Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Footloose

Posted by Admin on July 22, 2011

The simple expression footloose does not address an individual’s marital status.  Yes, married or single, divorced or partnered, an individual can be footloose, meaning that he or she has minimal responsibilities in life and is free to do as he or she pleases.

On September 6, 1999 the Daily News from Middlesboro, Kentucky published a brief article on actor, Kevin Bacon, that touched upon his decision to focus on supporting roles rather than leading man roles.  The end result was a string of memorable parts in movies such as “Apollo 13” and “JFK” and “A Few Good Men” among others.  The article was aptly entitled:

Bacon Being Footloose With Career Plan

About 20 years before that article, the Montreal Gazette published an article on January 16, 1979 that addressed the stereotype of bachelors versus married couples as it impacted on population trends.  It quoted a 5-year study conducted by Statistics Canada that yielded surprising results.  The newspaper hinted at it in the news story headline:

Couples Move More Often: Footloose Bachelor Is A Myth

And about 30 years before the Montreal Gazette article, the Spokane Daily Chronicle published a story on September 23, 1949 entitled, “Britain’s Economic Stress Seems Hopeless Situation.”  The story read in part:

Despite the measured optimism of Sir Stafford Cripps, the broad measures of the labor government for the workers’ welfare and the solace of official American concern, the intelligent British worker will soon face a number of inescapable facts.  Those facts are so serious that, if he is a fairly young man and reasonably footloose, he should, if he can find a way, migrate to a country where he can find some hope for the future.  For it is hard to see how he can find hope for his future and that of his children in the United Kingdom.

On September 26, 1918 the Montreal Gazette ran a news story about Henry Ford and the American election.  He stated at the Democratic State Convention that he would not be bound by any political party.  He supported then-President Woodrow Wilson’s war measures and made it clear that he hadn’t spent a penny, nor did he intent to spend a penny, to be elected.  The article was entitled:

Ford Is Footloose: Will Not Be Bound To Any Political Party

On June 22, 1883 the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on the Democratic City Convention which was composed of 180 delegates who had been elected at the late primary.  General George S. Brown won the vote and an Executive Committee was appointed.  The article was entitled, “The City Convention” and read in part:

Two of the prominent leaders are said to have declined to follow that policy. They said that the time had come when some people in politics must consider themselves footloose from such alliances. 

In 1839, American lawyer, minister, educator and humourist, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790 – 1870) wrote about leaving his hometown of Augusta, Georgia where he had returned to live a decade earlier upon returning from Greensboro.  In a private letter, he wrote:

The first year of my ministry, the yellow fever made its appearance in Augusta, and my home was soon filled with fugitives from the city, who boarded me out of everything I had to eat, so that I had nothing to sell at the end of the year but my dwelling and land. These I disposed of at their full value. I was now foot-loose for the Methodist itinerancy. While administering to the sick, the dying and the dead for five dreary months, expecting every day to become a victim to the disease. O, how my soul rejoiced as it found me serving God instead of serving clients!

What many people don’t realize is that there is a naval influence to the term footloose that dates back quite a few generations!

The term refers to the mooring lines, called foot lines, on the bottom of the sails of 17th and 18th century ships. When the foot lines were loosened, it allowed the sails to flap freely and came to be known as being footloose

And in documents dating back to the 1680s and 1690s, the term referred to an individual who was free to move his feet and who was “unshackled.”  The expression unshackled meant one who was not tied to politics or banks and who was free to act as a man of honour and principle.

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

Whitehall Mandarin

Posted by Admin on March 18, 2011

It was only just recently that the expression Whitehall mandarin was brought to the attention of Idiomation.  Unfamiliar with the Whitehall reference but familiar with what mandarins are, Idiomation decided to research this expression.

On January 12, 2011, the Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article written by Hugh Muir that stated:

In came Lord Adonis, carrying with him, many thought, the airs of the minister he once was. He wants the institute to do policy, while Lord Sainsbury wanted it to focus on improving Whitehall‘s competence. Now, to the bemusement of staff, Lord A has gone off on a round-England jaunt to promote the government’s plan to impose elected mayors on the big cities. And he was missed last week, when the institute had the chance to slam the government over select committee criticism of the Eric Pickles chaotic bonfire of the quangos. All they could muster up in the boss’s absence was former mandarin Ian Magee, whose performance on the Today programme did little to rouse the troops. Much muttering among the lower ranks.

It was because of Hugh Muir that Idiomation began to wonder what it meant when someone in government in the UK was referred to as a mandarin.  The Glasgow Herald ran an article by Allan Laing on April 8, 1981 entitled “Great Escape Veteran Still Fighting Prison Camp Pay Battle” in which he wrote:

A committee of ex-Servicemen has been formed under the chairmanship of the Earl of Kimberley in the hopes that the Whitehall mandarins can find the resources to honour what many consider to be the last — and one of the most important — of Britain’s wartime debts.  The campaign has already prompted the Government to carry out an investigation into the PoW claims. Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, Under-Secretary of State for Defence, has given a pledge that he will announce the results of the inquiry “at a later date.”

Scotland’s evening newspaper, the Evening Times, reported on the amendments to the Finance Bill on July 2, 1968 in an article entitled, “Why Not Largs?” It read in part:

Hotels in Millport are exempted from the levy of 37s 6d per man, 18s 9d per woman; but hotels in Largs still have to pay.  Troon is exempt, but not Ardrossan. And so it goes on … Clearly M.P.s will have to start all over again and try to knock sense into the Whitehall mandarins who thought up this ill-considered scheme. The idea may have been sound in intention, but it has been badly bungled all the way in execution.  Scotland depends heavily on tourism for revenue. 

Austin Coates published a light-hearted account of his time as a magistrate dealing with two legal systems and cultures in Hong Kong during the 1950s.  The book was entitled, “Myself A Mandarin.”

It is said that the concept of the welfare state was started in London in 1940 by a group of bureaucrats under the leadership of Sir William Beveridge.  This group was comprised of Whitehall mandarins for the most part and although they did not originate the idea of the welfare state, they built upon the idea as set forth by Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898). 

However, the Whitehall mandarins existed prior to 1940 as shown by an article in the January 2, 1929 edition of the Calgary Daily Herald in an article entitled, “Soccer Teams Requested To Hold Standing: Unusual Request By Foreign Office Causes Amusement And Scorn.”  The article reported that:

The Daily Express severely criticizes the foreign office, saying “the views of the Whitehall mandarins seems to be that unless our footballers are fairly certain of winning, British prestige would receive an irreparable blow, the peace of Europe would be endangered and Sir Austen Chamberlain would have to do whatever Stressemann told him.  It does not matter in the least whether we beat the Germans at soccer or are beaten by them, but it does matter a great deal that we should be free and willing to meet them in the friendly strifes and rivalries of peace.”

By the time 1925 arrived, British barrister, Baron Claud Schuster, had spent a decade as Permanent Secretary in the Lord Chancellor’s Office and was described as a Whitehall Mandarin.  Schuster’s contacts and service led to greater influence over policy decisions than a Permanent Secretary normally would have had.

The term mandarin is associated with the concept of the scholar-official who is not only educated in the literary arts and Confucian learning but who also performs civil service duties. In China, mandarins were selected between the years 605 through to 1905 on merit by way of an extremely rigorous imperial examination.  In the western world, the word mandarin refers to any civil servant — although it’s most often a senior civil servant — and usually the reference is in a satirical context.

Whitehall is a road that is recognized as the centre of Her Majesty’s Government in Britain; the road is lined with government buildings housing various government departments and ministries.  Because of this, Whitehall has been used as an overall term to refer to any governmental administration in the U.K.

With regards to the civil service, open competitive examination was introduced in Great Britain in 1854.  At that time, the phrase “civil service” was applied to the most officials serving the state in a professional capacity.  It is most likely that the expression Whitehall mandarin followed shortly after competitive examinations were introduced.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where There’s Muck There’s Brass

Posted by Admin on February 7, 2011

The truth of the matter is that a person can make a lot of money from work that most people refuse to do because they think it’s beneath them, dirty and unpleasant.  So when someone says “where there’s muck there’s brass” you can be certain that he or she is talking about the upside of a job to which others only see downsides.  The saying is sometimes known as “where there’s muck there’s money.”

John Ray published his book “A Collection of English Proverbs” in 1678 and included this similar proverb among the proverbs:

Muck and money go together.

That being said, the Dictionary of European Proverbs by Emmanuel Strauss identifies the date for this English proverb “Where there’s muck there’s money” to 1476.

The word muck dates back to the 13th century and is from the Germanic muk — also written as meuk — meaning “soft” which comes from the Old Norse words myki and mykr, meaning “cow dung.”   These trace back to the Latin word mūcus meaning … well you know what that means. 

So it is a well-established fact that muck has referred to the less desirable natural functions of humans and animals for centuries.

The word brass is from the Old English word “bræs” that refers to an alloy of copper and tin (now bronze) and that is an alloy of two parts copper and one part zine in modern times. Although it’s a mystery word with no known cognates beyond English, it seems to be related to the Old Frisian word “bres” meaning copper and the old Middle Low German word “bras” meaning metal. 

The word brass came to mean copper coins collectively in 1599 — and money in general in 1601 — and was a popular expression especially in the north of England.

The phrase “where there’s much there’s brass” came into its own around this time and helped spread the popularity of the word “brass” as slang for money.  The brass/money association came about because of the association between the colour of gold coins and the value of brass as a scrap metal at the time. 

It has remained a recognized slang term for money and in 1984 when the one pound coin was introduced during the Margaret Thatcher administration in the UK, that particular coin became know as the Brass Maggie.

On a completely different note, the Isle of Muck is a picturesque island just off the coast of Scotland that boasts a population of 34 people.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »