Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘TItus Maccius Plautus’

To A T

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

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Not For Nothing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 30, 2013

As soon as the idiom right as rain was published to this blog, Brian Michael Stempien wondered what the back story on not for nothing might be.   Setting off to research this idiom, the many twists and turns along the way made this an intriguing idiom to track.  You can lay the blame for double negatives on Latin, where positive assertions are made by way of double negatives. For example, non nulli translates into not nobody but it means everyone.  No wonder this idiom gives so many people trouble!

The idiom not for nothing actually means what’s about to be said or done is not to be said or done in vain; what’s about to be said or done has a cause, a purpose, a reason, or a use. What’s more, the same expression is found in other languages such as French where you can hear people say, “C’est pas pour rien.”

In Time magazine, in the Science and Technology section, the article, “Gagarin’s Golden Anniversary: The High Price Paid By The First Man In Space” by Jeffrey Kluger was published on April 12, 2011. The article, of course, had to do with the Russian cosmonauts and the American astronauts. In this article, the journalist used the idiom, not once, but twice!

It’s not for nothing that Russia, the U.S. space community and most former Soviet republics celebrate every April 12 as Yuri’s Night, with speeches, parties and commemorative events. It’s not for nothing, too, that this year the list of countries joining the celebration has expanded to 71 — including Belgium, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Greece, India, the Maldives, Malaysia and even Iran — or that the inevitable website complete with the inevitable online gift shop has been launched.

When the Reading Eagle of Berks County (PA) published the July 17, 1952 edition of the newspaper where it was reported that Democrats felt certain President Truman could be swayed to change his mind about stepping aside to allow another to run for the office of President. It was said that Mrs. Truman had to motives for returning to Washington: The first was because she missed her husband when he was away from her, and the second was to be on hand if the call should come asking him to run for President again. The article read in part:

As is well known, Mrs. Truman has been irrevocably opposed to another four years in what she consider a cruel kind of imprisonment. And not for nothing does the President refer to her as “the boss.”

Russian poet, musician and novelist, Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin (18 October 1875 – 1 March 1936) used the expression in one of his poems, “Alexandrian Songs for Nikolair Feofilaktov, II Love, #6” published in 1906.

Not for nothing did we read the theologians
and studied the rhetoricians not in vain,
for every word we have a definition
and can interpret all things seven different ways.

And slipping back 2 more years to November 5, 1904 to a story in the New York Times entitled, “The Mikado’s Birthday” the expression makes an appearance.  Reporting on Japanese strategists in Tokyo who hoped to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday in a very unique way, some history was rehashed and the following can be found:

But even a year ago, we repeat, when it became clear that Japan was prepared to fight the huge Muscovite Empire, as she had already successfully tackled the huge Chinese Empire, in vindication of what she believed to be her right to national expansion, which seemed to her equivalent to her right of national existence, there were not wanting skeptics to maintain that the clockwork precision and the dauntless valor which had marker her war against China went, if not for nothing, yet not for very much in the face of the fact that she had never encountered the troops of a “European” Power.

When Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13 1850 – December 3 1894) wrote and published “Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers” in 1881, he included this passage in Part 1.

Lastly no woman should marry a teetotaller, or a man who does not smoke. It is not for nothing that this “ignoble tobagie” as Michelet calls it, spreads all over the world.

It’s an expression that’s been used for centuries, and appears in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant Of Venice” that was published in 1596. The passage appears in Act II, Scene V.

LAUNCELOT
I beseech you, sir, go: my young master doth expect
your reproach.

SHYLOCK
So do I his.

LAUNCELOT
An they have conspired together, I will not say you
shall see a masque; but if you do, then it was not
for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on
Black-Monday last at six o’clock i’ the morning,
falling out that year on Ash-Wednesday was four
year, in the afternoon.

But as much as the word nothing came into the English lexicon in the 12th century, the expression not for nothing reaches back much more farther back. In fact, when newly baptized Christians were enslaved or massacred by Roman soldier, Saint Patrick (yes, the patron saint of Ireland) who lived from 385 to sometime between 462 and 493, wrote a “Letter To The Soldiers Of Coroticus” in the year 450. In this letter was written:

I grieve for you, how I mourn for you, who are so very dear to me, but again I can rejoice within my heart, not for nothing “have I labored,” neither has my exile been “in vain.”

Finally, the first published point was found with comic writer at the time of the Roman Republic, Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC).  His first play was produced in 205 BC and continued throughout his lifetime and beyond. In Act IV, Scene III of “Aulularia.”

It was not for nothing that the raven was just now croaking on my left hand.

The expression was used freely in this comedy and the audience knew what it meant. Idiomation is therefore led to believe that not for nothing was a common expression at the time, and its existence lies somewhere in the years before the play was written.  At the very least, it was a known expression around 300 BC, and possibly earlier than that.

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