Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

TPing The Yard (or House)

Posted by Admin on October 29, 2019

Have you ever TP’d someone’s yard? If that expression is unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because you know the expression as rolling someone’s yard, house wrapping, or yard rolling.

You might think every grown-up in the world hates the idea of possibly waking up to their house or yard being TP’d but in 2019, one mother in San Clemente reveled in the fact that a group of unknown persons had done just that to her family’s home and front yard.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015, some fans celebrated by TP’ing head coach Joel Quenneville’s yard in Hinsdale (IL). No one really knows whether the coach was angry or impressed with the effort put into TP’ing his property.

Of course, in 2011, the police in the Wisconsin Dells had a thing or two to say about TP’ing yards and TP’ing houses. Offenders, if caught, could be subjected to any number of charges from littering to trespassing to harassment and disorderly conduct. If the offenders were minors, their parents could also find themselves facing a charge of allowing juveniles to violate curfew. The police in Wisconsin Dells take TP’ing seriously

The activity and the expression were cemented into pop culture in an episode of South Park on 2 April 2003 when the main characters decide to “TP” their art teacher’s home. The episode ends with one of the main characters making his way towards the White House armed with bags of toilet paper with a plan to “TP” the White House.

Now back in 1879, the Scott brothers founded the Scott Paper Company, and became the first company to sell toilet paper on rolls. But 8 years earlier, Zeth Wheeler patented rolled and perforated toilet paper which he sold through his company the Albany Perforated Wrapper Paper Company.

Over in England, British businessman Walter Alcock created toilet paper on a roll in 1879, using perforated squares instead of the common flat sheets in use.

The original inventor of flat sheet toilet paper, Joseph C. Gayetty, saw his first commercially packaged toilet paper go from flat sheets in 1857 to perforated sheets on a roll in under fifteen years!

But it was Johnny Carson, one of America’s most loved comedians and late night talk show hosts, who set off an odd panic in December of 1973 when he claimed there was a toilet paper shortage in the U.S.  You may doubt Idiomation on this one, but you can’t call into question what the New York Times had to say about Johnny’s roll in the toilet paper shortage of ’73.

It’s doubtful that anyone would have wasted toilet paper on trees or houses back in the early days of toilet paper on a roll, and for that reason Idiomation doubts the expression was in use during the first 50 years of its existence.

One way to trace back when the expression was first used in cases where it’s unlikely the expression will be found in many newspapers, magazines, or books, is to see what the lyrics of various popular songs of the time were.

SIDE NOTE 1: Who knew that there were so many songs with toilet paper in the lyrics? Over at lyrics.com, there were eight web pages devoted to lyrics with toilet paper specifically mentioned in songs!

In 1993, Weird Al Yankovic’s CD Alapalooza had a song titled, “Young, Dumb, & Ugly” that threatened to “toilet paper your lawn.”

However, as Idiomation continued researching this expression, a newspaper article written by Times Staff writer, Lisa Rogers, and published on 2 October 2011 in the Gadsden Times, pegged the activity in Alabama to the early 1960s at least.

One of the best known traditions is rolling the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn after football victories. Even before the traditional tree rolling started in the early 1960s at Toomer’s it was a tradition especially at Hallowe’en.

But how much earlier did this activity, and the subsequent expressions, come into being?

Oddly enough, on 29 November 1928, a court case [14 Tax Case 490, (1929) Sc 379] was heard in Edinburgh (Scotland) regarding toilet paper and an appeal against an Income Tax assessment. The Appellant purchase a very large quantity of toilet paper from a bankrupt German firm, and had the toilet paper sent to his England where he was connected with the film business.

It was determined the purchase fit the description of “an adventure” but it was questionable whether it was “in the nature of trade” within the meaning of Section 238 of the Income Tax Act of 1918. By definition, it could not be considered a purchase for personal use, while at the same time, by definition, the trade would have to be one that would be more than a single transaction. That the inventory was for the purpose of resale with profit was not in question, however, an argument made that it would be used in a film venture cast doubt on the profit from resale if no resale was to happen.

It’s doubtful that toilet paper in 1929 would be used frivolously to TP houses and yards even if it was used in this manner by the 1950s and 1960s.

Toilet papering became a verb in the early 1960s. In fact, the 28 October 1961 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal in Lincoln (NB) referred to it as a verb.

Halloween pranks have changed now, says Stan Miller of University High School, but the devilish intentions haven’t.

“T.P.-ing” has replaced tipping over outhouses as a major Halloween prank, he commented to correspondent Ramona Brakhage.

Idiomation therefore puts the idiom — whether it’s TPing a house or a yard or rolling a house or yard — to some time during the 1950s, although the exact date is unknown, and with the word toilet paper being used as a verb, the expression dates back to at least the mid 1950s.

P.S. As an added note, contrary to what Cottonelle tweeted back in 2015, no one has ever seen the need to introduce left-handed toilet paper. Toilet paper rolls are for those who are left-handed, right-handed, and ambidextrous.

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

Go Like Sixty

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2019

If you say you’re going like sixty, you probably also say you’re going a mile a minute. The idiom going like sixty means you — or the person or thing to which you are referring — is going fast or doing something very quickly.

Most people believe the idiom relates to cars or trains, and in fact, that would make sense. In 1848, the Boston and Main Railroad was the first to have an authenticated average speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). However, that was 51 years before the car named La Jamais Contente, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was clocked doing 60 miles per hour on 1 May 1899 in Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France.

SIDE NOTE 1: The car was equipped with Michelin rubber tires, and his father, Constant Jenatzy, was a manufacturer of rubber products which was a novelty during this era.

The Cash Box magazine edition of 28 February 1948 Volume 9, No. 22) used the idiom on Page 11, in the Record Reviews section. Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart” was the Disk O’ The Week and directly beneath that review was a review for Johnny Moore’s song “Teresa.”

Subtle and warm tones of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and a ditty that should go like sixty. With piper Charles Brown to spill the vibrant and haunting vocal score to “Teresa,” the deck stacks up for a slew phono play. Instrumental tones offered her are excellent with a wonderful guitar spot by Oscar Moore rounding out the side.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Cash Box was touted as the confidential weekly to the coin machine industry, and this magazine even had a “roving reporter” interviewing and reporting on items of interest to lovers of jukebox hits.

Flying Grandma or Going Like Sixty” by Maude Squire Rugus was published by University Lithoprinters of Ypsilanti (MI) in 1942, and did well with book lovers everywhere.

The phrase “like sixty” appeared in Chapter One of James T. Farrell’s “Young Lonigan” (the first book of the trilogy).

“Spike Kennedy, Lord have mercy on his soul, he was bit by a mad dog and died, would get up on one of the cars and throw coal down like sixty, and they’d scramble for it.”

In Volume XXIII, Volume 1 of “The Irrigation Age” published in November of 1907, an advertisement was published that referred to goes like sixty. It had nothing to do with a car, but it did have to do with speed.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Gilson Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850 on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington in Wisconsin). The company was making gas engines by 1898, and established a manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada).

From the 1904 short story, Holding Up A Train by O. Henry:

What it was there for, I don’t know. I felt a little mad because he had fooled me so. I stuck the harp up against his mouth.

“If you can’t pay – play,” I says.

“I can’t play,” says he.

“Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

He caught hold of the harp, turned red as a beet, and commenced to blow. He blew a dinky little tune I remembered hearing when I was a kid:

Prettiest little gal in the country – oh!
Mammy and Daddy told me so.

I made him keep on playing it all the time we were in the car. Now and then he’d get weak and off the key, and I’d turn my gun on him and ask what was the matter with that little gal, and whether he had any intention of going back on her, which would make him start up again like sixty.

The first usage in the New York Times newspaper of that exact phrase happened on 24 August 1895, when it was reported that a group of kids got locked and trapped in a railroad freight car and the train started up. They weren’t found for quite some time, and when they were found, they described their hair-raising adventure, with one boy quoted as saying the train “was going like sixty.

This would indicate that the expression actually has nothing to do with how fast a car traveled in 1895 (as the record for a car traveling that fast was still 4 years away), and is related to how fast a train traveled in the 1890s.

According to John Stephen Farmer Henley in 1903, the book “Household Words” published an issue on 18 September 1886 which stated to go like sixty meant rapidity of motion. This was confirmed by Frank Vizetelly and Leander Jan De Bekker in their book, “A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature.”

However, back in 1848, when the Boston and Main Railroad traveled at authenticated average speeds of 60 miles per hour, it was thought that traveling at such a rate would cause passengers to suffocate as the surrounding air rushed past them. Many spoke of being winded after riding a thoroughbred horse that could hit 40 miles per hour for short bursts, and after riding a galloping horse at 30 miles per hour for longer than short bursts.

There were reports of railway madmen in rail cars who calmed back down as trains slowed down upon arriving at train stations. The speed of the train was blamed for the insanity known as “delirium furiosum” that overcame those who suffered from railway mania — as was reported in “The Medical Times and Gazette” in July of 1863.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to between 1850 and 1860 to give enough time for the hysteria of traveling at 60 miles per hour to gain traction among the fearmongers and naysayers.

As an added bonus, here’s what some people in the 1920s had to say about all that medical mayhem about train speeds the Bavarian psychiatrists were going about a few decades earlier.

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

Top Banana

Posted by Admin on December 14, 2017

Fictional Titi Vlar asked fictional Missy Barrett on her Facebook page if she knew the history of the expression top banana. Idiomation is always pleased to step up to the plate and assist real and fictional people alike when it comes to tracking down the meaning and history of expressions, phrases, sayings, clichés, and more.

Whenever you hear someone being referred to as the top banana, that person is the lead person in a group or organization, or who is heading up an undertaking. Of course, when it comes to the entertainment industry, the top person is the usually the headlining comedian in a musical comedy, vaudeville, or burlesque show. The comedian’s straight man was second banana to the top banana.

On December 12, 2017 an article posted by Today.com reported the following:

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have yet to make any official announcement about their wedding cake, there’s a pretty big rumor that has people going absolutely bananas … <snip> … [Dole] offered the services of their “top banana” chef to personally bake the cake that will be served after the couple’s ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: A banana is 75% water.

In the December 10, 200 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Michael Evans reported how Westpac Bank boss, Gail Kelly, had gone from being ranked the world’s 18th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in September of 2009 to angering hundreds of thousands of Westpac customers when they were advised by the bank’s retail chief about supercharged interest rates.

How much was the increase, you ask? Variable mortgage rates rose by 45 basis points, nearly twice the level of the Reserve Bank’s 25 basis point increase, and Gail Kelly’s popularity slipped badly because of it. The news story was aptly titled, “How The Top Banana Slipped.”

New York City is always a great place for unexpected news stories and on August 31, 1991 the New York Times reported on a situation that happened at a housing project in East Harlem in the middle of the day. According to reporter Seth Faison Jr, the spectacle included a crowd of spectators, a phalanx of Housing Police, a crew of EMS workers, a truckload of firefighters, and a monkey in a tree. The monkey was a real monkey owned by Sandra Rodriguez who lived in the Washington Houses project on East 104th Street.

And just like the story about Australia’s Gail Kelly, this article was also aptly titled with the amusing headline, “Monkey Shows Police Just Who’s The Top Banana.”

American lyricist and songwriter Johnny Mercer (18 November 1909 – 25 June 1976) and American screenwriter, playwright, and theatrical producer Hy Kraft (30 April 1899 – 29 July 1975) were responsible for the Broadway play titled, “Top Banana” starring American entertainer and comedic actor Phil Silvers (11 May 1911 – 1 November 1985). Silvers played the part of Jerry Biffle, an ex-burlesque comic who has become a television star on the Blendo Soap Program, and displays a Milton Berle style egocentric personality.

The show opened on November 1, 1951 (closing on October 4, 1952 with a total of 350 performances and a nearly month-long layoff from August 3 to August 31) and in the magazine Cue: The Weekly Magazine of New York Life the expression was part of their published review.

Phil Silvers, the man in the glasses on your right, is a changed man. For one thing, the comic who is *top banana” in the soon-to-arrive musical of the same name is no longer a frustrated actor in search of dignity.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Two years after the Broadway production closed down, many of the original actors in the play reprised their roles in the United Artists movie of the same name.

Bananas were a popular fruit as far as composers were concerned. George Gershwin blended bananas into his songs “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and “But Not For Me.” In 1926, Ted Waite wrote the very popular “I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana” and in 1923 the big novelty hit song was “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: One of the earliest comic novelty songs involving bananas that was a song dates back to 1904 vaudeville when Elizabeth Murray, Raymond Teal, and Willie Tilden included “The Banana Man” by Hamilton and Fischer in their respective acts.

But while all this is very interesting, it gets us no closer to the origin of the expression top banana.

The first full cargo of bananas reached the United States in 1871 when Captain Lorenzo D. Baker landed in Boston after a long trek across the ocean.  Bananas caught on with the American public, and it wasn’t long before bananas were featured in family photographs.  I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to as strange as that sounds.  The Washington Banana Museum in Auburn (WA) has evidence to support this.

Scant years later, a number of fraudulent banana peel claims against streetcar lines were common in America, beginning in the 1890s. This was reported by the Street Railway Review on January 15, 1895. In 1910, the New York Times reported that Anna H. Sturla was arrested for the 17th time in 4 years, claiming she had slipped on a banana peel and been injured.

By the time women like Anna H. Sturla were making a living from banana peel lawsuits, cities were passing laws against discarding banana peels on city streets. St. Louis city council was among the first cities to pass a law outlawing the “throwing or casting” of banana peels on any and all public thoroughfares. New York City, under the guidance of former Civil War military man Colonel George Waring, organized the uniformed “White Wings” workers to sweep, clean, and dispose of waste — mostly because of the banana peel problem. They worked in shifts and disposed of garbage at city-owned composting facilities throughout the city.

Vaudeville comedian “Sliding” Billy Watson aka William Shapiro (1876 – 1939) found fame with his banana peel pratfall and he claimed to be the originator of the gag but vaudeville comedian Cal Stewart (his copyrighted stage persona name was Uncle Josh) was already a hit on stages and in recordings with his banana peel-laden sidewalk jokes.

With the banana peel gag already in play, vaudeville entertainer Rose Bacon incorporated the banana con into her comedy routine in the early 1900s.

There was a young lady named Hannah
Who slipped on a peel of banana.
More stars she espied
As she lay on her side
Than are found in the Star Spangled Banner.

A gentleman sprang to assist her;
He picked up her glove and her wrister;
‘Did you fall, Ma’am?’ he cried:
‘Did you think,’ she replied,
‘I sat down for the fun of it, Mister?’

So how is it that banana peels went from being a popular treat and fodder for vaudeville acts to the phrase top banana in 50 years?

This has proven difficult indeed to track. While the term top banana was obviously used long before burlesque comedian Frank Lebowitz rose to fame, his name is most closely associated with the phrase due to his use of bananas in his stage act. But as we all know, bananas and their peels were already established as props for vaudeville and burlesque acts long before the 1950s hit.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The American burlesque era is from 1840 to 1960. To burlesque meant to make fun of operas, plays, and social habits of the upper classes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The difference between vaudeville and burlesque came about in the 1920s when burlesque introduced strip teases in the hopes it would draw audiences away from vaudeville and over to burlesque shows. The American strip tease is thought to have originated with Little Egypt’s 1893 Chicago World’s Fair performance of the hootchie-kooch.

Oddly enough, there’s a little known fact about bananas that take them from being a popular fruit that is responsible for a great many vaudeville gags and being the best of the bunch. During the flapper era of the 1920s, if a person was bananas they were crazy.

The best comedians in vaudeville and burlesque specialized in slapstick comedy which included the banana peel gag. The better they were at the banana peel gag, the harder the audiences laughed. The harder the audiences laughed, the better the chances those comedians would play to packed houses night after night. It wasn’t long before stage managers were referring to the best comedians as the top bananas.

So while Idiomation was unable to identify who coined the phrase top banana or the exact year the expression came into use, it dates back to American vaudeville and burlesque houses in the 1920s.

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

Legal Beagle

Posted by Admin on July 11, 2017

Sometimes a profession is known by a nickname that’s actually complimentary and this is the case with the term legal beagle which refers to a lawyer, most specifically one who is keen. skillful, and astute.  In fact, the term is so respected that there’s a Legal Beagle website that (according to their website) strives “to be an excellent resource for legal information based on facts and procedure.”  Bottom line, calling a lawyer a legal beagle is a compliment.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Sometimes the term legal eagle is used in place of legal beagle.  Both terms are sometimes substituted for the expression, Philadelphia lawyer!

Just last month on 13 June 2017, Cal Hobson of Norman (OK) wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Norman Transcript newspaper.  His letter referred to comments made to The Purcell Register newspaper by Rep. Tim Downing, R-Purcell, Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan.  From the tone of his letter, he was displeased with what these area lawmakers had to say about the most recent session in which they were involved.

I’m no legal beagle, not even a lawyer, as is Downing, but I did serve 28 sessions in the Oklahoma Legislature during recessions and even a depression, so if they think this last session was the “hardest ever,” it just underscores how little they do know.

SIDE NOTE 2: (from the ABOUT US section of the newspaper’s website):  The Norman Transcript is Norman’s oldest continuous business. Its history surpasses that of the City of Norman and of the University of Oklahoma, being founded in 1889 when the area was opened to settlement.

One of the persons on the settler train headed to Norman was Ed P. Engle, a newspaperman who, when the train arrived in Norman, walked one block west through three-inch high prairie grass to stake a business lot at what is now the northeast corner of the intersection of West Main Street and Santa Fe Avenue.

The first edition of Norman’s pioneer newspaper came off the press a few weeks later on July 13, 1889.

In the 24 August 1992 edition of People magazine, an article about Denver (CO) attorney Linda Cawley who specialized in canine contracts and litication (yes, that’s how her business card read according to People magazine).  Her work covered all things canine from owners divorcing and in need of a canine custody agreement through to suits against veterinarians and breeders and on to criminal defense of dogs who were accused of biting.  The article was titled, “Legal Beagle.”

In 1946, the New York Times reviewed the most recent offering by prolific American author Erle Stanley Gardner (17 July 1889 – 11 March 1970), “The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife” published in 1945.  The book was published in 1946 and the story line was one that tugged at the heartstrings.   In the opinion of Perry Mason fans, this was one of the more intriguing and captivating books in the Perry Mason series.  This is what the New York Times reviewer had to say in part about the book.

And guess who her lawyer is. Perry Mason, of course — the “legal beagle” with a list of acquittals as long as the D. A.’s face.   Mason is the only person in the world who believes his client innocent. So what does the lady do? She FIRES him!

The term legal beagle is difficult to find prior to the 1940s, however, Idiomation found the term legal eagle in the book “The Little Lawyer and Legal Adviser” written by Napa and San José attorney Henry Alexander Gaston (9 August 1823 – unknown ) described at the start of the book as a former member of the Legislature of California and late Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada.  His book was self-published in 1880 with the help of A.L. Bancroft and Company located at 721 Market Street in San Francisco (CA).  It’s in this book that the term legal eagle was explained to readers.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The Reno Gazette-Journal of Reno, Nevada reported on Henry Gaston’s resignation as Speaker of the Assembly of the State of Nevada in the 30 April 1879 edition.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Henry Alexander Gaston married Josephine Ballou in July of 1848 in Richmond, Berkshire, Massachusetts.  He was listed as an occupational lawyer involved in the mining business.

Idiomation decided to back things up and begin anew with researching legal eagle since the term legal eagle is a complimentary term for a lawyer as well.  It’s also often used interchangeably with the expression legal beagle.   The Long Island Pulse magazine edition published on 27 April 2011 quickly proved that the term is very complimentary towards attorneys.

In the 5 February 1977 edition of People magazine, Jim Jerome wrote about Rod Stewart in the article, “Da Ya think I’m Sexy?”  In the first paragraph, mention of Rod Stewart’s split from Britt Ekland, with whom he was involved over a two-year period, made mention of a lawsuit and the legal representation Britt Ekland secured.

A 34-year-old bachelor, Rod was sued by one of his numerous ex-ladies, Britt Ekland, for $15 million, assisted by the legal eagle also gunning for Lee Marvin.  Rod, however, made a substantial out-of-court settlement before the case came to trial.

Research also uncovered a book by the American Bar Center published in 1958 by the American Law Student Association.  In this book, there were three entries worth noting:  One a publication titled “Legal Eagle” at American University, the second was a publication titled, “Legal Beagle” at the Washington College of Law, and the third was “The Legal Eagle” at North Carolina College.  Just a few years before that, in one of the American Eagle bulletins from 1952, the term legal eagle found its way into a short blurb about one of the well-known men in the forest products industry.

That blur whizzing through the Bay Area a month or so ago would be our own D. Draper Fairbrother, sales manager, Government adviser, legal eagle, and lukewarm gardener.  Old D.D.F. was plucked from Bilgewater Gulch by the National Production Authority to reign in Washington, D.C., as an “expert, wooden box nailed.”

SIDE NOTE 5:  D. Draper Fairbrother was born David Draper Fairbrother  (29 August 1912 – 10 April 1961) in Kansas, and passed away in 1961.   His father was Benjamin Henry Fairbrother and his mother was Clara Grace Fairbrother.  He rose to the rank of Navy Captain during World War II.

SIDE NOTE 6:  After the war, he returned to America with his German-born war bride, Gertrude, who had lived in Shanghai for 20 years.

In Volume 9 of “The Legal Aid Brief Case” published by the National Legal Aid Association in 1950, mention was made of the Attorneys Messenger Service publication “The Legal Eagle.”  In this case, the AMS publication included an article by Michel Lipman of the San Francisco Bar in the bulletin’s March 1950 issue and titled, “Equal Justice For The Poor.”

The legal eagle / legal beagle situation is what linguists call reduplicatives with others including fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, namby-pamby, and wishy-washy.   As much as Idiomation would love to be able to definitively peg legal eagle or legal beagle in reference to  lawyers to a date – or even a particular decade – the closest Idiomation can determine is that both expressions, as they refer to lawyers and their abilities, most likely began to make their way into English sometime in the mid to late 1930s.

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Thon

Posted by Admin on April 20, 2017

In an effort to be politically correct and gender sensitive, government departments, agencies, organizations, businesses, and schools are trying to agree on a gender neutral pronoun that’s acceptable to everyone.   Some have considered using zie, sie, se, xe, ey, ve, tey, e, and hir while others have rejected those options as being awkward and contrived.  Others have suggested going with they, their, and them while others argue those options are too impersonal.  The dilemma is one that no other generation has ever faced.  Or is it?

What about the word thon?

The word thon is chiefly Scottish and is a mish-mosh of this and that with the pronoun yon.  It was most popular in the 1700s and 1800s, and although it made its way into the Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary in 1903, it was removed sixty years later … mostly because no one bothered to use it.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The gender neutral pronoun ou can be traced back to the 14th century as used by Cornish writer and translator John Trevisa (1326 – 1402).

SIDE NOTE 2:  John Trevisa is the 18th most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary, and cited as the source for evidence of a word after Geoffrey Chaucer and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The pronoun she first appeared in the mid-12th century to reduce the confusion and ambiguity of the gender neutral pronoun system that was used in English at the time.

In 1894, the word — and a variation therein — was used by Henry Graham Williams (1865 – date of death unknown) in his book, “Outlines of Psychology Designed for Use in Teachers Classes, Normal Schools, and institutes, and as a Guide for All Students of Applied Psychology.

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge.

In 1884, American attorney and composer of church music, Charles Crozat Converse (October 7, 1832 – October 18, 1918) wrote in a letter published in the August 2, 1884 edition of “The Critic and Good Literature” that a gender neutral pronoun should be used and that thon was such a pronoun (a word he lay claim to having created in 1858).

It was, according to Mr. Converse arrived at by “cutting off the last two letters of the English word that, and the last letter of the word one, and uniting their remaining letters in their original sequence in these two words” thereby producing the word thon.  The purpose of the pronoun was to bring equality to situations where stating a gender was to give one gender more respect than the other.  In his explanation, he wrote:

Use of it will so individualize and pronominalize (so to speak) this word as to show its manifest grammatical distinction from the words that and one of which it is born; and the mental process by which it leads its user to the noun it represents will, I think, be found to be easy and natural, it not being an arbitrary sign.

Oddly enough in a Letter to the Editor submitted to, and printed by, The New York Times on October 19, 1905, the history of the word thon was outed as having been in use thirty years before the Charles Crozat Converse lay claim to creating it.

So while people today are busy congratulating themselves on being gender sensitive and incredibly progressive in their thinking, the fact of the matter is that long before the term transgender or gender fluid was part of our language, people had a gender neutral pronoun.  It just never quite caught on.

Idiomation pegs this word to around 1825 based on The New York Times Letter to the Editor with a nice nod to Charles Crozat Converse in the process.  Isn’t it interesting to learn that the more things change, the more things stay the same … or revert to a much earlier time in history?

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blurb

Posted by Admin on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

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Mansplaining

Posted by Admin on January 26, 2017

The word mansplaining seems to be everywhere these days from pop culture to news reporting.  If you don’t already know what it is, it’s the process of a male explaining something to another person  (usually female) in such a way that is perceived to be condescending or patronizing.  Oftentimes the speaker is explaining a simple situation that is already easily understood by the majority of people.

Some believe that mansplaining, if left unchecked, leads to gaslighting, and it’s easy to understand why that might be.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning the victim’s recollections, memories, perceptions, and sanity.   The term was derived from the play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patric Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1940, the movie “Gas Light” starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick  Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).   

SIDE NOTE 3:  In 1944, the movie “Gas Light” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer hit the theaters.  The movie was based on the same 1938 play “Gas Light” by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962).

SIDE NOTE 4:  MGM bought the remake rights to “Gas Light” with a caveat that demanded all existing prints of the 1940 movie version be destroyed

SIDE NOTE 5:  The play was known as “Angel Street” in the United States.

On April 13, 2008 author Rebecca Solnit wrote an OpEd column for the Los Angeles Times wherein she outlined what mansplaining was and how negative it was towards those who were made to endure it.  While the author didn’t use the term mansplaining per se in her OpEd piece, the sense of the word was at the heart of her writing.

By 2010, the word mansplainer had landed on the New York Times list of New Words of 2010.

mansplainer

Even so, it took until 2012 before mansplaining became a word that was used and understood by the public in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

On August 1, 2012 GQ writer Marin Cogan used the term in his article, “The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney’s Gaffes.”  The article began thusly:

As a lady who covers politics, I’m intimately familiar with the mansplainer. You know who I’m talking about: he’s the supremely self-impressed dude who feels the need to explain to you — with the overly simplistic, patient tone of an elementary school teacher— really obvious shit you already knew. Like why you need to drink fluids when you have the flu, for example. Or how to avoid getting blisters when you’re breaking in a new pair of flats. Or how to adjust your side view mirrors. I could go on.

In Lily Rothman’s article, “A Cultural History of Mansplaining” appeared in The Atlantic on November 1, 2012.  The writer began with warning readers that the word was relatively new, but that the idea proper had been around for much, much longer.  The opening paragraph stated:

Not all that long ago, an American statesman of considerable influence wrote an opinion piece for this very publication, about a political issue that directly affects women. It was perhaps the finest example of mansplaining ever published.

In August 2014, Oxford Dictionaries announced that it had added mansplain to its dictionary, and mansplain — with its related variations — officially became a word that could be found in a dictionary.

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Dutch Reach

Posted by Admin on January 10, 2017

Idiomation came across the expression Dutch reach in an article published by CBC Manitoba on January 10, 2017. The article reported that St. Boniface (MB) councilor was promoting the Dutch reach as a way to fight collisions between bicyclists and parked motorists. The article read in part:

Allard has authored a motion asking the city to work with Manitoba Public Insurance to popularize the “Dutch reach,” a manoeuvre intended to ensure people in cars don’t fling open their doors and into the path of oncoming cyclists without warning.

It was a topic of discussion on the Road Bike Review website in September 2016 with some cyclists supporting the concept while others felt it wouldn’t reduce the number of door prizes cyclists get while cycling city streets.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: A door prize is the colloquial expression for a traffic collision in which a cyclist is struck by a car door.

The practice was mentioned in Martine Power’s article for the Boston Globe on September 22, 2013. The practice was also mentioned in a New York Times article dated July 30, 2011 and written by contributing writer Russell Shorto.

The practice however was not called the Dutch reach in either of those article even though the practice has been the law in the Netherlands for decades.

In 2016, retired American physician Michael Charney named the practice the Dutch reach. After the death of a cyclist in Somerville (MA) in the summer of 2016, Michael Charney, in partnership with the Somerville Police Department, promoted the “Dutch Reach’’ on an electronic sign board that was positioned outside the city’s Veterans Memorial Rink

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Dr. Michael Charney swapping driving a car for driving a bike in 1992, and has been an ardent cycling advocate in Cambridge (MA) over the years.

This means that the term Dutch reach is about six months old even, and mainstream media and politicians are already making use of the expression in articles about car doors and cyclists. Idiomation therefore pegs Dutch reach to 2016 as attributed to retired American physician Michael Charney.

UPDATE (2 November 2017):  Please read the additional information on this entry provided by Dr. Michael Charney or click HERE to be taken directly to this latest comment.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Smof

Posted by Admin on May 12, 2015

It’s as important to keep abreast of the new idioms, sayings, and acronyms as it is to know what the more aged ones mean and where they come from, and today’s entry is simply this word:  SMOF.

SMOF is an acronym for “Secret Master Of Fandom” and is a well-known phrase in science fiction circles.  According to scifi enthusiasts, the word was coined by American science fiction author, Jack Laurence Chalker (17 December 1944 – 11 February 2005) who retired from teaching in his mid-thirties (after teaching in Baltimore for twelve years) to write novels and short stories full-time.

He is best known for the Well World series of books, however, Amazon lists several of his books available for sale, however, he was far more prolific than just the listed novels.  The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org) has a comprehensive list of the author’s works.  But even that list isn’t exhaustive as he wrote 205 works according to the Online Computer Library Center.

The details as to what the acronym means and who coined it is great, however, the acronym has come into its own as a word and is applied to the idea that there is a secret conspiracy group that controls the masses of scifi fandom.  These SMOFs are allegedly responsible for trends in scifi genres and subgenres, media, authors, films, and television series, as well as changes to the aforementioned.

Those who are recognized within the specific scifi fandoms are sometimes referred to as SMOFs due to the work they put into fandoms, thereby causing waves of changes within the scifi fandom community.  The acronym has also become a verb in that when convention organizers or scifi gurus talk among themselves out fandoms, they are said to be smoffing.

Now while it’s true that scifi fans insist that Jack L. Chalker coined the phrase, the term appears in the New York Times on September 6, 1971 which is five years before Jack L. Chalker’s first book, “A Jungle Of Stars” was published.  The article stated:

Except for those who wanted to gafiat, the fen of science fiction fandom for whom fiawol descended on Boston this weekend for their annual worldcon to smof and to buy old fanzines.

Three years prior to that in the November 1968 edition of the Proper Boskonian — science fiction fanzine published by the New England Science Fiction Association — an article appeared entitled, “Smoffing Is A Way Of Life.”

And three years before that, in 1965, American science fiction and horror author and critic, Theodore Sturgeon (26 February 1918 – 8 May 1985) was mentioned in “D. Eney Proceedings: Discon 1962” and when another American science fiction author and critic, Peter Schuyler (P.S.) Miller (21 February 1912 – 13 October 1974) spoke about Sturgeon.

He [i.e. Theodore Sturgeon] is also, in case he is willing … no, not in case he is willing; anyway, whether he likes it or not .. an Honorary Member of SMOF.

Theodore Sturgeon (who was born Edward Hamilton Waldo, and who was a distant relative of US writer Ralph Waldo Emerson) was considered to be one of the most influential writers of the Golden Age of science fiction.   He was responsible for writing the back story for Spock and the Vulcans in the original series episode, “Amok Time” for which he received a Hugo Award nomination.

Peter Schuyler Miller was also a technical writer, amateur historian, and amateur archaeologist who was a descendant of Colonel Philip Peter Schuyler (1736 – 1808) who defended Fort Schoharie (NY) during the Revolutionary War, and the colonial governor of New York and first mayor of Albany, Colonel Peter F. Schuyler (1657 – 1724)

What this means is that the word smof and the acronym SMOF existed before Jack Laurence Chalker is credited for coining the term in 1971.  How far back it goes, however, is unknown to Idiomation.

Perhaps one of our avid fans who is knowledgeable in the area of science fiction history has the answer.  If so, please feel free to share the information along with a link in the Comments Section below.

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Comstockery

Posted by Admin on May 5, 2015

Comstockery is a word not often heard these days, but it’s a word that has had a serious impact on the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century.  What is comstockery?  It’s censorship on the basis that there’s perceived obscenity or immorality in a piece of art, whether it’s literature, visual arts, song, photography, or any other related domain.

While one might think that the word is an offshoot of the concept of sending someone to the stockades for public shaming after having committed a crime, the history is actually less complicated than that.  It is interesting, however, to note that both sending someone to the stockades and comstockery had to do with public shaming.

The word is directly related to Anthony Comstock.   And who was Anthony Comstock?

In 1872, using a pseudonym rather than his real name, Anthony Comstock (7 March 1844 – 21 September 1915) sent away for a copy of Victoria Woodhull’s book.  She was a women’s right activist and her book told the story of an affair between American preacher and reformer Henry Ward Beecher (24 June 1813 – 8 March 1887) — referred to in the press as America’s most famous preacher — and one of his parishioners.  It should be noted that Pastor Beecher was alleged to have strayed with three different women during his marriage to wife, Eunice Bullard White (3 August 1837 – 1897) with whom he had ten children.  He had an affair with poet, Edna Dean Proctor, and was accused of having affairs with Elizabeth Tilton (her husband, Theodore Tilton leveled the accusation in 1874), and Chloe Beach.

When he received the book, using a 1864 law that prohibited the distribution of obscene publications and images (where said definition was vague), he filed legal action against Victoria California Claflin Woodhull (23 September 1838 – 9 June 1927) and her sister Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin (26 October 1844 – 18 January 1823), who later became Lady Francis Cook by marriage.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Victoria Woodhull was the first female candidate for President of the United States, running for office in 1872.  She ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket, fifty years before American women had the right to vote.

SIDE NOTE 2:  While Victoria Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin were arrested, jailed, and prosecuted on obscenity charges leveled against them by Anthony Comstock.  They were acquitted of the charge.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin was the mistress of American capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt (27 May 1794 – 4 January 1877) when she and her sister Victoria lived in New York City in the early 1870s.

Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and the year after the filing his unsuccessful action against Victoria Woodhull and her sister, Tennie, the U.S. Congress passed the “Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use” on March 3, 1873 which became colloquially referred to as the Comstock Laws.

The Act criminalized the sale and/or distribution of materials that were allegedly obscene or immoral, and made it a criminal offense to mail said materials through the federal postal system or to import said materials into the United States from abroad, whether by way of the federal postal system or any other means.  Once the Act was passed, Anthony Comstock was named a Special Agent and was made a Postal Inspector for the United States Post Office, a position he held until 1915 (forty-two years).

The Comstock Laws suppressed the works of authors such as D.H. Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) and George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) as well as medical texts.  Some say that George Bernard Shaw coined the term comstockery in 1905 to mock the rampant censorship that was an ingrained aspect of society.

SIDE NOTE 4:  When George Bernard Shaw was prosecuted for his 1905 play, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” he was acquitted on all charges.  The negative publicity received in the press only made the play more successful, and theater patron flocked to performances.

However, the term is found in an editorial in the New York Times dating back to 12 December 1895.  The editorial read in part:

Our esteemed contemporary the Courrier des Etats-Unis relates the melancholy sequel of Mr. COMSTOCK’S latest raid, or latest but one, in the interest of … … what will be readily understood if classified as Comstockery Justice Jerome has expressed the opinion of sane persons; and with pain that his colleagues on the bench have outnumbered him.

12 December 1895

It didn’t take long for the word to take hold (less than a year), as the Los Angeles Herald of February 28, 1897 (just over a year after the New York Times editorial was published) used it on page 20 of that edition.  The news bite originated with the New York Times, and was reprinted in the West Coast newspaper.  The news article was part of a larger column titled,”Books And Those Who Make Them” and the column was edited by Enoch Knight.  The snippet in question had to do with the Boston Bacchante at the Boston Public Library in Massachusetts.

But such a disposition is incompatible with the Puritan conscience, which refuses to be at rest until its doubts are finally laid.  When the Puritan conscience is complicated by culture, and questions arise touching the relation of art and morals, the result is very serious.  Were the trustees, after all, guilty of Philletinism and Comstockery?  Had they confounded immorality with morality, and assigned a work of art to a wrong jurisdiction?  Was there not some fourth dimension in which the postulates of the sculptor and the police can be reconciled?

Idiomation thereby pegs the word to the New York Times editorial staff on December 12, 1895 and the rest, as they say, is history.

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