Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Spokane Daily Chronicle’

Egg On Your Face

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 3, 2018

To have egg on your face usually has a negative connotation even though it’s been a cosmetic remedy for facial blemishes for at least 300 years. When someone says another has egg on their face, it means that person looks foolish or has been embarrassed at their own hands or has made a serious mistake, although the first two meanings are more often associated with the idiom than the latter.

On the USA Today website, an article titled, “Recruiting Column: Keep Your Options Open” published on 22 April 2015 advised high school students going through the college recruiting process to be wary of how they approached the situation. A quick play-by-play on the pitfalls and power ups for student athletes were touched upon in this brief write-up. The second last paragraph included this comment.

Until you sign a National Letter of Intent, you have to keep your options open. Even college coaches will agree that you really need to be pursuing and communicating with as many schools as possible so you don’t end up with egg on your face.

In a newspaper article from the Associated Press on 7 April 1974 titled, “Keep Those Tapes Rolling” Jerry Buck interviewed American television host and media mogul Merv Griffin (6 July 1925 – 12 August 2007). In discussing how his television shows ran, Merv Griffin had this to say about the process:

We never stop the taping. I don’t care if the walls fall down. My orders are to keep the cameras going, even if I’ve got egg on my face. That’s equally interesting.

On page 5 of the January 4th edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1936, there was a news story titled, “Show Hostess You Enjoy Her Hospitality” written by Emily Kimbrough. The idiom egg on my face was used within the context we use today.

Even the American Management Association included this idiom in an article in their journal in 1934, warning those in managerial positions not to ignore or overlook problems as they came up.

If you try to sweep it under the rug, everyone ends up with egg on their faces.

Despite Idiomation’s most ardent efforts, the expression could not be found in published format earlier than 1934. However, because it was used in an article by the American Management Association where the intended readership was management at all levels, this indicates the expression was known and understood in 1934, and therefore had to be part of everyday language.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the early 1900s.

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Crawfishing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2015

Crawfishing happens when someone breaks a promise or backs out or retreats from a previously stated position or agreement. It’s an expression that isn’t used often but when it is, it’s to great effect.

The Walker County Messenger edition of September 22, 1989 ran a story about Chickamauga entitled, “Chickamauga Is A Cherokee Word Meaning River Of Death.”  The article was based on Frank Moore’s book published in 1865, “The Civil War In Song And Story.”  The article ended with this paragraph:

The remnant of the tribe was also afterwards called the “Chickamauga tribe.”  We hope General Bragg will call his great victory the Battle of Chickamauga, and not “Peavine Creek” or “Crawfish Springs” as suggested in Rosecran’s dispath.  He was certainly crawfished out of Georgia, but we prefer “Chickamauga,” or “River of Death.”

On October 14, 1964 the Herald-Journal newspaper run a short news story out of San Antonio about Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr., and GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.  The article entitled, “Says Barry Craw-fished On Firm States Rights Issue” also used the word in the second of two paragraphs.

“Some people are dissatisfied to some extent, at his craw-fishing on strong states rights and constitutional government,” Johnson said at a new conference at the Southern Governors Conference.

In the Spokane Daily Chronicle of August 5, 1931 an article was published about the power development project on the Yakima River in the state.  The U.S. Commissioner of Reclamations, Dr. Elwood Mead, refused to accept the state’s offer as presented by Washington State Director of Conservation and Development, Erle J. Barnes.  There were allegations  made that the Federal bureau had diverted $1.5 million USD in appropriation for the Cle Elum dam to the Owyhee and Deadwood dams in Idaho that would serve Idaho and Oregon.  To make matters worse, the federal bureau demanded an unconditional power permit which, according to the state, would allow the bureau to engage in the power business in every state in the Union.  It was in the second paragraph of this news article that crawfishing was mentioned.

Director Barnes accused Dr. Mead of “crawfishing” and of ignoring the advice of B.E. Stoutemyer, district counsel for the reclamation bureau, who notified Barnes yesterday that Dr. Mead had rejected a compromise agreement on the power question reached at a conference between state and federal reclamation officials at Yakima last week.

It was used in the Masonic Voice in Volume 16 published in 1857 which included the expression in the Editor Review for December 1856.  The editor was Cornelius Moore.

You have heard of the duel that did not come off between the Irish patriot Meagher and Lieut. Gov. Raymond, editor of the Times.  The general impression is that Raymond crawfished a little in this matter.  If he had had the pluck, he might have served his opponent as Cartwright did, especially if he had any religious scruples about fighting.

Crawfishing meaning to break a promise or back out of an agreement doesn’t seem to appear before the 1850s.  However, referring to such behavior as crawfishing may be based on the definitions found in reference and resource books during this period.  In the “New American Cyclopaedia” edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana and published in 1859, the behavior of crawfish is detailed thusly:

Crawfish swim rapidly by means of the tail, whose strokes propel them backward; they crawl well on the bottom, and are sometimes seen at a considerable distance from streams, using holes filled with water, and occasional pools, as places of retreat.  from their propensity to eat carrion, Audubon calls them “little aquatic vultures.”  They are fond of burrowing in the mud, and from this habit are often great pests, undermining levees and embankments, frequently to the serious loss of the miller and the planter; it is stated that on account of the depredations of these animals, the owners of the great dam in the Little Genesee river have been once compelled to rebuild it.

The entry continues with references to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and the crawfish that are peculiar to that specific region in America.

Idiomation therefore pegs the spirit of crawfishing to the 1850s as the term was used freely in literature from the American Civil War era with the understanding that it would be understood by readers.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Smart As A Whip

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2015

When someone is said to be smart as a whip, it means that person is able to think and reason logically to a high degree, with a small degree of error in  his or her thinking.  In other words, intellectually speaking, they are blindingly brilliant.

On March 11, 2003 the column by Chip and Jonathan Carter entitled, “Inside The Video Games” reviewed the game “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” for the Rome News-Tribune.  The game was available for Xbox and would be available for the PlayStation2 in May.  The reviewers loved the game, going so far as to say that the “game play is a work of art.”  What’s more, both Chip and Jonathan gave the game an overall rating of A+ for overall awesomeness.  As a sort of play on the fact that Indiana Jones has a penchant for whips, the review was titled, “Smart As A Whip.”

The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire published their “Around The Town” column on March 13, 1965 with the idiom in the article, “Some Old Timers Are Smart As A Whip.”  It set the tone for the piece, and began with this paragraph.

Some of the senior citizens who call at the office to talk about the days of their youth are as smart as a whip and can recall their early days here with much more facility, I have found, than the later generations.  If you can make them feel easy you usually wind up with a fund of information about Nashua, of their time anyway.

The Bend Bulletin newspaper of October 17, 1952 ran an ad for Lester Hou’s Central Oregon Motors in Redmond, Oregon.  The dealership was a Mercury dealership, and they were proud to trumpet the benefits of the Merc-O-Matic drive.  At the time, there were three choices for a transmission on a Mercury:  Standard, Touch-O-Matic Overdrive, and No-Shift Merc-O-Matic Drive.  They blended a second idiom into the advertisement by stating that “whip smart and saddle fancy” was an old Western saying.

The same advertisement for other dealerships were published in other newspapers such as the Spokane Daily Chronicle, the Spokesman-Review, the Ellensburg Daily Record, and other major newspapers in America.  The copy was the same from newspaper to newspaper, and the idiom that was upfront and bolded was “Smart as a whip.”

In the November 30, 1938 edition of the Times Daily, the newspaper ran a photograph of Mrs. Angier Priscilla Duke (the former Priscilla St. George) in black boots, creamy tan whipcord breeches, plaid sports coat, man-tailored shirt, and a foulard tie.  She was a fetching woman, and the photograph was captioned, “Smart As A Whip.”

Priscilla wed Angier Duke (30 November 1915 – 29 April 1995) in Tuxedo Park on January 2, 1937.  He was the son of Angier Buchanan Duke and Cordelia Drexel Biddle of Philadelphia which means that the 21-year-old bridegroom was not only a member of the Duke family but the Biddle family as well.  The Duke family fortune came from the American Tobacco Company that was founded in 1890 by his great-uncle James Buchanan Duke, and the Biddle family fortune was due to banking.

The bride’s father was the grandson of the late George F. Baker Sr. who, upon his death, was hailed as the last great titan of Wall Street, and was known to be the financial genius of First National Bank.  The bride’s mother was a first cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Their wedding was followed by what the newspapers called “a grand tour, round-the-world honeymoon” that kept them away from New York for eight months.  Unfortunately, she was the first of his four wives, and they divorced in 1939, just two years after they wed.

The 1882 book “Picturesque B. and O.: Historical and Descriptive” by Joseph Gladding Pangborn (9 April 1848 – 17 August 1914) provided an enchanting account of crossing the American countryside by way of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company trains as they headed out from the Jersey City depot.

The Pangborn family was one that was rich in American history.  Joseph Gladding Pangborn’s father signed up for volunteer service in the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, and was fatally wounded at Forth Ethan Allen in Virginia.  His mother’s family was steeped in American history.  John Gladding had arrived at Newburyport, Plymouth Colony in 1660,and settled in Bristol, Rhode Island where he and his wife, Elizabeth Rogers raised four children.

The American Civil War broke out, and at fourteen years of age, he enlisted with the Union Army as a drummer boy.  He was assigned to the Forty-fourth Regiment New York Infantry.  In 1865, he served in Texas, and in 1866 he returned to his home in Albany, New York.  He became a reporter and worked for the New York Times, the New York Tribune, The Republican (in Chicago), and the Kansas City Times.

By 1876, he had moved on to a new career with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and on May 1, 1880, he joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a general advertising agent, then moving on to special representative status.

When the book was published, it contained 70 sketches along with the prose. And early in the book, smart as a whip was used.

Young Luap was, in his way, as striking a possession as any in the menagerie, and although the last of the Four to be trotted out, was by no means entitled to such place by reason of characteristics lacking; indeed, he possessed them to such a degree as to almost require an apology for not mentioning him first.  Smart as a whip, but far from as pliable, he comprehended more in a moment than the balance of the quartet could grasp in a week.

In the “Dictionary of the Gaelic Language” by Norman Macleod, the idiom is recorded as smart as a lash and is considered to be a provincial term.

But it’s in the “Recreative Review, or Eccentricities of Literature and Life” in Volume 1 that the connection between being smart and whips is made in an essay that begins on page 336. In the essay published in 1821, a passage talks about the virtues of whipping a boy to improve him.

But the practice is an old one.  Doctor Tempete is mentioned by Rabelais as a celebrated flaggelator of school-boys, in the college of Montaigne, in Paris. Buchanan was wont to tickle his royal disciple, James the First, and joked with the ladies of the court about it.  And, with respect to that of our public schools, it may be of service; for every one must allow it makes a boy smart.

The fact of the matter is that as early as the 17th century the word smart meant both to be strong, quick, and intense in manner and to be painful.  So while a whip might cause pain and smart, someone would be strong, quick, and intense in manner in the same way a whip is strong, quick, and intense.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published variation to the idiom than the one in 1821, it is reasonable to believe that the idiom goes back at least to 1800, and most likely much earlier.

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Beer And Skittles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 26, 2015

It’s not all beer and skittles they say, and when they say that, they mean that it’s not the easy life one might think or hope it would be.

Politics sometimes has a way of using colorful idioms to make a point and so it was on January 4, 1960 when Frank Macomber’s story appeared in the Lodi News Sentinel.  He shared the tales of woe that come with a Congressman’s life, including the chores of answering mail from constituents.  The article was entitled, “A Congressman’s Life Isn’t Always Beer And Skittles.”

It was back on February 6, 1931 that comic Hollywood actor Buster Keaton found himself the main topic of discussion in Mollie Merrick’s column that related the goings on in Hollywood for the rest of America to read.  Mollie Merrick related the story of “Kathleen Key, brilliant brunette beauty, who landed one on Buster Keaton’s jaw and wrecked his dressing room” the previous day “over a little discussion about money.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Kathleen Key was, she played the role of Tirzah in the 1925 movie, “Ben Hur.”

Kathleen Key

Kathleen Key

Buster claimed it all happened shortly after he gave the actress a check in the presence of two witnesses:  Cliff Edwards and Clarence Locan.  Buster Keaton said the check had been made out for $5,000 but that the actress demanded an additional $20,000. However, the check was supposed to originally be for $500 and was a bet between the actress and the comedian with regards to the actress losing 20 pounds in 10 days.

In the end, he claimed that he tore up the check and that the actress manhandled him “something awful” while the witnesses “left in a hurry.”  Mollie Merrick covered a lot of details in her story, and ended with this paragraph.

Perhaps there’ll be another check written.  There generally is when a movie star gets into trouble.  It’s the easiest way to straighten things out.  And may I add here that the movie folk often pay through the nose rather than have a scandal.  Being famous isn’t all beer and skittles.

Buster Keaton, at the time, was married to Natalie Talmadge, the youngest (according to Mollie Merrick at the time) of the very famous Talmadge sisters.

Life wasn’t all beer and skittles for Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) on that same date according to the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The newspaper ran a story out of London (England) that reported that Sinclair Lewis was inundated with mail from strangers demanding money from him but not because he owed money.  They demanded it from him because they were under the mistaken belief that as a Nobel prize winner, he was loaded with cash.  The article began very simply with this sentence:

Life is not all beer and skittles even for the winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Sinclair Lewis is beginning to find out.

It would seem that February 1931 had more than a few news articles alluding to beer and skittles!

It was in the Spring of 1876 through to the Spring of 1877 that letters under the heading of “Uppingham By The Sea” were published in The Times newspaper.  On January 27, 1878 the letters by John Huntley Skrine (3 April 1848 – 8 May 1923) were published as a book under the title, “Uppingham by the Sea: A Narrative of the Year at Borth.”  It was in Chapter IX titled, “The First Term: Making History” that the nature of skittles was clearly stated which helps to explain why beer or ale was associated with the game.

It was too narrow to be used, as was hoped, for games; unless, indeed, we had turned it into a skittle-alley.  But then skittles is a game of low connections.

A game of low connections?  Oh my!  And so, beer and skittles or ale and skittles was a pastime indulged in that required little more than an interest in playing the game and imbibing beer or ale.

In the book “Nature and Human Nature” by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) — who was also the author of “Sam Slick the Clock Maker” and other popular books of the era — published in New York City by Stringer and Townsend in 1855, the idiom appeared twice within sentences of each other in Chapter II entitled, “Clippers and Steamers.”

“It seemeth hard, Tom,” said Bill, tryin’ to comfor him — “it seemeth hard; but I’m an older man nor you be, Tom, the matter of several years;” and he gave his trowsers a twitch.  (“You know they don’t wear galluses, though a gallus holds them up sometimes,”) shifted his quid, gave his nor-wester a pull over his forehead, and looked solemncholly, “and my experience, Tom, is, that this life ain’t all beer and skittles.”

And just a bit further in this chapter:

“This life aint all beer and skittles.”  Many a time since I heard that anecdote — and I heard it in Kew Gardens, of all places in the world — when I am disappointed sadly I say that saw over, and console myself with it.

Jumping back to the turn of that century, in 1800, Volume Five of the “Queensland Agricultural Journal” included a comment from a correspondent of the “Agricultural Gazette” of New South Wales.   It would seem that beer and skittles was part of the lexicon down under as well.  The correspondent reported in part:

Now, a small farmer who clears £150 per annum may be classed amongst the happy men of the earth.  He calls no man master.  He lives comfortably, pays no rent, pays his way, has a healthy if laborious life, and takes his occasional holiday with his family without asking anyone’s permission.  Of course, farming is not all “beer and skittles.”

It was a well-known idiom, and appeared ten years earlier in the book “Letters On Education” by Catharine Macaulay.  Published in 1790, a letter is included in the book that reads thusly:

You will spare the rod at the peril of the boy’s soul; spare the lollipops and no harm is done.  Notice, I beg you, that what is at stake is the foundation view of all life.  We can hardly conceive the beautiful freedom from prejudice with which a child starts on living.  He is really prepared to believe that life is not all beer and skittles, though he hopes of course that it may prove to be.  Leave him alone and he will try to make it such.

It was in the account by William Hutton (30 September 1723 – 20 September 1815) of Birmingham which he published in 1781 that the activities of the “humbler class” were described as “completely suited to the lowest of tempers” and of “low amusement.” (The commentary sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)  These included, according to William Hutton, “skittles and ale.”

Cards and the visit are linked together, nor is the billiard table totally forsaken. One man amuses himself in amassing a fortune, and another in dissolving one.

About thirty-six of the inhabitants keep carriages for their own private use; and near fifty have country houses. The relaxations of the humbler class, are fives, quoits, skittles, and ale.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of skittles and ale or beer and skittles that retains the spirit of the idiom.  However, it was used easily to describe society in 1781 in Birmingham and since the game of skittles was well-known as early 1635, it’s reasonable to venture a guess that by 1700, ale and skittles — also known as beer and skittles by some — were considered inseparable by most in society.

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

Begorrah

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 17, 2015

Begorra is sometimes used on its own, sometimes used with the word faith as in faith and begorrah or with the word sure as in sure and begorrah.  The word is a way of saying by God without taking the Lord’s name in vain, which, of course, is one of the Ten Commandments.  

Believe it or not, the 42.ie is a sports news source published by The Journal in Dublin, Ireland, and while the 42.ie publishes news about rugby, football, and more, it also found time this year on March 14 to share the latest on “Irish Goodby” shorts being sold in America.  The announcement began with this paragraph:

TODAY’S BAD NEWS in begob-and-begorrah merchandise: these ‘Irish Goodbye’ shorts for American bros who want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

It also included this delightful photograph from the Chubbies website.

IMAGE 1
Now it was in the Irish Times newspaper of March 4, 2010 that movie critic Donald Clarke took on a movie starring English actor, Matthew Goode, in his column “Whingeing About Cinema And Real Life Since 2009.”  The reviewer had set his sights on the movie, “Leap Year” which, according to him, propagated the typical “sort of sentimental twinkly version of Ireland” that American films tend to churn out.  The actor, however, didn’t take badly to any criticisms of the movie, and actually had a few concerns of his own regarding the movie.  The article was titled,Matthew Goode Kicks The Begorrah Out Of His Own Film!

The Spokane Daily Chronicle made a big deal out of what happened on St. Patrick’s Day a year earlier by publishing am abbreviated follow-up article on March 17, 1950.  It pointed out that the previous year, Spokane’s Irish American mayor, Arthur Meehan, had showed up at his office wearing a red tie.  The following year, it was reported that he showed up with what was described as a “shimmering green tie beyond description.”  The announcement published on page 5 was titled,Mayor Learned Lesson, Begorrah.”

Somewhere along the line, some people began to deny that the word had any affiliation with the people of Ireland.  In fact, it was in “The Trend: A Bulletin of Current History and Letters” Volume I edited by George Earle Raiguel that someone took exception to the claim that begorrah was Irish in any way.  An article entitled, “Lingual Growing Pains” written by Benjamin Musser was included in the edition published on September 7, 1922.  The article read in part:

Mr. Mencken should know that the profane begob and begorrah are unknown to Irish people:  they are words employed only by jokesmiths in cheap burlesque and pink papers.  It is rather in habits of pronunciation, of syntax, and even of grammar, Mr. Mencken continues, that we have been influenced by the Irish.

Unfortunately, Benjamin Musser was mistaken on this point as begorrah was mentioned in the “Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science” in Volume 44 published on August 1, 1867  — referenced by a medical professional no less!  The first part of the journal was dedicated to “Original Communications” with the first article dealing with aphasia, written by Dr. John Popham, physician to the Cork North Infirmary.  In his article, he wrote about a specific patient who used the word begorrah.

The use of oaths in aphasia has been often noticed.  I have now a patient in the infirmary whose answer to every question begins with, “Oh! Begorrah!”  After ejaculating this oath with great confidence in his powers of speech, the poor man comes to a full stop, ponders for the next word, and failing to find it, ends by making a frantic tug at his hair.  Dr. Falret thinks that swearing occurs chiefly in emotional states.  This is, I believe, often the case, but it also depends on the use of oaths as by-words from early habit.

English novelist Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) used it in his book, “The Kellys and the O’Kellys:  Landlords and Tenants” published in 1848. It is said that Anthony Trollope’s works provided a steady, consistent vision of the social structures of Victorian England, and since the word begorra is used in his novel in 1848, the word begorra was indeed used in Ireland and England at the time.

“Well—I’m shot av’ I know the laist in the world what all this is about!” said Martin, as he stood in the street, reading over the legally-worded letter—”‘conspiracy!’—well that’ll do, Mr Daly; go on—’enticing away from her home!’—that’s good, when the blackguard nearly knocked the life out of her, and mother brought her down here, from downright charity, and to prevent murdher—’wake intellects!’—well, Mr Daly, I didn’t expect this kind of thing from you: begorra, I thought you were above this!—wake intellects! faith, they’re a dale too sthrong, and too good—and too wide awake too, for Barry to get the betther of her that way. Not that I’m in the laist in life surprised at anything he’d do; but I thought that you, Mr Daly, wouldn’t put your hands to such work as that.”

The interjection appears in “Fardorougha, The Miser” by Irish writer and novelist William Carleton (20 February 1794 – 30 January 1869) and published in 1839.  The author was best known for his accurate sketches of stereotypical Irishmen, and as such, because begorra shows up in his writings, it’s to be believe that the word was, indeed, used in Ireland in the 1830s.  The word appears three times in this novel, with this being one of those three times.

“If it’s only the Bodagh got it,” replied his comrade, who was no other than Micky Malvathra, “blaizes to the hair I care. When my brother Barney, that suffered for Caam Beal (crooked mouth) Grime’s business, was before his thrial, hell resave the taisther the same Bodagh would give to defind him.”

“Damn it,” rejoined the other, “but to murdher a man in his bed! Why, now, if it was only comin’ home from a fair or market, but at midnight, an’ in his bed, begorra it is not the thing, Mickey.”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of begorrah than the one in 1839 despite the Merriam-Webster Dictionary claim it was first used in 1715 without quote the source material where it can be found.

That is was used so easily in William Carleton’s writing and because he is well-known for his accurate depiction of Irish life, use of the word begorrah is one that would have been entrenched in society at least in 1839.  Idiomation therefore pegs begorrah to at least 1800.

Should any readers, visitors, or followers know of an earlier published version of begorrah, please feel free to include it in the Comments Section below.

And as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Idiomation, we’ll close off this entry with this Irish blessing:  May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Kick The Bucket

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2014

If someone has kicked the bucket, they have shuffled off this mortal coil and gone on to the afterlife.  Yes, when someone kicks the bucket, they have died.

Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the days when someone intent on committing suicide would stand on a bucket, slip the noose around his or her neck, and then literally kick the bucket.  Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the bucket of holy water that was placed at the feet of a corpse that had been laid out for viewing.  And some will say that back in the sixteenth century the beam from which a butchered pig was hung was called a buquet (not to be confused with a bouquet which is an arrangement of flowers).  So where did the idiom come from since there are so many different stories about its origins?

If you believe the Spokane Daily Chronicle of May 30, 1911, the expression comes from England and first appeared in print in 1725.  The news bite alleged the following:

… it dates back to Old England, when about the year 1725, one Balsover hanged himself to a beam while standing on the bottom of a bucket, and then kicked the bucket away, says the New York Times.

It was a believable explanation because three years later on November 26, 1914, the Toledo Blade newspaper carried an almost identical explanation to the question:  What is the origin of the saying “to kick the bucket?”

Now, where the New York Times got the story back in 1911 is unclear, however, the Meriden Daily Republican published a similar story in July 20, 1880 edition of their newspaper, so the story was circulating long before the New York Times grabbed hold of it.  It could be because the Boston Evening Transcript of January 24, 1878 used the term in this clever bit of reporting.

Ah Chung, a San Francisco murderer, has kicked the bucket, literally as well as metaphorically.  On Jan. 13 a prison-keeper found him hanging by the neck in his cell.  He had passed a cord through the air-holes at the back of his cell, fastened that end, and made a noose of the other end, put out the gas, and planted himself upon a water bucket.  Then he kicked the bucket.

The expression was used in jokes published in a number of magazines and newspapers in the early 1800s, oftentimes recounted as such:

Two gentlemen were walking in the High-street, Southampton, last week, about that hour which the industrious damsels of the mop and brush usually devote to cleansing the pavement before the door.  It happened that the bucket used upon such occasions was upon the stones, and one of the gentlemen stumbled against it.
“My dear friend,” exclaimed the other, “I lament your death exceedingly!”
“My death!”
“Yes, you have just kicked the bucket.”
“Not so,” rejoined his friend.  “I have only turned a little pale (pail).”

The idiom was also found in the “Standard Recitations for the Use of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies” published in 1800.  The following was determined appropriate recitation for junior pupils.

He never did a decent thing
He was’t worth a ducat;
He kicked and kicked until he died,
And then he kicked the bucket.

In Francis Grose’s 1785 edition of the “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the definition for kick the bucket is as follows.

To die.  He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day.  To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

It would seem that kicking and buckets and death have had a long association, as the spirit of the expression is found in William Shakespeare’s Play “Henry IV Part II” in Act IV, Scene 2.  The play was published in 1597.  Bear in mind that a gibbet meant to hang.

Here shall charge you, and discharge you with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer; come off, and on, swifter then the gibbets on the brewer’s bucket.

When you look at gibbets (to hang) and bucket in this context, it’s all about dying.  Whether it’s about an animal being slaughtered or a person committing suicide, the beam (or bucket, as the beam was called) is what ties them together.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the mid-1500s since it was used with such ease by William Shakespeare.

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

Tar Heel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 21, 2013

If you ever find yourself in a tar heel fight, you best be ready for a fight you won’t get out of anytime soon. There’s a certain stick-to-it attitude that’s part of a tar heel fight that you don’t get from other kinds of fights. To understand how a tar heel fight differs from other fights, you first have to understand what tar heel means.

On May 7, 2008 the Montreal Gazette published a news article that had to do with the Democratic primary in North Carolina. After weeks of controversy over his former pastor, Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the primary held in that state, which helped him tremendously by giving some momentum to his campaign. The story was entitled, “Obama Bests Clinton In Tar Heel State.

When you hear tar heel, it almost always has something to do with North Carolina. There’s no two ways about it. Wherever you hear talk of North Carolina, talk of tar heels is never far behind. In fact, the Spokane Daily Chronicle of March 12, 1957 carried an Associated Press story that talked about the North Carolina Tar Heels, a basketball team that seemed to specialize in winning close games. The title of the article was, “Winning Close Ones A Tar Heel Specialty.”

It was the Lewiston Daily Sun of October 12, 1928 published an article on Governor Smith’s train campaign along a route that took him through Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. The article entitled, “Smith In Virginia and North Carolina: First Democratic Nominee To Make Personal Appeal For Southern Vote In Years” also reported on other nominees making similar train campaigns, and included this passage in the report:

Sen. Carter Glass, of Virginia, joined the train early in the morning at Washington. At Norlina and Henderson, the Governor received his first ovations in North Carolina, going to the rear platform to exchange greetings with well-wishers. At Norlina his train was boarded by Democratic leaders from the tar heel State who accompanied him to Raleigh.

Steuben Farmers’ Advocate newspaper reported on Chairman Daniel’s speech on July 15, 1896 — a speech that paid tribute to Senator Hill and made an eloquent plea for majority rule. He claimed that the Democratic party was ‘co-evil with the birth of sovereignty of the people‘ and said it could never die until the Declaration of American Independence was forgotten and sovereignty was crushed out. As he gave his speech, there were loud rounds of applause throughout, and more than a few when he was quoted as having said:

It sends forth pioneers from Plymouth Rock and waves over the golden wheat fields of Dakota. It has its strongholds in Alabama and Mississippi and its outposts in Minnesota, Florida and Oregon. It sticks like a tar heel down in the old north State and it writes sixteen to one on the saddle bags of the Arkansaw traveler.

In the diary of William B. A. Lawrence, the last narrative entry of February 6, 1863 also referred to tar heels, but as it pertained to soldiers from North Carolina. In this entry, the author wrote:

I know now what is meant by the Piney Woods of North Carolina and the idea occurs to me that it is no wonder we are called Tar Heels.

The manner in which William Lawrence used tar heels reflected respect, praise, and commendation for the soldiers from North Carolina. But he wasn’t the only one who felt this way about North Carolina’s soldiers. In fact, at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee in January 1863, North Carolina’s soldiers made an impression on the commanding General John S. Preston who, in addressing the troops, said:

This is your first battle of any consequence, I believe. Indeed, you Tar Heels have done well.

So how is it that residents of North Carolina came to be known as tar heels? North Carolina was the leader producer of naval stores (a category of building and maintenance supplies for sailing ships that included cordage, mask, turpentine, rosin, pitch and tar) from 1720 through to 1870. It makes sense then that the tar, pitch and turpentine for which they were known in particular would identify them.

In the end, tar heels can be tagged as being used in writing in early 1863 and because it was expected that soldiers would understand what General Preston meant when he used the expression when addressing his troops, the expression can be traced back another generation to sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Devil’s Beating His Wife

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 1, 2013

Recently, NewsTalk 98.7′s Phil Williams used the expression the Devil’s beating his wife on his show, listeners from the southern states knew what he meant while listeners from the northern states were a little less in the know about what he was saying. Whenever you hear someone say the Devil’s beating his wife, the speaker means that the sun is shining while it rains. In other words, it’s what some people call a sun shower.

But how did it get to mean that? Some say that it’s because, quite obviously, the Devil is angry with God for creating beautiful sunny days, and when the Devil gets angry enough about it, he takes his anger out on his wife by beating her. She, in turn, cries large tears that fall from the sky and turn into raindrops. Since this is the explanation for the saying, it makes sense that the expression should exist even though the action itself is criminal. Then again, it would prove next to impossible to charge and prosecute the Devil for any wrongdoing, including domestic assault.

When Joshua Katz from the Department of Statistics at North Carolina State University published his interactive dialect maps that resulted from his “Beyond Soda, Pop or Coke: Regional Dialect Variation in the Continental US” research project, he was selective with the questions covered by the study.

What he did mention in an interview was that when he asked respondents what they called it when rain fell while the sun was shining, most of the country had no term for that incidence and were, therefore, unable to answer the question. However, respondents in parts of the northeast and Florida referred to it as a sunshower while respondents in Mississippi and Alabama referred to it as the Devil is beating his wife.   Because the scope of the study didn’t cover where the expression or term was learned, there was no history as to why people in Mississippi and Alabama referred to sunshowers in this way. Strangely enough, a regional variant used in Tennessee appears to be that the Devil is kissing his wife (and why that would make her cry is anybody’s guess).

According to Dave Thurlow on June 25, 1996 on his radio show in a segment entitled, “Geese, Dutchmen and the Devil” he stated that the expression was interchangeable with other interesting sayings such as the “foxes are getting married” and the “witches are doing their wash” and “a tailor is going to Hell.”

All of those expressions are far less controversial, however, they still provide no hints and give no clue as to the idiom’s origins. That being said, some sources quote the expression as being the Devil’s chasing his wife for burning up the rice. In any case, it would seem that the Devil’s wife certainly finds herself on the receiving end of some awful behavior from her spouse.

On March 7, 1966 the Spokane Daily Chronicle took on explaining a handful of inexplicable idioms including this the Devil’s beating his wife. In Hal Boyle’s weekly column, “Poor Man’s Plato” he began by stating that it doesn’t pay to hitch your wagon to a snail as it had been determined that it takes 2.5 million snails to equal the pulling power of one horse. With that, he ploughed through expressions and folklore with the enthusiasm of a young child competing in a formidable spelling bee of sorts. Part of the article read as follows:

Folklore: The storm will be a long one if chickens come out while it is still raining. To cure a cold, drink a mixture of wine vinegar, rock candy and two fresh raw eggs. When the weather shines and showers at the same time, that’s a sign the Devil is beating his wife. To stop the nosebleed, place a cold key on the back of your neck.

Jumping all the way back to 1922, however, the word whipping sometimes replaced the word beating, as it did in the text of the book entitled, “The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore” by Ernest Thompson Seton and published by Doubleday, Page & Company. In the chapter entitled, “General Scouting Outdoors: Old Weather Wisdom” the following is written on page 115:

Rain before seven, clear before eleven.

Fog in the morning, bright sunny day.

If it rains, and the sun is shining at the same time, the Devil is whipping his wife and it will surely rain to-morrow.

If it clears off during the night, it will rain shortly again.

While it was difficult to research the expression, it was found in “A Compleat Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England: In Three Dialogues” by Simon Wagstaff, published in 1738 by B. Motte and C. Bathurst at the Middle Temple-Gate in Fleet Street.

COL
It rain’d, and the Sun shone at the same time.

NEVEROUT
Why, then the Devil was beating his Wife behind the Door, with a Shoulder of Mutton.

Perhaps Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was correct when he said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Despite Idiomation’s most ardent efforts, the expression could not be traced to any other published books or articles prior to 1738.  However, that it was used in 1738 with the expectation it would be understood by the public, it is not unreasonable to peg the saying to at least 1700, and most likely earlier. That being said, the saying still begs the question: Who, in their right mind, would marry the Devil in the first place, especially in light of the fact that he’s known to be such a hot-head?

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Spitfire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2013

You may have heard your grandmother or a great-aunt say that someone’s a real spitfire, and you may have wondered what they mean by that.  A spitfire is a highly excitable or a quick-tempered person.  Of course, there is also an airplane from World War II as well as a sporty little car by that name as well, but in this case the word spitfire refers to the person and not the plane.

Everyone knows that Charlie Sheen created a stir in 2010 and 2011 with his wild antics and unpredictable behavior.  But no matter how outrageous he was, his friends and enemies couldn’t help but have a roast for him.  And so, in the E-online website, the exclusive TV Scoop entitled, “Charlie Sheen On Being Roasted” I’m Challenging There Geniuses To Go Deeper” on August 16, 2011, Ken Baker and Natalie Finn began their article with this:

That Charlie Sheen’s a real spitfire.  So, it only makes sense that he be roasted, right?

The Record-Journal newspaper of Meridien, CT published on December 15, 1975 carried a news article about the British actor, Arthur Treacher’s passing.  Typecast as the archetypical butler on stage, screen and television, he was a veteran of 60 movies.  In recounting some of his history, the article included this insight into how he wound up being typecast in the rule of the butler:

One day, Lupe Velez,known as the “Mexican Spitfire” visited the set, and told the 6-foot3 actor she had a boyfriend as tall as he.

Unimpressed, Treacher replied:  “Really?”  The director took note, said, “play the part like that” and a character was born.

When Rita Moreno was interviewed on November 17, 1960 by Bob Thomas about her role in “West Side Story” her opinion about stereotyping certain actresses in the role of spitfire was clear.  In fact, she is said to have lamented, “Why, oh why, do Latin girls on the screen always have to be tempestuous sexpots?”  The topic of spitfires and Latin women turned to the subject of Lupe Velez where Rita was quoted as saying:

“What a terrible fate,” Rita sympathized.  “I’d like to have known her.  I’m sure she wasn’t really a spitfire, but a warm human being.”

The journalist gave more insight into Rita’s comments by adding the following in his article entitled, “Rita’s Sour On Sexpot Roles.”

In her earlier Hollywood career, Rita herself got caught in the spitfire category.  She may have contributed to it through a somewhat gay social life.  She seems different now.  Perhaps it was her friendship with Marlon Brando, perhaps two years of intensive dramatic training.  At any rate, she seems level-headed and adjusted to the problems of pursuing a career in Hollywood.

Now the term spitfire wasn’t reserved just for Latin women.  In the Spokane Daily Chronicle, an article entitled, “Cat Knows Hank Isn’t a Setup” published on March 22, 1932 had this to say about pugilist Leslie Carter:

Be it known that Leslie (Wildcat) Carter, the negro spitfire from Seattle, is most serious about his bout with Hank Vogt Thursday night at the Auditorium.

Carter not only came to town three days early, but went directly to the Y.M.C.A. for seven hard rounds of conditioning work.  He planned about eight stiff sessions this afternoon, and will go through a brisk limber-up Wednesday.

The Sydney Mail newspaper, like most newspapers of its day, loved to run fictional stories from time to time.  It was the equivalent of the movie-of-the-week seen on television these days.  On December 20, 1890 (referred to as the Christmas supplement) the newspaper ran a story by John Strange Winter entitled, “The Storyteller.”  In “Chapter XIV: Waiting” the following passage is found:

But the Major had had a fair chance of winning his wife’s love, and had, in his carelessness and violence, lost it for ever.  Truth to tell, his admiration for her had never been so great as when she held herself back from the clasp of his arms and by a single look indicated that she did not mean to kiss him.  ” ‘Pon my soul,” he said to himself when she had gone to bed and he was smoking his last cigarette — ”  ‘Pon my soul, there’s more, far more in the little woman than I thought, and, by Jove, how she rounded on me; what a little spitfire she looked, and how pretty.  As for Valerie — oh! damnation.”

Russian author Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) wrote “The Idiot” which was published in serialized form in “The Russian Messenger” in 1868 and 1869.  In this story, the following is found:

But you’ll admit what a riddle it must have been for us when that calm, cold, little spitfire, Aglaya–(for she stood up to her mother and answered her questions with inexpressible contempt, and mine still more so, because, like a fool, I thought it my duty to assert myself as head of the family)–when Aglaya stood up of a sudden and informed us that ‘that madwoman’ (strangely enough, she used exactly the same expression as you did) ‘has taken it into her head to marry me to Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, and therefore is doing her best to choke Evgenie Pavlovitch off, and rid the house of him.

The Merriam Webster dictionary claims the first use of the word was in 1656 but doesn’t provide proof to support the claim.  However, in the 1600s the Spanish word for braggart was cacafuegoFuego means fire and caca means  to emit.  Therefore, one who was a braggart — a cacafuego — was one who emitted fire (rather than provided substance).

Interestingly enough, there’s a historical note that ties this expression to a Spanish galleon named the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción.

In 1578, Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 27 January 1596), while traveling up the left coast of South America, captured the galleon, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, with one shot.  With that, he won the spoils of the ship:  enough gold, silver and jewels to put England’s economy back on solid footing.  However, it was said that it took so long to unload all the silver bullion from the captured ship to Drake’s ship that the sailors jokingly referred to it alternately as the Caca Fogo (emits gunfire) or the Caca Plata (emits silver).

As oftentimes happens with words said in jest, the play on words between the shipmates use of the monicker Caca Fogo and the Spanish word for braggart, (somewhere in the generation between 1578 and 1600), defaulted to cacafuego as the word most often used.

It must be pointed out that the Florentine’s also had a word that sounded similar to the Spanish word cacafuego and that word was cacafuoco (which in modern-day Italian means handgun).  But no matter what language it was in, it still meant the same thing back then.

Somewhere between 1600 and 1656, the word transformed into spitfire with the meaning being someone with a fiery temperament.

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

A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2013

If someone tells you that a penny saved is a penny earned, then you’re being encouraged to become thrifty and to watch your budget. In other words, saving a penny is as good as earning a penny … or the dollar you didn’t spend, is the dollar you still have.

Back on July 3, 2006 the San Diego Union Tribune published an article by Jeff Donn of the Associated Press, on Edmond Knowles of Flomaton in Alabama. It would appear that Mr. Knowles had hoarded pennies as a hobby for almost 40 years. When it came time to cash his collection in at the bank, the bank refused to the pennies all at once and so he turned to a coin-counting company looking for publicity. The article stated:

In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard.

His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day – $13,084.59 in all.

A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took away another lesson from the experience: “I don’t save pennies anymore. It’s too big a problem getting rid of them.”

A hundred or so years before that, pennies were making the news as evidenced by the April 9, 1900 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. On page five, a number of items were published under the heading, “City In Brief” including the following:

Ben Franklin, the philosopher, said: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” One dollar deposited each week in the savings department of the Spokane & Eastern Trust Co. will in one year amount to $52.78; in five $286.11; in ten $634.88; in twenty, $1678.33; in thirty, $2980.21; in forty, $5063.34.

But did Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) really coin the expression? Or was it around long before he published his Poor Richard’s Almanack?

The fact of the matter is that the concept existed long before Ben Franklin published his version. One of the most popular versions was this one:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a-year. Save and have.

Another version of the idiom is found in English dramatist, Edward Ravenscroft’s “Canterbury Guests, Or, a Bargain Broken: A Comedy” published in 1695. This comedy, written in five acts and in prose, had a variation on the theme in Act II, scene iv.

This I did to prevent expences, for a penny sav’d, is a penny got.

In 1661, Thomas Fuller wrote and published, “The History of the Worthies of England: Volume 2.”  In that book, the following passage is found:

John Yong was a monk in Ramsey Abbey at the dissolution thereof. Now, by the same proportion that a penny saved is a penny gained, the preserver of books is a mate for the compiled of them. Learned Leland looks on this Yong as a benefactor to posterity, in that he saved many Hebrew books of the noble library of Ramsey.

And an even earlier version is found in “Outlandish Proverbs” published in 1633 and compiled by George Hebert. In this instance, it read:

A penny spar’d is twice got.

In the end, if you wander all the way back to around 1535, to John Heywood’s book, “Of Gentleness And Nobility” you’ll find the spirit of the idiom there.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »