Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Sir Thomas More’

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2014

When wishing for things that are useless, you may hear someone respond to wishful thinking with if ifs and ands were pots and pans. The expression in modern times is more commonly known as ifs, ands or buts because language, as we know, is always evolving. However, over the generations, the idiom has oftentimes been reduced to merely ifs and ands.

In 1929, James Milton Carson published a 16-page booklet entitled, “The Ifs and Ands of Race Track Gambling In Florida.”  While Idiomation hasn’t had occasion to read the publication, the title says it all, don’t you think?

Just a touch over a century before that, the expression is found in the “Melodist, and Mirthful Olio: An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs, Recitations, Glees, Duets, Etc.” The Olio was the work of actor John Pritt Harley (February 1790 – 27 August 1858), edited by Charles Dixon, and printed and published in 1828 by H. Arliss of Cutter Lane in Cheapside. John Pritt Harley was known as an actor of great versatility as well as the manager and principal actor at the St. James’s Theatre in London where the comic burletta, “The Strange Gentleman”  — written by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) — was first performed. The song in the Olio is entitled, “A Song Of Ifs And Ands” and begins with this verse:

If ifs and ands were pots and pans,
‘Twould cure the tinker’s cares;
If ladies did not carry fans,m
They’d give themselves no airs.

In the book “Letters from Hudson Bay” published by the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, an R. Staunton is quoted in 1723 as having written:

… Mr. Myat giving him but a very indifferent character, and not to have stocked one new gun this year; which made me call him to know what he can undertake in one year besides overhauling the English and mending the Indians’ guns that hunts for the factory. He replied with a great many ifs and ands.

English theologian and philosopher Ralph Cudworth (1617 – 26 June 1688) published his principal philosophical work, “The True Intellectual System of the Universe” in 1678. He was considered one of the most important of the Cambridge Platonists, a group of philosophers from the University of Cambridge who promoted rationalistic theology and ethics. The group also included such historical figures as Henry More (1614–1687), Benjamin Whichcote (1609–1683), Peter Sterry (1613–1672), John Smith (1618–1652), Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), and John Worthington (1618–1671). In his book, he wrote:

Thus, therefore, the idea of God, or an absolutely perfect being, including in it not an impossible, nor a contingent, but a necessary schesis, or relation to existence, it follows from thence absolutely, and without any ifs and ands, that he doth exist. For as of things contradictions, having therefore in the idea of them an impossible schesis to existence, we can confidently conclude, that they never where, nor will be.

In the play “Spanish Tragedie” Act II Scene, written by Thomas Kyd (6 November 1558 – 15 August 1594) and published in 1587, there is a brief exchange between Pedringano, servant of Bel-imperia and Lorenzo, Don Ciprian’s son (Don Ciprian being the Duke of Castile) as well as Bel-imperia’s brother. The play is one of many revenges, including Balthazar’s affirmation that he intends to kill Horatio for stealing Bel-Imperia’s love from him after hearing that Bel-Imperia has supposedly has feelings for Horatio, and Lorenzo spurs his friend on. The quick exchange between the servant and the brother is as follows:

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord!

LORENZO
Yet speak the truth, and I will guerdon thee
And shield thee from what-euer can ensue,
And will conceale what-euer proceeds from thee;
But, if thou dally once againe, thou diest!

PEDRINGANO
If madame Bel-imperia be in loue—

LORENZO.
What, villaine! ifs and ands?

PEDRINGANO
Oh stay, my lord! she loues Horatio!

And the expression is found in the account “Beheading of Lord Hastings” in the book “The History of Kyng Richard the Third” by Sir Thomas More, published in 1577. The account is alleged to have been written by Sir Thomas More in 1513, and describes an event that took place in 1432.

What quod the protectour thou servest me, I wene, wi ifes and with andes, I tel the thei haue so done, and that I will make good on they body traituor.

The story also implies that Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was familiar with the nursery rhyme:

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans
There would be no need for tinkers’ hands!

This would, indeed, seem to be the case since he used the shortened version in 1432.  Since the first recorded nursery rhyme dates back to the 13th century, and many nursery rhymes were recorded in English plays by the 16th century, it is reasonable to believe that the claim that Richard III was familiar with this specific nursery rhyme.

That being said, the most reasonable date for this idiom is somewhere between 1425 and 1450, when adults raising Richard III would have had occasion to recite the nursery rhyme to him as a child.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Mad As A March Hare

Posted by Admin on July 12, 2011

If someone mentions that you’re as mad as a March hare, what they mean is that you’re out of your mind and you’re not thinking straight.  In other words, your behaviour is bizarre and completely unlike your usual demeanour.

The expression goes back to the belief that when breeding season hits in Europe — which just happens to begin during the month of March — hares behave erratically.  The behaviour continues well past March, however during the winter months, hares are docile and so when they seem to be agitated and excited — and sometimes violent — it only appears to be out of character for these animals.  It’s not … not really.

On March 7, 2010 the Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported on the FA Cup quarter final match between Reading and Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium.  The first paragraph read:

Martin O’Neill went as mad as a March hare at the Madejski Stadium but finally laid to rest one of football’s rarer hoodoos at the 13th attempt. Since arriving at Aston Villa in 2006, the manager had failed to win a game in March and, after Shane Long gave Reading a two-goal half-time advantage, O’Neill delivered a broadside.

On March 1, 1925 the New York Times ran a news story on William Wrigley who began his career as a soap salesman and was known to spend millions on advertising.  The reason for the story had everything to do with the chewing gum that sold for a penny but that generated net profits of over 8 million USD in 1924. The article began with this enticing tidbit of information:

To business men and bankers, Wrigley may have seemed mad as a March hare. That was the panic year. Money was at a premium.  Businesses were wondering how they could escape their advertising contracts.

In Chapter VII also known as “Pigs and Pepper” of Lewis Carroll‘s book “Alice In Wonderland” published in 1865, the following exchange happens between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“By-the-bye, what became of the baby?” said the Cat. “I’d nearly forgotten to ask.”

“It turned into a pig,” Alice quietly said, just as if it had come back in a natural way.

“I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.

Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. “I’ve seen hatters before,” she said to herself; “the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad–at least not so mad as it was in March.” As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree.

W. C. Hazlitt published his book “Remains: Early Popular Poetry of England” in 1864.  It contained a poem from 1500 that included this line:

Thanne they begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare.

The expression mad as a March Hare, however, is found in countless books and documents from the 16th century.  In fact, John Heywood included the phrase in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.  So in less than two generations, the phrase had come into its own.  Part of this is due to the fact that in 1529, Sir Thomas More used the phrase in his book “The Supplycacyon of Soulys” when he wrote about beggars and their begging ways:

As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of the expression mad as a March hare however it’s very likely that it was used in previous decades as it is used with great ease of language in the 1500s.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Horsing Around

Posted by Admin on April 19, 2011

Whether you’re taking part in boisterous play, teasing, or not taking a situation seriously, have you ever been told to stop horsing around?  That’s because horses — like humans — charge around to release energy, sometimes with little warning that the horse is about do just that.  The end result of this kind of behaviour in horses is that sometimes they wind up bolting which causes all sorts of problems in itself.

Some of you may remember that back in June 2000, country singers Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw along with road manager Mark Russo got into a scuffle with police at a music festival near Buffalo, NY.  In the end, a jury found them not guilty for their roles in the ruckus.  The news story carried by the Eugene Register Guard in Oregon in May 2001 read:

Singer Just Horsing Around, Jury Decides

Forty years before that incident, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried a story on January 2, 1960 about “the serious business of deciding conference champions” on the college basketball front.  The news story headline read:

College Cagers Will Not Be Horsing Around Tonight

Back on February 1, 1932 journalist Strickland Gillian wrote “The Washington Wash” for the Los Angeles Times.  The story spoke about debts and the habit of passing the buck with regards to that debt. 

It’s all cockeyed.  What is the rising generation to learn about honesty and regarding obligations with nations horsing around this way over every debt? Carter Glass has been trying hard all this session of Congress to do something to remedy the situation.

The Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Retailer Blamed For High Prices” on May 12, 1909.  It addressed the comments made by Senator Scott who precipitated a discussion in the Senate that led to charges that retail dealer were charging consumers outrageous prices for household goods.

“Why should you ask me to be less boisterous,” retorted Mr. Tillman, “when some other Senators have been high-horsing around here as if they were in a circus?”  Mr. McLaurin chided the Republicans with having abandoned the theory that the foreigner pays the tax, and asked to know who did pay the tax if the duty did not raise the price.

The expression “horsing around” grew from the phrase “horseplay.” 

Bishop Joseph Butler‘s first recorded visit to Durham was in May, 1751, when he met a few people on his way to Stockton. At Barnard Castle, he wrote that a crowd gathered round him, and “in rough horse-play some of the rabble pumped water on the listeners from a fire-engine which they brought up.”

A letter written in 1668 by Bishop Burnet to Sir William Morrice, discussing the falling out between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington, he wrote:

The Lapland knots are untied, and we are in horrid storms: those that hunted together, now hunt one another; but, at horse-play, the mater of the horse must have the better.

In April 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a letter to his daughter, Margaret Roper that detailed how he had appeared before Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of the clergy.   He was strongly urged to take the oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England; More had refused.  The result was that the archbishop pressed him even harder to take the oath.  He spoke to his daughter of how he saw Latimer “amusing himself at horse-play with his friends in the Lambeth Garden.”  Shortly thereafter, More was committed to the Tower where he wrote “A Dialogue of Comforte Against Tribulacyon” and his property was seized by the King.

Since Sir Thomas More used the term horse-play with such ease in a letter to his daughter in 1534, it is reasonable to believe it was common usage at the time and therefore, readers can guess that the term “horse-play” dates back to at least 1528.

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Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fire

Posted by Admin on February 25, 2011

If you get out of one problem and the solution saddles you with an even bigger problem, others may say you are “out of the frying pan into the fire” when describing the overall situation to their friends and colleagues.

A little over a decade ago, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York ran a Letter To The Editor from Nadine Putorti of Rotterdam in their February 9, 2000 edition.  The title of the letter stated that “America Has Had Enough Of The Clintons.”  The last paragraph was:

Let’s not jump out of the frying pan into the fire.  I believe many people have had enough of the Clintons.  I sure hope Mayor Guiliani is our next senator from New York state.

In Connecticut, the Bridgeport Herald published an article on August 19, 1900 entitled “Discipline, Not Total Abstinence, Is What Is Needed.”  It began with:

To-morrow marks the beginning of the battle in behalf of total abstinence at “Camp Vichy,” Niantic,so far as is related to the Connecticut National Guard.  It may be well, just before the battle, to say a few things that have a flavoring of common sense, and like most things flavored with that sort of extract, they may not set real well with certain Members of the national guard.

The crux of the matter, in the reporter’s opinion, is this:

Total abstinence for the national guard will be found as demoralizing for the guard as total inebriety. The heads of the guard seem to have jumped from one extreme to the other — out of the frying pan into the fire — whereas, if they had gone about the matter properly, they would have recommended the happy medium of temperance and discipline.

William Wordsworth wrote a letter to Francis Wrangham on July 12, 1807 asking for help with the  publisher of Critical Review magazine.  What he was hoping to avoid was having C.V. le Grice review his poems as it was alleged that le Grice held a grudge against Coleridge and his friends which, of course, included Wordsworth.  In a letter from William Wordsworth to Francis Wrangham dated November 4, 1807, he wrote:

But alas! either for me, or for the Critical Review, or both!  it has been out of the frying-pan into the fire.

In 1742, Lord Hervey, son of the Earl of Bristol,  wrote a poem that threw in a barb at Sir Robert Walpole.  The final verse reads:

For though you have made that rogue Walpole retire
You are out of the frying-pan into the fire:
But since to the Protestant line I’m a friend
I tremble to think how these changes may end.

Edward Taylor published his book “Poems” in 1700.  In his poem, “A Threnodiall Dialogue between The Second and Third Ranks” this verse appears:

Than us, alas! What, would you fain aspire
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire?
Change States with you with all our hearts we would
Nay, and give boot therewith, if that we could.

However, in the end, the phrase can be traced back to a religious argument between William Tyndale, translator of the Bible into English, and Sir Thomas More. The argument started in 1528 when Sir Thomas More published his paper entitled, ‘A Dialoge concerning Heresyes.’  This led to a response from William Tyndale in 1530 with his paper entitled, ‘An answerer unto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge.’

Not to be outdone, in 1532, Sir Thomas More returned fire with his paper entitled, ‘The Confutacyon of Tyndales Answere,’ wherein Sir Thomas More said this of William Tyndale:

featly conuayed himself out of the frying panne fayre into the fyre.

The phrase was used with ease in 1532 and implies that it was part of common language at the time of King Henry VIII’s reign.  Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find a published reference prior to this exchange between William Tyndale and Sir Thomas More.

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