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Morning broke colder than a witch’s tit

11 Dec

First snow of the season came falling yesterday, and this morning, again, broke colder than a witch’s tit. Which got me pondering, exactly where did we get this chilling yet less than logical metaphor?

The internet jury remains hung for the most part. The most popular explanation–based on the number of times others stole it–was posted by Bruce Kahl on The Phrase Finder bulletin board. Bruce speculates colder than a witch’s tit is nothing more than simple metaphor. IF (big if) one must seek for deeper meaning, perhaps the phrase stems from the common yet erroneous presumption that a witch is cruel, heartless, in league with the devil and, therefore, cold.

VanWyckMason1945

Novelist and historian Francis Van Wyck Mason

Oxford English Dictionary sites the first usage in Van Wyck Mason’s novel Spider House published in 1932. 

Born Francis Van Wyck Mason in Boston in 1901, Mason spent a portion of his childhood in Paris and Berlin with his U.S. Consul General grandfather. He returned to Europe at 16 to get into the first World War, finagling his way into the French army and winning the Legion of Honor as an artillery officer. By the war’s end he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Mason ended a distinguished military career with the rank of Colonel having served on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s staff as Chief Historian.

Military affairs aside, Mason is better known as a novelist, the author of some 78 works of fiction including several whodunits. His best known series features American Army Intelligence detective Captain North, every bit as dashing and daring as Ian Fleming’s 007 operative who would make his literary debut some 20 years later.

Seems the dashing and distinguished war hero turned writer was a fair hand at coining a phrase.

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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Back to Basics

 

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