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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Another Think Coming

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 6, 2018

The battle continues as to whether the expression is you’ve got another think coming or you’ve got another thing coming. This week on Idiomation, both expressions are shared on this blog so you can make an educated decision as to which expression works best for you.

The expression you’ve got another think coming is in many ways a well-worded mathematical equation with real life implications. In other words, if you think A and B are true, you will be surprised to learn they do not add up to X as you think it will. Yes, when you are told you have another think coming, you have been advised you are sorely mistaken in your beliefs and need to reconsider your original thought if you want to be right.

So if you think you this is an easy riddle to unravel, you might have another think coming … or not.

Most English teachers will tell you that think is a verb however in this instance think is actually a noun. A noun? Yes because a noun identifies the subject in a sentence while a verb ascribes action. So when that think is coming as a result of the first think, it’s obvious that the thinks in question are subjects and not actions. What those thinks are doing or are going to be doing are the verbs.

Think as a noun first appeared in dictionaries in 1834 and referred to the act of thinking or a period of thinking. In fact, there’s an expression from the late 1800s that clearly expresses this thought: A thing must be a think before it be a thing.

That sentence was from a novel by Scottish author, poet, and minister George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) titled “Home Again” and published in 1884. The concept is found in Chapter IV: A Living Force.

“I should so like to understand!” said Molly. “If you have a thought more beautiful than the narcissus, Walter, I should like to see it! Only if I could see it, it would be a thing, would it not? A thing must be a think before it be a thing. A thing is a ripe think, and must be better than a think — except it lose something in ripening — which may very well be the man’s thoughts, but hardly with God’s! I will keep in front of the things, and look through them to the thoughts behind them. I want to understand! If a thing were not a thought first, it would not be worth anything! And everything has to be thought about, else we don’t see what it is! I haven’t got it quite!”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy literature, and mentored Lewis Carroll (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), the author of the Alice stories. He was also a literary influence on such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter de la Mare.

His books include “Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women” published in 1858 and “The Princess and the Goblin” published in 1872 among other titles.

Three years after George MacDonald shared his thoughts on thinking, the concept of having another think coming was published in the 9 April 1897 edition of the Daily Argus newspaper:

Having elected him republicans think they have some voice in the distribution of the spoils and there is where they have another think coming to them.

It wasn’t something that was a one-off sharing of the idiom as it also appeared in the 29 April 1897 edition of the Washington Post newspaper in an article headline:  Another “Think” Coming To Them.

Two years after that, it was prominently featured in an article in the 24 September 1898 edition of the Quincy Whig newspaper:

Chicago thinks it wants a new charter. Chicago has another think coming. It doesn’t need a new charter as much as it needs some honest officials.

So when someone has another think coming to them, know that this phrase is correct and was first published in this form in 1887 with the logic of it all courtesy of George MacDonald in 1884.

Idiomation is certain that after reading this entry, you can hardly wait to read the history and meaning of another thing coming.  Breathe easy, readers:  You need only wait for Thursday’s entry to finally know everything that needs to be known about both expressions!


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

Move The Goalposts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

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


Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 3, 2015

The word freegan has been popping up in news stories more and more often of late.  What is a freegan?  A freegan is an activist who scavenges for free food to reduce consumption of resources.  Rather than buy food in a traditional grocery store or restaurant, a freegan consumes food that other people, stores, and organizations throw away.

But freeganism goes beyond just foraging for food in dumpsters.   Freegans embrace scavenging, volunteering, and squatting over buying, working, and renting, with a primary focus of living entirely off the grid (an impossibility, however, that is the ultimate goal).

Many freegans look at their lifestyle as a way to reduce the need to be gainfully employed, and refer to employment in negative terms.  They oftentimes feel that the money based economy in which we live impacts negatively on the core economy of home and family.

The word freegan is a mash-up of two words:  free and vegan.

On August 9, 2014 the Lacrosse Tribune published an article by Allison Geyer about activist Rob Greenfield.  This activist went a year without showering in the traditional sense from April 21, 2013 through to April 20, 2014 as his way to promote water conservation awareness.  In 2012, he traveled to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) on a one-way ticket and only took his passport, his cellphone, and the clothes on his back with him.  He hitchhiked back home to raise awareness that international travel is possible without money and possessions.

In 2014, the Ashland, Wisconsin native was biking from California to New York via a homemade bamboo-frame bike with only a tent, sleeping mat, some clothing, cellphone, computer, and solar charger for his bike lights to his name.  The article was entitled, “Free-Wheeling Freegan Bikes To Promote Sustainability.”

The word was used in a Gettysburg Times article by Bonnie Erbe on August 22, 2006.  Please note that The Post referred to is the Washington Post newspaper.

The Post reports on one 17-year-old who was “caught (by a store employee” dumpster diving, though he is neither homeless nor destitute.  He considers himself a ‘freegan‘ — a melding of the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’ — meaning he tries not to contribute to what he sees as the exploitation of land, resources and animals wrought by commercial production.”

While the Merriam Webster Dictionary claims the word was first used in 2006, the word appeared in the Houston Press on November 25, 2004 in a news story entitled, “Free Lunch.”  The article, written by Keith Plocek, told the story of Patrick Lyons who grew up near Rice University, attended Lamar High School, and who (at the time) worked at the Menil Collection.

The journalist shared the freegan belief with readers:  Whenever a product is purchased, the purchaser contributes to the problem of consumerism.  To get around and avoid consumerism as much as possible, a freegan must be willing to dig around dumpsters for his or her meals.

The article included this paragraph as well:

Lyons is a freegan. He doesn’t want to contribute to consumer society, so he eats for free whenever possible. Sometimes that means digging through Dumpsters behind grocery stores.

What’s more, the article stated that the local chapter of freegans had been in Houston for ten years, and that the national movement had been in existence for twenty-four years.  This means that the word freegan existed as early as 1980.

No earlier published mention of freegan was found before 1980, and so Idiomation pegs this word to 1980 when the movement began.


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


Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 29, 2015

Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing.  Named after the synthetic carpeting that  is meant to look like green grass, the term astroturfing is meant to be a spoof of the idiom grassroots.   On the Internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identities.  Additionally astroturfers sometimes create multiple online personas to astroturf.

In other words, astroturf groups and online astroturfers are meant to look like grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but they are primarily conceived and funded by groups who are intent on disseminating information that calls into question facts and evidence, or to take down an individual, group, corporation, or association that astroturfers believe threatens the success of the astroturf agenda.

The University of Texas at Austin published a glossary of terms used in American politics (click HERE to view the page).  Astroturfing is the first term on the list.

To give readers some background information on what Astro Turf is, the product was invented and patented in 1965 by Donald L. Elbert, James M. Faria, and Robert T. Wright who worked for Monsanto Industries.  Originally, it was called ChemGrass but the following year, when it was used at the Houston Astrodome where the Houston Astros played, it was renamed Astro Turf.

What this means is that astroturfing couldn’t have been used in any sense prior to 1966.

On May 27, 2008 the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a Los Angeles Times article by Tom Hamburger, Chuck Neubauer and Janet Hook entitled, “Untying Ties To Lobbyists Not Easy.”  Midway through the article, the following was written:

In the Obama campaign, top strategist David Axelrod owns a political consulting company in Chicago and is also a partner in a company that specializes in what BUsiness Week magazine described as “astroturfing,” also called grass-roots lobbying.  It has organized campaigns to build public support to influence state and local government decisions, sometimes working with corporate backed “citizen organizations” that espouse the company’s point of view.

The Spokesman Review of July 12, 1995 talked about the behavior in an article by Molly Ivins entitled, “Astroturf: The Artificial Grass-roots Support Kind.”  The article opened with this paragraph:

Astroturf” is a political term for phony grass-roots organizations supported with corporate money.  In one of the more berserk developments in the history of modern politics, astroturf has become such a profitable (estimated $1 billion a year) and sophisticated business that public relations firms are now warring with one another about who provides astroturf and who provides “real” grass-roots organizing.

Five years earlier, it was found in a quote used in a news article in the Washington Post on May 12, 1990 in a story about the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO had taken a position on the issue of abortions that resulted in an avalanche of communications from letters to phone calls from people objecting to their stand on the issue.  The article highlighted the comments of U.S. labor union leader Joseph Lane Kirkland (12 March 12 1922 – 14 August 1999) who served as President of the AFL-CIO for more than 16 years.  In the news story, the following was reported:

But rather than concede the sincerity of those who want the AFL-CIO to remain neutral on abortion, he snidely remarked, “I’ve been around a while, and I think I can tell grass roots from Astroturf.”

Sources claim that the idiom was found with the spirit of its current use in an unidentified public statement made by then-US Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen (11 February 11 1921 – 23 May 2006) from Texas.  In 1985, he supposedly wrote in the public statement that “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf … this is generated mail.”

The difficulty in not having access to the published statement is that it may or may not be factual.  In fact, the quote that compares grass to Astroturf has been attributed to a number of sports personalities.

What is known is that at some point between 1966 and 1985, someone used the word as it is used in today’s vernacular.  At this point, credit is given to the late Lloyd Bentsen.


Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

With A Grain Of Salt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 28, 2014

When you take something with a grain of salt, you don’t take what’s being said or written as being completely factual or true.  In fact, it could be said that you aren’t taking it at face value.

Interestingly enough, it sometimes appears as a Latin phrase as in the news article entitled, “Republicans Smell Blood In Presidential Race” written by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake for the Washington Post on August 10, 2011.  The article spoke about data collected from the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center that looked at whether Americans wanted Obama to face a primary challenge.  Along with the statistics and the poll results, the writers added:

Polls are, of course a snapshot in time and are rightly taken cum grano salis. But, it’s not hard to read between the data points on this particular survey.

Of course, the expression was also used in English as in the article by NFL National Lead Writer, Ty Schalter when he wrote, “Detroit Lions’ Success: Take It With A Grain Of Salt” published a bit more than a month later on September 22, 2011.  He even included the idiom in the article.

As fans, we are tempted to tap the brakes. To pull back on the reins. To take this early success with a grain of salt.

In 1935, Robert Harry Lowie wrote and published a book titled, “The Crow Indians.”  As you can imagine, the book was about the Crow Indians living on a reservation near the core of the tribal territory southeast of Billings, Montana and northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming, and were identified in the book as being related to the Sioux of the Dakotas.  In describing the politics of the camp the author wrote about, he wrote the following.

Appointed by the camp chief, the police were considered subordinate to him; and he could thus, according to Leonard, a fur trader of the thirties, veto every one of their acts.   However, the statement must be taken with a grain of salt.  The chief himself was not an autocrat, and the constabulary normally acted only on special occasions, such as those mentioned above.  Apart from these, the people hardly felt the weight of authority.

Nearly 100 years earlier, in “The Baptist Magazine” a letter was published, dated July 13, 1836 where the author was identified by only an initial, E.  The letter was published with the title, “Baptists In Scotland.”

I had almost forgotten to take notice, as I intended to do, of one of your correspondent’s statements, in detailing some of the principles of the Scotch Baptists, in the first paragraph of his letter.  He says, they “contend for a plurality of elders,mutual exhortation by the brethren on the Lord’s day, and disapprove of pastoral support.”  The first peculiarity here stated may possibly be held by many of us as a principle, but being so often departed from in practice, the assertion requires to be qualified with a grain of salt; a plurality of elders being rather looked upon as desirable, than as absolutely indispensible.  The exhortation of the brethren is generally practised, although not, I hope, in every possible case, dogmatically insisted upon; but the third statement in the above quoted sentence, that we disapprove of pastoral support, I positively deny without any qualification at all.

Interestingly enough, in Italy there is an expression:  avere sale in zucca.  Zucca (meaning pumpkin) is a humorous reference to one’s head and one’s intelligence and ability to reason.  When one is told to have salt in their pumpkin, they’re being reminded to use a little bit of intelligence and common sense to reason things out.  In other words, good judgment and some intellect is reflected in reference to the grain of salt needed to do so.

And since Italian is a romance language that derives from Latin, the connection between avere sale in zucca and cum grano salis is easily made.  In fact, up until the 20th century, the Latin cum grano salis was preferred over the English variant with a grain of salt.

But why salt?  What is the importance of salt that it should be linked to intellect and judgement?

In ancient times, salt was a necessity of life and was used as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a unit of monetary exchange, and in ceremonies.  In fact, in 2 Chronicles 13, verse 5 the covenant of salt (one which can never be broken because it is an irrevocable pledge that promises undying fidelity to God) is spoken of thusly:

Should you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?

Even Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) spoke of the need for salt when he wrote:  A civilized life is impossible without salt.  Strangely enough, Pliny also mentioned the last line in a formula of 72 ingredients that were to be taken as an antidote for poison in his book Historia Naturalis.  The formula was found at the palace of King Mithridates VI in 63 BC when it was seized by the armies of Rome by General Pompey aka Pompey the Great (106-48 BC).  And what was that last line of this amazing formula, you ask?

Pliny translated the formula with this last line included:  To be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt.

Medieval writers, transcribing the writings of Pliny the Elder understood this to mean that Pliny was skeptical of the account given by General Pompey (106-48 BC) — also known as Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus — regarding the poison antidote and the many ingredients therein.  However, Pliny the Elder used the Latin term most associated with his era which would have been addito salis grano.  Instead they attributed the Medieval Latin equivalent which was cum grano salis.

What this appears to mean is that with a grain of salt was first used in Medieval times with the meaning we use these days.   That being said, the value of salt, continues to be as important to our lives now as it was centuries ago, and you don’t need to take that comment with a grain of salt.


Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Religious References, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Devil Is In The Details

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 22, 2014

The devil is in the details is one of those sayings that sound great but not too many people are able to figure out what it means. Its meaning is similar to the one implied when speaking about a ghost in the machine or deus ex machina. In other words, details are important and when details are overlooked, problems arise.

For example, if your grandmother is knitting you a sweater and she drops a stitch early on in the pattern, you can be guaranteed that when she’s finished knitting that sweater, it’s going to have a mistake in it and all because she overlooked that dropped stitch. If you or your grandmother claim that the sweater is perfect, that’s not quite true as will be borne out in the details (the dropped stitch).

Another example has to do with contracts and fine print. When handed a contract, a quick read through usually doesn’t send up any red flags. Later on, however, red flags might start going up when reading the fine print that’s an integral part of that contract. If you sign without paying attention to the fine print (the details), you could be in for a sorry surprise later on.  Why? Because the devil’s in the details.

Earlier today (22 January 2014), in screenwriter and columnist,Robert J. Elisberg’s article about Democratic Texas state senator, Wendy Davis and published on the Huffington Post website. There’s been considerable controversy of late with regards to her back story, and while the overall story is correct, there seem to be discrepancies in the details according to some. The article was aptly entitled, “The Devil Is in the Details.”

In 1996, Kenneth S. Brentner of the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virgina presented his paper at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference. His presentation was about the “accurate prediction of the aeroacoustic field generated by aerospace vehicles or nonaerospace machinery” that is necessary to control and reduce source noise. Idiomation doesn’t pretend to understand what was revealed in the presentation. The title of the paper, however, was “Numerical Algorithms for. Acoustic Integrals: The Devil Is In The Details.”

In 1978, journalist Robert Rowen reported on the meeting of European heads of state in Bremen, West Germany. His article was published in the Washington Post newspaper on July 8 and stated:

European heads of state yesterday announced agreement to study a new monetary stabilization system for Europe. . . The details will not be worked out at least until the December meeting of the council —and perhaps not by then. ‘There is an old German saying,’ an experienced hand here reminded, ‘that the devil is in the details.’

In the 520-page book entitled, “Weapon Systems Acquisition Process, Hearings Before The Committee of Armed Services: United States Senate” from December 1971. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the idiom was used in the publication.

They have no time for the details of their day to day operations. But, as you and I know, the devil is in the details. They do not appear to understand that no company has a license to stay in business forever.

And in 1937, German architect, poet, and writer, Erhard Horst Bellermann was quoted as saying the devil is in the details. But even he wasn’t the first to use this expression. Jumping back to two more generations, German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) is quoted as having said, “Der Teufel steckt im Detail” which translates directly to “the devil is in the details.”

This expression is found in a number of countries and is identified as a proverb. Italians know it as Il diavolo sta nei dettagli and the Spanish know it as El diablo está en los detalles. The Brasilians say O diabo está nos detalhes, while the Turks say Şeytan ayrıntıda gizlidir. However, at the same as this expression was being said in countries around the world, an opposite idiom was also being said.

Swiss architect, designer, painter, writer and urban planner, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret Gris (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965) aka Le Corbusier is quoted as having said often that God was in the details which is a direct translation of the French saying, le bon Dieu est dans le detail.  Le Corbusier’s colleague, German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (27 March 1886 – 19 August 1969) aka Mies was quoted in newspapers articles, saying that when it came to his buildings, God was in the details.

The saying was a favorite of French novelist, Gustave Flaubert (12 December 1821 – 08 May 1880) who is best known for his novel, “Madame de Bovary” which was published in 1857.

Despite in-depth research, Idiomation was unable to find the first published version of either the Devil is in the details or God is in the details, in any language. Idiomation is confident that some of our readers and visitors may hold clues to the history of this intriguing expression.


Posted in Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Lame Duck

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 18, 2013

Lame ducks are such interesting creatures, figuratively speaking. In politics, a lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and in most cases the successor to that politician has either already been elected to replace him or is being groomed to replace him. In legislative terms and still within the framework of politics, a lame duck is a session that’s inactive. If you’re talking game design, a lame duck is a player in the game who can’t win and yet remains in the game as an active player. In all nutshell, a lame duck is a person or thing that finds himself or herself or itself less capable, and currently disabled, helpless, ineffective, or inefficient.

The Seattle Times republished a news story by Washington Post reporter, David A. Fahrenthold on December 17, 2010 that talked about the most recent session of Congress where frantic legislators hurried all sorts of things. The article, stated:

In 1933, historians say, the country ratified a constitutional amendment intended to kill off sessions like this, where defeated legislators return to legislate. The headline in The Washington Post was “Present Lame-Duck Session Will Be Last.”

So what was this Lame Duck session to which David A. Fahrenthold referred?

On March 2, 1932 Senator George W. Norris put forward a proposal that would later be ratified on January 23, 1933 and take effect on October 15, 1933. This proposal became known as the twentieth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the amendment was to reduce the amount of time between election day and the beginning of Presidential, Vice Presidential and Congressional terms. In other words, the amendment called for Congress and each new President to take office in January instead of March (as had been the customary practice), thereby eliminating the lame-duck session of Congress.

It was such an interesting news story that newspapers across the U.S. and abroad kept abreast of the unfolding proposal. This included the Milwaukee Journal of August 2, 1932 that reported on the proposal in a story entitled, “Lame Duck Amendment.”

The lame duck amendment, it will be recalled, proposes to make the federal government more immediately responsible to the will of the people by ending the “short session” of congress and by putting congressmen and president into office in the January following the November elections. Under present constitutional provisions, a defeated president remains in office more than four months after his defeat and a defeated congressman has the same time in which to continue in a course that has been disapproved by the voters. The new congressman, unless a special session is called, must wait thirteen months before taking over the duties to which he has been elected.

While additional details were provided in the story, one last bit should be included and that is to say that the lame duck amendment was seen as a desirable amendment from the standpoint of voters. And why might that be? As the newspaper put it:

Every congressman and every person ambitions to be a congressman figures that some day he may be a “lame duck” seeing what advantage he can from his last days in congress.

Another reason for putting forth this proposal had to do with the 1876 election where Samuel J. Tilden took the popular vote, and neither he nor Rutherford B. Hayes had the majority of the votes of the Electoral College. Because of this, Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes both claimed the same electoral votes in some of the states, thereby complicating matters considerably.

The Manufacturers and Farmers Journal of July 18, 1895 ran a story about the Valkyrie III, a sailing yacht of great acclaim. The article was entitled, “Valkyrie III Criticised: She Showed Herself A Lame Duck In A Strong Breeze.” The article began with this description of the yacht:

Valkyrie III is not exactly the same cutter in light and heavy winds. In light winds she proved herself alongside of Britannia and Ailsa, at Rothesay, June 29, the fastest light-weather yacht under canvas ever built in this country but on the 3rd, with a strong breeze, she showed herself a veritable lame duck.

In 1847, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote and published a book entitled, “Vanity Fair.” In Chapter 13, which was entitled, “Sentimental And Otherwise,” comments about Amelia’s father (identified in the story as Mr. Sedley) and his poor business decisions of late are discussed by Mr. Osborne and George. The discussion is important insofar as George is engaged to be married to Amelia, and this information could lead to calling off the engagement.

“I don’t deny it; but people’s positions alter, sir. I don’t deny that Sedley made my fortune, or rather put me in the way of acquiring, by my own talents and genius, that proud position, which, I may say, I occupy in the tallow trade and the City of London. I’ve shown my gratitude to Sedley; and he’s tried it of late, sir, as my cheque-book can show. George! I tell you in confidence I don’t like the looks of Mr. Sedley’s affairs. My chief clerk, Mr. Chopper, does not like the looks of ‘em, and he’s an old file, and knows ‘Change as well as any man in London. Hulker & Bullock are looking shy at him. He’s been dabbling on his own account I fear. They say the Jeune Amelie was his, which was taken by the Yankee privateer Molasses. And that’s flat—unless I see Amelia’s ten thousand down you don’t marry her. I’ll have no lame duck’s daughter in my family. Pass the wine, sir—or ring for coffee.”

To this end, it would seem that the expression is from the London Stock Market and refers to investors who were unable to pay their debts. Animals seem to be a favorite expression when it comes to stock markets; terms such as the well-known bulls and bears of the stock market. However the term dove was also used in London and is a British slang term meaning someone is a sucker, and rook, which means a swindler or to swindle, is actually a species of European crow.

The Edinburgh Advertiser reported on October 22, 1772 that many people had gone broke in the London stock market (Exchange Alley).  The newspaper story stated:

Yesterday being the settling day for India stock, the bulls had a balance to pay to the bears to the amount of 23 per cent. Only one lame duck waddled out of the alley, and that too for no greater a sum than 20,000 £.

And the Berrow’s Worcester Journal edition of September 12, 1771 published an announcement that advertised a catalogue of new books and plays “just going to be published” could be found with the names of the respective authors alongside. One such book was entitled, “The Lame Duck” by Lauchlin Macleane.

Going back just a few months prior, the Oxford Magazine of January 1771 published by “A Society of Gentlemen, Members of the University of Oxford” reviewed books, shared essays, printed letters and more. Of particular note was what was found on page 151 (just ahead of the Poetical Essays) where the following was published:

Being asked the other day why he did not visit his old friend at the Tower, he answered, “Because I am lame.” “No,” replied his Catechist, “You are not yet, to our misfortune, a lame Duck; but your back is broke by the weight of your contract, and it makes you so unweildy, that you cannot travel so far as the Tower.”

In a letter dated 28 December 1761 the Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, wrote to the British envoy in Tuscany, Sir Horace Mann, he wrote this:

I had rather have a bronze than a thousand pounds in the Stocks; for if Ireland or Jamaica are invaded, I shall still have my bronze: I would not answer so much for the funds, nor will I buy into the new loan of glory. If the Romans or the Greeks were beat, they were beat; they repaired their walls, and did as well as they could; but they did not lose every sesterce, every talent they had, but he defeat affecting their Change-Alley.

The discussion was, obviously, about the stock market (which was known as Change-Alley at this point in history). Further in this same letter he wrote:

How Scipio would have stared if he had been told that he must not demolish Carthage, as it would ruin several aldermen who had money in the Punic actions. Apropos — do you know what a Bull, a Bear, and a Lame Duck are? Nay, nor I either — I am only certain they are neither animal nor fowl, but are extremely interested in the new subscription. I don’t believe I apply it right; but I feel as if I should be a lame duck if the Spaniards take the vessel that has my altar on board.”

While Horace Walpole may not have understood the term very well, it was a term that was understood by many who were involved with, or in, the Stock Market as seen in an etching on paper that is in the British Museum (museum number: J, 1.24) lettered with the title and captions in the image and annotated in ink, and entitled, “A Scene in Change-Alley, among the Bull, Bears, & Lame Duck.” This etching dates back to 1770.

Interestingly enough, Ducks-and-Drakes is a game that dates back to the 1580s that involved skipping flat stones on water. Figuratively speaking, if you were playing at Ducks-and-Drakes it meant the person was throwing something away recklessly. It would seem then, that long before the London Stock Exchange, the word duck was associated with losing important things, money being one such thing.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of lame duck than those found in the 1770s although for the term to be established in 1770 (albeit not well with some of the upper class who would have been knowledgeable about the Stock Market), the expression would go back at least one generation to 1750. That being said, the game of Ducks-and-Drakes seems to be the point of origin that led to the expression lame duck, and as such, Idiomation is pegging this expression to the 1580s.


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Pulls My Trigger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 29, 2013

Phil Williams of NewsTalk 98.7 FM out of Knoxville made the comment that a certain news story pulled his trigger. The manner in which the comment was used indicated that he felt strongly on the subject. But what did he mean by that?

If someone says that someone or something pulls their trigger, what they mean is that they feel very strongly about that person or the topic being discussed. It’s an intense reaction where the person whose trigger is pulled takes a stand, and that’s all there is to it! Whether it’s positive or negative is entirely dependent upon the specific situation.

Atlanta, Georgia singer-songwriter, Jeff Silver and Josh Osborne wrote a song about a woman that’s nothing but trouble but she somehow knows how to get men all worked up over her feminine wiles. It appeared on his 2008 release for Silvercraft Records entitled “Looking Forward Looking Back.” The song’s title is, of course, “Pulls My Trigger” and the last line in the chorus is:

That girl pulls my trigger every time.

When author/blogger Crystal Green aka Christine Cody aka Chris Marie Green reviewed the Superman movie she blogged about in her June 28, 2005 spoiler-filled blog entry “Superman Returns To Men” she wrote in part:

Girls and boys, he totally pulls my trigger. If you’re prone to heroics, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My gosh, you’ve never seen Superman done like this before. The guy can fly all right, but this time out, instead of being all, “La la la” as he meanders through the skies, he’s a rocket.

Two years before that, Laura Nation published an article entitled, “How Not To Treat Customers” that appeared in the Cleburne News edition of November 20, 2003. While she acknowledged that dealing with the public could sometimes be rough, she also maintained that if you have a job, you need to do that job to the best of your abilities.

Well, that always pulls my trigger. I try never to tell anyone what they’ll have to do. They don’t have to do anything.

And back on November 13, 1999 there was a 2-page testimony about the annual pig roast held at Mom’s Biker Bar in Longview, Texas that a group of friends from Louisiana attended. They were all (according to the author, John L. Doughty, Jr) the author’s “beer-drinkin’ and pool-shootin’ buddies and the leading citizens of Tullos.” The website retelling of the event took up 2 pages, complete with photographs to accompany the storytelling. And at one point, the author wrote:

I suppose by now some of y’all have figured out that little miss Wild Thang pulls my trigger. Here she is again in a sneaky shot I took with a telephoto lens. Around midnight that night and at least 6 long necks later when she was even less inhibited than her normal uninhibited self and so was I, she posed for a very good shot. Alas, alas, alas, the batteries were dead in my camera. There ain’t no justice.

Now then, John L. Doughty, Jr.is out of Louisiana, the Cleburne News is out of Alabama, Jeff Silver lives in Georgia, and Phil Williams is from Tennessee. So is it possible that this expression is a southern saying?

Possibly, however the expression showed up in a blog article written by blogger Jami Dwyer of Portland, Oregon and published to her Appreciator blog site on May 31, 2008. The entry was entitled, “Why No Sasquatch Next Year” where she wrote about her experience at the Sasquatch Music Festival that weekend. Her insight into the event expressed the good and not-so-good aspects of the festival, and included this tidbit:

I waved my bracelet at ID Dude #1, he spied my myriad gray hairs, and waved me through. But as I tried to move forward, ID Dude #2 said, in full authoritarian mode, “Your ID! Where’s your ID!”

Now, nothing pulls my trigger faster than a mean person.

“This is ridiculous!” I said. “I’ve been checked!” I said, waving my wristband. “YOU checked me!”

And in the Washington Post on November 16, 2006 in article written by Ugochi Onyeukwu, student journalist for the Cardozo Owl newspaper of Cardozo Senior High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C. The school has had some famous alumni over the years including, but not limited to, J. Edgar Hoover and John S. McCain, Jr. The article took on the issue or violence and the gun pledge. The piece was aptly entitled:

Why The Gun Pledge Pulls My Trigger

This indicates that either this is an expression that’s known and understood across the U.S. or it’s a southern expression that has migrated north and west (since it’s more prevalent in the south than in the north). But all that said and done, Idiomation was unable to trace it back to anything published prior to 1999.

That it was used with such ease and with the expectation of being understood underscores the fact that there is a history to this idiom; it just hasn’t been uncovered yet. That being said, Idiomation welcomes any leads on this idiom so its roots can finally be uncovered and shared with readers and visitors of this blog site.


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Blue Plate Special

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 3, 2013

A blue plate special is a specially low-priced meal, usually offered at diners and cafes, that consists of one meat (or fish if it was Friday) and one potato, and two vegetables, and served up on one plate as a single menu item.  Or, as it was referred to in the 1930s, a square [meal] for two bits.

On August 21, 2003, a Special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer written by Judy Wagoner discussed glasswork by John Miller that was created to look like fast food.  She referred to it as an homage to the greasy spoon, small-town diner.  The article was aptly entitled:

Blue Plate Special‘ Casts A Congealed Eye On Diner Fare

When Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote about politics in Washington, the article was carried in the Vancouver Sun.  As with any political situation, there are the pros and cons of this party or the other.  But Richard Cohen had things to say about the goings on in Washington and it started with this paragraph:

There is something about politics that reminds me of the Blue Plate special.  You have to take it all or you take none of it.  The rule in politics as in all cheap restaurants is usually the same — no substitutions.

On December 20, 1946 the Edmonton Journal published a photograph with an interesting caption beneath it.  With an opportunity to inject humor into the daily news, the editor decided to allow that to happen.  And so, beneath the photo of cattle in Colorado, the following caption was placed:

This is a case of serving the ‘blue plate special‘ dinner to future blue plate special dinners.  It is a photograph of Colorado ranchmen feeding their beef cattle by tractor-drawn sleds after a blizzard left thousands of cattle stranded and starving in the snow.  Airplanes were also used to drop hay to herds which could not be reached by sled.

In the January 1929 edition of “The Restaurant Man” periodical, an article entitled, “Quick Lunchplaces Have Own Vernacular” was published where a quick mention was made about blue plate specials:

A blue plate is the label given a special daily combination of meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables, sold at a special price, and is ordered with the words, blue plate.

Now long before then, Frederick Henry Harvey (who, at the time, was working as a general freight agent at the time for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad) opened a string of Harvey House restaurants at railroad stations (making Fred Harvey the creator of the chain restaurant concept).  These restaurants served train passengers riding on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, the Kansas Pacific Railway, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, among others.  When a Harvey  House restaurant was built in Hugo (Oklahoma) in 1914, it was no different than the others.  Right there on the menu, passengers with only a short period of time between trains could order the blue-plate special.

The company established in 1875 is said to have created the expression blue plate special, debuting it on a Harvey House restaurant menu on October 22, 1892.  It was described as a “daily low-priced complete meal served on a blue-patterned china plate.”  With this new addition to his already high standards set for his staff and the food they served, Fred Harvey continued to build his reputation by presenting fine dining on china plates to train passengers sitting at tables dressed with fine Irish linens with Sheffield silver to complete the experience.

If there are any historians out there who know more about this fascinating bit of railroad history, Idiomation would love to hear from you.


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