Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’

Thanking Those Who Visit Idiomation

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2013

I want to thank each and every one of my readers and visitors for visiting Idiomation in 2013.  Over the past year, Idiomation has continued to grow and our “Friends Of Idiomation” has increased in number.  As we make our way towards 2014, I’d like to share some milestones with you.

With hundreds of unique hits to the blog daily, our best day was March 12 with 579 hits!  While many of those visits went to the “Devil’s Bedpost” entry, there were other entries that were nearly as popular as the “Devil’s Bedpost.”

Busiest Day_Unique Hits_IMAGE

With hundreds of unique visits each and every day, it’s easy to understand how our monthly totals are in the five digits every single month (and in the six digits for the yearly total)!

Top 5 Idioms in 2013_IMAGE

As popular as the “Devil’s Bedpost” was, there were 5 idioms that garnered excellent averaged hits throughout 2013.  I was surprised to learn what the top 5 idioms were, and at the same time, pleased to see that many of them had their roots in serious literature.

I wasn’t surprised to see that Facebook and Twitter were among the top 5 referring sites in 2013.  But I was pleased to see that the Smithsonian and Wikipedia snagged the #2 and #3 spots respectively on the list of top referring sites, with Yahoo! Answers rounding out the group.

Top Referring Sites in 2013_IMAGE

This year, the blog spawned the first in a series of books, and is available through Amazon.com.  Just click HERE to visit Amazon and pick up your copy of “Idiomation: Book 1” and look for a follow-up book in months to come.

Idiomation_Book_1_Cover

I’m looking forward to adding more idioms to the blog in 2014, making IDIOMATION one of the premiere blogs for important information on idioms used in English-speaking countries around the world.

As the last few hours of 2013 bring us closer to 2014, I’m thanking all of you for visiting this blog site as well as my other blog sites — the Elyse Bruce blog, the Missy Barrett blog, and the Midnight In Chicago blog — as well as my Twitter (@ElyseBruce and @glassonastick), ReverbNation, SoundClick,  and Facebook profiles (both my personal Timeline as well as my Fan Page), and my websites: Midnight In Chicago, and Elyse Bruce.

May 2014 bring you health, wealth and happiness, and may all your heart’s desires come true this coming year.  I’m looking forward to seeing you back here in 2014 to read up on the histories of some of your favorite idioms, and to find out the meaning and histories of idioms you’ve always wondered about.

Elyse Bruce

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Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail

Posted by Admin 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.

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