Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Lodi News-Sentinel’

Hocus Pocus

Posted by Admin on June 4, 2015

Hocus pocus science or legal hocus pocus or medical hocus pocus have to do with science, law, or medicine that relies on ignorance, laziness, or hypocrisy to be successful.  Through verbal misrepresentation, the goal is to take advantage of others for the benefit of the one using hocus pocus science or legal hocus pocus.  In other words, it’s nothing more than fraud.

In Ted Hoffman’s November 21, 1999 column, “Culture Shocked” — published by the Lakeland Ledger — he took on the issue of televangelist Peter Popoff in an article entitled, “Mumbo Jumbo, Hocus-Pocus.”  His article made it clear to readers what hocus pocus was!

Yet millions of us perpetuate and fall victim to mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, phony-baloney, pseudo-scientific tripe.  Astrology.  Crystals.  Psychics.  Tarot.  Channeling.  Magnetic healing.  Homeopathic medicines.  Creationism.  Psychic surgery and faith healing.  After-death contact. Reincarnation.  Past-life regression. Velveeta snorting.

On March 2, 1972 the Lodi News-Sentinel published a news article written by Andrew Tully who was covering the bail hearing of Angela Davis, a woman who was released on $105,000 USD bail for her involvement in the murder of four people in a courtroom shootout a year and a half earlier in August 1970.  The article was entitled, “Hocus Pocus Science” and ended with this paragraph.

In any event, the law has surrendered to a segment of public opinion.  Coke probably is swiveling in his grave, but not the 18th century playwright, Charles Macklin.  In “Love A La Mode,” Macklin observed that “the law is a sort of hocus-pocus science.”

In the Milwaukee Journal of March 31, 1936 the newspaper reported on a $150,000 USD libel suit that had been brought by Edward A. Ernest against the newspaper proper with regards to comments made about the merits of the spectro-chrome health machines — little machines that contained electric light bulbs and colored glass — invented by Dinshah P. Ghadiali (an inventor with a string of fake degrees, may of which were from diploma mills), and marketed and sold by Edward A. Ernest.   J.G. Hardgrove was acting counsel for the Journal.

The complaint had to do with a newspaper article that referred to the machines as “hocus pocus.”  Edward A. Ernest’s name was not mentioned in the article, however, he insisted in his lawsuit that the article held him up to ridicule.

J.G. Hardgrove proved that Edward A. Ernest came up with his own medical vocabulary to replace standard medical terminology with which to fool potential customers.  Rather than talk about cures, diseases, and diagnosis, Edward A. Ernest would talk about normalizing, and unbalance, and measurement instead.  When counsel for the Journal asked Edward A. Ernest about his concept of an auric vehicle — asking if it was six inches thick or a millionth of an inch thick — Edward A. Ernest replied that the invisible egg-shaped ovid’s size was unknown to him.

As the trial continued, the questions as well as the responses were said to bring “smiles from the jury” and is it any wonder why?

“Now, listen here, it follows that,” Burke started to say when Judge Smalley commented.  “If I understand what hocus pocus means, it means fraud, doesn’t it?”

Burke again started to give his definition when Hardgrove explained, “As applied to this machine it means a machine that can have no scientific basis.”

SIDE NOTEIn later years, a United States district court in Camden, New Jersey found Dinshah P. Ghadiali guilty on twelve counts of violating the federal pure food and drug ace, and confiscated his phony healing devices which were destroyed shortly afterwards.

Playwright Charles Macklin was quoted again, this time by the Gazette Times on August 7, 1907 by writer Erasmus Wilson in his article, “Quiet Observer.”  His column explained his position that “all good things are possible if persistently sought, and wrought for.”  Midway through his essay, he used the quote in its more complete form.

The law is a sort of hocus-pocus science that smiles in your face while it picks your pocket; and the glorious uncertainty of it is of more use to the professors than the justice of it.

In 1801, “The Sports and Pastimes Of The People Of England: From The Earliest Period” by English author and antiquary Joseph Strutt (27 October 1749 – 16 October 1802) explained that the term hocus pocus was a term applicable to a common cheat, and referenced Reverend John Tillotson’s “Sermon XXVI.”

In 1681, English writer, philosopher and clergyman, Joseph Glanvill (1636 – 4 November 1680), late Chaplain in Ordinary to his Majesty the King and Fellow of the Royal Society, wrote about hocus pocus in his book, “Saducismus Triumphatus.

And that here this name is not from any tricks of Legerdemain as in common jugglers that delude the fight of the people at a market or fair, but that it is the name of such as raise Magical Spectres to deceive mens fight, and so are most certainly witches, is plan from Exod.22.18  Thou shalt not suffer [Mecassephah] that is, a witch to live.  Which would a law of extream (sic) severity, or rather cruelty, against a poor hocus-pocus for his tricks of legerdemain.

Now what Reverend John Tillotson, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (1630 – 22 November 1694) wrote in his sermons about hocus pocus was this:

In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.

And English General Baptist minister, Thomas Grantham (1634 – 17 October 1692) — the Curate of High Barnet near London — used hocus pocus in his essay “A Marriage Sermon, Called A Wife Mistaken Or A Wife And No Wife” published in 1643.  The term is used many times, including in this passage:

We say that man is an excellent hocus-pocus, excellent in Lederdemain, and slight of hand, that can deceive one that looks upon him.  But he that can deceive the hearing and the feeling, he is far more excellent:  My sight may be deceived, for I may take that which is pictured to be lively and real; but my hearing, my feeling cannot be so easily deceiv’d.

And John Gee used the term in his book “New Shreds Of The Old Snare” that was published in 1624 where he wrote:

I alwayes thought they had their rudiments from some iugling Hocas Pocas in a quart pot.

Traveling further back in history, the term is found in the German edition of “The Taming Of The Shrew” by William Shakespeare (April 1564 – 23 April 1616) and published in 1590.

Hocus Pocus_Shakespeare
Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of hocus pocus and any of its variants earlier than the German publication.  However, the word was understood by the Germans around 1590 as well as the English.  As it was already part of the common man’s language, hocus pocus most likely dates back to the mid-1500s, if not earlier.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Beer And Skittles

Posted by Admin on March 26, 2015

It’s not all beer and skittles they say, and when they say that, they mean that it’s not the easy life one might think or hope it would be.

Politics sometimes has a way of using colorful idioms to make a point and so it was on January 4, 1960 when Frank Macomber’s story appeared in the Lodi News Sentinel.  He shared the tales of woe that come with a Congressman’s life, including the chores of answering mail from constituents.  The article was entitled, “A Congressman’s Life Isn’t Always Beer And Skittles.”

It was back on February 6, 1931 that comic Hollywood actor Buster Keaton found himself the main topic of discussion in Mollie Merrick’s column that related the goings on in Hollywood for the rest of America to read.  Mollie Merrick related the story of “Kathleen Key, brilliant brunette beauty, who landed one on Buster Keaton’s jaw and wrecked his dressing room” the previous day “over a little discussion about money.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Kathleen Key was, she played the role of Tirzah in the 1925 movie, “Ben Hur.”

Kathleen Key

Kathleen Key

Buster claimed it all happened shortly after he gave the actress a check in the presence of two witnesses:  Cliff Edwards and Clarence Locan.  Buster Keaton said the check had been made out for $5,000 but that the actress demanded an additional $20,000. However, the check was supposed to originally be for $500 and was a bet between the actress and the comedian with regards to the actress losing 20 pounds in 10 days.

In the end, he claimed that he tore up the check and that the actress manhandled him “something awful” while the witnesses “left in a hurry.”  Mollie Merrick covered a lot of details in her story, and ended with this paragraph.

Perhaps there’ll be another check written.  There generally is when a movie star gets into trouble.  It’s the easiest way to straighten things out.  And may I add here that the movie folk often pay through the nose rather than have a scandal.  Being famous isn’t all beer and skittles.

Buster Keaton, at the time, was married to Natalie Talmadge, the youngest (according to Mollie Merrick at the time) of the very famous Talmadge sisters.

Life wasn’t all beer and skittles for Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) on that same date according to the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The newspaper ran a story out of London (England) that reported that Sinclair Lewis was inundated with mail from strangers demanding money from him but not because he owed money.  They demanded it from him because they were under the mistaken belief that as a Nobel prize winner, he was loaded with cash.  The article began very simply with this sentence:

Life is not all beer and skittles even for the winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Sinclair Lewis is beginning to find out.

It would seem that February 1931 had more than a few news articles alluding to beer and skittles!

It was in the Spring of 1876 through to the Spring of 1877 that letters under the heading of “Uppingham By The Sea” were published in The Times newspaper.  On January 27, 1878 the letters by John Huntley Skrine (3 April 1848 – 8 May 1923) were published as a book under the title, “Uppingham by the Sea: A Narrative of the Year at Borth.”  It was in Chapter IX titled, “The First Term: Making History” that the nature of skittles was clearly stated which helps to explain why beer or ale was associated with the game.

It was too narrow to be used, as was hoped, for games; unless, indeed, we had turned it into a skittle-alley.  But then skittles is a game of low connections.

A game of low connections?  Oh my!  And so, beer and skittles or ale and skittles was a pastime indulged in that required little more than an interest in playing the game and imbibing beer or ale.

In the book “Nature and Human Nature” by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) — who was also the author of “Sam Slick the Clock Maker” and other popular books of the era — published in New York City by Stringer and Townsend in 1855, the idiom appeared twice within sentences of each other in Chapter II entitled, “Clippers and Steamers.”

“It seemeth hard, Tom,” said Bill, tryin’ to comfor him — “it seemeth hard; but I’m an older man nor you be, Tom, the matter of several years;” and he gave his trowsers a twitch.  (“You know they don’t wear galluses, though a gallus holds them up sometimes,”) shifted his quid, gave his nor-wester a pull over his forehead, and looked solemncholly, “and my experience, Tom, is, that this life ain’t all beer and skittles.”

And just a bit further in this chapter:

“This life aint all beer and skittles.”  Many a time since I heard that anecdote — and I heard it in Kew Gardens, of all places in the world — when I am disappointed sadly I say that saw over, and console myself with it.

Jumping back to the turn of that century, in 1800, Volume Five of the “Queensland Agricultural Journal” included a comment from a correspondent of the “Agricultural Gazette” of New South Wales.   It would seem that beer and skittles was part of the lexicon down under as well.  The correspondent reported in part:

Now, a small farmer who clears £150 per annum may be classed amongst the happy men of the earth.  He calls no man master.  He lives comfortably, pays no rent, pays his way, has a healthy if laborious life, and takes his occasional holiday with his family without asking anyone’s permission.  Of course, farming is not all “beer and skittles.”

It was a well-known idiom, and appeared ten years earlier in the book “Letters On Education” by Catharine Macaulay.  Published in 1790, a letter is included in the book that reads thusly:

You will spare the rod at the peril of the boy’s soul; spare the lollipops and no harm is done.  Notice, I beg you, that what is at stake is the foundation view of all life.  We can hardly conceive the beautiful freedom from prejudice with which a child starts on living.  He is really prepared to believe that life is not all beer and skittles, though he hopes of course that it may prove to be.  Leave him alone and he will try to make it such.

It was in the account by William Hutton (30 September 1723 – 20 September 1815) of Birmingham which he published in 1781 that the activities of the “humbler class” were described as “completely suited to the lowest of tempers” and of “low amusement.” (The commentary sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)  These included, according to William Hutton, “skittles and ale.”

Cards and the visit are linked together, nor is the billiard table totally forsaken. One man amuses himself in amassing a fortune, and another in dissolving one.

About thirty-six of the inhabitants keep carriages for their own private use; and near fifty have country houses. The relaxations of the humbler class, are fives, quoits, skittles, and ale.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of skittles and ale or beer and skittles that retains the spirit of the idiom.  However, it was used easily to describe society in 1781 in Birmingham and since the game of skittles was well-known as early 1635, it’s reasonable to venture a guess that by 1700, ale and skittles — also known as beer and skittles by some — were considered inseparable by most in society.

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

Hold Water

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2013

If an idea, reason or argument is strong and coherent, doesn’t seem to have any holes, and stands up under critical examination, it’s said to hold water. Conversely, if it’s a bad idea or a poor argument, you’ll hear people say it won’t hold water.

On November 29, 2001 Neha Kaushik’s article on Coca-Cola Indias (CCI) was published in The Hindu newspaper. The article reported that strategies applied by the soft drink giant resulted in the company garnering 24 percent in the packaged water segment in just over a year. The article was entitled, “Coke’s Plans Hold Water.”

When the Lodi News Sentinel wrote about Vice-President Ford’s “Meet The Press” appearance in their January 10, 1974 edition, the difficult position Gerald Ford found himself in was clear. It was reported that the “Meet The Press” interviewer had recalled comments Gerald Ford had made before with regards to impeaching a President. It appears that Gerald Ford stammered and attempted to “bail himself out of the dilemma” only to make another comment the reporter latched on to. In the news story, the article ended with this comment:

The grounds for impeachment cited in Section 4, Article II apply not only to the president and vice president which clearly includes judges. Ford’s explanation of the discrepancy between his views in 1970 and today on grounds for impeachment does not hold water.

Back on October 10, 1932 the Ellensurg Daily Records reported on the captain of the prison guards at the Sunbeam prison camp near Jacksonville, Florida who allegedly whipped Arthur Maillefert with an 18-inch length of 3 inch rubber hose, normally used for coupling freight cars. At the time, whipping prisoners was against Florida laws. Things went terribly wrong and Maillefert died, which led Captain Courson to coerce other prisoners into lying about what had happened. The story stated that one of the witnesses alleged the following was true:

“Then Captain Courson told me: ‘Bob, there’s liable to be some trouble over this.'”

“Yes, Cap’n, it is a pretty tight spot,” Blake said he replied.

“He told me to go in and get him five or six witnesses who might be able to clear him at a trial.”

“I did. After I went out I told Courson I thought he had a story that would hold water.”

The witnesses said they “framed it” so several convicts would testify that Maillefert intended to commit suicide.

It’s unfortunate that the story didn’t give details about when the court case was due to resume, or if the judge made arrived at a verdict that day. It also didn’t indicate what the penalty might be if a guilty verdict was rendered. In spite of all this, the story was aptly entitled:

Prison Guard Framed Story Says Extrusty: Says Officer Obtained His Help In Framing Alibi That Would Hold Water At Trial

Nearly two generations before that story was published, the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a story from Bangor, Maine on October 13, 1887. This story was about the articles in the New York World and Boston Globe newspapers reporting on the bank robbery in Dexter. There were several discrepancies highlighted such as the fact that, due to the amount of snow on the ground, the robbers couldn’t have driven away in a wagon as alleged. This story was entitled:

Editor Robbins Scouts the Theory of Murder Still: He Says The Confession of Stair Does Not Hold Water

The expression was even found in the Daily National Intelligencer of July 15, 1842 with regards to the bill to provide revenue from imports, and to change and modify existing laws imposing duties on imports and for other purposes which was debated in on July 11 in the House of Representatives. When C.J. Ingersoll to the floor, he had a lot to say about the situation, some of which had its roots in discussing free trade and direct taxation extending from 1783. His comments made their way to what Mr. Ingersoll referred to as the Nullification war, and the Compromise Act of 1833, and in the course of his statements, he stated the following:

Among other things it had been stated that there were but about sixty-seven thousand persons immediately interested in manufactures, and these protection bills were to be passed for that handful of men! Very well; admitting it to be so, how many shipping merchants were there in the United States? About forty thousand probably; and was not our entire navigation system framed to protect them? Laws not merely protective, but absolutely prohibitory? The doctrine that no legislation was to take place for the benefit of particular classes in the country would never hold water. How many lawyers were there in the United States? (and this objection came from one who was himself a distinguished lawyer) Were there fifteen thousand? And were the laws which guarded their profession all robbery and plunder?

Other politicians took to the floor and shared their opinions, and in the end, the newspaper reported that the debate was to be continued.

English actor, playwright, and poet laureate, Colley Cibber (June 11, 1671 – November 12, 1757) wrote “She Wou’d, and She Wou’d Not: Or the Kind Imposter. A Comedy, as it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane by His Majesty’s Servants” which was published in 1703.  In Act IV of this play, the expression was used here:

This business will never hold water.

As research continued, an old Swedish proverb was found that read: “Don’t throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.”  Now that’s very good advice indeed, and certainly drives home the point that an old bucket without holes in it beats a new bucket that won’t hold water … both literally and figuratively speaking.

Although Idiomation was unable to pin an exact date to the Swedish proverb, the expression dates back to at least the early 1600s, and this is suggested based in part on the ease with which Colley Cibber used it in his play in 1703.

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Chicken Feed

Posted by Admin on March 20, 2012

Chicken feed refers to a small amount of anything especially money.  It comes from the fact that chickens can be fed grains in amounts too small for other uses but that are enough for the chickens.

Earlier this month, on March 8th, This Is Cornwall ran a news story about the youngest pupils at Falmouth Primary School and how they raised 13 newly hatched chicks.  The students fed and cared for the chicks with the help of the school staff.  The story was aptly entitled, “Cost of Keeping Hens Isn’t Chicken Feed” as the school community continues to fundraise for a coop and a plastic chicken house for their charges.

The Lodi News-Sentinel newspaper of Lodi, California ran a story on March 2, 1977 about the water resources projects that were to be suspended by the Jimmy Carter administration.  The suspensions would hopefully save the American public $5.1 billion.  The story appeared in Andrew Tully’s Capital Fare column and was entitled, “Dam Money Is Chicken Feed.”

On March 28, 1945 the front page news in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper was an article entitled, “Enclosing The Ruhr: Vital Areas In Danger.”  It read in part:

It is not too much to say that between General Patton’s Darmstadt-Aschaffenburg-Frankfurt bridgehead and the Swiss frontier there are no forces that the Third Army leader would consider as more than chicken feed while east and north-east of Frankfurt there is something very much like an open gate.

Chicken Feed was the title of a twenty-minute black-and-white short silent comedy film directed by Robert A. McGowan (22 May 1901 – 20 June 1955) and Charles Oelze (24 November 1885 –  2 August 1949), and released on November 6, 1927.  It was the 64th short from the “Our Gang” series and starred Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon and Jean Darling in the lead roles.

The Detroit Free Press carried a serialized story entitled, “Mr. Dooley On Making A Will” which was written by Finley Dunne.  Part Five was published on August 24, 1913 and the first paragraph read:

“I NEVER made a will,” said Mr. Dooley. “I didn’t want to give a headache thinkin’ iv something to put into it. A will iv mine wud be a puny little thing annyhow, an’ wan thried to file it be lible to locked up contimpt iv th’ Probate coort. Besides, I like to cause any onseemly wrangles an’ lawsuits among me heirs.”

As the story progressed, the following passage can be found:

And wit out an’ decoyed another dollar an’ aven if it come back ladin’ nawthin’ more thin a little chickenfeed, Dochney wasn’t cross about it.

While the expression isn’t used as often as the more popular “peanuts” when referring to money, the phrase first appeared in print in the memoirs of American frontiersman and statesman, Davy Crockett and published in 1836.  Davy Crockett described professional riverboat gamblers who played card games for small change, stating that gamblers made good money on their “chickenfeed” games. It would seem that the term originates with Davy Crockett and if readers can trace the expression back to before 1836, we welcome the additional information.

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