Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

If Worse Comes To Worst

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2021

Last week, Idiomation took on the benefit of the doubt. The opposite to that is to assume the worst, and worse yet is if worse comes to worst! But where did the expression if worse comes to worst come from and what does it really mean?  It means if the worst that could possibly happen actually does happen, then you have gone from whatever your current situation is to an even worse situation. In fact, it’s gone to the very worst situation possible.

Now you may have heard the expression as if worse comes to worse and you may have heard the expression as if worst come to worst as well, and at the end of the day, the three expressions are mild variations of the other two.

In the July 2004 article “It’s The Economy, Right? Guess Again” published in the New York Times and written by Louis Uchitelle that addressed the issue of whether then-campaigning Senator John Kerry’s comments on an Administration under his leadership was sound. Considering what John Kerry had to say on cutting the deficit, budget surpluses, and recreating the economy of the Bill Clinton years, the journalist reported John Kerry’s words as spoken and presented them for the loud comments they were.

“Health care is sacrosanct,” Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.

“Listen,” he said, “if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities.”

And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro (TN) ran an article in their 09 November 1941 edition with the expression. The interviewee was a man by the name of Sterling Owen ‘Dump’ Edmonds (28 March 1871 – 14 March 1954) and following in his father’s footsteps, he was a mastermind in mechanics.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling’s father was more than just a mechanic in Eagleville. He also owned and operating a funeral home, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and a grain hauling business all at the same time.  He said in 1911 he got the idea to invent a trailer truck, and then he went ahead and built a trailer truck. Then he patented the idea in 1916. It was the kind of invention that interested the government, and because of that, his trailer truck idea was used by the U.S. Government during the first World War.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1916, Sterling Edmonds filed a worldwide patent for a six-wheel truck. In 1917, Sterling Edmonds filed his patent for automotive towage. In 1932, he created the So-Easy Jacks for big trucks.  He also came up with a great many other inventions including a revolving sign with cylinders at filling stations, the automatic lipstick tube, hydraulic lifts for dump trucks, a revolving rural mailbox, milk coolers and insulated receptacles for milk bottles, and he suggested guardrails on roads.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Sterling Edmonds was married to Ethel Morrow whose uncle, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was the founder of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg (TN).

When he was interviewed in 1941 by Mary B. Hughes for her article, “Eagleville Inventor of Trailer Truck Gave Patent to U.S. In World War I” he had this to say about his then-most recent invention the pressure pump, and the difficulties he had obtaining materials due to the war.

“But,” says Edmonds philosophically, “if worse comes to worst, I’ll dismiss it from my mind and invent something else.”

As yet, however, business at the Edmonds shop in the Eagleville community hasn’t felt the pinch of priorities. “My pumps are going at the rate of two a day and I have more orders than I can fill,” commented the crossroads Edison.

The idiom has been around quite some time, and is used by English trader, writer, pamphleteer and spy, Daniel Defoe (1660 – 24 April 1731) in his book “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” which was published on 25 April 1719. This passage is found in Chapter XIV titled, “A Dream Realised.”

I looked upon my present condition as the most miserable that could possibly be; that I was not able to throw myself into anything but death, that could be called worse; and if I reached the shore of the main I might perhaps meet with relief, or I might coast along, as I did on the African shore, till I came to some inhabited country, and where I might find some relief; and after all, perhaps I might fall in with some Christian ship that might take me in: and if the worst came to the worst, I could but die, which would put an end to all these miseries at once. Pray note, all this was the fruit of a disturbed mind, an impatient temper, made desperate, as it were, by the long continuance of my troubles, and the disappointments I had met in the wreck I had been on board of, and where I had been so near obtaining what I so earnestly longed for—somebody to speak to, and to learn some knowledge from them of the place where I was, and of the probable means of my deliverance.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: The first edition of Defoe’s book credited Robinson Crusoe as the author which, of course, led readers to believe Robinson Crusoe was real and that the book was a detailed accounting of true incidents that happened to Robinson Kreutznaer over the course of 28 years.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Defoe was a bit of a bad boy before publishing “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” His small business went bankrupt in 1692, and his political pamphleteering got him in so much trouble he was arrested and tried for seditious libel in 1703. This may explain why the first edition stated it was written by Robinson Crusoe.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Defoe only began writing fiction once he turned 60. He died in London one day after the 12th anniversary of the publication of “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.”

Going back two more generations to English poet, translator, playwright, and literary critic, John Dryden (19 August 1631 – 12 May 1700) wrote “Sir Martin Mar-All, Or, The Geign’d Innocence: A Comedy” published in 1668. In Act II, Scene I, Lady Dupe and Mrs. Christian are speaking and the dialogue makes use of the idiom.

LADY DUPE
Therefore you desire his lordship, as he loves you, of which you are confident, henceforward to forbear his visits to you.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But how, if he should take me at my word?

LADY DUPE
Why, if the worst come to the worst, he leaves you an honest woman, and there’s an end on’t: But fear not that; hold out his messages, and then he’ll write, and that is it, my bird, which you must drive it to: Then all his letters will be such ecstasies, such vows and promises, which you must answer short and simply, yet still ply out of them your advantages.

MRS. CHRISTIAN
But, madam! he’s in the house, he will not write.

Thomas Middleton (1580 – 4 July 1627) wrote the Jacobean play, “The Phoenix” which was performed at Court before King James on 20 February 1604. Middleton, along with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson, were among the most prolific and successful of playwrights during the time period.  In his play, “The Phoenix” in Act III, Scene I Proditor tells Phoenix his plan to pretend that the duke’s son plotted to murder the duke which will then allow Proditor’s men to murder the prince. From there things only go downhill! This prompts the inclusion of this in the dialogue:

The worst comes to the worst.

But it was in the pamphlet “Have With You to Saffron-Walden, Or, Gabriel Harveys Hunt Is Up” written by Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – 1601) printed in 1596 that has the first published version of the expression. It was written as a response to Gabriel Harvey’s 1593 pamphlet that attacked Thomas Nashe. To make it absolutely clear to any interested party who, specifically, Thomas Nashe wrote about, the author included Gabriel Harvey’s birthplace of Saffron Walden in the title.  In this instance, Nashe was comparing dying by drowning to dying by burning.

O, you must not conclude so desperate, for every tossing billow brings not death in the mouth of it; besides, if the worst come to the worst, a good swimmer may do much,
whereas fire rapit omnia secum, sweepeth clean where it seizeth.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: The pamphlet also includes a reference to the line Fee-fi-fo-fum and identifies it as an old rhyme with obscure origins back in 1596!

For Thomas Nashe to use the expression so easily in his pamphlet in 1596, it had to be an expression that was known and understood by those who read such pamphlets, and as such while the first published version is 1596, it’s a safe determination that the expression was around in the 1550s if not earlier.

In many ways, the expression if worse comes to worst brings to mind the idiom when push comes to shove which, it would appear, is the next idiom to be hunted down on Idiomation.

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

Pulls My Trigger

Posted by Admin on July 29, 2013

Phil Williams of NewsTalk 98.7 FM out of Knoxville made the comment that a certain news story pulled his trigger. The manner in which the comment was used indicated that he felt strongly on the subject. But what did he mean by that?

If someone says that someone or something pulls their trigger, what they mean is that they feel very strongly about that person or the topic being discussed. It’s an intense reaction where the person whose trigger is pulled takes a stand, and that’s all there is to it! Whether it’s positive or negative is entirely dependent upon the specific situation.

Atlanta, Georgia singer-songwriter, Jeff Silver and Josh Osborne wrote a song about a woman that’s nothing but trouble but she somehow knows how to get men all worked up over her feminine wiles. It appeared on his 2008 release for Silvercraft Records entitled “Looking Forward Looking Back.” The song’s title is, of course, “Pulls My Trigger” and the last line in the chorus is:

That girl pulls my trigger every time.

When author/blogger Crystal Green aka Christine Cody aka Chris Marie Green reviewed the Superman movie she blogged about in her June 28, 2005 spoiler-filled blog entry “Superman Returns To Men” she wrote in part:

Girls and boys, he totally pulls my trigger. If you’re prone to heroics, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My gosh, you’ve never seen Superman done like this before. The guy can fly all right, but this time out, instead of being all, “La la la” as he meanders through the skies, he’s a rocket.

Two years before that, Laura Nation published an article entitled, “How Not To Treat Customers” that appeared in the Cleburne News edition of November 20, 2003. While she acknowledged that dealing with the public could sometimes be rough, she also maintained that if you have a job, you need to do that job to the best of your abilities.

Well, that always pulls my trigger. I try never to tell anyone what they’ll have to do. They don’t have to do anything.

And back on November 13, 1999 there was a 2-page testimony about the annual pig roast held at Mom’s Biker Bar in Longview, Texas that a group of friends from Louisiana attended. They were all (according to the author, John L. Doughty, Jr) the author’s “beer-drinkin’ and pool-shootin’ buddies and the leading citizens of Tullos.” The website retelling of the event took up 2 pages, complete with photographs to accompany the storytelling. And at one point, the author wrote:

I suppose by now some of y’all have figured out that little miss Wild Thang pulls my trigger. Here she is again in a sneaky shot I took with a telephoto lens. Around midnight that night and at least 6 long necks later when she was even less inhibited than her normal uninhibited self and so was I, she posed for a very good shot. Alas, alas, alas, the batteries were dead in my camera. There ain’t no justice.

Now then, John L. Doughty, Jr.is out of Louisiana, the Cleburne News is out of Alabama, Jeff Silver lives in Georgia, and Phil Williams is from Tennessee. So is it possible that this expression is a southern saying?

Possibly, however the expression showed up in a blog article written by blogger Jami Dwyer of Portland, Oregon and published to her Appreciator blog site on May 31, 2008. The entry was entitled, “Why No Sasquatch Next Year” where she wrote about her experience at the Sasquatch Music Festival that weekend. Her insight into the event expressed the good and not-so-good aspects of the festival, and included this tidbit:

I waved my bracelet at ID Dude #1, he spied my myriad gray hairs, and waved me through. But as I tried to move forward, ID Dude #2 said, in full authoritarian mode, “Your ID! Where’s your ID!”

Now, nothing pulls my trigger faster than a mean person.

“This is ridiculous!” I said. “I’ve been checked!” I said, waving my wristband. “YOU checked me!”

And in the Washington Post on November 16, 2006 in article written by Ugochi Onyeukwu, student journalist for the Cardozo Owl newspaper of Cardozo Senior High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C. The school has had some famous alumni over the years including, but not limited to, J. Edgar Hoover and John S. McCain, Jr. The article took on the issue or violence and the gun pledge. The piece was aptly entitled:

Why The Gun Pledge Pulls My Trigger

This indicates that either this is an expression that’s known and understood across the U.S. or it’s a southern expression that has migrated north and west (since it’s more prevalent in the south than in the north). But all that said and done, Idiomation was unable to trace it back to anything published prior to 1999.

That it was used with such ease and with the expectation of being understood underscores the fact that there is a history to this idiom; it just hasn’t been uncovered yet. That being said, Idiomation welcomes any leads on this idiom so its roots can finally be uncovered and shared with readers and visitors of this blog site.

Posted in Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cotton Pickin’ Minute

Posted by Admin on March 14, 2011

On March 11, 2011 Conservative Senator Don Meredith accused Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff of using a racist slur when he uttered the phrase “cotton pickin’ minute.”

Idiomation is providing the history of the phrase here — along with newspaper articles to illustrate the phrase — for those who are wondering how the phrase came about and whether it is a racist slur.

Back on November 17, 2009 on the NBA website, the following was part of the article published to The Optimist page:

I know this is a basketball column, and I’ll get to the Cavaliers fifth straight win in just a cotton-pickin’ minute. But these anemic performances by the Browns cannot stand! Not if we’re going to win the Lombardi Trophy before stuff starts blowing up. I’m so old, I remember when the Browns used to score touchdowns. Several of them – IN A SINGLE GAME!

Glen McAdoo wrote a piece for the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard on July 25, 2005 that was entitled, “Just A Cotton Pickin’ Minute.”  In his piece, he included this bit:

It seems like they are intent on coming up with a new tax, or an increase in an old one, just about every week. Where I was raised folks would be saying, “Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute. Tell me again why ya’all are doin’ this.”

Back on August 21, 2001 in a Letter to the Editor from Jonathan F Phillips to The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville (TN), Mr. Phillips wrote in part:

Now wait a cotton pickin minute. Tennessee had plenty of tobacco settlement money to fight any and all tobacco ads aimed at children. But where is that tobacco settlement money going?

It would appear that the phrase has been used quite a bit in the past decade alone and in newspapers throughout the southern states no less.  But how far back does that phrase go?

The Lawrence Journal World newspaper ran an advertisement on May 15, 1963 written by Lee of Ramsey’s Decorating Service in Lawrence, KS.  Entitled, “Take A Color Pickin Minute” it began with:

I do not mean a cotton pickin’ minute, I mean a color pickin’ minute.  That’s all it takes to obtain the exact color that is proper for you, your home, and its attractiveness.

And on December 7, 1958 Herbert Jay Vida wrote an article entitled “Notes On My Cuff” for the Los Angeles Times that began:

HOLD IT NOW — Now just hold on for a cotton pickin’ minute.

Back in 1914, The Courier published a story about a 17-year-old teenager named Claude Rice.  The newspaper was mighty proud of the young lad for the following reason:

The world’s record cotton picking has been excelled by a boy named Claude RICE, 17 years old, living at Biggers, Randolph county. The boy was picking on a wager of 1,000 pounds of cotton. He picked 1,193 pounds of cotton in 12 hours and 35 minutes. The first three hours he averaged 120 pounds an hour. In 30 minutes from 4:00 to 4:30 o’clock, he picked 56 pounds. RICE is a member of the boy’s corn club of Randolph County, known as the largest corn club in the United States. John R. KIZER, farm adviser, supervised the contest. The boy sold his cotton at ten cents a pound.

As readers can see, there’s no mention as to Claude Rice’s cultural background.  What we do know is that the teen surely could pick cotton!

Now, back in the day, picking cotton required considerable labour to clean and separate the fibers from the seeds.  The problem with hand picking cotton was that dried bristles off the plant cut and scarred fingers, wrists and arms of those who picked cotton by hand. 

The first attempts at building a functional mechanical cotton picker was patented in the U.S. as early as 1850.  Samuel S. Rembert and Jedidiah Prescott patented a cotton-harvesting machine in Memphis, Tennessee that included this information in the original patent notes:

Our cotton picking machine can be duplicated and extended to such a width as to embrace several rows of cotton at once.

Over the next 100 years, over 1,800 patents were issued in the U.S. for cotton harvesting machines.  With more and more cotton picking machines being bought by landowners, field hands who used to pick cotton found themselves replaced by these new-fangled cotton-picking machines. 

While a skilled field hand could pick 20 pounds of cotton in an hour, a mechanical picker could pick 1,000 pounds in that same hour.  It didn’t take long for owners to realize that a bale of cotton (a bale of cotton weighed 500 pounds) cost them 8 times more to have them picked by hand than if they had them picked by machine.  In other words, a cotton picking minute — on the whole — was definitely more beneficial to owners when done by machine.

By the late 1960s, 96% of cotton crops in the U.S. were done by mechanical cotton picking machines.

But is “cotton picking” an insult? 

The phrase “cotton picking” arose in the southern U.S. states sometime during the 1700s and was used to describe something that was unpleasant or troublesome.  Back then, cotton was a garden crop tended by white as well as black Southerners and the cotton was turned into cloth for home use in much the same that flax was turned into cloth for home use in the North.

Cotton-picking” became part of the vernacular in the U.S. and in time, it was the phrase swapped in for unacceptable comments such as “God-damn” or “damn” when in polite society or if women were present.

The verdict:  Cotton pickin’ minute is not a racial slur but calling someone a cotton picker could be considered an insult.

Related Entry:  “Screw Loose” from March 3, 2011.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »