Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Alsop’

Snowball’s Chance In Hell

Posted by Admin on January 11, 2011

The expression snowball’s chance in Hell means you have no reasonable hope whatsoever of achieving something you are hoping to achieve.  The concept, of course, is that no matter how cold snow is, even when compacted into a snowball, the chances it will still be snow — or water — once it’s introduced to Hell are nil.

Now there are those who will ask, “But why would anyone want to toss a snowball into Hell? Everyone knows about the fires of Hell, right?”  Well, Hell isn’t always perceived by all people as being one huge pit of never-ending fire.

Zamhareer is one Hell pit in Islamic tradition that is characterized by extreme blizzards, ice and snow that no living being can bear.  But then there are other pits of Hell that are definitely identified as the extreme opposite of Zamhareer

In Dante’s Divine Comedy the final ring of Hell at the centre of the world is a frozen lake called Cocytus. But overall, Hell‘s a pretty hot place.

In Canada, on September 11, 1980, in the Ottawa Citizen then-Quebec Premier René Lévesque was quoted as saying the following after a day-long debate on the proposed Charter of Rights that would nullify parts of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language:

Trudeau is asking for something that is not practical, something unrealistic.  He wanted to divide and conquer while giving an appearance of generosity.  But a lot of people saw him coming; I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting his charter in.

In the end the score was Snowball 1, Quebec 0.  And that wasn’t the first time snowballs and Hell had been mentioned or implied as part of politics in North America.

Back on August 20, 1956, the Victoria Advocate of Victoria (TX) ran a story on page 4 of that day’s newspaper in the “Matter of Fact” column by Joseph and Stewart Alsop.  It discussed the impression left at the Democratic convention.

As for the outcome, well, they really did not think Stevenson had a snowball’s chance in Hell of carrying their particular states if Eisenhower’s health held up.  Of course, you had to remember the big Democratic gains in 1954.  But if you were really honest about it, the President’s health was the one real factor to watch.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent News of September 2, 1938 reported the inside story of the Pope-Clark primary in Idaho and President Roosevelt’s reluctance to back defeated Senator Pope as an independent candidate.

Jim Farley was given a fill in on the intrigue when he passed through the state (of Idaho) on his return trip from Alaska.  It convinced him that Mr. Pope, running as an independent, wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance to beat the machine.  So he phoned Hyde Park by long distance, begging F.D.R. to make no commitments until he had learned the facts.

While the expression has been used in many situations, it seems that it’s a favourite when speaking of extreme situations in politics.

An etymology dictionary Idiomation consulted claimed that the expression dates back to 1931 but did not provide a source to support that claim. 

The earliest publication of the expression Idiomation was able to find goes back to  1938 and is used with such familiarity as to imply it was a well used expression by that time.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Egghead

Posted by Admin on December 8, 2010

An airhead is someone who hasn’t got any sensible or realistic ideas and appears to be lacking in intelligence.  The opposite of an airhead is an egghead, who is very studious and is, quite naturally, an intellectual.

Far from being a compliment in the United States over the past 75 years or so, egghead has been used as an anti-intellectual epithet, directed at people who are described as being out-of-touch with ordinary people and hyperfocused on intellectual interests and pursuits only.

The term egghead was used during the 1952 Presidential campaign, when Stewart Alsop — a powerful Connecticut Republican and the brother of newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop — labeled Adlai Stevenson an egghead because of Stevenson’s perceived intellectual air.  In Alsop‘s syndicated column of September 1952, Alsop wrote:

After Stevenson’s serious and rather difficult atomic energy speech in Hartford, Conn., this reporter remarked to a rising young Connecticut Republican that a good many intelligent people, who would be considered normally Republican, obviously admired Stevenson.  “Sure,” was the reply, “all the eggheads love Stevenson.  But how many eggheads do you think there are?”

Alsop defined the word egghead as “what the Europeans would call ‘intellectuals’ … interested in ideas and in the words used to express those ideas.”

A 1918 letter written by Carl Sandburg to his former newspaper boss, Negley Dakin Cochran indicates that Chicago newspapermen used the term egghead to refer to highbrow editorial writers out of touch with the common man.  In his letter, Carl Sandburg wrote:

Egg heads is the slang here for editorial writers here.  I have handed in five editorials on Russia and two on the packers, voicing what 95 percent of the readers of The News are saying on the [trolley] cars and in the groceries and saloons but they have been ditched for hot anti-bolshevik stuff … At that it isn’t so much the policies of the papers as the bigotry and superstition and flunkeyism of the Egg Heads.

Before Sandburg’s use of the term, however, author Owen Johnson published a story in 1909 entitled “The Triumphant Egghead” in the book “The Eternal Boy: Being The Story of the Prodigious Hickey.”  Hickey is the main character in the book and he gave nicknames to his friends. 

In the Masillon (OH) Evening Independent newspaper, an article published on December 5, 1910 quoted Mr. Johnson as stating that the nicknames came from friends with whom he attended school.

In the Varmin” he said, “I was writing of a period from 1893 to 1897, when there was a particularly bright lot of youngsters in Lawrenceville: pioneers of a peculiar sort of English literature I called them … [snip] … all of them appear off and on in the book.”

I was unable to find a published reference that pre-dates 1893, however, for the term to be so easily used in stories in 1893, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the term was already established as a word referring to an individual of certain developed intellectual abilities.

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