Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Homer’

Holy Moley

Posted by Admin on January 11, 2013

The expression holy moley is meant to express surprise and it has for a number of years. The expression doesn’t sound old and stuffy, and it doesn’t sound like it used to be part of another longer saying that’s been in existence for centuries. It’s easy to assume that it’s a recent expression but is it really?

Just today, the Hartford Courant newspaper published an article written by Steve Pond about the upcoming Oscars. The headline was “Seth MacFarlane’s Fresh, Silly Nominations Gig Might Mean A Fresh, Silly Oscar Show.” Midway through the article, Steve Pond wrote:

And he’ll also be there, presumably, for the performance of at least one of the nominated songs, since MacFarlane wrote the lyrics to the big-band tune “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” which Norah Jones performed in “Ted.”

(Just an aside: MacFarlane’s co-writer on the song is one Walter Murphy and holy moley, it appears to be the same Walter Murphy who had a hit by bringing Ludwig van Beethoven to the disco with “A Fifth of Beethoven” back in 1976.)

The expression has been used in countless headlines such as the Los Angeles Times Special by Lynn Simross that was published in the June 9, 1976 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper. With the resurgence in the popularity in action comic books, illustrator Donato “Don” Rico was interviewed for the story. Rico was responsible for creating Gary Stark, a teenaged Merchant Mariner, and Micky Starlight during the golden age of comic books. That article was entitled:

Holy Moley! Comics Live Again!

It was a tip of the hat to Captain Marvel’s characteristic exclamation in the comic books of the 40s.

marvelholymoley1

But does the expression go back much further than that? Strangely enough, it does as it appeared in a book written by Nathaniel Gould entitled, “Running It Off Or Hard Hit: An Enthralling Story of Racing, Love and Intrigue” and published in 1892 by George Routledge and Sons. The book, re-issued by John Long Ltd in 1919, used the expression in this passage of the book:

“Whew!” he whistled, softly; “that’s curious. Same name as the lady at our place. Suppose he should be her husband. Holy moley, what a game. I’ve made a discovery. I must take particular of this man. He’ll come in useful I reckon.”

Now history buffs and Greek mythology buffs already know that moly was given to Ulysses by Hermes as an antidote against Circe’s magic in Book X of “The Odyssey” which is one of two epic poems attributed to Homer. In this book, the following passage is found:

“As he spoke he pulled the herb out of the ground and showed me what it was like. The root was black, while the flower was as white as milk; the gods call it Moly, and mortal men cannot uproot it, but the gods can do whatever they like.

Then Mercury went back to high Olympus passing over the wooded island; but I fared onward to the house of Circe, and my heart was clouded with care as I walked along. When I got to the gates I stood there and called the goddess, and as soon as she heard me she came down, opened the door, and asked me to come in; so I followed her – much troubled in my mind.”

While it’s true that gods are thought of as being holy and that moly was used by Homer that it was implied that the two go together, however, the two weren’t used together in any of Homer’s poems.

Idiomation can only say that the first use of the expression holy moly or holy moley we were able to confirm was by Nathaniel Gould in 1892. So yes, the expression is at least 120 years old (certainly not a new expression by any stretch of the imagination) but untraceable before 1892.

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

Hold Your Horses

Posted by Admin on April 27, 2011

The expression hold your horses has been around for a long time and both literally and figuratively means to hold back instead of charging forth into something you may not know enough about at the time.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in the Toledo Sunday newspaper of August 3, 1903 entitled, “Say, Mr. Councilman!” that reads in part:

It wouldn’t do you any  harm, Mr. Councilman, to go down to Columbus and take a street car ride.  You can get seven of ’em for a quarter.  You can ride 15 miles for less than 4 cents.  On nice, big, comfortable cars at that.

It isn’t necessary to fight the company.  No necessity for fighting anybody.  This is a business deal.  You are the agent of the people.  They rely on you to see that they don’t get the worst of it.  It’s a big deal.  So wait a minute.  Take your time.  Hold your horses.  Keep your shirt on.  Don’t be a crab.  Or a clam.  Or a dodo. Invoice your stock.  Figure out what you’ve got to sell.  And to whom it belongs.  See if it isn’t worth eight tickets for a quarter and universal transfers, anyhow.

Be true to the people.  Never mind who helped pay your campaign expenses.  There’s no politics in this.  You own no allegiance to any party or politician in strictly business matters.  Here’s a change and a time to do your own thinking.  And your own voting.

