Answer Man

Answer Man: A haymaker actually came from hay

Q. When a boxer lands a knockout blow, he is sometimes said to have delivered a “haymaker.” Why do they use that term?

— C.R., of Belleville

A. I remember one of my dad’s favorite sayings was “You have to make hay while the sun shines” — in other words, take full advantage of an opportunity while you have the chance. He meant it figuratively, of course, but it was based on the very real — and onerous — chore that farmers sweated over for centuries.

Before machines came along, “making hay” was backbreaking work done by hand with a scythe, which is that tool with a large, curved blade on a long handle usually associated with the Grim Reaper. To wield it properly, you have to use broad, swinging strokes that take a goodly amount of strength to slice your way through the alfalfa, clover or whatever is being harvested. (Already in the 1400s, such workers were called “heymakeres,” “hey” meaning “that which is cut.”)

By the time you’re finished, you’ve likely built up an immense amount of arm strength. So if you’re a farm kid and you get into a brawl at the neighborhood barn dance, you’ll likely try to deliver a “haymaker” — a wild, swinging punch with plenty of power just like the movements needed for cutting down hay. Some also compare the swinging motion to that needed to toss hay as well. (Remember Oliver Douglas losing his pitchfork in the opening credits on TV’s “Green Acres”?)

Often wild and inaccurate, haymakers are most often a weapon of last resort for trained boxers, who usually engage in more controlled punching so they don’t leave their defenses open. But if it does connect, it can mean lights out or, at the very least, a broken jaw or horrendous cut for your opponent.

So as early as 1904, sportwriters, who are known for their imagination and colorful language, were using “haymaker” in their boxing stories. This reference from the Spokane (Wash.) Press on April 5, 1904, is the earliest reference I can find:

“The next bout was the funniest ever. A little midget of a colored lad named ‘The Rat’ was put against a big black burly named Harvey Wilson. The Rat was swifter than greased lightning and only his footwork saved him from being sent through the roof from some of the hard haymakers sent at him by Harvey.”

And, to add to the farm analogy, a boxer who is knocked out by a haymaker might also be said to “hit the hay” (go to sleep), an expression that arose about 1900 when mattresses were still stuffed with hay (and when Young Frankenstein’s Frau Blucher perhaps was still young enough to enjoy a roll in ze hay).

Q. Can you tell me if “Cedar Cove” will return on the Hallmark Channel?

— Dale, of Swansea

A. Speaking of making hay, you don’t think the Hallmark Channel will let its biggest hit slip away if it can possibly help it, do you?

Soon after Andie MacDowell debuted as Judge Olivia Lockhart in the network’s first-ever original series in 2013, “Cedar Cove” made Hallmark the most-watched cable channel during its Saturday night time slot. The show is now seen in Turkey, Greece, Germany and the U.K.

“Despite a certain built-in B&B preciousness, ‘Cedar Cove’ evokes certain splended shows of another time and place, including the late-great ‘Family’ and the longtime Irish hit ‘Ballykissangel,’” wrote the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara, one of 10 critics who gave it a generally positive combined rating of 62 out of 100.

So, it’s a no-brainer that the show will return to the Hallmark lineup early this summer. The exact time is still being determined, but look for it in mid-July, network spokeswoman Stephanie Sherman told me. As we get closer, she promises to send me an update with the particulars, so stay tuned.

Today’s trivia

Which James Bond actor is also a trained, experienced fire-eater?

Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: Let’s raise a toast to anyone who knew that, according to historians, the world’s very first cocktail party was right across the river in St. Louis. It was on a spring Sunday in May 1917 when Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. invited 50 friends to her house (actually a mansion equipped with a private bar) for drinks and chitchat at high noon, according to “Amazing St. Louis” by KMOX Radio’s Charlie Brennan and a 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal.

Some came straight from church; others had spent the morning in “a motor promenade of the boulevards.” For an hour, the liquor flowed freely in Bronx cocktails, clover leafs, martinis, Manhattans, gin fizzes, plenty of highballs and at least one mint julep “for a former gentleman of Virginia.” At 1, the now well-lubed crowd marched into the dining room for dinner.

Obviously, it wasn’t the first get-together organized around alcohol. In 1890, a Mrs. Richard S. Dana introduced an “eggnog party” in Lenox, Mass., that she would hold each fall when the goldenrod bloomed. Soon after the turn of the century, such parties had become popular in St. Louis, but by 1917 spiked eggnog had become so yesterday. So, according to the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, the Walshes dreamed up a new bash based on booze.

“Positively the newest stunt in society is the giving of ‘cocktail parties,’” the paper said as it credited Walsh as “responsible for the innovation.”

The paper also reported that “the party scored an instant hit” and that within weeks such parities had become “a St. Louis institution.” And what became of the Walshes’ mansion at 4510 Lindell Blvd.? In 1924, the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis bought it, and it has served as the archbishop’s residence ever since.

  Comments