Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Victoria Advocate’

Happily Ever After

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 14, 2017

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Idiomation has taken on the fairy tale ending that states that two people live happily ever after.  It’s formulaic and predictable that fairy tales end this way, but who doesn’t love happy endings especially when so much strife and effort is involved to get to that happy ending?  And who was the first storyteller to decide that this was the perfect ending for fairy tales?

On May 28, 1998 the Matagorda County Advocate (a Thursday morning supplemental to the Victoria Advocate) published an article asking whether two people used to the space of their respective kitchens could “find true happiness and culinary success working together in one kitchen.”  The question had already been answered in the headline that proudly announced, “Live Happily Ever After In The Kitchen.”

Thirty-five years earlier, an advertisement in the St. Petersburg Times of October 31, 1963 promised young couples that if they purchased this neat, cozy, furnished two-bedroom home, the couple’s purse would appreciate the dollar wise price. It certainly sounded like the perfect investment for the perfect couple who had just begun their perfect life together, and the copy writer obviously felt likewise.  The advertisement ran with the bold letter title:  HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Perhaps one of the more humorous newspaper articles about living happily ever after is found in the May 3, 1920 edition of the Southeast Missourian newspaper where American author and short story writer Fannie Hurst (18 October 1889 – 23 February 1968) reportedly had solved the puzzle of wedded bliss.  The United Press story from New York City stated the following:

Fannie Hurst, writer of love stories usually with a “happy ever after ending” does not believe the institution of marriage as generally followed is the open sesame to happiness.  In an interview today, the fifth anniversary of her marriage to Jacques Danielson, pianist and composer, Miss Hurst (for she still retains her maiden name) compared many of the present day marriages to prison bars.

SIDE NOTE 1:  Jacques Danielson (23 July 1875 – 3 March 1952) was Russian, not French or English as some may assume from his name.  He was born in Moscow, the son of Samuel and Anna (née Brook) Danielson.  He immigrated to the United States in 1892 and was the assistant to Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer Rafael Jossefy (3 July 1852 – 25 June 1915) at Steinway Hall in New York City.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Jacques Danielson and Fannie Hurst maintained separate residences throughout their marriage, and arranged to renew their marriage contract every five years, if they both agreed to do so.  As it was, their happy ever after lasted until Jacques Danielson’s passing in 1952.

Her suggestion was that women should not be bound by “moss back conventions” and each couple should adopt conditions that suit the temperaments of the married couple.  She went as far as to reveal that she and her husband had their own circle of friends, stating:

There is no reason why I should like his friends and he should like mine.  In fact, some of his friends bore me to tears.

It was used in Chapter 3 of “Peter Pan” published in 1904.

“Do you know,” Peter asked, “why swallows build in the eaves of houses?  It is to listen to the stories.  O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story.”

“Which story was it?”

“About the prince who couldn’t find the lady who wore the glass slipper.”

“Peter,” said Wendy excitedly, “that was Cinderella, and he found her, and they lived happy ever after.”

On Saturday, February 18, 1894 American novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser (27 August 1871 – 28 December 1945) wrote a letter to Emma Rector in response to a curt note she had sent him the night before admonishing him for his ungentlemanly behavior.  Theodore ended his letter to Emma with this line.

Then I’ll smoke right up and be ever so grateful and happy and we’ll get along after the fashion of “ye ancient fairy tale” very happily ever afterwards.

Even Leo Tolstoy seems to have thought the phrase was worthy of a novel.  In 1859 he published “Happy Ever After” which told the story of a young woman in her 20s who had lost her parents, fell in love with her father’s much older friend, and enjoyed a happy life as a married woman.  That is to say, until the couple are invited to a soirée by a young prince who spirits her heart away from her older husband.

That being said, Jacob and Wilhelm (otherwise known as the Grimm Brothers) ended a great many of their fairy tales with a cautionary note stating that those who died went on to live happy in the ever after – a somewhat less romantic and pleasant ending to a story. German philologist, jurist, and mythologist Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) and German author Wilhelm Carl Grimm (24 February 1786 – 16 December 1859) seem to be the pull pin moment in history where living happy in the ever after (as in once the lovers were dead) becomes living happy ever after or happily ever after (as in the lovers are still alive).

That being said, the spirit of the idiom happily ever after can be found in the 18th century phrase happy as the day is long although that’s not really ever after, is it? Idiomation pegs happy ever after and happily ever after to the early 1800s somewhere between the Brothers Grimm and Leo Tolstoy.

Happy Valentine’s Day friends and followers!

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Straddle The Fence

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 25, 2016

When a person straddles the fence, it means the person appears to favor both sides of an argument or situation.  In other words, the person has placed himself or herself in a noncommittal position while appearing to side with both sides.  Some call it sitting on the fence, so whether it’s sitting on the fence or straddling the fence, the person doing it is undecided and willing to remain undecided until push comes to shove on the matter at hand.

The Victoria Advocate newspaper of March 13, 1980 included an article from the Associated Press that dealt with the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and the fact that the U.S. was picking its teams in the hope that world tensions would ease to the Summer Games wouldn’t be in danger of not happening. What hung in the balance was the May 24th deadline when the United States would have to either accept or decline the International Olympic Committee’s invitation to take part in the Moscow Games. The article was titled, “USOC To Straddle Fence.”

The Afro American newspaper published an ad in the March 26, 1949 edition titled, “Why Straddle The Fence?”  It was a small blurb on the bottom of page courtesy of the subscription department and the first line repeated the idiom.

There’s no need to straddle the fence in the matter of selecting the biggest readership bargain of 1949.  Pee Wee staunchly insists there’s not the least bit of doubt about it.  His favorite paper unquestionably gives the most for the money.

During World War II, the Montreal Gazette published an article on September 5, 1938 about President Roosevelt.  The write-up revealed that the Democratic congressional campaign committee wasn’t prepared to back the President’s position that a “good liberal running on the Republican ticket would serve the country better than a conservative Democrat.”  The headline that accompanied the story was, “Forbid Roosevelt To Straddle Fence: Democratic Campaign Leaders Resent Reference To Liberal Republicans.”

The term found its way into the Electrical Merchandising Magazine in April 1919 leaving no doubt as to what it meant.

IMAGE 1_1919
And a delightful poem titled, “On The Fence” was published in the 1888 edition of “A Basket of Chips: A Varied Assortment of Poems and Sketches” authored by J.B. (Joseph Bert) Smiley (1864–1903) who also published under the pseudonym of Samwell Wilkins.

J.B. Smiley was from Kalamazoo and he attended the University of Michigan in 1885.  However, it doesn’t seem that the institution of higher learning could keep its hold on J.B., and he found himself writing for the Kalamazoo Herald newspaper.  From time to time, he found himself front and center on stage in front of an audience eager to listen to the humourous lecturer.   From an third-party perspective, “On The Fence” gives some insight into why he was such a popular speaker.

Upon every point that arises
which may my opinion refute,
Upon every political issue
And on every local dispute,
In fact, upon every question
Where the interest is strong and intense,
My position is always the right one,
I invariably straddle the fence.

The position is not very easy,
And it doesn’t look pretty at all,
If I lean to one side or the other,
I believe I am certain to fall;
And I think that I merit distinction,
And a credit mark, long and immense,
If on every question that cometh,
I can gracefully straddle the fence.

In August 1847, a Letter to the Editor was published in Volume 8 of the “Genessee Farmer: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Agriculture and Horticulture, Domestic and Rural Economy.”  The journal even had illustrated engravings of farm buildings, domestic animals, improved implements, fruits, and more, and was edited by Daniel Lee, MD with the assistance of P. Barry, Conductor of Horticultural Department in Rochester, N.Y.

The letter was signed Old Farmer Tim, and he had a lot to stay about the Universal Yankee Nation, lack of sympathy, and family pride.  He even reference the “almighty dollar” saying that the “shining disc flashes on our diseased imaginations, and rolling on just ahead, puts quicksilver in our heels, to follow it almost to the very verge of space.”  The letter ended in a flourish, and began just as dramatically.

Mr. Editor:  I think I hear some of your readers exclaim, “Well, here comes the old pedlar again, astride the fence,”  Not so far, my old covey — I am not straddle of the Fence any way you can fix it, either in Politics or Religion; on those two subjects I know where I sleep; but if I can get astride of some of the miserable excuses for good fences that I observe about the country, and can ride them down, I am content to be “straddle of the fence.”

While some sources say that the idiom came into being in 1828, Idiomation found it used in “The Columbian Union: Containing General and Particular Explanations of Government and the Columbian Constitution” written by Simon Willard, Jun. of Massachusetts, and published in 1814.

Idiomation suspects that this Simon Willard isn’t the same as the celebrated U.S. clockmaker, Simon Willard (April 3, 1753 – August 30, 1848) of Massachusetts — the man who invested the eight-day patent timepiece.  However, it could be as there’s a Lighthouse Clock with the clockmaker’s signature identical to the author’s signature.

Regardless, the author of this book wrote the following:

If this little notion of dog war can excite human beings, to rejoice and to take an active part, certainly a whole nation of humans, wherein themselves are engaged, instead of dogs, and their very lives and property at stake, must take an active part, some where to secure their popularity; to straddle the fence, it is as inconsistent, as to suppose a corpse to be a live man; a man looks like a fool, who stands inactive in a case, wherein his own property is at stake, for he is either deluded and knows nothing of his danger, or he is sure to be king, or sure to enjoy a king’s office, otherwise he is inconsistent to himself.

This is the first published version of straddle the fence that Idiomation could find.  Before this, the word straddle is defined in Thomas Sheridan’s “A Complete Dictionary Of The English Language Both With Regard To Sound And Meaning” dated 1797 as “to stand or walk with the feet removed far from each other to the right and left.”

So sometime between 1797 and 1814, straddle the fence came to mean what it means today.

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

Holy See

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 2, 2015

Contrary to popular misconception, the Roman Catholic Pope is not the Holy See.  The Pope is the bishop of the diocese which means he is the bishop over the entire universal Church.  The Holy See is also called the See of Saint Peter, the Apostolic See, and the Diocese of Rome.  Supported by the Roman Curia (the Court of Rome), the Pope forms the main governing body of the Roman Catholic Church.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Holy See is a sovereign entity, and yet it is not a nation.  The only reason there are visible national borders is for practical reasons, and those reasons are part of Mussolini’s doing.

But the bottom line is this:  The Holy See is the throne from which the head of the Roman Catholic controls the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy See embodies all the rules that make the Roman Catholic Church the Roman Catholic Church.

As it was explained to Idiomation, the Holy See — in business terms — is actually the Roman Catholic Church Inc., and the Pope is the CEO of said corporation.  Roman Catholics are more like the business prospects and customers of the corporation, and while Roman Catholics have a stake in what happens with the corporation, they are not de facto shareholders.

The Victoria Advocate reported on July 12, 2000 that the United Nations vote that was taken earlier resulted in a 416 to 1 vote in favor of the Holy See retaining its status as permanent observer (a status it had held since 1964) at the United Nations.  A campaign promoted as “See Change” had been launched to have its status redesignated so it would be treated as a non-governmental organization (NGO).  The article was titled, “House Backs Status Of  Holy See At U.N.

On May 2, 1940 the Montreal Gazette carried a news story from Paris (France) reporting that the Italian government and the Vatican weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on important points as WWII raged on.  Francesco Giunta (21 March 1887 – 8 June 1971), a Fascist and national councillor, went as far as to state in his speech exactly one week earlier at the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, “The Vatican is the chronic appendicitis of Italy.”  The first paragraph of the story read thusly:

Reports reaching here from competent sources in Rome disclose that tension is mounting between the Italian Government and the Vatican over the Holy See‘s refusal to follow Italy’s lead in adopting a pro-German war attitude.

Less than twenty years earlier, however, news reports out of Berlin (Germany) reflected a different relationship between Germany and the Vatican when it came to addressing the Duisburg railway accident.  In fact, it was reported on July 7, 1923 by the Associated Press, and printed in many newspapers around the world, by way of a semi-official joint statement from German Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno (2 July 1876 – 3 January 1933) and Monsignor Giuseppe Pacelli (2 March 1876 – 9 October 1958) — the Monsignor later became Pope Pius XII — that there was agreement.  The news story reported the following:

Chancellor Cuno declared that it was a question of incidents arising from the excitement of an harassed people who in desperation endeavored to act in self-defense.  The German government was, however, at one with the Holy See in condemning all criminal use of force.

In the October 18, 1839 edition of the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reprinted an excellent article previously published in the Baltimore American.  The article shared the history of the Ottoman Empire with readers, beginning with the fall of Bagdad in 1055 and ending with the battle where John Sobieski (17 August 1629 – 17 June 1696) repulsed the Turks under the walls of Vienna.  The Holy See was mentioned midway through the history lesson.

In 1571, Cyprus was taken from the Venetians; and now the Christian nations of Europe began to be filled with anxious apprehensions of this formidable power.  The Pope exerted himself to stop the further progress of the infidels who, carrying their religion on the points of their swords, made every place Mahometan which fell under their sway.  A league was formed by the Holy See with the Venitians, and Philip II, of Spain, then the most wealthy sovereign in Europe.

Yes, the article alternated between Venetian and Venitian, and it’s not a typographical error on the part of Idiomation.

The Holy See is from the Latin Sancta Sedes, which means Holy Chair.  Technically speaking, the term for a dioceses where the bishop lives is called a See.

So the Diocese of Chicago (which happens to be one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States) is really the See of Chicago and the cathedral residence is Holy Name Cathedral (formally identified as the Cathedral of the Holy Name).  Holy Name Cathedral is also the parish church of the Archbishop of Chicago.

The Holy See was first understood to be indisputably in Rome when Pope Gelasius I (Pope from 1 March 492 through to 19 November 496) stated, “Est ergo prima Petri apostoli sedes” which translates to say, “Therefore, the first is the seat of the Apostle Peter.”

Later on, Pope Leo III (Pope from 26 December 795 – 12 June 816) further entrenched the understanding that Rome was the Holy See when he wrote, “Nos sedem apostolicam, quae est caput omnium Dei ecclesiarum judicare non audemus” which translates to say, “We dare not judge the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the Churches of God.”

As an interesting side note, Pope Leo III had enemies (many of whom were relatives of Pope Adrian I who was pope from 1 February 772 until his death on 25 December 795) in Rome and Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814) — who became Charles I of France — protected Pope Leo III from those enemies.

Idiomation therefore pegs the term Holy See as we understand it to mean to the papacy of Pope Gelasius I, with a further boost to the term thanks to the papacy of Pope Leo III.

Posted in Idioms of the 5th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Black Out (as in unconscious)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 30, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious.

With regards to falling unconscious, this meaning originated with pilots who sometimes fainted briefly when pulling out of a power dive. It soon was transferred to other losses of consciousness or memory in the 1940s.

An unfortunate story was published in the May 28, 1979 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel in a news article entitled, “Boy Dies Making Self Black Out.” The article included this in the story:

After class was dismissed Wednesday afternoon, Paul and several companions went out on the playground, and he gave them a demonstration. Use two fingers, he pressed on the front of his neck to stop the air flow and blacked out.

Back on September 14, 1962 the Victoria Advocate published a story on then-31-year-old San Francisco Giants star outfielder, Willie Mays. He had been free of injuries and ailments in previous eight seasons with the Giants which is why a black-out spell was of concern to management at the time. The story was entitled, “Mays Due Hospital Tests After Black-Out Spell.” The first paragraph read:

Officials of the San Francisco Giants ordered a thorough physical examination Friday for star outfielder Willie Mays, who blacked out Wednesday night. Mays will stay in Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital over night and have the tests Friday morning, according to Manager Alvin Dark.

The December 22, 1944 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Anti-Black-Out Suit” and reported:

Berger G-suits, designed to keep fliers from “blacking out” in steep dives and other maneuvers, are the latest togs for army and navy fighter pilots. The army’s ” G-suit “– the “G” is for gravity — is a pair of high waisted pneumatic pants with built-in suspenders and girdle, and air bladders over the abdomen and legs.

For pilots, greying out or blacking out was a serious problem when it happened. A black out was a complete loss of vision due to no blood getting to the eye even though the pilot was still conscious at the time. The loss of memory that was part of blacking out and falling unconscious was particularly disconcerting to pilot trainers, air force personnel, researchers and, of course, pilots. It was observed that black outs left pilot completely unaware that they have been unconscious and provided them with a false perception of how well they were coping with “positive G” or “eyeballs down G.”

In the mid-1920s, Royal Air Force pilots who were training for the Schneider Trophy became adept at knowing the point at which they would move from a black out to completely losing consciousness.

As an interesting side note, the first manned flight — which was 12-seconds long — was on December 17, 1903 and the first 5-minute manned flight was on November 9, 1904. The American government bought its first airplane in 1909 and the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown in 1912. On July 18, 1914 an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. In other words, blacking out became a new expression in the 20th century thanks in part to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

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

Cat That Ate The Canary

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2011

Usually when someone appears smug and self-satisfied with just a hint of guilt,  satisfaction and/or feigned nonchalance added to the mix, that person is said to look “like the cat that ate the canary.”  The version of this phrase in the UK and Australia is that the person is said to look “like the cat that got the cream.”

On March 26, 2011 Walt Whiteman, the blogger at Walt Whiteman’s World wrote this about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

It is something of a Canadian tradition for governments to be contemptuous of Parliament and its ordinary members. Pierre Trudeau famously called MP’s “nobodies”. But M. Trudeau smiled when he said it, whereas Harper’s face is frozen in this cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk.

Walt hasn’t actually read yesterday’s Hansard, but heard that Harper was asked “Are you trying to show your contempt for this House?”, and answered, “No. I’m doing my very best to disguise it.”

Almost 30 years to the day earlier, the Miami News published a story written by Mike Downey of the Chicago Sun-Times on March 31, 1981 about basketball great, Isiah Thomas.  Mike Downey wrote in part:

Yesterday, it was the story of Isiah Thomas.  You probably saw him score 23 points last night in Indiana’s 63-50 win over North Carolina for the national championship.  You probably heard him announced as the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player.  What you should have seen was his act after the game.  The kid is something else.  Impeccable manners, snappy answers, cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, playful-as-a-puppy behaviour.  You should have seen the pint-sized sophomore, mobbed by his admirers as he strolled off the court after the game.

Oddly enough, on November 16, 1952 the Victoria Advocate ran a brief story with the photograph of a very forlorn kitty.  Here’s the story:

No wonder this nameless cat won’t look you in the eye.  He is guilty as only a cat can be.  He just ate not only one, but five canaries.  The sad story began when the stray cat was locked accidentally in a department store overnight in Keene, N.H.  The next morning store officials found the cat had knocked over a cage of canaries, springing the cage door.  Only the bird in the cage above the cat survived.

Cat That Ate The Canary and Four More After That

Going back to 1911, the phrase “cat that ate the canary” was used to describe another political figure in the Milwaukee Journal of June 2 in a news story entitled, “Czar A Tactless Guest.”

Signs of particular disgust showed on the czar’s face when the iced melon hors d’oeuvres were brought on.  President Fallieres invariably indulges in this luxury.  The czar, however, lacked the tact evidenced by President Taft when certain of the southern states served their favorite dishes.  He refused to smile and looked like the cat that ate the canary.  He made a wry face and uttered this ominous indictment:  “In dismissing Loubet’s unrivaled chef, Fallieres has wrought a national calamity.”

Now, back in 1891 and 1892, several newspapers in Australia, the UK and America took to printing the same quick joke in their humour columns:

Father:  That cat made an awful noise in the back garden last night.
Son:  Yes, sir.  I guess that since he ate the canary, he thinks he can sing.

Prior to the printing of the joke, however, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to the phrase.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Snowball’s Chance In Hell

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 11, 2011

The expression snowball’s chance in Hell means you have no reasonable hope whatsoever of achieving something you are hoping to achieve.  The concept, of course, is that no matter how cold snow is, even when compacted into a snowball, the chances it will still be snow — or water — once it’s introduced to Hell are nil.

Now there are those who will ask, “But why would anyone want to toss a snowball into Hell? Everyone knows about the fires of Hell, right?”  Well, Hell isn’t always perceived by all people as being one huge pit of never-ending fire.

Zamhareer is one Hell pit in Islamic tradition that is characterized by extreme blizzards, ice and snow that no living being can bear.  But then there are other pits of Hell that are definitely identified as the extreme opposite of Zamhareer

In Dante’s Divine Comedy the final ring of Hell at the centre of the world is a frozen lake called Cocytus. But overall, Hell‘s a pretty hot place.

In Canada, on September 11, 1980, in the Ottawa Citizen then-Quebec Premier René Lévesque was quoted as saying the following after a day-long debate on the proposed Charter of Rights that would nullify parts of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language:

Trudeau is asking for something that is not practical, something unrealistic.  He wanted to divide and conquer while giving an appearance of generosity.  But a lot of people saw him coming; I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting his charter in.

In the end the score was Snowball 1, Quebec 0.  And that wasn’t the first time snowballs and Hell had been mentioned or implied as part of politics in North America.

Back on August 20, 1956, the Victoria Advocate of Victoria (TX) ran a story on page 4 of that day’s newspaper in the “Matter of Fact” column by Joseph and Stewart Alsop.  It discussed the impression left at the Democratic convention.

As for the outcome, well, they really did not think Stevenson had a snowball’s chance in Hell of carrying their particular states if Eisenhower’s health held up.  Of course, you had to remember the big Democratic gains in 1954.  But if you were really honest about it, the President’s health was the one real factor to watch.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent News of September 2, 1938 reported the inside story of the Pope-Clark primary in Idaho and President Roosevelt’s reluctance to back defeated Senator Pope as an independent candidate.

Jim Farley was given a fill in on the intrigue when he passed through the state (of Idaho) on his return trip from Alaska.  It convinced him that Mr. Pope, running as an independent, wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance to beat the machine.  So he phoned Hyde Park by long distance, begging F.D.R. to make no commitments until he had learned the facts.

While the expression has been used in many situations, it seems that it’s a favourite when speaking of extreme situations in politics.

An etymology dictionary Idiomation consulted claimed that the expression dates back to 1931 but did not provide a source to support that claim. 

The earliest publication of the expression Idiomation was able to find goes back to  1938 and is used with such familiarity as to imply it was a well used expression by that time.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »