Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Youngstown Vindicator’

Spitballing

Posted by Admin on June 10, 2013

When someone tells you that they’re spitballing, they could mean one of four things. They could literally mean that they’re making spitballs to use as trajectories. They could mean the baseball pitch that’s referred to as a spitball. They could mean they are making unfounded accusations against someone else. Or they could mean they’re brainstorming ideas.

Back on February 9, 2011 Rich Siegel wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for the Huffington Post entitled, “Someone Will Be With You Shortly.” He discussed his thoughts on the Middle East extremists and at one point he wrote:

Perhaps we’ve been going at it all wrong. What if, and I’m just spitballing here, instead of trying to prevent attacks on civilians we offered our Muslim brothers our least-liked people to satisfy their blood lust.

That’s right, I’m suggesting human sacrifice.

It served the Aztecs well. Ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians practiced the ritual. Even the Chinese offered up humans to their river gods.

It appears that the expression is one that’s been quite popular, especially in the realm of politics. Ed Morrissey posted an article to HotAir.com on June 16, 2010 that criticized President Barack Obama’s speech addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig incident 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Ed Morrissey’s comments were based, in part, on the political commentary on the subject by Andrew Malcolm as published in the Los Angeles Times on June 15, 2010.

For a man who has repeatedly claimed to be “fully engaged since Day 1,” and who repeated that claim last night, Obama gave every impression of still being in the spitballing stage of crisis management.

Obama didn’t even offer an original thought for spitballing.  In his short presidency, Obama has had two responses to any issue: appoint a czar or create a commission.

And the year before that, Patrick Sauer wrote an article published by the Huffington Post entitled, “Tim Geithner: Take My Toxic Assets, Please” where he discussed the banking conundrum of the times. There were more than a few idioms in the article, and interestingly enough, spitballing was one of them.

Angry folks are practically calling for a public guillotining of a Wall St. fat cat or two. Ironically, and I’m just spitballing here, that bloody spectacle would do boffo business on pay-per-view and easily cover the next TARP giveaway … So c’mon down hedge fund managers and financial CEOs, you’ve won The Lottery, Shirley Jackson style!

The Youngstown Vindicator edition of February 23, 1981 published an article by journalist, Dick West, that talked about how the freedom fighters of George Washington’s day would be called terrorists by 1980s standards. Humorous in its delivery, the point was clearly made. The article read in part:

And since there was no television in Washington’s time, the Tass commentary adds up to mere spitballing.

Nevertheless, if you close your eyes real tight, you can visualize how such events as the Boston Tea Party might have been reported on the nightly news with Walter Anchorman.

On December 1, 1949 the Milwaukee Sentinel published an article by George E. Sokolsky entitled, “Truman Policy: Peace At A Big Price.” The article addressed what the journalist felt was the result of Soviet Russia’s conquest of China and the policy of the Chinese Communists at the time. He stated:

The arrest of Angus Ward and William N. Stokes, our consular officers in Mukden, is now obviously due to a desire to make the U.S. “lose face” throughout Asia by failing to protect its representatives. It is good propaganda for the Russians, who would kill anyone who threw a spitball at Joe Stalin’s picture.

And so with this article, readers can see that politics and baseball’s spitball began to be associated with each other thanks to journalists such as George E. Sokolsky.

Years earlier, the Meridien Daily Journal published an article in their March 13, 1915 edition entitled, “On The Matter Of Spitballing.” Even back in 1915, according to the article by Frank G. Menke, spitball pitching wasn’t a common practice in the big league any more. Of interest, however, is the description of what a spitball pitch. The definition read:

The use of the spitball makes for great twirlers. History shows that mediocre pitchers who mastered the spitball quickly jumped into first rank in their particular department of the game. But history also shows that the spitball shortens a pitcher’s career.

One would think that spitballing in any other career would also have a similar effect, and so it does.

The good news about the expression spitballing is that not only does it already have a past, it already has a future. In the Star Trek novel, “Typhon Pact #2: Seize The Fire” by Michael A. Martin, published by Simon & Schuster, the following is found:

“Maybe his shipmates thought he was dead,” Riker said, spitballing, though without much conviction.

And so Idiomation pegs the longevity of the expression spitballing (in terms of throwing out ideas) to the 24th century thanks to Commander Riker, with a history that dates back to sometime in the mid to late 1940s (with a nod to the definition at the turn of the 20th century).

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

Blue Light Special

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2013

Do you remember the days when you could hear a disembodied voice say over the loudspeaker system: Attention Kmart® shoppers. There’s a blue light special in aisle …?

If you do, then you know that a blue light special is a surprise price-cut offered for a limited time (usually about 15 minutes in length) on specific merchandise. But as with all good things, it fell into the abyss of great ideas and disappeared for a while before coming back to life. How does Idiomation know this?

Greg Hudson posted an article on August 25, 2009 to the Better Business Bureau blog site entitled, “Kmart Is Bringing Back The Blue Light Special.” For those who couldn’t believe the headline, the first paragraph read:

No, it’s not 1965, but the discount retailer Kmart is bringing back its legendary blue light special.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was reported that some Kmart stores still had their “original, decades-old blue lights” while other Kmart stores made do with blue balloons!

Some may think that this was the first time Kmart revived the blue light special concept, but they’d be mistaken. in fact, in December 1999, Kmart opened up their online website, and named it BlueLight.com. If you type that into your browsers these days, you’ll be redirected to Kmart.com.

For trivia lovers, few people know that Johnston-Crowder Manufacturing Co published the “Blue Light Special” board game in 1986. Yes, people, this was a traditional board game for 2 to 4 players.

Blue Light Special Board Game

Now, it’s unfortunate but the expression became the brunt of countless jokes, so when the Youngstown Vindicator of December 9, 1978 published Joan Ryan’s column, “On Sports” and she wrote about Pete Rose and his family, you had to wonder if she was going to take pot shots at the expression.   It read in part:

What happens to a family of four (Petey is 9; Fawne is 14) when their income suddenly escalates to within millions? “Well, I still stop at K-Mart,” says the flamboyant Karolyn, who wears diamonds with her blue jeans.

“I love those discount stores. The only thing it that the cashiers all know me and they say, ‘Honey, we turned off the blue-light special when you pulled in in your Rolls.'”

Earlier that year, on March 2, 1978 the Nashua Telegraph newspaper published a news article entitled, “Carter Directive Calls For Secret Commando Force.” The story dealt with the formation of a secret Army commando unit President Jimmy Carter had ordered. Its primary focus was to combat terrorist acts outside the US. Headed up by Col. Charlie Alvin Beckwith, it wasn’t long before it was nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels” by its first members. The article stated:

The force has been given the code name “Project Blue Light” for its formative stages. Sources said a nucleus of Green Berets from the Army’s Special Forces have already quietly set up headquarters in a post stockade that has until now been used to house prisoners at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The fact of the matter is that a Fort Wayne, Indiana Kmart store manager used a police car light to draw attention to Christmas wrapping paper that he was clearing out of his store back in 1965. It was such a success that it was adapted to draw attention to any clearance item, and it found its way into the chain before moving on to become an American icon idiom.

So the next time you hear someone joke about the blue light special, smile. It’s not every day that you hear a purely American comment still current in today’s pop culture.

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

Agree To Disagree

Posted by Admin on March 1, 2013

We’ve heard more than a few people resort to that expression in the midst of spirited discussions or heated debates, and it’s straight forward. It means neither side is willing to relinquish their side of the argument, which leaves only one option: To agree to disagree.

In the Editorial section of the Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette published on October 22, 2009, the author spoke to the matter of the elections in Afghanistan. The Editorial Footnote included this commentary:

Mr. Karzai reportedly still disagrees with the methodology used to disqualify more than 1 million ballots allegedly cast in his name. Mr. Kerry deserves credit for helping the Afghan leader realize that it was time to agree to disagree, and move ahead with the only politically viable course available, a second vote under the watchful eyes of international observers.

This expression is oftentimes used successfully in matters of politics such as during the Cuban crisis in the early 60s. In fact, in a Special To The Times that ran in the New York Times on January 7, 1963, the headline was “They Will Agree To Disagree.” The article showed within the first two sentences that while there was considerable tension from both sides in the crisis, that cooler heads prevailed.

The Cuban crisis will come to a formal end this week when Soviet and American negotiators at the United Nations agree to disagree. The negotiators will submit to Security Council members separate statements saying that they cannot agree on how to close one of the tensest chapters of the cold war.

When Rudolph Valentino and his wife divorced, the difficulties prior to, and following,  the divorce were fodder for more than one columnist’s pen. The Youngstown Vindicator of November 15, 1925 contained another well-known expression and began with this paragraph:

“Never again” is Mrs. Winifred Hudnut Valentino’s attitude towards further matrimonial ventures. All artists should be unmarried, she said and added “children and domesticity are incompatible with a career, that’s all.”

Mrs. Valentino complained that it had taken Rudolph, who departed today for Paris, three years to develop his lack of appreciation for her ambition to become a motion picture star in her own right.

The article, which was carried by the Associated Press, was aptly entitled, “Valentino And Wife Agree To Disagree.”

When the Charleston Mercury of Mary 1, 1860 hit the streets, it carried news of the National Convention. It reported on the States of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and a portion of Delaware, being denied in the platform, the recognition of Southern rights in the Territories and the protection of slave property by the General Government, seceded from the Charleston Convention. There was what the newspaper reporter called a “radical difference on a great principle.”

The U.S. Civil War raged from 1861 through to 1865 and began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Fort Sumter, of course, was a key fort held by Union troops in South Carolina.

The article was lengthy and detailed, providing a historical background to readers and midway, the following comments made by Mr. Butler of Massachusetts were recorded:

Do you desire to send us home to be subjected to the sneers of the Black Republicans, telling us that we have gone and laid down our honor at the feet of the South, and point at us as they pass us in the streets? Is that to be done, for no good, to accomplish no advantage for you? Do you claim that of us? If you claim the relinquishment of personal honor, I tell you frankly you cannot have it. If you claim simply a compromise, we will see how far we can compromise; and if we cannot agree with you, gentlemen who have been with me will tell you that I know how to disagree with those with whom I cannot agree.

Anglican cleric and Christian theologian, John Wesley (1703-1791) who, along with his brother Charles Wesley founded the Methodist movement, held notable doctrinal and philosophical differences from those of his close friend, Anglican preacher George Whitefield (December 27, 1714 – September 30, 1770). In a letter to his brother dated August 19, 1785 he wrote:

I will tell you my thoughts with all simplicity, and wait for better information. If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.

John Wesley spoke at the funeral services for George Whitefield in 1770 and among many things he said, was this:

And, first, let us keep close to the grand scriptural doctrines which he everywhere delivered. There are many doctrines of a less essential nature, with regard to which even the sincere children of God (such is the present weakness of human understanding) are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may “agree to disagree.” But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials of “the faith which was once delivered to the saints;” and which this champion of God so strongly insisted on, at all times, and in all places!

And so, while many attribute John Wesley for this expression, John Wesley gives credit to his late friend, George Whitefield.  But surely, George Whitefield wasn’t the first to come up with the expression. As an Anglican preacher, isn’t it more likely than not that he found it in the Bible and began using it in conversationally?  The fact of the matter is that the expression agree to disagree is never found in the Christian Bible. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 1:10, the passage reads:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

In other words, there’s no place for agreeing to disagree if you are a Christian as the Bible is the final word on what is and is not expected of Christians.

So somewhere between the death of Jesus and the life of George Whitefield, someone brought forth the concept of agreeing to disagree, but it was George Whitefield who appears to be the inspiration for John Wesley’s use of the expression.

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

Out Of The Blue

Posted by Admin on June 10, 2011

The expression out of the blue — also known as out of the clear blue sky and a bolt out of the blue — is used by Brits, Australians and Americans. out of a clear blue sky means something happens suddenly and unexpectedly, without warning or preparation.

On December 8, 2009 Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills wrote a piece entitled, “Holy mackerel! One Year Since Blagojevich Arrest” which was published in the Seattle Times.  Christopher Wills wrote in part:

When the news arrived, Rep. Bill Black thought at first it was somebody’s lame idea of a joke. But it was true: The FBI had arrested the governor of Illinois, hauling him away wearing a track suit and handcuffs … [snip] … Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, didn’t come out of the blue.  Federal prosecutors had long been investigating whether the governor, then in the middle of his second term, had used his official powers illegally – to pressure groups into making campaign contributions, for instance, or to award government jobs and contracts to political allies.

On July 13, 1971, the Miami News ran a story on Reggie Jackson‘s hit, estimated at close to 600 feet since it hit against the facade over the upper deck at Tiger Stadium’s right-centre field, in a story entitled, “Bolt From The Blue.”  The story’s first paragraph read:

After eight years of All-Star Frustration the American League finally won … and it came like a bolt out of the blue.  Reggie Jackson’s bolt, not Vida Blue’s.  While the fans came to see Blue pitch, they all went home talking about Jackson’s home run that helped the Americans stop an eight-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over the Nationals in last night’s 42nd All-Star Game.

The Youngstown Vindicator ran an interesting news story on June 16, 1905 entitled, “Czar’s Uncle Quits; Grand Duke Alexis Resigns Post As Head Of The Russian Navy.”  The news bite related:

Although from time to time since the war began there have been rumors that the grand duke would retire on account of the savage criticism, not to use harsher terms, directed against the administration of the navy, especially in the construction of ships, the announcement of his resignation came like a bolt out of the blue.  Consequently it was assured that some sudden event precipitated it and ugly stories immediately came to the surface.

On May 15, 1880, John Brown Gordon (1832 – 1904) former Confederate soldier with an Alabama regiment and an American businessman and politician who dominated Georgia after the Reconstruction period, tendered his resignation to Governor Alfred H. Colquitt.   He claimed that he was carrying out a long cherished desire to retire from public life after 20 years in public service, either at war or in politics.  This story was reported by the media four days later on the 19th and the Atlanta Constitution reported that the resignation had come as “a bolt out of the blue.”  The fact of the matter is that the change had been in the works for several months leading up to his resignation.

The earliest citation is found in Thomas Carlyle‘s book The French Revolution published in 1837:

Royalism s extinct; ‘sunk,’ as they say, ‘in the mud of the Loire;’ Republicanism dominates without and within: what, therefore, on the 15th day of May 1794, is this?  Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims: Hebert, Pere Duchesne, Bibliopolist Momoro, Clerk Vincent, General Rosin; high Cordelier Patriots, red-capped Magistrates of Paris, Worshippers of Reason, Commanders of Revolution.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version for the phrase out of the blue.

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

Black Out (as in “no power”)

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2011

When people talk about black outs, they can mean one of three things:  to cut or turn out the lights or electric power; to prevent or silence information or communication; or to become unconscious. 

With regards to cutting or turning out the lights or electric power.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, this expression most often referred to the stage and theatre lights in a theater.  However, at the start of World War II, it  also came to mean darkening an entire city to hide it from enemy bombers.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Lima, Peru was reported on in the February 5, 1985 edition of the New Straits Times in Peninsular Malaysia.  The news story entitled, “Rebels Black Out Pope’s Lima Tour” described the uproar associated with Pope John Paul’s visit.

Peruvian guerillas, defying 15,000 men and Pope John Paul’s call for peace, last night blew up power pylons and blacked out Lima as the Pope rode through the city, police said.

Back on June 14, 1955 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story about the flash floods unleashed by torrential desert cloud bursts.  The news article, entitled, “Floods Black Out Las Vegas; Trains Stalled” reported that the flash floods had blacked out the city.  The damage costs were expected to run at least $100,000 and quite possibly as much as $500,000.  Power was quickly restored in most sections of Las Vegas however 80 percent of all telephones were still out of order the following day.

On January 9, 1940 the Miami News reported on a train accident near Ware, Hertfordshire in England.  The story was entitled, “Two Trains Crash; Score Injured In Black-Out.” The Miami News reported:

Two London-Northeastern railway passenger trains collided in the black-out last night, trapping scores of women and children in wrecked coaches.  Although several coaches were telescoped and both engines were overturned, no one was killed and only 25 were injured.

Just 2 years earlier, on May 31, 1938 the New York Times published an article entitled, “New Raid on Japan Forces Black Out Over A Wide Region.”  It stated in part:

Japan had a raid scare when two mysterious planes, supposed to be Chinese, flew along the whole western side of Kyushu island last night and early today. All the region was “blacked out” for three hours.

As a side note here, Japan’s electricity system was started in 1883 when the Tokyo Electric Light Company — now known as Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — was founded.  Demand grew for electricity and in 1895, the company purchased equipment from AEG while its competitor, Osaka Electric Lamp purchased equipment from General Electric. Since the founding of electric companies in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, there have been reports of black outs.

In theatre circles, a black out means to extinguish all of the stage lights at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness.  While it is a term oftentimes associated with a performance, it has also been used to mean a performance is not to take place on that day. 

The Baltimore Sun ran a news story on September 18, 1901 that spoke of Baltimoreans of all classes uniting to pay tribute to deceased President McKinley.  The article stated that the bells of nearly all the Catholic and Episcopal churches would be tolled from 2 to 8 o’clock in the afternoon and that theatres would be “draped in somber black out of respect to the dead President.”  In other words, there would be no performances in the theatres on that day.

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

Brawn And No Brain

Posted by Admin on April 15, 2011

The expression “brawn and no brain” is usually used with regards to males.  The image of someone who is “all brawn and no brain” is usually that of an enforcer … the bouncer at a night club, the security guard at a rock concert … and it’s obvious at first glance that these males have biceps that rival 100-year-old oak trees.  So, who was the first person to think up this expression and dare to use it in public?

In a blog entry entitled, “Tao, Tai Chi, and Tai Chi Chuan” written by Master Marlone Ma for Wutang USA on November 28, 2010, the following can be learned:

In order to understand what’s going on with T’ai Chi Chuan today, it’s helpful to look back at a little of the history of China. The Ching Dynasty was ruled by people who came into China from outside the Great Wall and conquered the area. In an effort to control the population, they inculcated the idea that the most valuable workers were the government workers; and that it was necessary to concentrate on academic learning to achieve this highest status in the society. They taught that martial artists were the very lowest class members of the society. They did their best to create a stereotype of martial artists as being all brawn and no brain. Over the centuries; people started believing this way of looking at things.

Back on March 25, 1991 the Spokane Chronicle carried an Associated Press story out of Vancouver (BC, Canada) entitled, “Author Says Child’s Name Will Affect Image, Life.”  Bruce Lansky, author of “The Baby Name Personality Survey” had been interviewed about his latest book and the research he had done for the book.  The closing paragraph of the news story were these:

“There are very few names for a girl that come across as intelligent or competent,” he said.

Lansky, by the way, goes by his middle name.  He says his first name, Sammy, carries the image of a gangster.

“Now that I’ve done all the research, Bruce calls to mind a big, good-looking hunk who’s all brawn and no brains,” he said.  “That doesn’t fit me, but I felt more comfortable with Bruce than Sammy.”

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper ran an article on January 17, 1975 entitled, “Recordings Miss The Mark.”  Grand Funk Railroad had just released “All The Girls In The World Beware!” on Capital Records (Capital SO-11356) and the review was far from favourable.

All the girls in the world, beware! It sounds like something out of a comic book advertisement for body building from the bygone era when a man was measured by his muscles.  Those days when brawn was much more fashionable than brain are now long gone, yet Grand Funk, the All-American band doesn’t seem to think so.

From the tone of the first two sentences, readers had a pretty good idea what was about to follow in the “Reviews By Tannyman” column.  A little farther into the story, this is found:

They perhaps would like the first half of the old saying to apply, but somehow you cannot have one without the other and that becomes evident when one gets over being annoyed by the cover and plays the album to discover that it too is fairly annoying.  It is music that fits into the brawn and no brains category.

And on November 16, 1944 the Youngstown Vindicator published a story entitled, “Human Torpedo Squad Captured In Dutch Islands” that referred to WWII German soldiers thusly:

The Allied troops who captured Walcheren Island early this month also bagged 200 expert Nazi swimmers, members of a “human torpedo” battalion stationed on the island to blow up any Allied ships that might try to run through the channel to Antwerp, it was disclosed today.  The Nazis, described by Allied officers as “all brawn and no brains” never had a chance to perform their speciality.  They were captured almost at once when the Canadians broke into the german coastal fortifications along the west shore of the island a few miles from Flushing.

The Toledo Blade ran their story “Cost Of Acre Of Corn” in their March 31, 1910 edition.

It is not always the man who knows the most who makes the greatest success, but the man who thinks.  It is necessary to read, and as a rule the one who reads most, thinks most.  The day of haphazard farming by plenty of brawn and no brains has gone.

And yet, in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1873 the story addressed the notion that either brawn or brain would have served Louis Napoleon well as reported in the news story entitled, “The Napoleonic Idea.”  In the news story, the following was written:

In the Franco-German War, he failed because he had underestimated the power of the Germans and because, although he had men associated with him who could execute, they could not fight as well as the men around Bismarck and Frederick William lI.  He was overmatched both in brawn and brains.

In other words, either a brilliant mind was needed to succeed or sheer brute force.  In Louis Napoleon’s case, it was perceived that he had neither. 

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (1861 – 1865) wrote a letter to his son’s teacher wherein he stated:

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

But it is author Yu Gongbao, author of “Wushu Exercise For Life Enhancement” published in 1995 that writes:

Wu Shu (also known as kung-fu or martial arts) is one of the typical demonstrations of traditional Chinese culture. Perhaps it is one of the earliest and long-lasting sports, which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of wushu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy.

Since the concept of brawn and brain is found in classical Chinese philosophy, it is not unreasonable to think that not too long after that, the concept that one may be blessed with  an abundant amount of either trait has that abundance to the detriment of the other trait.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Lose Your Marbles

Posted by Admin on March 2, 2011

We all know that marbles is a child’s game.  It was first recorded by that name in 1709, however, the game itself existed as far back as the 13th century in Germany where the game was known as tribekugeln.  Back in the day, marbles was played with small balls of polished marble or alabaster but over the centuries, the game has remained the same even if the marbles themselves have changed.

The word marble is Middle English from the Old French word marbre which is from the Latin word marmor which is from the Greek word marmaros and marmaros means “shining stone.”  

But to say that someone has lost his or her marbles is to mean that the speaker believes the other person has suddenly become mentally incompetent for an undetermined length of time.  On February 11, 1995 the Pittsburg Post-Gazette wrote about former American President Bill Clinton and the baseball strike with an opening paragraph that stated:

As you all know, President Clinton lost his marbles earlier this week.  While the rest of the nation struggled with the profound problems that truly plague humanity — war, famine, death, pestilence and the O.J. trial — Mr. Bill concentrated on ending the inane major-league baseball strike.  And to make matters worse, he failed miserably.

From yesterday’s entry at Idiomation what it means to “go bananas” and on May 10, 1975 the Youngstown Vindicator ran a story by William Safire courtesy of the New York Times News Service.  It was entitled, “The Catch 22 Question — Did Nixon Go Bananas?”  The story read in part:

There is a delicious inconsistency in the Nixon story: How could an intelligent man, a canny politician, blunder so egregiously in covering up a foolish crime — unless he had indeed lost his marbles?  The historian who figures this out might earn a niche in history himself.

Losing one’s marbles is a serious matter for young children.  In fact, the seriousness of the matter was recounted in the St. Petersburg Times on June 11, 1939 when the newspaper reported on “Marbles Lost in 1863 Found.”

In 1863, eight-year-old Augustus Pigman lost 16 prized marbles when he tossed them under a porch stoop to keep them from the hands of pursuing playmates.  Workmen demolishing the building a few days ago learned of the long lost marbles, recovered and returned all of them.  At 84, retired druggist Pigman is beyond the “knuckle down” age but will send the marbles to his three-year-old son in New York.

Now back in the 1920s, if someone lost control, it was said that the person had ‘let his marbles go with the monkeywhich was taken from a story about a boy whose marbles were carried off by a monkey.  And as far back as 1902, to “lose your taw’” meant to “go crazy.” 

As a side note, a taw is a large, fancy marble used for shooting and an “alley taw” is made of alabaster.

And so, while Idiomation was unable to find any published connection between marbles and mental instability prior to 1902, Idiomation did find a comic ballad published on January 28, 1871 entitled, “A Horse Chestnut or a Chestnut Horse.”  The ballad satirizes the philosophy of logic and shows how language that is thought to be rigid in meaning can take on other meanings depending on the context in which language is used.

An Eton stripling, training for the law
A dunce at syntax – but a dab at taw
One happy Christmas laid upon the shelf
His cap and gown and store of learned pelf.

The ballad shows how a horse chestnut and a chestnut horse can be made to appear to be the same thing if one chooses one’s words carefully and specifically.  And with that, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their marbles in such a case.

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