In 1855, the steamship George Law, with Lieutenant G. .V. Fox of the United States Navy commanding, left Aspinwall at 12:30 a.m. on March 16 and arrived at Quarantine at 10:30 a.m.k on March 24..  On March 26, 1855 the New York Times reported on what was going on once the steamship arrived at its destination.

The blow given all kinds of business by the Bank failures has been a severe one, and perfectly paralyzing for a time; how long it will last it is impossible to conjecture, but it will probably require a month or so to get things straight again.  Thus far there have been no failures among our merchants, there being an almost entire suspension of payment among them.  No man thinks of forcing collections, knowing it is useless, and there is a sort of mutual understanding and forbearance in that respect that is very creditable to all, and shows a general good feeling.  It certainly is policy, as anything like stringent measures at this time would result in general disaster and ruin.  Consequently there is no money to be had, and we must, in turn, rely on the good sense and good nature of creditors at the East.  That we shall be able to pay after a time is without a doubt, but just at this moment “it can’t be did,” so “hold your horses.”

An edition of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper from September 1844, ran an article that had this line in it:

Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.

At the time, hoss was the slang term for horse and was used interchangeably by people living in America.  In fact, in 1814 Connecticut-born David Humphreys (1752–1818) wrote a comedic play entitled “The Yankey in England” which was published in 1815.  During the Revolutionary War, he had been a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington, and was appointed sole commissioner in Algerine affairs in 1793, among other high-profile posts. “The Yankey in England” told the story of an American Whig and Tory officers meeting a French nobleman and an adventuress.  In the play, he wrote:

The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump.

As early as the 14th century, cannons and mortars of bronze, brass, or iron mounted on two-wheeled carriages became part of military manoeuvres.  Since horses were also part of military manoeuvres, it is very likely that this  expression was part of the language of the day.

What’s more, in Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus’ funeral games sees the son of Atreus call out to Antiochus with the suggestion that he hold his horses.  Let’s not forget that during Roman times, Romans had a man at the ready to hold their horses in the midst of battles. 

And since gunpowder is a Chinese invention, and since horses were also part of the Chinese military even then, it’s very likely that the expression hold your horses has its origins in ancient China.

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

Tower Of Strength

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2010

This expression “tower of strength” is found in The Book of Common Prayer written in 1549, originally was used most often to refer to God and heaven:

“O Lorde …  Bee vnto them a tower of strength.”

Shakespeare, being his own person, put a twist to the phrase in his play in Richard III written in 1594 where in Act 5, Scene 3:

KING RICHARD:
Up with my tent! Here will I lie tonight—
But where to-morrow? Well, all’s one for that.
Who hath descried the number of the traitors?

NORFOLK:
Six or seven thousand is their utmost power.

KING RICHARD:
Why, our battalia trebles that account!
Besides, the King’s name is a tower of strength,
Which they upon the adverse faction want.

But that’s not the first recorded use of the phrase “tower of strength.”  In fact, the legendary ancient Greek epic poet, Homer wrote The Odyssey in 800 B.C. where the following is found: 

“When I saw him I tried to pacify him and said, ‘Ajax, will you not forget and forgive even in death, but must the judgment about that hateful armor still rankle with you? It cost us Argives dear enough to lose such a tower of strength as you were to us. We mourned you as much as we mourned Achilles son of Peleus himself, nor can the blame be laid on anything but on the spite which Zeus bore against the Danaans, for it was this that made him counsel your destruction – come here, therefore, bring your proud spirit into subjection, and hear what I can tell you.’

So while I would love to give the prize to Mr. Shakespeare yet again, and while it might be refreshing to award the prize for this phrase to Homer, the phrase is a derivative of a phrase found in the Bible in Proverbs 18:10 where the following is written:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Since Hector Was A Pup

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2010

This phrase first began to appear in North American newspapers around 1906 and became a catchphrase in the 1920s, especially among flappers.  It was an extension of an earlier idiom — “as dead as Hector” — which was widely used in the 1860s.

The reference is to Hector, the son of King Priam of Troy and his second wife Hecuba — a symbol of the consummate warrior — and one of the chief participants in the tale of the siege of Troy by the Greeks in Homer’s epic The Iliad.  King Priam, as we all know, was killed in single combat by the Greek champion Achilles.

Hecuba was responsible for the murder of Polyxena, who was the murderer of Hecuba’s older son, Polydorus.  The gods turned Hecuba into a dog as punishment for taking Polyxena’s life which, literally speaking, made Hector his mother’s pup.

What’s more, by the early twentieth century, “pup” was well established as a mildly dismissive comment that referred to a young person who was particularly inexperienced in the ways of the world.

Posted in Greek, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »