Hold the Line

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Re: Hold the Line

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Apr 16, 2010 11:08 pm

It was worth waiting for, Ken; I think some of us were beginning to worry you'd been flying too close to Iceland.
In a similar (or Phil would say half-similar) vein, the Meerkat adverts (See the Compare the Meerkat website) have now introduced the Meerkat - Mongoose Wars, where the defending Meerkat Home Guard are encouraged to "Stick your fortress" (as far as I can make out), probably a mangling of Hold the fort.
And Stay at your post.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Shelley » Thu Mar 26, 2015 9:11 pm

Howdy, folks.

I've dredged up this ponderous discussion because my son is writing a paper on, among other things, the origin and history of hackney-coach regulations in 17th- and 18th-century London. The topic came to him as a result of a NY Times article on The Knowledge (exam) for London taxicab operators. (Will Self wrote a really good book - in my opinion - about the topic called "The Book of Dave".) One of my son's resources, originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London 1911, referred to ". . . the late Lines of Communication . . ." and it wasn't immediately clear what that meant. "This looks like a job for Wordwizard!", I said. A quick search and voila! Phil Hunt provides background to the phrase (First World War trench siegeworks), and elaborates:
. . . a citation was given of the earliest use of ‘lines of communication’ as dating from the First World War and refers to ‘lines of communication trenches’ which allowed communication to be maintained across the battle field. I’ve found numerous texts attesting to these trenches and their function of ‘maintaining the flow of information’ . . . the expression ‘To hold the line’ is most likely a residual expression from the First World War . . .
However, the resource, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642 - 1660, uses the phrase to describe the jurisdiction within which a governing body may regulate coach activity in 1654:
June 1654: An Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent.
Forasmuch as many Inconveniences do daily arise by reason of the late increase and great irregularity of Hackney Coaches and Hackney Coachmen in London, Westminster and the places thereabouts: For remedy thereof, Be it Ordained by his Highness the Lord Protector, with the consent of His Council, that from the four and twentieth day of June, One thousand six hundred fifty and four ensuing, the number of persons keeping Hackney-coaches and Hackney horses for Coaches, within the City of London, Westminster and six miles about the late lines of communication, do not exceed at one time two hundred; nor the Hackney-coaches to be used by them, three hundred; nor their Hackney Horses for Coaches do not exceed the number of six hundred.
Fascinating stuff, this. No, really -- I mean it!

Apparently, the late lines of communication are referring to former fortifications built around London during the civil war (Cromwell?) which were then torn down, thus making them the "late" lines.

One of my questions is: when Lines of Communication were built-up walls or barricades (fortifications) in 1630 (or whenever), and not trenches (as in WWI), were they still conduits for the flow of information, as the name, and Phil Hunt, suggest? Further, does the name really refer to communication in a "passing of information" sense, or rather does it describe the demarcation of an area, as in "community" or "commune"?

Another question is: are the Lines of Communication a fixed, specific, unique "thing" throughout (London's) history, so that when one says it, everyone knows exactly what it means? Like the Grand Canyon or Statue of Liberty, say. Or, does the name define a larger concept? For example, any time someone is talking about the jurisdictional boundaries of any town in any country, would they refer to its Lines of Communication? In another 1911 source, my son reported that the author refers to Roman roads in Wales as Lines of Communication, but it is unclear whether the Romans called their roads Lines of Communication (unlikely, but would put the phrase's origin waaaaaay long ago), or if the author is calling the Roman roads Lines of C . . . (which would support the "larger concept" definition of LoC's).

Ok, enough already. I hope you guys are great. New York is still here. I'm still here. Happy New Years -- both 2014 and 2015!

I realize that my long, long absence from Woo-woo land will not put me at the front of the line for a quick response. Please reply when you can.

Your friend,
Shelley
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Mar 28, 2015 4:44 pm

Welcome home Shelley. Things are a bit quieter now than when you last visited, so answers come a bit more quickly usually, but your query is going to take research.

Of course, we may delay the answer to keep you with us.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Shelley » Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:23 pm

Bobinwales wrote:Of course, we may delay the answer to keep you with us.
Fair enough, Bob! Thanks for getting back to me.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Phil White » Tue Mar 31, 2015 12:48 pm

Hi Shelley,

Welcome back. Big hug.

Try looking at "A Treatise on Internal Intercourse and Communication in Civilised States" 1884 by Thomas Grahame.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=y90 ... 22&f=false

"Lines of communication" crops up there, particularly in an interesting passage on pp13/14. It seems that he is using the term to refer to streets and roads. The front material suggests that the treatise was also entitled "A Treatise on Internal Intercourse and Traffic in Civilised States"

Merriam Webster, for instance, still gives the meaning "a system of routes for moving troops, supplies, and vehicles " for "communications", and the idea of a route or passage still exists in the phrases "communicating door" and "communicating rooms".

The "late lines of communication" in your text almost certainly have a military background, particularly as the text is a mere 3 years after the end of the English Civil War.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:49 am

.. so to me this all rather suggests that some military person, or governmental official or royal servitor, would have spoken of holding the lines ((of communication)) given how they served such an important function in defining set parcels of land and fortifications .. and to my way of thinking it would be reasonable to think that that same group of somebodies would have spoken of holding the lines ((open, against incursion, above the rising waters etc etc)) .. leading me to a belief that the minimal and obscure coverage afforded by a minority football game played in one country by a minority of the population for a minority of the year using a very jargon phrase, viz line of scrimmage, is not the original source .. but that is just me ..

WoZ the doubter
Last edited by Wizard of Oz on Sat Apr 04, 2015 6:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Shelley » Wed Apr 01, 2015 7:09 pm

Thanks for providing that link, Phil. It is so painstaking and detailed -- I admire the dedication of the author/scholar/obsessive scribbler. The section you mention, on pages 13 and 14, seems to me to support the notion that Lines of Communication are any system of roads, connecting paths, "turnpikes" or thoroughfares that allow for "intercourse", traffic, trade, message-bearing, or anything in-between. A nice walk on a sunny day. Do I misinterpret?

When I think about it, the name -- Line of Communication -- makes sense: imagine a forest/mountain/grassy expanse separating two tribes of cave-persons. They don't have cellphones, and when one tribe wants to send a message/transport a side of mastodon to the other tribe, a guy or group hacks out an initial path (line) through the forest/over the mountain/across the grassy expanse. Over time, traversing the same path (line) again and again, the line becomes a pretty wide path, and eventually the Romans come along and make it a road. Meandering Etymology, by Shelley. Works at least as well as WoZ's Football Etymology.

I asked my son if he was including anything in his paper about turnpike coachmen and the tolls levied upon them for road maintenance, rates they charged their passengers, and competitive pricing waged against the railway lines offering travel at cheaper rates. He said, no -- he's just writing about London.

Have to get back to my real job. Later . . .
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Phil White » Wed Apr 01, 2015 7:27 pm

Yep. That's the way I read it. At the time he was writing, there was no radio, and "civilised states" (aka colonialist powers) had to build something physical, be it a road, a battlement, a railway, a canal or a telegraph line, to enforce their administration (as far as I see it, that is the background to the text). The meanings of "modes" or "methods" or "routes" of communication are natural extensions of the original, concrete meaning.
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Apr 04, 2015 6:55 pm

.. hi Shelley .. seems my post was a little unclear >> Works at least as well as WoZ's Football Etymology. .. Shelley I firmly do not support the idea that this idiom comes from American football .. no way .. it is much older and wider than that ..

WoZ in the bleachers
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Re: Hold the Line

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Apr 05, 2015 5:01 pm

Shelley, you may be interested to hear about we thought of toll-roads and turnpikes in Wales. Rebecca had a lot to say on the matter.

This Toll-House, which was converted into a two-bedroomed cottage donkey's years ago, is about a mile away from where I live.
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End of topic.
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