Commentary by Ward Degler
You know what the phrase “post haste” means. Everybody does. It means in a hurry, urgent, chop-chop!
I remember reading the storybook “Pollyanna” to my kids and stumping them with the sentence, “Didn’t she send me post haste with an umbrella ‘cause she saw a cloud in the sky.”
“What does post haste mean, Daddy?” my eldest daughter asked. We spent the next half-hour looking the phrase up in the dictionary and using it in assorted sentences.
It turns out I was right about the meaning, but I hadn’t a clue where it came from or how old it was. Rewind to the 16th century, back to 1530 when an anonymous writer described an official on horseback, “The horse in a foam and the bearer smoking like a boiler with a post haste letter.”
Apparently, urgent mail was stamped “Post Haste” in olden times. Even a hundred years later, John Motley wrote in his “History of the Netherlands” that two letters were sent post haste to Spain.
That’s not so strange when you consider we used to send important letters “Via Airmail” not so many years ago. We had Airmail stamps and special red, white and blue postage-paid envelopes that would wing our messages from here to there post haste. And if you really wanted to show off, you could get envelopes that said, “Par Avion.”
Other phrases come to mind. An “old chestnut” is a tired, worn-out story that had its origins in an 1800s melodrama play during which a player describes something falling from a tree. Another actor interrupts, claiming it was the same “old chestnut you told us about 27 times.”
One of my favorites is “a fate worse than death.” This cliché was coined by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his story of Tarzan when he described how Jane Porter was thrown over his shoulder and carried off to “a fate worse than death.”
Actually, I grew up on Tarzan movies, and always thought Jane looked pretty pleased with herself living in a tree. I wondered about Cheetah the chimpanzee, though. Sometimes he didn’t look all that happy.
The post haste business got out of hand with my kids, though. For days after I read Pollyanna to them, everything was post haste.
“OK, girls, take the dishes out to the kitchen.”
“Should we do it post haste, Daddy?”
“Time for bed kids.”
“Can we go to bed post haste?”
“Do your homework.”
“Post haste, Daddy!”
“Enough with the post haste already,” I finally said after the gazillionth time.
“We’re quitting, Daddy,” my eldest said. As they walked away, I heard my youngest whisper, “post haste.”