Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Swift’

Daffy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 12, 2016

Watching the movie about J. Edgar Hoover starring Leonardo DiCaprio, there was a scene between Hoover and his mother that spoke of a certain schoolmate of J. Edgar’s who had committed suicide years earlier.  She asked her son if he knew why he was called “Daffy” and then revealed that it was short for daffodil.  While it wasn’t stated outright, the implication was that a daffodil — or rather, a daffy — was a homosexual.

Back in 1935, it was understood that a daffodil was an effeminate young man in the vein of pansies and millies.  In “Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang” the term with this definition is pegged to the 1920s.  Interestingly enough, however, in this same dictionary, there’s an entry for daffy-down-dilly which refers to a dandy, and dates back to the mid-1900s according to Cassell’s.  The “Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English” by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley published in 1905 confirms the claim in Cassell’s dictionary.

American romance novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 1804 – 19 May 1864) published a novel in 1843 titled, “Little Daffydowndilly.”   The story is about a little boy who only likes to do things that are agreeable to him, and dislikes work of any kind.  His mother has indulged her son to this end, and when he finds himself old enough to attend school, he finds the schoolmaster to be unreasonable in his expectations and believes him to be overly stern.  As the story unfolds, Little Daffydowndilly learns a lot about himself and his schoolmaster.

INTERESTING NOTE 1:  Nathanial Hawthorne is better known as the author of “The Scarlet Letter.”

Two years earlier, playwright William Leman Rede (31 January 1802 – 3 April 1847) wrote, “Sixteen-String Jack: A Romantic Drama In Three Acts” where he used daffy-down-dilly in Act i, Scene 2.  The scene begins with Bobby Buckhorse, the waiter at the “Cock and Magpie” and Nelly.

BOBBY:
I’m here, my daffy-down-dilly.

NELLY:
Don’t down-dilly me! but take some daffy to the back parlour.

BOBBY:
Back parlour’s served: I saw three brandy’s cold, one egg-hot, and a qartern with three outs, go in.

INTERESTING NOTE 2:  “Sixteen-String Jack” was a play about English criminal and highwayman, John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann (1750 – 30 November 1774) who was known for his charm and quick wit.  His attire was said to be overly showy.

It’s easy to see how a flashy dressing rogue such as John “Sixteen String Jack” Rann could be thought of as effeminate, even as he waylaid the countryside with his nefarious deeds.

Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric, Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) used daffy-down-dilly in his short story, “A Punning Letter to the Earl of Pembroke” published on June 13, 1709.

There is a published reference to daffy-down-dilly recorded in Mother Goose or rather, what was known then called Mother Hubberd, back in 1593.

Daffy-down-dilly is new come to town
With a yellow petticoat, and a green gown.

The term is what’s known as a sandwich word which are, by nature, generally naughty.  That being said, calling a lawyer a daffy-down-dilly from 1483 onward was a serious accusation of double-dealing, and playing both ends against the middle for the lawyer’s own personal gain.  In other words, it was a conflict of interest that the lawyer chose to work to his advantage.

Idiomation finds that while daffy-down-dilly has been an insult for a great many centuries, it evolved to mean an effeminate male by the late 1700s and early 1800s.  This eventually evolved to mean a homosexual by the 1920s.  Idiomation therefore pegs this to 1800 as well as to 1920 because one really doesn’t know where the line was drawn between being effeminate and being a homosexual in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

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

Till The Cows Come Home

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 16, 2014

You’ve probably heard people from your grandparents’ generation add until the cows come home to some of their conversations.  It generally means something will be stretched over a very long period of time, and oftentimes it’s used to describe an activity that’s perceived as being futile or unproductive.

On December 16, 2003 the Business Wire sent out a press release about the new Ben & Jerry’s minisite.  It was cleverly titled, “Macromedia Studio MX 2004 Takes Ben & Jerry’s From Cow To Cone.”  The site was set to create what it hoped would be a “euphoric user experience” thanks to the extensive use of Flash video.  The second paragraph included the idiom.

“Macromedia can talk about great experiences until the cows come home, but once you see a well designed site in action, it really makes an impact,” said Al Ramadan, executive vice president of marketing, Macromedia. “Ben & Jerry’s utilizes the professional tools in Studio MX 2004 to effectively communicate the playfulness of their brand and deliver an interesting educational experience.”

During the 1960s, Clyde McPhatter recorded for Mercury Records.  Billboard magazine included a comment in the February 6, 1961 edition on his latest release, “Tomorrow Is A-Comin’” with a nod to the flip side, “I’ll Love You Till The Cows Come Home.”  The quip let readers know that both songs had the strong Clyde Otis touch (which was a favorable comment).

And of course, as many of you already know, the idiom was used in the 1933 Marx Brothers movie, “Duck Soup,” where Groucho Marx says:

I could dance with you till the cows come home.  Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.

