Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Harvey’

A Face To Stop A Clock

Posted by Admin on April 1, 2011

The movie Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of Elwood P. Dowd had a number of interesting phrases and expressions, not the least of which was talk of having a face to stop a clock.  In the movie, Elwood says:

ELWOOD – Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey — can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like — and when you get back — not one minute will have ticked by.

When someone says his face would stop a clock, it means that the other person has an unexpectedly unattractive face. 

In the “Tale of the Tudors” from the Warner Brothers’ animated television series, Histeria! that ran from 1998 to 2000, the following is found:

Boys:     So for a while, our Henry grieves,
              Then he marries Anne of Cleves.
              Anne came from fine German stock,
Toast:   She had a face that could stop a clock.
Girls:    Their marriage was cancelled in less than a year,
              His fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was dear.
             But Henry found out that her love was not true.

The Dallas Morning News ran a story on January 12, 1986 that read:

The Goddess of Liberty might have a face that could stop a clock on the University of Texas Tower, but she suddenly has attracted her share of suitors. At least two groups want to move the 3000-pound zinc statue out of Austin and put her on permanent display elsewhere.

Just shy of 26 years before that news article, the Milwaukee Journal edition of January 13, 1961 ran the column written by Ione Quingy Griggs of the Journal Staff.  From what Idiomation can see, Mrs. Griggs was a cross between Miss Manners and Dear Abby, offering up advice to those who were at a loss as to how to proceed with a particular situation.  The topic that day was how to copy with a mother-in-law who picked people apart and respones from readers whose opinion differed from Ms. Griggs’ earlier published opinion on the matter.  The following, authored by “Troubled Owner Of Mink Coat,” is an excerpt fromher response.

I read with interest your suggestion that a daughter-in-law voice the words “I am sorry” to her mother-in-law.  In my case it should be my husband’s mother to say it.  But no, she is always right everybody is wrong!  I’m not one to hold grudges, but when she sits with a face to stop a clock because my husband gives me a mink coat for Christmas, I’m ready to give up.  The mink coat was a surprise.  Everyone but Gran raved about it.  She sat frozen faced!

The expression was also found in a news story published on October 19, 1888 in the Chicago Daily Tribune in a story entitled, “The Beautiful Boston Man.”

After the parade the other day a well known Bostonian who is unfortunate in having a face to stop a clock approached an offer of the Cadets in a patronizing sort of way and said, “I saw your company today old man It looked very well very well indeed.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, a face to stop a clock, however it can safely be assumed that if it was used in a news story in 1888 that it was a well-understood phrase among the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s readership and one can guess that the expression dates back at least to the  mid-1870s.

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Miracles Leaning On Lamp Posts

Posted by Admin on March 30, 2011

Near the end of the movie, Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s a heartfelt exchange between Elwood P. Dowd and Dr. Chumley that has a wonderful A-ha! moment right smack dab in the middle of it all.

ELWOOD: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome, not only time and space – but any objections.

CHUMLEY: Flyspecks — flyspecks! I’ve been spending my life among flyspecks — while miracles have been leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax! Tell me, Mr. Dowd, will he do this for you?

ELWOOD: Oh, he’d be willing at any time — yes. But so far I ha-haven’t been able to think of any place I’d rather be. I – I always have a wonderful time — wherever I am — whomever I’m with. I’m having a fine time right here with you, Doctor.

Courant.com published an article by John Altavilla in their blog section on March 26, 2011 that spoke of Geno Auriemma and his disappointment over the small turnout at Gampel Pavillion for the Huskies’ second-round win over Purdue University.  It stated in part:

And if said it in his usual way, Philadelphia kid standing on the corner, leaning on the lamp post, joking around with his buddies.  Except he was in a press conference, where they are no posts, except blog posts.

On August 7, 1960 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Rosell Eliminates Law That Horses Be Tied” that spoke not only of changes to that law but to others as well.

A modern codification of all legislation passed here since 1890 has eliminated laws banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts and requiring riders to secure horses to hitching posts. The new codification of borough laws has wiped out outdated and conflicting and confusing language.

It would appear that leaning on lamp-posts was thought of as a lazy man’s pastime in the late 1880s that necessitated the passing of a law banning policemen from leaning on lamp-posts.  But what could possibly spur City councillors to pass such a law?

In the late 19th century, tall bikes were an integral part of the gas lamp lighting system.  Employees would ride their tall bikes — some as tall as 7 feet in height — from lamp to lamp, lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, lightly push of from the lamp post and continue to the next lamp post.  This was necessary as gas lamp posts were usually 11 feet tall with 2 of those 11 feet in the ground which meant a 7 foot tall bike would put the rider at the correct height for lighting the lamp.  Once all the lamps on a rider’s route were lit, an assistant would help the rider dismount from the tall bike.

Since the lamp posts were gas-powered, it’s understandable that any city with such a lamp lighting system would want to send the message to its inhabitants — for safety’s sake — not to lean on lamp posts and to stand on their own two feet.  And one certainly didn’t want to get in the way of a gas lamp lighting system rider for fear of causing problems for the rider, the leaner or both!

If someone leaned on such a lamp post, it left the impression that they didn’t have anything better to do with their time than lean on lamp posts.

And so, if miracles are leaning on lamp posts at Eighteenth and Fairfax, or at any other intersection anywhere in the world, it means miracles haven’t anything better to do than to wait for the world to see miracles where they happen to be … leaning on lamp posts.

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Everything’s Just Peachy

Posted by Admin on March 29, 2011

In the movie, Harvey, Dr. Sanderson has been sacked for having Veta locked up in the sanitarium, Chumley’s Rest, rather than her brother, Elwood.  At this point, the director of Chumley’s Rest is out looking for Elwood and the following exchange occurs between Wilson, an attendant at Chumley’s Rest, Dr. Sanderson and Kelly, his nurse.

WILSON – Hey, any of the patients been actin’ up, Kelly?

KELLY – Everything’s just peachy.

WILSON – That’s good – when are you takin’ off, Doc?

SANDERSON – Right now – I was just waiting for Dr. Chumley to get back.

WILSON – Hey, wait a second.  Didn’t Dr. Chumley come back here with that psycho?

More recently, sportinglife.com published an online story on January 19, 2011 about Michael Owen on defending his Real Madrid record.  He did this by helping Wanderley Luxemburgo’s men to a 4-2 defeat of Barcelona at the Bernabeu.  The headline read:

Everything Is Peachy For Goal Scorer Owen

Back on April 12, 1984 the Los Angeles Times reported on the 10-day-old strike by 3 unions against 32 major hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.  The MGM Grand Hotel‘s spokesman, Bill Bray is quoted as saying, “We’re not saying everything is peachy. Everything is not peachy.” He went on to say that MGM Grand Hotel had been handing out a letter to guests saying that because of the current labor dispute, the MGM Grand Hotel was  temporarily unable to provide guests with the level of service for which the MGM Grand Hotel was known.

Back on September 27, 1948 the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on radio personality, Jim Hawthorne and a small town known in California known as Hawthorne situated not far from Hollywood. 

City fathers of the little nearby town of Hawthorne, Calif., found themselves with all the headaches of a radio station, none of the profits and a peeve on for a screwball disk jockey also named HawthorneThe problem lay in the fact that Jim Hawthorne opened up his half-hour show with, “This is Hawthorne.” 

The list of complaints against Jim Hawthorne were numerous and included the following:

He’s even invented a new language built around the key-word “Hogan.”  He’ll say:  “I was driving my Hoganmobile around Pasa-hogan so I stopped at a drive-a-Hogan for a Hoganburger.”

His adjectives range from “keen” to “peachy keen” to “oh so peachy keen.”

The kids on his “net-to-net coastwork” eat it up.  So, apparently, do the natives of Hawthorne who think their home town (pop. 16,000) has suddenly blossomed out with a local radio station.

The sad truth of the matter was that the town of Hawthorne didn’t have a radio station.  But that didn’t deter Hawthorne from hiring a skywriter to splash “Tune in to Hawthorne’s show” across the sky which led to twice as many letters piling up in the town of Hawthorne, begging to know how businesses could buy a radio spot on Hawthorne’s radio station.  The end result?

Disc-jockey Hawthorne, whose brainstorm upped his salary from $85 a week on a tiny station to four-figures with ABC network, thinks the whole thing is “peachy keen.”  Hawthorne city officials have another word for it.

The Pittsburgh Press reported on a baseball game back on July 28, 1910.  It recounted the story that “faith which keeps the horizon tinted with the amethyst and gold of romance, which fills the fields with fairy rings, which peoples the trees with dryads and the fountain with nymphs is, in this age of iron and steel and oil, a hard thing.”  The focus of the story was on Outfielder Anderson of the Deep Haven, Michigan baseball team and the headline read:

Outfielder Anderson’s Peachy Catch

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of peachy, however, the fact that it was used in a headline with the expectation that readers of the Pittsburg Press would understand what was meant by the word peachy indicates that it was already part of the vernacular at the time and therefore, dates back to at least 1900.

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I’ll Be Swizzled

Posted by Admin on March 28, 2011

Idiomation first heard the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” while watching the 1950s movie, “Harvey” based on the book of the same name by Mary Chase.  The movie, shot in August 1950, starred Jimmy Stewart in the main role.  The following humourous scene appears in the movie.

VETA – Well he hustled me into the sanitarium and dumped me down in that tub of water and treated me as though I was a —

MYRTLE – A what?

VETA – A crazy woman. But he did that just for spite.

JUDGE – Well, I’ll be swizzled.

In searching for the origins of the phrase “I’ll be swizzled” Idiomation found a review by the American Record Guide dated September/October 2009.  The reviewer had this to say about David Matthews’ Dutton Vocalion CD:

His music is freely tonal, which means that his symphonies take from the structure of the great romantics, but his language moves in and out of standard tonality where the mood suits him… If one is to apply a label to Matthews, it must be that the man is a new sort of romantic; but I’ll be swizzled if I know what kind. I can’t stop playing this.

Although the phrase is rarely used these days, it appears to have been a staple in years gone by.  In the Milwaukee Journal of January 24, 1939 the following can be found in Richard S. Davis’ column “And So It Goes” as he reports on one gentleman’s bitter complaint against the dictates of fashioneers:

Another of these “exquisite creations” is entitled “coast to coast” which garbs the male physique in “a map of the United States, showing all the state capitals and representing the major industry of each commonwealth.”

All I can say to that it “whew!” (faintly).  I suppose on thrusts a leg into California and another in Florida while the head emerges from the depths of Lake Erie.  Somehow, I have a feeling that I would probably find myself in Rocky Mountain National Park the next morning — with a St. Bernard licking my face. No, I’ll be swizzled if I’ll become a sleeping travel bureau.

In the book, “The Idyl Of Twin Fires” written by Walter Prichard Eaton and published in 1914, the phrase appears in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker, which leads readers to believe that it was a common phrase during that era.

“Don’t you worry,” said Bert. “I’ll see he treats yer right.”

“It isn’t that,” I said sadly. “It’s that I’ve just remembered I forgot to include any painters’ bills in my own estimate.”

Bert looked at me in a kind of speechless pity for a moment. Then he said slowly: “Wal, I’ll be swizzled! Wait till I tell maw! An’ her always stickin’ up fer a college education!”

A generation before that, the Camden Democrat newspaper ran a story in their “Scraps of Humor” column on March 28, 1874 that read in part:

He said, “I did it, mother, with my little hatchet, but I’ll be swizzled if I can tell the whole truth about this little affair.”

Now most mothers would have kissed that brave, truthful lad on his noble brow, and kept right on using the meal out of that barrel just the same, but this one didn’t.  She said, “Come across my lap, my son; come across my lap.”

He came, and for a while there rose a cloud of dust from the seat of his trousers that effectually his the son from view, and the old woman now sports goggles and is lavish in the use of Pettit’s eye salve.

In Alfred B. Street’s book, “Woods and Water: Summer In The Saranacs” published in 1865, the phrase appears again in the dialogue of a blue-collar worker as follows:

“Ef he’d a gone down there, nothin’ could ha’ saved him, I bleeve, fur that aire hole was jest one bed o’ sharp p’inted rocks and he knowed it. Well, I’ll be swizzled ef that aire critter, jest as that aire log was a pitchin’ down that aire cobumbus like o’ water, didn’t reach out and ketch hold on a branch o’ hemlock a growin’ from a pint o’ the bank, and swing himself up jest like a squirrel. Didn’t we hooray!”

While Idiomation could not trace the phrase proper back further than 1865, Idiomation can confirm that the first use of the word swizzle is from 1790 and is in reference to a intoxicating drinks made from rum.  It is believed that it is most likely a variant of the word switchel which is a  drink of molasses and water mixed with rum.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »