Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Foot The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 4, 2016

The person who, or organization that, foots the bill is the person who, or organization that, pays the bill or settles the outstanding debt.  Yes, whoever foots the bill is the one who is responsible for payment due.

Just last week, on September 27, 2016 WFLA Channel 8 reporter Mark Douglas reported on what was going on with the Largo Building Department.  From those who were under state investigation to a whistleblower action against the city, Mark Douglas shared that taxpayers are on the hook for paying the legal defense costs for the department.  The article on the website was titled, “You Paid For It: Taxpayers Once Again Foot The Bill For Building Officials Accused Of Breaking Laws.”

Forty years earlier on September 5, 1976, Elaine Dundy, writing for the New York Times, reported on the 90-minute animated film based on psychoanalyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Erik Erikson’s eight stages of man.  According to Erik Erikson (15 June 1902 – 12 May 1994), every stage carried with it a crucial conflict that needed to be resolved before the individual could move on to the next stage.  Any unresolved stage supposedly resulted in an emotional crisis.

The stages according to Erik Erickson were as follows:

  1. Hope: trust vs. mistrust (infancy, 0 to 2 years)
  2. Will: autonomy vs. shame and doubt (early childhood, 2 to 4 years)
  3. Purpose: initiative vs. guilt (preschool, 4 to 5 years)
  4. Competence: industry vs. inferiority (school age, 5 to 12 years)
  5. Fidelity: identity vs. role confusion (adolescence, 13 to 19 years)
  6. Love: intimacy vs. isolation (early adulthood, 20 to 39 years)
  7. Care: generativity vs. stagnation (adulthood, 40 to 64 years)
  8. Wisdom: ego integrity vs. despair (maturity, 65 through to death)

Faith and John Hubley (well-known for their work on “Mr. Magoo” and other cartoons) were saddled with running every storyboard past an advisory panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, educators, students, and network executives before moving on to the next stage.  The idiom was used in this paragraph describing the situation.

“Everybody Rides the Carousel” has been in the works for 10 years. First, permission from Erikson himself has to be obtained, then the rights from his publisher and last but not least the money to underwrite the project. After several failed attempts by the husband-and-wife team with both public television and other commercial networks, CBS agreed to foot the bill — with a condition.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) identified seven stages in his play, “As You Like It” in Act 2, scene 7 in a monologue delivered by Jaques.  Shakespeare identifies the stages as follows: Infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and second childhood.

Australian historian and professor at the University of Melbourne, Sir Ernest Scott (21 June 1867 – 6 December 1939) edited, “Australia: A Reissue of Volume VII, Part I of the Cambridge History of the British Empire” which was published in 1933.  The expression is found on page 357 of this publication.

Queensland would set the other colonies an example in dealing with a procrastinating mother country and save Australia from the “irremediable disaster” of further foreign occupation in New Guinea.  She offered to foot the bill.  But the elderly parent was not to be bolted by her youngest child.  Lord Derby first enquired of the Foreign Office whether he could be assured that no foreign Power would set up a claim to the territory Queensland had annexed, and on receiving an answer that Lord Granville thought no such action intended by any foreign Power, he declined to approve the annexation.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Originally from Northampton, England, Sir Ernest Scott migrated to Australia in 1892 where he lived until his death.  Upon his death, his widow, Emily Scott (who was also his second wife) funded the establishment of the Ernest Scott Prize for History that continues to be awarded annually for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand.

In Chapter XIII of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), and published on December 10, 1884, the author made use of the idiom.  The story is set sometime between 1835 and 1845, and takes place on the Mississippi River running through Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, with specific attention to St. Petersburg, Missouri.  At the time, slavery was legal, and the dilemma Huck faced in the story was whether to turn in his friend (and runaway slave), Jim.  The expression appears in this passage in the story.

“Why THAT’S all right. Miss Hooker she tole me, PARTICULAR, that her uncle Hornback –“

“Great guns! is HE her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light over yonder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of a mile out you’ll come to the tavern; tell ’em to dart you out to Jim Hornback’s, and he’ll foot the bill. And don’t you fool around any, because he’ll want to know the news. Tell him I’ll have his niece all safe before he can get to town. Hump yourself, now; I’m a- going up around the corner here to roust out my engineer.”

SIDE NOTE 3:  It took Mark Twain seven years to write “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” mostly because he wrote the majority of it in 1876 and didn’t pick the story back up (to finish writing the story) until August 1883.

In 1844, the idiom appeared in the “Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools of the State of New York.”

And yet this monstrous power has been conferred upon those officers, subject to no control from any quarter, and the board of supervisors is obliged, without the least exercise of its own discretion, to foot the bills.  Some amendments, therefore, I repeat, are imperiously demanded.

Three years earlier on December 13, 1841, the Directors and Superintendent of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum presented their third annual report on the condition of the institution to the Fortieth General Assembly.  The Superintendent was listed as William M. Awl, M.D., with the following listed as directors:  Samuel Parsons, M.D.; Colonel Samuel Spangler; Adin G. Hibbs, Esquire; N.H. Swayne, Esquire; and Dr. David L. McGugin. Three others were listed along with the Superintendent and Directors, these being Dr. Samuel M. Smith, M.D. (Assistant Physician), George S. Fullerton (Steward), and Mrs. C.W. Atcherson (Matron).

In Document No. 14, under “Labor and Employment,” the expression was used with the meaning it has today.

And here is the amount of this labor, as estimated by a committee of themselves, which we should think exceedingly moderate, if we had to foot the bill:  “As near as can be calculated, three acres of ground on the east half of lot, in front of L.A., have been filled up to the average depth of nine inches, amounting to 3,637 cubic yards.  And taking into consideration the extra labor of leveling the same, together with leveling the same, together with leveling the ground from whence the earth was taken, it should probably be estimated at sixteen cents per yard, which will amount to five hundred eighty one dollars and ninety two cents.”

It showed up in Part I of Volume XII of the Gales & Seaton’s Register “Debates In Congress.”  The debate in question was dated March 17, 1836 and dealt with a Land Bill put forth in the Senate.  The Senate was urged to proceed with a Bill to appropriate, for a limited time, the proceeds from the sale of public lands.  The Bill was not popular with everyone, and the issue was hotly debated.  The idiom appeared here:

As might be expected, after making a decision against these claimants, the Judiciary of Virginia deemed it expedient, inasmuch as the United States, and not Virginia would ultimately be obliged to foot the bill, to reverse that decision, and the claimants, and children and heirs of claimants, come in forty years after the service was performed, and obtain scrip for incredible quantities of public lands; from four to six, and, I believe as high as ten, thousand acres to each person.

Sliding back to the winter of 1818, is the book by American lawyer, Estwick Evans (1787 – 1866) titled, “A Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles Through The Western States and Territories.”  The book claimed to be “interspersed with brief reflections upon a great variety of topics: Religious, moral, political, sentimental, etc., etc.”  The tome was printed by Joseph E. Spear of Concord, New Hampshire in 1819.  According to Payton R. Freeman, Clerk for the District of New Hampshire, the book was deposited in the Office of the District of New Hampshire on December 10, 1818 (the forty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America).  It was resubmitted on January 18, 1819 to correct typographical and other errors in the preceding work that Peyton r. Freeman stated were “few and inconsiderable” and “not deemed worth while to notice them.”  On page 183 of this book, the following is found:

When I arrived at Buffalo, I had travelled twenty-four miles, without meeting any habitation, excepting a very few scattering log huts.  Some of these were destitute of provisions; and at others of them a piece of bread, and a drink of water cost me two York shillings.  Not far from this place, my dogs, knowing no law but that of nature, and having forgotten my lecture to them upon theft, helped themselves to the first repast presented, leaving their master to foot their bills.  According to the phraseology of our Grand Juries, they very modestly “took, stole, and carried away” a piece of beef of the weight of three pounds, with an intention to convert the same to their own use.

Foot, meaning to add up and set the sum at the bottom of a column, is attested to in the late 15th century.  In “Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV: Office of the Stable and Gifts Disbursed” for 1480, the meaning of foot referring to a total sum is found.

Velvet, xxxij yerdes grene and blac; bokeram longe, xij yerdes*
*Here follows in the MS a general inventory of all the articles mentioned in the preceding pages, entitled “The foote of the deliveree of stuff.”

Because the foote was the total sum owed for what was delivered and registered in the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV in 1480, the spirit of footing the bill (paying what was owed) is found in this accounting.

What this means is that as early as 1480, footing meant to add up a column of numbers to arrive at the final sum in reference to monies owed to a merchant.  Footing the bill was to confirm the exact amount owed to another with the intent of paying said outstanding amount.

Undoubtedly, the idiom appeared in print sometime between the accounting of Edward IV’s wardrobe accounts and Estwick Evans’ unfortunate incident with his dogs.  Idiomation suspects a published version of this idiom can be found dating back to before Estwick Evans’ book in 1818. It just hasn’t been uncovered to date.

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Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dude

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2016

A dude is both a person, and a font.  As a font, it’s described as a reverse contrast cowboy font.  The creator of the font, Philadelphia artist Dan Gneiding describes the font this way.

IMAGE 1_DUDE

When Jeff Bridges took on the lead role in the movie, “The Big Lebowski” he made the concept of being a dude popular among certain types.  His character was known as Jeff ‘The Dude‘ Letrotski  aka Jeffrey Lebowski aka Lebowski Pony.  The imdb.com site states that the premise of the movie is this: “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.

At one point in the movie, Jeff Bridges’s character says:

Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Not long after the movie’s release, a new religion (of sorts) was born: Dudeism.  The religion (of sorts) embraces the old meaning of the word insofar as it advocates living the easy life without effort or ambition.  In other words — slackers.

Back on August 26, television station WBAL-TV 11 in Baltimore reported on an incident where a city police officer garnered national attention when video recorded in 2007 was posted to YouTube by a teen involved in an altercation with the officer.  The officer was fired based on the content of the video, and the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police was upset over the officer’s firing.

According to the television report, this officer was upset at the teen’s repeated disrespect towards him and his disregard of a lawful order given to him by a police officer.

In the video, the boy said he did not hear an order that the officer gave him about skateboarding at the Harbor. Rivieri repeatedly got upset at being called “dude” in the video.

“I’m not ‘man.’ I’m not ‘dude,’ I am Officer Rivieri,” he told the teen. “The sooner you learn that, the longer you are going to live in this world. Because you go around doing this kind of stuff and somebody is going to kill you.”

Over the decades, the word has been used in songs such as Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes,” Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” and Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like A Lady.”  It’s been used in movies such as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!) and Back To The Future III (where Bad Dog Tannen insults Marty McFly by repeatedly referring to him as dude).

In the book “The Faith Doctor: A Story of New York” written by American historian and novelist, Edward Eggleston (10 December 1837 – 3 September 1902) and published in 1891, an accurate description is provided at the beginning of the books, in the first chapter titled, “The Origin Of A Man Of Fashion.”

It was the opinion of a good many people that Charles Millard was “something of a dude.”  But such terms are merely relative; every fairly dressed man is a dude to somebody.  There are communities in this free land of ours in which the wearing of a coat at dinner is a most disreputable mark of dudism.

Even Mark Twain thought the term was worthy of inclusion in his book “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” which he published in 1889.

It seems to show that there isn’t anything you can’t stand, if you are only born and bred to it. Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been in our American blood, too – I know that; but when I left America it had disappeared – at least to all intents and purposes. The remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses.

Of course, back in the 1880s, the term dude was very well-known and well-used by authors.  There were all kinds of books with the word in the title, from “Dude of the Diggings” to “The Dude, The Dunce, And The Daisy” and all the way on to “I’m A Dandy, But I’m No Dude.”  There was no shortage of short stories and novels that found a reason to toss the word dude into the tale’s title.

New York Socialite (and later American expatriate in France) Evander Berry Wall (1860 – 13 May 1940) was known as the “King of the Dudes” rising to the top spot at a time when it was understood that there was a ‘Battle of the Dudes‘ doing on.  In this battle, men tried to outdo each other with their fancy clothes in the hopes of being crowned the artistic and beautiful ideal of masculine fashion in New York City.

The term become very common, so much so, that in 1883 a political cartoon by Chester A. Arthur featured the President with the caption beneath that read:

According to your cloth you’ve cut your coat,
O Dude of all the White House Residents;
We trust that will help you with the vote,
When next we go nominating Presidents.

According to American children’s writer (and author of Hans Brinker published in 1865) Mary Mapes Dodge (26 January 1831 – 21 August 1905), the word dude was understood in every day conversations as early as 1873, and was first published in Putnam’s magazine in February 1876.

