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Posts Tagged ‘George Farquhar’

To A T

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

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Fool’s Errand

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 15, 2014

The old Sherlock Holmes series starring Ronald Howard (7 April 1918 – 19 December 1996) as Sherlock Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford (17 January 1914 – 24 November 1969) as Dr. Watson, oftentimes saw Holmes sending Watson on a fool’s errand to keep him out of harm’s way. The idiom was very popular years ago, but has since fallen out of favor.

African-American writer, teacher, director, actress and playwright, Eulalie Spence (June 11, 1894 – March 7, 1981) wrote and published a one-act play in 1927 entitled, “Fool’s Errand.” The play was entered in the Fifth Annual International Little Theatre Tournament, and the esteemed Samuel French, became its publisher.

In an article published by the Overland Monthly in November 1891 and entitled, “A Fool’s Errand” the subject of the resolution passed at the Immigration Convention by a vote of 112 ayes to 21 noes was taken to task. The proposition was to ask Eastern railroad companies to extend their rail lines by a thousand miles, all the way out to California. It was thought by the author that there would be no help from said companies on the basis that a decade earlier “a wild delusion prevailed that this Coast was a cradle of traffic, and that all a new road needed to earn dividends was to secure a terminus on its golden shore.”

The gentlemen who are charged with the duty of inviting Eastern railroad companies to extend their lines into this State are not to be envied. They will depart on a Fool’s Errand.

American author, lawyer and judge, Albion Winegar Tourgée (2 May 1838 – 21 May 1905) wrote and published “A Fool’s Errand: By One Of The Fools” in 1879.  As a member of the 27th New York Infantry during the Civil War, his novel was based on his experiences in North Carolina after the war during the Reconstruction period, as well as his experiences as a carpetbagger.

When the book was republished in 1962, the North Carolina Historical Review wrote stated that it was a “significant and unusually original portrayal, criticism, and analysis of postwar southern society” and that the story offered “excitement, idealism, and romance.” Of note is the fact that this novel was originally published just two months after he had published another book entitled, “Figs and Thistles” and according to The Literary Digest of June 1905, publishing two novels in quick succession as he had done, made Albion Tourgée a “genuine sensation throughout the country.”

In John Jamieson’s four-volume tome, “Dr. Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary And Supplement In Four Volumes” published in 1841, the idiom was found under the entry Gowk’s Errand where the author wrote that Gowk’s errand was the same as to hunt the gowk, which meant to go on a fool’s errand. John Jamieson then added:

Both expressions signify, that one is intentionally sent from place to place on what is known to be a wild-goose chase. The first, although equivalent to a fool’s errand, does not seem immediately to originate from gowk, as denoting a foolish person, but from the bird which bears this name.

Finding it John Jamieson’s dictionary in 1841 indicates that people of the period had an understanding of the idiom, its meaning, and its usage. And indeed it was as it appeared in an earlier work by John Jamieson published in his two-volume tome published in 1808, entitled, “An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Illustrating The Words In Their Different Significations, By Examples From Ancient And Modern Writers.”

Jumping back to 1736, a fool’s errand appears in the “Dramatick Works of George Farquhar In Two Volumes” in Act III, Scene iv of the play, “The Constant Couple, or, A Trip To The Jubilee.” The idiom is used twice in this play, with this being the best example of how it’s used.

CLIN:
Speak, you Rogue. What are you?

ERRA:
A poor Porter, Sir, and going of an Errand.

DICK:
What Errand? Speak you Rogue.

ERRA:
A Fool’s Errand, I’m afraid.

CLIN:
Who sent you?

ERRA:
A Beau, Sir.

And traveling back to 1616, the idiom is found in the book “The Fall Of Man, or the Corruption of Nature Proved By The Light Of Our Natural Reason” by the Anglican Bishop of Gloucester, Godfrey Goodman (28 February 1582 – 19 January 1656). At the time, naive simpletons were referred to as fools and as such, sending one on a fool’s errand was sure to yield no results at all … or none that would prove useful. Oftentimes, it was said that a fool had been sent on a sleeveless errand.

Indeed, in a book by John Heywood (1497 – 1580) published in 1563, entitled, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood” the definition of a sleeveless errand is explained thusly:

… a sleeveless (= objectless, wanting cover or excuse, fruitless, fool’s) errand

The word fool in the 1500s was from the verb foolify which meant “to make a fool of” and based on the fact that the word foolify is from this era, it stands to reason that a fool’s errand would also be from that same time period, especially in light of the fact that it was used to define “sleeveless errand” in John Heywood’s dictionary published in 1563. Idiomation therefore feels it is reasonable to peg the first use of the expression fool’s errand to the turn of the century in 1500.

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