Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Tribune’

Blurb

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

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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.

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Jaywalking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 31, 2015

Jaywalking is an interesting term.  Some think it refers to blue jays, but they’re mistaken.  Jaywalking is when a person crosses or walks in the street unlawfully or without regard for approaching traffic.  In most instances, if a person crosses the street anywhere but at a crosswalk or an intersection, they are technically jaywalking.

It was on September 19, 1997 that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article written by Jessica McBride titled, “Alderman Wants Jaywalking Rules Eased.”  The Alderman in question was Jeff Pawlinksi, and it seems that a jaywalking ticket kicked the discussion off for the alderman was the one issued to District Attorney Michael McCann on May 23 of that year.  The article read in part:

Jaywalking tickets are back in vogue as part of the “quality of life” policing strategy begun by Police Chief Arthur Jones last fall.  That philosophy holds that cracking down on smaller crimes, such as jaywalking, prevents larger ones.

But Milwaukee and it’s relationship with jaywalking is an interesting one to say the least.  More than thirty years earlier, on July 31, 1965 the Milwaukee Journal published an article about jaywalking and the ordinances in Milwaukee and other state laws that governed the offense.  In the article, it stated that the judge pointed out that two teachers who had received citations for jaywalking had been charged with violating the wrong city ordinance, and because of that, the two University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee teachers who had been cited, were let off the hook.  The article in question was titled, “Milwaukee: Things You Should Know About Jaywalking.”

The Telegraph newspaper of Nashua, New Hampshire published an article on December 27, 1945 that took on the issue of jaywalking.  It talked about the anti-jaywalking ordinance that took a year and a half to hammer out, and the newspaper wrote it was about time the jaywalking problem was properly addressed.  The article included this information on the recommended ordinance:

Nashua’s outgoing Board of Aldermen has recommended to the incoming board that such an ordinance be drawn up by the City Solicitor prohibiting jaywalking on Main Street from Hollis Street North to Fletcher Street, “pedestrian cross traffic between these two points to be permitted only on the designated well-painted and well-illuminated cross walks.”

In the 1937 movie “The Great O’Malley” Pat O’Brien (11 November 1899 – 15 October 1983) played the role of James Aloysius O’Malley.  He was a by-the-books sort of officer and when newspaper reporter Pinky Holden (played by Hobart Cavanaugh) wrote an article poking fun at the officer’s meticulous work habits, the Chief of Police put him on crossing guard duty instead.  One of the many tickets Officer O’Malley wrote out before winding up a crossing guard was a ticket to his own mother for jaywalking.

IMAGE 1
The word jay described someone who was naive or foolish and so when Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article in 1917 entitled, “Our Upstart Speech” by Robert P. Utter (23 November 1875 – 17 February 1936), Associates Professor of English at Amherst College, it’s not surprising that the word jaywalking was included.  The topic, of course, was slang and how it was finding its way into everyday language more and more often.  The author took on different kinds of slang, including college slang which included such words as prof for professor, exam for examination, dorm for dormitory, policon for political economy, and other terms.  In many respects, college slang was “texting” of its generation.  With regards to jaywalking, the author had this to say about the expression.

If these last long enough in our every-day vocabulary to lose the gloss of technicality we may reduce them to lower terms, even as the Bostonian, supposedly sesquipedalian of speech, has reduced “a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic regulations” to the compact jaywalker.

Some may insist that this was the earliest published use of the word, but they’d be wrong because five years earlier, in Kansas City, Missouri, the first ordinance criminalizing jaywalking was enacted to improve traffic conditions.  At the time, it was reported in the local newspaper that jaywalking was as bad as joy riding.  While the residents of Kansas City were concerned over losing a small personal liberty, they supported the new ordinance on the basis that the residents were averse to being thought of as “boobs, jays, ginks, or farmers” when their city was one of the top twenty large cities in the United States of America.  All of this was reported in the magazine “Automobile Topics: Volume 25, Number 9” published on April 13, 1912.

The first traffic laws in the U.S. were enacted in 1899, and on May 20, 1899, Jacob German, a New York City cab driver employed by the Electric Vehicle Company (one of New York City’s earliest cab companies), was arrested for driving his electric taxi down Lexington street in Manhattan at the dangerous speed of 12 mph.  He was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house for a time, and eventually set free.  Yes, Jacob German was the first person in the U.S. to be cited for speeding!

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The first man ever arrested and convicted of speeding was Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent in England.   He was stopped by an officer as he zipped by at 8 mph in a 2 mph zone.  On 28 January 1896, Walter was found guilty of the charge against him, and received a fine for speeding.

The New York City law paved the way for the first state speed limit law in Connecticut which was enacted on May 21, 1901.  The law was the first speed limit law and limited motor vehicle speeds to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads.  Two years later, in 1903, New York City adopted the first comprehensive traffic code.

So, as you can see, in 1912, it was quite progressive for any city to enact an ordinance that addressed the issue of jaywalkers.  That being said, Kansas City wasn’t the first place jaywalking or jaywalkers was used.  It popped up in an article in the Chicago Tribune on April 7, 1909 where the following was written:

Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jay walking.

However, two years before the Chicago Tribune article, the Guthrie Daily Leader newspaper in Oklahoma made mention of jaywalkers in the October 22, 1907 edition of the newspaper.

IMAGE 2
The term, as you can see, was an off-shoot of the phrase jay driver which was used in newspaper stories with alarming regularity.  For example, this headline in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper of June 29, 1907 saw the phrase make the headlines as it did in many newspaper from 1905 onwards.

IMAGE 3
And so the expression jaywalker was first published in 1907, less than a decade after the first traffic laws came into existence.  And since jaywalking is what jaywalkers do, the word jaywalking also came into vogue at the same time.

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Holy Deadlock

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 20, 2015

Back in 1979, former Genesis guitarist Anthony “Ant” Phillips (23 December 1951) recorded an album named, “Sides.”  The songs leaned towards the more negative view of life with titles such as Nightmare, Bleak House, Holy Deadlock (to name just three).  Critics didn’t speak well of the album, and Christopher Currie had this to say about the song “Holy Deadlock” specifically.

Holy Deadlock” begins in a quasi-reggae manner which bears the obvious imprint of The Police, but sadly isn’t a good enough song to exist as a successful stylistic hybrid.  The music doesn’t develop after the initial thematic statement, and the lyrics are generally a waste of time (a series of clichés involving a man’s loss of revenue through divorce, presented as humor).  The chorus melody has some interesting tricks, but, again, there really isn’t terribly much to speak of here.

The idiom was found in text of a community announcement placed in the Delaware County Daily Times of Chester, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1971 which read:

The first in a series of Laymen on the March with God’s Message for the Now Generation, will be/ 7:30 p.m Sunday at Macedonia Seventh Day Adventist Church, 310 Lamokin St. The speaker will be E. L. Tillery. The subject: “Has Holy Wedlock Become Holy Deadlock?”

In the book “Learned Men” by Gustavus Swift Paine (1886 – 1958), republished in London in 1959 (but previously published prior to 1923) the idiom appeared in Chapter, “Private Fortunes.”

His name is all we know about him. Someone, or a number of men, chased the lovers along a road from London and brought the lady back to her husband. What the conflicts of the Overalls were or how the couple made out as they lived on in holy deadlock after the lady thus eloped and got caught we know not. Other wives of translators worried their husbands almost beyond bearing. Not all of the learned men profited by the advice of their fellow translator Francis Dillingham, who, though he never married, set forth how to keep a wife in proper subjection.

It’s accepted by most literary critics that the idiom was coined by English humorist, novelist, playwright, and law reform activist, Alan Patrick (A.P.) Herbert (24 September 1890 – 11 November 1971) in his satirical novel of the same name.  The novel took exception at the divorce laws of the era, and highlighting the need for a liberalization of these laws.  The book was an immediate success, selling more than ninety thousand copies and receiving a great deal of positive acclaim from critics and readers alike.  Even the legal experts wrote favorable reviews and commentaries of the book.

However, there is ample published evidence that A.P. Herbert was not the originator of the phrase.  In McClure’s Magazine of September 1922, the idiom appeared in the article “Living and Play Acting” by Laurette Taylor.

For the sake of the people who know nothing and care less about the theater I would like to mention that Hartley and I are joined in holy deadlock and as a wife I have a right to look to him for his love, honor, obedience and plays.

Earlier than that, in the Current Opinion magazine of 1915 edited by Edward J. Wheeler, in Volume 59, a small article appeared under the heading, “The Cynical Compositor.”  The magazine was published by a company in New York known as “The Current Literature Publishing Company” located on West 29th Street.

“B.L.T.” in his “Lino-type or Two” column of the Chicago Tribune culls a gem from the Cheyenne State Leader:

The spacious home of Judge and Mrs. John A. Riner was the scene of a beautiful wedding last evening when their youngest daughter, Dorothy, was joined in holy deadlock to Mr. Dean Prosser.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the term, it was nonetheless a commonly used phrase that mocked the more traditional term holy wedlock.

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I’m A Dutchman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 21, 2011

When someone who is not Dutch says, “I’m a Dutchman” what that person really means is that what has just been seen or heard is, in that person’s opinion, very obviously not true.  In other words, it’s a statement of disbelief.

Now the word Dutchman is an archaic term that dates back to the 14th century that refers to a member of any of the Germanic people of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Low Countries.  These days, it refers to someone from the Netherlands and usually Holland.  As readers of Idiomation now know,  by the 17th century the Dutch and the English were hated military and commercial rivals and so many barbs and insults were thought up with which to insult each other.

Back on January 15, 2005 journalist Ian Youngs wrote an article for the BBC News entitled, “How Busted Rocked The Pop Scene.”  The article was about a British pop trio that formed in late 2002 and over the course of three years, they had eight UK Top 3 singles.  The article began with kudos to the trio for writing their own songs and playing their own instruments.  But not everyone believed that.  In fact, Darren Stephens of lliria, Spain had this to say about the trio:

Talentless trash! If they were playing those instruments, I’m a Dutchman! Good riddance!

Back on March 18, 1976 the Chicago Tribune ran an article in the sports section written by Art Dunn.  It was entitled, “Hawks Rally, Nip Leafs” and reported on events happening in the National Hockey League‘s 50th season.  As is always the case as things draw closer to the Stanley Cup final, things were heating up with the teams, the coaches, the owners and the fans.  Some were less pleased with the final results of the game that night and one person was quoted as saying:

If that’s neutral officiating, I’m a Dutchman.

Now the Chicago Tribune appears to like this expression quite a bit.  On July 25, 1934 the newspaper ran a story written by author, Elizabeth York Miller entitled, “Her Husband’s Fiancee.”  It was the story of Cecily Marshall of Bellchester, England who returned to her husband, Bellchester’s leading merchant prince, after a year’s absence.  What she didn’t know was that Audrey Lowe and her cousin Reggie Davies had ideas of their own about breaking up Cecily’s marriage.  The story provides this tidbit when one of the characters says:

Then his jolly little divorce would go west, or I’m a Dutchman. I told her to go to David and be dammed to her.

The Tuapeka Times published another excerpt of murder mystery story by author, Harold M. Mackie entitled, “A Story Of North Queensland” on June 13, 1891.  He was the author of “The Squatter’s Daughter” and well-known to the Tuapeka Times readers.  On this day, the story continued with more from Chapter XVIII where the following was found:

“There’ll have to be an exhumation of the remains in order to see if there are any traces of poisoning in the stomach,” said Popham.  “That’ll be another job for Brook, and not a pleasant one either.  No one guessed of such a thing as poisoning or attempted poisoning.  This case promises some rather interesting features, and looks very black against Prescott.  He’ll have to give a clear account of how Liscombe came to be in possession of this flask full of drugged whisky.  Of course, circumstances may have occurred by which Liscombe was the rightful owner of the article, but as we have said before it is not likely that Prescott made him a present of it.”

“He might have done so,” remarked Tulloch, “when it contained poison.”

“That, my friend, we’ll prove, or I’m a Dutchman.  A man who’s drugged might certainly have an inclination to dash his brains out against a tree, and whether Maurice Liscombe’s death has been that of his own doing or the work of another this vile compound is indirectly the cause.”

The expression is found in the 1857 book by J.D. Borthwick, “Three Years California” where the invective “damned” is sometimes added to make the expression more colourful.  The expression is identified as a typical sailor’s oath for the day and so it dates back at least to the early 1800s to be used to easily and with such conviction that the expression will be understood by all who hear it.

This makes sense as author George Elliot — the pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans — published a book in 1860 entitled, “The Mill On The Floss.”  In Chapter 4, “Tom Is Expecting” the following conversation is found:

“But they’re our fellow-creatures, Luke; we ought to know about our fellow-creatures.”

“Not much o’ fellow-creaturs, I think, Miss; all I know – my old master, as war a knowin’ man, used to say, says he, ‘If e’er I sow my wheat wi’out brinin’, I’m a Dutchman,’ says he; an’ that war as much as to say as a Dutchman war a fool, or next door. Nay, nay, I aren’t goin’ to bother mysen about Dutchmen. There’s fools enoo, an’ rogues enoo, wi’out lookin’ i’ books for ’em.”

That it should be used by an author of the fairer sex in the mid 1800s certainly speaks loudly to the fact that the expression was indeed known to much of the population at the time.  Now, knowing what the times were like for someone of the fairer sex to have heard such an expression most often spoken by sailors, it had to be an expression that was around for quite some time … at least 2 generations which pegs the expression to the late 1700s.

And so it is!  In the book, “The Old Sailor’s Jolly Boat” published in 1790, the story has this excerpt in it:

“Well, there they are,” declared Phillips, ” and an unrolled ball of spun-yarn from one to the other to keep up the relationship.”

“Capital,” exclaimed the boatswain, rubbing his hands together with greater pleasure than he had enjoyed for some time past; ” if that don’t let her into the secret in spite of all the Tartars, aye and cream of Tartars in the world, then I’m a Dutchman; but there’s a space atwixt the two gallon measures, Jack.”

With it being part of the vernacular back in 1790, how far back does relating the Dutch with something unbelievable go?  Surely it reaches back at least another 2 generations putting the expression to the early to mid 1700s.

English Renaissance dramatist, Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) was William Shakespeare’s junior by nearly a decade.  In Act I, Scene I of Ben Jonson’s satirical play “Volpone” published in 1606 and performed in 1607, the following exchange is found which embraces the spirit of the expression:

VOLPONE:
True, my beloved Mosca. Yet I glory
More in the cunning purchase of my wealth,
Than in the glad possession; since I gain
No common way; I use no trade, no venture;
I wound no earth with plough-shares; fat no beasts,
To feed the shambles; have no mills for iron,
Oil, corn, or men, to grind them into powder:
I blow no subtle glass; expose no ships
To threat’nings of the furrow-faced sea;
I turn no monies in the public bank,
Nor usure private.

MOSCA:
No sir, nor devour
Soft prodigals. You shall have some will swallow
A melting heir as glibly as your Dutch
Will pills of butter, and ne’er purge for it;

And so the expression dates back to sometime between 1606 and the early 1700s and the spirit of the expression dates back to before 1606.

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Tune Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 17, 2011

For those who have actually tuned out, you know how difficult it can sometimes be to stop paying attention to sounds and noises in one’s immediate environment.  It’s not a new problem; it’s been around for centuries.  However, it’s been less than a century since the expression tune out was introduced into conversational English.

On March 18, 2011 USA Today ran an article entitled, “Tennessee Tries To Tune Out Pearl Controversy.”  The article dealt with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations Bruce Pearl allegedly committed and allegedly lied about.

Just over a decade before that article was published, the Post And Courier newspaper of Charleston, South Carolina published an Associated Press article on March 7, 2001 entitled, “Napster Must Tune Out Songs.”  Like the previous story mentioned, this article dealt with crimes committed (in this case copyright infringement) and the Federal court order directing Napster to remove copyrighted music (as identified by a list that had been submitted to the court) from the music-swapping service.

The decade before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story by Dale R. Steinke entitled, “State Wants To Tune Out New Show.”  The article reported on the national television news program aimed at high school students that the State Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin refused to allow into their schools.  While the Department did not object to the news in the program, it did object to the commercials for junk food and razor blades.

The Chicago Tribune wrote about voter turnout in their November 23, 1977 edition.  The article was aptly named, “The Voters Tune Out.”  The article states in part:

Who was it who said, “What if they gave a war and nobody come?” Well, whoever it was, if he took a look at the turnout at the polls two weeks ago he might be tempted to give it a new twist and ask, “What if they gave an election and nobody voted?”

On October 14, 1964 the Sarasota Journal carried a news story entitled, “Networks Caught In The Squeeze: Viewers Tune Out Political Ads.”  It addressed the problem the 3 American networks of the day were experiencing when they pre-empted entertainment programs to make room for short paid political broadcasts.  The reason was because even a 50-minute paid political broadcast meant that the network would invariably lose part of their audience because the ad ran.

However, 30 years before that, on February 2, 1934 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Dry Areas To Be Invited To Tune Out Gin On Radio.”  It stated in part:

For the first time on record a radio announcer will invite persons listening in tomorrow night to tune out his station. The invitation was devised by Station WOR to safeguard a program, for which a liquor company is the sponsor, from being construed as advertising in sections banning alcohol.

The Los Angeles Times ran a series in the spring of 1922 entitled, “Times Radio Department.”  The April 1 column began with:

In the last lesson we showed how radio waves are sent out by the transmitting antenna. Our purpose today is to discuss the simplest method by which these waves may be detected at a distant station. It will be remembered that radio waves were first described as changing magnetic fields moving outward from the transmitter as a ripple in a pond moves out from the place where a pebble may have struck the surface of the water.

The article ended with:

Tomorrow we shall tell you how you can buy add a few more instruments to “tune out” or filter out that which the listener does not wish to hear.

It should be noted that in 1916, Frank Conrad began broadcasting from his Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania garage with the call letters 8XK. It was relaunched as KDKA on November 2, 1920 with the claim of being “the world’s first commercially licensed radio station”. Interestingly enough, KDKA was the first radio station to broadcast the results of the 1920 American Presidential Election or Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding and  Democratic cnadidate, James M. Cox.

Radio station CFCF in Montreal began broadcasting on May 20, 1920; radio station WWJ in Detroit began broadcasting on August 20, 1920.  Because the expression “tune out” links directly back to radios and broadcasting, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression than the one from the Los Angeles Times newspaper article series of 1922.

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Save For A Rainy Day

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 4, 2011

When you save for a rainy day, you’re putting aside a set amount of money in anticipation that there may come a time in the future when you’ll be needing extra money for something important.  Of course, Mae West had her own take on the phrase when she was quoted as saying, “Save a boy friend for a rainy day, and another in case it doesn’t rain.”

Back on September 25, 2001 the Chicago Tribune ran a news story by Tribune staff reporter, Janet Kidd Stewart entitled, “America’s Psyche Takes Another Blow ; Old Assumptions No Longer Apply.”  The headline beneath the headline read: “There Is Fear In The Marketplace.”  One of the people interviewed was quoted as saying:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they save a bit more because they realize the world is a bit more of a dangerous place and they need a safety net,” he said. “People used to think, `Why save if I have a high-paying job? Why save for a rainy day if it never rains?’ We know it rains now.”

The Park City Daily News ran a story entitled “More Money Around But Purchasing Power Down” on July 11, 1957 and addressed the subject of inflation and housing prices.

Some felt better off under inflation.  The market value of a home bought 10 years ago is way up, the dollar sales volume of many stores and factories are, too, the pay check of the worked is mucy more impressive today.  They may believe that “a little inflation is a good thing.”  Those who save for a rainy day, those who want to build new homes, factories or schools, fear that what we have now may grow into chronic inflation and become the big bad wolf of our age.

Back on May 21, 1902 the Otago Witness newspaper in New Zealand reported on Jessie MacKay‘s address before the National Council of Women in their news article entitled, “Equal Pat For Equal Work.”  The address included the following:

A young man who puts off marriage to provide for parents or young relations is considered almost a hero. But nothing special is thought of a girl who is the stay of her home, putting aside the hopes and plans of womanhood to fulfil her natal obligations.  It is not expected that she should, in view of her future marriage, save for a rainy day, or to prevent the common pain and degradation of dunning her husband for pin money.  If she remains single, the world takes it as somewhat of an offence that she should save in view of old age.

In an article entitled, “Royalty At A Discount” the New York Times edition of September 15, 1854 had this to say about rainy days:

Within the last half century, Monarchy has been so insecure in Europe that the different Sovereigns have usually prepared fora rainy day” by making pecuniary investments out of the countries which they govern or misgovern.  Even the Czar, until lately, had $50,000,000 in the State securities of France and England (withdrawn not long ago, when his military plans and movements caused a requirement for money): Louis Phillippe had the precaution to provide for his family by investments in this country as well as in England; Leopold of Belgium has taken the same precaution; and Queen Victoria — said to be haunted by a foreboding that the British Monarchy will come to a close before her own life terminates — is very greatly belied by public rumor, if she, also, has not provided against a possible future of private life, by investments in the United States and elsewhere.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs wrote in his autobiography, “Shadow and Light” that he was born on April 17, 1823, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist Church minister and a “hard-shell” Baptist mother. He wrote this about his 16th year, in 1839:

On the following Sunday he lay before the pulpit from whence he had preached, cold in death, leaving my mother, who had poor health, with four small children, and little laid byfor a rainy day.”  Unable to remain long at school, I was “put out” to hold and drive a doctor’s horse at three dollars a month, and was engaged in similar employment until I reached sixteen years of age.

Back in the 1750s, more than one legal document stated that the Acadians of Louisiana — those who came from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — as being simple farmers who practice Catholicism, are totally self-sufficient, and are quick to lay aside provisions for a rainy day.

Moliere (1622-1673) wrote “The Miser” in 1668.  A classic comedy that’s still relevant today, it tells the story of Harpagon, a man who confuses love and money.  Hoarding his money, he buries it in his back garden.  At one point in the play, Harpagon admonishes his children about money by saying, “You ought to put it away for a rainy day.”

In the end, however, the saying “save your money for a rainy day” comes from an Italian comedy, La Spiritata by the Florentine playwright,  A. F. Grazzini  and written in 1561.  The adaptation years later by John Lyly (1554–1628) was known as The Bugbears.  The main plot deals with Formosus and the trickery he uses to secure 3,000 crowns from his miserly father Amadeus, as he is secretly wed to Rosimunda who came to him without a dowry.

It is this play that is the earliest published date for the phrase “save for a rainy day” that Idiomation could locate.

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Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 22, 2011

To reduce the concept of Animalism in “Animal Farm” into an easily remembered formula, the maxim, “Four legs good, two legs bad” was devised by Snowball.  It was based on the concept that whatever had two legs was an enemy and whatever had four legs or wings was a friend.  It’s a maxim that was repeated by the sheep constantly to distract the crowd from the pigs’ lies.

On March 21, Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star wrote about the Pepsi Refresh Grant competition where Canadians and Americans post great ideas to Pepsi’s Refresh Everything website in the hopes that their idea will garner enough votes to be awarded anywhere from between $5,000 and $100,000 to make their ideas come true.  The winners aren’t decided by Pepsi but rather by every day people who can vote up to 10 times a day.  In Heather Mallick‘s article, she wrote:

Great idea, but guess who’s winning. “I’m just as much of an animal lover as the next guy but this is ridiculous,” one Toronto autism charity leader emailed me in despair. “We are being beaten by cats. Yes. Cats.”

Four legs good, two legs bad. Who votes that way?

The Montreal Gazette published an article on November 1, 1983 written by Don McGillivray and entitled, “Big Deficits Are Not So Bad.”  It dealt with budget deficits in Canada and the United States, and the reaction of each country’s population with regards to these deficits.  The article read in part:

When the government decides to borrow these savings rather than raise taxes while the recovery is still fragile, it is obviously not “crowding out” eager private sector investors.  What does menace us is a vicious circle of other-directed thinking in government and the business community.  Sometimes business spokesmen talking about the deficit sound like the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Except that instead of bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad” they chorus “Deficits bad, deficits bad.”

Two decades before that, Russell Kirk‘s column “To The Point” published in the Reading Eagle newspaper on July 24, 1963 spoke about the need for improvement to school textbooks and American education.  He wrote:

Also one often encounters economic or political bias in these manuals — although less of it than one found some years ago.  What is nearly as bad, many social studies and history textbooks are woolly and sentimental in their approach.  “Democracy” is made a God-term rather as the animals in Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm” were taught to bleat, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

On September 1, 1946, the Chicago Tribune wrote a review of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” The article, entitled “Blunders of Soviet Rule Satirized in ‘Animal Farm’” began by stating:

One of the year’s most talked of books is sure to be “Animal Farm,” not only because among the Book of the Month club members it will have an enormous audience awaiting it, but because it is a satire so simple and so amusing and so delightful that even a child can chuckle over it.

It is the story of the revolt of the animals on an English farm against Farmer Jones and human beings in general. Their battle cry is “Four legs good, two legs bad.” A clever agitator, a pig stirred his fellow animals with such words as “Only get rid of man and the produce of labor would be our own.”

We continue with “George Orwell Week” tomorrow as we take a look at how another expression from “Animal Farm” has found its way into our language.

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Don’t Count Your Chickens Until Your Eggs Are Hatched

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 19, 2011

The saying has been around for years and everyone from your great-grandmother to your kindergarten teacher and all kinds of people in between.  On September 30, 1911 the Chicago Tribune reported on the Cubs and Giants game in the pennant struggle.  The news article read in part:

Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched is an old saying, and it holds good in baseball.

Poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680) used this advice in his poem, Hudibras, written in 1664:

To swallow gudgeons ere they’re catch’d,
And count their chickens ere they’re hatched.

English poet, Thomas Howell published a book entitled The Arbor of Amitie, wherein is comprised pleasant Poems and pretie Poesies, set foorth by Thomas Howell, Gentleman in 1568.  Two years later in 1570, in his new book,  New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets he wrote a poem that had this couplet:

Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,
Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

However it was Aesop’s fable from 570 B.C. entitled “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” 

A milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk.

“I’ll buy some fowls from the farmer next door,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to others. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs, I’ll buy a new dress for myself.  This way, when I go to market, all the young men will come up and speak to me!  Other girls will be jealous but I won’t care.  I will just look at them and toss my head like this.”

And with those words, the milkmaid tossed her head back.  The pail fell off her head and all the milk was spilled on the ground. She had no choice but to go home and tell her mother what had happened to the milk.

“Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

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Doughboy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 6, 2010

Because of excellent marketing, most people think of the Pillsbury Doughboy when they hear the term doughboy.  

When you go back a decade to January 31, 2000 the New York Post published an article about the Pillsbury Doughboy aka Poppin’ Fresh, the blue-eyed, smiling icon since 1965 that sports a scarf and chef’s hat for attire.  The brouhaha was over the fact that the Doughboy was appearing in newer commercials with a decidedly darker complexion.  It was all just a tempest in a teacup, however, as it was explained that his new colour more accurately reflected the colour of unbaked dough.

This wasn’t the first time the Doughboy had found himself at the centre of attention wherein the media was concerned. Back in 1991, Time Magazine reported that when Sunshine Biscuits unveiled their mascot, Drox, Poppin’ Fresh and Pillsbury didn’t take kindly to the competition’s “two legged, puffy white voiced character”  and launched a successful lawsuit against Drox and his team.  

The L.A. Times carried a story on February 18, 1988 that reported:

According to a Pillsbury spokesperson, a night clerk at the hotel, Ruth Ann Sparacio, looked up just in time to see a man carrying the Jolly Green Giant out the front door. Yelling “Stop,” she and the hotel’s assistant manager Bob Masserio hotfooted it out the door after the “kidnapper” who, in turn, dropped the Jolly Green Giant and hopped into a waiting car. Masserio spotted the Doughboy ensconced in the car’s back seat as it pulled away, but failed to get the car’s license number. The Giant’s injuries were sufficiently mild that he was able to return to his entry way post at once.

However, the term “doughboy” has been around since long before Poppin’ Fresh hit the scene. 

In a news article published by the Chicago Tribune on November 10, 1963, readers were treated to an article entitled “From A Doughboy‘s Diary.”  The doughboy recounted stories of his days in the Army which included anecdotes such as:

“There was the day in France — April 16, 1918, to be exact — when the mess hall cooks tried to feed matzo balls instead of bread to the troops of the Rainbow division, and 2,000 Irishmen of the “Fighting 69th” regiment rioted.”

The term, doughboy, then is a term the military has used when referring to its troops.   

In fact, historical documents show that U.S. General James G. Harbord served three years as a doughboy after his enlistment in the Fourth United States Infantry, back in 1889.

Doughboy was first used as a term during the Mexican War in 1846 when the cavalrymen riding on horses called foot soldiers — also known as the infantry — doughboys.  This was because after marching over dusty terrain for any period of time, the foot soldiers looked like they were covered in flour hence they were made of dough ergo they were doughboys.  In time, the term doughboy came to mean all the officers and troops of the American Expenditionary Force, which we know today as the United States Armed Forces.

Doughboy was also used as a nickname in the 1800s.  Creed Taylor fought in the Mexican War as well as at the Battles of San Antonio and San Jacinto.  After his discharge from the army, Creed Taylor married Lavina Spencer, who gave birth to their two sons John Hays (always called Hays) born in 1836 and Phillip G. (always called Doughboy) born in 1837.   Creed, along with his brother, Pinkin, founded the Taylor crime ring, hired gunmen to join them and eventually turned the reins over to Hays and Doughboy once they were old enough to run the family business.

Elsewhere in the world, doughboy was used in military terms in another way.   After the Battle of Talavera during the Peninsular War in Spain back in 1809, a soldier in Lord Wellington’s Rifle Brigade, on the retreat from Talavera, made the following note in his diary:

For bread we took corn from the fields, and having no proper means of winnowing and grinding it, were obliged to rub out the ears between our hands and pound them between stones to make dough, form which wretched practice we christened the place “Dough Boy Hill.”

Contrary to popular misconception, doughboy has never been used to describe an apprentice baker.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »