Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Henry Fielding’

Bad Penny

Posted by Admin on September 18, 2021

Anytime you hear someone refer to a person or situation cropping back up as a bad penny, you know that can’t be good news. In fact, the bad penny in question is usually considered to be fake and definitely unwelcome.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: It has been thought for centuries that when you drop a penny in a wishing well and the wish does not come true, it’s because the penny was bad or counterfeit, not that the wish wasn’t worth granting.

For those who are wondering, the English penny was set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) back in the 14th century. At first, it was made of silver, then copper, and eventually bronze (beginning in 1860). The English penny had two plural forms: Pence and pennies.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In archery, a penny is a measure of weight for arrows that is equal to one-twelfth of the weight of a new British silver shilling.

But earlier than that, in Middle English, any coin of a small denomination was called a penny.

For movie buffs, they may recall in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Elsa Schneider says to Indiana Jones, “I never expected to see you again” his response is, “I’m like a bad penny. I always turn up.”

As Idiomation researched the expression, two idioms were found in Volume I, Chapter IX of the 2-volume book, “Good In Everything” by Mrs. Rose Parker Foot née Harris, and published by Hurst and Blackett (successors to Henry Colburn) in 1857.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” exclaimed Emily.

“But I suppose he’s to return, like a bad penny, isn’t he?” asked Henry.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Rose Parker Foot was born in 1826 in London, Middlesex, UK. Her father was Charles Harris, esquire of Guildeford, and a surgeon, and her mother was Sarah Rose Holt. She married Joseph James Foot, eldest son of Joseph Foot, esquire of Stoke Newington, at St. Pancras on New Year’s Day in 1845, and aside from her brief literary career, she became the mother of six.

In Volume II of John Foster Kirk’s 1864 book, “The History of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy” a bad penny tax was discussed in the chapter titled, “Book IV, Chapter II: The Swiss Confederacy.” This volume begins in 1469. At the time, the prince-bishop of Liege was Philip the Prince of Savoy, and Edmund the Duke of Somerset as well as the knights of the Toison d’Or were in positions of power.

A tax on commodities being the common research in such cases, Hagenbach laid an impost, popularly known as the “Bad Penny” on wine — an article of domestic production, of universal consuption, and et not of absolute necessity.

In the 1815 book, “Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain” the American-French-Swiss painter, art critic, and author, Louis Simond (1767 – 1831) wrote:

Lord Chatham has one in the same hall by Bacon, 1802, overloaded likewise with thread-bare allegories, but you have at least here the figure of the illustrious man whose memory is intended to be honoured, which is certainly better than the bad penny of Nelson.

An example is found in 1742 in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus that discusses bad stamps and Ancient Greece, where the author writes:

We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.

The term bad penny was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem Piers Plowman, composed between 1372 and 1389.

Men may lykne letterid men to a badde peny.

Between 760 and 760 AD, in London (England), the broad flan penny was established as the principal denomination until the 14th century (see above). While pennies in the 12th century were 92 percent silver and 8 percent copper, by the time the 14th century rolled around, pennies contained more copper and less silver, making it difficult to know how much of each metal was used in minting pennies. The harder it was to know what was a real penny, the easier it was to produce and pass a counterfeit penny as the real deal.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: If you look under the date on the heads-side of an American penny, you might see a mint mark under the year. If the letter is a D, the coin was minted in Denver (Colorado). If the letter is an S, this is a much older penny that was minted in San Francisco (California). Pennies are no longer minted in San Francisco. And if there’s no letter, that means your penny was minted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: In 2018, the U.S. Mint stated it cost twice as much to produce a penny than what it was worth.

In Canada, the last penny minted was on 4 May 2012, following Denmark, Australia, and Ireland’s lead. Perhaps it won’t be long before people start to forget what various penny idioms mean. But until that happens, Idiomation is happy to say a bad penny has been around since the mid-1300s at least for William Langland to use it so readily in his prose poem.

If it was used much earlier, Idiomation hasn’t found a published account but Idiomation is always open to the possibility. After all, this bad penny might turn up again at some later date should Idiomation uncover more information worth sharing.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Whippersnapper

Posted by Admin on July 16, 2015

A whippersnapper is an inexperienced person who is irritatingly overconfident with his or her abilities, sometimes to the point of being offensive.  Yes, whippersnappers usually act as if they’re very important and believe themselves to know better than their elders. What’s more, they’re usually impolite and brazen, lazy, and lack motivation.

Even though the death knell was sounded for the term whippersnapper back in newspaper columns of the 1960s, the word cropped up in an article by Gary Borders entitled, “Modern Billingsgate Betrays Puerile Imbecility Of Pundits” which was published in the Rome News-Tribune on March 4, 2006. The article took on the subject of television news programs that features guests and hosts yelling angrily with each other instead of discussing matters in a logical fashion with facts to back up their opinions.

In his article, he wrote about the elderly Presbyterian minister, the Reverend James Russell (died 10 August 1847) who was the last editor of the Red Lander newspaper in San Augustine, Texas.

Russell had been running the newspaper for about a year when a young whippersnapper started a competing weekly, The Shield. Henry Kendall, who had a bad habit of stealing Russell’s hired help, owned the paper. His editor moonlighted as president of the other university in town, started by the Methodists. San Augustine could support neither two newspapers nor two universities.

The Reverend James Russell began to print some nasty comments in his editorials with increasing intensity. He was responsible for some of the insults that we still hear thrown about in the media today: right-wing, liberal, secularist, and religious right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: When the Reverend James Russell used his newspaper to state that Henry Kendall’s mother was a “woman of easy virtue” and his father was a liar and a murderer, Henry Kendall was incensed at the audacity the Reverend had to publish such insults. Ten days after the insults were printed in the Reverend’s newspaper, Henry Kendall shot him dead as the Reverend walked out of his office. The killing was noted as the first editorial killing in Texas.

In the Milwaukee Journal edition of June 28, 1967, even journalist Robert W. Wells lamented the demise of the term in his column, “All Is Wells.” In the column published that day he decried the fact that the literary pendulum had swung in favor of one syllable nouns and verbs drawn from graffiti of the day. With regards to whippersnapper, he wrote:

Thirty years earlier, on May 30, 1937, the St. Petersburg Times published O.O. McIntyre’s regular column, “Whip Snaps Of A Whippersnapper” where O.O. McIntyre reflected on a number of things. He wrote about the “best darned quartet you ever heard – there’s five of them.” He wrote about a woman’s model husband who “doesn’t drink, smoke or run after woman – just sorta stupid.” He wrote about how many residents in France were against the reduced utopian 40-hour work week that left people with too much time on their hands to do nothing. And that’s just some of what O.O. McIntyre wrote in his column of May 30, 1937.

There was an era when some crusty character — the heroine’s father, usually — could be relied on to open every discussion of juvenile delinquency by shouting: “You young whippersnapper!”

This confrontation between youth and age made for tense drama, but it has been abandoned. The whippersnapper is apparently as extinct as the New Zealand moa.

Whippersnapper was a favorite expression of English novelist, journalist, editor and educationalist George Manville Fenn (3 January 1831 – 26 August 1909) and appeared in many of his novels. It was also a favorite expression of influential poet, critic and editor William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903). And it was a favorite expression of English popular novelist, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (4 October 1835 – 4 February 1915), author of her sensation novel “Lady Audley’s Secret” published in 1862.

In the third volume of the Association Medical Journal of 1855 edited by Dr. John Rose Cormack, M.D. and published by the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association of London (England) the expression was used in the article, “Medical Practice Among The Poor.” It had originally been published in “Household Words” on October 21, 1854.

There are the young men entitled whippersnappers; to whom the poor are said by Messieurs Souchong, Sirloin, and Wick, to be shamefully and neglectfully handed over. Mr. Souchong, Sirloin, and their friends refuse on their own parts to take counsel of a whippersnapper; so do their betters with considerable unanimity. They wait until he has more experience; that is to say, until he has tried his prentice hand sufficiently among the poor. He would be happy enough to attend viscounts and bankers; but he is bidden by society to try his hand first among beggars.

Going back to 1742, English author and magistrate Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) wrote, “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams” which included whippersnapper in his book.  The book is written in comic prose, and tells the story of the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams and his foot man, Joseph Andrews as they travel home from London.

“What dost thou think of Ms. Andrews?”

“Why, I think,” says Slipslop, “he is the handsomest, most properest man I ever saw; and if I was a lady of the greatest degree, it would be well for some folks. Your ladyship may talk of customs, if you please; but I am confidous there is no more comparison between young Mr. Andrews, and most of the young gentlemen who come to your ladyship’s house in London – a parcel of whippersnapper sparks; I would sooner marry our old parson Adams. Never tell me what people say, whilst I am happy in the arms of him I love. Some folks rail against other folks because other folks have what some folks would be glad of.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Henry Fielding, along with his half-brother, Sir John Fielding (16 September 1721 – 4 September 1780) who was also a magistrate as well as a social reformer, founded London’s first police force.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: British author, Sarah Fielding (8 November 1710 – 9 April 1768) was Henry Fielding’s sister. She wrote “The Little Female Academy” which is considered the first novel in English written especially for children.

In the 1600s, whipperginnie was a derogatory term for a woman, and snippersnapper was a derogatory term for a man.

It’s most likely that people blended whipperginnie and snippersnapper together during the mid-1600s and the new word was whippersnapper. It would make sense since the definition for whipperginnie (female) and snippersnapper (male) are the same, and both whipperginnie and snippersnapper share an identical definition with whippersnapper.  By the time Henry Fielding was using the word in his novel of 1742, the word was recognized among the general population which means that it was established in the English language as being a legitimate word with a recognized definition.

Idiomation therefore pegs whippersnapper to the late 1600s in light of these facts.

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

Black Maria

Posted by Admin on January 8, 2014

In some circles, Black Maria is a form of whist in which players avoid winning tricks containing hearts or the queen of spades, but in other circles, Black Maria is a police van used for transporting prisoners. Black Maria is also referred to as Mother’s Heart because no matter how many are already in the van, there’s always room for one more.

On July 10, 1931, the Canberra Times carried a brief description of how the Black Maria came to be. The paragraph at the bottom of page 3 read:

The expression “Black Maria” with application to a prison van originated in America over 60 years ago. A big negro woman called Maria Lee kept a seaman’s “lodging-house” in Boston. the men were usually unruly and Maria was often called upon to help to get them under lock.

Travelling back twenty years, the Lodi Sentinel edition of October 22, 1912 attributed Black Maria to an African-American woman living in Boston, MA during Colonial times. Allegedly, it all began when Maria brought three drunken sailors to the lockup all at the same time because they were too much trouble to keep in her boarding-house. And the story goes that she became of greater and greater help to the police, especially when sailors in the area got so out of hand that even the police couldn’t subdue them. The article states this:

Few people know of Black Maria Lee as the boarding-house keeper of Colonial days, but she handed her name down as a menace to the vicious of future generations, in the modern jail wagon. To “send for the black maria” is as much of a threat now as it was in Maria Lee’s times.

A decade before that on January 31, 1902 the Amador Ledger carried the story about Black Maria. Also a brief story, it read thusly:

The following is given as the origin of the term “Black Maria.” When New England was filled with emigrants from the mother country, a negress named Maria Lee kept a sailors’ boarding house in Boston. She was a woman of great strength and helped the authorities to keep the peace. Frequently the police invoked her aid, and the saying, “Send for Black Maria,” came to mean, “Take him to jail.” British seamen were often taken to the lockup by this amazon, and the stories they spread of her achievements led to the name of Black Maria being given to the English prison van.

But that explanation disappears completely and is actually dispelled in the monthly magazine, The Guardian” in the February 1859 edition. The magazine was devoted to “the social, literary, and religious interests of young men and ladies.” when the editor, Reverend H. Harbaugh, wrote:

What do we mean by Black Maria? That is a proper question, and it shall be answered. It is not a colored woman, as the reader perhaps hastily supposed, that is to form the subject of our present article.

Not to prolong suspense we will at once proceed to define. Black Maria is the name given to a certain strangely constructed vehicle, used in some of our larger town and cities to convey prisoners from the prison to the court house and back again.

The editor’s research indicated that Mary (or Maria) in Hebrew meant bitterness, and then offered his opinion that “he who rides in [the police wagon] was made in the image of God, and designed for a better end.” By choosing the ways of crime, the accused, riding in disgrace through the streets courtesy of the Black Maria, was surely bitter about his disgrace of riding in the Black Maria.  The wagon, of course, was painted black hence the color reference.

According to the St. Louis Police Veteran’s Association website run by the City of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in Missouri, the City of Saint Louis Police Department purchased its first Black Maria in 1850 because it was too difficult for patrolmen to walk their suspects back and forth to jail.  It was a horse-drawn carriage, also painted black, with the carriage acting as a secure prison cell complete with iron bars on the windows and doors. Years later, on April 9, 1866, another Black Maria was purchased, and the idiom is used in the minutes of the board meeting of the St. Louis Board Of Police Commissioners.

In “The Knickerbocker” also known as the “New-York Monthly Magazine” in Volume 17 which was published in June of 1841, the magazine included a story entitled, “The American At Home: A Ride In An Omnibus.”  The story included this passage:

One of them I knew; and a better patriot, when he is not drunk, is not to be found in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At the east wing was standing, pensive and melancholy, the Automedon of ‘Black Maria,’ the equipage used in carrying criminals to court and thence to their prisons, melancholy, no doubt, in apprehension of being turned out of office. These are fearful times! This public functionary is in the thief-taking line, and doubtless, availing himself of his official influence, has been meddling in politics, thereby subjecting himself to the displeasure of government. His black wagon stands just underneath the Philosophical Society, a conspicuous figure in the group; bearing about the same relation to the other equipages as the hangman to the rest of the community.

It’s a fact that magistrates Sir John Gonson, Sir Thomas De Veil, and, Henry and John Fielding were responsible for creating the first professional police and justice system in England in 1720. This resulted in a number of horse and foot patrols, at night and during the day, and this police presence deterred most criminals for committing crimes. Fifty years later, the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 was responsible for the creation of seven police offices, and each office had three stipendiary magistrates plus six constables responsible for detecting and arresting criminals. Then in 1800, the Thames Police Office at Wapping opened with three stipendiary magistrates and one hundred constables.

With the passage of Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act in 1829, the concept of policing was firmly entrenched in England. When the second Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1839, constables were no longer employed by the magistrates, and became a police organization instead. Somewhere between 1839 and 1841, police wagons came into use to aid officers on foot and horse patrol.

Idiomation therefore places believes it is reasonable to peg the idiom Black Maria to 1840, between the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 and the publication of the story on published in June of 1841 in the Knickerbocker magazine.

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

Stark Raving Mad

Posted by Admin on February 28, 2011

On June 29, 1902, the New York Times reported on a party of men, women and children — 20 all told — who left Independence, Missouri in two wagons drawn by oxen, headed to California for the gold rush back in the Fall of 1851.  Delayed by sickness, and having lost its way at least once, the party had accidentally left the trail and consequently, didn’t make it out of Death Valley alive.   The newspaper reported:

In the cooler seasons men inured to the hardships of the desert have been known to go several days without water, subsisting on the juice of the cactus; in the Summer season from twenty-four to thirty-six hours is sufficient to unsettle their reason.  A newcomer, a “tenderfoot,” will go stark, raving mad in from four to eight hours in hot weather if he has not water.  During the days in the middle of the Summer the thermometer stands anywhere from 125 to 135 degrees in the shade in the coolest place that can be found.

Henry Fielding was the first to use the phrase ‘stark raving mad’ in his play “The Intriguing Chambermaid” published in 1734 where his character, Goodall states in Scene VI:

I find, I am distracted! I am stark raving mad, I am undone, ruin’d! cheated, impos’d on! but please Heaven I’ll go with what’s in my House.

The phrase stark staring mad was an earlier version of stark raving mad and found in John Dryden’s book “Persius Flaccus” published in 1693.

Each saddled with his burden on his back ;
Nothing retards thy voyage, now, unless
Thy other lord forbids, Voluptuousness :
And he may ask this civil question : Friend,
What dost thou make a shipboard ? to what end ?
Art thou of Bethlem’s noble college free ?
Stark, staring mad, that thou wouldst tempt the sea?

Italian philosopher, humanist and author Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli  (1469 – 1527) writing on the history of Florence (Italy) wrote the following:

Upon this, Philip considering that in all open wars with the Popes, he had constantly been a loser, and often in great danger of being utterly ruined, now resolved to proceed in another manner; and to have recourse to stratagem.  In consequence of which, he pretended to submit, and entered into a treaty of reconciliation with the Pope: but whilst it was carrying on, he privately sent Sciarra into Italy, who arriving at Anagni (where the Pope then resided) gathered his friends together in the night, seized upon his Holinesses person, and made him prisoner.  And though he was set at liberty again by the people of that town, yet such was his rage and indignation at this disgrace, that it drove him stark mad, and he died soon after it

And in 1489, English poet and dramatic author John Skelton used the phrase “stark mad” in his elegy on Henry, the 4th Earl of Northumberland.   It is prefaced with, “Skelton Laureat upon the dolorous dethe and much lamentable chaunce of the moost honorable Erle of Northumberlande.”  The poem, published on April 28, 1489 reads in part:

He was envyronde aboute on every syde
Withe his enemys, that were stark mad, and wode;
Yet whils he stode he gave them woundes wyde;
Alas for routhe! what thouche his mynde were goode,
His corage manly, yet ther he shed hys bloode!
All left alone, alas! he fawte in vayne;
For cruelly amonge them ther he was slayne.

The word “stark” is from the Old English word stearc which means “stiff, strong”  The meaning later associated with it of “utter, sheer, complete” was first recorded around 1400 .  The word was later used in such phrases as “stark dead” and “stark mad” in the late 1300s with stark used as an adjective to intensify the noun.

The word “raving” is from the Latin word rabidus from rabere which means “to be mad, to rave.”  It, too, was used as an adjective to intensify the noun.  And the word mad is from the Old English word gemædde which means “out of one’s mind.”

And so, it’s easy to understand how “stark raving mad” came about and why it’s still very much in use in today’s vocabulary.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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