Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Evening Independent’

Jay Driving

Posted by Admin on April 2, 2015

On Tuesday, Idiomation researched the history of jaywalking, and, in the process, learned that there was such a term as jay driving!  Rather than just leave the discovery at that, Idiomation decided to delve a little more into the history of the expression.

Jay drivers, as you know are drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in their proper lanes, wandering all over the road, putting everyone else in peril.  The term didn’t disappear in the early 1900s once traffic laws were in place and jay walkers were being cited and fined for crossing the street where they weren’t supposed to be crossing, and it didn’t appear at the turn of the century and make a quick exit either!

The St. Petersburg Times edition of December 10, 1948 talked about jay drivers by posting this amusing cartoon and important public service announcement in the newspaper.

JERKO THE JAY DRIVER_IMAGE 1
The problem of jay drivers plagued Miami during the 1930s which undoubtedly prompted the Miami Daily News — dubbed the oldest paper in Miami — to published this article on August 3, 1937.

MIAMI NEWS_IMAGE 2
Things were so impossible between jay walkers and jay drivers, that the National Safety Council honed four important rules for those interested in being good jay walkers.  Published in the December 28, 1934 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin newspaper of Williamsport (PA), the last rule (of which there were only four) shared this bit of insight.

Let the motorist do the worrying.  It’s his privilege as a driver.  If you’re not hit the first time, don’t get discouraged.  There’s a jay-driver on almost every street and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you will meet.

Jay drivers and jay walkers seem to have been the bane of most people’s existence during the Roaring Twenties.  The Eugene Register-Guard voiced its displeasure over the two with this simple comment in their August 11, 1924 edition that read:

The penalty for jay-walking and jay-driving should be made so severe that those brainless individuals would learn to obey the traffic laws.

On September 7, 1923, The Evening Independent newspaper published an article that hailed a novel suggestion, as they called it, that was made by Mr. Horrigan that addressed the conditions and needs of St. Petersburg as a tourist resort.  The fact of the matter was, as was pointed out “there are regular universal standard rules adopted by the A.A.A. that are used by almost every city, and certain laws passed by cities regulating traffic which are almost all alike so nothing need be said of them.  It is merely up to our officers to enforce them.”  The article included this commentary about jay drivers.

The trouble is with the drivers, and you will always have jay drivers, and no matter what rules you put into effect, the jay driver will not carry them out, or does not want to.

Yes, jay drivers had everyone up in arms with their dangerous jay driving.  Even columnist Richard Lloyd Jones of the Roundup Record-Tribune and Winnett Times (in Montana) commented on jay drivers and the “Safety First” movement that was meant to lessen danger everywhere except on streets and roads.  The  “Safety First” movement focused on making it safe for automobile owners to drive their vehicles, even if it came at the expense of pedestrian safety.  His comments included this paragraph.

Unless jay-driving is promptly stopped — unless every jay-driver is promptly jerked out of his seat and not allowed to return to the wheel, we are all going to be compelled to take our bumpers off and put on baskets.

One of the more unintentionally humorous comments included in the column was that every speedometer should be made to town-clock size (in other words, the size of the car’s tire) and mounted on the back of the vehicle so that everybody would be able to read the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.

An interesting statistic that was included in this story was this:  In 1920 there were 10,007 deaths due to influenza, and 10,163 deaths due to automobiles!

The Kansas City Star newspaper published on October 6, 1915 warned of an unusual number of motor car accidents over the days leading up to the article in their newspaper.  Not only were there a number of collisions, but the newspaper reported that in one instance, a car “skidded on a sharp curve and turned over.”  The newspaper wagged its editorial finger by ending the article with this remark:  Caution marks the competent driver; Recklessness belongs only to the jay.”  The article was aptly entitled, “Don’t Be A Jay Driver.”

Were pedestrians killed by horse-drawn vehicles before automobiles became popular? Of course they were, and at an alarmingly high rate to boot!  But this was because horses were easily spooked, and when panicked, oftentimes they would bolt into panicked crowds dragging their carriage or wagon behind them.  However, reporters for the New York Times back in 1888 wrote about horse-drawn carriages who seemed to “think that they own the [pedestrian] crossings.”  One reporter went as far as to point out:  “Pedestrian have right of way over crossings, and drivers are bound to respect that right, if the city authorities would only enforce the law.”

Is it any wonder that the same attitude carried over to automobiles?

In any case, the unfortunate reality of jay drivers is that Henry Hale Bliss (June 13, 1830 – September 14, 1899) is the first person in history to have been killed in an automobile fatality.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  On the 100th anniversary of this sad event, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site on September 13, 1999.  It’s said that the plaque was erected to promote safety on streets and highways.

The New York Times reported the story in great detail.  In the end, the driver was acquitted of manslaughter charges on the grounds that it was unintentional even though the driver’s car had crushed the victim’s head and chest the day before he died from his injuries.

FIRST FATAL AUTO ACCIDENT_IMAGE 4
So sometime between 1899 when the first ever fatal automobile accident happened and 1905 when the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1907 made mention of jay drivers, the words jay driver and jay driving were coined and quickly became known in English-speaking countries.

Now to find out what a jay really is, other than a bird or a baseball player in Toronto.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hold The Line

Posted by Admin on December 13, 2013

Sometimes holding the line has nothing to do with taking a position and defending it. Sometimes it simply has to do with waiting on the phone while an operator or administrative assistant puts you through to another extension. The caller holds the line instead of hanging up.

In the Boston Globe edition of November 26, 1962 the news story by Lloyd Shearer entitled “The President’s Time Of Decision” questions why any man in his right mind would want to become the President of the United States. Found on page 3 in section B6 of the newspaper, it included this line:

He asks Mr. Khrushchev please to hold the line and picks up the SAC phone.

On April 29, 1947, the Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida reported on the telephone company strike and its effect on customers placing long distance calls. The writer — known only as The Rambler — wrote about a long distance call he placed to his daughter in Washington. Setting up the story, he wrote:

He asked the operator here if the call could be put through quickly. She said she would try and told the Rambler to hold the line. He heard her asked [sic] Jacksonville for a line to Washington, then heard the Washington operator answer and get then umber of the telephone in Alexandria. Then he heard the ring of the bell in his daughter’s home and almost immediately, she answered.

The Boston Daily Globe published a serial story under the heading “The Web Of Intrigue” by Coralie Stanton and Heath Hosken back in 1913. Not every story or novel written by Coralie Stanton (1877 – unknown) and Heath Hosken was published in volume form, and many were serialized in various newspapers and magazines, including Munsey’s Magazine. Coralie Stanton was actually Mary Alice Cecil Seymour Keay and Heath Hosken was her husband, journalist and author Ernest Charles Heath Hosken (1875 – 1934) who sometimes went by the pen name, Pierre Costello. Their co-written stories as well as their solo efforts focused on romance and intrigue in exotic locales. The serialized story was described thusly: “The Snares of Clever and Designing Women Appear in High Relief in This Romance, the Plot of Which Centers About a Baffling Murder Mystery.”   It’s in the May 16, 1913 edition that the expression is used, when the question is asked of one of the story’s characters: Hadn’t he better hold the line?

It was in the book, “Regulations for United States Military Telegraph lines: U.S. Signal Corps” prepared under the direction of Brigadier-General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the Army in 1909, the following was written:

US Military Signals_Rule 89_1909

Although the U.S. Military rule has to do with the telegraph, in 1908 telephone companies also talked about holding lines — and giving them to others as they saw fit — as seen in this advertisement published in the American Telephone Journal (Volume 18) on page 9.  In fact it states that no subscriber “can hold the line to the detriment of services nor against the Emergency Signal.”  Don’t forget to check out the three-minute rule comment!

American Telephone Journal_Volume 18_1908

During the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) newspaper reporters competed for open telegraph lines and to hold the line while preparing their breaking news dispatches, they would have operator punch out verses from the Bible to their editors back home.

American painter and inventor, Samuel Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) had approached Washington almost two decades earlier with the proposal that he build an experimental 38-mile telegraph line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland that would follow the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad right-of-way. Congress set aside $30,000 USD in 1843 for that purpose, and the line was unveiled on May 1, 1844. Exactly one year later, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was established, and Samuel Morse patented the telegraph in 1847. In 1851, his telegraph was adopted as the standard for telegraphy in Europe and the United States.

This is important because it shows that holding the line was not possible before Samuel Morse invented the telegraph (which pre-dates the telephone by 25 years). To this end, Idiomation pegs the idiom hold the line as it pertains to communications to the start of the Civil War in 1861.

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Hit The Nail On The Head

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2013

When you hear that someone in a discussion has hit the nail on the head it means that the person has driven the point home, having summed it up in a few, understandable words or sentences. It’s oftentimes used in politics and business, but even in everyday conversation, you’ll hear people talk about those who have hit the nail on the head.

When the political debates of 2010 were the rage in the media, everyone watched as Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul discussed matters in a televised debate anchored by George Stephanopolous and Diane Sawyer. When the transcripts were released, what people thought they had heard could be checked against the written word. In the transcripts, Rick Perry was quoted as having said:

Yeah, well, I — I’m — I’m stunned, ’cause — the fact of the matter is, you know, Michele kinda hit the nail on the head when we talked about the individual mandate. Both of these gentlemen have been for the — individual mandate. And I’m even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could’ve talked to Obama and said — “You’re goin’ down the wrong path,” because that is exactly the path that you’ve taken Massachusetts.

Politics seems to make liberal use of the expression, including in the September 26, 1972 article “Political Tools” published in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The news story addressed the presidential campaign of that year, which saw George McGovern going head-to-head against then-President Richard Nixon. Four paragraphs into the article, the following was written:

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird hit the nail on the head when he said that “it is a despicable act of a presidential candidate to make himself a spokesman for the enemy.” One news account called Laird’s observation “some of the harshest rhetoric of the 1972 presidential campaign.” Considering some of the rhetoric Desperate George [McGovern] has engaged in, particularly comparing Nixon to Adolf Hitler, this characterization os Laird’s remark is a gross misstatement of the facts.

Again with a political reference, the Evening Independent newspaper published a story entitled, “Hitchcock Sends Ultimatum He Will Take Issue To Upper Chamber If Compromise Fails” on January 27, 1920. In sharing news of the failure of the bipartisan conference in Washington, DC to reach a compromise, resulting in the peace treaty ratification fight that was ongoing in the Senate, this was reported:

Senator Hitchcock declined to speculate on the possibility of so early a renewal of hostilities but most Democrats declared nothing was to be gained by further secret conferences.

“It looks as if the jig’s up,” declared Senator McNary, Republican, Oregon, a leader of the “mild reservations” group, and this seemed to hit the nail on the head, in the opinion of most senators.

Things didn’t change much in the years leading up to 1920, as shown in the news article “Republication Ratification Meeting” in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 27, 1883. The story was about a meeting held to give feedback on the level of satisfaction with the action of the Sate Republican Convention’s choice of candidates. An extensive piece, halfway down the fourth column readers were greeted by this from J.M. Forbes who could not be in attendance, but who sent his thoughts in a letter that was read aloud by Henry Packman, had this to say about nominee, George D. Robinson:

The brilliant orator, the ally and mouthpiece of the faction, whose shining words everybody reads, has for once hit the nail on the head and proclaimed the truth, that there is room for only two parties in this State, and that we must choose between the two, leaving all minor issues for future consideration. We accept his and their challenge, and declare …”

The letter goes on for a bit, outlining five major points, but the article continues for another two columns before finally signing off.

Various reputable sources claim that the expression — meaning a person is communicating effectively or gets to the point — dates back to the early 16th century without providing proof to substantiate that claim.  But Idiomation continue to research for sources and English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher yielded up the phrase. Together, they wrote an early 17th century comedic stage play entitled “Love’s Cure” in 1612, then revised it in 1625, and finally published it in 1647. It was also known as “The Martial Maid.” In Act II, scene 1 of this play, regardless of which version you read, you will find the following:

METALDI
I give Place : the Wit of Man is wonderful.
thou hast hit the Nail on the Head,
and I will give thee six Pots for’t,
tho’ I ne’er clinch Shooe again.

French Renaissance writer, doctor, humanist, monk and scholar, François Rabelais (4 February 1494 – 9 April 1553) wrote “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.” The third book, “Le Tiers Livre” in which the passage appears was published in 1546. In Chapter XXXIV, readers find the idiom in this passage:

Let us come to where we left off, quoth Panurge. Your words, being translated from the clapper-dudgeons to plain English, do signify that it is not very inexpedient that I marry, and that I should not care for being a cuckold. You have there hit the nail on the head. I believe, master doctor, that on the day of my marriage you will be so much taken up with your patients, or otherwise so seriously employed, that we shall not enjoy your company. Sir, I will heartily excuse your absence.

Despite ongoing research, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression which appears unchanged over the centuries. It is therefore, highly probably that the expression dates back to at least the early 1500s as reputable sources claim, especially in light of that fact that it was used with easy by François Rabelais.

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Straining At The Leash

Posted by Admin on February 15, 2013

When you read about someone straining at the leash , it means that person is eager to do something they are prevented from doing right now. It can also be understood that the verb “straining” refers either to a force that tends to pull or stretch something to an extreme or damaging degree, or to a severe or excessive demand on the strength, resources, or abilities of someone or something. In other words, context is everything when this phrase is in play.

Last year, on April 5, 2012 the Telegraph newspaper in the UK published a story that reported that it appeared almost inevitable that there wold be an attack on Iran unless Tehran changed its course on developing nuclear weapons. The headline read:

Israel’s Dogs Of War Are Straining At The Leash To Attack Iran: Can Barack Obama Stop Them?

On a more positive note, the Free Lance-Star published a story on February 15, 1977 entitled, “Straining At The Leash.” The first paragraph launched into the story by stating:

The space shuttle is not yet on the wing, but figuratively speaking it is now straining at the leash. The first orbiter, dubbed “Enterprise,” has been trundled across the desert to Edwards Air Force Base. After a series of more and more demanding ground and air tests, in July a two-astronaut crew will make the first crucial free-flight and landing attempts.

In Madras (the former name for the Capital city of the state of Tamil Nadu in South India), the Indian Express edition of October 18, 1941 reported on the resignation of the Japanese cabinet, indicating that it had been unable to reach agreement on vital questions connected with Japanese policy. The news story drew its headline from the last line of the story in the paragraph that read:

The Japanese will take no one unprepared but will find themselves embroiled in ventures the strain of which coupled with a severe economic boycott may well take them to the brink of catastrophe. It may still be that even a new Japanese cabinet inclined to throw its fortunes more openly into the Axis struggle, will watch and weigh before committing the nation to new perils brought on by Army and Navy chiefs who seem to be itching for action, straining like hounds at the leash.

When Associated Press Sports Writer, Paul Zimmerman wrote about the Columbia Lions and the Stanford Stars back on December 30, 1933, the Evening Independent carried the exciting story on the much-anticipated Rose Bowl game. The story was entitled, “Lions Eager To Enter Fray While Stanford Has Two Regulars Kept Abed By Severe Colds” and the first paragraph read:

Trained to the minute and straining at the leash, Columbia’s Lion gridsters restlessly awaited today their hour of departure for Pasadena where they will match their football skill against Sanford New Year’s Day.

Twenty years before that, the Meriden Daily Journal published a news article on October 8, 1903 on Russia’s answer to Japanese movement of troops into Korea. The story ran with the headline, “Czar Sends Ships To Corea To Offset Mikado’s Troops” and halfway through the article, the following was written:

With the dogs of war ready on both sides and straining at the leash, the diplomats of Russia and Japan are still trying to reach an amicable agreement. Negotiations are proceeding in Tokio, and, it is announced, that they are over the future of Corea and do not relate to the evacuation of Manchuria. Apparently this latter question has been settled to the satisfaction of the Russians. They are there and mean to stay.

Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) published a  story in 1825 entitled, “The Talisman.”   This passage in the story made use of the expression:

King Richard looked more than once at the Nubian and his dog; but the former moved not, nor did the latter strain at the leash, so that Richard said to the slave with some scorn, “Thy success in this enterprise, my sable friend, even though thou hast brought thy hound’s sagacity to back thine own, will not, I fear, place thee high in the rank of wizards, or much augment thy merits towards our person.”

In the prologue of Act I in the play, “Henry V” by William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616), the play recounts, in part, how Henry V is committed to going to war for ethical reasons while at the same time being restrained by the fact that he must show just cause for going to war. How can this be claimed? The character of Henry V asks himself, “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” In other words, Henry V is weighing what is right according to his conscience before England wages war against another country. The passage about the hounds does not use the expression “straining at the leash” however it certainly carries with it the spirit of the expression.

The three hounds are famine, sword and fire, and the passage reads thusly:

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

Although the figurative sense of straining at the leash is attested to from early in the 15th century, the reference to straining at the leash referring to a set of three is from the early 14th century and is found in sporting language. From this comes the archaic definition for straining as meaning that the individual or individuals are using their utmost effort.

So while Idiomation could only trace the exact wording of the idiom to Sir Walter Scott, the spirit of the idiom goes back to the 14th century.

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Peanut Gallery

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2013

As with the lunatic fringe, the peanut gallery found its way into the popular jargon of the 20th century quickly and easily. It’s an offensive term made before an audience of one or more observers that quickly dismisses any opinion made by an individual (or group of individuals) that calls into question the veracity of an opinion being put forth by another individual (or group of individuals).

For example, if someone from Political Party A gives a speech in which he states that Program A will have a specific benefit to all people, someone from Political Party B may call out from the crowd that Program A has deficits or will benefit only a specific segment of the people. The opportunity then presents itself for the original speaker or someone else to refer to the person from Political Party B as being from the “peanut gallery” thereby dismissing the comment.

Andrew Button wrote an article for the CBC News entitled, “The Peanut Gallery Rules The House” that was published on December 13, 2010. After spending 4 days observing the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly in action, he included this observation in his story:

“Although the house of assembly is still shy on women, it has diversity where it really counts: in the maturity levels of its members. From stiff professionals like Steve Kent and Lorraine Michael to jokers like Roland Butler and Tom Hedderson, the house represents everyone from the go-getters to the peanut gallery.

But, if the days I spent observing the house are any indication, the peanut gallery has more representation than anyone else in our province’s legislature. With the non-stop heckling that goes on there, the house of assembly evokes the detention hall more than the hallowed offices of the Queen’s own chamber.”

The Deseret News published an article written by Jack Anderson on the June 1, 1976 that addressed the issue of whether Jimmy Carter was the “trust-me candidate” and “a phony” in his bid to become the President of the United States of America. A quick snapshot of the then-governor of Georgia revealed interesting facts and was entitled thusly:

The Peanut Gallery‘s View Of Carter

On August 20, 1959 the Portsmouth Times newspaper of Portsmouth (OH) ran an article about James C. Hagerty, presidential press secretary. It was said that he had been working “around the clock for many days setting up President Eisenhower’s schedule for his trip to Europe.” While the details were to quick and to the point, it appeared that the point of the article was actually to promote the concept that the job of a U.S. President was “24 hours a day, 365 days a year” and that all the overtime was free of charge to everyone living in the U.S.  The title of the article — with a hint of a dare to Eisenhower’s detractors —  was none other than:

Comments From The Peanut Gallery?

The St. Petersburg Times ran a story by Whitney Martin entitled “Low Scoring Orgy In Golf Due To Putting, Says Jones” on February 3, 1940. It was a sports article about golfer Bobby Jones who told the reporter that the reason for consistent low scaring from then-present-day golfers wasn’t “just a case of the golfer making the putts, but of the putts making the golfer.” But the article wasn’t long enough to fill the entire column, and so additional information on what was going on in baseball was also included, beginning with this paragraph:

“If the hecklers in the peanut gallery will refrain from heaving over-ripe cracks to the effect that it needs it, it might be pointed out that the National league is getting quite a transfusion of new blood this year.”

Just three years earlier (nearly to the day), the News-Sentinel published a story in the February 6, 1937 edition of the paper. The story was out of Seattle (WA) and addressed an ongoing argument between one Mrs. Schultz, owner of the theater, and nine members of the local censor board. She stated that there were no city ordinances requiring her to furnish the members of the censor board with expensive accommodations from which to review the Ballet Russe, and the members of the censor board cast aspersions on Mrs. Schultz’s theater for refusing to provide seats that were more to their liking. The article began with this:

“Seattle’s theater censors, gasping for breath at the mere thought of climbing up to the peanut gallery, peered around cautiously today for a line of attack against Mrs. Cecilia Schultz, who refused them free seats in “bald-headed” row. If the censors don’t find some solution to their troubles by Saturday, they’ll have to view the Ballet Russe from the last row in the highest gallery or pay to get in.”

It can be surmised that negative comments from the members of the censor board would not be welcome, and they would be referred to as comments from the peanut gallery, hence providing some of the earliest current-day references for the phrase.

The Evening Independent of January 8, 1919 also shows some of the earliest current-day references for the phrase peanut gallery in an article entitled, “Hot Shot For Suffpests And Declaration Of War.” The article was short and to the point and taken from the Tampa Tribune.

“An exchange says not a politician in Florida dares come out openly against woman suffrage. Perhaps not. We are no politician, but if this darned foolishness in Washington, this snide way of trying to attract a little peanut gallery applause, this indication of being possessed by seven devils, and this brazen attempt at bull-dozing the country does not stop, you can bet we are going to come out in the open and fight it till hell freezes over.”

The connection between peanuts and politics and political acceptance among the electorate, however, had already taken root earlier in the era, as evidenced by a story published in the New York Times 15 years before that.

But interestingly enough, peanuts and politics were strange bedfellow long before 1903. In a New York Times article dated September 9, 1892 there’s mention of “peanut politics” as evidenced in the article entitled, “It Was New-York’s Day: Good Reports At Democratic National Headquarters.” The former Secretary of State  Frederick Cook of Rochester was quoted as saying this when interviewed at the Democratic National Headquarters the day before:

“THE TIMES said several years ago that I did not believe in ‘peanut politics,’ and I can say now with greater force than ever that no Democrat this Fall can report to ‘peanut politics,’ for if he does he will not only lose the confidence of the electors of his district, but every chance for political preferment. No, Sir: the time is past in this State for ‘peanut politics.'”

The reference to peanut politics (without the italics around the expression) was included in the New York Times 5 1/2 years earlier on February 4, 1887 in an article entitled, “Gov. Hill’s Little Game: Plans To Seize The Constitutional Convention.” The story was from out of Albany, New York and ended with this bit of information:

If the State goes Democratic, the year after a majority of the Senate may possibly be secured during the reign of D.B. Hill, providing he is renominated and re-elected Governor. Then he will have a body in sympathy with him. If he didn’t become the boss of the party during the next three years it would be because there is no power in patronage. Then will peanut politics be played after Judge Muller’s own heart. The first step to be taken in all of this, however, is to capture the Constitutional Convention. If that cannot be accomplished then let there be no convention. It is easy enough for a hostile Governor to frame reasons for refusing to sign a bill.

The phrase peanut politics was used in such a way as to make clear that its meaning was understood by New York Times readers.

In theater talk, the peanut gallery was made up of the cheapest seats in the house. In Britain, those who sat in the cheapest seats were called the gallery gods. However, it should be noted that in America, the favorite theater snack at the time was peanuts still in their shells.  As such, when theater patrons in the cheapest seats were dissatisfied with a performance, they adopted the habit of throwing the peanut shells at those performers they held responsible for the poor performance. Of all the theater patrons, those in the cheapest seats had the clearest shot at performers on stage. It was for this reason that many performers played to the cheap seats to spare themselves from potential peanut shell attacks.

Therefore, peanut politics was seen as politics that played to the “cheap seat” electorate … those most likely to vote for someone because they liked him, not because his views were necessarily based in good government.

It is therefore the opinion of Idiomation that the expression peanut gallery dates back to 1919 with many nods to peanut references and the expression peanut politics, taking it back to 1887.

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Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians

Posted by Admin on September 8, 2011

When someone says there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians what they are really saying is that there are too many people wanting to be, or acting like, the boss and not enough people actually doing the work.

On May 29, 2009 the Daily News out of Los Angeles published a Letter to the Editor written by Janice A. Slaby entitled, “Cut chiefs, not Indians.” The article dealt with a recently published article that dealt with debt problems in the state of California. The letter stated in part:

If the federal, state and local officials were laid off or forced to forgo their salaries, it would be surprising how fast the fiscal crisis would resolve itself. Having worked for the city of L.A. for 30 years, I know there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. If any group of people should be laid off or furloughed, it should begin with mayoral, council and noncivil service personnel.

Thirty years earlier, the Evening Independent newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida ran the James J. Kilpatrick politics column on May 24, 1979  and discussed how former members of congress had gathered in Washington the previous week to discuss the failings of the White House. The article was entitled:

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The Sarasota Journal published a news story from New York on April 21, 1954 written by James Flowers and entitled, “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” The story was about Leonard R. Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches. When he took over the company that was founded by his grandfather 50 years earlier, he re-organized it. At first, he took advice from the established executives at the company only to discover that there were some who had no idea what was going on outside their own departments and he decided to change that way of doing business within the company. The article reported that:

In the shakeup the heads of two vice-presidents rolled, and promotions were made from within the organization. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the way Rogers described it. The move paid off. In the years, young Rogers boosted his company’s sales to $1,500,000 a year. Last year he showed a 40 per cent increase in profits and now talks about a new factory and a $6,000,000 volume “in a few years.”

The Eugene Register-Guard edition of August 22, 1951 published an interesting and enlightening news article on the “Indians of Ulcer Gulch.” Ulcer Gulch was the nickname for the Pentagon and the Indians were the anonymous junior officers who work out plans and recommendations on which the Big Chiefs based their final decisions on military matters. In other words, whoever wasn’t considered a chief at the Pentagon was said to be an Indian. The article, written by Don Whitehead of the Associated Press, reported the following in part:

The Indians came into being about the time of Pearl Harbor when it seemed everybody around headquarters was the chief of a branch or a section of some sort. The workhorses said: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

The chief was the man who said to a junior officer: “See what you can do about this.”

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of this expression prior to this one however for it to be used so openly and easily in a news article from 1951, it is not unreasonable to date this expression back to sometime during WWII.

The meaning of this expression is not dissimilar to the expression too many cooks spoil the broth which was covered by Idiomation earlier this year on March 8, 2011.

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

Tuckered Out

Posted by Admin on May 2, 2011

There was American New York Metropolitan Opera Tenor Richard Tucker (1914 – 1975) and there was Russian-born American vaudeville entertainer Sophie Tucker (1884 – 1966) but neither of them is responsible for the expression “tuckered out.”  The expression means to the individual is completely exhausted and worn out.  So where did this expression come from in the first place and how long has it been in use?

Back on April 12, 1962, The Telegraph newspaper in Nashua, New Hampshire ran an Associated Press story entitled “Weekend Food News” that started with this:

The household gardener, tuckered out from raking, pruning and planting this weekend, will welcome a hearty meal, and the nation’s supermarkets are cooperating with a good variety of main course specials.

When the Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg, Florida ran its story “News Behind The News: The National Whirligig” by George Durno on April 12, 1934, subscribers read:

That’s why a lot of the boys prefer to believe the story that President Roosevelt left Washington on March 27 for the Nourmahal cruise so tuckered out from the grind that it was five days before he began to feel himself.  They insist the week’s extension of the cruise was made only to give Mr. Roosevelt a whack at a brief respite from office while he really felt in the mood.

On December 1, 1903 the New York Times ran an article entitled “Gleeful Freshmen Dine: Frustrated Sophomores’ Efforts to Prevent Their Banquet.”  It’s amazing to see that college students don’t change from generation to generation as shown in the first paragraph of the news article:

Columbia College freshmen fought a fight with their traditional enemies, the sophomores, yesterday. Night found them banqueting at the Ansonia depleted in number, but proud and flushed with victory. Up near the college ten of their men still lingered in a dungeon deep, but a hundred of them scratched and tuckered out, but creditable classmen, sat at the banquet board, indifferent to the sophomores who in the street were hooting and yelling in impotent wrath.

The Providence Press provided a colourful description of one account of life in Colorado on January 29, 1875 in an article entitled, “Cold In Colorado: A Graphic Account Of It and One To Be Taken Cautiously.”  It read in part:

But all but one feller got tixed up and did pretty well. Scarred Pete and Long Jim was perty well tuckered out though.  You see when she got warm, we began to sort o’thaw out, and the jabs and cuts we got that night began to tell on us, and the bigger the cut the more we bled.  Now, stranger, that was only one of the effects of that little cold snap, t’wastn’t nothin’ to what happened afterward!

The New York Times published a news article entitled “How To Visit New York and See The Crystal Palace” on July 12, 1853.  It included this tidbit of information:

If at any time there seems to be a lack of bodily or mental energy, take advice from Nature, and let Sleep, the good old nurse, compose you to rest.  She will pour out a balm for your refreshment, that will seem to take a year’s burdens from your back.  Give her an extra hour, or more if so disposed, and she will bring out the jaded spirit from the nursery, as young and spruce and benignant as a bridegroom from his barber’s.  When tuckered out, let a traveler go to bed, whether it is dark or daylight, bedtime or the time to eat, and there lie until he has squared all accounts with Master Somnus, and every muscle is hungry for action.

And in 1845, author Caroline Matilda Kirkland (1801 – 1864) wrote a book entitled, “Western Clearings” in which the following passage can be found:

“How are you this morning, Mrs. Ashburn?” asked the young visitant as she entered the wretched den, her little basket on her arm, her sweet face all flushed, and her eyes more than half-suffused with tears — the effect of the keen morning wind, we suppose.

“Law sakes alive!” was the reply, “I ain’t no how. I’m clear tuckered out with these young’ uns. They’ve had the agur already this morning, and they’re as cross as bear-cubs.”

“Ma!” screamed one, as if in confirmation of the maternal remark, “I want some tea!”

“Tea! I ha’n’t got no tea, and you know that well enough!”

“Well, give me a piece o’ sweetcake then, and a pickle.”

The expression according to Webster’s Dictionary is New England slang of uncertain origin that means ‘to tire‘ or ‘to become weary‘ and appears as early as 1820.  Although Idiomation was unable to find any earlier published references to the expression, that  it appears in a book published in 1845 certainly supports the claim that the expression “tuckered out” was used as early as 1820.

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

Dead Pan

Posted by Admin on February 24, 2011

When someone or something is expressed in an impassive, matter-of-fact way, that’s dead pan … expressionless, empty, blank, wooden, straight-faced, vacuous, impassive, inscrutable, poker-faced, and completely inexpressive.

When Snub Pollard, comedian of the pie-throwing days of silent movies, died in January 20, 1962 the headline run the following day in the New York Times read:

SNUB POLLARD, 72, FILM COMIC, DEAD: Dead-Pan Actor Was One of the Keystone Kops Appeared in Recent Movies

The news bite included this additional information:

Mr. Pollard was known to movie audiences of forty-five years ago as a little man with a dead-pan expression whose black mustache twitched and was often reversed.

On November 22, 1939 the St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent newspaper reported on Stan Laurel of Lauren and Hardy fame and his wife, Illiana.  It began with:

A charge that the Dead-Pan film comic, Stan Laurel, once ran down a Beverly Hills residential street, clad only in shorts, chasing his Russian-born wife, Illiana, who wore a thin negligee, was injected into their prolonged court battle.  The actress is asking that the Laurel divorce be set aside on grounds she was forced to agree to it.

In Pennsylvania, the Greensburg Daily Tribune ran the Today’s Sports Parade column by Henry McLemore, United Press Staff Correspondent, on its pages.  On April 1, 1935 he wrote about boxer, Joe Louis:

Putting the sport shot here and there: Old-timers say Joe Louis is the first killer of the ring with a dead pan they’ve seen in years … The Detroit negro is as cooly deliberate as a butcher working on a ham hock … There’s no Dempsey snarl, baring gleaming fangs or a mouthpiece … Just a fearsome fish eye as he shuffles in throwing anvils.

It wasn’t the first time Joe Louis had been referred to in this manned.  In New York state, the Rochester Evening Journal of November 8, 1924 ran an article entitled, “Tad’s Tidbits: Dead Pan Louie and the Low Class.”  In this story, he reported:

Mr. L. Angel Firpo is not boxing these days.  He isn’t even training.  In fact, he hasn’t even signed up for a match, and behind it all is a story of uncouth manners and rough-neck tactics.

One hardly thinks of manners and boxing being found in the same room together, but back in the 1920s, manners were important.  The article continues farther down with:

Mr. Romero Rojas, who is also a South American and who made quite a rep down there as a leather pusher, wishing to engage in a bout with Louie, adopted the American tactics of calling his rival names, using such terms as “piece of cheese,” “palooka,” “big punk,” etc. 

That sort of shocked Dead Pan and sent him to his room brooding for two days.  The idea of any one referring to Dead Pan as a piece of cheese was terrible to even think of!  Louie immediately cast Mr. Rojas from his life.  He cut his name off his calling list, and when they pass on the street now Louie doesn’t even give him a tumble.  As for a fight.  No chance.  Mr. Romero will never hear a word from Louie until he apologizes.

The word “pan” meant “skull” or “head” as far back as the 1300s and manuscripts from that era contains words such as “brain pan” and “head pan.” It wasn’t until the 19th century that vaudevillians began using the word “pan” as a slang term for face.  And “dead” means “dead.”

So, dead pan is as emotionless as you can possibly imagine … especially if you’re imagining a corpse.

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