Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit’

Bold As Brass

Posted by Admin on June 14, 2016

When someone is bold as brass, it means they’re confident to the point of being impolite and disrespectful, and sometimes beyond that point.

In the Daily Mail edition of June 4, 2016 the Tatler Tory Scandal was the subject of the article, “Tatler Tory’s Threats At Baroness’s Carlton Club Drinks Party.”  Written by the Political Editor for the Daily Mail, Simon Walters, it addressed the claim that David Cameron’s election aide, Mark Clarke, had, among other things, caused an uproar at a party hosted by Baroness Pidding on September 7, 2015.  The idiom was used by in the quote from Paul Abbott, the chief of staff to former Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Mr. Abbott said Clarke had ‘walked up to her [the guest], bold as brass, and threatened her, saying he knew the names of at least two CWF volunteer who had made complaints [against Clarke to the Tory HQ inquiry].’

Part VII of “The Baby’s Grandmother” by Scottish novelist L.B. (Lucy Bethia) Walford (17 April 1845 – 11 May 1915) was published in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (Volume 135) of April 1884.  Ms. Walford wrote forty-five books, most of them light-hearted domestic comedies, including this one.  The idiom was used Part VII as follows.

“Oh, it’s all right, ma’am, it’s quite within the limits, I believe,” rejoined Mr Tufnell, who had learned much within the last half-hour; “it took me rather aback, I own, at the first blush, but — well, well, we must not be too particular to-night.  And to return to Miss Juliet Appleby –“

“And not a bit ashamed of herself!” murmured the lady, still dubiously scanning the gay vivandière, “skipping and twirling as bold as brass.”

“Eh? What?” cried her companion, pricking up his ears.  “As bold as brass, did you say? Who’s as bold as brass?”

“That flibbertigibbet Mary –“

Just as with the word cattywampus, the idiom bold as brass was used in Charles Dickens’ book, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.”  Chapter 27 (where the idiom appears) is prefaced with this statement:  Showing that old friends may not only appear with new faces, but in false colours.  That people are prone to Bite, and that biters may sometimes be bitten.

‘Why, you’re as bold as brass!’ said Jonas, in the utmost admiration.

‘A man can well afford to be as bold as brass, my good fellow, when he gets gold in exchange!’ cried the chairman, with a laugh that shook him from head to foot. ‘You’ll dine with me to-morrow?’

‘At what time?’ asked Jonas.

‘Seven. Here’s my card. Take the documents. I see you’ll join us!’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Jonas. ‘There’s a good deal to be looked into first.’

‘You shall look,’ said Montague, slapping him on the back, ‘into anything and everything you please. But you’ll join us, I am convinced. You were made for it. Bullamy!’

George Parker’s book “Life’s Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life” published in 1789, appears to be the first published example of the idiom.

“He died damn’d hard and as bold as brass. An expression commonly used among the vulgar after returning from an execution.”

In the 1570s, a person who was without modesty and who showed no shame for bad behavior was called brass.  Boldness wasn’t included in the description of such a person, but obviously someone without modesty and without shame would be perceived as being bold in their bad behavior.  What this means is that for at least two hundred years, some people were bold as brass but it wasn’t expressed that way in print until 1789.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cattywampus

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2016

Beginning in 1919, moonshine was outlawed and so many of the farmers in the southern United States hid their stills deep in the caverns that dotted their countryside.  In the evening, when all the work on the farm was done and the menfolk wanted to gather without the womenfolk knowing about it, all it took was the sound of a shotgun to set things in motion.

The sound of a shotgun meant that one of the farmers had seen a Wampus Cat, a fearsome variation of cougar with glowing eyes, that haunted the forests of East Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky.  When the shot was fired, everyone within earshot came running.

Of course, once everyone was gathered, they’d slip on down into the cavern where the moonshine still was hidden away, and indulge in some man cave time away from the women.  In 1943, all that changed due to changes in the law regarding moonshine.  But the fact that the cattywampus was blamed only served to make the fictional animal all the more real over the years.

In 1916, the Fourth Estate (which was a “newspaper for the makers of newspapers and investors in advertising” according to its tagline) carried an interesting tidbit about the cattywampus in its New Year’s Day edition.

The “Wampus Cat” is the latest creation of Charles H. Gatchell, cartoonist for the Cleveland (Ohio) Press and creator of the “Colonel Al Ibi” series.  Someone in the office remarked recently that “Gatch” was a “Wampus Cat” at making cartoons, and “Gatch” immediately drew up plans and specifications for what he thought a “Wampus Cat” ought to look like.

Imagine the consternation among the art staff when a scientific subscriber wrote in and stated that there really is such an animal as a “Wampus Cat” and that it doesn’t look anything like “Gatch’s” characterization.

On page 225 of Volume 4 of “Dialect Notes” published by the University of Alabama Press in 1917, a definition for catawampus (or wampus cat) was included.

Catawampus (or wampus) cat, n.phr. A virago.  “She’s a regular catawampus cat.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  A virago is the word used to describe a domineering, aggressive woman.

Charles Dickens’ serialized story “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” published in 1843 through 1844 used the word catawampous in the sense that’s found in the stories of the southern U.S. States.  Perhaps it’s because he had returned from a six-month voyage to America with his wife, Catherine, in 1842 that he included it in this story.

“Snakes more,” says he; “rattle-snakes. You’re right to a certain extent, stranger. There air some catawampous chawers in the small way too, as graze upon a human pretty strong; but don’t mind THEM — they’re company. It’s snakes,” he says, “as you’ll object to; and whenever you wake and see one in a upright poster on your bed,” he says, “like a corkscrew with the handle off a-sittin’ on its bottom ring, cut him down, for he means wenom.”‘

IMPORTANT NOTE 2:  Charles Dickens did not enjoy his trip abroad in America.  He was appalled at the commonness of society (which included spitting tobacco into a spittoon) and insulted at how poorly he was treated by the press.  He held no hope for America achieving any sort of moral improvement, and disapproved of slavery.

It would be easy to let the trail end here, however, the fictional Wampus Cat isn’t the beginning of the expression catawampus or cattywampus.  The word appears in Volume 16 of Punch magazine published in 1849 where it’s used in a story titled, “A Few Days In The Diggins” by a “Free and Independent.”  The author, it would seem, wished to remain anonymous.  That being said, this is the passage that includes the word.

Toted my tools to Hiram K. Doughboy’s boarding shanty, and settled with him for blankets and board at 30 dollars per diem.  Catawampus prices here, that’s a fact; but everybody’s got more dust than he knows what to do with.

By 1864, the word cattywampus was understood in the United States of America to mean that something was askew, out of whack, or wrong which is the meaning the word carries to this day.  But back in the 1830s, the word was used as an adverb in the sense of “utterly and completely.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the word.  In light of the fact that cattywampus was published in the 1830s implies it was used in conversation in years leading up to the 1830s so Idiomation pegs this to a generation earlier to about 1800.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »