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Posts Tagged ‘Lester Cuneo and Francelia Billington’

Blue Blazes

Posted by Admin on January 16, 2021

When you hear someone ask the question, “What in blue blazes?” do you ever wonder what blue blazes are and if they are, indeed, blue?

Blazes is a slang expression referring to the fires of Hell, and blue is an alliterative intensifier. The use of blue blazes is meant to express extreme confusion, surprise, or aggravation. The interesting thing is that it’s more often heard in the US than in other English speaking countries.

Back on 5 August 2020, KXAN News in Austin (TX) reported on an Alabama man who woke to find an alligator swimming in his backyard pool, KXAN shared the news story on Facebook with the question: “What in the blue blazes is this?

There was is also an implication of great speed in the expression, as seen back in 1951 when Lottie Noel’s horse Blue Blazes, ridden by Noel Anderson was trying to win races.

Back in 1940, Harry Douglas created the character Blue Blaze for Marvel Comics. His first appearance was in Mystic Comics 1 and he appeared in ten issues before disappearing in 1942.

Back in 1936, Raymond Kane directed a short comedy film titled, “Blue Blazes” and starred Buster Keaton (4 October 1895 – 1 February 1966). The story followed Buster Keaton’s character who decided he wanted to be a fireman. He wasn’t a particularly good fireman, but when he has a chance to save three women trapped in a burning building, it’s a chance to prove his worth.

You can watch the 19 minute movie on YouTube by clicking here.

That wasn’t the only movie titled, “Blue Blazes.” The husband-and-wife team of handsome American silent western star, Lester Cuneo (25 October 1888 – 1 November 1925) and silent screen actress and camera operator, Francelia Billington (1 February 1895 – 24 November 1934) produced a silent movie Western by that name. It was a well-used plot of a loser who tries to hide in the West where he comes to the aid of a female rancher and her widowed mother to defend them against the dastardly mortgage lender who wants to be socially inappropriate with the younger of the two women.

The idiom was found in “Chapter 22: Private Dennis Hogan, Hero” in the book “Danger Signals: Remarkable, Exciting and Unique Examples of the Bravery, Daring and Stoicism in the Midst of Danger of Train Dispatchers and Railroad Engineers” by former railroad engineer John A. Hill (22 February 1858 – 24 January 1916) and Jasper Ewing Brady, 1st Lieutenant 19th United States Infantry, Late Captain Signal Corps U.S. Volunteers, published by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1902. The book was copyrighted by S.S. McClure Co in 1898 and in Doubleday & McClure in 1899, and lastly by Jamieson-Higgins Co in 1900.

At four o’clock on the afternoon in question Denny was aroused from his reverie by the sounder opening up and calling “FN” like blue blazes. He answered and this is what he took.

Denny was the messenger boy as well as operator and without waiting to make an impression copy, he grabbed his hat and flew down the line to the colonel’s quarters. That worthy was entertaining a party at dinner, and was about to give Hogan fits for bringing the message to him instead of to the post adjutant; but a glance at the contents changed things and in a moment all was bustle and confusion.

For weeks the premonitory signs of this outbreak had been plainly visible, but true to the red-tape conditions, the army could not move until some overt act had been committed. The generous interior department had supplied the Indians with arms and ammunition and then Mr. Red Devil under that prince of fiends incarnate, Sitting Bull, started on his campaign of plunder and pillage.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  John Alexander Hill was a co-founder of the McGraw-Hill Book Company along with James Herbert McGraw (17 December 1860 – 21 February 1948), the predecessor corporation of today’s McGraw Hill Financial and McGraw-Hill Education.

Remember the racing horse, Blue Blazes, from 1951 that was mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the only racing horse by that name. In “The General Stud Book Containing Pedigrees of Race Horses from the Earliest Accounts to the Year 1896 Inclusive” published in 1897 by Weatherby and Sons in London, Blue Blazes was also mentioned (although it was a different horse from the one who ran races in 1951). The book listed thorough-bred stock from England and duly certified them as thorough-breds.

The euphemistic oath is found in Chapter 10 of “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. It’s made clear the expression is one with a hefty punch.

“Well,” said Joe, meditatively – not, of course, that it could be in anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was the way at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply about everything that was discussed over pipes; “well – no. No, he ain’t.”

“Nevvy?” said the strange man.

“Well,” said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation, “he is not – no, not to deceive you, he is not – my nevvy.”

“What the Blue Blazes is he?” asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to be an inquiry of unnecessary strength.

In the book, “Real Life in Ireland by a Real Paddy” which attributes the idiom to 1821 is found in Chapter 15.

Blood and blue blazes, swore old Mrs. Tarpaulin. I’ll send the fellow to hell that dares attack me at my moorings in blanket bay.

In 1812, “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass” by the American author, book agent, and Anglican minister, Mason Locke Weems (11 October 1759 – 23 May 1825) passage was a clear demonstration of how the two words and Hell fit together so very well.

Ye steep down gulphs of liquid fire! Ye blue blazes of damnation! But hush, thou false zeal, hush! and curse not him who Christ hath commanded you to pray for.

The book obviously sold well as by 1818, it was in its sixth printing, and the old title, “God’s Revenge Against Drunkenness” had been replaced with “The Drunkard’s Looking Glass.”

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Mason Lock Weems, also known as Parson Weems, wrote the first biography of George Washington (22 February 1732 – 4 December 1799) titled, “The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington” which was published in 1800.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: He is the source of the well-known albeit unverifiable and thoroughly questionable story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree as a child, and what was said by the child to his father at the time.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4: Mason Lock Weems is also known for his biography of U.S. military officer Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion (1732 – 26 February 1795) who was so nicknamed by the British for his elusive tactics.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to blue blazes, however, for it to be used so freely by Mason Locke Weems — an Anglican minister no less — it most certainly was around at the start of the 19th century, and quite possibly earlier depending on how aged old Mrs. Tarpaulin was in the 1821 book “Real Life In Ireland by a Real Paddy.”

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