Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Times’

Klutzery

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 29, 2018

Just as one who is an archer practices archery, someone who is clumsy is involved in klutzery. The word klutz is from the German word klotz which means boor or a clod, and that word comes from Middle High German and literally means a block or ball.  A person who is described as a klutz is either very clumsy or stupid and socially inept.

The word is being found more and more often in daily conversations and in books and magazines, and some even go as far as to use the word in a mildly affectionate way.  In an essay by Jacob Greene, Ph.D. (English) published in April 2016 on the Augmented Writing website, the writer included the word in this passage.

On the contrary, Rickert sees klutzery as “something to be cultivated for itself,” arguing that it is “the very ground of style, of composition, and development.”

In an article published on Wanderlust Lust in November 2014, Kristin Brumm also used it in an affectionate way in this sentence.

That is why I have chosen to see my accident not as an unfortunate mishap or evidence of spectacular klutzery, but rather the Universe hearing my wishes and creating for me the time and space to write.

Four years before that, Mike Achim used it in his article published on Fevered Mutterings in November 2010.

“The Art Of Unfortunate Travel“, choosing as a theme the cock-ups, mishaps, klutzery and 100% foolproof schemes gone awry …

But even though klutzery enjoyed this treatment, it wasn’t the first time the word had been used by writers and authors.

“Phantom of the Paradise” written by former editor at the SoHo Weekly News, Bjarne Rostaing and published by Dell Publishing in New York and W.H. Allen in London in 1975, the word klutzery is used in this capacity.

Swan was offended by musical klutzery, and he had been exposed to a lot of it over the past several hours. He was through being amused with Philbin’s plastic-hippie clothes and the endless line of no-talent kids. So when Winslow Leach arrived Swan was not put off by his ill-fitted jeans, bad hair and ugly spectacles.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE:  Bjarne Rostaing exposed the 1984 U.S. Olympic blood doping scandal for Sports Illustrated. He also won an AFI First Place Award for a sports video, and has written a number of books.

Believe it or not, the word is found in a government document two years earlier, and if it’s used in a government document, it’s obvious the word was known and understood by the population overall. The word klutzery was part of the comments made by the Honorable Louis C. Wyman of New Hampshire in the House of Representatives on 7 December 1973.

Now understand, despite my mechanical klutzery, I’m not mindful of the carnage brought on by misuse of those dangerous horseless carriages over the years. My argument certainly isn’t with highway safety. Or even some form of safety-belting for those who want it.

The word klutz made its way into mainstream English in the mid-1960s. American comedian, actor, director, and writer Carl Reiner (born 20 March 1922) gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 1959 where he shared that a klutz was “a dancer who dances as good as he can, but instead of just applause he also gets laughter.” Before that interview, the word klutz doesn’t show up in any English newspapers, magazines, or books unless it’s a mentioned as a surname.

This means that somewhere between Carl Reiner’s interview in 1959 and the government document in 1973 (just under 14 years) klutzery became a thing, and people knew and understood what klutzery was.

Now that we know about archers and archery and klutzes and klutzery, perhaps it’s time to find out about jugglery.

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Mansplaining

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2017

The word mansplaining seems to be everywhere these days from pop culture to news reporting.  If you don’t already know what it is, it’s the process of a male explaining something to another person  (usually female) in such a way that is perceived to be condescending or patronizing.  Oftentimes the speaker is explaining a simple situation that is already easily understood by the majority of people.

Some believe that mansplaining, if left unchecked, leads to gaslighting, and it’s easy to understand why that might be.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning the victim’s recollections, memories, perceptions, and sanity.   The term was derived from the play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patric Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1940, the movie “Gas Light” starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick  Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).   

SIDE NOTE 3:  In 1944, the movie “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the same 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 4:  MGM bought the remake rights to “Gas Light” with a caveat that demanded all existing prints of the 1940 movie version be destroyed

SIDE NOTE 5:  The play was known as “Angel Street” in the United States.

On April 13, 2008 author Rebecca Solnit wrote an OpEd column for the Los Angeles Times wherein she outlined what mansplaining was and how negative it was towards those who were made to endure it.  While the author didn’t use the term mansplaining per se in her OpEd piece, the sense of the word was at the heart of her writing.

By 2010, the word mansplainer had landed on the New York Times list of New Words of 2010.

mansplainer

Even so, it took until 2012 before mansplaining became a word that was used and understood by the public in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

On August 1, 2012 GQ writer Marin Cogan used the term in his article, “The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney’s Gaffes.”  The article began thusly:

As a lady who covers politics, I’m intimately familiar with the mansplainer. You know who I’m talking about: he’s the supremely self-impressed dude who feels the need to explain to you — with the overly simplistic, patient tone of an elementary school teacher— really obvious shit you already knew. Like why you need to drink fluids when you have the flu, for example. Or how to avoid getting blisters when you’re breaking in a new pair of flats. Or how to adjust your side view mirrors. I could go on.

In Lily Rothman’s article, “A Cultural History of Mansplaining” appeared in The Atlantic on November 1, 2012.  The writer began with warning readers that the word was relatively new, but that the idea proper had been around for much, much longer.  The opening paragraph stated:

Not all that long ago, an American statesman of considerable influence wrote an opinion piece for this very publication, about a political issue that directly affects women. It was perhaps the finest example of mansplaining ever published.

In August 2014, Oxford Dictionaries announced that it had added mansplain to its dictionary, and mansplain — with its related variations — officially became a word that could be found in a dictionary.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

800 Pound Gorilla

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 26, 2014

When a corporation, group, or individual is so powerful that it feels it can act without regards for the rights of others, or feels it is above the law, it’s said that the corporation, group, or individual is an 800 pound gorilla … or a 900 pound gorilla or even larger,depending on the source.

On June 15, 2012, A.J. Kohn at marketingland.com wrote about the previous seven days that had been dominated by Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Between the study about the percentage of company twitter account followers that were bots, Apple’s passbook app, Google’s Wallet 2.0, Facebook’s mobile acquisition, and more, all other news seemed locked out of news feeds and news outlets. The title of the article was aptly titled, “The Week Of The 900 Pound Gorilla.”

An example of a person fitting the bill is found in the article by John Friedman of MarketWatch published on February 11, 2011 where he discussed what was going on at CBS. Sean McManus had been heading up the news and sports divisions at CBS News up until that point. He surrendered his news division responsibilities which were immediately shouldered by David Rhodes who had previously been with Fox News.

Katie Couric, who was the evening news anchor, had come to CBS from NBC’s top-rated “Today” show, and even though CBS was in third place among the networks at the time, it was felt that her star power was the WOW factor other networks craved but couldn’t deliver. Keeping Katie Couric as the CBS Evening News anchor was crucial to CBS’ plans to move up the ladder. The article was titled, “Katie Couric: CBS’s 900-Pound Gorilla.”

Over the years, the gorilla’s weight has swung wildly as evidenced by these magazine and newspaper quotes:

I’m the 400-pound gorilla on defense policy, said [House Armed Services Committee chair Les] Aspin.”
~ Los Angeles Times, April 1991

One reluctant program director, Malcolm Wall of station KETA in Oklahoma City, called [The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour] a 3,000-pound gorilla.
~ The New York Times, December 1987

Like the proverbial 2,000 pound gorilla, IBM can sit anywhere it wants to in the computer industry.
~ Modern Office Technology, April 1986

Sometimes trouble leaps up in your face like a 500-pound gorilla.
~ National Law Journal, July 1984

Much in the manner of 300-pound gorillas, ex-secretaries of state can do about anything they choose, of course.
~ The Washington Post, September 1982

Some online sources claim that the idiom is part of a joke dating back to 1971 although no comedian or comedy show reference is included with the information. That being said, in the book, “The Psychology Of Being Human” by Elton B. McNeil and published by Canfield Press in 1974, the following passage is found on page 363.

As the old joke goes: “Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants to.” It’s the same with inducing the hypnotic trance, You can do it anywhere you want to. The usual methods of focusing attention on an object or telling people they are getting sleeping are helpful, but unnecessary.

For the author to refer to the joke as an “old joke” it can hardly be one that was first told in 1971 as some sources claim. The fact of the matter is that the expression is found in Chapter 3 “Identity” of Lee Thayer’s book, “Communication!” published in 1968, where the author writes:

“Identity” is frequently the 800-pound gorilla in communication. It is as complex as it is potent, as we will see. It always plays a role in communication.

The joke shows up in “The Railway Clerk” of 1968 and published by the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees.  And the idiom shows up in the 1956 “Congressional Quarterly” on page 267 of this publication as follows:

“It’s like having a 500-pound gorilla locked up in the room with you,” noted one Republican Senate aide. “You can’t control it, and you can’t get it out because people want it there. So you have to try to replace it with something that will look as fierce …”

Despite hours of research, no earlier published version of this idiom was found, however, that it was used in 1956 and that it was expected that the sense of the idiom would be understood. Idiomation is able to track the expression to at least 1950.  Idiomation welcomes any linkage to earlier published versions of this idiom. And so, Idiomation pegs this expression to 1950, with reservations.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Giving Tuesday

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 3, 2013

Right after Cyber Monday, there’s a new idiom being shopped around and  it’s called Giving Tuesday.

According to the Los Angeles Times of December 2, 2013 this is the second year that Giving Tuesday has made an appearance. It hasn’t quite caught on yet (in that it’s not a recognized buzz phrase yet) but people are doing their best to give charities a boost with this bit of marketing. The hope is for Giving Tuesday to become as big as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The article stated in part:

Giving Tuesday, which will be held December 3, is a daylong national event designed to help charities raise money online.

In an article in USA Today written by Jon Ostendorff and published on December 1, 2013, the beginnings of Giving Tuesday were explained in this comment:

Giving Tuesday started last year as a charitable answer to the retail shopping days of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday with help from such big names as Sony and Microsoft.

This quickly pegs the idiom Giving Tuesday to November 2012 … no doubt about it!

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Nailed It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 21, 2013

If you aren’t building anything that requires a hammer but someone tells you that you’ve nailed it, what they mean is that you’ve succeeded in doing something well. You hear it said most often when discussing political matters, but it really can be said about any situation that’s done well.

When “Post On Politics” — a blog from the Palm Beach Post — discussed the Florida primaries on August 25, 2010, they talked about the results of the major GOP Governor primary polls as well as the Senate primary polls. The article was entitled, “Pollsterpalooza: Who Nailed It, Who Didn’t, In Pre-Primary Surveys.”

The Deseret News of July 20, 1987 published a story entitled, “Slow And Steady Falso Wins British Open” written by journalist Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. The writer spoke of a golf tournament in Muirfield, Scotland that finished with dashing, flashing and hard-charging at the 116th British Open. And he wrote of the old hare-and-tortoise theme being one of no hares, three tortoises and a slow Walrus. In all, however, someone was going to emerge victorious and in this case it was Nick Faldo of Great Britain.

Faldo, in the twosome ahead of Azinger, needed to sink a five-foot putt so save par on 18, and calmly nailed it.

On August 29, 1965 the Miami News carried a story out of Philadelphia about the Los Angeles Dodgers beating the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League game the night before. It was quite the series that year, and new stories bear that fact out. In this article, this was reported:

Before the Dodgers nailed it, however, Manager Walt Alston called on 21-game winner Sandy Koufax in the ninth inning to get the final three outs. It was Koufax’s first relief appearance of the season.

It wasn’t just men who could nail it. The Lawrence Journal World newspaper of May 13, 1959 shared a news bite by Robert C. Ruark in an article entitled, “Wayne Made Error On Clare” that made use of the idiom when speaking about ex-Ambassador Luce’s wife, Clare.

Our gal Clare is the undisputed mistress of our times of the delicate art of cutting folks into shreds. Mr. Morse’s hid is not the first she has tacked to the barn, and possibly will not be the last. This time she nailed it by severe lady-like refusal of the post to Brazil, playing the part of dutiful wife beautifully.

The Vancouver Sun of September 25, 1931 published a news story entitled, “Labor Stands On Own Feet.” The story was about the morning’s session of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the reaffirmation of its stand in favor of independent political action. The story included this information:

After bouncing over the fence once of twice it was thrown back to home plate, where “Paddy” Draper veteran of 31 years as secretary-treasurer of the Congress, nailed it in a fighting speech. There was a misunderstanding among the delegates without any ground for it, he asserted. Moving non-concurrence in these resolutions might result in giving the impression that the Congress was opposed to independent political action whereas this was the farthest thing away from this Congress.

Going back to Philadelphia, this time to the December 2, 1894 edition of the Philadelphia Record in the news article, “Yale Defeats Princeton.” The final score was 24-0 in front of 20,000 spectators. According to the newspaper, it was the worst thrashing ever administered to the Jerseymen except for the thrashing they got in 1890 when they were beaten by the Blues at Eastern Park by a score of 32-0. Furthermore, the newspaper announced that Princeton was outclassed at every point while Yale showed unexpected strength. The story shared game highlights including the following one:

Barnard received instructions to kick the ball out of danger, but his attempt was so poor that the oval only advanced five yards, and was saved for Princeton by Trenchard, who nailed it in great style. Another punt by Barnard was more successful, for Butterworth was forced outside Princeton’s 40-yard line by Holly. Yale then began a series of short rushes, and the Tigers were forced to retreat toward their goal line.

Despite efforts to find an earlier published date for the expression than the one from the Philadelphia Record, none were found. That being said, that the expression nailed it was used so easily in this newspaper story indicates that it was an accepted expression during that era and as such, it most likely dates back to the generation before, putting it at about 1875.

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

Goody Two Shoes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 14, 2013

Usually when you hear someone say that someone else is a goody two shoes, it’s a comment said with a lack of affection. That’s because a goody two-shoes is someone who always followed the rules, and most often to the point of being annoying to those who choose to either follow some of the rules or none of the rules, as suits their fancy. In other words, a goody two-shoes, also known as a goody goody, is someone who is uncommonly good.

Don’t think for a minute that a goody two shoes is well-loved by others because he or she isn’t, as shown by this article dated May 11, 2009 a entitled, “Goody Two Shoes Don’t Fit” and published by Independent Newspapers of South Africa that opens with this paragraph:

Everyone despises a Miss Goody Two Shoes, and Isidingo’s Thandi has to be the epitomé of goody two shoes. She’s the kind of girl who bought teacher an apple every day and covered her essay books in pretty pink paper with cherubs. Uggghhh!

Back on July 13, 1986 the Milwaukee Journal carried a news story by Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times which lamented TV shows about the law and the legal process. Still, the writer was hoping that “L.A. Law” from NBC would change all that. The article was entitled, “TV’s Goody-Two-Shoes-Type Lawyers Are Rarely Found In The Real World.”

When the editors of the St. Petersburg Times included a bit in the October 7, 1944 edition about the movie being written about Cole Porter’s life, the comment was kept to two sentences in the column entitled, “Lint From A Blue Serge Suit.” These two sentences were as follows:

The scripters working on Cole Porter’s screen biography, “Night And Day,” are having story trouble. The composer’s life, it appears, is too goody-goody for “dramatic purposes.”

When Justice Jerome make a tour through Harlem on his campaign, the New York Times wrote all about it and published it in their October 24, 1901 edition. Among many things, Justice Jerome took issue with Andrew Carnegie’s claim that New York’s streets were well-kept and clean when, according to him, the streets were almost perilous to public health. Rousting those who attended his speech, at one point he was quoted as saying:

Will you have four years more of gamblers’ domination? On the platform opposed to such I stand and will stick on that platform, and with the decent people of New York will go down to defeat on it if necessary. If it comes to a question of standing with the churches and honest, decent people of this city against crooks and gamblers, I prefer to stand with the decent people even at the risk of being called a Puritan and goody-goody. We can keep our skirts clean and win — and if we do win — God help the other fellows.

Back in the 1870s, the Oxford English Dictionary had an entry for goody goody in which the definition stated that a goody goody was “characterized by inept manifestations of good or pious sentiment.” It wasn’t much of a compliment then, to be a goody goody.

And forty years before that, the expression goody referred to anyone or anything that was sentimentally proper. Another forty years before that, and the expression goody was an exclamation of pleasure.

But it was the nursery tale written by John Newbery and published in 1765 that started the Goody Two-Shoes idiom with his story “The History Of Little Goody Two Shoes.” The story was about a little orphan named Margery Meanwell who only had one shoe. When a rich man gives her a complete pair, she keeps repeating that she now has two shoes thereby earning her nickname, Little Goody Two-Shoes. The story follows Little Goody Two Shoes into adulthood where her kindness, virtue, and gentleness are rewarded with great happiness in the end … a variation on the Cinderella story, if you will.

That being said, the moral of the story was that if you acted correctly and with virtue, you would be rewarded.

So how did all that tie in with the word goody, you ask? Back in the mid-1500s, goody was the shortened form of goodwife and a goodwife was described as a married woman who led a humble yet good life.

So while the idiom proper dates back to 1765, its roots stretch out two hundred years earlier.

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

Head Over Heels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 19, 2013

You may have heard someone you know say he or she is head over heels in love with someone or something. They may be standing right before you making it obvious they are literally head over heels, but what does the idiom mean? What it means is that they are completely enamored with a person or an idea or an item. They may be obsessed or infatuated or engaged or any number of things when it comes to that person, idea or item, but whatever the emotion may be, it’s intense and encompassing. In other words, it has turned the speaker’s world upside down … the opposite of what he or she is used to feeling.

When it comes to love, no one seems immune.  Of course, rumor has it that the bigger they are, the harder they fall!  On April 18, 2008 the New York Daily News ran with a story by feature writer, Nicole Carter, that made the world sit up and take notice of what was going on in Russia. It seemed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was divorcing his wife at the time, was involved with an Olympic Gymnast named Alina Kabayeva. As with many scandals that erupt at the most inopportune time, it came with a snappy headling: “Why Vladimir Putin Fell Head Over Heels In Love With Gymnast.”

Considering that the words in love are added to the idiom indicates that there are times when someone can be head over heels and the expression has little (or nothing) to do with love.  As we have all heard, politics makes for strange bedfellows and back on January 25, 1956 the Lewiston Evening Journal shared the news that something odd was going on in the world of American politics. While few details could be pulled from the article entitled, quite simply, “For Nixon” it began with this eye-opener!

For whatever a poll is worth — the California Republicans are head-over-heels for Vice President Richard Nixon if President Eisenhower doesn’t rerun. So says the daily newspaper, Los Angeles Times. If Ike should run, majorities in both parties are for him.

Back in April 1922, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation released a movie to theaters that starred Mabel Normand, Hugh Thompson and Russ Powell. The movie told the story of three men involved in the life of a perky Italian acrobat who has come to America at a theatrical agent’s bidding. Interestingly enough, because the acrobat is such an adorable spitfire, there’s mayhem a plenty, and maybe more than even she expected when she falls for the theatrical agent’s partner. While it’s true this movie is from the silent movies era, the intertitles didn’t detract from the movie that was known as “Head Over Heels.”

The New York Times has always published articles of political interest to a wide cross-section of its readership. It’s a long-held tradition that can be seen in this article dated May 9, 1860 dealing with the American Anti-Slavery Society and it’s 27th anniversary held at the Cooper Institute. Most of the attendees who half-filled the institute were women. The gathering put forth resolutions condemning slavery. When Wendell Phillips stepped up to the podium to speak, he had a great deal to say about the situation including this quote attributed to a Mr. Seward:

Let it be marked that they (the Abolitionists) didn’t know anything, that they were turned head over heels with their passions — couldn’t see an inch beyond their own ignorance and mistakes — were mere boys — madmen — strong-minded men and women, who did not know anything.

When David Crockett wrote his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee” which was published by Carey, Hart & Co. in 1834. As he wrote about his early days as a young man, fond memories surfaced including this one:

The next day, I went back to my old friend, the Quaker, and set in to work for him for some clothes; for I had now worked a year without getting any money at all, and my clothes were nearly all worn out, and what few I had left were mighty indifferent. I worked in this way for about two months; and in that time a young woman from North Carolina, who was the Quaker’s niece, came on a visit to his house. And now I am just getting on a part of my history that I know I never can forget. For though I have heard people talk about hard loving, yet I reckon no poor devil in this world was ever cursed with such hard love as mine has always been, when it came on me. I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl, whose name the public could make no use of; and I thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all belonged to me, I would give them if I could just talk to her as I wanted to; but I was afraid to begin, for when I would think of saying any thing to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choak me like a cold potatoe.

But he certainly wasn’t the first to use the idiom. In fact, the idiom in years leading up to Davey Crockett’s autobiography was usually intended to mean that an individual had been hit with such force that it toppled him over as evidenced in Herbert Lawrence’s book, “The Contemplative Man, or The History of Christopher Crab, Esq., of North Wales” published by J. Whiston in 1771. Rather than describe a romantic encounter, Herbert Lawrence wrote this:

He gave such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels.

Oddly enough, an earlier variant of the idiom head over heels appears to be heels over head as seen in the Medieval poem, “Patience” from the 14th century:

ORIGINAL TEXT
He [Jonah] glydez in by þe giles, þur glaymande glette … Ay hele ouer hed hourlande aboute.

TRANSLATION
He [Jonah] passed in by the gills, through sticky slime … All heels over head tumbling about.

In the end, however, the idiom seems to originate in Ancient Rome when Roman poet, Gaius Valerius Catallus (84 – 54 BC) wrote his seventeenth poem in “Catulli carmina.” It reads in part:

quendam municipem meum de tuo volo ponte
ire praecipitem in lutum per caputque pedesque,
verum totius ut lacus putidaeque paludis
lividissima maximeque est profunda vorago.

The passage per caputque pedesque translates to over head and heels. So while the more modern romantic version goes to Davey Crocket in 1834, while the original idiom goes to Catallus

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 19th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spitballing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 10, 2013

When someone tells you that they’re spitballing, they could mean one of four things. They could literally mean that they’re making spitballs to use as trajectories. They could mean the baseball pitch that’s referred to as a spitball. They could mean they are making unfounded accusations against someone else. Or they could mean they’re brainstorming ideas.

Back on February 9, 2011 Rich Siegel wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for the Huffington Post entitled, “Someone Will Be With You Shortly.” He discussed his thoughts on the Middle East extremists and at one point he wrote:

Perhaps we’ve been going at it all wrong. What if, and I’m just spitballing here, instead of trying to prevent attacks on civilians we offered our Muslim brothers our least-liked people to satisfy their blood lust.

That’s right, I’m suggesting human sacrifice.

It served the Aztecs well. Ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians practiced the ritual. Even the Chinese offered up humans to their river gods.

It appears that the expression is one that’s been quite popular, especially in the realm of politics. Ed Morrissey posted an article to HotAir.com on June 16, 2010 that criticized President Barack Obama’s speech addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig incident 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Ed Morrissey’s comments were based, in part, on the political commentary on the subject by Andrew Malcolm as published in the Los Angeles Times on June 15, 2010.

For a man who has repeatedly claimed to be “fully engaged since Day 1,” and who repeated that claim last night, Obama gave every impression of still being in the spitballing stage of crisis management.

Obama didn’t even offer an original thought for spitballing.  In his short presidency, Obama has had two responses to any issue: appoint a czar or create a commission.

And the year before that, Patrick Sauer wrote an article published by the Huffington Post entitled, “Tim Geithner: Take My Toxic Assets, Please” where he discussed the banking conundrum of the times. There were more than a few idioms in the article, and interestingly enough, spitballing was one of them.

Angry folks are practically calling for a public guillotining of a Wall St. fat cat or two. Ironically, and I’m just spitballing here, that bloody spectacle would do boffo business on pay-per-view and easily cover the next TARP giveaway … So c’mon down hedge fund managers and financial CEOs, you’ve won The Lottery, Shirley Jackson style!

The Youngstown Vindicator edition of February 23, 1981 published an article by journalist, Dick West, that talked about how the freedom fighters of George Washington’s day would be called terrorists by 1980s standards. Humorous in its delivery, the point was clearly made. The article read in part:

And since there was no television in Washington’s time, the Tass commentary adds up to mere spitballing.

Nevertheless, if you close your eyes real tight, you can visualize how such events as the Boston Tea Party might have been reported on the nightly news with Walter Anchorman.

On December 1, 1949 the Milwaukee Sentinel published an article by George E. Sokolsky entitled, “Truman Policy: Peace At A Big Price.” The article addressed what the journalist felt was the result of Soviet Russia’s conquest of China and the policy of the Chinese Communists at the time. He stated:

The arrest of Angus Ward and William N. Stokes, our consular officers in Mukden, is now obviously due to a desire to make the U.S. “lose face” throughout Asia by failing to protect its representatives. It is good propaganda for the Russians, who would kill anyone who threw a spitball at Joe Stalin’s picture.

And so with this article, readers can see that politics and baseball’s spitball began to be associated with each other thanks to journalists such as George E. Sokolsky.

Years earlier, the Meridien Daily Journal published an article in their March 13, 1915 edition entitled, “On The Matter Of Spitballing.” Even back in 1915, according to the article by Frank G. Menke, spitball pitching wasn’t a common practice in the big league any more. Of interest, however, is the description of what a spitball pitch. The definition read:

The use of the spitball makes for great twirlers. History shows that mediocre pitchers who mastered the spitball quickly jumped into first rank in their particular department of the game. But history also shows that the spitball shortens a pitcher’s career.

One would think that spitballing in any other career would also have a similar effect, and so it does.

The good news about the expression spitballing is that not only does it already have a past, it already has a future. In the Star Trek novel, “Typhon Pact #2: Seize The Fire” by Michael A. Martin, published by Simon & Schuster, the following is found:

“Maybe his shipmates thought he was dead,” Riker said, spitballing, though without much conviction.

And so Idiomation pegs the longevity of the expression spitballing (in terms of throwing out ideas) to the 24th century thanks to Commander Riker, with a history that dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1940s (with a nod to the definition at the turn of the 20th century).

Posted in Baseball, Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Holy Moley

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 11, 2013

The expression holy moley is meant to express surprise and it has for a number of years. The expression doesn’t sound old and stuffy, and it doesn’t sound like it used to be part of another longer saying that’s been in existence for centuries. It’s easy to assume that it’s a recent expression but is it really?

Just today, the Hartford Courant newspaper published an article written by Steve Pond about the upcoming Oscars. The headline was “Seth MacFarlane’s Fresh, Silly Nominations Gig Might Mean A Fresh, Silly Oscar Show.” Midway through the article, Steve Pond wrote:

And he’ll also be there, presumably, for the performance of at least one of the nominated songs, since MacFarlane wrote the lyrics to the big-band tune “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” which Norah Jones performed in “Ted.”

(Just an aside: MacFarlane’s co-writer on the song is one Walter Murphy and holy moley, it appears to be the same Walter Murphy who had a hit by bringing Ludwig van Beethoven to the disco with “A Fifth of Beethoven” back in 1976.)

The expression has been used in countless headlines such as the Los Angeles Times Special by Lynn Simross that was published in the June 9, 1976 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper. With the resurgence in the popularity in action comic books, illustrator Donato “Don” Rico was interviewed for the story. Rico was responsible for creating Gary Stark, a teenaged Merchant Mariner, and Micky Starlight during the golden age of comic books. That article was entitled:

Holy Moley! Comics Live Again!

It was a tip of the hat to Captain Marvel’s characteristic exclamation in the comic books of the 40s.

marvelholymoley1

But does the expression go back much further than that? Strangely enough, it does as it appeared in a book written by Nathaniel Gould entitled, “Running It Off Or Hard Hit: An Enthralling Story of Racing, Love and Intrigue” and published in 1892 by George Routledge and Sons. The book, re-issued by John Long Ltd in 1919, used the expression in this passage of the book:

“Whew!” he whistled, softly; “that’s curious. Same name as the lady at our place. Suppose he should be her husband. Holy moley, what a game. I’ve made a discovery. I must take particular of this man. He’ll come in useful I reckon.”

Now history buffs and Greek mythology buffs already know that moly was given to Ulysses by Hermes as an antidote against Circe’s magic in Book X of “The Odyssey” which is one of two epic poems attributed to Homer. In this book, the following passage is found:

“As he spoke he pulled the herb out of the ground and showed me what it was like. The root was black, while the flower was as white as milk; the gods call it Moly, and mortal men cannot uproot it, but the gods can do whatever they like.

Then Mercury went back to high Olympus passing over the wooded island; but I fared onward to the house of Circe, and my heart was clouded with care as I walked along. When I got to the gates I stood there and called the goddess, and as soon as she heard me she came down, opened the door, and asked me to come in; so I followed her – much troubled in my mind.”

While it’s true that gods are thought of as being holy and that moly was used by Homer that it was implied that the two go together, however, the two weren’t used together in any of Homer’s poems.

Idiomation can only say that the first use of the expression holy moly or holy moley we were able to confirm was by Nathaniel Gould in 1892. So yes, the expression is at least 120 years old (certainly not a new expression by any stretch of the imagination) but untraceable before 1892.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »