Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Mail’

Spitfire

Posted by Admin 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 »

Cut Above

Posted by Admin on September 13, 2011

If something is a cut above, it is said to be better than other similar things.  Likewise, if someone is a cut above, it means that person demonstrates better qualities than most other people on average.

On February 8, 1995 the Daily Record newspaper of Glasgow, Scotland commented on two movies in the column “Cinema: Reel Lives.”  The first movie was the Zorro remake and the newspaper had this to say about it:

Mexico’s most famous swordsman is about to cut another dash on the big screen.  And this time round the great Zorro will be played by Latin hunk Antonio Banderas.  The movie also features the talents of Oscar winning Steven Spielberg and director Robert Rodriguez.  Rodriguez worked with Banderas on the excellent Desperado and assured me that his Zorro will be a cut above the rest.

Back on November 23, 1945 the Spokesman Review newspaper ran an interesting article entitled, “1000 Times More Than Ever.”  The first tidbit had to do with the first Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving — decreed by Governor Bradford in 1623 — celebrated the survival of a minority.  Unknowingly, it also marked the birth of a nation made up of minorities — the Puritans of Massachusetts, the burghers of New York, the cavaliers of Virgina, the Indians of a vast frontier.  None, mark you, liked another.  With a trait common to minorities, each felt itself a cut above the rest.  Yet the history of three centuries shows that when these minorities did get together and founded the greatest, freest, happiest nation of all time, the old animosities somehow vanished.

The New York Times ran a story on March 1, 1905 entitled, “Count On The Bowery; $30,000 To Prove It.”  It told the story of Louis Heder, a pharmacist on Avenue B, who was identified as the heir to $30,000 in “hard cash” and the title of Count of the Empire of Austria as well as a direct descendant of the ruling Hohenzollern family of Germany.

None of the Boweryites knew how it came about, but nevertheless they were all satisfied that Louis, who had always seemed a cut above the ordinary crowd, was now Count Louis Heder-Hohenzollern of the Bowery and of Budapest.

On November 3, 1883 the Otago Witness reported on the horse races in the region.  One race in particular — the Metropolitan Handicap — was of particular interest as one horse who had done well in previous races was going up against horses of a different calibre.

Tim Whiffler I have no fancy for; he has performed well in the North Island, but will, I think, find the present company a cut above him.  Envious is put about as a good thing, but if she can land the stake all I shall say is that she must have changed her nature since last season.

A dozen years earlier, on September 4, 1875 the article, “Randwick Anticipations” appeared in the Sydney Mail newspaper in Australia.  As with the previous article mentioned, it dealt with horse races and the various horses to be seen.  It read in part:

Last season Hyperiod proved himself a cut above all comers; but he has not wintered well, and the vice-regal stable will have to intrust its honour to Valentia, and I can well imagine the shouts that will rend the air should “The Viscount” succeed in carrying the spots to the front at the end of such a terrible struggle as this will be.

The idiom uses the word cut in the sense of “a higher degree or stage” which dates back to the early 1800s.  That particular expression is found in numerous newspaper articles in the first half of the 1800s such as in the article published in the Public Ledger of St. John’s, Newfoundland of April 12, 1831 with regards to the reform measures suggested in the House of Commons in London, England.  The very extensive news article was a continuation of a previously published article and reported everything in exact detail.  At one point, the following is found:

The Hon. and Learned Member had ridiculed the whole of the middle classes.  He (Lord Althorp) would tell the Hon. Member he did not know the intelligence of the middle classes when he talked as he had done.  That they did possess a higher degree of character and intelligence than at any former period, was abundantly proved, and he was satisfied they were as well qualified to select, and would select as wisely and as prudently as any other class, representatives distinguished for their honesty, their integrity, and their ability.  He confessed he was one of those theorists who thought that the House of Commons should represent the opinions of the people.  The Constitution supposed that the Members of the House of Commons were the real representatives of the people.  The Hon. and Learned Gentleman seemed to think that this measure would give satisfaction to none but a very small portion — to none but a very small class of this country.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of “cut above” and because it was used with ease in the Sydney Mail in 1875, allowing for the time it would take for a new expression to catch on to the point of being included in a news article, Idiomation agrees that the expression is from the early 1800s.

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

Eat Like A Horse

Posted by Admin on April 21, 2011

If someone says that you eat like a horse, it mean you are eating, or have eaten, a lot of food.  In some instances this is a compliment while in others it’s an insult.  It all depends on the situation and the people involved.  Interestingly enough, in French the expression is “manger comme un ogre” (translation: eat like an ogre) or “manger comme quatre” (translation: eat as if one was four).

One of the funniest play on words was in Neel Chowdhury’s article in Time Magazine published on May 29, 2008.  The title of the article was “Eat Like A Horse Rider.”

The Baltimore Sun ran an article on December 28, 1952 entitled, “Add One Elephant To The Holiday Toll.”   The newspaper extended its sympathies to the children of Rome whose favorite elephant, Remo, had died on Christmas Eve. And yet despite the fact that this was a terribly sad occasion, the editors saw that a lesson could be drawn from the unexpected death at the Rome zoo.  And with that, the article spoke to the heart of holiday feasts, stating this in part:

For those of us who have survived the first rounds of holiday feasting, with the New Year’s banquets still to go, there is a moral in Remo’s gourmandian orgy. A person may be as hungry as a bear and may eat like a horse but there are definite limits beyond that.

Thee Pittsburgh Press ran an advertisement espousing the benefits of The Reese Formula R-11 in its August 9, 1920 edition.  It stated that a Mr. B.L. Allen, assistant foreman of the N&W Railway at Portsmouth, Ohio, claiming to previously suffering from “nervous indigestion and rheumatism” had this to say about the product’s efficacy:

I saw the medicine in the window at Fischer & Streich Drug Store and I decided to get a bottle and try it as I have always tried everything I saw. I am glad to say after taking two-thirds of the bottle I can eat like a horse, sleep like a country boy and feel like a 16-year old boy.  If you wish to sue my name you are at liberty to do so.  I will always recommend The Reese Formula R-11 to my friends.

These sorts of health claims haven’t changed over the years, the only difference being the illnesses that certain products supposedly address or cure.  Over in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Mail newspaper ran an advertisement in their March 15, 1902 edition that made eerily similar health claims as the advertisement run in Pittsburgh in 1920.  This time it was about Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills.  In this instance, it  was a Mr. John Cook of Dunolly, Victoria, Australia who gave testimony:

About the middle of February last I was seized with a severe attack of Indigestion, and also pains across the chest, which caused me much agony, and upon making my case known I was advised to give your pills a trial.  I did so, bought one bottle from Mr. Kendall, the local chemist, and commenced their use, and before using on bottle I found they had made a great improvement so I continued their use, and had not finished the second bottle when I was sure they had cured me.  Another thing, before taking these pills I had no appetite, but now, as the saying is, I can eat like a horse.  I will recommend the pills wherever I go, as I am sure they will do to others as they have done to me.

Back on July 12, 1882 the St. Joseph Daily Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri published an article on Tug Wilson, the English pugilist.  The upcoming match between Tug Wilson and John L. Sullivan that was set to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York the following week had sports enthusiasts buzzing with excitement.  It was reported that Sullivan had agreed to forfeit $1,000 — a princely sum at the time — he didn’t knock Tug out in four rounds and Tug stood to earn half the gate money if he succeeded in dodging the “sledgehammer blows of his redoubtable adversary beyond the prescribed time.”  Among other things, the newspaper article dealt with the boxer’s training regime.

He does not trouble his stomach with many soft vegetables but does in for beef, bread, mutton and eggs.  Dinner over, he rests until 2 o’clock, smokes a cigar, and then starts out and walks until 5 o’clock.  He has another trot around after supper.  His appearance has undergone a great change since he commenced training.  There is nothing “fluffy” about him now. He has hardened his muscles and reduced his weight most remarkably.  He can now skip about like a squirrel, eat like a horse, and move about like a champion pugilist.  His weight last Sunday was 174 pounds, and yesterday it was 157 pounds.  The fact of itself sufficiently indicates the severity of his training.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this expression however there appears to be a jump between the expression “work like a horse” and “eat like a horse.”  The former expression dates back to at least 1520 when horses replaced oxen and began to pull  carts, wagons, carriages, chariots and sleighs.  

As a side note, special yokes had to be designed for horses as the typical ox yoke applied so much pressure to the windpipe of a horse that it effectively cut off the horse’s supply of oxygen.  And surely if one was said to be working like a horse, it made sense that one would also be eating like a horse afterwards.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »