Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Horse Of A Different Color

Posted by Admin on April 26, 2011

If you’re told that what you’re suggesting is a horse of a different color, what the person means is that the subject you’re talking about is a different matter or separate issue altogether. 

In the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland, Dorothy and Toto along with the Strawman, The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion find themselves at the gates of the Emerald City. They experience more than just a little difficulty convincing the Guardian of the Emerald City Gates to let them in.  When they finally convince him to let them in, he says:

Well, bust my buttons! Why didn’t you say that in the first place? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!

Once inside, the next scene shows the group in a horse-drawn carriage and the horse, of course, changes colour from shot to shot.  Dorothy remarks to the driver, “What kind of a horse is that? I’ve never seen a horse like that before!” And the driver responds, “No, and never will again, I fancy. There’s only one of him, and he’s it. He’s the Horse of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about.”

Back on August 2, 1959 the Daily Reporter newspaper of Spender, Iowa published a news story entitled, “Reds Will Live In Era Of Fear If Aggression Continues — Nixon.”  The story was about then Vice-President Richard M. Nixon who addressed the Soviet people in a TV-radio address that was listened to by millions of citizens as he commented on the Soviet foreign policy.

The vice-president took strong exception to the slogan “Let us work for the victory of communism” which he saw frequently on his tour.

“If Mr. Khrushchev means by this slogan working for a better life for the people within the Soviet Union that is one thing,” Nixon said.  “If, on the other hand, he means the victory of communism over the United States and other countries this is a horse of a different color.  For we have our own ideas as to what system is best for us.”

On July 21, 1900, the Montreal Gazette carried a story that was originally published in the New York Times entitled, “An Albany Strike: Working Of An Old Trick In The Legislature.”  It reported on Legislature Assemblyman Leon Sanders of the 12th Assembly District who introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor for any telegraph or telephone company doing business in the state of New York to furnish keepers of poolrooms or other gambling resorts any information about racing, and what ensued after the bill was “allowed to go on its way in the Assembly.”  Things began to get out of hand shortly afterwards and led to an inquiry.

The poolroom keeper made just a feeble kick when the agent got him in a corner.  He tried to point out that if the poolrooms were really closed up, the Gambling Commission would have lost its source of greatest revenue.  Then the agents told the room keepers that the commission could go hang, and that this was “a horse of different color“; that the senators at Albany were in a bad way, indeed: that they needed the money — in fact, they protector among the rest — and that it was good-bye to the poolroom business unless they got it.

Up until the mid-1800s the expression was actually a “horse of that color” The original expression points out similarities between topics while the newer expression points out differences.

The original expression dates back to William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night where in Act 2, Scene 3 Maria schemes with Sir Andrew and Sir Toby Belch against Malvolio.

MARIA
My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour.

SIR ANDREW
And your horse now would make him an ass.

MARIA
Ass, I doubt not.

SIR ANDREW
O, ’twill be admirable!

Shakespeare used the phrase, as he oftentimes did, as a play on words which indicates that the phrase a “horse of a different color” most likely existed prior to the “horse of that color.” 

This makes sense since knights in medieval tournaments rode different-colored horses in races so that spectators could tell which knight was their knight. We know from historical documents that gambling was a favourite pastime in Medieval times and so it is not unreasonable to believe that those who lost bets in tournaments would be told of their loss with news that a “horse of a different color” was victorious.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Horse Of A Different Color

Red Skies At Night, Sailors Delight

Posted by Admin on January 27, 2011

Weather folklore has been around for centuries and sometimes what works in one part of the world, doesn’t work nearly as well in other parts.  Regardless, all sorts of interesting rhymes have come into existence due to weather folklore and “red skies at night, sailors delight” is just one of those rhymes.

In North America, we know the entire rhyme as being:

Red sky at night, sailors delight,
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But in the United Kingdom, it’s not sailors who pay attention to the skies.  It’s shepherd’s that keep an eye on the colour of the sky.

Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
Red sky in morning, shepherds warning.

William Shakespeare — who appears often in Idiomation entries — wrote the poem Venus and Adonis in 1592 with the following weather folklore included:

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.

Going back to the Bible, the following passage is found in Matthew 16:1-3:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

In 650 BC, the Babylonians predicted the weather from cloud patterns and in 340 BC, Aristotle described weather patterns in Meteorologica. But as to when the rhyme “red skies at night” came into existence during that time is anyone’s guess.

Now, the question whether weather folklore has any basis in science is an interesting question to ask.  The fact of the matter is that when we see a red sky at night, this means that light from the setting sun has a high concentration of dust particles which usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. So yes, a red sky at night means one can expect that good weather will follow

Likewise, if you experience a red sun at morning, take heed.  A red sunrise is reflecting the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. What this means is that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content can be found in the atmosphere and it’s reasonable to believe that rain is on its way.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Babylonia, Bible, China, Christian, Greece, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Against The Grain

Posted by Admin on December 7, 2010

If something you say or do goes against the grain, what it means is that it’s not what you would usually say or do and it displeases you to have to say or do it.   This idiom has its roots in natural science and refers to the natural direction of the fibers in a piece of wood, called its grain.   When wood is sawed obliquely, or “against the grain,” the wood tends to splinter. 

In 1873, Francois Pierre G. Guizot wrote and published “The History of France From Earliest Times to the Year 1789.”  On page 450, the author recounts a story that allegedly happened between Louis XI of France and Edward IV of England in 1474.  The author writes:

“Tell your master,” answered Louis coolly, “that I should not advise him to.”  Next year the herald returned to tell Louis that the king of England, on the point of embarking, called upon him to give up to him the kingdom of France.  Louis had a conversation with the herald.  “Your king,” said he, “is undertaking this war against his own grain at the solicitation of the duke of Burgundy; he would do much better to live in peace with me instead of devoting himself to allies who cannot but compromise him without doing him any service;” and he had three hundred golden crowns presented to the herald, a promise of considerably more if peace were made.

While it can neither be confirmed nor denied that such a conversation took place, one can state that, without doubt, the phrase “against the grain” was used in the late 1800s.

An earlier reference is found when fictional character Tristam Shandy, son of Walter Shandy and Elizabeth Mollineux, created by Laurence Stern, said:

The fact was this, That in the latter end of September 1717, which was the year before I was born, my mother having carried my father up to town much against the grain, by marriage-articles, to have my nose squeez’d as flat to my face, as if the destinies had actually spun me without one.

Although the 18th century fictional novel was written in 1759, the ease with which the phrase is used indicates that the phrase was part of every day language by that time.  In 1650, Thomas Hubbert wrote “A Pill To Purge Formality” where he used the phrase as well.

O this goes against the grain, this cannot be indured.

However, in the end, it was William Shakespeare who was responsible for the phrase, against the grain.  Shakespeare first wrote the phrase in his 1608 play, Coriolanus. In it, the character Sicinius, speaking with Brutus, says:

SICINIUS:
Say, you chose him
More after our commandment than as guided
By your own true affections, and that your minds,
Preoccupied with what you rather must do
Than what you should, made you against the grain
To voice him consul: lay the fault on us.

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

Dog Days

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2010

When someone talks about dog days, they either mean those blisteringly hot days in the dead of summer or they’re referring to a period of stagnation.  Either way, dog days are draining days.

The traditional “dog days” of summer fall between early July and mid-August and are noted for their extreme heat and humidity.  In the Mediterranean, this period coincided with hot days that were plagued with disease and discomfort.

Sirius is the “dog star” from the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Big Dog”), hence the name.  Sirius, the “dog star,” is within the constellation Canis Major and is the brightest in the heavens.

During this time of year, the star Sirius is at its brightest and can be seen rising alongside the sun.  In fact, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, just happens to be August 16.  

Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Prologue of Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975 and is set in the first week of August.  In the novel, the author wrote:

These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

There is a very descriptive use of the phrase “dog days” in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel,  A Christmas Carol, that states:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

And in William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII written in 1613, Porter and his Man are talking in the Palace Yard in Act 5, Scene 4.

MAN
The spoons will be the bigger, sir.  There is a fellow somewhat near the door, he should be a brazier by his face, for o’ my conscience twenty of the dog-days now reign in’s nose.  All that stand about him are under the line; they need no other penance.”

The phrase actually dates back to the Egyptians.  They believed that the star gave off extra heat and humidity to augment the already formidable heat of the sun.  In fact, dog days coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile which was important for a good harvest.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Egypt, Greece, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Apple Of My Eye

Posted by Admin on September 15, 2010

The phrase “apple of my eye” is best remembered for its inclusion in Sir Walter Scott‘s popular novel Old Mortality published in 1816 where he wrote:

Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.

Shakespeare used the phrase in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Act III, Scene 2 where Oberon says:

Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wakest, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.

But before Scott and Shakespeare, the phrase appeared in a work published in 885 entitled Gregory’s Pastoral Care which is attributed to King Aelfred the Great of Wessex.   During this era, the pupil of the eye was thought to be a solid object and because an apple was the most common round object around, the pupil was referred to as an apple.

Because one’s eyesight was particularly important, the phrase also took on a figurative sense when speaking of someone the speaker considered as precious to him or her as his or her own eyesight.  That the phrase was used in this way implies that the phrase had been in use for quite some time before it was included in King Aelfred the Great‘s book.

In the end, the phrase “apple of my eye” shows up time and again in the Old Testament of the Bible.

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  (Deuteronomy 32:10)

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.  (Book of Psalms 17:8)

Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.  (Proverbs 7:2)

Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.   (Lamentations 2: 18)

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 10th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Jewish, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit

Posted by Admin on July 9, 2010

We all know that jokes and funny stories seem so much funnier when they don’t drag on and on before getting to the punch line.  Even Shakespeare knew that!

In his play, Hamlet, you’ll find the expression, “brevity is the soul of wit.”  Polonius speaks the well-known line but the fact of the matter is that Polonius is one of the least brief and least witty talkers around. 

POLONIUS:
This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

 Throughout the play, Polonius doles out quite a bit of advice to anyone who crosses his path.  What makes this all the funnier while being tragic at the same time is that he doesn’t follow any of his own advice.

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

Something Stinks Around Here

Posted by Admin on July 8, 2010

When someone says that “something stinks around here” the meaning is clear.  But where does this expression come from and who first used it?  The expression is actually a version of the expression “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” which can first be found in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.  In the play, the expression is a commentary on the corruption in Denmark’s royal palace at the time.

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

In My Mind’s Eye

Posted by Admin on July 7, 2010

While it’s true that Shakespeare used the phrase in his famous play, Hamlet, he didn’t make the phrase up as he did so many other phrases that are part of every day English these days.

A published version of the concept of seeing something in “my mind’s eye” can be found in a letter written by Hubert Languet to Sir Philip Sidney in 1577.   In his letter he wrote:

What will not these golden mountains effect … which I dare say stand before your mind’s eye day and night?

However, the concept of “my mind’s eye” was used by Chaucer in The Man of Law’s Tale, written in 1390, where he wrote:

It were with thilke eyen of his mynde, With whiche men seen, after that they been blynde.

But even before then, in 1183, a Christian mystic by the name of Joachim of Flora wrote “Exposition of Revelation” in which the reader can find this passage:

I suddenly perceived in my mind’s eye something of the fullness of this book and of the entire harmony of the Old and New Testaments.”

And so we see that even though Shakespeare made good use of the phrase, since at least the late 1100s, the words mind and eye have been paired in the sense of “a mental view.”

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sweets To The Sweet

Posted by Admin on July 6, 2010

The phrase “sweets to the sweet” certainly gets around whether it’s in horror movies or in candy boxes on Valentine’s Day.  It can have a sinister bent; it can be the most romantic of sayings.  So who originally coined this phrase?  Shakespeare, of course.

Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude says this in Act 5, scene 1 of Hamlet at Ophelia’s funeral.  Ophelia is a young noblewoman of Denmark in the play — the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and Hamlet’s potential wife — who commits suicide.

QUEEN GERTRUDE:
Sweets to the sweet: farewell!

[Scattering flowers]

I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife;
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid,
And not have strew’d thy grave.

Ophelia is surrounded by flowers throughout the play to illustrate her naiveté and innocence.  Being naive and innocent, of course, she sees no flaws in the people she loves and so, she is truly a “sweet maid.”

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

There’s Method In My Madness

Posted by Admin on July 5, 2010

This is a straight forward explanation for the expression “there’s method in my madness.”

It’s actually from a play by William Shakespeare.  In his play Hamlet, written in 1602 in Act 2. Scene 2.   The actual line from the play, spoken as an aside by Polonius is:

POLONIUS
Though this be madness, yet there is method
in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

Since then, the line has been modified into the more popular version we use today:  “There’s method in my madness.”

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