Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New York Daily News’

Head Over Heels

Posted by Admin on August 19, 2013

You may have heard someone you know say he or she is head over heels in love with someone or something. They may be standing right before you making it obvious they are literally head over heels, but what does the idiom mean? What it means is that they are completely enamored with a person or an idea or an item. They may be obsessed or infatuated or engaged or any number of things when it comes to that person, idea or item, but whatever the emotion may be, it’s intense and encompassing. In other words, it has turned the speaker’s world upside down … the opposite of what he or she is used to feeling.

When it comes to love, no one seems immune.  Of course, rumor has it that the bigger they are, the harder they fall!  On April 18, 2008 the New York Daily News ran with a story by feature writer, Nicole Carter, that made the world sit up and take notice of what was going on in Russia. It seemed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was divorcing his wife at the time, was involved with an Olympic Gymnast named Alina Kabayeva. As with many scandals that erupt at the most inopportune time, it came with a snappy headling: “Why Vladimir Putin Fell Head Over Heels In Love With Gymnast.”

Considering that the words in love are added to the idiom indicates that there are times when someone can be head over heels and the expression has little (or nothing) to do with love.  As we have all heard, politics makes for strange bedfellows and back on January 25, 1956 the Lewiston Evening Journal shared the news that something odd was going on in the world of American politics. While few details could be pulled from the article entitled, quite simply, “For Nixon” it began with this eye-opener!

For whatever a poll is worth — the California Republicans are head-over-heels for Vice President Richard Nixon if President Eisenhower doesn’t rerun. So says the daily newspaper, Los Angeles Times. If Ike should run, majorities in both parties are for him.

Back in April 1922, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation released a movie to theaters that starred Mabel Normand, Hugh Thompson and Russ Powell. The movie told the story of three men involved in the life of a perky Italian acrobat who has come to America at a theatrical agent’s bidding. Interestingly enough, because the acrobat is such an adorable spitfire, there’s mayhem a plenty, and maybe more than even she expected when she falls for the theatrical agent’s partner. While it’s true this movie is from the silent movies era, the intertitles didn’t detract from the movie that was known as “Head Over Heels.”

The New York Times has always published articles of political interest to a wide cross-section of its readership. It’s a long-held tradition that can be seen in this article dated May 9, 1860 dealing with the American Anti-Slavery Society and it’s 27th anniversary held at the Cooper Institute. Most of the attendees who half-filled the institute were women. The gathering put forth resolutions condemning slavery. When Wendell Phillips stepped up to the podium to speak, he had a great deal to say about the situation including this quote attributed to a Mr. Seward:

Let it be marked that they (the Abolitionists) didn’t know anything, that they were turned head over heels with their passions — couldn’t see an inch beyond their own ignorance and mistakes — were mere boys — madmen — strong-minded men and women, who did not know anything.

When David Crockett wrote his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee” which was published by Carey, Hart & Co. in 1834. As he wrote about his early days as a young man, fond memories surfaced including this one:

The next day, I went back to my old friend, the Quaker, and set in to work for him for some clothes; for I had now worked a year without getting any money at all, and my clothes were nearly all worn out, and what few I had left were mighty indifferent. I worked in this way for about two months; and in that time a young woman from North Carolina, who was the Quaker’s niece, came on a visit to his house. And now I am just getting on a part of my history that I know I never can forget. For though I have heard people talk about hard loving, yet I reckon no poor devil in this world was ever cursed with such hard love as mine has always been, when it came on me. I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl, whose name the public could make no use of; and I thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all belonged to me, I would give them if I could just talk to her as I wanted to; but I was afraid to begin, for when I would think of saying any thing to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choak me like a cold potatoe.

But he certainly wasn’t the first to use the idiom. In fact, the idiom in years leading up to Davey Crockett’s autobiography was usually intended to mean that an individual had been hit with such force that it toppled him over as evidenced in Herbert Lawrence’s book, “The Contemplative Man, or The History of Christopher Crab, Esq., of North Wales” published by J. Whiston in 1771. Rather than describe a romantic encounter, Herbert Lawrence wrote this:

He gave such a violent involuntary kick in the Face, as drove him Head over Heels.

Oddly enough, an earlier variant of the idiom head over heels appears to be heels over head as seen in the Medieval poem, “Patience” from the 14th century:

ORIGINAL TEXT
He [Jonah] glydez in by þe giles, þur glaymande glette … Ay hele ouer hed hourlande aboute.

TRANSLATION
He [Jonah] passed in by the gills, through sticky slime … All heels over head tumbling about.

In the end, however, the idiom seems to originate in Ancient Rome when Roman poet, Gaius Valerius Catallus (84 – 54 BC) wrote his seventeenth poem in “Catulli carmina.” It reads in part:

quendam municipem meum de tuo volo ponte
ire praecipitem in lutum per caputque pedesque,
verum totius ut lacus putidaeque paludis
lividissima maximeque est profunda vorago.

The passage per caputque pedesque translates to over head and heels. So while the more modern romantic version goes to Davey Crocket in 1834, while the original idiom goes to Catallus

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

Cakewalk

Posted by Admin on July 10, 2013

Whenever something is easy, sure or certain, you might hear someone describe it as a cakewalk. It seems like a funny moniker for something easy, sure or certain, especially in light of the word’s history. A cakewalk is a dance with strutting steps based on a promenade. A promenade is a march of guests into a ballroom that signals the opening of a formal ball. What this means is that a cakewalk is a less formal version of a promenade where participants showcase intricate and eccentric dance steps.

It originated with African American slaves used cakewalks as subtle satire that mocked the elegance of ballroom dances at gatherings hosted by their white owners. But it wasn’t just African American slaves who danced cakewalks. There’s also a Scottish competitive highland dance that’s known as a cakewalk, after it was seen performed in the U.S.

The cakewalk (which is only performed at the top level of competition) that was introduced to Scotland from the United States by dancer, judge and examiner James L. McKenzie (1905-1992) who was also one of the founders of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dance. The inclusion of a cakewalk made sense to James L. McKenzie in light of the history of highland dancing. For several centuries, highland dancing was used as exercise to keep the Scottish regiments fit and ready for battle. For example, a typical six-step Highland Fling requires a dancer to execute complicated steps while jumping vertically (without assistance) up into the air 192 times. So what may be considered a negative in America is seen as a positive in the world of highland dancing.

Readers are probably curious to know how far back the expression cakewalk goes, and Idiomation has done the research to track it as far back as possible until the trail goes cold.

On October 17, 2010 Eva Moskowitz spoke with the New York Daily News about the opening of Success Academy, a charter school on the upper West Side. Just like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Harlem Success schools had become high profile charter schools, the same was anticipated for this new charter school. In the article, Eva Moskowitz was quoting as saying:

“We think there’s tremendous parental need and demand” on the West Side, says Moskowitz. “It’s an anxiety-producing experience, no matter what your race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, to find a great public school for your child. Just because you have more means doesn’t mean that it’s a cakewalk.”

The Petersburg Times published an article by journalist Fred Girard on February 11, 1970 that announced that Hugh Durham, head coach of the Florida State Seminoles had watched his 100th game as head coach. The team had defeated the Florida Southern Moccasins with a score of 98 to 74. There was a lot of excitement over the win as well as over the coach’s 100th game. The article was entitled, “It’s a Cakewalk For Hugh 98-74.”

Going back a generation, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a story out of New York in their July 2, 1939 edition that was all about the upcoming Jack Dempsey fight … one that involved an emergency appendectomy at Polyclininc Hospital. The Executive Officer, A.A. Jaller, reassured the media that the surgeon, Dr. Robert Emery Brennan felt positive about the recovery, quoting Jack Dempsey’s temperature was being 100.8 degrees with a pulse of 70 and respiration of 22. The article was entitled, “Jack Dempsey Sure He Can’t Lose This Fight” and read in part:

Earlier the old Manassa Mauler had sent word through his secretary, Ned Brown, to “tell ’em all hello. How could a guy lose with so many seconds in his corner? It’s a cakewalk.”

On February 22, 1907 the New York Times carried the sensational news report about a trial where the husband of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw was being tried for the murder of Stanford White. The article talked about how she had burst into tears “as she told how Stanford White had given her champagne and forced her to receive his attentions.” At the time of the incidents, Evelyn wasn’t yet married to her husband, Harry Thaw.  Details were shared in the article including the following:

Q. – Do you know a place in Paris called the Dead Rate?
A. – Yes.
Q. – What sort of a place is it?
A. – It was a café.
Q. – Did it seem to you reputable the night you were there?
A. – Well, I don’t know. People were sitting about eating and drinking, that is all, and somebody danced.
Q. – Wasn’t that about 2 o’clock in the morning?
A. – Probably.
Q. – And wasn’t it a cakewalk?
A. – I remember distinctly a Russian dance.
Q. – Was this before or after Mr. Thaw had proposed to you in Paris and you had refused him?
A. – It was after, I think it was the next year, 1904.
Q. – With whom did you go to the Dead Rat?
A. – With Mr. Thaw and I think a Mr. Shubert, the theatrical manager, and with another man, who had been a theatrical manager, but I don’t remember his name.

The cakewalk was confirmed in a letter produced in evidence by the District Attorney that was written by Thaw while he was in Paris which read in part:

I had not introduced the young ladies to [Evelyn Nesbit], but they all grinned sweetly and asked her too, and about three dozen men. The night before the Grand Prix there was an impromptu soiree at the Café de Paris. Somebody got Miss Winchester cakewalking about 2 o’clock. Much applause. After some coaxing [name withheld] began by herself. Belmont was at another table with Rosenfeld.

If the cakewalk was known at the turn of the 20th century, then how far back does the cakewalk reach? According to a story entitled, “May Irwin, Ragtime And The Cake Walk” published in the Boston Evening Transcript of February 14, 190,2 the dance had quite a history as evidenced by this passage:

In a similar manner Miss Irwin learned to do her cakewalk from genuine Negroes, but not on a Virginia plantation, as might be inferred. On the contrary, it was up among the Thousand Islands where she has a beautiful summer home. At a hotel the colored employees were getting up a cakewalk for their own entertainment and nobody was to be allowed to attend. By bribery Miss Irwin and two friends were smuggled into the rear of the great dininghall, from which the tables and chairs had been cleared for the festivities. The dapper young waiters and the prim little chambermaids walked for the cake in the most unsatisfactory manner, unsatisfactory to the cook of the establishment, a bouncing Ethiopian with avoirdupois going beyond the reach of obesity pills. Finally, with a grunt of disgust she started. “Let me show you how to do it,” and show them she did, but by far the most interested spectator was the plump, blond actress who spent the rest of the night gyrating before a full-length mirror until she acquired that grotesque gait with which Miss Irwin never fails to secure a laugh when she ambles down to the footlights. With the ragtime and the cakewalk it is not strange that she feels indebted to the Negro.

And the Morning Herald published at story entitled, “President’s Reception” on March 22, 1899 gave news that President McKinley had enjoyed a full day of quiet and rest at Jekyl Island. Among the tidbits of information on the President’s time away from the White House. Among the tidbits was this:

Tonight an old-fashioned cakewalk, participated in by the colored people about the island, was given at the clubhouse and was attended by the President, club members and guests of the island.

Delving back even further, the expression appeared in Harper’s Magazine in October, 1879

Reader, didst ever attend a cake walk given by the colored folks?

he cakewalk, as you know from reading the intro to this entry, came from African American slaves, and the last slaves were freed in 1865.  The dance was first mentioned during the Antebellem Era (1800 – 1860) since freed slaves already spoke about cakewalks in days gone by at the time of their freedom.

Liza Jones, was born a slave of Charley Bryant near Liberty, Texas. She was one of the African Americans whose story was part of the compilation, “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interview with Former Slaves: 1936 – 1938.” The compilation was prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project assembled by the Library Of Congress Project that formed part of the Works Projects Administration, and published in 1941. She remembered the day the soldiers came and her family were no longer slaves.

“When de Yankees come to see iffen dey had done turn us a-loose, I am a nine year old nigger gal. That make me about 81 now. Dey promenade up to de gate and de drum say a-dr-um-m-m-m-m, and de man in de blue uniform he git down to open de gate. Old massa he see dem comin’ and he runned in de house and grab up de gun. When he come hustlin’ down off de gallery, my daddy come runnin’.”

The Civil War ended in 1865 which means that Liza Jones was born in  1855 or 1856. When it came to talk about the cakewalk, she had this to say about it:

“Dey had nice parties in slavery time and right afterwards. Dey have candy pullin’ and corn shuckin’s and de like. Old Massa Day and Massa Bryant, dey used to put dey niggers together and have de prize dances. Massa Day allus lose, ’cause us allus beat he niggers at dancin’. Lawd, when I clean myself up, I sho’ could teach dem how to buy a cake-walk in dem days. I could cut de pigeon wing, jes’ pull my heels up and clack dem together. Den us do de back step and de banquet, too.”

That being said, the trail went cold and Idiomation was unable to peg an earlier date for cakewalk than the Antebellum era, and so the expression dates back to between 1800 and 1860, just before the U.S. Civil War.

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Dead Ringer

Posted by Admin on February 3, 2011

A dead ringer is, or is perceived to be, an exact duplicate of someone else … a doppelgänger, if you wish.  Dead ringers have been around for as long as there have been people but the term hasn’t been around for quite as long.

On July 28, 1932, in a Los Angeles Times news exclusive on the John Gottlieb Wendel case involving Thomas Patrick Morris, the scandalous headline read:

WENDEL CLAIM SUBSTANTIATED: Asserted Heir to Fortune Scores at Hearing Declared “Dead Ringer” for Man He Calls “Poppa” – Story of Parentage Refuted by ex-Playmate

Back in 1893, according to the New York Daily News, an Ohio newspaper reported:

Israel Williams wearing a wig would be no longer Israel Williams, but would be a dead ringer for Wellington just before the battle of Waterloo.

And back on June 10, 1891, the Detroit Free Press published a story entitled:  “HE WAS NO TENDERFOOT: A Reporter’s Mistake Leads to Mutual Explanations.”  It read in part:

Mutual explanations followed and the reporter squared himself by securing evidence from several outsiders that the gentleman from Lorain was a dead ringer for the good looking statesman from Saginaw.

An earlier reference confirming the use of the term comes from the Oshkosh Weekly Times of June 1888, where there’s a court report of a man charged with being ‘very drunk’:

“Dat ar is a markable semlance be shoo”, said Hart looking critically at the picture. “Dat’s a dead ringer fo me. I nebber done see such a semblence.”

Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to located the term dead ringer published elsewhere prior to 1888 although from the way it was used in the Oshkosh Weekly Times, it’s obvious that the phrase was used by educated and uneducated folk alike by that time.

So what exactly is a ringer?

Back in the day, a ringer was a horse that was substituted for another horse and that looked so much like the original horse that it fooled the bookies.  In other words, it was a horse used to defraud bookies.  The Manitoba Free Press published this definition in October 1882:

A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ‘ringer.’

However, the word “ringer” goes back to the 1700s where “to ring” meant a coin was tested to see if it was genuine or counterfeit.  The test was to strike the coin with a finger or other object.  If it rang, it was genuine; if it didn’t ring — in other words, if it was dead — it was counterfeit.

And what of the word “dead” you might ask?   Used in the sense of “utter, absolute, quite” it was used in the term “dead drunk” which was first attested to in the 1590s and later by the term “dead heat” which was attested to in 1796.

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