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


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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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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