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Posts Tagged ‘Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’

Knick Knack Paddywhack

Posted by Admin on May 17, 2016

There are a lot of strange explanations as to what knick knack paddywhack means, but few stranger than the one Idiomation found online where this was offered up by a thoroughly serious ‘netizen.

Paddy is slang for a police officer and whack is slang for murder.  Nick is associated with the mob, and the mob has a knack for killing people even when there’s police protection in place.  So knick knack paddywhack is a way of saying that even the police aren’t safe, and if the mob has a hit out on someone, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening.

No.  That’s not what knick knack paddywhack means.  Full points to the person who came up with that creative explanation!

Paddywhackery (and yes, there is such a word) is the word that describes the stereotypical portrayal of the Irish in stage productions.  These stereotype Irishmen are charming, talkative ne’er-do-wells but lovable rogues nonetheless.  But does this mean that a paddywhack is some kind of Irishman?

In Francis Grose’s 1785 book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the term is one that refers to a brawny Irishman.  Paddy was short for Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and according to Francis Grose, all this made sense when viewed this way.  The verse quoted in the dictionary is this:

I’m paddywhack, from Ballyhack,
Not long ago turned soldier;
In storm and sack, in front attack,
None other can be bolder.

Idiomation found pinning down knick knack a little trickier than tracking paddywhack.  That being said, knick knack appears as knichts they knack in the traditional Scottish folk song titled, “The Ballad of Burd Isabel and Earl Patrick.”

The Knichts they knack their white fingers,
The ladies sat and sang,
‘Twas a’ to cheer bonnie Burd Bell,
She was far sunk in pain.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  The word first appeared in ballads of the 1200s as a poetic term for a young maiden.  By the 1400s, it was a term used by men of the upper class to refer to women of a lower social standard than they.

But what was knackingKnackers was a term for castanets and was first referred to as such in 1649 in “Fool’s Dance: An Allusion.”  Knacking would be to play the castanets in this instance.  However, knick-knack / nick nack was also a term used in the 1570s to mean an ingenious device or a specialised trick.  Knacking would be to use the device or practice one’s specialised trick in this instance.

So was a knick knack Paddywhack a brawny Irishman with a specialised trick or ingenious device who enjoyed dancing with castanets on his fingertips?  Not likely (although the visual is amusing)!

Or is knick knack actually a derivation of mack whack found in the song “Paddywhack” that was popular at the turn of the 19th century?

FIRST VERSE
Oh, here I am and that is flat,
I am just from the town of Bally hack;
And what a’ye say to that”
My name is gimlet-eyed paddy whack.

CHORUS
Di du mack whack,
And where are yee from?
The town of Bally hack
Where seven praties weigh a ton.

Or perhaps a misremembering of the words from “The Irish Duel” that was popular in Ireland and England at around the same time.

FIRST VERSE
Potatoes grow in Limerick,
And beef at Ballymore,
And buttermilk is beautiful,
But that you knew before;
And Irishmen love pretty girls,
Yet none could love more true,
Than little Paddy Whackmacrack
Lov’d Kate O’Donohoo.
With his fal de ral, fal de ral,
de ral, de ral, de ra.

What this means is that the mystery of Knick Knack Paddywhack remains.  If one of Idiomation’s readers or visitors can shed some light on this idiom, be sure to add it in the Comments section below.

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Henpecked

Posted by Admin on March 19, 2012

We’ve all heard about henpecked husbands and boyfriends and we’ve heard more than a few jokes about the situation.  There’s the joke about men who have to ask their wives and girlfriends permission to ask for permission and there’s the joke about men who have to hold their pay envelopes up to the light to find out if they’ve gotten a raise.

Just yesterday, the London Daily Mail newspaper published a story about famous British explorer, Captain Robert Scott depicting him as a henpecked husband.  Entitled, “Adoring Wife’s Last Hen-Pecking Letter To Her ‘Splendid’ Scott of the Antarctic” it read in part:

He was the stiff-upper-lip explorer whose death during a failed Antarctic expedition came to symbolise British stoicism in the face of extreme adversity.  But even as he raced in vain to beat a rival to the South Pole, Captain Robert Scott had another role – as a hen-pecked husband.

The Milwaukee Journal ran a two sentence news bite from Los Angeles, California on July 11, 1957 that read as follows:

Municipal Judge Robert Clifton says that henpecked husbands top the list of problem drinkers who pass in an endless parade through Los Angeles courts.  Clifton’s court handles an average of 99,000 drunk cases annually.

Twenty years before that on June 7, 1937 there was an article in the local newspaper entitled “Henpecked Men’s Wives Threaten Sit Down Strike” that spoke about events going on in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  The first few sentences of the article were:

Members of the doughty clan, the Royal Order of the Doghouse, assembled in hasty consternation today as their new-found independence hung in the balance.  The henpecked hubbies face a wifely sit-down strike.

“They’ll get no meals when we strike!” threatened Mrs. Harry Powers, Milwaukee spokesman for a prospective women’s auxiliary.  “They’ll do their own cooking then.  Those men are getting too much protection from that club of theirs.  Too many nights out a week to suit us.  If they think they can ‘love, honor’ but not ‘obey’ us they’re due for a shock.”

Yes, this was a real news story and not a joke.  In fact, it was reported that the Royal Order of the Doghouse had been formed the previous November when henpecked husbands had banded together in “common misery and defiance of wifely authority.” 

When the Philadelphia Recorder published a news story out of Cape May, New Jersey on August 5, 1890 about the Secretary of State in which it was reported:

He cannot retire to a cave and promulgate his theories to rivals who have no personal ends to serve in carrying them out.  No, indeed; nor can he afford to give up the chief post in the Cabinet, in order that Reed and McKinley may secure it.  He wouldn’t be half so powerful as a political martyr as a henpecked Secretary of State.  To what purpose would he have endured so many petty humiliations.  He must go on, and he knows it.  Let us hear no more, therefore, about the impending crisis at Cape May Point.  He has only to wait, as he kept the President waiting while he breakfasted on Saturday morning.

Of course, the word was well-known and on June 20, 1849, the Charleston Mercury was happy to run an advertisement for George Oates with regards to new books available at his store located at 234 King Street in Charleston, South Carolina.  One of the new arrivals was a book entitled “Family Failings” by the author of “The Henpecked Husband.”

Along the 19th century, a “hen frigate” was a ship with the captain’s wife on board.  Unfortunately, more times than not, the wife would interfere with the duty or regulations and the crew took to referring to captains who couldn’t control their wives as henpecked husbands.  In fact, the term henpecked is found in the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose as well as the “1828 Webster’s American Dictionary” by Noah Webster.

It was also found in “Don Juan” by Lord Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824) in Canto I, Stanza 22 where he wrote:

But O ye lords of ladies intellectual
Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?

The Spectator was a daily magazine publication from 1711 to 1712,  founded by English politician and writer Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) and Irish politician and writer, Richard Steele (12 March 1672 – 1 September 1729).  In the September 12, 1712 edition No. 482, readers were treated to a story entitled “The Fraternity of The Henpecked.”  

The earliest use of this expression dates back to English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (14 February 1613 – 25 September 1680) who wrote this prose in 1671:

The henpect man rides behind his wife and lets her wear the spurs and govern the reins.  He is a kind of preposterous animal, that being curbed in goes with his tail forwards.  He is subordinate and ministerial to his wife, who commands in chief, and he dares do nothing without her order.

And that is an accurate description of a henpecked man in modern times.

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

Dutch Concert

Posted by Admin on September 2, 2011

A Dutch concert is either when everyone singing sings a different song at the same time or when there’s a great noise and uproar that sounds not unlike a group of people carrying on loudly with some singing, others quarrelling, and still others trying to organize the cacophony into something a little less chaotic.  It’s definitely not a compliment. 

How is it that a country that has produced such composers as Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621); Dutch composer and organ virtuoso Jacob van Eyck (1590 – 1657); Dutch baroque composer Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692 – 1766); Dutch composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862 – 1921); Dutch composer and teacher, Willem Pigper (1894 – 1947); and Dutch composer Lex van Delden (1919 – 1988) should also have such an expression tied to them by their English speaking friends?

On September 27, 1953 the St. Petersburg Times published a story entitled, “A Man Born For Pleasure Meets A Man Born For Work.”  About one-third of the way into the story, the following is found:

What work did Ernie Tarlton do to get here?  Riddle me that, pop … 

A couple of surly birds started a Dutch concert when I ducked through the gap in the hedge.  It looked like a mile and five-rights of slow track across the black, squishy lawn to the clump of blur first that bordered the main walk.  I seemed to take a half day, flat, to cover the distance.

The New York Times published an article on May 16, 1920 entitled, “A Manhattan Midsummer Night’s Scream.”  It dealt with the noise that could be heard coming from various flats and apartments in New York during the hot, summer months when windows are thrown open and how, when they all blended together, the sound was anything but pleasant.  The article offered this opinion on the anticipated months-long noise:

If music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, it also hath potencies to awaken it.  We predict an extra high tidal wave of crime over Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn this summer because of this threatened Dutch concert, and the Barrowbones and Cleaver Hallelujah Chorus.  The Beethovens of Babel and the Wagners of jazz are playing with deadly weapons — the infra-violet musical vibrations.

If a single sustained note can make a man commit a crime, what will be the result of our instinctive natures and our Freudian complexes when we have become chock-full (around the mutt days of mid-August) of the musical bellow, blare, yowl, grunt, bleat, ululation, woodnote, shimmy-twist, drone, gurgle, hiss, blatter, croak, squeak, pule, Ethiopian apetheosis, jingle wheese and tintinnabular teaseract?

In Louis Tracy’s book “The Captain Of The Kansas” published in 1907, the following is found in Chapter XIII:

The hammer-like blow of the bullet, the defiance of the dog, and the curiously accurate yelping of the men in the canoes, mixed in wild medley with the volleyed echoes of the firing now rolled back from the opposing cliffs. In such wise did the battle open. Courtenay, more amused than anxious, did not silence the terrier, and Joey’s barking speedily rose to a shrill and breathless hysteria. Some savage, more skilled than his fellows, reproduced this falsetto with marvelous exactness. There never was a death struggle heralded by such grotesque humor; it might have been a tragedy of marionettes, a Dutch concert on the verge of the pit.

On October 30, 1869 the Otago Witness published a news article that was comprised of a number of smaller stories.  One of them was this story:

A new method of attracting the attention of purchasers has been tried by an enterprising butcher in Auckland, who stationed a band at the windows of the room over his shop for the purpose of alluring the marketing people.  Queen Street was certainly well supplied with music on the occasion, no less than three bands being audible at the same time.  The kind of Dutch concert produced, however, could scarcely be called harmonious, although each band was very well in itself.

The definition for Dutch concert is also found in the Francis Grose (1731 – 1791) book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.”

And on page 47 of the book “Voyages and Travels In The Years 1768 – 1788” written by Indian trader, John Long the following passage is found:

The Indians, in their war dances, sew hawk-bells and small pieces of tin on them to make a jingling noise, and at a dance where I was present, these, with the addition of a large horse-bell, which I gave the chief who led the dance, made a noise not much unlike a Dutch concert.

Considering that in the 1700s, new expressions took longer to become part of the language, and considering that John Long used the expression Dutch concert with such ease in his writing, one can date the expression Dutch concert to at least the early part of the 1700s.

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

Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2010

In Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811, he defined the phrase “kettle of fish” as meaning:

When a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of  it.

Before this, however, the phrase was very much in use by various authors.  In Salmagundi, the  1807 satirical work by Washington Irving, his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding we find the following:

The doctor … has employed himself … in stewing up many a woful kettle of fish.

For those who enjoy trivia,  Salmagundi is best remembered for popularizing the sobriquet Gotham for New York City which has endured over the generations through to modern times.

Joseph Andrews — or The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams — was the first full-length novel by English author and magistrate Henry Fielding.  It was published in 1742 and told the story of a good-natured footman’s adventures on the road home from London with his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. In the novel, Fielding wrote:

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling also written by Fielding was published in 1749 and in that novel he wrote:

Fine doings at my house! A rare kettle of fish I have discovered at last.

The Random House and Webster dictionaries give the origin of the phrase “kettle of fish” to England in 1735 however there is no source given as to where this reference can be found.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »