Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘King George III’

Wellington Boots

Posted by Admin on September 24, 2019

A while back, a friend of Idiomation asked why Wellington boots — which are sometimes referred to as Wellies — are called Wellington boots. Some of you may be wondering what a Wellington boot is in the first place, never mind the history behind the name.  Some people call them rubber boots while others call them galoshes. Still others call them muck boots, and a few call them rain boots. A few call them gumboots or gummies.

SIDE NOTE 1: In South Africa, gumboots inspired gumboot dances in the early 20th century. The dancers wear their gumboots and create rhythms by slapping their boots and bodies, stamping their feet, and singing.

Wellington boots were named early in the 19th century by Dublin-born Anglo-Irish soldier Arthur Wellesley (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), the First Duke of Wellington, who fell in love with the Hessian boots German soldiers wore. He had been sent to Flanders in late 1793 and fought at the Battle of the Boxtel in September the following year. His health was negatively affected by the damp environment, and the battle forced heavy losses and sickness on the men fighting with the Dutch and Austrian troops to invade France. The end result was that they were forced to retreat into Germany.

Hessian boots became incredibly popular during the reign of King George III after they were introduced in 1789. In short order, they became standard military issue footwear as popular with civilians as with military men. Some even took to calling them “Austrians” (with the word boot omitted) since they were originally a German boot made in the German state of Hesse.

Hessian boots reached nearly to the knees and had a a nice trim around the top. They were made of leather, and had semi-pointed toes and small heels as well as tassels at the top.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Duke of Wellington was famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo which ran from 15 June – 8 July 1815.

The Duke didn’t fancy the tassels all that much, so he charged his personal shoemaker with modifying the style of Hessian boots in 1811 to suit his own tastes. For one thing, those tassels were definitely gone as was the trim. He wasn’t impressed with the heel, and asked to have the boot made to be a bit more form fitting without the heel.

Aristocrats in England wanted to emulate the Duke, so they began asking their shoemakers to create Hessian-inspired boots that looked like the boots the Duke wore, and it wasn’t long before everyone with means to buy these boots were calling them Wellington boots. In fact, by 1817, everyone knew what kind of boot the Wellington boot was.

It was in 1853 that American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson (1808 – 1869) decided to introduce rubber to the Wellington boot. Hiram had bought the patent for vulcanization of natural rubber for footwear from self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear (yes, that Charles Goodyear). Goodyear (29 December 1800 – 1 July 1860) was using the process to make tires, so he saw no problem in allowing Hutchinson to use the process to make boots.

Wellington boots were sold to farmers looking for foot protection in their wet fields. The rubberized Wellingtons allowed them to work in their wet fields all day and still have clean, dry feet when the day was done. It’s easy to see how this impressed farmers everywhere. It wasn’t long before the rubber Wellington was a staple on farms and in cities throughout Europe.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Hessian boot inspired the creation of cowboy boots that became popular in American in the 1850s.

When the rubber Wellington boot left England on its way to the United States in the early 20th century, they also changed color. The British version remained the traditionally green while the version in the U.S. came in a variety of colors, with the most popular color being black boots for adults and yellow boots for children.

World War I provided soldiers in the flooded and mud-filled European trenches a chance to keep their feet warm and dry by wearing rubber Wellington boots, and so they did.

These days, Wellington boots are standard footwear for a number of jobs, mostly when the boot is reinforced with a steel toe to prevent injury as well.

It’s very easy to peg the year the term Wellington boots came into usage, so Idiomation has decided to share this YouTube video of gumboot dancing in South Africa with readers.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Under Your Hat

Posted by Admin on June 25, 2015

It’s not every day that an idiom has as illustrious — or as convoluted — a history as the one that’s part of under your hat.  When someone tells you to keep what they’re sharing with you under your hat, they expect you to keep their confidences and not betray their secrets.

Back in 1732, under the reign of King George III, Britain levied a tax against American colonists in the form of the Hat Act.  Great Britain outlawed the manufacturing and exporting of hats in the colonies and made it illegal to engage in inter-colonial sale of hats.  Hats were imported from Britain and were subjected to a heavy tax.   This is an important bit of history to keep under your hat while the rest of the story unfolds.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of February 10, 1980 ran a column about photography that was authored by Holt Confer titled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”  Holt welcomed non-technical questions and column suggestions from readers, but this column while serious, also kept everything light.  The first two paragraphs clearly set the tone for the column.

I’ll have to admit “Keep It Under Your Hat” is a strange name for a photography column.  If you take a quick glance at the two photographs, the title will become a bit more relevant.

And if I tell you a few more “secrets” about photographic exposures (“secrets” I don’t mind if you pass along) then the title will be a lot more relevant.

During WWII, while the Americans ran with the campaign slogan that warned loose lips sank ships, people in the UK had their own slogan from 1940:  Keep it under your hat.  The campaign addressed every class — from working class to upper class — and drove home the point that anything a person knew, whether they thought it was important or not, was a danger to the men on the front lines if it what they knew was talked about.

National Archives_UK_1940s
In April 1925, the California Melody Syncopators released a 78 RPM record on Clover Records.  The song was entitled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”   It was a re-release of the 1923 hit for the California Ramblers that was written by Eddie Cantor, Charles Tobias, and Louis Breau.

It was in Volume 20 of “Gleaning In Bee Culture” that the term was used in response to Chas. Israel’s Letter to the Editor dated New York, September 30, 1892.  The author of the letter had read an article on honey adulteration written by Professor Cook, and he was concerned over a new law that went into effect on September 1, 1892 that addressed the issue of adulterated honey and maple sugar.

The matter of grades of honey, and feeding bees glucose to make their honey all that much sweeter, was also an issue, and he dragged Mr. W.J. Cullinan of Quincy, Illinois into his worries. And finally he references the “American Analyst” edition of June 18, 1892 where it was mentioned that some of the most reliable dealers of honey in the United States was selling adulterated honey!  The response from the Editor included this passage.

We know of just one who did do it, as above-mentioned, and possibly there may be a few others; but their number, as compared with honest honey-producers who feel aggrieved and injured because of the mixing on the part of the city chaps is as nothing.  Now, if we are wrong in our assumption — and possibly we are — we want the brethren everywhere to speak right out.  If you do not wish to have your name as informant mentioned in connection with the matter, nor any thing done about it at all, say so; at any rate, tell us where you know of a producer who is engaged in the mixing business, and we will keep it “under our hat” if you say so.

The spirit of under your hat is found in the novel, “The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy” by English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863) and published in 1848.  There, in the chapter entitled, “More Storms In The Puddle” readers find this passage:

The old grandmother crooning in the corner and bound to another world within a few months, has some business or cares which are quite private and her own — very likely she is thinking of fifty years back, and that night when she made such an impression, and danced a cotillon with the captain before your father proposed for her: or, what a silly little over-rated creature your wife is, and how absurdly you are infatuated about her — and, as for your wife — O philosophic reader, answer and say — Do you tell her all?  Ah, sir — a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine — all things in nature are different to each — the woman we look at has not the same features, the dish we eat has not the same taste to the one and the other — you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near to us.

French chronicler Jean de Vennette (1308 – 1370) wrote that the British soldiers at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 protected their bows by putting the strings on their heads under their helmets.  At the time of the Battle of Crécy (26 August 1346), the preferred bow for military purposes was the longbow.  The bow-staves were a single piece of straight-grained yew, and unstrung, the bow was six feet long and tapered.  Bow strings were waxed and oiled to keep them weather-proof and flexible.

While it’s true that the bowmen kept their strings under their helmets, it was no secret about where the bowmen kept their strings, and keeping strings dry isn’t the same as keeping secrets.  It is highly unlikely that keeping something under your hat has anything to do with the Battle of Crécy or bowmen.

The Adventurer” was a journal where John Hawkesworth (1715 – November 16, 1773) was the editor and principal writer from 7 November 1752 through to March 1754, and was the successor to Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784).  In all, about seventy papers written by John Hawkesworth were included in the four volume series published in 1793.  In Volume IV of this collection, the spirit of the idiom is implied in this passage:

By a sudden stroke of conjuration, a great quantity of gold might be conveyed under his hat.

The dictionary defines conjuration as an illusory feat that could be considered magical by those who were unfamiliar with the trickery.  In other words, hocus pocus, legerdemain, prestidigitation, sleight of hand.  If one was adept at conjuration, there was considerable money to be made as long as the secret of the magic involved was kept locked up inside the person’s head which, of course, back in the day, would have been covered by a hat.

This indicates that the early beginnings of keeping information under your hat cropped up in the early 1750s, twenty or so years after the Hat Act of 1732.  Whether the idiom is as a result of John Hawkesworth’s writings or the Hat Act of 1732, Idiomation pegs the expression to the mid-1700s.  Of course, if any of our readers know differently, please share in the Comments section below.  After all, there’s no reason to keep that information under your hat, is there?

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