Back in 1932, American author, Thorne Smith (27 March 1892 – 21 June 1934) wrote a book entitled, “Topper Takes A Trip.”  Topper was Thorne Smith‘s most popular creation, and sold millions of books in the 1930s, and again in paperback form in the 1950s.  Many people remember the original Topper story, about the middle-aged, henpecked banker, Cosmo Topper (the book was published in 1926).

“I don’t care if he can do himself into a pack of bloodhounds,” replied Mr. Topper.  “Where have you been all this time?  Answer me that.”

“All right,” said Marion in an injured voice.  “Don’t bite my head off.  I don’t mind about the hair.  You can chew on that till the cows come home.”

“I don’t care to chew on that until the cows start out even,” said Mr. Topper.  “I’m not a hair chewer.”

It’s in the Boston Review of October 1805 that the poem in three parts, “The Powers of Genius” written by John Blair Linn, co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia is reviewed.  The reviewer, seemingly unimpressed with the poem, included this comment in his review.

Now, to use a rustick phrase, a man may make lines like these “till the cows come home.”  Mr. Linn, too, is frequently adjectively vulgar.

In Exshaw’s Magazine, the story, “The Adventure of the Inn” published in 1778 is where this passage is found.

“By Jafus,” answered Dermot, enraged at the word lie, “but if you was my godfather’s own brother, but I’d smite your eye out for that.”  And brandishing a large cudgel, let it fall so emphatically upon the hard head of the sturdy Boardspeg, that he reeled Aeneas, beneath the ponderous pebble, flung by the brawny backed Diomed, and bit the dust.  “Take that till the cows come home,” said the athletic hero, ready to repeat his blow, had not his furious arm been arrested by the hand of Wilson.

Prior to that Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745), the Dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin (Ireland) wrote “Polite Conversation:  Dialogue II” published in 1736.  The main characters are Lord Sparkish, Lord and Lady Smart, Miss Notable, Sir John Linger, Lady Answerall, Mr. Neverout, and Colonel Atwitt.  At one point in the discussion, the following exchange occurs.

NEVEROUT
O my Lord, I know that ; why Brandy is Latin for a Goose, and Tace is Latin for a Candle.

MISS NOTABLE
Is that Manners, to shew your  Learning before Ladies ? Methinks you  are grown very brisk of a sudden ; I think the Man’s glad he’s alive.

SIR JOHN LINGER
The Devil take your Wit, if this be Wit ; for it spoils Company :  Pray, Mr. Butler, bring me a Dram after my Goose ; ’tis very good for the Wholsoms.

LORD SMART
Come, bring me the Loaf; I sometimes love to cut my own Bread.

MISS NOTABLE
I suppose, my Lord, you lay longest a Bed To-day.  

LORD SMART
Miss, if I had said so, I should have told a Fib ; I warrant you lay a Bed till the Cows came Home : But, Miss, shall I cut you a little Crust now my Hand is in?

Now, Alexander Cooke (who died shortly before 25 February 1613 — that date he was buried according to St. Savior’s Southwark parish records) was an actor in the King’s Men as well as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men that were the acting companies of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries.  He also wrote a play, “Pope Joan” in 1610 that was based on the mythical female pope described in 13th century writings.

If there be any lazy fellow, any that can not away with work, any that would wallow in pleasures, he is hasty to be priested.  And, when he is made one, and hath gotten a benefice, he consorts with his neighbour priests, who are altogether given to pleasures; and then both he, and they, live, not like Christians, but like epicures; drinking, eating, feasting, and revelling, till the cows come home, as the saying is; playing at tables, and at stool-ball; and when they are well crammed and tippled, then they fall by the ears together, whooping, and yelling, and swearing damnably, by God and all the Saints in Heaven.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom than the one in Alexander Cooke’s play, there is an undated saying from Wigan, Lancashire:  Her con fradge till ceaws come wom.  The translation is this:  She can talk till the cows come home.

So while the saying obviously dates back considerably further than 1610, a specific date cannot be set in stone. Idiomation therefore feels it is safe to state that it was undoubtedly a common phrase used in the 1500s, and most likely long before that.

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

Raining Cats And Dogs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 31, 2013

If it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s no need to worry. The idiom refers to a heavy downpour that doesn’t look like it will let up any time in the near future.  Just make sure to take an umbrella with you and to dress warmly to guard against the cutting wind.

The phrase is popular, and it’s found in all sorts of expected — and unexpected — places. In fact, on the Benton County website in Philomath, Oregon there just happened to be a juried art exhibition happening from June 21 to July 27, 2013 at the Benton County Museum. You’ll never guess the name of the exhibition … or may you will. Yes, it was dubbed “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

On Christmas Eve day (December 24) of 1959, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal carried a quick story out of San Marino, California. It was an odd little story about residents being pelted by pelts. The investigating officer spoke with the reporter who wrote:

Officer Martin Boyle said he heard of it raining cats and dogs — but never Persian lamb and muskrat pelts. The furs, packaged in sacks, fell in a three block area.

The Pittsburg Press edition of May 4, 1930 discussed the documented incidents of all sorts of objects falling from the skies during unusually heavy rainfalls. Among the items listed were: lichens, leaves, hay, toads, frogs, fish, mussels, oranges, pebbles, and in one case in Charleston (SC) a 2-foot long alligator! The title of the article was, of course, “Raining Cats And Dogs.”

And the New York Times published an article on October 25, 1890 about a local mayoralty candidate by the name of Mr. Scott who appeared at a number of locations one rainy evening to shake hands with voters and greet large and enthusiastic audiences waiting to catch a glimpse of him. He charmed audiences everywhere he went with his story of having been a hard-working man all his life, and promising to continue with that work ethic if New Yorkers saw fit to elect him Mayor. The article began with this paragraph:

Although Old Improbabilities at Washington promised to coax the stars into view last night, the shades of the late Mr. Tweed must have pulled the string behind his back, so that when the people’s candidate for Mayor got ready to sally forth it was raining cats and dogs. Nothing daunted, Mr. Scott put on his cork-soled shoes and his long mackintosh and jumped into his carriage between the drops.

Going back in time to the previous century, the “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” by Irish author, clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was published in London through the agency of Mary Barber as well as in Dublin by George Faulkner in 1738.

Come, Sir John, I foresee it will rain terribly. Lady Smart. Come, Sir John, do nothing rashly; let us drink first Lord Sparkish. I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs. But pray, stay, Sir Sir John.

When English dramatist Richard Brome (1590 – 1643) wrote “The City Wit, or, The Woman Wears The Breeches: A Comedy” in 1629 (it was later revised in 1647 and printed in 1653), an earlier version of the idiom appeared in Act IIII, Scene I. In this scene, Sarpego (identified as a Pedant) says this:

SARPEGO:
From henceforth Erit Fluvius Deucalionis
The world ſhall flow with dunces; Regnabitque, and it
ſhall raine
Dogmata Polla Sophon, Dogs and Polecats, and fo forth.

Now polecats aren’t really cats at all. They’re actually more closely related to weasels and ferrets than to cats, however, the idiom “it’s raining cats and dogs” can easily be seen in stating “it shall rain dogs and polecats.”

But even before Richard Brome’s play, there was a saying used by sailors to describe particularly lively cats, and that was to say: The cat has a gale of wind in her tail.  But most telling of all is that Norse mythology put forth that cats represented the wind and dogs represented the rain, and so when a storm had both wind and rain together, it was figuratively cats and dogs.

This means that the idiom proper dates back to 1629, but the concept has its roots in Norse mythology which goes back long before the 17th Century, long before the 10th Century, long before the days of the Roman Empire.  In other words, it’s way back there in time.

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

Helter Skelter

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 30, 2010

The phrase helter skelter means that something happens very quickly but in a disorganized and confused way.  The phrase has existed since long before Charles Manson or the Beatles used the phrase. 

In fact, on November 18, 1922 the Evening Post newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand ran an article about a very successful revue that read in part:

Helter-Skelter” was an apt name for the entertainment planned and presented last night at the Concert Chamber in aid of the Mayor’s City Improvement Fund by Mr. Pat Ward, who had gathered around him apt exponents of mirth and music. 

Almost a decade earlier, on September 14, 1914, the Poverty Bay Herald in New Zealand published a news story about WWI.  The headline read:

HELTER SKELTER RETREAT CONTINUES: British and French Vigorously pursuing five days incessant Fighting – Evidences of German Rout and Demoralisation

In the previous century, Bentley’s Miscellany authored by W. Harrison Ainsworth, Esq., and published in 1841, contained the following passage:

Mr. Rasp promised to comply, and moreover to set forth his friend’s military prowess to the best advantage.

“I think,” said he, “your division stormed the Press-yard, and captured the whipping-post, during the Loyal Aldersgate Street Volunteer campaigning in 1805.”

“Right, brother Ralph,” replied the comical coffin-maker, “and when the Finsbury awkward squad routed your left wing in the City Road, and you all ran helter-skelter into the boiled buttock of beef shop in the Old Bailey, we valiant sharp-shooters protected your flank, and covered your inglorious retreat!”  And he entertained the company with this appropriate recitation.

A little over a century before that, in 1731, Irish poet Jonathan Swift wrote “Helter Skelter” which is also known as “The Hue And Cry After The Attorneys Upon Their Riding The Circuit.”

Thomas Nashe made good use of the phrase helter skelter in his ‘Four Letters Confuted’ published in 1592:

Helter skelter, feare no colours, course him, trounce him.

In the end, E. Cobham Brewer wrote in his book, “The Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of Difficult Words”  that helter skelter is an Old English phrase that means “in tumultuous confusion.”   Old English is defined as English used up until the middle of the twelfth century or about 1160.  While the book itself was published in 1870, Brewer was a fastidious researcher therefore identifying the earliest known date for the phrase helter skelter to Old English was not done without great effort and fact-checking on Brewer’s part.

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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.

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 »