Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Mayflower’

Broad In The Beam

Posted by Admin on September 27, 2010

This phrase “broad in the beam” is actually a nautical term beam that describes the widest point of a ship.   It originated in the 17th century and the word.

Back in the day, part-owner Captain Christopher Jones called the Mayflower a square-rigged brigantine, double-decked, broad in the beam, with upper works rising high in the stern.

For nearly 300 years, the phrase “broad in the beam” referred to a ship.  However, as the 20th century came about, the phrase referred to a woman’s hips.

The New York Times published an article by Henry Norman on December 30, 1900 entitled “The Beauty of Georgian Women.”  In his article, he wrote:

When they become matrons, which is at an early age, they are stout and broad , in the beam for beauty, but in their youth, I should see from glimpses at windows and passIng faces, there may well be extraordinary loveliness among them — the loveliness of perfectly chiseled features …

By 1939, the phrase “broad in the beam” was established with its negative connotation.  On Tuesday, January 24, 1939 an article entitled “Designing Women:  How Can I Look My Best?” published in The Pittsburgh Press, the journalist reviewed a book by Margaretta Byers and Consuela Kamholz on the subject.  The journalist wrote:

Pleats are no panacea although they do help the thigh.  Because they tend to make you look broad in the beam. As for culottes, it is a popular fallacy to suppose that they are as becoming as skirts.  They aren’t and they never will be. 

A divided skirt lets in fullness at the front and back rather than over the hips.  So culottes, like pleated shorts, don’t do much for the derriere.

It continued to be an insult when, on June 23, 1948  Robert C. Ruark wrote in Philadelphia’s The Evening Independent newspaper:

It may be my dewy innocence speaking but there seems to be more lady delegates than men delegates.  Back in the days of Mark Hanna, I understand, this was not so, but in this fevered clambake, you are drenched in the languorous scent of toujours lasqueeze and a fine film of powder hangs in the air.  And for some odd reason, all the distaff delegates seem to be awful broad in the beam.  This is probably a symbol of the times.

While the expression has fallen out of favour in nautical circles, it lives on in the current day negative description of women’s hips.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Never Cast A Clout Until May Is Out

Posted by Admin on March 30, 2010

Ne’er cast a clout till May be out is an English saying with a long and difficult history.  In 1855, F. K. Robertson’s Whitby Gazette published the following rhyme:

The wind at North and East
Was never good for man nor beast
So never think to cast a clout
Until the month of May be out
.

The earliest published version of the rhyme can be found in Dr. Thomas Fuller’s  “Gnomologia” published in 1732. 

Since at least the early 15th century ‘clout’ has been used to mean a fragment of cloth or clothing and was spelled as clowt, clowte, cloot, or clute.   It’s here that the saying took on two meanings rather than just the original.  The new meaning was a reminder not to be too quick to shuck the warmer winter clothes before cooler days during the month of May were most likely over.

That being said, English farm-workers working the fields in their winter clothes throughout the month of May could suffer from heat exhaustion if they kept all their winter layers on until the end of May!   The flowering of the hawthorne (May) tree was a more reliable guide to the state of the weather.

This means that the original meaning goes back even further than the 15th century and indeed, it can be traced back to the 12th century.  During Medieval times in Brittany, a man proposed to his beloved by leaving a hawthorne (also known as a Mayflower) branch at the door of his beloved on the first of May. By leaving the branch at the door she accepted his proposal.

Traditionally, it was taboo to bring hawthorne into the house in Medieval England because it was feared it would bring death with it.  This is because the hawthorne blossom has a distinctive fragrance and in medieval times, the blossom was said to carry the ‘stench of death’.  (This is due to the trimethylene that the flowers give off as they deteriorate.) 

The exception to that rule was during May-Day celebrations (for one day only) when it was permitted to bring flowers into the house for decoration.  No marriages were allowed during the month of May and it was considered unlucky to marry in the hawthorne month since most people during Medieval times rarely bathed, June was usually one of the months in which most people had baths.  The exception to the rule, of course, would be those who lived in castles. 

It would make sense for the general population to keep at least some (but not all) of their winter clothes on until they could bathe and be fresh for any wedding celebrations coming up during the month of June.  This is verified by another English saying:  “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day.”  What’s more, washing in May was not a favoured activity as evidenced by yet another English saying:  “Wash a blanket in May; wash a dear one away.”

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Nose To The Grindstone

Posted by Admin on March 11, 2010

The Pilgrims were also responsible for this phrase.  Back in the 1600s, the main staple food was corn.  However, in order to get the greatest use from corn, it had to be ground finely until it was cornmeal.

In order to achieve this feat, corn kernels were poured into a stone bowl in which the millstone rested.  The millstone, of course, was turned by the power of the windmill.  However, in order to get the corn into the bowl, the miller had to pour it in from the backside which meant his face was as close to the millstone as you could get without actually causing injury.

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

Three Sheets To The Wind

Posted by Admin on March 10, 2010

Three sheets to the wind comes from the Mayflower and its Pilgrims who used the resources of the Mayflower once they arrived in the New World.

These windmills were built with three ‘blades’ that caught the wind.  In time, the Pilgrims came to realize that three sheets made for a rickety windmill and so they added a fourth blade to their windmill design.

When someone overindulged in alcohol and walked in a ‘rickety’ fashion, it was said that he was three sheets to the wind.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »