Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Dime Store Hood

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2021

You have probably heard the idiom dime store hood used in gangster movies and television episodes, and you know from hearing that idiom that it refers to a low-level gangster. The idiom is made up of two different things that go together but how long have they been together is the question.

A hood is short for hoodlum, and a hoodlum refers to a criminal, particularly a young street criminal who is part of a gang. The word has been used in this context since at least 1868 when the San Francisco Golden Era newspaper of 16 February 1868 reported:

The police have recently been investigating the proceedings of a gang of thieving boys who denominate themselves and are known to the world as the Hoodlum Gang.

In the 1930s, criminals began referring to jail terms of between 5 and 10 years as being dime store sentences, and a dime a pop was the colloquial term for a police officer.

Now dime stores weren’t always cheap places with cheap merchandise. In fact, in Volume 1 of the New York City Guide published in 1939, on page 218 in the section titled, “Manhattan: Middle and Upper East Side” some very nice things were said about two particular dime stores.

This section was part of the “Fifth Avenue Shopping District” segment of the New York City Guide.

Symbolic of the newer trend in the granite-faced home (opened in 1935) of S.H. Kress and Company, at the northwest corner of Thirty-ninth Street, which boldly faces the terra-cotta edifice of its competitor F.W. Woolworth and Company (1939). The simple lines of these buildings, two of the most sumptuous dime stores in America, undoubtedly will influence future fronts along the avenue.

It is apparent that dime stores and five-and-dime stores aren’t quite the same thing at all. In fact, in Volume 38, Issue 2 of the Implement and Tractor Trade Journal the difference was made clear in 1923.

Consider the dime store; it has many a lesson for many merchants. The dime store isn’t as cheap as it sounds. Goods are sold almost invariably at a profit. They are intensively “merchandised.”

But salesmanship is there, just the same. Every item is shown in plain sight and within easy reach. The customer can pick it up and handle it. Psychology tells us that the act of feeling an article gives us a sense of possession. The thing works out that way in the dime store. Everything is done to encourage the customer to sell himself.

The clearest delineation between all the stores is found in the 1945 document “Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Mining: Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning: House of Representatives Pursuant to H. Res. 408 and H. Res. 60” where the following exchange is recorded.

MR GEORGE: I had this aspect in mind: The borderlines. The dime store goes up to the 50-cent store, and the 50-cent store goes up to the dollar store, and on up, and actually the lines of all of them overlap extensively. Now those stores that carry the low-end items — there have to be calculated risks at some point. I was worried about the low-end items being so generally affected as to give rise for a general pressure for the release of things that were important to the public.

MR FLANDERS: There is, after all, a point which is not a point, it is not a line, but when you get, say, beyond the dollar store, you are in the department store area, and below the dollar store, you are in this area, and if I were administering prices, which God forbid, God forbid, I would feel, well, that was a little problem; it wasn’t the worst problem I had by any means.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Mr. Flanders was a mechanical engineer and draftsman, industrialist, and politician Ralph Edward Flanders (28 September 1880 – 19 February 1970), 6th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, President (on leave) of Jones & Lamson Machine Company in Springfield (VT), and Chairman of the Research Committee of the Committee for Economic Development.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1.1: He was elected to office as a Senator and served from 1 November 1946 through to 3 January 1959. Prior to that, he served in the Machine-Tool Section of the War Industries Board during WWI, and afterwards, he became the Chairman of the Screw-Thread Committee of the American Standards Association. In 1933, Secretary of Commerce, Daniel Roper — part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration — appointed him to the Business Advisory Council where he rose to the position of Chairman of the Committee on Unemployment.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Mr. George was Edwin Black George (31 July 1896 – 14 September 1963) who was a consultant to the committee, and was employed by Dun & Bradstreet as an economist in New York (NY). Beginning in 1941, he was part of the Special Studies for the Chairman of the War Production Board, focusing on the question of controls.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2.1: He was the American Trade Commissioner to Far Eastern Countries from 1922 through to 1926, then moved on to the Chief Marketing Service Division of the Department of Commerce from 1930 through to 1932, and to the Chief Domestic Commerce Division from 1933 – 1934 as he continued to move up the ladder of success. He rose to the position of the Director of Economics for Dun & Bradstreet in the 1950s, and in February 1961, he was named Deputy Director of the Legislative Reference Service in the Library of Congress.

All this information led to researching the origins of the dime store. It all began with Frank Winfield Woolworth who adopted the concept of running a five-cent booth while working for William Harvey Moore (1841 – 1916) at his W.H. Moore store in Watertown (NY). When F.W. Woolworth opened his own store in Lancaster (PA) in 1879, he eliminated wholesalers and set up direct buying arrangements instead which allowed him to price every item at a cost of no more than ten cents (a dime). This allowed his stores to lower prices on housewares and other products which allowed customers to be able to afford to buy merchandise such as sewing supplies, china, stationery, shoes, candy, toys, toiletries, andmore, at a low price.

Sales personnel were also instructed in how to properly wrap packages, what to say when serving a customer, what to say when giving change, and how to present themselves with regards to attire, hairstyles, and, dare we mention it, make-up.

By 1896, a number of well-known names emerged in the dime store business, among them being Woolworth, Kress, Kresge, and McCrory. What this means is that prior to 1896, there could not have been any dime store hoods.

Now, dime stores were very popular through to the mid-20th century, and in the earliest part of the 20th century, they became a staple along the Main Streets of towns and cities where they popped up. General stores and department stores kept their stock behind the counter or in bulk bins, but dime stores displayed everything on tables and racks so customers could get close to the items for sale.

What we know is that after the Depression era, inflation caused prices to increase beyond a dime, and because of this, most became dollar stores in order to stay afloat. That meant that the dime stores that stayed dime stores had to find a way to make things work, and that usually led to offering cheaper quality items than dollar stores offered.

This narrows the window of opportunity for the idiom to somewhere between 1896 and 1939. Upon closer inspection, a dime store referring to a retail outlet selling eveyrthing for 10 cents was well-estalished by 1928.

The fact that the word hoodlum — meaning a gangster — was shortened to hood at the start of the 1930s means only one thing: Dime store hoods should be something that began in the early 1930s.

In the 1937 book by American circus performer, publicist, journalist, and writer Courtney Ryley Cooper (31 October 1886 – 29 September 1940), “Here’s To Crime” the following passage is found on page 112.

Hoover had called him a hoodlum.
“I’m no hood!” he snapped, his cruel mouth tightening. “And I don’t like to be called a hood. I’m a thief.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re a hoodlum,” answered the practical John Edgar Hoover.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Courtney Ryley Cooper wrote his first bok “Under the Big Top” in 1923 and later on, with the cooperation of William “Buffalo Bill” F. Cody’s widow, he wrote the biography titled, “Memories of Buffalo Bill.” He also wrote a biography of Annie Oakley, and during the 1930s, he worked with J. Edgar Hoover to write numerous articles detailing the crime fighting activities of the FBI.

The Abridged Style Manual of 1935 published by the United States Government Printing Office included hood as an alternative thief, so we know that by 1935 the word hood was known and recognized by at least one government department. Two years earlier, The Police Yearbook published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police spoke of the lowest order of thugs as being a sneak thief, a pander, a cheap gambler … a hood. There was no earlier mention of hood by the Association prior to 1933 which means just as there could be no dime store hoods prior to 1896 as dime stores first came into existence in 1896, there could be no dime store hoods much before the 1930s as the word hood referring to criminals was not in use before the 1930s.

With dime store firmly established by 1928 and hood meaning a low-life criminal by 1933, there’s a five-year span in which the words could be tied to each other.

This led Idiomation to question whether Stephen King was the first to coin the expression in his novella, “The Body” in the collection “Different Seasons” — which was adapted into the movie “Stand By Me” — published in 1982. To this end, Idiomation has reached out to Stephen King via his website asking if this is an idiom he coined specifically for his story.

While Idiomation continues to research this idiom, it will have to be marked as unknown on this blog. Until then, maybe you would like to check out the history behind the idiom drop a dime.

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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.

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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.

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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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