Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Glasgow Herald’

Shilly Shally

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2015

If someone is shilly shallying, they are acting irresolutely.   In other words, those who shilly shally can’t be pinned down one way or another to an action or a decision leaving others with no idea where that person stands.

The Glasgow Herald published a Letter To The Editor written by Alex C.M. MacNeill in March 4, 1977 where the author voiced his displeasure at the inaction of the political parties.  He took issue with the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties equally as the first (and only) sentence of his brief letter made clear.

The present attitude in Scotland to the shilly-shallying of the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties over devolution recalls to mind the saying attributed to one of the German conductors of the old Scottish Orchestra who was having trouble with a recalcitrant or incompetent brass-player:  “With your damn nonsense will I twice once put up.  But always?  Sometimes?  Never!”

In the October 16, 1942 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Joseph Shechtman wrote about shilly shally and willy nilly.  According to him, these phrases came about as a corruption of how the real words were pronounced.  For those who asked, “Shall? Shall I?” that became shilly shally.

The Boston Evening Transcript used the expression as part of the title on an article that was published on July 28, 1915 in its recounting what Sheriff Kinkead had done just hours earlier in front of what the newspaper referred to as “plenty of witnesses.”  Yes, Sheriff Kinkead and his men settled a strike by appealing to the strikers sense of patriotism for the United States of America as many who were striking were foreigners who had come to America to find a better for themselves and their families.  The article was entitled, “Busting Through Shilly-Shally.”

Interesting Side Note:  The writer of this article stated that Mrs. Wendell Phillips of Boston (MA) invented the phrase shilly shally.

In Chapter 20 of a serialized story published in The Age newspaper on June 29, 1901 the word was used in this passage.

“Mr. Vickers, have you heard of Pyrotid?” inquired Christ, confidentially.

“Sir,” said Mr. Vickers with dignity, “I am not a betting man.”

“It is not the name of a horse, but of a singular mineral,” said Chris.  “It is worth four pounds a ton, and there are two hundred thousand tons of it on Drellincourt Farm.  I found that out by the aid of a little shilly-shallying; but I admit that I got my cue regarding its existence from Mellor, for, Mr. Vickers, in the profession to which I belong it is absolutely necessary for one to understand men.”

The Deseret News published an extended article on March 5, 1889 about U.S. President Harrison’s message which, it was believed, would please his party and not disappoint the opposition.  The President delivered his message the day before, and within a day, even the British press was complimentary in its comments about his message.

The “Tribune” this morning says the strong and patriotic appeal will go to the hearts and convictions of the American people and will produce results hereafter.  The “Times” finds nothing impressive in the President’s remarks.  It thinks the tone and manner commonplace.  The “World” regards it as the deliverance of a sincere and extremely clear-minded man, and says there will be no shilly-shally foreign policy.

In Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Chapter X of the serialized story “On The Church Steps” by Sarah C. Hallowell (1833 – 1914) was published.  The author used the expression in such a way as to indicate that it was an expression that people from every social class knew and used.

Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited too.

“Tell you what,” said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs, “I’ve got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev’ that they hevn’t gone by the other road. Old gal said there was two?”

Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) used this expression in a letter dated October 1792 where he discussed George Washington’s comments about transforming the American government into a monarch (which he did not support, but which was strongly considered as an option by more than the handful the President dismissed there might be).  He wrote of a dispute between General Schuyler (20 November 1733 – 18 November 1804) on one side of the table (who favored hereditary descent), and Charles Cotesworth “C. C.” Pinckney (25 February 1746 – 16 August 1825) and Thomas Jefferson on the other (who opposed hereditary descent).

I told him, that though the people were sound, there was a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation; that the Secretary of the Treasury was one of those; that I had heard him say that this Constitution was a shilly-shally thing, of mere milk and water, which could not last, and was only good as a step to something better.  That when we reflected, that he had endeavored in the convention, to make an English constitution out of it, and when failing in that, we saw all his measures tending to bring it to the same thing, it was natural for us to be jealous; and particularly, when we saw that these measures had established corruption in the Legislature, where there was a squadron devoted to the nod of the Treasury, doing whatever he had directed, and ready to do what he should direct.

The expression found its way into the book, “The Eagle and the Robin: An Apologue” translated from the original Aesop fable by H.G.L. Mag, and printed and sold by H. Hills in Black-fryars near the Waterside in 1709.

You are suppos’d to undermine
The foe, in some immense design.
A pen can bite you with a line;
There’s forty ways to give a sign,
Well, all on fire away he stalk’d
Till come to where the Eagle walk’d.
Bob did not shilly-shally go,
Nor said one word of friend or foe;
But flirting at him made a blow,
As game-cocks with their Gauntlets do.

The earliest version of the expression Idiomation found is in the comedic play, “The Committee, Or The Faithful Irishman” by Sir Robert Howard, and published in 1665.  English playwright and politician Robert Howard (January 1626 – 3 September 1698) was the son of Thomas Howard, First Earl of Berkshire, and his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Second Earl of Exeter.

His play was published (along with three others) in his book, “Four New Plays” although there are indications that the play had been performed long before it was finally published in 1665.  In fact, Pepys wrote about taking in a performance of “The Committee” on June 12, 1663, and other diaries mention the play being performed before an audience in 1662.

MRS. DAY:
Well, Mrs. Arabella, I hope you have considered enough by this time.  You  need not use so much consideration for your own good; you  may have your estate, and you may have your Abel; and you may be worse offered.  Abel, tell her your mind; ne’er stand, shilly-shally. Ruth, does she incline, or is she wilfull?

MRS. RUTH:
I was just about the point when your honor interrupted us.  one word in your ladyship’s ear.

ABEL:
You see, forsooth, that I am somebody, though you make nobody of me.  You see I can prevail.  Therefore pray say what I shall trust to; for I must not stand shilly-shally.

MRS. ARABELLA:
You are hasty sir.

Unable to find an earlier published version for shilly-shally, and given that it was used in Sir Robert Howard’s play published in 1665 (and performed earlier), it is reasonable to assume that it was a commonly used expression in England in the 1600s.  Idiomation therefore sets the date for this expression to at least 1600.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Jesus Boots

Posted by Admin on May 28, 2015

You may have heard someone talk about Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, or Jesus slippers at some point in your life, and you may have thought you knew what kind of boots, shoes, sandals, or slippers they meant.  You may have been right.  Jesus boots (or shoes or sandals or slippers) are sandals that resemble the sandals depicted in paintings of Jesus of  Nazareth.

In the New Strait Times of June 28, 2004 — in the Life & Times section — Debra Chong wrote an article entitled, “Straits Sea-crets.”  The article dealt with her week-long experiences onboard a 48-meter floating laboratory along  with what she called a wacky pack of scientists as they journeyed through the Straits of Malacca on the Scientific Expedition to the Seas of Malaysia aka SESMA.  The beginning of the adventure began with frustration and delays, with the cast-off finally happening five hours later than scheduled, and well past high tide.  She wrote this about the situation.

There is disappointment all around, but everybody keeps the peace.  Should our complaints cross the captain, we might have to “pu on (our) Jesus boots and walk to shore,” as warned by Tan Sri Halim Mohammad (boss of the Halim Mazmin Group and kind provider of the “floating lab” he calls his ship) in his stern bon voyage message.

When Felicity Jackson reviewed the most recent book by Sylvia Sherry for the Glasgow Herald on June 22, 1985 her opinion was clearly stated.  The review began with this statement.

Even the title “A Pair Of Desert Wellies” by Sylvia Sherry (£6.95: Jonathan Cape) raised suspicions about how a writer must be tempted to capitalise on the success of an earlier novel, in this case the popular “A Pair Of Jesus Boots.”  The opening chapters tediously rework much of the plot of the first book but it picked up in pace and dialogues.

One of the more humorous comments was found in the Boca Raton News as written by Lillian M. Bradicich in her column, “From Cupcakes To Cocktails” and published on April 11, 1971.  Between Easter and the performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” which the writer had seen on stage, she was more than a little fuzzy warm about all things religious.  Her column included this descriptive tidbit.

Centuries of gold and marble build-up have been chopped away, and the young people accept Jesus for what He really is.  Their desire to identify with Him is manifest everywhere in the “Jesus hair styles”, “Jesus sandals“, “Jesus music”, and “Jesus love.”  

Eating in a pizza parlor these days is like sitting in the ‘upper room’ surrounded by Apostles .. and it had to be as edifying the night we overheard a bearded young man telling his girl that “Jesus didn’t keep quoting scriptures to people.  He went where He was really needed, and said what really needed to be said.”

On July 30, 1968 the Morning Record newspaper carried a story about Evangelist Billy Graham who was in Bern, Switzerland for the week-long Baptist Youth World Conference that was attended by more than 5,000 Baptist youth from 65 countries.  The article was about how, in Billy Graham’s opinion, the youth of the sixties were searching for the meaning of life, and that the solution they were seeking could be found in the Bible.  He was quoted saying:

“The youth of our time does not demonstrate against the church.  This shows they search for the teaching of Jesus.”

“Jesus had long hair.  So have our hippies.  And at least in the United States, they wear Jesus boots (sandals) and this seems to express their hidden longing for God.”

Thirty years earlier, the Free Lance-Star newspaper William T. Ellis’ column “Religion Day By Day” in their March 21, 1938 edition with a story about a child in Sunday school who said that her white sandals were Jesus shoes because they looked like the sandals Jesus wore in pictures she had seen.  The article talked about being shod with the Gospel of peace, being busy about the errands of Jesus, and going only where He led his followers. The title of the article in the column was simply, “Deborah’s Jesus Shoes.”

Although this is the earliest published version Idiomation was able to find that linked modern sandals to Jesus’s sandals, there was one other mention of Jesus boots much earlier in 1902 that referred to bare feet as Jesus boots.  Published in the Toronto Mail and Empire and published in many affiliated newspapers across Canada, “Doukhobors Face Death By Cold: Several Thousand Reach Yorkton Destitute” the events of October 28 were carried in the October 31, 1902 newspapers.

It was reported that sixteen hundred Doukhobors composed of men, women, and children (including infants in arms) had marched on Yorkton (Saskatchewan), camping on October 27 without shelter while the temperature dipped to a frigid eleven degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The story related how some wore rubber boots while others wore coarse sandals fashioned from binder twine while still others were barefooted.  The reference was found in this passage.

Siemon Tcherninkov, who talks little English, and whose bare feet bore witness to his insane zeal, explained tat they were “looking for new light, and looking for Jesus.”  When asked where his boots were, he held up his naked foot and cried, “Jesus boots!” while the light of insanity gleamed fitfully from his eyes.

Dominion immigration agent, C.W. Speers worked hard to get the sick, the women, and the children into immigration sheds and other buildings, and much of his work was made all the harder for him as the sick and the women went to these shelters against their will.  The unrest was so bad that special constables were being sworn in, and it was reported that the Riot Act would undoubtedly have to be read to the Doukhobors.  As a Plan B measure, the government was ready to call in one hundred and fifty Italian laborers who were working on railway construction in the vicinity if the Doukhobors became even more unruly, and violent.

Seven miles away, seven hundred more Doukhobors were camped near Pollock’s Bridge.  Another four hundred were on their way.

While it was acknowledged that the Doukhobors were primarily a peaceful group, there were concerns that they were suffering some sort of collective insanity.  What’s more, they had no troubles letting others know that they had killed and buried five priests of the Russian church, and when infants had died en route to Yorkton, they had thrown them into the bushes by the roadside.

All that being said, while the term Jesus boots was used in the 1902 article, it’s the article from 1938 that is used in the spirit in which Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, and Jesus slippers is commonly used.

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

Nail Your Colours To The Mast

Posted by Admin on October 25, 2013

Have you ever heard someone talk about how you nailed your colors to the mast? It’s a lovely expression that means that you have publicly stated your opinions on one or more subjects, even the controversial ones, and cannot be swayed to change them.

In the UK, when Education Minister, David Willetts proved to be intelligent as well as well-informed, the Independent newspaper of October 25, 2010 ran a story on a speech he had given … one that wasn’t written by a speech writer and handed to him to rehearse and deliver. The article was entitled, “Two Brains Nails His Colours To The Mast” and the story ended with this paragraph:

Willetts is making clear that he does not want to see more universities being set up but at the same time he is nailing his colours to the widening participation mast. The important thing is to make sure that people acquiring their higher education in further education colleges are receiving the high quality experience that they would get in a fully-fledged university.

The New Straits Times decided that a brief news bite on the subject should be included on page 11 of the newspaper edition of April 8, 1989. It segued into a quick comment about the upcoming annual Kodak Run For The Money contest. Entitled, “Nailing Our Colours To The Mast” the article began with this sentence:

In the days when sailing ships fought on the high seas, nailing your colours to the mast was a sign to all and sundry that you had no intention of giving up the fight.

On July 19, 1955 the Glasgow Herald published a story entitled, “Colours To The Mast” and reported on the talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was held to discuss the known issues of the day that divided Communism and the Western world, and allowed leaders of various countries to assess and evaluate the sincerity of leaders from other countries. The article began thusly:

The first day of the Geneva talks was devoted to a general nailing of colours to the mast. If the designs were familiar, it is hardly to be wondered at. Ten years have passed since Potsdam, Roosevelt and Stalin are dead, and Sir Winston Churchill has retired, but the peoples they led remain and it was their views, evolved through the experience of those 10 years, that the Western spokesmen at least were declaring yesterday.

In 1912, author Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867- 27 March 1931) published a book entitled, “The Matador Of The Five Towns And Other Stories.” In the comedic short story entitled, “Hot Potatoes” readers are introduced Mrs. Swann of Bleakridge in the Five Towns, and with a few deft strokes, readers know more about her 19-year-old son, Gilbert, than you might think. A musical prodigy of sorts, the story regales readers with an indulgent mother’s attempts to mollycoddle her adult son. As the story peaks, this sentence finds its way into the storytelling.

But not for a thousand pounds would Mrs Swann have exposed the mush of potato on the carpet under her feet. She could not conceive in what ignominy the dreadful affair would end, but she was the kind of woman that nails her colours to the mast.

It was an expression used in Australia and New Zealand and can be found in the news story of April 28, 1887 entitled, “Criticisms On The Speech” and published in the Political Intelligence column in the Otago Daily Times. Near the end of this column, the following is found:

The local press with one voice condemn the Governor’s Speech. The Times says it is poor and thin, and does not show much of the nailing of colours to the mast. The Post says it is more than ordinarily vapid and uninteresting, and cunningly planned so as to afford as few pegs as possible on which to hang hostile amendments.

In writing the book entitled “Life Of Pius IX” by author T. Adolphus Trollope (1810–1892) and published by Craig and Taylor in Detroit back in 1877, he chose to use the idiom twice in his book. The first occasion presented itself here:

It is in this respect that the next Conclave will most materially differ from the last. In many other respects the situation is very analogous. It is once again a question of ” nailing colours to the mast,” or ” transaction ; ” of war to knife, or more or less sincere conciliation ; of refusing to yield an inch, at the risk (denied to exist, however, by some of those who have to make the decision) of utter rout and overthrow, or of giving a little to preserve the rest. But the world has progressed since the death of Gregory the Sixteenth. Both parties to the great contest have thought much since that time.

And the second occasion presented itself here:

The “nailing of colours to the mast” is an operation which, if often of doubtful political expediency, has always appealed to emotions and sympathies, which have their root in the noblest portion of the complex nature of mankind, and has rarely, so far as ensuring the admiration and applause of the crowd goes, appealed in vain. But religious — or rather ecclesiastical — prejudices and hatreds, which have their root in some of the meanest and lowest passions of humanity, have prevented the contemporary world of Pius the Ninth and his little band of counsellors from awarding to them the meed of appreciation on this score, which has been fairly their due. No ship of war going down, with every man of her crew standing at their guns, rather than strike their colours to the enemy, has shown to the world a more indomitable preference of duty to expediency than has the absolute and consistent refusal of the Pontiff to bend to the storm which has raged around him.

Irish statesman, barrister, literary critic and author, John Wilson Croker (20 December 1780 – 10 August 1857) was the subject of a series of diaries entitled, “The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late John Wilson Croker.” He was the Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 through to 1830, and a Member of Parliamant for 25 years. In Volume 3, a letter from Sir Robert Peel to John Wilson Croker and dated January 28, 1844 began thusly:

My Dear Croker,

Many thanks for the extract from Ashburton’s letter. I read over two or three times that part of it which advises the nailing of colours to the mast. This is good advice from Ashburton. I never heard him make a speech in the course of which he did not nail, unnail, renail, and unnail again his colours.

The idiom was a favorite of Sir Robert Peel and can be found in his letters written to others. In a letter from Sir Robert Peel to Lord Kenyon who, at the time, was threatening to quit the King’s service, dated March 26, 1835, the following can be found:

It may be swamped or not, but independent it will no longer be, but will pass every measure, however infamous, which the House of Commons sends up. I anxiously trust you will nail your colours to the mast, and not quit our Sailor — and now repentant — King.

The poem “Marmion: A Tale Of Flodden Field” was written by Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832). He began work on this epic poem in 1806, and saw it published in January of 1808. Within this poem the follow stanza is found:

Even then dishonour’s peace he spurn’d,
Her sullied olive-branch return’d,
Stood for his country’s glory fast,
And nail’d her colours to the mast!

The fact of the matter is that flying flags was an established the naval military practice at the time, where displaying one’s signal flags or insignia(the ship’s colours) from the mast of a ship during battle showed loyalty.

Back in August 1807, the Hereford Journal reported on the naval engagement between British and American ships, where disgraced Navy Commodore James Barron failed to resist a British attack on his flagship, the Chesapeake. Barron was later court martialed, on the request of his junior officers, and a verdict was rendered that saw James Barron expelled from the Navy for five years. The news article, highly critical of Barron’s decision, stated in part:

You ought to have nailed your colours to the mast, and have fought whilst a timber remained on your ship.

The naval ships of the 1700s and 1800s used to fly their nautical battle colours (flags) so other ships could identify them. If the flag was struck, or lowered, it was a mark of submission. It quickly became a habit for the enemy to fire upon the ship’s mast, thereby disabling the colours in trying to force the other ship to submit. More often than not, though, captains would hoist what remained of the flag thanks to the ship’s rigging, allowing the ship’s flag to fly again. This was known as nailing the colours to the mast. This act rendered it almost impossible to surrender when engaged in battle.

You’re probably wondering how this practice came to be accepted by captains the world over.

It all began with British Admiral Adam Duncan (1 July 1731 – 4 August 1804) of the HMS Venerable and sailor Jack Crawford (22 March 1775 – 10 November 1831) at the Battle of Camperdown on October 11, 1797. The HMS Venerable was surrounded by three Dutch ships when the top of its main mast was shot off. Risking his life, Jack Crawford took the flag, climbed the broken mast while still under fire, and nailed the flag to the top of the broken mast. In the end, the Dutch were defeated as the Dutch flagship Vrijheid was surrendered to Admiral Adam Duncan.

Now was this the first instance of nailing one’s colours to the mast?

Hardly. History reports that on September 23, 1779 — at the Battle of Flamborough Head — British Naval Captain Richard Pearson of the HMS Serapis, nailed the British ensign to the ensign staff before going into battle against — and surrendered to — the Continental Navy ship Bonhomme Richard.

It was as the 1700s drew to an end, however, that the phrase came into its own as an idiom and not just as a nautical term. Idiomation tags this idiom to 1790 on the basis that it was used in Sir Walter Scott’s poem of 1808 (which he began writing in 1806) after at least two historical events that made loud statements about taking a stand against all costs.

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

Down At Heel

Posted by Admin on August 14, 2013

He’s down at heel. She’s down at heel. They’re down at heel. So what’s going on with those who are down at heel,or down at the heel? It means the opposite of well-heeled. In other words, those people are impoverished. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, those who are down at the heel are shabbily dressed because of poverty … shabby to the point of seedy.

The Glasgow Herald ran a story on February 25, 1960 about the salary increases for teachers in primary schools. It was suggested by some politicians that a marriage allowance such as the one provided to those in the Army should be considered. In fact, one politician was so distraught about the situation that the newspaper reported this:

Lieutenant-Colonel A. Forbes Hendry (West Aberdeen – Con.) said they should pay particular attention to the married teachers. It was not unusual to see young women teachers riding about in motor cars while the older, married teachers walked about looking very much down at heel — almost as down at heel as parish ministers.

The Deseret News edition of July 18, 1908 had an interesting tidbit on the American embassy in London as described by a businessman who had traveled extensively and visited various other American embassies in different parts of the world. He was quoted as saying:

Our embassy in London is one of the poorest business propositions I have ever come across. Besides the whole down-at-heel appearance of the place, it lacks certain necessities which even a second-rate business concern in a backwoods town would possess. There is not even a vault at the embassy to keeps state papers in; and the most valuable books and documents are placed promiscuously about the office where any one with a little ingenuity could abstract them if he wished. If there was a fire at the embassy, papers of the utmost importance would be lost simply for the want of the most ordinary business foresight.

In the novel “Little Dorrit” written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870),the idiom appears in Chapter 7.  The novel was originally published in monthly parts from December 1855 through to June 1857, and later as a complete novel. The story is a satirical look at government and society, and their respective shortcomings therein. The idiom appears in this passage in the book:

Tip tired of everything. With intervals of Marshalsea lounging, and Mrs Bangham succession, his small second mother, aided by her trusty friend, got him into a warehouse, into a market garden, into the hop trade, into the law again, into an auctioneers, into a brewery, into a stockbroker’s, into the law again, into a coach office, into a waggon office, into the law again, into a general dealer’s, into a distillery, into the law again, into a wool house, into a dry goods house, into the Billingsgate trade, into the foreign fruit trade, and into the docks. But whatever Tip went into, he came out of tired, announcing that he had cut it. Wherever he went, this foredoomed Tip appeared to take the prison walls with him, and to set them up in such trade or calling; and to prowl about within their narrow limits in the old slip-shod, purposeless, down-at-heel way; until the real immovable Marshalsea walls asserted their fascination over him, and brought him back.

Jumping back to 1732, the 10th edition of “A Gentleman Instructed In The Conduct Of A Virtuous And Happy Life” by English Jesuit theologian and writer, William Darrell (1651 – 28 February 1721) was published. Originally printed by E. Evets at the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s church-yard in 1704, the later edition includes this:

Sneak into a corner … down at heels and out at elbows.

Somewhere between William Shakespeare’s time and William Darrell’s time, however, the idiom changed slightly to become down at heels. Before that, it was said that those living in impoverished conditions were out at heels. The idiom is found in Shakespeare’s tragedy, “King Lear” published in 1608. Those of you studied this play in school remember that the title character goes mad after he is betrayed by two of his three daughters and his ill-conceived decision to disown his third daughter. Kent, is a nobleman who disguises himself as a peasant, and gets himself into a fair bit of trouble thanks to his outspoken ways. In Act II Scene ii, Shakespeare wrote this exchange between Kent and Gloucester:

KENT
Pray, do not, sir: I have watched and travell’d hard;
Some time I shall sleep out, the rest I’ll whistle.
A good man’s fortune may grow out at heels:
Give you good morrow!

GLOUCESTER
The duke’s to blame in this; ’twill be ill taken.

Just a few years before that play, Shakespeare’s 1602 comedy “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” hit the stage (although it’s believed it was written in 1597). The play was a snapshot of English life in a provincial town and seems to be based on the 1558 Italian play Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino.  In Act I, Scene iii, the following dialogue takes place:

NYM
The good humour is to steal at a minute’s rest.

PISTOL
‘Convey,’ the wise it call. ‘Steal!’ foh! a fico
for the phrase!

FALSTAFF
Well, sirs, I am almost out at heels.

PISTOL
Why, then, let kibes ensue.

FALSTAFF
There is no remedy; I must cony-catch; I must shift.

PISTOL
Young ravens must have food.

The expression goes back further than that even. When Elizabethan poet and dramatist, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632) wrote a play entitled, “North-Ward Hoe” in 1607.

DOLL: They fay Whores and bawdes go by clocks, but what Manafles is this to buy twelue houres fo deerely, and then bee begd out of ’em fo easily I heele be out at heeles shortly sure for he’s out about the clockes already : O foolifh young man how doest though fpend thy time?

But even in 1553, the expression was used in the book “The Art Of Rhetorique” authored by Sir Thomas Wilson (1520 – 1581). While Thomas Wilson was no stranger to the privilege of class, he had an interesting position from which to view the politics of class. At the time of the book’s publication, he was in the employ of Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk (widow of Charles Brandon who had been a close friend of Henry VII) as a tutor to her sons. It’s in this book that the idiom appears as out at heeles as shown in this passage:

Wherein me thinkes thei do like some rich snuges [misers] that havyng greate wealth, go with their hose [stockings] out at heeles, their showes [shoes] out at toes, and their coates out at both elbowes. For who can tell, if soche men are worth a grote [groat] when their apparell is so homelie, and al their behaviour so base? I can call them by non other name but slovens, that maie have good geare [clothes], and neither can nor yet will, ones [ever] weare it clenly. What is a good thing to a man, if he neither knowe the use of it, nor yet, though he knowe it, is hable [able] to use it?

For it to be used in this context in 1553, it is reasonable to believe that the term was an accepted figure of speech as early as 1500. Additionally, the word heel meaning the back of the foot became part of the English language some time during the 1400s and as such, once can assume that some time between 1400 and 1500, the idiom began to form.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sign Of The Times

Posted by Admin on May 1, 2013

When you hear people refer to a sign of the times, for the most part, what they’re referring to is something that is thought of as symptomatic of present attitudes.  Knowing this to be true, it’s a fact that a sign of the times is just as likely to be positive as it is to be negative.

Just a few years ago, on November 27, 2005 the Ottawa Citizen reported that the original “Hollywoodsign that sat high above Los Angeles had been listed on eBay with a reserve price of $300,000 US, it seemed almost unbelievable. The sign had originally read “Hollywoodland” back in 1923 when it was built, and until it was replaced in 1978, it watched as the U.S. film capital came of age. The story was aptly entitled:

Sign Of The Times: Hollywood History Up For Auction On eBay

Back on October 4, 1943 the Glasgow Herald the topic of one story was the post-war air transport limits that were being discussed. The concept of “free air” was felt to be sufficiently broad to meet all reasonable requirements of all the Allies for years to come, and came with President Roosevelt’s promise of planned development of world air routes. The news story, entitled “Freedom Of The Air” read in part:

There need be no time wasted now on speculation about American intention. The statement which Mr. Roosevelt made on Friday was not by any means the last word from the United States, yet it is a sign of the times. Experience has begun to put restrictions on American enterprise, and post-war projects are being trimmed to fit the framework of a new world order. And it is not at all ironical that the new trend in America thought has been quickened by Mr. Wendell Willkie, no less than the President.

The New York Times reported on the political climate in Washington State in a story entitled, “Washington Wants Cleveland And The Principle He Stands For” in the April 9, 1892 edition. The story began with this eye-opening bit of factual information blended with opinion:

The State of Washington went Republican in the last Congressional election and in the State election preceding, but there are many indications that the Democrats may win next November. One sign of the times is that the Democrats have carried every municipal election held during the past six months.

Stepping back a few more decades, the National Era newspaper carried a Letter to the Editor that was dated February 10, 1853. Although there was no name included, the Letter to the Editor was two newspaper columns long and was exhaustive in its presentation of the history and that history’s impact on the world at large. It lead off with this statement:

The failure of Count Orloff’s insidious mission is the best sign of the times. Opthalmia could not avoid seeing through the dust he tried to throw, and the unanimous rejection of his overtures must produce a very grave effect upon the statesmen of St. Petersburgh, and middle classes of the empire.

The expression has been used repeatedly over the centuries, and in tracing back its origins, the first published version Idiomation found was in the Bible in Matthew 16:3 where the following is found:

And in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

The expression sign of the times doesn’t seem to be going the way of the dinosaur any time soon, and that may just be another sign of the times.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Drop A Brick

Posted by Admin 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 »

Whitehall Mandarin

Posted by Admin on March 18, 2011

It was only just recently that the expression Whitehall mandarin was brought to the attention of Idiomation.  Unfamiliar with the Whitehall reference but familiar with what mandarins are, Idiomation decided to research this expression.

On January 12, 2011, the Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article written by Hugh Muir that stated:

In came Lord Adonis, carrying with him, many thought, the airs of the minister he once was. He wants the institute to do policy, while Lord Sainsbury wanted it to focus on improving Whitehall‘s competence. Now, to the bemusement of staff, Lord A has gone off on a round-England jaunt to promote the government’s plan to impose elected mayors on the big cities. And he was missed last week, when the institute had the chance to slam the government over select committee criticism of the Eric Pickles chaotic bonfire of the quangos. All they could muster up in the boss’s absence was former mandarin Ian Magee, whose performance on the Today programme did little to rouse the troops. Much muttering among the lower ranks.

It was because of Hugh Muir that Idiomation began to wonder what it meant when someone in government in the UK was referred to as a mandarin.  The Glasgow Herald ran an article by Allan Laing on April 8, 1981 entitled “Great Escape Veteran Still Fighting Prison Camp Pay Battle” in which he wrote:

A committee of ex-Servicemen has been formed under the chairmanship of the Earl of Kimberley in the hopes that the Whitehall mandarins can find the resources to honour what many consider to be the last — and one of the most important — of Britain’s wartime debts.  The campaign has already prompted the Government to carry out an investigation into the PoW claims. Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, Under-Secretary of State for Defence, has given a pledge that he will announce the results of the inquiry “at a later date.”

Scotland’s evening newspaper, the Evening Times, reported on the amendments to the Finance Bill on July 2, 1968 in an article entitled, “Why Not Largs?” It read in part:

Hotels in Millport are exempted from the levy of 37s 6d per man, 18s 9d per woman; but hotels in Largs still have to pay.  Troon is exempt, but not Ardrossan. And so it goes on … Clearly M.P.s will have to start all over again and try to knock sense into the Whitehall mandarins who thought up this ill-considered scheme. The idea may have been sound in intention, but it has been badly bungled all the way in execution.  Scotland depends heavily on tourism for revenue. 

Austin Coates published a light-hearted account of his time as a magistrate dealing with two legal systems and cultures in Hong Kong during the 1950s.  The book was entitled, “Myself A Mandarin.”

It is said that the concept of the welfare state was started in London in 1940 by a group of bureaucrats under the leadership of Sir William Beveridge.  This group was comprised of Whitehall mandarins for the most part and although they did not originate the idea of the welfare state, they built upon the idea as set forth by Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898). 

However, the Whitehall mandarins existed prior to 1940 as shown by an article in the January 2, 1929 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald in an article entitled, “Soccer Teams Requested To Hold Standing: Unusual Request By Foreign Office Causes Amusement And Scorn.”  The article reported that:

The Daily Express severely criticizes the foreign office, saying “the views of the Whitehall mandarins seems to be that unless our footballers are fairly certain of winning, British prestige would receive an irreparable blow, the peace of Europe would be endangered and Sir Austen Chamberlain would have to do whatever Stressemann told him.  It does not matter in the least whether we beat the Germans at soccer or are beaten by them, but it does matter a great deal that we should be free and willing to meet them in the friendly strifes and rivalries of peace.”

By the time 1925 arrived, British barrister, Baron Claud Schuster, had spent a decade as Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor’s Office and was described as a Whitehall Mandarin.  Schuster’s contacts and service led to greater influence over policy decisions than a Permanent Secretary normally would have had.

The term mandarin is associated with the concept of the scholar-official who is not only educated in the literary arts and Confucian learning but who also performs civil service duties. In China, mandarins were selected between the years 605 through to 1905 on merit by way of an extremely rigorous imperial examination.  In the western world, the word mandarin refers to any civil servant — although it’s most often a senior civil servant — and usually the reference is in a satirical context.

Whitehall is a road that is recognized as the centre of Her Majesty’s Government in Britain; the road is lined with government buildings housing various government departments and ministries.  Because of this, Whitehall has been used as an overall term to refer to any governmental administration in the U.K.

With regards to the civil service, open competitive examination was introduced in Great Britain in 1854.  At that time, the phrase “civil service” was applied to the most officials serving the state in a professional capacity.  It is most likely that the expression Whitehall mandarin followed shortly after competitive examinations were introduced.

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

Dead Duck

Posted by Admin on January 20, 2011

The phrase “dead duck” is a funny sounding phrase.  It brings to light an interesting visual and questions about how a dead duck became synonymous with the concept of being ineffectual.

The Irish Canadian newspaper of May 20, 1886 reported on Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Gladstone of the Liberal Party by stating that

Protests are even now coming home to him, charging him with having almost accomplished the ruin of the Liberal party, and declaring that his usefulness as a leader is gone.  His vanity has destroyed all chances to the succession and his treachery of his chief has made it painfully manifest that he can no longer be trusted.  Come what may, one this is certain: Mr. Chamberlain is a dead duck politically.  Not so, however, with Mr. Gladstone.  He is cheered by many voices all over the land, urging him, in the event of an adverse vote upon his bill, not to resign, but to appeal to the people.  It is thought that this course will be adopted, provided her Majesty consents to a dissolution.

The term “dead duck” referring to politicians wasn’t something new in 1886.  History shows that in 1866, Andrew Johnson referred to John W. Forney, publisher of Philadelphia and Washington newspapers, as a dead duck.  In fact, when the New York Times reported on it on February 28, 1866, it came with the headline “Degree Conferred” and read in part:

On Thursday last, President, ANDREW JOHNSON, of the Union College, Washington City, conferred the honorary title of “dead duck” upon JOHN W. FORNEY, Esq. This exaltation creates some surprise, since it is not known that the recipient was ever in holy orders, and some go so far as to say that the President is making game of him.

Back on May, 15, 1829 the Glasgow Herald reported a very strange thing indeed.  It stated that the following had been published in the Dublin Morning Register:

In opposition to the dictum of Judge Littledale, that a dead duck was not a duck, Mr. Serjeant Adams has decided that a dead rabbit is a rabbit.  The vitality of a duck is one vitality, and the vitality of a rabbit is another vitality.

The phrase “dead duck” is an Americanism from the 1830s, originally it was political slang referring to a person who has lost influence or power and was therefore useless.  In fact, it was used in conversation without hesitation by the 1840s. 

There are even Letters to the Editor such as the one dated August 29, 1839 and published in the Hartford (CT) Courant newspaper.  The editor prefaced its publication by stating, “The following communication was received two or three weeks since.  The subject of it was considered rather small game for the writer, and it was laid on the table.  Other considerations now induce us to give it a place.” 

The author of the Letter to the Editor describes the accusations made by another party with regards to the next General Election in this way:

Respecting this accusation, he let off his popgun at the dead duck.

So somewhere between 1829 a dead duck that was not a duck came to mean — within a decade — an ineffectual person.  How that happened is something Idiomation could not track down.

What Idiomation did learn is that the word dead comes from the Old English word dead which hails from the Germanic word *dauthaz” from the 13th century.  Somewhere between “dead drunk” of 1599 and “dead on” of 1889, the phrase “dead duck” came into existence and has been around ever since.

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

Pour Salt In An Open Wound

Posted by Admin on December 9, 2010

Whether it’s “pour salt in an open wound” or “rub salt in an open wound” or simply “salt in wound” the meaning is the same.  Whatever has been said or done, hurts as much as having salt applied to a wound in the hopes that it will make everything better eventually.

In May 1965, “A Hurt Mother” wrote to Dear Abby wherein she complained:

I have never been a butting-in mother-in-law, but my sons’ wives never cared much for me.  I’ve never gone to their homes without an invitation, and those invitations were very rare.  But the wives’ families were always in and out.  I wasn’t missed.  My sons slowly turned away from me.  On Mother’s Day I always get expensive gifts with beautiful cards with verses saying what a wonderful mother I am and how much they love me! It is like rubbing salt in the wound.  One son hasn’t been in my home for three years.

Back on September 12, 1957, the Milwaukee Journal carried a somewhat amusing story about President Eisenhower.  It seems that he had taken some time away from his formal duties as President for a round of gold in Newport, Rhode Island.  The news bite entitled “Ike’s Gold Slips, Then He Gets Salt In Wound” relayed that:

President Eisenhower has been playing something less than satisfying golf since he started his vacation at this seaside resort.  He has been shooting two and three strokes over par on an embarrassing number of holes at the Newport Country Club.  And as though his own efforts were not enough, the chief executive underwent a shaking experience the other day.  A man playing in front of him shot a hole in one.  The lucky golfer was Gus Pagel, an electrical designer who plays at the country club on week ends.  Pagel, of course, was delighted to the point of jabbering to every person within range of his voice.   The president made the clubhouse turn and encountered Pagel, who told him in painstaking detail about his wonderful shot.  “I’ve only seen two of those,” the president said seriously.  “Well, sir, I’ve only seen one,” Pagel replied.

In 1949, The Spartanburg Herald carried a column by Robert Ruark.  On March 4 he wrote a piece entitled “Robert Ruark Says Navy and Air Force Carrying On Cold War.”  It was a lengthy piece and near the end of the piece, he wrote:

A lot of Navy feels today that if Mr. Symington fulfills an undeclared but fairly obvious aim to control everything that flies then the big Navy is a defunct duck.  Along these lines the Air Force’s successful public relations coups, such as stealing the Navy’s present show with a dashing feat like the round-the-world nonstop trip, is sheer salt in wound, and regarded as remarkably dirty pool.  The assumption is that a tour de force like the big round-tripper is coldly designed to impress Congress and the public with the fact that you no longer need a special air branch in your sea forces, and that ground-based airpower can win all alone.

The Glasgow Herald published a review of the movie “Sweet Devil” on June 21, 1938 that read in part:

British comedy films in many foreign countries have the reputation (however unjustly) of being close to the custard pie stage.  It would have been much better in this film if the custard pie throwing had been omitted — it was too much like rubbing salt in the wound.  Bobby Howes and Jean Gillie can hardly be expected to rise above such adolescent humour.  Such characters as t hey are supposed to portray never existed, except in Mack Sennett’s earliest efforts.

In the end, though, the phrase “salt in the wound” comes from the days when salt was rubbed into wounds as an antiseptic.   During the earlier centuries, when England was establishing its navy, most sailors were forced into service.  While at sea, punishment was often lashes with a cat’o’nine tails. These whippings would almost always break the skin, and salt was rubbed into the wound to prevent infection.  In this way, “salt in wound” was a very literal, stinging phrase.

And then there are those who will tell you that the early beginnings of the phrase come from the Bible.  Jesus did not tell his disciples, “You are the sugar of the world.” He is credited as saying to them, “You are the salt of the earth.”  Even back then in ancient times, doctors would sprinkle wounds with salt in the hope of fighting off infection. 

Since salt was an antiseptic that performed the negative function of preventing meat from spoiling and the positive function of disinfecting wounds.  The sting of having one’s negative behaviours brought to the forefront by the teachings of the disciples was akin to “salt in wound.”

Posted in Bible, Christian, Maritime | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »