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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Chandler Haliburton’

Whole Cheese

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 19, 2017

In the 1939 Bulldog Drummond movie “Secret Police” Aunt Blanche (played by Elizabeth Patterson) asks Gwen Clavering (played by Heather Angel) if she’s sure about marrying Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (played by John Howard). Gwen’s response is that Hugh Drummond is the whole cheese.

The expression whole cheese means that person is the real deal and not an imitation of what one perceives the person to be. The whole cheese, however, should not be mistaken for the big cheese who is an important, influential person. In other words, a person who is the whole cheese may also be a big cheese, but a big cheese isn’t always the whole cheese.

What cheese has to be with being the real deal is something that isn’t as easy to track down however.

From the news article titled “Those Cotton Associations” published on 1 February 1906 in both the Dallas Southern Mercury newspaper and the Farmers Union Password, the whole cheese is mentioned in an article about Colonel E.S. Peters, Vice-President of the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.

Col. E. S. Peters of Calvert served with distinguished honors for a number of years as “the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.” The Colonel was just about “the whole cheese.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Colonel E.S. Peters’ plantation was in the Brazos Valley, near Calvert, TX. In 1900, boll-weevils were threatening the cotton industry in Texas which supplied nearly 25% of the cotton worldwide. The Peters Plantation allowed entomologists to experiment on his land as it was in the most seriously affected portion of the boll-weevil territory. As a result, the experiments proved successful, and a full report was submitted by Congressman Slayden to the House Committee on Agriculture on December 17, 1903

In the September 6, 1904 edition of the Rat Portage Miner and News, a Letter to the Editor about Louis Hilliard’s farm was submitted and published.  Louis Hilliard’s farm was 180 acres in size with 70 acres already being farmed and another 40 acres of swamp land cleared and good to go. The writer of the letter felt this way about Rat Portage overall.

We think Rat Portage is the whole cheese, and that we are progressive and actually “up-to-date”. But as a matter of fact we have a bad attack of dry rot. Some of us have been here for twenty-four years, and I only know of two who have risked planting trees outside their fences, that is Messrs. Hose and Gerrie, and they have had to sit up nights to protect them from cattle.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Rat Portage was renamed Kenora (Ontario) in April 1905 against the wishes of taxpayers and without a vote for the name change being put to the voters. In fact, the taxpayers insisted that it be noted in the records that the change in name from Rat Portage to Kenora was done so “entirely against the will and wish of the majority of ratepayers to the town and by representations to the Lieutenant-Governor that were misleading.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Rat Portage had its origins in the Ojibwa name Waszuch Onigum that means portage to the country of the muskrats. As with many town names, it became colloquially known as Rat Portage. In 1892, an informal vote was held to decide if the town’s name should be changed. The name Rat Portage won out over other suggestions including Sultana (after the name of the largest gold mine on Lake of the Woods) and Sabaskong as well as Island City, Pequonga, and Lakeside.

During the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900 where President William McKinley (with running mate Theodore Roosevelt) ran against William Jennings Bryan, a lot was said about the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land. On 5 March 1900, Private Hambleton wrote to Sergeant Beverly Daley, and stated the following:

Of course, there are some boys who think Bryan is the whole cheese, but they don’t say too much.

On 23 September 1898, the article “Ward Conventions: Republicans Name Candidates for Justices and Constables” appeared in the Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City.  There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the motions and amendments and amendments to amendments at this convention.  I have no idea who Mr. Bonetti or Mr. Post were, and I don’t know who Joe Cottle was, but they seemed to have stirred things up quite a bit in the time they were at this convention.

Bonetti, who had been appointed sergeant-at-arms, was fain to cry, “Ladies and gentlemen, behave yourselves,” which they did, and after a discussion, a motion, two amendments and an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, offered by Joe Cottle, who was apparently the whole cheese, a collection was taken up and $10.35 raised which was confided to the car of Mr Post who placed the amount down in the deepest pocket he had and took a station near the door, where he could readily escape.

An untitled item in the Dallas Southern Mercury of 7 July 1898 found its way into the newspaper nearly three months earlier.  Sometimes the smallest mentions share the most interesting details.

The Democrats are having a hot time in Pennsylvania. Harrity has his war clothes and is determined to prove to Jim Jones that Jim Guffy is not the whole cheese in that State. The fight is a bitter one, and the aureate statesman has decided to give Guffy the “hottest shot he has in the shop.”

The use of the word cheese to indicate the best dates back to a mention in “The London Guide” in 1818 where the word used as slang is said to mean “the fashion, the best, the correct thing.”

Between 1818 and 1898, the word cheese in this context crops up often including in “The Clockmaker: The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville” by Canadian author and Nova Scotia politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865), published in 1835. In Chapter XIV, the author writes:

Whatever is the go in Europe will soon be the cheese here.

It also shows up in the story “Codlingsby” by British satirist and author William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863), published in 1850 in the his collection of stories titled, “Burlesques.” At one point, Godfrey de Bouillon, Marquis of Codlingsby, and Rafael Mendoza enter the outer shop of an old mansion on Holywell Street. They observe a medical student trying on an outfit for the masquerade to be held later that night when the following exchange is overheard.

“You look like a prince in it, Mr. Lint,” pretty Rachel said, coaxing him with her beady black eyes.

“It is the cheese,” replied Mr. Lint; “it ain’t the dress that don’t suit, my rose of Sharon; it’s the figure. Hullo, Rafael, is that you, my lad of sealing-wax? Come and intercede for me with this wild gazelle; she says I can’t have it under fifteen bob for the night. And it’s too much: cuss me if it’s not too much, unless you’ll take my little bill at two months, Rafael.”

Idiomation therefore pegs the expression the whole cheese to the late 1890s, with about ninety years of between cheese and the whole cheese.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, cheesy isn’t as nice a reference as cheese or whole cheese, but that’s something to research for another Idiomation entry at some later date in the near future.

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Slick Willie

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 6, 2015

Slick Willie is a term that, upon hearing it, is understood to mean something uncomplimentary towards the person to whom it refers.  Those who are called Slick Willies are cunning and deceptive people who are superficially appealing and polished, but who are shallow and glib, and able to deftly execute convincing arguments that favors the con man and defrauds the mark.

While watching a rerun of Season 3 of Shark Tank,  founder, president and chief executive officer of FUBU, Daymond John used the term when referring to one of the people pitching to the sharks, and then categorically that he was out.

In Norwalk (CT), in the April 3, 1992 edition of The Hour newspaper, an article by Walter Mears addressed the situation with Bill Clinton.  He mentioned that on NBC-TV’s “Meet The Press” that a questioner had stated that Bill Clinton was tagged with the name Slick Willie as far back as when he was still a governor in Arkansas.  From the Monica Lewinski affair to his Vietnam draft status, from business dealings long before he was a political force to his business dealings once he was a political force, and many situations over the years, the term Slick Willie seemed to be tied to Bill Clinton’s reputation.  The article began with this paragraph:

Long before his scarred presidency, Richard Nixon wrote the book on political image problems.  Now Bill Clinton is struggling with a sequel, Tricky Dick, meet Slick Willie.

Slick Willie was also the name given to a bank robber who began his career in 1919 and continued until well past his media reported death on September 6, 1951.  William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton (30 June 1901 – 2 November 1980) was infamous for his carefully planned bank robberies and jailbreaks for which he was notorious.  He supposedly died from wounds inflicted in a holdup according to the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 6, 1951, and allegedly Philadelphia’s underworld  was atwitter over Slick Willie‘s misreported demise.

William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton was known by a number of names.  While his birth certificate stated he was William Sutton, his many aliases included William Bowles, James Clayton, Richard Courtney, Leo Holland, Julian Loring, Edward Lynch, and many others.  How famous was Slick Willie?  On March 9, 1950, he led his team of three into a branch of the Manufacturers Trust Company in New York City at 8:30 AM and strolled out of the branch with $63,942 USD (the equivalent of $636,202 USD in 2015 terms) in hand.

He was also incorrectly credited for masterminding the million dollar Brinks Express Company robbery in Boston on January 17, 1950.  The caper netted the group over $1.2 million USD in cash and over $1.5 million USD in checks, money orders, and securities.  Billed as the crime of the century by the media as well as law enforcement, it was the work of an eleven-member gang.  When the case was cracked, it was revealed that Joseph ‘Big Fernand’ McGinnis was actually the man behind the heist, and not William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton.  But that Slick Willie had been originally tagged as most likely to have pulled the caper off speaks loudly to Slick Willie‘s reputation.

The article reporting on Slick Willie‘s passing — which appeared in newspapers across America — was titled, “Slick Willie Dead Says Philly Paper.”  As mentioned earlier in this article, news of Slick Willie‘s death was premature.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  William ‘Slick WillieSutton didn’t die in 1951.  In fact, he died in 1980 aged 79.  True to the slickness of his character, when he was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”  

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  In 1970, William ‘Slick Willie‘ Sutton promoted the new photo credit card program in a television commercial he did for the New Britain, Connecticut, Bank and Trust Company, not long after his release from Attica State Prison on Christmas Eve 1969.

Now, back as early as the mid 1800s, the term slick meant something rendered smooth on the surface, and generally referred to oil on water, or to the oilyness — or slickness — of a person’s character.

It was used by Canadian politician, judge, and author Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) in his first book titled, “The Clockmaker, or, The Sayings And Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville” which was published in the Nova Scotian as a serial in 1835 and 1836.  In the novel, Sam Slick was a Yankee clock peddler who used his vast understanding of human nature to make sales.

Haliburton’s novel was Canada’s first international bestseller, and was extremely popular not only in Canada, but in the U.S. and Britain as well.  Sam Slick’s take on Canadians (and Canada) and Americans (and America) mocked everyone equally in the comic fiction.  Sam Slick was so popular that Haliburton went on to publish a number of memorable Sam Slick books.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  It should be noted that the first Sam Slick novel established Thomas Chandler Haliburton as one of the founders of North American humor.

Perhaps it’s due in some small measure to the success of Haliburton’s character Sam Slick and his behavior that Cambria County politician, William Slick, was derisively called Slick Willie by some at the Constitutional Convention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where proposals for amendments to the American Constitution were discussed at Harrisburg in May of 1837.

And back in 1590, the term slick referred to someone or something that was clever in deception.

So the meaning of the word slick has a long history when it comes to slippery characters.  While it’s true that Sam Slick was the original term, within two years of the name being published, Slick Willies were being outed in America.  This puts the earliest known version of Slick Willie to 1837 with many nods to the definition for slick, in the spirit of the idiom, in the 250 to 300 years preceding Slick Willie making it into the lexicon.

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Beer And Skittles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 26, 2015

It’s not all beer and skittles they say, and when they say that, they mean that it’s not the easy life one might think or hope it would be.

Politics sometimes has a way of using colorful idioms to make a point and so it was on January 4, 1960 when Frank Macomber’s story appeared in the Lodi News Sentinel.  He shared the tales of woe that come with a Congressman’s life, including the chores of answering mail from constituents.  The article was entitled, “A Congressman’s Life Isn’t Always Beer And Skittles.”

It was back on February 6, 1931 that comic Hollywood actor Buster Keaton found himself the main topic of discussion in Mollie Merrick’s column that related the goings on in Hollywood for the rest of America to read.  Mollie Merrick related the story of “Kathleen Key, brilliant brunette beauty, who landed one on Buster Keaton’s jaw and wrecked his dressing room” the previous day “over a little discussion about money.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Kathleen Key was, she played the role of Tirzah in the 1925 movie, “Ben Hur.”

Kathleen Key

Kathleen Key

Buster claimed it all happened shortly after he gave the actress a check in the presence of two witnesses:  Cliff Edwards and Clarence Locan.  Buster Keaton said the check had been made out for $5,000 but that the actress demanded an additional $20,000. However, the check was supposed to originally be for $500 and was a bet between the actress and the comedian with regards to the actress losing 20 pounds in 10 days.

In the end, he claimed that he tore up the check and that the actress manhandled him “something awful” while the witnesses “left in a hurry.”  Mollie Merrick covered a lot of details in her story, and ended with this paragraph.

Perhaps there’ll be another check written.  There generally is when a movie star gets into trouble.  It’s the easiest way to straighten things out.  And may I add here that the movie folk often pay through the nose rather than have a scandal.  Being famous isn’t all beer and skittles.

Buster Keaton, at the time, was married to Natalie Talmadge, the youngest (according to Mollie Merrick at the time) of the very famous Talmadge sisters.

Life wasn’t all beer and skittles for Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) on that same date according to the Spokane Daily Chronicle.  The newspaper ran a story out of London (England) that reported that Sinclair Lewis was inundated with mail from strangers demanding money from him but not because he owed money.  They demanded it from him because they were under the mistaken belief that as a Nobel prize winner, he was loaded with cash.  The article began very simply with this sentence:

Life is not all beer and skittles even for the winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Sinclair Lewis is beginning to find out.

It would seem that February 1931 had more than a few news articles alluding to beer and skittles!

It was in the Spring of 1876 through to the Spring of 1877 that letters under the heading of “Uppingham By The Sea” were published in The Times newspaper.  On January 27, 1878 the letters by John Huntley Skrine (3 April 1848 – 8 May 1923) were published as a book under the title, “Uppingham by the Sea: A Narrative of the Year at Borth.”  It was in Chapter IX titled, “The First Term: Making History” that the nature of skittles was clearly stated which helps to explain why beer or ale was associated with the game.

It was too narrow to be used, as was hoped, for games; unless, indeed, we had turned it into a skittle-alley.  But then skittles is a game of low connections.

A game of low connections?  Oh my!  And so, beer and skittles or ale and skittles was a pastime indulged in that required little more than an interest in playing the game and imbibing beer or ale.

In the book “Nature and Human Nature” by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865) — who was also the author of “Sam Slick the Clock Maker” and other popular books of the era — published in New York City by Stringer and Townsend in 1855, the idiom appeared twice within sentences of each other in Chapter II entitled, “Clippers and Steamers.”

“It seemeth hard, Tom,” said Bill, tryin’ to comfor him — “it seemeth hard; but I’m an older man nor you be, Tom, the matter of several years;” and he gave his trowsers a twitch.  (“You know they don’t wear galluses, though a gallus holds them up sometimes,”) shifted his quid, gave his nor-wester a pull over his forehead, and looked solemncholly, “and my experience, Tom, is, that this life ain’t all beer and skittles.”

And just a bit further in this chapter:

“This life aint all beer and skittles.”  Many a time since I heard that anecdote — and I heard it in Kew Gardens, of all places in the world — when I am disappointed sadly I say that saw over, and console myself with it.

Jumping back to the turn of that century, in 1800, Volume Five of the “Queensland Agricultural Journal” included a comment from a correspondent of the “Agricultural Gazette” of New South Wales.   It would seem that beer and skittles was part of the lexicon down under as well.  The correspondent reported in part:

Now, a small farmer who clears £150 per annum may be classed amongst the happy men of the earth.  He calls no man master.  He lives comfortably, pays no rent, pays his way, has a healthy if laborious life, and takes his occasional holiday with his family without asking anyone’s permission.  Of course, farming is not all “beer and skittles.”

It was a well-known idiom, and appeared ten years earlier in the book “Letters On Education” by Catharine Macaulay.  Published in 1790, a letter is included in the book that reads thusly:

You will spare the rod at the peril of the boy’s soul; spare the lollipops and no harm is done.  Notice, I beg you, that what is at stake is the foundation view of all life.  We can hardly conceive the beautiful freedom from prejudice with which a child starts on living.  He is really prepared to believe that life is not all beer and skittles, though he hopes of course that it may prove to be.  Leave him alone and he will try to make it such.

It was in the account by William Hutton (30 September 1723 – 20 September 1815) of Birmingham which he published in 1781 that the activities of the “humbler class” were described as “completely suited to the lowest of tempers” and of “low amusement.” (The commentary sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?)  These included, according to William Hutton, “skittles and ale.”

Cards and the visit are linked together, nor is the billiard table totally forsaken. One man amuses himself in amassing a fortune, and another in dissolving one.

About thirty-six of the inhabitants keep carriages for their own private use; and near fifty have country houses. The relaxations of the humbler class, are fives, quoits, skittles, and ale.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of skittles and ale or beer and skittles that retains the spirit of the idiom.  However, it was used easily to describe society in 1781 in Birmingham and since the game of skittles was well-known as early 1635, it’s reasonable to venture a guess that by 1700, ale and skittles — also known as beer and skittles by some — were considered inseparable by most in society.

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Beat Up His Quarters

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 5, 2011

While the British tend to make greater use of the expression “beat up his quarters” it’s an interesting phrase that means the speaker has either hunted down where someone lives or who has decided to visit without notice, thereby taking the person to be visited by surprise.  It has also been used colloquially by some in the military to mean an unexpected attack on the enemy in his camp.

In 1855, Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796 – 1865) published a book entitled, “Nature and Human Nature.”  In Chapter 6 entitled, “The Wounds of the Heart” the following exchange between characters is found:

“‘Well,” said he, ‘Peter, I suppose we musn’t let the man perish after all; but I wish he hadn’t sent for me, especially just now, for I want to have a long talk with Mr Slick.’

“And he and father set off immediately through the woods.”

“Suppose we beat up his quarters,” said I, “Jessie. I should like to see his house and collection, amazingly.”

“Oh,” said she, “so should I, above all things; but I wouldn’t ask him for the world. He’ll do it for you, I know he will; for he says you are a man after his own heart. You study nature so; and I don’t know what all, he said of you.”

The expression was indeed part of everyday English as it appeared in a letter to Thomas Carlyle on March 14, 1855 according to “The Collected Letters, Volume 29” wherein the following paragraph is found:

He has got Books &c around him; got the little Sailor Boy1 home; and appears to take to his quarters. He is little more than a mile2 from me: very often, in my last walk (whh is an evening or rather a night one), about 10 o’clock, I beat up his quarters; and smoke a pipe with him. He is as quiet, and [words missing] meant or ought. Get Isabella or young Jamie to write me, as soon as possible, the Account I want;—and add some other “account,” namely, of what you are doing at Scotsbrig, how you all are &c &c: of which I seldom hear enough in late times. Jamie, I suppose, is gone back to Glasgow? Make my kind regards to Isabella; I hope (and indeed believe) the Spring weather will prove beneficial to her; and to the rest of us that have too thin a skin!

In 1836, James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860) published a book entitled, “The Book Of Saint Nicholas.”  The following passage is found in the book:

It was a rude, romantic spot, distant from the high road, which, however, could be seen winding up the hill about three miles off.  His nearest neighbours were at the same distance, and he seldom saw company except at night, when the fox and the weasel sometimes beat up his quarters, and caused a horrible cackling among the poultry.

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker” by Tobias Smollett (1721 – 1771) was published in 1771.  One of the letters included in the book was an exchange of letters between Dr. Richard Lewis and Matt Ramble wherein Matt has this to say about Sir Thomas Bullford whom he had met while in Italy:

He is very good-humoured, talks much, and laughs without ceasing. I am told that all the use he makes of his understanding at present, is to excite mirth, by exhibiting his guests in ludicrous attitudes. I know not how far we may furnish him with entertainment of this kind, but I am resolved to beat up his quarters, partly with a view to laugh with the knight himself, and partly to pay my respects to his lady, a good-natured sensible woman, with whom he lives upon very easy terms, although she has not had the good fortune to bring him an heir to his estate.

And the “Whole Works of Walter Moyle, esq.” published in 1727 contains this interesting tidbit in poem form:

Meanwhile the foe beat up his quarters,
And storm’d the outworks of his fortress ;
And, as another of the fame Degree and party.

The phrase seems to have had its heyday in the 1700s and 1800s and then fell off in popularity although it can be found very occasionally in newspaper stories in the early half of the 1900s and in some social circles — usually military — from time to time.

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