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Blackface is a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes such as the "happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation" or the " dandified coon ".
Blackface was an important performance tradition in the American theater for roughly years beginning around It quickly became popular elsewhere, particularly so in Britain, where the tradition lasted longer than in the U. Early white performers in blackface used burnt cork and later greasepaint or shoe polish to blacken their skin and exaggerate their lips, often wearing woolly wigs, gloves, tailcoats, or ragged clothes to complete the transformation.
Later, black artists also performed in blackface. Stereotypes embodied in the stock characters of blackface minstrels not only played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes, and perceptions worldwide, but also in popularizing black culture. Another view is that "blackface is a form of cross-dressing in which one puts on the insignias of a sex, class, or race that stands in opposition to one's own. By the midth century, changing attitudes about race and racism effectively ended the prominence of blackface makeup used in performance in the U.
Blackface in contemporary art remains in relatively limited use as a theatrical device and is more commonly used today as social commentary or satire. Perhaps the most enduring effect of blackface is the precedent it established in the introduction of African-American culture to an international audience, albeit through a distorted lens.
There is no consensus about a single moment that constitutes the origin of blackface. John Strausbaugh places it as part of a tradition of "displaying Blackness for the enjoyment and edification of white viewers" that dates back at least to , when captive West Africans were displayed in Portugal.
From at least the s, blackface clowns were popular in the United States. Rice , who truly popularized blackface. Rice introduced the song " Jump Jim Crow " accompanied by a dance in his stage act in  and scored stardom with it by Rice traveled the U. The name Jim Crow later became attached to statutes that codified the reinstitution of segregation and discrimination after Reconstruction. In the s and early s, blackface performances mixed skits with comic songs and vigorous dances. Initially, Rice and his peers performed only in relatively disreputable venues, but as blackface gained popularity they gained opportunities to perform as entr'actes in theatrical venues of a higher class.
Stereotyped blackface characters developed: Early blackface minstrels were all male, so cross-dressing white men also played black women who were often portrayed as unappealingly and grotesquely mannish, in the matronly mammy mold, or as highly sexually provocative. The s American stage, where blackface first rose to prominence, featured similarly comic stereotypes of the clever Yankee and the larger-than-life Frontiersman;  the late 19th- and early 20th-century American and British stage where it last prospered  featured many other, mostly ethnically -based, comic stereotypes: Christy did more or less the same, apparently independently, earlier the same year in Buffalo, New York.
The songs of northern composer Stephen Foster figured prominently in blackface minstrel shows of the period. Though written in dialect and certainly politically incorrect by today's standards, his later songs were free of the ridicule and blatantly racist caricatures that typified other songs of the genre. Foster's works treated slaves and the South in general with an often cloying sentimentality that appealed to audiences of the day.
White minstrel shows featured white performers pretending to be blacks, playing their versions of black music and speaking ersatz black dialects.
Minstrel shows dominated popular show business in the U. As a result, the genre played an important role in shaping perceptions of and prejudices about blacks generally and African Americans in particular. Some social commentators have stated that blackface provided an outlet for whites' fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, and a socially acceptable way of expressing their feelings and fears about race and control. Writes Eric Lott in Love and Theft: However, at least initially, blackface could also give voice to an oppositional dynamic that was prohibited by society.
As early as , a blacked-up Thomas D. Through the s, many well-known entertainers of stage and screen also performed in blackface. Stone in Boston Blackie's Rendezvous. In the early years of film, black characters were routinely played by whites in blackface. In the first known film of Uncle Tom's Cabin all of the major black roles were whites in blackface. Griffith 's The Birth of a Nation used whites in blackface to represent all of its major black characters,  but reaction against the film's racism largely put an end to this practice in dramatic film roles.
Thereafter, whites in blackface would appear almost exclusively in broad comedies or "ventriloquizing" blackness  in the context of a vaudeville or minstrel performance within a film.
Blackface makeup was largely eliminated even from live film comedy in the U. The radio program Amos 'n' Andy —60 constituted a type of "aural blackface", in that the black characters were portrayed by whites and conformed to stage blackface stereotypes. Strausbaugh estimates that roughly one-third of late s MGM cartoons "included a blackface, coon, or mammy figure.
In , the ballet Sheherazade , choreographed by Michael Fokine , premiered in Russia. The story behind the ballet was inspired by a tone poem written by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In the ballet the leading female character, Zobeide, is seduced by a Golden Slave. The dancer who portrayed the Golden Slave, the first being Vaslav Nijinsky , would have his face and body painted brown for the performance.
This was done to show the audience the slave was of a darker complexion. Later in , Fokine choreographed the ballet Petrushka , which centers around three puppets that come to life, Petrushka, the Ballerina, and the Moor. When the ballet premiered, the part of the Moor, first danced by Alexander Orlov, was performed in full blackface.
The Moor puppet is first seen onstage playing with a coconut, which he attempts to open with his scimitar. His movements are apelike. The Moor seduces the Ballerina and later savagely cuts off the head of the puppet Petrushka.
When Petrushka is performed today, the part of the Moor is still done in full blackface, or occasionally blueface. The blackface has not been publicly criticized in the ballet community. By , black performers also were performing in blackface makeup. Frederick Douglass generally abhorred blackface and was one of the first people to write against the institution of blackface minstrelsy, condemning it as racist in nature, with inauthentic, northern, white origins.
When all-black minstrel shows began to proliferate in the s, they often were billed as "authentic" and "the real thing". These "colored minstrels"  always claimed to be recently freed slaves doubtlessly many were, but most were not  and were widely seen as authentic.
This presumption of authenticity could be a bit of a trap, with white audiences seeing them more like "animals in a zoo"  than skilled performers. Despite often smaller budgets and smaller venues, their public appeal sometimes rivalled that of white minstrel troupes. In March , Booker and Clayton's Georgia Minstrels may have been the country's most popular troupe, and were certainly among the most critically acclaimed.
This company eventually was taken over by Charles Callendar. From the mids, as white blackface minstrelsy became increasingly lavish and moved away from "Negro subjects", black troupes took the opposite tack. Some jubilee troupes pitched themselves as quasi-minstrels and even incorporated minstrel songs; meanwhile, blackface troupes began to adopt first jubilee material and then a broader range of southern black religious material. Within a few years, the word "jubilee", originally used by the Fisk Jubilee Singers to set themselves apart from blackface minstrels and to emphasize the religious character of their music, became little more than a synonym for "plantation" material.
African-American blackface productions also contained buffoonery and comedy, by way of self-parody. In the early days of African-American involvement in theatrical performance, blacks could not perform without blackface makeup, regardless of how dark-skinned they were.
The s "colored" troupes violated this convention for a time: These black performers became stars within the broad African-American community, but were largely ignored or condemned by the black bourgeoisie. Despite reinforcing racist stereotypes, blackface minstrelsy was a practical and often relatively lucrative livelihood when compared to the menial labor to which most blacks were relegated.
Owing to the discrimination of the day, "corking or blacking up" provided an often singular opportunity for African-American musicians, actors, and dancers to practice their crafts. It was through blackface performers, white and black, that the richness and exuberance of African-American music , humor, and dance first reached mainstream, white audiences in the U.
It was also a forum for the sexual double entendre gags that were frowned upon by white moralists. There was often a subtle message behind the outrageous vaudeville routines:. The laughter that cascaded out of the seats was directed parenthetically toward those in America who allowed themselves to imagine that such 'nigger' showtime was in any way respective of the way we live or thought about ourselves in the real world.
With the rise of vaudeville, Bahamian -born actor and comedian Bert Williams became Florenz Ziegfeld 's highest-paid star and only African-American star. Called "Toby" for short, performers also nicknamed it "Tough on Black Actors" or, variously, "Artists" or "Asses" , because earnings were so meager. From the early s to the late s, New York City's famous Apollo Theater in Harlem featured skits in which almost all black male performers wore the blackface makeup and huge white painted lips, despite protests that it was degrading from the NAACP.
