Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburg Post-Gazette’

Hold The Line

Posted by Admin on December 11, 2013

When you hold the line, you make sure you maintain an existing opinion, position, or status regardless of what outside or opposing forces may try to do. Even the military has a mission referred to as a Hold The Line mission.

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported on what was going on in Murrysville in their November 20, 2013 edition. It was all about mills and taxes: mills for the general tax rate, mills for capital improvements, mills for municipal debt repayment, mills for road improvements. It seemed that if there was a mill, there was a discussion. The opening paragraph read as follows:

Murrysville council members reviewed recommendations from the administration to hold the line on taxes for the coming year, giving unanimous approval Wednesday night to advertise an ordinance setting the tax rate at 12.15 mills for 2014.

Back on December 1, 1971 the Spokesman-Review reported on President Richard Nixon’s announced intention to veto his own tax cut bill. It seems that what had happened to the President’s bill was that the Senate attached additional provisions to the bill that, if the bill went through, would result in another $11 billion dollars added to the deficit. The story was entitled, “Hold The Line.”

During World War II, what was happening on the front was vigorously reported in the newspapers regardless of what country was reporting on the war. The Calgary Herald edition of October 27, 1941 carried international news that was cabled from the Calgary Herald‘s London bureau courtesy of the London Times. As the Russian campaign continued, battles raged near Rostov-on-Don anda round Kharkov. The Germans hoped to reach Roslov to cut the main railway line from the Caucasus to Moscow. The report included this news byte:

When the Red armies failed to hold the line of the lower Dnieper, German forces, with the aid of Hungarians, Rumanians and Italians were able to undertake a determined eastward drive and Marshal Budenny had no adequate line of defence available until he reached the River Don.

When the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Boxers Engaged In Big Battle” on June 8, 1900 many were alarmed at the events unfolding in China. The article claimed that the Daily Express had sent the following dispatch from Shanghai on June 7 with regards to the results of the Dowager Princess’s orders to General Neih-Si-Chong to take 3,000 men and protest the railroad at Peking. British was unable to send more than 900 troops as they were involved with the situation in South Africa, and the United States was urged to act. The article included this information:

Attempts to repair the damage to the railway between Tien-Twin and Peking have been frustrated by the Boxers who, thousands strong, hold the line against the engineers, gangs attacking the trains arriving.

Another show of force was reported in the American and Commercial Advertiser of August 23, 1864 — thanks to the New York Tribune newspaper — this time with regards to the skirmishes of the Fifth Corps against Rebel forces at Weldon Railroad just below Petersburg. The focus of this mission was to destroy the road completely this time. It was seen as a successful mission no three counts: It resulted in greater losses being inflicted than suffered; it prevented the Rebel forces from sending more troops into the Valley; and Fifth Corps achieved its main objective. The newspaper story reported the following in part:

Exactly one half of all the Rebel forces in Virginia are in the Shenandoah Valley awaiting Heridan. The other half hold the line from Richmond to Petersburg. From Gen. Birney’s Headquarters, the right of the line of operations, to Gen. Warren’s, the extreme left, is a distance of over twenty-five miles by the shortest roads. The whole distance is entrenched and two large rivers straddled. Grant having much the larger army, can afford to stretch the line of operations and thus attenuate Lee’s forces.

Jumping back to 1805, the idiom was used in “The Vindication of Mr. Maurice’s Modern India” also known as “A Vindication of the Modern History of Hindostan From The Gross Misrepresentations, And Illiberal Strictures of the Edinburgh Reviewers” by schoolmaster and former chaplain to the 87th regiment, Thomas Maurice. In his book, he wrote:

It seems however, by the Edinburgh standard of criticism, at least, that an author can no longer be permitted to mark out for himself the outline of any work which he may meditate, or of the limits by which his prudence may lead him to bound, or his temerity to extend his excursion in the wide field of literary research. The Reviewer must hold the line of demarcation, and let the author transgress it at his peril. The direst anathemas of critical vengeance, infallibly attend the slightest deviation.

The word hold is from the Old English word geheald which means keeping, custody, or guard and dates back to 1200, and the word line (as in demarcation) dates back to the middle of the 15th century. That being said, it doesn’t seem that the words met up and became an idiom until later. Although the idiom was used easily in Thomas Maurice’s book, and research hints at the idiom being used in the early 1700s, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the one in 1805. Taking into account that those who read Thomas Maurice’s book would have understood what he mean when he used the expression hold the line, it is most likely that the idiom hit its stride two generations prior to the publication date, putting it somewhere in the 1750s.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lose Your Marbles

Posted by Admin on March 2, 2011

We all know that marbles is a child’s game.  It was first recorded by that name in 1709, however, the game itself existed as far back as the 13th century in Germany where the game was known as tribekugeln.  Back in the day, marbles was played with small balls of polished marble or alabaster but over the centuries, the game has remained the same even if the marbles themselves have changed.

The word marble is Middle English from the Old French word marbre which is from the Latin word marmor which is from the Greek word marmaros and marmaros means “shining stone.”  

But to say that someone has lost his or her marbles is to mean that the speaker believes the other person has suddenly become mentally incompetent for an undetermined length of time.  On February 11, 1995 the Pittsburg Post-Gazette wrote about former American President Bill Clinton and the baseball strike with an opening paragraph that stated:

As you all know, President Clinton lost his marbles earlier this week.  While the rest of the nation struggled with the profound problems that truly plague humanity — war, famine, death, pestilence and the O.J. trial — Mr. Bill concentrated on ending the inane major-league baseball strike.  And to make matters worse, he failed miserably.

From yesterday’s entry at Idiomation what it means to “go bananas” and on May 10, 1975 the Youngstown Vindicator ran a story by William Safire courtesy of the New York Times News Service.  It was entitled, “The Catch 22 Question — Did Nixon Go Bananas?”  The story read in part:

There is a delicious inconsistency in the Nixon story: How could an intelligent man, a canny politician, blunder so egregiously in covering up a foolish crime — unless he had indeed lost his marbles?  The historian who figures this out might earn a niche in history himself.

Losing one’s marbles is a serious matter for young children.  In fact, the seriousness of the matter was recounted in the St. Petersburg Times on June 11, 1939 when the newspaper reported on “Marbles Lost in 1863 Found.”

In 1863, eight-year-old Augustus Pigman lost 16 prized marbles when he tossed them under a porch stoop to keep them from the hands of pursuing playmates.  Workmen demolishing the building a few days ago learned of the long lost marbles, recovered and returned all of them.  At 84, retired druggist Pigman is beyond the “knuckle down” age but will send the marbles to his three-year-old son in New York.

Now back in the 1920s, if someone lost control, it was said that the person had ‘let his marbles go with the monkeywhich was taken from a story about a boy whose marbles were carried off by a monkey.  And as far back as 1902, to “lose your taw’” meant to “go crazy.” 

As a side note, a taw is a large, fancy marble used for shooting and an “alley taw” is made of alabaster.

And so, while Idiomation was unable to find any published connection between marbles and mental instability prior to 1902, Idiomation did find a comic ballad published on January 28, 1871 entitled, “A Horse Chestnut or a Chestnut Horse.”  The ballad satirizes the philosophy of logic and shows how language that is thought to be rigid in meaning can take on other meanings depending on the context in which language is used.

An Eton stripling, training for the law
A dunce at syntax – but a dab at taw
One happy Christmas laid upon the shelf
His cap and gown and store of learned pelf.

The ballad shows how a horse chestnut and a chestnut horse can be made to appear to be the same thing if one chooses one’s words carefully and specifically.  And with that, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their marbles in such a case.

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

In A New York Minute

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2011

People believe that everything happens more quickly in New York City than anywhere else in the world and so it makes sense to hear the phrase “in a New York minute” and to expect it’s going to be faster than any other minutes.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many things to do in New York City what with Broadway shows, music in parks and on streets as well as in restaurants with city views and sidewalk cafés, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Chelsea Piers, South Street Seaport, the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, horse-drawn carriages, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, Wall Street, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and more.

In the Spartanburg (SC) Herald Journal edition of October 20, 1986, page 3 has an article that states:

“Welcome to Houston,” wrote Forbes magazine in 1983, “where lizard-skin boots go with pin stripes, and business is done quicker than a New York minute.”

The phrase — evidently a Southernism used with particular frequency in Texas — was given further national currency as the title of a song by Ronnie McDowell that made the country music top 40 in 1985.

On September 14, 1985 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on court proceedings in its story “Immunity Johnson’s Toughest Decision.” The story dealt with the case of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong who was charged with 16 counts of selling cocaine to players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.  The paper reported in part:

[U.S. Attorney J. Alan] Johnson was asked if he could charge any of the players with crimes if he learns later that any of them were selling drugs.  “Not only could I, but I’d do it in a New York minute,” he responded. 

No ball players were called to testify during the trial yesterday.  But defense attorney Adam O. Renfroe Jr. dais he believes the emphasis of the trial has shifted away from his client and that professional baseball has been put on trial.

Although it can’t be proven, it’s believed that the phrase may have something to do with a misreading  of news reports about Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh‘s tour of the country in his Spirit of St. Louis.  He and the plane arrived one minute ahead of schedule and of course, the headlines on that day in October 1927 read:

LINDBERGH ENDS NATIONAL TOUR: Lands on Mitchel Field at New York Minute Before He Is Due.

The news stories stated that the crowd cheered and jostled as the Spirit of St. Louis crossed over the field, banked, sideslipped and dipped to earth at 1:59 p.m.  The plane then taxied into a police-ringed hangar and Lindbergh, bareheaded and leather-jacketed, stepped into a car which bore him between cheering crowds to the airport’s operations office.  While the crowd outside pushed against the windows and shouted for another view of Lindbergh, he greeted newspaper men.

However, it’s also possible that the phrase draws on such historical events as the Underground Railway between Brooklyn and New York City.  On January 24, 1890 the Chicago Daily Tribune published a news article entitled, “Brooklyn To New York In A Minute.”  The story commented on Major B.S. Henning, the leading spirit in the Henning Gravity Tunnel Company and the newly formed East River Railway Company, where the details of the one-minute Brooklyn-to-New York scheme was laid out for newspapermen.

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Shutterbug

Posted by Admin on November 26, 2010

Shutterbug refers strictly to the world of photography but in recent years, it has come to include video taping and animation. Photographers taking shots via cell phones, however, are not considered shutterbugs as those photos are for social networking purposes and not for the art or beauty of the photograph.

Over the years, the term “shutterbug” has been used in print and broadcast media and in conversations, however, the origins of the term “shutterbug” is far more difficult to trace.

The Pittsburgh Press ran a news story on December 30, 1945 about a book entitled, “Mr. Digby” written by Douglass Welch and published by Putnam Books.  The hero of the book, Mr. Robert H. “Happy” Digby, was a photographer for the Central City Informer.  The book review headline in the newspaper read:

Story About A Shutterbug: News Photographer Hero of Book

Elsa Maxwell’s Party Line was a column that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  On August 11, 1943 Elsa’s column was dedicated to Miriam Hopkins whom she referred to as a “winsome wisp of vitality.”  In her column she wrote:

For, if not an expert, she is, at least, a most competent shutterbug.  She photographed her way around Europe in 1936, and probably has the last pictures of the Vienna of yesterday.

The Los Angeles Times ran a column called Camera Corner and back in February 1939, Harold Menselsohn responded to a question sent to him by Raymonde Geemar.  His response read in part:

Shutterbug Raymonde Geemar wants to know how to focus a ground glass-type camera in making pictures at night when conditions are none too good. Use the same method press photographers employ.

Before 1939, I was unable to locate published references for the word shutterbug however it was most certainly being used frequently in every day conversations for it to be used so easily in newspaper articles of the day.

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