Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Pepys’

Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Admin on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

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Hair Of The Dog

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2014

For decades, it was said that the hair of the dog was the surefire cure for hangovers cause by drinking too much alcohol the night before.  In time, the expression came to mean any alleged cure-all whether it related to overindulgence in alcohol or addressing the most serious of business difficulties.   The full expression is actually the hair of the dog that bit you, and while it’s doubtful that a dog bite will cure your hangover, the idiom itself has an interesting past not only in literature, but in folklore as well.

In the February 19, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger’s views on the stimulus package that Barack Obama signed into law.  Among many aspects of the stimulus package, was the Making Work Pay tax credit that phased out for individuals earning $75,000 or more and couples earning $150,000 or more jointly.  Journalists referred to is as the hair of the dog strategy, and in fact, this specific article was titled, “Obama’s Hair Of The Dog Stimulus:  The President’s Spending Plan Asks Us To Go Against Instinct.”

In the book, “Bent’s Fort” by David Sievert Lavender, published in 1954.  The story was about Charles and William Bent, who established Bent’s Fort, and the trappers, traders, and mountain men that were part of the old Santa Fe trail.   The idiom is used in this passage.

Perhaps there was a post-wedding fandango on Saturday, May 2, or it may have been only a gentlemen’s gathering that cause Frank Blair to wake up Sunday morning feeling in need of the hair of the dog that had bitten him.  One eye-opener called for another.  Soon he was so tanked that George had to help him navigate toward home.  AS they crossed the plaza, they passed a crowd of loafers, some thirty or so, congregated about Steve Lee’s store.

It’s in the October 2, 1852 edition of “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc.” where a short definition for hair of the dog is found that reads as follows:

The hair of the dog now means the “wee sup o’whiskey” which is taken as a cure, by one who has been a victim of “dog’s nose.”

Of course, back in 1774, an author identified simply as Fidelio wrote and published “The Fashionable Daughter, Being A Narrative of True and Recent Facts By An Impartial Hand.”  In this book, the author spoke of the hair of the dog thusly.

This affair mortified his pride and emptied his purse not a little, though the universal opinion was that it doubled his cunning, while it increased hot his honesty.  As the suit had cost him money, he followed the old Caledonian proverb; and applied for a remedy to the decrease of his substance, which he ever reckoned the greatest evil, “a hair of the dog that bit him.”

Based on this passage, the idiom was considered an old Caledonian (meaning Gaelic) proverb.  However, a French and English dictionary composer by Randle Cotgrave and published in 1673 had not only the idiom but a definition included.

To take a remedy for a mischief from that which was the cause thereof; as to go thin clothes when a cold is taken; or in drunkeness to fill a quaffing, thereby to recover health; or sobriety, near that which sense our Ale-knights often use this phrase and say, give us hair of the dog that last bit me.

In Samuel Pepys diary, on April 3, 1661, he also spoke of the hair of the dog that bit him, describing his overindulgence in alcoholic beverages the night before.

Up among my workmen, my head akeing all day from last night’s debauch. To the office all the morning, and at noon dined with Sir W. Batten and Pen, who would needs have me drink two drafts of sack to-day to cure me of last night’s disease, which I thought strange but I think find it true.

Nearly 100 years prior to that entry, John Heywood spoke of the idiom in the 1562 edition of his book, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood.”

A pick-me-up after a debauch:  apparently a memory of the superstition, which was and still is common, that, being bitten by a dog, one cannot do better than pluch a handful of hair from him, and lay it on the wound.  Old receipt books advise that an inebriate should drink sparkingly in the morning some of the same liquor which he had drunk to excess overnight.

In fact, in the 1546 edition of “A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” by John Heywood, the following ditty is included.

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both to the brain aright.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

As amusing as all that is, the fact of the matter is that the idiom has its roots in the Roman saying, similia similibus curantur which translates to mean like things cure like.  In other words, they believed the best antidote for whatever ailed you, was to have more of the same.

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On A Short Leash

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2013

If you have someone on a short leash, you are restricting someone’s freedom, and keeping strict control of that person’s activities for the purpose of controlling behavior. The idiom is literal in that it is based on the very definition of what a leash is and what it does: it’s a length of rope or leather used to prevent an animal from getting away.  And it most definitely relates to control and maintaining control.

On April 1, 2011 the Belfast Telegraph ran a story on comedian Russell Brand who was providing voice-over talent in the family-friendly film, “Hop.” The story read in part:

“We had to keep him on a short leash for this movie!” James joked.

The actor explained: “He still gets to be Russell but he has to do it within the confines of [playing] the Easter Bunny.”

It’s the sort of expression that instantly provides a visual readers take seriously while chuckling at the implications. The Montreal Gazette published a news article on August 9, 1980 that stated that New York held the wallet for Canada’s biggest oil company, Imperial Oil Ltd. It stated that if any of Imperial Oil’s top managers in Toronto wanted to spend more than $5 million on a new project, they needed approval from someone in New York and that someone had to be from Exxon Corp of New York since it owned 69.9 percent of Imperial Oil. The headline read:

Canadian Company Kept On Short Leash

The Spokesman-Review of December 12, 1956 discussed the need for a strong military force in the Mediterranean Sea in a story they published entitled, “Strong Fleet Vital In Mediterranean.” The value of having a fleet in the Mediterranean was neatly summed up in the article that contained this comment in the article:

In this air age, the importance of maintaining a strong force of military planes is emphasized continuously, and rightly. But consider the advantages of having fleets such as the Sixth.

The fleet’s base is the United States. It has no base in the Mediterranean and wants non. As Admiral Brown said, “We like our independence … we do not run on a short leash.” The fleet can show up at a trouble spot without creating the alarm a flight of military planes over the same area might have. Further, it can disperse quickly if atomic attack is threatened. If caught in an atomic war, its vessels with their accompanying air power are better able to withstand shocks than can installations ashore, said Admiral Brown.

The expression seems to have changed over the decades, however the sense of the expression has remained unchanged as evidenced by the story in the St. Petersburg Times edition of February 17, 1927. The story was about the upcoming heavyweight fight slated for the following night between Jack Delaney and Jimmy Maloney. There had been, of course, the typical exhibition fights where each fighter took on sparring partners and reporters were eager to report on what they’d seen, stirring up excitement over the upcoming fight. The story ended with this paragraph:

Out of the exhibition there came to observes the conviction that Delaney is in the finest shape of his career, with every move indicating his knowledge of a bagfull of ring tricks, kept in leash to unloose any time he pleases. The Delaney who meets the charge of the Boston strong boy Friday night seemed more resourceful than ever — and bigger.

The earlier expression “kept in leash” appeared in a story in the Pittsburgh Press on February 2, 1908 entitled, “King And Crown Prince of Portugal Were Assassinated: Harry K. Thaw Now Behind The Bars Of Madhouse Cell.” The assassination of King Carlos and the Crown Prince, and the attempted assassination of the Queen and Prince Emmanuel on February 1, 1908 was reported in detail. Mobs were in control of the streets, and the growing severity of the measures of oppression and Premier Franco’s dictatorship were at the heart of the upheaval. The story read in part:

Deputy Almeida, former Deputy Costa, Viscount Rebeira — all level-headed men, were arrested several days ago for political activity and are in one of the several prisons here.

As a result of the long contest between people and police in which the former have been kept in leash by the arms of the latter, the city is a boiling cauldron from which anything may be expected if a determined leader rises and welds the hundred odd bands of Revolutionists into a compact army.

And before that, “kept in leash” and “held in leash” were used interchangeably while still maintaining the spirit of the expression. The New York Times of May 1, 1866 published an article about the Committee of Fifteen and the objections by Congress with regards to reconstructing the Union. The article entitled, “Reconstruction and Circumlocution” read in part:

While most of the propositions in this plan of reconstruction are just and sound, its leading purpose and design, viz.: the election of the President by a divided Union — is monstrously unjust, unwise, and impracticable, and if persisted in by majorities in Congress will lead to disastrous consequences. If, from unavoidable causes, the Union should be kept divided, the people would acquiesce. But when protracted disunion is deliberately contrived; when a measure, with this purpose, cropping out vividly, is put forth by a “Directory” which has thus far held Congress in its leash, it will NOT be endured.

In the essay by William Hazlitt (10 April 1778 – 18 September 1830) entitled, “On Wit And Humour” and published in his book “Lectures on the English Comic Writers” in 1818, wrote that man is “the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” In his essay, he wrote:

It is the gaiety of despair, the mirth and laughter of a respite during pleasure from death. The strongest instances of effectual and harrowing imagination are in the story of Amine and her three sisters, whom she led by her side as a leash of hounds, and of the ghoul who nibbled grains of rice for her dinner, and preyed on human carcasses. In this condemnation of the serious parts of the Arabian Nights, I have nearly all the world, and in particular the author of the Ancient Mariner, against me, who must be allowed to be a judge of such matters, and who said, with a subtlety of philosophical conjecture which he alone possesses, that “if I did not like them, it was because I did not dream.”

And so, even in this essay, we see people being held on short leashes in a very literal sense. The Arabian Nights story to which Hazlitt refers is entitled, “The Three Calendars and Five Ladies.”

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer confirms in his book, “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” that Amine was the wife of the character by the name of Sidi Nouman.  He, too, attributes the leash comment to the Arabian Nights.

The “Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms” edited by Ivan G. Sparkes claims that a leash of armies was used as early as 1705 and that a leash of days dates back to the early 1600s.  Indeed, the expression is found in a poem by Daniel Dafoe (1662 – 24 April 1731) entitled, “The Double Welcome: A Poem To The Duke Of Marlbro‘” in which readers find this passage:

From thence thro’ ravag’d Towns and conquer’d Plains
The Monument of Victory remains,
Augsburg and Munick trembl’d at your Name,
Tho’ not inform’d of your approaching Fame:
To Blenheim, happy Name! the Scenes advance,
There gathers all the Thunderbolts of France.
A Leash of Armies on thy Plains appear
Each fancied able to support a War,
And free a Nation from the Vanity of Fear.
We that at Distance saw th’ approaching Day,
Knew the Design, and saw the Bloody Way.

English dramatist, poet and actor Benjamin “Ben” Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) used the word leash to describe several days in a row. The play in which it appeared is entitled, “Epicoene” written in 1609, and was among those that English Member of Parliament, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) appreciated. The phrase can be found in this dialogue:

MISTRESS OTTER:
Yes, sir, anything I do but dream o’ the city. It stained me a damask tablecloth cot me eighteen pound, at one time; and burnt me a black satin gown, as I stood by the first at my Lady Centaur’s chamber in the college, another time. A third time, at the lord’s masque, it dropped all my wire and ruff with wax candle, that I could not go up to the banquet. A fourth time, as I was taking coach to go to Ware to meet a friend, it dashed me a new suit all over (a crimson satin doublet, and black velvet skirts) with a brewer’s horse, that I was fain to go in and shift me, and kept my chamber a leash of days for the anguish of it.

There are a number of other references that include the word leash, all of them dealing with control of some form or another.  In fact, the expression leash of hounds can be traced back to the early 1300s.  However, in the sense of control of humans, this round goes to Daniel Dafoe in 1705.

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

Handicap

Posted by Admin on July 25, 2011

If you’ve ever caught even a bit of a golf game on television, you’ll have heard the term handicap bandied about by the commentators. Just because a golfer has a handicap, however, doesn’t mean that he’s disabled in any way.  It means that he’s playing at a disadvantage.

On September 29, 1999 the Daily Mail newspaper in England published a news story written by Ian Wooldridge entitled, “Golf’s Great Handicap.”  It dealt with what the journalist referred to as “unprecedently appalling crowd behaviour” especially towards golfers Colin Montgomerie and Mark James.  The matter of what would happen in two years’ time at the Belfry was of considerable concern to all involved.  An unnamed source, speaking about how the situation should be handled, was quoted in the story as saying:

“Very simple,” uttered a quiet voice. “You merely restrict entry to spectators who can produce a golf club handicap certificate to prove they know something about the etiquette of the game.”

On July 28, 1958 the Edmonton Journal reported on an interesting story about William Wacht, a 60-year-old member of the Pines Ridge Golf Club in Ossining, New York who asked to have his handicap raised to 34 from 29.  The first sentence of the story entitled, “Supreme Court To Compute Golf Handicap” read:

A golfer has asked the new York Supreme Court to compute his handicap.

On May 26, 1922 the New York Times newspaper published an article entitled, “Harding To Play Golf In Newspaper Tourney.”  Warren G. Harding was to represent the Marion Daily Star newspaper in the Washington Newspaper Golf Club Spring tournament.  The 12 newspaper men turning in the lowest gross scores would go on to represent Washington correspondents on June 12th on Long Island and would enjoy a weekend as the guest of New Jersey Senator Frelinghuysen.  The story included information on Mr. Harding’s abilities as a golfer.

The participants will compete for a cup offered by Edward B. McLean, owner of the Washington Post, for the lowest net score.  The President’s handicap, based on recent scores, is 22, which indicates that Mr. Harding’s average for eighteen holes if between 95 and 100.

And on January 23, 1882 the West Coast Times in New Zealand printed a brief announcement in the Advertisements column.  Quite simply it stated:

Dunedin February Races:  Dunedin Cup, Dunedin Jockey Club Handicap, and Dunedin Forbury Handicap. Three Events.

On February 7, 1855 the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle newspaper ran advertisements with regards to a number of items.  One of these had to do with the horse races to be held on Thursday, March 8, 1855 at the Nelson Turf Club.  It included this description of one of the races:

The Forced Handicap of 10 Sovs. h. ft., for the winner of any races except the Port and Selling Stakes, and Consolation Plate; open to any other horse; second horse to save his stake.  Horses to be named at the same time as for the Consolation Plate, and to be handicapped in the same manner.  Once round and a distance.

The term handicap actually comes from an old card game known as “Hand I The Cap.”  In this card  game, players would drop the money they bid on a hand into a cap as the cards were dealt.  When the dealer won the hand, he, of course, won all the money in the cap.  Unfortunately, when a dealer won the hand, the next dealer was at a disadvantage in the game of “Hand I The Cap.” In time, this was shortened to “Hand I Cap.”  Mention of the game “Hand I The Cap” can be found in Samuel Pepys’ Diary under his entry of September 18, 1680 however his is not the first mention of a game by that name. 

Before “Hand I The Cap” was a card game, it was known simply as “hand in cap” and was a trading game with prized possessions and money involved as evidenced by documents dating back to the 14th century.  It required two players and a referee.  For example, if Trader #1 had a cloak to trade and Trader #2 had boots to trade, the referee would examine the items to trade and assign a monetary value to them based on condition, age, usefulness, etc.  Whatever the difference was between the two items had to be tossed into a cap by the trader whose item was of lesser value so that both items would now be of equal value.  The difference was referred to as “the odds.” 

At the referee’s mark, both traders would reach into the cap at exactly the same time and draw their hands out at exactly the same time.  An open hand meant there was agreement to trade; a closed hand was a refusal to trade. 

If the traders both agreed to the trade, each would receive the other’s item.  If the traders both disagreed to the trade, each would retain their item.  Regardless of whether they both accepted or both refused, the referee would get the money in the cap.  In other words, if they accepted, the referee was rewarded for having assigned fair value to both items; if they refused, the referee was compensated for the traders’ stubbornness.

If one trader refused while the other trader accepted, then the trader who accepted the deal would get the money in the cap; the trader who accepted the deal was compensated for the other trader’s stubbornness.

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

Spic And Span

Posted by Admin on June 14, 2010

Most of us know “Spic and Span” to be a well-known cleaning product that’s been around since 1933 when two housewives — Elizabeth MacDonald and Naomi Stenglein — came up with the formula in Saginaw, Michigan.  It’s been said that Naomi referred to her spotless home as being “spick and span” and with that, the two women decided to drop the “k” from the word spick and to market their product as “Spic and Span.”

However, the term “spic and span” dates back more than  400 years, to Sir Thomas North‘s translation of Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes” in 1579:

They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke and spanne newe.

This term combined two nouns that are now obsolete:  spick, which was a “nail” or “spike,” and span, which was a “wooden chip.” In the 1500s, a sailing ship was considered “spicke and spanne newe” when every spike and chip was brand-new.

Spicke and spanne newe” later became simply “spicke and span” and first appeared in the diary of Samuel Pepys  in 1665 where he wrote:

My Lady Batten walking through the dirty lane with new “spicke and span” white shoes.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »