Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Bentley’

Swag

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 7, 2017

Every time an awards show hits the news, there’s talk of swag Swag, in this context, refers to the free promotional items given to those who are part of the event.  But the term swag is much older than you might think, and originally it referred to money or goods acquired by unlawful means, usually by a thief or burglar.  Not always, but usually.  And in the end, whether your swag is promotional or stolen, it’s technically ‘free’ for the person who is in receipt of it.

It has nothing to do with the urban legend that the word is from the 1960s and is a way of announcing one’s proclivities or preferences, so you can disregard the memes on the internet saying that swag is an acronym meaning this.

It has nothing to do with a secret code for wealth preservation by the top 1% of the world.  It doesn’t stand for silver, wine, art, and gold, and it isn’t a recent term to represent silver, wine, art, and gold.  That’s a story some conspiracy theorists would like the rest of the world to believe is true.

If either of those tall tales were true, then how did swag-barrowman, swag chovey, swag cove, and swagman make it into 19th century language?  It’s because swag has been around for a very long time.

A few months ago in August 2016, CBS Detroit ran a story which was published on their website as well that reported on a bag of custom sailing gear stolen from outside the east side home of a Detroit Olympian.  It was recorded by a Good Samaritan.  The story was titled, “It’s A Detroit Miracle: $10,00 Worth Of Gear, Rio Swag Stolen From Olympic Sailor Recovered On East Side.”

The Tuscaloosa News ran a story in their June 4, 1942 edition by foreign correspondent reporter and political activist, Ludwig ‘Louis’ Paul Lochner (February 22, 1887 – January 8, 1975) who had just returned to New York from overseas, with an editor’s note to kick it off.  It dealt with inside information from Germany, which was, at the time, a country heavily censored.  The first paragraph read as follows:

It’s all gravy for the Hitler boys – if Der Fuehrer should win the war.  The Nazi party will be in more complete control of the country than ever, and the party button will open the doors to all positions, all graft, and all swag.

In the poem, “The Smuggler’s Leap: A Tale Of Thanet” by Thomas Ingoldsby, esq. — aka English cleric, novelist, and humorous poet Richard Harris Barham (6 December 1788 – 17 June 1845) — and published in Volume X of “Bentley’s Miscellany” compiled by London publisher Richard Bentley (24 October 1794 – 10 September 1871) and printed by antiquarian and publisher Samuel Bentley (10 May 1785 – 1868), published in 1841, the word is used thusly:

“Now mount, my merry men, mount and ride!”
Three on the crupper, and one before,
And the led-horse laden with five tubs more ;
But the rich point-lace,
In the oil-skin case
Of proof to guard its contents from ill,
The “prime of the swag” is with Smuggler Bill!

Back in the day, everyone knew that the swagsman was the thief who carried the stolen property after the burglary had been committed.   But you know, that Smuggler Bill had a lot in common with pirates.

Yes, even pirates knew what swag was in the 1600s although it was oftentimes referred to as booty.   There were times when it was known as swag and every pirate knew swag meant gold and riches and other valuables.  Among the most prized swag one could find was a pipe with a covered lid – a treasured piece if a pirate had one to call his own.

Pirates were causing mayhem from the beginning of the 15th century, but the Golden Age of Pirates was from 1690 to 1720.  That’s when most of the swag was being stolen by pirates who knew how to steal and get away with it.

Before that, swag meant a chop that sold cheap trinkets.  Somewhere between the early 1600s and when pirates were making a killing plundering ships, the word swag went from meaning that to meaning the loot gotten by theft by bandits and vagabonds.

So whether it’s free promotional giveaways in bags at events or it’s loot pilfered from someone’s home, swag as we understand the word today dates back to the late 1600s thanks in large part to those pirates of the seven seas.

Advertisements

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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