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Posts Tagged ‘Saskatoon Star-Phoenix’

Right As Rain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 28, 2013

An online friend was wondering what the expression right as rain really means and how it wound up being part of the English language. To answer her question, when something is right as rain everything is functioning optimally … perfectly, in fact.

USA Today sometimes has the most unexpected articles, and the one about Portland, Oregon on March 29, 2010 certainly surprised a number of readers. Portland’s storm sewer system, it was reported, was a tourist attraction for eco-friendly tourists interested in checking out Portland’s system of curbs, gutters, roofs and rain gardens. Who knew? Of course, the article was aptly entitled, “Portland’s Sewers Right As Rain.”

Back on July 17, 1952 the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper reported on how the Russian government in Moscow was unhappy about the upcoming conference in Honolulu that intended to set up a permanent Pacific defense council. The Russians were said to be against the prospect of such a defense council. In fact, the situation was such a hot button for both sides that the reporter wrote in part:

The Reds suspect that a treaty organization designed to prevent the spread of Communism in the Pacific world, similar to the existing North Atlantic Treaty Organization already service the same purpose in Europe, will come out at the Honolulu conference in August, and they are right as rain about that.

The Saskatoon Phoenix newspaper edition of July 3, 1915 carried a news article entitled, “Tommy Is An Optimist.” Written by a special correspondent with British Headquarters in the Field during WWI, the journalist rose above the horrors of war to include the personal side of global conflict. It’s not that he didn’t acknowledge that war was ugly business and that everyone suffered because of it, but rather, he chose to give insight into the humanity that still existed among soldiers. The article included an anecdote that happened between the chaplain and one of the soldiers brought in on a stretcher to be treated by doctors.

“Would you like to send your people a postcard, my boy?” said the Chaplain, and went on to the next stretcher. “Does — does this mean that I am going to die?” asked the lad, as he tried to scrawl a name across the front of the card.

“Nonsense,” retorted an orderly who was passing. “You’ll be as right as rain in a week.”

“Then I’ll wait before I write,” said the soldier. “There’s no use wasting the card. Besides, it says ‘I am wounded.’ I am not wounded — I’m full of this bloody gas, and as soon as me chest is clear I’m going back to ‘do’ for some of those Germans. Give us a drink!”

Some sources claim that the expression was first published in 1894 however Idiomation found a published version in a Boston Daily Globe newspaper dated March 21, 1893 in a serialized story entitled, “Fated To Suffer: The Mystery of the Blood Red Star.”  While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier publication of the phrase, that it is found in a newspaper dating back to 1893 indicates that it was already in use among the masses and as such, it can be assumed that it most likely dates back to at least 1880.

That being said, the qualifier right as has been used in a number of idioms before this date. Some of the alternatives include:

1.  Right as an adamant from “Romance Of The Rose” translated by Geoffrey Chaucer (1300 – 25 October 1400) from the poem by Guillaume de Lorris (1200 – 1240):

For by ensample tel I this,
Right as an adamant, ywis,
Can drawen to hym subtelly
The yron that is layde therby,
So draweth folkes hertes, iwys,
Syluer and golde that yeuen is.

2.  Right as a line from “Minor Poems” by John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) and published in 1430:

That heuenly spyce, hit is ful swete;
Help us perof, good bysshop Fermyae,
Sacred Cipriane, zif hit wold be gete,
With Cosme and Damane wold I dyne,
Lede us pederward as ryght as a lyne,
Seynt Myghel, to pat heuenly kyngdome
Helpyng the holy doctour Seynt Ierome.

3.  Right as is my leg from the translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611 – 1660) of “Gargantua and Pantagruel” originally written by François Rabelais (1490 – 1553) and published in 1653:

I saw another surrounded by a Croud of two sorts of Women; some were young, quaint, clever, neat, pretty, juicy, tight, brisk, buxom, proper, kind-hearted, and as right as my Leg, to any man’s thinking. The rest were old, weather-beaten, over-ridden, toothless, blear-ey’d, tough, wrinkled, shrivell’d, tawny, mouldy, ptysicky, decrepit hags, beldams, and walking Carcasses.

4.  Right as my leg from “The Comical History of Don Quixote: As It Was Acted At The Queen’s Theater In Dorset Garden By Their Majesties Servants” in Part III, Act III Scene ii by Thomas D’Urfey (1653 – 26 February 1723) and published in 1696:

Jolly Ralph was in with Pegg,
Tho freckled like a Turkey-Egg;
And she as right as is my leg,
Still gave him leave to touse her.

5.  Right as my glove from “Antiquary” by Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) and published in 1816:

“Right, Caxon! right as my glove! By the by, I fancy that phrase comes from the custom of pledging a glove as the signal of irregragable faith — right, I saw, as my glove, Caxon — bet we of the Protestant ascendancy have the more merit in doing that duty for nothing, which cost money in the reign of that empress of superstition, whome Spenser, Caxon, terms, in his allegorical phrase.”

6.  Right as ninepence from “Frank Fairlegh: Scenes From The Life Of A Private Pupil” by Francis Edward Smedley (4 October 1818 – 1 May 1864) and published in 1850:

“Well, let her say ‘no’ as if she meant it,” said Lawless; “women can, if they like, eh? and then it will all be as right as ninepence. Eh! don’t you see?”

“Easier said than done, Lawless, unfortunately,” replied Coleman; “my fat rival is the son of an opulent drysalter, and last year he contrived to get rid of his father.”

And so while the idiom right as rain can only be traced back to the late 19th century, it would seem that what follows right as isn’t always important as long as it’s right as … as the many examples have proven.  So it’s actually right as that determines that everything is perfectly fine and good, and in the case of right as rain, it’s just a nice bit of alliteration as well.

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Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Tickled Pink

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 19, 2013

If you’ve ever been tickled pink, you know that at the time you were very pleased or entertained by what you were experiencing or what had happened.  But why are people tickled pink and not tickled blue or purple or even green? It’s because when a person is tickled, they laugh and their complexion takes on a pink to reddish color.

The Telegram and Gazette newspaper of Worcester (MA) published an article on October 15, 2009 entitled “Pink Fundraiser Planned.”  It was the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Pink Ribbon Committee at Tri-River Family Health Center were preparing for their annual fundraiser.  The article stated in part:

The Pink Ribbon Committee and the Uxbridge High School Student Council have been painting the town pink in preparation for the Tickled Pink fundraiser at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at Whitin Middle School, 120 Granite St.

On January 26, 1997 the Sunday Mail newspaper of Glasgow in Scotland published an article about John McGuinness who, up until that point, had been Scotland’s biggest lottery winner.  The story was entitled, “Lotto John Baby Bonus” and talked about how, on the eve of the multimillionaire’s win a year previous, he found out he and his live-in girlfriend were expecting a wee bundle of joy.  The article quote a family insider as saying:

“John is tickled pink about this. But he doesn’t want to go overboard about it in case the news upsets his daughter. He is a great guy and he’ll make a brilliant dad again.”

On February 8, 1963 the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix carried a story out of Washington that talked about a recent press conference given by then President John F. Kennedy.  There was talk about the Anglo-American Polaris agreement, the North Atlantic Alliance, and other important matters of the day.  The opening paragraph to the story entitled, “No Nuclear Questions So Advisors Tickled Pink” began with this paragraph:

A White House informant described President Kennedy’s advisers [sic] as being “tickled pink” that the president was asked no questions Thursday on the Canada-U.S. nuclear controversy.

On February 20, 1922, United Press Staff Correspondent Lawrence Martin covered the contest for the Republican senatorial nomination in Iowa.  The nominees were hoping to slip into Senator Kenyon’s seat which he was vacating later that week.  The article entitled, “Three Are After Kenyon’s Place” was published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette among other newspapers and stated the following:

Reports that Senator Kenyon was not greatly pleased over the appointment of C.A. Rawson as his success were set at rest today when Kenyon said:  “Please about Rawson? Tickled pink.  Why, Charley was my roommate in college, my best man at my wedding, and the only campaign manager I ever had.”

Twelve years before that, the Daily Illinois State Journal of April 22, 1910 reported on  25-year-old baseball pitcher, Grover Cleveland Lowdermilk [Laudermilk] who broke into the big leagues on July 3, 1909 when he was picked up by the St. Louis cardinals.  The article was entitled, “Lauder Tickled At Change” and the author wrote:

Grover Laudermilk was tickled pink over Kinsella’s move in buying him from St. Louis.

That the term tickled pink should be used so easily in a news story quote in 1910 indicates that it was a term understood by the public.  This implies that it was in use the generation prior to this news article, pinning it to some time in the late 1800s.  According to the Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang, they also believe that this expression dates back to the late 19th century.

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Lunatic Fringe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 28, 2013

Have you ever asked yourself where the lunatic fringe really comes from and how someone becomes part of the lunatic fringe? To find those answers, it’s important to understand that people who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational are oftentimes said to be part of the lunatic fringe. Where did this term come from originally?

On 9 May 2009, Jonathan Curling, Executive Secretary for the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Birmingham Post and Mail newspaper in which he discussed the diverse community in Birmingham, and the good relationships between faith communities with the community. The letter was entitled, “Diversity Too Good To Waste By Apathy” and included this comment:

Over the next three weeks, you will hear these voices as the local and European elections approach, questioning the kind of community we seek to build.

It is easy to dismiss such forces as a lunatic fringe that will never gain ground. Such a view would be a serious error. In a time of economic trouble, some claims of the extremists can appear beguiling. In fact, they will lead us down a road towards a bitter, divided, society.

The first step is that we should all vote.

On 1 September 1994, the Middle East newspaper posted an article that was republished in a number of other mainstream media newspapers. The article was entitled, “Believers and Belligerents: Muslims In The UK.” Midway through the article, the following was written:

The third event which raised the hackles of traditionally tolerant British society was a gathering of an estimated 8,000 Muslim fundamentalists at Wembley Arena, avenue more usually associated with rock groups that religion.

Organised by a group known as Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, or HUT, the event typified what many westerners have come to regard as the lunatic fringe of extremism.

Journalists and photographers were banned from attending the conference and some were threatened with violence when they tried to speak to delegates as they left the conference which attracted many Muslim dissidents from the Middle East.

Jumping back 40 years, the New London Day newspaper of New London (CT) published a news article on 10 May 1954 reported on an address given to the National Press Club by the former president that dealt with the need for unity and bipartisanship, and the claim that Republicans were undermining those two issues.

Harry S. Truman urged President Eisenhower today to use vigorous action rather than pious phrases against “political assassins” and a GOP “lunatic fringe” which he said are destroying unity and the basis for a bipartisan foreign policy.

Politics seems to be where most news stories mentioned a lunatic fringe, so it comes as no surprise that in the March 13, 1935 edition of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the word figured prominently in the headline as well as in the story itself. Entitled, “General Johnson and the Lunatic Fringe” the story began by stating the following:

When a few weeks ago, General Hugh Johnson “cracked down” on Senator Huey Long and Father Coughlin as being demagogues appealing to “the lunatic fringe,” he started something which is likely to last for a while.

It would have been comparatively easy for the general to dispose of the Louisiana dictator and the radio priest by themselves. They are both very vulnerable. But, unfortunately, his reference to the “lunatic fringe” hits the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who have been following the great promiser from the south and the powerful non-office seeking cleric from the north, who have been sending telegrams and letters to their representatives at Washington.

In reading the archives of the New York Times, I found this passage in an article entitled, “We Can Have Sing Sing And Reform, Too” that was published on February 15, 1916:

Unfortunately there is around this modern conception of crime that “lunatic fringe” to which Colonel Roosevelt once referred as the unavoidable adjunct of every advanced movement and cause, including his own. Sentimentalists have taken it up, as well as men of sense and practicality, and the result has been a somewhat widespread feeling that the tendency of the reformers was toward an offensive, even a disgusting, coddling of criminals, and the complete transfer from them to “society” of all, or nearly all, of moral responsibility for their acts.

Now many sources attribute the phrase to former U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who is citing as having coined the expression in the book “History as Literature” published in 1913.

There is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.

Apparently, he liked the expression so much, he used it in a number of magazine articles as well as in his autobiography wherein he wrote:

Then, among the wise and high-minded people who in self-respecting and genuine fashion strive earnestly for peace, there are foolish fanatics always to be found in such a movement and always discrediting it — the men who form the lunatic fringe in all reform movements.

The fact of the matter is that the expression wasn’t something he coined at all, but rather a unique use of an expression that already existed. What Roosevelt appears to have done was take an expression that referred to a specific kind of hairstyle that was considered unconventional at best, and eccentric or bizarre at worst, and modified somewhat.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times edition of March 21, 1880, a defense of the lunatic fringe was written by someone known only as S.E.K.

“Your article on “Montague” curls this morning is very one-sided, and, to say the least, exceedingly short-sighted; it proves also beyond a doubt that you are very unobserving. In the first place, the much-abused adornments are “flat, odious, hideous, and disfiguring” only when in course of preparation: as soon as the bandoline is dry the curls are combed out into soft, pretty, and graceful rings, making by far the most becoming way of wearing the front hair that young ladies have adopted for years. Every man made a dreadful “fuss” when “bangs” first came in fashion. I am sure “Montagues” are a vast improvement on those straight abominations, or if you prefer a more complimentary and man-like name, “lunatic fringe.” Please may I ask why you do not attack the mode young gentlemen have of wearing their hair and whiskers a la footman, combing them on each side toward their nose as though they designed a happy meeting when the “prolific side-boards” shall have attained their growth. Audi alteram partem.”

First side note:  Audi alteram partem is a Latin phrase that means “to hear both sides.”

Second side note:  Bandoline was a glue-like hair preparation used from 1840 through to the 1880s that was used to smooth, gloss, or wave hair.

In Oliver Optic’s Magazine For Young And Old” edited by Oliver Optic, in Volume 15, No. 247 published in February 1874, the story entitled “Four Days” by Sophie May made mention of the lunatic fringe. This passage appeared under the chapter heading “Independence Day.”

“Well, now, I am glad if Adelaide has been improving her time for the last few weeks in the kitchen; it speaks well for her,” said Mr. Waters, with such an insinuating smile that his niece knew something more was coming. “You have had quite a rest from the store since Jimmy got back — haven’t you Addie? But what think wife? I’ve got an order from Pinkham & Co. to supply a couple of thousand jewelry boxes! ‘Twill be a pretty profitable job, and I shall have to set both the girls at work. Think you can spare ’em for a while?”

“The girls!” exclaimed Miss Lizzie, lifting her eyebrows till they met the “lunatic fringe” of hair which straggled uncurled down her forehead. “The girls! As if I could stop to fuss with that old paste-pot! Why, father, I’m making my black silk polonay, nine flounces, hand-stitched, and puff trimming up and down in front. Of course it’s Addie’s business to help you if you want her to; but you needn’t count on me. Now, mother, can’t you make him understand?”

The reason it’s important to understand the use of the phrase as it pertains to hairstyles, is to better understand how the expression came to mean those who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational.

It’s easy to see why the “lunatic fringe” that was described so well by S.E.K. in her letter to the New York Times could be considered extreme. The name alone implies that those who favor a “lunatic fringe” may have suffered from some sort of intermittent insanity at the time the “lunatic fringe” rose to popularity with teenage girls across the country. And although the original article to which S.E.K. refers isn’t in evidence, based on S.E.K.’s Letter to the Editor, it can safely be assumed that the article didn’t speak well of the “lunatic fringe.”

Even Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) sported a “lunatic fringe” back in 1881 and 1882, as the style was the rage even in the Dakotas. She wrote about it in her book “Little Town On The Prairie.”

While the current sense of the phrase cannot be attributed solely to Theodore Roosevelt, it can be said that he certainly popularized the expression in the 20th century. However, the sense of the phrase traces back to the hairstyle and how it was perceived by society as a whole which, it would appear, was not favorable with the majority of people.

Likewise, those who are considered part of the “lunatic fringe” in this day and age hold opinions that are not favorable with the majority of people.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Water Off A Duck’s Back

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 26, 2011

When someone says something is like water off a duck’s back, what they’re telling you is that it has no short-term or long-term effect on them at all.  Recently former Miss Wales, Imogen Thomas was pelted with a water bomb according to the July 29, 2011 edition of the Daily Mail in the UK. It stated in part:

It appeared that Imogen soon put the water bomb incident behind her however — water off a duck’s back, as it were.

On October 7, 1961 the Prairie Outdoors column written by Morris Ferrie and published by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix saw this story published:

Often used is the phrase “like water off a duck’s back” when describing an attitude of indifference.  Well, this attitude was far from present the other day when farmers from around bone-dry Pelican Lake met with sportsmen and government representatives in Moose Jaw to discuss the situation.

In the end, the story ended well with the announcement that “any disagreement that may have existed with respect to the presence of Pelican Lake was completely overwhelmed when the following resolution was passed unanimously:  RESOLVED that Pelican Lake be restored and maintained for the purpose of providing for agricultural and waterfowl needs and that the lake be managed in a manner to make it permanent, and further be it; RESOLVED that this resolution be referred for immediate action to the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the P.F.R.A. and Ducks Unlimited (Canada).”

On August 3, 1910 the Deseret Evening News ran a news story about Secy Ballinger who had denied the rumour that he would be tendering his resignation soon, after having met with Senator Crane in Minneapolis, MN the day before.  The headline read, “No Resignation For Ballinger: President Stands By Him.”  He was quoted as saying:

“All this vicious attack by unscrupulous men, backed by newspapers with even less scruples, goes off me like water off a duck’s back.  That never will induce me to resign.”

On September 25, 1894 the Lawrence Daily Journal ran an advertisement for Pearline soap.  The main copy, signed by a James Pyle of New York City, read:

Like water off a duck’s back — so dirt leaves, when Pearline gets after it.  No matter where it is, the easiest, safest, quickest and cheapest way to get rid of it is with Pearline.  Washing clothes is Pearline’s most important work.  That’s because it saves so much wear and tear, as well as labor, by doing away with the rub, rub, rub.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that Pearline washes everything.  Dishes, paint, marble, glass, tin-ware, silver, jewelry, carpets, hangings — there’s work to be saved with all of these, by using Pearline.

The saying also appeared in an advertisement in the March 14, 1893 edition of the Manawatu Herald in New Zealand selling this amazing new product.  The main copy read:

Have you see the new Rainproof “Impervanas” Dress Serges now showing at Te Aro House, Wellington?  “Like water off a duck’s back” describes their wonderful quality.  No one need now fear the heaviest shower of rain while wearing a dress of the impervious “Impervanas” Serge.  Procurable only at Te Aro House, Wellington.  “Impervanas” Serges will not spot, will not shrink, are not affected by sea water, and are made of the best New Zealand wools.  Write for patterns to the sole agent, James Smith, Te Aro House, Wellington.  The Showroom is abundantly stocked with choice good for present requirements of which we invite inspection and comparison.  Ross and Sandford, District Importers, the Bon Marche, Palmerston North.

The Grey River Argus published on May 23, 1874 reported on a serious situation in Nelson, New Zealand as it pertained to the Provincial Council and the Brunner Mine owned by the Government and purchased from the late Ballarat Company in 1868.  It stated in part:

This is one of the advantages of a non-responsible Government — that it can afford to allow hostile motions to glide like water off a duck’s back, or rather like a pellet from the scales of an alligator.  In support of his allegations that the Estimates were not framed in accordance with the requirements of the province, and that the department expenditure was too high, Mr. Donne said ….

The article quotes Mr. Donne word for word as he dissects the revenues and expenses of the Council in making his point that administration costs of 76 percent plus all the other deductions and expenses along with the quality of the work done in the department.  The Provincial Treasurer is said to have attempted to present a defence of the Estimates but in the end, the Estimates were returned for reconstruction according to the news story.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms claims the phrase is from the early 1800s and it may well be however Idiomation was unable to find a published reference prior to 1874.  That being said, it was used in the news story without quotation marks and as such, it was not a recent colloquialism.  Because news travelled at a more relaxed pace in the 1800s than it does in the technologically connected world of today, new expressions took time to be incorporated into the language, finally making it into books and, in the end, newspapers and magazines. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to believe that the word was in use for at least a generation prior to being printed in the Grey River Argus, putting the date to the late 1840s or early 1850s.

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Shot In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2011

Very different from being in the dark, a shot in the dark means you’re taking a calculated but wild guess about something about which you know nothing or next-to-nothing about in the first place.

On November 17, 2010 the Independent Newspaper in the UK ran a story by Stephen Foley on the U.S. Federal Reserve whose mandate ensuring full employment in the U.S. be removed in order to focus solely on price stability.  Former Federal Reserve vice-chairman, Alan Blinder was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

The anti-Keynesian revival has been disheartening enough. But now the economic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society is turning its fury on Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. It is not a shot in the dark, not a radical departure from conventional monetary policy, and certainly not a form of currency manipulation.

Back on July 16, 1960 readers of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix read a news story written by journalist Ned Powers entitled, “Four Canadian Records Fall.”  He wrote about a young athlete named Smith, a late starter from Weyburn, who made good with his final broad jump to upset the international campaigner, Jack Smyth of Winnipeg.

It could be hardly classed as a shot in the dark for young Smith, who best exemplified the steady rise of youth in Canada’s track and field program.  He bettered 22 feet on three occasions and had the least fouls among the entries.

On May 30, 1922 the New York Times reported on Senator Lodge, representing Massachusetts as well as Senate Leader at the time, and the troublesome word “if” that was eventually deleted from a Senate Tariff Bill.  Concerned about a possible Democratic filibuster against the bill, it took five hours before the troublesome word “if” was stricken from one of the clauses in the Senate Tariff Bill.  The story, was entitled quite simply, “A Tariff If.”  The news article read in part:

[Massachusetts Senator Lodge] admits that the fundamental conditions of tariff legislation today are entirely different from what they ever were before.  The “utterly distorted and dislocated” foreign exchanges make, he confesses, any given rate a duty little more today than a shot in the dark.  Still he would have no delay in passing a bill which, in the course of a few months, may be found to have included rates wholly unnecessary for protection and outrageously oppressive in their effect on prices.

On April 1, 1884 the Warsaw Daily Times carried a story that most definitely was not an April Fool’s joke.  The news article reported on an incident stemming from a game of cards at Cole’s Creek, Columbia county in Pennsylvania, the previous Sunday.  It would appear that Charles Davis, Charles Mills, James Royer and Henry Williams had entered a tavern and started up a poker game with amounts being wagered finally reaching $500 a side — a very tidy some back in 1884.   

As oftentimes is the case in these very emotional high stakes poker games, there was disagreement as to whether a particular player had cheated; in this case, Williams reached for the stakes when Royer claimed he had seen Davis cheat.  The money was knocked to the floor and a row ensued where revolvers were drawn and the barroom emptied. What was referred to back in the day as a “promiscuous firing” occurred and when all was said and done, all four were found lying on the floor, dead.  The headline to the detailed account of the incident was:

Shot In The Dark: Deadly Pistol Practice With The Lights Out

The double entendre was not lost on the readers of the Warsaw Daily Times in Letters to the Editor in subsequent newspaper editions.  While it has been claimed that George Bernard Shaw appears to have been the first person to use the phrase metaphorically, as evidenced by The Saturday Review of February 1895, to others it appears that the metaphorical use of the phrase “shot in the dark” was already a humourous jibe a decade before George Bernard Shaw‘s clever use of the phrase.

No doubt, the literal sense of the phrase hinting at the figurative sense of the phrase can be found in the New York World newspaper of February 15, 1870 that reported:

To level his weapon and fire was the work of a moment; but as both figures fled the shot seemed to have been wasted.  Upon examining the spot in the morning, however, the gentleman found a considerable quantity of blood upon the trampled grass, and traces of it for some distance from the house.  Soon after the sod of a graveyard near the house was found to have been disturbed as though in preparation for the removal of a body, and the neighbors resolved the attempted burglary into the wanderings of a couple of would-be “body-snatchers” whom the alarmed householder had frightened and grazed by his random shot.

The news story was aptly entitled:

A Shot In The Dark: Strange Solution Of A Family Mystery

Idiomation was able to find several published literal versions of the phrase in newspapers and books prior to 1870, however, none of them appeared to have the figurative sense implied or carefully crafted into the headline so as to create a double meaning to the phrase “shot in the dark.”

One such story is from the New Zealand Colonist edition of October 18, 1842 that related an anecdote about the Emperor, Napoleon and the Battle of Jena at Weimar.  The anecdote ends with:

The Emperor laughed, and to reconcile the poor fellow to himself, said, as he withdrew, “My brave lad, it was not your fault; for a random shot in the dark, yours was not amiss; it will soon be daylight; take a better aim, and I’ll provide for you.”

Idiomation is relieved to hear that the literal sense for the expression is much less in use nowadays than its figurative use of the expression.

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Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

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