Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘WWI’

Gold Bricking

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 16, 2015

Every once in a while, you may hear someone accusing another of gold bricking.  It sounds to some as if it should be a compliment, but it isn’t.  If you accuse someone of gold bricking, you’ve accused them of idling, of shirking responsibilities, or of getting someone else to do the job they were supposed to do.  In other words, the person accused of gold bricking has tricked someone into believing that it is of value for them to take the job off the slacker’s hands and do it for him (or her).

It was in the August 2, 2003 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a story from the Associated Press was picked up and posted.  It was part of the “Auto Racing Notebook” column and began with talk of Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and car owner Chip Ganassi.  It went on to talk about the U.S. Grand Prix in June, and Ralf Schumacher, among other topics.  While the article was entitled, “Ganassi Interested In Stewart” the photo by Tom Strattman (also of the Associated Press) was captioned thusly:

Gold-Bricking?  Ryan Newman, winner of last weekend’s race at Pocono, takes a break in the garage area before the start of practice yesterday for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Qualifying for the race is today.

On October 7, 1978 the Pittsburgh Press published a story from New York by George DeWan.  It was about the largest known accumulation of gold — valued at $75 billion US at the time of the story — and where it was stored.  While the journalist noted how safe the location was, he also provided a great of detail in his story.  The headline that went with this story was, “Fed Takes Pride In Being Noted For Goldbricking.”

The Pittsburgh Press was quick to report on gold bricking on July 27, 1952 when ir reported on qualifying for insurance for vets of the Korean War, and mentioned that some of the new laws had been introduced for family members as well.  The article was entitled, “New Law Cuts Goldbricking.”

Some dictionaries claim that the term came about during World War II, however, Idiomation has found the term published in earlier news stories.

Once again, it was in the Pittsburgh Press of January 28, 1934 ran a one paragraph article in the newspaper about a situation happening in Steubenville, Ohio the previous day.  There had been a lot of firings going on, and this is what was reported.

One hundred CWA workers were removed from the payroll here on charges of drunkenness, ineligibility and the old army game of “gold-bricking.”  Charges that some of the men were drunk on the job and that others were loafing, were investigated by the complaint board.  Others were not on the eligible list, the board found.

The article, was simply titled, “Fired for Gold-Bricking.”

And in the October 26, 1923 edition of the Reading Eagle, when it was reported that Socialist candidate for mayor, J. Henry Stump, claimed that the city garbage plant was mismanaged, the article was titled, “Candidate Stump Reviews Statement Made By Mr. Smith:  Asserts City Was Gold Bricked.”   In the story proper, the following was included:

Mr. Stump quotes Mr. Smith as admitting that the city was gold bricked in purchasing the garbage plant, and asserts that the erection of an entirely new plant at the time would have meant a large saving to the city.  Councilman Smith has charge of the city’s garbage disposal.

Perhaps the dictionaries attributing the term to World War II meant it was a term that came about during World War I.  Except that, too, would be incorrect.

The Sarnia Observer newspaper of July 22, 1898 republished a story that had been published in the Windsor Record originally.  The article stated that J.D. Moor, a produce dealer of St. Marys (Ontario)  had been robbed at pistol point and relieved of $9,000 CDN by C. Mott of Philadelphia and his accomplice, J.C. Brown, also of Philadelphia.  A third man, named Bedenfield, involved in the caper managed to escape arrest and couldn’t be found by the police.  Later on, it was learned that J.C. Brown was actually J.C. Blackwell, Bedenfield was actually George Mason,and C. Mott was none other than Chas. Watts, a known Chicago criminal.  This article was entitled, “Gold Bricked The Police: Moore’s Swindlers Were Fully Identified.”

One of the most successful gold brickers was American confidence man, Reed C. Waddell (1860 – 5 April 1895) who is credited for coming up with the gold brick game.  He wasn’t the first, of course, but he was the most successful of his time when it came to gold bricking, raking in $250,000 USD in a ten-year period.

But it was in October 1879 that gold bricking became known when newspapers across the U.S. reported that the bank president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio), Mr. Newell D. Clark had been hoodwinked by miners — led by Peter Lavin — requesting an advance on a 52-pound gold brick in their possession.  The ruse was that the corners of the brick were gold however the body was the brick was not, so when Mr. Clark had the blacksmith cut off one corner of the brick, and an assayer confirmed that the corner was gold, the president of the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) advanced $10,000 USD to the miners.

In other words, that gold brick was useless to the First National Bank in Ravenna (Ohio) … and gold bricking became synonymous with being fooled or tricked.

To this end, the spirit of the word gold bricking, as it refers to shirking one’s responsibilities and convincing someone else to do the job, is carried over from the incident in 1879.

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

Right As Rain

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 28, 2013

An online friend was wondering what the expression right as rain really means and how it wound up being part of the English language. To answer her question, when something is right as rain everything is functioning optimally … perfectly, in fact.

USA Today sometimes has the most unexpected articles, and the one about Portland, Oregon on March 29, 2010 certainly surprised a number of readers. Portland’s storm sewer system, it was reported, was a tourist attraction for eco-friendly tourists interested in checking out Portland’s system of curbs, gutters, roofs and rain gardens. Who knew? Of course, the article was aptly entitled, “Portland’s Sewers Right As Rain.”

Back on July 17, 1952 the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper reported on how the Russian government in Moscow was unhappy about the upcoming conference in Honolulu that intended to set up a permanent Pacific defense council. The Russians were said to be against the prospect of such a defense council. In fact, the situation was such a hot button for both sides that the reporter wrote in part:

The Reds suspect that a treaty organization designed to prevent the spread of Communism in the Pacific world, similar to the existing North Atlantic Treaty Organization already service the same purpose in Europe, will come out at the Honolulu conference in August, and they are right as rain about that.

The Saskatoon Phoenix newspaper edition of July 3, 1915 carried a news article entitled, “Tommy Is An Optimist.” Written by a special correspondent with British Headquarters in the Field during WWI, the journalist rose above the horrors of war to include the personal side of global conflict. It’s not that he didn’t acknowledge that war was ugly business and that everyone suffered because of it, but rather, he chose to give insight into the humanity that still existed among soldiers. The article included an anecdote that happened between the chaplain and one of the soldiers brought in on a stretcher to be treated by doctors.

“Would you like to send your people a postcard, my boy?” said the Chaplain, and went on to the next stretcher. “Does — does this mean that I am going to die?” asked the lad, as he tried to scrawl a name across the front of the card.

“Nonsense,” retorted an orderly who was passing. “You’ll be as right as rain in a week.”

“Then I’ll wait before I write,” said the soldier. “There’s no use wasting the card. Besides, it says ‘I am wounded.’ I am not wounded — I’m full of this bloody gas, and as soon as me chest is clear I’m going back to ‘do’ for some of those Germans. Give us a drink!”

Some sources claim that the expression was first published in 1894 however Idiomation found a published version in a Boston Daily Globe newspaper dated March 21, 1893 in a serialized story entitled, “Fated To Suffer: The Mystery of the Blood Red Star.”  While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier publication of the phrase, that it is found in a newspaper dating back to 1893 indicates that it was already in use among the masses and as such, it can be assumed that it most likely dates back to at least 1880.

That being said, the qualifier right as has been used in a number of idioms before this date. Some of the alternatives include:

1.  Right as an adamant from “Romance Of The Rose” translated by Geoffrey Chaucer (1300 – 25 October 1400) from the poem by Guillaume de Lorris (1200 – 1240):

For by ensample tel I this,
Right as an adamant, ywis,
Can drawen to hym subtelly
The yron that is layde therby,
So draweth folkes hertes, iwys,
Syluer and golde that yeuen is.

2.  Right as a line from “Minor Poems” by John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) and published in 1430:

That heuenly spyce, hit is ful swete;
Help us perof, good bysshop Fermyae,
Sacred Cipriane, zif hit wold be gete,
With Cosme and Damane wold I dyne,
Lede us pederward as ryght as a lyne,
Seynt Myghel, to pat heuenly kyngdome
Helpyng the holy doctour Seynt Ierome.

3.  Right as is my leg from the translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611 – 1660) of “Gargantua and Pantagruel” originally written by François Rabelais (1490 – 1553) and published in 1653:

I saw another surrounded by a Croud of two sorts of Women; some were young, quaint, clever, neat, pretty, juicy, tight, brisk, buxom, proper, kind-hearted, and as right as my Leg, to any man’s thinking. The rest were old, weather-beaten, over-ridden, toothless, blear-ey’d, tough, wrinkled, shrivell’d, tawny, mouldy, ptysicky, decrepit hags, beldams, and walking Carcasses.

4.  Right as my leg from “The Comical History of Don Quixote: As It Was Acted At The Queen’s Theater In Dorset Garden By Their Majesties Servants” in Part III, Act III Scene ii by Thomas D’Urfey (1653 – 26 February 1723) and published in 1696:

Jolly Ralph was in with Pegg,
Tho freckled like a Turkey-Egg;
And she as right as is my leg,
Still gave him leave to touse her.

5.  Right as my glove from “Antiquary” by Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) and published in 1816:

“Right, Caxon! right as my glove! By the by, I fancy that phrase comes from the custom of pledging a glove as the signal of irregragable faith — right, I saw, as my glove, Caxon — bet we of the Protestant ascendancy have the more merit in doing that duty for nothing, which cost money in the reign of that empress of superstition, whome Spenser, Caxon, terms, in his allegorical phrase.”

6.  Right as ninepence from “Frank Fairlegh: Scenes From The Life Of A Private Pupil” by Francis Edward Smedley (4 October 1818 – 1 May 1864) and published in 1850:

“Well, let her say ‘no’ as if she meant it,” said Lawless; “women can, if they like, eh? and then it will all be as right as ninepence. Eh! don’t you see?”

“Easier said than done, Lawless, unfortunately,” replied Coleman; “my fat rival is the son of an opulent drysalter, and last year he contrived to get rid of his father.”

And so while the idiom right as rain can only be traced back to the late 19th century, it would seem that what follows right as isn’t always important as long as it’s right as … as the many examples have proven.  So it’s actually right as that determines that everything is perfectly fine and good, and in the case of right as rain, it’s just a nice bit of alliteration as well.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Turn Black Into White

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 25, 2011

Squealer the pig was so charismatic that he was literally able to turn bad into good. He wasn’t too bright, however, which is how he became the propaganda spreader for the pigs. Anything evil was turned into something seemingly morally good once Squealer got a hold of it which led to the corruption of formerly good animals who easily fell into becoming very bad animals.

In an article entitled, “Moscow Gets Limited Support over Georgia” published by Euronews on August 28, 2008 it was reported that:

Referring to Georgia’s attack on the rebel province of South Ossetia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “I am sure that the united position of the SCO member states will have international resonance and I hope it will serve as a strong signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify this aggression.”

Just over 20 years before that article, the Los Angeles Daily News published an article on October 8, 1987 entitled, “Billionaire Boys Unrealistic, Ex-Member Says.”  In it, the article reported on a court case involving Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia who were accused of concocting a scheme to wrest millions from Reza’s father:

Reality meant nothing to the associates of the bizarre Billionaire Boys Club, according to a former member.  The members fell into a pattern of paradox philosophy, ready to turn black into and white into black.  Dean Karny testified Tuesday in the murder-conspiracy-kidnapping trial of Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, both 26.

And twenty years before that in Kentucky, the Middlesboro Daily News edition of July 15, 1967 published an article entitled, “Someone Should Define Diplomacy For Russians” that stated:

It was the usual Soviet exercise in propaganda — an attempt, by constant reiteration of simplistic phrases, to turn black into white and white into black.

On December 11, 1945 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article entitled “A Conspiracy To Turn Black Into White.”  The journalist wrote:

The similar tenor of several apologetic editorials which have appeared almost simultaneously in newspapers in different parts of the country suggests a common interest and a common direction toward the end of stifling the Pearl Harbor investigation.

But long before WWII and quite a few years before WWI, in New Zealand’s Wanganui Herald, there appeared a Letter To The Editor entitled, “Opposition Sorrows” in which the author, J.W. Kenah, wrote on September, 14, 1903:

You must not blame the Opposition papers; they are hard put to it to make out a case, and, like a drowning man, will catch at any straw.  As I have before pointed out, Conservatism acts contrary to the Creator’s laws in nature, and we need not therefore be surprised that the effort is being continually made to turn black into white and vice versa.

In George Orwell’s novel, “Animal Farm” the first chapter introduces the reader to Squealer and describes him in this way:

The best known among them was a small fat pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice.  He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.  The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.

And so, while this phrase had been used prior to the publication of “Animal Farm” it appears to have been associated with the Soviet Union and Russia in the media on a number of occasions.

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

Helter Skelter

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 30, 2010

The phrase helter skelter means that something happens very quickly but in a disorganized and confused way.  The phrase has existed since long before Charles Manson or the Beatles used the phrase. 

In fact, on November 18, 1922 the Evening Post newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand ran an article about a very successful revue that read in part:

Helter-Skelter” was an apt name for the entertainment planned and presented last night at the Concert Chamber in aid of the Mayor’s City Improvement Fund by Mr. Pat Ward, who had gathered around him apt exponents of mirth and music. 

Almost a decade earlier, on September 14, 1914, the Poverty Bay Herald in New Zealand published a news story about WWI.  The headline read:

HELTER SKELTER RETREAT CONTINUES: British and French Vigorously pursuing five days incessant Fighting – Evidences of German Rout and Demoralisation

In the previous century, Bentley’s Miscellany authored by W. Harrison Ainsworth, Esq., and published in 1841, contained the following passage:

Mr. Rasp promised to comply, and moreover to set forth his friend’s military prowess to the best advantage.

“I think,” said he, “your division stormed the Press-yard, and captured the whipping-post, during the Loyal Aldersgate Street Volunteer campaigning in 1805.”

“Right, brother Ralph,” replied the comical coffin-maker, “and when the Finsbury awkward squad routed your left wing in the City Road, and you all ran helter-skelter into the boiled buttock of beef shop in the Old Bailey, we valiant sharp-shooters protected your flank, and covered your inglorious retreat!”  And he entertained the company with this appropriate recitation.

A little over a century before that, in 1731, Irish poet Jonathan Swift wrote “Helter Skelter” which is also known as “The Hue And Cry After The Attorneys Upon Their Riding The Circuit.”

Thomas Nashe made good use of the phrase helter skelter in his ‘Four Letters Confuted’ published in 1592:

Helter skelter, feare no colours, course him, trounce him.

In the end, E. Cobham Brewer wrote in his book, “The Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of Difficult Words”  that helter skelter is an Old English phrase that means “in tumultuous confusion.”   Old English is defined as English used up until the middle of the twelfth century or about 1160.  While the book itself was published in 1870, Brewer was a fastidious researcher therefore identifying the earliest known date for the phrase helter skelter to Old English was not done without great effort and fact-checking on Brewer’s part.

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Shotgun Wedding

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 29, 2010

Rumour has it that Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had a shotgun wedding in 1532.  And records show that it’s very likely that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had a shotgun wedding as their daughter, Susanna, was christened just 6 months after their wedding.

On October 30, 1667, it was recorded in Plymouth Colony court records that America’s first shotgun wedding was between Mary Alden and Thomas Delano, the son of Philip Delanoye, one of the original settlers of Duxbury, Massachusetts.  The groom was fined ten pounds “for having carnal copulation with his now wife before marriage.”  The judge who meted out punishment was John Alden, Thomas’s father-in-law and neighbour.

And then there’s the story of one William Marion who, along with John Cameron, went on a trip to Kansas in May 1872 to visit Marion’s in-laws. After a few days, Marion returned home alone to Nebraska. Eleven years passed and a boy allegedly wearing clothing identified as Cameron’s was found walking about. Marion was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to be executed for murder.

Though he was given a new trial due to lack of sentencing by a jury, a new jury convicted him as well and he was allegedly killed on March 25, 1887 by firing squad.  Oddly enough though, in 1891, four years after the execution, Cameron turned up alive and well.  He explained that he had run away to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding. Marion was pardoned six years later in 1897.

The New York Times ran a review on February 23, 1928 of a play entitled “Rope” by David Wallace and T.S. Stribling, and based on a novel by T.S. Stribling.  The reviewer, J. Brooks Atkinson reported that the duo had “fashioned a stirring melodrama Rope mounted at the Biltmore last evening.”  Mr. Atkinson referenced mischief makers, furtive meetings, loose gossip and a shotgun wedding among other things.  All in all, it would appear that the play was a great success in the reviewer’s eyes … or so he told the readers of the New York Times.

A year later, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on February 16, 1929 with the headline:  “Nevada Wrestling Match Rivals Shotgun Wedding.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article on February 20, 1937 with the headline:  “Charges Shotgun Wedding in Plea for Annulment.”  The story told was of one Charles F. Lyons, 20 years old, of 211 West Jackson Boulevard who claimed  his marriage to Miss Elizabeth Enright, 21 years old, of 3918 Flournoy Street was a shotgun wedding that began with the father of the bride kidnapping the groom and taking him to wed his daughter.  He filed suit in Superior Court to have the marriage annulled.

By the time WWII was underway, shotgun wedding also had a political meaning as shown by an article that ran in the Tuscaloosa News on April 9, 1943 entitled “Background of Peace” that dealt with WWII and the arrival of a Mr. Wilson in Paris in 1918.  It was a reprint from the Chicago Daily Tribune and read in part:

The guaranty was a note signed by Great Britain, France and Italy before the armistice accepting the fourteen points and supplemental conditions as a specific formula for the peace.  It was a sort of shotgun wedding, inasmuch as Lloyd George and Clemenceau had been told that Mr. Wilson might go to congress for a separate peace on that formula if they undertook to disappoint the hopes they had raised.  Shotgun or not, the diplomatic rites had been solemnized and the pledge was holy.

It would appear that the phrase shotgun wedding is an Americanism from sometime in the early to mid-1920s, being used with ease by newspapermen and playwrights by the time 1928 came around.

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Basket Case

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 20, 2010

The term basket case usually refers to a person who is a nervous wreck.  It also refers to a country or organization as evidenced by a story run by the Los Angeles Times on September 23, 1994.  The headline read:

Haitian economy, infrastructure a basket case
Nation lacks everything, needs repair from ground up

However, back in 1971, due to the war for independence that Bangladesh waged against Pakistan, Bangladesh was labeled by an official in Henry Kissinger’s U.S. State Department as an “international basket case.”

A year earlier, in 1970, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was suffering from severely degraded ecosystems.  The U.S. National Park Service considered the park to be an “ecological basket case.”  Over the years, the damage was reversed but this does not negate the fact that 40 years ago, it was an “ecological basket case.”

Before that, it was a grim slang during World War I, referring to a person who is physically disabled in all four limbs because of paralysis or amputation.  This bulletin was issued by the U.S. Command on Public Information in March 28, 1919 on behalf of Major General M. W. Ireland, the U.S. Surgeon General and read in part:

The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.

The Syracuse Herald newspaper carried the story in March 1919 and added the following explanation to its readers:

By ‘basket case’ is meant a soldier who has lost both arms and legs and therefore must be carried in a basket.

The term was retired after WWI and resurrected in WWII when a denial from the Surgeon General Major General Norman T. Kirk was issued in May 1944 which stated:

… there is nothing to rumors of so-called ‘basket cases’ — cases of men with both legs and both arms amputated.

It is therefore easy to see that until the latter quarter of the 20th century, the term basket case referred to quadriplegics whose catastrophic wounds were as a result of a battle in which they were involved. 

The term basket case in this instance has been around since about the American Civil War.  In fact, there are American museums who have wicker body baskets, circa 1870, now on display.  It is believable that these baskets were indeed the basket cases in question and that the term originated with these baskets as the following item dated November 6, 1875 in The Constitution newspaper published in Atlanta, Georgia contained this as part of the advertisement:  12 Stylish Basket Case Suits $14.

References to basket cases prior to this date could not be found by Idiomation.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No Man’s Land

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 29, 2010

There are those who will tell you that the phrase “no man’s land” is a military term from WWI that represents the unoccupied and dangerous strip of land between opposing trench systems.  However, the first recorded us of the phrase dates back to 1320 in England.  The name of ap iece of land used as an execution ground found just outside the north wall of London was referred to as “no man’s land.”

In 1349, “no man’s land” was a communal — hence the reference of belonging to no one in particular — burial ground near Smithfield and was for the victims of the Black Death that killed one third of England’s population that year.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Over The Top

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 1, 2010

Just like the phrase “On a wing and a prayer” this phrase is also from World War I.

Back then, a charge over the protective battery which ran alongside a trench was called “going over the top.”

Because the casualty rate was very high in such instances, one had to be quite brave to go “over the top”.

Some considered it to be excessively so and  soon this phrase came to be associated with being too much and excessive.

What began as a World War I buzz phrase about bravery has, sad to say, become a very negative comment regarding one’s effort or plan to achieve a goal.

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On A Wing And A Prayer

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 20, 2010

During World War One, airplanes were an untested cog in the mechanisms of warfare.

When an American flyer would return to home base in a damaged airplane, it was said that he had returned “on a wing and a prayer.”

Once on the ground, amazed mechanics and fellow flyers would hear the pilot say that if wasn’t for all the praying he had done, he wouldn’t have gotten back to home base in one piece.

This is how the term “on a wing and a prayer” came to mean that an individual was highly unlikely to succeed in their endeavour but that they were hopeful it would turn out well.

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