Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Burns’

Kith and Kin

Posted by Admin on February 27, 2021

Kith and kin originally meant one’s country and relatives, and eventually became a phrase that referred to one’s friends and family.

These days, kith is one of those words that has managed to survive until this day without a meaning beyond this expression which means it’s what linguists refer to as a fossil word. But when this wasn’t the case, kith had a life all its own in language. Its roots are found in the Middle English word kitthe which means homeland or native region, which is from the Old English word cydd.

It’s also part of a select group of phrases known as irreversible binomials. Other irreversible binomials include aid and abet, quick and dirty, and chop and change. An irreversible binomial is where the words always appear in the same order and are never found switched around.

On 6 July 2020, newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Chef Kwame Onwuachi who opened the Kith and Kin restaurant three years earlier in Washington’s Wharf district on the ground floor of the InterContinental Hotel was leaving his restaurant and would no longer be the Executive Chef for Kith and Kin.

The Chicago Tribune ran a news article on 01 December 1995 titled, “Scottish Immigrants Find a Home Away From Home: Retirement Facility Keeps Culture Alive.” The article was about the first philanthropic organization in Illinois known as the St. Andrew Society that was founded 150 years earlier in 1845 by U.S. Army Captain George McClennan. McClennan made a name for himself as a prominent general for the North during the Civil War, and was, of course, of Scottish descent.

The St. Andrew Society was kicking off a capital campaign and the following was reported:

The Scottish Home retirement and nursing home in North Riverside is the heart and soul of the society today, said Alexander Kerr Jr., the society’s president. The home was originally built in 1910, and to mark the society’s 150th anniversary, members have kicked of the $7 million “Kith and Kin” capital campaign, to add a special health-care wing to the current home.

Harold Riffe wrote in his column “Fair and Mild” in the Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail of 03 July 1960 that the expression kissing cousins was, in his opinion, a corruption of kith and kin which he chalked up to a lisp.

As for “kissin’ cousins’ that was only a logical and easy projection of the “kith and kin” idea, and, I might add, a very nice projection, too.

Thuth doth a lithp have romanth!

In 1928, English author and self-styled clergyman Montague Summers (10 April 1880 – 10 August 1948) wrote “The Vampire, His Kith and Kin” wherein he set forth his philosophy of vampirism. His writings focused primarily on witchcraft, vampires, and werewolves, and he was the first to translate the 15th century witch hunter’s manual, “Malleus Maleficarum” into English.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers was ordained a deacon of the Church of England but did not move past that level due in large part to his interest in Satanism and the occult. In time, he began presenting himself as a Catholic priest even though he was not a member of any Catholic order or diocese and was not a Catholic. He was also never ordained a priest of any religious order.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: He was acquainted with Aleister Crowley and while Aleister Crowley adopted the persona of a witch, Montague Summers adopted the persona of a learned witch-hunter.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Montague Summers has the phrase “Tell me strange things” engraved on his headstone, and his manservant Hector Stuart-Forbes is buried with him in the same plot.

American teacher and children’s author Martha Finley (26 April 1828 – 30 January 1909) wrote a number of books over the years, including “Elsie’s Kith and Kin” which was published in 1886 and was the 12th book in the Elsie series of books. In all, Martha Finley wrote twenty-eight Elise Dinsmore books over almost forty years, and the series made Martha Finley one of the most renowned children’s authors of her era with book sales that were second only to Louisa May Alcott.

The expression was used in “A Christmas Carol” by English novelist, journalist, illustrator, and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870). The book was published on 19 December 1843 and the expression is found in this passage.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your Family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this Earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves; not us.”

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable property of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s) that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.

The National Bard aka the Bard of Ayrshire, Scottish poet Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) used the expression in the text of “My Lord A-Hunting” published in 1787. The third verse reads thusly:

My lady’s white, my lady’s red,
And kith and kin o’ Cassillis’ blude;
But her ten-pund lands o’ tocher gude;
Were a’ the charms his lordship lo’ed.

As you can see, the meaning of kith and kin that is understood in the 21st century hasn’t changed in several centuries. In fact, in the Middle English narrative poem by William Langland (1332 – 1390) the idiom is found in “The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman” which is believed to have been written sometimes after the Good Parliament of 1376 and after the Papal Schism of 1379, and was most likely completed some time between 1382 and 1387. The poem was, however the product of thirty year’s labor ad the poem was in a near-constant state of revision during that time.

ORIGINAL: Fer fro kitth and fro kynne yuel yclothed ȝeden.
TRANSLATION: Far from kith and from kin they evil-clothed went.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of this idiom however it is an idiom that undoubtedly reaches back much, much farther in light of the fact that Old English was spoken from the 5th through to 11th centuries, and well after the Norman invasion of 1066.

Considering that the oldest surviving literature written in Old English is “Caedmon’s Hymn” from the 7th century, it is possible that an earlier example of the idiom was published prior to William Langland’s epic poem. It’s just that Idiomation did not uncover the idiom in other literary texts prior to Willian Langland’s epic poem.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Riding Roughshod

Posted by Admin on March 8, 2012

If you know someone who is riding roughshod over someone or something, you’re talking about someone who is acting how they want, ignoring rules and traditions, and imposing their will on others with complete disregard for how it will affect them.

Just yesterday on March 7th, the Washington Examiner newspaper reported on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recent appearance on the television news program “Face the Nation” in an article entitled, “One-Party Martin O’Malley Hates Two-Party Accountability.”  The article read in part:

They mean how dare Republicans form some kind of opposition party. (Maryland Democrats especially seem dismally unaware that we have a two-party system for a reason.)  They mean how dare Republicans keep them from riding roughshod over the electorate, abusing the Constitution and raiding the taxpayers’ wallets at will.

The expression is one that brings to mind a clear picture of what’s being described as can be seen in the news story “Whom The Gods Would Destroy” published in the Pittsburgh Press on January 10, 1937 where the opening paragraph read:

If anybody ever asked for trouble, Hitler is the man.  For several years now, he has been riding roughshod over international treaties and stepping on sensitive toes.  And he has been getting away with it for three very good reasons.

Fifty years before that, on May 26, 1887 the New York Times published a story on the Vedder Whisky Tax bill in a story entitled, “Warm Words At Albany.”   It was a very spirited report that began with this announcement:

The 74 Republicans of the Assembly were throttled by the 54 Democrats to-day and preventing from riding roughshod over them and outraging every principle of decency and fair play.

In Chapter 19 of “Man and Wife” written by William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) and published in 1870, the author writes of the main character entertaining five guests – two who are middle-aged with the other three under thirty — in his library.   One of the characters says:

“Saw your name down in the newspaper for the Foot-Race; and said, when we asked him if he’d taken the odds, he’d lay any odds we liked against you in the other Race at the University — meaning, old boy, your Degree. Nasty, that about the Degree — in the opinion of Number One. Bad taste in Sir Patrick to rake up what we never mention among ourselves — in the opinion of Number Two. Un-English to sneer at a man in that way behind his back — in the opinion of Number Three. Bring him to book, Delamayn. Your name’s in the papers; he can’t ride roughshod over You.”

And the expression appeared in the Nelson Examiner in New Zealand on December 17, 1864 in a news story quite simply entitled, “New Bills.”  The Colonial Secretary was speaking on a bill to authorize the Governor to take land for roads and military purposes.  He was reported as having said in part:

But if I am not ready to accept amendments of members upon this question, let it not be said that I am riding roughshod over the House; but let them rather say – I speak of myself, and I speak also the sentiments of my own colleagues, “Here are a set of men sitting upon this bench willing to undergo all the risk of failure, the risk of losing political reputation; to risk all that is most dear to public men to say nothing of private inconvenience.”

When Thomas Moore wrote Twopenny Post-Bag in 1813, he dedicated it to Stephen Woolriche, esq.  In the part entitled “Intercepted Letters, Etc.” in Letter I, he wrote:

‘Tis a scheme of the Romanists, so help me God!
To ride over your most Royal Highness roughshod
Excuse, Sir, my tears — they’re from loyalty’s source —
Bad enough ’twas for Troy to be sackt by a Horse,
But for us to be ruined by Ponies still worse!

Robert Burns the “Election Ballad” which was given at the close of the contest for representing the Dumfries Burghs in 1790.  The poem was addressed to Robert Graham of Fintry which included this verse:

Now for my friends’ and brethren’s sakes,
And for my dear-lov’d Land o’ Cakes,
I pray with holy fire: —
Lord, send a rough-shod troop o’ Hell
O’er a’ wad Scotland buy or sell,
To grind them in the mire!

Seeing that the expression already spoke of the behavior that is associated with the expression today, it’s reasonable to believe that this expression and its meaning hails back at least another two generations to the early 1700s.

In fact, back in the 1680s it was said that a horse that was roughshod was one that had nails intentionally left projecting from its shoes to prevent slippage.  The idea was that the nail heads would give horses at a racetrack better traction so that they could ride roughshod over the competition.  And so somewhere between the 1680s and the early 1700s, the expression referred to people as well as to horses.

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

Dressed To The Nines

Posted by Admin on April 7, 2011

When someone is dressed to the nines the world knows he or she is so well-dressed that the person is wearing very fashionable or expensive clothes,  and nothing has been overlooked.  This person is the picture of perfection in every sense of the word.

Many of us learned in elementary school that multiplying any number by nine creates a mirror symmetry among numbers. If any number is multiplied by nine, the resulting digits always add to nine. What’s more, the digital root of any multiple of 9 is also 9.

The Tuscaloosa News ran a news story by journalist Bill Rose entitled, “President’s Wife Makes Gamblers Help” on May 2, 1949 that read in part:

I had prepared several questions on veltpolitik that I wanted to put to her, but for the first ten minutes of the interview, I might as well have been on Sixth Avenue.  Eleanor, as luck and 17 charge accounts would have it, was dressed to the nines, and the tactful Evita complimented her on her dress.

On April 15, 1908 the Melbourne Evening Post reported on what they referred to as a “sensational scene at the Treasury” by the unemployed of Melbourne (Australia) who, led by Mr. P.M. Koonin, tried to force their way into the Premier’s office. The news story read in part:

When he was informed that they had gone he remarked, “I told them that if they did not go they would be arrested.  If they went out it is all right.  While I went out into the passage with the Minister of Lands these men were there dressed up to the nines.  The place seemed to be full.”

Dressed to the nines as it pertains to being dressed is found cited in John C. Hotten’s “A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words” published in 1859:

DRESSED UP TO THE NINES:  in a showy ‘recherché’ manner.

Robert Burns wrote “Poem On Pastoral Poetry” in 1791 and spoke thusly about Mother Nature in all her beauty:

Thou paints auld Nature to the nines,
In thy sweet Caledonian lines;
Nae gowden stream thro’ myrtle twines,
Where Philomel,
While nightly breezes sweep the vines,
Her griefs will tell!

In 1719, in William Hamilton’s book, “Epistle to Ramsay” the following is found:

The bonny Lines therein thou sent me
How to the nines they did content me.

In the 1687 book entitled, “The Poetick Miscellenies of Mr. John Rawlett” these lines are found:

The learned tribe whose works the World do bless
Finish those works in some recess;
Both the Philosopher and Divine,
And Poets most who still make their address
In private to the Nine.

The reference to the nines in this instance are the Nine Worthies of Pagan and Jewish history and are comprised of the following historical figures who were perceived as being the personification of all that was noble and heroic:  Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar , Joshua, David, Judas Maccabaeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillion.

The earliest reference of “to the nines” appears in a translation of Voyages de Jehan de Mandeville chevalier, from France circa 1357.  The expression is attributed to Sir John Mandeville who, in the English translation, is found to make this comment:

Sir king! ye shall have war without peace, and always to the nine degree, ye shall be in subjection of your enemies, and ye shall be needy of all goods.

While the expression may not be about clothing, it certainly addressed being decked out to the utmost.

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The Best Laid Schemes Of Mice And Men

Posted by Admin on February 2, 2011

When someone starts with “the best laid plans of mice and men” and then lets the sentence trail off without finishing it, usually means that something that was to happen has taken an unexpected turn … sometimes for the better, but more often, for the bad.  How is it, though, that mice and men are lumped together in this phrase?

Back on July 31, 1940, reporter Jesse A. Linthicum of the Baltimore Sun newspaper wrote an article entitled “Sunlight On Sports” that began with:

The gent who wrote “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley” must have been thinking of the fight game in general and Al Weill in particular.  Weill saw 1940 ushered in through rose-colored glasses. He had two world champions and two lending challengers in his stable.

Forty years earlier, on July 28, 1900, the following was reported in the New Zealand Observer, an illustrated weekly newspaper:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley” which was well exemplified at the Harbour Board meeting on Tuesday.  For some time past — in fact, directly Chairman Witheford was returned from Auckland City — representations were made to him to return from the chairmanship.  Too much to do, and other suggestive reasons for retirement.  J.H. was on the point of taking the hint, but was prevailed upon to stand by his guns and finish the work he had commenced.  Upon his notifying at a meeting, called for the purpose, that he intended to retain the chairmanship, a certain little ‘syndicate’ fell back aghast.

And 40 years before that, on May 28, 1860 the New York Times ran an article entitled “Political Pandering” that included this in the article:

The fearful prospect so impressively presented by the eloquent Attorney-General of Col. FORNEY’s “bones whitening along with those of WILMOT on the shore of Black Republicanism,” when his character might have been comfortably black-ening under the sunshine of Presidential patronage, struck Mr. WEBSTER with dismay. Of course this catastrophe must be averted. “You merely wish FORNEY to sell you the key of his lips,” says WEBSTER in effect. “Well, that is satisfactory, only — how much will you give? The whole $80,000, or only a part of it?” The Attorney-General replied, unhesitatingly, “The whole of it” Now, mark the sequel, and lament with us afresh, how oft the best laid schemes of mice and men “do gang agley.”

The phrase is actually from poem by Robert Burns entitled “To a Mouse” which was written and published in 1786. It tells of how he, while ploughing a field, upturned a mouse’s nest and as a result, he penned an apology to the mouse that includes this verse:

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

The poem is of course the source for the title of a novel written and published John Steinbeck in 1937, entitled  “Of Mice and Men.”

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