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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Grose’

Kick The Bucket

Posted by Admin on November 4, 2014

If someone has kicked the bucket, they have shuffled off this mortal coil and gone on to the afterlife.  Yes, when someone kicks the bucket, they have died.

Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the days when someone intent on committing suicide would stand on a bucket, slip the noose around his or her neck, and then literally kick the bucket.  Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the bucket of holy water that was placed at the feet of a corpse that had been laid out for viewing.  And some will say that back in the sixteenth century the beam from which a butchered pig was hung was called a buquet (not to be confused with a bouquet which is an arrangement of flowers).  So where did the idiom come from since there are so many different stories about its origins?

If you believe the Spokane Daily Chronicle of May 30, 1911, the expression comes from England and first appeared in print in 1725.  The news bite alleged the following:

… it dates back to Old England, when about the year 1725, one Balsover hanged himself to a beam while standing on the bottom of a bucket, and then kicked the bucket away, says the New York Times.

It was a believable explanation because three years later on November 26, 1914, the Toledo Blade newspaper carried an almost identical explanation to the question:  What is the origin of the saying “to kick the bucket?”

Now, where the New York Times got the story back in 1911 is unclear, however, the Meriden Daily Republican published a similar story in July 20, 1880 edition of their newspaper, so the story was circulating long before the New York Times grabbed hold of it.  It could be because the Boston Evening Transcript of January 24, 1878 used the term in this clever bit of reporting.

Ah Chung, a San Francisco murderer, has kicked the bucket, literally as well as metaphorically.  On Jan. 13 a prison-keeper found him hanging by the neck in his cell.  He had passed a cord through the air-holes at the back of his cell, fastened that end, and made a noose of the other end, put out the gas, and planted himself upon a water bucket.  Then he kicked the bucket.

The expression was used in jokes published in a number of magazines and newspapers in the early 1800s, oftentimes recounted as such:

Two gentlemen were walking in the High-street, Southampton, last week, about that hour which the industrious damsels of the mop and brush usually devote to cleansing the pavement before the door.  It happened that the bucket used upon such occasions was upon the stones, and one of the gentlemen stumbled against it.
“My dear friend,” exclaimed the other, “I lament your death exceedingly!”
“My death!”
“Yes, you have just kicked the bucket.”
“Not so,” rejoined his friend.  “I have only turned a little pale (pail).”

The idiom was also found in the “Standard Recitations for the Use of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies” published in 1800.  The following was determined appropriate recitation for junior pupils.

He never did a decent thing
He was’t worth a ducat;
He kicked and kicked until he died,
And then he kicked the bucket.

In Francis Grose’s 1785 edition of the “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the definition for kick the bucket is as follows.

To die.  He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day.  To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

It would seem that kicking and buckets and death have had a long association, as the spirit of the expression is found in William Shakespeare’s Play “Henry IV Part II” in Act IV, Scene 2.  The play was published in 1597.  Bear in mind that a gibbet meant to hang.

Here shall charge you, and discharge you with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer; come off, and on, swifter then the gibbets on the brewer’s bucket.

When you look at gibbets (to hang) and bucket in this context, it’s all about dying.  Whether it’s about an animal being slaughtered or a person committing suicide, the beam (or bucket, as the beam was called) is what ties them together.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the mid-1500s since it was used with such ease by William Shakespeare.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Grin Like A Cheshire Cat

Posted by Admin on August 7, 2013

When someone smiles or grins like a Cheshire cat, they’re smiling broadly … very broadly. Now, do cats actually smile? They do, but not the way humans do. According to animal experts and studies done, cats do a slow blink that’s the equivalent to a human smile.

You’re probably wondering why the expression is tied to a broad smile if cats do a slow blink. Some of you might even think that the expression originated with English author, Lewis Carroll who wrote about the Cheshire cat and its smile in his book, ” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that was published 1865.

Author William Makepeace Thackeray (July 18, 1811 – December 24, 1863) used the idiom in his book “The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family” that was published in 1855. The story is about Colonel Thomas Newcome, and his son Clive, and reflects the culture of its time. Some critics have said that it’s an accurate representation of Victorian life with liberal mention of culture, politics and expressions in languages other than English. In Chapter XXIV, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis:

For her own part, Rosey is pleased with everything in nature. Does she love music? Oh, yes. Bellini and Donizetti? Oh, yes. Dancing? They had no dancing at grandmamma’s, but she adores dancing, and Mr. Clive dances very well indeed. (A smile from Miss Ethel at this admission.) Does she like the country? Oh, she is so happy in the country! London? London is delightful, and so is the seaside. She does not really know which she likes best, London or the country, for mamma is not near her to decide, being engaged listening to Sir Brian, who is laying down the law to her, and smiling, smiling with all her might. In fact, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis in his droll, humorous way, “That woman grins like a Cheshire cat.” Who was the naturalist who first discovered that peculiarity of the cats in Cheshire?

In Volume III of the 5 volume collection entitled, “The Works of Peter Pindar, Esq To Which Are Prefixed Memoirs of the Author’s Life” readers will find an entry entitled, “Epistles to Lord Macartney and His Ship.” Peter Pindar was actually a pseudonym for English satirist John Wolcot (9 May 1738 – 14 January 1819), and this undertaking was published 1794. And right there in this entry, the following verse is found:

Yet, if successful, thou wilt be adored:
Lo, like a Cheshire Cat our Court will grin;
How glad to find as many Gems on board
As will not leave the room to stick a Pin!

In the 1811, 1788 and 1785  editions of “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, — considered in the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language — there’s an entry under “Cheshire Cat‘ and it reads:

He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shews his teeth and gums in laughing.

Now interestingly enough, I came across a letter that was written as a Reply to the entry “Grinning Like A Cheshire Cat” in the Cheshire Notes and Queries of August 18, 1882 in which the author, Alfred Burton, references the Slang Dictionary by John Camden Hotten, wrote:

In the Slang Dictionary (edition 1873, pp 115-116) there is a variation in the above saying which has not been given in “Notes and Queries.” To grin like a Cheshire cat — to display the teeth and gums when laughing.” Formerly the phrase was “To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.”

In researching this phrase, Idiomation came across a different reference book. This one was authored by Lieutenant-Colonel Egerton Leigh entitled, “A Glossary of Words Used In The Dialect of Cheshire” published in Long by Hamilton Adams and Co and in Chester by Minshull and Hughes in 1877.  In the dedication, Egerton Leigh stated that these were from “dialectal fragments of our old County” and he hoped they “now have a chance of not vanishing entirely, amid changes which are rapidly sweeping away the past.”  He attests to the fact that the saying, in its entirety is:  Grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.

Very telling, however, is the fact that in the You Asked Us column printed in the Montreal Gazette of June 4, 1977 stated, in replying to the question as to why the cat in Lewis Carroll’s book was from Cheshire, the explanation was this:

Carroll knew that his audience would recognize his playing with an expression common in England for at least a hundred years before Alice In Wonderland was published. To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese (chewing gravel or evacuating bones), meant to smile all over one’s face for no apparent reason.

According to the magazine Replies published on October 4, 1879, the idiom “He smiled like a Chasse cat was also used in the midland counties around the same time, and an article suggested that the idiom may actually have substituted either Chasse Cat or Cheshire Cat for the term House Cat.

An additional reference in other dictionaries that was uncovered was this one referring to English caricaturist and satirical poet, John Collier (18 December 1708–14 July 1786) who was known by the pseudonym of Tim Bobbin as well as Timothy Bobbin. His first significant illustrated piece appears in 1746.

To grin like a Cheshire cat is to display the teeth and gums whilst laughing (à la Tim Bobbin).

All that being said, the earliest that the Idiomation could come to determining how far back grin like a Cheshire cat goes, is at least to the early 1700s (and most likely much earlier) when all the evidence from various magazines and dictionaries are compiled.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blue Murder

Posted by Admin on June 17, 2013

Blue murder (which is not to be mistaken for any other kind of murder) is a loud or impassioned outcry, or a horrible din.  Young children are said to have perfected this cry as parents from generation to generation have oftentimes exclaimed that some child is crying blue murder when the child is carrying on.

On September 23, 1971 a news story from Canberra was reported in The Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia was published.  The story was aptly entitled, “Blue Murder, But It Has To Be Funny” and began with this lead-in

Comedians could get away with blue murder in what they said on broadcasts, as long as they were funny, Dudley Moor said yesterday. But the proceedings at the National Press Club lunch at which Dudley and his partner Peter Cook appeared were not funny enough to pass the ABC censor unscathed.

When James O’Donnell Bennett wrote a Special Report for the Morning Leader newspaper edition of September 23, 1927 readers were glued to every single detail about the championship fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey in Chicago.  It was a messy situation from start to finish, with the title of the piece being, “Dempsey’s Men caught Trying To Smear Vaseline.”  At one point, the following was reported:

His people, however, squawked blue murder and rightly so.  Their screaming of “rabbit punches, Dave” — addressed to Referee David Barry — began in the fourth round when Dempsey landed three rabbit punches on the base of Tunney’s skull.

In Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book “Anne’s House Of Dreams” which was published in 1917, the expression blue murder is used in Chapter 35 entitled, “Politics At Four Winds.”  The chapter opens up at the point where Canada is in the midst of a political campaign and the political views of the Grits and the Tories are presented.  In this chapter the following passage is found:

“He’d have done it, too, and Gus knew it, for Marshall is as strong as an ox and Gus is only a midget of a man. So he gave in and towed Marshall in to the shop and went to work. `Now,’ says he, `I’ll barber you up, but if you say one word to me about the Grits getting in while I’m doing it I’ll cut your throat with this razor,’ says he. You wouldn’t have thought mild little Gus could be so bloodthirsty, would you? Shows what party politics will do for a man. Marshall kept quiet and got his hair and beard disposed of and went home. When his old housekeeper heard him come upstairs she peeked out of her bedroom door to see whether ’twas him or the hired boy. And when she saw a strange man striding down the hall with a candle in his hand she screamed blue murder and fainted dead away. They had to send for the doctor before they could bring her to, and it was several days before she could look at Marshall without shaking all over.”

John S. Farmer alleges in his book of 1890 entitled, “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present” that:

Few words enter more largely into the composition of slang, and colloquialisms bordering on slang, than does the word BLUE.  Expressive alike of the utmost contempt, as of all that men hold dearest and love best, its manifold combinations, in ever varying shares of meaning, greet the philologist at every turn.

Needless to say, the expression and its definition can be found in the 1968 edition of J.C. Hotten’s “The Slang Dictionary Or The Vulgar Words, Street Phrases And Fast Expressions Of High And Low Society.”

In London, England a delightful folio of songs entitled, “The Melodist and Mirthful Olio: An Elegant Collection Of The Most Popular Songs” was published in 1829.  In this collection, there’s a song known as “The Cats: An Original Comic Song” written by Michael Hall, and in this song, the following couplet is found:

Till in the trap caught, by their tails both so taught,
Molrow and blue murder, they cried, sirs.

For those who aren’t in the know, molrowing is the “practice of socializing with a disreputable woman” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Oh my! What were those kittens getting themselves into?!

According to the “Classical Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue” compiled by Francis Grose and published in 1785, blue was defined thusly:

To look blue; to be confounded, terrified, or disappointed.  Blue as a razor; perhaps, blue as azure.

And somewhere between 1785 and 1829, the words blue and murder became blue murder … an expression in its own right.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Henpecked

Posted by Admin on March 19, 2012

We’ve all heard about henpecked husbands and boyfriends and we’ve heard more than a few jokes about the situation.  There’s the joke about men who have to ask their wives and girlfriends permission to ask for permission and there’s the joke about men who have to hold their pay envelopes up to the light to find out if they’ve gotten a raise.

Just yesterday, the London Daily Mail newspaper published a story about famous British explorer, Captain Robert Scott depicting him as a henpecked husband.  Entitled, “Adoring Wife’s Last Hen-Pecking Letter To Her ‘Splendid’ Scott of the Antarctic” it read in part:

He was the stiff-upper-lip explorer whose death during a failed Antarctic expedition came to symbolise British stoicism in the face of extreme adversity.  But even as he raced in vain to beat a rival to the South Pole, Captain Robert Scott had another role – as a hen-pecked husband.

The Milwaukee Journal ran a two sentence news bite from Los Angeles, California on July 11, 1957 that read as follows:

Municipal Judge Robert Clifton says that henpecked husbands top the list of problem drinkers who pass in an endless parade through Los Angeles courts.  Clifton’s court handles an average of 99,000 drunk cases annually.

Twenty years before that on June 7, 1937 there was an article in the local newspaper entitled “Henpecked Men’s Wives Threaten Sit Down Strike” that spoke about events going on in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  The first few sentences of the article were:

Members of the doughty clan, the Royal Order of the Doghouse, assembled in hasty consternation today as their new-found independence hung in the balance.  The henpecked hubbies face a wifely sit-down strike.

“They’ll get no meals when we strike!” threatened Mrs. Harry Powers, Milwaukee spokesman for a prospective women’s auxiliary.  “They’ll do their own cooking then.  Those men are getting too much protection from that club of theirs.  Too many nights out a week to suit us.  If they think they can ‘love, honor’ but not ‘obey’ us they’re due for a shock.”

Yes, this was a real news story and not a joke.  In fact, it was reported that the Royal Order of the Doghouse had been formed the previous November when henpecked husbands had banded together in “common misery and defiance of wifely authority.” 

When the Philadelphia Recorder published a news story out of Cape May, New Jersey on August 5, 1890 about the Secretary of State in which it was reported:

He cannot retire to a cave and promulgate his theories to rivals who have no personal ends to serve in carrying them out.  No, indeed; nor can he afford to give up the chief post in the Cabinet, in order that Reed and McKinley may secure it.  He wouldn’t be half so powerful as a political martyr as a henpecked Secretary of State.  To what purpose would he have endured so many petty humiliations.  He must go on, and he knows it.  Let us hear no more, therefore, about the impending crisis at Cape May Point.  He has only to wait, as he kept the President waiting while he breakfasted on Saturday morning.

Of course, the word was well-known and on June 20, 1849, the Charleston Mercury was happy to run an advertisement for George Oates with regards to new books available at his store located at 234 King Street in Charleston, South Carolina.  One of the new arrivals was a book entitled “Family Failings” by the author of “The Henpecked Husband.”

Along the 19th century, a “hen frigate” was a ship with the captain’s wife on board.  Unfortunately, more times than not, the wife would interfere with the duty or regulations and the crew took to referring to captains who couldn’t control their wives as henpecked husbands.  In fact, the term henpecked is found in the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose as well as the “1828 Webster’s American Dictionary” by Noah Webster.

It was also found in “Don Juan” by Lord Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824) in Canto I, Stanza 22 where he wrote:

But O ye lords of ladies intellectual
Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?

The Spectator was a daily magazine publication from 1711 to 1712,  founded by English politician and writer Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) and Irish politician and writer, Richard Steele (12 March 1672 – 1 September 1729).  In the September 12, 1712 edition No. 482, readers were treated to a story entitled “The Fraternity of The Henpecked.”  

The earliest use of this expression dates back to English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (14 February 1613 – 25 September 1680) who wrote this prose in 1671:

The henpect man rides behind his wife and lets her wear the spurs and govern the reins.  He is a kind of preposterous animal, that being curbed in goes with his tail forwards.  He is subordinate and ministerial to his wife, who commands in chief, and he dares do nothing without her order.

And that is an accurate description of a henpecked man in modern times.

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

Dutch Concert

Posted by Admin on September 2, 2011

A Dutch concert is either when everyone singing sings a different song at the same time or when there’s a great noise and uproar that sounds not unlike a group of people carrying on loudly with some singing, others quarrelling, and still others trying to organize the cacophony into something a little less chaotic.  It’s definitely not a compliment. 

How is it that a country that has produced such composers as Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621); Dutch composer and organ virtuoso Jacob van Eyck (1590 – 1657); Dutch baroque composer Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692 – 1766); Dutch composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862 – 1921); Dutch composer and teacher, Willem Pigper (1894 – 1947); and Dutch composer Lex van Delden (1919 – 1988) should also have such an expression tied to them by their English speaking friends?

On September 27, 1953 the St. Petersburg Times published a story entitled, “A Man Born For Pleasure Meets A Man Born For Work.”  About one-third of the way into the story, the following is found:

What work did Ernie Tarlton do to get here?  Riddle me that, pop … 

A couple of surly birds started a Dutch concert when I ducked through the gap in the hedge.  It looked like a mile and five-rights of slow track across the black, squishy lawn to the clump of blur first that bordered the main walk.  I seemed to take a half day, flat, to cover the distance.

The New York Times published an article on May 16, 1920 entitled, “A Manhattan Midsummer Night’s Scream.”  It dealt with the noise that could be heard coming from various flats and apartments in New York during the hot, summer months when windows are thrown open and how, when they all blended together, the sound was anything but pleasant.  The article offered this opinion on the anticipated months-long noise:

If music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, it also hath potencies to awaken it.  We predict an extra high tidal wave of crime over Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn this summer because of this threatened Dutch concert, and the Barrowbones and Cleaver Hallelujah Chorus.  The Beethovens of Babel and the Wagners of jazz are playing with deadly weapons — the infra-violet musical vibrations.

If a single sustained note can make a man commit a crime, what will be the result of our instinctive natures and our Freudian complexes when we have become chock-full (around the mutt days of mid-August) of the musical bellow, blare, yowl, grunt, bleat, ululation, woodnote, shimmy-twist, drone, gurgle, hiss, blatter, croak, squeak, pule, Ethiopian apetheosis, jingle wheese and tintinnabular teaseract?

In Louis Tracy’s book “The Captain Of The Kansas” published in 1907, the following is found in Chapter XIII:

The hammer-like blow of the bullet, the defiance of the dog, and the curiously accurate yelping of the men in the canoes, mixed in wild medley with the volleyed echoes of the firing now rolled back from the opposing cliffs. In such wise did the battle open. Courtenay, more amused than anxious, did not silence the terrier, and Joey’s barking speedily rose to a shrill and breathless hysteria. Some savage, more skilled than his fellows, reproduced this falsetto with marvelous exactness. There never was a death struggle heralded by such grotesque humor; it might have been a tragedy of marionettes, a Dutch concert on the verge of the pit.

On October 30, 1869 the Otago Witness published a news article that was comprised of a number of smaller stories.  One of them was this story:

A new method of attracting the attention of purchasers has been tried by an enterprising butcher in Auckland, who stationed a band at the windows of the room over his shop for the purpose of alluring the marketing people.  Queen Street was certainly well supplied with music on the occasion, no less than three bands being audible at the same time.  The kind of Dutch concert produced, however, could scarcely be called harmonious, although each band was very well in itself.

The definition for Dutch concert is also found in the Francis Grose (1731 – 1791) book “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.”

And on page 47 of the book “Voyages and Travels In The Years 1768 – 1788” written by Indian trader, John Long the following passage is found:

The Indians, in their war dances, sew hawk-bells and small pieces of tin on them to make a jingling noise, and at a dance where I was present, these, with the addition of a large horse-bell, which I gave the chief who led the dance, made a noise not much unlike a Dutch concert.

Considering that in the 1700s, new expressions took longer to become part of the language, and considering that John Long used the expression Dutch concert with such ease in his writing, one can date the expression Dutch concert to at least the early part of the 1700s.

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In A Jiffy

Posted by Admin on December 22, 2010

A jiffy is a length of time whose length no one seems to agree on. 

Yes, a “jiffy” is the length of time between successive microprocessor clock cycles if one is discussing the computer engineering “jiffy.”  Words has it that a 2-gigahertz microprocessor has a 0.5 nanosecond jiffy whereas a 3-gigahertz microprocessor has a 0.333 nanosecond “jiffy.” 

And just as correctly, a “jiffy” is the length of one alternating-current (AC) utility power cycle. In the United States and Canada, this “jiffy” is 1/60 second and in many other countries, this “jiffy” is 1/50 second.

For some, a “jiffy” is the length of time it takes for a beam of light to travel one foot in free space — about 1 nanosecond.  And for others, a “jiffy” refers to the length of time it takes a ray of light to travel 1 centimeter in free space.  There are even some for whom a “jiffy” is the length of time it takes a photon to travel from one side of a nucleon to the other.

Everyone, however, agrees on the fact that a “jiffy” is an indeterminate period of time.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune newspaper published a full page advertisement with an unusually large and detailed artistic image on August 23, 1970 entitled, “The Great Crochet Put-Ons: Make and Wear in a Jiffy – New 10-Styles-in-One Kit.” 

The ad started off with stating:  “What’s in gear for fall with the new mini, midi, or longuette?  Add-ons, that’s what.  Eye-catching crochet separates you can make yourself  — often in an afternoon!”  The kit contained patterns for 2 fringed vests, 2 skirts, 1 poncho and hat, 2 pull-overs, 2 regular vests, and 1 scarf and hat … all for $3.98!

Back on August 19, 1938 the Spokane Daily Chronicle ran an advertisement from the Porter Scarpelli Macaroni Company of Portland, Oregon that promised:

Warm Weather Menus Solved In A Jiffy!  

Yes, the Porter Scarpelli Macaroni Company promised:  “Soups, salads, meatless meals — all ready in a few moments!  Tasty! Cheaper! At your grocer’s — wrapped in cellophane!”

And on July 4, 1917 the Eugene Register Guard ran an advertisement for the Standard Oil Company’s New Perfection Oil Cook Stove.  The advertisement announced proudly: 

Cook with Pearl Oil.  A New Perfection Oil Cook Stove means kitchen comfort and convenience.  Ask your friend who has one.  Used in 1,000,000 homes.  Inexpensive, easy to operate.” 

And yes, they were easy to use as the larger print announced: 

Ready to cook in a Jiffy!  Just the touch of a match and your New Perfection Oil Cook Stove is ready for cooking.   No waiting for the fire to burn up.  Easier to operate than a coal or wood stove: No smoke or odor; no dust or dirt.  Bakes, broils, roasts, toasts — all year round.

In 1882, the old and most trusted friends of Elizabeth Prentiss decided that her memoirs should be written and so “The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss: Author of Stepping Heavenward” was published by Anson D. E. Randolph & Company.  From the diary entry of March 18, 1841 the following can be found:

Headache — Nannie sick; held her in my arms two or three hours; had a great fuss with her about taking her medicine, but at last out came my word must, and the little witch knew it meant all it said and down went the oil in a jiffy, while I stood by laughing at myself for my pretension of dignity.  The poor child couldn’t go to sleep till she had thanked me over and over for making her mind and for taking care of her, and wouldn’t let go my hand, so I had to sit up until very late — and then I was sick and sad and restless, for I couldn’t have my room to myself and the day didn’t seem finished without it.

The phrase appeared in Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1796 as “in a jiffy” as well as “in a jif.”

The earliest published use is in Rudolph Raspe’s book, “Baron Munchausen’s Travels” published in 1785 in which the following passage is found at the onset of Chapter 23:

In short, having given a general discharge of their artillery, and three cheers, I cracked my whip, away we went, helter skelter, and in six jiffies I found myself and all my retinue safe and in good spirits just at the rock of Gibraltar. Here I unhooked my squadron, and having taken an affectionate leave of the officers, I suffered them to proceed in their ordinary manner to the place of their destination. The whole garrison were highly delighted with the novelty of my vehicle; and at the pressing solicitations of the governor and officers I went ashore, and took a view of that barren old rock, about which more powder has been fired away than would purchase twice as much fertile ground in any part of the world!

The next time someone tells you they’ll be with you “in a jiffy” or that they’ll get to something “in a jiffy” it might be a good idea to clearly define how long their “jiffy” is.  It may not be the same “jiffy” as your “jiffy.”

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2010

In Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811, he defined the phrase “kettle of fish” as meaning:

When a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of  it.

Before this, however, the phrase was very much in use by various authors.  In Salmagundi, the  1807 satirical work by Washington Irving, his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding we find the following:

The doctor … has employed himself … in stewing up many a woful kettle of fish.

For those who enjoy trivia,  Salmagundi is best remembered for popularizing the sobriquet Gotham for New York City which has endured over the generations through to modern times.

Joseph Andrews — or The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams — was the first full-length novel by English author and magistrate Henry Fielding.  It was published in 1742 and told the story of a good-natured footman’s adventures on the road home from London with his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. In the novel, Fielding wrote:

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling also written by Fielding was published in 1749 and in that novel he wrote:

Fine doings at my house! A rare kettle of fish I have discovered at last.

The Random House and Webster dictionaries give the origin of the phrase “kettle of fish” to England in 1735 however there is no source given as to where this reference can be found.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Down In The Dumps

Posted by Admin on July 15, 2010

The noun dumps has been used for “a state of depression” since the early 1500s, and the phrase “down in the mouth has alluded to the downturned corners of the mouth as a sign of misery since the mid-1600s.  It’s not surprise, then, that “down in the dumps” should mean a state of melancholy that is sustained over a period of time.

One of the earliest published uses of the word “dumps” as it refers to depression is found in Henry More’s A Dialoge of Comforte Against Tribulation from 1529:

What heapes of heauynesse, hathe of late fallen amonge vs alreadye, with whiche some of our poore familye bee fallen into suche dumpes.

In 1824, William Henry Beecher wrote a letter to his sister, Catharine (who lived in Hartford, Connecticut at the time) that stated in part;

“I am completely down in the dumps … I do think my future prospects are rather dull.”

But most telling is that the phrase is found in The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue compiled by Francis Grose and published in 1785:

DUMPS. Down in the dumps; low-spirited, melancholy.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »