Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Spokesman Review’

Blurb

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 31, 2017

Author Cath Alexander asked Idiomation for the origins of the word blurb which refers to a short promotional description of a book, movie, or other product that’s written or spoken.  A blurb by any other name is micro-marketing that catches (or should catch) the marketplace’s attention.

The August 17, 2007 edition of the Spokesman Review showed how sometimes blurbs can unintentionally mislead readers as was the case with a little something that slipped past the editor’s watchful eyes and made it into all the newspapers published by the Spokesman Review the previous day.

A Thursday A1 blurb referred readers to an item that ran only in the Spokane Voices, due to an editor’s error.

On July 9, 1986 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the then-new generation of television journalists and the race for top ratings that, according to Kenneth R. Clark, drove reporters “to efforts exaggerated beyond the traditions of simple competition for breaking news.”  The Nielsen ratings saw major broadcasting corporations barely slipping past each other each week, and oftentimes tying each other.

The reporter interviewed Laurence Zuckerman (then associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) and he was quoted as saying this.

“It has become a game of how to make your anchor more attractive than the other guy,” he said.  “They say, ‘Let’s give our anchors more of a personality.  Let’s have Tom Brokaw give a little blurb at the end of the newscast.’  At the end of the piece on the Vietnam march in Chicago, Brokaw got on and said something like, ‘I remember when I was a reporter in the ‘60s and covering the anti-war movement.  I was outside Chicago in 1968 and I didn’t think these sides would ever come to terms, and now they have.’  It left you feeling very good saying, ‘He, Tom Brokaw, he’s okay.  He’s been there.’”

The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg (VA) republished an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 29, 1944 that reported on the problems with license plates.  The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce suggested that “historic” be added to Virginia’s automobile licenses but of the businesses felt that the addition of the word would unnecessarily clog up the tags.  Some felt that if a blurb was to be added, it should be “Virginia – The Debt Free State.”

The article appeared in the column, “As Seen By Others” and was titled, “License Plate Blurbs.”  Near the end of the piece, this argument was made.

Tourists and stay-at-homes as well, however, grow weary of seeing plugs for Georgia peaches or lands of enchantment breezing by on the highway, month after month.  There is something to be said for a neat plate without blurbs.  Connecticut, for example, has a small, trim but readable license much admired by the fastidious motorist.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The article stated the following –  Georgia, not satisfied with the words “Peach State” in large letters on its licenses, added for good measure and for the illiterate, a large, daintily-hued reproduction of a peach.

SIDE NOTE 2:  New Mexico at the time had “The Land of Enchantment” on its license plates.  Maine ran with “Vacation Land” and Arizona ran with “Grand Canyon State.”  South Carolina decided to advertise they were “The Iodine State.”

On September 28, 1932 the Pittsburgh Press shared a United Press article by journalist H. Allen Smith about the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.  Even with a great many public prints of New York Today making a fuss over the game being played that day, the blurbs hadn’t done much to incite the excited reaction from residents.

The journalist felt that there was a great deal of apathy from the average New Yorker with regards to the World Series.  He went as far as to state that only one person he stopped on the street and asked about the World Series seemed to know anything about it.

There was one man, however, who expressed an abiding interest in baseball.  His name is Stanley Corcoran and he is, by profession, a poem reciter.  Stanley arrived from the West Coast last Wednesday and has been camped at Gate C at the Stadium since then.  He desired the great honor of buying the first unreserved seat.

Amazingly enough, in contrast to Stanley Corcoran, poem reciter, two people had never heard of the World Series, and one person dared ask who was playing.  The article was titled, “Seven Million New Yorkers Ignore World Series Blurb.”

All that being said, the word was published in “Publishers’ Weekly” in the May 18, 1907 edition, and it would seem that the word was no compliment to authors or publishers, and was treated with great disrespect.

blurb

The term was popularized by American humorist, author, poet, artist, and art critic Frank Gelett Burgess (30 January 1866 – 17 September 1951) however he wasn’t the one to coin the word.  That honor goes to American scholar James Brander Matthews (21 February 1852 – 31 March 1929) who used the word in his paper “American Character” published in 1906.

SIDE NOTE 3:  James Brander Matthews counted among his friends Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he corresponded into his White House years).  He was one of the organizers of the American Copyright League, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1913.  He was also the first full-time professor of dramatic literature at an American university, serving as the Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia until his retirement in 1925.

The Spectator newspaper in London (England) reported on October 20, 1906 that Professor Matthews’ paper “American Character” had taken on the allegations made by a French critic speaking with Leo Tolstoy that Americans cared only for money, were indifferent to art and beauty, and were set on a career of conquest.  The September 15, 1906 edition of the New York Times also spoke positively about Professor Matthews’ paper, as well as his presentation of his paper at Columbia.

The honor of coining the word blurb goes to James Brander Matthews in 1906, with a nod going to Frank Gelett Burgess for popularizing it the following year.

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Enough To Feed Coxey’s Army

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 8, 2016

When someone says there’s enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it means there’s an excess beyond what’s needed.  The expression is a southern expression that originated with American reformer and eccentric Jacob Sechler Coxey (16 April 1854 – 18 May 1951) and has its roots in the march he led to Washington (D.C.) in 1894.  The history of this expression is one that’s true Americana, and ties in with Tuesday’s entry soapbox.

The November 26, 2016 edition of the NFTV News Online published a story by Correspondent, Briana Vanozzi titled, “Celebrating Thanksgiving With A Tribute For Troops Abroad Battleship New Jersey.”  The idiom was used in this paragraph.

It’s often said on thanksgiving that we cook enough to feed an army.  It turns out when you’re tasked with just that, it takes many volunteer groups, county organizations and an entire catering company to make it happen.  “We have well over 50 battleship volunteers, I believe another 20 volunteers form our caterer,” continued Willard.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Willard is Jack Willard, Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, of the Battleship New Jersey.

The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Florida published an article on September 4, 1985 titled, “Chefs In Tampa Expand On Standard Cuban Dishes.”  Food Editor, Charlyne Varkonyi included this paragraph in her story.

Adella Gonzmart, owner of the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, says her grandfather used to serve the broth and beans as a soup. The meat and potatoes were served separately on a platter. But the soup was enough to feed an army so customers stopped ordering entrees.

In 1955, Ford Motor Company published a book titled, “Lincoln and Mercury Times Combined with Fine Cars.”  A story accompanied by paintings by American artist Rhoda Brady Stokes (1902 – 1988) including this passage:

She had it all done and was shelling peas, and it looked like she had enough to feed an army. We all went to church in the surrey.

The Spokesman-Review of December 20, 1910 carried a story out of Ritzville, Washington that told of Mrs. Katie Holland’s testimony in court.  Her son, Paddy Holland, was accused of murdering the young school teacher, Miss Josephine Putnam.  Part of her testimony included this:

Mrs. Holland told of the checkered career of her boy, of his birth during a supposed fatal illness of her husband, the boy’s dumbness in school, joined Coxey’s army, discharged from the army after the Spanish-American war, boyhood injury, and his love for his mother.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  Others who took the stand were of the opinion that Paddy was insane as evidenced by the fact that he rode five miles on horseback in his shirt sleeves on a raw, cold day; he looked at a book for an hour and a half with the book upside down; he had a habit of saying goodbye three times when he went to the fields to work; he proposed marriage to a German girl who consistently refused to speak to him; attempted to ride a reputed vicious horse in spite of the fact he was a very poor rider; he would apologize up to fifty times whenever he breached etiquette;  and more.

On page 7 of the Lewiston Evening Journal of April 17, 1894 spoke of Coxey’s Army and how hardworking Americans grew weary of having their generosity abused by members of the ragtag army of homeless unemployed men.

This week finds Coxey’s hosts down in Maryland – so much nearer Washington.  The disease which affects Coxey has become epidemic and sporadic cases are coming to notice all over the country.  A detachment of the “Industrial Army” is making its way through California en route to Washington; another branch is in Nebraska, and Morrison Swift, the Boston crank, is to start out Saturday from the Hub.  Meanwhile everybody in the regions through which they pass is tired of feeding them and allowing their barns to be used as bed-chambers.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  The men in Coxey’s Army were called bums, tramps, hoboes, fuzzytails, ringtails, and jungle buzzards.  Men who were part of Coxey’s Army stated clearly that there was a difference between hoboes, tramps and bums.  According to them, a hobo will work, a tramp won’t work, and a bum couldn’t work if he wanted to work.   On this basis, they claimed to be hoboes although most were content to refer to them as stiffs.

When the Daily Argus News of May 10, 1894 was published, it spoke of a branch of Coxey’s Army under the leadership of General Randall, and of the anticipated march through South Bend, Indiana.  Here is what was reported in part:

They came from New Carlisle, sixteen miles west.  The New Carlisle people treated them well.  Sullivan says they will move to Elkhark, fifteen miles east, passing through Mishawaka, Randall will proceed to this city this afternoon.  He will be hurried through the city, fed, camped, and passed on to the next point.  No public speaking will be permitted.

General Randall had been incarcerated in La Porte, Indiana days earlier and upon his release he threatened to sue the Mayor for alleged malicious prosecution.  By the time he was released from his six-day stay in jail, the men in his camp were starving as the citizens of La Porte refused to help the men in any way and their meager provisions had run out.  At a meeting the evening of his release, he appealed for townsfolk to feed his men.

Coxey’s Army wasn’t above committing crimes.  In fact, one branch of his army stole a train from the Northern Pacific Railway near Butte, Montana.  It took and order from President Grover Cleveland and a number of U.S. Marshals to recover the train and subdue Coxey’s Army.

Everywhere branches of Coxey’s Army marched, they expected to be fed and housed by the inhabitants of the towns through which they marched.  Southern states were more accommodating than northern states to this end, however, none appreciate the imposition these men placed on their communities.

Give Me The West” by Scottish-born American financial journalist and author B.C. Forbes (14 May 1880 – 6 May 1954) was published in the May 16, 1920 edition of The American Magazine, and this is the first published version of enough to feed Coxey’s army .

In 1910 he took Sam Blythe and Will Loeb and myself with him.  The cavalcade that crossed the Gibbon and the Fire Hole and went on down into the Madison looked like a mob of land stampeders piling into virgin territory.  The first stop we made was at Grayling, a beautiful little suburban post office which has since been taken over by the Montana Power Company and now lies under fifty feet of water.  We pitched our tents in Red Canyon, three miles distant from the town site.  We had thirty-one horses, five wranglers, two cooks, six Japanese waters and enough grub to feed Coxey’s army going and coming.  Harry, known along the frontier as ‘Harry Hardup’ for the reason that he owns only one hundred and fifty thousand acres of land and twenty thousand head of stock, ordered up a pitcher of lemonade and superintended the laying out of the camp site.  As soon as night falls, Harry east three troughs, a couple of elk steaks, drinks another quart of lemonade, smokes another box of cigars and climbs into the hay.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4:  Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes was the founder of Forbes magazine.

Believe it or not, while the current idiom enough to feed an army can sometimes be traced back to enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army, it can also be traced back to much older origins.  But enough to feed Coxey’s Army or enough to feed Cox’s Army (its variation) links directly to 1920 and Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes’ story!

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Chasing The Dragon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2016

Originally, chasing the dragon was a reference to inhaling the vapors from opium.  Over time, it meant to chase after the elusive first-time high one got from a drug as the body develops greater and greater tolerance levels.  At that point, the chase was at the expense of the user’s for his or her health, wealth, and/or sanity.  Most recently, it refers to the pursuit of something you will never achieve or own.

Idiomation first heard the term used in the movie, “From Hell” which was set in 1888 in London (Whitechapel to be exact).  The main character (played by Johnny Depp) was a police detective who was chasing the dragon (in reference to his recreational drug use). The term was used a handful of times in the movie.

However, a study published on the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) website titled, “Heroin Smoking by Chasing The Dragon: Origins and History” claim that the term was from 1920s Shanghai.

In September 5, 1983 the New Strait Times (published in Kuala Lumpur) reported on drug arrests in Ipoh (Malaysia).  After coordinated raids in Menglembu, Kuala Kang, and Pengkaian Pegoh regions, police arrested four dadah addicts.  The four men had fled police, and upon capturing them, the police seized two straw tubes of heroin.  The article was titled, “Chasing The Dragon: One Caught.”

The Spokesman-Review published on February 13, 1961 brought news from Hong Kong where it was reported that more than half of the over 18,000 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment were guilty of drug offenses.  The idiom chasing the dragon was used in explaining the situation where heroin and morphine (byproducts of opium poppies) weren’t grown locally, and supplies were being smuggled into Hong Kong from abroad.  The second paragraph in the story stated this:

This is just one proof of the size of the drug problem facing the authorities in this British colony where, according to a special government report, as many as one in every 12 of the population may be indulging in the habit of “chasing the dragon” — taking dope.

This wasn’t just a problem in Hong Kong.  It was a global problem, and affected those in America according to the 1961 “Narcotic Officer’s Handbook” which stated:

In ‘chasing the dragon‘ the heroin and any diluting drug are placed on a folded piece of tinfoil.  This is heated with a taper and the resulting fumes inhaled through a small tube of bamboo or rolled up paper.  The fumes move up and down the tinfoil with the movements of the molten powder resembling the undulating tail of the mythical Chinese dragon.

In the book, “An Introduction to the Work of a Medical Examiner: From Death Scene to Autopsy Suite” by  John J. Miletich and Tia Laura Lindstrom, the authors claim (as does the NCBI study mentioned earlier) that heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s, and spread across Eastern Asia before making the leap to the U.S. in the 1930s.  The moniker chasing the dragon (according to the authors) didn’t show up until the early 1950s.

This is attested to in Jay Robert Nash’s book, “Dictionary of Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Law Enforcement.”

But how did chasing the dragon come to be used in the movie, “From Hell?

Pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as an anesthetic because it constricted blood vessels during surgery which limited bleeding (safer drugs introduced after that time replaced cocaine in the operating theater).

Cocaine had been illegal in China (from whence it came) until 1858, and was legalized, hoping to curb drug addiction and bolster the economy.  Within twenty-five years of legalizing cocaine, it was among the top causes of social anxiety.  In 1882, opium dens in the United States (in California especially) were getting out of hand, which led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Use of the drug in China peaked at the turn of the 20th Century, and began to steadily increase in England and the United States at the same time.

So while it’s true that in 1880s, some drug addicts were chasing the dragon, the term chasing the dragon was not in use at that time — or for some time after.  The term made its way into the movie because it was a term someone associated with the movie had heard used to describe the activity in which Johnny Depp’s character was involved.

Idiomation is unable to pinpoint a date for this idiom, mostly because there are so many conflicting sources laying claim to when smoking cocaine came into vogue in countries outside of China.  Maybe one of our Idiomation supersleuths has the answer to the question?

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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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Fit As A Fiddle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 12, 2015

When you’re fit as a fiddle, you’re healthy and well.  Ask any musician with a violin or fiddle and he or she will confirm that a fit fiddle is one that’s in excellent shape.   And how does one keep a fiddle fit?  As with any musical instrument, a well maintained fiddle is one the owner keeps in top condition which means the sounds emanating from the instrument will always equal the talent and ability of the person playing it.

When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, there were those who were concerned over his health … not because he appeared to be suffering from any health issues, but because he was far from being a young man at the time.  However, the Montreal Gazette of October 31, 1981 published a news story that was picked up from UPI that stated that all was well with the President.  The article was titled, “Reagan Fit As A Fiddle” and the first paragraph of the story read:

Two days of physical examinations at the National Naval Medical Center found U.S. President Ronald Reagan to be “fit as a fiddle,” a presidential aide said yesterday.

Over the years, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia ran newspaper ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and these ads advocated taking Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to cure indigestion woes.  In fact, in the Spokesman Review of October 22, 1942 the ad copy read in part:

Say goodbye to those “morning blues.”  Next time you overeat, or stay up late at a gay party, take Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia at bedtime and wake up feeling “fit as a fiddle.”

The saying was used in other newspaper advertisements.  Going back to May 12, 1909, the Pittsburgh Press ran one for Hires with the headline copy, “As Fit As A Fiddle On A Fine Spring Day.”

FIT AS A FIDDLE_IMAGE 1
On May 21, 1888, the Evening Post newspaper of Wellington in New Zealand published an article in the Sporting section titled, “Turf Notes” and written by the anonymous reported, Vigilant. The news was that the Wanganui Steeplechase had nine horses entered, and barring accidents, racing fans could expect to see all ready to run at post time.  One horse in particular seemed to be of enough interest to warrant mention by the reporter.

Faugh-a-Baalagh, 11st 12lb, is generally voted well in, and as he will have T. Lyford up on him and is reported as fit as a fiddle, whatever beats him will, I think, get the stakes.

Volume 15 of the “American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine” published in January 1844, discussed the strengths of a horse owned by Mr. G. Salvin.  In Monday’s race, the odds were 13 to 4 against The Cure, and 3 to 1 against The Cure in Thursday’s race, making him an equal favorite with another horse by the name of Ithuriel.

The Cure is an extraordinary good horse, and we have reason to believe the stable money is upon him.  If so, and his partly only mean it, then will our anticipations be realised in seeing him not far from No. 1.  The distance is the only obstacle in his path, but his friends assert that makes no difference.  He is, we hear, as “fit as a fiddle,” and none the worse of his being a little off at Newcastle.  It is understood that Sam Rogers will now have the steering of the “little gentleman” for the St. Leger.

English naturalist John Ray (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) — known as John Wray until 1670 — included the idiom in his book ,”A Compleat Collection Of English Proverbs” first published in 1670.  Before it was included in John Ray’s book, it was used by English Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 25 August 1632) in “The Batchelor’s Banquet” published in 1603 with a bit of a twist.  Instead, the word fine was inserted for fit, however the sense of being in top-notch shape was clear in the dialogue.

Then comes downe mistresse Nurse as fine as a farthing fiddle, in her petticoate and kertle, having on a white waistcoat, with a flaunting cambricke ruff about her neck, who liks a Doctris in facultie comes thus upon him.  Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our mistresse bot your selfe:  I will allure you on my credit that I doe what I can, yet for my life I cannot I, any way content her.

And in English playwright William Haughton’s Elizabethan era stage play, “Englishmen For My Money: A Pleasant Comedy Called A Woman Will Have Her Will” published in 1598, the idiom appears.  In the scene, we find the Italian Aluaro, the Frenchman Delion, and Frisco, who is described as Pisaro’s man and a clown.  Pisaro is a Portingale, and the story has to do with this three daughters — Laurentia, Marina, and Mathea — and their suitors.

FRISCO:
In Leaden-hall?  I trow I shall meete with you anone: In Leaden-hall?  What a simple Asse is this Frenchman.  Some more of this:  Where are you sir?

ALUARO:
Moy I be here in Vanshe-streete.

FRISCO:
This is excellent ynfayth, as fit as a Fiddle:  I in Tower-streete, you in Leaden-hall, and th third in Fanchurch-streete; and yet all three heare one another, and all three speake together:  either wee must be all three in Leaden-hall, or all three in Tower-streete, or all three in Fanchurch-streete; or all three Fooles.

The word fiddle is derived from the Old English word fithele, and in Old German it was fiedel.  The word came into vogue during the 14th century when Medieval fiddles became popular street musical instruments, due in large part to their portability.  Fiddles during the Middle Ages were described as having four strings, a hollow body, and an unfretted fingerboard, and was played with a bow.

It was an instrument equally favored by waits (official town musicians employed by the large English towns in which they lived), minstrels (who were first and foremost entertainers who were also musicians, and who traveled from town to town), and troubadours (who, even though they were musicians, interacted with royalty and nobility).

It can be guessed that those musicians who played fiddle — especially for aristocracy — would want their instrument to be in the best condition possible, and fit for performances.  Although Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published use of fit as a fiddle than the one found in William Haughton’s comedy, because it was used in the play, it was obviously an expression that was already known to the general population by the late 1500s.

Considering how language evolved during this era, it is very likely that the idiom most likely came into vogue during the early to mid-1500s.

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Astroturf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hold The Line

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 11, 2013

When you hold the line, you make sure you maintain an existing opinion, position, or status regardless of what outside or opposing forces may try to do. Even the military has a mission referred to as a Hold The Line mission.

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported on what was going on in Murrysville in their November 20, 2013 edition. It was all about mills and taxes: mills for the general tax rate, mills for capital improvements, mills for municipal debt repayment, mills for road improvements. It seemed that if there was a mill, there was a discussion. The opening paragraph read as follows:

Murrysville council members reviewed recommendations from the administration to hold the line on taxes for the coming year, giving unanimous approval Wednesday night to advertise an ordinance setting the tax rate at 12.15 mills for 2014.

Back on December 1, 1971 the Spokesman-Review reported on President Richard Nixon’s announced intention to veto his own tax cut bill. It seems that what had happened to the President’s bill was that the Senate attached additional provisions to the bill that, if the bill went through, would result in another $11 billion dollars added to the deficit. The story was entitled, “Hold The Line.”

During World War II, what was happening on the front was vigorously reported in the newspapers regardless of what country was reporting on the war. The Calgary Herald edition of October 27, 1941 carried international news that was cabled from the Calgary Herald‘s London bureau courtesy of the London Times. As the Russian campaign continued, battles raged near Rostov-on-Don anda round Kharkov. The Germans hoped to reach Roslov to cut the main railway line from the Caucasus to Moscow. The report included this news byte:

When the Red armies failed to hold the line of the lower Dnieper, German forces, with the aid of Hungarians, Rumanians and Italians were able to undertake a determined eastward drive and Marshal Budenny had no adequate line of defence available until he reached the River Don.

When the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Boxers Engaged In Big Battle” on June 8, 1900 many were alarmed at the events unfolding in China. The article claimed that the Daily Express had sent the following dispatch from Shanghai on June 7 with regards to the results of the Dowager Princess’s orders to General Neih-Si-Chong to take 3,000 men and protest the railroad at Peking. British was unable to send more than 900 troops as they were involved with the situation in South Africa, and the United States was urged to act. The article included this information:

Attempts to repair the damage to the railway between Tien-Twin and Peking have been frustrated by the Boxers who, thousands strong, hold the line against the engineers, gangs attacking the trains arriving.

Another show of force was reported in the American and Commercial Advertiser of August 23, 1864 — thanks to the New York Tribune newspaper — this time with regards to the skirmishes of the Fifth Corps against Rebel forces at Weldon Railroad just below Petersburg. The focus of this mission was to destroy the road completely this time. It was seen as a successful mission no three counts: It resulted in greater losses being inflicted than suffered; it prevented the Rebel forces from sending more troops into the Valley; and Fifth Corps achieved its main objective. The newspaper story reported the following in part:

Exactly one half of all the Rebel forces in Virginia are in the Shenandoah Valley awaiting Heridan. The other half hold the line from Richmond to Petersburg. From Gen. Birney’s Headquarters, the right of the line of operations, to Gen. Warren’s, the extreme left, is a distance of over twenty-five miles by the shortest roads. The whole distance is entrenched and two large rivers straddled. Grant having much the larger army, can afford to stretch the line of operations and thus attenuate Lee’s forces.

Jumping back to 1805, the idiom was used in “The Vindication of Mr. Maurice’s Modern India” also known as “A Vindication of the Modern History of Hindostan From The Gross Misrepresentations, And Illiberal Strictures of the Edinburgh Reviewers” by schoolmaster and former chaplain to the 87th regiment, Thomas Maurice. In his book, he wrote:

It seems however, by the Edinburgh standard of criticism, at least, that an author can no longer be permitted to mark out for himself the outline of any work which he may meditate, or of the limits by which his prudence may lead him to bound, or his temerity to extend his excursion in the wide field of literary research. The Reviewer must hold the line of demarcation, and let the author transgress it at his peril. The direst anathemas of critical vengeance, infallibly attend the slightest deviation.

The word hold is from the Old English word geheald which means keeping, custody, or guard and dates back to 1200, and the word line (as in demarcation) dates back to the middle of the 15th century. That being said, it doesn’t seem that the words met up and became an idiom until later. Although the idiom was used easily in Thomas Maurice’s book, and research hints at the idiom being used in the early 1700s, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the one in 1805. Taking into account that those who read Thomas Maurice’s book would have understood what he mean when he used the expression hold the line, it is most likely that the idiom hit its stride two generations prior to the publication date, putting it somewhere in the 1750s.

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

Heeled

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 16, 2013

While the expression “to be heeled” has fallen out of favor with gun lovers these past few decades, it lives on in newspaper articles and books. What it means to be heeled, is to be packing a pistol or two. Yes, if you’re heeled, you’re armed.

The expression was well-enough known during the 20s that it was included in a headline in the Spokesman Review of Spokane, WA of July 2, 1929 where readers read the story of a gentleman from Illinois who was riding on a bus with a number of ladies. He drew his pistol and said he intended to shoot the high heels off the ladies’ shoes on the basis that he did not approve of high heels. While he didn’t shoot any innocent high heels, that fact that he was heeled brought the Evanston, WY civil authorities to the bus to make a determination about the situation.

The reporter obviously had a sense of humor as he wrote: “The gentleman will be examined to see if he is sane, not that it makes much difference. Probably he is as sane, in his way, as the ladies who wort the high heels. Maybe saner.

The article was titled, “Heeled and Well Heeled.

The Independent newspaper in Miles City, MT published an article on April 3, 1907 that originally hailed out of San Francisco just a few days earlier. This was the story of Abraham Ruef who had been arrested at the Trocadero with regards to an ongoing bribery and graft investigation, and rumor had it that plans had been made by Mr. Ruel’s business associates to rescue him from the Elisor Biggy and his guards. When reporters asked Elisor Biggy if this was indeed true, he was quoted as saying:

Though I think the matter should not be exploited, it is a fact that every man openly identified with the prosecution of the bribers and grafters is ‘going heeled,’ and that some of the more prominent of them are employing bodyguards. Though it may sound sensational to those not familiar with the local situation, it is a fact that for a month we have been keeping a special lookout for an attempted rescue of Ruef, and we shall be happily surprised if these investigations and impending prosecutions end without a ‘gun play.’

Strangely enough, Mark Twain used the expression in his book, “Letters From Hawaii” dated April 1866 and written while he was in Honolulu.

And in Honolulu, when your friend the whaler asks you to take a “fid” with him, it is simple etiquette to say, “Here’s eighteen hundred barrels, of salt!” But, “Drink hearty!” is universal. That is the orthodox reply, the world over.

In San Francisco, sometimes, if you offend a man, he proposes to take his coat off, and inquires, “Are you on it?” If you are, you can take your coat off, too. In Virginia City, in former times, the insulted party, if he were a true man, would lay his hand gently on his six-shooter and say, ‘Are you heeled?’ But in Honolulu, if Smith offenders Jones, Jones asks (with a rising inflection on the last word, which is excessively aggravating), “How much do you ?” Smith replies, “Sixteen hundred and forty pound — and you?” “Two ton to a dot, at a quarter past eleven this forenoon — peel yourself; you’re my blubber!”

A number of excellent dictionaries have pegged this expression to the early 1800s and as coming from the Wild West. Even Peter Watt’s “Dictionary of the Old West,:1850-1900” has the expression pegged to the Wild West of the 1800s.  Unless one of Idiomation’s readers can offer a link to an earlier published version that the Mark Twain version, it would be greatly appreciated.

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

Up In Arms

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 29, 2013

Nothing conveys the concept of being upset or angry better than to say that someone is up in arms. It means that whoever is up in arms is so upset, he or she is willing to do something in protest.

The Coventry Evening Telegraph in England published a news story on September 16, 2004 about West Midlands firefighters being surprised to learn that their colleagues in Derbyshire were no longer allowed to play volleyball and football for fear of serious injuries. The article was entitled, “Why Firemen Had To Stop Team Games.” The Assistant Chief Officer, David Smethurts was quoted as saying:

“It was clearly unsafe, and was one of the greatest causes of injuries of any activity we took part in. If our staff thought we were allowing any other activity that was causing that many injuries they would be up in arms. No-one particularly liked it when volleyball was stopped but they could understand why. I was aware Derbyshire were taking this action. What surprised us was that they were still working in an environment where volleyball was normal.”

Jumping back in time to April 2, 1952 the Spokesman-Review ran an Associated Press story that dealt with Newbold Morris and his demand for detailed data on the personal finances of high government officials. Cabinet members were incensed by the demand and made certain their objections were heard loud and clear. The article was entitled:

Scandal Hunter Going Too Far: Truman’s Cabinet Is Up In Arms About Morris’ Prying

Wandering back to July 22, 1888, the New York Times reported on all the Italian societies, civic and military, of New York, Boston and Philadelphia making their voices heard with regards to the Pauper Immigration bill that was brought forward by Congressman Ford of Michigan. The complaint was that the American press had started a serious war against all Italians, and that this behavior was adversely influencing the American Government against Italians in America. The article was simply titled:

They Are Up In Arms

The American Heritage Dictionary claims that the expression dates back from about 1700 with the expression referring to armed rebellion in the late 1500s.  When William Shakespeare wrote 2 Henry VI in 1591, he was sure to include the idiom in the more than once to ensure that it would be heard and remembered.

The princely Warwick, and the Nevils all,
Whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain,
As hating thee, are rising up in arms:
And now the house of York, thrust from the crown
By shameful murder of a guiltless king
And lofty proud encroaching tyranny,
Burns with revenging fire; whose hopeful colours
Advance our half-faced sun, striving to shine,
Under the which is writ ‘Invitis nubibus.’
The commons here in Kent are up in arms:

It showed up in his play Richard III published in 1592 where the following was written:

March on, march on, since we are up in arms;
If not to fight with foreign enemies,
Yet to beat down these rebels here at home.

So while the idiom did mean armed rebellion, the fact of the matter was that such armed rebellion was brought about because those involved in the rebellion were, indeed, so upset that they were wearing articles of clothing with heraldic arms embroidered on certain articles of clothing by the mid-1550s.

However, the word armor meant “means of protection” in the early 1300s, and came from the Latin word armatura which meant arms equipment. And indeed, if you were going off to fight a battle, you were definitely wearing armor and intended to swing your arms about wildly, weapon in hand, in defense of whatever you were fighting for in the first place. Hence comes the very literal meaning of being up in arms.

While the first published version of up in arms appears in the late 1590s, this is the official first use of the expression. However, nearly 300 years earlier, the spirit of the expression was understood and in use.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Clean As A Hound’s Tooth

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 20, 2013

The saying clean as a hound’s tooth means that an individual or group of individuals is above-board and honest, transparent and forthcoming. It can also refer to cleanliness and spotlessness … immaculate, in fact.

On February 16, 1971 the Lewiston Morning Tribune printed an article about the efforts put into bailing out the Penn Central railroad the previous summer, when it was experiencing financial difficulties. It came to light that Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans had a substantial amount of his own money at stake in having the railroad subsidized with a federal loan guarantee, and since he was involved on both sides of the fence, a conflict of interest existed. The article was entitled, “Not As Clean As A Hound’s Tooth” and ended with this sentence:

It must be most embarrassing to President Nixon, who once made the old phrase, “clean as a hound’s tooth,” famous all over America.

The old phrase was also a favorite of Dwight Eisenhower according to the Spokesman-Review, in an article published on June 24, 1958 entitled, “Phrase-Makers Relax; Use Up Reserve Stocks.” The story, republished from the New York Times, referred to the previous week as one that would be remembered for its metaphor glue, and perhaps as the great cliché festival.

On that day in Chicago, Adlai E. Stevenson, who in 1952 came to prominence as an eschewer of the ready-made phrase in favor of originality, accused Adams of “holier-than-those self-righteousness.”

Stevenson also made contemptuous reference to President Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign promise of government “clean as a hound’s tooth” which, of course, was the President’s phrase, not Stevenson’s.

The expression was used in a newspaper advertisement in the Vancouver Sun newspaper on March 19, 1931 promoting the “utterly odorless” Canadian made Bon Ami powder and cake. It read in part:

Just try it. You’ll be amazed. A little Bon Ami — a damp cloth — a few months’ time — and your woodwork will be clean as a hound’s tooth.” It won’t be scratched either, nor will your hands be reddened.

In the story “Whirligigs” by American author, O. Henry (1862–1910) and published in 1910, the following passage can be found:

“My precinct is as clean as a hound’s tooth,” said the captain. “The lid’s shut down as close there as it is over the eye of a Williamsburg girl when she’s kissed at a party. But if you think there’s anything queer at the address, I’ll go there with ye.”

On the next afternoon at 3, Turpin and the captain crept softly up the stairs of No. 345 Blank Street. A dozen plain-clothes men, dressed in full police uniforms, so as to allay suspicion, waited in the hall below.

Jumping back just a few more years, when the November 9, 1897 edition of the New York Times reported in the article, “Street Cleaning For The Next Four Years” that:

The department must be kept as clean as a hound’s tooth.

Now American frontiersman, Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson (December 24, 1809 – May 23, 1868) lived in Taos, New Mexico from 1828 to 1831, and according to PBS and the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau at least one of Kit Carson’s acquaintances said that Kit Carson was clean as a hound’s tooth.

And in fact, American military officer and explorer, John Charles Fremont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890) hired Kit Carson as a guide (at a $100 per month) to take his expedition through the South Pass in Wyoming. When asked his opinion of Kit Carson, he was quoted as saying that Kit Carson was as morally clean as a hound’s tooth.

In the “Journal of Llewellin Penrose: A Seaman” written by William Williams, and originally published in 4 volumes in 1783, the following is found:

I thought every minute of their absence an hour, so great was my anxiety. In about four hours they returned, and gave the following account of their expedition  Bell said he found her to be Bermudian built sloop; she mounted guns, and had altogether a warlike appearance; her bottom was as white as a hound’s tooth. As they drew near her, he plainly heard some one say i English, “a rope for the boat,” with an oath tacked to the end of it. He then hailed them in Spanish, and was answered in the same language.

The date for the expression clean as a hound’s tooth is therefore pegged at some time between 1783 and 1800, allowing for a few years so the new version could make its way into the English language.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »