Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Elwood P. Dowd’

A Face To Stop A Clock

Posted by Admin on April 1, 2011

The movie Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of Elwood P. Dowd had a number of interesting phrases and expressions, not the least of which was talk of having a face to stop a clock.  In the movie, Elwood says:

ELWOOD – Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey — can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like — and when you get back — not one minute will have ticked by.

When someone says his face would stop a clock, it means that the other person has an unexpectedly unattractive face. 

In the “Tale of the Tudors” from the Warner Brothers’ animated television series, Histeria! that ran from 1998 to 2000, the following is found:

Boys:     So for a while, our Henry grieves,
              Then he marries Anne of Cleves.
              Anne came from fine German stock,
Toast:   She had a face that could stop a clock.
Girls:    Their marriage was cancelled in less than a year,
              His fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was dear.
             But Henry found out that her love was not true.

The Dallas Morning News ran a story on January 12, 1986 that read:

The Goddess of Liberty might have a face that could stop a clock on the University of Texas Tower, but she suddenly has attracted her share of suitors. At least two groups want to move the 3000-pound zinc statue out of Austin and put her on permanent display elsewhere.

Just shy of 26 years before that news article, the Milwaukee Journal edition of January 13, 1961 ran the column written by Ione Quingy Griggs of the Journal Staff.  From what Idiomation can see, Mrs. Griggs was a cross between Miss Manners and Dear Abby, offering up advice to those who were at a loss as to how to proceed with a particular situation.  The topic that day was how to copy with a mother-in-law who picked people apart and respones from readers whose opinion differed from Ms. Griggs’ earlier published opinion on the matter.  The following, authored by “Troubled Owner Of Mink Coat,” is an excerpt fromher response.

I read with interest your suggestion that a daughter-in-law voice the words “I am sorry” to her mother-in-law.  In my case it should be my husband’s mother to say it.  But no, she is always right everybody is wrong!  I’m not one to hold grudges, but when she sits with a face to stop a clock because my husband gives me a mink coat for Christmas, I’m ready to give up.  The mink coat was a surprise.  Everyone but Gran raved about it.  She sat frozen faced!

The expression was also found in a news story published on October 19, 1888 in the Chicago Daily Tribune in a story entitled, “The Beautiful Boston Man.”

After the parade the other day a well known Bostonian who is unfortunate in having a face to stop a clock approached an offer of the Cadets in a patronizing sort of way and said, “I saw your company today old man It looked very well very well indeed.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, a face to stop a clock, however it can safely be assumed that if it was used in a news story in 1888 that it was a well-understood phrase among the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s readership and one can guess that the expression dates back at least to the  mid-1870s.

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Miracles Leaning On Lamp Posts

Posted by Admin on March 30, 2011

Near the end of the movie, Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s a heartfelt exchange between Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Chumley that has a wonderful A-ha! moment right smack dab in the middle of it all.

ELWOOD: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome, not only time and space – but any objections.

CHUMLEY: Flyspecks — flyspecks! I’ve been spending my life among flyspecks — while miracles have been leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax! Tell me, Mr. Dowd, will he do this for you?

ELWOOD: Oh, he’d be willing at any time — yes. But so far I ha-haven’t been able to think of any place I’d rather be. I – I always have a wonderful time — wherever I am — whomever I’m with. I’m having a fine time right here with you, Doctor.

Courant.com published an article by John Altavilla in their blog section on March 26, 2011 that spoke of Geno Auriemma and his disappointment over the small turnout at Gampel Pavillion for the Huskies’ second-round win over Purdue University.  It stated in part:

And if said it in his usual way, Philadelphia kid standing on the corner, leaning on the lamp post, joking around with his buddies.  Except he was in a press conference, where they are no posts, except blog posts.

On August 7, 1960 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Rosell Eliminates Law That Horses Be Tied” that spoke not only of changes to that law but to others as well.

A modern codification of all legislation passed here since 1890 has eliminated laws banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts and requiring riders to secure horses to hitching posts. The new codification of borough laws has wiped out outdated and conflicting and confusing language.

It would appear that leaning on lamp-posts was thought of as a lazy man’s pastime in the late 1880s that necessitated the passing of a law banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts.  But what could possibly spur City councillors to pass such a law?

In the late 19th century, tall bikes were an integral part of the gas lamp lighting system.  Employees would ride their tall bikes — some as tall as 7 feet in height — from lamp to lamp, lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, lightly push of from the lamp post and continue to the next lamp post.  This was necessary as gas lamp posts were usually 11 feet tall with 2 of those 11 feet in the ground which meant a 7 foot tall bike would put the rider at the correct height for lighting the lamp.  Once all the lamps on a rider’s route were lit, an assistant would help the rider dismount from the tall bike.

Since the lamp posts were gas-powered, it’s understandable that any city with such a lamp lighting system would want to send the message to its inhabitants — for safety’s sake — not to lean on lamp posts and to stand on their own two feet.  And one certainly didn’t want to get in the way of a gas lamp lighting system rider for fear of causing problems for the rider, the leaner or both!

If someone leaned on such a lamp post, it left the impression that they didn’t have anything better to do with their time than lean on lamp posts.

And so, if miracles are leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax, or at any other intersection anywhere in the world, it means miracles haven’t anything better to do than to wait for the world to see miracles where they happen to be … leaning on lamp posts.

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