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Posts Tagged ‘John Ray’

Fit As A Fiddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2015

When you’re fit as a fiddle, you’re healthy and well.  Ask any musician with a violin or fiddle and he or she will confirm that a fit fiddle is one that’s in excellent shape.   And how does one keep a fiddle fit?  As with any musical instrument, a well maintained fiddle is one the owner keeps in top condition which means the sounds emanating from the instrument will always equal the talent and ability of the person playing it.

When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were those who were concerned over his health … not because he appeared to be suffering from any health issues, but because he was far from being a young man at the time.  However, the Montreal Gazette of October 31, 1981 published a news story that was picked up from UPI that stated that all was well with the President.  The article was titled, “Reagan Fit As A Fiddle” and the first paragraph of the story read:

Two days of physical examinations at the National Naval Medical Center found U.S. President Ronald Reagan to be “fit as a fiddle,” a presidential aide said yesterday.

Over the years, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ran newspaper ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and these ads advocated taking Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to cure indigestion woes.  In fact, in the Spokesman Review of October 22, 1942 the ad copy read in part:

Say goodbye to those “morning blues.”  Next time you overeat, or stay up late at a gay party, take Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at bedtime and wake up feeling “fit as a fiddle.”

The saying was used in other newspaper advertisements.  Going back to May 12, 1909, the Pittsburgh Press ran one for Hires with the headline copy, “As Fit As A Fiddle On A Fine Spring Day.”

FIT AS A FIDDLE_IMAGE 1
On May 21, 1888, the Evening Post newspaper of Wellington in New Zealand published an article in the Sporting section titled, “Turf Notes” and written by the anonymous reported, Vigilant. The news was that the Wanganui Steeplechase had nine horses entered, and barring accidents, racing fans could expect to see all ready to run at post time.  One horse in particular seemed to be of enough interest to warrant mention by the reporter.

Faugh-a-Baalagh, 11st 12lb, is generally voted well in, and as he will have T. Lyford up on him and is reported as fit as a fiddle, whatever beats him will, I think, get the stakes.

Volume 15 of the “American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine” published in January 1844, discussed the strengths of a horse owned by Mr. G. Salvin.  In Monday’s race, the odds were 13 to 4 against The Cure, and 3 to 1 against The Cure in Thursday’s race, making him an equal favorite with another horse by the name of Ithuriel.

The Cure is an extraordinary good horse, and we have reason to believe the stable money is upon him.  If so, and his partly only mean it, then will our anticipations be realised in seeing him not far from No. 1.  The distance is the only obstacle in his path, but his friends assert that makes no difference.  He is, we hear, as “fit as a fiddle,” and none the worse of his being a little off at Newcastle.  It is understood that Sam Rogers will now have the steering of the “little gentleman” for the St. Leger.

English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) — known as John Wray until 1670 — included the idiom in his book ,”A Compleat Collection Of English Proverbs” first published in 1670.  Before it was included in John Ray’s book, it was used by English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 25 August 1632) in “The Batchelor’s Banquet” published in 1603 with a bit of a twist.  Instead, the word fine was inserted for fit, however the sense of being in top-notch shape was clear in the dialogue.

Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle, having on a white waistcoat, with a flaunting cambricke ruff about her neck, who liks a Doctris in facultie comes thus upon him.  Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our mistresse bot your selfe:  I will allure you on my credit that I doe what I can, yet for my life I cannot I, any way content her.

And in English playwright William Haughton’s Elizabethan era stage play, “Englishmen For My Money: A Pleasant Comedy Called A Woman Will Have Her Will” published in 1598, the idiom appears.  In the scene, we find the Italian Aluaro, the Frenchman Delion, and Frisco, who is described as Pisaro’s man and a clown.  Pisaro is a Portingale, and the story has to do with this three daughters — Laurentia, Marina, and Mathea — and their suitors.

FRISCO:
In Leaden-hall?  I trow I shall meete with you anone: In Leaden-hall?  What a simple Asse is this Frenchman.  Some more of this:  Where are you sir?

ALUARO:
Moy I be here in Vanshe-streete.

FRISCO:
This is excellent ynfayth, as fit as a Fiddle:  I in Tower-streete, you in Leaden-hall, and th third in Fanchurch-streete; and yet all three heare one another, and all three speake together:  either wee must be all three in Leaden-hall, or all three in Tower-streete, or all three in Fanchurch-streete; or all three Fooles.

The word fiddle is derived from the Old English word fithele, and in Old German it was fiedel.  The word came into vogue during the 14th century when Medieval fiddles became popular street musical instruments, due in large part to their portability.  Fiddles during the Middle Ages were described as having four strings, a hollow body, and an unfretted fingerboard, and was played with a bow.

It was an instrument equally favored by waits (official town musicians employed by the large English towns in which they lived), minstrels (who were first and foremost entertainers who were also musicians, and who traveled from town to town), and troubadours (who, even though they were musicians, interacted with royalty and nobility).

It can be guessed that those musicians who played fiddle — especially for aristocracy — would want their instrument to be in the best condition possible, and fit for performances.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published use of fit as a fiddle than the one found in William Haughton’s comedy, because it was used in the play, it was obviously an expression that was already known to the general population by the late 1500s.

Considering how language evolved during this era, it is very likely that the idiom most likely came into vogue during the early to mid-1500s.

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

Poor As A Church Mouse

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 22, 2015

When the claim is made that someone is poor as a church mouse, it means they haven’t anything to spare.  It’s based on the fact that a church doesn’t have a cupboard or a pantry from which a mouse can steal away even the smallest food crumb.  The interesting fact about this idiom is that it isn’t just an idiom used in English although it’s been well-used in English over the years.

The author of a print ad placed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 26, 1957 was intended as a plea for donations to build the Milwaukee Boys’ Club described as a real club for a real boy.  The ad was referred to in fine print as “one of a series of weekly articles paid for by a member of the Club’s Board of Directors.”  The ad was titled, “As Poor As A Church Mouse” and began with this copy:

You must be an oldtimer if you can remember back when this expression was so common.  Those were the days before electricity, telephones, automobiles, radios, television and modern plumbing.

And indeed the author of that copy was correct.  The idiom wasn’t a recent one in the least.

The Pittsburgh Press printed a Letter to the Editor on March 29, 1935 that was written by Norvin Mack of 525 Sheridan Avenue in Pittsburgh. 

Norvin Mack wrote about the minimum government pay of $30 per month to soldiers along with free lodging, food, and medical care.  He stated that if a soldier had family — in other words, dependents — that the government would deduct $15 from his pay, match that amount, and send it along to his family.  To that end, the minimum pay was $45 per month.  He went on to extol the other virtues of being a soldier, and all this was to correct a story that had previously been published in the newspaper.

He was an outspoken sort, and included this paragraph in his letter.

As one who volunteered long before the draft was hardly thought of and who is now as poor as a church mouse I count it an honor to take my position with you on this momentous question.  I am supporting my family at common labor, not relief.  Plain selfishness urges me to welcome the immediate payment of the bonus but common sense forces the rejection of the plan.

It was in the Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph newspaper edition of April 16, 1912 that an article appeared discussing the move away from throwing rice at weddings and the move towards throwing confetti instead.  The sexton of a fashionable New York church was interviewed on the new tradition, and his opinion favored the switch.  He was quoted as saying:

“This confetti fashion is very welcome to us sextons.  When rice was used our churches were overrun with mice.  The saying “as poor as a church mouse” was then meaningless.  Why, in my church, where weddings are so popular, several hundreds of mice — fat chaps they were, too — found an ample food supply in the rice that was sprinkled over the brides.”

“Now that rice has been abandoned for paper confetti, these mice have all disappeared.  They were starved out.  They couldn’t live on paper.”

The title for the story was simply, “Poor As A Church Mouse:  Since Confetti Came Into Use, The Saying Has More Meaning Than At Former Times.”  How apt is that for a headline?

Episcopalian clergyman and American author Frederick William Shelton (1815 – 1881) wrote and published “Peeps From A Belfry: Volume 3” in 1856.  This volume opened with a short story titled, “The Seven Sleepers.”   In Shelton’s story, a clergyman by the name of Pettibones approaches Mr. Snapjohn, and after a very brief exchange, Mr. Snapjohn says:

Want money, I suppose.  I haven’t a cent, Sir — not a cent.  Gave five dollars the other day for church missions, don’t believe the heathen will ever see one cent of it.  It won’t do them any good, — not at all, Sir, not at all, so much money thrown into the sea.  I am tired and sick of such demands.  I’ve got nothing.  I tell you I’m as poor as a church mouse — I’m as poor as a church mouse.”

The saying appears in a number of publications throughout the 1700s and 1800s, and is found in other countries. In fact, in German poor as a church mouse is arm wie eine Kirchenmaus and it’s found in a Grimm’s Dutch-German dictionary published in 1719. And before that, it appears in “A Collection of English Proverbs” compiled by English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) and published in 1670 (who up until 1670 spelled his name John Wray).

Now, it’s also a fact that Anglo-Welsh historian and writer James Howell (1594 – 1666) published a proverb collection in 1659 entitled, “Paramoigraphy” wherein the idiom was listed as “hungry as a churchmouse.”  That being said, Grimm did mention in his 1719 book that the idiom was from the Scottish proverb puir as a kirkmouse.  Oddly enough though, the French had a similar phrase:  gueux comme un rat d’église.

Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than that from 1659 with a reference to the German and Scottish versions of the idiom, it’s likely that the phrase has existed for as long as mice and churches have co-existed which is to say, for centuries.  That being said, Idiomation is confident in pegging this idiom to the early 1600s, allowing it to become part of the vernacular in England.

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

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 9, 2013

If someone says you’re like a cat on a hot tin roof, it would seem that you can’t keep still. You’re restless. Imagine for a moment, if you will, what it might be like if you were actually a cat who was literally trying to walk about on a hot tin roof. You wouldn’t be still for very long and you’d probably be pretty jumpy about being up there in the first place.

Back in 1955, Tennessee Williams wrote a play by that name that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. Its success was in part due to the play’s theme which dealt with how complicated the rules of social conduct were in the Southern U.S. at the time. But was the expression something Tennessee Williams came up with for the play or did it exist long before Tennessee Williams put pen to paper?

The idiom cat on a hot tin roof is actually based on the earlier version cat on hot bricks which means exactly the same thing.

NOTE:  Before continuing, note that the version using hot bricks is still in use today as evidenced by the news story by 3News out of New Zealand published on November 27, 2011 and entitled, “Joyce A Cat On Hot Bricks Before Election.”

On December 1, 1933 the New York Times published an article entitled,”Britain Is Assured On Our Money Plan: We Are As Safe From Unbridled Inflation As Are The British” The story was about Ambassador Robert W. Bingham who gave a speech (at the American Society in London) defending President Roosevelt’s monetary policies. Keep in mind that 1933 was right in the middle of the Great Depression that continue up until the outbreak of World War II, and so money matters — for individuals, for companies, and for governments — were a reason for being restless. The news story made use of the idiom in this way:

… exchange fluctuations to the benefit of everybody concerned and contrasts this with the dollar, “which jumped about like a cat on hot bricks. …

The Philadelphia Record edition of June 10, 1894 provided a description of British Prime Minister (5 March 1894 to 22 June 1895), Archibald Philip Primrose — the 5th Earl of Rosebery and 1st Earl of Midlothiany –that was in drastic contrast to the calm and collected demeanor that was expected of Lords. In fact, the description was one that the reporter described as “intensely agitated.” The article was entitled, “Hounding A Premier: He Went Wild Over The Derby.” Of course, that Lord Rosebery was the owner of the Derby winner that year certainly explains the behavior which doesn’t seem so outrageous in today’s terms.

“His Lordship could not keep still in his box, and hopped about from paddock to ring like a cat on hot bricks; Prime Ministerial dignity was not his forte just then. At that part of the race when Matchbox appeared to have the measure, his face moved convulsively. When his horse had passed the winning post, the Premier took off his hat, waved it wildly three times around his head in a dazed kind of manner, and then dashed onto the course to lead the favorite in.”

That being said, however, tin roofs were used in America at the turn of the 1800s when the Pennsylvania Statehouse — better known as Independence Hall — in Philadelphia was finished with tin shingles. Even Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned a study on tin shingle roofs, felt compelled to have tin shingles used when roofing Monticello. But the tin roof was most popular in America between 1860 and 1920.   It’s safe to say that Tennessee Williams didn’t coin the phrase, and picked it up in conversation.

Of course, before either cat on a hot tin roof or cat on hot bricks was in vogue, the idiom was to be a cat on a hot bakestone, which was found in Rev. E. Cobham Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” published in 1894, where idiom was explained as meaning a person was “in a great hurry to get away.” It further explained that the bake-stone in the north (of a house) was a large stone on which bread and oat-cakes were baked.

When English naturalist, John Ray also known as John Wray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) wrote his “Collection of English Proverbs” in 1670 which included the expression using the hot bake-stone reference. In fact, he recorded it as “to go like a cat upon a hot bake-stone.” And so, we know from this that the idiom dates back to before the publication of John Ray’s book since it’s included as a proverb.

It’s also cited as a Yorkshire proverb in literature of the day, along with the idiom, “as nimble as a cat on a haite backstane” which dates back to the 14th century.  At that point, the trail went cold. Idiomation feels that since it was a proverb in the 14th century that it most likely dates back to at least the beginning of the 14th century, and if it’s possible to trace it back to an earlier date, please feel free to add your comments and where you gathered the information.

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

The One-Eyed Man Is King

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 5, 2011

When you hear the expression, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” it’s a nice way of saying that even a person with limited abilities and knowledge is at a great advantage in the company of those with lesser abilities and less knowledge than he. 

The Italians have the same saying, “In un mondo di ciechi un orbo è re.”  The German people have their version of the proverb: “Those that rule must hear and be deaf, must see and be blind.”  And the French people also have their own version of the proverb:  “When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow.”  Some say it’s a variation of a Bible quote found in Matthew 15:14 that states: 

“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” 

It’s also found in Luke 6:39 as:

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

On January 22, 2011, journalist Frank Rich wrote an OpEd piece for the New York Times about the original movie, “True Grit” starring John Wayne for which he won the 1969 Oscar for Best Actor and its 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.  The piece was aptly entitled, “The One-Eyed Man Is King.”

On June 6, 1920 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “Millions Wasted To Elect President!”  It spoke of the enormous campaign finances dribbled away by professional campaigners, running minimally efficient headquarters for candidates all the while presenting with a big business atmosphere.

In the monarchy of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  In the field of activity of the professional campaigner there may be a Cabinet position in store for the man whose industry nothing can abate and whose political ineptness nobody can deny.

On January 21, 1859 in Volume II, Issue 131 of the Colonist newspaper published in Nelson, New Zealand, the paper reprinted the address of Lord Stanhope to the University of Aberdeen.

A large part of the wisdom, the experience, and the actual power of the country is unrepresented in Parliament, through the taciturnity or defective expression of our public men while, as a natural consequence, many who have little else than a ready command of words obtain an influence beyond their just worth.  “In a people of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;” and in an assembly of bad speakers or mutes a very ordinary orator will get more than his due.  It must be so at the bar, and in the pulpit also.

Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Donald MacIntosh published “Collections of Gaelic Proverbs” in 1785 included the proverb, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

A century prior to the publication of the Reverend Donald MacIntosh‘s book, the proverb was cited by John Ray in 1678 and referenced as being an English proverb.  His twist on the Bible passage was, “A man were better be half blind than have both eyes  out.” In other words, not only would a half-blind man be able to avoid the ditch, he might find himself in a position if leadership among those who were completely blind.

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) published a book commonly referred to over the centuries as “Adagia.”  The first edition was actually entitled “Collecteana Adagiorum” and was published in Paris in 1500.  It was a slim book with approximately eight hundred proverbs.  Erasmus rename his book, “Adagiorum Chiliades” when it was republished in 1509 with an impressive 3,000 proverbs and adages this time, many with explanatory notes that read as brief essays themselves.   Over time, subsequent editions of his book saw the addition of more proverbs and adages with the final edition containing 4,658 proverbs and adages.

Most of the proverbs and adages found in the book were accepted by society as a whole as common wisdom of the day.  His reason for amassing so many proverbs and adages in one book had a great deal to do with the fact that Erasmus focused primarily on providing a Latin translation of the New Testament from several Greek texts that provided a more accurate translation of the Scriptures.  Collecting 4,658 entries was merely an extension of his work.  Included in his book was the proverb: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As it was a commonly used expression at the time Desiderius Erasmus published his book and considering his interest in the Scriptures, it is not unreasonable to believe that the proverb does, indeed, come from the Bible and made it into common language via the Catholic Church.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Early Bird Catches The Worm

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 11, 2010

The saying is found in John Ray’s “A Collection of English Proverbs” published in 1670:  “The early bird catcheth the worm.”  Because the title of John Ray’s book indicates that this was considered a proverb  in the 17th century, its history goes back even further.

The saying is a translation from the French: “L’avenir appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt.”  Loosely translated, the saying is: “The future belongs to those who rise early.”

This saying is a translation of the German saying :  “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.”  Loosely translated, the saying is: “The morning hours have gold in their mouths.”

This saying is a translation of the Latin saying, “Aurora musis amica est.”  Loosely translated, the saying is:  “Dawn is a friend of the muses.”

Although it is impossible to identify who first spoke the Latin version of “the early bird catches the worm” it is known that the Dutch theologian, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536) used this phrase in his book “De Ratione Studii Epistola” published in 1513.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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