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Idiom & Phrase History with Albert Jack

May 15th, 2016 · No Comments · Thailand Stuff

http://pattayaone.net/albert-jacks-blog/224029/idioms-phrase-history-albert-jack/

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The Origins of Some of our Favourite Expressions

Before You Can Say Jack Robinson it will all be over.’ How many times have we heard someone say something like this and wondered who Jack Robinson was? To trace Jack we have to go back over two hundred years to 1778 when Fanny Burney first used the expression in her novel Evelina. In the text, Fanny indicates the phrase is already well known in the way she regularly uses it to describe something that happens ‘in an instant.’ There are also suggestions that Jack Robinson was featured shortly afterwards in a play. But let’s now turn to an exchange that took place in the House of Commons during the late 1700s and was famously reported across all Europe, thanks to the drama and contentiousness of the occasion.

It is worth recording that back then, and for that matter now, members of the House would refrain from mentioning any other member by name, a practice that came about in avoidance of the strict libel laws of the time. Instead, an MP might suggest that ‘the Honourable Member for ‘whatever the’ constituency has today shown himself to be a scoundrel by stating that… etc,’ thereby avoiding a mention of the person’s name but making it quite clear whom they were referring to. We can still hear this form of address in Parliament today, but these days it is merely due to tradition, rather than the avoidance of libel.

You can imagine, then, how much of a fuss was caused in the late 18th century by playwright and MP Richard Brinsley Sheridan when he was asked in the House to name a member of government under suspicion and accused of bribery. Without hesitation, Sheridan looked across at fellow MP John Robinson and announced, ‘I could name him for you as soon as I could say Jack Robinson.’

Well, that remark was a little too close for comfort, even by today’s standards, causing uproar and being reported across the land. It is likely this exchange led to the use of the phrase by Fanny Burney in her popular novel and hence its passage into the English language, but I have found an even earlier source for the term and quite possibly the reason for Sheridan’s use of it.

A poem by Thomas Hudson, entitled ‘Jack Robinson’ and written in the early 17th century, told the tale of a sailor returning from the high seas to find the love of his life already married to another. The sad sonnet includes the line ‘and so he went back to sea, afore you could say Jack Robinson.’ It is quite likely that Sheridan, literary fellow that he was, knew of this poem and was deliberately quoting from it to avoid censure in the House.

By substituting the name of John Robinson, the MP he accused, with the name of the fictional character in Hudson’s poem, he could claim the similarity between the two names as merely coincidental should Robinson ever be vindicated and threaten libel action. Clever stuff:  No wonder the exchange was so widely reported and admired.

‘Gordon Bennett!’ is a remark we have probably all used at one time or another to express surprise and even respect. James Gordon Bennett II was born in America in 1841, the son of Gordon Bennett, the founder of the New York Herald. With cash to spare, he lived a charmed life and when he eventually inherited his father’s newspaper empire, began a spending spree estimated at US$40 million (the total sum spent between 1881 and 1918).

IntBestSeller-300x300Gordon Bennett junior was a flamboyant character who enjoyed encouraging the innovative and exciting, such as the first-ever aeroplane race, the Gordon Bennett Cup, which was won by Glenn Curtis in 1909. He sponsored a balloon race in France known as the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, as well as yacht races, boxing championships, steam engine trials and car races. It was Gordon Bennett who funded Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition to Africa in search of the missionary Dr Livingstone and also financed the ill-fated Jeannette Expedition to the Arctic.

For his own part, Bennett was an extraordinary character who once flew a plane through an open barn as a stunt, burned a bulky roll of cash, which was in his back pocket causing discomfort, and urinated in his future in-laws’ fireplace, in front of other guests, after drunkenly mistaking it for a toilet. He also regularly annoyed fellow diners in top restaurants with his habit of pulling all the tablecloths away, sending food and crockery crashing. Unsurprisingly, he was once horsewhipped on the steps of a gentlemen’s club and eventually forced to flee in 1887 and so he re-located to Paris and continued to run his newspaper empire from there.

Despite some outrageous behaviour, Bennett was essentially a benevolent and visionary man who gave large amounts to charity and founded the Associated Press news service, which exists today, as does Bennett’s newspaper, in the shape of the International Herald Tribune. In his lifetime, Bennett’s newspapers would regularly run the headline ‘Gordon Bennett’ while reporting his antics, and his name thus became associated with anything outrageous, exciting and over the top.

It is also worth recording the story of another Gordon Bennett, a prolific although barely known biscuit maker, born in 1878. Some people believe the phrase entered the language after ‘Biscuit Bennett’ (as he was known) used to cycle the streets of Pontefract calling out his own name to advertise his product.

Bob’s your Uncle is often used to describe something that is resolved in your favour without much effort such as ‘Just send the form in and Bob’s your uncle.’ The phrase was in regular use in England from the 1890’s and comes from the promotion in 1886 of Arthur Balfour to Secretary of State for Ireland.

Balfour was a surprise choice for the position and few regarded him as qualified for the post. But when it became known he was the nephew of British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, the joke circulated that if Robert was your uncle, then anything was possible.

As Bold as Brass is a well known saying applied to anyone with the courage of their conviction and not afraid to be seen either succeeding or failing. It is recorded that the phrase dates back to the late 1770’s and refers to a radical London Magistrate called Brass Crosby.  At that time it was illegal for the workings of Parliament to be published for public knowledge.

However, one London printer produced a pamphlet revealing some of the proceedings and was immediately arrested. He was brought before Brass Crosby’s court and the magistrate, in tune with public opinion, let the printer off. Crosby was immediately arrested for treason and himself thrown into the Tower.

But such was the public outcry, in support of the magistrate, he was released and he became something of a national hero. In 1770 Crosby was selected as Lord Mayor of London and one of his first acts was to refuse to allow the Admiralty warrants to force Londoners into the Royal Navy by means of Press Gangs. Crosby then secured his reputation among the people of the City by ordering constables to be located ‘at all avenues’ to prevent the enslaving of its citizens. His brave stand against authority was widely reported, leading to the term as bold as Brass Crosby passing into common parlance.

 

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