Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

Strong As An Ox

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2011

Based on the concept that an ox is a very strong animal, the cliché “strong as an ox” is well-known but not used as often as one would think.

It certainly packs a certain punch when used, such as in the article by journalist Paul Wiseman published in USA Today on December 28, 2009 where the headline read “Texas’ banks are strong as an ox.”

The cliché has been a favourite of some established writers, whether we’re talking novels or cartoon scripts. In fact, in 1946 when Foghorn Leghorn burst on the animated scene, he was oftentimes heard uttering characteristic catch-phrases such as “the gal reminds me of the highway between Forth Worth and Dallas — no curves” and “that boy’s as strong as an ox, and just about as smart.”

In Chapter 9 (How The Wogglebug Taught Athletics) of “The Emerald City of Oz” written by L. Frank Baum and published in 1910, Baum wrote:

“It’s a fine thing,” declared Aunt Em, admiringly. “If we’d had it in Kansas I guess the man who held a mortgage on the farm wouldn’t have turned us out.”

“Then I’m glad we didn’t have it,” returned Uncle Henry.

“I like Oz better than Kansas, even; an’ this little wood Sawhorse beats all the critters I ever saw. He don’t have to be curried, or fed, or watered, an’ he’s strong as an ox. Can he talk, Dorothy?”

Almost 100 years before that, James Fenimore Cooper wrote “Imagination and Heart” published in 1823 where readers find:

“I guess he is–he’s as strong as an ox, and active as a cat,” said the other, determined he should pass.

“Well, then,” said the aunt, in her satisfied way, “let every thing be ready for us in Albany by next Tuesday. We shall leave home on Monday.”

The cliché goes back for centuries, all the way back to Psalm 92 of the Christian Bible and translates as follows:

You have made me as strong as a wild ox; you have blessed me with happiness.

It appears this way in a number of languages including French (“Et tu me donnes la force du buffle; Je suis arrosé avec une huile fraîche”), Spanish (“Pero tú has exaltado mi poder como el del búfalo; he sido ungido con aceite fresco“) and Italian (“Ma tu mi dài la forza del bufalo; io son unto d’olio fresco”).

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Red Skies At Night, Sailors Delight

Posted by Admin on January 27, 2011

Weather folklore has been around for centuries and sometimes what works in one part of the world, doesn’t work nearly as well in other parts.  Regardless, all sorts of interesting rhymes have come into existence due to weather folklore and “red skies at night, sailors delight” is just one of those rhymes.

In North America, we know the entire rhyme as being:

Red sky at night, sailors delight,
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But in the United Kingdom, it’s not sailors who pay attention to the skies.  It’s shepherd’s that keep an eye on the colour of the sky.

Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
Red sky in morning, shepherds warning.

William Shakespeare — who appears often in Idiomation entries — wrote the poem Venus and Adonis in 1592 with the following weather folklore included:

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.

Going back to the Bible, the following passage is found in Matthew 16:1-3:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns and in 340 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. But as to when the rhyme “red skies at night” came into existence during that time is anyone’s guess.

Now, the question whether weather folklore has any basis in science is an interesting question to ask.  The fact of the matter is that when we see a red sky at night, this means that light from the setting sun has a high concentration of dust particles which usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. So yes, a red sky at night means one can expect that good weather will follow

Likewise, if you experience a red sun at morning, take heed.  A red sunrise is reflecting the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. What this means is that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content can be found in the atmosphere and it’s reasonable to believe that rain is on its way.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Babylonia, Bible, China, Christian, Greece, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Adam’s Apple

Posted by Admin on December 10, 2010

The “Adam’s apple” is the lump on the forepart of the throat that is especially visible in men. Most people assume that the term “Adam’s apple” comes directly from Genesis in the Old Testament but the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not identify the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge as being an apple.  The fruit is simply called the “fruit from the Tree of Knowledge” with no specification as to which kind of fruit it happens to be.

So how did the popular misconception come about?  It was Flemish painter Hugo Van Der Goes who first implied that an apple was the forbidden fruit.  In Van Der Goes‘ painting of 1468 entitled “The Fall of Man” he expressed his personal feelings on the tragedy of the drama of the Fall and Redemption.

During Roman times, the pomegranate was a particularly popular fruit. Pliny the Elder, the Roman encyclopedist, termed the phrase for the pomegranate tree as being “malum punicum” — the Carthaginian apple.  To this end, it’s easy to see why Van Der Goes would choose to paint apples and not pomegranates in his painting depicting the event leading up to Adam and Eve being thrown out of Paradise.

However, the reference to the larynx being an apple originated sometime earlier in the Middle Ages.  Pietro d’Argellata, wrote a detailed description of his examination of the body of Pope Alexander V, who died suddenly at Bologna on May 4, 1410. His notes on the procedure — which is now customary in the Coroner’s office — provided this as part of his description:

I ordered the attendants first to cut the abdomen from the pomegranate to the OS pectinis.

It was understood by all medical personnel at the time that the “pomegranate” when speaking in medical terms was the larynx.

The myth during Medieval times was that while in the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit Adam ate became lodged in his throat, causing him to choke.   In this respect, the pomegranate was associated with the “lump” in Adam‘s throat. 

The fact of the matter is that the Latin term “pomum Adami” means “male bump” and when coupled with the myth, the Latin term and the myth lead to a mistranslation of “Adam’s apple” when referring to the larynx.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 15th Century, Jewish, Quran, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

To Thine Own Self Be True

Posted by Admin on June 1, 2010

As with yesterday’s phrase, “to thine own self be true” is oftentimes mistaken as a direct quote from the Bible.  It is actually taken from Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

 Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
 The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
 And you are stay’d for.
 There … my blessing with thee!
 And these few precepts in thy memory
 Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
 Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
 Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
 Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
 Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
 But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
 Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.  Beware
 Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
 Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
 Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
 Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement.
 Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
 But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
 For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
 And they in France of the best rank and station
 Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
 Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
 For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
 And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!

Of course, it’s easy to see how this could happen as what Polonius tells his son is actually Shakespeare reworking the Ninth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  

In other words, one should not lie to himself or herself.  When one does not lie to himself or herself, it follows that he or she does not lie to others no matter what the situation.  The Ninth Commandment is phrased in an absolute manner that does not permit exceptions and so one can only be true to himself or herself in following the Commandments.

So while Shakespeare may have coined the phrase “to thine own self be true” the spirit of the phrase has a very long history that reaches back thousands of years into the Old Testament.

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