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Posts Tagged ‘Daily Southern Cross’

Political Football

Posted by Admin on March 17, 2011

A political football is an issue that becomes politically divisive.  In fact, it becomes a problem that doesn’t get solved because the politics of the issue get in the way.

On March 16, 1972 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a series entitled, “Busing Takes Front Stage on America’s Political Scene.”  The introduction to the series read:

Busing may be the political issue of the year.  An administration official already has referred to it as the “yellow peril.” And a victorious George Wallace made it the issue of Tuesday’s Florida primary.  In the first of a series of articles on the subject, we return to the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954 and examine how busing has become a political football.

In Connecticut, the Meriden Daily Journal wrote about President Hoover and the cash bonus “bugbear” of the previous two congresses on November 7, 1932. Entitled “The Bonus? It’s A Political Football But Not A Serious Issue.  No Congressional Battle Expected Over Cash Payment To War Vets” the first paragraph of the report written by Rodney Dutcher was:

The cash bonus bugbear of the last two congresses has become for the time a mere political football.  President Hoover kicked it into Governor Roosevelt’s territory and the Democratic candidate kicked it back — a weak, offside kick, if you ask the Republicans.  Neither of the candidates and neither of the parties wish to espouse it, although it figures in various congressional contests where members are capitalizing or defending their vote on the question at the last session.

In a news article published in the New York Times on April 10, 1909 about the British government’s inability to safeguard England’s supremacy at sea and the circular that had been issued that sought to “induce the nation to fling out the Government which betrayed it, for so only can Britain be saved.”  The article headline read:

Navy Scare Becomes Political Football: British Liberals Less Disturbed Since Unionists Pressed It Into Service

Back on November 30, 1869 New Zealand’s Daily Southern Cross newspaper ran a story on the nomination of candidates for five seats for Auckland City West.  Of the eight men who stood for election, it was Mr. French who proved all the more interesting due to this excerpt:

Mr. French said that he had come before the electors because he had been requested to take that proud position from many of his fellow electors.  as some of the electors were no doubt aware, during the past week from some cause unknown to him people had been trying to use him as a political football in order to kick him out of the field, and many of his friends had heard a report that he had retired from the contest, although during that period his advertisements had appeared in the paper stating that he solicited the votes and the interests of the electors.

The game of football as we know it today — complete with a set of rules — was first regularized in Cambridge in 1848 which helps explain why the term “political football” could not be traced back by Idiomation prior to 1869.

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


Posted by Admin on March 16, 2011

A filibuster is a political delaying tactic found on the Senate floor in the U.S. and in Parliament in Canada and the United Kingdom.   In other words, a filibuster is an attempt to delay or stop a vote on an issue in a legislative body. 

The term filibuster was also used in the mid-1800s with regards to American adventurers intent on overthrowing governments in Central and South America. The legislative version of the term was first used in 1854 in the United States when opponents tried to delay the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Congress.

In the U.K. in 1874, Joseph Gillis Biggar made long speeches in the House of Commons to delay the passage of Irish coercion acts. Charles Stewart Parnell joined him in this effort thereby effectively obstructing the business of the House.  This then forced the Liberals and Conservatives to negotiate with the Irish Parliamentary Party on the subject of self-government in Ireland.

On October 28, 2010 President Barack Obama stated:

There are a couple of things that have changed in our politics that are gonna have to be fixed. One is the way the filibuster operates. As I said, that’s just not in the Constitution.

Nearly 70 years before that, on November 21, 1942 the Miami News ran an article entitled “Pepper Urges Anti-Filibuster Rule Be Enacted By Senate.”  The opening paragraphs read:

Sen. Claude Pepper (Dem., Fla.) reacted to a successful Southern filibuster against his anti-poll tax bill Saturday with an angry promise to stage an all-out fight for revision of senate rules so that such legislation-killing tactics would be impossible in the future.

“The time to permit filibusters has disappeared in America,” he told the senate.  “We cannot continue to give one-tenth of this body the authority to control the rest.”

He heatedly called for an amendment to the rules which would make it possible to choke off debate not only on bills before the chamber but also on time-wasting debate on points of order, a tactic frequently employed in filibusters.

Filibusters are legendary in American politics.  The Atlanta Independent newspaper of October 18, 1928 discussed events from the previous generation in an article entitled, “The Republican Party and Remedial Legislation.”

The last effort made by the Republican Party to enforce the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment by appropriate legislation was the Lodge Bill, introduced in the 51st Congress by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, under Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine as Speaker.  In 1890 this bill was put through the House, but died in the Senate, by reason of Democratic filibustering and swearing that before the bill should pass, they would filibuster the balance of the senate session.  In all of the democratic efforts to defeat remedial legislation for the relief of the Negro votes in the South, Tammany Hall was its ally, and contributed in every way possible to defeat Republican efforts.   When the Democrats got control of both branches of Congress in 1879, they proceeded to repeal and nullify every law on the books guaranteeing the colored man political equality.

On June 16, 1880 the New York Times reported on a filibuster in an article entitled, “Ben. Holladay’s Just Claim: Democrats Filibuster Against A Bill To Save A Public Servant From Ruin.”  The article dealt with the out-of-pocket expenses of one Ben Holladay who carried the mail for the Government via an overland route prior to the construction of the Pacific railroads.  He claimed to have suffered losses “caused by the depredations of hostile Indians” in carrying out these duties. The article read in part:

After a short debate upon the Mexican Pension bill, awakened by what had been said in regard to it, Mr. Wallace made another motion for an executive session.  It had become apparent that the opposition minority of Democrats intended to continue to filibuster, and for this reason the motion was passed by a vote of 27 to 26.

A New Zealand newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, published a news story entitled, “The St. Juan Outrage” on January 6, 1860 that stated:

The dispute was a geographical one, “Generalis sum Americanus et super geographicam,” thought General Harney.  Pacific envoys had been balancing the conflicting claims of their respective countries long enough.  Like Brennus of old — who, as far as benighted heather could be, was himself a Filibuster — the General determined to throw his sword into the scale.  Bent on a terrible campaign, he led off, conformably to all the principles of strategy, with a ruse de guerre.  There is nothing like lulling an enemy into false security.  The General opened hostilities against the Governor of Vancouver’s Island with an afternoon call — pacem duello miscuit.  The manoeuvre, though a daring one for times of peace, was happily effected without loss of life.

It is agreed that the first notable (albeit not the first) U.S. Senate filibuster took place in 1841 when dissident senators held the floor for 7 days straight in opposition to a bill about hiring the Senate printers.  Later that same year, another filibuster erupted with regards to the re-establishment of the Bank of the United States.  Henry Clay attempted to introduce a rule that would limit filibusters but he wasn’t able to get enough support to have the rule passed.

In 1821, shortly after Mexico gained its independence, James Long led the filibuster expedition known as the Long Expedition into Texas.  They successfully captured and held La Bahía for three days before being captured by Mexican forces. The fort remained in Mexican hands until the 1830s which led to then-President Santa Anna’s annulment of the Mexican Constitution of 1824.

But long before a filibuster was an American adventurer intent on overthrowing governments in Central and South America, and long before a filibuster had anything whatsoever to do with Senators and Members of Parliament, filibusters existed in the early 1600s.

Buccaneers, who were of English and French nationality, were the first to settle on the West Indian Caribee island of Saint Christopher.  The term “buccaneer” was derived from “boucan” or dried meat cured in the Indian style.  The French adventurers, already known as filibustiers, saw that term corrupted into filibuster.  These filibusters made repeated attempts up to 1678 to overthrow Spanish and Dutch possessions in the West Indies  and each attempt met with failure for the filibusters.  They moved on to such efforts as the 1688 attack against the Danish settlement on St. Thomas and other such expeditions.  In 1697, the French Governor of Hispanolia engaged 1,200 men which included 700 filibusters in an expedition against the Spaniards in the West Indies.

So while Jimmy Stewart’s famous filibuster scene in Frank Capra’s classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” falsely promotes the mythical yet endearing image of filibustering Senators as heroes of the people because they are standing up against a corrupt political establishment, the facts usually seem to  tell a completely different story.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2011

In case you are wondering, yes, “shake” is a recognized unit of time.  At the time of the first atomic bomb, scientists needed a term for an interval of time equal to 10 nanoseconds. Since two shakes of a lamb’s tail is very quick, scientists coined the word “shake” to describe this unit of time.  But where does this phrase come from originally?

In the Toledo Blade newspaper of March 30, 1961 in the “Tell Me Why” column, A. Leokum started the column by writing:

Suppose you ask someone to do something for you quickly.  He might say:  “I’ll do it in a minute.”  But he might also say: “I’ll do it before you can say Jack Robinson” or “I’ll do it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”  The point is that when we set up a unit of time such as an hour or a minute, we are doing it by agreement or convention.  We have decided that so much and so much time shall be called a “minute” or “hour.”  But in setting up divisions of time there are certain natural events that can guide us.

That being said, two shakes of a lamb’s tail was a recognized time unit in the 1920s as evidenced in Pittsburgh (PA) in an advertisement that ran in The Gazette Times newspaper on May 3, 1920.  The advertisement for The Men’s Store of Pittsburgh: The Only Place In Western Pennsylvania Where You Can Buy New York’s Finest Rogers Peet Clothes read:

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail!  Replenishing your wardrobe may take even less time than that — our stock of Spring Suits and Overcoats is so ample.  A size for every build.  They’re “made to fit” not “to measure.”  Highest type of tailoring. Prices reasonable.

Back on September 28, 1881 a Letter to the Editor appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail in New Zealand.  The letter began with:

A Brooklyn man spent seven hours writing an essay to prove that a woman is inferior to a man, and then spent two hours more and a heap of profanity in an ineffectual attempt to thread a needle, a job which a woman finally did for him in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

A generation before that on August 26, 1853 in an article entitled “Turning The Tables” and published in the New Zealand newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, the following was published:

A correspondent of the ‘Dublin Warder’ shows how an old acquaintance once turned the tables upon the bailiffs.  Two smart-looking fellows dressed as sailors, and with a rolling seaman-like gait, called at his house, and chucking the servant under the chin, told her to tell her master that they had brought commands from his brother, who was at that time at sea.  The credulous debtor eagerly opened the door and was soon in the arms of the bailiffs.  After complimenting them upon t heir ingenuity, he invited them into a back parlour, and begged they’d wait till he’d send off a bit of a note to a friend that he expected would arrange it for him.  “The messenger was back in the shakin’ of a lamb’s tail; and, my dear life, ’twasn’t long till the tables wor rightly turned, and the brace o’ shoulder tappers frightened out o’ their seven sinses by the arrival of a press gang; and, says Misther Blake, throwin’ the freemason’s sign to the officer, who happened, as Providence would order it, to be a Leithrim man. Here’s a pair o’ light active chaps that have deserted their ship and are disgracin, the blue jacket by actin’ as bailiffs.”  Sure that was a sore day for the disguised bailiffs, for notwithstanding their entreaties, they were obliged to go with the gang!

In the end, the phrase first appeared in Richard Barham’s book “Ingoldsby Legends” published in 1840 however that it was used with such ease in a news article in 1853 gives reason to believe that the phrase existed in modern language long before 1840.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Posted by Admin on January 14, 2011

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a book entitled The Screwtape Letters that presented the fictional correspondence between two fictional demons. The correspondence addressed one issue and one issue alone:  the best method with which to secure and safeguard mankind’s eternal damnation.  The book states clearly to the reader know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  What’s more, this extra bit about the road to Hell — quite the opposite of the narrow way into Heaven spoken of in the Bible in Matthew 7:13 -14 — is also found in the book:

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

In Baltimore’s The Morning Herald on January 2, 1888 they ran an article entitled “Better Pay Old Vows.”  The story was about the Reverend Wayland D. Ball, pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, who began the New Year with a sermon on using New Year’s Day to pay vows to God.  His sermon read in part:

We make some resolution of self-sacrifice, and then become happy over thinking how brave we are going to be and how good are going to become.  And contemplation is so much more pleasant and easy than performance that we are content with that.  but there is no virtue in good thoughts alone.  Religious emotion that comes from the mere making of vows is very often nothing but the Devil ticking us into a good humor with ourselves.  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

In a letter to the editor of the Daily Southern Cross in New Zealand on April 20, 1855 entitled “Taranaki Versus His Excellency And His Executive” the author, identified only by his initials, E.M., began his comments with:

Sir, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and his Excellency Colonel Wynyard appears anxious to complete the Taranaki portion of the pavement with the least possible delay.

That same year, the expression is found in H.G. Bohn’s Hand-book of Proverbs.  The proverb is from Portugal and states that:

Hell is paved with good intentions, and roofed with lost opportunities.

Even earlier than that, thought, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) is quoted as saying:

L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (Translated: “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”)

The expression has evolved since the days of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but the meaning remains the same.

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 12th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by Admin on December 3, 2010

A prisoner, an inmate, a convict, an habitual criminal, someone with more than one experience of prison as an inmate and not as a guard or warden, a lifer, a felon.

The original spelling of the word jail is gaol and so one must hunt down the term “gaol-bird” to see how far back the term goes. Once we begin searching for the term “gaol-bird” a number of published references show up.

The New Zealand Tablet published a news story on February 1, 1900 entitled “Slattery and His Bogus Ex-Nun” where it reported that:

“[the scam] was inaugurated by two lewd creatures who had never been members of the Church whose alleged enormities they professed to disclose.  The male partner in the conspiracy was a low roué; his inevitable female companion was a thief, gaol-bird and prostitute.”

In the Daily Southern Cross published on March 4, 1871 an article entitled “Gaol Life at Mount Eden” and it reported:

“Instead of emptying the rubbish in the usual corner, [the inmate, Wilson] marched straight with his load to the authorities of the gaol, placing it at the feet of the chief warder, Mr. O’Brien …Wilson made a rush for the door, in his impetuosity, knocking over Warder Young, who happened to be stationed just outside … [the inmate, Wilson] whiningly pleaded the excuse that it was all meant for a “lark;” but the authorities could not see the point to the joke, and the “gaol bird” that so much desired to be like a “lark” was put under stricter surveillance — orders being issued to the sub-warders to keep an eye on him, and so prevent such propensities to sly amusement in the future.”

In the Southland Times, the June 11, 1982 publication carried a news story dated March 6, 1872 that stated:

“Jules Favré asserts that a deputation from Lyons awaited on him, whose mandat impératif was that no deputy should be elected unless he avowed and signed himself an atheist!  It was a sad mistake to make patriots of the inmates of the prisons — 20,000 gaol birds in the army of Paris!”

The origin of the word jailbird — or rather gaol bird — can be traced back at least to medieval England, where convicts were oftentimes locked in iron cages that were then suspended several feet above the ground.  Visible to passersby, it was strongly suggested by those in charge that the passersby refer to them as jailbirds (gaol birds) since the suspended iron cages somewhat resembled bird cages.

The earliest published mention of prisoners as gaol birds that I could find dates back to the Spanish Inquisition where records show that in 1647, a gaol-bird imprisoned in Valladolid provided information to his jailers of an alleged secret congregation in Cuidad Real.  He claimed that the leader of the alleged secret congregation was the Paymaster of the army on the Portuguese frontier.  The informant’s hope was that this information would be enough to have him released from prison.

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