Southern Baptists threatening to stop patronizing Disney because of its policy towards Gays. So what else is new?
Back in the 19th century, Irish peasants mounted an organized campaign against the hated agent of an absentee British landlord to protest his exploitive policies. They refused to work for him, intimidated his servants, destroyed his crops, drove away his stock, and threatened his life.
In the course of being interviewed by an American journalist, the parish priest, thought “ostracism” an insufficient word to describe the approach, suggesting instead the name of the hated agent himself. The man who thus became identified forever with such a policy was Charles Cunningham Boycott.
Some consider a boycott of Disney to be nothing less than Mickey Mouse — “small,” “petty,” “inferior,” “trivial,” and “childish,” stemming from the mid 30s when the Ingersoll watch company marketed a watch with Mickey on the face. It never kept the time properly and was always breaking down.
As to the boycott, it’s probably less Mickey Mouse than just plain goofy.
When it comes to politicians espousing their causes, words fail. So here’s a few: Humbug! (1825), meaning “stuff and nonsense,” with roots in the 18th century as a hoax or fraud Hogwash! (1440), a common term for kitchen refuse, slop fed to swine. Balderdash!, a meaningless jumble of words from adulterated wine made by combining the leftovers from several cups. And for their just deserts, Applesauce! (1929), “nonsense, flattery and sweet talk” — from the common practice in boarding houses, serving an abundance of applesauce to cover up the tastelessness or paucity of the main dish. Beneath the superficial sweetness there being only mush.
It’s so much cock and bull (1700), as implausible as old fables in which cocks and bulls are represented as talking with each other. And tommy-rot! (1884) — foolish utterances from Tommy, “simpleton or fool.” plus rot, “worthless matter.” And at the very bottom, poppycock! (1865), from the Dutch pappeka, “soft dung,” , originating with the Latin pappa, “soft food,” and cacare, “to defecate.” Thus accounting for all the pap we’re asked to swallow and all the other EXPLETIVES DELETED!
It’s always fun following a word’s progression through the language. Take the Latin sequi, secut-, from which many things follow — sequels, things sequential, and those consecutive, from com, “together,” and sequi, “follow”. This not only created real consequences, things following (with them); but also made them consequential.
Sequi, “to attend” or “follow” mutated into the Old French suitte, “attendance” or “act of following.” As a sout, it was “attendance at court,” making for the syutor (1290), a frequent visitor there, later a suter, an “adherent” or “follower” and the suitor (1586) who courts or follows after a woman. From the livery or uniform worn there came a set of clothes worn together, our first suits (1400). Making them suitable (1577) “agreeable” or “convenient,” was their appropriateness to the occasion. Other things suitable included a suit of cards and a grouping of rooms following in close proximity, the suite. Following things legally into the courts made for both legal suits and the right to sue via the Old French suer from the same sequere. The lack of any real follow-up ends with a logical fallacy, a non sequitur, “It does not follow.”
Let’s talk eponyms today from epi, “upon” and onyma, “name” — words derived from the names of people. It happened to President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt while on a hunting trip to Mississippi. Members of his party stunned a bear, tied it to a tree, and encouraged T.R. to shoot it. The President refused. A cartoonist for the Washington Post depicted the event, and the story caught the fancy of the nation. The rest is history. A Brooklyn candy store owner, Morris Michtom, fashioned a teddy bear out of brown plush in 1902, the first of over 60 million cuddly creatures to bear his name.
Less clear cut is case of a delicious log-shaped bar made of chocolate-covered caramel and peanuts. The founder of the Curtis Candy Company named it Babe Ruth in 1921 after President Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. But Cleveland hadn’t been president for nearly a quarter of a century, and his daughter had been dead for seventeen years. It was a blatant attempt by Curtis to avoid having to pay royalties to the Yankee slugger who was at the height of his popularity — a claim they still deny. The evidence, however, shows it, like the candy bar, to be quite nutty.
Many tempting ideas present themselves to us daily. What makes them so enticing is the burning desire they create from titionis, “firebrand,” from intitiare, “to set on fire.” They titillate us from titillare, “to tickle.” When we finally make an attempt at them, we do so from the Latin ad, “to” or “towards” and temptare,” “to try,” “feel out,” or “test.”
A classic case from Greek mythology of one tempting fate is the story of the King of Lydia. Befriended by the Gods, he betrayed them, stealing their nectar and ambrosia and testing their divinity, serving them the flesh of his own son. For his deeds he was doomed to stand forever thirsty and hungry in a pool of water up to his chin. Whenever he bent to drink, the water would recede. His efforts to reach toward fruit hanging from a bough directly above, caused the wind to carry the branch away from him. His name was Tantalus, and his name would forever be linked to “provoking desire and creating expectations without fulfillment.” That’s what makes things out of our reach so tantalizing. You and I are clearly above it all, being as one with Oscar Wilde who could “…resist everything except for temptation
Who wants to be a millionaire? Your path to fame and fortune begins with the Latin via, “road.” — the first step via, “by way of” that special 800 number. Soon you come to a critical juncture, what the Romans called a trivium, from tri, “three,” + via, — creating the intersection of three roads where one and all gathered to share the latest gossip. The very mastery of such trivia allows you to continue.
Fortunately, you are already familiar with certain aspects of your trek from obvium, “that which you previously had met on the way,” from ob, “against,” + via, making your choices obvious. Removing them from your path, simply obviates them. However, the obstacles in your way become more and more devious, from deviare, taking you down another road, de, “away from” your itinerary. Never once deviating from your goal, you are soon laughing all the way to the bank. The glitzy pianist, Liberace, coined that phrase back in 1954 in response to scathing reviews of his sold-out performances. His original statement had him ironically “crying,” not “laughing.” But when it comes to money, laughing is the American way, and knowledge is trivial.
Time to step out and party a bit, an occasion to put on the dog — affect some sophistication and urbanity.
It all began back in the 11th century with King Boleslaus II of Poland who began the tradition during a war with Russia.
Concerned about the increasing incidence of infidelity on the home front and its impact on troop morale, he legislated that children born of such trysts be taken to the woods to die and the offending women be obligated to nurse puppies in their stead. They were also required to take these dogs wherever they went, resulting in their appearing publicly with them on their lap.
The practice, however, proved so commonplace and ultimately so popular, that it also became fashionable, giving birth to the concept of the lap dog.
Lapdogs were the rage in America after the Civil War, especially King Charles and Blenheim spaniels, imperious looking dogs very distant from the mutts most people knew.
Seeing these snooty dogs pampered by their pretentious owners inspired the charge of putting on the dog which began as college slang at Yale in the 1860s and has been hounding us ever since.
It’s the stuff of which legends are made, or at least fables. Prior to 1425, things fabulous were “mythical” or “legendary” from the French fabuleux and the Latin fabulosus, “celebrated in fable.” Not until 1609 did they also became “incredible.”
“Incredible” was the reaction of teenagers the world over to the Beatles. Breathlessly, they reduced fabulous to fab in the 1950s, making it the vogue around 1960, concluding with The Fab Four, the early nickname of the greatest pop rock group ever.
There’s been lots of talk about “The fifth Beatle.” Guesses as to his identity range from manager Brian Epstein to Stu Sutcliffe, an early member of the group who missed out on all the fame and glory.
On September 11, 1962, The Fab Four took its final form when Ringo Starr joined John, Paul, and George, replacing Pete Best on the drums, making Pete probably — dare we say it — our “best” bet for number five.
“Yeh, yeh, yeh,” you say, a common corruption of “yes” (also “yeah”) since the 1920s and a component of their song “She loves you,” which for 14 years was Britain’s all-time best-selling 45 r.p.m. record. You do remember 45s, don’t you? Fabulous!
Mary Wilson, Diane Ross, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin grew up in the poverty stricken Brewster Housing Projects of Detroit. But they were primed for success, — “made ready or prepared from the first,” thanks to the Latin prime, “first” which also helped make them into the Primettes, sister group of the Primes.
The Primes went on to become the Temptations. Mary left to get married, Diane became Diana, and with the other two created the Supremes, from the Latin super, placing them head and shoulders above the rest.
Their supreme accomplishment came in October of 1966 when they became the first female vocal group to top the LP charts. Anybody remember LPs?
The Supremes was a tough act to follow, “a performance so outstanding, no one could hope to meet or exceed it” — a standard set in the early days of vaudeville, when the best act was traditionally saved for last. The Supremes were the best, la crème de la crème — a French expression from the mid 19th century, long before our tastes became homogeneous both in milk and the arts, the cream long since having been skimmed off both.
Oh for the days when they reigned Sup.
Americans have always preferred things top-drawer (c.1900). It was, after all, where they kept their most precious objects. When it comes to describing things first rate, however, they’re at anything but their consummate best.
For awhile, they enjoyed being A1 (c.1830s), thanks to Lloyd’s of London’s Shipping Register which ranked the condition of ships by letter — A1 being the highest attainable rating.
A century later, excellence took a novel turn with the introduction of new nighttime attire. Considered both the height of fashion and somewhat risqué, it took on very special meaning during the twenties as the cat’s pajamas.
Soon all things feline came to embody excellence — everything from the cat’s meow to his whiskers, tonsils, roller skates, and galoshes. Other animals then followed suit, joined to incongruous body parts or articles of clothing, resulting in the bee’s knees, the gnu’s shoes, and the elephant’s instep, and — of course for that day when pigs will fly — the pig’s wings.
Things of the first water, however, remained “unblemished,” diamonds having been rated first, second, or third water since 1820. But only if you were the eel’s ankles or the sardine’s whiskers.