Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Herald Journal’

In High Cotton

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2015

It’s not often that you hear of someone living in high cotton, but when you do, you know that person is living the easy life and is doing well financially.

The roots of this idiom are found in the southern United States in the years before the American Civil War. When cotton grew high and was abundant (in other words, a bumper crop), a good price could be had for that cotton leaving the farmer flush with cash. That same cotton crop came with bonuses for field workers as well by way of shade courtesy of the high cotton, which spared field workers from the harsh rays of the scorching sun overhead.

Just this month, the idiom was used in an article on August 4, 2015 on San Antonio’s Express-News website. The article was about how the Lubbock wineries were defying all odds and producing some amazing wines. A photo of owner, Vijay Reddy standing alongside some of his vines on his 100 acre vineyard showed how well the venture was doing. The article included this intriguing paragraph.

Vijay Reddy, a soil expert, emigrated to West Texas from India and wound up in high cotton himself. But, although there’s no history of grape-growing or winemaking in his family, Reddy’s relatively newfound passion has led him to plant more than 20 varietals over about 100 acres on his spread near Brownfield.

About twenty years ago, nationally syndicated columnist, Charley Reese wrote about the state of affairs in Washington in an article entitled, “Budget Balancing Act All An Act.” His column took on the issue of $1.4 trillion in federal spending couples with another $800 billion in state and local spending. When all was said and done, it was clear that Charley Reese wasn’t impressed with what was going on in Washington. He kicked off the column with this statement.

If we could manage our own finances the way the Congress does the nation’s, we’d all be living in high cotton and eating high on the hog.

The column by James J. Kilpatrick that was published on July 21, 1970 in the Herald-Journal newspaper took Washington to task as well, this time on the issue of consumer protection, and Maryland Senator Joe Tydings Consumer Class Action Act.  The Act didn’t address the problem of bad workmanship or poor design or anything else along those lines. The operative words in the Act were “unfair” and “deceptive.”

It is more accurately an act to line the pockets of ingenious attorneys. If this bill passes, the lawyers will be in high cotton; their client consumers will be still hoeing the short rows.

On page 114 of Volume 170 of The Atlantic Monthly magazine published in 1942, the expression could be found in this short story.

You have been walking in high cotton for a long time; keep it up! I was born in the deep South, lived all over the U. S. A., and have seen and experienced much abroad.

The fact of the matter is that the cotton industry helped to grow the American economy in the 1830s and 1840s, and it wasn’t long before people cottoned on to the slogan, “Cotton is king.” After sugar and tobacco, cotton considered a luxury commodity around the world. By the time the mid-1800s rolled around, cotton was America’s leading export. What’s more, raw cotton had become essential to the European economy.

Cotton was to the economy then what oil has become to the economy now. Not only did cotton generate large revenues for plantation owners in the United States (and indirectly for the United States of America overall), it impacted on the American government’s ability to borrow money in the global market.

How much cotton was produced by America for the European market, you ask? Prior to the American Civil War, 77 percent of the 800 million pounds of cotton used by Britain came from the United States. It provided two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton outside of Britain.

And how was America able to provide so much cotton to the world’s economies? In 1793, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin had teeth with which it could comb out and separate the seeds from the cotton. Because of this, cotton became an extremely profitable cash business that eventually surpassed even tobacco production. Once cotton became a lucrative crop, many plantation owners in the Antebellum South amassed impressive fortunes.

Back in 1860, cotton sold for $0.10 cents a pound, but by 1864, cotton sold for $1.89 a pound. Understandably, the better the crop, the higher the price that could be demanded for that crop.

And this is how in high cotton came to mean an easy life with more than enough money to rely on.

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

Cross To Bear

Posted by Admin on February 5, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say that a difficult situation is the cross they have to bear.  What they mean by that is that they must accept an unpleasant situation or responsibility because there is no way to avoid dealing with it.  What’s more, it’s a situation or responsibility that can’t be shared or passed along to someone else.  The idiom refers to an emotional or mental burden that brings with it a marked amount of stress and suffering, and, despite its origins, has nothing to do with a physical burden.

The expression, of course, alludes to the crucifixion of Christ who was made to carry his own cross as was the custom during Roman Times.

The idiom was used in the Herald-Journal on January 4, 2007 in an article about the diverse student population and how there were concerns that displaying a cross in the sanctuary in the campus chapel at Virginia’s College of William and Mary might upset some of the non-Christian students attending there.  The second oldest college in America, it was founded at the request of the Anglican Church.  The article by J.R. Labbe was entitled, “Is Tolerating Tolerance A College’s Cross To Bear?

You might wonder if the idiom always has a religious aspect to it.  It doesn’t.  On March 28, 1957 the Milwaukee Sentinel published a news story entitled, “Resemblance to James Dean Riles Actor Dean Stockwell.”  The former child actor was now a striking 20-year-old in film and while his portfolio of performances was impressive, he wasn’t finding himself on easy street.  In fact, the article reported this:

All is not rosy for young Stockwell.  He has a cross to bear:  The late James Dean.  He has the same hair and much the same brooding handsomeness of Dean.

The “Class Leader’s Treasury” by respected Methodist Pastor, Reverend John Bate, was published in March of 1881, and published by the Wesleyan Conference Office in England.  Reverend Bate was also the author of “Cyclopedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths.”  It’s on page 440 of the “Class Leader’s Treasury” that the following is found:

You would find a heavier cross to bear on turning back than you have to bear in going forward, to say nothing of what you would find when you came to the City of Destruction.

It was undoubtedly a favorite expression of religious men, and it was used in a poem collected by Reverend John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw Churches, and included in the “Olney Hymns In Three Books” published on February 15, 1779.  He attributes the poem to the late Dr. Watts. This was part of Hymn 51 in “Book 1 on Select Texts of Scripture.”

Lord, we return thee what we can!
Our heart shall sound abroad,
Salvation, to the dying Man,
And to the rising God!

And while thy bleeding glories here
Engage our wond’ring eyes,
We learn our lighter cross to bear,
And hasten to the skies.

It was used in 1607 to refer to the act of suffering troubles patiently.  It was in the play by John Webster and Thomas Dekker titled, “The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas Wyat” in scene 14 that the term was used.  As you may or may  not know, The Wyatt Rebellion was led by Tudor courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (his father being English poet and ambassador Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder) during the reign of Mary I of England.

It was, however, in a letter to Catharine of Aragon (16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536), written by Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (27 October 1466 – 12 July 1536) — also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam — that the idiom is found. The letter was written after her divorce from Henry VIII in 1533.

It is most rare to find a lady born and reared in courts, who binds her hope on acts of devotion, and finding her solace in the word of God. Would that others, more especially widows, would learn to follow your example; and not widows only, but unmarried ladies too, for what so good as the service of Christ? He is the Rock — the Spouse of pious souls — and nearer than the nearest humanitie. A soul devoted to this Husband is at peace alike in good and evil times. He knows what is best for all; and is often kindest when He seems to turn the honey into gall. Every one has his cross to bear; without that cross no soul can enter into rest!”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, and therefore, it’s assumed that the saying, “we all have our cross to bear” is thanks to Erasmus, dating back to 1533.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Down To Earth

Posted by Admin on November 18, 2014

Someone who is down to earth is sensible and practical just like something that is down to earth is sensible and practical.  It’s also not a permanent state.  If someone or something is down to earth at the onset, there’s no guarantee that the person or the thing will remain so in the future.  It also doesn’t mean that someone or something that is unrealistic or foolhardy now won’t be down to earth at some point in the future.

This past weekend, supermodel Kate Upton arrived at LAX with Detroit Tigers baseball superstar Justin Verlander after a five-hour flight out of JFK.  The pair looked well-rested, and rather than put on airs, they walked through the airport like every other passenger.  The Mail newspaper ran the story with this headline:  Supermodel Kate Upton Proves She’s Down To Earth As She Wheels Her Own Luggage Through LAX With Beau Justin Verlander.

Back in June 2008, Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian newspaper in the UK wrote about Wayne Dyer‘s books as he reviewed the most recent (at the time) book on the stands.  What this journalist found troubling was what he called a confusing swing between eastern spirituality and Christian beliefs where contradictions in philosophy were commonplace.  To give readers a frame of reference, he spoke about the author’s unpretentious beginnings and where he went from there.

Dyer’s rags-to-Maui tale began in 1976 when, as a young psychotherapist, he published Your Erroneous Zones, a down-to-earth work of pop psychology; when it didn’t sell, he travelled the US, hassling bookshops and giving radio interviews until it became a hit. He’s produced more than 30 books since, each less down-to-earth than the last, along with CDs, TV shows and decks of “affirmation cards.”

When George H.W. Bush was elected the 41st President of the United States back in 1988, his wife Barbara Bush (who was also the mother of the 43rd President of the United States as well as the mother of the 43rd Governor of Florida) made an impression not only on the American people but on journalists as well.  One such journalist was Andy Rooney whose column was syndicated in a number of newspapers across the U.S.  On January 10, 1989 his article, “Barbara Bush Will Be A Down To Earth First Lady” he began his article by writing:

We sure don’t know much about what kind of a first lady Barbara Bush will be.  She seems down-to-earth and normal.  She certainly isn’t clamorous, but I think people would take down-to-earth over glamorous every time.  The best of both worlds, of course, would be down-to-earth and glamorous but that’s a rare combination.

The Miami Times decided to go with a story on November 30, 1965 that spoofed the subject’s profession.  Written by William J. Cromie, the story was about Astronaut Frank Borman who, at 37, was the sort of man movie stars are made of:  He was a blond-haired, blue-eyed Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who the journalist felt came across like an All-American high school football coach more so than the command pilot for the Gemini-Titan 7 spacecraft that was to be launched the following Saturday.  The interview was cleverly entitled, “Spaceman’s Family Is Down-To-Earth.”

The Herald-Journal of May 8, 1938 ran a large advertisement for the Carolina Theater for the movie, “In Old Chicago” starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche.  Just below that grand announcement was a smaller one for the movie, “Doctor Rhythm” starring Bing Crosby, Mary Carlisle, Beatrice Lillie and what the newspaper ad referred to as “a hundred other funmakers.”  This movie was playing at the theater on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Not being as big a movie as the Chicago movie, a testimonial was included.

Dear Dr. Rhythm:  You never saw anybody as bored as I was.  I couldn’t see.  I was in a rut.  I was living on burrowed time.  I’m down to earth again, thanks to you, and feel like digging in again!

The testimony was signed Mollie Mole … an apt name for a letter writer who claimed she was “living on burrowed” time.

Eighty before the Bing Crosby movie, in 1853, “Earlswood:  Or, Lights and Shadows of the Anglican Church” was written and published by 19th century English novelist, social and religious writer, composer and lyricist, Charlotte Anley (17 February 1796 – 6 April 1893).  She was an interesting woman in that she was an English Quaker to whom Protestants and Catholics alike listened.

Surely, in all this, there is no keeping back the blessed doctrine of atonement?  The work of our redemption is, indeed, a mystery far beyond the limits of human intelligence, but its announcement to man is clear and simple, brought down to earth in language suited to the meanest capacity.

And nearly a hundred years before that, in July 1759, an essay was written and published in Volume 21 of “The Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal by Several Hands” compiled by Ralph Griffiths and George Edward Griffiths.  The essay addressed the “substance of several discourses preached before the University of Cambridge” by W. Wefton, B.D. Fellow of St. John’s College.

The first advice he gives us is, to resolve to be serious; for simple as this remedy may seem, he says, it will in the end effectually root out, one of the most dangerous maladies that has infected the state, viz. that profusion of wanton and indiscriminate banter, which has taken possession of the appetites, the reason, and the heart.  The affections of men chained down to earth, and devoted to sense, are not more averse, we are told, to heavenly things, than the present age, abandoned to laughter and ridicule, is abhorrent of sedate and sober reflection.

The devotion to sense and being down to earth were easily linked in this passage, making it clear that being down to earth was the opposite of being abandoned to ridicule and laughter — qualities which were not well thought of by the author.

While several dictionaries attest to the phrase having come into existence in 1932, Idiomation found the phrase used in publications from the mid-1700s and as such, since it is used in publications with the same spirit as how the idiom is used today, it most likely was understood with this meaning in the early 1700s.

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

Dumb Cluck

Posted by Admin on March 23, 2012

A dumb cluck is, well, a dull-witted, stupid person … a blockhead … a dolt.  Some will tell you it’s a corruption of the Yiddish word klutz which means blockhead, and others will tell you it’s a corruption of the German word dummkopf which also means blockhead.  Still others will tell you it has to do with how smart a chicken really is.

On March 12, 2012 the Miami Herald ran a story entitled “Local Sports Franchises Take The Prize.”  The journalist, Glenn Garvin, wrote in part:

Marlins President David Samson, thinking he was safely in the company of his fellow robber-baron plutocrats at the Beacon Council, delivered a smirking speech in which he bragged about how easily he snookered $315 million or so out of our dumb-cluck local politicians. And he doesn’t want to hear any complaints out of you, buddy. The purpose of local government is to extract your money to pump up his bottom line.

Back in February of 1991, Max Baer Jr won a $2-million award Wednesday against ABC.  He claimed that ABC had prevented him from getting the film rights to Madonna’s song “Like A Virgin” which he had hoped would form the basis of a movie he wanted to produce.  On February 21, 1991 the Herald Journal in Spartanburg, South Carolina reported:

Baer — best known for his role in the 1960s TV series — has filed a multimillion dollar suit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that ABC-TV tried to take advantage of Jethro’s “big, dumb cluck” image in a 1986 dispute over film rights to the hit song.

The Ann Landers column published in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on April 9, 1962 ran a letter from a writer named, Dutch Uncle.   The problem was that the businessman had hired the daughter of a friend to work for him in a secretarial position.  At first, it appeared that the biggest problem was her inability to spell, but there was more to the story as Dutch Uncle added:

Linda is a nice person and tried hard, but in addition to her lack of skills she arrives late (from 20 to 30 minutes) about three days every week.  Her absentee record is the worst in the office.  She has not worked a single Monday in nine weeks. I pay this dumb cluck $310 a month.  What can I do in view of the close relationship?

The Hartford Courant published a report by Grantland Race on March 26, 1941 entitled, “Fighter Who Beats Louis Will Have To Be Smart.”  The subtitle read:

‘No Dumb Cluck Is Going To Have Much Of A Chance,’ Says Jack Kearns In Discussing Current Crop Of Heavyweight Challengers

On December 20, 1937 an animated short was released.  The name of the short?  Why it was “The Dumb Cluck” produced by Walter Lantz (27 April 1899 – 22 March 1994), the man who brought us Chilly Willy and Woody Woodpecker.  The character of the Dumb Cluck first appeared two months earlier on October 18, 1937 in the animated short “The Keeper of the Lions.”  The Dumb Cluck was the creation of writer Charles R. Bowers (June 7, 1877 – November 26, 1946).

And let’s not forget the Three Stooges who filmed “Three Dumb Clucks” that same year!  In this movie, the Stooges are in jail when they learn that their father, Popsie-Wopsie is about to marry a gold-digger named Daisy.  Of course, they have to get out of jail and save Popsie-Wopsie and get him back home to the loving arms of Momma.

Pulp fiction writer and Iowan, Dwight V. Babcock (1909 – 1979) published a story in 1934 entitled, “Dumb Cluck.”  Like his contemporary, Raymond Chandler, Dwight V. Babcock was known for writing longer stories and reworking each story until it was a good as it could possibly be.  That 1934 story is one of those stories.

Writer Joseph Patrick McEvoy (1895 – 1958) — he eventually became a roving editor for Reader’s Digest — wrote “Denny and the Dumb Cluck” which was published by Simon and Schuster in 1930.  It told the story of a salesman with the Gleason Card Company named Denny Kerrigan and Chicago shop girl, Doris Miller — the dumb cluck of the title.  If you’re interested in knowing more about the novel, it was reviewed in Book Review Digest on page 658 in 1930.

Author Edmund Wilson only wrote three novels in his lifetime, one of which was entitled, “I Thought of Daisy” which was published in 1929.  A colleague of both Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson‘s book was a realistic depiction of the 1920s.  The expression dumb cluck is found in this passage in the book:  

The door into the dining room opened, and Larry Mickler and Daisy appeared.

“Come on, yuh dope!” said Daisy to Pete Bird.  “What d’ye think yuh are, brooding around the kitchen?  — a cockroach?” 

“Get away, yuh dumb cluck!” replied Pete, relunctantly opening his eyes, “and leave me to my meditations!”

“Let’s leave him to his slumbers,” said Larry Mickler, who was evidently drunker than ever.  “The boyfriend’s passed out!  Too many of those rich liverwurst sandwiches!”

This American slang doesn’t seem to appear before 1929 however for the expression to be used so freely in Edmund Wilson‘s book, it had to be part of the vernacular and with that, Idiomation is willing to guess that it likely dates back to about 1920.

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