Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Two-Gun Sam

Posted by Admin on April 7, 2014

Today’s idiom is one that is found in a conversation between Frannie Goldsmith and her father, Peter, in Chapter 6 of “The Stand.”

“I don’t know. I never had a pregnant daughter before and am not sure just how I should take it. Was it that Jess?”
She nodded.
“You told him?”
She nodded again.
“What did he say?”
“He said he would marry me. Or pay for an abortion.”
“Marriage or abortion,” Peter Goldsmith said, and drew on his pipe. “He’s a regular two-gun Sam.”

When Stephen King wrote about two-gun Sam was he thinking of the Yosemite Sam cartoon character?  You know the one. He’s the short cowboy with a fiery red handlebar mustache and huge voice who is known to have a hair-trigger temper, and who brandishes two guns most of the time.  Bugs Bunny has made quite the sport of antagonizing Two-Gun Sam at every turn.

In any case, just because Yosemite Sam is a literal two-gun Sam, does this mean that the idiom originated with the cartoon character?

Friz Freleng created Yosemite Sam (whose animation real name — as opposed to his animation nickname — is Samuel Michelangelo Rosenbaum) in 1944 for the animated short, “Stage Door Cartoon” where the character appeared as a southern sheriff.  The following year, he appeared in “Hare Trigger” alongside Bugs Bunny.

Fourteen years before Yosemite Sam was created, Volume 1 of “The Haverfordian” published in November 1930, made mention of Two-Gun Sam.  The magazine was a monthly publication that focused on fostering “the literary spirit among the undergraduates.”  Contributions were solicited, and considered for publication solely on their merits. The editor, Lockhart Amerman advised the Haverfordian readership of the following:

Beginning with this number and continuing for several more numbers, the HAVERFORDIAN will shoulder the white mans burden and publish “Uncle Bob’s Kiddies’ Page,” by Harris Shane, author of “Two Gun Sam,” “Blood on the Desert,” “The Maverick Murderers” and “Dainty Desserts for Summertime.

Going back to 19264 and a book of short stories titled, “Counter Currents.”  The stories were written by Elsie Janis and Marguerite Aspinwall and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.  In one of the short stories, the idiom was used a handful of times including, but are not limited to, page 149:

“Two of them,” Jinny decreed. “You can borrow mine if you haven’t an extra one. You’re to be Two-Gun Sam  — how’s that for a name?  Wear them low on your hips like that tin-horn gambling cowboy at Bar 13 last year.

And page 155:

“This, ladies and gentlemen,” turning on the room at large with a flourish, “is Two-Gun Sam, the Bad Man of the Stillwater Range.  Kind of short on patience and long on straight shooting.”

During the Civil War, a large side-wheel steamer known as the Uncle Sam was commissioned by the Union Navy and renamed the USS Black Hawk.  It was an impressive river gunboat armed with the following guns: two 30-pounder Parrot rifles, two 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two heavy 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two Union repeating guns, and one B&R gun.  It’s easy to see why it was colloquially referred to as the two-gun Sam.

In a song book compiled by George Stuyvesant Jackson entitled, “Early Songs Of Uncle Sam” the song “The Battle of Stonington” is included.  As students of American history know, the Battle of Stonington was part of the War of 1812.  While the book was published in the 20th century, it has a bibliography that proves the authenticity of the songs.  One of the verses of the “Battle of Stonington” figures two guns prominently.

What many may not know is that during the War of 1812, the cartoon character of Uncle Sam was first used to symbolize the United States government.  In September 1813, the name “Uncle Sam” began to appear in newspapers by journalists who opposed the war, using the term as an insult to American soldiers and government officials alike.

Why was calling anyone “Uncle Sam” an insult?

Because Sam was considered a euphemism in polite society for the devil.  If an individual linked Sam with something or someone he or she believed was evil, the implication was that the devil was obviously involved.

Idiomation therefore pegs two-gun Sam to the War of 1812 without a doubt.  Sorry about that, fans of Yosemite Sam.

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

Moons And Goochers

Posted by Admin on October 28, 2013

If you watched the 1986 movie “Stand By Me” or read the 1983 story “The Body” you might remember the scene where the four boys are flipping coins to see which of them has to go to the store and pick up “supplies” for their overnight adventure. The idea is that in flipping coins, the odd man out has to go pick them up.

Now if, in the flipping of the coins, everyone gets heads, that’s called a moon. But if everyone gets tails, it’s extraordinary bad luck and it’s called a goocher. Regardless, a moon or a goocher are definitely out of the norm and so a goocher is something out of the norm that isn’t necessarily good. The explanation is found in Stephen King’s novella “The Body” that was the basis for the movie “Stand By Me” and in the movie, Teddy Duchamp says to Vern Lachance:

Vern-o, no one believes that crap about moons and goochers anymore, it’s baby stuff! Now come on, flip again.

In Stephen King’s 1983 novella, “The Body” included in the book “Different Seasons” the scene rolls out as follows:

“Nobody believes that crap about moons and goochers,” Teddy said impatiently. “It’s baby stuff, Vern. You gonna flip or not?”

Vern flipped, but with obvious reluctance. This time he, Chris, and Teddy all had tails. I was showing Thomas Jefferson on a nickel. And I was suddenly scared. It was as if a shadow had crossed some inner sun. They still have a goocher, the three of them, as if dumb fate had pointed at them a second time. Abruptly I thought of Chris saying: I just get a couple of hairs and Teddy screams and down he goes. Weird huh?

Three tails, one head.

Then Teddy was laughing his crazy, cackling laugh and pointing at me and the feeling was gone.

Try as Idiomation did, we were unable to track down an earlier published version of the expression moons and goochers and so it seems to have first appeared in Stephen King’s story published in 1983 (set in 1959 over Labor Day weekend in Oregon in the movie, and in 1960 in Maine in the book). This presents Idiomation with a conundrum: either this is an expression Stephen King coined in 1983 or this is an expression he and his friends used as 12-year-olds in 1959.

If we’re lucky, maybe Mr. King could send someone over to let us know where the idiom is from and settle this question.

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

Like A Hen Needs A Flag

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2013

When people want something they don’t need, you sometimes hear them say they need it like a hen needs a flag. Hens aren’t particularly in need of flags and obviously the useless of the need is why the expression exists. However, tracing back the history on this idiom proved almost impossible.

In Harlan Ellison’s book, “Stalking The Nightmare” famous author Stephen King wrote in the book’s Foreword:

It drives my wife crazy, and I’m sorry it does, but I can’t really help it. All the little sayings and homilies. Such as: There’s a heartbeat in every potato; you need that like a hen needs a flag; I’d trust him about as far as I could sling a piano; use it up, wear it out, do it in, or do without; you’ll never be hung for your beauty; fools’ names, and their faces, are often seen in public places.

Stephen King first used it in his 1980 novella “The Mist” (and included in his anthology of short stories “Skeleton Crew” published in 1986) where he wrote:

I was the closest, and I grabbed Norm around the waist and yanked as hard as I could,  rocking back on my heels. For a moment we moved backward, but only for a moment. it was like stretching a rubber band or pulling taffy. The tentacle yielded but gave up its basic grip not at all. Then three more tentacles floated out of the mist towards us. One curled around Norm’s flapping red Federal apron and tore it away. It disappeared back into the mist with the red cloth curled in its grip and I thought of something my mother used to say when my brother and I would beg for something she didn’t want us to have-candy, a comic book, some toy.  “You need that like a hen needs a flag,” she’d say.

Now several sources claim that the expression is a southern expression, however, it doesn’t seem to appear very often other than in recent online forum discussions. Some members have posted that their grandparents used the expression back in the 40s and 50s although Idiomation couldn’t find any proof of the phrase’s existence during that period.

Without any documentation, the best we can guess at is that the expression originated with Stephen King in 1980. If readers are able to provide documentation that proves it was an expression prior to that, Idiomation welcomes that information.

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