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Posts Tagged ‘Elisabeth Knapp’

Kneehigh To A Grasshopper

Posted by Admin on January 15, 2022

Recently, Billie Morgan asked Idiomation to research Whoa Nellie. She shared that she had heard the expression since she was kneehigh to a grasshopper. Upon reading that, Heather Farley asked Idiomation to research kneehigh to a grasshopper‘s origins, and this week’s entry does just that.

First off, for those who may not know, when someone is kneehigh to a grasshopper it means they are (or were at the time) very young or are (or were at the time) very short in stature. At the beginning, referring to someone as kneehigh to a grasshopper was called ludicrous description by editors of various dictionaries, and yet, the expression persisted.

While the idiom fell out of favor for about 50 years beginning in 1960, in 2010, there was a marked uptick in the use of the expression. Of note is the fact that in the decade before it fell out of decade, there was a marked decline — as in a nosedive — from 1950 to 1960.

Idiomation suspects the United States War Department sincerely believed the idiom was one Russians might understand as they included it in their “Dictionary of Spoken Russian: English-Russian, Russian-English” published in 1945 with an entry on the Russian-English side.

And in 1924, the votes of fourteen leading children’s librarians regarding children’s books published in 1923 included a book by American novelist, illustrator, and children’s book author Anne Parrish (12 November 1888 – 5 September 1957) entitled “Knee-high to a Grasshopper” which was illustrated by her brother American painter George Dillwynn “Tim” Parrish (25 July 1894 – 6 August 1941). The book was 209 pages in length, and was published by MacMillan Publishers.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Anne Parrish was a runner-up for the Newberry Medal three times between 1925 and 1951. In 1925, her third collaboration with her brother titled, “The Dream Coach” was nominated.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: George Dillwynn “Tim” Parrish attended Harvard University where he became friends with American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright Edward Estin Cummings (14 October 1894 – 3 September 1962) known as e e cummings, and Pulitzer Prize winner, writer, and poet Conrad Aiken.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The year she published “Knee-high to a Grasshopper” she also published her first romantic novel, “Pocketful of Poses.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: In 1925, her novel “The Pereniial Bachelor” won the Harper Prize from the publisher, Harper & Brothers, and was the eighth best-selling book on the New York Times Best Seller list for all of 1925.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Anne Parrish’s book “All Kneeling” was published in 1928 which also made the annual best-sellers list. In 1950, it was made into a movie titled, “Born To Be Bad” which starred British-American actress Joan Fontaine (22 October 1917 – 15 December 2013) and American actor Robert Ryan (11 November 1909 – 11 July 1973).

The book was highly recommended by Elisabeth Knapp ( unknown – 15 April 1931), children’s librarian at the Detroit Public Library, and was suggested for even small libraries with limited selections available. Ms. Knapp went on to be come the chief of the Detroit Public Library Children’s Department.

In Volume 15 of “Popular Monthly” magazine published in 1883 and edited by English-born American engravor, illustrator and publisher Frank Leslie (29 March 1821 – 10 January 1880) a story was included titled, “On A Field Argent, A Swan Azure.” The story also appeared in Volume 8 of “Boys of England: A Young Gentleman’s Journal of Sport, Sensation, Fun, and Instruction” published in 1870 by Victorian editor and publisher Edwin John Brett (27 December 1827 – 15 December 1895). Unfortunately, in both cases, the author’s name has been omitted. The idiom is used in the story was in quotation marks.

All this was nine years ago. I am twenty-three, and have been married four years to a cousin of mine, or a cousin-germain, as the French call such a relation as he is to me; one Captain Belfait, who loved me so he says from the I was “kneehigh to a grasshopper.” My boy is a beautiful boy, too, but I have not forgotten “Petit Pierre,” nor has he forgotten me.

There was knee-high to a mosquito in 1824 and knee-high to a bumblee in 1833. There was knee-high to a splinter in 1841 and there was knee-high to a huckleberry in 1854. There knee-high to a bantam and knee-high to a cocksparrow in 1856, and knee high to a katydid in 1861. There was even knee-high to a duck in 1899 but being knee-high to a grasshopper — just a plain old grasshopper — is found in The Democratic Review in 1851:

You pretend to be my daddies; some of you who are not knee-high to a grasshopper!

The earliest idiom that used the comparison of being knee-high to anything is found in The Portsmouth Oracle in New Hampshire, published by Charles Turrell, back in 1814. This was the year farmer, shipbuilder, and statesman John T. Gilman (19 December 1753 – 1 September 1828) ran for Governor of New Hampshire.

“One … who, as farmer Joe would say, is about knee high to a toad.”

Knee-high to a toad?

Well, somewhere along the line, everything but the grasshopper seems to have fallen away and while the first published version with a grasshopper is in 1851, there were lots of other animals and insects and fowl who auditioned for the phrase before grasshoppers won the contest.

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