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Posts Tagged ‘John Dryden’

If Worse Comes To Worst

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2021

Last week, Idiomation took on the benefit of the doubt. The opposite to that is to assume the worst, and worse yet is if worse comes to worst! But where did the expression if worse comes to worst come from and what does it really mean?  It means if the worst that could possibly happen actually does happen, then you have gone from whatever your current situation is to an even worse situation. In fact, it’s gone to the very worst situation possible.

Now you may have heard the expression as if worse comes to worse and you may have heard the expression as if worst come to worst as well, and at the end of the day, the three expressions are mild variations of the other two.

In the July 2004 article “It’s The Economy, Right? Guess Again” published in the New York Times and written by Louis Uchitelle that addressed the issue of whether then-campaigning Senator John Kerry’s comments on an Administration under his leadership was sound. Considering what John Kerry had to say on cutting the deficit, budget surpluses, and recreating the economy of the Bill Clinton years, the journalist reported John Kerry’s words as spoken and presented them for the loud comments they were.

“Health care is sacrosanct,” Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.

“Listen,” he said, “if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities.”

And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro (TN) ran an article in their 09 November 1941 edition with the expression. The interviewee was a man by the name of Sterling Owen ‘Dump’ Edmonds (28 March 1871 – 14 March 1954) and following in his father’s footsteps, he was a mastermind in mechanics.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling’s father was more than just a mechanic in Eagleville. He also owned and operating a funeral home, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and a grain hauling business all at the same time.  He said in 1911 he got the idea to invent a trailer truck, and then he went ahead and built a trailer truck. Then he patented the idea in 1916. It was the kind of invention that interested the government, and because of that, his trailer truck idea was used by the U.S. Government during the first World War.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1916, Sterling Edmonds filed a worldwide patent for a six-wheel truck. In 1917, Sterling Edmonds filed his patent for automotive towage. In 1932, he created the So-Easy Jacks for big trucks.  He also came up with a great many other inventions including a revolving sign with cylinders at filling stations, the automatic lipstick tube, hydraulic lifts for dump trucks, a revolving rural mailbox, milk coolers and insulated receptacles for milk bottles, and he suggested guardrails on roads.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling Edmonds was married to Ethel Morrow whose uncle, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was the founder of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg (TN).

When he was interviewed in 1941 by Mary B. Hughes for her article, “Eagleville Inventor of Trailer Truck Gave Patent to U.S. In World War I” he had this to say about his then-most recent invention the pressure pump, and the difficulties he had obtaining materials due to the war.

“But,” says Edmonds philosophically, “if worse comes to worst, I’ll dismiss it from my mind and invent something else.”

As yet, however, business at the Edmonds shop in the Eagleville community hasn’t felt the pinch of priorities. “My pumps are going at the rate of two a day and I have more orders than I can fill,” commented the crossroads Edison.

The idiom has been around quite some time, and is used by English trader, writer, pamphleteer and spy, Daniel Defoe (1660 – 24 April 1731) in his book “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” which was published on 25 April 1719. This passage is found in Chapter XIV titled, “A Dream Realised.”

I looked upon my present condition as the most miserable that could possibly be; that I was not able to throw myself into anything but death, that could be called worse; and if I reached the shore of the main I might perhaps meet with relief, or I might coast along, as I did on the African shore, till I came to some inhabited country, and where I might find some relief; and after all, perhaps I might fall in with some Christian ship that might take me in: and if the worst came to the worst, I could but die, which would put an end to all these miseries at once. Pray note, all this was the fruit of a disturbed mind, an impatient temper, made desperate, as it were, by the long continuance of my troubles, and the disappointments I had met in the wreck I had been on board of, and where I had been so near obtaining what I so earnestly longed for—somebody to speak to, and to learn some knowledge from them of the place where I was, and of the probable means of my deliverance.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: The first edition of Defoe’s book credited Robinson Crusoe as the author which, of course, led readers to believe Robinson Crusoe was real and that the book was a detailed accounting of true incidents that happened to Robinson Kreutznaer over the course of 28 years.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Defoe was a bit of a bad boy before publishing “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” His small business went bankrupt in 1692, and his political pamphleteering got him in so much trouble he was arrested and tried for seditious libel in 1703. This may explain why the first edition stated it was written by Robinson Crusoe.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Defoe only began writing fiction once he turned 60. He died in London one day after the 12th anniversary of the publication of “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.”

Going back two more generations to English poet, translator, playwright, and literary critic, John Dryden (19 August 1631 – 12 May 1700) wrote “Sir Martin Mar-All, Or, The Geign’d Innocence: A Comedy” published in 1668. In Act II, Scene I, Lady Dupe and Mrs. Christian are speaking and the dialogue makes use of the idiom.

LADY DUPE
Therefore you desire his lordship, as he loves you, of which you are confident, henceforward to forbear his visits to you.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But how, if he should take me at my word?

LADY DUPE
Why, if the worst come to the worst, he leaves you an honest woman, and there’s an end on’t: But fear not that; hold out his messages, and then he’ll write, and that is it, my bird, which you must drive it to: Then all his letters will be such ecstasies, such vows and promises, which you must answer short and simply, yet still ply out of them your advantages.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But, madam! he’s in the house, he will not write.

Thomas Middleton (1580 – 4 July 1627) wrote the Jacobean play, “The Phoenix” which was performed at Court before King James on 20 February 1604. Middleton, along with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, were among the most prolific and successful of playwrights during the time period.  In his play, “The Phoenix” in Act III, Scene I Proditor tells Phoenix his plan to pretend that the duke’s son plotted to murder the duke which will then allow Proditor’s men to murder the prince. From there things only go downhill! This prompts the inclusion of this in the dialogue:

The worst comes to the worst.

But it was in the pamphlet “Have With You to Saffron-Walden, Or, Gabriel Harveys Hunt Is Up” written by Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – 1601) printed in 1596 that has the first published version of the expression. It was written as a response to Gabriel Harvey’s 1593 pamphlet that attacked Thomas Nashe. To make it absolutely clear to any interested party who, specifically, Thomas Nashe wrote about, the author included Gabriel Harvey’s birthplace of Saffron Walden in the title.  In this instance, Nashe was comparing dying by drowning to dying by burning.

O, you must not conclude so desperate, for every tossing billow brings not death in the mouth of it; besides, if the worst come to the worst, a good swimmer may do much,
whereas fire rapit omnia secum, sweepeth clean where it seizeth.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The pamphlet also includes a reference to the line Fee-fi-fo-fum and identifies it as an old rhyme with obscure origins back in 1596!

For Thomas Nashe to use the expression so easily in his pamphlet in 1596, it had to be an expression that was known and understood by those who read such pamphlets, and as such while the first published version is 1596, it’s a safe determination that the expression was around in the 1550s if not earlier.

In many ways, the expression if worse comes to worst brings to mind the idiom when push comes to shove which, it would appear, is the next idiom to be hunted down on Idiomation.

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

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2017

It’s been long said that dead men tell no tales, and if you’ve committed a crime to which there were witnesses, it’s believed that permanently silencing those witnesses prevents them for sharing what they know with the authorities.  The good news is that technology and forensics have advanced to the point where this adage is no longer true.  Advancements in science have made it so that dead men still tell tales.

Now that the macabre has been addressed, Idiomation is free to tell the tale of where dead men tell no tales first began.

For those of you who love movies, you’ll be happy to hear that the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is titled, “Dead Men Tell No Secrets” and is scheduled for theater release on 26 May 2017.  In this movie, the evil Captain Salazar and his crew escape from the Devil’s Triangle and set their sights on killing every pirate at sea, but most especially, on killing Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp.  As you know, whether it’s telling tales or keeping secrets, it’s a fact that pirates believe that dead men neither tell tales nor secrets.

The idiom is most often associated with pirates but it’s not exclusively a pirate expression.

The Star and Sentinel newspaper of January 18, 1882 published the story of Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune who squelched the efforts of certain newspaper pundits interested in reviving the Cokling-Garfield quarrel by “directing their assaults against Mr. Blaise as Mr. Garfield’s evil genius.”  It had to do with the nomination of Judge Robertson by the President.

It follows that this “friend of Garfield” or some accomplice must have stolen the telegram, and then presuming that it had been delivered to the President and that “dead men tell no tales,” undertook to cover up the theft of the deliberate lie that the President showed him the dispatch and allowed him to copy it.

It also appeared in the work of English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) in the September 26, 1797 edition of the Porcupine’s Gazette.  While it wasn’t an exact version of the idiom, it was nonetheless a very close relative.

Not content with deserting my service, he appears desirous to pre­judice the public against me, and my brethren, asserting in strong terms, that we are enemies to the noble science of blood-letting: This is abominable and contrary to the truth. For I am, and shall be no­lens volens, an advocate for the practice, and it is my creed that it will cure all diseases—as our good allies the French have clearly pro­ved in their practice,—I have also another reason for commencing the business of a physician; In fact, the villainous liquors my wine mer­chant obliges me to supply my guests with, has lately caused in the latter severe and harsh expostulations, and, as I am a conscientious man, I wish to follow a quiet business, and I prefer that of the lancet, be­cause you know Mr. P. dead men never tell tales.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Cobbett’s pseudonym for this work was Peter Porcupine.

The idiom was used more than a century earlier by John Dryden, in Act IV scene i of his play “The Spanish Fryar or The Double Discovery” published in 1681. This work was a comedy in five acts, and was first performed at Duke’s Theater. The idiom appears in the conversation between Lorenzo (who is the son of Alphonso) and Dominic (the Spanish Fryar).

LORENZO
And make what haste you can to bring out the Lady.  What say you, Father? Burglary is but a venial Sin among Souldiers.

DOMINIC
I shall absolve them, because he is an enemy of the Church – there is a Proverb, I confess, which says, That Dead-men tell no Tales; but let your Souldiers apply it to their own Perils.

LORENZO
What, take away a man’s Wife, and kill him too! The Wickedness of this old Villain startles me, and gives me a twinge for my own Sin; though it come far short of his: hark you Souldiers, be sure you use as little Violence to him as is possible.

English cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon (1512 – 1567) wrote about dead men and tales in 1560 when he penned this passage in Chapter 22 of “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting.”

For he that hath his body loaden with meat and drink, is no more meet to pray unto God than a dead man is to tell a tale; neither can the mind of such one any more fly unto God with heavenly desires, than a ship, too much cumbered with burdens and at the point to sink, can any longer float upon the waters.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Thomas Becon was the chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556), Prebendary of Canterbury, during the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and when Mary I came to power, he was put on trial for treason and heresy against the Roman Catholic Church.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Thomas Becon married and had three children: two sons (Theodore and Basil) and a daughter (Rachel).  His daughter married William Beswicke of Horsmanden who was the High Sheriff of Kent in 1616.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Until 1974, the High Sheriff was known simply as the Sheriff.  At the time William Beswicke was the Sheriff, he was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.

Long before Thomas Becon talked of dead men telling no tales, there was a Persian poet named Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  (1203 – 9 December 1292) — known as Saadi as well as Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz– who wrote about this in 1250.  This was his advice on how to deal with quacks and charlatans.

So I finished the rogue, notwithstanding his wails,
With stones, for dead men, as you know, tell no tales.

But the sense of the idiom is older than that.  The Latin phrase mortui non morden when translated word-for-word is dead men don’t bite.  However, the phrase is used to underscore the belief that killing one’s enemies or victims is the surest way for them to never speak of what happened, and as such, the phrase mortui non morden really means dead men tell no tales.

This version of the idiom was used by Plutarch (46 AD to 120 AD) in Part III of “The Life Of Pompey” covering Pompey’s return to Rome from 62 to 48 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC).   The chapter included this passage that spoke of Theodotus of Chios who Plutarch identifies as the person who was responsible for Pompey’s death.  This is an English translation of what Plutarch wrote.

It seems they were so far different in their opinions that some were for sending the man away, and others again for inviting and receiving him; but Theodotus, to show his cleverness and the cogency of his rhetoric, undertook to demonstrate, that neither the one nor the other was safe in that juncture of affairs.  For if they entertained him, they would be sure to make Caesar their enemy, and Pompey their master; or if they dismissed him, they might render themselves hereafter obnoxious to Pompey, for that inhospitable expulsion, and to Caesar, for the escape; so that the most expedient course would be to send for him and take away his life, for by that means they would ingratiate themselves with the one, and have no reason to fear the other; adding, it is related, with a smile, that “a dead man cannot bite.”

SIDE NOTE 6:  Yes, this is the Julius Caesar who was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

SIDE NOTE 7:  Julius Caesar’s successor was his grand-nephew Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) and is considered the first Roman Emperor.  He controlled the Roman Empire until his death.

Idiomation believes Plutarch to be the originator of this idiom as he clearly demonstrated the veracity of the claim in his writings that dead men tell no tales, with a nod to Saadi of Shiraz for the exact wording.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Politics, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »