Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Sarasota Herald Tribune’

Break A Leg

Posted by Admin on November 3, 2015

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard the expression break a leg although they may not always recognize it as a wish of good luck to another.  But it is.  The idiom is a theatrical superstition where performers believe that wishing a person “good luck” is considered bad luck, and so they wish them bad luck instead by way of broken bones.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  The industry standard when it comes to stages is for the stage to be sloped one inch per foot of stage space.  Data shows that theatrical productions with the maximum stage slope account for the highest percentage of injuries from sprains to fractures among performers.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a news article by Mary H. Williams in the column “Charlotte Life” on January 23, 1992 where the idiom introduced the writer’s comments about Jan Brandes of Port Charlotte and her debut with the Players of Sarasota.

Break a leg!” is a traditional parting phrase for performers preparing to go on stage.  Of course, this isn’t as brutal as it sounds.

It’s considered bad luck to wish an actor good luck, and somehow this phrase has taken hold in the thespian world.

Irish nationalist Robert Wilson Lynd published an article titled, “A Defence of Superstition” in the October 1, 1921 edition of the British liberal political and cultural magazine, New Statesman.  In his opinion, the theatre was the second-most superstitious institution in England with horse racing being the top most superstitious. It was Lynd’s assertion that one should wish participants something insulting such as ‘May you break a leg!‘ as wishing a participant luck was considered, according to superstition, bad luck.

Four years after this article was published, American romance and women’s fiction author, Faith Baldwin (October 1, 1893 – March 18, 1978) used it in her novel “Thresholds” published in 1925 as proven by this excerpt:

Rupert said, smiling a little: “Isn’t that a Teutonic expression employed before the chase?”

She laughed, lazily, over the lifted glass. “Not exactly. I believe that would be bad luck or something. You say, ‘I hope you break a leg’ — or your neck — or some such hope of calamity.”

In German, the saying is “Hals und Beinbruch” or break your neck and leg.  It’s been reported in numerous historical documents that German Air Force pilots used the phrase during the First World War.

In French, one says “Merde!” which translates into “Sh*t!” or, for those who are too shy to use such a coarse wish,  “cinq lettres” or “five letters” … one for each letter in the French word they don’t want to say.

In Spanish, the phrase is “mucha mierda” or “lots of sh*t.”

Some believe it’s a misheard version of the Yiddish phrase “Baruch aleichem” which means “bless you” and when said aloud, it sounds similar to break a leg (bah rak a lay kem) to those who don’t speak Yiddish.

But back in 1684, according to “A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English” to break a leg was to seduce someone.  According to John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley who were responsible for creating this seven-volume work published in 1905, their tome states that this is what was meant by break a leg way back when.  Their dictionary was a result of researching multiple dictionaries that dated back as far as 1440 and included, but weren’t limited to, the works of John Palsgrave (1530), John Withals (1553), Peter Levins (1570), Cladius Hollyband (1593), John Bullokar (1616), Thomas Blount (1656), Richard Head (1674), E.B. Gent (1696), Nathan Bailey (1737), Francis Gross (1785), John Jamieson (1808), John R. Bartlett (1848), Charles Pascoe (1881), and Albert Barrere (1887).

Going with the definition of break a leg from 1684, what better luck could you wish a performer headed on stage than that he should seduce the audience that awaited him?

However, the meaning of the idiom as we understand it today, dates back to 1921 regardless of how well it applied to the theatre in 1684.  So the next time you find yourself in front of an audience, don’t be shy:  Break a leg!

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

Vegan

Posted by Admin on March 5, 2015

What is a vegan?  A vegan is someone who abstains from using animal products.  Not only do they not eat meat, fish, or poultry, they don’t use anything that uses animal products or by-products.  They don’t eat eggs, dairy products, or honey, and they don’t wear leather, fur, silk, or wool.  They don’t use cosmetics, crayons, medication in capsule form, or soaps that are derived from animal products.  And they are not to be confused with vegetarians.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune of December 10, 1997 led with a story on the front page of Section E with an article written by Jessica Wehrman that discussed the vegan lifestyle in detail.  The subheading read:  The trend toward a meatless diet is driven by religion and consideration for health, environment and animals.  Along with the article was a list of resources for readers interested in learning more about the vegan lifestyle, and, of course, the article was titled, “Going Vegan.”

In Volume 49 of “Today’s Health” published by the American Medical Association in 1971, the issue was discussed in an article.  It included this passage:

Does the word “vegan” mean vegetarian? Are vegetarians healthier than persons who eat animal products? A vegan is considered to be a strict vegetarian — that is, a person who eats no animal products.

And in Volume 106 of the “Journal of the Royal Society of Arts” an article can be found on page 117 that included this passage:

In some vegan women (teachers and housewives, for example) their dietary protein provided only 8.7 to 10. 1 per cent of their total dietary calories, as compared with an average of about 12 per cent in normal British post-war diets.

Interestingly enough, entering the 1950s, vegans can be found in a number of science fiction stories, especially those in the pulp fiction genre.

However, sandwiched between all the great science fiction stories that include extraterrestrial vegans lies the historical facts of vegans who do not consume animal products or by-products.

In November 1944, a strict vegetarian by the name of Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005) who was also a member of the Leicester Vegetarian Society decided to begin his own movement.  He and others had grown dissatisfied with vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

He issued his first newsletter entitled, “Vegan News” and he was quoted as stating that the word vegan was meant to represent “the beginning and end of vegetarian.”  The word, in a nutshell (pardon the pun) was a stand against vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs.

Shortly thereafter, the first vegan cookbooks were published:  “Vegetarian Recipes Without Dairy Produce” by Margaret B. Rawls, and “Vegan Recipes” by Fay K. Henderson.

Even today, within the vegetarian community there are factions:  pollotarians (those who eat chicken and eggs), pescetarians (those who eat fish), and flexetarians (those who eat primarily plants but occasionally include small amounts of meat).  But the only group to break away from the vegetarian movement and create a movement all their own are vegans.  All the others are vegetarians of a different color.

Idiomation conclusive pegs the term vegan to 1944 and Donald Watson.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Astroturf

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Rub It In

Posted by Admin on June 24, 2011

No one likes to look foolish but every once in a while, it happens.  What you don’t want to have happen once you look foolish is to have someone rub it in and make you look even more foolish.

On March 2, 2000 Bill Plaschke’s Thursday Perspective column appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with a headline that read, “Lakers Show Mettle In Win Over Blazers.”  The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in front of over 20,000 basketball fans with a final score of 90 to 87 in what was called the NBA’s most compelling midseason game in then-recent history.  Their sportsmanship was reported thusly:

The Lakers didn’t strut when they led, didn’t rub it in when they got hot, didn’t show much more emotion than Bryant’s two raised fists at the end of the game.  “We’re not like that,” Fischer said.  “Phil is not like that.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on the events of the Fall of 1962 as it pertained to the Cold War in an article published on November 1, 1962 entitled, “It’s No Time To Blow Trumpets.”  The article pointed out that there were good reasons why the U.S. government shouldn’t trumpet or gloat over forcing the Soviet Union to back away from Cuba.

American officials should not rub it in. Jubilation would be premature and lacking in caution. It would be pre-mature until the Soviet launching bases have been dismantled, the missiles removed to Russia. and U N. inspection made so secure that they cannot be secretly replaced.

The New York Times ran a baseball story on October 13, 1920 about the Cleveland Indians being crowned the World Champions after defeating the Brooklyn Robins 3 to 0 in the seventh game of the final series.  According to the reporter, the Indians “humiliated Brooklyn” at Ebbets Field in Cleveland, Ohio.

When Coveleskie was going at top speed and pitching his best, Buster Mails went out to left field and started to warm up.  Manager Speaker never dreamed for a moment that he would be forced to call on his left hander but he wanted to rub it in and show the Robins what they might expect if they got gay with Covey.

In 1904, the Democratic Party in Missouri announced it had picked its champion against corruption and was committed to an “anti-graft” campaign with its “anti-boodle” plank referred to as “The Missouri Idea.”  The New York Times reported on the convention in great detail on July 20, 1904 in its news story, “Folk Forces Dominate Missouri Convention.”  It read in part:

Another roll call was started on a proposition, to instruct the Credentials Committee to throw out any delegates who might have secured their seats by fraud or intimidation.  It was introduced by J.C. Jones of St. Louis, a Folk delegate.  Since that is the purpose of the Credentials Committee, the motion was useless, but, just to rub it in on the machine, the convention passed it, the opposition giving up before the roll call was complete.

On August 25, 1860 the Detroit Free Press published an article entitled, “Political Intelligence” that dealt with the elections in North Carolina and who was advocating the cause of Breckinridge, Yancey and disunion.

We did not know, when we made it, that the black republican leaders, wire-pullers and managers were going to expose the corruption and rascality of each other to the public, and not only call each other thieves, but prove it and rub it in, as they are now doing.

On May 5, 1849 the Detroit Free Press ran a brief news article comprised of only 248 words that reported the following commentary on the politics of the day:

Undoubtedly it will not. The Administration will learn that the people will not submit to such gross deception and hypocrisy as has characterized General Taylor’s course before and after the late election. They will not, after having been deceived, sit quietly down and allow him to rub it in.

The phrase rub it in, however, dates back to King George II of England and the Earl of Bath.  Before the war of 1748 was ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle, King George II requested that the Earl of Bath expose the ministers who had resigned their offices unexpectedly and prematurely when they heard of King George II‘s plans.  When they were recalled, the King urged Earl of Bath to expose what had happened in a pamphlet.  The Earl of Bath wrote that King George II directed him to “rub it in their noses, and if it be possible, make them ashamed.”

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

Brown Out (as in “censorship”)

Posted by Admin on June 6, 2011

Brown out as in “censorship” means that some information is available to the media and the general public, but not all of the information is made available.  An example of this would be to provide basic information to the media and general public about legal proceedings while maintaining that some of the information is confidential and cannot be shared with the media and the general public.

On November 6, 1955 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published an article entitled, “Current Events Reports: Probe On Government Secrecy” by Richard Spong.  It reported:

A House Government Operations subcommittee is beginning hearings on an alleged “brown out” of information by government agencies.  A new House Subcommittee study of federal agency information policy should, in the words of Chairman John E. Moss (D., Calif.) “show the public the extent to which there has been a brown out of information about the public’s business.”

A recent expression that Idiomation was unable to trace back prior to the early 1950s, a brown out as it refers to censorship is a derivative of the expression black out.

See “black out” for additional information.

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Willy Nilly

Posted by Admin on May 24, 2011

When Doctor Who discussed the concept of time in the episode “Blink” in Season 3, he said that time, rather than being a linear string of cause and event, was actually more akin to a ball made out of “timey wimey wibbly wobbly” stuff.  Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly, willy nilly … there’s a lot of rhyming to be found in the English language but they all have their origins somewhere in time.

When something happens willy-nilly, it happens in a very disorganized and happenstance way with little to no forethought going into it.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on such a situation on July 13, 1958 in an article entitled, “Doctor Raps Reliance on New Drugs.”  The article stated:

Dr. Harold R. Reames, chief of the department of infectious disease of the Upjohn Co., Kalamazoo, said doctors use [wonder] drugs too indiscriminately and have badly mishandled many aspects of the control of germ-caused disease.

“Surely progress has been made as illustrated by work on diarrheal disease,” Reames said.  “But antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents have been used excessively and in a willy-nilly fashion.”

And on November 24, 1855 the New York Times ran in their weekly column “Gossip: What Has Been Most Talked About During The Week.”

When he piped about “Evangeline” everybody took to hexameter just as they do now to trochaics when he pipes about “Hiawatha.”  He has bewitched the public with his Indian legends, and, willy-nilly, everybody imitates him. It is just as marked a tribute to his genius as turn-over collars and gin-drinking thirty years ago were to Byron’s fascinations.

Back in 1601, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the following is found in Act V, Scene I:

FIRST CLOWN:
Give me leave. Here lies the water—good. Here stands the man—good. If the man go to this water and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes. Mark you that.  But if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.

SECOND CLOWN:
But is this law?

FIRST CLOWN:
Ay, marry, is’t; crowner’s quest law.

One of the earliest known versions of the expression willy nilly from an Old English text entitled, “Aelfric’s Lives of Saints” dated 1,000 AD where the following is found:

Forean the we synd synfulle and sceolan beon eadmode,
Wille we, nelle we, and he wolde sylf-willes
us syllan a bysne, swa swa he sylf cwae

But in the end, it must be noted that there is a Latin phrase that couples together “willing” and “unwilling” in the expression nolens volens which certainly expresses the sentiments of willy nilly in spirit and in context.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Political Football

Posted by Admin on March 17, 2011

A political football is an issue that becomes politically divisive.  In fact, it becomes a problem that doesn’t get solved because the politics of the issue get in the way.

On March 16, 1972 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a series entitled, “Busing Takes Front Stage on America’s Political Scene.”  The introduction to the series read:

Busing may be the political issue of the year.  An administration official already has referred to it as the “yellow peril.” And a victorious George Wallace made it the issue of Tuesday’s Florida primary.  In the first of a series of articles on the subject, we return to the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954 and examine how busing has become a political football.

In Connecticut, the Meriden Daily Journal wrote about President Hoover and the cash bonus “bugbear” of the previous two congresses on November 7, 1932. Entitled “The Bonus? It’s A Political Football But Not A Serious Issue.  No Congressional Battle Expected Over Cash Payment To War Vets” the first paragraph of the report written by Rodney Dutcher was:

The cash bonus bugbear of the last two congresses has become for the time a mere political football.  President Hoover kicked it into Governor Roosevelt’s territory and the Democratic candidate kicked it back — a weak, offside kick, if you ask the Republicans.  Neither of the candidates and neither of the parties wish to espouse it, although it figures in various congressional contests where members are capitalizing or defending their vote on the question at the last session.

In a news article published in the New York Times on April 10, 1909 about the British government’s inability to safeguard England’s supremacy at sea and the circular that had been issued that sought to “induce the nation to fling out the Government which betrayed it, for so only can Britain be saved.”  The article headline read:

Navy Scare Becomes Political Football: British Liberals Less Disturbed Since Unionists Pressed It Into Service

Back on November 30, 1869 New Zealand’s Daily Southern Cross newspaper ran a story on the nomination of candidates for five seats for Auckland City West.  Of the eight men who stood for election, it was Mr. French who proved all the more interesting due to this excerpt:

Mr. French said that he had come before the electors because he had been requested to take that proud position from many of his fellow electors.  as some of the electors were no doubt aware, during the past week from some cause unknown to him people had been trying to use him as a political football in order to kick him out of the field, and many of his friends had heard a report that he had retired from the contest, although during that period his advertisements had appeared in the paper stating that he solicited the votes and the interests of the electors.

The game of football as we know it today — complete with a set of rules — was first regularized in Cambridge in 1848 which helps explain why the term “political football” could not be traced back by Idiomation prior to 1869.

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