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Posts Tagged ‘President Roosevelt’

Straddle The Fence

Posted by Admin on February 25, 2016

When a person straddles the fence, it means the person appears to favor both sides of an argument or situation.  In other words, the person has placed himself or herself in a noncommittal position while appearing to side with both sides.  Some call it sitting on the fence, so whether it’s sitting on the fence or straddling the fence, the person doing it is undecided and willing to remain undecided until push comes to shove on the matter at hand.

The Victoria Advocate newspaper of March 13, 1980 included an article from the Associated Press that dealt with the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and the fact that the U.S. was picking its teams in the hope that world tensions would ease to the Summer Games wouldn’t be in danger of not happening. What hung in the balance was the May 24th deadline when the United States would have to either accept or decline the International Olympic Committee’s invitation to take part in the Moscow Games. The article was titled, “USOC To Straddle Fence.”

The Afro American newspaper published an ad in the March 26, 1949 edition titled, “Why Straddle The Fence?”  It was a small blurb on the bottom of page courtesy of the subscription department and the first line repeated the idiom.

There’s no need to straddle the fence in the matter of selecting the biggest readership bargain of 1949.  Pee Wee staunchly insists there’s not the least bit of doubt about it.  His favorite paper unquestionably gives the most for the money.

During World War II, the Montreal Gazette published an article on September 5, 1938 about President Roosevelt.  The write-up revealed that the Democratic congressional campaign committee wasn’t prepared to back the President’s position that a “good liberal running on the Republican ticket would serve the country better than a conservative Democrat.”  The headline that accompanied the story was, “Forbid Roosevelt To Straddle Fence: Democratic Campaign Leaders Resent Reference To Liberal Republicans.”

The term found its way into the Electrical Merchandising Magazine in April 1919 leaving no doubt as to what it meant.

IMAGE 1_1919
And a delightful poem titled, “On The Fence” was published in the 1888 edition of “A Basket of Chips: A Varied Assortment of Poems and Sketches” authored by J.B. (Joseph Bert) Smiley (1864–1903) who also published under the pseudonym of Samwell Wilkins.

J.B. Smiley was from Kalamazoo and he attended the University of Michigan in 1885.  However, it doesn’t seem that the institution of higher learning could keep its hold on J.B., and he found himself writing for the Kalamazoo Herald newspaper.  From time to time, he found himself front and center on stage in front of an audience eager to listen to the humourous lecturer.   From an third-party perspective, “On The Fence” gives some insight into why he was such a popular speaker.

Upon every point that arises
which may my opinion refute,
Upon every political issue
And on every local dispute,
In fact, upon every question
Where the interest is strong and intense,
My position is always the right one,
I invariably straddle the fence.

The position is not very easy,
And it doesn’t look pretty at all,
If I lean to one side or the other,
I believe I am certain to fall;
And I think that I merit distinction,
And a credit mark, long and immense,
If on every question that cometh,
I can gracefully straddle the fence.

In August 1847, a Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 8 of the “Genessee Farmer: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Agriculture and Horticulture, Domestic and Rural Economy.”  The journal even had illustrated engravings of farm buildings, domestic animals, improved implements, fruits, and more, and was edited by Daniel Lee, MD with the assistance of P. Barry, Conductor of Horticultural Department in Rochester, N.Y.

The letter was signed Old Farmer Tim, and he had a lot to stay about the Universal Yankee Nation, lack of sympathy, and family pride.  He even reference the “almighty dollar” saying that the “shining disc flashes on our diseased imaginations, and rolling on just ahead, puts quicksilver in our heels, to follow it almost to the very verge of space.”  The letter ended in a flourish, and began just as dramatically.

Mr. Editor:  I think I hear some of your readers exclaim, “Well, here comes the old pedlar again, astride the fence,”  Not so far, my old covey — I am not straddle of the Fence any way you can fix it, either in Politics or Religion; on those two subjects I know where I sleep; but if I can get astride of some of the miserable excuses for good fences that I observe about the country, and can ride them down, I am content to be “straddle of the fence.”

While some sources say that the idiom came into being in 1828, Idiomation found it used in “The Columbian Union: Containing General and Particular Explanations of Government and the Columbian Constitution” written by Simon Willard, Jun. of Massachusetts, and published in 1814.

Idiomation suspects that this Simon Willard isn’t the same as the celebrated U.S. clockmaker, Simon Willard (April 3, 1753 – August 30, 1848) of Massachusetts — the man who invested the eight-day patent timepiece.  However, it could be as there’s a Lighthouse Clock with the clockmaker’s signature identical to the author’s signature.

Regardless, the author of this book wrote the following:

If this little notion of dog war can excite human beings, to rejoice and to take an active part, certainly a whole nation of humans, wherein themselves are engaged, instead of dogs, and their very lives and property at stake, must take an active part, some where to secure their popularity; to straddle the fence, it is as inconsistent, as to suppose a corpse to be a live man; a man looks like a fool, who stands inactive in a case, wherein his own property is at stake, for he is either deluded and knows nothing of his danger, or he is sure to be king, or sure to enjoy a king’s office, otherwise he is inconsistent to himself.

This is the first published version of straddle the fence that Idiomation could find.  Before this, the word straddle is defined in Thomas Sheridan’s “A Complete Dictionary Of The English Language Both With Regard To Sound And Meaning” dated 1797 as “to stand or walk with the feet removed far from each other to the right and left.”

So sometime between 1797 and 1814, straddle the fence came to mean what it means today.

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Sign Of The Times

Posted by Admin on May 1, 2013

When you hear people refer to a sign of the times, for the most part, what they’re referring to is something that is thought of as symptomatic of present attitudes.  Knowing this to be true, it’s a fact that a sign of the times is just as likely to be positive as it is to be negative.

Just a few years ago, on November 27, 2005 the Ottawa Citizen reported that the original “Hollywoodsign that sat high above Los Angeles had been listed on eBay with a reserve price of $300,000 US, it seemed almost unbelievable. The sign had originally read “Hollywoodland” back in 1923 when it was built, and until it was replaced in 1978, it watched as the U.S. film capital came of age. The story was aptly entitled:

Sign Of The Times: Hollywood History Up For Auction On eBay

Back on October 4, 1943 the Glasgow Herald the topic of one story was the post-war air transport limits that were being discussed. The concept of “free air” was felt to be sufficiently broad to meet all reasonable requirements of all the Allies for years to come, and came with President Roosevelt’s promise of planned development of world air routes. The news story, entitled “Freedom Of The Air” read in part:

There need be no time wasted now on speculation about American intention. The statement which Mr. Roosevelt made on Friday was not by any means the last word from the United States, yet it is a sign of the times. Experience has begun to put restrictions on American enterprise, and post-war projects are being trimmed to fit the framework of a new world order. And it is not at all ironical that the new trend in America thought has been quickened by Mr. Wendell Willkie, no less than the President.

The New York Times reported on the political climate in Washington State in a story entitled, “Washington Wants Cleveland And The Principle He Stands For” in the April 9, 1892 edition. The story began with this eye-opening bit of factual information blended with opinion:

The State of Washington went Republican in the last Congressional election and in the State election preceding, but there are many indications that the Democrats may win next November. One sign of the times is that the Democrats have carried every municipal election held during the past six months.

Stepping back a few more decades, the National Era newspaper carried a Letter to the Editor that was dated February 10, 1853. Although there was no name included, the Letter to the Editor was two newspaper columns long and was exhaustive in its presentation of the history and that history’s impact on the world at large. It lead off with this statement:

The failure of Count Orloff’s insidious mission is the best sign of the times. Opthalmia could not avoid seeing through the dust he tried to throw, and the unanimous rejection of his overtures must produce a very grave effect upon the statesmen of St. Petersburgh, and middle classes of the empire.

The expression has been used repeatedly over the centuries, and in tracing back its origins, the first published version Idiomation found was in the Bible in Matthew 16:3 where the following is found:

And in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

The expression sign of the times doesn’t seem to be going the way of the dinosaur any time soon, and that may just be another sign of the times.

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Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

Posted by Admin on August 3, 2011

When you’re accused of beating the Devil’s tattoo, you’re being told that you are drumming on a hard surface with your fingers.  More often than not, it’s thought of a sign of impatience or ill-humour to be beating the Devil’s tattoo, but it need not be.  The saying, though seldom used these days, is still heard from time to time.

California psych-garage trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released their sixth CD last year entitled, “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo.”  This trio of young musicians must have heard or read the expression somewhere along the line to christen their CD with the phrase.  And it appears to work for them as Rolling Stone has referred to the band and their music as “unremittingly grim and undeniably fun.”

Back in the 1960s there was a very famous race horse according to Florida Horse Magazine known as “Devil’s Tattoo.”  If another horse beat the “Devil’s Tattoo” there was definitely some serious drumming going on the racetrack surface! In 1965, Miami resident — and former Chairman of the Florida State Racing Commission — Louie Bandel along with Mrs. Edith Marienhoff, bred and sold Devil’s Tattoo for $70,000.

In O. O. McIntyre‘s column “New York Day By Day” run in the Milwaukee Sentinel on January 8, 1935, the author included a tidbit about the Rainbow Room, a top “swank spot” in the sky high Rockefeller Center. Part of Mr. McIntyre’s review of the Rainbow Room included this bit:

The night I was there a melancholy mood singer was husking to a twanging guitar.  Several couples sat starry eyes, enraptured.  I could only beat a devil’s tattoo on the chair arm and wonder how much the tax on the check.  Sacre tonnere, what a thing to get old!

On June 7, 1907 the Pittsburgh Press ran a story about President  Roosevelt entitled, “Roosevelt Is Very Restless.”  It detailed the woes of a professional photographer who had agreed to do an official portrait of the President but much to his dismay, this proved to be quite a task in itself.  The story related in part:

He did pull his head back a bit then, but he immediately began to drum on the table with the fingers of his right hand.  I requested him to belay that while I was focussing him, and then he began to beat the devil’s tattoo on the armchair with the fingers of his left hand.  He smiled very broadly when I asked him not to do that, and by this time he was huddled all in a bunch in the chair again, and once more I had to take hold of him and unravel some of the knots from his right position. 

Finally I got the snap at him, but the picture wasn’t satisfactory to me, although he seemed to like it.  He was profoundly bored, apparently, by the time I got through pulling him around in the chair, and when Mr. Roosevelt is bored his expression is sardonic.

In Chapter 11 of the book entitled, “No Name” written by Wilkie Collins (1824 – 1889) and published in 1862, one passage in the book recounts the following with regards to Captain Wragge:

He sat unflinchingly at the window with a patience which Mrs. Lecount herself could not have surpassed. The one active proceeding in which he seemed to think it necessary to engage was performed by deputy. He sent the servant to the inn to hire a chaise and a fast horse, and to say that he would call himself before noon that day and tell the hostler when the vehicle would be wanted. Not a sign of impatience escaped him until the time drew near for the departure of the early coach. Then the captain’s curly lips began to twitch with anxiety, and the captain’s restless fingers beat the devil’s tattoo unremittingly on the window-pane.

The New York Times ran a series of short news items on September 27, 1854 with one sub-heading entitled, “Calloa Items.”  The two news items under this sub-heading were each a paragraph in length and read thusly:

The fine clipper ship Kate Hayes was sold at the offices of the American Consul in Calloa on Monday last.  She brought $27,400, Mr. Seville of this city being the purchaser.

The same day, during a drunken brawl, two men were wounded, and a cavalry soldier, in attempting to beat “the devil’s tattoo” on the heads of two countrymen with the ramrod of his pistol, inflicted serious injury.

In Edgar Allen Poe‘s satirical short story entitled, “The Devil In The Belfry” published on May 18, 1839 in the Philadelphia issue of the Saturday Chronicle and Mirror of the Times, the story takes readers to the Dutch borough of Vondervotteimittiss — a quaint, out-of-the-way spot where very little of anything happens.   In this story, fans of Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849) find this paragraph:

But the little chap seized him at once by the nose; gave it a swing and a pull; clapped the big chapeau de-bras upon his head; knocked it down over his eyes and mouth; and then, lifting up the big fiddle, beat him with it so long and so soundly, that what with the belfry-man being so fat, and the fiddle being so hollow, you would have sworn that there was a regiment of double-bass drummers all beating the devil’s tattoo up in the belfry of the steeple of Vondervotteimittiss.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the phrase “beat the Devil’s tattoo” prior to Poe’s use however as with other expressions that are found in literature, it is reasonable to believe the phrase was a common expression used often enough to be recognizable to the general public and so it’s very likely that this phrase goes back to at least 1800.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »