Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

Swat Mulligan

Posted by Admin on April 6, 2021

While researching mulligan, Idiomation became aware of the expression swat mulligan as it referred to Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen. As luck would have it, this wasn’t difficult to research.

The idiom swat mulligan is derived from the name of a infamous albeit baseball slugger — as written by Bozeman Bulger (22 November 1877 – 23 May 1932) — who played for the Poison Oaks of the Willow Swamp League who performed prodigious batting feats. The famous slugger’s name was Swat Mulligan and one of his adversaries was Fahrenheit Flingspeed and his egg pitch.

The news stories first appeared in the Evening World News newspaper of New York City in time for the start of baseball season in 1908.

Strong hitters in baseball and golf saw themselves compared more and more often to the great baseball slugger, and golfers of note began seeing reporters refer to them as ‘the real Swat Mulligan of the links.’

In 1915, the New York Yankees hoped to lure Swat Mulligan out of retirement to coach the team. In fact, reporter Hal Sheridan’s story appeared in the Seattle Star newspaper on 13 January 1915 with this opening paragraph:

“The negotiations for the services of Swat Mulligan as coach for the New York Yankees,” says Bozeman Bulger in the New York World, “are proceeding slowly but Manager Donovan thinks he will yet succeed.”

At the time, Swat Mulligan allegedly lived in Bobbletown (MO) and Bozeman Bulger shared the contents of various telegrams and letters that passed between Swat Mulligan and Bill Donovan (with missives to Bill Donovan being sent general deliver, New York).

Bozeman Bulger was a contemporary of Damon Runyon (4 October 1880 – 10 December 1946), and he wrote a great many “as told to” sports books. Along with being a sportswriter, he was also a newspaper columnist and a playwright as well as a lawyer. He joined the Evening World News newspaper in 1905.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Bozeman Bulger was a pioneer in the development of American sportswriting and developed the genre of ghostwriting by way of such sports icons as John J. McGraw, Ty Cobb, John L. Sullivan, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Bozeman Bulger’s father and grandfather were notable Confederate officers during the Civil War and prior to the Civil War, both had been newspapermen for the Dadeville Record.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: His grandfather was General Michael Bulger and he served on the staff of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. His maternal great-uncle was a noted frontiersman, and Bozeman (MT) gets its name from him.

The expression referring to a formidable hitter began with Bozeman Bulger in 1908 and has no affiliation to either the expression mulligan in either cricket or golf, but it certainly makes for an interesting side trip to the expression mulligan, doesn’t it?

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

Gay Blade

Posted by Admin on July 21, 2015

While many these days default to thinking of the term gay blade as an offensive comment made about flamboyant homosexuals, the word gay didn’t just one day adopt that meaning.   The word has always had a second meaning that dates back to 1637 where the secondary meaning was defined as being addicted to social pleasures and dissipation. In other words, the gay life was a life of loose morals and so males and females who were inclined to leading immoral lives were said to be gay. It only took three hundred more years for the word to refer to male homosexuals.

When the term gay blade first began showing up in literature, it had nothing to do with being addicted to social pleasures. It referred to a gallant young man who was usually adept as a swordsman. Even though there were other connotations for gay blade over the years, the more chivalrous meaning still managed to survive into the 20th century.

Back on May 27, 1981 newspapers were sharing the news that George Hamilton refused to change the name of us upcoming Zorro movie even when the people backing the movie objected to its title. He made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the movie was about a happy turn-of-the-century swordsman and that the movie title had a “nice turn-of-the-century ring to it.” And so, moviegoers were treated to antics of George Hamilton, Lauren Button, Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman in the very successful and very funny movie, “Zorro: The Gay Blade.”

In a Sundance, Wyoming advertisement titled, “What Kind Of Lad Is Your Dad” published in the Sundance Times of June 9, 1960, four stereotypes were suggested: Ranger Rider, Strong Silent Father, Snappy Pappy, and Gay Blade. Regardless of what kind of dad described your dad, Spearfish Clothier had an ensemble worthy of your dad.  The definition written up for the Gay Blade dad was one that easily fit a heterosexual male, a metrosexual male, or a homosexual male.

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On April 21, 1944 the Deseret News published a story about American baseball Left fielder, Emil Frederick Meusel (9 June 1893 – 1 March 1963) nicknamed Irish. He began his career with the Washington Senators in 1914 and played on game before moving to the minors. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1918, and then to the New York Giants in 1921.   The article in the Deseret News – which really was just a list of baseball players and some relatively innocuously scandalous facts about them — began with this tidbit.

Irish Meusel, as gay a blade and dangerous a hitter as was ever trailed by John McGraw’s detective staff.

SIDE NOTE 1: Irish Meusel’s brother, Robert William “Long Bob” Meusel (19 July 1896 – 28 November 1977) played for the New York Yankees from 1920 to 1922, and his career ended with the Cincinnati Reds in 1930.

The term was found in a story in Volume 39 of “New Catholic World” back in July 1884. The magazine was published by the Paulist Press   and the term was used in the short story, “A Tragi-Comedy” by American writer, Catholic journalist, literary critic, novelist, and diplomat Maurice Francis Egan (24 May 1852 – 15 January 1924).

It was the happiest day of her life. Jack Dempsey, careless, free-and-easy Jack, looked at her wrinkled hands and sighed. What a glory it was to have a mother! He laughed and joked, kissed his hand out of the car-window right and left; but, for all that, he missed none of the tender, prideful glances that the worn, tired woman cast upon her son.   Jack, in his heart, felt sad; it seemed to him that a mother’s love is born to suffer – of all earthly things the nearest to heaven, yet of all earthly things most pathetic in its disappointments.

“He’s a gay blade,” said Mr. Devir.

“There’s no thought about him at all,” answered Mrs. Devir as Jack Dempsey bade them good-by. “They say his uncle wants to make a priest of him. He’ll never do it!”

It was in the short story, “The Farmer’s Daughter” by William Howitt and included in the anthology, “Heads of the People: Portraits of the English” illustrated by Joseph Kenny Meadows (1 November 1790 – August 1874), engraved by John Orrin Smith (1799–1843), and published in 1841.

She was altogether a dashing woman. She rode a beautiful light chestnut mare, with a switch tail, and her brother Ben, who was now grown up, with the ambition of cutting a figure as a gay blade of a farmer, was generally her cavalier. She hunted, and cleared gates and ditches to universal amazement. Everybody was asking, “Who is that handsome girl, that rides like an Arab?”

The anthology was filled with short stories by noted authors such as English dramatist and writer Douglas William Jerrold (3 January 1803 – 8 June 1857), English poet and critic Richard Hengist Horne (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884), English writer and editor Thornton Leigh Hunt (10 September 1810 – 25 June 1873), and English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackery (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863).

SIDE NOTE 2: Thornton Leigh Hunt was the son of English critic, essayist, poet, and writer, James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859).

As previously mentioned, a gay blade in the 17th century was a gallant young man usually adept as a swordsman. Don Juan (1582 – 21 August 1622) from the late 16th century and early 17 century – his full name being Don Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Second Count of Villamediana — was considered a gay blade by his peers.

The word blade is from the Middle English word blæd which meant sword in the late 1300s, and referred to a man by the 1590s, hence the play on words. The word gay is also from the Middle English word gay which meant impetuous, lively, and merry. From this comes the expression gay blade and yes, many gallant young men who were unusually adept as swordsmen back in the day were impetuous, lively, and merry as well as skilled.

Idiomation was unable to find any earlier mention of gay blade than the 17th century and therefore pegs the expression to the early 1600s.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Flash In The Pan

Posted by Admin on February 21, 2011

When someone says that a person, activity or item is a “flash in the pan” what they mean is that while the person, activity or item may draw a lot of attention at the moment, it’s obviously only going to be of interest to others for a very short time.

There are those who will try to sell you on the idea that gold prospecting or early photograph was the origin of ‘flash in the pan’ and in both cases, that is incorrect.

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City (UT) published an article by John Griffin on June 15, 1951 entitled “White Sox Bounce Nats in Twin Bill” which reported:

You can tell a champ in any sport, they say, by the way he gets up after a loss and takes charge again — and that’s just what those young and sassy Chicago White Sox were doing Friday.  A lot of folks, who thought that the classy kids from the Windy City were just a “flash in the pan,” figured that the belting they took in three straight games against the “old pro” New York Yankees would start the Sox on a long slide from first place, down.  But what happened instead?

Almost a century before that on July 25, 1854, in a Special Dispatch to the New York Daily Times, an article was published that read in part:

First we have the COLT investigation, which will turn out an ill-advised flash in the pan, and pass the bill designed to be defeated.  Next we have a positive charge of fraud and corruption made by a scion of DUFF GREEN against Hon. THOMAS H. BAYLY of Virginia which, having been exploded once already, probably  hasn’t enough of saltpetre in it to go off a second time, even in smoke.

In a letter dated July 26, 1789, Manon Roland (nee Marie-Jeanne Phlipon) who was involved in the French Revolution, wrote to her friend, Louis-Augustin-Guillame Bosc:

You are only children, you enthusiasm is a flash in the pan.  If this letter does not reach you, may the cowards who read it blush when they learn it comes from a woman.

Elkanah Settle (January 1, 1648 – February 12, 1724) commented on Mr. Dryden’s plays in 1687 and in “Reflections” she wrote:

If Cannons were so well bred in his Metaphor as only to flash in the Pan, I dare lay an even wager that Mr. Dryden durst venture to Sea.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to “flash in the pan” however Idiomation is able to explain how the saying came about.

In the days when flintlock muskets were used, a person, the muskets had small pans meant to hold small amounts of gun powder.  When the flint struck the pan, sparks flew into the gun powder and this resulted in the gun firing off the bullet.   Of course, weather and other technical problems — which happened often — would lead to “flash in the pan” and no firing, especially if the gun powder was damp.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fit To Be Tied

Posted by Admin on December 17, 2010

If someone is fit to be tied, then that someone is angry, furious, agitated … almost to be the point of needing to be restrained. 

The definition certainly fit the mood described in a news article in the Miami News on Thursday, June 16, 1960 when a third inning run kept the Yankees from an eighth straight victory.  The subtitle to the article “Hector Lopez Too Eager; Yanks Miss League Leader” read:

New York Fit To be Tied

Undoubtedly, not only was the team fit to be tied, but the New York Yankees fans as well one would imagine.  In fact, that sentiment seems to be a running theme for sports teams as the Bridgeport Herald reported on June 21, 1903:

If somebody kicked Terry Rogers till he was black and blue he would not feel any more pain than he did when Bridgeport defeated Norwich the other day.  Terry was anxious to win and while his team was in the lead his spirits were high, but when Bridgeport scored the winning run in the tenth, Terry’s spirits left him and he was fit to be tied.  ‘That Bridgeport bunch is lucky,” was his parting comment.

However, sports weren’t the only ones to use the phrase “fit to be tied.”   In the popular quarterly magazine, The Century, in Volume 58, Issue 3 published in July 1899 there was a story entitled “The Pianos of Killymard” written by Seumas McManus.  This amusing passage certainly adds flavour to the story:

Father Tom: sit on this wan.  I have been naggin’ at Connell these three months to take it to Farrell a-Byrne an’ get somethin’ done till it. — ‘Oh, mammy’ says wee Jimmy, says he, when he looked out, ‘it’s another new pee-anna for Maggie Mary Cassidy.’ Iv course I knew it wasn’t but I watched to see who was going to be the second fool in Killymard.  An’ oh! Lizie Jan McClenaghan, I wouldn’t have evened it to ye! Up at Lizie Jan McClenaghan’s  doore it pulls, an’ — that was enough for me, yer reverence!  I don’t know, Father Tom McShan, what we’re goin’ to turn till in Killymard.  Two pee-annas!  It’s two wash-tubs them two women should ‘a’ got for their daughters.  Did ye iver know the likes of it? I never did.  An’ Lizie Jan McClenaghan, too!  Lizie Jane, I used to credit you with a wee grain o’ sense.  From Mrs. Cassidy I couldn’t expect better; nothin’ she’d do would astonish me.  But Lizie Jane McClenaghan!  A pee-anna!  For Ruth!  Oh, Lord! Lizie Jane McClenaghan, that was fit to be tied, an’ her tongue didn’t stop goin’ for a fortnight when Ellen Cassidy got home a pee-anna!  Oul’ fools, I see, ever an’ always is the worst iv fools.  Father Tom, I’m tellin’ you, an’ — me apron’s as black with the dirt of pots an’ pans as that I’m heartily ashamed of it, yer reverence; but how else could I be?

Obviously, the phrase “fit to be tied” was used comfortably in every day conversations by people from all walks of life, regardless of their social class.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says that the phrase is from the mid-19th century.  The straight jacket was invented in 1790 (18th century) by an upholsterer named Guilleret for L’Hôpital Général Bicêtre located near Paris in France.  It was well-known for its asylum for the chronically mentally ill.  

By the early 1800s, the straitjacket was commonly used to restrain mental patients.  By the mid 1800s, the concept of needing to tie a mental patient in a straightjacket due to a fit was established practice.

Since the mid-1400s, the word “fit” meant “suited to the circumstances.” One can certainly see how a straightjacket would be “suited to the circumstances” of a mental patient’s aggressive physical outburst back in the day, and so it makes sense to believe that the phrase “fit to be tied” dates back to the mid-1800s and no further.

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