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Pete Atkin >> Words >> Chock full of nuts....
(Message started by: Dave Jones on Today at 17:50)

Title: Chock full of nuts....
Post by Dave Jones on Today at 17:50
For my inaugural offering,here is a quote from the
website of the bee beeb ceeb:


6. Phrase-turner extraordinaire Clive James says he originated the terms "underwhelmed" and "young fogey", but is yet to receive the recognition he deserves. He also says he's particularly proud of his description of the Conan the Barbarian-era Arnold Schwarzenegger as "a brown condom full of walnuts".

I wonder what Clive would call the Governator now.

I think Clive is going a bit too far claiming 'underwhelmed', since
it's such an obvious twist on the original.  Anybody know where
'young fogey' came into being ?

Dave Jones
Phristing twases in Nochester RY

Title: Re: Chock full of nuts....
Post by Pete Atkin on Today at 20:00
"Underwhelmed" may seem easy and obvious now, but, like so many things we now take for granted, it wasn't always that way:  close-up shots and editing for dramatic effect in the movies, for instance.   I don't know what the source is for Clive's claim on this one, but I have to submit humbly that I think he may be wrong, unless he's older than he lets on and George S. Kaufman got it from him.   But there may well be others he can justifiably lay claim to;  one, I believe, is the now common inversion of the old cliche (itself now relatively uncommon, which rather defuses the joke), originally used by Clive, I think, in a TV column when talking about British sports performances:  "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory".


Title: Re: Chock full of nuts....
Post by S J Birkill on Today at 20:08
John Peel was frequently "underwhelmed" on his 'Top Gear' BBC programmes at the start of the '70s -- I don't recall whether his usage pre-dated his move from offshore Radio London in 1967.

Title: Re: Chock full of nuts....
Post by S J Birkill on 23.08.04 at 10:50
George S Kaufman's remark is undated in all references I can find on the Web, and there seems to be no record of which play elicited it. I'd guess at a date in the '30s. Curiously the OED seems to be ignorant of the word's existence before 1956!

OED: "1956 T. K. Quinn Giant Corporations viii. 61 He wrote..commending the action of one of the giant corporations for a..price reduction at a time when prices were rising. I was underwhelmed, and investigated."

Title: Defeat from the jaws of victory
Post by Theo Clarke on 23.08.04 at 12:12
I think that Abraham Lincoln's description of the disastrous Fredericksburg campaign of the American Civil War rather predates anything by any of us.


Title: Re: Chock full of nuts....
Post by Pete Atkin on 25.08.04 at 14:03
I'm pretty sure that Kaufman's use (coinage?) of 'underwhelm' was in a telegram or something similarly informal.  If I can't track it down myself, I certainly know someone who will know, so I'll report back.  One thing's certain, though, and that's that Clive can't claim it for himself.    It just goes to show how what a minefield the whole business of origins is.

As to the 'jaws of victory' thing, that was my own claim on Clive's behalf, of course, not his own, and I humbly concede the debt to St. Abe.   Interesting he should have used it about Fredericksburg, though;  I wouldn't have thought that, promising as it may have been, it was at any point so close to a Union victory as to have justified the phrase.  But then again, maybe Abe had heard someone else coin the inversion and was subconsciously looking for something to tack it on to.  That is how it goes sometimes.

I must also report for the benefit of everyone else that the air is indeed pretty rarefied up here.


Title: Synchronically underwhelmed
Post by Pete Atkin on 25.08.04 at 22:04
It just happened that I was today reading Raw Spirit by Iain Banks (that distinguished author with well known PA connections -- quite apart from his having been mistaken for me at least once) wherein I came upon his use of the word 'underwhelmed' and his crediting of it to John Peel.  So what does that prove?


Title: Re: Synchronically underwhelmed
Post by Dave Jones on 25.08.04 at 22:42
Underwhelmed is the way I have felt after reading one
of Mr. Banks's roccoco SF novels.  He leads you on a merry
chase, but in the end nothing much seems to have transpired,
other than the revelation of whatever mystery he keeps alluding
to in the book.

On the other hand he does have Philip K. Dick's talent for
presenting you with something both bizarre and intriguing.
I just wish he'd write shorter books !

Dave Jones
In overdrive in Rochester NY

Title: Re: Defeat from the jaws of victory
Post by Theo Clarke on 26.08.04 at 15:37
I think that Lincoln was looking for a way to emphasise the scale of Burnside's failure to justify relieving him of his command.  Given Burnside's almost complete lack of confidence from his soldiers, I guess that Lincoln's intended audience was other politicians ... in which case, why would he worry about the truth of the matter at hand?


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