Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘England’

Skedaddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 12, 2015

Most of us heard the word skedaddle used when we were children, usually when we were at risk of getting caught by grown-ups for doing something we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place:  Skedaddle!  The word means to run away quickly, and as several generations of children will tell you, skedaddling has saved many a child from a good paddling.

The Milwaukee Journal of July 22, 1927 published an article entitled, “Skedaddle Created by Oberlin College.”  It stated that the Oberlin College alumni were laying claim to the invention of the word, stating that it was a corruption of the Greek word skendannumi which means “to scatter.”  While there’s no doubt that this was a word used by those enlisted with the Union forces, but as to whether its roots lie with Oberlin College or in the Greek lexicon is something that has been hotly debated for generations.

How hotly?  There are others who claim that the word is a mash-up of two British dialect words:  sket and daddle.  The former means “rapidly” while the latter means “to walk unsteadily.”  Still others claim that the word is a mash-up of scatter and rattled but somehow that explanation seems far-fetched even to linguistic hobbyists.  Still, there are many plausible and far-fetched explanations as to the origins of the word skedaddle.

The Kendallville Standard published a story on March 11, 1898 entitled, “Spaniards Must Skedaddle.”  The article reported that the American Senate had recognized Cuba as a republic, and that President McKinley was directed to use as much U.S. military force as needed to force Spain to withdraw from the island.  The story also included additional information on the amendment by Senator Turple of Indiana that was added to the Davis Declaration of Intentions, and voted on.  The Senate resolution was nearly identical to the resolution to the one introduced by Senator Forster of Ohio.

In the July 23, 1862 edition of a newspaper known as The Head Quarters published in Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada), a poem was published that was said to be republished from a Richmond newspaper.  The poem ran at the end of the newspaper’s report from their army correspondent — a report that included information that Stonewall Jackson was 18 miles east of Washington, and that there was general depression in the army of the Potomac and that, in trying to raise their spirits, the President had sent Christy’s Minstrels to cheer them up.

SKEDADDLE

The shades of night were falling fast
As thro’ a Southern village passed
A youth who bore in hand of ice
A banner, with the strange device —
Skedaddle.”

His hair was red, his toes beneath
Pressed like an acorn from its sheath,
While with a frightened voice he sung
A burden, in the Yankee tongue —
Skedaddle.”

He saw no household fire where he
Could warm his toes or hominy,
Or beg from Southern hand a bone;
Then from the Yankee ‘scaped a grown —
Skedaddle.”

Oh! stay a “cullered pusson” said,
An’ on dis bussum res your head;
The noble patriot winked his eye
But still he answered with a sigh —
Skedaddle.”

Beware Jeff. Davis’ serried ranks —
Beware of “Beargard’s” deadly pranks;
This was the platner’s last good night —
The chap replied far out of sight —
Skedaddle.”

At break of day, as several boys,
From Texan and Carolinian shores,
Were moving Southward, in the air
They heard these accents of despair —
Skedaddle.”

A chap was found, and at his side
A bottle, showing how he died,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
The banner with the strange device —
Skedaddle.”

This proves that the word skedaddle was already in use (and understood) as early as 1862.  In fact, it was used in a number of news articles and stories, including “A Colored Citizen’s Patriotic Speech” which was published in many places including the “Standard Recitations: For Use Of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies.”

But my feller-buffers, dis a day to rejoice and kick up yer pedals, and to “Sing song, Polly, can’t you ki-me oh?”  If I may use de expression — and as de balmy zephers wafts its way from the horizon ob all’ de hemispheres — I think I hear de shivalerry sing, “Oh, brudders, let’s skedaddle!” and, my hearers, dey do skedaddle wheneber dey see any ob Uncle Sam’s blue-tail flies arter ’em.

But how much earlier can the word skedaddle be traced?

According to “Notes and Queries: For Readers and Writers, Collectors and Librarians” published in 1856 by publishers Bell and Daldy in London (England), it was identified as a provincialism.  This puts use of the word six years before the American Civil War and so the word existed before the American Civil War and wasn’t as a result of the American Civil War.

Since the publishers of the book are in London, the answer to the age-old question about how the word skedaddle came about is most likely found in Ireland where the word sgadad means “to flee” and ol means “all.”  Therefore sgadad ol means “all flee” which, of course, is the meaning of the word skedaddle.

What this means is that the word, having been referred to as a provincialism, makes the new word skedaddle an Americanism that was well enough known to be recognized as provincialism in England as early as 1856.  Idiomation pegs this word then to the mid 1850s at the latest, with a nod to the Irish sgadad ol.

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

The Real McCoy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 13, 2011

Interestingly enough, the expression the real McCoy has a long and colourful history, most of which is pure fabrication but delightful nonetheless.  And through the twists and turns found within those spirited stories, the fact of the matter is that the expression means that someone or something is genuine. 

There have been claims that the expression refers to a brand of whiskey distilled in Scotland by G. Mackay & Co. Ltd. since 1856.  Mackay’s distilled spirit was oftentimes referred to as the clear Mackay and by the time Prohibition hit, it was referred to in American speak-easies as the real Mackay as opposed to a knock-off passing for Mackay’s elixir.

There have been claims that the expression came about after oil-drip cup was patented in 1872 by Canadian inventor, Elijah McCoy (1843 – 1929).  His invention revolutionized the industry by 1873 as it allowed locomotive engines to run longer, more smoothly and more efficiently.  It succeeded in doing this by allowing metal joints to be oiled automatically while in use. A decade later in 1882, railroad engineers who didn’t want to deal with inferior copies of Elijah McCoy’s oil-drip cup would routinely ask if the locomotive they were to drive was fitted with “the real McCoy system.” 

A very popular version is that the expression refers to the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys of West Virginia and Kentucky back in the 1880s.  And yet another version claims that it was an incident where American welterweight boxing champion, Norman “Kid McCoy” Selby (1873 – 1940) knocked an unbelieving drunk out cold in an argument in a bar which prompted the drunk to exclaim when he became conscious, “You’re right! He’s the real McCoy!

Back on December 31, 2008 the AFP European and Global edition newspapers published a story about then 31-year-old former world boxing champion, Scott Harrison.  The news story was entitled, “Ex-World Champ Harrison Released From Jail.”  In the news story, it was reported:

Harrison, nicknamed The Real McCoy, has won 25 of his 29 professional fights, including 14 by knock-out.  However, he has not fought for three years and his licence  has since been revoked by the British Boxing Board of Control.

The expression, the real McCoy, however, was around long before Scott Harrison was even born.  Going back more than a century, on October 17, 1891 the New Zealand Observer and Free Lance newspaper reported this little tidbit in the “Round The Churches” column.

The real McCoy and the musical Plant held a meeting at Otahuhu last week, and meet with a liberal supply of eggs.  The subject he volcanoed upon was “Trap doors to hell” and judging by the smell of the dead chickens, a plentiful supply of sulphur would have been a pleasant change.

Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have written a letter in 1883 that stated, “He’s the real Mackay.”

However,on March 14, 1879,  the Sarnia Observer newspaper published in Sarnia, Ontario (Canada) carried a lengthy news article about the Election of Officers and annual dance of the Sarnia Fire Department.  Once business had been tended to, the meeting was adjourned to Ellison’s Hotel where members and their spouses partook of the annual supper provided by the officers of the Fire Department.

Mr. Wm. Stewart also referred to his former relations with the department and to the pleasing associations with which they were connected.  Mr. Wm. Eveland sang, “The Real McCoy” in capital style.

The celebrations continued with many songs being sung and many toasts being made.  Among other songs sung was a rousing rendition of “Muldoon the Solid Man” by the Chairman and the comic song “The Mer-mi-aid” sung by Mr. Ellis. The pres was also recognized as the Vice-Chairman proposed a toast to “the press” in what was reported as a brief complimentary speech.  It was responded to by the representatives of The Observer and The Canadian newspapers.

That the song “The Real McCoy” was sung at this gathering and was recognized not only by the Fire Department and their spouses but by the press as well indicates that the song was well-known.  Since songs didn’t become well-known overnight as they did in the 20th century and do in the 21st century, it’s reasonable to believe that this song was in existence at least a decade — if not longer — prior to the event in 1879.

Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to track the song down — which would be in the public domain at this point — and is therefore unable to provide an exact date of publication for the song.

In the Marlborough Express newspaper in New Zealand, the newspaper carried an advertisement in the March 6, 1875 edition that read in part:

Important Notice
Great Clearing Sale of
Winter Stock of Boots and Shoes
To Make Room For Spring And Summer Goods
Daily Expected From England

Halfway down the advertisement, the following is found:

All kinds of books, periodicals and musical instruments procured at a considerable percentage below Blenheim prices to give every one a change to enjoy the same king of luxury that I enjoy myself.  Cut Tobacco — the real McKay — and other brands never introduced into Blenheim before.

It’s quite possible that the expression “the real Mackay” is from Scotland while the expression “the real McCoy” is from Canada, both appearing at about the same time.

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

Political Football

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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.

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 31, 2010

The old saying, let sleeping dogs lie, means more than just to let sleeping dogs lie, which is very sound advice in the first place.  It also means that one ought not instigate trouble.  In other words, people should leave situations or people alone else it might cause them trouble.

The Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported on a court case on August 6, 1909 that dealt with a Mr. Jerome who had menaced a Mr. Carvalho who had threatened Mr. Jerome.  The article read in part:

“You’d better let sleeping dogs lie, Mr. Jerome,” exclaimed the witness, before the district attorney had said a word. As he spoke the expert’s eyes flashed and he pointed an agitated finger at Jerome.

In November of 1870, the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Russia and India: The Frontier of the Russian Empire.”  The article asked whether England was on the verge of losing its Asiatic possessions.

Let us consider why Russia has gained enough to suppose she is sufficiently strong to infringe the wholesome rule to “let sleeping dogs lie” when applied to the English. The Crimean War showed her plainly that her people were barbarians, and that her strength lay in brute force.

The saying “let sleeping dogs lie” was a favourite of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, who exercised considerable influence over King George I as well as King George II from 1721 through to 1742.  He was quoted as saying this on more than one occasion regardless of whether it had to do with matters of the King’s Court, the American Revolution or any other situation where difficulties had arisen.

Geoffrey Chaucer used a similar phrase in his story, Troilus and Criseyde, published in 1374.

It is nought good a sleepyng hound to wake.

It’s recorded in French even earlier in the 14th century, as found in the Proverbia Vulgalia et Latina, where the saying is:  “Ne reveillez pas le chien qui dort.”  Translation: Do not wake the dog that sleeps.

As the phrase is referenced in the Proverbia Vulgalia et Latina, it is most likely that it comes from the Latin saying, “Quieta non movere” which means “Do not move settled things.”

That being said, the Book of Proverbs (26:17) says:

He that passes by, and meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one that takes a dog by the ears.

In other words, the saying “let sleeping dogs lie” has its roots in the Bible.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Religious References, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Fair Play

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 25, 2010

Fair play is an established and agreed upon standard of decency and honesty where individuals in a competitive situation agree to abide by the set standard of decency and honesty.

The word fair comes from the Old English word faeger, meaning beautiful; the word play comes from the Old English word plega.  The traditional forms of games and other recreational activities in Medieval England were violent in nature.  Fair play came about as a way to create a more orderly approach to playing games and participating in other recreational activities.

The reason for this was so that betting — also a popular pastime — would have a level playing field for its participants.  By creating equal opportunities for participants of competitions, a secondary level of competition was built up for spectators.  When everyone knew the game and its rules, gambling became a worthwhile venture worth betting on.

In this way, fair play was a more ethical and more genteel way to wage war without firing shots and, for the most part, did away with the concept of winning at all costs … especially if it meant cheating in order to achieve this goal.

Shakespeare coined this phrase fair play and used it in several of his plays. The earliest usage of the phrase is found in his play The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, written in 1611 when Prospero comes across Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess.

MIRANDA:
Sweet lord, you play me false.
 
FERDINAND:
No, my dear’st love,
I would not for the world.
 
MIRANDA:
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it fair play.

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

Hobson’s Choice

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 3, 2010

Hobson’s choice is an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative. In other words, it’s a take it or leave it choice.

The phrase dates back to the 16th century where Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), English keeper of a livery stable, established the requirement that customers renting a horse from him had to take either the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all.  

Hobson owned the horses, he owned the accoutrements that went with the horses, and he was responsible for the horses’ upkeep ergo he made the rules by which people could rent his horses.  That was Hobson’s choice

The reason for renting horses out in this way was because he had a number of young Cambridge University undergraduates who would rent out his horses and then treat them badly by driving them too hard and wearing them out. 

Since the students wouldn’t listen to his admonishments, he instituted a rota to give his horses time to recover from their mistreatment.  The most recently returned horse was put at the end of the queue which meant the most rested horse would be at the front.  The rule was always enforced and there were no exceptions to the rule.

John Milton wrote two poems about him shortly after his death in 1631, Milton wrote: “He had bin an immortall Carrier.”  In fact, in 1660, less than thirty years after Hobson’s death, Quaker scholar Samuel Fisher referred to the phrase in his religious text, The Rustick’s Alarm to the Rabbies:

“If in this Case there be no other (as the Proverb is) then Hobson’s choice … which is, chuse whether you will have this or none.”

Thomas Ward’s poem England’s Reformation written in 1688, but not published until after his death, had this line:

“Where to elect there is but one, ’tis Hobson’s choice — take that or none.”

And of course, let’s not forget that at the turn of the 20th century, Henry Ford sold the Ford Model T with the famous Hobson’s choice of “any color so long as it’s black.”

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

No Man’s Land

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 29, 2010

There are those who will tell you that the phrase “no man’s land” is a military term from WWI that represents the unoccupied and dangerous strip of land between opposing trench systems.  However, the first recorded us of the phrase dates back to 1320 in England.  The name of ap iece of land used as an execution ground found just outside the north wall of London was referred to as “no man’s land.”

In 1349, “no man’s land” was a communal — hence the reference of belonging to no one in particular — burial ground near Smithfield and was for the victims of the Black Death that killed one third of England’s population that year.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »