Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Shebang

Posted by Admin on February 10, 2015

Recently, I watched the Brian De Palma movie, “The Untouchables” on DVD again.  It’s a movie that plays well years after its release and stars Kevin Costner and Sean Connery among other well-known names today.  In the movie, there’s one scene where Eliot Ness sends his young daughter and pregnant wife away for safety’s sake. Angered at having his family’s safety threatened by Frank Nitti on behalf of Al Capone, Eliot Ness tells Malone that he wants to take the battle to Capone.  Malone replies:

Well, then, a Merry Christmas.  We’ve got some great news.  A huge international shipment’s coming. We’ve got the time, the place and the whole shebang.

But what exactly is a shebang, and what does it mean in today’s lexicon?  Informally speaking, the word shebang refers to the structure of something such as an organization or a situation or a project.  It generally implies the sum total as opposed to the parts that make up the whole.

Of course, techno-geeks will tell you that a shebang is a character script sequence that begins with the number sign and an exclamation mark and is favored by Unix-type operating systems.  However, the word is older than computer science.

It was in the July 29, 1890 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail newspaper that a two-volume book by the famous and experience African explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (28 January 1841 – 10 May 1904) whose reputation, it was claimed in the newspaper, was well-known throughout the world.

SIDE NOTE:  Sir Henry Morton Stanley is identified as the person who uttered the immortal — and oft quoted and misquoted — question, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” upon finding the lost missionary and explorer David Livingstone in the supposed deepest, darkest Africa.

The book was all about the Emin Relief Expedition to Africa that began in 1887 and continued into 1888.

Lieutenant Stairs, Mr. Jephson, and myself were out at the extreme west end of the spur enjoying the splendid view, admiring the scenery, and wondering when such a beautiful land would become the homestead of civilized settlers.  Stairs thought that it resembled New Zealand, and said that he would not mind having a ranche here.  He actually went so far as to locate it, and pointed out the most desirable spot.  “On that little hill I will build my house” — “Shebang” he called it.  I wonder if that is a New Zealand term for a villa.

During the American Civil War, a shebang was understood to mean “a hut or shed, one’s living quarters.” In short, it was a word that referred to a temporary shelter for soldiers in the field.  How do we know this?

The American Civil War was famous for its slang of uncertain origin, and shebang is among those words of uncertain origin in many respects.  But make no doubt about it, many consider the word an Americanism by nearly every standard.  Even the book “Americanisms: The English of the New World” compiled by Maximillian Schele De Vere and published by Charles Scribner & Co. and published in 1872 included the word.

Shebang used even yet by students of Yale College, and elsewhere to designate their rooms, or a theatrical or other performance in a public hall, has its origin probably in a corruption of the French cabane, a hut, familiar to the troops from Louisiana, and constantly used in the Confederate camp for the simple huts, which they built with such alacrity and skill for their winter quarters.  The constant intercourse between the outposts soon made the term familiar to the Federal army also.

In the annual report from the Office of the Nez Percé Indian Agency by Charles Hutchins, U.S. Indian Agent for Washington Territory on June 30, 1862 to the Secretary of the Interior, the author made use of the word shebang.

Along all the roads on the reservation to all the mines, at the crossing of every stream or fresh-water spring, and near the principal Indian villages, an inn or “shebang” is established, ostensibly for the entertainment of travellers, but almost universally used as a den for supplying liquor to Indians.

The term is found in many government documents from the United States House of Representatives to the Adjutant General’s Office, from the  United States Congress to the Bureau of Military Statistics, and beyond.

Some have speculated that there might be a connection between shebang and the Irish word shebeen — spelled sibín — while others discount it because “bang” and “been” can scarcely be mistaken for each other.  However, a shebeen house in Ireland was one that usually sold unlicensed spirits, and were referred to as resorts of bad characters. In other words, a shebeen in Ireland didn’t sound to be much different than the shebang spoken of in the report from the Office of the Nez Percé Indian Agency in Washington state.

Another important historical fact to remember is this:  While many may remember the infamous Irish Brigade of the North, the more than 40,000 Irish who fought on the side of the South during the American Civil War seem to have been overlooked and forgotten.  The Irish were, in fact, the largest immigrant group fighting on the side of the South — a feat that was not returned by the Irish fighting on the side of the North.  What’s more, there were many Irish-born and first-generation Irish officers that moved their way up the Confederate Army ladder.

In other words, the likelihood that the word shebang was originally shebeen is very good considering its roots as slang during the American Civil War years.  When coupled with the fact that at about the same time, the word shebang also existed in the English spoken in New Zealand — a country that also saw a great deal of Irish immigrants throughout the 1800s — which only strengthens the probably connection between the two words.

That being said, however, the word shebang doesn’t seem to appear in print prior to the American Civil War although it was very obviously used among the general population given that the word was used by government officials as from the onset of the American Civil War.  Because of this, Idiomation pegs the word shebang to the mid-1800s.

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

Riding Roughshod

Posted by Admin on March 8, 2012

If you know someone who is riding roughshod over someone or something, you’re talking about someone who is acting how they want, ignoring rules and traditions, and imposing their will on others with complete disregard for how it will affect them.

Just yesterday on March 7th, the Washington Examiner newspaper reported on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recent appearance on the television news program “Face the Nation” in an article entitled, “One-Party Martin O’Malley Hates Two-Party Accountability.”  The article read in part:

They mean how dare Republicans form some kind of opposition party. (Maryland Democrats especially seem dismally unaware that we have a two-party system for a reason.)  They mean how dare Republicans keep them from riding roughshod over the electorate, abusing the Constitution and raiding the taxpayers’ wallets at will.

The expression is one that brings to mind a clear picture of what’s being described as can be seen in the news story “Whom The Gods Would Destroy” published in the Pittsburgh Press on January 10, 1937 where the opening paragraph read:

If anybody ever asked for trouble, Hitler is the man.  For several years now, he has been riding roughshod over international treaties and stepping on sensitive toes.  And he has been getting away with it for three very good reasons.

Fifty years before that, on May 26, 1887 the New York Times published a story on the Vedder Whisky Tax bill in a story entitled, “Warm Words At Albany.”   It was a very spirited report that began with this announcement:

The 74 Republicans of the Assembly were throttled by the 54 Democrats to-day and preventing from riding roughshod over them and outraging every principle of decency and fair play.

In Chapter 19 of “Man and Wife” written by William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) and published in 1870, the author writes of the main character entertaining five guests – two who are middle-aged with the other three under thirty — in his library.   One of the characters says:

“Saw your name down in the newspaper for the Foot-Race; and said, when we asked him if he’d taken the odds, he’d lay any odds we liked against you in the other Race at the University — meaning, old boy, your Degree. Nasty, that about the Degree — in the opinion of Number One. Bad taste in Sir Patrick to rake up what we never mention among ourselves — in the opinion of Number Two. Un-English to sneer at a man in that way behind his back — in the opinion of Number Three. Bring him to book, Delamayn. Your name’s in the papers; he can’t ride roughshod over You.”

And the expression appeared in the Nelson Examiner in New Zealand on December 17, 1864 in a news story quite simply entitled, “New Bills.”  The Colonial Secretary was speaking on a bill to authorize the Governor to take land for roads and military purposes.  He was reported as having said in part:

But if I am not ready to accept amendments of members upon this question, let it not be said that I am riding roughshod over the House; but let them rather say – I speak of myself, and I speak also the sentiments of my own colleagues, “Here are a set of men sitting upon this bench willing to undergo all the risk of failure, the risk of losing political reputation; to risk all that is most dear to public men to say nothing of private inconvenience.”

When Thomas Moore wrote Twopenny Post-Bag in 1813, he dedicated it to Stephen Woolriche, esq.  In the part entitled “Intercepted Letters, Etc.” in Letter I, he wrote:

‘Tis a scheme of the Romanists, so help me God!
To ride over your most Royal Highness roughshod
Excuse, Sir, my tears — they’re from loyalty’s source —
Bad enough ’twas for Troy to be sackt by a Horse,
But for us to be ruined by Ponies still worse!

Robert Burns the “Election Ballad” which was given at the close of the contest for representing the Dumfries Burghs in 1790.  The poem was addressed to Robert Graham of Fintry which included this verse:

Now for my friends’ and brethren’s sakes,
And for my dear-lov’d Land o’ Cakes,
I pray with holy fire: —
Lord, send a rough-shod troop o’ Hell
O’er a’ wad Scotland buy or sell,
To grind them in the mire!

Seeing that the expression already spoke of the behavior that is associated with the expression today, it’s reasonable to believe that this expression and its meaning hails back at least another two generations to the early 1700s.

In fact, back in the 1680s it was said that a horse that was roughshod was one that had nails intentionally left projecting from its shoes to prevent slippage.  The idea was that the nail heads would give horses at a racetrack better traction so that they could ride roughshod over the competition.  And so somewhere between the 1680s and the early 1700s, the expression referred to people as well as to horses.

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

Water Off A Duck’s Back

Posted by Admin on August 26, 2011

When someone says something is like water off a duck’s back, what they’re telling you is that it has no short-term or long-term effect on them at all.  Recently former Miss Wales, Imogen Thomas was pelted with a water bomb according to the July 29, 2011 edition of the Daily Mail in the UK. It stated in part:

It appeared that Imogen soon put the water bomb incident behind her however — water off a duck’s back, as it were.

On October 7, 1961 the Prairie Outdoors column written by Morris Ferrie and published by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix saw this story published:

Often used is the phrase “like water off a duck’s back” when describing an attitude of indifference.  Well, this attitude was far from present the other day when farmers from around bone-dry Pelican Lake met with sportsmen and government representatives in Moose Jaw to discuss the situation.

In the end, the story ended well with the announcement that “any disagreement that may have existed with respect to the presence of Pelican Lake was completely overwhelmed when the following resolution was passed unanimously:  RESOLVED that Pelican Lake be restored and maintained for the purpose of providing for agricultural and waterfowl needs and that the lake be managed in a manner to make it permanent, and further be it; RESOLVED that this resolution be referred for immediate action to the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the P.F.R.A. and Ducks Unlimited (Canada).”

On August 3, 1910 the Deseret Evening News ran a news story about Secy Ballinger who had denied the rumour that he would be tendering his resignation soon, after having met with Senator Crane in Minneapolis, MN the day before.  The headline read, “No Resignation For Ballinger: President Stands By Him.”  He was quoted as saying:

“All this vicious attack by unscrupulous men, backed by newspapers with even less scruples, goes off me like water off a duck’s back.  That never will induce me to resign.”

On September 25, 1894 the Lawrence Daily Journal ran an advertisement for Pearline soap.  The main copy, signed by a James Pyle of New York City, read:

Like water off a duck’s back — so dirt leaves, when Pearline gets after it.  No matter where it is, the easiest, safest, quickest and cheapest way to get rid of it is with Pearline.  Washing clothes is Pearline’s most important work.  That’s because it saves so much wear and tear, as well as labor, by doing away with the rub, rub, rub.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that Pearline washes everything.  Dishes, paint, marble, glass, tin-ware, silver, jewelry, carpets, hangings — there’s work to be saved with all of these, by using Pearline.

The saying also appeared in an advertisement in the March 14, 1893 edition of the Manawatu Herald in New Zealand selling this amazing new product.  The main copy read:

Have you see the new Rainproof “Impervanas” Dress Serges now showing at Te Aro House, Wellington?  “Like water off a duck’s back” describes their wonderful quality.  No one need now fear the heaviest shower of rain while wearing a dress of the impervious “Impervanas” Serge.  Procurable only at Te Aro House, Wellington.  “Impervanas” Serges will not spot, will not shrink, are not affected by sea water, and are made of the best New Zealand wools.  Write for patterns to the sole agent, James Smith, Te Aro House, Wellington.  The Showroom is abundantly stocked with choice good for present requirements of which we invite inspection and comparison.  Ross and Sandford, District Importers, the Bon Marche, Palmerston North.

The Grey River Argus published on May 23, 1874 reported on a serious situation in Nelson, New Zealand as it pertained to the Provincial Council and the Brunner Mine owned by the Government and purchased from the late Ballarat Company in 1868.  It stated in part:

This is one of the advantages of a non-responsible Government — that it can afford to allow hostile motions to glide like water off a duck’s back, or rather like a pellet from the scales of an alligator.  In support of his allegations that the Estimates were not framed in accordance with the requirements of the province, and that the department expenditure was too high, Mr. Donne said ….

The article quotes Mr. Donne word for word as he dissects the revenues and expenses of the Council in making his point that administration costs of 76 percent plus all the other deductions and expenses along with the quality of the work done in the department.  The Provincial Treasurer is said to have attempted to present a defence of the Estimates but in the end, the Estimates were returned for reconstruction according to the news story.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms claims the phrase is from the early 1800s and it may well be however Idiomation was unable to find a published reference prior to 1874.  That being said, it was used in the news story without quotation marks and as such, it was not a recent colloquialism.  Because news travelled at a more relaxed pace in the 1800s than it does in the technologically connected world of today, new expressions took time to be incorporated into the language, finally making it into books and, in the end, newspapers and magazines. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to believe that the word was in use for at least a generation prior to being printed in the Grey River Argus, putting the date to the late 1840s or early 1850s.

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

Handicap

Posted by Admin on July 25, 2011

If you’ve ever caught even a bit of a golf game on television, you’ll have heard the term handicap bandied about by the commentators. Just because a golfer has a handicap, however, doesn’t mean that he’s disabled in any way.  It means that he’s playing at a disadvantage.

On September 29, 1999 the Daily Mail newspaper in England published a news story written by Ian Wooldridge entitled, “Golf’s Great Handicap.”  It dealt with what the journalist referred to as “unprecedently appalling crowd behaviour” especially towards golfers Colin Montgomerie and Mark James.  The matter of what would happen in two years’ time at the Belfry was of considerable concern to all involved.  An unnamed source, speaking about how the situation should be handled, was quoted in the story as saying:

“Very simple,” uttered a quiet voice. “You merely restrict entry to spectators who can produce a golf club handicap certificate to prove they know something about the etiquette of the game.”

On July 28, 1958 the Edmonton Journal reported on an interesting story about William Wacht, a 60-year-old member of the Pines Ridge Golf Club in Ossining, New York who asked to have his handicap raised to 34 from 29.  The first sentence of the story entitled, “Supreme Court To Compute Golf Handicap” read:

A golfer has asked the new York Supreme Court to compute his handicap.

On May 26, 1922 the New York Times newspaper published an article entitled, “Harding To Play Golf In Newspaper Tourney.”  Warren G. Harding was to represent the Marion Daily Star newspaper in the Washington Newspaper Golf Club Spring tournament.  The 12 newspaper men turning in the lowest gross scores would go on to represent Washington correspondents on June 12th on Long Island and would enjoy a weekend as the guest of New Jersey Senator Frelinghuysen.  The story included information on Mr. Harding’s abilities as a golfer.

The participants will compete for a cup offered by Edward B. McLean, owner of the Washington Post, for the lowest net score.  The President’s handicap, based on recent scores, is 22, which indicates that Mr. Harding’s average for eighteen holes if between 95 and 100.

And on January 23, 1882 the West Coast Times in New Zealand printed a brief announcement in the Advertisements column.  Quite simply it stated:

Dunedin February Races:  Dunedin Cup, Dunedin Jockey Club Handicap, and Dunedin Forbury Handicap. Three Events.

On February 7, 1855 the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle newspaper ran advertisements with regards to a number of items.  One of these had to do with the horse races to be held on Thursday, March 8, 1855 at the Nelson Turf Club.  It included this description of one of the races:

The Forced Handicap of 10 Sovs. h. ft., for the winner of any races except the Port and Selling Stakes, and Consolation Plate; open to any other horse; second horse to save his stake.  Horses to be named at the same time as for the Consolation Plate, and to be handicapped in the same manner.  Once round and a distance.

The term handicap actually comes from an old card game known as “Hand I The Cap.”  In this card  game, players would drop the money they bid on a hand into a cap as the cards were dealt.  When the dealer won the hand, he, of course, won all the money in the cap.  Unfortunately, when a dealer won the hand, the next dealer was at a disadvantage in the game of “Hand I The Cap.” In time, this was shortened to “Hand I Cap.”  Mention of the game “Hand I The Cap” can be found in Samuel Pepys’ Diary under his entry of September 18, 1680 however his is not the first mention of a game by that name. 

Before “Hand I The Cap” was a card game, it was known simply as “hand in cap” and was a trading game with prized possessions and money involved as evidenced by documents dating back to the 14th century.  It required two players and a referee.  For example, if Trader #1 had a cloak to trade and Trader #2 had boots to trade, the referee would examine the items to trade and assign a monetary value to them based on condition, age, usefulness, etc.  Whatever the difference was between the two items had to be tossed into a cap by the trader whose item was of lesser value so that both items would now be of equal value.  The difference was referred to as “the odds.” 

At the referee’s mark, both traders would reach into the cap at exactly the same time and draw their hands out at exactly the same time.  An open hand meant there was agreement to trade; a closed hand was a refusal to trade. 

If the traders both agreed to the trade, each would receive the other’s item.  If the traders both disagreed to the trade, each would retain their item.  Regardless of whether they both accepted or both refused, the referee would get the money in the cap.  In other words, if they accepted, the referee was rewarded for having assigned fair value to both items; if they refused, the referee was compensated for the traders’ stubbornness.

If one trader refused while the other trader accepted, then the trader who accepted the deal would get the money in the cap; the trader who accepted the deal was compensated for the other trader’s stubbornness.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Not A Hair Out Of Place

Posted by Admin on April 5, 2011

The expression not a hair out of place means that an individual’s appearance approaches — if not meets — perfection.  

Mary Cassidy of Bedford Hills, NY wrote an open letter to her fellow commuters that was published in the New York Times newspaper on June 18, 2000.  Her objection was to the many commuters who carried coffees, bagels and newspapers on to the trains but for some inexplicable reason, experienced difficulty when it came to depositing their trash in any of the many receptacles along the commuter route. 

I have seen men in their custom-tailored shirts and Burberry raincoats leave behind a mess of office memos, newspapers and empty beer cans in paper bags under their seat.  I have seen professional-looking women in heels and lipstick, not a hair out of place, shove bags, empty mail envelopes and gum wrappers at their Ferragamos … [snip] … What happens to adults on trains that they think they can act like slobs?

Forty years earlier on March 17, 1960 the Pittsburgh Press ran an article written by Lenore Brudige about the world champion hairstyling competition that had been held earlier that week in New York City.  The winner was reportedly a “broad shouldered 31-year-old father of four children” by the name of Jon Lesko.  Despite winning the competition, reports were that he was modest about his achievements.  Of his well-received hair design aptly named the “Bee-loved” Ms. Brudige wrote:

The designed continued.  “A heart-shaped outline is in front.  That is for the ‘loved look’ theme, so you see it is a Bee-loved style.”  Model Betty Lillie of Irwin was well pleased.  Her tresses, which had been tinted pink chiffon, were still intact since winning the competition three days ago, not a hair out of place.  The reason: it was made clear is because Mr. Lesco arranges hair with the precision of an engineer.  Architecturally, the design is sound.

Back on November 10, 1924 the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company of New York ran an advertisement for Vaseline Hair Tonic in the Cavalier Daily newspaper, a publication  of the University of Virginia.  This product with a registered U.S. patent and made amazing promises to men about its absolute “purity and effectiveness.” 

Not a hair out of place and not a single flake of dandruff.  Big and strong also.   Adonis had nothing on him.  You can gamble he doesn’t say a word about “Vaseline” Hair Tonic.  But he uses it almost religiously.  Nothing like it for mastering unruly hair and keeping the scalp healthy.

On February 9, 1906 the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a story by David Graham Phillips entitled, “The Deluge: A Novel Of Finance.”  The story had been copyrighted the year previous and the following passage was included:

I stood up before him, threw my coat back, thrust my thumbs into my trousers pockets and slowly turned about like a ready-made tailor’s dummy.  “Monson,” said I, “what do you think of me?”

He looked me over as if I were a horse he was about to buy.  “Sound, I’d say,” was his verdict.  “Good wind — uncommon good wind.  A goer, and a stayer.  Not a lump.  Not a hair out of place.”  He laughed.  “Action a bit high perhaps — for the track.  But a grand reach.”

Interestingly enough, the Star newspaper in New Zealand published a story on January 18, 1877 entitled, “A Rich Girl Without A Fortune.”  In this story, the following passage was found:

She possessed this one peculiarity — though they did call her Cinderella; that she was always nice and neat.  Her dresses were of the cheapest materials — cottons, thin stuffs; but somehow she kept them fresh and well.  Not a spot was on her naturally delicate hands this evening as she sat down; not a hair out of place on her pretty head.

Again, it is safe to assume — based on the story in the newspaper of 1877 — that the expression was one that was used often enough to be easily understood back in 1877.  Idiomation ventures to guess that the expression dates back at least another generation to the 1850s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cut It Out

Posted by Admin on June 3, 2010

The phrase “cut it out” is found in the notes of the New Zealand Parliament House of Representatives debates of 1898.  One amusing entry is a comment made by Mr. Monk who states: “Cut it out!  The right honourable gentleman has cut it out. He has been cutting it out for the last six or seven years, and he cut it out by taking away £16000 of the money voted for it in 1898. There has been nothing but cutting out. Now, I am speaking with no desire to make mere assertion against the Government. I am only expostulating, as it is my duty to do and I should do just the same if it were the case of any other district in the colony, as I am now.”

Originally, the phrase “cut it out” was taken literally insofar as if there was a physical ailment that required surgery, the surgeon would “cut out” what needed to be removed.  Likewise in military terms, if a commander wanted to defeat his opponent, he would “cut out” stronger elements of his opponent’s command, isolating them and defeating them.  Regardless of the situation, if one “cut it out” is was nearly certain meant that there was a greater chance of stopping any advancement than if one did not “cut it out.”

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