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Posts Tagged ‘Milwaukee Sentinel’

Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 11, 2015

Until recently, Idiomation wasn’t aware of the idiom that proclaimed that many a mickle makes a muckle. As the idiom was researched, it was learned that mickle and muckle are different forms of the same word meaning much or large.

The saying is actually many a pickle maks a mickle, which some mangled into many a pickle maks a muckle. This in turn became many a mickle makes a muckle.

But what exactly did it mean to use pickle in this sense if mickle meant much or large? In Scotland, where the idiom originated, pickle meant a small quantity. So the idiom actually meant that many little things gathered together made for a lot.

On February 13, 1985, the Wilmington Morning Star published the usual assortment of Letters to the Editor. The first letter was from Henry Stone Jr. of Supply, North Carolina. The focus of the letter was military spending, or rather, military misspending. In his letter, he pointed out that when ten million in military spending couldn’t be accounted for, it was understandable given that ten million was only one half of one hundredth of one percent of the $200 billion budget. But it was still ten million dollars of taxpayers’ money. His last sentence was modified and became the headline for the Letters to the Editor that day: Many A Military Mickle Makes A Muckle.

Over in Australia, The Age newspaper ran an advertisement in the May 24, 1951 edition for the State Savings Bank of Victoria. Using a story about a little raindrop, the hope was that readers would bank with them. The first paragraph in the copy titled “Said The Raindrop!” was this:

Little by little makes more and more, or as the saying goes, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”

The Milwaukee Sentinel of May 18, 1924 published an advertisement placed by the First Wisconsin National Bank — a bank that proudly announced that it had capital and surplus of ten million dollars, and boasted a clientele of over 59,000 customers. The advertisement was intended to encourage readers to save money at their bank, stating that every little bit, added to what one already had, made for a little bit more. The advertisement was titled, “Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle.”

In the May 20, 1916 edition of the Milwaukee Journal a small tidbit of information was tucked neatly between comments about Germany, and the House Committee’s decision to authorize seven capital ships (three dreadnaughts and four battle cruisers), and an OpEd piece by H. Addington Bruce discussing the drawbacks of being a dilettante.

The nugget praised France for making the most of little things, and was titled, “The Power Of Little Things.” The article ended with this paragraph.

Many a mickle makes a muckle, but America has just begun to learn the lesson. Many a small waste added to the great current makes a vast drain of hundreds of millions of dollars. France, above all nations, can teach us the undreamed power of little things combined into stupendous wholes.

When George Washington (22 February 1732 – 14 December 1799) heard the expression used, he misremembered it and introduced it to America as many mickles make a muckle. It would appear that the misremembered expression was first used in a letter he wrote to William Pearce on December 18, 1793 in which he wrote:

Nothing will contribute more to effect these desirable purposes than a good example, unhapply this was not set (from what I have learnt lately) by Mr. Whiting, who, it is said, drank freely, kept bad company at my house and in Alexandria, and was a very debauched person, wherever this is the case it is not easy for a man to throw the first stone for fear of having it returned to him: and this I take to be the true cause why Mr. Whiting did not look more scrupulously into the conduct of the Overseers, and more minutely into the smaller matters belonging to the Farms; which, though individually may be trifling, are not found so in the agregate; for there is no addage more true than an old Scotch one, that “many mickles make a muckle.”

But George Washington wasn’t the only American to share a misheard version of the idiom. In fact, in the writings of Benjamin Franklin (17 January 1706 – 17 April 1790), a variation appears. In Volume II of “The Writings of Benjamin Franklin” collected and edited by Albert Henry Smith and covering the years 1722 through 1750 inclusive, the following is said to have been published in The Pennsylvania Gazette on July 24, 1732 under the pseudonym of Celia Single. In the letter, a discussion is recounted and includes this:

“I knit Stockins for you!” says she; “not I truly! There are poor Women in Town, that can knit; if you please, you may employ them.” “Well, but my Dear,” says he, “you know a penny sav’d is a penny got, a pin a day is a groat a year, every little makes a muckle, and there is neither Sin nor Shame in Knitting a pair of Stockins; why should you express such a might Aversion to it? As to poor Women, you know we are not People of Quality, we have no Income to maintain us but what arises from my Labour and Industry: Methinks you should not be at all displeas’d, if you have an Opportunity to get something as well as myself.”

For those who prefer George Washington’s variation, many mickels make a muckle dates back to George Washington and 1793. For those who prefer Benjamin Franklin’s variation, every little makes a muckle dates back to Benjamin Franklin and 1732.

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

Rock Bottom

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 24, 2015

When someone hits rock bottom, the person finds himself or herself in the worst possible situation he or she ever imagined he or she would ever experience in life.  When something hits rock bottom, the item is at the absolute lowest price before it becomes a loss leader.  And when an organization, group, government, or other social structure hits rock bottom, it means that organization, group, government, or social structure has reached the lowest possible level.  In other words, you can’t go any lower than rock bottom.

The Beaver County Times published a Letter to the Editor on October 31,2003 entitled, “Hitting Rock Bottom.”  It was a brief snippet of a letter from Jerry Miskulin of Center Township that summed up his opinion in four sentences.

It’s like I always say about recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.  Sometimes they have to hit rock bottom to see straight.  America, financially, is going to have to hit rock bottom before it sees straight.  Maybe it would be best sooner before it’s too late.

In what reads as a humorous twist of fate, the Day newspaper in New London, Connecticut reported in September 13, 1983 that a certain construction company of Framingham, Massachusetts was the low bidder for construction of the first segment of the municipal sewer project.  Of ten bids received by Montville’s Board of Selectmen, it was announced that the lowest bid– the rock bottom bid, so to speak — came from Rockbottom Construction Inc.

The Milwaukee Sentinel edition of January 16, 1955 published the two page spread entitled, “Those Fabulous Patinos.”  It traced the highlights of the Simon Patino story that told of a lowly clerk in a general store in Bolivia who accepted title to a “worthless” silver mine as payment in full of a $250 bill at the store.  He was summarily fired by the owner for this crime, and the title to the “worthless” silver mine went with him.  But what had mistakenly been thought of as a silver mine was actually a rich tin mine at a time when tin was scarce in much of the world.  It wasn’t long before the “worthless” silver mine had made Patino a billionaire!

According to the story, 1954 was dubbed “the year the Patino luck ran out” where the third generation of Patino’s were largely responsible for the woes brought to the family fortune.  But among all the woes and strife of the third generation, there seemed to be one who from among them that had escaped the rule of bad luck:  Maria Christina, daughter of Antenor and Christina Patino.  She was happily married (unlike her other relations) to Prince Marc de Beauvau-Craon, mayor of Haroue in France, and a prominent, respected member of French society.

Maria Christina’s only big sorrow, I believe, was at the time of her marriage, in 1952 — when her father refused to allow her mother to attend the elaborate wedding.  As for the rock-bottom bad  luck of 1954, it did not touch Maria Christinia, except by indirection, but it kept other members of the Patino empre aware that their inheritance is a dual one — of fortune and misfortune.  It is as though fate were trying belatedly to balance the scales again, after tipping them so heavily in favor of old Simon, whose story might have been dreamed up by Horatio Alger.

The Sunday Morning Star newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware published an article by Stuart P. West in the March 27, 1921 edition that talked about the cuts western railroads made without reducing wages.  The headline read, “Optimists Believe Price Cutting Has Reached Rock Bottom” and this was part of the news story:

It cannot be expected that wages and other items of expense will be reduced sufficiently to counterbalance the slump in orders.  Still the shrinkage in gross earnings would be viewed with equanimity if manufacturing and production costs were at the same time being restored to a sound and normal basis.  As to the ability of the heads of American industry to accomplish this result there is certainly more ground for optimism than for pessimism.  Outside the railroads, wage reduction have been put into effect almost everywhere without friction.

Jumping back to 1884, the idiom rock bottom was already in use in magazines, catalogues and newspapers as well as in everyday language.  The front page of the Charles Stark catalogue has the idiom printed on its front cover to entice readers to buy from Charles Stark of Toronto, Ontario (Canada).

ROCK BOTTOM_Charles Stark_1884
Strangely enough, the term rock bottom didn’t always have a negative connotation.  In fact, in the Oregon News edition published on August 29, 1858 it was used in a complimentary way to describe one of the politicians running for office.  In an article where the editor quoted Colonel Tetrault — described as the Napoleon of the Democratic press in Oregon — the Colonel was determined to point out the  weak points in the Democrat party.

“Let us inquire what first brought about the organization of the Democratic party in Oregon. If any of the ultra politicians of the present day know the principal ennui, let them assign it.  We, for ourself, think we know full well that the location of the public buildings during the session of the Territorial Legislature had much to do with the then party organization in and we find men who opposed General Lane in 1851, still opposing him.”

So then a “rock-bottom democrat,” according to the Colonel, is one who goes for keeping the “public buildings” on the Salem “basalt.”

In the following manner does the Colonel point a significant finger at the post record: “In 1831, the first time General Lane was a candidate for office in Oregon, there was a Salemite run against him for Delegate to Congress, who received the support of some of the leading Democrats of the present day.”

However the sense of the idiom is still present.  When all else is stripped away, all that’s left is “rock bottom.”

The term is a mining term that came about at a time before power drilling techniques were developed, and was popularized in the 1840s.  When mining for ores, the farthest down a person could go before there was nothing to be mined or ores could not be accessed was called rock bottom.  In other words, you couldn’t go any lower than where you were when you hit rock bottom.

Idiomation therefore pegs rock bottom to sometime during the 1850s when it jumped from being a term used by miners to a term used to express situations, and then on to also refer to the lowest prices available for sought after items.

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Cross To Bear

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 5, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say that a difficult situation is the cross they have to bear.  What they mean by that is that they must accept an unpleasant situation or responsibility because there is no way to avoid dealing with it.  What’s more, it’s a situation or responsibility that can’t be shared or passed along to someone else.  The idiom refers to an emotional or mental burden that brings with it a marked amount of stress and suffering, and, despite its origins, has nothing to do with a physical burden.

The expression, of course, alludes to the crucifixion of Christ who was made to carry his own cross as was the custom during Roman Times.

The idiom was used in the Herald-Journal on January 4, 2007 in an article about the diverse student population and how there were concerns that displaying a cross in the sanctuary in the campus chapel at Virginia’s College of William and Mary might upset some of the non-Christian students attending there.  The second oldest college in America, it was founded at the request of the Anglican Church.  The article by J.R. Labbe was entitled, “Is Tolerating Tolerance A College’s Cross To Bear?

You might wonder if the idiom always has a religious aspect to it.  It doesn’t.  On March 28, 1957 the Milwaukee Sentinel published a news story entitled, “Resemblance to James Dean Riles Actor Dean Stockwell.”  The former child actor was now a striking 20-year-old in film and while his portfolio of performances was impressive, he wasn’t finding himself on easy street.  In fact, the article reported this:

All is not rosy for young Stockwell.  He has a cross to bear:  The late James Dean.  He has the same hair and much the same brooding handsomeness of Dean.

The “Class Leader’s Treasury” by respected Methodist Pastor, Reverend John Bate, was published in March of 1881, and published by the Wesleyan Conference Office in England.  Reverend Bate was also the author of “Cyclopedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths.”  It’s on page 440 of the “Class Leader’s Treasury” that the following is found:

You would find a heavier cross to bear on turning back than you have to bear in going forward, to say nothing of what you would find when you came to the City of Destruction.

It was undoubtedly a favorite expression of religious men, and it was used in a poem collected by Reverend John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw Churches, and included in the “Olney Hymns In Three Books” published on February 15, 1779.  He attributes the poem to the late Dr. Watts. This was part of Hymn 51 in “Book 1 on Select Texts of Scripture.”

Lord, we return thee what we can!
Our heart shall sound abroad,
Salvation, to the dying Man,
And to the rising God!

And while thy bleeding glories here
Engage our wond’ring eyes,
We learn our lighter cross to bear,
And hasten to the skies.

It was used in 1607 to refer to the act of suffering troubles patiently.  It was in the play by John Webster and Thomas Dekker titled, “The Famous Historie of Sir Thomas Wyat” in scene 14 that the term was used.  As you may or may  not know, The Wyatt Rebellion was led by Tudor courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (his father being English poet and ambassador Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder) during the reign of Mary I of England.

It was, however, in a letter to Catharine of Aragon (16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536), written by Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (27 October 1466 – 12 July 1536) — also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam — that the idiom is found. The letter was written after her divorce from Henry VIII in 1533.

It is most rare to find a lady born and reared in courts, who binds her hope on acts of devotion, and finding her solace in the word of God. Would that others, more especially widows, would learn to follow your example; and not widows only, but unmarried ladies too, for what so good as the service of Christ? He is the Rock — the Spouse of pious souls — and nearer than the nearest humanitie. A soul devoted to this Husband is at peace alike in good and evil times. He knows what is best for all; and is often kindest when He seems to turn the honey into gall. Every one has his cross to bear; without that cross no soul can enter into rest!”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, and therefore, it’s assumed that the saying, “we all have our cross to bear” is thanks to Erasmus, dating back to 1533.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poor As A Church Mouse

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 22, 2015

When the claim is made that someone is poor as a church mouse, it means they haven’t anything to spare.  It’s based on the fact that a church doesn’t have a cupboard or a pantry from which a mouse can steal away even the smallest food crumb.  The interesting fact about this idiom is that it isn’t just an idiom used in English although it’s been well-used in English over the years.

The author of a print ad placed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 26, 1957 was intended as a plea for donations to build the Milwaukee Boys’ Club described as a real club for a real boy.  The ad was referred to in fine print as “one of a series of weekly articles paid for by a member of the Club’s Board of Directors.”  The ad was titled, “As Poor As A Church Mouse” and began with this copy:

You must be an oldtimer if you can remember back when this expression was so common.  Those were the days before electricity, telephones, automobiles, radios, television and modern plumbing.

And indeed the author of that copy was correct.  The idiom wasn’t a recent one in the least.

The Pittsburgh Press printed a Letter to the Editor on March 29, 1935 that was written by Norvin Mack of 525 Sheridan Avenue in Pittsburgh. 

Norvin Mack wrote about the minimum government pay of $30 per month to soldiers along with free lodging, food, and medical care.  He stated that if a soldier had family — in other words, dependents — that the government would deduct $15 from his pay, match that amount, and send it along to his family.  To that end, the minimum pay was $45 per month.  He went on to extol the other virtues of being a soldier, and all this was to correct a story that had previously been published in the newspaper.

He was an outspoken sort, and included this paragraph in his letter.

As one who volunteered long before the draft was hardly thought of and who is now as poor as a church mouse I count it an honor to take my position with you on this momentous question.  I am supporting my family at common labor, not relief.  Plain selfishness urges me to welcome the immediate payment of the bonus but common sense forces the rejection of the plan.

It was in the Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph newspaper edition of April 16, 1912 that an article appeared discussing the move away from throwing rice at weddings and the move towards throwing confetti instead.  The sexton of a fashionable New York church was interviewed on the new tradition, and his opinion favored the switch.  He was quoted as saying:

“This confetti fashion is very welcome to us sextons.  When rice was used our churches were overrun with mice.  The saying “as poor as a church mouse” was then meaningless.  Why, in my church, where weddings are so popular, several hundreds of mice — fat chaps they were, too — found an ample food supply in the rice that was sprinkled over the brides.”

“Now that rice has been abandoned for paper confetti, these mice have all disappeared.  They were starved out.  They couldn’t live on paper.”

The title for the story was simply, “Poor As A Church Mouse:  Since Confetti Came Into Use, The Saying Has More Meaning Than At Former Times.”  How apt is that for a headline?

Episcopalian clergyman and American author Frederick William Shelton (1815 – 1881) wrote and published “Peeps From A Belfry: Volume 3” in 1856.  This volume opened with a short story titled, “The Seven Sleepers.”   In Shelton’s story, a clergyman by the name of Pettibones approaches Mr. Snapjohn, and after a very brief exchange, Mr. Snapjohn says:

Want money, I suppose.  I haven’t a cent, Sir — not a cent.  Gave five dollars the other day for church missions, don’t believe the heathen will ever see one cent of it.  It won’t do them any good, — not at all, Sir, not at all, so much money thrown into the sea.  I am tired and sick of such demands.  I’ve got nothing.  I tell you I’m as poor as a church mouse — I’m as poor as a church mouse.”

The saying appears in a number of publications throughout the 1700s and 1800s, and is found in other countries. In fact, in German poor as a church mouse is arm wie eine Kirchenmaus and it’s found in a Grimm’s Dutch-German dictionary published in 1719. And before that, it appears in “A Collection of English Proverbs” compiled by English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) and published in 1670 (who up until 1670 spelled his name John Wray).

Now, it’s also a fact that Anglo-Welsh historian and writer James Howell (1594 – 1666) published a proverb collection in 1659 entitled, “Paramoigraphy” wherein the idiom was listed as “hungry as a churchmouse.”  That being said, Grimm did mention in his 1719 book that the idiom was from the Scottish proverb puir as a kirkmouse.  Oddly enough though, the French had a similar phrase:  gueux comme un rat d’église.

Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than that from 1659 with a reference to the German and Scottish versions of the idiom, it’s likely that the phrase has existed for as long as mice and churches have co-existed which is to say, for centuries.  That being said, Idiomation is confident in pegging this idiom to the early 1600s, allowing it to become part of the vernacular in England.

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Hit The Nail On The Head

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 23, 2013

When you hear that someone in a discussion has hit the nail on the head it means that the person has driven the point home, having summed it up in a few, understandable words or sentences. It’s oftentimes used in politics and business, but even in everyday conversation, you’ll hear people talk about those who have hit the nail on the head.

When the political debates of 2010 were the rage in the media, everyone watched as Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul discussed matters in a televised debate anchored by George Stephanopolous and Diane Sawyer. When the transcripts were released, what people thought they had heard could be checked against the written word. In the transcripts, Rick Perry was quoted as having said:

Yeah, well, I — I’m — I’m stunned, ’cause — the fact of the matter is, you know, Michele kinda hit the nail on the head when we talked about the individual mandate. Both of these gentlemen have been for the — individual mandate. And I’m even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could’ve talked to Obama and said — “You’re goin’ down the wrong path,” because that is exactly the path that you’ve taken Massachusetts.

Politics seems to make liberal use of the expression, including in the September 26, 1972 article “Political Tools” published in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The news story addressed the presidential campaign of that year, which saw George McGovern going head-to-head against then-President Richard Nixon. Four paragraphs into the article, the following was written:

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird hit the nail on the head when he said that “it is a despicable act of a presidential candidate to make himself a spokesman for the enemy.” One news account called Laird’s observation “some of the harshest rhetoric of the 1972 presidential campaign.” Considering some of the rhetoric Desperate George [McGovern] has engaged in, particularly comparing Nixon to Adolf Hitler, this characterization os Laird’s remark is a gross misstatement of the facts.

Again with a political reference, the Evening Independent newspaper published a story entitled, “Hitchcock Sends Ultimatum He Will Take Issue To Upper Chamber If Compromise Fails” on January 27, 1920. In sharing news of the failure of the bipartisan conference in Washington, DC to reach a compromise, resulting in the peace treaty ratification fight that was ongoing in the Senate, this was reported:

Senator Hitchcock declined to speculate on the possibility of so early a renewal of hostilities but most Democrats declared nothing was to be gained by further secret conferences.

“It looks as if the jig’s up,” declared Senator McNary, Republican, Oregon, a leader of the “mild reservations” group, and this seemed to hit the nail on the head, in the opinion of most senators.

Things didn’t change much in the years leading up to 1920, as shown in the news article “Republication Ratification Meeting” in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 27, 1883. The story was about a meeting held to give feedback on the level of satisfaction with the action of the Sate Republican Convention’s choice of candidates. An extensive piece, halfway down the fourth column readers were greeted by this from J.M. Forbes who could not be in attendance, but who sent his thoughts in a letter that was read aloud by Henry Packman, had this to say about nominee, George D. Robinson:

The brilliant orator, the ally and mouthpiece of the faction, whose shining words everybody reads, has for once hit the nail on the head and proclaimed the truth, that there is room for only two parties in this State, and that we must choose between the two, leaving all minor issues for future consideration. We accept his and their challenge, and declare …”

The letter goes on for a bit, outlining five major points, but the article continues for another two columns before finally signing off.

Various reputable sources claim that the expression — meaning a person is communicating effectively or gets to the point — dates back to the early 16th century without providing proof to substantiate that claim.  But Idiomation continue to research for sources and English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher yielded up the phrase. Together, they wrote an early 17th century comedic stage play entitled “Love’s Cure” in 1612, then revised it in 1625, and finally published it in 1647. It was also known as “The Martial Maid.” In Act II, scene 1 of this play, regardless of which version you read, you will find the following:

METALDI
I give Place : the Wit of Man is wonderful.
thou hast hit the Nail on the Head,
and I will give thee six Pots for’t,
tho’ I ne’er clinch Shooe again.

French Renaissance writer, doctor, humanist, monk and scholar, François Rabelais (4 February 1494 – 9 April 1553) wrote “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.” The third book, “Le Tiers Livre” in which the passage appears was published in 1546. In Chapter XXXIV, readers find the idiom in this passage:

Let us come to where we left off, quoth Panurge. Your words, being translated from the clapper-dudgeons to plain English, do signify that it is not very inexpedient that I marry, and that I should not care for being a cuckold. You have there hit the nail on the head. I believe, master doctor, that on the day of my marriage you will be so much taken up with your patients, or otherwise so seriously employed, that we shall not enjoy your company. Sir, I will heartily excuse your absence.

Despite ongoing research, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression which appears unchanged over the centuries. It is therefore, highly probably that the expression dates back to at least the early 1500s as reputable sources claim, especially in light of that fact that it was used with easy by François Rabelais.

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Right As Rain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 28, 2013

An online friend was wondering what the expression right as rain really means and how it wound up being part of the English language. To answer her question, when something is right as rain everything is functioning optimally … perfectly, in fact.

USA Today sometimes has the most unexpected articles, and the one about Portland, Oregon on March 29, 2010 certainly surprised a number of readers. Portland’s storm sewer system, it was reported, was a tourist attraction for eco-friendly tourists interested in checking out Portland’s system of curbs, gutters, roofs and rain gardens. Who knew? Of course, the article was aptly entitled, “Portland’s Sewers Right As Rain.”

Back on July 17, 1952 the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper reported on how the Russian government in Moscow was unhappy about the upcoming conference in Honolulu that intended to set up a permanent Pacific defense council. The Russians were said to be against the prospect of such a defense council. In fact, the situation was such a hot button for both sides that the reporter wrote in part:

The Reds suspect that a treaty organization designed to prevent the spread of Communism in the Pacific world, similar to the existing North Atlantic Treaty Organization already service the same purpose in Europe, will come out at the Honolulu conference in August, and they are right as rain about that.

The Saskatoon Phoenix newspaper edition of July 3, 1915 carried a news article entitled, “Tommy Is An Optimist.” Written by a special correspondent with British Headquarters in the Field during WWI, the journalist rose above the horrors of war to include the personal side of global conflict. It’s not that he didn’t acknowledge that war was ugly business and that everyone suffered because of it, but rather, he chose to give insight into the humanity that still existed among soldiers. The article included an anecdote that happened between the chaplain and one of the soldiers brought in on a stretcher to be treated by doctors.

“Would you like to send your people a postcard, my boy?” said the Chaplain, and went on to the next stretcher. “Does — does this mean that I am going to die?” asked the lad, as he tried to scrawl a name across the front of the card.

“Nonsense,” retorted an orderly who was passing. “You’ll be as right as rain in a week.”

“Then I’ll wait before I write,” said the soldier. “There’s no use wasting the card. Besides, it says ‘I am wounded.’ I am not wounded — I’m full of this bloody gas, and as soon as me chest is clear I’m going back to ‘do’ for some of those Germans. Give us a drink!”

Some sources claim that the expression was first published in 1894 however Idiomation found a published version in a Boston Daily Globe newspaper dated March 21, 1893 in a serialized story entitled, “Fated To Suffer: The Mystery of the Blood Red Star.”  While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier publication of the phrase, that it is found in a newspaper dating back to 1893 indicates that it was already in use among the masses and as such, it can be assumed that it most likely dates back to at least 1880.

That being said, the qualifier right as has been used in a number of idioms before this date. Some of the alternatives include:

1.  Right as an adamant from “Romance Of The Rose” translated by Geoffrey Chaucer (1300 – 25 October 1400) from the poem by Guillaume de Lorris (1200 – 1240):

For by ensample tel I this,
Right as an adamant, ywis,
Can drawen to hym subtelly
The yron that is layde therby,
So draweth folkes hertes, iwys,
Syluer and golde that yeuen is.

2.  Right as a line from “Minor Poems” by John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) and published in 1430:

That heuenly spyce, hit is ful swete;
Help us perof, good bysshop Fermyae,
Sacred Cipriane, zif hit wold be gete,
With Cosme and Damane wold I dyne,
Lede us pederward as ryght as a lyne,
Seynt Myghel, to pat heuenly kyngdome
Helpyng the holy doctour Seynt Ierome.

3.  Right as is my leg from the translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611 – 1660) of “Gargantua and Pantagruel” originally written by François Rabelais (1490 – 1553) and published in 1653:

I saw another surrounded by a Croud of two sorts of Women; some were young, quaint, clever, neat, pretty, juicy, tight, brisk, buxom, proper, kind-hearted, and as right as my Leg, to any man’s thinking. The rest were old, weather-beaten, over-ridden, toothless, blear-ey’d, tough, wrinkled, shrivell’d, tawny, mouldy, ptysicky, decrepit hags, beldams, and walking Carcasses.

4.  Right as my leg from “The Comical History of Don Quixote: As It Was Acted At The Queen’s Theater In Dorset Garden By Their Majesties Servants” in Part III, Act III Scene ii by Thomas D’Urfey (1653 – 26 February 1723) and published in 1696:

Jolly Ralph was in with Pegg,
Tho freckled like a Turkey-Egg;
And she as right as is my leg,
Still gave him leave to touse her.

5.  Right as my glove from “Antiquary” by Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) and published in 1816:

“Right, Caxon! right as my glove! By the by, I fancy that phrase comes from the custom of pledging a glove as the signal of irregragable faith — right, I saw, as my glove, Caxon — bet we of the Protestant ascendancy have the more merit in doing that duty for nothing, which cost money in the reign of that empress of superstition, whome Spenser, Caxon, terms, in his allegorical phrase.”

6.  Right as ninepence from “Frank Fairlegh: Scenes From The Life Of A Private Pupil” by Francis Edward Smedley (4 October 1818 – 1 May 1864) and published in 1850:

“Well, let her say ‘no’ as if she meant it,” said Lawless; “women can, if they like, eh? and then it will all be as right as ninepence. Eh! don’t you see?”

“Easier said than done, Lawless, unfortunately,” replied Coleman; “my fat rival is the son of an opulent drysalter, and last year he contrived to get rid of his father.”

And so while the idiom right as rain can only be traced back to the late 19th century, it would seem that what follows right as isn’t always important as long as it’s right as … as the many examples have proven.  So it’s actually right as that determines that everything is perfectly fine and good, and in the case of right as rain, it’s just a nice bit of alliteration as well.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »

Accidentally On Purpose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 18, 2013

When someone does something they intend to do but pretends it was an accident, it’s said that what was done was done accidentally on purpose. It’s a contradiction since something that’s done on purpose can’t possibly be an accident and something that’s an accident can’t be done on purpose. However, the phrase has found its way into the English language and carved out a niche for itself over the years.

On June 21, 2009, the Racing Post (which is published in London, England) published an article by Phil Agius entitled, “Why Baby Schumi Is Nothing Like The Old One.” The article began with this bit of information:

The man threatening to do a Schumacher chose an interesting race to put in his worst qualifying performance of the season, allowing the man dubbed the next Schumacher to grab pole for today’s British Grand Prix.

Except don’t think for a minute that Sebastian Vettel is anything like Michael Schumacher. Yes, the charging Red Bull driver is super-fast and German, with an already apparent ability to get his team working behind him and the natural talent to pull out a quick lap exactly when required.

But it’s fairly safe to say you won’t ever see the chap the German press call Baby Schumi barging rivals off the track in a bid to win world titles, or indeed parking his car accidentally on purpose on the racing line in order to preserve a pole position.

The Milwaukee Sentinel used the expression in a sub-heading in Lloyd Larson’s column of the January 5, 1973 edition. Discussing the Miami-Pittsburgh AFC title battle, under the sub-heading he wrote:

Players have been known to fumble accidentally on purpose, so to speak, in scoring territory on fourth down. The rule is designed to prevent such happenings.

During WWII, whimsical stories sometimes found their way into newspapers and such was the case with the Windsor Daily Star on February 4, 1941 when the newspaper published a story that was humorous but unattributed. It began:

“Boomps!” exclaimed Miss Sadie Shortskirts, as she bounced her bustle on the old horse pond. “The things I do for Canada!”

Our Nosing Reporter, who had been an interested spectator of an exhibition that would hardly make Sonja Henie green with envy, hurried forward, but the sturdy little figure was already back on her feet. And almost as quickly back on her back again.

“What do you mean when you say you’re doing this for Canada?” the reporter wanted to know. “What benefit will the Dominion derive if you break your neck?”

Break my neck? Phooie!” exclaimed Miss Shortskirts. “Can’t you see I’m not learning to skate? I’m learning not to skate. I’m striving for perfection in the art of falling realistically, so that every tumble will have patriotically commercial possibilities.”

The story continues for a number of paragraphs and ends well. And do you know what the title of the story was?

Starbeams: Accidentally On Purpose

Years earlier, on page 2 of the Poverty Bay Herald, in Volume XXX, Issue 9654, the newspaper published a fine short story by Henry Humiston on January 31, 1903. It was the story of mix-up and mayhem in true Victorian fashion and had to do with a Miss Helene Elizabeth Martin, a rogue by the name of John Lassiter and envelopes each of them received with letters addressed to other people. The title of the story?

Accidentally On Purpose

In the book “Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, Diaries and Correspondence, Volume I” the following is found in Chapter X entitled, “Thomas Dermody – The Poor Scholar” on page 90:

Among her guests she frequently numbered the young Marquis of Granby, the son of a former brilliant and well-remembered, lord-lieutenant, who was quartered in the garrison. On the occasions of a fête given specially for him by Mrs. Austen, she commanded her young poet laureate to compose an ode in favour of the vice-regal reign of the Duke of Rutland, with a well-turned compliment to his handsome son. Dermody neglected the order — perhaps “accidentally on purpose” — he thought the desire fulsome, and he had become restive. Mrs. Austen, indignant at the negligence, considering it as the refusal of an upstart dependent, made us of some expression that struck his Irish pride on the life nerve; she ordered him to leave her house and never return, he accepted the command and did not reappear, in the expectation of being sent for.

The expression showed up nearly 100 years prior to the publication of Lady Morgan’s Memoirs in a book by José Francisco de Isla (April 24, 1703 – November 2, 1781). A Spanish Jesuit, humorist and satirist, he wrote, “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” in which this passage is found:

Tell us what is Modesty of Voice, for you happened accidentally on purpose to drop this word, and I don’t rightly know what it signifies.

Because of the satire in the book, the book was banned by the Inquisition in 1760, and it was forbidden not only to publish the book but to discuss its contents. Seven years later, José Francisco de Isla was expelled from Spain. But as is the case with all good literature, the book continued to be published by a number of brave souls. The book is now considered a literary masterpiece.

Despite all attempts to find an earlier version of this phrase, Idiomation found nothing before its publication in “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” and so the first use of the phrase goes to at least 1760 … the year the book was banned by the Inquisition.

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

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 »

Indian File

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 7, 2011

Most people have figured out that the expression Indian file is another way of saying single file.  But where did the expression Indian file come from in the first place?  Is the answer obvious?

The St. Maurice Valley Chronicle newspaper in Three Rivers, Quebec ran a story on June 30, 1960 that dealt with cycling safety.  The article, entitled, “Indian File When Cycling” had this to say on the matter:

When cycling in a group or more, cyclists should always ride Indian File, that is one behind the other, the Provincial Highway Safety Committee (Prudentia) says.  This advice is oft repeated but somehow is not taken to heart by cyclists.  If cyclists would only realize the danger.  When riding side by side, two cyclists take the space of an ordinary car on the highway or street.  Not only is this practice a definite traffic hazard, but it creates a veritable danger to the cyclist and to the motorist alike.  Ride Indian File and stay alive this summer.

On October 31, 1934 the Milwaukee Sentinel published a story about give huge water spouts that roared into Buffalo harbor from Lake Erie amidst snow and near gale winds.  The story was entitled, “Erie Water Spouts Crash Buffalo Seawall: Tumble Sea Gulls, Advance On City In Indian File.”  The newspaper reported in part:

At least 100 to 500 feet high, the spouts traveled in Indian file as they swirled into the harbor from a black spot on the lake about a mile southwest of the city.

It was quite the spectacle as John P. Scanlon, United States coast guard station lookout was quoted as saying this about the five towers that, according to him, shot towards the city at “terrific speed from a mile southwest on the lake.”

“They looked like spiral staircases,” Scanlon said.  “The spouts seemed to spring up suddenly and followed each other in Indian file.  One attracted my attention particularly.  After tumbling sea gulls about, it sped along the municipal beach and grabbed bushes up.  It seemed as though it drenched a lot of people when it finally smashed against the docks.”

On August 14, 1900 the Philadelphia Record republished a story from the Associated Press entitled, “Peculiar And Unusual Occurrence On The Saratoga Track.”  The story read in part:

A heavy rainfall converted the track into a quagmire ankle deep this afternoon, and the fields were greatly reduced by withdrawals.  In the first race, Starter Caldwell dropped his flag.  The man holding the advanced flag failed to see the bunting go down and all of the jockeys except Sam Doggett, on his own horse Terrorist, and Burus, on Lieber Karl, the 4 to 5 favorite, pulled up.  This pair raced towards to the finish with the former winning.  The field straggled in in Indian file.  The race was ordered to be run over again by the stewards under the rule providing that the advance flag must fall.  All bets stood.

On August 14, 1878 the Montreal Gazette published a news story entitled, “Vice Regal Tour: Lord Dufferin In The Townships.”  As was the case when such visits occurred, the event was a very serious and formal affair as can be seen by this snippet from the story:

Her Excellency, Mrs. Col. Lyttleton, and attendants, followed in another carriage, and the guard of honor wheeled in columns of subdivisions.  The firemen, who had been provided with flaming torches, had been in waiting, and at a signal from Chief S F Foss, wheeled into line, and turning were Indian file, flanking the escort.  Along with the firemen were hundreds of citizens bearing torches.  This was a prettily executed movement, and the blazing torches of the firemen and citizens in constant motion reflected from the glittering bayonets of the guard of honor, the cheering of the surging crowd and the glare of thousands of lights from the different windows, made a most impressive sight.

In 1849, the Providence, Rhode Island January 25th edition of the Manufacturers and Farmers Journal published a piece of fiction entitled, “Adventures In New Mexico.”  The author went by the name of E … no first name, no last name … just E.  The story included this tidbit:

Hitching John to the hind gate of a wagon, I borrowed a large bored rifle, and set off after them on foot.  The prairie here being undulating, and in many places broken into deep gullies, it presented every facility for a “still hunt” in other words for a “creeping on to” game.  The bulls were plodding soberly along some distance from me, in Indian file.  I knew by the “law of the land” that they were making for some watering place, and it was there I expected to crawl upon them; but on they went and on I followed; the wagons soon passed out of sight, and far before could just be traced the sand hills of the Big Arkansas.

It’s in the journal of William Parkman, — a 17-year-old soldier in the Massachusetts regiment — dating back to the summer of 1758 that the following entry is found:

August 8.  Set out for Fort Edward in an Indian file, Major Putnam in the front, and when we had marched about a mile and a half the enemy waylaid us, and fired upon our front and cut off Major Putnam.  Upon that Major Rogers came up from the rear and formed the men in a line, and they drove the enemy, and had an engagement, which lasted two hours and ten minutes.

The expression, however, is a direct translation of “en file indienne” found in journals written by the French who settled in Quebec in the 1600s.  Samuel de Champlain (1567 – 1635) and Anadabijou speaking on behalf of the Montagnais, the Etchemins and the Algonquin nations from the Ottawa River area to the far northwest agree to embark upon a campaign against the Iroquois in 1603. The campaign is successful and of course, gives rise to celebration.  Samuel de Champlain described the events that took place in June of that year when the allies assembled at Tadoussac, Quebec using the expression “en file indienne” to describe what he observed.

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