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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Legal Beagle

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Smof

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 Elyse Bruce 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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Jay Town

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 7, 2015

In researching the terms jaywalking and jay driving, Idiomation wondered what the term jay meant, and co research continued.  In our travels, we came across another popular expression of the day:  jay town.

The term was used in a story titled, “Home” that was published in “Good Housekeeping” magazine in the September 1920 edition.  The story was written by Kathleen Norris (16 July 1880 – 18 January 1966) and illustrated by Harry Russell (H.R.) Ballinger (4 September 1892 – 3 July 1993).  It was a story about a woman named Fanny Bromley Lucas and her dear friend Angela Phillips, and takes place over tea.  The story ran the gamut, talking about Arizona, California, Canada and Mexico.

He was my first beau; he’s the only man I’ve ever cared for or ever will.  But, Fanny, when we got home from our honeymoon, he was first with his uncle, and then in real estate with Joe Bonestell.  Nothing satisfied him.  This was a jay town, and the people were webfoots.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  Kathleen Norris represented Good Housekeeping at the Democratic convention in 1920.

The Lodi Sentinel of September 26, 1907 republished a news article from the New York Times about the Reverend Robert J. Burdette (30 July 1844 – 19 November 1914) of Pasadena, California.  The former Burlington Hawkeye newspaperman, as he had been known across America, had recently visited his home town of New York City, and was disappointed with what he experienced.  The article was entitled, “When New York Is A Jay Town” and included this in commentary in the first paragraph.

His reflection on his return home is that New York is a “jay town — in August.  There are a few of us, perhaps three and a half millions, who are in town every August, and maybe we are all “jays.”  

And indeed the term jay town was a derogatory term as it appeared in the 1909 edition of “Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase” compiled by British writer, novelist, playwright (and creator of one of the first female detectives in fiction) James Redding Ware (1832 – 1909) and published by G. Routledge & Sons in 1909.  This dictionary identified the term jay town as an Americanism from 1889 that mean something was valueless.  However, it’s an older term than that.  In Volume 8, Number 201 of “Life Magazine” published on November 4, 1886, Alan Dale wrote this about jay towns in a brief article for the magazine.

Between the acts I heard the remark from the lips of a swallow-tailed:  “What do these folks take us for?  If they had tried this on some jay town, it might have been less unpardonable.”  Of course I did not know what a “jay town” was, nor do I know yet, nor shall I ever know, but I felt it was something rightly opprobrious and pleasingly condemnatory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, however, the term was well enough known to be published in a national magazine (even though it was in quotation marks) and that means the term was one that, while unfamiliar to some, was familiar to many.  The expression is therefore tagged to at least 1880, and most likely dates back considerably earlier.

Research for the term jay continues.  Tune in again on Thursday to see what else Idiomation has uncovered.

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

Jay Driving

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 2, 2015

On Tuesday, Idiomation researched the history of jaywalking, and, in the process, learned that there was such a term as jay driving!  Rather than just leave the discovery at that, Idiomation decided to delve a little more into the history of the expression.

Jay drivers, as you know are drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in their proper lanes, wandering all over the road, putting everyone else in peril.  The term didn’t disappear in the early 1900s once traffic laws were in place and jay walkers were being cited and fined for crossing the street where they weren’t supposed to be crossing, and it didn’t appear at the turn of the century and make a quick exit either!

The St. Petersburg Times edition of December 10, 1948 talked about jay drivers by posting this amusing cartoon and important public service announcement in the newspaper.

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The problem of jay drivers plagued Miami during the 1930s which undoubtedly prompted the Miami Daily News — dubbed the oldest paper in Miami — to published this article on August 3, 1937.

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Things were so impossible between jay walkers and jay drivers, that the National Safety Council honed four important rules for those interested in being good jay walkers.  Published in the December 28, 1934 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin newspaper of Williamsport (PA), the last rule (of which there were only four) shared this bit of insight.

Let the motorist do the worrying.  It’s his privilege as a driver.  If you’re not hit the first time, don’t get discouraged.  There’s a jay-driver on almost every street and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you will meet.

Jay drivers and jay walkers seem to have been the bane of most people’s existence during the Roaring Twenties.  The Eugene Register-Guard voiced its displeasure over the two with this simple comment in their August 11, 1924 edition that read:

The penalty for jay-walking and jay-driving should be made so severe that those brainless individuals would learn to obey the traffic laws.

On September 7, 1923, The Evening Independent newspaper published an article that hailed a novel suggestion, as they called it, that was made by Mr. Horrigan that addressed the conditions and needs of St. Petersburg as a tourist resort.  The fact of the matter was, as was pointed out “there are regular universal standard rules adopted by the A.A.A. that are used by almost every city, and certain laws passed by cities regulating traffic which are almost all alike so nothing need be said of them.  It is merely up to our officers to enforce them.”  The article included this commentary about jay drivers.

The trouble is with the drivers, and you will always have jay drivers, and no matter what rules you put into effect, the jay driver will not carry them out, or does not want to.

Yes, jay drivers had everyone up in arms with their dangerous jay driving.  Even columnist Richard Lloyd Jones of the Roundup Record-Tribune and Winnett Times (in Montana) commented on jay drivers and the “Safety First” movement that was meant to lessen danger everywhere except on streets and roads.  The  “Safety First” movement focused on making it safe for automobile owners to drive their vehicles, even if it came at the expense of pedestrian safety.  His comments included this paragraph.

Unless jay-driving is promptly stopped — unless every jay-driver is promptly jerked out of his seat and not allowed to return to the wheel, we are all going to be compelled to take our bumpers off and put on baskets.

One of the more unintentionally humorous comments included in the column was that every speedometer should be made to town-clock size (in other words, the size of the car’s tire) and mounted on the back of the vehicle so that everybody would be able to read the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.

An interesting statistic that was included in this story was this:  In 1920 there were 10,007 deaths due to influenza, and 10,163 deaths due to automobiles!

The Kansas City Star newspaper published on October 6, 1915 warned of an unusual number of motor car accidents over the days leading up to the article in their newspaper.  Not only were there a number of collisions, but the newspaper reported that in one instance, a car “skidded on a sharp curve and turned over.”  The newspaper wagged its editorial finger by ending the article with this remark:  Caution marks the competent driver; Recklessness belongs only to the jay.”  The article was aptly entitled, “Don’t Be A Jay Driver.”

Were pedestrians killed by horse-drawn vehicles before automobiles became popular? Of course they were, and at an alarmingly high rate to boot!  But this was because horses were easily spooked, and when panicked, oftentimes they would bolt into panicked crowds dragging their carriage or wagon behind them.  However, reporters for the New York Times back in 1888 wrote about horse-drawn carriages who seemed to “think that they own the [pedestrian] crossings.”  One reporter went as far as to point out:  “Pedestrian have right of way over crossings, and drivers are bound to respect that right, if the city authorities would only enforce the law.”

Is it any wonder that the same attitude carried over to automobiles?

In any case, the unfortunate reality of jay drivers is that Henry Hale Bliss (June 13, 1830 – September 14, 1899) is the first person in history to have been killed in an automobile fatality.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  On the 100th anniversary of this sad event, a commemorative plaque was placed on this site on September 13, 1999.  It’s said that the plaque was erected to promote safety on streets and highways.

The New York Times reported the story in great detail.  In the end, the driver was acquitted of manslaughter charges on the grounds that it was unintentional even though the driver’s car had crushed the victim’s head and chest the day before he died from his injuries.

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So sometime between 1899 when the first ever fatal automobile accident happened and 1905 when the Albuquerque Evening Citizen newspaper edition of June 29, 1907 made mention of jay drivers, the words jay driver and jay driving were coined and quickly became known in English-speaking countries.

Now to find out what a jay really is, other than a bird or a baseball player in Toronto.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 25, 2014

If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re waiting for the inevitable next step or conclusion to a situation or a conversation.  In other words, you are waiting for the unexpected that is expected albeit unknown.

The reason for this is because it’s human nature to create patterns that makes sense to human brains, and when the anticipated pattern is disrupted, it causes anxiety.  When the pattern is concluded, for good or for bad, the human experience is that the person anticipating the next step or the conclusion is able to move forward.  Unfortunately, that next step or conclusion is almost invariably thought of as being bad.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of November 20, 2005 published a story about the community of Plum in Allegheny County entitled, “U.S. Grand Jury Probe Heats Up Borough’s Ongoing Police Mess.”  From reading the article, it would seem that at the time, there were a lot of problems and a lot of blame to go around.  The police department had been besieged by scandals and lawsuits over a period of years, and all the details were spilling out all over the media.  It became so involved that even after the former police chief won a large sum in damages and back pay from a lawsuit he filed against the city claiming wrongful firing.  Well into the article, this paragraph used the idiom.

Thomas Ceraso, attorney for the ex-chief’s son, Detective Mark Focareta said an FBI request that his client provide a handwriting sample was postponed indefinitely, leaving him “scratching his head and waiting for the other shoe to drop, if it’s ever dropping.”

Back on June 6, 1986, Associated Press business writer, Steven Rosenfeld discussed the rampant speculation on the trading in securities on Wall Street that had been based on knowledge of confidential merger plans.  After Dennis Levine pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, tax evasion, and perjury, the business world was abuzz about who else was involved.  The article was titled, “Street Waits For The Other Shoe To Drop” and began with this paragraph:

Wall Street is anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop after an investment banker pleaded guilty to fraud and promised to cooperate with authorities in the biggest case yet of illicit insider trading.

Likewise, on April 22, 1944, the Pittsburgh Press published an article by Scripps-Howard Foreign Editor, William Philip Simms, that chronicled what the allies were doing to the Nazi forces.  The article was titled, “Germans In France Waiting For Other Shoe To Drop” and the first paragraph read thusly:

The Germans in France have the “invasion jitters” according to a recently-arrived underground leader.  The malady he said is akin to that induced by waiting for the other shoe to drop, but multiplied a thousand fold.  The first “shoe,” he said, was the terrific pounding the British and American Air Forces are dealing out daily to Germany and the invasion coast.”

A generation earlier, on March 20, 1921 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Noise And Your Neighbors” written by Helen Bullitt Lowry.  Her article discussed a situation where a John Howells (son of the late Dean Howells) rented an apartment — in the building at 130 West Fifty-seventh Street — to Mrs. R.T. Wilson Jr., a woman who gave musicales that oftentimes lasted until nearly 4 o’clock in the morning to the dismay of her neighbors.

When she was taken to court by neighbors, her argument was that the noise was of a high-class nature, and asserting that having a studio apartment in itself implied that she had every right to hold musicales until well after midnight.  Her neighbors’ argument was that it made no difference whether the music was good or bad, high-class or low brow, at 4 o’clock in the morning, no noise, expensive or otherwise, should be permitted in apartments at such an hour.

The article concluded with this paragraph:

If nine out of ten of us weren’t trying to be considerate the housing problem would be over in New York.  Like the gingham dog and the calico cat, we would all have eaten each other up and there’d be nobody left in town but the delegates to conventions.  If nine out of ten of us hadn’t heard that ‘drop that other shoe’ chestnut and molded our lives accordingly for the sake of the neighbor below us, what would be the end of us?  Both the sleepy artist and the giver of late parties would be in a bad way.

The writer of the article referred to the idiom as a chestnut meaning it was old and well-used by the time it was included in her narrative.

Some say that the reason it was an old chestnut is because, during the manufacturing boom of the mid 19th century (beginning in 1843 with an upswing in economic activity in the U.S.), apartment buildings went up with each floor being identical in design so that all the kitchens lined up with each other, all the livingrooms lined up with each other, and, of course, all the bedrooms lined up with each other.

If a tenant was already in bed when the tenant upstairs decided to go to bed, the tenant in the apartment below would hear the first shoe drop, and once he or she heard the second shoe drop, the noise was done for the night.  Of course, this was because the floors, walls, and ceilings weren’t sound-proofed at all.

The literal expression — with the accompanying trepidation that is associated with the idiom — is found in a news article entitled, “Had Waited And Waited” published in the Sentinel Hotel Column of the August 11, 1905 edition of the Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin.  The article recounts how a hotel guest was given a room directly above the room of a particularly nervous regular boarder, and advised of the situation.

When it came time for the guest to sleep, he took of one shoe and allowed it to drop to the floor.  He suddenly remembered what he had been told about the nervous boarder in the room below, and he very quietly took his other shoe off and carefully set it down beside its mate.  As he was dropping off to sleep, there was a knock at his door so he rose to answer it. The article ended with this:

“I trust you will pardon me for disturbing you, sir,” he said, “but I have the room below you and am an exceptionally nervous man. I heard you drop your shoe some time ago, and ever since I have tried in vain to go to sleep. I fear I shall be unable to do so unless I hear you drop the other one, if it will not be too much trouble.”

It’s unlikely that there is an earlier published version of this idiom, however, if readers or visitors know of one, feel free to share the link in the Comments section below.

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