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A knight in shining armour

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

A person, usually a man, who comes to the aid of another, usually a woman, in a gallant and courteous manner.

Origin

knight in shining armourThe present-day use of this phrase is, of course, figurative and refers back to the notion of gallant knights saving fair maidens in distress. The reality behind that imagery is dubious and no doubt owes much to the work of those Victorian novelists and painters who were captivated by the chivalrous ideal of an imagined court of Camelot. Nevertheless, knights did wear armour, and that worn by royalty and the high nobility was highly polished and did in fact gleam and shine.

The earliest reference that I’ve found to the phrase in print date from the late 18th century – in The British journal The Monthly Review, 1790, in a poem called Amusement: A Poetical Essay, by Henry Pye:

No more the knight, in shining amour dress’d
Opposes to the pointed lance his breast

Many of these 19th century citations describe imaginary knights who ride to the rescue of swooning maidens. That’s almost, but not quite, the figurative use we have now. Present day ‘knights in shining armour’ may dress as they please. The earliest uses that I’ve found that summon up the ‘shining armour’ image in other contexts come from the USA. It’s ‘armor’ there, of course; for example, this piece from The Kenosha Times, September 1857:

“The ticket nominated is composed of able, earnest, honest men – of men by their reputation for personal worth and integrity protected from assaults as by a shining armor.”

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A house divided against itself cannot stand

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

Literal meaning (house meaning household).

Origin

From the Bible, Matthew 12:25 (King James Version):

“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”.

Articles

À la mode

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

Fashionable. Also, in the USA, a form of dessert – with ice cream.

Origin

This, of course, has a French origin and is one of the earliest French phrases to have been adopted into English. It is referred to in John Selden’s Laws of England, 1649:

“Commanders that are never a-la-mode but when all in Iron and Steel.”

The term was anglicized as a noun – alamode, which was a form of glossy black silk. This is listed in a 1676 edition of The London Gazette:

“Several Pieces of wrought Silk, as Taffaties, Sarcenets, Alamodes, and Lutes.”

a la modeAmericans are familiar with this phrase as meaning ‘with ice cream’. There are various stories concerning how this came about but, as they aren’t reliably documented, I’ll not repeat them here. Suffice it to say that, however the phrase was coined in that context, it had happened by 1903 when it appears in an edition of Everybody’s Magazine:

“Tea and buns, apple pie à la mode and chocolate were the most serious menus.”

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À la carte

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

On the menu, with each dish priced.

Origin

This is of French origin – according to the card (the ‘card’ is the menu card). This applies to meals which are ordered in separate items, each with a specified price. As distinct from a table d’hôte, which has a fixed inclusive price.

The date of the earliest French usage isn’t known. In English the first citation is Joseph Sherer’s, Notes and Reflections During a Ramble in Germany, 1826:

“He will find comfortable apartments, civil attendance, excellent fare, à la carte, at any hour.”

Articles

Best bib and tucker

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

One’s best clothes.

Origin

best bib and tuckerThis term originated not in any figurative sense, but literally – both bibs and tuckers were items of women’s clothing from the 17th to late 19th centuries.

Early bibs were somewhat like modern day bibs, although they weren’t specifically used to protect clothes from spilled food as they are now. Tuckers were lace pieces fitted over the bodice – sometimes called ‘pinners’ or ‘modesty pieces’. These were known by the late 17th century and were described by Randle Holme in The Academy of Armory, or a Storehouse of Armory and Blazon, 1688:

“A Pinner or Tucker, is a narrow piece of Cloth – which compasseth the top of a Womans Gown about the Neck part.”

Tuckers, as the name suggests, were originally tucked in. Pinners differed by being pinned rather than tucked. Pinner is clearly the precursor of pinafore – originally pin-a-fore, i.e. pinned on the front.

Incidentally, the blazons of the title of Holme’s book gave the name to another form of dress – the blazer. Blazons were the heraldic coats of arms or badges of office worn by the king’s messenger. Blazer jackets, which became fashionable in the early 20th century as uniforms for supporters of sports teams and as school uniforms, mimicked the her

blazer

aldic style.

‘Best bib and tucker’ is an 18th century term, the first known citation of which is from a translation of the Marquis d’Argens’ am

bitiously entitled work New Memoirs establishing a True Knowledge of Mankind, 1747:

Tuckers continued to be worn until the late 19th century. Charlotte Bronte referred to the practice in Jane Eyre, 1847:”The Country-woman minds nothing on Sundays so much as her best Bib and Tucker.”

“Some of the girls have two clean tuckers in the week; the rules limit them to one.”

‘Tuck’ is a slang term for food which was coined in English public schools in the 19th century; for example, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days, 1857:

“The Slogger looks rather sodden, as if he didn’t take much exercise and ate too much tuck.”

This migrated to Australia, where it was modified to tucker. Both this meaning of tucker and the women’s bib meaning have connections with food and it is tempting to speculate that they are in some way connected. It seems that they aren’t. Tucker in the food sense derives from the earlier term ‘a tuck-out’ (later also ‘tuck-in’), which meant ‘a hearty meal’. ‘Tuck-out’ was synonymous with ‘blow-out’. Both terms are listed in John Badcock’s Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, 1823:

Blow-out – a good dinner will blow-out a man’s tripes like any thing; so will a heavy supper. Either, or any other gormandising meal, is also ‘a famous tuck-out’.

‘Blow-out’, which appears to have had quite a crude meaning, is a long way removed from the protective crinoline bibs worn by Jane Austen heroines.

Another link that is sometimes made is the possible connection between tucker and tuxedo. The two names sound similar of course and the cummerbund that is usually worn with the formal tuxedo suit is rather like a tucker. There’s no foundation to that notion. Tuxedos are named from Tuxedo Park, New York, where they were first worn in 1886.

Articles

A hard man is good to find

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

A risqué comic play on words on a good man is hard to find.

Origin

mae westThe Oxford Dictionary of Comic Quotations attributes this to Mae West (1892 – 1980). It’s certainly in her style, although I can’t find any source documentation to support the attribution. Which part of the man she preferred to be hard I’ll leave to your imagination.

Another artist who could plausibly have coined the quip was Sophie Tucker (‘The last of the red-hot mammas’), who used a good man is hard to find as her signature tune.

Articles

A good man is hard to find

In Ex[ressions on October 27, 2011 by wordphrase

Meaning

A modern-day proverb, espousing the difficulty of finding a suitable male partner.

Origin

This phrase was coined by Eddie Green, as the title of his song A Good Man Is Hard To Find. This was composed in 1918 and first offered for sale as a piano roll in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, on 12th December that year (just in time for Christmas – a bargain at 90 cents):

A good man is hard to find
You always get the other kind
Just when you think that he is your pal
You look for him and find him fooling ’round some other gal
Then you rave, you even crave
To see him laying in his grave
So, if your man is nice, take my advice and hug him in the morning, kiss him ev’ry night,
Give him plenty lovin’, treat him right
For a good man nowadays is hard to find, a good man nowadays is hard to find.

A similar outlook was expressed in the Bible, Micah 7:2 (King James Version):

The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.

We don’t know if Green was an Old Testament scholar, but it seems unlikely that he got the line from Micah.

a good man is hard to findThe best-known version of the song was recorded by Sophie Tucker, who adopted it as a signature tune. She was a little more charitable in her delivery of the lyric and sang the second line as “You may get the other kind”.

Sophie Tucker was born Sophie Kalish; she changed her name and adopted Tucker as a stage name, following a brief marriage to Louis Tuck. It is interesting to speculate whether she was influenced to use Tucker as that was the style of dress she often wore on stage

In the good man/good woman stakes, men got in a pre-emptive strike in the 17th century. Abraham Darcie’s work The originall of idolatries, or the birth of heresies, 1624, includes this opinion:

“There is nothing more hard to find in this world than a good woman, a good Mule, and a good Goat, being three vnhappie beasts.”

More recently, and in what must be one of the most convoluted titles ever to grace a bookstand, we have Jo Lynne Pool’s 1995 book title – A Good Man Is Hard To Find Unless You Ask God To Be Head Of Your Search Committee.