Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Forbes’

All Hat And No Cattle

Posted by Admin on May 27, 2013

When the nighttime soap “Dallas” hit the television airwaves again, viewers were treated to the expression all hat and no cattle.  For those who didn’t understand what the saying means, it means that someone talks big, but can’t back up what he says. In other words, the person is all talk and no action. The phrase is also sometimes heard as big hat and no cattle.

For those who think that it’s an obscure idiom, Bradley Blakeman (former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004, and currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University) would beg to differ. Writing for Fox News on May 5, 2010 he wrote about President Barack Obama’s handling of the BP oil disaster, quoting such journalists as Michael Shear of the Washington Post and Joseph Curl of the Washington Times. The title of the article was:

Oil Spill Proves It’s Obama Who Is All Hat And No Cattle

A decade before that, the New York Daily News reported on January 16, 2000 that John McCain and George W. Bush were hotly debating Bush’s proposed tax cuts and the lack of funding for Social Security, Medicare and the U.S. national debt. McCain believed that Bush’s $483 billion tax cut was too big and favored the wealthy. In the end, McCain called the plan “all hat and no cattle.”

Back on December 15, 1977, Carl Hilliard of the Associated Press wrote an article entitled, “Finley Finally Finds A Buyer For The A’s.” The story was carried by a number of newspapers including the Argus Press. In the news story, Insurance millionaire Charles O. Finley had this to say about Oil millionaire Marvin Davis:

“Mr. Davis is not like a lot of Texans – big hat, no cattle. That man’s got the cattle. Horse manure walks, money talks. All these other people were walking around with their hands in their pockets. Mr. Davis took his hands out of his pockets and put the money on the table.”

The Albuquerque Tribune carried a brief news story about members of the British Parliament who were demanding an equal voice with the United States in the conduct of the Korean War. The story was printed in the June 28, 1952 edition and was aptly entitled:

Big Hat, No Cattle

According to the Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, the phrase is found in “Agricultural Leaders’ Digest 25, No. 3” for March 1944 within the context of a joke. While Idiomation hasn’t seen that particular publication, we can only assume that the claim is accurate.

Even Forbes magazine claims that the expression is an old Texas saying, however, Idiomation has been unable to track it back any further than to say that if it was used in a joke in 1944, it was understood by the majority of people and must have been around since at least the generation before that, placing it squarely in the 1920s.

Interestingly enough, Idiomation did find an idiom that wasn’t far removed from the sense of all hat, no cattle and that was found in the Gettysburg Star and Republican Banner edition of October 12, 1841 wherein a journalist wrote:

All talk and no cider is the case with some women.

It certainly gives to wonder if the the phrase all talk and no cider is the precursor to the idiom all hat and no cattle.

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

In A New York Minute

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2011

People believe that everything happens more quickly in New York City than anywhere else in the world and so it makes sense to hear the phrase “in a New York minute” and to expect it’s going to be faster than any other minutes.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many things to do in New York City what with Broadway shows, music in parks and on streets as well as in restaurants with city views and sidewalk cafés, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, horse-drawn carriages, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, Wall Street, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and more.

In the Spartanburg (SC) Herald Journal edition of October 20, 1986, page 3 has an article that states:

“Welcome to Houston,” wrote Forbes magazine in 1983, “where lizard-skin boots go with pin stripes, and business is done quicker than a New York minute.”

The phrase — evidently a Southernism used with particular frequency in Texas — was given further national currency as the title of a song by Ronnie McDowell that made the country music top 40 in 1985.

On September 14, 1985 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on court proceedings in its story “Immunity Johnson’s Toughest Decision.” The story dealt with the case of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong who was charged with 16 counts of selling cocaine to players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.  The paper reported in part:

[U.S. Attorney J. Alan] Johnson was asked if he could charge any of the players with crimes if he learns later that any of them were selling drugs.  “Not only could I, but I’d do it in a New York minute,” he responded. 

No ball players were called to testify during the trial yesterday.  But defense attorney Adam O. Renfroe Jr. dais he believes the emphasis of the trial has shifted away from his client and that professional baseball has been put on trial.

Although it can’t be proven, it’s believed that the phrase may have something to do with a misreading  of news reports about Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh‘s tour of the country in his Spirit of St. Louis.  He and the plane arrived one minute ahead of schedule and of course, the headlines on that day in October 1927 read:

LINDBERGH ENDS NATIONAL TOUR: Lands on Mitchel Field at New York Minute Before He Is Due.

The news stories stated that the crowd cheered and jostled as the Spirit of St. Louis crossed over the field, banked, sideslipped and dipped to earth at 1:59 p.m.  The plane then taxied into a police-ringed hangar and Lindbergh, bareheaded and leather-jacketed, stepped into a car which bore him between cheering crowds to the airport’s operations office.  While the crowd outside pushed against the windows and shouted for another view of Lindbergh, he greeted newspaper men.

However, it’s also possible that the phrase draws on such historical events as the Underground Railway between Brooklyn and New York City.  On January 24, 1890 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a news article entitled, “Brooklyn To New York In A Minute.”  The story commented on Major B.S. Henning, the leading spirit in the Henning Gravity Tunnel Company and the newly formed East River Railway Company, where the details of the one-minute Brooklyn-to-New York scheme was laid out for newspapermen.

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