Last month I wrote about the henchman in a New York Daily News headline, “All the President’s Henchmen.” This week my new Visual Thesaurus column looks at the whole phrase, which is an example of a snowclone, or phrasal template. (Other well-used snowclones include “X is the new Y” and “Eskimos have N words for snow.”)
“All the president’s men” and its variations – including “All the President’s Lawyers” (a podcast), “All the President’s Mess” (a recurring feature on MSNBC), and “All the President’s Mendacity”(another Daily News headline) – trace their origins to the 1974 Woodward-Bernstein book about Nixon and Watergate. And that title was a variation on All the King’s Men (1946), the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren … which itself came from the old Humpty Dumpty rhyme, which was popularized by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass (1871) but didn’t originate there.
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers for three months. Here’s an excerpt:
In The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, the renowned British folklorists Iona and Peter Opie quote one of their sources as saying the rhyme may be “one of those pieces the antiquity of which ‘is to be measured in thousands of years, or rather it is so great that it cannot be measured at all.’” There are similar rhymes in many European traditions, the Opies write, “and it seems undeniable that they are connected with the English rhyme.” …
The “Humpty Dumpty” name pre-dates the character in the rhyme. In the late 17th century, according to the OED, humpty dumpty was a drink made of ale boiled with brandy. A century later, humpty dumpty was a jocular term for “a short, dumpy, hump-shouldered person."”Because of the latter association, there has been speculation – never substantiated – that the Humpty Dumpty in the rhyme was King Richard III, who was depicted as a hunchback in Shakespeare’s play and other sources. Another faux etymology was proposed by David Daube, a British professor who wrote in a 1956 issue of The Oxford Magazine that Humpty Dumpty was a siege engine that “sat on a wall” and was used unsuccessfully in 1643, during the English Civil War. But the Opies dismissed Daube’s theory as “a spoof” and “ingenuity for ingenuity’s sake.”
Read the rest of the column (and leave a comment)!
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