Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Richard III’

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2014

When wishing for things that are useless, you may hear someone respond to wishful thinking with if ifs and ands were pots and pans. The expression in modern times is more commonly known as ifs, ands or buts because language, as we know, is always evolving. However, over the generations, the idiom has oftentimes been reduced to merely ifs and ands.

In 1929, James Milton Carson published a 16-page booklet entitled, “The Ifs and Ands of Race Track Gambling In Florida.”  While Idiomation hasn’t had occasion to read the publication, the title says it all, don’t you think?

Just a touch over a century before that, the expression is found in the “Melodist, and Mirthful Olio: An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs, Recitations, Glees, Duets, Etc.” The Olio was the work of actor John Pritt Harley (February 1790 – 27 August 1858), edited by Charles Dixon, and printed and published in 1828 by H. Arliss of Cutter Lane in Cheapside. John Pritt Harley was known as an actor of great versatility as well as the manager and principal actor at the St. James’s Theatre in London where the comic burletta, “The Strange Gentleman”  — written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) — was first performed. The song in the Olio is entitled, “A Song Of Ifs And Ands” and begins with this verse:

If ifs and ands were pots and pans,
‘Twould cure the tinker’s cares;
If ladies did not carry fans,m
They’d give themselves no airs.

In the book “Letters from Hudson Bay” published by the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, an R. Staunton is quoted in 1723 as having written:

… Mr. Myat giving him but a very indifferent character, and not to have stocked one new gun this year; which made me call him to know what he can undertake in one year besides overhauling the English and mending the Indians’ guns that hunts for the factory. He replied with a great many ifs and ands.

English theologian and philosopher Ralph Cudworth (1617 – 26 June 1688) published his principal philosophical work, “The True Intellectual System of the Universe” in 1678. He was considered one of the most important of the Cambridge Platonists, a group of philosophers from the University of Cambridge who promoted rationalistic theology and ethics. The group also included such historical figures as Henry More (1614–1687), Benjamin Whichcote (1609–1683), Peter Sterry (1613–1672), John Smith (1618–1652), Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), and John Worthington (1618–1671). In his book, he wrote:

Thus, therefore, the idea of God, or an absolutely perfect being, including in it not an impossible, nor a contingent, but a necessary schesis, or relation to existence, it follows from thence absolutely, and without any ifs and ands, that he doth exist. For as of things contradictions, having therefore in the idea of them an impossible schesis to existence, we can confidently conclude, that they never where, nor will be.

In the play “Spanish Tragedie” Act II Scene, written by Thomas Kyd (6 November 1558 – 15 August 1594) and published in 1587, there is a brief exchange between Pedringano, servant of Bel-imperia and Lorenzo, Don Ciprian’s son (Don Ciprian being the Duke of Castile) as well as Bel-imperia’s brother. The play is one of many revenges, including Balthazar’s affirmation that he intends to kill Horatio for stealing Bel-Imperia’s love from him after hearing that Bel-Imperia has supposedly has feelings for Horatio, and Lorenzo spurs his friend on. The quick exchange between the servant and the brother is as follows:

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord!

LORENZO
Yet speak the truth, and I will guerdon thee
And shield thee from what-euer can ensue,
And will conceale what-euer proceeds from thee;
But, if thou dally once againe, thou diest!

PEDRINGANO
If madame Bel-imperia be in loue—

LORENZO.
What, villaine! ifs and ands?

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord! she loues Horatio!

And the expression is found in the account “Beheading of Lord Hastings” in the book “The History of Kyng Richard the Third” by Sir Thomas More, published in 1577. The account is alleged to have been written by Sir Thomas More in 1513, and describes an event that took place in 1432.

What quod the protectour thou servest me, I wene, wi ifes and with andes, I tel the thei haue so done, and that I will make good on they body traituor.

The story also implies that Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was familiar with the nursery rhyme:

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans
There would be no need for tinkers’ hands!

This would, indeed, seem to be the case since he used the shortened version in 1432.  Since the first recorded nursery rhyme dates back to the 13th century, and many nursery rhymes were recorded in English plays by the 16th century, it is reasonable to believe that the claim that Richard III was familiar with this specific nursery rhyme.

That being said, the most reasonable date for this idiom is somewhere between 1425 and 1450, when adults raising Richard III would have had occasion to recite the nursery rhyme to him as a child.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Up In Arms

Posted by Admin on April 29, 2013

Nothing conveys the concept of being upset or angry better than to say that someone is up in arms. It means that whoever is up in arms is so upset, he or she is willing to do something in protest.

The Coventry Evening Telegraph in England published a news story on September 16, 2004 about West Midlands firefighters being surprised to learn that their colleagues in Derbyshire were no longer allowed to play volleyball and football for fear of serious injuries. The article was entitled, “Why Firemen Had To Stop Team Games.” The Assistant Chief Officer, David Smethurts was quoted as saying:

“It was clearly unsafe, and was one of the greatest causes of injuries of any activity we took part in. If our staff thought we were allowing any other activity that was causing that many injuries they would be up in arms. No-one particularly liked it when volleyball was stopped but they could understand why. I was aware Derbyshire were taking this action. What surprised us was that they were still working in an environment where volleyball was normal.”

Jumping back in time to April 2, 1952 the Spokesman-Review ran an Associated Press story that dealt with Newbold Morris and his demand for detailed data on the personal finances of high government officials. Cabinet members were incensed by the demand and made certain their objections were heard loud and clear. The article was entitled:

Scandal Hunter Going Too Far: Truman’s Cabinet Is Up In Arms About Morris’ Prying

Wandering back to July 22, 1888, the New York Times reported on all the Italian societies, civic and military, of New York, Boston and Philadelphia making their voices heard with regards to the Pauper Immigration bill that was brought forward by Congressman Ford of Michigan. The complaint was that the American press had started a serious war against all Italians, and that this behavior was adversely influencing the American Government against Italians in America. The article was simply titled:

They Are Up In Arms

The American Heritage Dictionary claims that the expression dates back from about 1700 with the expression referring to armed rebellion in the late 1500s.  When William Shakespeare wrote 2 Henry VI in 1591, he was sure to include the idiom in the more than once to ensure that it would be heard and remembered.

The princely Warwick, and the Nevils all,
Whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain,
As hating thee, are rising up in arms:
And now the house of York, thrust from the crown
By shameful murder of a guiltless king
And lofty proud encroaching tyranny,
Burns with revenging fire; whose hopeful colours
Advance our half-faced sun, striving to shine,
Under the which is writ ‘Invitis nubibus.’
The commons here in Kent are up in arms:

It showed up in his play Richard III published in 1592 where the following was written:

March on, march on, since we are up in arms;
If not to fight with foreign enemies,
Yet to beat down these rebels here at home.

So while the idiom did mean armed rebellion, the fact of the matter was that such armed rebellion was brought about because those involved in the rebellion were, indeed, so upset that they were wearing articles of clothing with heraldic arms embroidered on certain articles of clothing by the mid-1550s.

However, the word armor meant “means of protection” in the early 1300s, and came from the Latin word armatura which meant arms equipment. And indeed, if you were going off to fight a battle, you were definitely wearing armor and intended to swing your arms about wildly, weapon in hand, in defense of whatever you were fighting for in the first place. Hence comes the very literal meaning of being up in arms.

While the first published version of up in arms appears in the late 1590s, this is the official first use of the expression. However, nearly 300 years earlier, the spirit of the expression was understood and in use.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Tower Of Strength

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2010

This expression “tower of strength” is found in The Book of Common Prayer written in 1549, originally was used most often to refer to God and heaven:

“O Lorde …  Bee vnto them a tower of strength.”

Shakespeare, being his own person, put a twist to the phrase in his play in Richard III written in 1594 where in Act 5, Scene 3:

KING RICHARD:
Up with my tent! Here will I lie tonight—
But where to-morrow? Well, all’s one for that.
Who hath descried the number of the traitors?

NORFOLK:
Six or seven thousand is their utmost power.

KING RICHARD:
Why, our battalia trebles that account!
Besides, the King’s name is a tower of strength,
Which they upon the adverse faction want.

But that’s not the first recorded use of the phrase “tower of strength.”  In fact, the legendary ancient Greek epic poet, Homer wrote The Odyssey in 800 B.C. where the following is found: 

“When I saw him I tried to pacify him and said, ‘Ajax, will you not forget and forgive even in death, but must the judgment about that hateful armor still rankle with you? It cost us Argives dear enough to lose such a tower of strength as you were to us. We mourned you as much as we mourned Achilles son of Peleus himself, nor can the blame be laid on anything but on the spite which Zeus bore against the Danaans, for it was this that made him counsel your destruction – come here, therefore, bring your proud spirit into subjection, and hear what I can tell you.’

So while I would love to give the prize to Mr. Shakespeare yet again, and while it might be refreshing to award the prize for this phrase to Homer, the phrase is a derivative of a phrase found in the Bible in Proverbs 18:10 where the following is written:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »