Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Inquisition’

Feet To The Fire

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2014

When you hold someone’s feet to the fire what you’re doing is causing someone to feel personal, social, political, or legal pressure on someone in order to induce him or her to comply with action that he or she previously would do. In other words, it is a forceful way of holding someone accountable for his or her actions, and hopefully to fulfill that commitment. It is not, however, akin to holding a gun to someone’s head.

In Kabul, Afghanistan the Pajhwok Afghan News published a story on April 8, 2011 that reported on the meeting between United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Coupled with that story was information on U.S. Ambassador, Susan Rice, and her testimony before a Congressional committee on matters pertaining to the electoral processes in Afghanistan, and the death of UNAMA personnel in Mazar-e-Sharif. The newspaper reported the following:

“So this process is still dragging out in terms of efforts to review certain aspects of the 2010 polling, parliamentary electoral process, and I think the United Nations has been the sort of focal point of the international community’s efforts to hold feet to the fire and ensure that the processes are not manipulated for the political interests of any actor,” Rice told lawmakers.

On May 16, 2007 Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the US Senate Special Committee On Aging spoke to the matter of health care at a hearing before the Special Committee On Aging. What was said at the meeting was published by the US Government Printing Office in a document entitled, “Medicare Advantage Marketing And Sales: Who Has The Advantage?” and listed under S. Hrg. 110-207.  In his opening remarks as the chairman, he said:

As we know, the number of Medicare Advantage plans being offered to beneficiaries is growing rapidly. So we must remain vigilant in our oversight of these plans, and I intend to do so. If more hearings are necessary to hold feet to the fire, then we will do that. Cleaning up these marketing-and-sales practices is a high priority of mine. So let me be clear: This issue will not go away after this hearing; and, of course, neither will I.

In 1961, the National Council On The Aging published a report entitled, “Building For Older People: Financing, Construction, Administration” and was published by the University of Michigan. In this report, the following was stated:

A wise counselor will hold feet “to the fire” until housing cost considerations are realistically examined. It is surprising how few people actually have totalled up their present housing cost.

Of special note is the fact that in medieval Europe, trial by ordeal (also known as judicium Dei) was a trial based on the premise that God would help the innocent by performing a miracle and save the accused. One such trial was to hold the accused’s feet to the fire. If the feet were unburned, or if they healed within 3 days of being held to the fire, it was taken as a sign that God had intervened on behalf of the accused, thereby proving his or her innocence. Of course, most either confessed to the crimes to which they were accused or died as a result of the trial.  It was a favorite ordeal of the Spanish Inquisition (1478 – 1834) which replaced the Medieval Inquisition begun in 1184.

The fact that the idiom was used with quotation marks in the 1961 report indicates that it was an idiom that was not necessarily well-known although it was part of the language at the time.  It is therefore reasonable to assume that it came into vogue in the years leading up to 1961.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to some time after WWII, and most likely some time in the 1950s.

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

Accidentally On Purpose

Posted by Admin on January 18, 2013

When someone does something they intend to do but pretends it was an accident, it’s said that what was done was done accidentally on purpose. It’s a contradiction since something that’s done on purpose can’t possibly be an accident and something that’s an accident can’t be done on purpose. However, the phrase has found its way into the English language and carved out a niche for itself over the years.

On June 21, 2009, the Racing Post (which is published in London, England) published an article by Phil Agius entitled, “Why Baby Schumi Is Nothing Like The Old One.” The article began with this bit of information:

The man threatening to do a Schumacher chose an interesting race to put in his worst qualifying performance of the season, allowing the man dubbed the next Schumacher to grab pole for today’s British Grand Prix.

Except don’t think for a minute that Sebastian Vettel is anything like Michael Schumacher. Yes, the charging Red Bull driver is super-fast and German, with an already apparent ability to get his team working behind him and the natural talent to pull out a quick lap exactly when required.

But it’s fairly safe to say you won’t ever see the chap the German press call Baby Schumi barging rivals off the track in a bid to win world titles, or indeed parking his car accidentally on purpose on the racing line in order to preserve a pole position.

The Milwaukee Sentinel used the expression in a sub-heading in Lloyd Larson’s column of the January 5, 1973 edition. Discussing the Miami-Pittsburgh AFC title battle, under the sub-heading he wrote:

Players have been known to fumble accidentally on purpose, so to speak, in scoring territory on fourth down. The rule is designed to prevent such happenings.

During WWII, whimsical stories sometimes found their way into newspapers and such was the case with the Windsor Daily Star on February 4, 1941 when the newspaper published a story that was humorous but unattributed. It began:

“Boomps!” exclaimed Miss Sadie Shortskirts, as she bounced her bustle on the old horse pond. “The things I do for Canada!”

Our Nosing Reporter, who had been an interested spectator of an exhibition that would hardly make Sonja Henie green with envy, hurried forward, but the sturdy little figure was already back on her feet. And almost as quickly back on her back again.

“What do you mean when you say you’re doing this for Canada?” the reporter wanted to know. “What benefit will the Dominion derive if you break your neck?”

Break my neck? Phooie!” exclaimed Miss Shortskirts. “Can’t you see I’m not learning to skate? I’m learning not to skate. I’m striving for perfection in the art of falling realistically, so that every tumble will have patriotically commercial possibilities.”

The story continues for a number of paragraphs and ends well. And do you know what the title of the story was?

Starbeams: Accidentally On Purpose

Years earlier, on page 2 of the Poverty Bay Herald, in Volume XXX, Issue 9654, the newspaper published a fine short story by Henry Humiston on January 31, 1903. It was the story of mix-up and mayhem in true Victorian fashion and had to do with a Miss Helene Elizabeth Martin, a rogue by the name of John Lassiter and envelopes each of them received with letters addressed to other people. The title of the story?

Accidentally On Purpose

In the book “Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, Diaries and Correspondence, Volume I” the following is found in Chapter X entitled, “Thomas Dermody – The Poor Scholar” on page 90:

Among her guests she frequently numbered the young Marquis of Granby, the son of a former brilliant and well-remembered, lord-lieutenant, who was quartered in the garrison. On the occasions of a fête given specially for him by Mrs. Austen, she commanded her young poet laureate to compose an ode in favour of the vice-regal reign of the Duke of Rutland, with a well-turned compliment to his handsome son. Dermody neglected the order — perhaps “accidentally on purpose” — he thought the desire fulsome, and he had become restive. Mrs. Austen, indignant at the negligence, considering it as the refusal of an upstart dependent, made us of some expression that struck his Irish pride on the life nerve; she ordered him to leave her house and never return, he accepted the command and did not reappear, in the expectation of being sent for.

The expression showed up nearly 100 years prior to the publication of Lady Morgan’s Memoirs in a book by José Francisco de Isla (April 24, 1703 – November 2, 1781). A Spanish Jesuit, humorist and satirist, he wrote, “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” in which this passage is found:

Tell us what is Modesty of Voice, for you happened accidentally on purpose to drop this word, and I don’t rightly know what it signifies.

Because of the satire in the book, the book was banned by the Inquisition in 1760, and it was forbidden not only to publish the book but to discuss its contents. Seven years later, José Francisco de Isla was expelled from Spain. But as is the case with all good literature, the book continued to be published by a number of brave souls. The book is now considered a literary masterpiece.

Despite all attempts to find an earlier version of this phrase, Idiomation found nothing before its publication in “The History Of The Famous Preacher Friar Gerun de Campazas” and so the first use of the phrase goes to at least 1760 … the year the book was banned by the Inquisition.

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

Jailbird

Posted by Admin on December 3, 2010

A prisoner, an inmate, a convict, an habitual criminal, someone with more than one experience of prison as an inmate and not as a guard or warden, a lifer, a felon.

The original spelling of the word jail is gaol and so one must hunt down the term “gaol-bird” to see how far back the term goes. Once we begin searching for the term “gaol-bird” a number of published references show up.

The New Zealand Tablet published a news story on February 1, 1900 entitled “Slattery and His Bogus Ex-Nun” where it reported that:

“[the scam] was inaugurated by two lewd creatures who had never been members of the Church whose alleged enormities they professed to disclose.  The male partner in the conspiracy was a low roué; his inevitable female companion was a thief, gaol-bird and prostitute.”

In the Daily Southern Cross published on March 4, 1871 an article entitled “Gaol Life at Mount Eden” and it reported:

“Instead of emptying the rubbish in the usual corner, [the inmate, Wilson] marched straight with his load to the authorities of the gaol, placing it at the feet of the chief warder, Mr. O’Brien …Wilson made a rush for the door, in his impetuosity, knocking over Warder Young, who happened to be stationed just outside … [the inmate, Wilson] whiningly pleaded the excuse that it was all meant for a “lark;” but the authorities could not see the point to the joke, and the “gaol bird” that so much desired to be like a “lark” was put under stricter surveillance — orders being issued to the sub-warders to keep an eye on him, and so prevent such propensities to sly amusement in the future.”

In the Southland Times, the June 11, 1982 publication carried a news story dated March 6, 1872 that stated:

“Jules Favré asserts that a deputation from Lyons awaited on him, whose mandat impératif was that no deputy should be elected unless he avowed and signed himself an atheist!  It was a sad mistake to make patriots of the inmates of the prisons — 20,000 gaol birds in the army of Paris!”

The origin of the word jailbird — or rather gaol bird — can be traced back at least to medieval England, where convicts were oftentimes locked in iron cages that were then suspended several feet above the ground.  Visible to passersby, it was strongly suggested by those in charge that the passersby refer to them as jailbirds (gaol birds) since the suspended iron cages somewhat resembled bird cages.

The earliest published mention of prisoners as gaol birds that I could find dates back to the Spanish Inquisition where records show that in 1647, a gaol-bird imprisoned in Valladolid provided information to his jailers of an alleged secret congregation in Cuidad Real.  He claimed that the leader of the alleged secret congregation was the Paymaster of the army on the Portuguese frontier.  The informant’s hope was that this information would be enough to have him released from prison.

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