Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Queen Elizabeth I’

A Country Mile

Posted by Admin on September 10, 2019

Just how long is a country mile you may wonder after hearing someone mention country miles or having read about country miles? After all, isn’t a mile a mile whether it’s in the city or in the country?

When someone talks or writes about a country mile they are talking or writing about deceptively long distances, and definitely longer than anticipated. Some will tell you this is because country roads tend to meander across the countryside whereas as city roads tend to be set up in grid formation. The layout of roads may be a fact, however, that’s not the reason a country mile is supposedly longer than any other mile.

As we learned from the research on a mile a minute, until Queen Elizabeth I standardized just how many feet were in a mile (5,280 feet), an Irish miles consisted of 6,720 feet, a Scots mile consisted of 5,928 feet, a Welsh mile was supposedly a very long stretch to walk, and other miles had varying numbers of feet in them.

Now, up until the 13th century when King Edward I conquered Wales, the Welsh mile was comprised 9000 paces feet where each foot was 9 English inches long.

The Scots mile — which was about 1.12 English miles — was still a thing when Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) mentioned it in the first verse of his narrative poem “Tam O’Shanter” published in 1791, and written the year previous.   In fact, it was so much a thing it had to be abolished three times: Once in 1685 by an act of the Scottish parliament, once in 1707 when the Treaty of Union was signed between Scotland and England, and once by way of the Weights and Measures Act of 1824. It would seem Scotland were really attached to their mile, and weren’t as willing to give it up in favor of the English mile as the English believed they should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: The Ottoman mile was 5,000 Ottoman feet long which was the equivalent of 1.18 English miles, and in 1933 it was replaced by the slightly shorter Turkish mile which is the equivalent of 1.15 English miles.

On 29 December 2016 the Jamaica Observer newspaper published an article titled, “Top 16 2016 Racing Moments.” At #13 on the chart, and headlined “The Finish of the Oaks” this race had to do with the Jamaica Oaks race where the win was described thusly:

What a race the 2016 edition of the Jamaica Oaks turned out to be. After winning the 1,000 Guineas by a country mile, Nuclear Affair with Aaron Chatrie aboard looked all over a winner in the Oaks, but a late race surge by A Thousand Stars (Robert Halledeen) ended with a short head victory by the latter. Two females engaged in all-out battle was something to behold.

On 1 March 1992, American Forests published an article about reforestation at Jersey’s famed Pine Barrents (at the time it was known as Pinelands) that had been a weapons test range named the Warren Grove Test Range. One sentence in the article read:

No doubt more than one wet-behind-the-ears pilot missed his target by a good country mile, and the small clearings grew into vast desolate stretches of Pine Barren sand.

In the 20 November 1971 edition of Cash Box magazine, “Walk A Country Mile” was mentioned as the flipside of the Tommy James release “Nothing To Hide” on Roulette Records.

SIDE NOTE 2: Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was Thomas Gregory Jackson, and was born on 29 April 1947 in Dayton (OH). Tommy James and the Shondells (formerly known as Tom and the Tornadoes) were known for hits such as the very well-known and oft-covered “Mony Mony” and equally engaging songs “Crimson and Clover” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

The mile became standardized by international agreement on July 1, 1959 by the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959. It was agreed a mile was equivalent to exactly 1609.344 meters. As mentioned earlier, until then all miles were not created equal.

The printing firm of Casper (C.C.) Childs (Jared W. Bell, General Agent) published an interesting tidbit about a country mile in “The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference: A Million of Facts on Common Place Book: Volume III” published in 1850. The entry in which the term is found, slightly modified, states:

Robin Hood shot a full mile; and, according to his bard, a north-country mile was equal to two statute ones.

For those who are interested, north-country England included the cities of Nottingham, York, and London. As we know, Robin Hood was constantly at odds with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Medieval statute miles were 1.3 international miles long, and while it’s doubtful that Robin Hood’s arrow was shot anywhere near 2.6 miles before landing, the exaggeration expected from the term “country mile” is found in this passage.

In the poem “The Villager’s Tale” by mariner and west-county from Bodmin, Frederick de Kruger (1798 – date unknown ) and published in 1829 in his book, “The Pirate and Other Poems” the expression finds a place in this stanza written by the poet. This was 5 years after the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 was passed in England, and because the printer of the book (Liddell and Son) and the seller (G.B. Whittaker) were located in London, it lends credence to the comparison between the two different kinds of miles.

The travelling stage had set me down
Within a mile of yon church-town;
‘T was long indeed, a country mile.

SIDE NOTE 4: Very little is known about Frederick de Kruger save that he was a mariner who survived three shipwrecks in the space of nine years and permished in the last shipwreck (which happened after 1829 but Idiomation was unable to identify what year it happened). He was born in Bodmin which is a civil parish and historic town in Cornwall, England. Bodmin is responsible for the expression to go Bodmin.

SIDE NOTE 5: The book by Frederick de Kruger was dedicated to Vice-Admiral Sir C. Penrose, K.C.B. of Ethy House, Cornwall. This would have been Sir Charles Vinicombe Penrose (20 June 1759 – 1 January 1830) who was a Royal Navy officer who became the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB). Penrose was also born in Cornwall.

Beyond 1829, Idiomation was unable to find any published instances of a country mile, but quite a bit about the various miles already mentioned in this entry. Idiomation suspects that country miles compared to other miles were spoken of for several years prior to the term being published in printed materials based on the history of the various miles in history.

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

Skittles

Posted by Admin on March 24, 2015

Every once in a while you hear someone allege that another person is skittles, meaning that their thinking is all over the place.  And you may hear the word used in this sense:  “He had the skittles kicked out of him.”  If that’s happened to someone, then their thinking is also all over the place as they are bent over in pain.

That meaning is courtesy of the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie.  In the movie, the Gadgetmobile (voiced by American actor, political commentator, and comedian D. L. Hughley) crashes into the Dr. Claw’s limousine and upon impact, thousands of Skittles pour out of the glove compartment and air bag.  Penny (Inspector Gadget’s niece) arrives on the scene and notices that the Gadgetmobile “got the Skittles kicked out of him.”  Since the movie’s release in theaters over 15 years ago, this meaning for the word has made its way into every day jargon.

However, the new meaning is predicated on the fruit-flavoured bite-sized candy of the same name that debuted in England in 1974.

Historically speaking, the word does indeed, exist in Danish and Swedish, in the sense of a child’s marble.  This dates back to the mid-17th century and is of unknown origin.  So it’s not surprising that a colorful, bite-sized candy the size of a child’s marble would be a called a skittle by the manufacturer.

However, skittles is also a game that dates back to 1625 and is Scandinavian in origin.  The game is one where a wooden ball or disk is used to knock down ninepins, and is the forerunner to bowling.  Each of the ninepins is known as a skittle.  It didn’t take long before the game of skittles was popular in England as well as in Scandinavia and in other countries between Scandinavian and English shores.

But even before then, Skittle was a last name given to families who were weavers as another name for a weaving shuttle was a skittle.  The first recorded version of that name was for Agnes Skittle who married John Culpack at St. Nicolas in Colchester, Essex on September 17, 1581.  It was at this time in history that last names were introduced in England.  It was a way to keep accurate records for personal taxation purposes — a government program that was new to the empire ruled under Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) when she ruled England from 17 November 1558 through to her death in 1603.

And so, in the end, skittles refers to a game of old-fashioned bowling where pins are knocked down the old-fashioned way with a wooden ball or a disk, and the scoring — while different from modern-day bowling — demands a certain degree of skill from its participants.  It’s not much different from the skill required of weavers with their many skittles shuttling back and forth as it creates quality cloths.

In the end, whether it’s weaving or bowling, skittles tend to wind up all over the place when all is said and done!  The word, as far as Idiomation can find, dates back to at least the mid-1500s, and most likely well before then.

Thursday, Idiomation will take a closer look at the idiom beer and skittles to see what that’s all about.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Unfriend

Posted by Admin on October 21, 2014

Social media platforms have been responsible for the rise in new words such as tweeting and tweeple, but it’s also given rise to the return of old words such as unfriended and unfriending.  It may seem odd that before Facebook, that unfriending and being unfriended happened.  Now the question is this:  How long have people been unfriended and unfriending?

The poem, “Easter Week” by Erik Axel Karfeldt is included in a poetry anthology entitled, “Arcadia Borealis.”   The book was published in 1938 at the University of Minnesota.  I don’t know what possessed me to read the poem, but read the poem I did.  Imagine my surprise when I came across this passage in the poem.

Imprisoned in the grave, my friends are banished —
I have an unfriend in the days long vanished;
God’s peace be over
The house from which I then was rudely thrust!

Surprised to find such a modern word in a poem written and published over 75 years ago and long before technology was a common occurrence in almost every household, I began to wonder about the history of the word unfriend.  If someone was an unfriend (and not an enemy), then at one point had they been friends?  It was a question that nagged at me until I took matters into my own hands and began hunting down the answer.

Research uncovered a Letter to the Editor in the archives of the Pall Mall Gazette.  The letter writer was Oscar Wilde, and his letter was published under the heading, “Half-Hours With The Worst Authors.”  The famous playwright took exception to what he called the “extremely slipshod and careless style of our ordinary magazine-writers” and he used an article written by George Saintsbury (who had published a book on prose style) that had recently been published in the January 1886 edition of Macmillan’s magazine. It was in point 9, that the word was used.

9.  He certainly was an unfriend to Whiggery.

That certainly carried, not only the spelling, but the sense as well, of being unfriended.

The comment reinforced by belief that if one could only be unfriended, that could only happen if they had previously been friends, and it stands to reason that if two people had been friends at one point, one or both could be unfriended.

But would history bear this out?  Indeed it did as it was found in the writings of Patrick Abercromby, M.D., in his book “The Martial Atchievements of the Scots Nation: Being An Account of the Lives, Characters, and Memorable Actions of Such Scotsmen as Have Signaliz’d Themselves by the Sword at Home and Abroad” in Volume 1 published in 1711.

William, King of Scotland, thought himself unconcern’d with these Transactions:  ‘Twas not his Business to determine who had best Right to the Crown of England; yet he made no haste to Recognize King John’s Title:  And it seems he was by that Prince’s Party consider’d as an Unfriend; for his Brother, Earl David was one of these suspected Peers that summond to Court, and by many fair Promises cajoll’d into a Submission.

In other words, William, King of Scotland, was a frenemy in the eyes of King John of England … someone who King John had considered a friend, but whom he now considered an unfriend.  Yes, it would appear that King John unfriended King William.

Sneaking back into the previous century, the next document I found was used in a letter written by English church historian, Thomas Fuller, to Peter Heylin.  It was dated 1659, and is found in “The Appeal of Injured Innocence.”

I hope, sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.

There is was in black and white, and using the old-fashioned, obsolete version of today’s screenshot.  Printed proof that unfriending could, and did, happen back in the 17th century!  So how far back did this unfriending activity go?

Back in 1566, according to the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, they have in their possession a collection of documents entitled, “Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth I.”  You see, the passage on page 118 of Volume 8 makes a clear delineation between a friend, an enemy, and someone who was once a friend … someone who was unfriended.

The King confessed that reports were made to him that Murray was not his friend, which  made him speak that which he repented. The Queen said that she could not be content that either he or any else should unfriend Murray.

I don’t know for certain who Murray may have been (though I suspect the reference may be to the Earl of Murray, the illegitimate son of James V), but it would appear that the King and others had unfriended him.  Not nice, you historical figures, you! That’s,you know … technology-free cyberbullying!

That’s where the trail ran cold, however, the fact of the matter is that the word unfriend was known and used in the mid-1500s with no worry that the others wouldn’t understand the word’s meaning.  It was very clear what unfriending was.

Now all of that is interesting, however, in the context of today’s technology, unfriending someone on Facebook isn’t a new activity that came about as a result of technology.  People have been unfriending others for centuries with and without computers, with and without Facebook, with and without a written account of the actual unfriending!

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of unfriending or unfriended than the State Papers of 1566, however, it is reasonable that because the word was used by royalty in 1566, it was understood by the general population.  Idiomation therefore pegs it to at least the beginning of the 1500s, with the likelihood that it pre-dates that date as well.

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Penny Wise And Pound Foolish

Posted by Admin on February 1, 2011

A few months after World War II, in Oregon, the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper ran an article on February 26, 1946 entitled, “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?” 

The story was about the proposed junior college for veterans at Klamath Falls that would use up nearly all of the estimated $450,000 USD in state reserves.  The alternate site for the junior college was the Vanport (Portland) facilities where there would be marginal costs for remodelling as there were already 4,300 vacant housing units on site, equipped and ready for immediate use. 

Over the decades leading up to that article and since then, the phrase has been used to point out the flawed thinking with regards to public, as well as private, expenditures.

In Michigan, the Ludington Daily News ran an article entitled “Fixing The Blame” on September 27, 1901 that reported:

The members of the city council who are seeking to hold up the electric light contract should remember that it is not always good policy to antagonize those men who seek to build up and improve our city.  The city can afford to be liberal in its dealings with any man, or with any enterprise that desires to do something which will benefit the city.  Compared with contracts existing in other towns, the proposition of Mr. Stearns is a very liberal one and the council cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish in its treatment of the matter.  Good man have been driven out of other cities by such an indifferent policy.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia on April 11, 1833 (but written by, and signed, “a breeder of Australian wool on March 27, 1833) the anonymous author wrote:

And it is to the want of this consistency in breeding that the undoubted degeneration of our wools is to be attributed; a degeneration which will fearfully augment, unless immediately and universally counteracted by the general infusion of pur imported blood into all our breeding animals, and by the total exclusion of that “penny wise, pound foolish” system of partial improvement, through the means of which, the bulk of our fleeces are evidently retrogading [sic].  There can exist no excuse whatever on the part of our breeders, to justify them in obstinately persisting in their present course.

English poet and dramatist, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published The Spectator in 1712, in which he wrote:

I shall not speak to the point of cash itself, until I see how you approve of these my maxims in general : but I think a speculation upon “many a little makes a mickle, a penny saved is a penny got, penny wise and pound foolish, it is need that makes the old wife trot” would be very useful in the world: and, if you treated them with knowledge, would be useful to yourself, for it would make demands for your paper among those who have no notion of it at present.  But of these matters more hereafter.

Later in the same book, Joseph Addison wrote:

I know several of my fair readers urge in defense of this practice, that it is but a necessary provision they make for themselves, in case their husband proves a churl, or miser; so that they consider this allowance as a kind of alimony, which they may lay their claim to, without actually separating from their husbands.  But, with submission, I think a woman who will give up herself to a man in marriage, where there is the least room for such an apprehension, and trust her person to one whom she will not rely on for the common necessaries of life, may very properly be accused (in the phrase of a homely proverb) of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The phrase is found in E. Topsell’s book “Four-footed Beasts” published in 1607:

If by couetousnesse or negligence, one withdraw from them their ordinary foode, he shall be penny wise, and pound foolish.

But, in the end, it is a Scottish proverb.  According to the Registers of the Stationers’ Company, the book “The Chapman of a Peneworth of Wit” dates back to before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and contains the phrase.  As a side note,in 1560 John Sampson aka John Awdeley aka Sampson Awdeley paid for the rights to republish “The Champan of a Peneworth of Wit” in parts under the title, “Penny-wise, Pound-foolish.”

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