Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘The History of the Worthies of England’

Make Ends Meet

Posted by Admin on July 19, 2011

When you can make both ends meet, it means that you have enough money coming into your household to pay for the expenses being made by your household.  The opposite of this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the Times-Herald Record newspaper of Middletown, New York, a Letter to the Editor written by James F. Leiner of New Windsor was published on July 13, 2010.   His letter addressed two featured news articles in the newspaper on July 10, 2010 about dealing with celebrity basketball player, LeBron James.  The letter stated in part:

There was no other noteworthy news to report?  How about mentioning the shame of paying a guy $96 million to play a game while people in Orange County are struggling to pay their taxes and make ends meet? We face the largest tax increase in the history of our country on Jan. 1, 2011, and that fact fails to make a mention anywhere in your missal.

In Jack London‘s book, “Burning Daylight” published in 1910, the author shares this intriguing exchange between two men dealing with pay-roll.

Two weeks later, with the pay-roll before them, it was:–

“Matthewson, who’s this bookkeeper, Rogers? Your nephew? I thought so. He’s pulling down eighty-five a month.

After — this let him draw thirty-five. The forty can ride with me at interest.”

“Impossible!” Matthewson cried. “He can’t make ends meet on his salary as it is, and he has a wife and two kids–“

Daylight was upon him with a mighty oath.

In 1824, Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) dedicated his book “Bureaucracy” to Comtesse Seraphina San Severino with the respectful homage of sincere and deep admiration.”  In Chapter IV entitled, “Three-Quarter Length Portraits Of Certain Government Officials” the following is found:

Once a month he took Zelie to the theatre, with tickets bestowed by du Bruel or Bixiou; for Bixiou was capable of anything, even of doing a kindness. Monsieur and Madame Minard paid their visits in person on New-Year’s day.  Those who saw them often asked how it was that a woman could keep her husband in good clothes, wear a Leghorn bonnet with flowers, embroidered muslin dresses, silk mantles, prunella boots, handsome fichus, a Chinese parasol, and drive home in a hackney-coach, and yet be virtuous; while Madame Colleville and other “ladies” of her kind could scarcely make ends meet, though they had double Madame Minard’s means.

In 1784,naval surgeon and novelist Tobias Smollett wrote in his book “The Adventures of Roderick Random” thusly:

In the course of our conversation, which was interlarded with scraps of Latin, we understood that this facetious person was a schoolmaster, whose income being small, he was fain to keep a glass of good liquor for the entertainment of passengers by which he made shift to make the two ends of the year meet. “I am this day,” said he, “the happiest old fellow in his majesty’s dominions. My wife, rest her soul, is in heaven. My daughter is to be married next week; but the two chief pleasures of my life are these (pointing to the bottle and a large edition of Horace that lay on the table). I am old, ’tis true–what then? the more reason I should enjoy the small share of life that remains, as my friend Flaccus advises: ‘Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi finem dii dederint. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.'”

Thomas Fuller’s book, “The History of the Worthies of England” published in 1661 provides this example of the expression:

Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses.

When all is said and done, however, the English phrase is a translation of the French saying “joindre les deux bouts” which became popular at the onset of the Renaissance era from 1450 through to 1600.  It is during this era that ruff collars — high standing pleated collars made of starched linen or lace — also known as millstone collars, came into vogue and were especially favoured in France. 

The more affluent the individual, the larger the ruff collar.  However, those who wore such collars had to preserve them when dining.  If the collars were too large for the wearer to reach around and tie both ends of a large serviette around the neck, this had to be done by servants.  The original expression was that the wearer of the ruff collar “avait du mal à joindre les deux bouts” … “had trouble making both ends [of the serviette] meet.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to this phrase prior to the Renaissance era.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Carry Coals To Newcastle

Posted by Admin on February 4, 2011

If you carry coals to Newcastle, what you’re doing is redundant and unnecessary. So why would someone want to carry coals to Newcastle, figuratively or literally? No one knows for sure but there are more than a few examples of it happening.

The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette of September 27, 1900 where it was reported that the Klondike wanted ice and was paying exorbitant prices for it in during the summer months.

[Consul J.C. McCook] says there has been an abundance of wild blueberries, currants, raspberries and cranberries this summer. Cattle herders on the hills and a few Indians gather the berries and bring them to Dawson, receiving from $1 to $1.50 a quart. The idea of building an ice plant in Dawson seems like “carrying coals to Newcastle.” The lack of ice in summer, however, has been seriously felt, and a contract has been given fo an ice machine, to be placed in a cold storage warehouse. The cost of ice this summer has been 5 cents a pound, or at a rate of $100 per ton.

In the Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon, the following was reported:

It was not, therefore, without surprize, that at my last visit to the works in the year 1830, I perceived several score of large casks of Stourbridge fire clay in the yard, which had been brought over from England at considerable expense. It seemed to be verifying the proverb of carrying coals to Newcastle. I was informed, however, in London, that as the directors had determined to adhere strictly to Mr. Twigg’s suggestions, and to leave the responsibility of success upon him, so, in such a comparatively trivial matter as bringing fire clay from Stourbridge, it was judged more advisable to incur that expense, and to let Mr. Twigg be thoroughly satisfied, as to the excellence and durability of his materials, than to leave any excuse for failure.

In Thomas Fuller’s book, “The History of the Worthies of England” which was published in 1661, Fuller wrote:

To carry Coals to Newcastle, that is to do what was done before; or to busy one’s self in a needless imployment.

And in 1606, Thomas Heywood wrote ‘If you know not me, you know no bodie: or, the troubles of Queene Elizabeth‘ in which coals and Newcastle are referenced in this way:

 As common as coales from Newcastle.

Now it’s a fact that people knew from the time King Henry III granted Newcastleupon-Tyne a charter for the digging of coals — making it the first coal port in the world — in 1239, that carrying coals to Newcastle was a pointless task. And being able to read or write didn’t determine whether you were smart enough to know that carrying coals to Newcastle was a pointless task. People from all social classes were well aware that it made no sense to carry coals to Newcastle.

It’s also a fact that in 1344, Edward III made a decree that all coal from the Durham and Gateshead side of the Tyne was required to pass through Newcastle for transport, further cementing the concept that it was pointless to carry coals to Newcastle.

Despite numerous claims — in various publications and from reputable online sources — that the first recorded instance of the contextualized saying appears in 1538 in England, Idiomation was unable to locate the exact written passage.

However, it would make sense that it would appear in print sometime around 1538 for one  reason in particular. In 1530, a Royal Act restricted all shipments of coal from Tyneside to Newcastle Quayside, giving a monopoly in the coal trade to a cartel of Newcastle burgesses known as the Hostmen. This monopoly, which lasted for a considerable time, helped Newcastle prosper.  With a monopoly on coal in Newcastle, one can easily see the probability of the phrase being an off-shoot from that action.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »