “Advice On How To Keep A Servant” written by E.T. Stedman and published in the New York Times on August 6, 1901.

There should be sympathy and politeness on both sides, yet, while always remembering the Golden Rule, the mistress should also remember that ” familiarity breeds contempt.” We cannot do without a kitchen stove, still it is not to be placed with the piano In the parlor.

From November 1867 through to June 1868, Anthony Trollope — one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era — wrote “He Knew He Was Right” and saw it published in 1869.  In this book, he wrote:

Perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt.

However, more than 200 years before Anthony Trollope, Thomas Fuller wrote and published “Comment On Ruth.” Even though it was published in 1654, it was, in fact, one of Thomas Fuller‘s earliest compositions and was delivered by Thomas Fuller at St. Benet’s in Cambridge as far bas as 1630.  In printed form, readers find the following:

With base and sordid natures familiarity breeds contempt.

Richard Taverner wrote the book “Garden of Wisdom” published in 1539 and in this book he wrote:

Hys specyall frendes counsailled him to beware, least his ouermuche familiaritie myght breade him contempte.

However, Chaucer wrote how familiarity breeds contempt in his Tale of Melibee published in 1386.  The word “hoomlynesse” means familiarity and the word “dispreisynge” means contempt.  It is easy, therefore, to see that the following is an early version of the phrase:

Men seyn that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse engendreth dispreisynge’.

However, nearly 400 years before Chaucer, in Scala Paradisi, it is St. Augustine who is credited for having said:

Vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parit contemptum.

And before, St. Augustine, it was Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Lucius Apuleis (124 – 170 A.D.) who is credited for having written:

Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.

Ultimately, however, the moral “familiarity breeds contempt” is from Aesop (620 – 564 BC) and his fable, The Fox and the Lion.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Blues

Posted by Admin on July 21, 2010

Washington Irving is credited with having first used the term “the blues” in 1807, as a synonym for melancholy:

“He conducted his harangue with a sigh, and I saw he was still under the influence of a whole legion of the blues.”

His usage was a shortening of the phrase “the blue devils” which was a synonym that goes back to at least Elizabethan times to describe a baleful presence.

That being said, the word “blue” was used by Chaucer in his poem,  Complaint of Mars — a transitional work that finds its fulfillment in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — to represent woe.  The poem itself was written some time between 1375 and 1385. 

The idiom was reinforced by the belief that anxiety and sadness produced a blue cast to the skin of those individuals affected by sadness that lingers.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In My Mind’s Eye

Posted by Admin on July 7, 2010

While it’s true that Shakespeare used the phrase in his famous play, Hamlet, he didn’t make the phrase up as he did so many other phrases that are part of every day English these days.

A published version of the concept of seeing something in “my mind’s eye” can be found in a letter written by Hubert Languet to Sir Philip Sidney in 1577.   In his letter he wrote:

What will not these golden mountains effect … which I dare say stand before your mind’s eye day and night?

However, the concept of “my mind’s eye” was used by Chaucer in The Man of Law’s Tale, written in 1390, where he wrote:

It were with thilke eyen of his mynde, With whiche men seen, after that they been blynde.

But even before then, in 1183, a Christian mystic by the name of Joachim of Flora wrote “Exposition of Revelation” in which the reader can find this passage:

I suddenly perceived in my mind’s eye something of the fullness of this book and of the entire harmony of the Old and New Testaments.”

And so we see that even though Shakespeare made good use of the phrase, since at least the late 1100s, the words mind and eye have been paired in the sense of “a mental view.”

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

April Fool’s

Posted by Admin on April 1, 2010

There are those who will tell you that the silliness associated with April 1 began in 1582 in France with the reform of the calendar under Charles IX. The Gregorian Calendar was introduced and the week leading up to New Year’s Day was moved from March 25 through April 1  to January 1.

It all sounds very plausible except for the fact that pranks played on April 1 are documented long before 1582.

Chaucer (who has been referenced previously in other idioms at this blog) made mention of April Fool’s Day in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales in 1392. 

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.

In 1508, Eloy d’Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer wrote a poem entitled, “Le livre de la deablerie.”  The poem includes the line, “maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d’avril.”  The term “poisson d’avril” is the phrase shouted out when someone falls for an April Fool’s prank.

Flemish writer, Eduard De Dene, published a poem in 1539 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st.  The last line of each stanza has the servant saying, “I am afraid that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.”

So while it’s next to impossible to say for certain when the custom of playing pranks on others on April 1 first began and who was responsible for it all, it’s a fact that April Fool’s Day  has been around and acknowledged for centuries.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

This looks like something Katie shot at and hit!

Posted by Admin on March 24, 2010

This expression comes from the Czechoslovakian saying, “Potrefená Husa nejvíc kejhá” which, literally translated, is:  “A shot goose gabbles the most!”   The English equivalent is, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.”

In 1744, Matthew Bishop used the English expression in his book, “The Life and Adventures of Matthew Bishop of Deddington in Oxfordshire.”  However, there are earlier versions of this phrase including the Scottish proverb recorded in 1721 that states:  “A guilty Conscience self accuses. A Man that has done ill shews his Guilt” and in 1597 in Elizabethan anthology, Politeuphuia in the passage that read:  “A Guilty conscience is a worme that bites and neuer ceaseth.  A  guiltie conscience is neuer without feare.”

It goes back farther than that and a version of the expression is found in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales written in 1390 in the story, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue.”  In this tale, Chaucer writes:  “For Catoun  seith that he that gilty is Demeth alle  thyng be spoke of him.”

However, all of those are a rewording of a passage from the Bible  from the book of Genesis  that speaks of the situation between Joseph and his brothers:   “And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph’s house; and they said, Because of  the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us,  and take us for bondmen, and our asses.” (Genesis 43:18)

So if a shot goose gabbles the most, then someone who speaks as if he or she is guilty is certainly going to look like “something Katie shot at and hit!”

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Piping Hot

Posted by Admin on March 16, 2010

There are those who will say this phrase originates with the slang, known as Jack Speak, of the British Royal Navy known.   Supposedly, JackSpeak refers to the fact that if food is collected from the galley as soon as the appropriate ‘pipe’ sounds, then it is still hot when it’s served.

However, an early citation of the phrase is given in Philemon Holland’s 1601 translation of Pliny’s History of the world:  “Beans …  fried all whole as they be, and so cast piping hot into sharp vinegar.”

Even earlier than that the expression was first recorded in Chaucer’s 14th Century Canterbury Tales.  In the Miller’s Tale, Chaucer wrote:  “Wafers piping hot out of the gleed.”  The wafer is a kind of thin cake and gleed is the hot coals of a fire.

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