Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘The Newfoundlander’

Do The Graceful

Posted by Admin on May 21, 2021

Last week on social media, people were talking about the idiom to do the graceful which they claimed was an expression from the Victorian era and meant to charm or fascinate others. As Idiomation had never heard that idiom before, it seemed odd that such an idiom existed however since it was a topic of hot discussion in various author and writer groups online, it was worth researching.

At first glance, the idiom seems to be missing a word. It seems wanting in that respect as in do the graceful thing. However there is one thing Idiomation has learned, it is to never assume a word is missing or that the idiom is used in its entirety. For that reason, Idiomation researched the exact idiom: do the graceful.

Before Idiomation delves into what we learned, first off, it must be noted that the idiom actually means to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean to charm or fascinate others, although charm and fascination may be used in order to behave gracefully or fittingly for a given situation.

Now let’s get on with what Idiomation uncovered about this idiom.

In Episode 10 of the Sourcegraph podcast, Matt Holt, author of a number of open-source projects including the popular Caddy web server, was interviewed. In the podcast, he talked about his motivation for creating the Caddy web server, and the challenges of maintaining the open-source project. In this interview, he used the idiom.

We even have graceful reloads working in Windows, which is not something other web servers really offer because the way we handle network and do the graceful.

The Detroit Free Press reported on page 6 of the Saturday, 7 December 1935 edition that influential Republicans claimed to have solved the riddle of Palo Alto after going after Herbert Hoover weeks earlier to ask him what he was up to and why. Here is what the newspaper published in part.

Mr. Hoover quietly informed the curious that he did not want and would not seek the nomination. Barring a miracle, he senses that the surest way to re-enthrone the despised New Deal would be for him to run again. He promised to renounce the unoffered crown but he reserved the right to decide when he should take himself out of the race. His ulterior motive gives a tip on when he will do the graceful.

The idiom was found in The Mitre which was a monthly publication for the students of Bishop’s University and the Boys of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec. The copy Idiomation found was from October 1902. In this edition, the rules for how freshman were to act was included as a welcome to the new men entering the college that Fall. Of course, the rules listed weren’t part of the College rules handed to each new student upon registration at the College, but new students were advised to “carefully study and literally follow” the rules including this one:

2. Freshman when they meet their seniors on the street, should always do the graceful, and touch their trencher or cap.

It was in The Newfoundlander newspaper of 12 February 1875 that an article about the hasty actions of Grand Duke Alexis — a Russian aristocrat who had fascinated a number of society belles in New York when he visited the United States of America — included the idiom. Before embarking on his voyage to America, the Grand Duke had fallen head over heels in love with the daughter of a high official of the Council of Empire, declared his passion, enjoyed the reciprocation of that passion, and secretly married. The marriage remained a secret for nearly three months, and as the saying at the time went, “marriage, like murder, will out.”

The voyage to America, and the very long return home by way of Japan and Siberia, was meant to cure the Grand Duke Alexis of his love, with the hopes that while he was cooling his heels with other women of high breeding, his family and their representatives could talk his mistake into leaving him for a generous financial settlement. But here’s what happened instead according to the newspaper.

But she would do nothing of the sort, not even when she was told that she could name the financial terms and receive the money when and where she wished. She loved Alexis and had married him, and would remain his wife until death should do the graceful for one of them. Possibly the Count hoped that the pale warrior would begin on her at an early date, but if he thought so he did not say so. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and was as unsuccessful as the most earnest admirer of pig-headed constancy in love could desire. Next day, the diplomat called again, but she would not see him, and after trying the intercession of a Russian lady of high position who happened to be in Geneva, he gave up the effort and took the train for Paris.

Indeed, in 1875 the expression was used by many. Another example was found in the Yerington Times edition of 28 November 1875 — Yerington being in Nevada — with regards to a gathering at the state capitol on Thanksgiving Day. At the local theater, the writer of the article took in a show where he and his friend found John Jack and the Firmin Sisters (Katie and Annie) performing before a “large and fashionably dressed audience.” Once the performance concluded, the benches were cleared and the orchestra began to play music to the delight of those in attendance.

It was reported that the reporter and some new-found friends from the Tribune did their best to “keep time with the music and off the ladies’ dresses” and they admitted that “the trails of only some fifteen or twenty dresses will probably have to visit the dressmaker’s to recuperate from the havoc by [their] No. 11’s.” Once all that was admitted, the idiom appeared.

Miss F. certainly has the charm of dispelling the gloom that settles around a timid reporter’s soul as he finds himself trying to do the graceful among strangers, and the gentleman who procured the introduction has been instrumental in setting a “little bird singing in our heart.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Annie Firmin and John Jack were married, but she still was known as Miss Annie Firmin to theater patrons and promoters.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Annie Firmin was represented by Mrs. John Drew who was one of the premiere theatrical agents in Philadelphia. Over the years Mrs. Drew represented Annie Firmin, Annie became well known throughout the theatrical profession as a reputable and respected actress. and long before she met the actor John Jack.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: John Jack (1 February 1836 – 16 September 1913) began his career as a call boy in the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he made his appearance as an actor where he quickly built up an enviable reputation as a performer of diverse professional talents and abilities including a sought after reputation as a stage manager.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Annie was John Jack’s second wife whom he married years after the death of first wife, Adelaide Reed.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: At the outbreak of the American Civil War through to the end, John Jack severed his theatrical connections and enlisted in the Federal Army. He sustained wounds that sent him to hospital, but even wounded, when there was a threat of rioting in connection with drafting difference forces into the war, he recruited other injured men to address the insurrection.

The idiom also appeared in the Wednesday, 23 March 1870 edition of the Port of Spain Gazette from Trinidad. The Gazette shared a news article from London dated 1 March 1870 with regards to the political news that Lord Derby had refused to accept the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It was thought that Lord Derby’s acceptance of the post would have been a guarantee that his fellow Conservatives would have considered all the changes the majority in the lower House sought.

The Duke of Richmond was suggested by Lord Salibury, which was seconded by Lord Derby and supported by Lord Carnarvon. The article then described the fanfare that goes with the ceremony in the House of Lords.

Seating himself, he puts on his cocked hat, then he salutes the Lord Chancellor, and rising, goes back to the woolsack to pay his respects to the noble and learned lord. The cocked hat is the greatest trouble on these occasions, as noble lords are apt to knock off that unwonted covering, in an endeavour to do the graceful.

Wondering if perhaps the expression was a relatively new one in that era, Idiomation continued researching and found this passage in the Daily Evansville Journal of Evansville (IN) in Vanderburgh County on 22 May 1862 under the heading “River News.”

The ever prompt and swift gliding Bowen, with Capt. Dexter and Billy Lowth to do the graceful, will leave at the usual hour this afternoon for Cairo and all down river towns. Pay your money early and secure state-rooms.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published example of the idiom however since the Victoria era was from 1837 through to 1901, Idiomation confirms the idiom was definitely used during the Victorian era. That Idiomation was unable to find a published version prior to 1862 lends credence to the claim it is an idiom from the Victorian era.

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Sheila’s Brush

Posted by Admin on March 19, 2015

On St. Patrick’s Day, Idiomation shared the history and meaning of the word begorrah.  It seems only fitting that Idiomation should also share the history and meaning of the idiom Sheila’s brush as there’s a connection between Paddy and Sheila, and it’s one that’s been known for many generations … especially among Atlantic Maritimers in Canada.

For those who know the idiom, Sheila’s brush refers to a fierce storm with heavy snowfall that happens in and about St. Patrick’s Day.  And this year, Sheila’s brush was particularly severe in the Maritimes up in Canada.  According to the Weather Network, weather forecasters were warning Newfoundlanders to prepare for 30 centimeters of snow before the day was over.  As  luck would have it, they got more than 40 centimeters of snow and wind gusts were up to 100 kilometers an hour in places such as Gander (Newfoundland).

Sheila's brush

SOURCE: The Weather Network

Sheila’s brush effectively shut down Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and everything within their borders.

While that may sound like a lot of snow, it’s nothing compared to Sheila’s brush in 2008 when two powerful storms hit the coast back-to-back, leaving places like Gander to deal with 120 centimeters of snow over the week of dueling snowstorms.

In the 1986 book, “Talamh an Eisc: Canadian and Irish Essays” edited by Cyril J. Byrne and Margaret Rose Harry and published by Nimbus Publications, Ireland no longer holds to the idiom.  However, those of Irish ancestry in Canada’s Maritime provinces know Sheila’s brush very well.

The people of Conche, like other Newfoundland-Irish people, have also retained and adapted certain folkloric items which are no longer found in the homeland.  As Herbert Halpert has demonstrated, the familiar Newfoundland weather belief of “Sheila’s brush,” a snow storm which occurs close to St. Patrick’s day, appears not to be known in Ireland.

It was in “Chafe’s Sealing Book” by Levi George Chafe (1861 – 1942) and published in 1923 that Sheila’s brush is mentioned.

They employed for that purpose schooners measuring forty to seventy five tons, strongly built, poles are suspended on their sides as some protection to their timbers against the ice.  The crews of the largest craft were from thirteen to eighteen men, who on finding their own guns are admitted berth free, the rest generally pay 40/ – for their berths.  About St. Patrick’s Day they start, most of them waiting until after Sheilah’s brush or the equinoxial gale has passed.  It is impossible to conceive a degree of perseverance and intrepidity greater than the people of Conception Bay in particular displayed in struggling by all means possible to get out of their harbour and bay till they reach Baccalieu.

On March 26, 1829 the popular St. John’s, Newfoundland newspaper The Newfoundlander reported on the celebrations of March 17 by the Benevolent Irish Society.  The article stated in part:

The company continued to retire, successively, until six o’clock on Sheelah‘s morning, at which hour, we understand, a few of the campaigners might have been seen, as usual, piously and patriotically employed in ‘drowning the shamrock.’

Yes, the day after St. Patrick’s Day was known as Sheila’s Day (with various spelling of the name).  It was mentioned in Volume 1 of John McGregor’s book, “British America” published on 2 January 1832 by T. Cadell of Strand, London, England.

St. Patrick’s day, and Sheelagh‘s day (the saint’s wife) the day following, are occasions on which the mass of the Newfoundland Irish revel in the full glory of feasting and drinking.  They are certainly at those periods beyond any control; and they completely forget themselves, fighting and drinking, until they are overcome by the one, or laid up by the other.  These excesses have become less frequent.

Even Anglican missionary, Newfoundland magistrate, and historian Lewis Amadeus Anspach (22 April 1770 – 1823) wrote of it in the first general history of Newfoundland titled, “History of the Island of Newfoundland” published in 1819, stating the following:

It is hardly in the power of any priest in the world to hinder an Irishman from getting gloriously drunk, if he is so inclined, on the whole of the 17th of March, as well as the next day in honour of Sheelagh.

While Idiomation was unable to find Sheila’s brush in publications of the day, the term was used colloquially among the Irish of Newfoundland in the 1800s, and Sheelagh (with many spellings of the name) was oftentimes mentioned in conjunction with St. Patrick’s name when speaking of the festivities in March.  Anecdotally, many Newfoundlanders speak of letters written by their forefathers to friends and family, discussing Sheelagh’s brush or Sheelagh’s broom (as it was sometimes also known).

That being said, it’s understood by seafaring men of the Maritimes that Sheila’s brush referred to the equinoxial gale that happened in March — winter’s final hurrah for the year.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to at least 1800 in Newfoundland among its inhabitants.

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