Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Colonist’

Good Money After Bad

Posted by Admin on January 25, 2013

When you throw good money after bad, you’re spending more and more money on something (or someone) that will never yield positive results for all you’ve invested.

On September 12, 2011, Kenneth W. Davis posted a short info bite to his site. Davis, who is a past president of the Association of Professional Communication Consultants, addressed the issue of investing time and effort into writing a piece and bad decisions made therein. The info bite was aptly entitled:

This Week: Don’t Throw Good Money After Bad

The phrase certainly grabs readers’ attention and perhaps this is why it makes such a reliable headline. When the Montreal Gazette wrote an article that stated Quebec Transport Minister Michel Clair “might just as well paint fleur de lys on dollar bills and throw them into the air” the title of the story was:

Good Money After Bad

Used in headlines, the phrase oftentimes finds itself repeated in the body of such an article as was the case in a news story carried in the Pittsburg Press on February 16, 1938. The article addressed the matter of unstable employer-employee relationships and began with this paragraph:

Is it heartening that efforts have not been dropped in Congress to set up a mediation system for shipping. For we agree with Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy of the Maritime Commission that, unless labor-management relations are stabilized, discipline established and traffic and travel attracted to American ships, we would only pour good money after bad to spend more of the taxpayers’ millions in subsidies

Decades earlier, on March 16, 1893 the phrase was used in a New York Times article about Jersey City property owners who were upset over awards made by the Commissioners for property taken for the construction of the new boulevard in Hudson County. Owners felt that the project suffered from what they called “monstrous waste and jobbery.” At the time of writing, the Board Of Freeholders had spent one million dollars on the project that, upon completion, would be a mud road and nothing more. The headline for this story was:

Good Money After Bad: Another Million For Hudson County’s New Boulevard

The “American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms” claims that the expression was coined in the late 1800s but Idiomation begs to differ, especially in light of the fact that the saying is found in an article published on July 23, 1880 in the Timaru Herald in New Zealand. On page 2, the following is found in an article discussing the Otago Harbor Board Bill and local indebtedness. It read, in part, as follows:

This argument raising further opposition to the Bill and a feeling being expressed that it would be better for the Harbor Board to stop its works and even to stop payment, than to go on throwing good money after bad. Mr. Driver, who was, we may say, a strenuous advocate of the Bill, propounded the startling theory that, in the case of the Harbor Board becoming insolvent, the colony would have to take over its liabilities.

Twenty years prior to that, in an article published on July 28, 1860 and entitled, “Alarming Transmogrification” in the Moreton Bay Courier included this in their report:

For example: — “Ran away, my man, Sam. He was black last month, but when he left he had become of a smooth, soft, and delicate whiteness, that would rival that of the tenderest, purest, Circassian.” Pray, would it not be flinging good money after bad, to print such an advertisement as that? And worse than all, perhaps the faithful bloodhound, having a fraternal admiratior, of Caleb Cushing and his theory, might decline to hunt “a Circassian.” The capitalists of the South might find that riches have legs, if not wings; and such a perfect conglomeration of everything might ensue as we dread to dwell upon.

And twenty years prior to that, in the Colonist newspaper of December 8, 1840, the Australian publication made use of the expression in its story entitled, “Court Of Requests Act.” Of special interest is the fact that the newspaper story refers to the expression as a common expression. The passage in which the phrase appears is as follows:

If it were asserted that there was any country in which a man, in order to recover a debt of 6l. or 7l., must begin by expending 60l. or 70., — where, at the outset, to use a common expression, he had to run the risk of throwing so much good money after bad, — it would at once be said, that whatever other benefits or advantages that country enjoyed, at least it was not fortunate in its system of law.

In fact, the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Somerset, England published an article on March 25, 1773 entitled, “An Account Of Dr. Goldsmith’s Illness” that read in part:

… throwing away good money after bad. Whereas others are for pulling down and erecting one handsome, spacious, and commodious room in lieu thereof, with a large front door …

The “Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors” by Peter Richard Wilkinson claims that the idiom dates back to 1706 but does not provide the source for the claim.   However, this is incorrect as it appears nearly 20 years prior in the letters of William Fitzhugh.

Colonel William Fitzhugh was a lawyer, planter and merchant who relocated from England to Westmoreland County in Virginia in 1670. A self-made man, he was concerned with the fluctuation of tobacco prices since it was the source of his wealth. He furnished his home lavishly which included 122 pieces of English silver — a sound financial investment in that is could be melted down if need be, and made a social statement about his position in society. It’s been claimed that Fitzhugh’s letters to English merchants, ship captains and friends are filled with all manner of scheming. In a letter from 1690, William Fitzhugh wrote:

More money would be spent on prosecuting than he would be able to answer, and consequently good money thrown after bad.

Giovanni Torriano wrote and published a number of books on proverbs, including “New and Easie Directions for Attaining the Thuscan Italian Tongue” in 1639, “The Most Significant Select Italian Proverbs” in 1642, “A dictionary Italian and English, formerly compiled by John Florio, now diligently revised” in 1659, and “Piazza universale di proverbi italiani: Or A Common Place Of Italian Proverbes and Proverbial Phrases” in 1666, among other tomes.  However, it was in his book “Italian Proverbial Phrases” published in 1662 that he wrote:

The English say, To send good Mony after bad, to lose the Substance, for the Shaddow.

Since this was already a known idiom at the time of publication in 1662, it is not unreasonable to believe that it was in use in the preceding two generations. For this reason, Idiomation pegs the date of this expression to the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Take French Leave

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2011

To take French leave means that someone has left a gathering without asking or announce he or she is leaving. The English and Portuguese attribute this bad behaviour to the French while the Russian, Hungarian, Czech, Italian, and French have an expression that blames it on English while the Dutch and Finnish lay blame on thieves.  What is particularly interesting with this expression is the finger-pointing that is associated with it.

That being said, until at least World War II, the British Army used the euphemism to take French leave when referring to a soldier deserting his company.  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, to take French leave comes from an 18th century custom in France where guests left a reception without thanking the host or hostess for having invited them.  The dictionary states that the first known use of this phrase to take French leave dates back to 1771.

On July 23, 1942 the Lawrence Journal World newspaper published Harry Grayson‘s column “The Scoreboard.”  The article read in part:

Ed Barrow and Joy McCarthy don’t care for ball players who take French leave, especially when an injury has left the outfit with no one else for the position.  Rosar’s offense was particularly flagrant inasmuch as he was receiving and swinging for the everwilling Bill Dickey, out with a torn ligament in his shoulder.

In 1920, Edith Wharton published a book entitled “The Age Of Innocence” which had this passage in Book I, Chapter XVII:

“Look at him — in such hot haste to get married that he took French leave and rushed down to implore the silly girl on his knees!  That’s something like a lover — that’s the way handsome Bob Spicer carried off my poor mother; and then got tired of her before I was weaned –though they only had to wait eight months for me! But there — you’re not a Spicer, young man; luckily for you and for May. It’s only my poor Ellen that has kept any of their wicked blood; the rest of them are all model Mingotts,” cried the old lady scornfully.

In the Robert Louis Stevenson book “Treasure Island” published on May 23, 1883 after having been published in a children’s magazine in 1881 and 1882 as a serial story,  the expression to take French leave is found in Part V, Chapter 22 entitled, “My Sea Adventure.”

As for the scheme I had in my head, it was not a bad one in itself. I was to go down the sandy spit that divides the anchorage on the east from the open sea, find the white rock I had observed last evening, and ascertain whether it was there or not that Ben Gunn had hidden his boat, a thing quite worth doing, as I still believe. But as I was certain I should not be allowed to leave the enclosure, my only plan was to take French leave and slip out when nobody was watching, and that was so bad a way of doing it as made the thing itself wrong. But I was only a boy, and I had made my mind up.

The Colonist newspaper in New Zealand published the column “Spirit Of The Press” on December 21, 1858 with the following interesting bit of information about taking French leave.

We read that “the Bombay Geographical Society announce in their proceedings, that they have received a specimen of the Walking leaf from Java.”  A person who walks off is said to take French leave.  You may be sure that this tree is originally in France, and not liking a soil that was subject to so many political up-heavings, it took French leave, and walked off.  Hence, probably the origin of that term; or perhaps, the phrase of “cutting one’s stick” may be owing to the habits of this Walking-leaf.  It “cuts its stick” and walks away.  We think we have very cleverly explained two very vulgar idioms, the exact meaning of which has never till now been properly accounted for.  By-the-by, the Birnam Wood that walked into Macbeth, must have been a perambulating forest of these Walking-leaves.

Eliza Southgate Bowne was known for the many letters she wrote in her lifetime.  They were compiled by Clarence Cook and published in a book in 1887 entitled, “A Girl’s Life Eighty Years Ago.”  In a letter dated Sunday, May 25, 1806 to Miss Miranda Southgate, Eliza Southgate Bowne had written in part:

Now for news, which I suppose you are very anxious to hear.  Iin the first place — Miss Laurelia Dashaway is married to Mr. Hawkes.  On Saturday morning, 8 o’clock, Trinity Church was opened on purpose for the occasion; something singular, as it would not be like Miss Laurelia.  But what do you think — Mr. Grellet has taken French leave of New York — sailed for France about a fortnight ago, without anybody’s knowing their intention till they were gone.  There are many conjectures upon the occasion not very favorable to the state of their finances.  “Tis said his friends were very averse to her going with him.  If she had not, I suspect she might have sympathized with Madame Jerome Buonoparte and many other poor Madames that have founded their hopes on the fidelity of a Frenchman.

In the book “Letters from America” which is a compilation of the letters written by William Eddis.  In a letter to his wife written at Annapolis on September 26, 1775, William Eddis wrote in part:

Mr. L, who had actually embarked for England, with full permission from the ruling powers, has been obliged to relinquish his intention, and return on shore, some clamours having been excited by the populace to his prejudice; and it being though necessary he should remain to vindicate his conduct.  Many of our friends have found it expedient to take French leave.  I trust you will speedily meet them in perfect safety.

However even earlier than this, there are written discussion in the late 1760s on the meaning of the phrase and its origins.  Since a guest is not bound by etiquette to seek leave from the party’s host or hostess, it is proper protocol to seek out the host or hostess when one is about to leave.  It was determined that the phrase implies that the person who uses it or of whom it is used has done something that, strictly speaking, should not have done or for which the person should be ashamed.

Since the Merriam-Webster dictionary attributes the first use of the expression to take French leave to 1771, it appears the expression was alive and well in the years leading up to 1771.  Idiomation guesses that the earliest use may have been sometime in the 1760s.

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

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

Posted by Admin on August 8, 2011

The next time you hear someone is between the devil and the deep blue sea, express your condolences.  What it means is that the poor soul has found himself or herself having to choose between two equally unpleasant situations.

On June 23, 2009 the Birmingham Mail in England published as news story entitled, “Press Whistleblowers Deserve to Be Protected.”  It dealt with manner in which reporters have been treated in the past with regards to journalistic confidentiality and refusing to provide police with the sources for some of their stories.  The story began with this paragraph:

It is no secret that the provincial press is battling for survival, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, the devil being the economic slump and the deep blue sea the internet revolution.

Back in 1931, Cab Calloway recorded the Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen jazz standard, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”  It’s such a fun song that even George Harrison covered the song in 1988 showing how timeless the song truly is!

On November 24, 1950 the St. Petersburg Times published an article written by Marquis Childs entitled, “Democrats Are Caught Between The Devil And Deep Blue Sea.”  It dealt with rising prices, the consumer price index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and everything tied to it.  The journalist launched into the story with this opening paragraph:

The more the Democrats contemplate the months ahead, the more they realize the trap they are in.  That old phrase — between the devil and the deep blue sea — has rarely applied with such literalness as it does to the party in power.

The Devil and the Deep Sea” is the title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1898, and reprinted in subsequent short story collections in the early 1900s.

On March 4, 1875 the Colonist newspaper in Nelson, New Zealand reprinted a news story from the Otago Daily Times entitled, “A New Doctrine Of Election.”  The story focused on Mr. Hare’s system of representation which was not well received by everyone.

This is to endanger the success of the party triumphing by splitting votes.  More seats were lots to Mr. Gladstone at the last election by this mistake than in any other way.  If any one thinks that we are exaggerating the possible difficulties of the situation, let him recall the elections he remembers best and he will find that the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea has been offered within his experience — not infrequently.

In nautical circles, the devil is a seam in the planking of a wooden ship on, or below, the waterline.  When sailors fell from a footrope, they would either land on deck which was known as the devil plank or in the water which would be, of course, the deep blue sea.  Understandably then, sailors talked about what little choice they had for their deaths when falling from a footrope, since their only choices were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In Robert Monro’s  book “His Expedition With The Worthy Scots Regiment Called Mackeyes” published in 1637, the following passage is found:

I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea; for sometimes our owne cannon would light short, and grase over us, and so did the enemies also, — till I directed an officer to our owne batteries, acquainting them with our hurt, and desiring they should stell or plant their cannon higher.

Since it was used with such ease in 1637, one can safely assume it was an established phrase at the time and most likely dates back to the early 1600s, if not farther.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this phrase.

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

The One-Eyed Man Is King

Posted by Admin on July 5, 2011

When you hear the expression, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” it’s a nice way of saying that even a person with limited abilities and knowledge is at a great advantage in the company of those with lesser abilities and less knowledge than he. 

The Italians have the same saying, “In un mondo di ciechi un orbo è re.”  The German people have their version of the proverb: “Those that rule must hear and be deaf, must see and be blind.”  And the French people also have their own version of the proverb:  “When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow.”  Some say it’s a variation of a Bible quote found in Matthew 15:14 that states: 

“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” 

It’s also found in Luke 6:39 as:

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

On January 22, 2011, journalist Frank Rich wrote an OpEd piece for the New York Times about the original movie, “True Grit” starring John Wayne for which he won the 1969 Oscar for Best Actor and its 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.  The piece was aptly entitled, “The One-Eyed Man Is King.”

On June 6, 1920 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “Millions Wasted To Elect President!”  It spoke of the enormous campaign finances dribbled away by professional campaigners, running minimally efficient headquarters for candidates all the while presenting with a big business atmosphere.

In the monarchy of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  In the field of activity of the professional campaigner there may be a Cabinet position in store for the man whose industry nothing can abate and whose political ineptness nobody can deny.

On January 21, 1859 in Volume II, Issue 131 of the Colonist newspaper published in Nelson, New Zealand, the paper reprinted the address of Lord Stanhope to the University of Aberdeen.

A large part of the wisdom, the experience, and the actual power of the country is unrepresented in Parliament, through the taciturnity or defective expression of our public men while, as a natural consequence, many who have little else than a ready command of words obtain an influence beyond their just worth.  “In a people of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;” and in an assembly of bad speakers or mutes a very ordinary orator will get more than his due.  It must be so at the bar, and in the pulpit also.

Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Donald MacIntosh published “Collections of Gaelic Proverbs” in 1785 included the proverb, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

A century prior to the publication of the Reverend Donald MacIntosh‘s book, the proverb was cited by John Ray in 1678 and referenced as being an English proverb.  His twist on the Bible passage was, “A man were better be half blind than have both eyes  out.” In other words, not only would a half-blind man be able to avoid the ditch, he might find himself in a position if leadership among those who were completely blind.

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) published a book commonly referred to over the centuries as “Adagia.”  The first edition was actually entitled “Collecteana Adagiorum” and was published in Paris in 1500.  It was a slim book with approximately eight hundred proverbs.  Erasmus rename his book, “Adagiorum Chiliades” when it was republished in 1509 with an impressive 3,000 proverbs and adages this time, many with explanatory notes that read as brief essays themselves.   Over time, subsequent editions of his book saw the addition of more proverbs and adages with the final edition containing 4,658 proverbs and adages.

Most of the proverbs and adages found in the book were accepted by society as a whole as common wisdom of the day.  His reason for amassing so many proverbs and adages in one book had a great deal to do with the fact that Erasmus focused primarily on providing a Latin translation of the New Testament from several Greek texts that provided a more accurate translation of the Scriptures.  Collecting 4,658 entries was merely an extension of his work.  Included in his book was the proverb: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As it was a commonly used expression at the time Desiderius Erasmus published his book and considering his interest in the Scriptures, it is not unreasonable to believe that the proverb does, indeed, come from the Bible and made it into common language via the Catholic Church.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »