Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Fuller’

Scotch The Wheels

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 25, 2017

Scotching may sound odd at first, but scotching is the act of preventing something with wheels from moving by blocking the wheels with a wedge, bar (iron or wooden), or large stone(s).  Long before parking brakes were invented, drivers found a way to keep their transportation from rolling off into the distance without them.  But even after parking brakes were around, drivers have still found themselves in situations where they have had to scotch the wheels.

The expression is still used today as seen in the Wilkes Journal Patriot newspaper published in North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) on 15 August 2016.  The story headline read, “Second Tractor Death Within One Week Occurs On Friday” and reported on the accident that had taken the life of 84-year-old Billy Marvin Church in the Cricket community.  The article read in part:

With one end of a rope attached to the front of the pickup and the other to the tractor, Church apparently pulled the pickup out of the ditch and intended for two split pieces of log firewood to scotch the wheels of the pickup and stop it from rolling down the slope.

Scotching the wheels was central to a lawsuit in the 1950s in Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. v Scoggins.  James H. Scoggins (Beulah’s husband), and James F. Scoggins, Douglas P. Scoggins, Russell L. Scoggins and Mrs. M. M. Adams (Beulah’s children) brought suit for damages in Bartow Superior Court against Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc. (a petition to strike Southeastern Greyhound Lines Inc., was made through an amendment by the plaintiffs), Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc., F. G. Cole and Mrs. F. G. Cole (the petition against the Coles was dismissed), to recover for the alleged negligent homicide of Mrs. Beulah Scoggins.  The lawsuit saw many returns to court with judgements being rendered each time but one or the other party not being satisfied with the results.

Now, according to the filing, on 23 January 1951, the driver had left the bus when the bus started to roll down an incline while parked at the Peggy Ann Bus Stop just north of Cartersville, in Bartow County, Georgia.  At the driver’s urging, Mrs. Scoggins who was aboard the bus, jumped from the bus.  The lawsuit claimed that the injury and death of Mrs. Scoggins was as a direct result of the incident and were it not for the negligence of the company and its driver who knew the brakes on the bus to be in a defective condition, Mrs. Scoggins would not have been injured and died.

The expression was used in the judgement in 1952 as follows.

It was alleged that “scotch blocks” were furnished Peggy Ann of Georgia Inc. to scotch the wheels of incoming buses, and that they were maintained on the premises of such defendant, and that it was negligent in not using them on the bus here involved.

In a Letter to the Editor written by C.W. Tonge to the publisher of “The Penny Mechanic and Chemist: A Magazine of the Arts and Sciences” in 1841 addressed the issue of paved street that were worn to the point of being slippery and a danger to horses pulling carts.  His letter provided a detailed explanation about the problem, how the problem was being dealt with, and what he suggested be done instead.  It certainly bore reasonable consideration.

The short story, “The Basket Woman”  by  Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1 January 1768 – 22 May 1849) and printed in Volume Ten of thirteen volumes published in 1826 talked about scotching the wheels of a carriage.

Paul went to work immediately, and fastened one end of the pole into the block of wood, so as to make something like a dry rubbing brush.  “Look, grandmamma, look at my scotcher:  I call this thing my scotcher,” said Paul, “because I shall always scotch the wheels with it; I shall never pinch my fingers again; my hands, you see, will be safe at the end of this long stick; and, sister Anne, you need not be at the trouble of carrying any more stones after me up the hill; we shall never want stone any more; my scotcher will do without any thing else, I hope.  I wish it was morning, and that a carriage would come, that I might run up the hill and try my scotcher.”

SIDE NOTE 1:  Maria Edgeworth was the first daughter of Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (31 May 1744 – 13 June 1817) by his first wife, Anna Maria Elers with whom he had four children  After his first wife’s passing in 1773, he was to marry three more times and go one to father eighteen more children.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Maria Edgeworth was homeschooled by her father who taught her law, politics, science, literature, and Irish economics at a time when educating women was not only disapproved of, but ridiculed by educated and uneducated men alike.  Her education, however, enabled her to hold her own in correspondences with learned men of the time who respected her insights and opinions.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Maria Edgeworth is acknowledged as a significant influence in Europe with regards to the evolution of the novel.   Her writing addressed issues of religion, politics, race, class, sex,  and gender.

A little over a hundred years earlier, Nonconformist minister and author Reverend Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) published, “A Discourse Concerning Meekness and Quietness of Spirit” on 21 November 1698 – a sermon on Acts 28:22.  In his discourse, he wrote about those who deserved the loudest applause, received reproof instead.  The idiom was used in Section III that dealt with instances where meekness was required in a special way.

We must not be like the reprobate Sodomites (Gen. xix. 9) or that pert Hebrew (Exod. Ii. 14.) that flew in the face of their reprovers (though really they were the vest friend they  had,) with, Who made thee a judge? but like David, who, when Abigail so prudently scotched the wheels of his passion, not only blest God that sent her, and blest her advice, but blest her (1 Sam. Xxv. 32, 33, and v. 35.) not only hearkened to her voice, but accepted her person.  

The previous century, English churchman, historian, and prolific author Thomas Fuller (June 1608 – 16 August 1661) published “The Holy State and the Profane State” in 1642.  The book was the most successful of Thomas Fuller’s books and was reprinted another four times after the first run sold out.  The book was published in four volumes with the first three outlining the characteristics of positive archetypes, and the fourth book illustrating profane people.

The idiom appeared in Point 4 of Chapter XXVIII: The Good Landlord and titled, “Inclosure Without Depopulating is Profitable to the Commonwealth.”

If a mathematician should count the wood in the hedges, to what a mighty forest would it amount?  This underwood serves for supplies to save timber from burning, otherwise our wooden walls in the water must have been sent to the fire.  Add to this, the strength of an inclosed country against a foreign invasion.  Hedges and counterhedges, having in number what they want in height and depth, serve for barricadoes, and will stick as birdlime in the wings of the horse, and scotch the wheeling about of the foot.  Small resistance will make the enemy to earn every mile of ground as he marches.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Two of Thomas Fuller’s most repeated quotes are “All things are difficult before they are easy” and “If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.”

In the early 15th century, scotch meant a notch or a groove with the origins of the word beyond seemingly impossible to trace.  Idiomation therefore pegs the expression scotch the wheels to the late 1500s which allows for the meaning of the idiom to make its way into Thomas Fuller’s writings.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unfriend

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 21, 2014

Social media platforms have been responsible for the rise in new words such as tweeting and tweeple, but it’s also given rise to the return of old words such as unfriended and unfriending.  It may seem odd that before Facebook, that unfriending and being unfriended happened.  Now the question is this:  How long have people been unfriended and unfriending?

The poem, “Easter Week” by Erik Axel Karfeldt is included in a poetry anthology entitled, “Arcadia Borealis.”   The book was published in 1938 at the University of Minnesota.  I don’t know what possessed me to read the poem, but read the poem I did.  Imagine my surprise when I came across this passage in the poem.

Imprisoned in the grave, my friends are banished —
I have an unfriend in the days long vanished;
God’s peace be over
The house from which I then was rudely thrust!

Surprised to find such a modern word in a poem written and published over 75 years ago and long before technology was a common occurrence in almost every household, I began to wonder about the history of the word unfriend.  If someone was an unfriend (and not an enemy), then at one point had they been friends?  It was a question that nagged at me until I took matters into my own hands and began hunting down the answer.

Research uncovered a Letter to the Editor in the archives of the Pall Mall Gazette.  The letter writer was Oscar Wilde, and his letter was published under the heading, “Half-Hours With The Worst Authors.”  The famous playwright took exception to what he called the “extremely slipshod and careless style of our ordinary magazine-writers” and he used an article written by George Saintsbury (who had published a book on prose style) that had recently been published in the January 1886 edition of Macmillan’s magazine. It was in point 9, that the word was used.

9.  He certainly was an unfriend to Whiggery.

That certainly carried, not only the spelling, but the sense as well, of being unfriended.

The comment reinforced by belief that if one could only be unfriended, that could only happen if they had previously been friends, and it stands to reason that if two people had been friends at one point, one or both could be unfriended.

But would history bear this out?  Indeed it did as it was found in the writings of Patrick Abercromby, M.D., in his book “The Martial Atchievements of the Scots Nation: Being An Account of the Lives, Characters, and Memorable Actions of Such Scotsmen as Have Signaliz’d Themselves by the Sword at Home and Abroad” in Volume 1 published in 1711.

William, King of Scotland, thought himself unconcern’d with these Transactions:  ‘Twas not his Business to determine who had best Right to the Crown of England; yet he made no haste to Recognize King John’s Title:  And it seems he was by that Prince’s Party consider’d as an Unfriend; for his Brother, Earl David was one of these suspected Peers that summond to Court, and by many fair Promises cajoll’d into a Submission.

In other words, William, King of Scotland, was a frenemy in the eyes of King John of England … someone who King John had considered a friend, but whom he now considered an unfriend.  Yes, it would appear that King John unfriended King William.

Sneaking back into the previous century, the next document I found was used in a letter written by English church historian, Thomas Fuller, to Peter Heylin.  It was dated 1659, and is found in “The Appeal of Injured Innocence.”

I hope, sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.

There is was in black and white, and using the old-fashioned, obsolete version of today’s screenshot.  Printed proof that unfriending could, and did, happen back in the 17th century!  So how far back did this unfriending activity go?

Back in 1566, according to the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, they have in their possession a collection of documents entitled, “Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth I.”  You see, the passage on page 118 of Volume 8 makes a clear delineation between a friend, an enemy, and someone who was once a friend … someone who was unfriended.

The King confessed that reports were made to him that Murray was not his friend, which  made him speak that which he repented. The Queen said that she could not be content that either he or any else should unfriend Murray.

I don’t know for certain who Murray may have been (though I suspect the reference may be to the Earl of Murray, the illegitimate son of James V), but it would appear that the King and others had unfriended him.  Not nice, you historical figures, you! That’s,you know … technology-free cyberbullying!

That’s where the trail ran cold, however, the fact of the matter is that the word unfriend was known and used in the mid-1500s with no worry that the others wouldn’t understand the word’s meaning.  It was very clear what unfriending was.

Now all of that is interesting, however, in the context of today’s technology, unfriending someone on Facebook isn’t a new activity that came about as a result of technology.  People have been unfriending others for centuries with and without computers, with and without Facebook, with and without a written account of the actual unfriending!

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of unfriending or unfriended than the State Papers of 1566, however, it is reasonable that because the word was used by royalty in 1566, it was understood by the general population.  Idiomation therefore pegs it to at least the beginning of the 1500s, with the likelihood that it pre-dates that date as well.

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

A Woman’s Place Is In The House

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 3, 2013

Have you ever heard the expression: A woman’s place is in the house? If you hear that these days, it’s a good chance the speaker is either baiting you, or there’s a witty play on words about to happen.

On January 5, 2007 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was an article that heralded her accomplishments as a politician, with the article aptly titled, “A Woman’s Place Is In The House: Pelosi Opens Doors On Her Life.” Partway through the article, the following was found:

Five hundred women wore badges with Ms Pelosi’s face, in pearl earrings, above the slogan: “A woman’s place is in the House … as Speaker.”

Feminists of the 1970s took offence to the expression and came up with their own version:

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

But the fact remains that the expression will always have a place in society.

Back on Jun 6, 1925, the Toledo News Bee newspaper published a United Press story out of San Antonio, Texas that had to do with elections for President of the General Federation Of Women’s Clubs. It was reported that by a convention vote of 555 to 434, the candidate from Baltimore had been elected President.

Mrs. John F. Sippel of Baltimore, whose campaign slogan that a “woman’s place is in the home” won her a victory over her “business woman” opponent.

Almost 100 years before that, back in 1832, the New Sporting Magazine, Volume 3 published an article that stated:

A woman’s place is her own home, and not her husband’s countinghouse.

When British physician and preacher Thomas Fuller (24 June 1654 – 17 September 1734) published “Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs; Wife Sentences and Witty Saying, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British” in 1732, the following was included:

A Woman is to be from her House three times: when she is Christened, Married and Buried.

Since his book included ancient sayings and since Thomas Fuller was also a preacher, it’s not surprising that this was found in his book. After all, the phrase originated with the Greek, and more specifically with Greek playwright Aeschylus, who wrote this in 467 B.C.:

Let the women stay at home and hold their peace.

As much as some women may  not appreciate hearing the expression, the fact of the matter is that it has a history that stretches far back into Ancient Greece.  In the end, however, perhaps the expression is more of a compliment and acknowledgment of the great impact mothers have on their children than a slight against them.

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A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2013

If someone tells you that a penny saved is a penny earned, then you’re being encouraged to become thrifty and to watch your budget. In other words, saving a penny is as good as earning a penny … or the dollar you didn’t spend, is the dollar you still have.

Back on July 3, 2006 the San Diego Union Tribune published an article by Jeff Donn of the Associated Press, on Edmond Knowles of Flomaton in Alabama. It would appear that Mr. Knowles had hoarded pennies as a hobby for almost 40 years. When it came time to cash his collection in at the bank, the bank refused to the pennies all at once and so he turned to a coin-counting company looking for publicity. The article stated:

In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard.

His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day – $13,084.59 in all.

A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took away another lesson from the experience: “I don’t save pennies anymore. It’s too big a problem getting rid of them.”

A hundred or so years before that, pennies were making the news as evidenced by the April 9, 1900 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. On page five, a number of items were published under the heading, “City In Brief” including the following:

Ben Franklin, the philosopher, said: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” One dollar deposited each week in the savings department of the Spokane & Eastern Trust Co. will in one year amount to $52.78; in five $286.11; in ten $634.88; in twenty, $1678.33; in thirty, $2980.21; in forty, $5063.34.

But did Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) really coin the expression? Or was it around long before he published his Poor Richard’s Almanack?

The fact of the matter is that the concept existed long before Ben Franklin published his version. One of the most popular versions was this one:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a-year. Save and have.

Another version of the idiom is found in English dramatist, Edward Ravenscroft’s “Canterbury Guests, Or, a Bargain Broken: A Comedy” published in 1695. This comedy, written in five acts and in prose, had a variation on the theme in Act II, scene iv.

This I did to prevent expences, for a penny sav’d, is a penny got.

In 1661, Thomas Fuller wrote and published, “The History of the Worthies of England: Volume 2.”  In that book, the following passage is found:

John Yong was a monk in Ramsey Abbey at the dissolution thereof. Now, by the same proportion that a penny saved is a penny gained, the preserver of books is a mate for the compiled of them. Learned Leland looks on this Yong as a benefactor to posterity, in that he saved many Hebrew books of the noble library of Ramsey.

And an even earlier version is found in “Outlandish Proverbs” published in 1633 and compiled by George Hebert. In this instance, it read:

A penny spar’d is twice got.

In the end, if you wander all the way back to around 1535, to John Heywood’s book, “Of Gentleness And Nobility” you’ll find the spirit of the idiom there.

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

Make Ends Meet

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 »

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 16, 2011

Political strategist, Ralph Reed, was quoted in the “Hotline” column of  The National Journal on July 27, 1999 as having said:

There is a sense in presidential politics that familiarity breeds contempt. There is a time and a place to pet the pigs and kiss the babies, but that comes a little bit later.

The phrase, familiarity breeds contempt, has been used quite a bit over the years and even 100 years ago, the phrase was part of every day language as seen in the article “Advice On How To Keep A Servant” written by E.T. Stedman and published in the New York Times on August 6, 1901.

There should be sympathy and politeness on both sides, yet, while always remembering the Golden Rule, the mistress should also remember that ” familiarity breeds contempt.” We cannot do without a kitchen stove, still it is not to be placed with the piano In the parlor.

From November 1867 through to June 1868, Anthony Trollope — one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era — wrote “He Knew He Was Right” and saw it published in 1869.  In this book, he wrote:

Perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt.

However, more than 200 years before Anthony Trollope, Thomas Fuller wrote and published “Comment On Ruth.” Even though it was published in 1654, it was, in fact, one of Thomas Fuller‘s earliest compositions and was delivered by Thomas Fuller at St. Benet’s in Cambridge as far bas as 1630.  In printed form, readers find the following:

With base and sordid natures familiarity breeds contempt.

Richard Taverner wrote the book “Garden of Wisdom” published in 1539 and in this book he wrote:

Hys specyall frendes counsailled him to beware, least his ouermuche familiaritie myght breade him contempte.

However, Chaucer wrote how familiarity breeds contempt in his Tale of Melibee published in 1386.  The word “hoomlynesse” means familiarity and the word “dispreisynge” means contempt.  It is easy, therefore, to see that the following is an early version of the phrase:

Men seyn that ‘over-greet hoomlynesse engendreth dispreisynge’.

However, nearly 400 years before Chaucer, in Scala Paradisi, it is St. Augustine who is credited for having said:

Vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parit contemptum.

And before, St. Augustine, it was Roman philosopher, rhetorician and satirist Lucius Apuleis (124 – 170 A.D.) who is credited for having written:

Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.

Ultimately, however, the moral “familiarity breeds contempt” is from Aesop (620 – 564 BC) and his fable, The Fox and the Lion.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Carry Coals To Newcastle

Posted by Elyse Bruce 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 »

Never Cast A Clout Until May Is Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 30, 2010

Ne’er cast a clout till May be out is an English saying with a long and difficult history.  In 1855, F. K. Robertson’s Whitby Gazette published the following rhyme:

The wind at North and East
Was never good for man nor beast
So never think to cast a clout
Until the month of May be out
.

The earliest published version of the rhyme can be found in Dr. Thomas Fuller’s  “Gnomologia” published in 1732. 

Since at least the early 15th century ‘clout’ has been used to mean a fragment of cloth or clothing and was spelled as clowt, clowte, cloot, or clute.   It’s here that the saying took on two meanings rather than just the original.  The new meaning was a reminder not to be too quick to shuck the warmer winter clothes before cooler days during the month of May were most likely over.

That being said, English farm-workers working the fields in their winter clothes throughout the month of May could suffer from heat exhaustion if they kept all their winter layers on until the end of May!   The flowering of the hawthorne (May) tree was a more reliable guide to the state of the weather.

This means that the original meaning goes back even further than the 15th century and indeed, it can be traced back to the 12th century.  During Medieval times in Brittany, a man proposed to his beloved by leaving a hawthorne (also known as a Mayflower) branch at the door of his beloved on the first of May. By leaving the branch at the door she accepted his proposal.

Traditionally, it was taboo to bring hawthorne into the house in Medieval England because it was feared it would bring death with it.  This is because the hawthorne blossom has a distinctive fragrance and in medieval times, the blossom was said to carry the ‘stench of death’.  (This is due to the trimethylene that the flowers give off as they deteriorate.) 

The exception to that rule was during May-Day celebrations (for one day only) when it was permitted to bring flowers into the house for decoration.  No marriages were allowed during the month of May and it was considered unlucky to marry in the hawthorne month since most people during Medieval times rarely bathed, June was usually one of the months in which most people had baths.  The exception to the rule, of course, would be those who lived in castles. 

It would make sense for the general population to keep at least some (but not all) of their winter clothes on until they could bathe and be fresh for any wedding celebrations coming up during the month of June.  This is verified by another English saying:  “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day.”  What’s more, washing in May was not a favoured activity as evidenced by yet another English saying:  “Wash a blanket in May; wash a dear one away.”

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »