Monday, 3 November 2014

How did we get these sayings ?

Lie back and think of England

The line and its various versions ('close your eyes and or and think of the Empire') have absolutely no verifiable provenance.

The remark was purportedly advice given by Lady Hillingdon to young women apprehensive about sexual activity. The source is said to be her 1912 diary.

But there is absolutely no proof (and even the name varies, from Hillingdon to Hillingham...). There was a genuine baroness, Lady Hillingdon (1857-1940), but neither her diary nor any other statement of advice from her on sexual matters has ever been seen.

Other sources claim that Mrs Stanley Baldwin thought 'of the Empire', but nobody knows exactly who first said what, or when, but it has become too popular an expression to be laid aside for lack of provenance.

(A) licence to print money

By 1955 television in Britain was starting to develop from being a
service into a business.
In 1957 a commercial television company opened in Scotland, with Roy Thomson (later Lord) as CEO.
In Roy Thomson of Fleet Street biographer Russell Braddon highlighted Thomson's description of a commercial television network as 'a licence to print money'

The term quickly went into the vernacular referring to any
organisation making a sure profit.

Let sleeping dogs lie

In the early 1300s the French were saying 'N' esveillez pas lou chien qui dort' (Wake not the sleeping dog). It drifted towards Geoffiey Chaucer some years later (Troilus and Criseyde, c .13 7 4)
and the English language was enriched with It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.

Over centuries, the advice gradually shifted its focus from negative to positive, and by 1824 Redgauntlet Sir Walter Scott phrased it in the familiar modern form.

The character of Wandering Willie (who likes to whistle Carelli sonata melodies) is asked whether the laird has ever been a soldier. He replies: I'se warrant him a soger. But take my advice and speer as little about him as he does about you. Best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Laugh on the other side of one's face

The basic idea (the reaction to unwelcome contrary news) has been around for several centuries, surfacing in Italian (Torriana) and French (Moliere), usually as laugh 'on the other side of one's mouth'.

French author Alain-Rene Lesage used the mouth version in Histoire de Gil Bias de Santillane in 1715 and that was how it arrived in English in the 1809 trans...lation by Benjamin Malkin:
We were made to laugh on the other side of our mouth by an unforeseen circumstance.

By 1837 when Thomas Carlyle wrote his fictional Diamond Necklace (based on an incident concerning Marie Antoinette), he had moved from the mouth to the face: Thou laughest there; by-and-by thou wilt laugh on the wrong side of thy face.

From there, the wrong side gradually became the other side.

Lame duck

In 1761 the Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, wrote to the British
Envoy in Tuscany, Sir Horace Mann, saying: How Scipio would have stared if he had been told that he must not demolish Carthage, as it would ruin several aldermen who had money in the Punic actions! Aproposdo you know what a Bull, a Bear and a Lame Duck are? Nay, nor I either- I am only certain they are neither animal nor j...owl!

This indicated that the expressions, later famous in the financial sector, were being used at the time, even if Walpole didn't understand them apart from recognising a vague connection with people who had money invested.

The usage was clarified a decade later when David Garrick's play Foote's Maid of Bath made its debut (1771). In the Prologue, Garrick referred to financiers who frequented Exchange Alley (the
Stock Exchange) and classified them as: .. . gaming fools are doves, knaves are rooks, Change-Alley bankrupts waddle out lame ducks.

The term went into use referring to brokers who defaulted on debts, and remained in use to describe those with financial problems, but grew to include anyone deemed ineffectual.
When the 'lame duck' term travelled to America it assumed the feathers of politics and waddled into the arena of elected officials whose term of office was nearing an end.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

In 1931 a collection of short stories by John Monk Saunders was gathered into his book Single Lady about a group of World War I pilots visiting Paris and Lisbon for recreation. Soon after, the book
became the basis of the movie The Last Flight, for which Saunders
also wrote the screenplay.

During the story the free-spirited character of Nikki (believed to b...e based on Saunders' wife Fay Wray) is asked why she painted
her toenails red, and she replied that it 'seemed like a good idea at
the time' Later her line is revisited to sombre effect when one of the men is seriously gored after jumping into a Portuguese bullring.

When reporters ask his friends why he did such a thing, the character of Cary thinks for a moment and then repeats Nikki's line: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
(British actor Archie Leach appeared m a Broadway stage version of the story, and in the character of Cary spoke the line in question. After that, he adopted the character's name for himself, and became Cary Grant.)

It goes with the territory

In Arthur Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman the lead character
Willy Loman has a neighbour called Charley. Willy is not notably
successful in his work, but Charley is very successful in his. And
while there is a certain level of friendship between them, there is
also envy on Willy's side and compassion on Charley's. He feels
Willy would be better off in some other job, and he tells Willy's son
Biff: A salesman has to dream boy. It comes with the territory.
Lifted out of the play, the expression fitted many other situations and was used accordingly, though since 1949 popular usage has gradually turned 'comes' into 'goes'.

I smell a rat

Generally assumed to be derived from the notion of a cat smelling
a nearby rat, but unable to see it. The term first turns up in 1601
in an anonymous play Blurt, Master Constable, published in London
149 a year later: 'Printed for Henry Rockytt, and are to be solde at the long shop under S. Mildreds Church in the Poultry, 1602.'

The play is usually attributed to Thomas Middleton an...d Thomas Dekker. and during its action an old courtier called Curvetto exclaims: 'Rat? Me! I smell a rat, I strike it dead!'

A more colourful use of the phrase arose when the Irish Parliament was enlivened during the period 1777-1801 by speeches from MP Sir Boyle Roche.

Among his more convoluted policy statements: It would surely be better, Mr Speaker, to give up not only a part, but, if necessary, even the whole, of our Constitution to preserve the remainder!

One of his much talked about mixed metaphors contained the fragment that helped propel the rat into permanent English usage:
Mr Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky but I'll nip him in the bud.

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