Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Sun-Times’

English On It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 8, 2013

The idioms put some English on it is most often associated with baseball and refers to the pitcher giving the ball curve while it’s in the air, on its way to the batter.  That idiom, along with and put some reverse English on it, are  found in billiards halls the world over when talking about a ball that drops into a pocket with the aid of some spin. And it also refers to communications intended to distort or deceive others.

On December 8, 2002 Joe Goddard of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article entitled, “Ramblers Thump Valpo” which made quick work of the basketball game between the Loyola Ramblers and Valparaiso Crusaders in the Horizon League that ended in a score of 80 to 62. In the brief article, the following was written in part:

“I had to get it over him, so I put some English on it.” Most of Tsimpliaridis’ shots were from the perimeter. He shot 7-for-9 from the field.

On December 19, 1953 Bill Beck, Sports Editor for the St. Petersburg Times wrote about an odd sport that played the walls like handball, demanded the strategy and rhythm of tennis, required the skills of baseball infielding, and allowed spectators to place bets as if they were at a race track: Jai-Alai. It didn’t catch on, contrary to Bill Beck’s hopes, but it certainly gave insight into the game, the players and Adriano Aguiar, who managed the lone American of the 32-man team. In the end, this is what Bill Beck had to say of the game:

You will find the players not only retrieve and return the ball, but put “Englishon it.  You will find they fire it so close to the wall, their opponent cannot get his cuesta (wicker racket-type glove) between ball and wall for return.

The Palm Beach Post newspaper of November 21, 1921 also carried the idiom in a somewhat modified form in an article entitled, “Preparing For Failure.” The story dealt with the surprise disarmament conference announced by President Harding, which led to a number of metropolitan newspapers stating that “the administration” was considering measures against “agitators” who were trying to force “real disarmament” to eliminate the chances of war. The article read in part:

Toward the end of the dispatch there lies the secret:

“The hope of the president for a continuation of the conferences like the present one became known at a moment when the arms delegates reached a stage in their deliberations strongly suggesting itself that further negotiations will be necessary to consummate the task begun here.”

That surely is putting the “reverse Englishon it.  It must not be forgotten for a moment that the men at this conference are all politicians, and that they want to keep their jobs more than anything else. The hopes of the peoples all over have been aroused by this disarmament (beg pardon) by this limitation or armaments conference.

In the New York Times article of February 1, 1879 the idiom appeared in altered form — with the meaning intact regardless of the use of the word reverse — in an article reporting on a billiards tournament. It was clear that the “English” in question was going to be “put on it” as the Brunswick and Balke Championship Tournament entered its second week of play. The stakes were high, and at one point, it was reported:

It was a difficult shot from every direction, and before essaying it, the Frenchman, amid general laughter took off his dress-coat, and came up again in the full brilliancy of his diamond-studded and much-starched shirt. He then stroked his mustache, drew his cue backwards and forward, and struck the cue ball. Failing to count, he retired, laughing quietly, and gave Sexton an opportunity of gathering 4 points. The latter made a very pretty “kiss” shot, with “reverse English” in the twelfth inning, but retired after scoring 7 billiards.

Ten years prior to the newspaper article in the New York Times, Mark Twain used the expression in Chapter XII of his book “Innocents Abroad” published in 1869 in which he wrote:

We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement—one of those wretched old things with dead cushions, and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible “scratches” that were perfectly bewildering. We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square—and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement. We expected to fare better here, but we were mistaken. The cushions were a good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of caroms. The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would infallibly put the “English” on the wrong side of the hall. Dan was to mark while the doctor and I played.

It appears  that the expression is as a result of billiards, but how did this come about?

The earliest mention of the game of billiards is in “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” published in 1591 where the author speaks of “all thriftles games that may be found … with dice, with cards, with billiards.”  It’s mentioned in William Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra.”  But it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that changes were made to the game and how the game was meant to be played. Of particular note was the introduction of the leather cue tip in 1823 which allowed players to add side-spin to the ball, and this was new advancement was introduced to billiards players the world over, including those in America.

By 1860, the French were referring to spin imparted to a billiards ball as anglé … a clever play on words since anglé meaning angled and anglais meaning English share the same pronunciation. This play on words quickly caught on with other billiards players, and when someone put spin on a billiards ball, they were playing a ball that was anglé / anglais which was literally translated to the word: English.

The expression, put English on it, is therefore from 1860 and has its roots firmly planted in the game of billiards.

Advertisements

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

In The Pink

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 21, 2011

The expression in the pink paints a pleasant, positive picture, doesn’t it?  It suggests healthy babies and cute little girls in frilly dresses and flowers that bloom in early May.  If someone is in the pink it’s understood that the person is in good health.  If something is in the pink it’s understood that it’s operating optimally.

Sandra Guy wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times that was published on November 8, 2002 entitled, “Field’s Makeover Begins With A Little Rouge.”  This is what she had to say about the redesign of the Marshall Field’s store on State Street in Chicago:

In September 1999, French luxury goods group LVMH bought a two-thirds stake in London-based Thomas Pink, a name taken from a late 18th century Mayfair tailor who made gentlemen’s riding jackets. (Anyone who could afford one was said to be “in the Pink.”)

On March 8, 1951 the Palm Beach Post published an advertisement hailing the benefits of a product known as Hadacol.  It claimed to relieve lack of energy brought on by a lack of vitamins B1, B2, Niacin and Iron.  Officer Jimmy Kilroy of 1153 Belden Avenue in Chicago, Illinois was quoted in the advertisement and an impressive photograph of this former prizefighter and Chicago police officer.  The headline read:

Policeman Back In The Pink Again — Says He’s The “Kilroy of Old”

At the turn of the century, the Toledo Bee newspaper published an article on November 14, 1901 about the upcoming prize fight between the champion, James J. Jeffries managed by William Brady and trained by Billy Delaney, and Gus Ruhlin, known as the “Akron giant” managed by Billy Madden and trained by Henry “Pop” Blanken.  The day before the fight, the odds were 10 to 4 in favour of the champion and fight fans from New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle and Portland were making themselves heard as they journeyed into San Francisco where the event was scheduled to take place.  The headline read:

Just Before The Battle:  Both Jeffries And Ruhlin Are Reported In The Pink

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) referred to a specific Italian town he’d visited in 1845 thusly:

Of all the picturesque abominations in the World, commend me to Fondi. It is the very pink of hideousness and squalid misery.

The word “pink” became part of the English language in 1573 as the name of a plant, not a color.  Less than 25 years later, it was used to describe a level of courtesy as seen in William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and JulietAct II, Scene IV, published in 1597:

ROMEO
Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in
such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.

MERCUTIO
That’s as much as to say, such a case as yours
constrains a man to bow in the hams.

ROMEO
Meaning, to court’sy.

MERCUTIO
Thou hast most kindly hit it.

ROMEO
A most courteous exposition.

MERCUTIO
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.

What Mercutio meant was that he was not just courteous, he was the epitome of courtesy.

And so it is easy to see that shortly after the word “pink” became part of the English language, it was associated with someone or something being in good shape or being the pinnacle (both good and bad) of what the word “pink” was describing.  The idea of being “in the pink” or ‘in the very pink’ doesn’t appear to have changed much over the past 400 or so years.

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

Cat That Ate The Canary

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2011

Usually when someone appears smug and self-satisfied with just a hint of guilt,  satisfaction and/or feigned nonchalance added to the mix, that person is said to look “like the cat that ate the canary.”  The version of this phrase in the UK and Australia is that the person is said to look “like the cat that got the cream.”

On March 26, 2011 Walt Whiteman, the blogger at Walt Whiteman’s World wrote this about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

It is something of a Canadian tradition for governments to be contemptuous of Parliament and its ordinary members. Pierre Trudeau famously called MP’s “nobodies”. But M. Trudeau smiled when he said it, whereas Harper’s face is frozen in this cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk.

Walt hasn’t actually read yesterday’s Hansard, but heard that Harper was asked “Are you trying to show your contempt for this House?”, and answered, “No. I’m doing my very best to disguise it.”

Almost 30 years to the day earlier, the Miami News published a story written by Mike Downey of the Chicago Sun-Times on March 31, 1981 about basketball great, Isiah Thomas.  Mike Downey wrote in part:

Yesterday, it was the story of Isiah Thomas.  You probably saw him score 23 points last night in Indiana’s 63-50 win over North Carolina for the national championship.  You probably heard him announced as the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player.  What you should have seen was his act after the game.  The kid is something else.  Impeccable manners, snappy answers, cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, playful-as-a-puppy behaviour.  You should have seen the pint-sized sophomore, mobbed by his admirers as he strolled off the court after the game.

Oddly enough, on November 16, 1952 the Victoria Advocate ran a brief story with the photograph of a very forlorn kitty.  Here’s the story:

No wonder this nameless cat won’t look you in the eye.  He is guilty as only a cat can be.  He just ate not only one, but five canaries.  The sad story began when the stray cat was locked accidentally in a department store overnight in Keene, N.H.  The next morning store officials found the cat had knocked over a cage of canaries, springing the cage door.  Only the bird in the cage above the cat survived.

Cat That Ate The Canary and Four More After That

Going back to 1911, the phrase “cat that ate the canary” was used to describe another political figure in the Milwaukee Journal of June 2 in a news story entitled, “Czar A Tactless Guest.”

Signs of particular disgust showed on the czar’s face when the iced melon hors d’oeuvres were brought on.  President Fallieres invariably indulges in this luxury.  The czar, however, lacked the tact evidenced by President Taft when certain of the southern states served their favorite dishes.  He refused to smile and looked like the cat that ate the canary.  He made a wry face and uttered this ominous indictment:  “In dismissing Loubet’s unrivaled chef, Fallieres has wrought a national calamity.”

Now, back in 1891 and 1892, several newspapers in Australia, the UK and America took to printing the same quick joke in their humour columns:

Father:  That cat made an awful noise in the back garden last night.
Son:  Yes, sir.  I guess that since he ate the canary, he thinks he can sing.

Prior to the printing of the joke, however, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to the phrase.

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

All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 21, 2011

The phrase “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” comes from George Orwell‘s book, Animal Farm.  During World War II, George Orwell (1903-1950) served as a sergeant in the Home Guard.  He also worked as a journalist for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Observer and the Tribune, where he was literary editor from 1943 to 1945. It was towards the end of the war that he wrote Animal Farm.  The story satirizes Communism and repositions the Russian Revolution in the story so that Russia is a typical English country farm and Russians are farm animals.

On October 8, 2009 both The Times and The Sunday Times published an article by Lucy Bannerman writing from Rome, Italy.  The article was entitled, “Opponents Rejoice As Court Rules Silvio Berlusconi Can Be Prosecuted” as judges of their Constitution Court removed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s immunity from prosecution.  This ruling meant that Prime Minister Berlusconi could now be tried for fraud, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.

The news article began with:

News that all animals are equal, even billionaire Prime Ministers, sparked a huge reaction that instantly flared along the fiercely polarised lines of Italian politics.

And it ended with:

Many Times Online readers rejoiced, however. “As an Italian citizen I’m so happy,” Elvira Frevalo posted, while Giorgio Marchetti commented: “Hope is back in poor Italy.”

Fabio Feliziani said simply: “Yes! All the animals are equal!”

On January 31, 1988 the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story entitled, “Mile High And Ready To Fly.”  The article, found on page 84 and written by Craig Matsuda, read in part:

It took a pig in a novel to come up with the thought that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, pardners, when it comes to talkin’ about the Denver Broncos, their fans and their city, we’re not discussin’ a pig in a poke.  No, siree, this is a horse of a different color.

In Reading, PA the local newspaper, the Reading Eagle published Robb’s Corner, a column written by Inez Robb.  In that edition, she wrote this about politics in the U.S.S.R.:

What the latest upheaval in the Communist hierarchy means is any man’s guess, but experts on Russia in and out of the State Department are agreed that it consolidates Nikita Khrushchev’s power and makes him “the first among equals” among the commissars.  Or, as George Orwell put it so succinctly in “Animal Farm” all animals are equal only some are more equal than others.  (It is probably only a coincidence that the animal proclaiming this doctrine of equality was a pig, for Orwell wrote his little masterpiece on communism before Khrushchev hit the horizon.)

Over in Sydney, Australia the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper published the last installment of George Orwell’s book on their pages on February 15, 1946.  Famine, betrayal, murder, overwork and more had already been covered in previous installments of the book and the animals had learned too late not to put their trust in false leaders.  In this final installment, the following was found:

“My sight is failing,” she said finally.  “Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there.  But it appears to me that that wall looks different.  Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?”

For once, Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall.  There was nothing there now except a single Commandment.  It ran:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters.  It did not seem strange to learn that the pigs had bought themselves a wireless set, were arranging to install a telephone, and had taken out subscriptions to “John Bull,” “Tit-Bits” and the “Daily Mirror.” 

It did not seem strange when Napoleon was seen strolling in the farmhouse garden with a pipe in his mouth — no, not even when the pigs took Mr. Jones’s clothes out of the wardrobes and put them on, Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favourite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wear on Sundays.

Tomorrow, Idiomation continues with another expression from “Animal Farm” that has found its way into every day language.

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

Go Bananas

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 1, 2011

Gamewright published a board game named “Go Bananas” in 2000.  It was a children’s game designed by Monty and Ann Stambler with artwork by Dave Clegg and had a playing time of about 20 minutes.  The 55-card deck was comprised of 20 monkey cards with wild monkeys, 20 monkey cards with mild monkeys, 8 Gotcha Gator cards, 6 Banana cards and one Wild Gotcha Gator card.  And, of course, as cards were slapped onto the winning pile, players shouted “Go bananas!

According to University of Tennessee English Professor J.E. Lighter who wrote “The Historical Dictionary of American Slang” published in 1994, the phrase alludes to the phrase “go ape.”

On January 21, 1986 Ray Sons writing for the Chicago Sun-Times reported on how football’s Mike Ditka saw himself in his team’s rebels.  It was a three-part report and in part two that ran on that date, he wrote:

Jim Dooley, now Ditka’s assistant for research and quality control, was a split end when Ditka joined the team and coached Ditka and other receivers before succeeding Halas as head coach when the Old Man retired in 1968. He remembers the fire Ditka ignited, not only in games, but in practices. “Every practice was like a game,” Dooley says. “He’d go bananas if he dropped a pass, yelling and screaming.”  His fury was infectious.

Readers of the Anchorage Daily News were treated to an interesting article on April 13, 1978 by Jack Anderson entitled, “Washington Merry-Go-Round: Plugging The Carter Leaks.”

From time to time, we have published excerpts from the confidential minutes and memos of the Carter Cabinet.  This has upset the muck-a-mucks who attend the meetings.  They have started to go bananas over their inability to find and block the leak.

Just a few years earlier, on September 2, 1971 the Telegraph Herald of Dubuque, Iowa ran Erma Bombeck’s column, Wit’s End with the title, “Why Housewives Go Bananas.”  Erma Bombeck’s column that day was on the recent appliance epidemic in her home and how she viewed the events that led to the writing of the column.

However, the term banana as it relates to people comes from 1920s burlesque and vaudeville where a banana was a comedian.  The top banana was the main comic and the second banana was the straight man.  The phrase go bananas referred to an act that was badly under-rehearsed and relied on desperate slapstick.

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