Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Never Two Without Three

Posted by Admin on March 9, 2011

The saying “never two without three” means that something, either positive or negative, that has already occurred twice before is likely to happen a third time. It is a direct translation of the French proverb, “Jamais deux sans trois” and the Italian proverb, “Mai due senza tre.”

Just a few years back, in a story published on September 18, 2006, USA Today interviewed then-French President, Jacques Chirac.  The interviewer stated that perhaps this would be the last time — this interview being the second such interview during his time in office — that USA Today would have the opportunity of interview Jacques Chirac as the President of France.  His response to that comment was this:

You never know. There’s an old proverb in French that says “never two without three.”

In the Indian Express newspaper published in Madras, Tamilnadu, India dated November 3, 1940,  an article appeared entitled, “Axis-Vichy Settlement Chances Evaporating” that reported:

Expectation of the an early settlement between France and the Axis have evaporated.  This wide-spread conviction in well-informed circles proves the oppositeness of the old French proverb “Jamais Deux Sans Trois” for it was already being taken for granted that Hitler’s wheedling of France had miscarried and many are at least doubtful whether Mussolini’s bolt in Greece has not misfired.

On October 24, 1935 a staff correspondent wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor out of Boston (MA) entitled, “France Awaits Radical Swing To Left Or Right.”  It was the eve of the re-opening of Parliament in France and due to pressure from an international crisis at the time, the Radical Party knowing it held the fact of the then-French Cabinet in its hands.  It read in part:

The annual Congress of the Radical Party has resulted under somewhat similar circumstances in the overthrow of the French Government. There is a popular French proverb which says, “Never two without three.”

Agatha Christie’s short story “Never Two Without Three” is a Miss Marple story from the book “The Tuesday Murders” published in 1933.  The UK title was “The Thirteen Problems.” The original title for the story was “A Christmas Tragedy” but as was the way of publishers back in the day, the editor of the short story collection was renamed “Never Two Without Three.”

The publication “Italica” carried an article in 1983 entitled, “James Joyce and the Italian Language” in which readers learned that James Joyce’s elective affinity for Italian began in 1894 at the age of 12. James Joyce, it would appear, was familiar with the Italian proverb, “Mai due senza tre.”

Interestingly enough, Idiomation did find both the French and the English versions of this saying on the Hennequin Venteuil Coat of Arms.  The Blason de Venteuil, which is the crest from the Champagne region in France, dates back to January 13, 1722.

Try as Idiomation did, Idiomation was unable to track the phrase back in French, Italian or English any further than the early 1700s even though it appears to have already been established in both English and French conversational language as a proverb in 1722.

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Pan Out

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

When something “pans out” the speaker means that the situation worked out well for those involved.

On October 13, 1953, in a very quick article in the bottom left hand corner of Page 16 of the Spokane Daily Chronicle under the heading “How Things Pan Out” the newspaper reported:

Catherine Hunter, head of the University of Tulsa’s homemaking department, says being handy with a skillet is still the best way to trap a man, and she has figures to prove it.  Out of 105 who have majored in home economics at the school in the last five years, 103 are married, one is engaged and the other is teaching home economics, says Hunter.

As the Great Depression neared its end and WWII was just a couple of years away, the Portsmouth Times in Ohio ran a story entitled, “Figuring Out The Budget.”  It read in part:

It is a tragic thing that a president like Mr. Roosevelt, who has the best intentions in the world, should be forced to make estimates that do not pan out.  It shows that the people around the President are too inclined to hide from him the true story of the depressing effects of the administration’s own policies on the business situation and are too prone to give him rosey estimates of what a tax rate will produce just because they are enamored of some new tax device.

A generation before that, Michigan’s Ludington Record ran an article on February 15, 1900 entitled, “Undoing of a Bunko Sharp.”  The article had to do with $5,000, John Kasser of the Live Oak Copper Mining and Smelting Company, a visit to New York City and 2 bunko steerers.  The newspaper reported:

The pair invested a little cash and considerable time and trouble in Mr. Kasser, and, though he didn’t pan out, they still have cause for thankfulness that they are alive, though battered … … When a Sun reporter saw Mr. Kasser the other day and asked him about his adventure, that gentleman rubbed his chin and said he shouldn’t think a little thing like that would be of any interest in a big city like New York.

“I have got a little property of my own,” said he, “not very much, but a little; and I suppose those two thought they could get $5,000 or $6,000 out of me.  I am a simple-minded western man,” he added, and paused, contemplatively.  “A simple-minded western man but,” he concluded, smiling benignantly at the toe of his right boot, “I have been in New York before.”

The Detroit Free Press ran “A Change Of Tactics” in the January 29, 1873 that had to do with the Credit Mobilier investigation.  It read in part:

It is quite clear that the Credit Mobilier investigation does not — to use a mining phrase — “pan out” to the satisfaction of the Republican party.  Vigorously opposing investigation at first, it demanded by its organs that a mere campaign slander should not be lifted into the important of serious charge.

The reference to the phrase “pan out” being a mining phrase is one of the first indications that the phrase actually alluded to washing gold from gravel in a pan.

Back on October 25, 1873, the New York Times reported on gold mining the San Juan mining region with article entitled, “South-Western Colorado: The San Juan Treaty and the Country It Relates To.”

The excitement in the Winter of 1860 sent a swarm in, built a town, brought on stocks of goods, and laid out great plans.  But there was shortly a stampede, and men came out worse “broke” than the Pike’s Peakers of ’59.  The leader of the party barely escaped hanging at the hands of the disappointed rabble.  He plead his own cause, however before the miners’ court, and contended that he had not overrated the mineral wealth of the country.  He insisted that on the very spot where they sat they could “pan out” gold better than he had ever represented.  Immediately a miner’s pan was called for, and the experiment results in fifty cents worth of the golden dust.  It saved Baker’s life.  But confidence in the capacity of the region did not return, and it was deserted.

Just a few years before that news report, the Denver Gazette ran a story entitled, “Good Mining Prospects: The Gulches More Profitable Than Ever.”  It was an exciting story that stated:

The minds of Cash Creek in Lake, Fairplay and Tarryall, in Park, and the numerous gulches in Summit County, are rich enough to pay thousands for working them, and no better inducement can be offered to a poor man, who is ambitious to mine without the outlay of capital necessary to work a lode, than to spend his labor for a season in a good gulch, where he has nothing to learn but to shovel dirt into a sluice and pan out his shining wages every Saturday night, without any of the mysterious manipulations of crushing, desulphurizing, triturating, amalgamating, retorting and other learned processes with unpronounceable names, in order to get at the substances of oxides, pyrites and sulphurets of greenbacks.

Ultimately, however, the term “pan out” came about as a result of the California Gold Rush of 1849 where the term was recognized and understood by every miner and want-to-be miner hoping to make their fortune prospecting for gold.

Here’s how prospectors mined for gold during the Gold Rush.  First, they would swirl a mix of dirt and water around the pan.  Because gold is dense, with a little skill, the pan could be swirled at just the right speed and angle to allow the gold to settle to the bottom of the pan.  At the same time, dirt would wash over the side of the pan. The prospector would continue in this fashion until there was nothing left in the pan except gravel and, with luck, little specks of gold … if everything “panned out!”

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For The Birds

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

If it’s worthless, not to be taken seriously, and no good, and if the individual speaking deems it useless, and unacceptable, chances are you’ll that person say the idea, group, individual, ideology or event is strictly for the birds.

Sixty years ago, on December 2, 1951, the Telegraph Herald newspaper of Dubuque, Iowa reported on U.S. gamblers who were leery of the federal gambling tax stamp.  The stamp didn’t license gamblers. The stamp meant the gambler was eligible to pay a 10 percent tax on his “handle” — the amount of money he took in on bets.  The law had come into effect just a month earlier on the first of the month.  And what was the effect of this new law?

The sheriff’s office at Los Angeles, where only 26 registrations were on the books, reported that many bookies were switching to the dope racket, prostitution and other “non-taxable” pursuits.

A Washington, D.C., bookie declared:  “I’m quitting.  This racket was tough enough in the first place.  Now with the G-men breathing on your neck it’s strictly for the birds.”

A few people bought stamps because they thought it would legalize their gambling business. When they discovered it wouldn’t, they wanted their money back.

On October 20, 1944, the Lewiston Evening Journal in Illinois ran an article from guest star, Sgt. Buck Erickson of Camp Ellis.  He was quoted as saying:

“Don’t take too seriously this belief that we have football at Camp Ellis solely for the entertainment of the personnel — that’s strictly for the birds.  The Army is a winner.  The Army likes to win — that’s the most fortunate thing in the world for America.”

But long before then and long before cars were the preferred mode of transportation, horse-drawn carriages in New York left reminders along the way that let people know horse-drawn carriages had passed that way. To put it as politely as possible, the scavenger birds in New York found those reminders to their liking. 

Back in the day, when someone in New York politely said that something was for the birds, they were not-so-politely saying it was something else altogether.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Shotgun Wedding

Posted by Admin 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 Admin 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.

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The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

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Hit The Sack

Posted by Admin on October 5, 2010

The phrase “hit the sack” and the phrase “hit the hay” are actually variations on the same theme with both of them being American colloquialisms.  The expression referring to hay is from the early 1900s and the variant referring to a sack is from the 1940s.

It all started with Olympic heavyweight, Sam Berger who announced to reporters of the The Oakland Tribune in July 1903 that he was sleepy and, what’s more, “he was going to hit the hay.”

At the time, it was common for mattresses, or sacks, to be stuffed with either hay or straw, therefore “hitting the hay” was a literal thing.

The phrase “hit the sack” was in vogue during WWII.  In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote on Saturday, December 6, 1941 that it was payday for the enlisted men.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is how payday went for those enlisted men:

By the time various deductions were made, John Joniec and his Army buddies in Schofield Barracks had little mad money left. So they spent the day hanging out, shooting the breeze. About 11 p.m., they hit the sack.

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Weasel Out

Posted by Admin on September 9, 2010

This is an American colloquialism from the early years of the 1900s.

The Daytona Beach Morning Journal reported on July 27, 1973 that then-Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan sent a cable to the U.S. State Department threatening to resign.  In part, Mr. Moynihan wrote:

I quite understand that it might appear that we are off our rocker out here, but it comes down to a simple matter of good faith.  The trust account agreement of May 1966 … states that nonexpendable property shall be transferred to the Government of India when no longer required for the support of the U.S. assistance program.  We might have tried to weasel out, but you will need another Ambassador for such work.  The U.S. keeps its word.

Nearly 20 years earlier, on May 19, 1955, The Spokesman Review out of Spokane, WA headlined an article reporting on the dissent within President Eisenhower’s administration with regards to minimum wage proposals.  The headline boldly proclaimed:  “Extending Wage Floor Is Urged: Solon sees Effort to ‘Weasel Out’ of Proposal.”

A decade before that the St. Petersburg Times reported on February 13, 1944 that:

There is no tendency here to even think about any peace that would let Japan weasel out of complete occupation by Allied troops.

The Los Angeles Times published an article on February 16, 1938 entitled “Farmers of Pacific Coast Organize to Defend Rights” where the staff reporter wrote:

Rathburne said the board had tried to “weasel out of a tight situation and to play politics” including Postal employees in the Northwest and in Boston, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Jacksonville from the election.

While there appears to be good reason to believe that the phrase was used in the mid-1920s, since it was used with ease by print journalists in the 30s with the expectation that readers would know what was meant by the phrase .  Still,  the earliest published use of the phrase “weasel out” is from 1938.

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Hand In The Cookie Jar

Posted by Admin on July 28, 2010

The phrase “hand in the cookie jar” refers to being observed or apprehended for a theft of money or other valuable items from the rightful owner who is unaware of the fact that he or she is the victim of theft.

Although there is no exact date for when people began to keep money and valuables in cookie jars, the phrase became popular in America during World War II.

The term “cookie jar accounting” was coined in the late 90s in America and pertains to a certain business practice of storing up profits from good years to create a reserve which can be used to increase profits in bad years.

As technology continues to advance, the cookie jar on a computer is an area of memory set aside for storing digital cookies.  Programs can detect specific information by searching the contents of the jar.  If this is done without the consent of the owner of the computer by unauthorized individuals or businesses and it is traced back to the individual or the business, the individual or business has been caught with his/her/their “hand in the cookie jar.”

This sort of illegal behaviour may lead to serious criminal charges or it could lead to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

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Boondoggle

Posted by Admin on June 15, 2010

There are those who will tell you that American scoutmaster, Robert H. Link coined the term and there are those who will tell you that it was coined by a reporter for the New York Times.  What everyone agrees to regarding this term is that it is definitely a 20th Century term.

The term “boondoggle” was published in a New York Times article back in 1935 that claimed that over $3 million USD had been wasted on recreational activities for the jobless as part of the economic programs passed by Congress from 1933 to his re-election in 1936.  These programs were allegedly focused on the 3 R‘s:  Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat economic depression.  Some programs were declared unconstitutional, and others were repealed during World War II. 

However, in 1929, at the World Jamboree of Scouts in England, Robert H. Link, a scoutmaster from Rochester (NY) dubbed the standard plaited lanyard consisting of a cord worn around the neck or shoulder to hold a knife or whistle and as worn by boy scouts the world over, to be a “boondoggle.”   Such a lanyard was presented at the Boy Scout Jamboree to Lord Baden-Powell, Prince of Wales who was the founder of the Boy Scouts movement.

The New York Times adopted “boondoggle” and used it to describe the handicrafts that were being produced in the Depression-era programs and it very quickly became entrenched as a part of every day language.

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