Thursday, June 14, 2018

Some Word and Phrase Origins


“A word to the wise” is a very old phrase. It doesn’t mean that the wise need advice but that a word to intelligent people will be enough, as in “I’ll say one word and you will be wise enough to know exactly what I’m talking about.” The origin is thought to be from Roman writers and in Latin it is, “Verbum sapienti satis est”. In English, it dates back to the 1500’s. 

Often it is said before warning somebody of something unknown, obscured or semi-secret eg. "A word to the wise - check out clause 4 of the contract." 

It can also be used in a warning manner: “A word to the wise: think twice before you do that.” 

In a reverse way, it can mean that if you're wise, you'll listen to these words. 

We all know that Michael Jackson’s home was called Neverland, and that that is also the name of the island where Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook and his crew, the Indians, Mermaids, and Tinker Bell live. Today the term is also used as a metaphor for eternal childhood (and childishness), immortality, and escapism. 

J M Barrie first introduced the character of Peter Pan in 1902. In his 1911 novelisation Peter and Wendy, Barrie referred to "the Neverland" and "the Neverlands". The caption to one of Bedford's illustrations calls it "The Never Never Land". 

It is believed that Barrie picked up the phrase from the phrase “The Never-Never”, used in Australia to describe the remote outback regions. Parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland are still known by that name. It is based on the European settlers’ views that these remote areas were places that you would never, never want to go. The first recorded usage is in A. J. Boyd's Old Colonials, 1882: 
"My soliloquy ends with the inquiry, 'What on earth is to be done in this wretched Never-never country?'" 
In 1906 Henry Lawson published a poem - The Never-Never Country and in 1908, Jeannie Gunn published a popular autobiographical novel - 'We of the Never Never'. (I remember having to study this in primary school.) In the text Gunn presents a contrary view as to how the place was named by referring to its aboriginal origins: 
"Called the Never-Never, the Maluka loved to say, because they, who have lived in it and loved it Never-Never voluntarily leave it." 

(I remember that this is the cover of the book studied in school). 

Poster for the 1982 film 

Would Barrie have been aware of it? Later writers appropriated the term into their work as a metaphor for a fantasy land. In 1900, Israel Zangwill used the phrase in the title of a play, here described in the New York Dramatic Mirror, November 1900: 
"At Wallack's on Tuesday evening Sarah Cowell Le Moyne supplemented The Greatest Thing in the World with the initial performance of The Moment of Death; or, The Never, Never Land, a drama in one act and three scenes, by Israel Zangwill." 

Famously Australian billionaire and media giant Kerry Packer stormed out of a meeting with the members of the International Cricket Council at Lords in 1977 after being refused TV rights and declared “From now on it is every man for himself and let the devil take the hindmost.” (In 1976 he had addressed the Australian Cricket Board for rights for televising Test matches, opening with “There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?”) As a result of the ICC refusal he started his own rival competition, attracting most big name players from cricket-playing countries. It was officially named World Series Cricket. Unofficially it was called Packer’s Cricket Circus. 

The phrase devil take the hindmost is an expression that goes way back and means the last people in a group will be out of luck. It comes from the 1500s’, the idea being that if everyone is running away, the devil will capture those who are farthest from the front. It is thought to originate from children’s games like tag, where the one who is left behind is the loser. By the 16th century, the meaning had been transformed to mean selfishness. 

An early example John Florio’s First Fruites from 1578: 
Every one for him selfe, and the divel for all. 
Another early example can be found in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster from 1608: 
What if…they run all away, and cry the Devil take the hindmost?

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