Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Jack London’

Benefit of the Doubt

Posted by Admin on February 6, 2021

When someone is given the benefit of the doubt, it means they are allowing for the possibility that what is being purported as factual may actually be true even if it doesn’t sound like it may be. In other words, no matter how outlandish something being claimed might sound, accepting it at face value for the time being is how what is being claimed is interpreted.

In fact, Paul Faulkner of the University of Sheffield published a paper in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies in February 2018 which was titled, “Giving The Benefit of the Doubt.” The abstract began thusly:

Faced with evidence that what a person said is false, we can nevertheless trust them and so believe what they say – choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is particularly notable when the person is a friend, or someone we are close to. Towards such persons, we demonstrate a remarkable epistemic partiality. We can trust, and so believe, our friends even when the balance of the evidence suggests that what they tell us is false. And insofar as belief is possible, it is also possible to acquire testimonial knowledge on those occasions when the friends know what they tell us. This paper seeks to explain these psychological and epistemological possibilities.

In 2000, the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 was passed (Public Law 106-475, 106th Congress, 2nd Session) in which the following is found:

SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.

Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“Sec. 5107. Claimant responsibility; benefit of the doubt

“(a) Claimant Responsibility.  Except as otherwise provided by law, a claimant has the responsibility to present and support a claim for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.
“(b) Benefit of the Doubt.  The Secretary shall consider all information and lay and medical evidence of record in a case before the Secretary with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary. When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the Secretary shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.”

Back in 1987, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020) stated in the Federal Judicial, Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 17-18 at instruction 21 that the following was true:

There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty. If on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

In 1910, American novelist and social activist Jack London (12 January 1876 – 11 November 1915) saw his short story “The Benefit of the Doubt” published.  In this story, the benefit of the doubt is a central theme as seen in this passage.

Both Patsy’s attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney rested their cases, letting everything go before the Court without argument. Watson protested against this, but was silenced when the Prosecuting Attorney told him that Public Prosecutor and knew his business.

“Patrick Horan has testified that he was in danger of his life and that he was compelled to defend himself,” Judge Witberg’s verdict began. “Mr. Watson has testified to the same thing. Each has sworn that the other struck the first blow; each has sworn that the other made an unprovoked assault on him. It is an axiom of the law that the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt. A very reasonable doubt exists. Therefore, in the case of the People Versus Carter Watson the benefit of the doubt is given to said Carter Watson and he is herewith ordered discharged from custody. The same reasoning applies to the case of the People Versus Patrick Horan. He is given the benefit of the doubt and discharged from custody. My recommendation is that both defendants shake hands and make up.”

In the years leading up to Jack London’s short story and in subsequent years, many authors have thought “The Benefit of the Doubt” to be a wonderful title for their writing. This includes, Mary Clare Wilson Spenser (2 May 1842 – 4 October 1923) whose first book by that name was published in 1882.

General Sir Charles James Napier (10 August 1782 – 29 August 1853), in writing to Keith Young on 21 February 1844, expressed concern for a man accused of murdering a European woman especially in light of the fact that the accused was a local. The man was subject to Sio Kari law under the then-colonial government of the Sindh region in southern Pakistan. Of this particular case, he wrote:

On this occasion both Captain Preedy and yourself have decided that there is no proof against this man — the murderer of Mrs. Barnes. I shall therefore, as you are so satisfied and so impressed, give him the benefit [of the doubt] at your request. But by this weakness, for such it is, I am guilty of having murdered every man I have hanged in this and other countries; for so help God! in the whole course of a long life, and the experience of some thousands of trials, I never saw proofs more perfect of guilt, except where the crime was avowed, than those against Buska Chandia. As to its afterwards appearing that he was innocent, I should not believe it if all Scinde swore to it. I am quite ready to take that chance; but as you seem to consider that Preedy tried him, and you are both, I consider, blind to facts, he shall escape.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: General Sir Charles James Napier was a Major General of the Bombay Army where he led the military conquest of Sindh before becoming the Governor of Sindh as well as the Commander-in-Chief of India.

Multiple dictionaries indicate that the expression is from the 1850s and from General Sir Charles James Napier’s correspondence, this supports the claim the expression was in use — or implied in certain circumstances — during his time in Bombay.

However, in France, there is a court record of a seamstress named Marie Maire who was accused of infanticide in 1786. While Marie Maire admitted to having miscarried a child in her fourth or fifth month of pregnancy (she wasn’t certain how long she had been pregnant), she denied being responsible for the child’s death. But no body could be found to substantiate the accusation against her so when her lawyer urged the judges to “give her the benefit of the doubt in light of the fact that public opinion always exaggerates … public clamor rarely leads to truth” the parliament of Dijon acquitted her of the charges against her on 13 February 1786.

This was reported in “Causes célèbres” published in 1787. The case of Marie Maire was listed as Case 511 and is found on pages 188 and 189.

In the case of Rex v Preston in 1770, the closing arguments and the judge’s instructions to the jury have never been found in the case of Captain Preston who, along with eight other soldiers, was arrested and charged with firing into a crowd of protesting Bostonians on 5 March 1770 which resulted in the death of five people.

John Adams (yes, the same John Adams who was the second President of the United States of America) argued in his closing arguments that “the best rule in doubtful cases, is, rather to incline to acquittal than conviction … If you doubt the prisoner’s guilt, never declare him guilty.”

Robert Treat Paine was the lawyer arguing for the Crown, and in his closing statements (per Volume 3 of the Legal Papers of John Adams) and Paine agreed that jurors would have to acquit if they had any doubts, but if they had any doubts, those doubts had to be reasonable.

If therefore in the examination of this Cause the Evidence is not sufficient to Convince you beyond reasonable Doubt of the Guilt of all or any of the Prisoners by the Benignity and Reason of the Law you will acquit them, but if the Evidence be sufficient to convince you of their Guilt beyond reasonable Doubt the Justice of the Law will require you to declare them Guilty.

So while there are no records of the closing arguments or the judge’s instructions to the jury in this case from 1770, it’s doubtful John Adams — the future President of the United States of America — would misrepresent what Robert Treat Paine said in making his closing arguments to the Court.

Interestingly enough, the standard of reasonable doubt was neither new nor innovative, and existed in traditional English law. So the concept dates back to considerably longer than most people realize.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version or variation of the expression and therefore it is pegged at 1786 in France with a serious acknowledgement to traditional English law which has been in place since the Norman Conquest of 1066.

 

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Soapbox

Posted by Admin on December 6, 2016

Oftentimes on social media and in real life, people will apologize for getting on their soapbox after speaking their minds.  Usually what they have to say is something they are passionate about and they feel compelled to share that passionate view with others.  When someone figuratively stands on his or her soapbox, that person is expression his or her opinion about a particular subject very vocally.

The Associated Press out of London reported on British communist and military trade unionist leader Jack Dash’s passing on June 9, 1989 and included the term in the obituary.  He was described as a “fervent British patriot” while at the same time reported that he “unswervingly defended the Soviet line.”  The obituary read in part:

The Transport and General Workers’ Union to which he belonged barred Communists from holding union office, so Mr. Dash operated strictly from the soapbox and became known as “unofficial king of the docks.”

In the October 29, 1945 edition of the Pittsburgh Press, Florence Fisher Perry wrote about attending an event to hear Roger Nash Baldwin (21 January 1884 – 26 August 1981), co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, speak at the First Unitarian Church in a Forum series.  Her article, “I Dare Say: Leftward The Course Of Thinking” made reference to soap box orators.

As always seems to be the case, the more Leftist ones is, the more articulate one becomes with the result that most of what we hear from lecturers, forums, dramatists, and definitely soap box orators, is Leftist talk.  The Rightists in any typical audience may feel deeply and even angrily, but they’re not apt to stand up and express themselves.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  When the ACLU was first established, Roger Nash Baldwin stated that “Communism, of course, is the goal.”  As he became more and more disillusioned with Soviet-style communism, he began to refer to communism as it was in Russia as the new slavery. 

The Afro American newspaper edition of August 13, 1927 spoke about Garveyism and race riots in an article titled, “Go It Garvey.”  Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, and orator Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914.  Garveyism promoted the concept that African-Americans should be returned to African by way of his shipping and passenger line, the Black Star Line, and that European colonial powers be made to leave Africa.  In this article, the term was used thusly:

Constitutional rights, and racial equality advocated by every intelligent person constitute the Garvey creed, which soap box orators spout in fiery language.

In American novelist, journalist, and social activist John Griffith “Jack” London’s book titled, “The Road” and published in 1907, in the short story titled, “Two Thousand Stiffs,” he wrote of his hobo experiences back in 1894.  At the time he was working for an electric railway power plant shoveling coal.  He quit the job when he determined he was being exploited, and headed west to join General Kelly’s Army, meeting up with them in Omaha (NE).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Stiff was the slang term for a tramp in the 1890s.

This army wasn’t an army in the military sense, however, its members intended on marching to Washington (D.C.) to join General Coxey’s Industrial Army in protest of unemployment numbers.   Army life didn’t suit him as much as he thought it might, and a month later, he left General Kelly’s Army in Hannibal (MO) and became a bona-fide hobo.  He wound up being arrested in Buffalo (NY) on June 29 of that year, charged with vagrancy, and spent thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary upon conviction.   Years later, when he wrote about what happened, he used the term soapbox to explain

The city had treacherously extended its limits into a mile of the country, and I didn’t know, that was all.  I remember my inalienable right of free speech and peaceable assembly, and I get up on a soap-box to trot out the particular economic bees that buzz in my bonnet, and a bull takes me off that box and leads me to the city prison, and after that I get out on bail.  It’s no use.  In Korea I used to be arrested about every other day.  It was the same thing in Manchuria.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Charles T. Kelly was known as General Kelly, leader of General Kelly’s Army.  His group of slightly more than 2,000 unemployment men intended to march from San Francisco (CA) to meet up with Jacob Coxey’s Industrial Army, where they would continue marching to Washington (D.C.).  Unfortunately, few of the men in General Kelly’s Army were interested in making the trek on foot past the Ohio River.  A thousand men made it as far as Des Moines (IA).  By the time they arrived in Washington (D.C.), there were hardly any men left in his army.  His men added another hundred to General Coxey’s numbers when they marched on Washington (D.C.).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Prominent political figure and labor-rights advocate Jacob Coxey was known as General Coxey, leader of the Industrial Army.  He decided to lead a march to Washington (D.C.) to protest unemployment.  He claimed in the media that his Industrial Army would have more than 100,000 unemployed men by the time it arrived in Washington, however, he was mistaken.  By the time he reached Washington, there were only five hundred unemployed men with him.  Undeterred, he moved forward with his plan to have the United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland see things his way, and found himself arrested for trespassing on public property.  His followers abandoned him, and upon his release from jail he was sent back to his home state of Ohio.

In 1904, mainstream media in America referred to those making speeches at the National Convention of the Socialist Party of America as soap-box orators.  The Socialist Party of America was a Marxist group with headquarters originally in St. Louis (MO).  In January 1904, it was determined that their headquarters would be moved to Chicago (IL) as determined by Referendum B 1904.  Although the convention was referred to by the media as the First National Convention of the Socialist Party of America, it was actually the second  — the first having been the Unity Convention held in Indianapolis (IN) held from July 29 to August 1, 1901.  

The concept of a Speaker’s Corner has been around for some time, with some locations such as Hyde Park in the UK dating back to the late 1800s. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 stated that some areas in parks would be permitted to be used to allow people to meet and speak their mind in a peaceful way in public.  In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, manufacturers used wooden crates to ship wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. The heavier the merchandise, the stronger the box had to be, and soap was (and still is) some of the heaviest merchandise being shipped. This meant that wooden crates carrying soap were among the strongest.

When wooden crates that had once carried soap were turned over into makeshift platforms, they could easily bear the weight of an adult without fear of breaking while the person stood on it.  They were also very easy to carry around, making quick escapes possible for those who stood on their soap boxes delivering unscheduled speeches.

The tradition of soapbox speaking was seen in the 1992 general election in the UK when Tory leader John Major took his campaign to the people directly and delivered many political addresses from an upturned soapbox.

The term soap box referring to speaking one’s mind dates back to the late 1800s and continues to be used even in conversations more than 125 years later.

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

Pink Elephants

Posted by Admin on March 5, 2014

If someone accuses you of seeing pink elephants, it means you are suffering from hallucinations … mostly likely caused by a state of inebriation.

In 1992, the “Confrerie van de Roze Olifant” (Brotherhood of the Pink Elephant) was founded to promote the Belgian beers made by the Huyghe Brewery aka Brouwerij Huyghe. The brewery has been in operation since 1654 and its best known beer is called Delirium Tremens (which is Latin for “trembling madness“). It has an alcohol content of 8.5% and was named “Best Beer In The World” at the 2008 World Beer Championships held in Chicago, Illinois.

In the May 14, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal, journalist Jean Spender wrote about former Alaska governor’s speech at a fundraising breakfast for the Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, D.C. She was quoted as having said:

Look out, Washington. There’s a whole stampede of pink elephants coming this November.

So where does this idiom come from, and what’s with all this talk of pink elephants as opposed to blue or green or bright yellow elephants?

Back in 1953, a Looney Tunes cartoon named “Punch Trunk” referred to pink elephants when a drunk looks at his watch and then says to a tiny grey elephant “You’re late!” Staggering away, he adds as an aside for the audience’s benefit,”He always used to be pink.”

Aha! What this means is that before 1953, there were pink elephants in some idiomatic form or another. And, of course, there was. In Disney‘s 1941 animated feature, “Dumbo” Timothy Q. Mouse and Dumbo the Elephant accidentally find themselves inebriated when they drink water that’s been spiked with champagne. Thanks to this mishap, they hallucinate pink elephants singing, dancing and playing marching band instruments. It would be easy to stop there and say it was obviously an expression that originated with Dumbo but that’s not quite right.

In the December 1938 edition of Action Comics #7, Superman lifts an elephant over his head while performing at the circus. As with most stories, there has to be an non-believer in the crowd and in this case, it’s a drunk. Upon witnessing Superman‘s feat of strength, the drunk says, “I don’t mind seeing pink elephants, but (hic) this is too much!

The expression appears in the National Provisioner, published by the Food Trade Publishing Company and heralded as the “official organ of the American Meat Packers Association.”  In the October 17, 1908 edition, the following excerpt is found with regards to the Packers’ Convention in Chicago. In fact, the following is attributed as being part of the “aftermath of the convention.”

Listen to the gentle dill-dill bird carolling sweet lays and the voice of the placid niph blending his voice in beatific unison. And see — see the pink elephants with green mosquito jockeys astride racing over the walls — what’s that? It’s 11 o’clock. Say, send a boy up with a pitcher of ice water, will you? In a hurry please.

In Chapter II of Jack London’s novel “John Barleycorn” published in 1903, the author provides an excellent definition of how alcohol and pink elephants are associated.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers.

But are there such things as pink elephants? As a matter of fact, yes. In fact, albino elephants — which are far more common in Asian elephants than African elephants — are reddish-brown or pink. In Thailand, they are called chang phueak which, when translated, is pink elephant.

In 1877, Queen Victoria became the Empress of India even though India had been under British control since 1858.  Six years after Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India, Toung Taloung, wintered for a time at the London Zoological Gardens before continuing its journey to join the Barnum, Bailey and Hutchison Circus in New York City. While in London, journalists and citizens were disappointed to learn that the alleged “white” elephant wasn’t white at all, but rather a reddish-brown — or rather, a dirty dusty rose.

Sometime between 1883 and 1903 — twenty years between Toung Taloung‘s appearance at the London Zoological Gardens and Jack London’s story — pink elephants, while very rare, were associated with the hallucinations of those who partook of alcoholic beverages.

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

Creature Comforts

Posted by Admin on April 26, 2013

Have you ever heard talk about creature comforts? Those are things that make life comfortable and pleasant … food, clothing, housing, and other necessities that take care of the physical aspects of the individual. In other words, material comforts that are responsible in part for one’s physical well-being, but that are not considered luxuries by others.

Malabar Hornblower wrote an article that was published in the New York Times on February 21, 1999 entitled, “Creature Comforts for Homo Sapiens.” The article discussed the parks, game reserves and conservation areas in Africa and included this commentary:

There is an abundance of accommodations providing all levels of luxury. For visitors who, like my husband, Bill Brewster, and me, relish their creature comforts, the choice of lodges is almost as critical as picking game-viewing sites. When it comes to making the final selections, it feels a bit like Russian roulette.

Back on December 4, 1949 the St. Petersburg Times ran an article entitled, “Strength Through Unity In Arms Is Not Enough.” The story was about the unanimous agreement on defense plans that was reached by the North American Pact allies and whether this would provide achieve the goals the allies hoped to achieve. It read in part:

It follows, consequently, that this system must be economically sound. That is not simply because man’s basic creature comforts must be satisfied. Only when those basic comforts are provided — when freedom from want is reasonably assured — can there be true progress in the arts and sciences. Men do not reach for the stars with empty bellies; they grub in the earth for food.

In Chapter XI of Jack London’s book “The Iron Heel” published 1908, describes the fall of America to a fascist dictatorship composed of a group of monopoly capitalists.

Father must have had strong in him the blood of adventure. He looked upon our catastrophe in the light of an adventure. No anger nor bitterness possessed him. He was too philosophic and simple to be vindictive, and he lived too much in the world of mind to miss the creature comforts we were giving up. So it was, when we moved to San Francisco into four wretched rooms in the slum south of Market Street, that he embarked upon the adventure with the joy and enthusiasm of a child–combined with the clear sight and mental grasp of an extraordinary intellect. He really never crystallized mentally.

For those of you who may not recognize the name Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), he is the 19th century American author and diplomat who wrote Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  He also wrote “Astoria or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains” which was published in February 1836. In Chapter XLVIII the following is found:

The two Canadians, Vallee and Le Clerc, killed a young buffalo bull in the evening, which was in good condition, and afforded them a plentiful supply of fresh beef. They loaded their spits, therefore, and crammed their camp kettle with meat, and while the wind whistled, and the snow whirled around them, huddled round a rousing fire, basked in its warmth, and comforted both soul and body with a hearty and invigorating meal. No enjoyments have greater zest than these, snatched in the very midst of difficulty and danger; and it is probable the poor wayworn and weather- beaten travellers relished these creature comforts the more highly from the surrounding desolation, and the dangerous proximity of the Crows.

While all this is very interesting, the expression appears in all sorts of documents. A number of dictionaries claim that the expression dates to the early to mid 1600s when creature was used in the context that creatus (past participle of Latin creare) referred to anything that ministered “to man’s comforts.”

The term creature from the Latin creatus actually dates back to between 1250 and 1300, however, it took another 300 or so years to take on the meaning ascribed to it in the 1600s.

The American Heritage Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1659. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1652. Webster’s Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1650. The Oxford Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was some time during the 1650s. But none of these dictionaries provided a source to support their respective claims.

In researching the 1600s in the hopes of uncovering who appears to have first used the expression, Idiomation uncovered a passage in the “Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible” by Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) and published in 1708 makes use of the expression. The commentary pertains directly to Joel 1:8-13.

