Thursday, September 13, 2012

hung on like grim death

I stumbled upon a terrific poem by Theodore Roethke while looking around the Internet for the etymology of this idiom, My Papa's Waltz (copyrighted in 1942); his version is, "But I hung on like death."  Click <here> for a link to the full poem, posted with permission on the Poetry Foundation's website.

Bryan and Mieder's 2005 A Dictionary of Anglo-American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases found in Literary Sources from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries lists the earliest literary reference from Bret Harte, in his 1884 Tales of the Argonauts: On the Frontier (available on Project Gutenberg), "Well, I hung on like grim death."

Various online student study guides note Shakespeare uses the adjective "grim" with a different meaning in his Taming of the Shrew, Induction, Scene 1 (pasted in from MIT's Shakespeare website), in "Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image" - for comedic rather than tragic effect:

What's here? one dead, or drunk? See, doth he breathe?

Second Huntsman
He breathes, my lord. Were he not warm'd with ale,
This were a bed but cold to sleep so soundly.

O monstrous beast! how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

raring to go

Naturally I'm not the only one out there who pondered such obscure things as the etymology of the phrase, "raring to go."  In my Internet search, I came across another blogger's posting regarding this most fascinating topic, "Etymology On the Go" by The Fryside.  He beat me by about four years.

I thought I'd go into more excruciating detail, though.

While most websites indicate that "raring" originated in the 1920s, the Oxford English Dictionary (site requires a subscription) provides an example of the use of "raring" as in "wild, angry; excited, spirited," dating back as far as 1845, in the American Whig Review (November issue, page 516), which I found online via Cornell University Library's Making of America site.  The American Whig Review was a "Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science" per the Making of America site.

The quote is from an article titled, "Adventures on the Frontier of Texas and Mexico," by Charles Winterfield.  The text is actually pretty offensive by current standards, about beating up a woman and including racial slurs.  The text is meant to be amusing (I think).  Here's some excerpts:

“What do you mean, you scamp, by his woman wanting to steal his things!” said I – a good deal amused by this cute fashion of getting out of a scrape.

“Lor! ain’t you hearn yit?  Why, he went and tuck her by the hair and dragged her out’en her old dad’s house, and he wooled her, and he… [more descriptions of beating]… May-be he warn’t in a rarin [my italics] tarin tantrum and all just because the [offensive descriptions of the woman] got scairt and swom ‘cross the river when the Injuns comed!..."
For "raring" as in "eager, keen, fully ready to do something", like "raring to go", the Oxford English Dictionary provides a quote from B.M. Bower's Cabin Fever, a Western, published in 1918, and available on Project Gutenberg's site.

Feet came hurrying. Two voices mumbled together. "Here he is," said one. "That's the number I gave him." Bud felt some one step hurriedly upon the running board. The tonneau door was yanked open. A man puffed audibly behind him. "Yuh ready?" Foster's voice hissed in Bud's ear.
"R'aring to go [my italics]." Bud heard the second man get in and shut the door, and he jerked the gear lever into low. His foot came gently back with the clutch, and the car slid out and away.

Interesting that an apostrophe is inserted in "r'aring to go"... dropping the "o" in "roaring to go".

Bower apparently wrote some 57 Westerns in all from 1904 to 1941.  Wikipedia has a brief description of her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

an unexciting post

Yeah, this one's anticlimatic at best, a brief review of a lecture series I just finished listening to.  Apologies to The Great Courses and Professor Brooks Landon because, though this post isn't about Nigel, I really enjoyed Landon's "Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft", produced by The Great Courses / The Teaching Company.

Landon brings into question the popular notion that sentences should be as short as possible, instead suggesting that long sentences can be the vehicle for creating a more exact as well as nuanced expression of the writer's mind.  He goes into detail about what elements make long sentences bad - and give them a bad name, and then goes into even more detail about elements that can make long sentences work in a way that short sentences simply can't.

He reminded me that there is a true art and craft to writing well - though what that means can be subjective - and, hack writer that I am, even I can aspire to write better.