Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Morning Herald’

Top Banana

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 14, 2017

Fictional Titi Vlar asked fictional Missy Barrett on her Facebook page if she knew the history of the expression top banana. Idiomation is always pleased to step up to the plate and assist real and fictional people alike when it comes to tracking down the meaning and history of expressions, phrases, sayings, clichés, and more.

Whenever you hear someone being referred to as the top banana, that person is the lead person in a group or organization, or who is heading up an undertaking. Of course, when it comes to the entertainment industry, the top person is the usually the headlining comedian in a musical comedy, vaudeville, or burlesque show. The comedian’s straight man was second banana to the top banana.

On December 12, 2017 an article posted by Today.com reported the following:

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have yet to make any official announcement about their wedding cake, there’s a pretty big rumor that has people going absolutely bananas … <snip> … [Dole] offered the services of their “top banana” chef to personally bake the cake that will be served after the couple’s ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: A banana is 75% water.

In the December 10, 200 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Michael Evans reported how Westpac Bank boss, Gail Kelly, had gone from being ranked the world’s 18th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in September of 2009 to angering hundreds of thousands of Westpac customers when they were advised by the bank’s retail chief about supercharged interest rates.

How much was the increase, you ask? Variable mortgage rates rose by 45 basis points, nearly twice the level of the Reserve Bank’s 25 basis point increase, and Gail Kelly’s popularity slipped badly because of it. The news story was aptly titled, “How The Top Banana Slipped.”

New York City is always a great place for unexpected news stories and on August 31, 1991 the New York Times reported on a situation that happened at a housing project in East Harlem in the middle of the day. According to reporter Seth Faison Jr, the spectacle included a crowd of spectators, a phalanx of Housing Police, a crew of EMS workers, a truckload of firefighters, and a monkey in a tree. The monkey was a real monkey owned by Sandra Rodriguez who lived in the Washington Houses project on East 104th Street.

And just like the story about Australia’s Gail Kelly, this article was also aptly titled with the amusing headline, “Monkey Shows Police Just Who’s The Top Banana.”

American lyricist and songwriter Johnny Mercer (18 November 1909 – 25 June 1976) and American screenwriter, playwright, and theatrical producer Hy Kraft (30 April 1899 – 29 July 1975) were responsible for the Broadway play titled, “Top Banana” starring American entertainer and comedic actor Phil Silvers (11 May 1911 – 1 November 1985). Silvers played the part of Jerry Biffle, an ex-burlesque comic who has become a television star on the Blendo Soap Program, and displays a Milton Berle style egocentric personality.

The show opened on November 1, 1951 (closing on October 4, 1952 with a total of 350 performances and a nearly month-long layoff from August 3 to August 31) and in the magazine Cue: The Weekly Magazine of New York Life the expression was part of their published review.

Phil Silvers, the man in the glasses on your right, is a changed man. For one thing, the comic who is *top banana” in the soon-to-arrive musical of the same name is no longer a frustrated actor in search of dignity.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Two years after the Broadway production closed down, many of the original actors in the play reprised their roles in the United Artists movie of the same name.

Bananas were a popular fruit as far as composers were concerned. George Gershwin blended bananas into his songs “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and “But Not For Me.” In 1926, Ted Waite wrote the very popular “I’ve Never Seen A Straight Banana” and in 1923 the big novelty hit song was “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: One of the earliest comic novelty songs involving bananas that was a song dates back to 1904 vaudeville when Elizabeth Murray, Raymond Teal, and Willie Tilden included “The Banana Man” by Hamilton and Fischer in their respective acts.

But while all this is very interesting, it gets us no closer to the origin of the expression top banana.

The first full cargo of bananas reached the United States in 1871 when Captain Lorenzo D. Baker landed in Boston after a long trek across the ocean.  Bananas caught on with the American public, and it wasn’t long before bananas were featured in family photographs.  I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to as strange as that sounds.  The Washington Banana Museum in Auburn (WA) has evidence to support this.

Scant years later, a number of fraudulent banana peel claims against streetcar lines were common in America, beginning in the 1890s. This was reported by the Street Railway Review on January 15, 1895. In 1910, the New York Times reported that Anna H. Sturla was arrested for the 17th time in 4 years, claiming she had slipped on a banana peel and been injured.

By the time women like Anna H. Sturla were making a living from banana peel lawsuits, cities were passing laws against discarding banana peels on city streets. St. Louis city council was among the first cities to pass a law outlawing the “throwing or casting” of banana peels on any and all public thoroughfares. New York City, under the guidance of former Civil War military man Colonel George Waring, organized the uniformed “White Wings” workers to sweep, clean, and dispose of waste — mostly because of the banana peel problem. They worked in shifts and disposed of garbage at city-owned composting facilities throughout the city.

Vaudeville comedian “Sliding” Billy Watson aka William Shapiro (1876 – 1939) found fame with his banana peel pratfall and he claimed to be the originator of the gag but vaudeville comedian Cal Stewart (his copyrighted stage persona name was Uncle Josh) was already a hit on stages and in recordings with his banana peel-laden sidewalk jokes.

With the banana peel gag already in play, vaudeville entertainer Rose Bacon incorporated the banana con into her comedy routine in the early 1900s.

There was a young lady named Hannah
Who slipped on a peel of banana.
More stars she espied
As she lay on her side
Than are found in the Star Spangled Banner.

A gentleman sprang to assist her;
He picked up her glove and her wrister;
‘Did you fall, Ma’am?’ he cried:
‘Did you think,’ she replied,
‘I sat down for the fun of it, Mister?’

So how is it that banana peels went from being a popular treat and fodder for vaudeville acts to the phrase top banana in 50 years?

This has proven difficult indeed to track. While the term top banana was obviously used long before burlesque comedian Frank Lebowitz rose to fame, his name is most closely associated with the phrase due to his use of bananas in his stage act. But as we all know, bananas and their peels were already established as props for vaudeville and burlesque acts long before the 1950s hit.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The American burlesque era is from 1840 to 1960. To burlesque meant to make fun of operas, plays, and social habits of the upper classes.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The difference between vaudeville and burlesque came about in the 1920s when burlesque introduced strip teases in the hopes it would draw audiences away from vaudeville and over to burlesque shows. The American strip tease is thought to have originated with Little Egypt’s 1893 Chicago World’s Fair performance of the hootchie-kooch.

Oddly enough, there’s a little known fact about bananas that take them from being a popular fruit that is responsible for a great many vaudeville gags and being the best of the bunch. During the flapper era of the 1920s, if a person was bananas they were crazy.

The best comedians in vaudeville and burlesque specialized in slapstick comedy which included the banana peel gag. The better they were at the banana peel gag, the harder the audiences laughed. The harder the audiences laughed, the better the chances those comedians would play to packed houses night after night. It wasn’t long before stage managers were referring to the best comedians as the top bananas.

So while Idiomation was unable to identify who coined the phrase top banana or the exact year the expression came into use, it dates back to American vaudeville and burlesque houses in the 1920s.

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A Woman’s Place Is In The House

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 3, 2013

Have you ever heard the expression: A woman’s place is in the house? If you hear that these days, it’s a good chance the speaker is either baiting you, or there’s a witty play on words about to happen.

On January 5, 2007 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was an article that heralded her accomplishments as a politician, with the article aptly titled, “A Woman’s Place Is In The House: Pelosi Opens Doors On Her Life.” Partway through the article, the following was found:

Five hundred women wore badges with Ms Pelosi’s face, in pearl earrings, above the slogan: “A woman’s place is in the House … as Speaker.”

Feminists of the 1970s took offence to the expression and came up with their own version:

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

But the fact remains that the expression will always have a place in society.

Back on Jun 6, 1925, the Toledo News Bee newspaper published a United Press story out of San Antonio, Texas that had to do with elections for President of the General Federation Of Women’s Clubs. It was reported that by a convention vote of 555 to 434, the candidate from Baltimore had been elected President.

Mrs. John F. Sippel of Baltimore, whose campaign slogan that a “woman’s place is in the home” won her a victory over her “business woman” opponent.

Almost 100 years before that, back in 1832, the New Sporting Magazine, Volume 3 published an article that stated:

A woman’s place is her own home, and not her husband’s countinghouse.

When British physician and preacher Thomas Fuller (24 June 1654 – 17 September 1734) published “Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs; Wife Sentences and Witty Saying, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British” in 1732, the following was included:

A Woman is to be from her House three times: when she is Christened, Married and Buried.

Since his book included ancient sayings and since Thomas Fuller was also a preacher, it’s not surprising that this was found in his book. After all, the phrase originated with the Greek, and more specifically with Greek playwright Aeschylus, who wrote this in 467 B.C.:

Let the women stay at home and hold their peace.

As much as some women may  not appreciate hearing the expression, the fact of the matter is that it has a history that stretches far back into Ancient Greece.  In the end, however, perhaps the expression is more of a compliment and acknowledgment of the great impact mothers have on their children than a slight against them.

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Gerrymander

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 25, 2013

From time to time, you may hear the term gerrymander or gerrymandering and wonder what it means. The expression is both a verb and a noun: the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage, and any representative elected from such a district by that method.

On March 1, 2006 the New York Times ran an Editorial that addressed the issue of the redrawn election districts in Texas in 2003. It was alleged that the new boundaries gave an unfair and unconstitutional edge to the Republican party and allegedly violated the Voting Rights Act. The piece was entitled:

The Texas Gerrymander

Backing up to January 24, 1961 the Deseret News published a news article about a decision arrived at by U.S. Judge Irving R. Kaufman with regards to school district lines for the 1961-1962 school year. Parents of Lincoln School felt that their constitutional rights, as well as their children’s, had been violated. The article was brief and stated:

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the New Rochelle, N.Y. board of education gerrymandered school district lines to establish an all-Negro school in that suburban Westchester County City.

The expression wasn’t just used in American newspapers, and found its way into the Sydney Morning Herald of February 17, 1927 in a news story about the House of Lords in London, England two days earlier. Readers were greeted with this introduction to the matter:

In the House Of Commons to-day during the debate on the Estimates a discussion arose about reform of the House of Lords. Colonel Gerald Hurts (Con.) moved a motion in favour or reducing the hereditary character of the Upper House. Professor Lees Smith (Labour) moved an amendment declaring that the proposed changes in the House of Lords were intended to gerrymander the Constitution in the interests of the Conservative party.

When the Quebec Saturday Budget newspaper of November 19, 1892 ran a story entitled, “Looks Like A Gerrymander” readers were treated to detailed information about the official returns of the U.S. Presidential election. Among many details provided were these:

It is worthy of remark that at the election Cleveland’s total of pluralities in all the States combined amounted to 576,158, while Harrison’s was only 478,141. That in face of this Harrison secured about 50 per cent more votes than Cleveland in the electoral college would seem to show that the Republicans are well posted in the mysteries of the gerrymander. The showing was something similar at the present election.

But while the term was understood in the major English-speaking countries, history proves that the term gerrymander was inspired by an 1812 Massachusetts redistricting scheme that favored the party of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry.

In April 1812, one of the redrawn election districts (created by members of Governor Gerry’s party in 1812) reminded newspaper painter Gilbert Stuart so much of a salamander, that he added a head, wings, and claws to the outline. The creature was quickly dubbed by the Editor of the Massachusetts Spy newspaper as a Gerrymander and not a salamander.

Originally, the term referred only to the district, however, within the month on May 12, 1812 the Massachusetts Spy newspaper reported:

An official statement of the returns of voters for senators give[s] twenty nine friends of peace, and eleven gerrymanders.

This is the definitive starting point for the word gerrymander.

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Watershed Moment

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 8, 2013

A watershed moment is a critical point that marks a crucial change and results in profound effects due to that change. For example, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria allowed the U.S. to emerge as a superpower.

Had the assassination not happened, there never would have been widespread shock across Europe. Had there not been widespread shock across Europe, there never would have been reason to write the July Ultimatum. Had the July Ultimatum never been written, there would have never been reason to issue a declaration of war. Had there never been a reason to issue a declaration of war, the Secret Treaty of 1892 obliging Russia and France to go to war against Austria, Hungary and Germany (and eventually Italy) making the war a World War. Had there not been a World War, the United States of America would not have had the opportunity to emerge as a superpower.

That’s a watershed moment!

On November 28, 2010, the Seattle Times published a column by guest columnist. Frederick Lorenz, senior lecturer at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and senior peace fellow with the Public International Law and Policy Group. The topic was the future of international justice and offered Mr. Lorenz’s opinion on the role that major powers should take in this matter. The OpEd piece was entitled:

Watershed Moment For International Justice At The Hague

Politics seems to be where most watershed moments are reported. The Spokane Daily Chronicle published an article by Smith Hempstone on June 7, 1976 that reported on Spain’s watershed moment. The headline read, “Spain Seeks Strong Ties With Americans.” Among many changes in Spain was the fact that the first free elections in more than 40 years was scheduled to happen the following year. This change in Spanish politics was a major turning point in history, and the newspaper reported the following:

At this watershed moment in Spain’s history, the U.S. Senate has before it a five-year treaty of friendship and cooperation and providing for continued American use of U.S. naval facilities at Rota and of air bases at Torrejon, Saragossa and Moron. In return, Spain would receive $1.05 billion in loans for the purchase of military equipment plus Export-Import Bank credits, and $170 million in grants for other projects. This represents a quadrupling of the funds previously made available to Spain and an upgrading from executive agreement to treaty of the relationship between the two countries.

In the August 6, 1959 edition of the Spokesman Review, the newspaper reported that the Republican right-wing was sensitive about comments being made about Vice-President Richard Nixon’s relationship with the Russians. Previous to the phrase being “watershed moment” it seems that what watershed was being discussed was made clear through added details as was done in this article.

Entirely apart from political considerations, there will also be Americans who find the change of direction emotionally difficult. Yet, it seems clear that another watershed of history is here and demanding exactly the kind of direction that the President proposes to give it.

The Regina Leader-Post published an article entitled, “Mankind On The Great Divide” on January 23, 1948 that reported on then-Saskatchewan Premier Douglas, and Walter Tucker’s address to the Rotary club on the subject of Russian policy of indirect aggression towards the Western world. The second paragraph of the story dealt with the position America had on this indirect aggression.

Undoubtedly the Marshall project, which came out of the much-maligned United States, is one of the greatest factors for peace in the world today, and it may well prove that Secretary Marshall’s Harvard speech was the true watershed of the post-war period.

On August 3, 1938 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story entitled, “The Balkan States: Growing Fear Of Germany.” The story had to do with Austria’s loss of independence, the Balkan States were in danger of also being overtaken by Germany by way of complicated trade schemes and disregard for their independence. A basic overview of recent history was provided in the article and French commentator and essayist “Pertinax” aka André Géraud (18 October 1882 – December 1974) was quoted.

“March 7, 1936.” declares “Pertinax,” “appears as a decisive date in the diplomatic history of Central Europe — a watershed between two political continents. So long as the Rhine was free from German fortifications, the French Army at any time could bring irresistible pressure to bear on Hitler’s Reich. It could warn it to respect the independence of the Danubian States. It cold say ‘Thus far, and no farther.'”

Jumping back another decade, on October 18, 1925 the New York Times published an article entitled, “Locarno and The League.” The first paragraph read:

Mr. Austen Chamberlain called the Locarno Treaty “a watershed between war and peace.” It is a striking phrase — doubly significant as coming from the nation and from the man who have been roundly accused of “knifing” the Geneva Protocol. It recalls a prior saying, much ridiculed in the Senate of the United States.

And a decade before that, on July 14, 1916 the Montreal Gazette quoted British Minister of War, David Lloyd George in the article entitled, “Victory’s Tide Flower Towards Allies’ Arms.” The article printed that the Minister had said to reporters the day before:

“The overwhelming victories won by the valiant solders of Russia have struck terror into the hearts of our foes, and these, coupled with the immortal defence of Verdun by our indomitable French comrades  and the brave resistance of the Italians against overwhelming odds in the Southern Alps, have change the whole complexion of the landscape. Now, the combined offensive in the east and west has wrenched the initiative out of the hands of the enemy — never, I trust, to return to his grasp. We have crossed the watershed and now victory is beginning to flow in our direction. Why have our prospects improved? The answer is, the equipment of our armies has improved enormously and is continuing to improve.”

In fact, the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary provided this as one of three definitions for watershed:

3.  a point in time marking an important transition between two situations, or phases of an activity; a turning point.

And so while the origins of the phrase are rooted somewhere at the beginning of the 20th century,the actual phrase does not appear in print until some time in the early 1950s.

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Cutting Edge

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 14, 2011

If someone is cutting edge, it means they’re trendy and right up-to-date and if something is cutting edge, it’s the latest go-to design or technology.  But how long has there been a cutting edge is the question.

On August 17, 2009 the Computers and Internet Community magazine published an article by Russell Blanc outlining the top 5 reasons FiOS customers in New York were recommending FiOS to their friends and family.  It read in part:

Savvy New York customers choose Verizon FiOS TV and Internet service because it gives them a great deal.  In New York FiOS is one of the most recommended cable and Internet services because Verizon FiOS uses cutting edge technology to provide ultra fast and high quality TV and Internet service.

On October 12, 1982 the Montreal Gazette ran an article entitled, “California Is Still On Cutting Edge.”  It began by stating:

Out on the edge of the frontier, where the world drops of, there is always the cutting edge of society.  Frank Lloyd Wright once said that if you imagined the United States as a table and you tipped it up and all the junk and detritus fell to one side — well, that would be California.

On February 18, 1965 the following was part of an article published in the Gettysburg Times of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the column, “News In Review: Our Army In Viet Nam.”  The question in the column was: what’s wrong with our Army?  The answer was quite simple according to the journalist and he proceeded to outline what was wrong in great detail.  The story included these final words:

In other words, there are too many in the Army who do not actually think of themselves as fighting men.  It is much more pleasant to have MOS classifications as planners and suppliers.  They are, of course, strongly committed to standing firmly behind the man, behind the man, behind the Man With The Gun.  It is further unfortunate that too often promotion is more readily achieved back in the wonderland of military bureaucracy than within the formations of the “cutting edge.”

On April 20, 1950 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a situation between Russia and the United States in their article entitled, “A Warning For The Western Powers.”  The first paragraph read:

The United States protest to Russia over the shooting down of an unarmed American plane is strong but yet restrained.  A Government less careful of its responsibilities to peace might easily have given a sharper cutting edge to its demands.  Having used every possible means to verify its contentions, Washington has put on record a series of facts that expose the Soviet Note of April 11 as a shameless concoction.  At first sight that document bore all the marks of a guilty conscience, but not until the American investigations were complete could it be finally branded as a tissue of lies and distortions.

Now some dictionaries claim that the phrase is circa 1950, however, Idiomation found an earlier reference in the Milwaukee Journal dating back to February 20, 1938 in an article entitled, “The Navy, Its Size And Job, And Line Of Defense, Should Defence Ever Be Necessary.”  Dateline Washington, D.C., the article began thusly:

There is more to the United States navy than greets the eye when you see that file of wallowing battlewagons plunging towards you in the newsreel.  What you see in that picture is merely the cutting edge of an enormous machine that spreads literally around the world.  The navy is something more than just ships cruising under a tropic sky, operated by natty uniformed young men “seeing the world” on picturesque shore leave in Yokohama or Algiers. Behind all this is a sheer administrative and business problem that makes the navy “big business” with a vengeance. 

The article then goes on to describe some of the jobs in the navy that require smoothness and precision in the course of a day’s work including keeping 535 vessels and 1,122 airplanes in excellent working condition, and guarding and operating naval property that cost American taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $3,000,000,000 USD.

The expression, however, actually dates back to 1931 when a new alloy for metal turning tools was announced.  Newspapers across America stated that:

The new metal, with extremely durable cutting edge, has been formed from a combination of metal carbides.

And thus began the use of the expression “cutting edge” to describe the latest and greatest in fashion, technology and design.

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In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 27, 2011

If you’re in the dark about something, you haven’t any idea what’s going on with regards to that particular matter.  Very recently, the media reported on Operation Osama and how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept the covert operation to capture Osama bin Laden a secret from everyone including her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Many media outlets reported in part:

Recalling how he was kept in the dark by his wife who was privy to the secret moves, Bill Clinton said his calls to the Secretary of State went unreturned that fateful day.  “I placed two calls to my wife on that day, and all I was told is, ‘She’s at the White House and can’t talk to you,'” Clinton said in an interview to CNBC.

In the October 12, 1960 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, a news story entitled, “Whistling In The Dark At The United Nations” reported on comments made by the leader of the U.S.S.R., Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) who stated that some day in the future the U.S. would be a minority in the United Nations.   The news story also had this to say about other countries involved with the U.N.:

The fate of the neutrals’ motion put forward by Mr. Nehru shows that they can at present influence U.N. affairs positively only by obtaining help from East and West, presumably at a price.  For its part, the West is still smarting from the massive vote against our Mr. Menzies’ motion; and it can take small comfort from its temporary victory on the Chinese subject.  Mr. Wadsworth, hailing the victory, is whistling in the dark, too.

On June 18, 1900 the Baltimore Morning Herald published a news article that stated that not one Cabinet in Europe knew what had transpired in Pekin for 5 days and in Tien Tsin for 3 days.  No one knew that Baron Von Ketteler, German Minister at Pekin had been murdered.  There was no knowledge of the 5,000 rioters at Kwei Hsien in the Prefecture of Canton.  No one was aware that the foreign Consuls at Shanghai, the members of the Municipal Council and the officers of the volunteer forces had adopted a plan in the event it was necessary to defend themselves to the death against the local Chinese.  The news story was entitled quite simply:

All In The Dark

Morgan Peter Kavanagh (1800 – 1874) wrote and published a book in 1871 entitled, “Origin of Language And Myths, Volume II” in which he wrote on page 417:

This knowledge would have even prevented him from transmitting to other grammarians and other times his very imperfect view of the nature of adjectives and pronouns.  But in respect to these hitherto inexplicable points in grammar, Professor Latham does not appear to have been more in the dark than any of his predecessors.

Going back to 1848, a book was published that contained details about court cases in 1845 entitled “Reports Of Cases In Chancery, Argued And Determined In The Rolls Court During The Time Of Lord Langdale, Master Of The Rolls: Volume IX” by Charles Beavan, Esq., M.A., Barrister At Law.  The following is found on page 535:

Now, from that time, August 1811, down to 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, there was not one word about this claim.  Did the solicitor take the advice of counsel or not?  Was that advice adverse to the claim or not? or was it this: “Wait till the Master makes his report, and then except to it.”  All this is left entirely in the dark; but in 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, and notice had been given to the creditors to attend on settling it, the persons who now represent Young, appear before the Master and state a new case; they request him to take into consideration the interest of this sum, and also the costs, and to come to the conclusion that the principal and interest and costs are the amount of damages sustained.

In a letter dated January 23, 1829 from James Madison  (1751–  1836) to Virgina Senator William C. Rives, the following was written:

I am still in the dark as to the ground of the statement that makes Mr. Jefferson and me parties to the publication in 1801, signed, “The danger not over.”  Have you noticed in Niles’ Register of the 17th instant, page 380, an extract from an address in 1808, signed, among others, by our friend Mr. Ritchie, wishing Congress to encourage our own manufactures by higher duties on foreign, even if the present attack on our commerce should blow over, that we may be the less dependent?

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) wrote in a letter to John Franklin that when it came to considering the nature of light, starting with the assertion by Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) that light resulted from moving corpuscles, he was “much in the dark about light.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression “in the dark” in this context and based on how the expression was used by Benjamin Franklin, Idiomation suspects that this is the first example of using the expression “in the dark” to mean the speaker had no idea what was going on with regards to the matter at hand.

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Penny Wise And Pound Foolish

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2011

A few months after World War II, in Oregon, the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper ran an article on February 26, 1946 entitled, “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?” 

The story was about the proposed junior college for veterans at Klamath Falls that would use up nearly all of the estimated $450,000 USD in state reserves.  The alternate site for the junior college was the Vanport (Portland) facilities where there would be marginal costs for remodelling as there were already 4,300 vacant housing units on site, equipped and ready for immediate use. 

Over the decades leading up to that article and since then, the phrase has been used to point out the flawed thinking with regards to public, as well as private, expenditures.

In Michigan, the Ludington Daily News ran an article entitled “Fixing The Blame” on September 27, 1901 that reported:

The members of the city council who are seeking to hold up the electric light contract should remember that it is not always good policy to antagonize those men who seek to build up and improve our city.  The city can afford to be liberal in its dealings with any man, or with any enterprise that desires to do something which will benefit the city.  Compared with contracts existing in other towns, the proposition of Mr. Stearns is a very liberal one and the council cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish in its treatment of the matter.  Good man have been driven out of other cities by such an indifferent policy.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia on April 11, 1833 (but written by, and signed, “a breeder of Australian wool on March 27, 1833) the anonymous author wrote:

And it is to the want of this consistency in breeding that the undoubted degeneration of our wools is to be attributed; a degeneration which will fearfully augment, unless immediately and universally counteracted by the general infusion of pur imported blood into all our breeding animals, and by the total exclusion of that “penny wise, pound foolish” system of partial improvement, through the means of which, the bulk of our fleeces are evidently retrogading [sic].  There can exist no excuse whatever on the part of our breeders, to justify them in obstinately persisting in their present course.

English poet and dramatist, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) published The Spectator in 1712, in which he wrote:

I shall not speak to the point of cash itself, until I see how you approve of these my maxims in general : but I think a speculation upon “many a little makes a mickle, a penny saved is a penny got, penny wise and pound foolish, it is need that makes the old wife trot” would be very useful in the world: and, if you treated them with knowledge, would be useful to yourself, for it would make demands for your paper among those who have no notion of it at present.  But of these matters more hereafter.

Later in the same book, Joseph Addison wrote:

I know several of my fair readers urge in defense of this practice, that it is but a necessary provision they make for themselves, in case their husband proves a churl, or miser; so that they consider this allowance as a kind of alimony, which they may lay their claim to, without actually separating from their husbands.  But, with submission, I think a woman who will give up herself to a man in marriage, where there is the least room for such an apprehension, and trust her person to one whom she will not rely on for the common necessaries of life, may very properly be accused (in the phrase of a homely proverb) of being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The phrase is found in E. Topsell’s book “Four-footed Beasts” published in 1607:

If by couetousnesse or negligence, one withdraw from them their ordinary foode, he shall be penny wise, and pound foolish.

But, in the end, it is a Scottish proverb.  According to the Registers of the Stationers’ Company, the book “The Chapman of a Peneworth of Wit” dates back to before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and contains the phrase.  As a side note,in 1560 John Sampson aka John Awdeley aka Sampson Awdeley paid for the rights to republish “The Champan of a Peneworth of Wit” in parts under the title, “Penny-wise, Pound-foolish.”

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

Boxing Day

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 7, 2011

Boxing Day — the day after Christmas Day — is a holiday celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries.

On December 23, 1895 in the Southland News Notes of the Otaga Witness newspaper, it was reported that:

With regard to the formation of a rifle association for Southland, and the holding of a championship meeting in connection therewith, after discussion is was resolved — “That a rifle association be formed to be called the Southland Rifle Association.”  Correspondence with several country clubs having been read it was proposed — “That as of the 1st January  had been found an inconvenient date for country clubs, the first meeting of the association be held at Invercargill on Boxing Day, December 26.”

Back on December 22, 1868 the Nelson Evening Mail ran advertisements on page 3 and in Column 1, Alfred Greenfield, Provincial Secretary of the Superintendent’s Office in Nelson (New Zealand) announced that:

The public offices will be closed on —
Friday, 25th instant, Christmas Day.
Saturday, 26th instant, Boxing Day.
Friday, 1st January, New-year’s Day.

On December 30, 1845 in the Sydney Morning Herald, there was a brief article entitled  “Christmas And Boxing Day.”   It stated:

A by no means bad test of the manner in which Christmas Day was passed throughout the town and district was afforded by Friday’s Police Court presenting not a single case of drunkenness on the free list, or indeed any other charges.

It continued by stating later in the same article:

Saturday’s police list exhibited the same gratifying report of Boxing Day as that day’s list did of Christmas Day.  Not a single free case of drunkenness, and only three charges for such offence on the bond list, all ticket holders, and who were discharged, one of them stating by the way that he had taken “a spell” from drink for five years until the previous day; the bend advised him to go and take another spell for another five years.

That the day after Christmas should be referred to as Boxing Day attests to the fact that the term was understood to mean the day after Christmas and was not in question.

It is said that Boxing Day originated in England under Queen Victoria’s reign and since the phrase cannot be found in publications in reference to the day after Christmas prior to her reign, it is likely to be an accurate representation of when the day after Christmas became known as Boxing Day.

Historians, however, are still at odds as to why the day after Christmas is referred to as Boxing Day.

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