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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

Devil’s Strip

Posted by Admin on June 18, 2015

When you hear people talk about the devil’s strip, do you know what they’re talking about?  The devil’s strip is the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb.  In Boca Raton it’s known as a swale and in Chicago it’s known as a parkway.  But in many other places in Canada and the United States, it’s known as the devil’s strip.

On February 28, 1948 the Montreal Gazette included a brief article about a Court of Appeals court that upheld an earlier verdict against the Montreal Tramways Company for injuries sustained by Bernard Wilson Hansen on December 27, 1945.  In all, the carpenter was awarded $2,570 CDN (or the equivalent of $25,790 CDN in 2015 dollars) despite claims by lawyer Marcus Sperber that the verdict was “ridiculous.”  The article was entitled, “Appeal Court Upholds Ridiculous Verdict” and ended with this paragraph.

Hansen, carrying a tool chest on his shoulder, attempted to cross Bleury Street with the green light in his favor.  The traffic light changed when he was in the middle of the street and as he stood on the “devil’s strip” a moving tram struck the tool chest.  He fell to the ground and was badly injured.

The Toronto World edition of April 22, 1920 wrote about the devil’s strip in an article entitled, “Toronto To Have Semaphore System Of Traffic Control: Deputy-Chief Dickson Explains American Method In Detail.”   Toronto was being modernized, and semaphore traffic signals were being installed!  The Chief of Police Grasett had informed the media as well as the Board of Control that his department was in the process of drawing up plans for these signals, which the Chief of Police guaranteed would handle traffic more efficiently than police officers by at least fifty percent, based on their success in larger American cities.  The article began with this impressive paragraph:

“Stop.”  No traffic cop has waved his hand, but a long line of traffic at a downtown intersection has been brought to an abrupt halt.  “Go.”   Again no movement on the part of the minion of the law, but the long line of vehicles continue on their way.  The constable also, is not standing in the devil’s strip, in the centre of the intersection, but off to one side.

On May 14, 1901, a lawsuit for negligence by a street railway was heard in the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Known as Robinson v Toronto Railway Co., the judge determined that the motorman of an electric car was not guilty of negligence because he didn’t stop the car at the first sign of a horse being frightened by a motor car or anything else that might spook a horse.  It was determined that the most that could be expected of the streetcar motorman was to proceed carefully, and as such, the court was satisfied that the motorman had done so.  The previous finding of negligence was set aside.  The idiom was used in the testimony of one of the witnesses.

Porteous, who was called as a witness for the plaintiff, says that he was driving south of the track; that the horse became frightened and unmanageable at the sight of the defendant’s car and backed over the south track across the “devil’s strip” on to the north track; that it then went to the boulevard, made a wheel, and jumped straight in front of the north track again, and got his foot in the fender just as the car stopped.  He also says the car struck the side of the buggy and threw the plaintiff out on to the road, occasioning the injuries complained of.

Both she and Porteous say they shouted to the men on the car to stop; that the men seemed to be laughing, and that the speed of the car was not slackened until it was within a few feet of the horse.

In 1887, the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto published a book titled, “Transactions.”  In the chapter having to do with asphalt and asphalt paving, written by F.N. Speller, the idiom cropped while discussing the preparation of the foundation for asphalt paving.

The sub-grade is carefully prepared, levelled, and rolled, if found necessary, for solidification.  The kerbs are placed in position, either being set in concrete or gravel.  The subsoil is drained by four-inch tile drains running parallel with the kerb in three rows, one under each kerb, and one under the devil’s strip, or centre of the roadway, the former making connections with the catch-water basins.

If electric car tracks are to be laid, the sub-grade must be excavated to twelve inches extra in the track allowance, this being then filled in with six inches of ballast and compacted.

It should be noted that the majority of magazine, newspaper, and resource book references that mention the devil’s strip are primarily from Canada, and as such, it would appear that the idiom is a Canadian term that made its way to America over time. However, the “Proceedings of the Annual Meeting” of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers published in 1883, M.E. Rawson, Assistant City Civil Engineer for the city of Cleveland in Ohio refers to this same space on city streets in Cleveland as the space that is “known by the significant rather than elegant name of the devil’s strip.”

Prior to streetcars, there was no need for a boulevard on city streets and since the first streetcar was patented on January 17, 1871.  The first streetcar made its appearance on August 1, 1873 in San Francisco on a stretch of track that began at the intersection of Clay and Kearny Streets to the crest of a hill 307 feet above the starting point on 2,800 feet of track.  By the 1880s, streetcars were finding their way into most major American and Canadian cities, with the largest and busiest fleet of cable cars being in Chicago … as were the devil’s strip.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published mention of the devil’s strip prior to the one published in 1883, however, the term was known and used in Cleveland at that time which means the term was understood by professionals dealing with streetcar issues at the time.  The term is therefore pegged to about 1880.

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Dressed To Kill

Posted by Admin on April 4, 2011

The expression dressed to kill has been around for quite some time.  It’s been the title of no fewer than 4 movies including the 1980 movie directed by Brian De Palma, the 1946 movie starring Basil Rathbone and Patricia Morrison, the 1941 movie starring Lloyd Nolan and Mary Beth Hughes and the 1928 movie starring Mary Astor

The expression usually refers to an individual — most often a woman — who is wearing fashionable or glamourous clothing intended to attract attention. Occasionally it refers to an item or inanimate object that is considered fashionable or glamourous.

On December 6, 2008, the Daily Post in Liverpool, England ran an article entitled, “Interiors: Best of the Hotties.”  The subject of the article was hot water bottles and was intriguing nonetheless, beginning with its opening paragraph.

It’s hard to beat the comfort of that simple winter must-have — the humble hot water bottle. Nowadays, these come dressed to kill in anything from faux fur to felt, so don’t put up with a sad, naked rubber version.

On July 16, 1968 an article by Nadene Walker ran in the Regina (SK) newspaper, The Leader-Post.  The story reported on the just-then-revealed fashion collection of then-popular clothing designer, Valentino.  The piece was entitled, “Valentino Models Dressed To Kill In Rome Showings” and read in part:

Valentino pulled out all the stops Sunday night in a collection based on an A line with a touch of romantic Russian.  It could prove the smash hit of the Italian winter fashion season.  From the first group of hi-booted models swathed in white mink to the last evening extravaganzas, Valentino girls were dressed to kill.

Back during the Roaring 20s, the court case in the murder of Joseph Bowne Elwell was carried in the New York Times on April 8, 1921.  The accused was one Roy Harris who had been arrested the previous Wednesday afternoon. He had confessed to the murder and told the story of how a woman known to him only as Mrs. Fairchild and a man by the name of “Big Bill” Duncan had contracted him for the murder.  He claimed that Mrs. Fairchild paid him and “Big Bill” Duncan $450 each in new bills a few minutes after she opened the outer and vestibule doors of the Elwell home to the two men.

He said he met a fellow names Giles on the day following his last meeting with “Big Bill,” and that Giles told him he saw Duncan “dressed to kill” in the Grand Central Terminal.  He said Giles told him that “Big Bill” said he was “going North.”

“I think he got the rest of the $5,000 and double-crossed me,” Harris said.  Harris said he served with the Canadian Transport but didn’t go overseas.  He said he left New York two months after the shooting of Elwell and went to Syracuse.

On August 26, 1882 a reporter for the St. Louis Globe write a rather unflattering article about the women in Saratoga.  Needless to say, if such an article was written for a newspaper today, the reporter would likely find himself unemployed in short order. It read in part:

An hour of silence at a morning concert drew forth the statement that “if they had gone round and offered prizes, they could not have gotten many more homely women together;” and a happier man would be forced to the same conclusion.  One may reason it around that the proportion of the ill-favored is not so much greater here than elsewhere but that homely women dress so strikingly and make such a parade of themselves that it is impossible for them to escape notice.  An ugly girl in a cheap and ill-fitting frock goes by without notice on a city street, but an ugly girl in Saratoga is “dressed to kill,” as the maid say, and accents all her deficiencies.

On October 28, 1860 San Francisco’s Golden Era newspaper ran an article entitled Surface Diggings.  The second paragraph had a beautiful play on words with this comment:

In this part of the world, when a man is well gotten up we say that he is “dressed to kill.”  In Scotland, this expression takes a singularly different phase for there a Highlander in full costume comes very near being Kilt entirely.

Idiomation could not find an earlier published version of this expression however in 1860 it was a phrase that was well-known in California so one can safely assume that it had been around at least one generation prior in order to be considered by reporters as a well-known expression of the day.

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