The comics said they felt "naked" without it. The minstrel show was appropriated by the black performer from the original white shows, but only in its general form. Blacks took over the form and made it their own. The professionalism of performance came from black theater. Some argue that the black minstrels gave the shows vitality and humor that the white shows never had. As the black social critic LeRoi Jones has written:.
It is essential to realize that And it is the Negro's reaction to America, first white and then black and white America, that I consider to have made him such a unique member of this society. The black minstrel performer was not only poking fun at himself but in a more profound way, he was poking fun at the white man.
The cakewalk is caricaturing white customs, while white theater companies attempted to satirize the cakewalk as a black dance. Again, as LeRoi Jones notes:. If the cakewalk is a Negro dance caricaturing certain white customs, what is that dance when, say, a white theater company attempts to satirize it as a Negro dance?
The degree to which blackface performance drew on authentic African-American culture and traditions is controversial. Blacks, including slaves, were influenced by white culture, including white musical culture. Certainly this was the case with church music from very early times. Complicating matters further, once the blackface era began, some blackface minstrel songs unquestionably written by New York-based professionals Stephen Foster, for example made their way to the plantations in the South and merged into the body of African-American folk music.
It seems clear, however, that American music by the early 19th century was an interwoven mixture of many influences, and that blacks were quite aware of white musical traditions and incorporated these into their music. In the early years of the nineteenth century, white-to-black and black-to-white musical influences were widespread, a fact documented in numerous contemporary accounts Early blackface minstrels often said that their material was largely or entirely authentic to African-American culture; John Strausbaugh, author of Black Like You , said that such claims were likely to be untrue.
Well into the 20th century, scholars took the stories at face value.
We too have a problem to deal with issues of racism. We try to work it out by promoting tolerance, but tolerance is not a solution to racism. Because it does not matter whether our best friends are immigrants if, at the same time, we cannot cast a Black man for the part of Hamlet because then nobody could truly understand the "real" essence of that part. Issues of racism are primarily issues of representation, especially in the theatre.
In , the American dramatist Bruce Norris cancelled a German production of his play Clybourne Park when it was disclosed that a white actress would portray the African-American "Francine". A subsequent production using black German actors was successfully staged. Guatemalan elected president, Jimmy Morales , was a comic actor. One of the characters he impersonated in his comic show "Moralejas" was called Black Pitaya which used blackface makeup.
Jimmy Morales defended his blackface character saying he is adored by the country's black Garifuna and indigenous Mayan communities. Hajji Firuz is a character in Iranian folklore who appears in the streets by the beginning of the New Year festival of Nowruz.
In Japanese hip hop , a subculture of hip-hoppers subscribe to the burapan style, and are referred to as blackfacers. In some instances it can be seen as a racist act, but for many of the young Japanese fans it is a way of immersing in the hip hop culture the way they see fit.
Blackface also remains a contentious issue outside of hip hop. The program that aired on March 7 was edited by the network to remove the segment "after considering the overall circumstances",  but the announcement did not acknowledge the campaign against the segment.
In modern-day Mexico there are examples of images usually caricatures in blackface e. Though there is backlash from international communities, Mexican society has not protested to have these images changed to racially sensitive images. Secession War in which famous comedian Chespirito did a skit in blackface. Portobelo's Carnival and Congo dance in Panama include a use of blackface as a form of celebration of African history, an emancipatory symbol.
Black men paint their faces with charcoal representing three things. Firstly, the blackface is used as a tool to remember their African descendants.
Secondly, the black face is representative of the disguise or concealment on the run slaves would have used to evade the Spanish colonizers. Lastly, the practice of blackface is used as a way to signify the code or "secret language" slaves would have used during the time of Spanish occupation. During the celebration, for example, good morning will mean good night, and wearing black, or in this case blackface, which normally denotes a time of mourning, is used as a way to represent a time of celebration instead.
In Portugal, there is not a long history of use of actors in blackface for "serious" performances meant for realistic black character, but the use of blackface for comedy keeps being used frequently well into the 21st century. Inspired by blackface minstrels who visited Cape Town , South Africa, in , former Javanese and Malay coolies took up the minstrel tradition, holding emancipation celebrations which consisted of music, dancing and parades.
Such celebrations eventually became consolidated into an annual, year-end event called the "Coon Carnival" but now known as the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival or the Kaapse Klopse. Today, carnival minstrels are mostly Coloured "mixed race" , Afrikaans -speaking revelers.
Often in a pared-down style of blackface which exaggerates only the lips. They parade down the streets of the city in colorful costumes, in a celebration of Creole culture. Participants also pay homage to the carnival's African-American roots, playing Negro spirituals and jazz featuring traditional Dixieland jazz instruments, including horns , banjos , and tambourines.
The South African actor and filmmaker Leon Schuster is well known for employing the blackface technique in his filming to little or no controversy. But in , the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa halted the airing of an ad wherein Schuster portrayed a stereotypically dishonest African politician in blackface.
This technique is known as blackface, and is an inherently racist form of acting. The black character is depicted with derogatory intention, speaks with a thick accent, and recalls a stereotypical black dictator. To achieve the desired result of showing a corrupt official, there was no need for the man to be made out to be black. Vodacom South Africa has also been accused of using non-African actors in blackface in its advertising as opposed to simply using African actors. Some have denounced blackface as an artefact of apartheid, accusing broadcasters of lampooning Black people.
Others continue to see it as "harmless fun". The students were said to face disciplinary action for throwing the institution's name into disrepute, this despite having perpetrated the incident at a private party and later taking down the images. The pair claimed they had been dressed up as purple aliens for a space-themed residence party.
From —, it was a criminal offence to blacken one's face in some circumstances, with a punishment of death. The Black Act was passed at a time of economic downturn that led to heightened social tensions, and in response to a series of raids by two groups of poachers who blackened their faces to prevent identification. This character is usually played using a black face or brownface. Various forms of folk dance in England, including Morris dancing , have traditionally used blackface; its continuing use by some troupes is controversial.
Molly Dancers and Cornish Guise Dancers , both of whom are usually traditionally associated with midwinter festivals, often use blacked faces as a disguise. As the Molly dancers wished to avoid being identified by the landlords and petty nobles, who were also usually the local Magistrates, when they played tricks on those who failed to be generous enough in their gifts to the dancers.
And the Guise dancers disguised dancers also wished to avoid any punishment for their mocking songs embarrassing the local gentry. In Cornwall , several Mummer's Day celebrations are held; these were sometimes known as "Darkie Day" a corruption of the original "Darking Day", referring to the darkening or painting of the faces and involved local residents dancing through the streets in blackface to musical accompaniment.
The traditional wedding day chimney sweep , that is considered to be good luck, sometimes has a partially blacked up face to suggest smears of soot. This depends on the performer but it was, and still is, unusual to have a full blackening. Though the complete covered "greyface" is known.
These two traditions, of chimney sweep and folk dancing, coincide in the sometimes lost traditions of chimney sweepers festivals. Medway Council supports the Sweeps' Festival, revived in , now claimed to be "the largest festival of Morris dance in the world".
Originally the chimney sweeps were little boys, and they used the day to beg for money, until this child labour was outlawed. On Guy Fawkes' Day , participants in the Lewes Bonfire , the best known of the Sussex bonfire tradition , decided to abandon black face paint in their depiction of Zulu warriors.
In the early 20th century, group of African-American laborers began a marching club in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, dressed as hobos and calling themselves "The Tramps". Wanting a flashier look, they renamed themselves " Zulus " and copied their costumes from a blackface vaudeville skit performed at a local black jazz club and cabaret. Dressed in grass skirts, top hats and exaggerated blackface, the Zulus of New Orleans are controversial as well as popular.
An example of the disregard in American culture for racial boundaries and the color line [ citation needed ] was the popular duo Amos 'n' Andy , characters played by two white men. They gradually stripped off the blackface makeup during live performances while continuing to talk in dialect see African-American English. In Orson Welles was touring his Voodoo Macbeth ; the lead actor, Maurice Ellis, fell ill, so Welles stepped into the role, performing in blackface.
The wearing of blackface was once a regular part of the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. Growing dissent from civil rights groups and the offense of the black community led to a city policy, ruling out blackface.
Frank Zappa is depicted in blackface on the covers of his triple album Joe's Garage , released in In , an underground film , Forbidden Zone , was released, directed by Richard Elfman and starring the band Oingo Boingo , which received controversy for blackface sequences. Joni Mitchell has donned blackface numerous times throughout her career, even marketing her album using her alter ego "Art Nouveau" on her album cover Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.
Mitchell has remained unapologetic about her alter 'persona,' citing that she "does not have the soul of a white woman I write like a black poet. I frequently write from a black perspective" in an interview with LA Weekly. She would increasingly insist that her music was 'black' and that, as it progressed deeply into jazz, it should be played on black stations it rarely was.
Soul Man is a American film featuring C. Thomas Howell as Mark Watson a pampered rich college graduate who uses 'tanning pills' in order to qualify for a Graduate school scholarship to Harvard Law only available to African American students. He expects to be treated as a fellow student and instead learns the isolation of 'being black' on campus. Mark Watson later befriends and falls in love with the original candidate of the scholarship, a single mother who works as a waitress to support her education.
The character later 'comes out' as white, leading to the famous defending line "Can you blame him for the color of his skin? Despite a large box office intake, has scored low on every film critic platform.
But our intentions were pure: We wanted to make a funny movie that had a message about racism. Former Illinois congressman and House Republican party minority leader Bob Michel caused a minor stir in , when on the USA Today television program he fondly recalled minstrel shows in which he had participated as a young man and expressed his regret that they had fallen out of fashion. Trading Places is a American film, telling the elaborate story of a commodities banker and street hustler crossing paths after being made part of a bet.
For no reason relevant to the plot Dan Aykroyd 's character puts on full black face make up, a dread locked wig and a Jamaican accent to fill the position of a Jamaican pot head. The film has received very little criticism for its use of racial and Ethnic stereotype , Rotten Tomatoes even citing it as "featuring deft interplay between Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places is an immensely appealing social satire.
Blackface and minstrelsy serve as the theme of Spike Lee 's film Bamboozled It tells of a disgruntled black television executive who reintroduces the old blackface style in a series concept in an attempt to get himself fired, and is instead horrified by its success. It has since been redesigned with a purple skin tone. Commodities bearing iconic "darky" images, from tableware, soap and toy marbles to home accessories and T-shirts, continue to be manufactured and marketed.
Some are reproductions of historical artifacts , while others are so-called "fantasy" items, newly designed for the marketplace. There is a thriving niche market for such items in the U. The value of the original artifacts of darky iconography vintage "negrobilia" has risen steadily since the s. There have been several inflammatory incidents of white college students donning blackface.
Such incidents usually escalate around Halloween , with students using often accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes. She personally cast Angelina Jolie to play herself, defending the choice to have Jolie "sporting a spray tan and a corkscrew wig.
Mixed criticism of the film came in large part for the choice to have Angelina Jolie portray a woman of color in face make up and curly wig portraying Mariane Pearl. Defense of the casting choice was in large part due Pearl's mixed racial heritage, critics claimed it would have been impossible to find an Afro-Latina actress with the same crowd drawing caliber of Angelina Jolie.
I don't think there would have been anyone better. A imitation of Barack Obama by comedian Fred Armisen of Venezuelan and Korean descent on the popular television program Saturday Night Live caused some stir, with The Guardian's commentator openly asking why SNL did not hire an additional black actor to do the sketch; the show had only one black cast member at the time.
In the November episode " Dee Reynolds: One of the characters insists that Laurence Olivier 's blackface performance in his production of Othello was not offensive. In the same episode, the gang shows their fan film , Lethal Weapon 5 , in which the character Mac appears in blackface. The Popchips commercial showing actor Ashton Kutcher with brown make-up on his face impersonating a stereotypical Indian person generated a storm of controversy and was eventually pulled by the company after complaints of racism.
Julianne Hough attracted controversy in October when she donned blackface as part of a Halloween costume depicting the character of "Crazy Eyes" from Orange Is the New Black. Billy Crystal impersonated Sammy Davis Jr. The scene depicts Crystal in black face paint wearing an oiled wave wig while talking to Justin Bieber.
Victoria Foyt was accused of using blackface in the trailer for her young adult novel Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden as well as in the book and its artwork. Liquor " in his cabaret act, generally performed for all-white audiences.
Knipp's outrageously stereotypical character has drawn criticism and prompted demonstrations from black, gay and transgender activists. J", a song on Jay-Z 's 4: The Metropolitan Opera , based in New York City used blackface in productions of the opera Otello until ,     though some have argued that the practice of using dark makeup for the character did not qualify as blackface.
In November , controversy erupted when journalist Steve Gilliard posted a photograph on his blog. The image was of African American Michael S. Steele , a politician, then a candidate for U. It had been doctored to include bushy, white eyebrows and big, red lips. The caption read, "I's simple Sambo and I's running for the big house.
Blackface performances are not unusual within the Latino community of Miami. As Spanish-speakers from different countries, ethnic, racial, class, and educational blackgrounds settle in the United States, they have to grapple with being re-classified vis-a-vis other American-born and immigrant groups. Blackface performances have, for instance, tried to work through U.
A case in point is the representation of Latino and its popular embodiment as a stereotypical Dominican man. Soviet writers and illustrators, while claiming the importance of internationalism, too often perpetuated the harmful stereotypes about other nations.
Astonishingly, children's books and cartoons contained some of the most offensive representations of black people, picturing the African child with bright red lips and exaggerated features, similar to American minstrel shows.
Soviet artists "did not quite understand the harm of representing black people in this way, and continued to employ this method, even in creative productions aimed specifically at critiquing American race relations". The early Soviet political cartoon Black and White , created in , managed to avoid the debilitating blackface style, confronting "precisely that paternalistic model of the ever-passive black subject awaiting enlightenment from the Comintern". Soviet theatrical and movie directors did not have access to black actors, so they resorted to black makeup, which did not look as outrageous as the cartoons.
Soviet actors portrayed black people by mostly darkening the skin, without accentuating or exaggerating facial features. Blackface minstrelsy was the conduit through which African-American and African-American-influenced music, comedy, and dance first reached the white American mainstream. Though antebellum minstrel troupes were white, the form developed in a form of racial collaboration, illustrating the axiom that defined — and continues to define — American music as it developed over the next century and a half: African-American innovations metamorphose into American popular culture when white performers learn to mimic black ones.
Many of country's earliest stars, such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills , were veterans of blackface performance.
The immense popularity and profitability of blackface were testaments to the power, appeal, and commercial viability of not only black music and dance, but also of black style. While blackface in the literal sense has played only a minor role in entertainment in recent decades, various writers see it as epitomizing an appropriation and imitation of black culture that continues today.
As noted above, Strausbaugh sees blackface as central to a longer tradition of "displaying Blackness". From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Blackface disambiguation. The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this article , discuss the issue on the talk page , or create a new article , as appropriate.
December Learn how and when to remove this template message. Blackface in contemporary art. See also Lewis A. Erenberg , Steppin' Out: For more on the "darky" stereotype, see J.
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Retrieved 16 February Retrieved 22 February Masks and masquerades in Europe", Cesayo Dogre Poppi. Retrieved 18 October The modern expression bloody-minded still carries this sense, which connects with the qualities of the blood temperament within the four humours concept. The mild oath ruddy is a very closely linked alternative to bloody, again alluding to the red-faced characteristics within the four humours.
Oxford Word Histories confirms bloody became virtually unprintable around the mids, prior to which it was not an offensive term even when used in a non-literal sense i.
In terms of a major source or influence on the expression's development, Oxford agrees largely with Brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable, which explains that the use of the word 'bloody' in the expletive sense " Rowdy aristocrats were called 'Bloods' after the term for a thoroughbred horse, a 'blood-horse' as in today's 'bloodstock' term, meaning thoroughbred horses.
Clearly, the blood-horse metaphor captures both the aristocratic and unpredictable or wild elements of this meaning. The use of blood in this 'aristocratic' sense would have been reinforced by other similar metaphors: The blue blood imagery would have been strengthened throughout Western society by the idea of aristocratic people having paler skin, which therefore made their veins and blood appear more blue than normal people's.
It is commonly suggested thanks B Bunker, J Davis that 'bloody' is a corruption of a suggested oath, 'By our Lady', which could have contributed to the offensive perception of the expression, although I believe would not have been its origin as an expletive per se. Whatever, extending this point thanks A Sobot , the expression 'By our Lord' might similarly have been retrospectively linked, or distorted to add to the 'bloody' mix.
The flag is a blue rectangle with a solid white rectangle in the middle; 'peter' is from the French, 'partir' meaning 'to leave'. Additionally, ack G Jackson , the blue and white 'blue peter' flag is a standard nautical signal flag which stands for the letter 'P'. The letter 'P' is associated with the word 'peter' in many phonetic alphabets, including those of the English and American military, and it is possible that this phonetic language association was influenced by the French 'partir' root.
This table meaning of board is how we got the word boardroom too, and the popular early s piece of furniture called a sideboard. See also the expression 'sweep the board', which also refers to the table meaning of board.
In this sense the expression also carried a hint of sarcastic envy or resentment, rather like it's who you know not what you know that gets results, or 'easy when you know how'. Since then the meaning has become acknowledging, announcing or explaining a result or outcome that is achieved more easily than might be imagined.
Nowadays the term 'bohemian' does not imply gypsy associations necessarily or at all, instead the term has become an extremely broad and flexible term for people, behaviour, lifestyle, places, atmosphere, attitudes, etc. Thus, a person could be described as bohemian; so could a coffee-shop, or a training course or festival.
Bohemian is a fascinating word - once a geographical region, and now a description of style which can be applied and interpreted in many different ways. The sense is in giving someone a small concession begrudgingly, as a token, or out of sympathy or pity.
The giver an individual or a group is in a position of dominance or authority, and the recipient of the bone is seeking help, approval, agreement, or some other positive response.
It is a simple metaphor based on the idea of throwing a hungry dog a bone to chew on a small concession instead of some meat which the dog would prefer. The metaphor also alludes to the sense that a bone provides temporary satisfaction and distraction, and so is a tactical or stalling concession, and better than nothing. It is not widely used in the UK and it is not in any of my reference dictionaries, which suggests that in the English language it is quite recent - probably from the end of the 20th century.
According to various online discussions about this expression it is apparently featured in a film, as the line, "Throw me a bone down here International Man of Mystery' , from a scene in which Dr Evil is trying to think of schemes, but because he has been frozen for years, his ideas have either already happened or are no longer relevant and so attract little enthusiasm, which fits the expression's meaning very well.
I am further informed ack P Nix " It most certainly appeared prior to the Austin Powers movies since the usage of it in the movie was intended to be a humorous use of the already commonly used expression. It is also commonly used in the United States as 'Toss me a bone. In Argentina we use that expression very often. It is not pityful pitying at all It may have a funny meaning too I'm not sure of the origin of this phrase, but it was used in in French in 'The Law' by Frederic Bastiat.
Here it is translated - 'The excluded classes will furiously demand their right to vote - and will overthrow society rather than not to obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will then prove to you that they also have an incontestable title to vote. They will say to you: And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law - in privileges and subsidies - to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth.
Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit. We demand from the law the right to relief, which is the poor man's plunder. To obtain this right, we also should be voters and legislators in order that we may organize Beggary on a grand scale for our own class, as you have organized Protection on a grand scale for your class.
Now don't tell us beggars that you will act for us, and then toss us, as Mr. We have other claims. And anyway, we wish to bargain for ourselves as other classes have bargained for themselves! The extract does not prove that the expression was in wide use in France in the mids, but it does show a similar and perhaps guiding example for interpreting the modern usage.
The gannet-like seabird, the booby, is taken from Spanish word for the bird, bobo, which came into English around There seems no evidence for the booby bird originating the meaning of a foolish person, stupid though the booby bird is considered to be.
The sense of booby meaning fool extended later to terms like booby-trap and booby-hatch lunatic asylum , and also to the verb form of boob, meaning to make a mistake or blunder i.
I am informed thanks Mr Morrison that the wilderness expert Ray Mears suggested booby-trap derives from the old maritime practice of catching booby seabirds when they flew onto ships' decks. The US later early 20th C adapted the word boob to mean a fool. The ultimate origins can be seen in the early development of European and Asian languages, many of which had similar words meaning babble or stammer, based on the repetitive 'ba' sound naturally heard or used to represent the audible effect or impression of a stammerer or a fool.
It is probable that this basic 'baba' sound-word association also produced the words babe and baby, and similar variations in other languages. The mainly UK-English reference to female breasts boob, boobs, boob-tube, etc is much more recent s - boob-tube was s although these derive from the similar terms bubby and bubbies. Separately, thanks B Puckett, since the s, 'boob-tube' has been US slang for a television, referring to idiocy on-screen, and the TV cathode-ray 'tube' technology, now effectively replaced by LCD flatscreens.
Incidentally a UK 'boob-tube' garment is in the US called a 'tube-top'. Returning to boobs meaning breasts, Partridge amusingly notes that bubby is 'rare in the singular Bubby and bubbies meaning breasts appeared in the late s, probably derived from the word bub, both noun and verb for drink, in turn probably from Latin bibire, perhaps reinforced by allusion to the word bubble, and the aforementioned 'baba' sound associated with babies. My thanks to John L for raising the question of the booby, initially seeking clarification of its meaning in the Gilbert and Sullivan line from Trial by Jury, when the judge sings "I'd a frock-tailed coat of a beautiful blue, and brief that I bought for a booby Men who 'took the King's shilling' were deemed to have contracted to serve in the armed forces, and this practice of offering the shilling inducement led to the use of the technique in rather less honest ways, notably by the navy press-gangs who would prey on drunks and unsuspecting drinkers close to port.
Unscrupulous press-gangers would drop a shilling into a drinker's pint of ale, which was then in a pewter or similar non-transparent vessel , and if the coin was undetected until the ale was consumed the press-gangers would claim that the payment had been accepted, whereupon the poor victim would be dragged away to spend years at sea.
Pubs and drinkers became aware of this practice and the custom of drinking from glass-bottom tankards began. The 'bottoms up' expression then naturally referred to checking for the King's shilling at the bottom of the tankard. This expression is a wonderful example of how certain expressions origins inevitably evolve, without needing necessarily any particular origin. There might be one of course, but it's very well buried if there is, and personally I think the roots of the saying are entirely logical, despite there being no officially known source anywhere.
Partridge for instance can offer only that brass monkey in this sense was first recorded in the s with possible Australian origins. Cassells says late s and possible US origins. The OED is no more helpful either in suggesting the ultimate source. Allen's English Phrases is more revealing in citing an source unfortunately not named: In fact the expression most likely evolved from another early version 'Cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey', which apparently is first recorded in print in Charles A Abbey's book Before the Mast in the Clippers, around , which featured the author's diaries from his time aboard American clippers fast merchant sailing ships from The switch from tail to balls at some stage probably around the turn of the s proved irresistible to people, for completely understandable reasons: The notion of a brass monkey would have appealed on many levels: And aside from the allusion to brass monkey ornaments, brass would have been the metal of choice because it was traditionally associated with strength and resilience more so than copper or tin for instance ; also brass is also very much more phonetically enjoyable than iron, steel or bronze.
It simply sounds good when spoken. Zinc and platinum are complete non-starters obviously. So it had to be brass. The choice of monkey - as opposed to any other creature - is also somehow inevitable given a bit of logical thought. Certain iconic animals with good tails can be discounted immediately for reasons of lacking euphonic quality meaning a pleasing sound when spoken ; for example, brass horse, brass mouse, brass rat, brass scorpion, brass crocodile and brass ass just don't roll off the tongue well enough.
No good either would have been any creatures not possessing a suitably impressive and symbolic tail, which interestingly would effectively have ruled out virtually all the major animal images like cow, elephant, pig, bear, dog, rabbit, lion, tiger, and most of the B-list like rhino, giraffe, deer, not to mention C-listers like hamster, badger, tortoise, all birds, all fish and all insects.
We can also forget the well-endowed lemurs, platypii, and chameleons for reasons of obscurity: Which pretty well leaves just a cat and a monkey, and who on earth has ever seen a brass cat? It's just not a notion that conveys anything at all. So it kind of just had to be a monkey because nothing else would have worked.
That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it unless anyone has a better idea. This is the way that a lot of expressions become established and hugely popular - they just are right in terms of sound and imagery, and often it's that simple.
Incidentally a popular but entirely mythical theory for the 'freeze the balls off a brass monkey' version suggests a wonderfully convoluted derivation from the Napoleonic Wars and the British Navy's Continental Blockade of incoming French supplies.
The story goes that where the British warships found themselves in northerly frozen waters the cannonballs contracted shrank in size due to cold more than their brass receptacle supposedly called the 'monkey' and fell onto the deck. Or so legend has it.
Unfortunately there was never a brass receptacle for cannonballs called a monkey. Ships did actually have a 'monkey rail' just above the quarter rail, wherever that was but this was not related to cannonballs at all, and while there was at one time a cannon called a monkey, according to Longridge's The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships, cannonballs were actually stored on the gun deck on wooden boards with holes cut in them, called short garlands, not monkeys.
What we see here is an example of a mythical origin actually supporting the popularity of the expression it claims to have spawned, because it becomes part of folklore and urban story-telling, so in a way it helps promote the expression, but it certainly isn't the root of it. To understand the root, very commonly we need simply to understand how language works, and then it all makes sense.
I am grateful for A Zambonini's help in prompting and compiling this entry. Neck was a northern English 19th slang century expression some sources suggest with origins in Australia meaning audacity or boldness - logically referring to a whole range of courage and risk metaphors involving the word neck, and particularly with allusions to hanging, decapitation, wringing of a chicken's neck - 'getting it in the neck', 'sticking your neck out', and generally the idea of exposing or extending one's neck in a figurative display of intentional or foolhardy personal risk.
As regards brass, Brewer lists 'brass' as meaning impudence. The modern OED meanings include effrontery shameless insolence. Brassy means pretentious or impudent. Brass is also an old 19thC word for a prostitute. Some of these meanings relate to brass being a cheap imitation of gold. Some of the meanings also relate to brass being a very hard and resilient material. Phonetically there is also a similarity with brash, which has similar meanings - rude, vulgarly self-assertive probably derived from rash, which again has similar meanings, although with less suggestion of intent, more recklessness.
At some stage during the 20th century brass and neck were combined to form brass neck and brass necked. Many sources identify the hyphenated brass-neck as a distinctly military expression same impudence and boldness meanings , again 20th century, and from the same root words and meanings, although brass as a slang word in the military has other old meanings and associations, eg, top brass and brass hat, both referring to officers because of their uniform adornments , which would have increased the appeal and usage of the brass-neck expression in military circles.
Most dramatically, the broken leg suffered by assassin John Wilkes Booth. Booth, an actor, assassinated President Lincoln's on 14 April , at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC and broke his leg while making his escape, reportedly while jumping from Lincoln's box onto the stage. Later research apparently suggests the broken leg was suffered later in his escape, but the story became firmly embedded in public and thesbian memory, and its clear connections with the expression are almost irresistible, especially given that Booth was considered to have been daringly lucky in initially escaping from the theatre.
His luck ran out though as he was shot and killed resisting capture twelve days later. Etymologist Michael Sheehan is among those who suggests the possible Booth source, although he cites and prefers Eric Partridge's suggestion that the saying derives from " The phrase in the German theatre was Hals und Beinbruch, neck and leg break Interestingly according to Cassells, break a leg also means 'to be arrested' in US slang first recorded from , and 'to hurry' from , which again seems to fit with the JW Booth story.
Bear in mind that actual usage can predate first recorded use by many years. Cassells reminds us that theatrical superstition discourages the use of the phrase 'good luck', which is why the coded alternative was so readily adopted in the theatre. Cassells inserts a hyphen and expands the meaning of the German phrase, 'Hals-und Beinbruch', to 'may you break your neck and leg', which amusingly to me and utterly irrelevantly, seems altogether more sinister.
Such are the delights of translation. Incidentally my version of Partridge's dictionary also suggests break a leg, extending to 'break a leg above the knee', has been an English expression since first recorded meaning " Broken-legged also referred to one who had been seduced. Such are the delights of early English vulgar slang.. As a footnote pun intended to the seemingly natural metaphor and relationship between luck and leg-breaking is the wonderful quote penned by George Santayana Spanish-Amercian literary philosopher, in his work Character and Opinion in the United States On a different track, I am informed, which I can neither confirm nor deny thanks Steve Fletcher, Nov In older theatres the device used to raise the curtain was a winch with long arms called 'legs'.
If the performance was very successful the legmen might have to raise the curtain so many times they might - 'break a leg' Anyone who has spent time on stage in the theater [US spelling] knows how jealous other players can be of someone whom the audience is rapt with.
By way of the back-handed compliment intended to undermine the confidence of an upcoming star, an envious competitor might gush appreciation at just how great one is and with work how much greater one will be.
The young star goes out flush with flattery and, preoccupied with his future fame, promptly falls on his proverbial face. So, one learns in time to be suspicious of disingenuous praise. On the other hand, someone genuinely wishing you well will say 'Break a leg'. This mocks the false flattery and acknowledges that that stage can be perilous to someone with their head in the clouds. If not paying attention one could literally break a leg by falling into the pit. The reverse psychology helps one to 'stay grounded' so to speak.
The Italian saying appears to be translatable to 'Into the wolf's mouth,' which, to me is a reference to the insatiable appetite of the audience for diversion and novelty. And if you don't satisfy them, they will 'eat you alive' In Italian it is often actually considered bad luck to wish someone good luck 'Buona Fortuna' , especially before an exam, performance or something of the kind. Italians instead use the expression 'In bocca al lupo', which literally means 'Into the wolf's mouth' And this thanks J Yuenger, Jan , which again I can neither confirm nor deny: I see you had a question on 'Break a leg,' and as a theatre person I had always heard of break a leg as in 'bend a knee,' apparently a military term.
The idea being that if you tell an actor to break a leg, it is the same as telling him to deliver a performance worthy of a bow. As a common theme I've seen running through stage superstitions, actors need to be constantly reminded that they need to do work in order to make their performances the best. Thus, if you wished an actor good luck, they would stop trying as hard at the show, because luck was on their side Break a leg derives from wishing an actor to be lucky enough to be surprised by the presence of royalty in the theatre US theater , as in a 'command performance'.
These shows would start by acknowledging the presence of the royal guests with the entire cast on stage at bended knee. The suggestion of 'a broken leg' wishes for the actor the good fortune of performing for royalty and the success that would follow due to their visit to your theatre I am German, and we indeed have the saying 'Hals-und Beinbruch' which roughly means 'break a neck and leg'.
The origin of that saying is not proven but widely believed to originate from the Jewish 'hazloche un broche' which means 'luck and blessing', and itself derives from the Hebrew 'hazlacha we bracha', with the same meaning. For Germans failing to understand 'hazloch un broche', this sounds similar to 'hals und bruch' meaning 'neck and break'. Given that this has no real meaning, a natural interpretation would be 'hals und beinbruch', especially since 'bein' did not only mean 'leg', but also was used for 'bones' in general, giving the possible translation of 'break your neck and bones'.
That it was considered back luck to wish for what you really want 'Don't jinx it! Such ironic wishes - 'anti-jinxes' - appear in most languages - trying to jinx the things we seek to avoid. In Germany 'Hals-und Beinbruch' is commonly used when people go skiing. Fishermen use a variation: The German 'break' within 'Hals-und Beinbruch' it is not an active verb, like in the English 'break a leg', but instead a wish for the break to happen.
The German 'Hals- und Beinbruch' most likely predates the English 'break a leg', and the English is probably a translation of the German Thanks to Neale for the initial question. This sense is supported by the break meaning respite or relaxation, as in tea-break. Both senses seem to have developed during the 19th century. Earliest usage of break meaning luck was predominantly USA, first recorded in according to Partridge.
The term Brummie extends also to anything from Birmingham, and also more widely to the surrounding West Midlands region of the UK, especially when used by UK folk living quite a long way from Birmingham. Many English southerners, for example, do not have a very keen appreciation for the geographical and cultural differences between Birmingham and Coventry, or Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
Interestingly, although considered very informal slang words, Brum and Brummie actually derive from the older mids English name for Birmingham: Brummagem, and similar variants, which date back to the Middle Ages.
In past times Brummagem also referred informally to cheap jewellery and plated wares, fake coins, etc. The root word is bakh'sheesh in Arabic, notably from what was Persia now Iran , with variations in Urdu and Turkish, meaning a gift or a present.
I am grateful for the following note from Huw Thomas in the Middle East: It comes from the Arabic word bakh'sheesh, meaning 'free' or 'gift'. In Arabic today, it refers to the tip given to a restaurant waiter. The precise reference to buck a male deer in this sense - buckshot, buckknife, or some other buckhorn, buckskin or other buck-related item - is not proven and remains open to debate, and could be a false trail.
While 'pass the buck' seems generally accepted among the main dictionaries and references as card-playing terminology for passing the deal or pot, and is generally accepted as the metaphorical origin of the modern expression meaning to pass the problem or responsibility, uncertainty remains as to what exactly the buck was.
No-one knows for sure. To complicate matters further, buck and bucking are words used in card-playing quite aside from the 'pass the buck' expression referring to dealing. For example - an extract from the wonderful Pictorial History of the Wild West by Horan and Sann, published in , includes the following reference to Wild Bill Hickock: He didn't wear down the two-inch heels of his sixty-dollar boots patrolling the streets to make law 'n order stick.
He spent most of his time bucking the cards in the saloons This reference is simply to the word buck meaning rear up or behave in a challenging way, resisting, going up against, challenging, taking on, etc. So while we can be fairly sure that the card-playing terminology 'pass the buck' is the source of the modern saying, we cannot be certain of what exactly the buck was.
My thanks to S Karl for prompting the development of this explanation. I am grateful ack K Eshpeter for the following contributed explanation: Truman was a man of the people and saw the office of president of the US as a foreboding responsibility for which he had ultimate accountability. He kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office to remind him of this and it is where the expression 'The Buck Stops Here' originated.
Most people will know that bugger is an old word - it's actually as old as the 12th century in English - and that it refers to anal intercourse. A bugger is a person who does it. Bugger is the verb to do it. Buggery is the old word describing the act or offence, as was, and remains, in certain circumstances and parts of the world.
It's all about fear, denial and guilt. What's more surprising about the word bugger is where it comes from: Bugger is from Old French end of the first millennium, around AD , when the word was bougre, which then referred to a sodomite and a heretic, from the Medieval Latin word Bulgarus, which meant Bulgarian, based on the reputation of a sect of Bulgarian heretics, which was alleged and believed no doubt by their critics and opponents to indulge in homosexual practices.
It is fascinating that a modern word like bugger, which has now become quite a mild and acceptable oath, contains so much richness of social and psychological history. In terms of fears and human hang-ups it's got the lot - religious, ethnic, sexual, social - all in one little word. This metaphor may certainly have helped to reinforce the expression, but is unlike to have been the origin. More probable is the derivation suggested by Brewer in This terminology, Brewer suggests referring to Dr Warton's view on the origin came from the prior expression, 'selling the skin before you have caught the bear'.
This proverb was applied to speculators in the South Sea Bubble scheme, c. So was the huntsman by the bear oppressed, whose hide he sold before he caught the beast The bull and bear expressions have been in use since at least as far back as ; according to financial writer Don Luskin, reference and explanation of bull and bear meanings appears in the book Every Man His Own Broker, or, A Guide to Exchange Alley, by Thomas Mortimer.
Luskin says his 10th edition copy of the book was printed in The bum refers both to bum meaning tramp, and also to the means of ejection, i. Bum also alludes to a kick up the backside, being another method of propulsion and ejection in such circumstances. Less easy to understand is the use of the word rush, until we learn that the earlier meaning of the word rush was to drive back and repel, also to charge, as in Anglo-French russher, and Old French russer, the flavour of which could easily have been retained in the early American-English use of the word.
Hatchet is a very old word, meaning axe, and probaby derived from Old German happa for scythe or sickle. The hatchet as an image would have been a natural representation of a commoner's weapon in the middle ages, and it's fascinating that the US and British expressions seem to have arisen quite independently of each other in two entirely different cultures.
I am grateful Bryan Hopkins for informing me that in the Book of Mormon, a history of the ancient Native American Indians, an episode is described in which a large group ' This is not to say of course that the expression dates back to that age, although it is interesting to note that the custom on which the saying is based in the US is probably very ancient indeed.
Unrelated but interestingly, French slang for the horse-drawn omnibus was 'four banal' which translated then to 'parish oven' - what a wonderful expression. Bear in mind that a wind is described according to where it comes from not where it's going to. A South wind comes from the South. Sailing 'by' a South wind would mean sailing virtually in a South direction - 'to the wind' almost into the wind. Different sails on a ship favoured winds from different directions, therefore to be able to sail 'by and large' meant that the ship sailed well 'one way or another' - 'to the wind and off it'.
Also, the expression used when steering a course of 'by and large' meant being able to using both methods of wind direction in relation to the ship and so was very non-specific.
Early Scottish use of the word cadet, later caddie, was for an errand boy. The golf usage of the caddie term began in the early s. Such warrants were used typically to enable a prisoner's freedom, or to imprison someone in the Bastille.
The holder could fill in the beneficiary or victim's name. The practice was abolished on 15 January Heywood's collection is available today in revised edition as The Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood.
Other sources suggest or later publication dates, which refer to revised or re-printed editions of the original collection. Heywood was a favourite playwright of Henry VIII, and it is probably that his writings gained notoriety as a result. The English language was rather different in those days, so Heywood's version of the expression translates nowadays rather wordily as 'would ye both eat your cake and have your cake? This has been adapted over time to produce the more common modern versions: Whether Heywood actually devised the expression or was the first to record it we shall never know.
Etymologist Michael Quinion is one who implies that the main credit be given to Heywood, citing Heywood's work as the primary source. Quinion also mentions other subsequent uses of the expression by John Keats in and Franklin D Roosevelt in , but by these times the expression could have been in popular use. The word cake was used readily in metaphors hundreds of years ago because it was a symbol of luxury and something to be valued; people had a simpler less extravagant existence back then.
Brewer tells of the tradition in USA slavery states when slaves or free descendents would walk in a procession in pairs around a cake at a social gathering or party, the most graceful pair being awarded the cake as a prize. This also gave us the expression 'cake walk' and 'a piece of cake' both meaning a job or contest that's very easy to achieve or win, and probably although some disagree the variations 'take the biscuit' or 'take the bun', meaning to win although nowadays in the case of 'takes the biscuit' is more just as likely to be an ironic expression of being the worst, or surpassing the lowest expectations.
The variations of bun and biscuit probably reflect earlier meanings of these words when they described something closer to a cake. On which point, I am advised ack P Nix that the typically American version expression 'takes the cake' arguably precedes the typically British version of 'takes the biscuit'.
Maybe, maybe not, since 'takes the biscuit' seems to have a British claim dating back to see ' takes the biscuit '. This all raises further interesting questions about the different and changing meanings of words like biscuit and bun.
Biscuit in America is a different thing to biscuit in Britain, the latter being equivalent to the American 'cookie'. Bun to many people in England is a simple bread roll or cob, but has many older associations to sweeter baked rolls and cakes sticky bun, currant bun, iced bun, Chelsea bun, etc. The expression 'to call a spade a spade' is much older, dating back to at least BC, when it appeared in Aristophanes' play The Clouds he also wrote the play The Birds, in BC, which provided the source of the 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' expression.
At some stage between the 14th and 16th centuries the Greek word for trough 'skaphe: This crucial error was believed to have been committed by Desiderius Erasmus Dutch humanist, , when translating work by Plutarch. The translation into the English 'spade' is believed to have happened in by Nicolas Udall when he translated Erasmus's Latin version of the expression.
While the origin of the expression is not racial or 'non-politically-correct', the current usage, by association with the perceived meaning of 'spade', most certainly is potentially racially sensitive and potentially non-PC, just as other similarly non-politically correct expressions have come to be so, eg 'nitty-gritty', irrespective of their actual origins.
Developed from Mark Israel's notes on this subject. Partridge suggests the origins of open a can of worms are Canadian, from c. The Canadian origins are said by Partridge to allude to a type of tin of worms typically purchased by week-end fishermen. The OED describes a can of worms as a 'complex and largely uninvestigated topic'. Can of worms is said by Partridge to have appeared in use after the fuller open a can of worms expression, and suggests Canadian use started c.
Interestingly Partridge refers to an expression 'open a tin' which apparently originated in the Royal Navy, meaning to start a quarrel, which clearly indicates that the metaphor in basic origins dates back earlier than the specific can of worms adaptation, which has since become perhaps the most widely used of all variations on this theme.
Cassells suggests s American origins for can of worms, and open a can of worms, and attributes a meanings respectively of 'an unpleasant, complex and unappetizing situation', and 'to unearth and display a situation that is bound to lead to trouble or to added and unwanted complexity'. Cassells also refers to a s US expression 'open a keg of nails' meaning to get drunk on corn whisky, which although having only a tenuous association to the can of worms meanings, does serve to illustrate our natural use of this particular type of metaphor.
Farther back in history the allusion to opening a container to unleash problems is best illustrated in by the 'Pandora's Box' expression from ancient Greek mythology, in which Pandora releases all the troubles of the world from a jar or box, depending on the interpretation you read which she was commanded by Zeus not to open. The North American origins of this particular expression might be due to the history and development of the tin canning industry: The origins of tin cans began in the early s during the Anglo-French Napoleonic Wars, instigated by Napoleon Bonaparte or more likely his advisors when the French recognised the significant possibilities of being able to maintain fresh provisions for the French armies.
The French solution was initially provided via glass jars. In response, the British then developed tin cans, which were tested and proven around in response to the French glass technology. Development and large scale production of tin cans then moved to America, along with many emigrating canning engineers and entrepreneurs, where the Gold Rush and the American Civil War fuelled demand for improved canning technology and production.
The vast North American tin canning industry was built on these foundations, which has dominated the world in this sector ever since. According to Brewer , who favours the above derivation, 'card' in a similar sense also appears in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which, according to Brewer, Osric tells Hamlet that Laertes is 'the card and calendar of gentry' and that this is a reference to the 'card of a compass' containing all the compass points, which one assumes would have been a removable dial within a compass instrument?
Brewer explains that the full expression in common use at the time mid-late s was 'card of the house', meaning a distinguished person. If the Shakespearian root is valid this meaning perhaps blended with and was subsequently further popularised by the playing card metaphor. Interestingly Brewer lists several other now obsolete expressions likening people and situations to cards.
It's worth noting that playing cards were a very significant aspect of entertainment and amusement a few hundreds of years ago before TV and computers. Hence why so many expressions derive from their use. The origins of western style playing cards can be traced back to the 10th century, and it is logical to think that metaphors based on card playing games and tactics would have quite naturally evolved and developed into popular use along with the popularity of the playing cards games themselves, which have permeated most societies for the last thousand years, and certainly in a form that closely resembles modern playing cards for the past six hundred years.
The Vitello busied at Arezzo, the Orsini irritating the French; the war of Naples imminent, the cards are in my hands.. Caesar, or Cesare, Borgia, , was an infamous Italian - from Spanish roots - soldier, statesman, cardinal and murderer, brother of Lucrezia Borgia, and son of Pope Alexander VI. Playing cards have fascinating and less than clear histories and meanings in themselves, for which Brewer's provides an interesting and in my view largely reliable explanation: Here's where it gets really interesting: Brewer's view is that playing cards were developed from an Indian game called 'The Four Rajahs', which is consistent with the belief that the roots of playing cards were Asian.
In The Four Rajahs game the playing pieces were the King; the General referred to as 'fierche' ; the Elephant 'phil' ; the Horsemen; the Camel 'ruch' ; and the Infantry all of which has clear parallels with modern chess.
Brewer asserts that the French corrupted, or more likely misinterpreted the word 'fierche' for general, ie. Similarly Brewer says that the Elephant, 'phil' presumably the third most powerful piece , was converted into 'fol' or 'fou', meaning Knave, equivalent to the 'Jack'. Incidentally Brewer also suggests that the Camel, 'ruch', became what is now the Rook in chess.
It seems according to Brewer that playing cards were originally called 'the Books of the Four Kings', while chess was known as 'the Game of the Four Kings'. Brewer also cites a reference to a certain Jacquemin Gringonneur having "painted and guilded three packs of cards for the King Charles VI, father of Charles VII mentioned above in As for the 'court' cards, so called because of their heraldic devices, debate continues as to the real identity of the characters and the extent to which French characters are reflected in English cards.
Prepare to be confused Brewer, , provides a useful analysis which is summarised and expanded here: In French playing cards which certainly pre-dated English interpretations the kings were: Brewer also suggests that French Queen cards were 'Argine' probably a reference to mythology or an anagram of regina, meaning queen - no-one seems to know , anyway Brewer's suggested queens are: These four Queens according to Brewer represented royalty, fortitude, piety and wisdom.
Brewer concludes his summary with suggestions as to the real French queens on whose likenesses the Queen cards were based: Not surprisingly all of these characters lived at the same time, the early s, which logically indicates when playing cards were first popularly established in the form we would recognise today, although obviously the King characters, with the exception of possible confusion between Charlemagne and Charles VII of France, pre-date the period concerned.
I did say this particular slice of history is less than clear. Nevertheless, by way of summary, here is Brewer's take on things:. If you weren't confused enough already, more recent French cards actually show the names of the characters on the cards which I suspect has kept this whole debate rolling , and these names reveal some inconsistencies with Brewer's otherwise mostly cohesive analysis, not least in the Queens department, namely: Queen of Hearts is Judith Juno does not appear ; and Queen of Clubs is 'Argine' instead of Judith whoever Argine is; again, no-one seems to know, save suggestions that it's an anagram of regina, meaning queen, or could be something to do with Argos.
Predictably there is much debate also as to the identities of the Jacks or Knaves, which appear now on the cards but of which Brewer made no comment. Lancelot - easy - fully paid-up knight of the round table. Hector - of Troy, or maybe brother of Lancelot.
Hogier - possibly Ogier the Dane. If you have more information on this matter it is a can of worms if ever I saw one then I would be delighted to receive it. The reason why the Ace of Spades in Anglo-American playing cards has a large and ornate design dates back to the s, when the English monarchy first began to tax the increasingly popular playing cards to raise extra revenues.
The practice of stamping the Ace of Spades, probably because it was the top card in the pack, with the official mark of the relevant tax office to show that duty had been paid became normal in the s. Chambers and OED are clear in showing the earlier Latin full form of 'carnem levare', from medieval Latin 'carnelevarium', and that the derivation of the 'val' element is 'putting away' or 'removing', and not 'saying farewell, as some suggest. OED in fact states that the connection with Latin 'vale', as if saying 'farewell to flesh' is due to 'popular' misundertood etymology.
In my view the most logical explanation is that it relates to the 'cat-o-nine-tails' whip used in olden days maritime punishments, in which it is easy to imagine that the victim would be rendered incapable of speech or insolence. A less likely, but no less dramatic suggested origin, is that it comes from the supposed ancient traditional middle-eastern practice of removing the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats. See also 'pig in a poke'. Additionally this expression might have been reinforced ack G Taylor by the maritime use of the 'cat 'o' nine tails' a type of whip which was kept in a velvet bag on board ship and only brought out to punish someone.
In other words; a person's status or arrogance cannot actually control the opinions held about them by other people of supposedly lower standing - the version 'a cat may look at a king' is used in this sense when said by Alice, in Lewis Carroll's book 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland'. The different variations of this very old proverb are based on the first version, which is first referenced by John Heywood in his book, Proverbs.
The origin is unknown, but it remains a superb example of how effective proverbs can be in conveying quite complex meanings using very few words. The more modern expression 'a cat may laugh at a queen' seems to be a more aggressive adaptation of the original medieval proverb 'a cat may look on a king', extending the original meaning, ie. The red-handed image is straightforward enough to have evolved from common speech, that is to say, there's unlikely to have been one single quote that originated the expression.
Chambers Dictionary of Etymology varies slightly with the OED in suggesting that charisma replaced the earlier English spelling charism first recorded before around The preference of the Shorter OED for the words charism and charismata plural suggests that popular use of charisma came much later than Chambers says the Greek root words are charisma and charizesthai to show favour , from charis favour, grace and related to chairein, meaning rejoice.
According to Chambers again, the adjective charismatic appeared in English around , from the Greek charismata, meaning favours given by God.
Charisma, which probably grew from charismatic, which grew from charismata, had largely shaken its religious associations by the mid s, and evolved its non-religious meaning of personal magnetism by the s. The original Charlie whose name provided the origin for this rhyming slang is Charlie Smirke, the English jockey. Charlie Smirke was a leading rider and racing celebrity from the ss, notably winning the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in on Windsor Lad, and again in on the Aga Khan's horse Tulyar second place was the teenage Lester Piggott on Gay Time.
Later in the s the word chavi or chavo, etc. This old usage was not then necessarily insulting, unlike the modern meaning of chav, which most certainly is. The suggestion that chav is a shortening of Chatham, based on the alleged demographic of the Medway town in Kent, is not supported by any reliable etymology, but as with other myths of slang origins, the story might easily have reinforced popular usage, especially among people having a dim view of the Medway towns.
In the North-East of England according to Cassells the modern variants are charva and charver, which adds no credibility to the Chatham myth. Separately I am informed thanks N Johansen that among certain folk in the area of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, CHAV is said to be an abbreviation of 'Cheltenham Average', a term supposedly coined by girls of the up-market Cheltenham Ladies College when referring to young men of the lower-market Cheltenham council housing estates.
The expression is increasingly used more widely in referring to a situation where substantial either unwanted or negatively viewed attention or pressure is being experienced by a person, usually by a man, perhaps from interviewers, photographers, followers, or perhaps investigators. In the case of adulation there may also a suggestion of toadiness or sycophancy creepy servitude.
This is an adaptation of the earlier s expression to be 'all over' something or someone meaning to be obsessed or absorbed by something, someone, even oneself.
The expression 'Chinese fire drill' supposedly derives from a true naval incident in the early s involving a British ship, with Chinese crew: After initially going to plan, fuelled by frantic enthusiasm as one side tried to keep pace with the other, the drill descended into chaos, ending with all crew members drawing up water from the starboard side, running with it across the ship, entirely by-passing the engine room, and throwing the un-used water straight over the port side.
It's certainly an amusing metaphor, if these days an extremely politically incorrect one. It's akin to other images alluding to the confusion and inconsistency that Westerners historically associated with Chinese language and culture, much dating back to the 1st World War. Other expressions exploiting the word 'Chinese' to convey confusing or erratic qualities: Chinese whispers confused messages , Chinese ace inept pilot , and Chinese puzzle a puzzle without a solution ; 'Chinese fire drill' is very much part of this genre.
Alternative rhyming slang are cream crackers and cream crackered, which gave rise to the expression 'creamed', meaning exhausted or beaten. The words are the same now but they have different origins. In modern German the two words are very similar - klieben to split and kleben to stick, so the opposites-but-same thing almost works in the German language too, just like English, after over a thousand years of language evolution. A specific but perhaps not exclusive origin refers to US railroad slang 'clean the clock' meaning to apply the airbrakes and stop the train quickly, by which the air gauge the clock shows zero and is thus 'cleaned'.
Extending this explanation, clock has long been slang meaning a person's face and to hit someone in the face, logically from the metaphor of a clock-face and especially the classical image of a grandfather clock. The word clean has other slang meanings in the sense of personal or material loss or defeat, for example, clean up, clean out, and simply the word clean. Not many people had such skills. Clergy and clerics and clerks were therefore among the most able and highly respected and valued of all 'workers'.
Thanks to F Tims for raising this one. London meteorologist Luke Howard set up the first widely accepted cloud name and classification system, which was published in The system is essentially still in use today, albeit increased from Howard's original seven-cloud structure. It is said that when the World Meteorological Organisation added the ninth cloud type cumulonimbus - the towering thundercloud to the structure in this gave rise to the expression 'on cloud nine', although etymology sources suggest the expression appeared much later, in the s Cassells.
The allusions to floating on air and 'being high' of course fit the cloud metaphor and would have made the expression naturally very appealing, especially in the context of drugs and alcohol. Cumulonimbus is not the highest cloud as some explanations suggest; the metaphor more likely caught on because of superstitious and spiritual associations with the number nine as with cloud seven , the dramatic appearance and apparent great height of cumulonimbus clouds, and that for a time cloud nine was the highest on the scale, if not in the sky.
Up until the s, when someone used the word clue to mean solving a puzzle, the meaning was literally 'ball of thread', and it is only in more recent times that this converted into its modern sense, in which the original metaphor and 'ball of thread' meaning no longer exist. The word was first recorded in the sense of a private tutor in , and in the sense of an athletics coach in Brewer's dictionary contains the following interesting comments: To get on fast you take a coach - you cannot get on fast without a private tutor, ergo, a private tutor is the coach you take in order that you get on quickly university slang.
Another source is the mythological fables of Nergal and Osiris; 'Nergal' the ancient Persian idol means 'dung-hill cock; 'Osiris' was an Egyptian Bull.
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