All who labour only for the meat that perishes, will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. Those that place their happiness in the delights of sense, when deprived of them, or disturbed in the enjoyment, lose their joy; whereas spiritual joy then flourishes more than ever. See what perishing, uncertain things our creature-comforts are. See how we need to live in continual dependence upon God and his providence. See what ruinous work sin makes. As far as poverty occasions the decay of piety, and starves the cause of religion among a people, it is a very sore judgment. But how blessed are the awakening judgments of God, in rousing his people and calling home the heart to Christ, and his salvation!

Henry’s use of the expression implies that he assumes his readership will understand what he means by creature-comforts, which lends credence to the claim that the expression was first used sometime in the 1600s. Unfortunately, how much earlier that in use in Matthew Henry’s book is unknown at this time. Idiomation would like to peg it to at least 1659, if not much earlier.

With that in mind, the fact remains that the expression is implied in at least 2 different books in the Bible: 1 Timothy 4:4 – 8 and Joel 1:8-13.

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

A Word To The Wise

Posted by Admin on March 8, 2013

When someone adds the comment, “a word to the wise” in conversation or in writing, what’s implied is that smart people don’t need long, drawn out explanations to understand what’s being hinted at by the speaker or the author.

In the January 1, 2011 edition of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, journalist Mervin Stoddart wrote at length about his career as an educator, and the people in his life who had influenced him. As he began his story, he included this in the first paragraph:

Mr Dibbs taught wisdom and often ended his remarks to me with the adage, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

In Jack London’s book, “The Red One” published in 1918, the following is found in Chapter 3 entitled, “Like Argus Of The Ancient Times.”

“If you think I’d give away on the old codger–” Charles began indignantly.

“You thought that,” Liverpool checked him, “because I never mentioned any such thing. Now–get me and get me hard: I don’t care what you’ve been thinking. It’s what you’re going to think. We’ll make the police post some time this afternoon, and we’ve got to get ready to pull the bluff without a hitch, and a word to the wise is plenty.”

“If you think I’ve got it in my mind–” Charles began again.

“Look here,” Liverpool shut him off. “I don’t know what’s in your mind. I don’t want to know. I want you to know what’s in my mind. If there’s any slip-up, if old dad gets turned back by the police, I’m going to pick out the first quiet bit of landscape and take you ashore on it. And then I’m going to beat you up to the Queen’s taste. Get me, and get me hard. It ain’t going to be any half-way beating, but a real, two-legged, two-fisted, he-man beating. I don’t expect I’ll kill you, but I’ll come damn near to half-killing you.”

It appeared in Charles’ Dickens book, “David Copperfield” which was originally published in monthly magazine installments from May 1849 to November 1850. In Chapter 26, where a discussion as to whether a certain young lady should or should not be compared to a barmaid, the character known as Mrs. Crupp mentions the expression in conversation.

‘Mr. Copperfull,’ returned Mrs. Crupp, ‘I’m a mother myself, and not likely. I ask your pardon, sir, if I intrude. I should never wish to intrude where I were not welcome. But you are a young gentleman, Mr. Copperfull, and my adwice to you is, to cheer up, sir, to keep a good heart, and to know your own walue. If you was to take to something, sir,’ said Mrs. Crupp, ‘if you was to take to skittles, now, which is healthy, you might find it divert your mind, and do you good.’

With these words, Mrs. Crupp, affecting to be very careful of the brandy – which was all gone – thanked me with a majestic curtsey, and retired. As her figure disappeared into the gloom of the entry, this counsel certainly presented itself to my mind in the light of a slight liberty on Mrs. Crupp’s part; but, at the same time, I was content to receive it, in another point of view, as a word to the wise, and a warning in future to keep my secret better.

Jumping back into the previous century, William Haughton’s play “Englishmen For My Money: Or A Pleasant Comedy Called, A Woman Will Have Her Will” was published in 1616 and in that book, the following conversation is exchanged between two characters:

ANTHONY
I beseech you, monsieur, give me audience.

FRISCO
What would you have? What should I give you?

ANTHONY
Pardon, sir, mine uncivil and presumptuous intrusion, who
endeavour nothing less than to provoke or exasperate you against me.

FRISCO [aside]
They say a word to the wise is enough. So by this little French
that he speaks, I see he is the very man I seek for. — Sir, I pray, what
is your name?

ANTHONY
I am nominated Monsieur le Mouché, and rest at your bon
service.

And this expression — although not exactly as “a word to the wise” — is found in a poem by William Dunbar entitled, “Of Discretioun In Asking” dating back to 1513 which reads in part:

He that does all his best servyis
May spill it all with crakkis and cryis,
Be fowllinoportunitie;
Few wordis may serve the wyise:
In asking sowld dicretioun be.

Now, remember Mervin Stoddart’s piece published in the Jamaica Observer of January 1, 2011 where he mentioned Mr. Dibbs? There was more to that comment than I previously shared. In fact, if you continued reading the article, you would have read this:

Mr Dibbs taught wisdom and often ended his remarks to me with the adage, “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Only he would say it in Latin.

What Mr. Dibbs would have been heard saying is “verbum sat sapienti” which translates to be: A word to the wise is sufficient.  And so it is.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Days On End

Posted by Admin on September 26, 2011

When something happens or continues for days on end, it means it’s continuing without any sign of stopping.  It’s an expression with a fair bit of history and reaches back several centuries.

In 1949, the expression was used in “The Royal Engineers Journal” where the following can be found with regards to the post D-Day invasion of northern France.

Often frozen and wet through by night, they proceeded to march and fight at top speed for days on end. This was the 6th Airborne, with wings on its feet as well as its shoulders, and a spirit which said, ‘Bash on regardless.’

Jack London (1876 – 1916) wrote and published “Adventure” in 1911.  In Chapter XVII entitled, “Making The Books Come True” the following passage is found:

The steamer from Sydney, the Kammambo, broke the quietude of Berande for an hour, while landing mail, supplies, and the trees and seeds Joan had ordered. The Minerva, bound for Cape Marsh, brought the two cows from Nogi. And the Apostle, hurrying back to Tulagi to connect with the Sydney steamer, sent a boat ashore with the orange and lime trees from Ulava. And these several weeks marked a period of perfect weather. There were days on end when sleek calms ruled the breathless sea, and days when vagrant wisps of air fanned for several hours from one direction or another. The land-breezes at night alone proved regular, and it was at night that the occasional cutters and ketches slipped by, too eager to take advantage of the light winds to drop anchor for an hour.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s book “A Study In Scarlet” which was published in 1887, the following is found in Part I, Chapter 1 where Dr. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, reminiscences about Sherlock Holmes in this fashion:

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. “I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground. You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”

“I always smoke `ship’s’ myself,” I answered.

“That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?”

“By no means.”

“Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”

I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” I said, “and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.”

Various books, documents, stories, newspaper accounts et al make use of the expression days on end.  Idiomation’s research unearthed that the word end comes from the Old English word ende which is from the Old Norse word endir which means “the opposite side” or “boundary.” The original sense of the word means “outermost part” and dates back to the 900s however this sense is obsolete except in phrases such as days on end.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the expression dates back to some time in the 1300s.

Posted in Idioms from the 10th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Make Ends Meet

Posted by Admin on July 19, 2011

When you can make both ends meet, it means that you have enough money coming into your household to pay for the expenses being made by your household.  The opposite of this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the Times-Herald Record newspaper of Middletown, New York, a Letter to the Editor written by James F. Leiner of New Windsor was published on July 13, 2010.   His letter addressed two featured news articles in the newspaper on July 10, 2010 about dealing with celebrity basketball player, LeBron James.  The letter stated in part:

There was no other noteworthy news to report?  How about mentioning the shame of paying a guy $96 million to play a game while people in Orange County are struggling to pay their taxes and make ends meet? We face the largest tax increase in the history of our country on Jan. 1, 2011, and that fact fails to make a mention anywhere in your missal.

In Jack London‘s book, “Burning Daylight” published in 1910, the author shares this intriguing exchange between two men dealing with pay-roll.

Two weeks later, with the pay-roll before them, it was:–

“Matthewson, who’s this bookkeeper, Rogers? Your nephew? I thought so. He’s pulling down eighty-five a month.

After — this let him draw thirty-five. The forty can ride with me at interest.”

“Impossible!” Matthewson cried. “He can’t make ends meet on his salary as it is, and he has a wife and two kids–“

Daylight was upon him with a mighty oath.

In 1824, Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) dedicated his book “Bureaucracy” to Comtesse Seraphina San Severino with the respectful homage of sincere and deep admiration.”  In Chapter IV entitled, “Three-Quarter Length Portraits Of Certain Government Officials” the following is found:

Once a month he took Zelie to the theatre, with tickets bestowed by du Bruel or Bixiou; for Bixiou was capable of anything, even of doing a kindness. Monsieur and Madame Minard paid their visits in person on New-Year’s day.  Those who saw them often asked how it was that a woman could keep her husband in good clothes, wear a Leghorn bonnet with flowers, embroidered muslin dresses, silk mantles, prunella boots, handsome fichus, a Chinese parasol, and drive home in a hackney-coach, and yet be virtuous; while Madame Colleville and other “ladies” of her kind could scarcely make ends meet, though they had double Madame Minard’s means.

In 1784,naval surgeon and novelist Tobias Smollett wrote in his book “The Adventures of Roderick Random” thusly:

In the course of our conversation, which was interlarded with scraps of Latin, we understood that this facetious person was a schoolmaster, whose income being small, he was fain to keep a glass of good liquor for the entertainment of passengers by which he made shift to make the two ends of the year meet. “I am this day,” said he, “the happiest old fellow in his majesty’s dominions. My wife, rest her soul, is in heaven. My daughter is to be married next week; but the two chief pleasures of my life are these (pointing to the bottle and a large edition of Horace that lay on the table). I am old, ’tis true–what then? the more reason I should enjoy the small share of life that remains, as my friend Flaccus advises: ‘Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi finem dii dederint. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.'”

Thomas Fuller’s book, “The History of the Worthies of England” published in 1661 provides this example of the expression:

Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses.

When all is said and done, however, the English phrase is a translation of the French saying “joindre les deux bouts” which became popular at the onset of the Renaissance era from 1450 through to 1600.  It is during this era that ruff collars — high standing pleated collars made of starched linen or lace — also known as millstone collars, came into vogue and were especially favoured in France. 

The more affluent the individual, the larger the ruff collar.  However, those who wore such collars had to preserve them when dining.  If the collars were too large for the wearer to reach around and tie both ends of a large serviette around the neck, this had to be done by servants.  The original expression was that the wearer of the ruff collar “avait du mal à joindre les deux bouts” … “had trouble making both ends [of the serviette] meet.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to this phrase prior to the Renaissance era.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Call Of The Wild

Posted by Admin on June 17, 2010

American author, Jack London (1876 – 1916) was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from writing.

Prospectors intermittently discovered gold in the Yukon region of Canada in the 1870s and 1880s. News of their finds attracted modest numbers of other prospectors hoping to find great deposits of the precious metal.  Jack London was among those prospectors. Although he didn’t strike gold, London did return from the Great White North with the “The Call Of The Wild” manuscript, published in 1903 and that based on his experiences while he was a prospector.  

The Saturday Evening Post who purchased the manuscript on January 26, 1903 insisted on having 5,000 words cut from the original and London complied with that request.

London calls the law of survival in the untamed wild northlands as “the law of club and fang.”  What’s more, the novel puts forth that heredity and environment are the major forces that shape human beings and inborn instincts influenced by economic, social, cultural and familial factors dictate how people react in any given situation.

The phrase “Call of the Wild” originates with Jack London.

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