Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’

Bling

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 8, 2013

Bling aka Roxanne “Roxy” Washington is a fictional character in the X-Men comic books published by Marvel Comics and first appeared in August 2005. Her superpower is having bone marrow that produces diamond shards which means she has exceptional durability. But where did the word bling come from in the first place, and who coined it?

According to an article in the Seattle Times on December 27, 2005 the term bloom was off the flower where the expression bling was concerned.  Journalist Robin Givhan of the Washington Post wrote:

The word “bling” has been overused by every two-bit jeweler selling cubic zirconium. It has been worn out by virtually all fashion publicists — who for the past five months have been chirping, “Bling The New Year!” — and by every morning TV host trying to make the umpteenth holiday shopping segment sound fun and nifty.

She went on to write:

It used to be that “bling” was reserved for jewelry, decorative wheel rims or gold teeth — all of it excessively flashing and extraordinarily expensive. It was a terrific term because it had the quality of a sound effect.

In January of 2005, the Guardian newspaper took on the subject of noticeable jewelry being worn more and more often by celebrities in an article entitled, “How Bling-Bling Took Over The Ring.” The teaser with the article enticed people to read more about the bling being worn by boxing’s most noticeable personalities.

From Don King’s diamonds to Mike Tyson’s ostentatious gems, only boxing rivals in the bling stakes. Thomas Hauser and Marily Cole Lownes trace the rise of the carat crunchers — including one whose smile is worth a small fortune.

A year before that in January of 2004, the Lake Superior State University of Michigan committee had already deemed the expression bling as one of the most useless and overused words, winning the expression a place on the “List of Words Banished From The Queen’s English For Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness” — a list that has existed since 1976.

On January 22, 2000 the Gettysburg Times published a news story by Associated Press Sports Writer, Ken Peters about the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA fans who loved them. The story was entitled, “Lakers’ Victory Parade Travels Through Scene Of Violence.” Along with the festive tone of the piece, the following sentence was included:

Bling Bling” was O’Neal’s explanation for the sound made when light bounces off a diamond NBA championship ring.

It’s a fact that the term bling was added to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006 and the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 after rising in popularity in the English language thanks to hip hop culture.

Jamaican DJ Super Cat had a hit in 1993 with the song “Dolly My Baby” which was recorded for his 1992 album, Don Dada. It reached #64 on the R&B charts and #21 on the rap and dance charts. The expression appears midway through the song as follows:

[Third Eye]
Bling, bling! Who’s that with Supercat
(Third Eye!, Third Eye!)
Yes black, where all my troopers at
(Uptown!, Uptown!)
They got my back but I’m still strapped
Got the real phat, phat track for my ill rap
Black, ain’t no shame in my game, just because it’s real
You think I won’t scoop your girl, oh yes I will.

This makes Lil’ Wayne’s claim on the Outkast song, “Hollywood Divorce” specious at best when he raps:

Bling bling, I know and did you know I’m the creator of the term?

But in the end, credit has to go to the makers of Ultrabrite toothpaste who created a commercial campaign back in the 1970s that ran with the tag line: “Ultrabrite gives your mouth … [bling] … sex appeal!” Before the words “sex appeal”, a high-pitched bell would sound over the visual of a young man or woman smiling. It wasn’t long before comedians seized on what they felt was the silliness of the campaign, spoofing it in their routines by vocalizing the sound effect.

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Beat The Odds

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 27, 2011

How many times have you heard someone talk about beating the odds? What they really mean is that they have succeeded in securing the most desirable outcome despite the very little chance that such an outcome could be achieved.  The expression is all about overcoming improbability and although skill may be part of the equation, most often luck is the determining factor.

Oftentimes, gamblers talk about beating the odds.  What they mean is that they hope to manipulate any given situation to the gambler’s advantage in order to achieve success.  Hedging bets, card counting, and more do little more than readjust the probability factors involved in the situation.  In the end, it’s still luck that’s the determining factor.

On May 17, 2011 the Guardian newspaper in England published a story about the Europa League Final.  Few fans held out much hope for Braga with the odds against them as they hoped to win the trophy.  The general opinion was that the team didn’t stand a chance against Porto.  As luck would have it, Braga won and the newspaper headline and sub-headline trumpeted loudly:

How Braga Beat The Odds: Now For History And The Bragging Rights
Few give Braga a chance as they seek their first major European trophy against their illustrious near neighbours Porto

Idiomation came across an initiative of the Center For The Future Of Arizona entitled, “Beat The Odds Institute.”  Started in 2005 as a research study, it was established as an initiative in 2007 that disseminated information, offered training and provided support to schools and school districts in implementing the Beat The Odds principles.

The Lewiston Daily Sun published a news article on June 12, 1978 about Ken Cullers.  The story out of Berkeley, California reported on a man who battled against “prejudice, physical barrier, too much attention and 10,000-to-1 odds against a person blind from birth becoming a physicist” in their story entitled, “Blind Physicist Has Beaten The Odds.”

A combination of brains and computer technology helped Cullers beat the odds.  He’s graduating this month from the University of California at Berkeley with a doctorate in physics.

On September 13, 1957 the Sarasota Journal ran a story about William Patrick Beston, a Morristown, New Jersey resident dad who really had an interesting situation on his hand.  The story was entitled, “Naming 12 Daughters Problem, Dad Says.”

You think you’ve beaten the odds? Shot a hole in one? Drawn a perfect bridge hand or run the four-minute mile?  Then consider the William Patrick Bestons.  Today Beston will go to Memorial Hospital to bring home his wife and their 12th child — and 12th daughter — born Thursday.  Oddsmakers don’t make books on such a rarity, and doctors said only that the chances of having an even dozen children of the same sex are “slimmer than slim.”

On February 7, 1924 the Milwaukee Sentinel ran an advertisement by The Sentinel: Wisconsin’s Leading Financial Medium.  The headline read, “No Mystery About The Road To Independence.”  The copy read in part:

The road to independence is as plain as the National Highway with all its paving and sign posts.  The main thing is starting on the right road and then going ahead.  Many of the world’s greatest fortunes have been founded on the steady and consistent accumulation of capital at a reasonable rate of interest.  Still larger fortunes have been lost in the attempt to beat the odds that exist in speculation.  The clear path of thrift and wise investment is open to all who would follow it to success.

On November 12, 1900 the Daily Mail and Empire newspaper in Toronto, Ontario published a story entitled, “Magic Light Won At Long Odds.”  As with so many news stories about beating the odds, this story also had to do with betting on the outcome of a sports event, this one being horse races in New York at the Aqueduct Track on November 10.  The story began:

The last Saturday’s racing in the metropolitan district was well attended.  The track had dried out, and while not fast was safe and good, and one of the best cards of the season was run off.  The weather was clear and bright.  The sport began with a big upset, Magic Light winning at 50 to 1, while 100 to 1 was quoted in places.  He beat the odds on favourite, Prestidigitator, a neck, Shaw riding a weak finish.

Now we know from the Idiomation entry from Monday of this week, that the 14th century trading game “Hand In Cap” was responsible for the term “odds” in the context of equalization between participants. 

During the 1680s, the game of golf allowed for some players to be granted additional strokes in what was called “assigning the odds.” This was done by the precursor of the modern Handicap Committee Chairman, who was referred to as the “adjustor of the odds.” In this way, the playing field between all golfers was level.

As with any situation where there are adjustments of the odds, betting soon followed.  The tradition of carefully entering bets on which golfers would win their match based on the odds and the adjustment of the odds soon followed. 

Allan Robertson (1815 – 1859), was known as the first great professional golfer.  He earned a significant portion of his income through wagering on his own golf games. The concept of giving strokes allowed Robertson to set up matches with golfers who weren’t at his level which, of course, allowed him the best chances of beating the odds and winning any money wagered.

Long before beating the odds was part of golf, the word “odds” in the wagering sense of the word was used by William Shakespeare in his play “2 Henry IV” written and published in 1597.  In Act 5, Scene 5 takes place in a public place near Westminster Abbey.  The following exchange between The Lord Chief Justice and Lancaster is found:

LANCASTER
The king hath call’d his parliament, my lord.

LORD CHIEF-JUSTICE
He hath.

LANCASTER
I will lay odds that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords and native fire
As far as France: I beard a bird so sing,
Whose music, to my thinking, pleased the king.
Come, will you hence?

Obviously the expression was quite popular in William Shakespeare‘s time as it also appears in his play “Othello” written in 1603, in Act 2, Scene 3 which takes place in a hall in the castle.  Those in the hall along with Iago include Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Montano.

IAGO
I do not know: friends all but now, even now, 
In quarter, and in terms like bride and groom 
Devesting them for bed; and then, but now– 
As if some planet had unwitted men– 
Swords out, and tilting one at other’s breast, 
In opposition bloody. I cannot speak 
Any beginning to this peevish odds
And would in action glorious I had lost 
Those legs that brought me to a part of it!

While the expression”beat the odds” may not be in either of William Shakespeare‘s plays, it is easy to see that “the odds” was the term used in trying to equalize the playing field for all participants in any given situation.  And where efforts are made to equalize the playing field, there will always be those who try to beat those odds.

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Whitehall Mandarin

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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.

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