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Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

Jelly Bean

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 21, 2015

When the word jelly bean is introduced into a conversation, most people — whether children or adults — think of the candy, but a jelly bean hasn’t always been just a candy.  These days, it’s also slang for someone who appears hard-headed but is really a tender heart.  The term arose from the 2006 coming-of-age movie, “ATL” that tells the story of four recent high school graduates facing different challenges at a turning point in each of their lives.

During the eighties and nineties, jelly beans were also shoes obviously made from plastic and available in jelly bean candy colors.  Of course, you can still get jelly beans today from places such as JBeans and Amazon.

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Vincent Joseph Monteleone (18 December 1883 – 18 November 1959) wrote inCriminal Slang: The Vernacular of the Underground Lingo” published in 1945 (and revised in 1949) that a jelly bean was a weakling and a coward.  Now you might think that Vincent was maybe a member of the underworld, but the fact of the matter was, he was a Captain — a police Captain — and he compiled the list over the course of his law enforcement career from the 1920s through to the 1940s.  As an added bonus, his book included a table of hobo code symbols.

Just a few years before Vincent published his book, in 1941, American educator, scholar, literary critic, essayist, poet, and editor John Crow Ransom (30 April 1888 – 3 July 1974) explained in his book “The New Criticism” that jelly bean referred to soft, sweet music.

In the collection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (24 September 1896 – 21 December 1940) entitled, “Tales Of The Jazz Age” published in 1922 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, he described a different kind of jelly bean albeit with more than one flavor in his short story “The Jelly Bean.”  It had been previously published in “The Metropolitan” and according to the author, it had been written “under strange circumstances shortly after my first novel was published.”

Now if you call a Memphis man a Jelly-bean he will quite possibly pull a long sinewy rope from his hip pocket and hang you to a convenient telegraph-pole. If you call a New Orleans man a Jelly-bean he will probably grin and ask you who is taking your girl to the Mardi Gras ball.

A few paragraphs later he adds:

Jelly-bean is the name throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular — I am idling, I have idled, I will idle.

Now, a jelly bean wasn’t just a lazy oaf, according to Chicago Bill Elliot out of New Orleans, Louisiana.  In fact, for the January 1920 edition of the “American Photo-engraver” magazine, he wrote an eloquent description of what a jelly bean was.

There is the jelly bean, a species of the genus homo, whose habits and deportment are as follows:  Dresses in the latest design, razor edge creases in trousers, hat and shoes to match, hair split in the middle, he doesn’t walk, he glides like a turtle up to soda fountain.  The most strenuous work he performs is the consumption of a lollypop or nut sundae with a wash down of grape juice and then the mollycoddle dives in the feathers for his beauty nap.

A jelly bean, according to Volume 5 of “Dialect Notes” was described as an indifferent individual.  The term was listed in the chapter on “Terms of Disparagement in the Dialect Speech of High School Pupils in California and New Mexico” and was the result of a high school assignment from 1914.  High school students were instructed to submit twenty terms of disparagement to their teachers that were used in everyday conversation, and to provide definitions for each term submitted.

Other sources state that a jelly bean can also be an inept or stupid person as seen in Volume 33 of “Everybody’s Magazine” published in 1915.  The term is used to great effect in the article, “A Challenge To Authors” by illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (18 June 1877 – 27 May 1960).  You may not recognize his name, but Idiomation is certain that you would recognize his portrait of “Uncle Sam” as over four million copies were printed on posters between 1917 and 1918 as the U.S. sent troops off to war.

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In any case, in his challenge he included the idiom in this passage:

An unknown authorine — and this is straight goods — had the hardihood, when she had been told that I was going to illustrate her woolly little stories — she belongs to the jelly-bean school of literature — to ask the art editor to tell me not to make her heroine FAT!

The illustrator turned writer seems intent on making a point which, upon reading the entire article, seems to illustrate that he has a bee in his bonnet.  In appeared to have reserved particular ire for Wallace Irwin, Rex Beach, Jack Hines and Rupert Hughes.  And he ends his rant with this:

While I would particularly enjoy seeing one of the foregoing authors flounder on this job, I am not bigoted — it is absolutely open to all story-tellers whose stories I have illustrated.  Positively no discrimination against any one!  Whether my illustrations have ruined their stories or  not!  Get in touch with EVERYBODY’s at once!  This is on the level!

In a story in “La Cope de Orc (the Cup of Gold): A Collection of California Poems, Sketches, And Stories by the Members of the Pacific Coast Women’s Press Association” edited by Mrs. Abbie E. Krebs, and published in 1905. The candy known as a jelly bean was used in the story “Miss Kid” by Ruth Comfort Mitchell (21 July 1883 – 17 February 1954).  Ruth went on to write “Of Human Kindness” published in 1940 as a counterpoint to the John Steinbeck (27 February 1902 – 20 December 1968) novel, “The Grapes Of Wrath” published in 1939.

“Then,” he said, fishing in his pocket, “you may as well have this, too:” he drew out the bag of candy.  “I tried to get a juvenile assortment — a hasty recollection of my pinafore days.  Do have a jelly bean.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather have a ju-jube baby.  I haven’t seen one for six years.”  Six years!  The light faded from her face, and she looked out across the sun-baked plain with eyes in which quick tears had gathered, and a wistful droop of the lips.

Jelly beans, as a candy, were well-known in America even as early as the 1880s and 1890s and were subject to duties according to the United States Department of Treasury as well as the Customs and Excise Department Statistical Office of Great Britain.

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While some candy makers insist that jelly beans were created by an unknown American candy maker in the 1800s, none of these candy makers has been able to identify who that unknown candy maker was or where he lived.  Without a doubt, there are newspaper advertisements suggesting that consumers buy and send jelly beans to Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War.  That was the marketing idea of Boston confectioner William Schrafft (15 June 1823 – 9 February 1906). So we know that jelly beans were around in the U.S. from at least 1861 onwards.

That being said, it’s also a fact that the French invented a process called panning in the early 1800s which is an integral part of the process used to make jelly beans.  By the mid-1800s, England had banned the use of thorium, copper, mercury, and arsenic extracts for coloring panned candies based on an article published in “The Lancet” in 1850.  This means that jelly beans weren’t invented in America, although the name jelly bean may have originated in America.  But was the term jelly beans unknown until it was coined sometime between 1850 and 1861?

Imagine the surprise when Idiomation found jelly bean trees mentioned on page 15 of Volume 3 of “The Public Documents of Massachusetts” published in 1835!

Jelly Beans_1835Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to learn more about jelly bean trees despite the most ardent efforts to find any information on them.  Perhaps one of Idiomation’s readers or visitors knows something about jelly bean trees and is willing to share that information with us in the Comments section below.

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

Drop A Brick

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 21, 2013

If you drop a brick, you can rest assured that you’ve either made a tactless remark, or announced shocking — perhaps even startling — news to those around you. Yes, you’ve committed a social gaffe and perhaps been indiscreet as well in the process.

When David Moore wrote an article about David James for The Mirror newspaper in London (England) in 2001 in an article entitled, “Football: I’ll play until I’m 40.. and win 70 England Caps Says David James” he included this in his story:

“I know they call me “Calamity James” whenever I drop a brick. It has ceased to worry me. And besides, I’m probably the person who put that tag into the minds of the journalists who first wrote it. The old Doris Day musical western “Calamity Jane” has always been a favourite of mine.

The Glasgow Herald in Scotland published an article on June 27, 1968 that dealt with civil servants and the behaviour expected of civil servants. In an article entitled, “Plan For Big Overhaul Of Civil Service: Department To Take Over Management By Treasury” the article dealt with the Fulton Committee that had been appointed 18 months earlier to examine the Civil Service, and to make recommendations therein. In the article, the following was reported:

The convention of anonymity of civil servants should be modified, and civil servants as professional administrators should be allowed to go further in explaining what their departments were doing.

It would be unrealistic to think that a civil servant would not sometimes drop a brick and embarrass his Minister, but this should be faced.

On September 19, 1959, the Meriden Record in Meriden-Wallingford (CT) reported on Nikita Khrushchev’s upcoming visit to the U.S. The main focus of the visit was to build up the image of being a sensible, practical man with friendly intentions towards Americans. The article was entitled, “Khrush Driving Hard To Persuade Americans He Is Not A Monster.” Midway through the article, journalist Relman Morin wrote:

There is something ingratiatingly human about him when he expresses the hope that he won’t “drop a brick” during all the talking he will do in the United States — and that Americans will excuse him if he does.

The Glasgow Herald used the expression 15 years before that, in an article entitled, “Key States In U.S. Election: Dewey’s Prospects In The East” published on October 6, 1944. The situation faced by New York Governor Dewey was explained thusly:

There is no doubt that Governor Dewey will come down to the Bronx with a great majority collected up-State, and that it will take a great deal of energy to accumulate an adequate majority in New York City to offset this advantage.

It is here that the chance of accidents makes the most confident commentator pause. The Republican candidate or the President, or more likely a rash supporter of one or the other, may drop a brick of the first magnitude alienating Jews or Irish or Italians or waiters or the ornaments in café society.

It would seem that the Glasgow Herald has an affinity for the expression. It appeared in a news article entitled, “Agricultural Co-operation: Imperial Conference In Glasgow” published in the July 20, 1938 edition of the newspaper. It read in part:

Mr. William Adair, Glasgow, said that it was interesting to hear Mr. Rokach confess the danger in Palestine co-operative marketing that, in the absence of Government compulsion upon growers to join, the outsiders might gain more than the members from such organisation. The conference seemed inclined to applaud only voluntary co-operation, but, if he were permitted to drop a brick into the proceedings, he would remind them that, despite the exchange of nice sentiments between farmer co-operators and industrial co-operators, it was the latter who deliberately went out to defeat the West of Scotland Milk Pool, which 10 years ago marked the first large-scale attempt by agricultural producers of Great Britain to control their own marketing on voluntary lines.

It might be easy to assume that the expression was unique to Scotland back then, however, the expression appeared on October 20, 1929 in a New York Times article entitled, “Free State Politicians Plan Move To End Barring Of A Catholic Ruler” by M.G. Palmer. It was found on page 3 in the Editorial section and began with:

Are Free State politicians preparing to drop a brick on the toes of the British Labor Ministers? Naturally, in the centenary year of the Catholic Emancipation, a vigorous effort might be expected to remove any remaining religious disabilities.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his story “The Beautiful And Damned” first published by Scribner’s in 1922. It appeared in Book Two: Chapter I and subtitled, “The Radiant Hour.”

“Of course! Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It’s just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if to the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs. But they’ve made it into a blondined, rouged-up old woman of sixty. It hasn’t any right to look so prosperous. It might care enough for Lee to drop a brick now and then. How many of these–these _animals_”–she waved her hand around–“get anything from this, for all the histories and guide-books and restorations in existence? How many of them who think that, at best,appreciation is talking in undertones and walking on tiptoes would even come here if it was any trouble? I want it to smell of magnolias instead of peanuts and I want my shoes to crunch on the same gravel that Lee’s boots crunched on. There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books,houses–bound for dust–mortal–“

That being said, the President’s Address of the Northeast Wisconsin Teacher’s Association, given by Principal Charles C. Parlin in Oshkosh (WI) on February 4, 1910 entitled “The Twentieth Century High School” included this comment:

In the old school, discipline was a contest of wits, between the shrewd boys and the principal. It furnished a type of training not altogether useless to the boy and often very valuable to the teacher. I suppose many a man that has left the school rostrum to win distinction in politics or business could justly attribute his success to that training. But the school is now too big, the interests are too many, for the principal to spare time for any such enlivening pastime. The boy who is inclined to drop a brick-bat into the complicated machinery of a modern high school is too dangerous to be tolerated. That boy must either learn quickly to control his inclinations or else seek a smaller and a simpler organization.

Despite Principal Parlin’s use of drop a brick-bat in his Address, Idiomation was unable to trace the expression drop a brick back to a point prior to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s use in his short story. However, that F. Scott Fitzgerald used the expression without italicizing it indicates that it was understood by the general public what it meant. For that reason, Idiomation dates the expression to the turn of the 20th century.

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

Rouge Your Knees

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that Prohibition was a time when, “the parties were bigger,the pace was faster, and the morals were looser.”  Hoagy Carmichael wrote that the 1920s came in “with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.”

Up until the 1920s, knees were kept hidden beneath skirts and petticoats and showing them off would have been scandalous and provocative to say the least . 

Back then some women used rouge to highlight and draw attention to their cheeks, although modest women resisted the use of make up and preferred to make the most of ‘natural’ beauty instead.

Flappers, on the other hand, thought of themselves as promiscuous and sexy rebels, and so they rouged their knees to draw attention to them .

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

 
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