Friday, May 22, 2015

Glimpse Of Yesteryear
November 7, 2013 | No Comments

By Jacquie Foote English is an idiomatic* language ... and American English even more so. Thus it is and thus it was. Going back to…

By Jacquie Foote

English is an idiomatic* language … and American English even more so. Thus it is and thus it was.

Going back to the late 1700s when the first non-Indian settlers came to Geauga, those settlers spoke of turning over a new leaf and were not talking about what grows on trees. The idiom To Turn Over a New Leaf is rooted in the 16th century when people referred to pages in a book as leaves. So, when they were turning to a blank page in a workbook to start a new lesson, they were turning over a new leaf. Eventually, this phrase began to be used to refer to making a fresh start … to change ones attitude or behavior. In short, when one turns over a new leaf one is, in effect, turning over a page of ones life and starting a new one.

Another idiom old enough to have been used by those early Geauga settlers was telling someone Your Name is Mud. This idiom is rooted in the 1700s when mud was a slang name for a fool or stupid person. It became very popular in the 19th century, used by union workers. At first, the word mud was used to refer to things that were worthless. Later, it was applied to people and used as an insult implying that the person is worthless.

An idiom utterly unknown to the early Geaugans was Flying by the seat of one’s pants, which is not surprising as the idea of people flying was largely a fools dream back then. This idiom and another (You are a real Wrong-way Corrigan) came to pass because of a 1930s aviator, Douglas Corrigan. Early aircraft had few navigation aids and flying was accomplished by means of the pilot’s judgment.

The idiom flying by the seat of his pants was first widely used in reports of Douglas Corrigan’s flight from the United States to Ireland in 1938. That flight was reported in many U.S. newspapers of the day, including in July 19, 1938, edition of The Edwardsville Intelligencer in a news story titled Corrigan Flies By The Seat Of His Pants.” The story quotes a mechanic who helped him rejuvenate his plane use the phrase to describe Douglas Corrigans flying style, which included going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries.” Nowadays, the idiom Fly by the seat of your pants means one goes along, using ones own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan or mechanical aids.

As for the idiom associated with Douglas Corrigan, two days before the Edwardsville Intelligence article, Corrigan had submitted a flight plan to fly from Brooklyn to California. (He had previously submitted a plan for a transatlantic flight that was rejected presumably on the grounds that his plane wasnt considered to be up to the job.) He took off and 29 hours landed in Dublin, Ireland. He claimed that his compasses had failed. He didn’t openly admit it, but it was widely assumed that he had ignored the rejection of his flight plan and deliberately flown east rather than west. He was thereafter known as ‘Wrong Way Corrigan. This designation came to be applied to anyone who does something the opposite of what was the understood intention.

* An idiom is an expression that is not meant to be taken literally.

For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit

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