Idiomation was unable to trace the term to before the date provided by Mary Mapes Dodge.  As a side note, Idiomation *did* learn that the Middle English word Dudde referred to cloak, mantle, or sackcloth, and oftentimes dudery was used to refer to sellers of second-hand clothes.

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Common Sense Is Not So Common

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 1, 2015

It seems that more and more often, people are saying and posting on social media that common sense is not so common.  Although the concept has seen a resurgence in this era, it’s possible that the search for common sense which is not so common has been an ongoing activity among the human race.

In the July 12, 1992 edition of The Telegraph, Weisman & Tesser Associates placed an advertisement that told readers of the expert guidance in financial investment and planning people could expect from their firm.  The ad concluded with the statement that “common sense means getting help from the right source.”  The point put to readers was that Weisman & Tesser Associates was that right source.  The headline that drew readers’ attention to the advertisement was this: “Common sense is not so common.”  The quote was attributed to Voltaire.

There are those who will argue that it was actually American author and humorist Mark Twain (30 November 1835 – 21 April 1910) who uttered those words albeit in a less grammatical form:  “I’ve found that common sense ain’t so common.”

Except that American cowboy, performer, social commentator, actor and humorist Will Rogers (4 November 1879 – 15 August 1935) is also credited for having said the same thing.  But does it matter if it was Mark Twain or Will Rogers who is responsible for that version of the quote?

Indeed, French author, historian, satirist, and philosopher Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778) — whose real name was François-Marie Arouet  —   did publish this quote in his book “Dictionnaire philosophique portatif” in 1764.  His book, however, was not without controversy as the Magnificent Council of Geneva ordered all available copies (which had been sold under the counter as opposed as in the traditional way of legitimate book shops) of his book seized on the basis that it directly challenged the authenticity of Revelation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #1:  François-Marie Arouet adopted the pseudonym, which is based on the Latinized spelling of his name, in 1718.  The name was derived from the anagram of “Arovet Li.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #2:  It is claimed that Voltaire had a minimum of 178 pen names throughout his lifetime.

So even though Voltaire first wrote this common sense is not so common, he wasn’t the first to express this thought.  English poet and political writer Nicholas Amhurst (16 October 1697 – 27 April 1742) wrote “Terræ-filius or The Secret History of the University of Oxford In Several Essays” published in 1726, in which is found the following:

Common SenseWhat this shows is that even Nicholas Amhurst knew that there was not a more uncommon thing in the world than common sense which, of course, is just another way of saying that common sense is not so common.

But long before Nicholas Amhurst, there was the Roman poet Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (known in English as Juvenal) who wrote this in Book III of his collection of satirical poems, “Satires.”

Rarus enim ferme sensus communis.
Common sense is generally rare.

Juvenal died in 130 A.D. and as Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to common sense not being common, Idiomation gives a nod to Voltaire for coming up with the exact wording based on the writings of Juvenal.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 2nd Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

English On It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 8, 2013

The idioms put some English on it is most often associated with baseball and refers to the pitcher giving the ball curve while it’s in the air, on its way to the batter.  That idiom, along with and put some reverse English on it, are  found in billiards halls the world over when talking about a ball that drops into a pocket with the aid of some spin. And it also refers to communications intended to distort or deceive others.

On December 8, 2002 Joe Goddard of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article entitled, “Ramblers Thump Valpo” which made quick work of the basketball game between the Loyola Ramblers and Valparaiso Crusaders in the Horizon League that ended in a score of 80 to 62. In the brief article, the following was written in part:

“I had to get it over him, so I put some English on it.” Most of Tsimpliaridis’ shots were from the perimeter. He shot 7-for-9 from the field.

On December 19, 1953 Bill Beck, Sports Editor for the St. Petersburg Times wrote about an odd sport that played the walls like handball, demanded the strategy and rhythm of tennis, required the skills of baseball infielding, and allowed spectators to place bets as if they were at a race track: Jai-Alai. It didn’t catch on, contrary to Bill Beck’s hopes, but it certainly gave insight into the game, the players and Adriano Aguiar, who managed the lone American of the 32-man team. In the end, this is what Bill Beck had to say of the game:

You will find the players not only retrieve and return the ball, but put “Englishon it.  You will find they fire it so close to the wall, their opponent cannot get his cuesta (wicker racket-type glove) between ball and wall for return.

The Palm Beach Post newspaper of November 21, 1921 also carried the idiom in a somewhat modified form in an article entitled, “Preparing For Failure.” The story dealt with the surprise disarmament conference announced by President Harding, which led to a number of metropolitan newspapers stating that “the administration” was considering measures against “agitators” who were trying to force “real disarmament” to eliminate the chances of war. The article read in part:

Toward the end of the dispatch there lies the secret:

“The hope of the president for a continuation of the conferences like the present one became known at a moment when the arms delegates reached a stage in their deliberations strongly suggesting itself that further negotiations will be necessary to consummate the task begun here.”

That surely is putting the “reverse Englishon it.  It must not be forgotten for a moment that the men at this conference are all politicians, and that they want to keep their jobs more than anything else. The hopes of the peoples all over have been aroused by this disarmament (beg pardon) by this limitation or armaments conference.

In the New York Times article of February 1, 1879 the idiom appeared in altered form — with the meaning intact regardless of the use of the word reverse — in an article reporting on a billiards tournament. It was clear that the “English” in question was going to be “put on it” as the Brunswick and Balke Championship Tournament entered its second week of play. The stakes were high, and at one point, it was reported:

It was a difficult shot from every direction, and before essaying it, the Frenchman, amid general laughter took off his dress-coat, and came up again in the full brilliancy of his diamond-studded and much-starched shirt. He then stroked his mustache, drew his cue backwards and forward, and struck the cue ball. Failing to count, he retired, laughing quietly, and gave Sexton an opportunity of gathering 4 points. The latter made a very pretty “kiss” shot, with “reverse English” in the twelfth inning, but retired after scoring 7 billiards.

Ten years prior to the newspaper article in the New York Times, Mark Twain used the expression in Chapter XII of his book “Innocents Abroad” published in 1869 in which he wrote:

We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement—one of those wretched old things with dead cushions, and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible “scratches” that were perfectly bewildering. We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square—and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement. We expected to fare better here, but we were mistaken. The cushions were a good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of caroms. The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would infallibly put the “English” on the wrong side of the hall. Dan was to mark while the doctor and I played.

It appears  that the expression is as a result of billiards, but how did this come about?

The earliest mention of the game of billiards is in “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” published in 1591 where the author speaks of “all thriftles games that may be found … with dice, with cards, with billiards.”  It’s mentioned in William Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra.”  But it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that changes were made to the game and how the game was meant to be played. Of particular note was the introduction of the leather cue tip in 1823 which allowed players to add side-spin to the ball, and this was new advancement was introduced to billiards players the world over, including those in America.

By 1860, the French were referring to spin imparted to a billiards ball as anglé … a clever play on words since anglé meaning angled and anglais meaning English share the same pronunciation. This play on words quickly caught on with other billiards players, and when someone put spin on a billiards ball, they were playing a ball that was anglé / anglais which was literally translated to the word: English.

The expression, put English on it, is therefore from 1860 and has its roots firmly planted in the game of billiards.

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Heeled

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 16, 2013

While the expression “to be heeled” has fallen out of favor with gun lovers these past few decades, it lives on in newspaper articles and books. What it means to be heeled, is to be packing a pistol or two. Yes, if you’re heeled, you’re armed.

The expression was well-enough known during the 20s that it was included in a headline in the Spokesman Review of Spokane, WA of July 2, 1929 where readers read the story of a gentleman from Illinois who was riding on a bus with a number of ladies. He drew his pistol and said he intended to shoot the high heels off the ladies’ shoes on the basis that he did not approve of high heels. While he didn’t shoot any innocent high heels, that fact that he was heeled brought the Evanston, WY civil authorities to the bus to make a determination about the situation.

The reporter obviously had a sense of humor as he wrote: “The gentleman will be examined to see if he is sane, not that it makes much difference. Probably he is as sane, in his way, as the ladies who wort the high heels. Maybe saner.

The article was titled, “Heeled and Well Heeled.

The Independent newspaper in Miles City, MT published an article on April 3, 1907 that originally hailed out of San Francisco just a few days earlier. This was the story of Abraham Ruef who had been arrested at the Trocadero with regards to an ongoing bribery and graft investigation, and rumor had it that plans had been made by Mr. Ruel’s business associates to rescue him from the Elisor Biggy and his guards. When reporters asked Elisor Biggy if this was indeed true, he was quoted as saying:

Though I think the matter should not be exploited, it is a fact that every man openly identified with the prosecution of the bribers and grafters is ‘going heeled,’ and that some of the more prominent of them are employing bodyguards. Though it may sound sensational to those not familiar with the local situation, it is a fact that for a month we have been keeping a special lookout for an attempted rescue of Ruef, and we shall be happily surprised if these investigations and impending prosecutions end without a ‘gun play.’

Strangely enough, Mark Twain used the expression in his book, “Letters From Hawaii” dated April 1866 and written while he was in Honolulu.

And in Honolulu, when your friend the whaler asks you to take a “fid” with him, it is simple etiquette to say, “Here’s eighteen hundred barrels, of salt!” But, “Drink hearty!” is universal. That is the orthodox reply, the world over.

In San Francisco, sometimes, if you offend a man, he proposes to take his coat off, and inquires, “Are you on it?” If you are, you can take your coat off, too. In Virginia City, in former times, the insulted party, if he were a true man, would lay his hand gently on his six-shooter and say, ‘Are you heeled?’ But in Honolulu, if Smith offenders Jones, Jones asks (with a rising inflection on the last word, which is excessively aggravating), “How much do you ?” Smith replies, “Sixteen hundred and forty pound — and you?” “Two ton to a dot, at a quarter past eleven this forenoon — peel yourself; you’re my blubber!”

A number of excellent dictionaries have pegged this expression to the early 1800s and as coming from the Wild West. Even Peter Watt’s “Dictionary of the Old West,:1850-1900” has the expression pegged to the Wild West of the 1800s.  Unless one of Idiomation’s readers can offer a link to an earlier published version that the Mark Twain version, it would be greatly appreciated.

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Beat About The Bush

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 2, 2011

When you hear someone say, “Don’t beat around the bush” they want the other person to cut to the chase and say exactly what he means to say.  This usually happens when at least one person involved in the conversation would rather avoid talking about a difficult or embarrassing subject rather than address it directly.

Avoiding the awkward play on words between the phrase and former Presidents George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush — and there were plenty such references in the media over the decades — Idiomation found the phrase used as part of a news headline in the March 28, 1940 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The article spoke about the Cromwell incident in Canada and the Surits affair in Paris, and how diplomats appear to sometimes be too forward and direct with their comments, running the risk of offending those with whom they are speaking.

They Didn’t Beat About The Bush

On November 13, 1905 the Boston Evening Transcript published a news story entitled, “More Southern Revolt Against Disfranchisement” dealing with Georgia which has stayed out of the disfranchisement movement while maintaining “white supremacy.”  The article reported on comments made by Hoke Smith, former secretary of the interior in the second Cleveland administration.

Mr. Smith has the candor of his convictions.  He says he is “in favor of passing a State law to disfranchise the Negro.”  He does not beat about the bush; nor is he affected by the consideration that the Constitution of the United States stands in the way of his project with its prohibition of the denial and abridgment of the right to vote “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”  Perhaps he thinks that the Constitution does not interest the Georgians.

In Chapter 19 of Mark Twain‘s book, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” published in 1889,  this comment is made by Hank Morgan, a 19th century resident of Hartford, CT who, after being rendered unconscious by a blow to the head, wakes up to find himself in medieval England.  He undertakes an adventure with a girl named Sandy and as they travel, he says at one point:

“There’s no use in beating about the bush and trying to get around it that way, Sandy, it’s SO, just as I say. I KNOW it’s so. And, moreover, when you come right down to the bedrock, knight-errantry is WORSE than pork; for whatever happens, the pork’s left, and so somebody’s benefited anyway; but when the market breaks, in a knight-errantry whirl, and every knight in the pool passes in his checks, what have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware. Can you call THOSE assets? Give me pork, every time.  Am I right?”

In Chapter 7 of Charles Dicken‘s book, “The Old Curiosity Shop” published in 1840, this comment is made to Dick Swiveller about a young lady by the name of Nell Trent.

“The girl has strong affections, and brought up as she has been, may, at her age, be easily influenced and persuaded. If I take her in hand, I will be bound by a very little coaxing and threatening to bend her to my will.  Not to beat about the bush (for the advantages of the scheme would take a week to tell) what’s to prevent your marrying her?”

The expression has its origins in the hunting days of medieval times.  Noblemen would routinely employ young men to do the dangerous work of flushing animals out of the undergrowth so the nobleman could make his kill.  The best way of accomplishing this was for the young men to go into the bushes with a wooden board and stick to make noise.  The noise would hopefully frighten the animal out of the bushes and in the direction of the waiting nobleman.

Of course, this wasn’t always the best option as sometimes animals such as wild boar would become dangerous and charge in the direction of the noise.  This made young men reluctant to enter areas of dense undergrowth in case they happened to disturb a wild boar.  To circumvent this danger while still appearing to the noblemen to be doing their jobs, the young men would sometimes literally beat around the bush.  The problem with this was that while they were basically doing the job they were to do, they were avoiding the main point of the activity altogether.

This activity and the phrase are attested to in the works of  George Gascoigne (1535 – 1577) published in a poem from 1572 that reads in part:

brother Trsjiiti eke, that gemme of gentle deedes.
To thinke bowe he abused was, alas my heart it bleedes:
He bet about the bushe, whiles other caught the birds …

Generydes: A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas”  a medieval poem published in 1440 has this to say about the practice of beating the bushes in order to flush out birds while also alluding to things less literal:

Euer wayteng whanne the lavender shuld bryng
That she promysed att hir departeng.
Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take,
And wheder that I be on of thoo or noo,
I me reporte onto the letterys blake
And reasons wish it may not be forsake
He that entendith villany of shame
it is no synne to quyte hym with the same.

That the expression is found in a poem from 1440 indicates that the phrase was a common phrase used by everyday people and one can guess that the phrase dates back at least one generation to approximately the 1410s.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Muck-A-Muck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 15, 2011

Kloshe Konaway as Idiomation takes on the expression “muck-a-muck.”  Undoubtedly, the phrase muck-a-muck has been heard on more than a few occasions.   It’s used in reference to someone who is important, influential, or high-ranking, but especially when that person is pompous or conceited.

In the fictional novel, “1633” written by David Weber and Eric Flint and published in 2002, the following is found:

He gestured over his shoulder with a thumb.  “They’ve got guards posted at a walkway that leads over to the other side of the street, and they  made real clear that I wasn’t allowed to go across.  Said we had to wait until some muckety-muck — I didn’t catch the name — showed up.”

Readers of the Anchorage Daily News were treated to an interesting article on April 13, 1978 written by Jack Anderson entitled, “Washington Merry-Go-Round: Plugging The Carter Leaks.”

From time to time, we have published excerpts from the confidential minutes and memos of the Carter Cabinet. This has upset the muck-a-mucks who attend the meetings.  They have started to go bananas over their inability to find and block the leak.

And on February 12, 1927, in a Special to the New York Times from Canton, Ohio, the trial of Ben Rudner for complicity in the murder of Don R. Mellet, Canton publisher, was reported.  William Betzler was put on the stand as the prosecution attempted to link Ben Rudner with Patrick McDermott as the gunman in the crime.  William Betzler’s testimony included:

The next day he came to my house again and told of having been on a ‘wild party’ with some ‘high muckety-mucks’ the night before.

The Oregon Native Son (Volume 2) was published by Native Son Publishing Co. in 1900 from the original which was published at Harvard University.  In it, readers learned that:

The year 1849 brought quite an influx to the county population. The Robinsons and Riggs settled on Camas swale, east of Spencer butte. The swale was named from the plant scilla esculenta, or the camas of the natives, which grew there in abundance and formed one ol the principal ingredients of the red man’s muck-a-muck.  Christy Spencer settled near the Scotts at this time and Elias Briggs located his claim where Springfield now stands.

On November 17, 1879, the following was written in the history of Denver (CO) as entered, according to the Act of Congress in 1880, by O.L. Baskin and Co. in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C.:

Chief Johnson was again called to the stand this morning, and administered the following oath to himself, in a solemn and awe-inspiring manner : “By the Great Horn Spoons of the Paleface and the Great Round-faced Moon, round as the shield of my fathers; by the Great High Muck-a-Muck of the Ute Nation; by the Beard of the Prophet; by the Continental Congress and the Sword of Bunker Hill.”

In a letter dated March 1866 and written by Mark Twain while he was in Hawaii, the following conversation is recounted in the amusing style for which Twain is known:

At this moment, this man Brown, who has no better manners than to read over one’s shoulder, observes:

“Yes, and hot. Oh, I reckon not (only 82 in the shade)! Go on, now, and put it all down, now that you’ve begun; just say, ‘And more “santipedes,” and cockroaches, and fleas, and lizards, and red ants, and scorpions, and spiders, and mosquitoes and missionaries’–oh, blame my cats if I’d live here two months, not if I was High-You-Muck-a-Muck and King of Wawhoo, and had a harem full of hyenas!” (Wahine, most generally pronounced Wyheeny, seems to answer for wife, woman, and female of questionable character, indifferently. I never can get this man Brown to understand that “hyena” is not the proper pronunciation. He says “It ain’t any odds; it describes some of ’em, anyway.”)

I remarked: “But, Mr. Brown, these are trifles.”

The earliest published version Idiomation could find –despite that the Oregon Native Son mentioned use of the word in 1849 — was used to advertise a grocery store in the Portland Oregonian in 1853:

Thomas Pritchard, General Store: Hiou Muckamuck of all kinds.

The word muck-a-muck is from the Chinook (Pacific Northwest North America Indian) language where  mamook muckamuck is a cook and a high muckamuck is someone who sits at the head table — in other words, a bigwig.  The expression is still in wide use in British Columbia among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures. 

Various forms of the expression can be found including “mackamuck,” “muckety-muck” and “mucky-muck,” either with or without the “high” and the hyphens.

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

The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

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

Stiff Upper Lip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 5, 2010

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…

Eric Idle’s song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is often seen as a humorous celebration of the stereotypical stiff upper lip. Oddly enough, though, this expression didn’t originate with the British even though it’s oftentimes used to describe the British.

The phrase “stiff upper lip” is recorded across the nineteenth century in works by such authors as Thomas Haliburton in his book, The Clockmaker published in 1837, Harriet Beecher Stowe in his book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in 1852, in Mark Twain’s letters to his childhood friend, Will Bowen in 1866 (later published in 1899 as Mark Twain’s Letters to Will Bowen) and in works by Horatio Alger and other great writers.

Richard Hopwood Thornton, the founding dean of the University of Oregon School of Law and an Episcopal clergyman wrote a book entitled, An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms Upon Historical Principles which was published in 1912.   He was able to trace the origin of the phrase “stiff upper lip” to an American newspaper, the”Massachusetts Spy” where it was reported on June 14, 1815:

I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought license to sell my goods.

And so ends another idiom mystery until tomorrow.

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Ins and Outs

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 2, 2010

When you know the “ins and outs” of a situation, you know every little detail.  Mark Twain wrote in his book Pudd’n’head Wilson published in 1894:

He never meddled with any other town, for he was afraid to venture into houses whose ins and outs he did not know and the habits of whose households he was not acquainted with

The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot published in 1860 also spoke of the “ins and outs’ of things.

It takes a big raskil to beat him; but there’s bigger to be found, as know more o’ th’ ins and outs o’ the law, else how came Wakem to lose Brumley’s suit for him?

How far back does the phrase “ins and outs” go?  John Hacket, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry from 1661 until his death was also an author.   His best-known book published in 1693 (23 years after his death) is the biography of his patron, Archbishop John Williams, and is entitled Scrinia Reserata: A Memorial Offered To The Great Deservings of John Williams, D.D.   In this tome, he wrote:

Follow their Whimsies and their Ins and outs at the Consulto, when the Prince was among them.

This puts the phrase back to 1670.  However, it goes back a little further yet to 1605 when the Corporation of Leicester attempted to procure a charter in that year.  They sent their mayor, Thomas Chettel to London to accomplish this task.

P)rocuring a charter was extremely expensive, requiring fees and tips to clerks and scribes, gifts to patrons and their servants and wages to reimburse solicitors for their time, and expenses while in London.  It was said that no matter who went to London to see the business through, that individual required knowledge of local circumstances, some understanding of the ins and outs of petitioning at Court, and most importantly, the persistence to succeed.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »