Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Deseret News’

Shilly Shally

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2015

If someone is shilly shallying, they are acting irresolutely.   In other words, those who shilly shally can’t be pinned down one way or another to an action or a decision leaving others with no idea where that person stands.

The Glasgow Herald published a Letter To The Editor written by Alex C.M. MacNeill in March 4, 1977 where the author voiced his displeasure at the inaction of the political parties.  He took issue with the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties equally as the first (and only) sentence of his brief letter made clear.

The present attitude in Scotland to the shilly-shallying of the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties over devolution recalls to mind the saying attributed to one of the German conductors of the old Scottish Orchestra who was having trouble with a recalcitrant or incompetent brass-player:  “With your damn nonsense will I twice once put up.  But always?  Sometimes?  Never!”

In the October 16, 1942 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Joseph Shechtman wrote about shilly shally and willy nilly.  According to him, these phrases came about as a corruption of how the real words were pronounced.  For those who asked, “Shall? Shall I?” that became shilly shally.

The Boston Evening Transcript used the expression as part of the title on an article that was published on July 28, 1915 in its recounting what Sheriff Kinkead had done just hours earlier in front of what the newspaper referred to as “plenty of witnesses.”  Yes, Sheriff Kinkead and his men settled a strike by appealing to the strikers sense of patriotism for the United States of America as many who were striking were foreigners who had come to America to find a better for themselves and their families.  The article was entitled, “Busting Through Shilly-Shally.”

Interesting Side Note:  The writer of this article stated that Mrs. Wendell Phillips of Boston (MA) invented the phrase shilly shally.

In Chapter 20 of a serialized story published in The Age newspaper on June 29, 1901 the word was used in this passage.

“Mr. Vickers, have you heard of Pyrotid?” inquired Christ, confidentially.

“Sir,” said Mr. Vickers with dignity, “I am not a betting man.”

“It is not the name of a horse, but of a singular mineral,” said Chris.  “It is worth four pounds a ton, and there are two hundred thousand tons of it on Drellincourt Farm.  I found that out by the aid of a little shilly-shallying; but I admit that I got my cue regarding its existence from Mellor, for, Mr. Vickers, in the profession to which I belong it is absolutely necessary for one to understand men.”

The Deseret News published an extended article on March 5, 1889 about U.S. President Harrison’s message which, it was believed, would please his party and not disappoint the opposition.  The President delivered his message the day before, and within a day, even the British press was complimentary in its comments about his message.

The “Tribune” this morning says the strong and patriotic appeal will go to the hearts and convictions of the American people and will produce results hereafter.  The “Times” finds nothing impressive in the President’s remarks.  It thinks the tone and manner commonplace.  The “World” regards it as the deliverance of a sincere and extremely clear-minded man, and says there will be no shilly-shally foreign policy.

In Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Chapter X of the serialized story “On The Church Steps” by Sarah C. Hallowell (1833 – 1914) was published.  The author used the expression in such a way as to indicate that it was an expression that people from every social class knew and used.

Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited too.

“Tell you what,” said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs, “I’ve got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev’ that they hevn’t gone by the other road. Old gal said there was two?”

Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) used this expression in a letter dated October 1792 where he discussed George Washington’s comments about transforming the American government into a monarch (which he did not support, but which was strongly considered as an option by more than the handful the President dismissed there might be).  He wrote of a dispute between General Schuyler (20 November 1733 – 18 November 1804) on one side of the table (who favored hereditary descent), and Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney (25 February 1746 – 16 August 1825) and Thomas Jefferson on the other (who opposed hereditary descent).

I told him, that though the people were sound, there was a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation; that the Secretary of the Treasury was one of those; that I had heard him say that this Constitution was a shilly-shally thing, of mere milk and water, which could not last, and was only good as a step to something better.  That when we reflected, that he had endeavored in the convention, to make an English constitution out of it, and when failing in that, we saw all his measures tending to bring it to the same thing, it was natural for us to be jealous; and particularly, when we saw that these measures had established corruption in the Legislature, where there was a squadron devoted to the nod of the Treasury, doing whatever he had directed, and ready to do what he should direct.

The expression found its way into the book, “The Eagle and the Robin: An Apologue” translated from the original Aesop fable by H.G.L. Mag, and printed and sold by H. Hills in Black-fryars near the Waterside in 1709.

You are suppos’d to undermine
The foe, in some immense design.
A pen can bite you with a line;
There’s forty ways to give a sign,
Well, all on fire away he stalk’d
Till come to where the Eagle walk’d.
Bob did not shilly-shally go,
Nor said one word of friend or foe;
But flirting at him made a blow,
As game-cocks with their Gauntlets do.

The earliest version of the expression Idiomation found is in the comedic play, “The Committee, Or The Faithful Irishman” by Sir Robert Howard, and published in 1665.  English playwright and politician Robert Howard (January 1626 – 3 September 1698) was the son of Thomas Howard, First Earl of Berkshire, and his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Second Earl of Exeter.

His play was published (along with three others) in his book, “Four New Plays” although there are indications that the play had been performed long before it was finally published in 1665.  In fact, Pepys wrote about taking in a performance of “The Committee” on June 12, 1663, and other diaries mention the play being performed before an audience in 1662.

MRS. DAY:
Well, Mrs. Arabella, I hope you have considered enough by this time.  You  need not use so much consideration for your own good; you  may have your estate, and you may have your Abel; and you may be worse offered.  Abel, tell her your mind; ne’er stand, shilly-shally. Ruth, does she incline, or is she wilfull?

MRS. RUTH:
I was just about the point when your honor interrupted us.  one word in your ladyship’s ear.

ABEL:
You see, forsooth, that I am somebody, though you make nobody of me.  You see I can prevail.  Therefore pray say what I shall trust to; for I must not stand shilly-shally.

MRS. ARABELLA:
You are hasty sir.

Unable to find an earlier published version for shilly-shally, and given that it was used in Sir Robert Howard’s play published in 1665 (and performed earlier), it is reasonable to assume that it was a commonly used expression in England in the 1600s.  Idiomation therefore sets the date for this expression to at least 1600.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cute As A Button

Posted by Admin on August 6, 2015

Children are said to be cute as a button although every once in a while someone might refer to a young woman in this way. What it means is that the person who’s said to be cute as a button is charming and attractive while implying the person is small or young, like a child is.

On March 30, 2014, snlgamers.com published an article from writer, David Graham that discussed Nintendo’s history. The article was titled, “Hanafuda: Nintendo’s Past” and gave a detailed accounting of where Nintendo began and how it became what it is a hundred years later. Along the way, the writer included this passage.

We think of Nintendo as the wholesome video game company. Mario and Kirby are as cute as a button and the company in general feels squeaky clean, especially compared to other industry titans.

Back on October 30, 1995, journalist Tony Kronheiser’s story, “Those 15 Minutes Of Fame Will Ruin The Kid” about 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier from Old Tappan in Bergen County (New Jersey) hit the newsstands. It’s not that Tony wasn’t aware that his comments might not be appreciated by some, however, as a journalist, he felt compelled to write the story nonetheless.

The boy in question had leaned over the right field railing at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the American League Championship at the bottom of the 8th inning with one out and the Orioles leading 4 to 3. He stretched his baseball gloved hand out over Tony Tarasco, and gave the New York Yankees a home run in the process.

The journalist knew that his comments would be unpopular with a segment of the population but that didn’t stop him from writing about the situation as it was. And he predicted that some of his detractors might even think this of him:

Tony, this is the lowest you’ve ever sunk. He’s a 12-year-old boy, and he’s cute as a button. So what if he hurt the Orioles? Stop pandering to the Washington audience. All the kid did was try to catch a fly ball. You’d have done the same thing yourself.

As it was, the Baltimore Orioles lost the pennant that year, and over the years, Jeffrey Maier went on to play high school and college baseball, and then worked for minor-leagues baseball teams. And the journalist was right: Jeffrey Maier never escaped from being forever thought of as The Kid.

In the Deseret News edition of April 16, 1954 stores were in full swing with spring fashions and nothing said cute as a button for a little girl than a strappy little patent leather number as seen in this newspaper advertisement.

Cute As A Button_1954
In the book, “The Best Plays of 1938 – 39” edited by Burns Mantle, the idiom appeared in “Kiss The Boys Good-Bye.” It was a comedy in three acts, written by American author (and later U.S. Ambassador) Clare Boothe  (10 March 1903 – 9 October 1987) and later known as Clare Boothe Luce after marrying Henry “Harry” Luce (3 April 1898 – 28 February 1967), the founder of Time and Fortune magazines.

BREED
The Old South, the last illusion of the New North —

CINDY LOU
Lift me down (TOP lifts her down.)

BREED
… destroy that — and comes the Revolution!

CINDY LOU
I declare you’re strong …

BREED
Personally, I think she’s cute as a button

CINDY LOU
Why, you damn Yankee pole-cat! Here I come!

The idiom as we know it is actually an abbreviated version of cute as a button quail. For those who aren’t familiar with button quail, they’re tiny, extra-fluffy, docile members of the quail family. They have an extensive vocabulary with multiple chirps and coos that are understood by other button quail, and yet, their chirps and coos are very quiet … perhaps so as not to disturb others in the vicinity.

The proper name for button quail is Chinese Blue Breasted Quail (Excalfactoria chinensis) and are native to only a few provinces in southeast China. European tourists visiting China in the late 1800s and early 1900s fell in love with them and took them back home with them to add to their persona aviaries.

American soldiers during WWI encountered them in these homes in Europe. Soon afterwards they were brought to America. However, rather than arrive with their proper name, American soldiers reported that these little birds were about the size of their uniform coat buttons when they first hatched, and that’s where the idiom began.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1920s.

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

Gay Blade

Posted by Admin on July 21, 2015

While many these days default to thinking of the term gay blade as an offensive comment made about flamboyant homosexuals, the word gay didn’t just one day adopt that meaning.   The word has always had a second meaning that dates back to 1637 where the secondary meaning was defined as being addicted to social pleasures and dissipation. In other words, the gay life was a life of loose morals and so males and females who were inclined to leading immoral lives were said to be gay. It only took three hundred more years for the word to refer to male homosexuals.

When the term gay blade first began showing up in literature, it had nothing to do with being addicted to social pleasures. It referred to a gallant young man who was usually adept as a swordsman. Even though there were other connotations for gay blade over the years, the more chivalrous meaning still managed to survive into the 20th century.

Back on May 27, 1981 newspapers were sharing the news that George Hamilton refused to change the name of us upcoming Zorro movie even when the people backing the movie objected to its title. He made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the movie was about a happy turn-of-the-century swordsman and that the movie title had a “nice turn-of-the-century ring to it.” And so, moviegoers were treated to antics of George Hamilton, Lauren Button, Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman in the very successful and very funny movie, “Zorro: The Gay Blade.”

In a Sundance, Wyoming advertisement titled, “What Kind Of Lad Is Your Dad” published in the Sundance Times of June 9, 1960, four stereotypes were suggested: Ranger Rider, Strong Silent Father, Snappy Pappy, and Gay Blade. Regardless of what kind of dad described your dad, Spearfish Clothier had an ensemble worthy of your dad.  The definition written up for the Gay Blade dad was one that easily fit a heterosexual male, a metrosexual male, or a homosexual male.

IMAGE 1

On April 21, 1944 the Deseret News published a story about American baseball Left fielder, Emil Frederick Meusel (9 June 1893 – 1 March 1963) nicknamed Irish. He began his career with the Washington Senators in 1914 and played on game before moving to the minors. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1918, and then to the New York Giants in 1921.   The article in the Deseret News – which really was just a list of baseball players and some relatively innocuously scandalous facts about them — began with this tidbit.

Irish Meusel, as gay a blade and dangerous a hitter as was ever trailed by John McGraw’s detective staff.

SIDE NOTE 1: Irish Meusel’s brother, Robert William “Long Bob” Meusel (19 July 1896 – 28 November 1977) played for the New York Yankees from 1920 to 1922, and his career ended with the Cincinnati Reds in 1930.

The term was found in a story in Volume 39 of “New Catholic World” back in July 1884. The magazine was published by the Paulist Press   and the term was used in the short story, “A Tragi-Comedy” by American writer, Catholic journalist, literary critic, novelist, and diplomat Maurice Francis Egan (24 May 1852 – 15 January 1924).

It was the happiest day of her life. Jack Dempsey, careless, free-and-easy Jack, looked at her wrinkled hands and sighed. What a glory it was to have a mother! He laughed and joked, kissed his hand out of the car-window right and left; but, for all that, he missed none of the tender, prideful glances that the worn, tired woman cast upon her son.   Jack, in his heart, felt sad; it seemed to him that a mother’s love is born to suffer – of all earthly things the nearest to heaven, yet of all earthly things most pathetic in its disappointments.

“He’s a gay blade,” said Mr. Devir.

“There’s no thought about him at all,” answered Mrs. Devir as Jack Dempsey bade them good-by. “They say his uncle wants to make a priest of him. He’ll never do it!”

It was in the short story, “The Farmer’s Daughter” by William Howitt and included in the anthology, “Heads of the People: Portraits of the English” illustrated by Joseph Kenny Meadows (1 November 1790 – August 1874), engraved by John Orrin Smith (1799–1843), and published in 1841.

She was altogether a dashing woman. She rode a beautiful light chestnut mare, with a switch tail, and her brother Ben, who was now grown up, with the ambition of cutting a figure as a gay blade of a farmer, was generally her cavalier. She hunted, and cleared gates and ditches to universal amazement. Everybody was asking, “Who is that handsome girl, that rides like an Arab?”

The anthology was filled with short stories by noted authors such as English dramatist and writer Douglas William Jerrold (3 January 1803 – 8 June 1857), English poet and critic Richard Hengist Horne (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884), English writer and editor Thornton Leigh Hunt (10 September 1810 – 25 June 1873), and English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackery (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863).

SIDE NOTE 2: Thornton Leigh Hunt was the son of English critic, essayist, poet, and writer, James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859).

As previously mentioned, a gay blade in the 17th century was a gallant young man usually adept as a swordsman. Don Juan (1582 – 21 August 1622) from the late 16th century and early 17 century – his full name being Don Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Second Count of Villamediana — was considered a gay blade by his peers.

The word blade is from the Middle English word blæd which meant sword in the late 1300s, and referred to a man by the 1590s, hence the play on words. The word gay is also from the Middle English word gay which meant impetuous, lively, and merry. From this comes the expression gay blade and yes, many gallant young men who were unusually adept as swordsmen back in the day were impetuous, lively, and merry as well as skilled.

Idiomation was unable to find any earlier mention of gay blade than the 17th century and therefore pegs the expression to the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Nailed It

Posted by Admin on October 21, 2013

If you aren’t building anything that requires a hammer but someone tells you that you’ve nailed it, what they mean is that you’ve succeeded in doing something well. You hear it said most often when discussing political matters, but it really can be said about any situation that’s done well.

When “Post On Politics” — a blog from the Palm Beach Post — discussed the Florida primaries on August 25, 2010, they talked about the results of the major GOP Governor primary polls as well as the Senate primary polls. The article was entitled, “Pollsterpalooza: Who Nailed It, Who Didn’t, In Pre-Primary Surveys.”

The Deseret News of July 20, 1987 published a story entitled, “Slow And Steady Falso Wins British Open” written by journalist Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. The writer spoke of a golf tournament in Muirfield, Scotland that finished with dashing, flashing and hard-charging at the 116th British Open. And he wrote of the old hare-and-tortoise theme being one of no hares, three tortoises and a slow Walrus. In all, however, someone was going to emerge victorious and in this case it was Nick Faldo of Great Britain.

Faldo, in the twosome ahead of Azinger, needed to sink a five-foot putt so save par on 18, and calmly nailed it.

On August 29, 1965 the Miami News carried a story out of Philadelphia about the Los Angeles Dodgers beating the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League game the night before. It was quite the series that year, and new stories bear that fact out. In this article, this was reported:

Before the Dodgers nailed it, however, Manager Walt Alston called on 21-game winner Sandy Koufax in the ninth inning to get the final three outs. It was Koufax’s first relief appearance of the season.

It wasn’t just men who could nail it. The Lawrence Journal World newspaper of May 13, 1959 shared a news bite by Robert C. Ruark in an article entitled, “Wayne Made Error On Clare” that made use of the idiom when speaking about ex-Ambassador Luce’s wife, Clare.

Our gal Clare is the undisputed mistress of our times of the delicate art of cutting folks into shreds. Mr. Morse’s hid is not the first she has tacked to the barn, and possibly will not be the last. This time she nailed it by severe lady-like refusal of the post to Brazil, playing the part of dutiful wife beautifully.

The Vancouver Sun of September 25, 1931 published a news story entitled, “Labor Stands On Own Feet.” The story was about the morning’s session of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the reaffirmation of its stand in favor of independent political action. The story included this information:

After bouncing over the fence once of twice it was thrown back to home plate, where “Paddy” Draper veteran of 31 years as secretary-treasurer of the Congress, nailed it in a fighting speech. There was a misunderstanding among the delegates without any ground for it, he asserted. Moving non-concurrence in these resolutions might result in giving the impression that the Congress was opposed to independent political action whereas this was the farthest thing away from this Congress.

Going back to Philadelphia, this time to the December 2, 1894 edition of the Philadelphia Record in the news article, “Yale Defeats Princeton.” The final score was 24-0 in front of 20,000 spectators. According to the newspaper, it was the worst thrashing ever administered to the Jerseymen except for the thrashing they got in 1890 when they were beaten by the Blues at Eastern Park by a score of 32-0. Furthermore, the newspaper announced that Princeton was outclassed at every point while Yale showed unexpected strength. The story shared game highlights including the following one:

Barnard received instructions to kick the ball out of danger, but his attempt was so poor that the oval only advanced five yards, and was saved for Princeton by Trenchard, who nailed it in great style. Another punt by Barnard was more successful, for Butterworth was forced outside Princeton’s 40-yard line by Holly. Yale then began a series of short rushes, and the Tigers were forced to retreat toward their goal line.

Despite efforts to find an earlier published date for the expression than the one from the Philadelphia Record, none were found. That being said, that the expression nailed it was used so easily in this newspaper story indicates that it was an accepted expression during that era and as such, it most likely dates back to the generation before, putting it at about 1875.

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

Down At Heel

Posted by Admin on August 14, 2013

He’s down at heel. She’s down at heel. They’re down at heel. So what’s going on with those who are down at heel,or down at the heel? It means the opposite of well-heeled. In other words, those people are impoverished. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, those who are down at the heel are shabbily dressed because of poverty … shabby to the point of seedy.

The Glasgow Herald ran a story on February 25, 1960 about the salary increases for teachers in primary schools. It was suggested by some politicians that a marriage allowance such as the one provided to those in the Army should be considered. In fact, one politician was so distraught about the situation that the newspaper reported this:

Lieutenant-Colonel A. Forbes Hendry (West Aberdeen – Con.) said they should pay particular attention to the married teachers. It was not unusual to see young women teachers riding about in motor cars while the older, married teachers walked about looking very much down at heel — almost as down at heel as parish ministers.

The Deseret News edition of July 18, 1908 had an interesting tidbit on the American embassy in London as described by a businessman who had traveled extensively and visited various other American embassies in different parts of the world. He was quoted as saying:

Our embassy in London is one of the poorest business propositions I have ever come across. Besides the whole down-at-heel appearance of the place, it lacks certain necessities which even a second-rate business concern in a backwoods town would possess. There is not even a vault at the embassy to keeps state papers in; and the most valuable books and documents are placed promiscuously about the office where any one with a little ingenuity could abstract them if he wished. If there was a fire at the embassy, papers of the utmost importance would be lost simply for the want of the most ordinary business foresight.

In the novel “Little Dorrit” written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870),the idiom appears in Chapter 7.  The novel was originally published in monthly parts from December 1855 through to June 1857, and later as a complete novel. The story is a satirical look at government and society, and their respective shortcomings therein. The idiom appears in this passage in the book:

Tip tired of everything. With intervals of Marshalsea lounging, and Mrs Bangham succession, his small second mother, aided by her trusty friend, got him into a warehouse, into a market garden, into the hop trade, into the law again, into an auctioneers, into a brewery, into a stockbroker’s, into the law again, into a coach office, into a waggon office, into the law again, into a general dealer’s, into a distillery, into the law again, into a wool house, into a dry goods house, into the Billingsgate trade, into the foreign fruit trade, and into the docks. But whatever Tip went into, he came out of tired, announcing that he had cut it. Wherever he went, this foredoomed Tip appeared to take the prison walls with him, and to set them up in such trade or calling; and to prowl about within their narrow limits in the old slip-shod, purposeless, down-at-heel way; until the real immovable Marshalsea walls asserted their fascination over him, and brought him back.

Jumping back to 1732, the 10th edition of “A Gentleman Instructed In The Conduct Of A Virtuous And Happy Life” by English Jesuit theologian and writer, William Darrell (1651 – 28 February 1721) was published. Originally printed by E. Evets at the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s church-yard in 1704, the later edition includes this:

Sneak into a corner … down at heels and out at elbows.

Somewhere between William Shakespeare’s time and William Darrell’s time, however, the idiom changed slightly to become down at heels. Before that, it was said that those living in impoverished conditions were out at heels. The idiom is found in Shakespeare’s tragedy, “King Lear” published in 1608. Those of you studied this play in school remember that the title character goes mad after he is betrayed by two of his three daughters and his ill-conceived decision to disown his third daughter. Kent, is a nobleman who disguises himself as a peasant, and gets himself into a fair bit of trouble thanks to his outspoken ways. In Act II Scene ii, Shakespeare wrote this exchange between Kent and Gloucester:

KENT
Pray, do not, sir: I have watched and travell’d hard;
Some time I shall sleep out, the rest I’ll whistle.
A good man’s fortune may grow out at heels:
Give you good morrow!

GLOUCESTER
The duke’s to blame in this; ’twill be ill taken.

Just a few years before that play, Shakespeare’s 1602 comedy “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” hit the stage (although it’s believed it was written in 1597). The play was a snapshot of English life in a provincial town and seems to be based on the 1558 Italian play Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino.  In Act I, Scene iii, the following dialogue takes place:

NYM
The good humour is to steal at a minute’s rest.

PISTOL
‘Convey,’ the wise it call. ‘Steal!’ foh! a fico
for the phrase!

FALSTAFF
Well, sirs, I am almost out at heels.

PISTOL
Why, then, let kibes ensue.

FALSTAFF
There is no remedy; I must cony-catch; I must shift.

PISTOL
Young ravens must have food.

The expression goes back further than that even. When Elizabethan poet and dramatist, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632) wrote a play entitled, “North-Ward Hoe” in 1607.

DOLL: They fay Whores and bawdes go by clocks, but what Manafles is this to buy twelue houres fo deerely, and then bee begd out of ’em fo easily I heele be out at heeles shortly sure for he’s out about the clockes already : O foolifh young man how doest though fpend thy time?

But even in 1553, the expression was used in the book “The Art Of Rhetorique” authored by Sir Thomas Wilson (1520 – 1581). While Thomas Wilson was no stranger to the privilege of class, he had an interesting position from which to view the politics of class. At the time of the book’s publication, he was in the employ of Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk (widow of Charles Brandon who had been a close friend of Henry VII) as a tutor to her sons. It’s in this book that the idiom appears as out at heeles as shown in this passage:

Wherein me thinkes thei do like some rich snuges [misers] that havyng greate wealth, go with their hose [stockings] out at heeles, their showes [shoes] out at toes, and their coates out at both elbowes. For who can tell, if soche men are worth a grote [groat] when their apparell is so homelie, and al their behaviour so base? I can call them by non other name but slovens, that maie have good geare [clothes], and neither can nor yet will, ones [ever] weare it clenly. What is a good thing to a man, if he neither knowe the use of it, nor yet, though he knowe it, is hable [able] to use it?

For it to be used in this context in 1553, it is reasonable to believe that the term was an accepted figure of speech as early as 1500. Additionally, the word heel meaning the back of the foot became part of the English language some time during the 1400s and as such, once can assume that some time between 1400 and 1500, the idiom began to form.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Like White On Rice

Posted by Admin on March 20, 2013

When you hear someone say it’s like white on rice, what they mean is that the situation is as close as anything can be.   In other words, you’ve got it covered the way rice is covered in whiteness (unless it’s wild rice or brown rice or even red rice).

It should be noted that white rice evolved from wild red rice 10,000 years ago according to the Public Library of Science Genetics journal.  White rice was preferred for a number of reasons, the main ones being that white rice cooked faster than rice that retained color, and it was easier for farmers to spot insects and disease on white rice than on rice that retained color.

Whodini‘s 1984 dance hit “The Freaks Come Out At Night” used the expression thusly:

Now the party’s jumpin’, the place is packed
And when the crowd’s like this, I’m ready to rap
But before I could bust a rhyme on the mic
Freaks are all over me like white on rice.

Brent Checketts, sports writer for the Deseret News used the expression in an article published on June 7, 1976.  The story reported on what happened at the game between the Salt Lake Gulls and the Spokane Indians.  A comment was made about Spokane’s manager, Frank Howard that read:

Friday night Howard was all over ump Bill Lawson like white on rice, and at one point it seemed the 320-pound manager was going to literally chew up and spit out the 145-pound arbiter.  However was not thumbed, however.

American author, Lloyd L. Brown wrote “Iron City“ which was published in 1951.   The story was based on an actual court case and told the story of a black youth who was falsely convicted of the murder of a white businessman, and sentenced to death.  In the story, the following passage is found:

“Boy, you should have seen them!” And now Lonnie could laugh about it.  “Old Rupp damn near fell out of his chair and Big John jumped like I stabbed him.  But then the marshals were all over me like white on rice and I couldn’t see anything.  I’m telling you it was really something!”

While the expression was used in the book in 1951, like white on rice doesn’t seem to appear in any newspaper articles before this time although the expression like gravy on rice does appear in some stories published in the 1930s.

To this end, Idiomation is unable to secure a date earlier than 1951 for this expression with the codicil that its use in Iron City indicates that readers would understand its meaning and therefore, it’s pegged to a generation prior to the book’s publication, putting it to some point in the 1930s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Gerrymander

Posted by Admin on February 25, 2013

From time to time, you may hear the term gerrymander or gerrymandering and wonder what it means. The expression is both a verb and a noun: the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage, and any representative elected from such a district by that method.

On March 1, 2006 the New York Times ran an Editorial that addressed the issue of the redrawn election districts in Texas in 2003. It was alleged that the new boundaries gave an unfair and unconstitutional edge to the Republican party and allegedly violated the Voting Rights Act. The piece was entitled:

The Texas Gerrymander

Backing up to January 24, 1961 the Deseret News published a news article about a decision arrived at by U.S. Judge Irving R. Kaufman with regards to school district lines for the 1961-1962 school year. Parents of Lincoln School felt that their constitutional rights, as well as their children’s, had been violated. The article was brief and stated:

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the New Rochelle, N.Y. board of education gerrymandered school district lines to establish an all-Negro school in that suburban Westchester County City.

The expression wasn’t just used in American newspapers, and found its way into the Sydney Morning Herald of February 17, 1927 in a news story about the House of Lords in London, England two days earlier. Readers were greeted with this introduction to the matter:

In the House Of Commons to-day during the debate on the Estimates a discussion arose about reform of the House of Lords. Colonel Gerald Hurts (Con.) moved a motion in favour or reducing the hereditary character of the Upper House. Professor Lees Smith (Labour) moved an amendment declaring that the proposed changes in the House of Lords were intended to gerrymander the Constitution in the interests of the Conservative party.

When the Quebec Saturday Budget newspaper of November 19, 1892 ran a story entitled, “Looks Like A Gerrymander” readers were treated to detailed information about the official returns of the U.S. Presidential election. Among many details provided were these:

It is worthy of remark that at the election Cleveland’s total of pluralities in all the States combined amounted to 576,158, while Harrison’s was only 478,141. That in face of this Harrison secured about 50 per cent more votes than Cleveland in the electoral college would seem to show that the Republicans are well posted in the mysteries of the gerrymander. The showing was something similar at the present election.

But while the term was understood in the major English-speaking countries, history proves that the term gerrymander was inspired by an 1812 Massachusetts redistricting scheme that favored the party of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry.

In April 1812, one of the redrawn election districts (created by members of Governor Gerry’s party in 1812) reminded newspaper painter Gilbert Stuart so much of a salamander, that he added a head, wings, and claws to the outline. The creature was quickly dubbed by the Editor of the Massachusetts Spy newspaper as a Gerrymander and not a salamander.

Originally, the term referred only to the district, however, within the month on May 12, 1812 the Massachusetts Spy newspaper reported:

An official statement of the returns of voters for senators give[s] twenty nine friends of peace, and eleven gerrymanders.

This is the definitive starting point for the word gerrymander.

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Throw Caution To The Wind

Posted by Admin on January 23, 2013

If you think it’s a good idea to throw caution to the wind, don’t be surprised if your friends think you’re taking an unnecessary risk.

The Birmingham Mail newspaper published a Letter to the Editor written by D. Newton of Kingswinford on February 23, 2009 that had to do with a Championship game played by the beloved Blues soccer team.   Along with some personal insights, the letter included this bit of advice:

Also, Larsson should be returned to midfield with Fahey replacing Carsley in centre midfield. Attack is the best form of defence, throw caution to the wind and go for it.

On March 18, 1995 journalist Nigel Clarke of The Mirror newspaper in England covered the Mike Tyson v Frank Bruno heavyweight champion of the world boxing event. It didn’t take long for Mike Tyson to win the match, and the article entitled, “I Punched like a Mule: Bruno Knew He Was DOOMED!” read in part:

Tyson, who wiped out Bruno’s challenge in 410 seconds of mayhem, re-lived his chilling battle plan, bragging: “I punched like a mule – he knew he was doomed. He knew I was going to knock him out.”

His Las Vegas demolition scheme was based on a savage non-stop onslaught.

He said: “I just threw caution to the wind, I just wanted to throw punches, to knock him out.”

It appears that the expression was a favorite in the boxing field. On March 1, 1961 Deseret News Sports Editor, Hack Miller, wrote about the title fight between 4-time winner Gene Fullmer and “Sugar” Ray Robinson. The article was entitled, “Fourth Go With Sugar Ray: Gene Will Be The Favorite.” Hack Miller’s take on the upcoming fight included this excerpt:

This doesn’t mean that Fullmer will try to box with Robinson. Few have ever done that and lived to wear the title. Nor does it mean that Fullmer will not use a little of the cover tactics which protected him until he could work within shooting range the last time they fought.

It does mean, however, that Fullmer will throw a little of the caution to the wind and get along with a two-fisted fight.

And 30 years before that, in the Pittsburg Press of July 1, 1931 United Press staff writer, George Kirksey wrote a piece about Georgia boxer, W.L. “Young” Stribling, in an article entitled, “Stribling Flies Over Schmeling Camp.” Boxing fans were eager to learn more about this pugilist, and George Kirksey began his article with this:

Young Stribling’s airplane ride to Max Schmeling’s training camp in defiance of Madison Square Garden officials and his father-manager had many persons wondering today if the Georgian doesn’t plan to throw caution to the wind in Friday night’s bout in the new Cleveland stadium.

“I feel better now than any time since I started training,” Stribling remarked. “That ride was just what I needed.”

Those close to Stribling know that the Georgia boy has his heart set on trying to knock out Schmeling. “Pa,” however, favors a safer source.

And 30 years before that, when cars were the latest rage and motorcar racing was in its infancy, the Baltimore American newspaper had a very detailed article in the August 24, 1901 edition of their newspaper. Entitled, “Another Race For Motors: Four Noted Crews And Motors To Be Again Tested Around The Bowl Track” readers learned the following:

There is great rivalry between the Nelson brothers as to the speeds of the motors, while the “Blues” are a distinct camp full of all that professional jealousy that animates actors and motor riders. The outlook is that there will be more races of throwing caution to the wind after the crack of the pistol and of thrilling rides with death for the satisfaction of victory and the purses.

At the Colosseum tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock the two “Blue” machines will be sent out to see just how fast they can go. The motors are working well and the training of them tomorrow afternoon is apt to be watched by a huge crowd.

Prior to the use of throw caution to the wind, the expression was actually throw discretion to the wind.

The New York Times published a story on June 19, 1887 entitled, “Sharp Sleeps In A Jail: Sheriff Grant Had Begun To Get Nervous.” Jacob Sharp, a famous millionaire of that era, was placed by order of the court into the custody of Sheriff Grant and an uproar started over the condition of the jail and concerns about the cuisine, service, ventilation, and high moral atmosphere of the Ludlow Street Jail. The jury was also a source of considerable official anxiety as well. Mr. Rickets and his six assistants were charged with ensuring that the jury members did not speak to anyone other than other jury members, and the problem of what to do with the jury members on a Sunday was brought to the Judge’s attention. The article read in part:

Yesterday Mr. Ricketts asked judge Barrett what the jury would do over Sunday. This puzzled the court not a little. Sending the jury to church was questionable, because two of them were known to have free-thinking, baseball proclivities, and might create a disturbance. Coney Island was equally inadvisable, since there were church members of long repression on the jury, who, brought face to face with those follies and vices of the world which they usually took pains to avoid, might impulsively throw discretion to the winds and be detected in the act of buying popcorn and lemonade from some of those snub-nosed Circes from the factories who go to Coney Island on Sunday prepared to “mash” anything and everything that is mashable in all the width of the world.

The expression was used with ease in the article with the expectation that readers would understand what it meant, and so it is reasonable to believe it had been in use at least the generation prior to its publication in the New York Times article cited.

That being said, both expressions are related to one used by English poet and polemicist, John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) in his poem, “Paradise Lost: A Poem In Ten Books”  published in 1667. The poem addressed the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan that led to being ousted from the Garden of Eden.  This passage is found in the poem:

Taste so divine, that what of sweet before
Hath touched my sense, flat seems to this, and harsh.
On my experience, Adam, freely taste,
And fear of death deliver to the winds.
So saying, she embraced him, and for joy
Tenderly wept; much won, that he his love
Had so ennobled, as of choice to incur
Divine displeasure for her sake, or death.

The use of deliver to the winds implies that the action is undertaken with such abandon that fear isn’t considered at the time of the action.

However, more than three hundred years before John Milton published “Paradise Lost” when it came to legal matters, the word caution was used to describe a guarantee or pledge. It was from the Old French caution which meant security or surety. The Old French word was from the Latin word cautionem (or cautio) meaning caution, foresight or precaution, and this was from the word cavere which meant “to be on one’s guard.”

The term cautio was traced back to Roman times in the reference book, “A Summary of the Roman Civil Law, Illustrated By Commentaries On and Parallels from the Mosaic, Canon, Mohammedan, English and Foreign Law” by Patrick Colquhoun. The book references a number of cautio.

In the case of a cautio de rato, an agent or attorney appears on behalf of a third-party without a formal power of attorney contract between them. It is understood, however, that the third-party agrees to abide by whatever decisions are arrived at by the third-party’s agent or attorney. This, of course, places the third-party in a somewhat dangerous position if the agent or attorney is unethical in his dealings, and therefore, it can be said that by the cautio de rato, this leaves the third party figuratively throwing caution to the wind when it comes to his legal matters.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bogey Golf

Posted by Admin on July 28, 2011

Bogey golf is a strange term that is oftentimes misunderstood and refers to the level of proficiency of the player.  If a par 4 hole is completed in 5 swings, the player has scored a bogey. And if a player accomplishes this on every hole, he is playing bogey golf.

Colonel Bogey is a name given in golf to an imaginary player whose score for each hole is settled by the committee of the particular club and is supposed to be the lowest that an average player could do it in.  If you get a bogey, it means you have played the hole in fewer strokes than what is set for that hole.

Officially, Colonel Bogey was recognized by the United States Golf Association in December 1956, and the bogey was given its first official definition, according to a number of news reports.  The Colonel was officially identified as “a quiet, modest and retiring gentleman, uniformly steady but never over-brilliant” … or so reported the Miami News on December 16, 1956 in their news article, “Colonel Bogey Gets Recognized.”

The Eugene Register newspaper carried a news story on June 19, 1991 that was written by journalist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hardly Worth An Extra Day.”  The story was about the 91st U.S. Open golf tournament and the trials and tribulations of Scott Simpson compared to golden boy, Payne Stewart‘s ease with the course.  His final paragraph summed it up with:

I yield to no man in my admiration for bogey golf.  But why keep poor Scott Simpson twisting in th wind when you knew he was going to go over the cliff at 16.  Just remember, 16 is not sweet in the Simpson household.  You might not want to sing about cool, clear water, either.

On July 12, 1963 the Deseret News published an article written by journalist Henry W. Thornberry entitled, “New Zealand Southpaw Grabs Title In British Open Playoff.” His focus was on the British Open Playoff being held at Lytham-St. Anne’s in England and two golfers in particular — Bob Charles and Phil Rodgers.

The 25-year-old Rodgers, who trailed by five strokes after the first two of the afternoon round, narrowed that deficit to one by the 25th hole.  But after Charles had matched Rodgers’ long birdie putt on the 26th, the Yank lapsed into bogey golf and rapidly dropped out of contention.

The April 25, 1922 edition of the Evening News from San Jose, California reported on the Indian Pow Wow that was due to take place from May 8 to 14 in Del Monte, California.  The article entitled “Calif. Indians Plan Big Pow Wow” included this interesting bit of information:

Features of the meeting will be a trapshooting tournament, a golf tournament, with side competitors on the links, and a series of field sports.  The program follows:

Monday, May 8 – 100 target preliminary race; blind bogey golf tournament.
Tuesday, May 9 – Start of 300 target trapshooting tournament; qualifying round for four-day golf tournament ….

And the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of October 29, 1895 reported on Varsity sports, covering football, track and field, bowling and golf.  The headline read, “Harvard At Secret Practice” and based on results it would appear that secret practice was definitely a winning factor … at least when it came to golf!

Three players tied for first place in the “bogeygolf tournament of the Country Club, which was played on Saturday.  Not only that, but no less than seven tied for second place.  There were almost forty-five players, and the figuring out of their scores and their relative positions was such a task that the results were not posted until yesterday.

Now in the 19th century, British golfers were said to be “chasing the Bogey Man” when it was obvious they were trying to achieve the perfect score.  It was such a popular term that it became the subject of a very popular 19th century music hall song entitled, “Here Comes The Bogey Man.”  By 1914, a second popular song was spawned entitled, “Colonel Bogey March.”

While golfers love to score a bogey, it’s even more exciting when it’s a double bogey (two strokes over par) or a triple bogey (three strokes over par).  It’s also very important not to confuse the term birdie with bogey as a birdie is the opposite of a bogey.   A birdie indicates on stroke under par rather than over.  And just as with bogeys, a player can lay claim to an eagle (two shots under par), an albatross (three shots under par) or a condor (four strokes under par) which would be a hole-in-one on a par 5 hole.

While Idiomation thoroughly enjoyed tracking down the origins of “bogey golf” no published references to either bogey golf or Colonel Bogey could be found in newspapers before 1895. 

That being said, Idiomation would like to remind readers that the “bogey” referring to golf should not be confused with the “bogey” referring to a frame upon which a railway carriage was placed.

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Chill Out

Posted by Admin on June 14, 2011

Chill, chill out, chellaxin’ … they all mean the same thing: to calm down and relax. And who doesn’t like to chill out? It’s such a cool term, that there’s a category of electronic music known for its mellow style and mid-tempo beats that’s been around since the early 1990s known as chill out music. And yes, chill out music is part of what dance clubs refer to as “smooth electronica” and “soft techno.”

The Mirror newspaper in London, England ran an article on August 20, 2005 entitled, “Your Life: Guide To Taking A Year Out.” It dealt with those people who take a year off between going to school and moving on to the next phase of their lives by travelling abroad.

India is cheap, thought not always cheerful. However, after the seething humanity of Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta, you can chill out on the golden beaches of Goa.

Back on October 20, 1992 the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah published an article entitled, “Memo to America, Canada: Chill Out.” It began with this comment:

I just made it through Canadian customs. This flag thing had me worried. This was no time to be an accidental tourist, stumbling off an airplane in Toronto. Before World Series Game 2, a Marine — apparently from the Atlanta barracks of “F Troop” — hung the Canadian flag upside down, creating an international incident.

The expression chill out first appeared on the scene in 1983 as a variation of the former expression which was simply, chill.

Back in 1979, the popular hip hop group Sugarhill Gang reworked Ecclesiastes into their hit song “Rapper’s Delight” resulting in this:

now there’s a time to laugh a time to cry
a time to live and a time to die
a time to break and a time to chill
to act civilized or act real ill
but whatever ya do in your lifetime
ya never let a mc steal your rhyme

And Ann Landers, in the March 25, 1972 edition of the Calgary Herald, heard from an unhappy “southern lady” who wrote in part:

My question is, should a wife be concerned about such a mutual admiration society? Should I chill the relationship? Or should I relax and not worry?

Oddly enough, the expression “chill out” and its earlier variant, “chill” don’t appear to go back past the 1970s and Idiomation was unable to find an published version that pre-dates the 1972 version cited. However, that it would appear so easily in a letter to Ann Landers indicates that the use of “chill” meaning to calm down and relax was part of every day language by 1972 means it most likely dates back to the late 1960s.

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