Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘John Gay’

Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Admin on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

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Tricked Out

Posted by Admin on March 8, 2016

When something or someone is tricked out, the thing or the person has been decorated in an extravagant way with conspicuous accessories meant to bring undue attention to whatever or whoever has been tricked out.

The July 2, 2008 edition of the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper ran a story about an Oskaloosa automotive high school teacher whose tractor-trailer was chosen to be on “Trick My Truck.”  The producers and sponsors added a 42-inch plasma screen TV, a video gaming system,  a computer system, and a 1,000-watt stereo among other items, and finished off the project with artwork showing an orange and gray hammer hitting a nail … and flames.  The article was titled, “Oskaloosa Teacher Gets Truck Tricked Out.”

Back in 1975, George A. Meyer published his book, “The Two-Word Verb: A Dictionary of Verb-Preposition Phrases in American English.”  In the Introduction, the writer stated that the two-word verb had been in use for over a century, and according to him, in 1975, it was “the most active and creative pattern of word formation in the American language.”  Among his two-word verbs was tricked out meaning “to dress, array, or deck, especially in a showy or decorative manner.

The 1911 edition of “The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” included an entry for trick out that wasn’t much different from the definition by George A. Meyer in 1975.  It provided this meaning for the term:  To arrange, dress, or decorate, especially in a fanciful way.

The term trick out was even found in an Otto Holtzes Nachfolger edition of the “New Pocket-Dictionary of the English and Russian Languages” printed in Leipzig (Saxony, Germany) in 1895, with the meaning unchanged from what we know it to be today!

English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) used tricked out in his poem “The Prelude: Book Seventh: Residence In London” published in “The Poetical Works of Williams Wordsworth: A New Edition” in 1869.  Work on the poem began in 1799 and ended the summer of 1805; It was first published in his book “Excursion” in 1814.

When at a country-playhouse, some rude barn
Tricked out for that proud use, if I perchance
Caught, on a summer evening through a chink
In the old wall, an unexpected glimpse
Of daylight, the bare thought of where I was
Gladdened me more than if I had been led
Into a dazzling cavern of romance …

It was used in John Gay’s opera, “The Beggar’s Opera” published in 1728.  It was a ballad opera in three acts with libretto by John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732), and music arranged by German composer, Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667 – 20 July 1752).  It had its first performance on January 29, 1728.  In the scene where tricked out is spoken, Peachum and Lockit are seated at a table that has wine, brandy, pipes, and tobacco on it.

LOCKIT
A lady’s tail of rich brocade — That I see is disposed of.

PEACHUM
To Mrs. Diana Trapes, the tallywoman, and she will make a good hand on’t in shoes and slippers to trick out young ladies upon their going into keeping.

LOCKIT
But I don’t see any article of the jewels.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this opera, the main with whom Polly Peachum falls in love and marries is Macheath.  Macheath has a great many female friends whom he visits at the local tavern, including Jenny Diver and Suky Tawdry.  If this sounds oddly familiar, it’s because you’ve heard speak of all these characters in the Bobby Darin hit in 1959,Mack The Knife.”

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  Some readers and visitors will recollect that the song, “Mack the Knife” was from “The Threepenny Opera” written and produced in 1928.  The songs for this particular opera were written by German poet, dramatist, playwright, and theater director, Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) and german composer, Kurt Weill (2 March 1900 – 3 April 1950).

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of tricked out than the one in John Gay’s opera, the idiom was understood by the audience of the early 1700s.   There is reason to believe, however, that the idiom dates back at least another hundred years, and possibly more.

In the 1500s, trick meant to dress or adorn, while in the 1540s, out meant into public notice.  Someone or something that was tricked out was dressed or adorned into public notice.

Somewhere between 1540 and 1728 (when the opera was first performed), tricked out became an accepted two-word term in conversations.  Without proof, unfortunately, Idiomation is unable to tell when exactly tricked out was first used.  Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to about 1634 as the halfway mark between 1540 and 1727.

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