Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Toledo Blade’

In A Pickle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 13, 2015

When you find yourself in a pickle what that means is that you’ve found yourself in a position where you don’t know what to do, and where whatever you decide to do, you will probably have to deal with some unpleasant consequences.

On April 28, 1994, John N. Grigsby of the Toledo Blade newspaper published an intriguing story in his column “The Street Where You Live” all about the name of a street in Oregon Township. The column started by announcing that for years, residents in Oregon Township had wondered how Pickle Street got its name. Usually streets are named after early settlers, but in this case, not one settler named Pickle had ever lived in the township.

While there had been a farmer named Pickle at some point in the township’s history, by the time he settled in Oregon Township, the street had been named long before. Pickle Street had been known as County Road 183 and Brand Street and Stevens Street and Freedom Street, cut county commissioners decided in 1919 to settle on naming it Pickle Street. The column headline read, “Oregon Residents Caught In A Pickle Over Naming Of Thoroughfare.”

The Reading Eagle published a story back in 1934 by author Thornton W. Burgess in his column, “Nature Stories.” This one was titled, “Peter Rabbit Is In A Pickle.” The word pickle was used often throughout the story, including in this passage:

So, now you see what a pickle Peter was in. He was afraid to go over to that machine on account of the man, and he was afraid not to go because all the other little people would call him a coward and a boaster.

A little more than a century earlier, in 1820, Harry Broom (which was a pseudonym the author used) wrote a series of plays under the heading, “King In A Pickle.” The entire series was a satirical recounting of current affairs and lampooning King George IV and fellow royals, very much in the style of William Shakespeare.

SIDE NOTE:  The author was also responsible for another humorous book entitled, “A Nursery Guide For Ministers’ Wives.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, the bard used in a pickle in Act 5, Scene 1 of his play “The Tempest” published in 1610.

ALONSO:
And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

TRINCULO:
I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

But it’s an odd little poem from in the book “Proverbs and Epigrams” by John Heywood and published in 1562 that the words appears in the sense of a pickle being a difficult situation.

Time is tickell
Chaunce is fickell
Man is brickell
Freilties pickell
Poudreth mickell
Seasonyng lickell

This is the earliest published version Idiomation could find for in a pickle referring to a difficult situation, and for it to be cleverly used in John Heywood’s work indicates that the phrase was understoodin 1562 to mean a difficult situation. It’s reasonable to believe that at least a generation earlier, the idiom took on this meaning. Idiomation therefore pegs in a pickle to the early 1500s.

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Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Kick The Bucket

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2014

If someone has kicked the bucket, they have shuffled off this mortal coil and gone on to the afterlife.  Yes, when someone kicks the bucket, they have died.

Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the days when someone intent on committing suicide would stand on a bucket, slip the noose around his or her neck, and then literally kick the bucket.  Some will tell you that it’s a reference to the bucket of holy water that was placed at the feet of a corpse that had been laid out for viewing.  And some will say that back in the sixteenth century the beam from which a butchered pig was hung was called a buquet (not to be confused with a bouquet which is an arrangement of flowers).  So where did the idiom come from since there are so many different stories about its origins?

If you believe the Spokane Daily Chronicle of May 30, 1911, the expression comes from England and first appeared in print in 1725.  The news bite alleged the following:

… it dates back to Old England, when about the year 1725, one Balsover hanged himself to a beam while standing on the bottom of a bucket, and then kicked the bucket away, says the New York Times.

It was a believable explanation because three years later on November 26, 1914, the Toledo Blade newspaper carried an almost identical explanation to the question:  What is the origin of the saying “to kick the bucket?”

Now, where the New York Times got the story back in 1911 is unclear, however, the Meriden Daily Republican published a similar story in July 20, 1880 edition of their newspaper, so the story was circulating long before the New York Times grabbed hold of it.  It could be because the Boston Evening Transcript of January 24, 1878 used the term in this clever bit of reporting.

Ah Chung, a San Francisco murderer, has kicked the bucket, literally as well as metaphorically.  On Jan. 13 a prison-keeper found him hanging by the neck in his cell.  He had passed a cord through the air-holes at the back of his cell, fastened that end, and made a noose of the other end, put out the gas, and planted himself upon a water bucket.  Then he kicked the bucket.

The expression was used in jokes published in a number of magazines and newspapers in the early 1800s, oftentimes recounted as such:

Two gentlemen were walking in the High-street, Southampton, last week, about that hour which the industrious damsels of the mop and brush usually devote to cleansing the pavement before the door.  It happened that the bucket used upon such occasions was upon the stones, and one of the gentlemen stumbled against it.
“My dear friend,” exclaimed the other, “I lament your death exceedingly!”
“My death!”
“Yes, you have just kicked the bucket.”
“Not so,” rejoined his friend.  “I have only turned a little pale (pail).”

The idiom was also found in the “Standard Recitations for the Use of Catholic Colleges, Schools and Literary Societies” published in 1800.  The following was determined appropriate recitation for junior pupils.

He never did a decent thing
He was’t worth a ducat;
He kicked and kicked until he died,
And then he kicked the bucket.

In Francis Grose’s 1785 edition of the “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” the definition for kick the bucket is as follows.

To die.  He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day.  To kick the clouds before the hotel door; i.e. to be hanged.

It would seem that kicking and buckets and death have had a long association, as the spirit of the expression is found in William Shakespeare’s Play “Henry IV Part II” in Act IV, Scene 2.  The play was published in 1597.  Bear in mind that a gibbet meant to hang.

Here shall charge you, and discharge you with the motion of a pewterer’s hammer; come off, and on, swifter then the gibbets on the brewer’s bucket.

When you look at gibbets (to hang) and bucket in this context, it’s all about dying.  Whether it’s about an animal being slaughtered or a person committing suicide, the beam (or bucket, as the beam was called) is what ties them together.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the mid-1500s since it was used with such ease by William Shakespeare.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Devil Dances In Empty Pockets

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 5, 2013

If you’ve been told that the Devil dances in empty pockets, you’re being warned that people are more likely to cheat and steal if they don’t have money to buy what they want or need. In other words, it’s an extension of these sayings: the Devil finds work for idle hands, and idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. So if you have nothing to do and you have no money, the understanding is that the Devil will show up and find something for you to do … and it will be unlawful, immoral or both, and guaranteed to land you in a lot of hot water.

If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” is the title of a song written by Ken Spooner and Kim Williams, and recorded by American country music singer Joe Diffie. It was released in April 2011 and it reached #1 on Billboard’s country charts. The song’s chorus was this:

If the Devil danced in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine.
With a nine foot grand, a ten piece band and a twelve girl chorus line.
I’d raise some loot in a three-piece suit, give ’em one dance for a dime,
If the Devil Danced in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine.

The idiom was used in the title of a blog article at The Meadow Of Life blog. On April 15, 2008 the author discussed the credit crisis in the U.S. and how it affected global markets, and felt it was apt to entitle this piece “The Devil Dances in Empty Pockets.

Occasionally, a reporter will see an opportunity to include the saying in a tongue-in-cheek way as was seen in the Toledo Blade edition of March 10, 1996. The news story published about the Christian Nudist Conference in Longwood, NC made the news with its “buck naked” worshiping in an article entitled, “Naked Came The Preacher.” The article closed off with this comment:

Besides, if it is true that the devil dances in empty pockets, what’s the horned wonder going to do when all these folks begin to pray? And, after all, are we not all created equal by your maker, a fact which last week’s conference of naked Christians no doubt proved most emphatically? Good thing God has a sense of humor.

Now, unfortunately, this idiom isn’t one that appears often and in researching the idiom, it is credited as a Kurdish proverb, a German proverb, and an English proverb.   However, there is no attribution provided for any of those claims. But all is not lost as the expression is an extension of “the devil finds work for idle hands” which is credited to St. Jerome (345 – 420).

The spirit of the idiom is found in a moral from Aesop (620 – 560 BCE): “He that serves God for rewards will serve the Devil for better wages.”

What this means for the Devil dances in empty pockets is that while there are roots that are far-reaching, it doesn’t seem to be an idiom for which research yields results beyond the few mentioned here. If readers or visitors to the blog can provide a published version of this idiom along with the date it was published, by whom and where, Idiomation would be grateful for your help.

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By Hook Or By Crook

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 18, 2013

When someone does something by hook or by crook, it means they did whatever was necessary (legal or otherwise) to get what they wanted.

On 14 January 2012, the Economist published an article about big shortfalls, slim their balance-sheets, and crippled credit flow in European economies as banks struggled to pull together the extra capital needed to build confidence the financial state of affairs. Despite creative accounting practices, banks appeared to be relying on “every trick in the book to avoid asking investors for more money” even though it appeared that the effort would prove fruitless. The headline read:

European Bank Capital: By Hook Or By Crook

Back on October 12, 1949 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “The Navy’s Day.” The news story was how the navy felt that the unification system administered by Defense Secretary Louis Johnson deprived the Navy of an essential role in the national defense. The first paragraph read:

Now that the Navy, by hook and by crook, has won for itself a hearing of its grievances before a congressional committee, we suggest that Defense Secretary Louis Johnson be consistent and place a gag rule on Louie Johnson. Let him follow through on his idea that public bickering is no good for unification.

Jumping back to December 27, 1890 the New York Times ran with a story entitled, “Farwell’s Bitter Fight: Long Jones Aiding Him In His Senatorial Struggle.” The concern was that Long Jones, Chairman of the Republican Central Committee, was out to oust “honestly-elected democratic State Senators.” With the General Assembly standing at 101 Democrats, 100 Republicans, and 3 Farmers’ Alliance, some politicians were convinced that Long Jones was set to snatch Democratic control of the Legislature by shelving John M. Palmer and electing Republican Charles B. Farwell instead. The story began with this announcement:

Charles B. Farwell means to be re-elected to the United States Senate if he and “Long” Jones can, by hook or by crook, bring it about.

The Morning Chronicle of Halifax, Nova Scotia shared with readers on June 6, 1865 that the New Brunswick Assembly had authorized the appointment of a delegation charged with traveling to England to correct impressions created by the Canadian Delegates with regards to where the maritime provinces stood on the question of a Federal Union of the British North America Colonies (this being 2 years prior to Confederation). The story was entitled, “A Move In The Right Direction” and reported the following in part:

It is quite clear that affairs have arrived at such a crisis in Canada that “something must be done,” and that very soon. The Canadian Delegates covet the resources and revenues of the Maritime Provinces — they envy our comparative freedom from taxation, Municipal and Provincial, and we may rest assured that, by hook or by crook, they will drag us into Confederation, if it be possible. With Mr. Cardwell’s declaration on record, however, that there was no intention on the part of the British Government to confederate the Provinces without their free consent, we feel that there is nothing to fear from that quarter.

In Chapter VII of “The Man In The Iron Mask” written by French playwright, historian, and author Alexandre Dumas (24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870) and published in 1848, the expression is found in the dinner scene. The Bishop of Vannes, M. de Baisemeaux, and Aramis (of musketeer fame) are sharing a meal together, and enjoying spirited conversation.

“Bravo!” said Baisemeaux; and he poured out a great glass of wine and drank it off at a draught, trembling with joy at the idea of being, by hook or by crook, in the secret of some high archiepiscopal misdemeanor. While he was drinking he did not see with what attention Aramis was noting the sounds in the great court. A courier arrived about eight o’clock, as Francois brought in the fifth bottle; and although the courier made a great noise, Baisemeaux heard nothing.

Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) wrote “The Fairie Queene” written between 1590 and 1596. The poem is an extended poem in three books. The first two books follows the journey of two knights, Redcrosse and Britomart, while the third deals with the destructive power of living an unchaste life. The pervasive theme throughout is that one can be transformed by evil as well as good, and in the end, Christian values and virtues are those which must be followed with unwavering faith. In Book iii, Canto i the poet wrote:

So as they gazed after her a while,
Lo where a griesly Foster forth did rush,
Breathing out beastly lust her to defile:
His tyreling iade he fiercely forth did push,
Through thicke and thin, both ouer banke and bush
In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke,
That from his gorie sides the blod did gush:
Large were his limbes, and terrible his looke,
And in his clownish hand a sharp bore speare he shooke.

The expression also appears in the British Pamphleteer, Philip Stubbes’ (c. 1555 – c. 1610) book, “The Anatomie of Abuses in England” published in 1583 he addresses the subject of the “impudence of Harlottes” and writes:

But which is more vayn, of whatfoeuer their petticots be, yet muft they haue kyrtles (for fo they call them eyther of filk, veluet, grograin, taffatie, faten or fearlet, bordered with gards, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what befydes. So that when they haue all thefe goodly robes vppon them, women feeme to be the fmalleft part of themfelues, not naturall women, but artificiall Women; not Women of flefh & blod, but rather puppits or mawmets of rages & clowtes compact together. So farre hath this cancker of pride eaten into the body of the common welth, that euery poore Yeoman his Daughter, euery Husband his daughter, & euery Cottager his Daughter, will not fpare to flaunt it out in fuche gownes, petticots, & kirtles as thefe. And not withftanding that their Parents owe a brafe of hunndred pounds more than they are worth, yet will they haue it, quo iure quaue iniuria, eyther by hooke or crooke, by right or wrong, as they fay, wherby it commeth to paffe that one can fearily know who is a noble woman, who is an honorable or worshipfull Woman, from them of the meaner forte.

Two hundred years before Philip Stubbes’ use of the expression by hook or by crook, it can be found in John Gower’s book “Confessio Amantis“, written between 1386 and 1390. The poem consists of a prologue, an epilogue, and eight books between the two. Because of the number of surviving manuscripts, historians feel that John Gower gave Geoffrey Chaucer of “Canterbury Tales” fame a run for his money, so to speak.

Perjurie is the fecond hote,
Which fpareth nought to fwere an othe,
Though it be fals and god be wrothe,
That one fhall fals witneffe bere,
That the other fhall the thing forfwere,
Whan he is charged on the boke.
So what with hepe, and what with croke
They make her maifter ofte winne
And woll nought knowe, what is finne
For covetife, and thus men fain,
They maken many a fals bargein.

Yes, as John Gower puts it, man is known to make bargains, even at the expense of his own soul, to get what he wants.

One of the earliest instances where the expression is used is found in one of John Wycliffe’s Controversial Tracts, written circa 1370 wherein he writes:

… sillen sacramentis, as ordris, and oere spiritualte, as halwyng of auteris, of churchis, and churche verdis ; and compellen men to bie alle this with hoke or croke.

The era of Middle English is between 1154 and 1485. During this time period, a crook was understood to mean a dishonest trick and a hook referred to metal bent at an angle. It is easy to see how someone who did something by hook or by crook would be someone who used everything at his disposal to get what he wanted.

Idiomation therefore puts the expression to something during the 1200s, with the earliest published version being John Wycliffe’s in 1370 — understanding that the expression was part of the vernacular long before the publication in John Wycliffe’s writings.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Devil’s Advocate

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 16, 2011

Originally, the devil’s advocateAdvocatus Diaboli — was a person employed by the Roman Catholic church to argue against someone being made a saint. This began with Pope Sixtus V in 1587 with the Office of Promotor Fidei — where the Advocatus Diaboli could be found — and abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

Over the years, devil’s advocate has come to mean any person who pretends to be against an idea or plan that many support in order to spur people on to discuss the matter in greater detail and to think about it more carefully before locking the idea into place or putting the plan in motion.

On May 19, 2009 the Coventry Evening Telegraph ran a story entitled, “Shock Jock Barry’s Tough Talk.”  The story began with this:

Barry Champlain’s late-night radio show is listened to by insomniacs, “nut jobs and psychos,” the lonely and the desperate. Night after night, Barry pushes them to breaking point, as he plays analyst, confessor and devil’s advocate.  Alex Comer plays the late night talk jockey who specialises in subverting the airwaves in Talk Radio.

On June 6, 1962 the Toledo Blade published a story entitled, “No Solution Can Be Seen For China’s Food Problem.”  The article was written by Keyes Beech who was temporarily taking over for Doris Fleeson who, according to the newspaper, had been injured in an automobile accident and would by away for a few days.  The article began with:

Even if you play the devil’s advocate, it’s next to impossible to find anything good to say about Communist China.  Today’s news is all bad.  The overwhelming fact of China in 1962 is that people are hungry or afraid of hunger.  Fear of famine was the force that drove 70,000 Chinese to seek refuge in British Hong Kong, a capitalist utopia on the Red Communist doorstep.

The Providence, Rhode Island Evening News of July 3, 1914 carried an obituary for Joseph Chamberlain (1826 – 1914) on page 2.  It was entitled, “Joseph Chamberlain, Noted Briton, Dead.”  The reason for so much interest in Mr. Chamberlain was due to the fact that not only was his third wife, Mary Endicott, daughter of William C. Endicott, Secretary of War for during the presidency of Stephen Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908), but he had been the British representative to the American-British Joint High Commission.

During the campaign of 1892 Mr. Chamberlain worked with great effect, and subsequently in the Commons he was to the forefront in all the assaults on the Irish government bill and clashed frequently with Mr. Gladstone.  The home rules, considered him a renegade, and this rankling he aggravated by his rasping tactics.  During debate on the bill, one night in July, 1893 Mr. Gladstone tartly compared him with “the devil’s advocate.”  The next night in debate Mr. Chamberlain retorted so caustically that T.P. O’Connor yelled at his, “Judas! Judas!” followed presently by a free fight on the floor between several members — a rare outbreak in probably the most staid legislative body in the world — accompanied by vigorous hissing by the galleries.

From the above excerpt, we see that the expression devil’s advocate was used in 1914 and, based on the quote in the excerpt, in 1892.  Going back another 40 years, the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle published a news article entitled, “Carlyle on Jesuitism” on January 17, 1852 that read in part:

And as this Ignatius, I am aware he is admired, and even transcendently admired, or what we call worshipped, by multitudes of human creatures, who to this day expect, or endeavour to expect, some kind of salvation from him; — whom it is so painful to enrage against me, if I could avoid it! Undoubtedly Ignatius, centuries ago, gave satisfaction to the Devil’s Advocate, the Pope and other parties interested, was canonised, named Saint, and raised duly into Heaven officially so-called; whereupon, with many, he passes, ever since, for a kind of god, or person who has much influence with the gods.

H.W. Fowler published “The King’s English” in 1908 and attributes the expression devil’s advocate to 1760, however, he does not provide a reference source for the claim.

The first formal mention Idiomation could find of the devil’s advocate is in the canonization of St. Lawrence Justinian in 1690 under Pope Leo X (1513-21). Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression devil’s advocate  and believes that 1690 is the earliest to be found.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In The Black

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 22, 2011

In the black is a great little turn of phrase for companies and individuals alike, especially during difficult economic times.  It means that the company is operating within its means and in keeping with revenues generated.  It’s long been standard accounting practice is to record positive numbers in black ink and negative numbers in red ink.

On January 28, 2001 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “A Debt To Repay” that addressed the subject of tax cuts and the U.S. national debt.  It read in part:

Despite a federal budget now operating in the black, the national debt now stands at $5.7 trillion (with a T).  The interest expense on the debt last year was $362 billion (with a B).  That means taxpayers put out more money in interest charges than they did for, say, national defense, which cost about $291 billion.

The Miami News ran a news story on April 15, 1960 about FM radio stations, most of which suffered considerably because of the television boom after World War II.  The article entitled, “FM Bouncing Back To Rival Sister AM” reported in part:

The number of independent FM stations has jumped past 100 “and most of the commercial stations are operating in the black,” Fogel said.  The FCC is being rushed with applications for new FM stations.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a United Press story entitled, “Utilities Lead In New York Decline” on May 18, 1932 as the Great Depression hit its third year.  It stated quite simply:

Consolidated Oil was firm on a statement by Harry P. Sinclair, chairman of the board, that the company was now operating in the black.

Back on February 22, 1923 the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Matthew C. Brush, president of American International Corporation and his denial of reports that were being circulated at the time claiming that American International was trying to see one of its largest proprietary companies, G. Amsinck & Co. It stated in part:

But there is no reason why we should want to sell Amsinck The company is in better shape than in years.  It is operating in the black and negotiations are practically concluded with important interests in two South American countries which give every indication of being profitable in the future.

While some may claim that “in the black” and “in the red” were considered slang back in the day, the term “in the black” appears to have had sufficient legitimacy in proper English to be used by at least one company president being quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 1923.  Idiomation was unable, however, to find an earlier published version of the expression.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Coast Is Clear

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 9, 2011

When there’s no visible danger on the horizon, either literally or figuratively, then the coast is clear.   These days, people tend to use the phrase when they are about to do something they shouldn’t be doing in the first place and they have done their best to escape detection, usually by authorities such as teachers, security guards, police officers, coast guards and other enforcement figures.

Dear Abby ran a letter in her column that was printed in the Toledo Blade newspaper on November 12, 1958.  The letter from a reader named “Happy” read in part:

My neighbor across the court is a sly one and she thinks she is getting away with something.  She can fool her husband but she can’t fool me.  When she leaves her window shades half-up that means “the coast is clear.”  When she hangs something upside down on the clothesline it means “not tonight.”

Back on March 14, 1900, the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Burr Raids A Gambling Room: No Official Move Against the Gambling Commission.”  The story dealt with the fact that a number of gambling houses had overrun New York City and there was evidence that some precinct captains and officers were looking the other way.  It read in part:

Superintendent Burr of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, with six detectives from the West Forty-seventh Street Station, last night made a raid on a large gambling room at 1487 Broadway and arrested sixteen men.  They found a faro game going, red and black, Klondike, poker, and confiscated the paraphernalia.  The Police Department and the District Attorney’s office have shown the gamblers and their protectors plainly that there is nothing to be feared from them.  In that direction the coast is clear enough, but they have reckoned without their host if they believe that all power to stop the systematic bribery ends there.

Going back another 40 years, the Weekly Dispatch newspaper published in St. Thomas, County of Elgin in Ontario (Canada) ran a fictional story written by Captain Oakum entitled, “A Yarn Of Tom Wilkie: His Enemies and Friends.”  A snippet from the story shows how the phrase was used in 1860.

“By no means, not an hour after the money’s gone.”

“But suppose the gentleman should fly off the handle at the first exposure — what are your plans?”

“Live in Carson’s stow-away till the coast is clear and then make tracks for parts unknown.  I have, you know, funds enough for that emergency.  Nothing has been overlooked; you are safe, however, under every circumstance.”

“Brother, I am sorry that a man of your talents should put them to so bad a use.  Let me entreat you, even now to take the back track.  I have seemed to sympathise with you, that I might learn the curse you intended to pursue; that course will surely lead you to ruin; and all for what? — to obtain the means for gambling.”

Nearly 100 years before the publication of Captain Oakum’s story, Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote a letter to Daniel Gould on May 6, 1783.   It was written just 3 weeks after the U.S. Congress ratified the provisional treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain and 3 months after a general armistice between the United States and Great Britain took effect.  It was nearly 2 months after George Washington alerted Congress that the army was on the brink of mutiny as well as nearly 2 months after Washington had addressed his officers in what later become known as the “Newburgh Conspiracy” where he appealed to their honour and loyalty.  The letter Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert wrote read in part:

The prospect of speedily returning to the likes of private life fills my heart with raptures.  The definitive treaty is not signed or, if signed, is not come to hand.  Carlson is in possession of New York and no prospect of his speedily leaving it.  To quit the field before our coast is clear would argue of a total want of sense.  Neither shall we, but we remain inactive without imployment, and under such restrictions that we can make no arrangements for Domestic life.

In the town of Groningen (Holland), a statue with an inscription below it can be found.  Since 1673, it has commemorated an historically documented siege when the besiegers were unable to prevent supplies from being into the town which led to their eventual retreat.  The words beneath the image translate loosely to be:  while the coast is clear, there is little to fear.

In the William Shakespeare play “Henry VI” written and published in 1591, the following exchange is found in Part 1:

MAYOR:
I’ll call for clubs if you will not away
[Aside] This cardinal’s more haughty than the devil.
GLOUCESTER:
Mayor, farewell.  Thou dost but what thou mayst.
WINCHESTER:
Abominable Gloucester, guard they head,
For I intend to have it ere long.
[Exeunt, severally, Gloucester and Winchester with their Servingmen]
MAYOR:
See the coast clear and then we will depart.
[Aside] Good God, these nobles should such stomachs bear!
I myself fight not once in forty year.

The Spanish equivalent to the phrase the coast is clear is “no hay Moros en la costa” which means there are no Moors on the coast.  This literal expression dates back to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) during the Crusades.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

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Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 28, 2011

In case you are wondering, yes, “shake” is a recognized unit of time.  At the time of the first atomic bomb, scientists needed a term for an interval of time equal to 10 nanoseconds. Since two shakes of a lamb’s tail is very quick, scientists coined the word “shake” to describe this unit of time.  But where does this phrase come from originally?

In the Toledo Blade newspaper of March 30, 1961 in the “Tell Me Why” column, A. Leokum started the column by writing:

Suppose you ask someone to do something for you quickly.  He might say:  “I’ll do it in a minute.”  But he might also say: “I’ll do it before you can say Jack Robinson” or “I’ll do it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”  The point is that when we set up a unit of time such as an hour or a minute, we are doing it by agreement or convention.  We have decided that so much and so much time shall be called a “minute” or “hour.”  But in setting up divisions of time there are certain natural events that can guide us.

That being said, two shakes of a lamb’s tail was a recognized time unit in the 1920s as evidenced in Pittsburgh (PA) in an advertisement that ran in The Gazette Times newspaper on May 3, 1920.  The advertisement for The Men’s Store of Pittsburgh: The Only Place In Western Pennsylvania Where You Can Buy New York’s Finest Rogers Peet Clothes read:

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail!  Replenishing your wardrobe may take even less time than that — our stock of Spring Suits and Overcoats is so ample.  A size for every build.  They’re “made to fit” not “to measure.”  Highest type of tailoring. Prices reasonable.

Back on September 28, 1881 a Letter to the Editor appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail in New Zealand.  The letter began with:

A Brooklyn man spent seven hours writing an essay to prove that a woman is inferior to a man, and then spent two hours more and a heap of profanity in an ineffectual attempt to thread a needle, a job which a woman finally did for him in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

A generation before that on August 26, 1853 in an article entitled “Turning The Tables” and published in the New Zealand newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, the following was published:

A correspondent of the ‘Dublin Warder’ shows how an old acquaintance once turned the tables upon the bailiffs.  Two smart-looking fellows dressed as sailors, and with a rolling seaman-like gait, called at his house, and chucking the servant under the chin, told her to tell her master that they had brought commands from his brother, who was at that time at sea.  The credulous debtor eagerly opened the door and was soon in the arms of the bailiffs.  After complimenting them upon t heir ingenuity, he invited them into a back parlour, and begged they’d wait till he’d send off a bit of a note to a friend that he expected would arrange it for him.  “The messenger was back in the shakin’ of a lamb’s tail; and, my dear life, ’twasn’t long till the tables wor rightly turned, and the brace o’ shoulder tappers frightened out o’ their seven sinses by the arrival of a press gang; and, says Misther Blake, throwin’ the freemason’s sign to the officer, who happened, as Providence would order it, to be a Leithrim man. Here’s a pair o’ light active chaps that have deserted their ship and are disgracin, the blue jacket by actin’ as bailiffs.”  Sure that was a sore day for the disguised bailiffs, for notwithstanding their entreaties, they were obliged to go with the gang!

In the end, the phrase first appeared in Richard Barham’s book “Ingoldsby Legends” published in 1840 however that it was used with such ease in a news article in 1853 gives reason to believe that the phrase existed in modern language long before 1840.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »