Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Reading Eagle’

In A Pickle

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2015

When you find yourself in a pickle what that means is that you’ve found yourself in a position where you don’t know what to do, and where whatever you decide to do, you will probably have to deal with some unpleasant consequences.

On April 28, 1994, John N. Grigsby of the Toledo Blade newspaper published an intriguing story in his column “The Street Where You Live” all about the name of a street in Oregon Township. The column started by announcing that for years, residents in Oregon Township had wondered how Pickle Street got its name. Usually streets are named after early settlers, but in this case, not one settler named Pickle had ever lived in the township.

While there had been a farmer named Pickle at some point in the township’s history, by the time he settled in Oregon Township, the street had been named long before. Pickle Street had been known as County Road 183 and Brand Street and Stevens Street and Freedom Street, cut county commissioners decided in 1919 to settle on naming it Pickle Street. The column headline read, “Oregon Residents Caught In A Pickle Over Naming Of Thoroughfare.”

The Reading Eagle published a story back in 1934 by author Thornton W. Burgess in his column, “Nature Stories.” This one was titled, “Peter Rabbit Is In A Pickle.” The word pickle was used often throughout the story, including in this passage:

So, now you see what a pickle Peter was in. He was afraid to go over to that machine on account of the man, and he was afraid not to go because all the other little people would call him a coward and a boaster.

A little more than a century earlier, in 1820, Harry Broom (which was a pseudonym the author used) wrote a series of plays under the heading, “King In A Pickle.” The entire series was a satirical recounting of current affairs and lampooning King George IV and fellow royals, very much in the style of William Shakespeare.

SIDE NOTE:  The author was also responsible for another humorous book entitled, “A Nursery Guide For Ministers’ Wives.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, the bard used in a pickle in Act 5, Scene 1 of his play “The Tempest” published in 1610.

ALONSO:
And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

TRINCULO:
I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

But it’s an odd little poem from in the book “Proverbs and Epigrams” by John Heywood and published in 1562 that the words appears in the sense of a pickle being a difficult situation.

Time is tickell
Chaunce is fickell
Man is brickell
Freilties pickell
Poudreth mickell
Seasonyng lickell

This is the earliest published version Idiomation could find for in a pickle referring to a difficult situation, and for it to be cleverly used in John Heywood’s work indicates that the phrase was understoodin 1562 to mean a difficult situation. It’s reasonable to believe that at least a generation earlier, the idiom took on this meaning. Idiomation therefore pegs in a pickle to the early 1500s.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Under Your Hat

Posted by Admin on June 25, 2015

It’s not every day that an idiom has as illustrious — or as convoluted — a history as the one that’s part of under your hat.  When someone tells you to keep what they’re sharing with you under your hat, they expect you to keep their confidences and not betray their secrets.

Back in 1732, under the reign of King George III, Britain levied a tax against American colonists in the form of the Hat Act.  Great Britain outlawed the manufacturing and exporting of hats in the colonies and made it illegal to engage in inter-colonial sale of hats.  Hats were imported from Britain and were subjected to a heavy tax.   This is an important bit of history to keep under your hat while the rest of the story unfolds.

The Reading Eagle newspaper edition of February 10, 1980 ran a column about photography that was authored by Holt Confer titled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”  Holt welcomed non-technical questions and column suggestions from readers, but this column while serious, also kept everything light.  The first two paragraphs clearly set the tone for the column.

I’ll have to admit “Keep It Under Your Hat” is a strange name for a photography column.  If you take a quick glance at the two photographs, the title will become a bit more relevant.

And if I tell you a few more “secrets” about photographic exposures (“secrets” I don’t mind if you pass along) then the title will be a lot more relevant.

During WWII, while the Americans ran with the campaign slogan that warned loose lips sank ships, people in the UK had their own slogan from 1940:  Keep it under your hat.  The campaign addressed every class — from working class to upper class — and drove home the point that anything a person knew, whether they thought it was important or not, was a danger to the men on the front lines if it what they knew was talked about.

National Archives_UK_1940s
In April 1925, the California Melody Syncopators released a 78 RPM record on Clover Records.  The song was entitled, “Keep It Under Your Hat.”   It was a re-release of the 1923 hit for the California Ramblers that was written by Eddie Cantor, Charles Tobias, and Louis Breau.

It was in Volume 20 of “Gleaning In Bee Culture” that the term was used in response to Chas. Israel’s Letter to the Editor dated New York, September 30, 1892.  The author of the letter had read an article on honey adulteration written by Professor Cook, and he was concerned over a new law that went into effect on September 1, 1892 that addressed the issue of adulterated honey and maple sugar.

The matter of grades of honey, and feeding bees glucose to make their honey all that much sweeter, was also an issue, and he dragged Mr. W.J. Cullinan of Quincy, Illinois into his worries. And finally he references the “American Analyst” edition of June 18, 1892 where it was mentioned that some of the most reliable dealers of honey in the United States was selling adulterated honey!  The response from the Editor included this passage.

We know of just one who did do it, as above-mentioned, and possibly there may be a few others; but their number, as compared with honest honey-producers who feel aggrieved and injured because of the mixing on the part of the city chaps is as nothing.  Now, if we are wrong in our assumption — and possibly we are — we want the brethren everywhere to speak right out.  If you do not wish to have your name as informant mentioned in connection with the matter, nor any thing done about it at all, say so; at any rate, tell us where you know of a producer who is engaged in the mixing business, and we will keep it “under our hat” if you say so.

The spirit of under your hat is found in the novel, “The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy” by English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863) and published in 1848.  There, in the chapter entitled, “More Storms In The Puddle” readers find this passage:

The old grandmother crooning in the corner and bound to another world within a few months, has some business or cares which are quite private and her own — very likely she is thinking of fifty years back, and that night when she made such an impression, and danced a cotillon with the captain before your father proposed for her: or, what a silly little over-rated creature your wife is, and how absurdly you are infatuated about her — and, as for your wife — O philosophic reader, answer and say — Do you tell her all?  Ah, sir — a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine — all things in nature are different to each — the woman we look at has not the same features, the dish we eat has not the same taste to the one and the other — you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near to us.

French chronicler Jean de Vennette (1308 – 1370) wrote that the British soldiers at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 protected their bows by putting the strings on their heads under their helmets.  At the time of the Battle of Crécy (26 August 1346), the preferred bow for military purposes was the longbow.  The bow-staves were a single piece of straight-grained yew, and unstrung, the bow was six feet long and tapered.  Bow strings were waxed and oiled to keep them weather-proof and flexible.

While it’s true that the bowmen kept their strings under their helmets, it was no secret about where the bowmen kept their strings, and keeping strings dry isn’t the same as keeping secrets.  It is highly unlikely that keeping something under your hat has anything to do with the Battle of Crécy or bowmen.

The Adventurer” was a journal where John Hawkesworth (1715 – November 16, 1773) was the editor and principal writer from 7 November 1752 through to March 1754, and was the successor to Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784).  In all, about seventy papers written by John Hawkesworth were included in the four volume series published in 1793.  In Volume IV of this collection, the spirit of the idiom is implied in this passage:

By a sudden stroke of conjuration, a great quantity of gold might be conveyed under his hat.

The dictionary defines conjuration as an illusory feat that could be considered magical by those who were unfamiliar with the trickery.  In other words, hocus pocus, legerdemain, prestidigitation, sleight of hand.  If one was adept at conjuration, there was considerable money to be made as long as the secret of the magic involved was kept locked up inside the person’s head which, of course, back in the day, would have been covered by a hat.

This indicates that the early beginnings of keeping information under your hat cropped up in the early 1750s, twenty or so years after the Hat Act of 1732.  Whether the idiom is as a result of John Hawkesworth’s writings or the Hat Act of 1732, Idiomation pegs the expression to the mid-1700s.  Of course, if any of our readers know differently, please share in the Comments section below.  After all, there’s no reason to keep that information under your hat, is there?

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

Calling Shotgun

Posted by Admin on May 19, 2015

Calling shotgun is, in many ways, no different than calling first dibs.

In the January 17, 2006 edition of the Reading Eagle, Devin Cremer (who, at the time, was a junior at Twin Valley High School in Reading, Pennsylvania) discussed what the article called, “Rules Of Engagement: Calling Shotgun.”  He made it clear that calling shotgun was one of those split-second decisions that we sometimes have to make, and then he made sure he explained what the rules were for calling shotgun.

First and foremost:  You must have complete, 100 percent clear visibility of the vehicle in order to call shotgun.  It is not acceptable to call shotgun while inside of a building, or when an object obscures the view of the vehicle that is to be driven.

Terry Marotta wrote mentioned calling shotgun in an article in the Bangor Daily News on January 31, 1995.  He wrote about the three principles that made a family functional, which, he wrote, were the same three principles that made living in society functional.  The article was entitled, “Sacrifice, Restraint, Affection Important Virtues Of Family Life.”  Part way through the article, calling shotgun was mentioned.

Often you become most aware of sacrifice in its absence.  Take the custom of kids calling shotgun as they race toward the family car.  I hated this custom when I was 6 and I hated it at 36. And I made sure, once I had kids of my own, that whatever goody was awarded, it sure didn’t go to the one who, in a froth of self-interest, was braying for it the loudest.

Based on the writer’s statement, calling shotgun has been around since at least the mid-seventies.  But where did it really come from, and when did it start?

In the book “Poorboy At The Party” by American journalist and author Robert Gover (2 November 1929 – 12 January 2015) and published in 1966 by Simon and Schuster, the author referred to the seat next to the driver of a car as the shotgun seat.

He got up and staggered to the shotgun seat and tossed me the keys.

SIDE NOTE:  Robert Gover was friends with musician Jim Morrison (8 December 8 1943 – 3 July 1971) and in 1968, the two were arrested for causing a disturbance at the Pussycat A Go Go in Las Vegas.

The expression actually has its roots in the days of stagecoach travel when two people were riding upfront:  the driver, and the express messenger.  The express messenger was colloquially referred to as the shotgun messenger.

American investigative journalist, lawyer, novelist, editor, and short story writer Alfred Henry Lewis ( 20 January 20 1855 – 23 December 1914) published his book “Faro Nell and Her Friends: Wolfville Stories” and in this book, the author included a passage about riding shotgun in Chapter IV titled, “Old Monte, Official Drunkard.”

That lack of war instinct in Monte ain’t no speecific drawback.  Him drivin’ stage that a-way-, he ain’t expected none to fight.  The hold-ups onderstands it, the company onderstands it, everybody onderstands it.  It’s the law of the trail.  That’s why, when the stage is stopped, the driver’s never downed.  Which if thar’s money aboard, an’ the express outfit wants it defended, they slams on some sport to ride shotgun that trip.  It’s for this shotgun speshulist to give the route agents an argyooment.  Which they’re licensed to go bombardin’ each other ontil the goin’ down of the sun.

The book had beautiful illustrations created by W. Herbert Dunton (28 August 1878 – 18 March 1936) and John Norval (J.N.) Marchand (1875-1921), and was published in 1913 by G.W. Dillingham Company.

The expression was used in an earlier book by Alfred Henry Lewis entitled, “The Sunset Trail” which was published in April 1905 by A.S. Barnes & Co.  It’s found in the short story titled, “The Worries Of Mr. Holiday.”

Wyatt and Morgan Earp were in the service of the Express Company.  They went often as guards — “riding shotgun,” it was called — when the stage bore unusual treasure.

But riding shotgun and calling shotgun are two different expressions.  It was in the popular TV series, “Gunsmoke” with James Arness (26 May 1923 – 3 June 2011) which ran from 1955 to 1975 that expressions from the television version of the Wild West era were transplanted and superimposed on popular culture of the day.

In Season 2 (1957), Ira Pucket (played by Edgar Stehli) got a job riding shotgun on the stagecoach.  In Season 4 (May 1959) Marshal Matt Dillon (played by James Arness) helped a gunman get a job riding shotgun on a stagecoach.  In Season 7 (1962), Harvey Easter (played by Abraham Sofaer) convinced Charlie Fess (played by Harry Bartell) to quit riding shotgun on the stagecoach.  In Season 8 (1963), Quint Asper (played by Burt Reynolds) agreed to ride shotgun for Sam Gordon (played by Glenn Strange), the driver on the morning stagecoach.  Nearly every season of the show had someone riding shotgun on the stagecoach.

What does this mean for the idiom?  It means that sometime during the late 1950s, the passenger seat in a car became known as the shotgun seat, and if you wanted that prized seat (complete with extra leg room), you had to call it or lose it hence the idiom calling shotgun.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gold Bricking

Posted by Admin on April 16, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone accusing another of gold bricking.  It sounds to some as if it should be a compliment, but it isn’t.  If you accuse someone of gold bricking, you’ve accused them of idling, of shirking responsibilities, or of getting someone else to do the job they were supposed to do.  In other words, the person accused of gold bricking has tricked someone into believing that it is of value for them to take the job off the slacker’s hands and do it for him (or her).

It was in the August 2, 2003 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a story from the Associated Press was picked up and posted.  It was part of the “Auto Racing Notebook” column and began with talk of Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and car owner Chip Ganassi.  It went on to talk about the U.S. Grand Prix in June, and Ralf Schumacher, among other topics.  While the article was entitled, “Ganassi Interested In Stewart” the photo by Tom Strattman (also of the Associated Press) was captioned thusly:

Gold-Bricking?  Ryan Newman, winner of last weekend’s race at Pocono, takes a break in the garage area before the start of practice yesterday for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Qualifying for the race is today.

On October 7, 1978 the Pittsburgh Press published a story from New York by George DeWan.  It was about the largest known accumulation of gold — valued at $75 billion US at the time of the story — and where it was stored.  While the journalist noted how safe the location was, he also provided a great of detail in his story.  The headline that went with this story was, “Fed Takes Pride In Being Noted For Goldbricking.”

The Pittsburgh Press was quick to report on gold bricking on July 27, 1952 when ir reported on qualifying for insurance for vets of the Korean War, and mentioned that some of the new laws had been introduced for family members as well.  The article was entitled, “New Law Cuts Goldbricking.”

Some dictionaries claim that the term came about during World War II, however, Idiomation has found the term published in earlier news stories.

Once again, it was in the Pittsburgh Press of January 28, 1934 ran a one paragraph article in the newspaper about a situation happening in Steubenville, Ohio the previous day.  There had been a lot of firings going on, and this is what was reported.

One hundred CWA workers were removed from the payroll here on charges of drunkenness, ineligibility and the old army game of “gold-bricking.”  Charges that some of the men were drunk on the job and that others were loafing, were investigated by the complaint board.  Others were not on the eligible list, the board found.

The article, was simply titled, “Fired for Gold-Bricking.”

And in the October 26, 1923 edition of the Reading Eagle, when it was reported that Socialist candidate for mayor, J. Henry Stump, claimed that the city garbage plant was mismanaged, the article was titled, “Candidate Stump Reviews Statement Made By Mr. Smith:  Asserts City Was Gold Bricked.”   In the story proper, the following was included:

Mr. Stump quotes Mr. Smith as admitting that the city was gold bricked in purchasing the garbage plant, and asserts that the erection of an entirely new plant at the time would have meant a large saving to the city.  Councilman Smith has charge of the city’s garbage disposal.

Perhaps the dictionaries attributing the term to World War II meant it was a term that came about during World War I.  Except that, too, would be incorrect.

The Sarnia Observer newspaper of July 22, 1898 republished a story that had been published in the Windsor Record originally.  The article stated that J.D. Moor, a produce dealer of St. Marys (Ontario)  had been robbed at pistol point and relieved of $9,000 CDN by C. Mott of Philadelphia and his accomplice, J.C. Brown, also of Philadelphia.  A third man, named Bedenfield, involved in the caper managed to escape arrest and couldn’t be found by the police.  Later on, it was learned that J.C. Brown was actually J.C. Blackwell, Bedenfield was actually George Mason,and C. Mott was none other than Chas. Watts, a known Chicago criminal.  This article was entitled, “Gold Bricked The Police: Moore’s Swindlers Were Fully Identified.”

One of the most successful gold brickers was American confidence man, Reed C. Waddell (1860 – 5 April 1895) who is credited for coming up with the gold brick game.  He wasn’t the first, of course, but he was the most successful of his time when it came to gold bricking, raking in $250,000 USD in a ten-year period.

But it was in October 1879 that gold bricking became known when newspapers across the U.S. reported that the bank president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio), Mr. Newell D. Clark had been hoodwinked by miners — led by Peter Lavin — requesting an advance on a 52-pound gold brick in their possession.  The ruse was that the corners of the brick were gold however the body was the brick was not, so when Mr. Clark had the blacksmith cut off one corner of the brick, and an assayer confirmed that the corner was gold, the president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) advanced $10,000 USD to the miners.

In other words, that gold brick was useless to the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) … and gold bricking became synonymous with being fooled or tricked.

To this end, the spirit of the word gold bricking, as it refers to shirking one’s responsibilities and convincing someone else to do the job, is carried over from the incident in 1879.

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

Not For Nothing

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2013

As soon as the idiom right as rain was published to this blog, Brian Michael Stempien wondered what the back story on not for nothing might be.   Setting off to research this idiom, the many twists and turns along the way made this an intriguing idiom to track.  You can lay the blame for double negatives on Latin, where positive assertions are made by way of double negatives. For example, non nulli translates into not nobody but it means everyone.  No wonder this idiom gives so many people trouble!

The idiom not for nothing actually means what’s about to be said or done is not to be said or done in vain; what’s about to be said or done has a cause, a purpose, a reason, or a use. What’s more, the same expression is found in other languages such as French where you can hear people say, “C’est pas pour rien.”

In Time magazine, in the Science and Technology section, the article, “Gagarin’s Golden Anniversary: The High Price Paid By The First Man In Space” by Jeffrey Kluger was published on April 12, 2011. The article, of course, had to do with the Russian cosmonauts and the American astronauts. In this article, the journalist used the idiom, not once, but twice!

It’s not for nothing that Russia, the U.S. space community and most former Soviet republics celebrate every April 12 as Yuri’s Night, with speeches, parties and commemorative events. It’s not for nothing, too, that this year the list of countries joining the celebration has expanded to 71 — including Belgium, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Greece, India, the Maldives, Malaysia and even Iran — or that the inevitable website complete with the inevitable online gift shop has been launched.

When the Reading Eagle of Berks County (PA) published the July 17, 1952 edition of the newspaper where it was reported that Democrats felt certain President Truman could be swayed to change his mind about stepping aside to allow another to run for the office of President. It was said that Mrs. Truman had to motives for returning to Washington: The first was because she missed her husband when he was away from her, and the second was to be on hand if the call should come asking him to run for President again. The article read in part:

As is well known, Mrs. Truman has been irrevocably opposed to another four years in what she consider a cruel kind of imprisonment. And not for nothing does the President refer to her as “the boss.”

Russian poet, musician and novelist, Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin (18 October 1875 – 1 March 1936) used the expression in one of his poems, “Alexandrian Songs for Nikolair Feofilaktov, II Love, #6” published in 1906.

Not for nothing did we read the theologians
and studied the rhetoricians not in vain,
for every word we have a definition
and can interpret all things seven different ways.

And slipping back 2 more years to November 5, 1904 to a story in the New York Times entitled, “The Mikado’s Birthday” the expression makes an appearance.  Reporting on Japanese strategists in Tokyo who hoped to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday in a very unique way, some history was rehashed and the following can be found:

But even a year ago, we repeat, when it became clear that Japan was prepared to fight the huge Muscovite Empire, as she had already successfully tackled the huge Chinese Empire, in vindication of what she believed to be her right to national expansion, which seemed to her equivalent to her right of national existence, there were not wanting skeptics to maintain that the clockwork precision and the dauntless valor which had marker her war against China went, if not for nothing, yet not for very much in the face of the fact that she had never encountered the troops of a “European” Power.

When Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13 1850 – December 3 1894) wrote and published “Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers” in 1881, he included this passage in Part 1.

Lastly no woman should marry a teetotaller, or a man who does not smoke. It is not for nothing that this “ignoble tobagie” as Michelet calls it, spreads all over the world.

It’s an expression that’s been used for centuries, and appears in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant Of Venice” that was published in 1596. The passage appears in Act II, Scene V.

LAUNCELOT
I beseech you, sir, go: my young master doth expect
your reproach.

SHYLOCK
So do I his.

LAUNCELOT
An they have conspired together, I will not say you
shall see a masque; but if you do, then it was not
for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on
Black-Monday last at six o’clock i’ the morning,
falling out that year on Ash-Wednesday was four
year, in the afternoon.

But as much as the word nothing came into the English lexicon in the 12th century, the expression not for nothing reaches back much more farther back. In fact, when newly baptized Christians were enslaved or massacred by Roman soldier, Saint Patrick (yes, the patron saint of Ireland) who lived from 385 to sometime between 462 and 493, wrote a “Letter To The Soldiers Of Coroticus” in the year 450. In this letter was written:

I grieve for you, how I mourn for you, who are so very dear to me, but again I can rejoice within my heart, not for nothing “have I labored,” neither has my exile been “in vain.”

Finally, the first published point was found with comic writer at the time of the Roman Republic, Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC).  His first play was produced in 205 BC and continued throughout his lifetime and beyond. In Act IV, Scene III of “Aulularia.”

It was not for nothing that the raven was just now croaking on my left hand.

The expression was used freely in this comedy and the audience knew what it meant. Idiomation is therefore led to believe that not for nothing was a common expression at the time, and its existence lies somewhere in the years before the play was written.  At the very least, it was a known expression around 300 BC, and possibly earlier than that.

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Crisp And Clean And No Caffeine

Posted by Admin on May 29, 2013

When American rapper Big Daddy Kane released his song “I Get The Job Done” in 1988, it included the phrase crisp, clean and no caffeine. The expression has been used by those who imply that they are, or what they are doing is, above-board and without artifice.

When PopMatters Film and TV Editor, Cynthia Fuchs reviewed the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes” in the May 20, 2004 edition of PopMatters, she wrote about the return of Jim Jarmusch, and the cast which included such recognizable names as Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina and Bill Murray. The reviewer shared that the movie was actually a set of 10 vignettes strung together, with coffee and cigarettes being the thread that ran through all of them. At one point in the review, she wrote:

Discussing his innovative combinations of alternative medicine and music (“two planets circling around the same sun”), RZA provides a clever gloss on his own numerologizing and Eastern philosophizing, by way of an acute sense of irony and good humor at his own expense (“Crisp and clean,” he rhymes, “No caffeine”). Both the ZAs are duly entertained by the arrival at their table of waiter Bill Murray (whom they repeatedly call by his full name, as a kind of punctuation to every address, as in, “Are you a bug, Bill Murray?”). When they warn him that caffeine brings on “serious delirium,” Bill Murray glugs the brew straight from the pot, as RZA and GZA watch, amazed.

On December 12, 1999 the Seattle Times published a news article written by Associated Press journalist, Ted Anthony entitled, “Little Utah Town Hits A Gusher: Pure Water From The Ice Ages.” In the second-driest state in the United States of America, an aquifer known as Humbug Well became the center of attention … and a possible source of income for the town in Summit County. The story reported that in September 1998, Weston Groundwater Engineering’s hydrogeologist hit pay dirt … or rather, pay water! 175 gallons per minute worth of water! And midway through the article, the journalist wrote:

City officials didn’t realize it was special at first. Sure, it was crisp and clean, no caffeine. But Ice Age water?

The Reading Eagle published a news story on March 21, 1982 entitled, “Seven-Up Launches Controversial Cola.” The opening paragraph stated that Seven-Up had upset its competitors in the soft-drink industry by running an aggressive ad campaign that helped re-brand it from the Un-Cola to something entirely different. With the FDA warning pregnant woman in 1982 to avoid products with caffeine on the basis that studies showed that heavy doses of caffeine caused birth defects in rats, Seven-Up seized on the opportunity to make the most of the FDA’s warnings. The article stated in part:

Seven-Up, which has lost $8.8 million in the past two years, raised the ire of the rest of the industry earlier this month when it launched a new advertising campaign attacking a basic ingredient of its competitors’ sodas — caffeine.

The ads, featuring popular sports personalities, proclaim, “Seven-Up … Crisp and Clean.  No Caffeine.  Feelin’ Seven-Up.”

Just 3 weeks before that article, the Beaver County Times published an article on March 2, 1982 that quoted Les Zuke, a spokesman for the Seven-Up Co., that the “Seven-Up … Crisp and Clean. No Caffeine. Feelin’ Seven-Up” commercials would be introduced nationwide over the next few days. One ad featured Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Randy White, with a traditional commercial featuring a high-profile sports figure. But it was the one with Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw that was the most controversial as he brushed aside cans of Dr. Pepper, Sunkist Orange, Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew and Mello Yello to grab a can of Seven-Up.

But it was the Seven-Up commercials featuring Geoffrey Holder that most people remember.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom, and so 1982 is the year this first came into vogue as a slogan, and making its way into the English language shortly thereafter as an idiom.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Duck Out

Posted by Admin on August 24, 2011

When someone ducks out it means they’re going to slip away, exit, go, leave, split, depart, skedaddle, take off, clear out, hightail, buzz off, beat it, make tracks, take a powder, fly the coop, vamoose, get out of Dodge and it’s oftentimes so the person ducking out can avoid doing something for which they are responsible or that puts the speaker in an uncomfortable position.

On August 7, 2011 the Calgary Herald published a story by reporter Kristen Odland entitled, “Taylor Shines For Stamps.”  It began by lamenting the fact that Larry Taylor had ducked out, leaving fans and media alike surprised by his quick exit.

Traditionally, the first one to duck out of the Calgary Stampeders’ dressing room post-game and post-practice following any media requests is soft-spoken wide receiver Romby Bryant.  But Saturday night as the remaining satisfied fans filed out of McMahon Stadium following a 32-20 Stampeders victory and the media swarmed into the home team’s jubilant locker room, it was speedy wide receiver and kick-returner Larry Taylor who was no where to be found.  Yeah, he’s that fast.

The Milwaukee Journal published a news story on September 6, 1969 about Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.  Both the title and the first paragraph used the expression duck out.  The title of the article was “Russ Due So Chinese Duck Out” and began with:

Chinese Premier Chou En-lai ducked out of Hanoi Friday before the Saturday arrival of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, and the maneuver increased international speculation that North Vietnam was caught in the middle in the bitter Russian-Chinese feud.

Ten years before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a story on September 2, 1959 entitled, “Congress Should Not Duck Out Because of Khrushchev.”  Public and media perception was that some in Congress simply didn’t want to be in Washington when Nikita Khrushchev arrived later in the month and some in Congress were pushing for a six-week recess or to have Congress adjourned.

From time to time, a brief news item appears in the newspaper that can’t help but make the most of a pun waiting to be made.  This was the case in the Reading Eagle edition of October 24, 1933 with the story, “Tries to Duck Out With Ducks: Court Stops Him.”  The article reported the following story from Chicago:

Joseph Duck believes in taking no chances.  He was about to walk out of a court room yesterday after winning a continuance of an alimony case when the judge noticed a bulky package under his arm.

“What is it?” inquired the court.

“Ducks,” said Duck.

He explained he had expected to go to jail and wished to eat duck dinners while there.  The court made him surrender the ducks to Mrs. Duck and her seven children.

On May 9, 1905, the Meriden Daily Journal reported on James J. Jeffries, champion heavyweight pugilist of the world who was retiring due to muscular rheumatism in his hands.  The article read in part:

“I have never known a day’s sickness and this makes life miserable,” he said.  “I am tired of the theatrical game and have informed the management that I want to duck out of the limelight at the end of the week.”

The earliest published version of duck out that Idiomation could find was in the Reading Eagle edition of August 9, 1903 in the story entitled, “Like A Dancing Dervish Is Corbett.”  The story discusses how pugilist Jim Corbett “jumps around Yank Kenny who impersonates Jim Jeffries in practice” and how this surprised boxing experts.

It looks as if Corbett’s only way to avoid those reachy sweeps at his ribs is to duck out of the enclosures, but Jim remains within the ropes and flits around in such a manner as to disarrange Yank’s plan of attack.

That the word is used with ease in this news article from 1903 and without quotation marks around the expression duck out which indicates it was an accepted part of the vocabulary of the time.  It is reasonable, therefore, to guess that the expression most likely dates back to the 1880s or 1890s.

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Close But No Cigar

Posted by Admin on July 18, 2011

Have you ever given something your best effort only to hear someone tell you, “Close but no cigar?”  It means that you came close to succeeding but in the end, you failed.

In 2010, the sports media appeared to be in love with the expression “close but no cigar.”  Whether it was the Toronto Sun newspaper reporting on the Blue Jays (May 10, 2011 Headline: Jays Close, But No Cigar) or the NHL website reporting on the San Jose Sharks (May 23, 2010 Headline: For Sharks, It’s Close, But No Cigar Again) or the Boston.com website reporting on the Red Sox (June 4, 2010 Headline: Allenson Close, But No Cigar), the expression found itself enjoying a renewed popularity with readers and writers alike.

Some sources claim that the first recorded published version of the expression is found in Sayre and Twist’s publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley:

Close, Colonel, but no cigar!

That is inaccurate.  On September 5, 1935 — the Annie Oakley movie was released in theatres across the U.S. on November 15, 1935 — the Reading Eagle newspaper a news article entitled, “Promenading In Pennsylvania Sports” reported the following:

A schedule of 14 P.I.A.A. games has just been released.  It was a “close, but no cigar” that deal by which Pretzels Pezzullo, Phillies’ left-hander, was to go to the Hazelton New York-Penn League Mountaineers.  Pretzels reached Hazelton, but had barely said, “howdy” before the Phils ordered him back to bolster their shaky pitching staff.

And the National Geographic published a story in their magazine in Volume 57 published in 1930 that included this passage:

They replied, making smoke at the same time and, as at Empress Augusta Bay, their salvos fell in patterns so tight they could be covered with a blanket, always close but no cigar, though on Claxton’s bridge, though on Craxton’s bridge the officers sloshed around in water two feet deep from the splashes of shells that dropped right alongside.

Cigars were popular carnival prizes for all sorts of games at the fair back in the 1900s.   Remember that smoking cigars was quite acceptable back in the day, when so many homes had smoking parlours and men wore smoking jackets.  Getting back to the carnivals, game barkers would shout out, “close, but no cigar” whenever a game was lost as a way of goading men into displaying their remarkable manly abilities when it came to tossing rings or ringing the bell with a good slam of the sledgehammer and more. 

Men would line up to prove that they had what it took to win the cigar that the previous good man had lost out on.  And the man who had lost would try again, in the hopes that the young lady accompanying him would forget his initial mishap and be impressed by his subsequent success.

There are stories that Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 often used the phrase, and the phrase can be found in any number of penny novel journals of the era.  Although Idiomation was unable to find any penny novel journals online from which to quote, that the expression was  used by game barkers in the 1900s is evidence enough that the expression “close but no cigar” was an established phrase in the 1910s.

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Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Posted by Admin on March 22, 2011

To reduce the concept of Animalism in “Animal Farm” into an easily remembered formula, the maxim, “Four legs good, two legs bad” was devised by Snowball.  It was based on the concept that whatever had two legs was an enemy and whatever had four legs or wings was a friend.  It’s a maxim that was repeated by the sheep constantly to distract the crowd from the pigs’ lies.

On March 21, Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star wrote about the Pepsi Refresh Grant competition where Canadians and Americans post great ideas to Pepsi’s Refresh Everything website in the hopes that their idea will garner enough votes to be awarded anywhere from between $5,000 and $100,000 to make their ideas come true.  The winners aren’t decided by Pepsi but rather by every day people who can vote up to 10 times a day.  In Heather Mallick‘s article, she wrote:

Great idea, but guess who’s winning. “I’m just as much of an animal lover as the next guy but this is ridiculous,” one Toronto autism charity leader emailed me in despair. “We are being beaten by cats. Yes. Cats.”

Four legs good, two legs bad. Who votes that way?

The Montreal Gazette published an article on November 1, 1983 written by Don McGillivray and entitled, “Big Deficits Are Not So Bad.”  It dealt with budget deficits in Canada and the United States, and the reaction of each country’s population with regards to these deficits.  The article read in part:

When the government decides to borrow these savings rather than raise taxes while the recovery is still fragile, it is obviously not “crowding out” eager private sector investors.  What does menace us is a vicious circle of other-directed thinking in government and the business community.  Sometimes business spokesmen talking about the deficit sound like the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Except that instead of bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad” they chorus “Deficits bad, deficits bad.”

Two decades before that, Russell Kirk‘s column “To The Point” published in the Reading Eagle newspaper on July 24, 1963 spoke about the need for improvement to school textbooks and American education.  He wrote:

Also one often encounters economic or political bias in these manuals — although less of it than one found some years ago.  What is nearly as bad, many social studies and history textbooks are woolly and sentimental in their approach.  “Democracy” is made a God-term rather as the animals in Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm” were taught to bleat, “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

On September 1, 1946, the Chicago Tribune wrote a review of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” The article, entitled “Blunders of Soviet Rule Satirized in ‘Animal Farm’” began by stating:

One of the year’s most talked of books is sure to be “Animal Farm,” not only because among the Book of the Month club members it will have an enormous audience awaiting it, but because it is a satire so simple and so amusing and so delightful that even a child can chuckle over it.

It is the story of the revolt of the animals on an English farm against Farmer Jones and human beings in general. Their battle cry is “Four legs good, two legs bad.” A clever agitator, a pig stirred his fellow animals with such words as “Only get rid of man and the produce of labor would be our own.”

We continue with “George Orwell Week” tomorrow as we take a look at how another expression from “Animal Farm” has found its way into our language.

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Picture Perfect

Posted by Admin on November 23, 2010

When something is exactly as it should be, it is said to be picture perfect. So how did this term come about?

Back on September 6, 1977, the Montreal Gazette ran a story about NASA’s Voyager 1 lift off in Florida.  The headline announced:  “Voyager’s Start Picture-Perfect” as the first paragraph trumpeted:  “Voyager 1 blasted off towards the outer planets yesterday in a near-flawless launch, joining its twin space probe Voyager 2 on a 675-million-mile journey to Jupiter and beyond.”

A generation before that, readers of the Milwaukee Journal back on May 18, 1950 were delighted to find a recipe for Picture Perfect Strawberry Preserves printed in their local newspaper.  The description under the headline read:  “The whole fruit with  natural color and flavor make these out of this world.”  All it took to make Picture Perfect Strawberry Preserves was 4 cups of strawberries, 4 cups of beet sugar and 1/2 cup of water plus a lot of attention paid to just 3 ingredients while cooking up those preserves.

And a generation before that, the Reading Eagle newspaper published an advertisement for the Glen-Gery Shale Brick Brick Home on March 28, 1926.  The description read:

When you build your brick home make it a thoroughbred — brick footings, walls, bearing partitions, chimneys, and fireplaces.  And surround it with harmony that makes the picture perfect — brick walks, brick drive, and brick garage.  Banish painting, repairing and that “wish I had” feeling that comes when it’s too late.  Look for the “100% Brick Home” sign before you buy.  Cost?  Not so much more than for any type of construction.  You can even build with brick at no extra cost.  Come in – let’s talk it over.

In the end, however, the term “picture perfect” was coined in America at the turn of the 20th century. As early as January 1909, the Atlanta Constitution newspaper ran a story in its ‘Savannah Social News’ column that read:

Exquisite decoration made the setting for the wedding picture perfect, quantities of lovely flowers being used in the adornment of the four rooms.

Of course, all of this can be traced back to those who, when arranging a room just so during Victorian Times when family photographs were oftentimes posed in the parlour, insisted that the room and the subjects be “perfect” for the “picture” hence the term “picture perfect.”

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