daylight robbery

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daylight robbery

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jan 28, 2006 1:36 am

The phrase DAYLIGHT ROBBERY was today’s offering by Phrase Finder’s ‘A Phrase a Week.’ After reading the article, I felt that their discussion was flawed, but nevertheless entertaining, and suffered from the same problems that a previous offering (‘flavor of the month’) had, which I discussed here but which had to be expunged under the threat of a libel suit – no hard feelings (>:). I will first present my findings on the history of the phrase and then touch on the aforesaid site’s discussion in as none threatening a manner as I can, lest they get overly offended and go ballistic.

DAYLIGHT ROBBERY: 1) literal meaning. A robbery executed during daylight hours. 2) figurative meaning. a) The charging of a blatantly exorbitant price; an excessive financial demand as in HIGHWAY ROBBERY. <“The price he was asking for that old heap of a car was daylight robbery.”> b) A proposal which wholly or chiefly benefits the proposer. <“The terms of the labor agreement were considered daylight robbery by the union members.”> 3) An outrageous injustice. <“The rigged election was characterized by most observers as daylight robbery”>

Note: starting in the early 1900s (see quotes below) DAYLIGHT ROBBERY also became a popular term used buy sports commentators to describe an event that was either i) a steal from the jaws of success or victory by the opposition (see 1919 and 1977 quotes below) or ii) an outrageous injustice (see 1941 quote)

The expression clearly began its life having the literal meaning of a robbery pulled off in daylight hours – a robbery with chutzpa! The earliest example of the literal meaning that I could find after searching books, journals, newspapers, etc, was in the New York Times from 1857 [Note: This predates the OED's earliest example by 6 years]. Thereafter, the expression appeared regularly through the 1890s when, by analogy with the idea of a brazen daylight theft, with no attempt at concealment or subterfuge, it also took on the above figurative meaning, and today the phrase continues to be used in both senses.
<1857 “A bold DAYLIGHT ROBBERY was committed in Chelsea, Mass., last week in the jewelry store of Edward A. Skerry.”—‘New York Times,’ 4 November, page 3>

<1868 “DAYLIGHT ROBBERY in Wall-Street—A Venturesome Thief Makes a Successful Raid.”—‘New York Times,’ 29 September, page 8>

<1890 “‘The course taken by the Republican Party,’ he said, ‘was considered the wisest course under the circumstances, and it is wholly due to that that we should go to the polls next Tuesday and defeat Tammany Hall. This city of ours, the queen, the empire city [[NYC]], is robbed right and left, and the cry for deliverance is universal. We are compelled to submit to the extortions, the bold DAYLIGHT ROBBERY of thieves, thugs, and blacklegs, worthy remnants of the Tweed regime.’”—New York Times,’ 2 November, page 5>

<1896 “. . .When the Directors called for subscriptions the money came in by millions. Every effort was made by the company to inflame the public mind [[for investment in stock]] . . . In this way the whole nation fell under the spell of speculation, and became stock jobbers. All kinds of projects sprang up and were foolishly accorded support, many for objects that in calmer times would have been recognized immediately as impossible, such as a wheel for perpetual motion. Many of these schemes were the plainest of DAYLIGHT ROBBERIES, . . .”— ‘New York Times,’ 31 May, page 14>

<1919 “Then Gardner pulled real ‘DAYLIGHT ROBBERY’ on him. The Chicago player [[golf]]] took a spoon for the 226-yard sixteenth hole against the wind and laid a beauty about fifteen feet from the pin.”—‘New York Times,’ 20 August, page 19>

<1919 “The five-star final stunt of the whole game, however, was Ross Young’s DAYLIGHT ROBBERY of Hank Gowdy’s home run in the fifth.”—‘New York Times,’ 2 September, page 25>

<1935 “Now I am not a resident of New York, and I am not familiar with the tariffs posted by the regional gas, power and light corporations. So far as I know, these rates might constitute DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.”—‘Wall Street Journal,’ 7 January, page 4>

<1940 “Transaction Called ‘Robbery’: The government’s petition states that Judge Dickinson, in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, while deciding against the government, called the transaction a ‘DAYLIGHT ROBBERY,’ and said that Bethlehem’s conduct reminded him of Rob Roy, ‘who admitted he was a robber but proudly proclaimed that he was not a thief.’”—‘New York Times,’ 23 August, page 17>

<1941 “So Casey [[Stengel, baseball manager]] went ahead with his tales of the DAYLIGHT ROBBERIES that had been committed by the arbiters [[umpires]], with his Braves as the victims,”—New York Times,’ 2 June, page 23>

<1949 “‘I can never afford it,’ said his sister. ‘It's DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.’”—‘Roads from Home; by D. M. Davin, I. i. page 8>

<1977 “It was, in fact, a bit of DAYLIGHT ROBBERY. As Jimmy Andrews, the disappointed Cardiff manager, said later: ‘Everton had all the big names and the luck.’”—‘Times,’ 28 February, page 8/5>

<1991 “UB’s 325 million [[pound]] payment was certainly seen at the time as what grocers like to call a ‘premium price.’ But now it seems more like DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.”—‘The Guardian’>

<2002 “Robert Mugabe’s declaration of victory in the presidential elections held last weekend in Zimbabwe was, despite his unpopularity, hardly a surprise. He had already tweaked the system in so many ways that such an outcome was nearly inevitable. As Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost to Mr. Mugabe, said, the election was stolen in a ‘DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.’”—‘New York Times,’ 16 March, page A15>
Now a few words on how the Phrase Finder author handled this question. First of all, the definition was incomplete in that it only mentioned the ‘overcharging’ meaning, which is only one aspect of the full story. Next, he went off on an interesting, but in my opinion, totally irrelevant discussion of the Window Tax (a tax based on the number of windows in a dwelling) imposed by William III near the end of the 17th century. This supposed connection to DAYLIGHT ROBBERY is so absurd that I’m still not sure if he was for real or just kidding. He then ratchets forward to the 20th century and tells us that the phrase isn’t known in print until 1916 in the comic play Hobson’s Choice – which is false (see my quotes above) – and that even there it may not have been specifically connected to ‘overcharging.’ He then tells us that we had to wait till 1949 to find a citation clearly related to a purchase, but my 1896 quote clearly refers to stock purchases, which refutes that claim. He does say something which I do agree with, however, when he wonders rhetorically at the end of his discussion:
<“So, if the phrase came from the Window Tax, why no mention of it in print for over two hundred years after the tax was introduced? If we are looking for evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, the Window Tax story doesn't provide it. Unless and until evidence that relates the phrase to the tax is found we have to say that the origin is unknown.”
Hmm. There’s light years to go to approach ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ and I think the question he should be asking himself instead is, is there a shred of evidence that would cause any reasonable person to even speculate on this fanciful proposition. I guess that what I am wondering, which is the same thing I was wondering in my previous ‘libelous’ posting, is why spend the bulk of one’s discussion on a wild-assed guess that has a good chance of not being true (in the previous instance it was discussing Baskin-Robbins at length as being the origin of ‘flavor of the month,’ which turned out to be false) – and which in this case verges on the ridiculous – when one could be spending one’s time doing some real research on the phrase in question rather than indulging in unconfirmable speculation? To be honest, if he changed the title of the piece to ‘The Window Tax,’ and tossed out trying to connect it to DAYLIGHT ROBBERY, I’d have no problem with this – the pictures are beautiful and the information on the Window Tax is very interesting. But spending the bulk of the article on this very tenuous connection (and getting the facts all wrong in the process), to me just makes no sense.

(Oxford English Dictionary, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms)

Ken G – January 27, 2006

daylight robbery

Post by Laurie Reinders » Sat Jan 28, 2006 2:33 pm

I hate to be new and picky but...

Didn't you attack Bill for his postings that would be better placed in...oh say...Beyond Words?
Signature: "Be true to your work, your word, and your friend." ~Henry David Thoreau

daylight robbery

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jan 29, 2006 5:43 am

.. Laurie your point is ????? .. "Beyond Words" ??? .. where ?? ..

WoZ of Aus 29/01/06
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

daylight robbery

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jan 29, 2006 5:54 am

Laurie, I’m with Wiz. I have no idea what you are talking about or why.

Ken G – January 28, 2006

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