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Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Carroll’

Another Think Coming

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 6, 2018

The battle continues as to whether the expression is you’ve got another think coming or you’ve got another thing coming. This week on Idiomation, both expressions are shared on this blog so you can make an educated decision as to which expression works best for you.

The expression you’ve got another think coming is in many ways a well-worded mathematical equation with real life implications. In other words, if you think A and B are true, you will be surprised to learn they do not add up to X as you think it will. Yes, when you are told you have another think coming, you have been advised you are sorely mistaken in your beliefs and need to reconsider your original thought if you want to be right.

So if you think you this is an easy riddle to unravel, you might have another think coming … or not.

Most English teachers will tell you that think is a verb however in this instance think is actually a noun. A noun? Yes because a noun identifies the subject in a sentence while a verb ascribes action. So when that think is coming as a result of the first think, it’s obvious that the thinks in question are subjects and not actions. What those thinks are doing or are going to be doing are the verbs.

Think as a noun first appeared in dictionaries in 1834 and referred to the act of thinking or a period of thinking. In fact, there’s an expression from the late 1800s that clearly expresses this thought: A thing must be a think before it be a thing.

That sentence was from a novel by Scottish author, poet, and minister George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) titled “Home Again” and published in 1884. The concept is found in Chapter IV: A Living Force.

“I should so like to understand!” said Molly. “If you have a thought more beautiful than the narcissus, Walter, I should like to see it! Only if I could see it, it would be a thing, would it not? A thing must be a think before it be a thing. A thing is a ripe think, and must be better than a think — except it lose something in ripening — which may very well be the man’s thoughts, but hardly with God’s! I will keep in front of the things, and look through them to the thoughts behind them. I want to understand! If a thing were not a thought first, it would not be worth anything! And everything has to be thought about, else we don’t see what it is! I haven’t got it quite!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy literature, and mentored Lewis Carroll (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), the author of the Alice stories. He was also a literary influence on such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter de la Mare.

His books include “Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women” published in 1858 and “The Princess and the Goblin” published in 1872 among other titles.

Three years after George MacDonald shared his thoughts on thinking, the concept of having another think coming was published in the 9 April 1897 edition of the Daily Argus newspaper:

Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them.

It wasn’t something that was a one-off sharing of the idiom as it also appeared in the 29 April 1897 edition of the Washington Post newspaper in an article headline:  Another “Think” Coming To Them.

Two years after that, it was prominently featured in an article in the 24 September 1898 edition of the Quincy Whig newspaper:

Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn’t need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials.

So when someone has another think coming to them, know that this phrase is correct and was first published in this form in 1887 with the logic of it all courtesy of George MacDonald in 1884.

Idiomation is certain that after reading this entry, you can hardly wait to read the history and meaning of another thing coming.  Breathe easy, readers:  You need only wait for Thursday’s entry to finally know everything that needs to be known about both expressions!

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Grin Like A Cheshire Cat

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 7, 2013

When someone smiles or grins like a Cheshire cat, they’re smiling broadly … very broadly. Now, do cats actually smile? They do, but not the way humans do. According to animal experts and studies done, cats do a slow blink that’s the equivalent to a human smile.

You’re probably wondering why the expression is tied to a broad smile if cats do a slow blink. Some of you might even think that the expression originated with English author, Lewis Carroll who wrote about the Cheshire cat and its smile in his book, ” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that was published 1865.

Author William Makepeace Thackeray (July 18, 1811 – December 24, 1863) used the idiom in his book “The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family” that was published in 1855. The story is about Colonel Thomas Newcome, and his son Clive, and reflects the culture of its time. Some critics have said that it’s an accurate representation of Victorian life with liberal mention of culture, politics and expressions in languages other than English. In Chapter XXIV, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis:

For her own part, Rosey is pleased with everything in nature. Does she love music? Oh, yes. Bellini and Donizetti? Oh, yes. Dancing? They had no dancing at grandmamma’s, but she adores dancing, and Mr. Clive dances very well indeed. (A smile from Miss Ethel at this admission.) Does she like the country? Oh, she is so happy in the country! London? London is delightful, and so is the seaside. She does not really know which she likes best, London or the country, for mamma is not near her to decide, being engaged listening to Sir Brian, who is laying down the law to her, and smiling, smiling with all her might. In fact, Mr. Newcome says to Mr. Pendennis in his droll, humorous way, “That woman grins like a Cheshire cat.” Who was the naturalist who first discovered that peculiarity of the cats in Cheshire?

In Volume III of the 5 volume collection entitled, “The Works of Peter Pindar, Esq To Which Are Prefixed Memoirs of the Author’s Life” readers will find an entry entitled, “Epistles to Lord Macartney and His Ship.” Peter Pindar was actually a pseudonym for English satirist John Wolcot (9 May 1738 – 14 January 1819), and this undertaking was published 1794. And right there in this entry, the following verse is found:

Yet, if successful, thou wilt be adored:
Lo, like a Cheshire Cat our Court will grin;
How glad to find as many Gems on board
As will not leave the room to stick a Pin!

In the 1811, 1788 and 1785  editions of “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, — considered in the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language — there’s an entry under “Cheshire Cat‘ and it reads:

He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shews his teeth and gums in laughing.

Now interestingly enough, I came across a letter that was written as a Reply to the entry “Grinning Like A Cheshire Cat” in the Cheshire Notes and Queries of August 18, 1882 in which the author, Alfred Burton, references the Slang Dictionary by John Camden Hotten, wrote:

In the Slang Dictionary (edition 1873, pp 115-116) there is a variation in the above saying which has not been given in “Notes and Queries.” To grin like a Cheshire cat — to display the teeth and gums when laughing.” Formerly the phrase was “To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.”

In researching this phrase, Idiomation came across a different reference book. This one was authored by Lieutenant-Colonel Egerton Leigh entitled, “A Glossary of Words Used In The Dialect of Cheshire” published in Long by Hamilton Adams and Co and in Chester by Minshull and Hughes in 1877.  In the dedication, Egerton Leigh stated that these were from “dialectal fragments of our old County” and he hoped they “now have a chance of not vanishing entirely, amid changes which are rapidly sweeping away the past.”  He attests to the fact that the saying, in its entirety is:  Grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese.

Very telling, however, is the fact that in the You Asked Us column printed in the Montreal Gazette of June 4, 1977 stated, in replying to the question as to why the cat in Lewis Carroll’s book was from Cheshire, the explanation was this:

Carroll knew that his audience would recognize his playing with an expression common in England for at least a hundred years before Alice In Wonderland was published. To grin like a Cheshire cat eating cheese (chewing gravel or evacuating bones), meant to smile all over one’s face for no apparent reason.

According to the magazine Replies published on October 4, 1879, the idiom “He smiled like a Chasse cat was also used in the midland counties around the same time, and an article suggested that the idiom may actually have substituted either Chasse Cat or Cheshire Cat for the term House Cat.

An additional reference in other dictionaries that was uncovered was this one referring to English caricaturist and satirical poet, John Collier (18 December 1708–14 July 1786) who was known by the pseudonym of Tim Bobbin as well as Timothy Bobbin. His first significant illustrated piece appears in 1746.

To grin like a Cheshire cat is to display the teeth and gums whilst laughing (à la Tim Bobbin).

All that being said, the earliest that the Idiomation could come to determining how far back grin like a Cheshire cat goes, is at least to the early 1700s (and most likely much earlier) when all the evidence from various magazines and dictionaries are compiled.

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Mad As A March Hare

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 12, 2011

If someone mentions that you’re as mad as a March hare, what they mean is that you’re out of your mind and you’re not thinking straight.  In other words, your behaviour is bizarre and completely unlike your usual demeanour.

The expression goes back to the belief that when breeding season hits in Europe — which just happens to begin during the month of March — hares behave erratically.  The behaviour continues well past March, however during the winter months, hares are docile and so when they seem to be agitated and excited — and sometimes violent — it only appears to be out of character for these animals.  It’s not … not really.

On March 7, 2010 the Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported on the FA Cup quarter final match between Reading and Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium.  The first paragraph read:

Martin O’Neill went as mad as a March hare at the Madejski Stadium but finally laid to rest one of football’s rarer hoodoos at the 13th attempt. Since arriving at Aston Villa in 2006, the manager had failed to win a game in March and, after Shane Long gave Reading a two-goal half-time advantage, O’Neill delivered a broadside.

On March 1, 1925 the New York Times ran a news story on William Wrigley who began his career as a soap salesman and was known to spend millions on advertising.  The reason for the story had everything to do with the chewing gum that sold for a penny but that generated net profits of over 8 million USD in 1924. The article began with this enticing tidbit of information:

To business men and bankers, Wrigley may have seemed mad as a March hare. That was the panic year. Money was at a premium.  Businesses were wondering how they could escape their advertising contracts.

In Chapter VII also known as “Pigs and Pepper” of Lewis Carroll‘s book “Alice In Wonderland” published in 1865, the following exchange happens between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“By-the-bye, what became of the baby?” said the Cat. “I’d nearly forgotten to ask.”

“It turned into a pig,” Alice quietly said, just as if it had come back in a natural way.

“I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.

Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. “I’ve seen hatters before,” she said to herself; “the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad–at least not so mad as it was in March.” As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree.

W. C. Hazlitt published his book “Remains: Early Popular Poetry of England” in 1864.  It contained a poem from 1500 that included this line:

Thanne they begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare.

The expression mad as a March Hare, however, is found in countless books and documents from the 16th century.  In fact, John Heywood included the phrase in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.  So in less than two generations, the phrase had come into its own.  Part of this is due to the fact that in 1529, Sir Thomas More used the phrase in his book “The Supplycacyon of Soulys” when he wrote about beggars and their begging ways:

As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of the expression mad as a March hare however it’s very likely that it was used in previous decades as it is used with great ease of language in the 1500s.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When Pigs Fly

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2010

The phrase “when pigs fly”  is one of my favourites and is a common humorous euphemism for the word “never.”  It dates back to the early 1600s when more than a few writers alleged that pigs could fly with their tails pointed forward … quite an impossible feat.

The Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pondered the possibility of ‘whether pigs had wings’ which implies an unspoken question as to whether pigs could fly hence the wings reference.  It is  most likely that this question happened in Mr. Carroll’s book due to the 1862 publication The Proverbs of Scotland where the following can be found:

If a pig had wings, it could fly.

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