Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Press’

Towheaded

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2017

Idiomation has friends of all ages so when a soon-to-be centenarian asked Idiomation to research the history on towheaded, we were more than pleased to oblige this lovely lady’s request.  When Idiomation asked her what she knew the word to mean, she said that twoheaded referred to someone, usually a young child, with light-colored or untidy hair (a definition confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary).  Of course, she also said that it didn’t have to be either/or since a towheaded child could have untidy light-colored hair as she and her two younger sisters did back when they were little.

In Adam K. Raymond’s article, “The Streaming Problem: How Spammers, Superstars, and Tech Giants Gamed the Music Industry” was published on 5 July, 2017 on the Vulture website, the expression was used.  The journalist wrote about streaming’s impact on the music industry and how streaming numbers are boosted by way of questionable methods.  Halfway through the article, he wrote:

Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom.

It was used in a movie review in the February 26, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Journal written by David Handler.  In reviewing the “Walking Tall” television series that hit the small screen as a result of the movie’s big screen success, the writer was unimpressed with the first episode which he referred to as being “so slow and preachy that the result is an amazingly dull hour of TV.”  His review included this observation.

Buford holds down the fort every week now surrounded by a cheery office, coffee pot, shiny cars, clean-cut and courteous deputies, a wheezing pappy and curvaceous dispatcher whose life’s dream is to be step-mother to Buford’s two towheaded teenagers (his wife was killed in the first movie).

The expression was used on Page 10 of The Pittsburgh Press on 4 August 1954 in the continuation of a story from the front page.  Titled “Baird, Bride Out Of Hiding” on Page 10, it referred to Dr. Baird’s second elopement.    The first page headline scandalously shared, “Choir Director and Bride Finally Come Out Of Hiding.”

J. Julius Baird, the composer, organist, and conductor of the Bach Choir for 20 years, had married his first wife in 1928, and they divorced in 1953. There were two children from the first marriage – 24-year-old John Jr. and 7-year-old Leslie. His second marriage to a 19-year-old woman was one that raised more than a few eyebrows.  He had met her three years earlier as a choir girl in the Calvary Episcopalian Church Choir he directed.

Two weeks before marrying the former Barbara Stouffer (daughter of Mrs. Edward W. Estes), he resigned as the choir director of Calvary Church and the Bach Choir in Pennsylvania, and accepted his new position as choir director of Grace Episcopalian Church in Colorado Springs , Colorado.   The newspaper included this tidbit using the expression.

Leslie, 7, lives with his father and calls the new Mrs. Baird “Mom” although he knows she isn’t his real mother.

He’s very excited and pleased about the whole thing,” Dr. Baird said.

Leslie, a tow-headed youngster who was pulling the cat’s tail nodded in agreement.

When the Prescott Evening Courier edition of 24 October 1939 was published, Olen W. Clements’ article about a 165-pound 5 foot 7 inch tall University of Texas sophomore named Jack Crain was printed under the title, “Rabbit Crain Saving Texas.”   Jack Crain was an impressive player by all accounts, and according to the reporter, he “put the phft-t-t back in football.”  When it came to describing this player, Olen W. Clements had this to say about Rabbit Crain.

He was a towheaded kid from Nocona, Tex., who sells cowboy boots to make his way through school.

The Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of 11 July 1864 published an article titled, “A Woman’s Faith.”  Although no writer’s name was included with the article, it spoke loudly to what the writer considered the “petty faults caused by vanity” that could befall women, and cheered on the “radiant charm which transforms the coarsest into something almost angelic.”

In clairvoyant rapport with a thought that will carry you to their homes, and you will find in every single instance some woman, possibly sensible in other respects, but deluded in this one point, and absolutely believing that the towheaded or rough-whiskered specimen who is her especial property is an incarnation of the virtues and graces, and possesses the wisdom of Solomon with the acuteness of the celebrate John Bunsby.  A very curious and fortunate circumstance it is for men that Providence arrange it so.  It has done more for them than can ever be undone by woman’s rights’ conventions.

Jumping back another generation, the Hassel family had a perfect to differentiate two cousins named John (the families moved to Tennessee when Tow Headed” John Hassel was six years old.  To know which John Hassel was being talked about, one cousin was known as “Black John” Hassel while the other was known as Tow Headed” John Hassel.  The boy known as “Tow Headed” John Hassel was born in Tyrell, North Carolina on 12 April 1800, son of Zebulon Elder Hassel and Elizabeth Jennette, and he passed away in 1859.

It seems that twoheaded was a popular nickname as a generation earlier people such as Samuel Hamilton (born in 1774) was known as Samuel Towhead Hamilton.  He married Nellie Black and had seven children (none of whom were known as towheaded) with his wife before dying in 1832.

There was also Charles Towheaded Moorman (born on 28 June 1746) who married Judith Moon (born on 26 June 1748) on 10 May 1776.  Unfortunately, Charles was disowned by Cedar Creek, Virginia for marrying out of unity and by a priest.  He left this mortal coil in 1803 while living in Bedford County, Virginia.

So how far back does the nickname reach?  William III, the  Duke of Aquitaine (915 – 3 April 963) was called towhead because of his hair.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William III’s son was William IV who succeeded him.  His sister, Adelaide married Hugh Capet (941 – 23 October 996), and he became the first King of the Franks when he succeeded the last Carolingian king, Louis V.

SIDE NOTE 2:  William IV battled Hugh Capet upon his rise to power as the King of France.  William IV refused to recognize Hugh Capet as the rightful heir to the throne, and protected (and defended) Louis, song of Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (son of Louis IV of France) who, as the last legitimate Carolingian heir, he considered the next in line for the throne.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (953 – 993) was a sixth generation descendant of Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814).

Although Idiomation could find no earlier published mention of towheaded than for the Duke of Aquitaine, the term can be placed to around 900.  However, there is more to share.  It’s possible that the word tow is related to the Old Norse noun, which meant “uncleansed wool or flax, unworked fiber of thread.”  Uncleansed wool or  flax is light-colored and so this may be the word that is responsible for towheaded but without evidence to support that guess, it is nothing more than a guess on Idiomation’s part.

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Posted in Idioms from the 10th 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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Soapbox

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 6, 2016

Oftentimes on social media and in real life, people will apologize for getting on their soapbox after speaking their minds.  Usually what they have to say is something they are passionate about and they feel compelled to share that passionate view with others.  When someone figuratively stands on his or her soapbox, that person is expression his or her opinion about a particular subject very vocally.

The Associated Press out of London reported on British communist and military trade unionist leader Jack Dash’s passing on June 9, 1989 and included the term in the obituary.  He was described as a “fervent British patriot” while at the same time reported that he “unswervingly defended the Soviet line.”  The obituary read in part:

The Transport and General Workers’ Union to which he belonged barred Communists from holding union office, so Mr. Dash operated strictly from the soapbox and became known as “unofficial king of the docks.”

In the October 29, 1945 edition of the Pittsburgh Press, Florence Fisher Perry wrote about attending an event to hear Roger Nash Baldwin (21 January 1884 – 26 August 1981), co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, speak at the First Unitarian Church in a Forum series.  Her article, “I Dare Say: Leftward The Course Of Thinking” made reference to soap box orators.

As always seems to be the case, the more Leftist ones is, the more articulate one becomes with the result that most of what we hear from lecturers, forums, dramatists, and definitely soap box orators, is Leftist talk.  The Rightists in any typical audience may feel deeply and even angrily, but they’re not apt to stand up and express themselves.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  When the ACLU was first established, Roger Nash Baldwin stated that “Communism, of course, is the goal.”  As he became more and more disillusioned with Soviet-style communism, he began to refer to communism as it was in Russia as the new slavery. 

The Afro American newspaper edition of August 13, 1927 spoke about Garveyism and race riots in an article titled, “Go It Garvey.”  Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, and orator Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914.  Garveyism promoted the concept that African-Americans should be returned to African by way of his shipping and passenger line, the Black Star Line, and that European colonial powers be made to leave Africa.  In this article, the term was used thusly:

Constitutional rights, and racial equality advocated by every intelligent person constitute the Garvey creed, which soap box orators spout in fiery language.

In American novelist, journalist, and social activist John Griffith “Jack” London’s book titled, “The Road” and published in 1907, in the short story titled, “Two Thousand Stiffs,” he wrote of his hobo experiences back in 1894.  At the time he was working for an electric railway power plant shoveling coal.  He quit the job when he determined he was being exploited, and headed west to join General Kelly’s Army, meeting up with them in Omaha (NE).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Stiff was the slang term for a tramp in the 1890s.

This army wasn’t an army in the military sense, however, its members intended on marching to Washington (D.C.) to join General Coxey’s Industrial Army in protest of unemployment numbers.   Army life didn’t suit him as much as he thought it might, and a month later, he left General Kelly’s Army in Hannibal (MO) and became a bona-fide hobo.  He wound up being arrested in Buffalo (NY) on June 29 of that year, charged with vagrancy, and spent thirty days in the Erie County Penitentiary upon conviction.   Years later, when he wrote about what happened, he used the term soapbox to explain

The city had treacherously extended its limits into a mile of the country, and I didn’t know, that was all.  I remember my inalienable right of free speech and peaceable assembly, and I get up on a soap-box to trot out the particular economic bees that buzz in my bonnet, and a bull takes me off that box and leads me to the city prison, and after that I get out on bail.  It’s no use.  In Korea I used to be arrested about every other day.  It was the same thing in Manchuria.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Charles T. Kelly was known as General Kelly, leader of General Kelly’s Army.  His group of slightly more than 2,000 unemployment men intended to march from San Francisco (CA) to meet up with Jacob Coxey’s Industrial Army, where they would continue marching to Washington (D.C.).  Unfortunately, few of the men in General Kelly’s Army were interested in making the trek on foot past the Ohio River.  A thousand men made it as far as Des Moines (IA).  By the time they arrived in Washington (D.C.), there were hardly any men left in his army.  His men added another hundred to General Coxey’s numbers when they marched on Washington (D.C.).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Prominent political figure and labor-rights advocate Jacob Coxey was known as General Coxey, leader of the Industrial Army.  He decided to lead a march to Washington (D.C.) to protest unemployment.  He claimed in the media that his Industrial Army would have more than 100,000 unemployed men by the time it arrived in Washington, however, he was mistaken.  By the time he reached Washington, there were only five hundred unemployed men with him.  Undeterred, he moved forward with his plan to have the United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland see things his way, and found himself arrested for trespassing on public property.  His followers abandoned him, and upon his release from jail he was sent back to his home state of Ohio.

In 1904, mainstream media in America referred to those making speeches at the National Convention of the Socialist Party of America as soap-box orators.  The Socialist Party of America was a Marxist group with headquarters originally in St. Louis (MO).  In January 1904, it was determined that their headquarters would be moved to Chicago (IL) as determined by Referendum B 1904.  Although the convention was referred to by the media as the First National Convention of the Socialist Party of America, it was actually the second  — the first having been the Unity Convention held in Indianapolis (IN) held from July 29 to August 1, 1901.  

The concept of a Speaker’s Corner has been around for some time, with some locations such as Hyde Park in the UK dating back to the late 1800s. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 stated that some areas in parks would be permitted to be used to allow people to meet and speak their mind in a peaceful way in public.  In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, manufacturers used wooden crates to ship wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. The heavier the merchandise, the stronger the box had to be, and soap was (and still is) some of the heaviest merchandise being shipped. This meant that wooden crates carrying soap were among the strongest.

When wooden crates that had once carried soap were turned over into makeshift platforms, they could easily bear the weight of an adult without fear of breaking while the person stood on it.  They were also very easy to carry around, making quick escapes possible for those who stood on their soap boxes delivering unscheduled speeches.

The tradition of soapbox speaking was seen in the 1992 general election in the UK when Tory leader John Major took his campaign to the people directly and delivered many political addresses from an upturned soapbox.

The term soap box referring to speaking one’s mind dates back to the late 1800s and continues to be used even in conversations more than 125 years later.

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

Devil’s Lane

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 16, 2015

Did you know that the devil’s lane is the narrow area between two spite fences erected by disputing neighbors?

This definition is attested to in Volume 75 of the Farm Journal published in 1951 when Anna Shoemaker of New Jersey wrote a letter to the editor with the following opening sentence:

When I was a child, our farm was next to that of a cranky old man who always had a “devil’s lane” between his property and ours. Instead of a single fence, there were two.

On March 9, 1900, the Pittsburgh Press published a story by Colonel William Lightfoot Vischer in the Friday evening edition.  The story was about two men who had been the best of friends until two years earlier when a serious misunderstanding happened between them at hog killing time.  After that, the two men had erected two fences between their respective properties.

 As we drove the doctor remarked:  “Those youngsters will probably get paddled.”
“For what?” I asked.
“You observed that lane they came from, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and I intended to ask what it meant.”
“It means that these two farmers are bitter enemies.  The boy, Sam, is the son of Tom Riggins, whose house we passed just yonder, and the girl is the daughter of Dick Rutherford.  This is his place, just ahead of us.  The dividing line between their farms lies inside of those two zig-zag fences, and the men hate each other so that they’d rather die than join in a partnership line, hence each has built on his own, and thus we have such an eyesore as that.  Country people, knowing the cause of a double fence, call it the Devil’s Lane.”

In Chapter 15 of the “Tell Tale Rag And Popular Sins of The Day” by the blind Methodist lay preacher, Reverend George W. Henry (1801 – 1888) and published in May 1861, the author used the idiom.

He said his master had a sore quarrel with a neighboring farmer, which was of long standing.  They hated each other so intensely that they would not unite their line fences, so each built a fence near the line, making was it commonly called “the devil’s lane.”

Now the word lane is from the Old English word lanu that means narrow hedged-in road.  But despite Idiomation’s most valiant attempts, no earlier mention of the devil’s lane than the one found in George W. Henry’s book in 1861 could be found.

Perhaps one of our eagle-eyed readers or visitors has uncovered an earlier published version of devil’s lane.  If so, please leave a message in the Comments section below.

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Fit As A Fiddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2015

When you’re fit as a fiddle, you’re healthy and well.  Ask any musician with a violin or fiddle and he or she will confirm that a fit fiddle is one that’s in excellent shape.   And how does one keep a fiddle fit?  As with any musical instrument, a well maintained fiddle is one the owner keeps in top condition which means the sounds emanating from the instrument will always equal the talent and ability of the person playing it.

When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were those who were concerned over his health … not because he appeared to be suffering from any health issues, but because he was far from being a young man at the time.  However, the Montreal Gazette of October 31, 1981 published a news story that was picked up from UPI that stated that all was well with the President.  The article was titled, “Reagan Fit As A Fiddle” and the first paragraph of the story read:

Two days of physical examinations at the National Naval Medical Center found U.S. President Ronald Reagan to be “fit as a fiddle,” a presidential aide said yesterday.

Over the years, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ran newspaper ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and these ads advocated taking Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to cure indigestion woes.  In fact, in the Spokesman Review of October 22, 1942 the ad copy read in part:

Say goodbye to those “morning blues.”  Next time you overeat, or stay up late at a gay party, take Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at bedtime and wake up feeling “fit as a fiddle.”

The saying was used in other newspaper advertisements.  Going back to May 12, 1909, the Pittsburgh Press ran one for Hires with the headline copy, “As Fit As A Fiddle On A Fine Spring Day.”

FIT AS A FIDDLE_IMAGE 1
On May 21, 1888, the Evening Post newspaper of Wellington in New Zealand published an article in the Sporting section titled, “Turf Notes” and written by the anonymous reported, Vigilant. The news was that the Wanganui Steeplechase had nine horses entered, and barring accidents, racing fans could expect to see all ready to run at post time.  One horse in particular seemed to be of enough interest to warrant mention by the reporter.

Faugh-a-Baalagh, 11st 12lb, is generally voted well in, and as he will have T. Lyford up on him and is reported as fit as a fiddle, whatever beats him will, I think, get the stakes.

Volume 15 of the “American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine” published in January 1844, discussed the strengths of a horse owned by Mr. G. Salvin.  In Monday’s race, the odds were 13 to 4 against The Cure, and 3 to 1 against The Cure in Thursday’s race, making him an equal favorite with another horse by the name of Ithuriel.

The Cure is an extraordinary good horse, and we have reason to believe the stable money is upon him.  If so, and his partly only mean it, then will our anticipations be realised in seeing him not far from No. 1.  The distance is the only obstacle in his path, but his friends assert that makes no difference.  He is, we hear, as “fit as a fiddle,” and none the worse of his being a little off at Newcastle.  It is understood that Sam Rogers will now have the steering of the “little gentleman” for the St. Leger.

English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) — known as John Wray until 1670 — included the idiom in his book ,”A Compleat Collection Of English Proverbs” first published in 1670.  Before it was included in John Ray’s book, it was used by English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 25 August 1632) in “The Batchelor’s Banquet” published in 1603 with a bit of a twist.  Instead, the word fine was inserted for fit, however the sense of being in top-notch shape was clear in the dialogue.

Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle, having on a white waistcoat, with a flaunting cambricke ruff about her neck, who liks a Doctris in facultie comes thus upon him.  Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our mistresse bot your selfe:  I will allure you on my credit that I doe what I can, yet for my life I cannot I, any way content her.

And in English playwright William Haughton’s Elizabethan era stage play, “Englishmen For My Money: A Pleasant Comedy Called A Woman Will Have Her Will” published in 1598, the idiom appears.  In the scene, we find the Italian Aluaro, the Frenchman Delion, and Frisco, who is described as Pisaro’s man and a clown.  Pisaro is a Portingale, and the story has to do with this three daughters — Laurentia, Marina, and Mathea — and their suitors.

FRISCO:
In Leaden-hall?  I trow I shall meete with you anone: In Leaden-hall?  What a simple Asse is this Frenchman.  Some more of this:  Where are you sir?

ALUARO:
Moy I be here in Vanshe-streete.

FRISCO:
This is excellent ynfayth, as fit as a Fiddle:  I in Tower-streete, you in Leaden-hall, and th third in Fanchurch-streete; and yet all three heare one another, and all three speake together:  either wee must be all three in Leaden-hall, or all three in Tower-streete, or all three in Fanchurch-streete; or all three Fooles.

The word fiddle is derived from the Old English word fithele, and in Old German it was fiedel.  The word came into vogue during the 14th century when Medieval fiddles became popular street musical instruments, due in large part to their portability.  Fiddles during the Middle Ages were described as having four strings, a hollow body, and an unfretted fingerboard, and was played with a bow.

It was an instrument equally favored by waits (official town musicians employed by the large English towns in which they lived), minstrels (who were first and foremost entertainers who were also musicians, and who traveled from town to town), and troubadours (who, even though they were musicians, interacted with royalty and nobility).

It can be guessed that those musicians who played fiddle — especially for aristocracy — would want their instrument to be in the best condition possible, and fit for performances.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published use of fit as a fiddle than the one found in William Haughton’s comedy, because it was used in the play, it was obviously an expression that was already known to the general population by the late 1500s.

Considering how language evolved during this era, it is very likely that the idiom most likely came into vogue during the early to mid-1500s.

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Poor As A Church Mouse

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 22, 2015

When the claim is made that someone is poor as a church mouse, it means they haven’t anything to spare.  It’s based on the fact that a church doesn’t have a cupboard or a pantry from which a mouse can steal away even the smallest food crumb.  The interesting fact about this idiom is that it isn’t just an idiom used in English although it’s been well-used in English over the years.

The author of a print ad placed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on November 26, 1957 was intended as a plea for donations to build the Milwaukee Boys’ Club described as a real club for a real boy.  The ad was referred to in fine print as “one of a series of weekly articles paid for by a member of the Club’s Board of Directors.”  The ad was titled, “As Poor As A Church Mouse” and began with this copy:

You must be an oldtimer if you can remember back when this expression was so common.  Those were the days before electricity, telephones, automobiles, radios, television and modern plumbing.

And indeed the author of that copy was correct.  The idiom wasn’t a recent one in the least.

The Pittsburgh Press printed a Letter to the Editor on March 29, 1935 that was written by Norvin Mack of 525 Sheridan Avenue in Pittsburgh. 

Norvin Mack wrote about the minimum government pay of $30 per month to soldiers along with free lodging, food, and medical care.  He stated that if a soldier had family — in other words, dependents — that the government would deduct $15 from his pay, match that amount, and send it along to his family.  To that end, the minimum pay was $45 per month.  He went on to extol the other virtues of being a soldier, and all this was to correct a story that had previously been published in the newspaper.

He was an outspoken sort, and included this paragraph in his letter.

As one who volunteered long before the draft was hardly thought of and who is now as poor as a church mouse I count it an honor to take my position with you on this momentous question.  I am supporting my family at common labor, not relief.  Plain selfishness urges me to welcome the immediate payment of the bonus but common sense forces the rejection of the plan.

It was in the Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph newspaper edition of April 16, 1912 that an article appeared discussing the move away from throwing rice at weddings and the move towards throwing confetti instead.  The sexton of a fashionable New York church was interviewed on the new tradition, and his opinion favored the switch.  He was quoted as saying:

“This confetti fashion is very welcome to us sextons.  When rice was used our churches were overrun with mice.  The saying “as poor as a church mouse” was then meaningless.  Why, in my church, where weddings are so popular, several hundreds of mice — fat chaps they were, too — found an ample food supply in the rice that was sprinkled over the brides.”

“Now that rice has been abandoned for paper confetti, these mice have all disappeared.  They were starved out.  They couldn’t live on paper.”

The title for the story was simply, “Poor As A Church Mouse:  Since Confetti Came Into Use, The Saying Has More Meaning Than At Former Times.”  How apt is that for a headline?

Episcopalian clergyman and American author Frederick William Shelton (1815 – 1881) wrote and published “Peeps From A Belfry: Volume 3” in 1856.  This volume opened with a short story titled, “The Seven Sleepers.”   In Shelton’s story, a clergyman by the name of Pettibones approaches Mr. Snapjohn, and after a very brief exchange, Mr. Snapjohn says:

Want money, I suppose.  I haven’t a cent, Sir — not a cent.  Gave five dollars the other day for church missions, don’t believe the heathen will ever see one cent of it.  It won’t do them any good, — not at all, Sir, not at all, so much money thrown into the sea.  I am tired and sick of such demands.  I’ve got nothing.  I tell you I’m as poor as a church mouse — I’m as poor as a church mouse.”

The saying appears in a number of publications throughout the 1700s and 1800s, and is found in other countries. In fact, in German poor as a church mouse is arm wie eine Kirchenmaus and it’s found in a Grimm’s Dutch-German dictionary published in 1719. And before that, it appears in “A Collection of English Proverbs” compiled by English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) and published in 1670 (who up until 1670 spelled his name John Wray).

Now, it’s also a fact that Anglo-Welsh historian and writer James Howell (1594 – 1666) published a proverb collection in 1659 entitled, “Paramoigraphy” wherein the idiom was listed as “hungry as a churchmouse.”  That being said, Grimm did mention in his 1719 book that the idiom was from the Scottish proverb puir as a kirkmouse.  Oddly enough though, the French had a similar phrase:  gueux comme un rat d’église.

Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than that from 1659 with a reference to the German and Scottish versions of the idiom, it’s likely that the phrase has existed for as long as mice and churches have co-existed which is to say, for centuries.  That being said, Idiomation is confident in pegging this idiom to the early 1600s, allowing it to become part of the vernacular in England.

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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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White As A Hound’s Tooth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 22, 2013

Similar to the expression clean as a hound’s tooth (and sometimes used interchangeably with that expression), white as a hound’s tooth refers to the flawlessness of a person’s character or the perfect attributes of an item (large or small).

If it’s a romantic twist of phrase you’re looking for when it comes to using the expression, there’s not too many out there that than the piece entitled, “On Winter’s Trace” in Florence Fisher Parry’s column “I Dare Say” in the March 23, 1943 edition of the Pittsburgh Press. It read in part:

Dark shadows winnowing under the sea, seeking out death. Metal birds banking in the sky, seeking out death. Ships, no longer white as a hound’s tooth, seeking out death. Men and machines, seeing out death ….

Spring.

So I walked out where the air was cold against my forehead  I walked around what a few years ago had been swarded rows of proud old mansions. But now, along the noble facade of the street, great weedy gaps, piled with mossy rubble, gaped like empty cavities where once had smiled a pearly row of teeth … razed for taxes .. razed because there must be an end of wealth, and end of the steeples in the temperature-chart of the New World Doctors.

It’s always interesting to see how the expression is used and when it was found in the book, “Diseases Of Occupation And Vocational Hygiene” edited by George M. Kober, M.D., LL.D. et al, and published in 1916, the connection was with arsenic. In fact, this is what was included in the text:

In order to obtain white arsenic (arsenious acid) the ore is roasted and the arsenic so volatilized is collected in flues and chambers. This so-called “arsenic soot,” in the collection of which elaborate precautions in the shape of overalls and respirators are necessary to guard against the effects on the skin, is again submitted to heat in a refining furnace and the fumes again deposited in flues as white as a hound’s tooth.” Subsequently, the material is ground and packed in barrels usually by automatic arrangements preventing dust.

When the Newark Sunday newspaper of May 22, 1892 ran a story entitled, “The Large Ships.” The iron ship certainly sounded amazing.

She is 333 feet long, 48 feet broad, and 28 feet deep. Her four masts are each square-rigged, but she is far from clumsy aloft, is easily handled, and has run fourteen knots an hour for a while day. We are much impressed by her exceptional size; but for beauty she compares unfavorably with such a ship as the Thermopylae, or a large wooden-built ship of America having bright lofty spars and decks as white as a hound’s tooth. Iron decks do not lend themselves readily to adornment.

In the Irish Penny Journal, No. 1, Volume 1 published on July 4, 1840 a story written by Mrs. S. C. Hall and entitled, “The Irish In England: The Washerwoman” gives a birds’ eye view of how the Irish washerwoman, Biddy, and the English in the house, from the Mistress through to the other servants employed by the house.

The only regular washerwomen extant in England at this present moment, are natives of the Emerald Isle.

We have—I pray you observe the distinction, gentle reader—laundresses in abundance. But washerwomen!—all the washerwomen are Irish.

The Irish Washerwoman promises to wash the muslin curtains as white as a hound’s tooth, and as sweet as “new mown hay;” and she tells the truth. But when she promises to “get them up” as clear as a kitten’s eyes, she tells a story. In nine cases out of ten, the Irish Washerwoman mars her own admirable washing by a carelessness in the “getting up.” She makes her starch in a hurry, though it requires the most patient blending, the most incessant stirring, the most constant boiling, and the cleanest of all skillets; and she will not understand the superiority of powder over stone blue, but snatches the blue-bag (originally compounded from the “heel” or “toe” of a stocking) out of the half-broken tea-cup, where it lay companioning a lump of yellow soap since last wash—squeezes it into the starch (which, perhaps, she has been heedless enough to stir with a dirty spoon), and then there is no possibility of clear curtains, clear point, clear any thing.

In the “Journal of Llewellin Penrose: A Seaman” written by William Williams, and originally published in 4 volumes in 1783, the following is found:

I thought every minute of their absence an hour, so great was my anxiety. In about four hours they returned, and gave the following account of their expedition Bell said he found her to be Bermudian built sloop; she mounted guns, and had altogether a warlike appearance; her bottom was as white as a hound’s tooth. As they drew near her, he plainly heard some one say i English, “a rope for the boat,” with an oath tacked to the end of it. He then hailed them in Spanish, and was answered in the same language.

Without a doubt, the saying was used with great ease in 1783 and although it has probably been around for generations in maritime communities, Idiomation was unable to find the expression published any earlier than 1783. That being said, the phrase is definitely part of the 18th century with a great likelihood that it goes back a bit farther than that.

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On A Short Leash

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 13, 2013

If you have someone on a short leash, you are restricting someone’s freedom, and keeping strict control of that person’s activities for the purpose of controlling behavior. The idiom is literal in that it is based on the very definition of what a leash is and what it does: it’s a length of rope or leather used to prevent an animal from getting away.  And it most definitely relates to control and maintaining control.

On April 1, 2011 the Belfast Telegraph ran a story on comedian Russell Brand who was providing voice-over talent in the family-friendly film, “Hop.” The story read in part:

“We had to keep him on a short leash for this movie!” James joked.

The actor explained: “He still gets to be Russell but he has to do it within the confines of [playing] the Easter Bunny.”

It’s the sort of expression that instantly provides a visual readers take seriously while chuckling at the implications. The Montreal Gazette published a news article on August 9, 1980 that stated that New York held the wallet for Canada’s biggest oil company, Imperial Oil Ltd. It stated that if any of Imperial Oil’s top managers in Toronto wanted to spend more than $5 million on a new project, they needed approval from someone in New York and that someone had to be from Exxon Corp of New York since it owned 69.9 percent of Imperial Oil. The headline read:

Canadian Company Kept On Short Leash

The Spokesman-Review of December 12, 1956 discussed the need for a strong military force in the Mediterranean Sea in a story they published entitled, “Strong Fleet Vital In Mediterranean.” The value of having a fleet in the Mediterranean was neatly summed up in the article that contained this comment in the article:

In this air age, the importance of maintaining a strong force of military planes is emphasized continuously, and rightly. But consider the advantages of having fleets such as the Sixth.

The fleet’s base is the United States. It has no base in the Mediterranean and wants non. As Admiral Brown said, “We like our independence … we do not run on a short leash.” The fleet can show up at a trouble spot without creating the alarm a flight of military planes over the same area might have. Further, it can disperse quickly if atomic attack is threatened. If caught in an atomic war, its vessels with their accompanying air power are better able to withstand shocks than can installations ashore, said Admiral Brown.

The expression seems to have changed over the decades, however the sense of the expression has remained unchanged as evidenced by the story in the St. Petersburg Times edition of February 17, 1927. The story was about the upcoming heavyweight fight slated for the following night between Jack Delaney and Jimmy Maloney. There had been, of course, the typical exhibition fights where each fighter took on sparring partners and reporters were eager to report on what they’d seen, stirring up excitement over the upcoming fight. The story ended with this paragraph:

Out of the exhibition there came to observes the conviction that Delaney is in the finest shape of his career, with every move indicating his knowledge of a bagfull of ring tricks, kept in leash to unloose any time he pleases. The Delaney who meets the charge of the Boston strong boy Friday night seemed more resourceful than ever — and bigger.

The earlier expression “kept in leash” appeared in a story in the Pittsburgh Press on February 2, 1908 entitled, “King And Crown Prince of Portugal Were Assassinated: Harry K. Thaw Now Behind The Bars Of Madhouse Cell.” The assassination of King Carlos and the Crown Prince, and the attempted assassination of the Queen and Prince Emmanuel on February 1, 1908 was reported in detail. Mobs were in control of the streets, and the growing severity of the measures of oppression and Premier Franco’s dictatorship were at the heart of the upheaval. The story read in part:

Deputy Almeida, former Deputy Costa, Viscount Rebeira — all level-headed men, were arrested several days ago for political activity and are in one of the several prisons here.

As a result of the long contest between people and police in which the former have been kept in leash by the arms of the latter, the city is a boiling cauldron from which anything may be expected if a determined leader rises and welds the hundred odd bands of Revolutionists into a compact army.

And before that, “kept in leash” and “held in leash” were used interchangeably while still maintaining the spirit of the expression. The New York Times of May 1, 1866 published an article about the Committee of Fifteen and the objections by Congress with regards to reconstructing the Union. The article entitled, “Reconstruction and Circumlocution” read in part:

While most of the propositions in this plan of reconstruction are just and sound, its leading purpose and design, viz.: the election of the President by a divided Union — is monstrously unjust, unwise, and impracticable, and if persisted in by majorities in Congress will lead to disastrous consequences. If, from unavoidable causes, the Union should be kept divided, the people would acquiesce. But when protracted disunion is deliberately contrived; when a measure, with this purpose, cropping out vividly, is put forth by a “Directory” which has thus far held Congress in its leash, it will NOT be endured.

In the essay by William Hazlitt (10 April 1778 – 18 September 1830) entitled, “On Wit And Humour” and published in his book “Lectures on the English Comic Writers” in 1818, wrote that man is “the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” In his essay, he wrote:

It is the gaiety of despair, the mirth and laughter of a respite during pleasure from death. The strongest instances of effectual and harrowing imagination are in the story of Amine and her three sisters, whom she led by her side as a leash of hounds, and of the ghoul who nibbled grains of rice for her dinner, and preyed on human carcasses. In this condemnation of the serious parts of the Arabian Nights, I have nearly all the world, and in particular the author of the Ancient Mariner, against me, who must be allowed to be a judge of such matters, and who said, with a subtlety of philosophical conjecture which he alone possesses, that “if I did not like them, it was because I did not dream.”

And so, even in this essay, we see people being held on short leashes in a very literal sense. The Arabian Nights story to which Hazlitt refers is entitled, “The Three Calendars and Five Ladies.”

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer confirms in his book, “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” that Amine was the wife of the character by the name of Sidi Nouman.  He, too, attributes the leash comment to the Arabian Nights.

The “Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms” edited by Ivan G. Sparkes claims that a leash of armies was used as early as 1705 and that a leash of days dates back to the early 1600s.  Indeed, the expression is found in a poem by Daniel Dafoe (1662 – 24 April 1731) entitled, “The Double Welcome: A Poem To The Duke Of Marlbro‘” in which readers find this passage:

From thence thro’ ravag’d Towns and conquer’d Plains
The Monument of Victory remains,
Augsburg and Munick trembl’d at your Name,
Tho’ not inform’d of your approaching Fame:
To Blenheim, happy Name! the Scenes advance,
There gathers all the Thunderbolts of France.
A Leash of Armies on thy Plains appear
Each fancied able to support a War,
And free a Nation from the Vanity of Fear.
We that at Distance saw th’ approaching Day,
Knew the Design, and saw the Bloody Way.

English dramatist, poet and actor Benjamin “Ben” Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) used the word leash to describe several days in a row. The play in which it appeared is entitled, “Epicoene” written in 1609, and was among those that English Member of Parliament, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) appreciated. The phrase can be found in this dialogue:

MISTRESS OTTER:
Yes, sir, anything I do but dream o’ the city. It stained me a damask tablecloth cot me eighteen pound, at one time; and burnt me a black satin gown, as I stood by the first at my Lady Centaur’s chamber in the college, another time. A third time, at the lord’s masque, it dropped all my wire and ruff with wax candle, that I could not go up to the banquet. A fourth time, as I was taking coach to go to Ware to meet a friend, it dashed me a new suit all over (a crimson satin doublet, and black velvet skirts) with a brewer’s horse, that I was fain to go in and shift me, and kept my chamber a leash of days for the anguish of it.

There are a number of other references that include the word leash, all of them dealing with control of some form or another.  In fact, the expression leash of hounds can be traced back to the early 1300s.  However, in the sense of control of humans, this round goes to Daniel Dafoe in 1705.

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Riding Roughshod

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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.

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