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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

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.


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

A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 3, 2014

The other day, I heard someone say, “Diem sero, et una mina breva.” The English version of that idiom is a day late and a dollar short.  What the idiom means is that action taken was taken late and is of no use. An opportunity has not only been missed, but if it had been snagged, it would have been to no avail as there was inadequate preparations made that would have resulted in a favorable outcome. In other words, it’s the same thing as saying too little, too late.

People who are accused of being a day late and a dollar short are seen as disorganized, careless people with poor time management skills that inconveniences everyone else affected by such behavior.

A Letter to the Editor by Steve Kopa of Weirton, West Virginia to the Herald Dispatch on January 28, 2014 dealt with the recent spill where 7,500 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals seeped into the Elk River. The corporation responsible for this filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy nearly immediately after this disaster. The first paragraph of Steve Kopa’s letter read:

Regarding the Elk River chemical spill, as usual our fearless leaders are using an old phrase: “a day late and a dollar short.” That means a missed opportunity and being inexcusably unprepared.

The U.S. Department of Commerce: National Bureau of Standards published a report for the 59th National Conference on Weights and Measures in July of 1973. The editors were Sandra J. Wilson and Richard N. Smith, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Frederick B. Dent, and National Bureau of Standards Director, Richard W. Roberts were listed on the front page of the report.

There is need to explain your work, your tools and your activities in order to gain public support and public understanding. With your guidance, the services of government need not be, as they have been many times in the past, a day late and a dollar short of the needs and demands of the public.

In the “Contact Point” newsletter of the San Francisco College of Physicians and Surgeons: School of Dentistry published in 1949, one of the contributors, identified as K.G.H., signed off on his column with the expression.

Must call this quits now, as I’m a day late and a dollar short with it now.

A syndicated one-panel cartoon was published in many American newspapers on March 3, 1939 using the expression as part of the punchline. The cartoon — known as “Out Our Way” — was drawn and written by Canadian cartoonist, J.R. Williams (March 30, 1888 – June 17, 1957).  The panel showed two men listening to an inventor describe his labor-free pick , for which he said he had applied to have patented. Two blue-collar workers are passing by and one says to the other:

No, he’s in the same fix as th’ rest of us. It’s called progress. I just learn about half the traffic rules an’ they change ’em. You can’t beat progress. You’ll always be a day late an’ a dollar short.

The Continental Congress of the United States authorized the issuance of the US dollar on August 8, 1786, however, Americans preferred gold and silver for currency. With the National Banking Act of 1863, the dollar become the only recognized currency in the U.S. It wasn’t until March 14, 1900 and the Gold Standard Act that it was decided that gold was the sole standard by which paper money would be redeemed.

As history has shown, suspending gold convertibility during the Great Depression of the 1930s worsened the situation with global economies, and America wasn’t exempt from the effects of this suspension. The effects on the American dollar were felt across the country and abroad.

While Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of a day late and a dollar short, that it was used so freely in the one-panel cartoon published in 1939 scant months before the start of World War II (1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945) may indicate that the expression has its roots in the Great Depression. This idiom is therefore reasonably pegged to some time in the 1930s.

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

Hold The Line

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 11, 2013

When you hold the line, you make sure you maintain an existing opinion, position, or status regardless of what outside or opposing forces may try to do. Even the military has a mission referred to as a Hold The Line mission.

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported on what was going on in Murrysville in their November 20, 2013 edition. It was all about mills and taxes: mills for the general tax rate, mills for capital improvements, mills for municipal debt repayment, mills for road improvements. It seemed that if there was a mill, there was a discussion. The opening paragraph read as follows:

Murrysville council members reviewed recommendations from the administration to hold the line on taxes for the coming year, giving unanimous approval Wednesday night to advertise an ordinance setting the tax rate at 12.15 mills for 2014.

Back on December 1, 1971 the Spokesman-Review reported on President Richard Nixon’s announced intention to veto his own tax cut bill. It seems that what had happened to the President’s bill was that the Senate attached additional provisions to the bill that, if the bill went through, would result in another $11 billion dollars added to the deficit. The story was entitled, “Hold The Line.”

During World War II, what was happening on the front was vigorously reported in the newspapers regardless of what country was reporting on the war. The Calgary Herald edition of October 27, 1941 carried international news that was cabled from the Calgary Herald‘s London bureau courtesy of the London Times. As the Russian campaign continued, battles raged near Rostov-on-Don anda round Kharkov. The Germans hoped to reach Roslov to cut the main railway line from the Caucasus to Moscow. The report included this news byte:

When the Red armies failed to hold the line of the lower Dnieper, German forces, with the aid of Hungarians, Rumanians and Italians were able to undertake a determined eastward drive and Marshal Budenny had no adequate line of defence available until he reached the River Don.

When the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Boxers Engaged In Big Battle” on June 8, 1900 many were alarmed at the events unfolding in China. The article claimed that the Daily Express had sent the following dispatch from Shanghai on June 7 with regards to the results of the Dowager Princess’s orders to General Neih-Si-Chong to take 3,000 men and protest the railroad at Peking. British was unable to send more than 900 troops as they were involved with the situation in South Africa, and the United States was urged to act. The article included this information:

Attempts to repair the damage to the railway between Tien-Twin and Peking have been frustrated by the Boxers who, thousands strong, hold the line against the engineers, gangs attacking the trains arriving.

Another show of force was reported in the American and Commercial Advertiser of August 23, 1864 — thanks to the New York Tribune newspaper — this time with regards to the skirmishes of the Fifth Corps against Rebel forces at Weldon Railroad just below Petersburg. The focus of this mission was to destroy the road completely this time. It was seen as a successful mission no three counts: It resulted in greater losses being inflicted than suffered; it prevented the Rebel forces from sending more troops into the Valley; and Fifth Corps achieved its main objective. The newspaper story reported the following in part:

Exactly one half of all the Rebel forces in Virginia are in the Shenandoah Valley awaiting Heridan. The other half hold the line from Richmond to Petersburg. From Gen. Birney’s Headquarters, the right of the line of operations, to Gen. Warren’s, the extreme left, is a distance of over twenty-five miles by the shortest roads. The whole distance is entrenched and two large rivers straddled. Grant having much the larger army, can afford to stretch the line of operations and thus attenuate Lee’s forces.

Jumping back to 1805, the idiom was used in “The Vindication of Mr. Maurice’s Modern India” also known as “A Vindication of the Modern History of Hindostan From The Gross Misrepresentations, And Illiberal Strictures of the Edinburgh Reviewers” by schoolmaster and former chaplain to the 87th regiment, Thomas Maurice. In his book, he wrote:

It seems however, by the Edinburgh standard of criticism, at least, that an author can no longer be permitted to mark out for himself the outline of any work which he may meditate, or of the limits by which his prudence may lead him to bound, or his temerity to extend his excursion in the wide field of literary research. The Reviewer must hold the line of demarcation, and let the author transgress it at his peril. The direst anathemas of critical vengeance, infallibly attend the slightest deviation.

The word hold is from the Old English word geheald which means keeping, custody, or guard and dates back to 1200, and the word line (as in demarcation) dates back to the middle of the 15th century. That being said, it doesn’t seem that the words met up and became an idiom until later. Although the idiom was used easily in Thomas Maurice’s book, and research hints at the idiom being used in the early 1700s, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version than the one in 1805. Taking into account that those who read Thomas Maurice’s book would have understood what he mean when he used the expression hold the line, it is most likely that the idiom hit its stride two generations prior to the publication date, putting it somewhere in the 1750s.


Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spruce Goose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 7, 2013

When you hear someone talk about a Spruce Goose, it refers to a very specific item at a very specific time in history and is an updated version of the idiom white elephant. A white elephant is a valuable possession that the owner cannot get rid of and where the cost of ownership seems to be more than it’s worth. To this end, a Spruce Goose is just another white elephant.

The late rapper Johnny Burns (1979 – 2000) aka DJ Quik aka Mausberg’s song “Ring King” has the expression Spruce Goose in the lyrics:

I flow like the Spruce Goose, sting worse than a bullet from a deuce-deuce
I’m ’bout to cut loose and react with raw tactics
Rights and lefts be bustin’ like fully automatic, I love static

So does rapper Danny! aka American record producer, Danny Swain’s song “Rhyme Writer Crime Fighter” where he says:

I slayed spooked troops in my youthful days
And flew away in the Spruce Goose, ruthless ways
Now you could say my style was aloof but hey
I gotta stay elusive

But rap fans appear to be perplexed by the expression Spruce Goose, as evidenced by the many questions in various music and rap forums asking what it means.  Strangely enough, one may also wonder if the lyricists understand the expression as well.

In the July 2003 edition of Wired Magazine, Chuck Squatriglia wrote used the expression Spruce Goose in an article about aircrafts.  He wrote in part:

The “Spruce Goose” was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived — its wingspan was 319 feet — the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane.

While it’s surprising that so many these days seem to be unfamiliar with the Spruce Goose, the fact of the matter remains that it was a seminal part of American aviation history.  Back on November 14, 1993, the Seattle Times newspaper carried a story out of McMinnville, Oregon that stated:

Congress has approved $4.5 million for the museum that will serve as the new roost for the Spruce Goose flying boat. The money, included in the defense appropriations bill approved Wednesday, will get the museum through planning and into the construction phase, said museum director Howard Lovering.

In other words, this airplane was of significant historical importance that it warranted being preserved in a museum supported by money approved by Congress.

But for whatever reason, the importance of this airplane seems to escaped the memories of Americans over the decades. In fact, in a Letter to the Editor published in the February 24, 1971 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, William J. Carter of Yankeetown wrote this about the airplane.

Designed to answer a desperate World War II call for transport in a Pacific area where the sea would have to supply the runways, the huge airframe housed eight nacelles for propeller driving piston-engine units, the largest power units then existing

Later in the letter he also wrote:

Rather than scorn a great pioneer’s effort to meet emergency needs in wartime, we should join Howard Hughes to such other pioneers of multi-engined aircraft as Sikorsky and Dornier, whose creations were airborne, one in 1914 and the other in the 1920s, when lesser men were living with small dreams and small aspirations.

On January 20, 1954 the Milwaukee Journal ran a series of articles on Howard Hughes, with the article in this edition dedicated to the Spruce Goose. The article contained the following facts about the airplane:

Weight – 425,000 pounds
Height at tail – 2 1/2 stories
Wingspan – 320 feet, just big enough to touch both goalposts on a football field
Hull – 220 feet long, 30 feet high, 25 feet wide
Engines – Eight of 3,000 horsepower each
Gas load – 14,000 gallons, enough to drive your car around the earth more than eight times if there were a highway at the equator
Payload – 750 soldiers fully equipped or a 60 ton tank, something that 100 World War II cargo planes were needed to carry

It was a magnificent example of aeronautical engineering at a time when aluminum was scarce due to the war, and ships were being destroyed by enemy fire. The Spruce Goose — erroneously dubbed since it was built from birch plywood and not spruce — was a solution to that problem. The Milwaukee Journal article was aptly entitled, “$41,000,000 Spruce Goose Climbed 70 Feet.”

The Schenectady Gazette of October 31, 1947 reprinted a story out of Hollywood that had been posted the day before. Entitled, “Howard Hughes To Launch Huge Plane Tomorrow” the story began thusly:

Millionaire plane designer Howard Hughes announced tonight he would launch his giant 200-ton flying boat Saturday morning at Lost Angeles harbor. The $23,000,000 flying boat will be floated from its graving dock at Terminal Island to undergo dockside tests for several hours.

The launch took place two days before a Senate committee investigating Howard Hughes’ government contracts resumed in Washington the following Monday.

And five years before the Hercules — because that was the plane’s real name — took to the skies, Henry J. Kaiser and then 36-year-old Howard Hughes were in the news as reported in the St. Joseph Gazette of September 19, 1942 in an article entitled, “Will Build 3 Cargo Planes: Kaiser And Hughes Get Authorization For Big Craft.” The article shared general details about the venture which included the following:

Neither Kaiser nor Hughes will make any profit from the job, arranged through a letter of intent from the defense plant corporation, but Kaiser was directed to draw plans for a factory in which the giant twin-hulled flying boats could be manufactured in volume should the army and navy find the experimental ships successful.

Putting the situation into perspective, by July 1942, America had just lost 800,000 tons of supply ships to German U-boats. The cargo planes were meant to address this problem.

It was also reported in the article that if the ships were successful, the earliest that Kaiser and Hughes would begin turning the ships out would sometime in 1945. When the war ended, it was expected that this project would also come to an end. Instead, Howard Hughes invested more of his money into bringing the Hercules project to its conclusion.

As readers can see, the Hercules aka Spruce Goose — while successful in that it did fly — was an expensive proposition at best and one that certainly expanded the knowledge base in aviation, but it cost Howard Hughes dearly both to persist with the project and then to house the project once completed.


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

Pimp Steak

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 26, 2013


When you hear someone exclaim in horror: “Pimp steak again?” don’t be alarmed. They’ve just found out they’re being served a hot dog. So how is it that the perfectly good name for a hot dog wound up with this moniker as well?

For one thing, the term pimp didn’t always mean someone who procures customers for a prostitute or brothel and lives off the earnings. Back in the 1630s, it was used to describe any despicable person, and in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the term has been used since the mid-20th century to identify a spy or an informant.

The Boston Phoenix reviewed “The Old Settler” by John Henry Redwood on November 4, 1999. It was playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and critics had identified the play as one of the Top 10 most-produced plays of the current season. The reviewer, Carolyn Clay, referred to the play as “theatrical comfort food, rich in ethnicity and emotion, served warm.” The play, set in 1943 Harlem, centered on relationships and healing. The review read in part:

The Old Settler is sentimental and easy to see coming (’40s Harlem meets The Heiress), but it is carefully wrought. And it paints a colorful picture of African-American life in an earlier time, a particular place where magical if disreputable spots called Small’s Paradise and the Savoy Ballroom duke it out with a strong, supper-slinging black Church. Moreover, there is in the elegiac evocation by Bess and Husband of the Southern places they come from a feeling of displacement that’s one of the themes of August Wilson. Redwood tells a tighter story than Wilson does (though at first, with Husband searching like haunted Harold Loomis for his lost mate, The Old Settler seems like a lightweight Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). And if he doesn’t make as vivid and musical use of black speech as Wilson, Redwood does doodle a linguistic tune. Quilly’s conjuring of the chitterling dinner at Singleton’s Restaurant on Lenox and 136th Street is a feast in itself. And who ever knew that a hot dog was called a “pimp steak” or that “swamp seeds” were rice?

Now back in the 1940s, Dan Burley chronicled Harlem nightlife for the Amsterdam News. He was born in 1907, the son of a Baptist minister, he spent his childhood in Kentucky and Texas.  By the time the Black Migration of World War I slowed, the Burley family lived in Chicago, and one of his classmates at Wendell Phillips High School was jazz musician, Lionel Hampton.

He became a journalist for the Chicago Defender after leaving school, and in 1937 (at age 30), he joined the Amsterdam News as a reporter, city editor, nightlife columnist, theater editor and sports editor. What came of his time at the Amsterdam News was a 157-page book entitled “Original Handbook Of Harlem Jive” which was published in 1944. And right there, among the many other expressions that came out of Harlem was this definition for a frankfurter: pimp steak!

But in reading Cab Calloway’s book “Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive” published in 1939, the term doesn’t show up anywhere in his listings.  Either the expression wasn’t in vogue at the time or it was in vogue but not popular enough to rate inclusion in Cab Calloway’s dictionary.

Either way, the earliest this expression can be pegged at is sometime during World War II (1939 – 1945). Hope that works for all you hep cats out there.


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Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 8, 2011

When someone says there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians what they are really saying is that there are too many people wanting to be, or acting like, the boss and not enough people actually doing the work.

On May 29, 2009 the Daily News out of Los Angeles published a Letter to the Editor written by Janice A. Slaby entitled, “Cut chiefs, not Indians.” The article dealt with a recently published article that dealt with debt problems in the state of California. The letter stated in part:

If the federal, state and local officials were laid off or forced to forgo their salaries, it would be surprising how fast the fiscal crisis would resolve itself. Having worked for the city of L.A. for 30 years, I know there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. If any group of people should be laid off or furloughed, it should begin with mayoral, council and noncivil service personnel.

Thirty years earlier, the Evening Independent newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida ran the James J. Kilpatrick politics column on May 24, 1979  and discussed how former members of congress had gathered in Washington the previous week to discuss the failings of the White House. The article was entitled:

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The Sarasota Journal published a news story from New York on April 21, 1954 written by James Flowers and entitled, “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” The story was about Leonard R. Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches. When he took over the company that was founded by his grandfather 50 years earlier, he re-organized it. At first, he took advice from the established executives at the company only to discover that there were some who had no idea what was going on outside their own departments and he decided to change that way of doing business within the company. The article reported that:

In the shakeup the heads of two vice-presidents rolled, and promotions were made from within the organization. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the way Rogers described it. The move paid off. In the years, young Rogers boosted his company’s sales to $1,500,000 a year. Last year he showed a 40 per cent increase in profits and now talks about a new factory and a $6,000,000 volume “in a few years.”

The Eugene Register-Guard edition of August 22, 1951 published an interesting and enlightening news article on the “Indians of Ulcer Gulch.” Ulcer Gulch was the nickname for the Pentagon and the Indians were the anonymous junior officers who work out plans and recommendations on which the Big Chiefs based their final decisions on military matters. In other words, whoever wasn’t considered a chief at the Pentagon was said to be an Indian. The article, written by Don Whitehead of the Associated Press, reported the following in part:

The Indians came into being about the time of Pearl Harbor when it seemed everybody around headquarters was the chief of a branch or a section of some sort. The workhorses said: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

The chief was the man who said to a junior officer: “See what you can do about this.”

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of this expression prior to this one however for it to be used so openly and easily in a news article from 1951, it is not unreasonable to date this expression back to sometime during WWII.

The meaning of this expression is not dissimilar to the expression too many cooks spoil the broth which was covered by Idiomation earlier this year on March 8, 2011.


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

Duck Soup

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 23, 2011

When someone mentions that a task or assignment is duck soup, what they’re telling you is that it can be very easily accomplished.  The expression gained popularity due in large part to the 1933 Marx Brothers movie “Duck Soup” but the Marx Brothers aren’t the ones who coined the expression.

On January 26, 1962 the Ottawa Citizen newspaper published a story entitled, “Oil Blaze Duck Soup To Texan Fire-Killer.”  The story reported on how Red Adair, a Texan,  nonchalantly put out an oil well fire and immediately flew back to Texas to take on another oil well fire.  The story reported the following:

With the help of others he doused the flames with chemicals Thursday, then filled the well with a special mud to stop the oil from flowing.

“It was duck soup compared to some of the fires I’ve fought,” said Adair.  How much the Sun Oil Company of Calgary, which brought in the well recently, will pay him has not been announced.  But an official said the company had already spent $100,000 before he arrived — the fire broke out last Friday — and any fee charged would be worth it. 

On December 24, 1943 the Ellensburg Daily Record in Washington state published a news story entitled, “Rocket Planes Duck Soup To Yankee Fighters.”  It was the height of World War II and the article began with this:

German planes mounting the new rocket guns are “duck soup” for American fighter planes, says Wellwood Beall, vice-president in charge of engineering at Boeing Aircraft Company.  Beall, just back from watching Fortresses perform over Europe, reported bombers have taken some “terrific punishment” from rockets but that he could find no cases of a direct hit.

“Ships carrying rocket guns are slow, inaccurate and duck soup for American fighter planes,” he said. “Our boys line up to see who’ll shoot them down.”

The Milwaukee Journal published an article on August 8, 1931 about Burleigh Grimes of Owen, Wisconsin who was an aging but effective spitballer playing with the St. Louis Cardinals at the time.  The article was entitled, “Grove! Pooh!   He’ll Be Duck Soup Says Grimes.”  Burleigh Grimes was quoted in the story as saying:

“Sure, there’s one way we can lose,” Burleigh explained.  “If we don’t hit, we can’t win.  If we don’t make runs, we can’t win.  But let us make a few runs and we’ll knock ’em over in a hurry.  Grove!  Pooh! says he’s got ’em scared to death in that league.  Who’s he got to beat? We bet im last year, didn’t we?  And he’ll be duck soup for us this October.  And now about Earnshaw?  I guess he’ll have another streak like he had last year? I guess not.”

On August 12, 1918 the Toronto World newspaper printed a news story by Ida L. Webster.  This reporter wrote about two baseball games played on the same afternoon between Toronto and Buffalo. The news story was entitled:

Leading Leaflets Took Two Games: Bisons Proved To Be Duck Soup For Howley’s Wild Men On Saturday.

According to “The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang” the expression “duck soup” first appeared in a newspaper cartoon in 1902 drawn by T.A. Dorgan.  The cartoon shows a man in a Police Court juggling a bottle, pitcher, plate and salt shaker and the caption underneath read: Duck Soup.

However, Idiomation was able to find an even earlier printed reference in the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 23, 1897 on page 10 in a story containing 1,792 words.  In other words, it was a sizeable news story!  A business interviewed for the story stated:

I am out of the business and so this fight is duck soup for me.

We kept researching and came across the expression in the Detroit Free Press on October 24, 1893 on page 8 in an article entitled, “Salting Western Mines: How Eastern Strangers Are Taken In By Sharpers.”  The article was 2,295 words in length and dealt with the subject of con men who made their schemes work.  The article stated that a salted mine was so called because the con man easily fooled “eastern tenderfoots” headed west to grow rich overnight with his con game.  The story underscored the fact that suckers made for fine food for mining sharks.  The story included these two sentences:

The McDonalds were “duck soup.” They were quietly moved over to Alder Gulch by a syndicate of sharpers who needed more money to develop properties.

Since the expression duck soup was used in such a prominent newspaper in 1893, it can be assumed that the general population of the day understood the meaning of duck soup.  This places the expression in the vocabulary of the day. That the expression appears in quotation marks, however, implies that it may have been a relatively new expression at the time.  It can therefore be assumed that the expression dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1880s.


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

Brown Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 3, 2011

Brown out as in “no power” (electricity) is a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply, so named because it typically causes lights to dim.  A controlled power reduction decreases the voltage on the power lines, so customers receive weaker electric current.  Brown outs can be used if total power demand exceeds the maximum available supply. The typical household does not notice the difference.

On December 28, 1965 the New York Times ran a story entitled “Merchants Fight Rome Traffic Ban, Plan Brown-Out of Stores To Force End Of Test.”  The first paragraph read:

Merchants in central Rome voted tonight to “brown out” their stores and eventually close them if the city persisted in an experimental curb on movement of private vehicles in a 35-block shopping and residential area.

During World War II, the New York Times published an article on December 11, 1943 entitled, “WPB Aide Assaults Brownout Cheats; Lack Of Voluntary Cooperation In Saving Needed Power Scored By Vanneman.”  The first paragraph read:

An end of unnecessary brilliance in the lighting of the Broadway sector and some other parts of the city was urged yesterday by Donald K. Vanneman, government requirements representative of the War Production Board, who said that “too many” business establishments had failed to do their part in the voluntary brownout intended to conserve electric power, coal and other resources. 

As you can see, the expression brown out in this instance is a derivative of the expression black out from the World War II era.

See “black out” for additional information.


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Brown Out (as in “unconscious”)

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 2, 2011

Brown out as in “unconscious” is the dimming of vision caused by loss of blood pressure or hypoxia.  It is sometimes referred to as a grey-out

A brown out can be caused by any number of things however the most common causes are shock, standing up  too quickly, experiencing positive g-force, or, oddly enough, hyperventilation from such activities as the fainting game or self-induced hypocapnia.  

Full recovery from a brown out is rapid and can be reversed quickly and effectively by lying down.  This allows the cardiovascular system to allow blood to reach the brain.

Interestingly enough, brown outs are the reverse of red outs — reddening of the vision — which is the result of negative G forces.  During brown outs, individuals can still hear, feel and speak.

A brown out can also refer to a night of heavy alcohol consumption where the individual remembers some of what happened during the time alcohol was consumed but with periods of time within that time frame where there is no recollection of what happened.  This definition has been around since the early 1980s.

Even though it’s a lesser known expression, along with the expression black out, brown out has its roots in the 1940s.

See “black out” for additional information.


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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.


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