Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday Trivia: Horse of a Different Color

Dorothy & Toto, 1939
Publicity photo, public domain

Guardian of the Emerald City: State your business!

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion & Tin Man: We want to see the Wizard!

Guardian: *gasps* The Wizard? But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody's ever seen the Great Oz!
Even I've never seen him!

Dorothy: Oh, please! Please, sir! I've got to see the Wizard! The Good Witch of the North sent me!

Guardian: Well, bust my buttons! Why didn't you say that in the first place?  
That's a horse of a different color! Come on in!

You probably all know where this dialog came from: the classic tale, The Wizard of Oz.
(Did you know this year marks the 75th anniversary of the movie?)

And you may have already guessed this wasn't the first use of today's phrase - though it may be one of its most famous.

First: what exactly does "a horse of a different color" mean?

As you may have inferred from the Guardian's comment, this idiom is another way of saying "oh, that's another matter entirely!" In other words, the topic or issue at hand wasn't at all what you had originally thought it was.

We can trace the phrase back 1601, though no doubt it existed earlier. Its first use in print came in a roundabout way by the great Bard, William Shakespeare.

In his play, Twelfth Night, we see a trio of characters scheming against a much maligned Malvolio. Poor Malvolio, a man of puritanical values who has fallen hard for Olivia - and our trio knows it!

Our nefarious trio:

SIR TOBY: He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come from my niece, and that she’s in love with him.
MARIA: My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that color.
SIR ANDREW: And your horse now would make him an ass.
MARIA: Ass, I doubt not.
SIR ANDREW: Oh, ’twill be admirable!

Poor Malvolio!

But wait - Maria did not exactly invoke our phrase, word for word. True. Shakespeare took an idiom of that time and inverted it. This type of play on words was a technique he was fond of using.

No one knows for certain but word historians suspect the phrase's origin came from the sport of jousting in tournaments (which turned from actual war practice in the 11th century to a spectator sport in the 13th).

The horse would wear its knights colors, and one could choose which color you backed to win. If the horse and knight team favored as most likely to win did not, then the tourney went to a horse of a different color!

Bavarian tournament engraving from the 1400s. Public Domain.

By the way, in the Wizard of Oz movie, there really were horses of a different color. To achieve this feat of movie magic, set designers put a paste of jell-o on the horses. The scenes had to be shot quickly before the horses could lick the coloring off.

(And yes, the production crew consulted with the ASPCA prior to landing on jell-o as their go-to coloring source. But please do not try to do this to your pet at home!)


IMDb's Wizard of Oz page of quotations 
IMDb Trivia

MIT's Complete Works of Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
John Fricke, Jacy Scarfone, William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History. Warner Books, 1989.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Faraday: Who are these guys, and what are they doing on our blog, Maxie?
Maxwell: This is what is known as foreshadowing in the literary world.

Allie: Foreshadowing, my pink paw! These were the creatures who came up and said hello to Mother the other day.

Faraday: Yes, but why are they here instead of me?!?
Allie: It's not always about you, Brat.
Faraday: Uh, yes it is.



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

'Toon Tuesdays: a little literary humor


Toon Tuesdays feature animal (and sometimes human) humor created by the peeps over at Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) - where our mom works, too!

(function (tos) { window.setInterval(function () { tos = (function (t) { return t[0] == 50 ? (parseInt(t[1]) + 1) + ':00' : (t[1] || '0') + ':' + (parseInt(t[0]) + 10); })(tos.split(':').reverse()); window.pageTracker ? pageTracker._trackEvent('Time', 'Log', tos) : _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Time', 'Log', tos]); }, 10000); })('00');