Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Daily Tribune’

Dutch Rub

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 31, 2011

A Dutch rub is when you hold someone’s head under your arm in a headlock and rub the knuckles back and forth across the top of that person’s head.  Some people refer to it as a noogie or a monkey scrub or a hippo handing or a Russian haircut or a Yankee dime or a barbershop quartet, but it’s been a Dutch rub for longer than it’s been any of those other things.

On October 23, 2006 John Den Boer mentioned Dutch rubs in a blog article on his blog site that dealt with the Dutch.  His blog site has been around since 2003 and he describes himself as someone who enjoys mumbling his disagreements with various newspaper columnists.  The last sentence in this blog article was:

Perhaps I should have turned to my antagonist and given him a good old fashioned Dutch rub.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette edition of December 29, 1996 published an article entitled, “The Great Noogie Uprising” written by William Safire.  The author was imparting his knowledge of certain actions from the Indian rub to the noogie.  The article he wrote stated in part:

Noting the hard g, making the word rhyme with boogie-woogie, etymologists will make the connection of noogie with knuckle; rooted in the Dutch word knock, “bone.”  That led to Middle Low German knoke, and to Middle English knockel.  By the 1940s, knuckle was also a slang word for “the head” leading to the World War II use of knucklehead as a jocular put-down.  Further evidence that the Bronx term has roots in Holland is that the transitive verb knuckle, “to press or rub with the knuckles” has also been called a “Dutch rub,” causing many a victim to “knuckle under.”  That is the only synonym to noogie noted in scholarly literature, leading to the conclusion that a noogie is clearly not an Indian burn.

On April 27, 1965 the New York Times published an interesting news piece by Russell Baker entitled, “Observer: Child Things.” The opening paragraph began with, “Children write to complain that they are bored and life is no fun. “What can we do?” they ask. The following list of things for children to do is based on a survey of things their parents did when they were children.”  However, one of the things suggested to children was this popular neighbourhood activity:

With several other friends, seize the new kid in the neighborhood and give him a Dutch rub. To give a Dutch rub. make a fist and rub the knuckles vigorously across his head.

Back on October 6, 1940 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a sports article by Edward Burns entitled, “Reds Even World Series: Sox Beat Cubs 3-2.”   Paul Derringer scored 5 hits and the writer noted that “Big Paul holds Detroit to five hits.”  The story had an accompanying photograph and the blurb beneath it read:

A happy Paul Derringer (left), gets an old-fashioned Dutch rub from Manager Bill McKechnie after the big right hander had set down the Tigers with five hits.

Six years earlier, the Los Angeles Times published a sports article on October 4, 1936 entitled, “With Wirephoto Photographers At Work Series Game In New York.”  With a word count of only 232 words, the photo and accompanying descriptor said it all.

Irving (Bump) Hadley, winning pitcher for the New York Yankees in yesterday’s tight-fisted 2-1 game with the Giants, gets a Dutch rub from Lou Gehrig.

While the “Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English” dates the expression back to 1930, Idiomation questions this based on the ease with which it was used in sports articles in the 1930s.  What’s more, there was a cartoon strip back in the 1930s known as Timid Ted that advertised the benefits of Ovaltine.  Poor Timid Ted was a nervous, shaky, scrawny boy who, over the course of a number of cartoons, became the alpha male in the neighbourhood.  But before that happened, Timid Ted‘s readers were treated to a number of sad cartoons depicting what a sorry child Timid Ted was and how much of a disappointment he was to his parents.  One of these cartoons showed a group of tough kids looking at Timid Ted with the caption above one boy’s head that read:

After these highballs let’s razz that puny Simpson kid.  Hold his arms while I give him a dutch rub.

In fact, Warren Faulkner of Oregon stated in 2000 at the age of 78 that the term Dutch rub was very much a part of his boyhood.  This would put the expression sometime during the late 1920s.  This supports the belief that when an expression appears in print without quotation marks, it is an expression that dates to at least the previous generation.  To this end, it is not unreasonable to believe that the expression Dutch rub dates back to about 1920.

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Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Duck Soup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 23, 2011

When someone mentions that a task or assignment is duck soup, what they’re telling you is that it can be very easily accomplished.  The expression gained popularity due in large part to the 1933 Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup” but the Marx Brothers aren’t the ones who coined the expression.

On January 26, 1962 the Ottawa Citizen newspaper published a story entitled, “Oil Blaze Duck Soup To Texan Fire-Killer.”  The story reported on how Red Adair, a Texan,  nonchalantly put out an oil well fire and immediately flew back to Texas to take on another oil well fire.  The story reported the following:

With the help of others he doused the flames with chemicals Thursday, then filled the well with a special mud to stop the oil from flowing.

“It was duck soup compared to some of the fires I’ve fought,” said Adair.  How much the Sun Oil Company of Calgary, which brought in the well recently, will pay him has not been announced.  But an official said the company had already spent $100,000 before he arrived — the fire broke out last Friday — and any fee charged would be worth it. 

On December 24, 1943 the Ellensburg Daily Record in Washington state published a news story entitled, “Rocket Planes Duck Soup To Yankee Fighters.”  It was the height of World War II and the article began with this:

German planes mounting the new rocket guns are “duck soup” for American fighter planes, says Wellwood Beall, vice-president in charge of engineering at Boeing Aircraft Company.  Beall, just back from watching Fortresses perform over Europe, reported bombers have taken some “terrific punishment” from rockets but that he could find no cases of a direct hit.

“Ships carrying rocket guns are slow, inaccurate and duck soup for American fighter planes,” he said. “Our boys line up to see who’ll shoot them down.”

The Milwaukee Journal published an article on August 8, 1931 about Burleigh Grimes of Owen, Wisconsin who was an aging but effective spitballer playing with the St. Louis Cardinals at the time.  The article was entitled, “Grove! Pooh!   He’ll Be Duck Soup Says Grimes.”  Burleigh Grimes was quoted in the story as saying:

“Sure, there’s one way we can lose,” Burleigh explained.  “If we don’t hit, we can’t win.  If we don’t make runs, we can’t win.  But let us make a few runs and we’ll knock ’em over in a hurry.  Grove!  Pooh! says he’s got ’em scared to death in that league.  Who’s he got to beat? We bet im last year, didn’t we?  And he’ll be duck soup for us this October.  And now about Earnshaw?  I guess he’ll have another streak like he had last year? I guess not.”

On August 12, 1918 the Toronto World newspaper printed a news story by Ida L. Webster.  This reporter wrote about two baseball games played on the same afternoon between Toronto and Buffalo. The news story was entitled:

Leading Leaflets Took Two Games: Bisons Proved To Be Duck Soup For Howley’s Wild Men On Saturday.

According to “The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang” the expression “duck soup” first appeared in a newspaper cartoon in 1902 drawn by T.A. Dorgan.  The cartoon shows a man in a Police Court juggling a bottle, pitcher, plate and salt shaker and the caption underneath read: Duck Soup.

However, Idiomation was able to find an even earlier printed reference in the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 23, 1897 on page 10 in a story containing 1,792 words.  In other words, it was a sizeable news story!  A business interviewed for the story stated:

I am out of the business and so this fight is duck soup for me.

We kept researching and came across the expression in the Detroit Free Press on October 24, 1893 on page 8 in an article entitled, “Salting Western Mines: How Eastern Strangers Are Taken In By Sharpers.”  The article was 2,295 words in length and dealt with the subject of con men who made their schemes work.  The article stated that a salted mine was so called because the con man easily fooled “eastern tenderfoots” headed west to grow rich overnight with his con game.  The story underscored the fact that suckers made for fine food for mining sharks.  The story included these two sentences:

The McDonalds were “duck soup.” They were quietly moved over to Alder Gulch by a syndicate of sharpers who needed more money to develop properties.

Since the expression duck soup was used in such a prominent newspaper in 1893, it can be assumed that the general population of the day understood the meaning of duck soup.  This places the expression in the vocabulary of the day. That the expression appears in quotation marks, however, implies that it may have been a relatively new expression at the time.  It can therefore be assumed that the expression dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1880s.

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

Barge In

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 11, 2011

To barge in certainly has no positive connotations.  It can mean to intrude as in to enter uninvited or to interrupt as in to break into a conversation already in progress to which the person barging has not been invited to join. 

But a barge is also a large boat, generally flat-bottomed, that’s used to transport goods and which are occasionally self-propelled.  Barges have been around since they were used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt.  Some were even very decorative when they carried royalty down the river and these sorts of state barges were used in Europe up until modern times.

Back on June 1, 2010 NBC News New York posted a news story on their website entitled, “Boy, 14, Pulls Gun in Rockland School.”  It had been the second gun scare at that school in less than a year. 

The school went into lockdown at around 9 a.m. during the gun scare. The same school had a lockdown on June 9, 2009, when an irate parent barged in and held the district superintendent at gunpoint.

Almost 50 years before that, the Greensburg Daily Tribune ran a story entitled “Marines And Truman In Peace Move” published in the September 7, 1950 edition.  The article read in part:

Mr. Truman yesterday apologized to the Marines for his “unfortunate choice of language” in describing them as the “navy’s police force.”  Today he made an unscheduled visit to the convention of the Marine Corps League here.  Delegates who only yesterday were shouting criticism of the President for his statements turned into applauding supports today.  The chief executive barged in unexpectedly by Gen. Clifton B. Cates, commandant of the Marine corps.

Long before there were television series and soap operas, stories were published in newspapers.  On November 1, 1935 the Pittsburg Press ran a story by Aleen Wetstein entitled, “One Girl Chorus” that began with this paragraph:

I hope you won’t think I’m terribly impertinent barging in on you like this, Miss Pendergast, but I’ve beenreading you so long in the magazines, I just feel I know you.

When “The Door Of Desire” was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on September 6, 1923, it told the story of Martin Thayne who had been engaged to Jacqueline Craye and whose cousin was none other than Julian, the second Viscount Montore who had killed a man named Thurlow who had blackmailed him.  The story included this passage on September 6, 1923:

“It’s not very, but it passed with him, and no one else has barged in except yourself.”  Martin came slowly forward, and stood on the opposite side of the writing table.  He leaned his hands upon it and peered down at Julian. Twice he tried to speak and failed.

On November 1907, the Nelson Evening Mail newspaper in New Zealand ran a short news bit entitled, “Barging In The Army: A Guards Officer’s Complaint.”  It quickly gave the highlights of a Court of Inquiry cast where the allegations of Lieutenant Woods of the Second Battalion Grenadier Guards that his superiors were impeding his career in the hopes he would resign.  The reason for this effort was due to the fact, according to Lieutenant Woods, that he was more studious than other officers.

It would seem that somewhere between 1905 and 1920, the expression “barging in” came to mean something similar and yet very different, the former implying something one more likely associated with what happened to barges in the waterways with the latter implying intruding into someone’s home.

However, in many documents referring to school boys of the 1880s, what’s interesting to note is that they had made a game of bumping into each other as if they were large, cumbersome barges they had seen on the waterways.  The joke was always that one boy had “barged in” on another boy and although it took a generation for the phrase to make it into the English language with the current definitions for the phrase, it did indeed get its start in the U.S. in the 1880s … thanks to the boys.

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

Black Out (as in unconscious)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 30, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious.

With regards to falling unconscious, this meaning originated with pilots who sometimes fainted briefly when pulling out of a power dive. It soon was transferred to other losses of consciousness or memory in the 1940s.

An unfortunate story was published in the May 28, 1979 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel in a news article entitled, “Boy Dies Making Self Black Out.” The article included this in the story:

After class was dismissed Wednesday afternoon, Paul and several companions went out on the playground, and he gave them a demonstration. Use two fingers, he pressed on the front of his neck to stop the air flow and blacked out.

Back on September 14, 1962 the Victoria Advocate published a story on then-31-year-old San Francisco Giants star outfielder, Willie Mays. He had been free of injuries and ailments in previous eight seasons with the Giants which is why a black-out spell was of concern to management at the time. The story was entitled, “Mays Due Hospital Tests After Black-Out Spell.” The first paragraph read:

Officials of the San Francisco Giants ordered a thorough physical examination Friday for star outfielder Willie Mays, who blacked out Wednesday night. Mays will stay in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital over night and have the tests Friday morning, according to Manager Alvin Dark.

The December 22, 1944 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Anti-Black-Out Suit” and reported:

Berger G-suits, designed to keep fliers from “blacking out” in steep dives and other maneuvers, are the latest togs for army and navy fighter pilots. The army’s ” G-suit “– the “G” is for gravity — is a pair of high waisted pneumatic pants with built-in suspenders and girdle, and air bladders over the abdomen and legs.

For pilots, greying out or blacking out was a serious problem when it happened. A black out was a complete loss of vision due to no blood getting to the eye even though the pilot was still conscious at the time. The loss of memory that was part of blacking out and falling unconscious was particularly disconcerting to pilot trainers, air force personnel, researchers and, of course, pilots. It was observed that black outs left pilot completely unaware that they have been unconscious and provided them with a false perception of how well they were coping with “positive G” or “eyeballs down G.”

In the mid-1920s, Royal Air Force pilots who were training for the Schneider Trophy became adept at knowing the point at which they would move from a black out to completely losing consciousness.

As an interesting side note, the first manned flight — which was 12-seconds long — was on December 17, 1903 and the first 5-minute manned flight was on November 9, 1904. The American government bought its first airplane in 1909 and the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown in 1912. On July 18, 1914 an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. In other words, blacking out became a new expression in the 20th century thanks in part to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Horsing Around

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 19, 2011

Whether you’re taking part in boisterous play, teasing, or not taking a situation seriously, have you ever been told to stop horsing around?  That’s because horses — like humans — charge around to release energy, sometimes with little warning that the horse is about do just that.  The end result of this kind of behaviour in horses is that sometimes they wind up bolting which causes all sorts of problems in itself.

Some of you may remember that back in June 2000, country singers Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw along with road manager Mark Russo got into a scuffle with police at a music festival near Buffalo, NY.  In the end, a jury found them not guilty for their roles in the ruckus.  The news story carried by the Eugene Register Guard in Oregon in May 2001 read:

Singer Just Horsing Around, Jury Decides

Forty years before that incident, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried a story on January 2, 1960 about “the serious business of deciding conference champions” on the college basketball front.  The news story headline read:

College Cagers Will Not Be Horsing Around Tonight

Back on February 1, 1932 journalist Strickland Gillian wrote “The Washington Wash” for the Los Angeles Times.  The story spoke about debts and the habit of passing the buck with regards to that debt. 

It’s all cockeyed.  What is the rising generation to learn about honesty and regarding obligations with nations horsing around this way over every debt? Carter Glass has been trying hard all this session of Congress to do something to remedy the situation.

The Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Retailer Blamed For High Prices” on May 12, 1909.  It addressed the comments made by Senator Scott who precipitated a discussion in the Senate that led to charges that retail dealer were charging consumers outrageous prices for household goods.

“Why should you ask me to be less boisterous,” retorted Mr. Tillman, “when some other Senators have been high-horsing around here as if they were in a circus?”  Mr. McLaurin chided the Republicans with having abandoned the theory that the foreigner pays the tax, and asked to know who did pay the tax if the duty did not raise the price.

The expression “horsing around” grew from the phrase “horseplay.” 

Bishop Joseph Butler‘s first recorded visit to Durham was in May, 1751, when he met a few people on his way to Stockton. At Barnard Castle, he wrote that a crowd gathered round him, and “in rough horse-play some of the rabble pumped water on the listeners from a fire-engine which they brought up.”

A letter written in 1668 by Bishop Burnet to Sir William Morrice, discussing the falling out between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington, he wrote:

The Lapland knots are untied, and we are in horrid storms: those that hunted together, now hunt one another; but, at horse-play, the mater of the horse must have the better.

In April 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a letter to his daughter, Margaret Roper that detailed how he had appeared before Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of the clergy.   He was strongly urged to take the oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England; More had refused.  The result was that the archbishop pressed him even harder to take the oath.  He spoke to his daughter of how he saw Latimer “amusing himself at horse-play with his friends in the Lambeth Garden.”  Shortly thereafter, More was committed to the Tower where he wrote “A Dialogue of Comforte Against Tribulacyon” and his property was seized by the King.

Since Sir Thomas More used the term horse-play with such ease in a letter to his daughter in 1534, it is reasonable to believe it was common usage at the time and therefore, readers can guess that the term “horse-play” dates back to at least 1528.

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

Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Face To Stop A Clock

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 1, 2011

The movie Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of Elwood P. Dowd had a number of interesting phrases and expressions, not the least of which was talk of having a face to stop a clock.  In the movie, Elwood says:

ELWOOD – Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey — can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like — and when you get back — not one minute will have ticked by.

When someone says his face would stop a clock, it means that the other person has an unexpectedly unattractive face. 

In the “Tale of the Tudors” from the Warner Brothers’ animated television series, Histeria! that ran from 1998 to 2000, the following is found:

Boys:     So for a while, our Henry grieves,
              Then he marries Anne of Cleves.
              Anne came from fine German stock,
Toast:   She had a face that could stop a clock.
Girls:    Their marriage was cancelled in less than a year,
              His fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was dear.
             But Henry found out that her love was not true.

The Dallas Morning News ran a story on January 12, 1986 that read:

The Goddess of Liberty might have a face that could stop a clock on the University of Texas Tower, but she suddenly has attracted her share of suitors. At least two groups want to move the 3000-pound zinc statue out of Austin and put her on permanent display elsewhere.

Just shy of 26 years before that news article, the Milwaukee Journal edition of January 13, 1961 ran the column written by Ione Quingy Griggs of the Journal Staff.  From what Idiomation can see, Mrs. Griggs was a cross between Miss Manners and Dear Abby, offering up advice to those who were at a loss as to how to proceed with a particular situation.  The topic that day was how to copy with a mother-in-law who picked people apart and respones from readers whose opinion differed from Ms. Griggs’ earlier published opinion on the matter.  The following, authored by “Troubled Owner Of Mink Coat,” is an excerpt fromher response.

I read with interest your suggestion that a daughter-in-law voice the words “I am sorry” to her mother-in-law.  In my case it should be my husband’s mother to say it.  But no, she is always right everybody is wrong!  I’m not one to hold grudges, but when she sits with a face to stop a clock because my husband gives me a mink coat for Christmas, I’m ready to give up.  The mink coat was a surprise.  Everyone but Gran raved about it.  She sat frozen faced!

The expression was also found in a news story published on October 19, 1888 in the Chicago Daily Tribune in a story entitled, “The Beautiful Boston Man.”

After the parade the other day a well known Bostonian who is unfortunate in having a face to stop a clock approached an offer of the Cadets in a patronizing sort of way and said, “I saw your company today old man It looked very well very well indeed.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, a face to stop a clock, however it can safely be assumed that if it was used in a news story in 1888 that it was a well-understood phrase among the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s readership and one can guess that the expression dates back at least to the  mid-1870s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Turn Black Into White

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 25, 2011

Squealer the pig was so charismatic that he was literally able to turn bad into good. He wasn’t too bright, however, which is how he became the propaganda spreader for the pigs. Anything evil was turned into something seemingly morally good once Squealer got a hold of it which led to the corruption of formerly good animals who easily fell into becoming very bad animals.

In an article entitled, “Moscow Gets Limited Support over Georgia” published by Euronews on August 28, 2008 it was reported that:

Referring to Georgia’s attack on the rebel province of South Ossetia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “I am sure that the united position of the SCO member states will have international resonance and I hope it will serve as a strong signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify this aggression.”

Just over 20 years before that article, the Los Angeles Daily News published an article on October 8, 1987 entitled, “Billionaire Boys Unrealistic, Ex-Member Says.”  In it, the article reported on a court case involving Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia who were accused of concocting a scheme to wrest millions from Reza’s father:

Reality meant nothing to the associates of the bizarre Billionaire Boys Club, according to a former member.  The members fell into a pattern of paradox philosophy, ready to turn black into and white into black.  Dean Karny testified Tuesday in the murder-conspiracy-kidnapping trial of Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, both 26.

And twenty years before that in Kentucky, the Middlesboro Daily News edition of July 15, 1967 published an article entitled, “Someone Should Define Diplomacy For Russians” that stated:

It was the usual Soviet exercise in propaganda — an attempt, by constant reiteration of simplistic phrases, to turn black into white and white into black.

On December 11, 1945 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article entitled “A Conspiracy To Turn Black Into White.”  The journalist wrote:

The similar tenor of several apologetic editorials which have appeared almost simultaneously in newspapers in different parts of the country suggests a common interest and a common direction toward the end of stifling the Pearl Harbor investigation.

But long before WWII and quite a few years before WWI, in New Zealand’s Wanganui Herald, there appeared a Letter To The Editor entitled, “Opposition Sorrows” in which the author, J.W. Kenah, wrote on September, 14, 1903:

You must not blame the Opposition papers; they are hard put to it to make out a case, and, like a drowning man, will catch at any straw.  As I have before pointed out, Conservatism acts contrary to the Creator’s laws in nature, and we need not therefore be surprised that the effort is being continually made to turn black into white and vice versa.

In George Orwell’s novel, “Animal Farm” the first chapter introduces the reader to Squealer and describes him in this way:

The best known among them was a small fat pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice.  He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.  The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.

And so, while this phrase had been used prior to the publication of “Animal Farm” it appears to have been associated with the Soviet Union and Russia in the media on a number of occasions.

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Send Shivers Down My Spine

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2011

When something sends shivers down your spine, it could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing depending on the circumstances. 

On July 21, 1961, Sylvia Porter of the Gadsden Times in Gardsden (AL) wrote an article entitled “Fiscal Agencies Get Praise” for the Your Money’s Worth column.  It read in part:

In plain words, there was a real risk a fortnight ago that these staggeringly big borrowings might flop and the danger was enough to send a shiver down the back of the most callous money expert.

On June 11, 1905 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a story entitled “Gypsy Blood Stirs All In Spring Time” and warned that Zingara blood called “every man to woods and fields when nature awakes” with this as a partial explanation on how it happened:

Down the road comes a lusty young voice singing an air that is vaguely familiar to you. It is full of strange minors of curious creepy trills which send a shiver of delight creeping down your spine.

On March 15, 1872, the West Coast Times reported on the Right Honourable Mr. Fox and his private Secretary, Mr. Brown, accompanied by the Chief Surveyor of Westland, Mr Mueller visiting the goldfields not far from Hokitika in New Zealand.

Ablutions were performed on the river bank, during which the snowy water was generally allowed to possess powerful cooking properties; the astonishment of the party can be therefore conceived when they observed Mr. Fox walk down to the river and take a “header” in a deep hole.  The sight was enough to send a shiver through any looker on who had just returned from bathing his face and hands in the ice stream, and we could almost expect to see the remains of the Premier floating down the stream in the shape of a big icicle, instead of which he returned to the camp as fresh and as warm and lively as a three old — just as if he had been in the habit of taking an iced bath every day of his life.

Now, it may be that the expression morphed from the nautical mock oath, “shiver my timbers” which became a mainstream comment in 1835.  Documentation indicates that “timbers” was the term used in 1748 to describe the pieces of wood that composed the frame of a ship’s hull.

By 1789, the expression “my timbers” was acknowledged to be a nautical oath.  Since there’s not much difference between the backbone of a ship’s hull and a person’s spine, it’s likely that the expression “shivers down the spine” was a modification of the nautical expression.

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In A New York Minute

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 24, 2011

People believe that everything happens more quickly in New York City than anywhere else in the world and so it makes sense to hear the phrase “in a New York minute” and to expect it’s going to be faster than any other minutes.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many things to do in New York City what with Broadway shows, music in parks and on streets as well as in restaurants with city views and sidewalk cafés, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, horse-drawn carriages, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, Wall Street, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and more.

In the Spartanburg (SC) Herald Journal edition of October 20, 1986, page 3 has an article that states:

“Welcome to Houston,” wrote Forbes magazine in 1983, “where lizard-skin boots go with pin stripes, and business is done quicker than a New York minute.”

The phrase — evidently a Southernism used with particular frequency in Texas — was given further national currency as the title of a song by Ronnie McDowell that made the country music top 40 in 1985.

On September 14, 1985 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on court proceedings in its story “Immunity Johnson’s Toughest Decision.” The story dealt with the case of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong who was charged with 16 counts of selling cocaine to players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.  The paper reported in part:

[U.S. Attorney J. Alan] Johnson was asked if he could charge any of the players with crimes if he learns later that any of them were selling drugs.  “Not only could I, but I’d do it in a New York minute,” he responded. 

No ball players were called to testify during the trial yesterday.  But defense attorney Adam O. Renfroe Jr. dais he believes the emphasis of the trial has shifted away from his client and that professional baseball has been put on trial.

Although it can’t be proven, it’s believed that the phrase may have something to do with a misreading  of news reports about Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh‘s tour of the country in his Spirit of St. Louis.  He and the plane arrived one minute ahead of schedule and of course, the headlines on that day in October 1927 read:

LINDBERGH ENDS NATIONAL TOUR: Lands on Mitchel Field at New York Minute Before He Is Due.

The news stories stated that the crowd cheered and jostled as the Spirit of St. Louis crossed over the field, banked, sideslipped and dipped to earth at 1:59 p.m.  The plane then taxied into a police-ringed hangar and Lindbergh, bareheaded and leather-jacketed, stepped into a car which bore him between cheering crowds to the airport’s operations office.  While the crowd outside pushed against the windows and shouted for another view of Lindbergh, he greeted newspaper men.

However, it’s also possible that the phrase draws on such historical events as the Underground Railway between Brooklyn and New York City.  On January 24, 1890 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a news article entitled, “Brooklyn To New York In A Minute.”  The story commented on Major B.S. Henning, the leading spirit in the Henning Gravity Tunnel Company and the newly formed East River Railway Company, where the details of the one-minute Brooklyn-to-New York scheme was laid out for newspapermen.

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