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Posts Tagged ‘John Heywood’

From Pillar To Post

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 18, 2015

When someone is said to be running from pillar to post, it’s another way of saying the person is running around in circles. In other words, they’re getting the run around and getting nowhere at all.

When Linda Kay Barber of Deer Park (WA) wrote a Letter to the Editor, the Spokesman-Review published it in their June 11, 1990 edition. She took issue with parents who weren’t putting their children first, whether they were dead beat non-custodial parents or parents who walked the picket line outside the Office of Support Enforcement. A line from her letter was plucked and became the letter’s headline: “Kids Kicked From Pillar To Post.”

When Hollywood was casting for the comedy series, “McHale’s Navy” starring Ernest Borgnine (24 January 1917 – 8 July 2012), producer Edward Montagne (20 May 1912 – 15 December 2003) saw Bobby Wright’s audition for another series titled, “It’s A Man’s World.” He cast the 20-year-old in the role of Radioman 2nd Class Willy Moss (credited as John Wright), and the story published in newspapers on Sunday, April 14, 1963 shared Bobby’s new-found fame in an article entitled, “From Pillar To Post.”

NOTE 1: Bobby Wright aka John Robert Wright Jr. (born 30 March 1942) is the son of Johnnie Wright (13 May 1914 – 27 September 2011) and country singer Kitty Wells (30 August 1919 – 16 July 2012), and the younger brother of country singer Ruby Wright (27 October 1939 – 27 September 2009) and Carol Sue Wright Sturdivant (born 12 June 1941).

Back on January 31, 1930 a story out of Washington dealing with prohibition was multifaceted. The upswing (or downswing depending if you were a Republican or a Democrat) of the discussion within the House Expenditures Committee about transferring dry enforcement from Secretary Melton’s bailiwick to that of the Attorney General was reported in the article.  On a related note, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the Jack Daniel Distillery Company of St. Louis was rendered when it was determined that the government failed to prove that whiskey in a bonded warehouse had been stolen by anyone associated with the Jack Daniel Distillery Company.  The article was headlined as “Dry Law Bounced From Pillar To Post As Capitol Talk Continues” and this was the first sentence in the article.

The prohibition discussion continued to bounce from pillar to post in Washington today, but concrete developments were few.

NOTE 2: Lemuel Motlow, nephew of Jasper “Jack” Daniel, moved part of the Jack Daniel Distillery Company operations to St. Louis (MO) after Tennessee adopted state prohibition in 1910.

Thieves made off with 16 barrels of whiskey and 118 cases of bourbon from the warehouse in December 1922, and then siphoned 893 barrels of whiskey through 150 feet of hose, and into waiting trucks in August 1923. The barrels (save for one that was left untouched for inspection) were refilled with water and vinegar. The stolen whiskey was resold on the bootleg market.

Lemuel Motlow was charged by the police in what was later come to be known as the “whiskey milking case” but the case against Lemuel Motlow never went to trial. Twenty three others, including former St. Louis circuit clerk Nat Goldstein and William J. Kinney, brother of a state senator who at the time was responsible for the Jack Daniel’s inspection, were tried a year later in Indianapolis and sentenced to time in the Leavenworth (KS) jail. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the distillery returned to its roots in Tennessee, setting up shop in Lynchburg.

The Sunday Herald of December 29, 1895 shared a news story of a middle-aged woman by the name of Mrs. Lizzie Bowen, and her 19-year-old boarder, Maude Mersin (whose real name was Mary Sheridan) who were known to cause considerable troubles for their neighbors. Maude, according to the news article, had a way of becoming acquainted with a great many young men, and was well-known in drinking establishments around town. She also spent an inordinate amount of time on the streets which was a polite way of reporting that she was a street-walker (which was the polite term for prostitute at the time).

Mrs. Bowen was no stranger to bad behavior herself and saw no problem with what neighbors were upset over. The trouble, however, cause the duo to be forced from their apartment on Elm Street, moving to new lodgings on White Street, where their troubles followed them. Forced to move from their apartment on White Street, they relocated to North Main Street where neighbors, familiar with the pair, continue to keep an eye on them.  The article was aptly entitled, “From Pillar To Post.”

NOTE 3: The article included an interesting saying Idiomation had not previously heard: “Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him.”

According to Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” the original idiom was from post to pillar and was in reference to the tennis courts. It may seem strange to think of tennis as being a game of a certain age, however, it is, and historical documents speak of the game of court tennis in 13th century literature. A new addition to the game of tennis happened during the reign of King Henry VIII when tennis rackets were introduced into the game.

It was found in “Contention Between Liberality And Prodigality” published in 1602 where it was written:

Every minute tost, like to a tennis-ball, from pillar to post.

When Richard Stanyhurst published his book “Thee First Foure Bookes Of Virgil His Aeneis Translated Into English Heroical Verse” back in 1582, the game of tennis and the phrase were tied to each other as well.

Free thee poast toe piler with thoght his rackt wyt he tosseth.

Long before the tennis racket came into play, there were other elements that were integral parts of the game (which have long since disappeared) and tennis was an intricate game of strategy and endurance. Among the structures were galleries, grilles, tambours, and dedans. The net (which was nothing more than a rope) was tied to a post at one end and to one of the pillars supporting the galleries at the other end, and thus, the idiom from post to pillar began.

How do we know that this? We can thank John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) for writing the following in his work, “The Assembly Of The Gods” published in 1420.

And when he thedyr came, Humylyté hym took
A token and bad hym go to Confessyon,
And shew hym hys mater with a peteous look.
Whyche doon, he hym sent to Contrycion.
And fro thensforth to Satysfaccion.
Thus from poost to pylour was he made to daunce,
And at the last he went forthe to Penaunce.

But it does seem odd that if someone was going post to pillar, as John Lydgate wrote, that person would be doing so for penance. So if this reference hasn’t anything — or much of anything — to do with royal tennis, then the reference must have to do with being taken from the pillory to the whipping post as mentioned in John Ray’s book “A Hand-Book Of Proverbs” published in 1670 where he included, “To be tost from post to pillory.”

The spirit of the idiom, however, is first found in the book by John Heywood (1497 – 1580) entitled “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies” published in 1562. In Part II, Chapter II of the section titled, “Proverbs” the following is found:

And from post to pillar, wife, I have been tossed
By that surfeit. And I feel a little fit
Even now, by former attempting of it.

Also in this same book, John Heywood also included the following:

Tossed from post to pillar: thou art a pillar strong;
And thou hast been a pillar, some say, too long.

And so it seems that the idiom was recognized and understood in 1562 (and meaning what the idiom means today) which indicates that back in the mid-1500s, from pillar to post (or actually from post to pillar) was already understood by the general population in England.

This indicates that somewhere between 1420 when the phrase first appeared in “Assembly Of The Gods” by John Lydgate and 1562 in “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies” by John Heywood, the spirit of the idiom became set to mean going from one thing to another, and not getting anywhere.

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Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Tennis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In A Pickle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 13, 2015

When you find yourself in a pickle what that means is that you’ve found yourself in a position where you don’t know what to do, and where whatever you decide to do, you will probably have to deal with some unpleasant consequences.

On April 28, 1994, John N. Grigsby of the Toledo Blade newspaper published an intriguing story in his column “The Street Where You Live” all about the name of a street in Oregon Township. The column started by announcing that for years, residents in Oregon Township had wondered how Pickle Street got its name. Usually streets are named after early settlers, but in this case, not one settler named Pickle had ever lived in the township.

While there had been a farmer named Pickle at some point in the township’s history, by the time he settled in Oregon Township, the street had been named long before. Pickle Street had been known as County Road 183 and Brand Street and Stevens Street and Freedom Street, cut county commissioners decided in 1919 to settle on naming it Pickle Street. The column headline read, “Oregon Residents Caught In A Pickle Over Naming Of Thoroughfare.”

The Reading Eagle published a story back in 1934 by author Thornton W. Burgess in his column, “Nature Stories.” This one was titled, “Peter Rabbit Is In A Pickle.” The word pickle was used often throughout the story, including in this passage:

So, now you see what a pickle Peter was in. He was afraid to go over to that machine on account of the man, and he was afraid not to go because all the other little people would call him a coward and a boaster.

A little more than a century earlier, in 1820, Harry Broom (which was a pseudonym the author used) wrote a series of plays under the heading, “King In A Pickle.” The entire series was a satirical recounting of current affairs and lampooning King George IV and fellow royals, very much in the style of William Shakespeare.

SIDE NOTE:  The author was also responsible for another humorous book entitled, “A Nursery Guide For Ministers’ Wives.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, the bard used in a pickle in Act 5, Scene 1 of his play “The Tempest” published in 1610.

ALONSO:
And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

TRINCULO:
I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

But it’s an odd little poem from in the book “Proverbs and Epigrams” by John Heywood and published in 1562 that the words appears in the sense of a pickle being a difficult situation.

Time is tickell
Chaunce is fickell
Man is brickell
Freilties pickell
Poudreth mickell
Seasonyng lickell

This is the earliest published version Idiomation could find for in a pickle referring to a difficult situation, and for it to be cleverly used in John Heywood’s work indicates that the phrase was understoodin 1562 to mean a difficult situation. It’s reasonable to believe that at least a generation earlier, the idiom took on this meaning. Idiomation therefore pegs in a pickle to the early 1500s.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hair Of The Dog

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 23, 2014

For decades, it was said that the hair of the dog was the surefire cure for hangovers cause by drinking too much alcohol the night before.  In time, the expression came to mean any alleged cure-all whether it related to overindulgence in alcohol or addressing the most serious of business difficulties.   The full expression is actually the hair of the dog that bit you, and while it’s doubtful that a dog bite will cure your hangover, the idiom itself has an interesting past not only in literature, but in folklore as well.

In the February 19, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger’s views on the stimulus package that Barack Obama signed into law.  Among many aspects of the stimulus package, was the Making Work Pay tax credit that phased out for individuals earning $75,000 or more and couples earning $150,000 or more jointly.  Journalists referred to is as the hair of the dog strategy, and in fact, this specific article was titled, “Obama’s Hair Of The Dog Stimulus:  The President’s Spending Plan Asks Us To Go Against Instinct.”

In the book, “Bent’s Fort” by David Sievert Lavender, published in 1954.  The story was about Charles and William Bent, who established Bent’s Fort, and the trappers, traders, and mountain men that were part of the old Santa Fe trail.   The idiom is used in this passage.

Perhaps there was a post-wedding fandango on Saturday, May 2, or it may have been only a gentlemen’s gathering that cause Frank Blair to wake up Sunday morning feeling in need of the hair of the dog that had bitten him.  One eye-opener called for another.  Soon he was so tanked that George had to help him navigate toward home.  AS they crossed the plaza, they passed a crowd of loafers, some thirty or so, congregated about Steve Lee’s store.

It’s in the October 2, 1852 edition of “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc.” where a short definition for hair of the dog is found that reads as follows:

The hair of the dog now means the “wee sup o’whiskey” which is taken as a cure, by one who has been a victim of “dog’s nose.”

Of course, back in 1774, an author identified simply as Fidelio wrote and published “The Fashionable Daughter, Being A Narrative of True and Recent Facts By An Impartial Hand.”  In this book, the author spoke of the hair of the dog thusly.

This affair mortified his pride and emptied his purse not a little, though the universal opinion was that it doubled his cunning, while it increased hot his honesty.  As the suit had cost him money, he followed the old Caledonian proverb; and applied for a remedy to the decrease of his substance, which he ever reckoned the greatest evil, “a hair of the dog that bit him.”

Based on this passage, the idiom was considered an old Caledonian (meaning Gaelic) proverb.  However, a French and English dictionary composer by Randle Cotgrave and published in 1673 had not only the idiom but a definition included.

To take a remedy for a mischief from that which was the cause thereof; as to go thin clothes when a cold is taken; or in drunkeness to fill a quaffing, thereby to recover health; or sobriety, near that which sense our Ale-knights often use this phrase and say, give us hair of the dog that last bit me.

In Samuel Pepys diary, on April 3, 1661, he also spoke of the hair of the dog that bit him, describing his overindulgence in alcoholic beverages the night before.

Up among my workmen, my head akeing all day from last night’s debauch. To the office all the morning, and at noon dined with Sir W. Batten and Pen, who would needs have me drink two drafts of sack to-day to cure me of last night’s disease, which I thought strange but I think find it true.

Nearly 100 years prior to that entry, John Heywood spoke of the idiom in the 1562 edition of his book, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood.”

A pick-me-up after a debauch:  apparently a memory of the superstition, which was and still is common, that, being bitten by a dog, one cannot do better than pluch a handful of hair from him, and lay it on the wound.  Old receipt books advise that an inebriate should drink sparkingly in the morning some of the same liquor which he had drunk to excess overnight.

In fact, in the 1546 edition of “A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” by John Heywood, the following ditty is included.

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both to the brain aright.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

As amusing as all that is, the fact of the matter is that the idiom has its roots in the Roman saying, similia similibus curantur which translates to mean like things cure like.  In other words, they believed the best antidote for whatever ailed you, was to have more of the same.

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Fool’s Errand

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 15, 2014

The old Sherlock Holmes series starring Ronald Howard (7 April 1918 – 19 December 1996) as Sherlock Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford (17 January 1914 – 24 November 1969) as Dr. Watson, oftentimes saw Holmes sending Watson on a fool’s errand to keep him out of harm’s way. The idiom was very popular years ago, but has since fallen out of favor.

African-American writer, teacher, director, actress and playwright, Eulalie Spence (June 11, 1894 – March 7, 1981) wrote and published a one-act play in 1927 entitled, “Fool’s Errand.” The play was entered in the Fifth Annual International Little Theatre Tournament, and the esteemed Samuel French, became its publisher.

In an article published by the Overland Monthly in November 1891 and entitled, “A Fool’s Errand” the subject of the resolution passed at the Immigration Convention by a vote of 112 ayes to 21 noes was taken to task. The proposition was to ask Eastern railroad companies to extend their rail lines by a thousand miles, all the way out to California. It was thought by the author that there would be no help from said companies on the basis that a decade earlier “a wild delusion prevailed that this Coast was a cradle of traffic, and that all a new road needed to earn dividends was to secure a terminus on its golden shore.”

The gentlemen who are charged with the duty of inviting Eastern railroad companies to extend their lines into this State are not to be envied. They will depart on a Fool’s Errand.

American author, lawyer and judge, Albion Winegar Tourgée (2 May 1838 – 21 May 1905) wrote and published “A Fool’s Errand: By One Of The Fools” in 1879.  As a member of the 27th New York Infantry during the Civil War, his novel was based on his experiences in North Carolina after the war during the Reconstruction period, as well as his experiences as a carpetbagger.

When the book was republished in 1962, the North Carolina Historical Review wrote stated that it was a “significant and unusually original portrayal, criticism, and analysis of postwar southern society” and that the story offered “excitement, idealism, and romance.” Of note is the fact that this novel was originally published just two months after he had published another book entitled, “Figs and Thistles” and according to The Literary Digest of June 1905, publishing two novels in quick succession as he had done, made Albion Tourgée a “genuine sensation throughout the country.”

In John Jamieson’s four-volume tome, “Dr. Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary And Supplement In Four Volumes” published in 1841, the idiom was found under the entry Gowk’s Errand where the author wrote that Gowk’s errand was the same as to hunt the gowk, which meant to go on a fool’s errand. John Jamieson then added:

Both expressions signify, that one is intentionally sent from place to place on what is known to be a wild-goose chase. The first, although equivalent to a fool’s errand, does not seem immediately to originate from gowk, as denoting a foolish person, but from the bird which bears this name.

Finding it John Jamieson’s dictionary in 1841 indicates that people of the period had an understanding of the idiom, its meaning, and its usage. And indeed it was as it appeared in an earlier work by John Jamieson published in his two-volume tome published in 1808, entitled, “An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Illustrating The Words In Their Different Significations, By Examples From Ancient And Modern Writers.”

Jumping back to 1736, a fool’s errand appears in the “Dramatick Works of George Farquhar In Two Volumes” in Act III, Scene iv of the play, “The Constant Couple, or, A Trip To The Jubilee.” The idiom is used twice in this play, with this being the best example of how it’s used.

CLIN:
Speak, you Rogue. What are you?

ERRA:
A poor Porter, Sir, and going of an Errand.

DICK:
What Errand? Speak you Rogue.

ERRA:
A Fool’s Errand, I’m afraid.

CLIN:
Who sent you?

ERRA:
A Beau, Sir.

And traveling back to 1616, the idiom is found in the book “The Fall Of Man, or the Corruption of Nature Proved By The Light Of Our Natural Reason” by the Anglican Bishop of Gloucester, Godfrey Goodman (28 February 1582 – 19 January 1656). At the time, naive simpletons were referred to as fools and as such, sending one on a fool’s errand was sure to yield no results at all … or none that would prove useful. Oftentimes, it was said that a fool had been sent on a sleeveless errand.

Indeed, in a book by John Heywood (1497 – 1580) published in 1563, entitled, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood” the definition of a sleeveless errand is explained thusly:

… a sleeveless (= objectless, wanting cover or excuse, fruitless, fool’s) errand

The word fool in the 1500s was from the verb foolify which meant “to make a fool of” and based on the fact that the word foolify is from this era, it stands to reason that a fool’s errand would also be from that same time period, especially in light of the fact that it was used to define “sleeveless errand” in John Heywood’s dictionary published in 1563. Idiomation therefore feels it is reasonable to peg the first use of the expression fool’s errand to the turn of the century in 1500.

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A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2013

If someone tells you that a penny saved is a penny earned, then you’re being encouraged to become thrifty and to watch your budget. In other words, saving a penny is as good as earning a penny … or the dollar you didn’t spend, is the dollar you still have.

Back on July 3, 2006 the San Diego Union Tribune published an article by Jeff Donn of the Associated Press, on Edmond Knowles of Flomaton in Alabama. It would appear that Mr. Knowles had hoarded pennies as a hobby for almost 40 years. When it came time to cash his collection in at the bank, the bank refused to the pennies all at once and so he turned to a coin-counting company looking for publicity. The article stated:

In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard.

His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day – $13,084.59 in all.

A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took away another lesson from the experience: “I don’t save pennies anymore. It’s too big a problem getting rid of them.”

A hundred or so years before that, pennies were making the news as evidenced by the April 9, 1900 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. On page five, a number of items were published under the heading, “City In Brief” including the following:

Ben Franklin, the philosopher, said: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” One dollar deposited each week in the savings department of the Spokane & Eastern Trust Co. will in one year amount to $52.78; in five $286.11; in ten $634.88; in twenty, $1678.33; in thirty, $2980.21; in forty, $5063.34.

But did Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) really coin the expression? Or was it around long before he published his Poor Richard’s Almanack?

The fact of the matter is that the concept existed long before Ben Franklin published his version. One of the most popular versions was this one:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a-year. Save and have.

Another version of the idiom is found in English dramatist, Edward Ravenscroft’s “Canterbury Guests, Or, a Bargain Broken: A Comedy” published in 1695. This comedy, written in five acts and in prose, had a variation on the theme in Act II, scene iv.

This I did to prevent expences, for a penny sav’d, is a penny got.

In 1661, Thomas Fuller wrote and published, “The History of the Worthies of England: Volume 2.”  In that book, the following passage is found:

John Yong was a monk in Ramsey Abbey at the dissolution thereof. Now, by the same proportion that a penny saved is a penny gained, the preserver of books is a mate for the compiled of them. Learned Leland looks on this Yong as a benefactor to posterity, in that he saved many Hebrew books of the noble library of Ramsey.

And an even earlier version is found in “Outlandish Proverbs” published in 1633 and compiled by George Hebert. In this instance, it read:

A penny spar’d is twice got.

In the end, if you wander all the way back to around 1535, to John Heywood’s book, “Of Gentleness And Nobility” you’ll find the spirit of the idiom there.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Mad As A March Hare

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 12, 2011

If someone mentions that you’re as mad as a March hare, what they mean is that you’re out of your mind and you’re not thinking straight.  In other words, your behaviour is bizarre and completely unlike your usual demeanour.

The expression goes back to the belief that when breeding season hits in Europe — which just happens to begin during the month of March — hares behave erratically.  The behaviour continues well past March, however during the winter months, hares are docile and so when they seem to be agitated and excited — and sometimes violent — it only appears to be out of character for these animals.  It’s not … not really.

On March 7, 2010 the Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported on the FA Cup quarter final match between Reading and Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium.  The first paragraph read:

Martin O’Neill went as mad as a March hare at the Madejski Stadium but finally laid to rest one of football’s rarer hoodoos at the 13th attempt. Since arriving at Aston Villa in 2006, the manager had failed to win a game in March and, after Shane Long gave Reading a two-goal half-time advantage, O’Neill delivered a broadside.

On March 1, 1925 the New York Times ran a news story on William Wrigley who began his career as a soap salesman and was known to spend millions on advertising.  The reason for the story had everything to do with the chewing gum that sold for a penny but that generated net profits of over 8 million USD in 1924. The article began with this enticing tidbit of information:

To business men and bankers, Wrigley may have seemed mad as a March hare. That was the panic year. Money was at a premium.  Businesses were wondering how they could escape their advertising contracts.

In Chapter VII also known as “Pigs and Pepper” of Lewis Carroll‘s book “Alice In Wonderland” published in 1865, the following exchange happens between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“By-the-bye, what became of the baby?” said the Cat. “I’d nearly forgotten to ask.”

“It turned into a pig,” Alice quietly said, just as if it had come back in a natural way.

“I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.

Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. “I’ve seen hatters before,” she said to herself; “the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad–at least not so mad as it was in March.” As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree.

W. C. Hazlitt published his book “Remains: Early Popular Poetry of England” in 1864.  It contained a poem from 1500 that included this line:

Thanne they begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare.

The expression mad as a March Hare, however, is found in countless books and documents from the 16th century.  In fact, John Heywood included the phrase in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.  So in less than two generations, the phrase had come into its own.  Part of this is due to the fact that in 1529, Sir Thomas More used the phrase in his book “The Supplycacyon of Soulys” when he wrote about beggars and their begging ways:

As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of the expression mad as a March hare however it’s very likely that it was used in previous decades as it is used with great ease of language in the 1500s.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

All Cats Are Gray In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2011

When in the dark, appearances are meaningless, since everything is hard to see or is unseen. It also means that all persons are undistinguished until they have made a name for themselves.

Back in 1953, writing as Andrew North, Andre Norton (1912 – 2005) — whose real name was Alice Mary Norton — wrote “All  Cats Are Gray.”  The book appeared to be a basic, straight-forward science fiction story with heroes riding about  in a derelict spaceship with a menacing space alien in the mix and a little love and good fortune thrown into the mix.  But it was different in that it was the heroine and not the hero who was very much the protagonist.

On January 13, 1896 the New York Times ran an editorial with a hodge podge of smaller articles, one of which addressed the concept that all cats are gray in the dark.  The tidbit relating to the phrase read in part:

Without pretending to know just what objection the Colonial Dames have to Ben Franklin, we are inclined to ascribe their hostility to his assertion that “all cats are gray in the dark.”  The aphorism — like most of those on which the old Philistine’s fame is based — has no foundation whatsoever in fact.  Black cats, for instance, are not gray in the dark, but blacker than ever, even to the point of disappearing entirely.  Not only is the expression false from the standpoint of observation and natural history, but it was not original with Franklin. He stole it in France and then passed it off for his own.  Now he’s getting punished for the crime.

In Miguel de Cervantes‘ book, “Don Quixote” a version of the phrase “all cats are grey in the dark” is found in Part ii, Book iii, Chapter xxxiii.

And if your highness does not like to give me the government you promised, God made me without it, and maybe you’re not giving it to me will be all the better for my conscience, for fool as I am I know the proverb ‘to her hurt the ant got wings,’ and it may be that Sancho the squire will get to heaven sooner than Sancho the governor. ‘They make as good bread here as in France,’ and ‘by night all cats are grey,’ and ‘a hard case enough his, who hasn’t broken his fast at two in the afternoon,’ and ‘there’s no stomach a hand’s breadth bigger than another,’ and the same can he filled ‘with straw or hay,’ as the saying is, and ‘the little birds of the field have God for their purveyor and caterer,’ and ‘four yards of Cuenca frieze keep one warmer than four of Segovia broad-cloth,’ and ‘when we quit this world and are put underground the prince travels by as narrow a path as the journeyman,’ and ‘the Pope’s body does not take up more feet of earth than the sacristan’s,’ for all that the one is higher than the other; for when we go to our graves we all pack ourselves up and make ourselves small, or rather they pack us up and make us small in spite of us, and then — good night to us.

The phrase appeared as “when all candles be out, all cats be gray” in John Heywood‘s “Book Of Proverbs” published in 1547 that version is essentially the same as the more modern version.  And, of course, the John Heywood version was pre-dated by that of Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) as it appears in his book of proverbs and adages, and is considered by Erasmus to be a Gallic proverb rather than a French proverb.

However, the French of the day did say, “at night, all cats are gray” and Yiddish speakers are known to say, “you can throw a cat wherever you want, it always falls on its feet.”  Still the expression was well-entrenched in a number of languages and historically speaking, I can only reach as far back as the generation before Erasmus’ book published in 1500.

Special thanks to Stephen Kruger for providing additional information on this entry.  His input is greatly appreciated.

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Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2011

if someone tells you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, what they’re suggesting to you is that you shouldn’t criticize or question something good being offered to you with no strings attached. 

Throughout recorded history, the horse has been a prized possession of man.  The horse has plowed fields, hauled goods, pulled carriages, carried riders and more.  Back in the day when horses were bought and sold, it was good business practices to check the age and health of a horse by examining its lower jaw and its teeth.  A horse’s history could be told by what one found in its mouth.  That being said, it was also considered the height of bad manners to examine a horse’s mouth when the horse was being given as a gift.

Even back on December 5, 1926 the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Those Who Take Casual Gifts May Fina A String Attached” that read:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth is a saying that has become largely obsolete with the diminishing ranks of horses in New York. Yet the danger persists: and it is as true today as it was true yesterday that gifts do not invariably fall out of a clear sky in this metropolis

That was all fine and dandy but on June 28, 1854 the same newspaper published a news article entitled, “Naval Rules And Regulations.”  It read in part:

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Chesterfield says, never quote a proverb; but “French On The Lessons In Proverbs,” a more recent and learned authority, and also dispute the proverb.  It had been much better for those old Trojans if they had looked their gift horse in the mouth; and since that memorable example of gift-bearing treachery, one has often reason to exclaim, “Timco Danaos et dona ferentes.  The free gift Manual looks very much like an attempt to steal into the service, once again, obsolete and repudiated rules, which never could be introduced in an open, frank and legal manner.

With regards to the book,  The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb: Miscellaneous Prose, 1798-1833, The Athenceum of February 16, 1833 reviewed the book and is quoted as saying:

Here is a portrait of Mrs. Conrady. We agree with the writer that ‘ no one that has looked on her can pretend to forget the lady.’  The point ought to be cleared up. That we must not look a Gift horse in the mouth.

Now John Heywood (1497-1580) wrote the following in his book, “A Dialogue of the Effectual Proverbs.”

Where gifts be given freely — east, west, north or south —
No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.
And though her mouth be foul she hath a fair tail —
I consider this text, as is most my avail.
In want of white teeth and yellow hairs to behold,
She flourisheth in white silver and yellow gold.
What though she be toothless, and bald as a coot?
Her substance is shoot anker, whereat I shoot.”

St. Jerome of Stridonium (347 – 420), an Illyrian Catholic priest is believed to have first used the phrase in reply to his literary critics. His exact words: “Never inspect the teeth of a gift horse.”

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Do As I Say And Not As I Do

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2010

This is an admonitory phrase that has been used by parents the world over for generations and yet, very few people seem to know its origins.  In the Spectator on June 24, 1911, this advice was published:  “It has always been considered allowable to say to children, ‘Do as I say, rather than as I do.'”

This phrase, however, harkens back to several generations before 1911.  In John Selden’s book Table Talk which was published posthumously in 1689 (and written in 1654 just prior to his death), he wrote:  “”Preachers say, “Do as I say, not as I do.‘”  And while the advice is sound, he was not the first author to offer it.  In 1546, John Heywood’s “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue“ the following can be found:  “It is as folke dooe, and not as folke say.”

However, the Anglo-Saxons in the 12th Century were known to say:  “Ac theah ic wyrs do thonne ic the lære ne do thu na swa swa ic do, ac do swa ic the lære gyf ic the wel lære” which translates into:   “Although I do worse than I teach you, do not do as I do, but do as I teach you if I teach you well.”

However, when all is said and done, this saying can be traced all the way back to the Bible in the Book of St. Matthew (verses 1-3) where the King James Version states:  “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”

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You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It, Too

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 9, 2010

The earliest recording of this phrase is from 1546 in John Heywood’s “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” where he wrote:  “Wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?”  A few years later in 1633, George Herbert reworked the phrase for his poem “The Size” published in the book “The Temple.”

To be in both worlds full
Is more then God was, who was hungrie here.
Wouldst thou his laws of fasting disanull?
Enact good cheer?
Lay out thy joy, yet hope to save it?
Wouldst thou both eat thy cake, and have it?
 
 

You can’t eat your cake and have your cake” appeared in John Ray’s “A collection of English Proverbs” in 1670 and in 1738,  Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and poet Jonathan Swift’s book  “A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” included this version of the phrase: “She was handsome in her time but she cannot eat her cake and her cake.”

In America, the phrase is first found in the 1742 “Colonial Records of Georgia” in “Original Papers, 1735-1752.

In 1879, in Volume V of “The Extravaganzas of J. R. Planché  on page 307 in the play entitled “King Christmas” James Robinson (J.R.) Planché wrote:

I, of M. Folly would say just a word to the wise,
Though of course with contempt they will treat it;
‘Tis to point to the moral the proverb implies,
“You can’t have your cake if you eat it.”
But let the toast pass
For I’m not the ass
To our next merry  meeting who won’t drain his glass.

The exact wording of the current version is found in the Tecumseh Fox mystery novel by Rex Stout entitled “Broken Vase” which was first published in 1941.

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