Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1857. A woman before her time. Damned if I know what is meant by the phrase “Hoops can’t shine alongside of her.” “Whalebone and steel” are the materials that corset ribs were made of, but corsets didn’t shine.
at least they didnt disclose the woman’s name.. and perhaps corsets could shine if they were stretched far enough??? like lycra.. this is an awesome website.. unfortunately, you are directly meddling with my productivity… productivity is overrated though.. merci!
I’m guessing this is some weird bit of lost local idiom whose meaning will only come clear once everything ever published has become searchable online. Glad you like the site.
I suppose they could be referring to skirt hoops? Who knows. Just think of all the wonderful idoms we’ve lost over time. I mourn!!!
I think it’s a pun, referring on one hand to skirt hoops and on the other to who knows WTF? But since you love ancient idiom for its own sake, let me recommend to you the sublime comic essays of S.J. Perelman. If that floats your boat, check out The Best of Myles by Flann O’Brien. I have learned not to read either author on public transport, owing to incontinent laughter that freaks out fellow commuters.
Interesting and plausible comment posted on a “Fat Acceptance” website [http://kateharding.net/2009/06/10/retro-fat-open-thread/] that picked up this item:
lina, on June 10th, 2009 at 4:49 pm Said:
While I’m fairly sure this article is not as appreciate and fat-accepting as it appears to us–I’m a scholar of 19th-century periodicals–it is true that it’s much less panicked and appalled than anything you’d read about today.
The “hoops” they are talking about are, I think, hooped skirts or crinolines. See http://www.victoriana.com/Victorian-Fashion/crinoline.htm for some pictures. Hooped skirts were widely mocked as a kind of fashion excess of the day–like too-short miniskirts, I supposes, or even today’s young men wearing too-large pants without a belt. Some of these caricatures of hoop skirts were light and some people thought they were (like the corset) the source of all evil and vanity in the world.
So, this piece is saying, I think, that the (perceived to be) ridiculous width of hooped skirts can’t compete with this woman’s actual, natural, wideness–they pale in comparison to her, they can’t “shine.”
The “great” pun isn’t so innocuous either–as we all know “great” means “large” or “huge” as well. This is another tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out how big this woman is. Something like saying “those who have massive heart attacks are most often just that–massive” in a news story today, I’d imagine.
What is missing, it’s true, is the hand-wringing “we’re in the midst of an epidemic” or, indeed, any indication that the woman’s size is related to her health at all.
“Hoops can’t shine next to her, at least whalebone and steel ones.”
What other kind of hoops might they be suggesting, we might wonder?
Well, barrels were common storage objects for food, tended to be very heavy and hard to move, and *had hoops holding them together*. They are likening her to a barrel.
Worth considering. Thanks.
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