Friday, February 24, 2017


I usually like the comments I receive at Sue's News, but I loved it when I received a comment from the historian Jo Paoletti whose book Pink And Blue, Telling The Girls From The Boys In America I used as a reference, although she corrected me! 

She responded to my article "GENDER-SPECIFIC" which was about the differences between the choices of pink and blue for babies.  I wrote that I thought it was because of the influence of the paintings The Blue Boy and Pinkie.

Although I certainly know that Sir Thomas Lawrence was the artist who painted Pinkie, rather than Gainsborough, I only used my flippant remark in the article rather than being specific; however, I am posting the correction pointed out by Paoletti.

This is Paoletti's response to my article:

Kimberly Christian-Campbell has an excellent article about Blue Boy and Pinky and the history of pink.  I didn't mention it in the book, but it is a bit of a modern urban legend.  The two paintings were not companion pieces or even by the same artist.  Gainsborough however, did paint a Pink Boy:

Link to the article:  http:///

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I am fascinated to know the origin of sayings and cliches.  My grandmother and mother had a trove of sayings and my brothers and I use them frequently but I notice that most younger people do not "get" them (just as I, a younger person at the time,  did not "get" my mother's usage of AN AXE TO GRIND in yesterday's BLOG article).  

One old saying I do NOT use is "RULE OF THUMB" because it stems from the fact that in old English law a man was allowed to punish his wife and children with a rod as large as this THUMB.

Some interesting ones:

"GOD WILLING AND THE CREEK DON'T RISE" is an ungrammatical rendering of "God willing and the CREEKS don't rise". It was written by Benjamin Hawkins, who was asked by the President to return to Washington from his diplomatic mission with the Creek Indians. He wrote: "God willing and the Creeks don't rise.", meaning Native Americans and not a body of water.

"IT WILL COST AN ARM AND A LEG":  painters would charge for portraits based on the number of limbs in a picture as limbs, especially hands, are more difficult to render, thus artists would charge more for all the arms and legs in a picture. (e.g.: notice on a number of portraits of George Washington; one has him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms)

"BIG WIG":  in the old days, people bathed just twice a year; women kept their hair covered and men shaved their heads (because of lice) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford nice wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the wigs so to clean them but they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell and bake for thirty minutes. The heat would make the wigs big and fluffy, hence the term "BIG WIG".

"CHAIRMAN":  in the 1700s it was common to have just one chair in a room and a long wide board folded down for dining. The head of the household always sat in the chair while everyone else sat on the floor. Occasionally, when a male guest was there, he would be invited to sit in the chair. To sit in the chair meant that the person was important or in charge. The one sitting in the chair was the "CHAIR MAN".

"CRACK A SMILE", "LOSING FACE", and "MIND YOUR OWN BEES WAX":  women would spread melted bees wax over their face to remove unwanted hair and pimples. If she smiled while the wax was on her face, it would crack the wax, thus, "CRACK A SMILE"; if she sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt, thus "LOSING FACE"; if someone said something negative she would say, "MIND YOUR OWN BEES WAX"!

"STRAIGHT-LACED": A proper and dignified woman who required help lacing her corset in the back was said to be "STRAIGHT-LACED".

However, I am NOT going to tell the derivation of "HAVING YOUR TURN IN THE BARREL"!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


In talking to a friend about cliches, I mentioned that the old saying "HAVING AN AXE TO GRIND" has a totally different meaning today than it did with my mother's generation.  

I told him that about a time, more than twenty years ago, when my mother used the term because she thought someone was taking advantage of me.   She quipped, "Methinks he has an axe to grind."  I told her I did not understand her meaning.  She told me emphatically that she knew the derivation and I should ask other people.

Because of Mother's challenge, I conducted a survey of people of her generation (memorably, Carl Wilt, Mose Wilson, my friend's mother Shirley, and Mrs. Cooper)and all agreed that my mother was correct as it meant to have a selfish or ulterior motive.  

See the accompanying text about Ben Franklin's usage: There was a stranger interested in using Ben's grindstone.  Franklin demonstrated how it worked by sharpening the stranger's axe--a task which required a lot of hard work--it dawned on Ben that was what the stranger had clearly intended,  leaving Franklin forever suspicious of others who might have "an axe to grind"--a secret motive to get something done.  

Today's usage means having a grievance and seeking retribution.  I rather like the old message.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Enjoying dinner tonight with nephew Daren and his family, Connie showed us pictures of a rescued cat she'd named "Lucy", a lovely tortoiseshell.

For cat lovers, we know that the moment we've named cats, they are here to stay.  I told about several of our "naming" episodes.

Several years ago, a woman who lived down our street called, and asked, "Are you the folks with cats?''  I was immediately filled with anxiety as I feared she was probably thinking she had made contact with "the crazy cat lady at the end of the street" and was ready to lodge a complaint.   I answered, timidly, "Yes, we have cats." She then told me that her daughter and she had been walking and they spotted a kitten trapped in a storm drain and wondered if we could help them.   Gerald immediately went there and with the magic words, "Here, kitty, kitty..." the kitten jumped out of the drain into his welcoming arms.  That's how "Stormy" came into our lives.  My brother said, it was lucky he wasn't in a sewer or I might have branded him "Ed Norton".  

A woman who worked for me, called one evening, crying.  She told me she had gone to empty her trash in her complex's dumpster and there was a kitten in the bottom. She said she had tried but couldn't reach the kitten.   Gerald took his extension ladder, climbed into the dumpster, and retrieved the kitten.  We decided to name him "Rumpke".  My brother, ever-ready with a quip, commented, "Good thing it wasn't a Waste Management dumpster!"

Gerald's niece was visiting and she said she couldn't believe we had a cat named PYEWACKET because a friend of hers also had a cat with the same name.  I said that her friend must love the book or movie Bell, Book, And Candle and that I liked the movie so much I'd had FOUR cats named Pyewacket in my life, starting with one when I was a teenager and had been influenced by the movie.
A friend has had several cats she's named for cats in the musical Cats.  I told her that I couldn't name any of mine from that or the book on which it's based Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats because T. S. Eliot was an anti-Semite.  She answered that was taking political correctness to an absurd level!

Our cat Francis is named "Francis Albert Sinatra" because he has one blue eye and one green eye;  we affectionately call him "Ole Blue EYE".  

Several years ago, we had a tiger-stripe female cat "decide" to stay with us.  (You notice that I wrote that SHE decided to stay with US, rather than we decided to keep her!)  A few days later, she produced three kittens.  Naturally, she was very protective of the babies, and all of our cats were old, except for one, but all the cats were intimidated by the new mother.  One day, my brother commented how "fierce" the mother was.  I said, "Oh, I'm going to name her Sasha Fierce."  He asked, incredulously,  "HOW would YOU know Sasha Fierce?"  Being offended that he would think I didn't know Beyonce's other persona, I answered, "Well, DUH, I do read and after all, I am understated, yet a woman of the twenty-first century!"   He said, "Well, that does sound better than DUH!"  Have you noticed that young people think that "old" people don't know anything about contemporary culture?

Monday, February 20, 2017


A recent C-SPAN survey of 91 noted historians issued their opinions of the ranking of U.S. Presidents.

Their rankings:


I have long been a RANKER of Presidents since Mr. Baughan first challenged his seventh-graders to that exercise.  When that assignment was made, I recall the heated discussion in my own home because my mother adored FDR and my father detested him. These rankings have been the subject of many contentious conversations among family and friends throughout the years. 

I believe that I can put aside my personal feelings;  for example, as much as I detest the rapist slave-master Jefferson, I still think he should be ranked at Number 5, rather than being below Eisenhower and Truman.  As much as I love JFK, I am astounded that he is ranked here at Number 8.  I think it is absurd that Reagan is even in the Top 10! My niece detests Jackson, as do I, and she became upset because I once referred to him as "great".    I answered, "I hate him as much as you do, but can't deny his importance."  I was very pleased to see that the detestable Jackson and Wilson were both "demoted" and that Grant was "elevated"!

It is still interesting to see the changes from the "experts" from 2000, 2009, and 2017. Unchanged are the Top 4.  I notice that twentieth-century Presidents have gained in the estimations of these twentieth-century "experts" (some of whom have been used in all three of these rankings).

2000                           2009

1.   LINCOLN /LINCOLN                                               
2.   WASHINGTON/WASHINGTON                                          
3.   FDR/FDR                                                          
4.   TR/TR                                                                  
5.   TRUMAN/TRUMAN                                               
6.   JEFFERSON/JEFFERSON                                         
7.   WILSON/REAGAN                              
8.   JACKSON/EISENHOWER                                 
9.   EISENHOWER/JACKSON                                       
10.  POLK/WILSON                                      

For President Obama to be ranked at Number 12, after being out of office a month, is indeed gratifying but I think it is too early to judge him and also Bush 2.

For full listings you can go to C-SPAN.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


It's interesting to me HOW one comes across new words.  My brother asked, "Do you know this word  THRENODY?"  I answered, "No, I don't know it;  where did you see it?"  He said, "I'm reading an article in ESPN Magazine about the national anthem."

THRENODY:  a poem, speech, or song of lamentation, especially for the dead; dirge

The article was mainly about the multifarious performances of The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl and other sporting events by such different performers as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Jose Feliciano, and Jimi Hendrix.  I was surprised that Hendrix performed his version 70 times.  Listen to his performance from Woodstock:

After reading the article, I said that I thought that  the term"threnody" was inappropriate because most of the renditions are uplifting rather than lamenting.  

I said, "The author should have mentioned Robert Goulet's debacle because that was truly lamentable!"   Les retorted, "That's what they get for allowing a non-American to sing it!"