Tired of Dressing Up? Clothes Calls


All dressed up and nowhere to go? Blame it on your significant other. It’s time for a dressing down (19th C.) — ”a scolding or severe tongue-lashing. “ — what comes of dressing someone (15th C.), “giving them a thrashing.”

It’s not your fault. You’re all decked out—ready and rarin’ to go—a clotheshorse (19th C.), who’s chafing at the bit. Unlike the original clotheshorse, a wooden frame on which we hung clothes to air or dry,  today’s clotheshorse knows how to show off  her fancy duds (1275), rescuing them from their original meaning as a mere “coarse sackcloth.”

You’re a real fashion plate (c.1850-55)—a delicacy for the eyes. Initially a newspaper or magazine advertisement featuring chic fashion models, you later looked as if you had actually stepped out of one of those ads.

Dressed to the nines, (18th C.), places you at the height of fashion. Being up to the nines meant being “to the utmost degree or extent” of anything. Some think it a corruption of the Middle English, to then eyne, “to the eyes.”  But as the highest single digit, nine has long had magical properties associated with it. As the trinity of trinities, it implied “the sum of all perfections.”

Your partner disputes equating your quest for perfection with  dressing up (17th C.), wearing apparel more fashionable than the occasion calls for, primarily to impress and influence others.  Dressing things up he says disguises things, making them appear more interesting or appealing than they really are

You have no choice now but to dress him down (mid 20th C.), not unlike when the military publically imposes a particularly severe, often highly formalized discipline, often entailing a reduction in rank and perhaps even ejection ( cashiering) of the individual from the service.

He then reminds you it’s a dress-down occasion—a casual day at the office during which time the dress code has been relaxed. You can only stare back at him having been now fully exposed.

Word Origin Comics: Wow, Not Woe to Women!

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back and pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh, yes, I am wise
But its wisdom born of pain
Yes, I paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

“What is a woman?” you might ask. Helen Reddy provided a partial answer in 1971 with her hit tune, “I am Woman,” which she co-wrote with Ray Burton as a filler on her debut album. It was later used in the closing credits for the 1972 film “Stand Up and Be Counted,” after which a new recording of the song was released as a single, which went on to become a number one hit, selling over one million copies. The song became an enduring anthem for the women’s liberation movement and a celebration of female empowerment.


Things, however, are much less clear today. The album on which “I am Woman” initially appeared was entitled “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Which may say it all as far as Kaitlyn Jenner’s transition. Here’s a little something to help you negotiate the terrain and put things once more in perspective.

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Reflections of an Octogenarian: Education and the Symbols of Oppression – Charleston, Dixie, and the Confederate Flag


As a retired educator, I often wonder whether my efforts have made any difference in the lives of my students or the course of the culture.

A partial answer recently came to light in the shadow of the horrific events in Charleston and the ensuing controversy over the Confederate flag– a particle of thought from the assorted fragments of memory with which old age is filled. I share it with teachers past and present as an article of faith on the worthiness of education.

In 1968, I was Director of the Yale Summer High School (YSHS), a program which brought together 150 students from poverty backgrounds from all over the nation. At a time of racial rioting and civil disorder, the school was created as a living laboratory in the problems and promise of the American democracy.

Our curriculum drew heavily on the ‘Great Books’ of Western literature, using the classics to bring volatile issues of race, tolerance and personal identity more sharply into focus. It ranged from Marx’s “Das Capital” to Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” and Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”


Among the works we studied was “Antigone” by Sophocles. It is about the meaning of loyalty and the dictates of conscience versus those of the state.

One of the kids that summer was an African American student named Charles Langley. After the conclusion of the program, he returned home to North Carolina from which he sent me a series of letters. They were a follow-up of sorts to a statement he had made at the conclusion of the summer and a question he had posed.

New Haven, CT., July, 1968

The students at the YSHS were so diverse that it was almost impossible to “follow the crowd.” For one thing, there were no crowds to follow since there was no majority or minority in a traditional sense.

Everybody thought and did according to their beliefs. At the YSHS there was an unlimited freedom of expression. Yes, one could express exactly what he felt without being beaten or ostracized.

Was the YSHS merely a seven week dream? A dream in which one sees life and the world as it might be, in its true perspective. Will we, as students, be forced to wake up from this dream when we return home? When home, will we forget this dream as we have forgotten others?

Greenville, N.C. August 1968

It is August. I have come to the end of my YSHS experience. Living in the new society, I have really found myself. No longer hindered by either my mother or society, I was able to become my true self. I practiced black pride. I let my kinky hair grow out and took a course about my black ancestors. I became more militant in my fight for “human rights;” so what if I lived in a racist society! It didn’t mean I had to be one!

I found philosophers who shared many of my beliefs. I became aware of the problems around me, I was able to have personal friends regardless of their color, I was able to discuss freely in class such forbidden subjects as sex, race, Communism and revolution.

I must say Yale did change me a lot. I have found a sense of black identity, self-confidence, rational thinking and militancy. Please don’t be alarmed; in the South a militant is anyone who is not conservative or on the right.

Last week our lily-white band (only two black members, including me) elected me as their president. Of course I was surprised. Now, I am involved in the “Dixie” controversy. I have refused to play or sing “Dixie.”


To the Black people of the South, “Dixie” carries a long list of bad connotations. Whites, on the other hand, love it as though it was the South’s National Anthem. While playing it, they wave the confederate flag and sing and shout; tears even come to their eyes. But for me as a black person, Dixie was very offensive.

My band director was very shocked when I told him I was not going to play “Dixie.” He always considered me the good obedient type. I thought about Antigone. What impressed me was that she was willing to stand up for what she believed in–even if at the cost of her life.


Now I find myself facing the same situation. Antigone took a stand. Although my stand is very shaky, I am willing to accept my fate as she did. Tomorrow I’ll see what my band director has in store for my disobedience.

Greenville, N. C. October, 1968

I’m still fighting against “Dixie”. At first I didn’t care if they played the song as long as I didn’t have to. But now I think differently. It is no longer a matter of tolerance but of respect.

My band director stopped playing “Dixie” at two football games because of my feelings. But then the band students and the student body demanded “Dixie;” so he gave in to the pressure.


I addressed my band members on my beliefs concerning “Dixie”. The reaction was mixed. Only a few understood my views. What was really shocking was that there were only two black kids in the band (Linda and myself) and Linda (Uncle Tom’s grandchild) stated that she saw nothing wrong with “Dixie;” so she would play it. I thought I was alone for a just cause. Then the band director said he would play “Dixie” at the next game. I felt he had no respect for my feelings.

Greenville, N.C. January, 1969

At the game “Dixie” was played twice. Both times I sat down and didn’t play in “silent protest.” I was surprised for my band speech did some good. At least five other white band members joined in my silent protest. Of course, Linda played like she said she would. I am now in the midst of writing an article about “Dixie” in my school newspaper.

Greenville, N.C., March 1969

As far as the “Dixie” affair, it is over for awhile. This controversy gave me my first chance to test my newly acquired militancy for a just cause. My peaceful sit-down protest was quite effective. Even an act of this nature exposed the problem and displayed my personal discontent.

The principal, however, finally had the last word on the issue. I wrote an article for our school newspaper to give the Black’s viewpoint concerning “Dixie.” The newspaper staff was pleased with the article.

All that was left was to get the article approved by the principal. He firmly refused to print the letter, because he thought his students should not be exposed to such a controversial topic.

Even so, my protest was not a complete failure for -like Antigone– I exposed a problem in which at least a few got the message.

YSHS Reunion, New Haven CT., 2009


Making Bones About Things


Time to bone up on a few things today–study intensely like students of Latin in the 1860s who once turned to the works of Henry George Bohn (1796-1884) and his translation of the Classics to help get them through their studies.

 Cutting to the bone (1400), we remove all the extraneous matter, literally getting down to the bare bones (1900) or the mere essentials if you like.

You say we have a bone to pick? Originally, this left us “mulling over the situation,” like a dog studying a bone. Two dogs quarreling over it made it into the “cause of argument,” as a bone of contention.

Making no bones about it had us “fearing no encounter or difficulty” (c.1459) and offering no difficulty (c.1529).—as would be the case of a person eating fish or stew, the meal progressing well and his level of comfort being high, once obstacles such as the bones had been removed. Having no reservations about a particular course of action, especially any moral scruples, then enabled us to “not let anything stand in our way” and to “deal openly and directly.”

That’s providing of course that we have no skeletons in our closet (19thC.).

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A Political Parable: The Little Bush That Could — The Roots to the White House and Beyond

Gather around, my children, for a tale that’s sure to warm the heart. Watch the lay of the land unfold as a not-so-exotic vegetation emerges from among us, coming from nowhere to a position of leadership. It’s sure to encourage us all to pursue our dreams and never give up hope.

bushes USA vote 2016

Once upon a time, there lived a nondescript bush. Lonely and unrecognized amidst the more colorful vegetation, he dreamed one day of becoming a bush in his own right. For too long he had stood in the shadow of bush the elder, a bush transformed in people’s eyes into a mighty elm. Each day, he looked up at that great tree, sobbing softly to himself: “I am somebody, yes, I am… Someday I too can attain that same greatness of stature.”

But a number of obstacles stood in his path. Though the bushes had all been raised in a hothouse, they all suffered from the illusion that they were actually part of the forest primeval. His younger sibling, the shrub, had always stressed his rural roots. After all, where does one find most bushes — certainly not in urbane, metropolitan areas.

In 1910, the major leagues of baseball, created and subsidized the minor leagues, generally locating them in small cities and towns. Thus were born the “bush leagues” and “bush towns,” along with an association with things “mediocre,” “second rate,” “amateur,” and “unsophisticated;” in short, the “inferior reaches.”

bushes USA vote 2016

Shrub had embraced this definition. But it was a real problem for our aspiring bush — how to kick that image.

Adding to his woes was that when folks got fatigued, exhausted, sapped, or pooped out, they said they were “bushed” — perhaps from the 19th century meaning, “lost in the woods.” So it was that the actions of his brother, shrub, had left folks “bushed out.”

Adding further to his woes was that our little bush, like others in the family, had a speaking style, described as “bushwa(h),” causing him to sound “nonsensical and pretentious,” “exaggerated,” and “deceitful;” i.e., “full of baloney.”

Coined in about 1900, “bushwa” derives from an old word, “bodwash,” meaning “bosh” or “trash.” It, in turn, derives from the old French bois de vache, “cow’s wood or “dried manure.” We don’t use “bushwa,” very much nowadays, preferring instead to call ’em the way we see’z ’em.

Poor little bush. He wanted so much to have everyone root for him, meaning they would be a regular supporter of his, to cheer him on. This “root,” incidentally, comes from the British dialect route, “to roar or bellow.”

Encouraged by his supporters and undeterred by the obstacles, he set off on his trek — bright-eyed and — what else but — bushy tailed — “eager and energetic,” “in fine fettle,” “wide awake,” and “prepared for any situation.”

bushes USA vote 2016

We’ve been bright-eyed and bushy tailed since the 1930s, alluding to the seemingly attentive behavior of squirrels, chipmunks and other animals, as displayed in their wide eyes, quick movement, and high degree of nervous energy,.

But a funny thing happened on the way to his goal. A bunch of rival vegetation lay in ambush for him from the old French embusche, from embuscher, literally meaning, “to hide in the bushes.” It was an insidious plot, the ultimate roots of which are in the Latin insidere, “to lie in wait.”

In plain English, they were hoping — you guessed it — to bushwhack him. Our very first bushwhackers, got their name by pulling their boats up parts of the Mississippi River by grasping at bushes along the bank. Today, bushwhacking is back in style; though the grasping of straws, rather than bushes, is more the norm.

There was lots of bushwhacking during the Civil War by the soldiers who hid in the bushes, wood, or thickets as part of their guerrilla tactics. Later, bushwhacking came to mean “making one’s way through unbroken forest,” by pushing bushes aside or breaking them.

Undaunted by such stalkers, and taking advantage of the greenery in which he hid and from which he received sustenance, the little bush moved on. Weed-whacking the competition, he made his way out of the woods to the big horticultural Show on a certain magic Tuesday in March. This would be his telling encounter. Everyone in the forest was following his progress. Some were fir him, others agin. All the firs were on pins and needles awaiting the result.

Could the little bush really do it? Would he go on from there to his final resting place? Would he finally make it to his ultimate destination… and at last sink his roots into the fabled rose garden?

bushes USA vote 2016

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How to Live Outside the Box: Push-Pull, Quick-Quick



Pilots used to carry in an envelope papers describing the technical limits of their plane’s performance. Limits of speed and stress were graphically depicted, showing the parameters within which the pilot could fly safely and outside of which he would lose control. Over time, it became natural to refer to those limits as the envelope. When you exceeded them, you were said to have pushed the envelope (late 1960s).

Today, we reserve the phrase for those who discard the conventional and instead choose to be  daring or innovative. We like to think that a good amount of this occurs in the realm of the popular Arts.  But there is nothing inherently creative or innovative by simply going outside the norm. TV and Movie producers are actually feeling out the limits–pushing the envelope of good taste by challenging existing moral standards with their gratuitous sex and violence. If they truly wanted to push the envelope, their works would inform and elevate the human condition, not debase it.

It seems they’d rather just push our buttons (c.1920s) instead, eliciting a strong emotional response, especially that of a sexual or violent nature. But the only real effect that most of us feel just plain anger. Pushed buttons activate a mechanism, like an elevator, which in this case, sends some of us through the roof (First half of 1900s). As to their envelope, it might be best that it simply be returned to the sender

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What’s with all the Facial Hair? Shave and a Haircut

The grunge look is very much in today. Baseball players sport beards and stubble is worn by young men everywhere as a fashion statement.


Hats off to the House of David, a 19th century cult which helped set the precedent. Established in 1903 to gather the 12 lost tribes of Israel for purpose of await the Millennium, its members were encouraged to spend some of their time waiting, by playing sports. The House of David started playing baseball around 1913, and by 1920, the team was “barnstorming” around the country as a way of earning money for the colony, and attracting potential members.

The team was always a great attraction due to their long hair and beards, drawing substantial crowds wherever they played. By the early 20’s, they began to recruit outside the colony and the faith, because of their increasing popularity and the need to hire players with greater ability as well as the lack of colony member participation, These “Players for Hire” were required to grow a beard, and some played for the team for many years. The House of David continued to sponsor barnstorming teams until the late 30’s, and teams in weekend semi-pro leagues into the late 40’s. At one time the House of David had up to 3 teams barnstorming around the country from 1930 to 1940, then again from 1946 to 1955.

It wasn’t always that way. During the early 19th century, being clean-cut put you a cut above the rest, making you superior to the others, a cut being a higher degree or stage.

Things changed when small side whiskers began to sprout after the War of 1812, then blossoming fully after the Civil War.

One who helped shape the trend was General Ambrose E. Burnside, Commander of the Army of the Potomac.


Burnside cut a dashing figure, sporting a hat so flamboyant that it carried his name. What was under his hat, however, proved to be of even greater interest.

Defying established custom, Burnside dared not only to shave his chin smooth, but to sport alongside it, a full mustache and sidebar whiskers. Wow! The style so captured the popular imagination that thousands of men quickly adopted it.

But we live in somewhat of an upside down world. And before you knew it, the burnside became sideburns, made doubly appropriate by how they run down the sides of a man’s face, and ultimately came to define any patch of hair in the front of a man’s ears, running along his jaw line.

Many a Burnside victory on the battlefield was a close shave, a narrow escape or a near miss, alluding to the thin margin between closely shaved skin and a razor cut.

Those harkening for a return to clean look should be reminded that we can tolerate only so many close shaves; for many they are dangerously accurate, proving simply too close for comfort.

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Do You Have a Drinking Problem? I’ll Drink to That.


Cocktails (c.1806), anyone?  Alas, there’s no recipe for making one and also little agreement as how it got its name. Lots of suggestions abound however. They include the cocktail horse, “one with a raised or cocked bobtail,” akin to the garnish often adorning the drink.  Traveling further afield, the West African kaketal, a scorpion with a wicked sting in its tail; as well as a seductive Mexican Princess named “Xochitl “or “Coctel.” The 1790s also featured a French apothecary noted for his unique cognac concoctions which he happened to dispense in egg cups called coquetiers.

If you’d rather go on the cheap, try some booze, from the Middle Dutch busen, “to drink or “tipple.” It’s been in English as a verb, since the13th century and a noun since the 16th. Its popularity soared in the 1880s possibly thanks to a certain E.G. or E.S. Booze of Philadelphia who sold his whiskey in a bottle in the distinctive shape of a log cabin. It was unlabeled but people knew its source.

That failing, we’ve still got some hooch, a vile potion brewed by the Hoochino Indians of Alaska. Hopefully, all this has served like an early-morning drink of whiskey used on arising to shake off drowsiness — a real eye-opener (c.1861). Otherwise, just shut things down and sleep it off.

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