Romancing History

Tag: hat in the ring

“Bully” for Teddy Roosevelt!

Teddy RooseveltBest known as the 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt was also a soldier, explorer, outdoorsman, author, reformer and trailblazer. Immortalized in stone on Mt. Rushmore, President Roosevelt’s influence stretches far beyond today’s history text books. It can be heard in many common words and expressions the former president popularized and we still use today.

Square Deal (a fair bargain or treatment) The Square Deal was President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic program formed upon three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. These three demands are often referred to as the “three C’s” of Roosevelt’s Square Deal.

“The labor unions shall have a square deal, and the corporations shall have a square deal.” –TR, 1903.squaredeal

Hat in the Ring (The official beginning of a political campaign.) When amateurs wanted to challenge the winner of a boxing match for a chance to win a lucrative prize, they would throw their hat in the ring. A great sportsman, Teddy Roosevelt is credited with adapting this phrase from the outrageously popular sport of boxing to the political arena.

“My hat is in the ring, the fight’s on.”—TR, 1912. (Roosevelt said this when asked if he’d be running for president again that year.)

Mollycoddle (to treat someone indulgently or protectively; to pamper or baby)

“The Mollycoddle vote [consists of] the people who are soft physically and morally, or have a twist in them which makes them acidly cantankerous and unpleasant.” –TR, 1913. He also used this word to  describe the game of baseball, a sport for which he had no favor.

Pussyfoot (to avoid making a definite decision or commitment often out of fear or doubt)

“I think they are inclined to pussy-foot, and it is worse than useless for them to nominate me, unless they are prepared for an entirely straightforward and open campaign.”—TR, 1916. (This was Roosevelt’s response when asked about his odds of again becoming the Republican presidential nominee.)

Muckrakers (The name given to US journalists and other writers who exposed corruption in politics and business in the early 20th century.) The term was first used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The phrase was modified from a character in John Bunyan’s novel Pilgrim’s Progress. “The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck”—TR, 1906.BullMooseParty

Strong as A Bull Moose (to demonstrate formidable strength) Teddy Roosevelt coined this phrase after he received the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nomination. After failing to win the presidential nomination in 1912, he formed the Bull Moose Party founded on progressive principles

      “I am as strong as a Bull Moose and you can use me to the limit.” –TR, 1900.

 Bully Pulpit (A public office or position of authority that provides an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.) “Bully”, one of Roosevelt’s favorite expressions, means “grand” or “excellent.”

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”—TR, 1909.

'Promise me we'll have meaningful wedding vows without any weasel words...'

 Weasel Words (soft and ambiguous language; words used in order to avoid being clear or direct.)

“One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words.’ When a weasel sucks eggs, the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a ‘weasel word’ after another, there is nothing left of the other.” –TR, 1916.

Nailing Jelly to the Wall (something difficult-to-impossible to understand or describe). I don’t hear this too much anymore but this phras was osed to be one of my grandmother’s favorite expressions.

“Somebody asked me why I did not get an agreement with Columbia. They may just as well ask me why I do not nail cranberry jelly to the wall.” –TR, 1912.

TR’s exuberant, no-nonsense personality impacted everything he touched from politics to nature conservancy leaving behind not only a legacy as one of America’s most popular presidents, but many additions to the American lexicon as well.

Is there a phrase above you use or hear frequently? One you’ve never heard?


Dark Horses and Lame Ducks, Why Do We Say That?

It’s political season in America.

You can’t turn on the television without hearing about a skeleton in someone’s closet or the most recent outlandish comment made by one candidate or another. But most likely you’ve heard anchors and reporters using political jargon too.

For example, after a candidate throws their hat in the ring they might make a stump speech, but even a dark horse candidate is hoping to make the current president a lame duck.

So what does all this crazy political jargon mean? And even more interesting, why do say it?

TRHatinRingWhen someone throws his hat in the ring it simply means he is willing to participate. During the 19th century, boxing became a huge fad in the United States. In large cities, unscrupulous entrepreneurs organized boxing matches in local pubs, gaming halls or social clubs with winners getting a share of the take. You literally threw your hat into the ring to challenge the fighter. Speculation may surround a person who is considering a run for political office, but when someone throws their hat in the ring, they have declared themself a candidate. It was Teddy Roosevelt, an avid sportsman, who first adapted this phrase to the political realm. When asked whether or not he would seek re-election in 1912 the president responded, “my hat’s in the ring, the fight’s on.”

If a candidate enters the race with little name recognition and or experience, he is often tagged a dark horse. This phrase can also be attributed to the sporting world. In horse racing, when an unknown horse entered the race and the odds makers didn’t know how to evaluate it, they referred to him as “dark” because he came out of the dark shadows to upset the odds. The phrase first appeared in The Young Duke (1831), “A dark horse, which  had never been thought of…rushed past the grand stand in sweeping triumph.” In 1844, the expression was first used to refer to James Polk, an undistinguished politician from Tennessee who won the Democratic Party’s nomination over a slew of more prominent candidates on the ninth ballot at the party’s convention. He went on to become the eleventh president of the United States.

 Stump Speaking, Nineteenth Century Painting by George Caleb Bingham

Stump Speaking, Nineteenth Century Painting by George Caleb Bingham

While campaigning, candidates make stump speeches as they travel from town to town repeating a prepared text explaining their platform and what they hope to accomplish. Today the candidates usually speak from an elevated platform where they can be seen. But two hundred years ago, a candidate would literally stand on the stump of a felled tree to be seen while giving his speech and the phrase has stuck ever since. When candidates are “stumping”, they are traveling around the country speaking for or against an important piece of legislation or political issue.

If an incumbent candidate loses his or her election, he is considered a lame duck. Lame duck is a British phrase that means someone is disabled or ineffectual. Eventually it became slang on the British Stock Exchange to refer to someone who couldn’t be relied upon to pay their debts. Abraham Lincoln is credited with first applying the phrase to politics when he said a “senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. The phrase has become part of the American political lexicon referring to an incumbent candidate who loses their election and has little power or influence. They limp out of office like a lame duck.

There’s no doubt that English can be confusing. Whether you support a dark horse candidate or hope your favorite won’t become a lame duck, it’s definitely fascinating to learn how popular expressions got their start and how their meaning has evolved over time.

What political jargon would you like to know more about?


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