August 28, 2015

The backstory on “Snug as a bug in a rug.” (Spoiler Alert: Ben Franklin didn’t actually coin it.)


In 1771, Ben Franklin’s common-law wife, Deborah Read Franklin shipped a live gift to young Georgiana Shipley, the daughter of British friends in London.

It was an American gray squirrel that Deborah thought would make a nice pet for the girl.

Georgiana named it Mungo.

Mungo was also referred to as “Skugg.” That was a name commonly used for squirrels at the time, the way “Pooch” is used for dogs and “Puss” for cats.

About a year after Mungo became Georgiana’s pet, he escaped from his cage and was killed by a dog.

The Franklins heard about this misfortune and felt bad for little Georgiana. So, Ben wrote a letter to her to express his sympathy and try to cheer her up.

It is this letter, dated September 26, 1772, that led to the widespread belief that Franklin coined “snug as a bug in a rug,” which became an idiomatic way of saying someone or something is comfortable, warm and cozy.

The letter said, in part:

To Georgiana Shipley
Dear Miss,
London, Sept. 26. 1772

I lament with you most sincerely the unfortunate End of poor Mungo: Few Squirrels were better accomplish’d; for he had had a good Education, had travell’d far, and seen much of the World. As he had the Honour of being for his Virtues your Favourite, he should not go like common Skuggs without an Elegy or an Epitaph. Let us give him one...

Here Skugg
Lies snug
As a Bug
In a Rug...

If you wish it, I shall procure another to succeed him. But perhaps you will now choose some other Amusement.

Remember me affectionately to all the good family, and believe me ever your affectionate
friend,

B. FRANKLIN

Franklin’s letter is certainly the most famous use of the saying “snug as a bug in a rug.”

However, as noted by the indispensable Phrase Finder website, the excellent book Who Said That First? and other authoritative sources, it’s not the origin.

The phrase had previously been used by Francis Gentleman in his satirical play The Stratford Jubilee, published in England in 1769.

Gentleman was an Irish-born playwright, actor and critic who spent most of his working years in London. He’s also known for writing the proto-science fiction tale A Trip to the Moon in 1764, under the pseudonym “Sir Humphrey Lunatic.”

In The Stratford Jubilee, a male character says he’s heard a certain widow “has the mopus’s” (a slang term for having money). If she does, he boasts, he plans to “have her, as snug as a bug in a rug.”

This has been cited as the first appearance of “snug as a bug in a rug” in print. But it’s possible that its use in the play indicates it was already part of the common vernacular in England.

It seems probable that Franklin heard it during one of his visits there. Indeed, he was in London in 1769, so he may have seen or read Gentleman’s play.

The word snug was originally a nautical term, meaning to make a ship or things on a ship safe and secure. Thus, in the 1700s, “snug as a bug in a rug” was probably used with the concept of being secure or securing something in mind — which is slightly different than the more modern sense of being comfortable, warm and cozy.

At any rate, poor Mungo the squirrel wasn’t comfortable, warm and cozy when Ben Franklin wrote his letter. He was a cold, dead Skugg.

R.I.P., Mungo. This post’s for you.

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Related reading…

August 24, 2015

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."


In 1897, two of the most famous residents of Hartford, Connecticut were Mark Twain and his friend and fellow writer Charles Dudley Warner, who was then editor of the local newspaper, the Hartford Courant.

They had been close friends for decades.

Back in 1873, they had even written a satirical novel together, titled The Gilded Age. (It was the only novel Twain ever wrote with a collaborator and its title coined the term that came to be used for the greed-fueled, corruption-tinged post-Civil War era it lampooned.)

Twain and Warner are also both connected to a famous joke about the weather that’s commonly given as:

       “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

This line is most widely credited as a quote by Twain. But it doesn’t appear in anything he wrote or in any of his recorded speeches.

It is also widely credited to Warner and there is a published source for that attribution. But that source — an editorial published in the Hartford Courant on August 24, 1897 — doesn’t exactly clarify the facts.

For one thing, the editorial was unsigned.

Warner was writing editorials for the Courant at the time, so he probably did write it.

However, even assuming he did, there are two other quotation accuracy problems: the editorial itself credits the saying to someone else and gives it in a form that’s slightly different than the familiar traditional “quote.”

What the editorial actually says is:

       “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.”

It’s likely that the popular version of the “quote” was derived from or popularized by the version in this editorial.

It also seems likely that the “well known American writer” referred to was Warner’s friend Mark Twain.

However, when asked, Twain denied it and credited Warner with writing the quip.

A few years ago, the frequently-groundbreaking Quote Investigator site documented two sources published prior to 1897 that attributed versions of the quote to Warner, thus adding to the evidence that he — rather than Twain — coined, or at least popularized, the saying.

Interestingly, one of those sources claims Warner made the remark with reference to the weather of New England.

That makes me wonder if Charles Dudley Warner may also have inspired another famous saying that’s often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain:

       “If you don’t like the weather in New  England, just wait a few minutes.”

Many websites and books, including some otherwise authoritative ones, like The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, claim that Twain said this in a speech to the New England Society in New York City, on December 22, 1876.

In fact, he didn’t.

If you actually read the speech you find that, while Twain did make several remarks about the unpredictability of New England weather, he did not say the “If you don’t like the weather in New  England…” line. (Or anything close to it.)

My conclusion is that, while thousands books and websites talk about the famous weather quotations attributed to Mark Twain, nobody has done anything about them that definitively clears up their true origins.

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Related reading…

August 16, 2015

“Love me, love my dog.”


In the Catholic religion, August 20 is the Feast Day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval French monk who died on that date in 1153 A.D.

I’m not a Catholic. But as a dog lover and a quote lover, I’m a big fan of St. Bernard, because he’s the guy who immortalized a saying that’s now best known in the modernized form “Love me, love my dog.”

The older versions of this saying, cited by many books and websites, are “Who loves me, loves my dog” and “He who loves me, also loves my dog.”

Those are the more traditional and more grammatically correct translations of something Bernard said in a sermon he once gave on another Catholic feast day — the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, celebrated annually on September 29.

St. Bernard’s famous dog quote from that sermon was originally recorded in Latin as “Qui me amat, amat et canem meum.” (Back then, it was common for monks to use Latin for their written records and to deliver sermons in Latin to other monks.)

The full sentence this quote comes from is “Dicitur certe vulgari proverbio: Qui me amat, amat et canem meum” — which translates as “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog.”

This makes it clear that Bernard was quoting an existing proverb. He didn’t actually coin it himself. But his use became famous and helped popularize the saying.

Contrary to what some people assume, St. Bernard of Clairvaux is not the Catholic saint associated with Saint Bernard dogs.

They were named after Saint Bernard of Menthon (a.k.a. Bernard of Montjoux), a different Catholic monk who died in 1008 A.D.

That St. Bernard established a monastery and hospice high up in the Alps. Over the centuries, the monks who lived there became famous for their efforts to rescue lost and injured travelers and for the large herding dogs they bred and trained to assist in their search and rescue missions. Since the 1700s, those dogs have been called Saint Bernards.

It’s not clear whether St. Bernard of Menthon or St. Bernard of Clairvaux were especially fond of dogs themselves.

St. Bernard of Menthon is the patron saint of skiing, not dogs or dog lovers. And, the breed of dogs named in his honor was developed by his followers after his death.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is the patron saint of bees, beekeepers and candle-makers, apparently because Pope Pius VIII nicknamed him the “Honey-Sweet Doctor” for his honey-sweet style of preaching and writing.

And, for the record, the topic of the sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux that includes the words now paraphrased as “Love me, love my dog” wasn’t actually about canines. It was about angels and their love for humanity.

Bernard’s brief reference to dogs in the sermon was part of a metaphorical point he was making.

If you read (or use an online translator to decipher) the Latin transcription of his sermon, you find that he was comparing the relationship between dogs and people to the relationship between humans and Jesus.

“The holy angels...love us, in fact, because Jesus Christ loved us,” Bernard said in Paragraph 3 of the sermon. “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog...We are the little dogs of the Lord...yes, like small dogs that want to feed on the crumbs that fall from the table of our masters.”

In case you’re wondering, there is a Catholic patron saint of dogs. His name is Saint Roch and his feast day is August 16.

According to legend, in the 13th century, Roch became gravely ill after ministering to plague victims and went off into the woods to die.

His life was saved by a dog from a nearby home. The dog accidentally found Roch, then brought him food to eat every day and licked his sores until he recovered.

I particularly like that legend because it fits my view that the creatures appropriately called “man’s best friend” are among the true saints of this world.

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Related reading…

August 12, 2015

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”


The phrase “beautiful people” had been used prior to the 1960s.

For example, in Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband, a social comedy first performed in 1895, one of the characters says at a gathering of high society partygoers: “I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.”

And, in 1941, William Saroyan titled one of his plays The Beautiful People.

But it wasn’t until the 1960s that “beautiful people” became an expression that had a generally recognized social meaning. In fact, there were two different Sixties terms about “beautiful people.”

One version was the beautiful people,” a name applied to glamorous celebrities, wealthy “jet setters” and other fashion trendsetters.

That version is generally credited to Diana Vreeland, the influential editor of Vogue magazine. Vogue started using the term “the beautiful people” in 1962 in articles about celebrities, at Vreeland’s suggestion, and it quickly caught on.

Another version, without the word the, was popularized in the mid-1960s by the young people commonly known as “the Hippies.” In Hippie parlance, “beautiful people” were people who were cool and spiritually “enlightened.” (As in: “They’re really beautiful people, man.”)

Being one of those “beautiful people” didn’t require wealth or fame. You could become one by taking a psychedelic drug like LSD, or by getting your enlightenment from some hip form of religion, such as transcendental meditation.

In 1967, the Beatles made a sly reference to the Hippie version of the term and subtly mocked the Vogue-style “beautiful people” in their song “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” It starts with the famous line:

      “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”

As noted by many websites and books about the Beatles, “Baby You’re a Rich Man” was actually made from two songs originally written separately by John Lennon and his fellow Beatle Paul McCartney.

The opening verses were from a song Lennon wrote and initially called “One of the Beautiful People.” Around the same time, McCartney wrote a song that repeated the words “Baby you’re a rich man” in the chorus.

At some point, Lennon and McCartney decided to combine their two songs into one, something they had done before in other famous Beatle songs, such as “A Day in the Life.”

Lennon and McCartney recorded their combo composition with the other two Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, on May 11, 1967. John sang lead and played the clavioline, an early electronic instrument that gave the song a distinctive aural character.

The finished song was released with the title “Baby You’re A Rich Man” on July 7, 1967, on the B-side of the 45rpm record that featured “All You Need Is Love” on the A-side.

But it wasn’t until August 12, 1967 that “Baby You’re A Rich Man” entered Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Unlike “All You Need Is Love,” which zoomed to #1 on August 19, 1967, “Baby You’re A Rich Man” was not a huge hit in itself. It peaked at #34.

Both songs were included on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album, which was released that November. Magical Mystery Tour hit #1 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart on January 6, 1968 and remained the number one selling album in the US for eight weeks.

In the years since then, John Lennon’s in-joke question “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” has become a famous quote cited by many books and websites.

And, most old Beatles fans (like me), and any younger Beatles fans worth their salt, are familiar with the rest of the lyrics to “Baby You’re A Rich Man.”

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”
For a refresher, or just for the pleasure of it, click the link to the video at right and follow along...

“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
Now that you know who you are,
What do you want to be?
And have you traveled very far?
Far as the eye can see.

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
How often have you been there?
Often enough to know.
What did you see when you were there?
Nothing that doesn’t show.

Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man, too.
You keep all your money in a big brown bag, inside a zoo.
What a thing to do!
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man, too

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
Tuned to a natural E,
Happy to be that way.
Now that you’ve found another key,
What are you going to play?

[Chorus repeats]

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 Further reading, listening and viewing…

August 08, 2015

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...”


On August 8, 1966, Capitol Records released the Beatles album Revolver in the United States. (In the UK, the LP was released by Parlophone on August 5.)

Revolver became an immediate chart-topper and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest albums in music history.

It includes several especially famous and popular Beatle songs, like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Here, There and Everywhere.”

Moreover, as a whole, Revolver was a watershed album for the Beatles and popular music — lyrically, musically and even technologically. (Some songs include recording effects never or rarely heard before on a mainstream pop album, like automatic double tracking, tape looping and flanging.)

Rock music historian and critic Richie Unterberger called it “one of the very first psychedelic LPs.”

One of the trippiest songs on the album is “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Written primarily by John Lennon, it is clearly an ode to the hallucinogenic drug LSD. (In 1972, Lennon openly referred to it as “my first psychedelic song.”)

Unlike some other songs on Revolver, few people can recall many of the lyrics from “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

If you look for them on the Internet or in books, you’ll find several variations. Almost none have all the lyrics right.

But the famous first line — “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” — is well known, cited by thousands of websites and books and usually quoted correctly.

A year or more before they recorded Revolver, John and the other Beatles — Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — began experimenting with “acid,” like many other musicians who were on the cutting edge of rock music and pop culture in the mid-1960s.

As recounted in many books about the Beatles and psychedelic drugs, John got the opening words of the song from a guide for users of hallucinogens that was co-authored by the Acid King himself, Timothy Leary, with his fellow psychoactive drug pioneers Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass).

Titled The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it was published in 1964, a couple of years before Leary began using his catchphrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

In the introduction of the “manual,” Leary, Metzner and Alpert gave this advice to newbie LSD trippers who might feel a bit anxious when they saw the walls melting or felt like they were dying:

       “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream.”

They adapted that recommendation from a line in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an 8th century Buddhist text originally said to be a guide for people who actually were in the process of dying, prior to reincarnation.

That venerable book says that one stage in the process involves scary hallucinations, or “hell-visions.”

According to the translation in The Psychedelic Experience, the Book of the Dead helpfully explains:

       “The teaching concerning the hell-visions is the same as before; recognize them to be your own thought-forms, relax, float downstream.”

I can’t vouch for the translation or for how well this advice may work during the process of dying.

However, not long after the album Revolver was released, back in my Hippie days, I did do my own experimenting with LSD. And, in that context, I can say that the suggestion to relax and float downstream was pretty good advice.

In addition, having listened to “Tomorrow Never Knows” a thousand times or so, I can say that I’m pretty sure the correct lyrics are as follows (although, given the distortion effect used on Lennon’s voice, I can understand why there are several versions floating around):    

      “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
       It is not dying, it is not dying.
 
       Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,
       It is shining, it is shining.
 
       That you may see the meaning of within,
       It is being, it is being.
 
       That love is all and love is everyone,
       It is knowing, it is knowing.
 
       That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead,
       It is believing, it is believing.
 
       But listen to the color of your dream,
       It is not living, it is not living.

       Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
       Of the beginning, of the beginning.”

By the way, the title of the song has nothing to do with drugs or death or Tibetan Buddhism. Like “A Hard Day’s Night” it’s another Beatles song title that started out as a Ringo Starr malapropism.

During a 1964 interview, Ringo answered a question by saying “Tomorrow never knows.”

Lennon remembered the quip and later explained that he used it as the song’s title “to sort of take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.”

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