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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Irving’

Almighty Dollar

Posted by Admin on January 13, 2015

When someone views material goods and possessions as more valuable than anything else in life, it’s said that the person has placed his or her faith in the almighty dollar.  It can also mean that the person in question feels that his or her financial worth makes him or her more powerful than anyone else with whom he or she comes into contact.

Ozzy Osbourne liked the phrase so much that back in 2007, he used it in his song “Almighty Dollar” on his album, “Black Rain.”

When Charles Dickens wrote “American Notes For General Circulation” in 1842, he made sure to include the almighty dollar in Chapter III entitled, “Boston.”  The passage wasn’t complimentary towards Boston or Bostonians in the least.  In fact, the author wrote that the influences and tendencies which he distrusted in America may have been only his personal views on the country, but he was also just as quick to add that perhaps he wasn’t mistaken at all in his summation of the country.

The fact of the matter is that, contrary to how it may seem in his book, Charles Dickens loved America and its people.  In fact, in the Preface to this book he wrote:

Prejudiced, I am not, and never have been, otherwise than in favour of the United States. I have many friends in America, I feel a grateful interest in the country, I hope and believe it will successfully work out a problem of the highest importance to the whole human race. To represent me as viewing AMERICA with ill-nature, coldness, or animosity, is merely to do a very foolish thing: which is always a very easy one.

However, when it came to writing about Boston, he was just as quick to remark the following:

It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe the almost imperceptible, but not less certain effect, wrought by this institution among the small community of Boston; and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires it has engendered; the affectionate friendships to which it has given rise; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts of that vast counting-house which lies beyond the Atlantic; and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.

When American author Washington Irving — author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — first visited Louisiana’s bayou country, the approach to life the people exhibited was one that appealed to Irving.  This easy-going way the people had became the basis for his story, “The Creole Village” published in the November 12, 1836 edition of Knickerbocker Magazine.

As we swept away from the shore, I cast back a wistful eye upon the moss-grown roofs and ancient elms of the village, and prayed that the inhabitants might long retain their happy ignorance, their absence of all enterprise and improvement, their respect for the fiddle, and their contempt for the almighty dollar.

It’s true that Edward Bulwer-Lytton added to Washington Irving’s idiom, by stretching the idiom out to become the “pursuit of the almighty dollar” as is seen in his novel “The Coming Race” published in 1871.

But Washington Irving can’t take full credit for the idiom, the spirit of which is found in English playwright, poet, and literary critic, Ben Jonson’s “The Forest” published in 1616, an older version of the idiom is found in the “Epistle To Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland” where Madam begins by saying:

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold,
And almost every vice, almighty gold,
That which, to boot with hell, is thought worth heaven

Even then, the phrase already implied what it means in today’s terms.  However, the phrase goes back even further than that with regards to Ben Jonson (11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) — a literary rival of William Shakespeare.  He used the very same line as in a letter to the Countess of Rutland in 1599 as he did in the epistle written 17 years later. Elizabeth was the Countess of Rutland from March 1599 — when she married Roger Manners,5th Earl of Rutland — until her death in 1612.

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold, and almost every vice — almighty gold.

From a historical perspective, it was after the Crusades (1095 to 1291) that gold began to climb within economies as the price for all commodities was measured by gold.  To this end, gold signed power in that whoever had the gold, held the power regardless of whether it was a King or a merchant.  This led to people perceiving gold as being powerful … all-powerful … even almighty.  Some even worshipped gold as much, if not more than, God Almighty.

So while Washington Irving may have been the first make mention of the almighty dollar, the spirit has been used by generations going back to at least the 13th century.  The religious overtone that seems to be part of the idiom is incidental, as commerce has shown.

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

Creature Comforts

Posted by Admin on April 26, 2013

Have you ever heard talk about creature comforts? Those are things that make life comfortable and pleasant … food, clothing, housing, and other necessities that take care of the physical aspects of the individual. In other words, material comforts that are responsible in part for one’s physical well-being, but that are not considered luxuries by others.

Malabar Hornblower wrote an article that was published in the New York Times on February 21, 1999 entitled, “Creature Comforts for Homo Sapiens.” The article discussed the parks, game reserves and conservation areas in Africa and included this commentary:

There is an abundance of accommodations providing all levels of luxury. For visitors who, like my husband, Bill Brewster, and me, relish their creature comforts, the choice of lodges is almost as critical as picking game-viewing sites. When it comes to making the final selections, it feels a bit like Russian roulette.

Back on December 4, 1949 the St. Petersburg Times ran an article entitled, “Strength Through Unity In Arms Is Not Enough.” The story was about the unanimous agreement on defense plans that was reached by the North American Pact allies and whether this would provide achieve the goals the allies hoped to achieve. It read in part:

It follows, consequently, that this system must be economically sound. That is not simply because man’s basic creature comforts must be satisfied. Only when those basic comforts are provided — when freedom from want is reasonably assured — can there be true progress in the arts and sciences. Men do not reach for the stars with empty bellies; they grub in the earth for food.

In Chapter XI of Jack London’s book “The Iron Heel” published 1908, describes the fall of America to a fascist dictatorship composed of a group of monopoly capitalists.

Father must have had strong in him the blood of adventure. He looked upon our catastrophe in the light of an adventure. No anger nor bitterness possessed him. He was too philosophic and simple to be vindictive, and he lived too much in the world of mind to miss the creature comforts we were giving up. So it was, when we moved to San Francisco into four wretched rooms in the slum south of Market Street, that he embarked upon the adventure with the joy and enthusiasm of a child–combined with the clear sight and mental grasp of an extraordinary intellect. He really never crystallized mentally.

For those of you who may not recognize the name Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), he is the 19th century American author and diplomat who wrote Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  He also wrote “Astoria or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains” which was published in February 1836. In Chapter XLVIII the following is found:

The two Canadians, Vallee and Le Clerc, killed a young buffalo bull in the evening, which was in good condition, and afforded them a plentiful supply of fresh beef. They loaded their spits, therefore, and crammed their camp kettle with meat, and while the wind whistled, and the snow whirled around them, huddled round a rousing fire, basked in its warmth, and comforted both soul and body with a hearty and invigorating meal. No enjoyments have greater zest than these, snatched in the very midst of difficulty and danger; and it is probable the poor wayworn and weather- beaten travellers relished these creature comforts the more highly from the surrounding desolation, and the dangerous proximity of the Crows.

While all this is very interesting, the expression appears in all sorts of documents. A number of dictionaries claim that the expression dates to the early to mid 1600s when creature was used in the context that creatus (past participle of Latin creare) referred to anything that ministered “to man’s comforts.”

The term creature from the Latin creatus actually dates back to between 1250 and 1300, however, it took another 300 or so years to take on the meaning ascribed to it in the 1600s.

The American Heritage Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1659. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1652. Webster’s Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was in 1650. The Oxford Dictionary claims the first published record of the expression was some time during the 1650s. But none of these dictionaries provided a source to support their respective claims.

In researching the 1600s in the hopes of uncovering who appears to have first used the expression, Idiomation uncovered a passage in the “Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible” by Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) and published in 1708 makes use of the expression. The commentary pertains directly to Joel 1:8-13.

All who labour only for the meat that perishes, will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. Those that place their happiness in the delights of sense, when deprived of them, or disturbed in the enjoyment, lose their joy; whereas spiritual joy then flourishes more than ever. See what perishing, uncertain things our creature-comforts are. See how we need to live in continual dependence upon God and his providence. See what ruinous work sin makes. As far as poverty occasions the decay of piety, and starves the cause of religion among a people, it is a very sore judgment. But how blessed are the awakening judgments of God, in rousing his people and calling home the heart to Christ, and his salvation!

Henry’s use of the expression implies that he assumes his readership will understand what he means by creature-comforts, which lends credence to the claim that the expression was first used sometime in the 1600s. Unfortunately, how much earlier that in use in Matthew Henry’s book is unknown at this time. Idiomation would like to peg it to at least 1659, if not much earlier.

With that in mind, the fact remains that the expression is implied in at least 2 different books in the Bible: 1 Timothy 4:4 – 8 and Joel 1:8-13.

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

Dollars To Doughnuts

Posted by Admin on February 4, 2013

When you’re betting dollars to doughnuts, what you’re really doing is betting on an almost certainly sure thing. In other words, dollars have a value, while doughnuts — being shaped like zeros — have none.

In the magazine, SaskBusiness the editor, Keith Moen, authored an article on what he referred to as “messy, fear-mongering campaigns” in 2003 and again in 2004. Published on June 1, 2004, his point was that Canada couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be thought of as a Third World country, the Canadian economy didn’t succeed on the backs of slaves or serfs, and no Canadian he knew of was oppressed under a dictatorship. The editorial ended with these words of wisdom to their readership:

Yet that tax reduction line which separates good from evil must surely be a blurred one, as I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that most of our good public servants take advantage of their pension plans — even if they’re RRSP-eligible, which of course qualifies as a tax reduction strategy.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It seems more than just a little self-serving and hypocritical. Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black … or a jalapeno trying to be as cool as a cucumber.

It’s the sort of expression that’s part of the lingo but doesn’t necessarily show up in print as often as one would expect. Sure, it’s shown up in movie dialogue often enough, but it’s not in print as often as it once was. In the Schenectady Gazette of January 19, 1948 it was found in the article “Big Talk, But …” where Under Secretary Of State Robert Lovette discussed the ongoing U.S. presence in Berlin. Not everyone thought that was such a good idea as evidenced by this excerpt from the article:

It’s a dollar to doughnuts bet that the Russian leaders are chuckling up their sleeves. For Russia has every important advantage. Russia’s proximity to Germany, its military might, its diplomatic methods based on the blackjack, its Communist philosophy that appeals to many Europeans who can’t understand democracy, all put Russia in a better position than any of the other occupying powers to dictate to the Germans effectively.

It was such a well-known saying that it appeared as the title of a serial story by author Edith Ellington, and carried by such newspapers as the San Jose News in early 1941. Yes, the soap opera-style serial story was entitled, “Dollars To Doughnuts.”

The Oxnard Daily Courier of June 1, 1914 carried a United Press story entitled, “Tango Commercialized Approaches Its End.” The story claimed the death knell of the tango when it announced that a group of financiers on Wall Street had banded together to corner the tango talent market. It was described in this way:

Society takes up a fad. It flourishes on the Avenue and makes a noise like a dollar. Then the keen nosed mew of money, scenting currency, take hold of it and organize it. The craze then takes on a commercial aspect. Society hears about it and abandons the fad. The lower strata learn that society has dropped the fad, so each in turn drops it.

That has been the history of a long procession of freak things. Never before perhaps did anything so intangible as a dance go through this evolution, but it is dollars to doughnuts that with the money kings playing ping-pong with the tango, it will lose its popularity.

As we all know, the tango still exists and has been seen every season that “Dancing With The Stars” has been on television in recent history.

Back on May 16, 1890 that matter of bills and gags, Republicans and Democrats in the House, and what senators had to say about all manner of things was reported in the article, “Shutting Off The Debate.” With regards to the Dependent Pension bill and the Service bill, the following was shared with readers of then New York Times.

The Dependent Pension bill of the Senate and the Service Pension bill of the House are now in the hands of conferees  the House conference Committee having been announced to-day. Some fear is expressed by the ever-anxious lest there shall be a disagreement, so obstinate that there will be a dead-lock, and no pension legislation. The pension agents may be relied upon to break the dead-lock, and as they are more interested in the Senate bill than in that of the House, it is “dollars to doughnuts” that the Senate bill, in one respect at least, will come out of the conference victorious, notwithstanding Gen. Hawley’s injunction to the Senate that it was “not to be stampeded by claim agents.

A few years prior, the expression could be found in the Daily Nevada State Journal on February 6, 1876 in a front page story that stated:

Whenever you hear any resident of a community attempting to decry the local paper… it’s dollars to doughnuts that such a person is either mad at the editor or is owing the office for subscription or advertising.

Five weeks later, the same newspaper printed this in their publication on March 11, 1876 in an article found on page 3:

Several Benoites took advantage of the half fare tickets offered to those who were to attend the ball given by the railroad boys at Carson last night, and attended it. It’s dollars to doughnuts all enjoyed themselves.

For it to appear in a newspaper without quotation marks around the expression indicates that its meaning was understood by readers. For it to be part of the jargon in 1876 implies that it was in use in the preceding decade at the very least.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about doughnuts in her story “Farmer Boy” based on the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband. The setting for the story is 1866 and the following passage is found in the story:

That was Saturday night. All day long Mother had been baking, and when Almanzo went into the kitchen for the milkpans, she was still frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of the new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and twisting the strips.Her fingers flew, you could hardly see them. The strips seem to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat.

Plump! They went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up, to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat, and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.

The ease with which doughnuts were made is evident in this passage … certainly much easier than making a dollar in 1866.

American author Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) — who best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — included doughnuts in his novel, “Knickerbocker’s History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty” published in 1809. The author described doughnuts or, should I say, his main character, Diedrich Knickerbocker, described them thusly:

Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks —- a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, except in genuine Dutch families.

That being said, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) anthropologist, Paul R. Mullins, Ph.D. wrote a book entitled, “Glazed America: A History Of The Doughnut” that the “first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes.”

It can safely be guessed that the expression came into vogue sometime in the 1850s, giving the word doughnut time to ensconce itself in the English language and backdating the ease with which the expression dollars to doughnuts was used in newspapers by 1876.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2010

In Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811, he defined the phrase “kettle of fish” as meaning:

When a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of  it.

Before this, however, the phrase was very much in use by various authors.  In Salmagundi, the  1807 satirical work by Washington Irving, his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding we find the following:

The doctor … has employed himself … in stewing up many a woful kettle of fish.

For those who enjoy trivia,  Salmagundi is best remembered for popularizing the sobriquet Gotham for New York City which has endured over the generations through to modern times.

Joseph Andrews — or The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams — was the first full-length novel by English author and magistrate Henry Fielding.  It was published in 1742 and told the story of a good-natured footman’s adventures on the road home from London with his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. In the novel, Fielding wrote:

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling also written by Fielding was published in 1749 and in that novel he wrote:

Fine doings at my house! A rare kettle of fish I have discovered at last.

The Random House and Webster dictionaries give the origin of the phrase “kettle of fish” to England in 1735 however there is no source given as to where this reference can be found.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »