Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New Strait Times’

Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Admin on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

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Jesus Boots

Posted by Admin on May 28, 2015

You may have heard someone talk about Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, or Jesus slippers at some point in your life, and you may have thought you knew what kind of boots, shoes, sandals, or slippers they meant.  You may have been right.  Jesus boots (or shoes or sandals or slippers) are sandals that resemble the sandals depicted in paintings of Jesus of  Nazareth.

In the New Strait Times of June 28, 2004 — in the Life & Times section — Debra Chong wrote an article entitled, “Straits Sea-crets.”  The article dealt with her week-long experiences onboard a 48-meter floating laboratory along  with what she called a wacky pack of scientists as they journeyed through the Straits of Malacca on the Scientific Expedition to the Seas of Malaysia aka SESMA.  The beginning of the adventure began with frustration and delays, with the cast-off finally happening five hours later than scheduled, and well past high tide.  She wrote this about the situation.

There is disappointment all around, but everybody keeps the peace.  Should our complaints cross the captain, we might have to “pu on (our) Jesus boots and walk to shore,” as warned by Tan Sri Halim Mohammad (boss of the Halim Mazmin Group and kind provider of the “floating lab” he calls his ship) in his stern bon voyage message.

When Felicity Jackson reviewed the most recent book by Sylvia Sherry for the Glasgow Herald on June 22, 1985 her opinion was clearly stated.  The review began with this statement.

Even the title “A Pair Of Desert Wellies” by Sylvia Sherry (£6.95: Jonathan Cape) raised suspicions about how a writer must be tempted to capitalise on the success of an earlier novel, in this case the popular “A Pair Of Jesus Boots.”  The opening chapters tediously rework much of the plot of the first book but it picked up in pace and dialogues.

One of the more humorous comments was found in the Boca Raton News as written by Lillian M. Bradicich in her column, “From Cupcakes To Cocktails” and published on April 11, 1971.  Between Easter and the performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” which the writer had seen on stage, she was more than a little fuzzy warm about all things religious.  Her column included this descriptive tidbit.

Centuries of gold and marble build-up have been chopped away, and the young people accept Jesus for what He really is.  Their desire to identify with Him is manifest everywhere in the “Jesus hair styles”, “Jesus sandals“, “Jesus music”, and “Jesus love.”  

Eating in a pizza parlor these days is like sitting in the ‘upper room’ surrounded by Apostles .. and it had to be as edifying the night we overheard a bearded young man telling his girl that “Jesus didn’t keep quoting scriptures to people.  He went where He was really needed, and said what really needed to be said.”

On July 30, 1968 the Morning Record newspaper carried a story about Evangelist Billy Graham who was in Bern, Switzerland for the week-long Baptist Youth World Conference that was attended by more than 5,000 Baptist youth from 65 countries.  The article was about how, in Billy Graham’s opinion, the youth of the sixties were searching for the meaning of life, and that the solution they were seeking could be found in the Bible.  He was quoted saying:

“The youth of our time does not demonstrate against the church.  This shows they search for the teaching of Jesus.”

“Jesus had long hair.  So have our hippies.  And at least in the United States, they wear Jesus boots (sandals) and this seems to express their hidden longing for God.”

Thirty years earlier, the Free Lance-Star newspaper William T. Ellis’ column “Religion Day By Day” in their March 21, 1938 edition with a story about a child in Sunday school who said that her white sandals were Jesus shoes because they looked like the sandals Jesus wore in pictures she had seen.  The article talked about being shod with the Gospel of peace, being busy about the errands of Jesus, and going only where He led his followers. The title of the article in the column was simply, “Deborah’s Jesus Shoes.”

Although this is the earliest published version Idiomation was able to find that linked modern sandals to Jesus’s sandals, there was one other mention of Jesus boots much earlier in 1902 that referred to bare feet as Jesus boots.  Published in the Toronto Mail and Empire and published in many affiliated newspapers across Canada, “Doukhobors Face Death By Cold: Several Thousand Reach Yorkton Destitute” the events of October 28 were carried in the October 31, 1902 newspapers.

It was reported that sixteen hundred Doukhobors composed of men, women, and children (including infants in arms) had marched on Yorkton (Saskatchewan), camping on October 27 without shelter while the temperature dipped to a frigid eleven degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The story related how some wore rubber boots while others wore coarse sandals fashioned from binder twine while still others were barefooted.  The reference was found in this passage.

Siemon Tcherninkov, who talks little English, and whose bare feet bore witness to his insane zeal, explained tat they were “looking for new light, and looking for Jesus.”  When asked where his boots were, he held up his naked foot and cried, “Jesus boots!” while the light of insanity gleamed fitfully from his eyes.

Dominion immigration agent, C.W. Speers worked hard to get the sick, the women, and the children into immigration sheds and other buildings, and much of his work was made all the harder for him as the sick and the women went to these shelters against their will.  The unrest was so bad that special constables were being sworn in, and it was reported that the Riot Act would undoubtedly have to be read to the Doukhobors.  As a Plan B measure, the government was ready to call in one hundred and fifty Italian laborers who were working on railway construction in the vicinity if the Doukhobors became even more unruly, and violent.

Seven miles away, seven hundred more Doukhobors were camped near Pollock’s Bridge.  Another four hundred were on their way.

While it was acknowledged that the Doukhobors were primarily a peaceful group, there were concerns that they were suffering some sort of collective insanity.  What’s more, they had no troubles letting others know that they had killed and buried five priests of the Russian church, and when infants had died en route to Yorkton, they had thrown them into the bushes by the roadside.

All that being said, while the term Jesus boots was used in the 1902 article, it’s the article from 1938 that is used in the spirit in which Jesus boots, Jesus shoes, Jesus sandals, and Jesus slippers is commonly used.

Posted in Christian, Idioms from the 20th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Nail Your Colours To The Mast

Posted by Admin on October 25, 2013

Have you ever heard someone talk about how you nailed your colors to the mast? It’s a lovely expression that means that you have publicly stated your opinions on one or more subjects, even the controversial ones, and cannot be swayed to change them.

In the UK, when Education Minister, David Willetts proved to be intelligent as well as well-informed, the Independent newspaper of October 25, 2010 ran a story on a speech he had given … one that wasn’t written by a speech writer and handed to him to rehearse and deliver. The article was entitled, “Two Brains Nails His Colours To The Mast” and the story ended with this paragraph:

Willetts is making clear that he does not want to see more universities being set up but at the same time he is nailing his colours to the widening participation mast. The important thing is to make sure that people acquiring their higher education in further education colleges are receiving the high quality experience that they would get in a fully-fledged university.

The New Straits Times decided that a brief news bite on the subject should be included on page 11 of the newspaper edition of April 8, 1989. It segued into a quick comment about the upcoming annual Kodak Run For The Money contest. Entitled, “Nailing Our Colours To The Mast” the article began with this sentence:

In the days when sailing ships fought on the high seas, nailing your colours to the mast was a sign to all and sundry that you had no intention of giving up the fight.

On July 19, 1955 the Glasgow Herald published a story entitled, “Colours To The Mast” and reported on the talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was held to discuss the known issues of the day that divided Communism and the Western world, and allowed leaders of various countries to assess and evaluate the sincerity of leaders from other countries. The article began thusly:

The first day of the Geneva talks was devoted to a general nailing of colours to the mast. If the designs were familiar, it is hardly to be wondered at. Ten years have passed since Potsdam, Roosevelt and Stalin are dead, and Sir Winston Churchill has retired, but the peoples they led remain and it was their views, evolved through the experience of those 10 years, that the Western spokesmen at least were declaring yesterday.

In 1912, author Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867- 27 March 1931) published a book entitled, “The Matador Of The Five Towns And Other Stories.” In the comedic short story entitled, “Hot Potatoes” readers are introduced Mrs. Swann of Bleakridge in the Five Towns, and with a few deft strokes, readers know more about her 19-year-old son, Gilbert, than you might think. A musical prodigy of sorts, the story regales readers with an indulgent mother’s attempts to mollycoddle her adult son. As the story peaks, this sentence finds its way into the storytelling.

But not for a thousand pounds would Mrs Swann have exposed the mush of potato on the carpet under her feet. She could not conceive in what ignominy the dreadful affair would end, but she was the kind of woman that nails her colours to the mast.

It was an expression used in Australia and New Zealand and can be found in the news story of April 28, 1887 entitled, “Criticisms On The Speech” and published in the Political Intelligence column in the Otago Daily Times. Near the end of this column, the following is found:

The local press with one voice condemn the Governor’s Speech. The Times says it is poor and thin, and does not show much of the nailing of colours to the mast. The Post says it is more than ordinarily vapid and uninteresting, and cunningly planned so as to afford as few pegs as possible on which to hang hostile amendments.

In writing the book entitled “Life Of Pius IX” by author T. Adolphus Trollope (1810–1892) and published by Craig and Taylor in Detroit back in 1877, he chose to use the idiom twice in his book. The first occasion presented itself here:

It is in this respect that the next Conclave will most materially differ from the last. In many other respects the situation is very analogous. It is once again a question of ” nailing colours to the mast,” or ” transaction ; ” of war to knife, or more or less sincere conciliation ; of refusing to yield an inch, at the risk (denied to exist, however, by some of those who have to make the decision) of utter rout and overthrow, or of giving a little to preserve the rest. But the world has progressed since the death of Gregory the Sixteenth. Both parties to the great contest have thought much since that time.

And the second occasion presented itself here:

The “nailing of colours to the mast” is an operation which, if often of doubtful political expediency, has always appealed to emotions and sympathies, which have their root in the noblest portion of the complex nature of mankind, and has rarely, so far as ensuring the admiration and applause of the crowd goes, appealed in vain. But religious — or rather ecclesiastical — prejudices and hatreds, which have their root in some of the meanest and lowest passions of humanity, have prevented the contemporary world of Pius the Ninth and his little band of counsellors from awarding to them the meed of appreciation on this score, which has been fairly their due. No ship of war going down, with every man of her crew standing at their guns, rather than strike their colours to the enemy, has shown to the world a more indomitable preference of duty to expediency than has the absolute and consistent refusal of the Pontiff to bend to the storm which has raged around him.

Irish statesman, barrister, literary critic and author, John Wilson Croker (20 December 1780 – 10 August 1857) was the subject of a series of diaries entitled, “The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late John Wilson Croker.” He was the Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 through to 1830, and a Member of Parliamant for 25 years. In Volume 3, a letter from Sir Robert Peel to John Wilson Croker and dated January 28, 1844 began thusly:

My Dear Croker,

Many thanks for the extract from Ashburton’s letter. I read over two or three times that part of it which advises the nailing of colours to the mast. This is good advice from Ashburton. I never heard him make a speech in the course of which he did not nail, unnail, renail, and unnail again his colours.

The idiom was a favorite of Sir Robert Peel and can be found in his letters written to others. In a letter from Sir Robert Peel to Lord Kenyon who, at the time, was threatening to quit the King’s service, dated March 26, 1835, the following can be found:

It may be swamped or not, but independent it will no longer be, but will pass every measure, however infamous, which the House of Commons sends up. I anxiously trust you will nail your colours to the mast, and not quit our Sailor — and now repentant — King.

The poem “Marmion: A Tale Of Flodden Field” was written by Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832). He began work on this epic poem in 1806, and saw it published in January of 1808. Within this poem the follow stanza is found:

Even then dishonour’s peace he spurn’d,
Her sullied olive-branch return’d,
Stood for his country’s glory fast,
And nail’d her colours to the mast!

The fact of the matter is that flying flags was an established the naval military practice at the time, where displaying one’s signal flags or insignia(the ship’s colours) from the mast of a ship during battle showed loyalty.

Back in August 1807, the Hereford Journal reported on the naval engagement between British and American ships, where disgraced Navy Commodore James Barron failed to resist a British attack on his flagship, the Chesapeake. Barron was later court martialed, on the request of his junior officers, and a verdict was rendered that saw James Barron expelled from the Navy for five years. The news article, highly critical of Barron’s decision, stated in part:

You ought to have nailed your colours to the mast, and have fought whilst a timber remained on your ship.

The naval ships of the 1700s and 1800s used to fly their nautical battle colours (flags) so other ships could identify them. If the flag was struck, or lowered, it was a mark of submission. It quickly became a habit for the enemy to fire upon the ship’s mast, thereby disabling the colours in trying to force the other ship to submit. More often than not, though, captains would hoist what remained of the flag thanks to the ship’s rigging, allowing the ship’s flag to fly again. This was known as nailing the colours to the mast. This act rendered it almost impossible to surrender when engaged in battle.

You’re probably wondering how this practice came to be accepted by captains the world over.

It all began with British Admiral Adam Duncan (1 July 1731 – 4 August 1804) of the HMS Venerable and sailor Jack Crawford (22 March 1775 – 10 November 1831) at the Battle of Camperdown on October 11, 1797. The HMS Venerable was surrounded by three Dutch ships when the top of its main mast was shot off. Risking his life, Jack Crawford took the flag, climbed the broken mast while still under fire, and nailed the flag to the top of the broken mast. In the end, the Dutch were defeated as the Dutch flagship Vrijheid was surrendered to Admiral Adam Duncan.

Now was this the first instance of nailing one’s colours to the mast?

Hardly. History reports that on September 23, 1779 — at the Battle of Flamborough Head — British Naval Captain Richard Pearson of the HMS Serapis, nailed the British ensign to the ensign staff before going into battle against — and surrendered to — the Continental Navy ship Bonhomme Richard.

It was as the 1700s drew to an end, however, that the phrase came into its own as an idiom and not just as a nautical term. Idiomation tags this idiom to 1790 on the basis that it was used in Sir Walter Scott’s poem of 1808 (which he began writing in 1806) after at least two historical events that made loud statements about taking a stand against all costs.

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On The Heels

Posted by Admin on August 23, 2013

Every once in a while, you’ll hear someone say that the police are hot on the heels or right on the heels of a suspected criminal. The idiom brings to mind one person in earnest pursuit of another and that’s exactly what this idiom means. When one person is hot on the heels of another, it means that person is following someone very closely, and perhaps has almost caught up to them and their actions. It can also mean that something comes very shortly after something else as can sometimes happen when laws are passed in government.

With the fast advancements in technology (especially over the past two decades), the New Straits Times in Malaysia published an article on April 12, 2000 about Sabeer Bhatia, a then-31-year-old high-tech guru who founded Hotmail. Hotmail made him independently wealthy, famous and hard at work trying to repeat his Hotmail success with a new venture: Arzoo.com. The article, of course, was entitled, “Hot On The Heels Of Hotmail.”

The Calgary Herald published a news story from the Ottawa bureau about Mike Pearson’s last day of campaigning in Canada. The story, published in the March 31 edition back in 1958, and written by Charles King, chronicled in a few quick words, what the Liberal party leader accomplished in his travels. The story was entitled, “Pearson In Top Form At Close” and opened with this teaser:

Mike Pearson’s last day of campaigning was unquestionably his best. The Liberal leader, following hot on the heels of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, outdrew the Conservative chief at every stop in a 300-mile sweep of Ottawa Valley points. Things looked so good for the Liberals that party hangers-on almost wept that the campaign was in its last hours.

An interesting and humorous news article was published in the Boston Evening Transcript about Mr. Carnegie, William Ellis Corey and Charles “Charlie” Schwab, the Carnegie Steel Company and the United States Steel Corporation. The story entitled, “The Head Of The Steel Trust” began with a subheading that read: Mr. Cory denies that he began to work for Mr. Carnegie for a dollar a day. It was less and he was only sixteen. William Ellis Corey had moved from Pittsburgh to New York, and newsmen quickly learned that he was a man of very few words. So few, in fact, that his friends were only willing to make two statements to print media about him, these being that “he will direct his energies wholly to the affairs of the corporation” and that “he does not speculate in any way, and never has.” Still, he was the subject of a great deal of media interest, and the article chronicled his history including this:

All the time Mr. Corey was following hot on the heels of Mr. Schwab, along every step of their common way, until he drew up on even terms when the highest goal in sight was reached — the presidency of the Carnegie Steel Company. Each of the two men was elected to this office, with its $50,000 salary in his thirty-fifth year. Then, in the race for the laurels of youthful supremacy, Mr. Corey has won by becoming president of the United States Steel Corporation at the age of thirty-seven; and there are times when he does not look a day more than thirty-five.

It was a term that was well-known and well-used by authors. In H.G. Wells’ novel “The War Of The Worlds” published in 1898 used vivid imagery to place his readers at the center of the excitement in his story. The idiom appeared three times without in this novel. The first time he used it here:

About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with my wife in the summerhouse talking vigorously about the battle that was lowering upon us, I heard a muffled detonation from the common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. 

The second time he used it here:

The thunderclaps, treading one on the heels of another and with a strange crackling accompaniment, sounded more like the working of a gigantic electric machine than the usual detonating reverberations. The flickering light was blinding and confusing, and a thin hail smote gustily at my face as I drove down the slope.

The third time he used it here:

So close on the heels of this as to seem instantaneous came a thud behind me, a clash of glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and the plaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude of fragments upon our heads. I was knocked headlong across the floor against the oven handle and stunned. 

French novelist, poet and playwright Jules Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) published “Around The World In 80 Days” in 1873. It came after publication of such classics as  “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” in 1864,  and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea” in 1870. In the novel “Around The World In 80 Days” the author used the idiom on the heels in this passage:

The thought then struck Passepartout, that he was the cause of this new misfortune! Had he not concealed Fix’s errand from his master? When Fix revealed his true character and purpose, why had he not told Mr. Fogg? If the latter had been warned, he would no doubt have given Fix proof of his innocence, and satisfied him of his mistake; at least, Fix would not have continued his journey at the expense and on the heels of his master, only to arrest him the moment he set foot on English soil. Passepartout wept till he was blind, and felt like blowing his brains out.

And a generation before being found in Jules Verne’s book, Irish doctor and journalist, Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan (27 February 1797 – 29 May 1880) published a book entitled, “History of New Netherland Or, New York Under the Dutch: Volume II” published in 1848. He was a well-traveled man, born in County Cork in Ireland, studied medicine in Dublin (Ireland) and Paris (France), and finally immigrating to Canada in 1823 where he involved himself in the political reform movement. The idiom in appeared in his 1848 tome as follows:

In Holland, Van de Donck was still hot on the heels of Van Tienhoven. Prevented by the order of the States General from returning to New Netherland, the latter passed the winter in Amsterdam, where he succeeded in seducing a young woman, named Elizabeth Jansen Croon van Hoochvelt, under a promise of marriage, having represented himself as a single man.

William Shakespeare’s “History of Troilus and Cressida” published in 1609, carries a variation of the idiom using at instead of on as seen in this passage:

ACHILLES
Look, Hector, how the sun begins to set;
How ugly night comes breathing at his heels;
Even with the vail and dark’ning of the sun,
To close the day up, Hector’s life is done.

Ultimately, however, the version that seems to have started it all is found in the late 14th Century Middle English alliterative romance story, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The story takes place at Christmas time in Camelot when the Green Knight rides into the hall on horseback, whereupon he immediately challenges everyone there to a Christmas sport. It’s a fascinating tale in many respects and borders on the horror genre in its own way. That being said, this passage is found in the story:

As he spurred through a spinney to spy the shrew,
there where he heard the hounds harry him on,
Reynard came rushing through the rough grove,
and all the rabble in a race, right at his heels.

It’s doubtful that the expression existed much before this piece as the word heel was from the Old English word hēla back in the 12th century, and was a variation of the Old Norse word hæll. Idiomation therefore places this expression at sometime in the mid-1300s.

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Black Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

With regards to cutting or turning out the lights or electric power.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, this expression most often referred to the stage and theatre lights in a theater.  However, at the start of World War II, it  also came to mean darkening an entire city to hide it from enemy bombers.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Lima, Peru was reported on in the February 5, 1985 edition of the New Straits Times in Peninsular Malaysia.  The news story entitled, “Rebels Black Out Pope’s Lima Tour” described the uproar associated with Pope John Paul’s visit.

Peruvian guerillas, defying 15,000 men and Pope John Paul’s call for peace, last night blew up power pylons and blacked out Lima as the Pope rode through the city, police said.

Back on June 14, 1955 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story about the flash floods unleashed by torrential desert cloud bursts.  The news article, entitled, “Floods Black Out Las Vegas; Trains Stalled” reported that the flash floods had blacked out the city.  The damage costs were expected to run at least $100,000 and quite possibly as much as $500,000.  Power was quickly restored in most sections of Las Vegas however 80 percent of all telephones were still out of order the following day.

On January 9, 1940 the Miami News reported on a train accident near Ware, Hertfordshire in England.  The story was entitled, “Two Trains Crash; Score Injured In Black-Out.” The Miami News reported:

Two London-Northeastern railway passenger trains collided in the black-out last night, trapping scores of women and children in wrecked coaches.  Although several coaches were telescoped and both engines were overturned, no one was killed and only 25 were injured.

Just 2 years earlier, on May 31, 1938 the New York Times published an article entitled, “New Raid on Japan Forces Black Out Over A Wide Region.”  It stated in part:

Japan had a raid scare when two mysterious planes, supposed to be Chinese, flew along the whole western side of Kyushu island last night and early today. All the region was “blacked out” for three hours.

As a side note here, Japan’s electricity system was started in 1883 when the Tokyo Electric Light Company — now known as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — was founded.  Demand grew for electricity and in 1895, the company purchased equipment from AEG while its competitor, Osaka Electric Lamp purchased equipment from General Electric. Since the founding of electric companies in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, there have been reports of black outs.

In theatre circles, a black out means to extinguish all of the stage lights at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness.  While it is a term oftentimes associated with a performance, it has also been used to mean a performance is not to take place on that day. 

The Baltimore Sun ran a news story on September 18, 1901 that spoke of Baltimoreans of all classes uniting to pay tribute to deceased President McKinley.  The article stated that the bells of nearly all the Catholic and Episcopal churches would be tolled from 2 to 8 o’clock in the afternoon and that theatres would be “draped in somber black out of respect to the dead President.”  In other words, there would be no performances in the theatres on that day.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »