Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Nashua Telegraph’

Poor As A Church Mouse

Posted by Admin 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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Blue Light Special

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2013

Do you remember the days when you could hear a disembodied voice say over the loudspeaker system: Attention Kmart® shoppers. There’s a blue light special in aisle …?

If you do, then you know that a blue light special is a surprise price-cut offered for a limited time (usually about 15 minutes in length) on specific merchandise. But as with all good things, it fell into the abyss of great ideas and disappeared for a while before coming back to life. How does Idiomation know this?

Greg Hudson posted an article on August 25, 2009 to the Better Business Bureau blog site entitled, “Kmart Is Bringing Back The Blue Light Special.” For those who couldn’t believe the headline, the first paragraph read:

No, it’s not 1965, but the discount retailer Kmart is bringing back its legendary blue light special.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was reported that some Kmart stores still had their “original, decades-old blue lights” while other Kmart stores made do with blue balloons!

Some may think that this was the first time Kmart revived the blue light special concept, but they’d be mistaken. in fact, in December 1999, Kmart opened up their online website, and named it BlueLight.com. If you type that into your browsers these days, you’ll be redirected to Kmart.com.

For trivia lovers, few people know that Johnston-Crowder Manufacturing Co published the “Blue Light Special” board game in 1986. Yes, people, this was a traditional board game for 2 to 4 players.

Blue Light Special Board Game

Now, it’s unfortunate but the expression became the brunt of countless jokes, so when the Youngstown Vindicator of December 9, 1978 published Joan Ryan’s column, “On Sports” and she wrote about Pete Rose and his family, you had to wonder if she was going to take pot shots at the expression.   It read in part:

What happens to a family of four (Petey is 9; Fawne is 14) when their income suddenly escalates to within millions? “Well, I still stop at K-Mart,” says the flamboyant Karolyn, who wears diamonds with her blue jeans.

“I love those discount stores. The only thing it that the cashiers all know me and they say, ‘Honey, we turned off the blue-light special when you pulled in in your Rolls.'”

Earlier that year, on March 2, 1978 the Nashua Telegraph newspaper published a news article entitled, “Carter Directive Calls For Secret Commando Force.” The story dealt with the formation of a secret Army commando unit President Jimmy Carter had ordered. Its primary focus was to combat terrorist acts outside the US. Headed up by Col. Charlie Alvin Beckwith, it wasn’t long before it was nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels” by its first members. The article stated:

The force has been given the code name “Project Blue Light” for its formative stages. Sources said a nucleus of Green Berets from the Army’s Special Forces have already quietly set up headquarters in a post stockade that has until now been used to house prisoners at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The fact of the matter is that a Fort Wayne, Indiana Kmart store manager used a police car light to draw attention to Christmas wrapping paper that he was clearing out of his store back in 1965. It was such a success that it was adapted to draw attention to any clearance item, and it found its way into the chain before moving on to become an American icon idiom.

So the next time you hear someone joke about the blue light special, smile. It’s not every day that you hear a purely American comment still current in today’s pop culture.

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