courting disaster

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courting disaster

Post by katepm » Tue Jul 18, 2006 3:10 pm

What's the origin of this expression?
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courting disaster

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jul 18, 2006 3:51 pm

Now I dare say that Ken will give chapter and verse, but "courting" is the period in the life of a couple before betrothal (before they get engaged in other words). So, if you are courting disaster you are getting very close to a downfall, and you know that you are.

I suppose that it is a sign of the times that nowadays "getting into bed with disaster" would be a perfectly acceptable phrase.
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courting disaster

Post by tony h » Tue Jul 18, 2006 6:20 pm

Courting is also a formal or sanctioned activity ie it has the support of the parents.

Courting disaster is used to describe a situation where the person doing the courting thinks they are onto a good thing but the observer (who uses the phrase) does not.

Giving it a sense of scale: foolhardy, reckless, courts disaster, should know better, unluky.

Whereas courting fate is something you may decide to do.
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courting disaster

Post by katepm » Tue Jul 18, 2006 10:07 pm

Thanks, I did know what it meant, I am asking if anyone knows where it originated or if there is a history behind its use.
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courting disaster

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jul 19, 2006 12:05 am

Kate, In the 16th century the verb COURT meant to ‘play or act the courtier' (an attendant at a sovereign's court) and also to ‘pay amorous attention to’ as Bob mentions above. The verb ultimately derives from the noun ‘court, an enclosed yard, which eventually became associated with the place where a sovereign (or other high dignitary) resides and holds state, attended by their retinue, and where the courtiers did their 'courting.' At the beginning of the 17th century the verb took on the more generalized meaning of ‘to seek to win or attract/entice/invite/allure (any one) to do something’ and thus went beyond the original courtly 'courting' and romantic 'wooing.' And in the 19th century some of those ‘somethings’ apparently came to include negative stuff such as death and DISASTER. An expression having a similar ring to it as COURTING DISASTER - but not quite a synonym - is PLAYING WITH FIRE, which appears (?) to have emerged in about the same time frame.

COURTING DISASTER, surprisingly though, did not show up in any word and phrase origin books that I checked. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the relevant sense of COURT as “To behave so as to invite or incur: <‘Courts disaster by taking drugs’>.” And The Oxford English Dictionary claims that this sense of COURT meaning “To act as though trying to provoke (something harmful, unpleasant, etc.); to invite unwisely” didn’t come into use until 1930, and their one quote for the phrase TO COURT DISASTER is from 1986. I guess I don’t quite understand where they are coming from since I was easily able to find many examples of COURTING being used in the sense of courting a negative (e.g. ‘death,’ ‘ruin,’ see 1851, 1861, and 1875 quotes below) and I had no trouble finding examples of the use of COURT(ING) DISASTER dating back to 1863. Seems to me that they are clearly in error here and they have been duly e-mailed.

And I would also add that the specific relevant meaning of COURT that OED provided above (with its 1930 dating) is technically correct, but the usage of this word in COURTING DISASTER easily falls under the umbrella of their 1602 definition, which includes, “To invite, allure, entice into, to, from, out of, etc.” And that clearly covers the sense that the 19th-century examples below were referring to – no need to wait for special dispensation in 1930!
<1851 “Therefore, in the first, saints and martyrs have fulfilled their mission, Conquering dangers, COURTING deaths, and triumphing in all.”—‘Proverbial Philosophy’ by Martin F. Tupper, page 247>

<1861 “COURTING ruin as a means of gaining independence, it would appear that the conspirators were impressed with the idea that the more the more desperate the cause was rendered the more persistent would be the rebellion.”—‘Naval History of the War for the Union, Civil, Military and Naval’ by E. A. Duyckinck, page 273>

<1863 “Gladwyn discouraged the enterprise [[an attack on the Ottawa village]], conceiving it, doubtless’ as rash and perilous to COURT DISASTER.”—‘History of American Conspiracies’ by Orville J. Victor, page 78>

<1872 “Is it wise to fly in the face of events and to COURT DISASTER and defeat?”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 27 May, page 6>

<1875 “The sentence found him with his young wife and intimates, prepared for but not COURTING DEATH.”—‘Roman History’ by W. W. Capes, page 120>

<1878 “They [[New York bankers]] will have enough on their hands to protect their charters and their notes of issue, and they are COURTING DISASTER by their impertinent project of defying the law and the people.”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune,’ 13 November, page 4>

<1883 “Building houses [
] a very critical operation, and not to be undertaken without very considerable Sabaistic lore and an intimate acquaintance with all the animistic peculiarities of the neighborhood. Otherwise the house-builder simply COURTS DISASTER, . . .”>—‘New York Times,’ 3 November, page 2>

<1885 COURTING DISASTER’(article title) . . . the captain, however, chose to shorten his passage by crossing the Banks . . . , with the result of running into an iceberg and escaping a frightful disaster by sheer good luck.”—‘New York Times,’ 26 May, page 4>

<1895 ‘Indeed it is absolutely COURTING DISASTER to withdraw money when the great demand for commodities as shown in the higher prices proves that in a short time money will be required to pay for those commodities.”—‘The Journal of Political Economy,’ Vol. 3, No. 4, September, page 479>

<1930 “Another club . . . which rather COURTED a pleasantly scandalous reputation, opened its doors for one night and one afternoon.”—‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ in ‘Works’ of George Bernard Shaw, VII, page 152> [[OED’s earliest instance of the ‘new’ sense of ‘court’ as in ‘courting disaster’]]

<1942 “There is a fascination in places that hold our past in safe keeping. We are drawn to them, often against our will... I knew it yesterday in that hour I spent in the storeroom's dusty chillness, half dreading, half COURTING the pangs which each well remembered object brought.”—‘And now Tomorrow’ by R. Field, i. page 1> [[OED example of ‘new’ sense]]

<1953 “He drove faster and more wildly . . . COURITNG death, their own and anyone else's, was the one possible chance of escape.”—‘Hurry on Down’ by J. Wain, vii. page 141> [[OED example of ‘new’ sense]]

<1961 “A dramatist could inject a shot of colloquialism into a tragic aria without COURTING bathos.”—‘Curtains’ by K. Tynan, I. page 69> [[OED example of ‘new’ sense]]

<1986 “They knew they were COURTING DISASTER by challenging a state that tolerates no challenges.”—‘New York Times,’ 11 May, page E21> [[OED’s only example]]
Ken G – July 18, 2006
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courting disaster

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Jul 19, 2006 2:36 am

Ken your last personal comment ..
<1986 “They knew they were COURTING DISASTER by challenging a state that tolerates no challenges.”—‘New York Times,’ 11 May, page E21> [[OED’s only example]]
maybe needs to be clarified in the context of the illustrative quotations used by the Oxford family of dictionaries .. I had always thought that the illustrative quotes given with a word were designed to give date evidence but I found the following clarification in The Oxford Dictionary of New Words .. it reads:
The final section of the entry, in condensed type, contains illustrative quotations. These are arranged in a single chronological sequence, even when they contain examples of a number of different forms. Their primary purpose is to illustrate usage rather than to provide date evidence, and therefore the earliest example is not necessarily given.
.. this is the reason why you, personally, often find earlier examples in your research that are not quoted in the OED .. it is an editorial choice rather than an oversight ..

.. of course this is different to when they definitively state that a particular word was first used in a particular year and you have evidence of an earlier usage supported by a verifiable quote ..

WoZ of Aus 19/07/06
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courting disaster

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jul 19, 2006 5:05 am

Wiz, I think you have been confused into thinking that the statement on page VI of The Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1998), a 357 page paperback, which I’m sitting here looking at, is also applicable to the Oxford English Dictionary – but it isn’t!

The Oxford Dictionary of New Words contains a modest list of quotations, which is, of course, limited to what they feel are the best illustrative examples – not necessarily the earliest. The full bore Oxford English Dictionary, contains thousand of times more pages and quotations and it has always been my understanding that the earliest quotation they list is the earliest in print that they were able to find – and that has been my assumption for years.

I hunted down the OED explanation on quotations and it appears to be in agreement with what I had always thought. But you did give me a scare! (<:)

According to the full OED:

5. Quotation paragraph: The quotation paragraph contains a selection of authentic examples of usage illustrating a definition. The quotations document the history of a term from its earliest recorded usage, and are extremely helpful tools for clarifying grammatical and syntactic aspects of a definition.
_________________

Ken – July 18, 2006
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courting disaster

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Jul 20, 2006 2:10 am

A nicer way for Ken to say:

Wiz, I think you have been confused intothinking that the statement on page VI of The Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1998), a 357 page paperback,which I’m sitting here looking at, is also applicable to the Oxford English Dictionary – but it isn’t!

The Oxford Dictionary of New Words contains a modestlist of quotations, which is, of course,limited to what they feel are the best illustrative examples – not necessarily the earliest. The full boreOxford English Dictionary, contains thousand of times more pages andquotations and it has always been my understanding that the earliest quotation they list is the earliest in print that they were able to find – and that has been my assumption for years.

I hunted down the OED explanation on quotations and it appears to be in agreement with what I had always thought. But you did give me a scare! (<:)

According to the full OED:

5. Quotation paragraph: The quotation paragraph contains a selection of authentic examples of usage illustrating a definition. The quotations document the history of a term from its earliest recorded usage, and are extremely helpful tools for clarifying grammatical and syntactic aspects of a definition.
.. *thinks to self* .. now I know Ken doesn't really set out to sound like a sanctimonious old fart .. but sometimes I just can't get past the snide remarks to really get the drift of what it is he is telling me ......... I mean as one old fart to another he could say it with flowers and not a mallet all the time ..... although he did like my comment about racehorses runnng out of puff ...... and it is all just a fun way to pass the day or night ......... wonder what else I can say to give Ken a scare .........

WoZ of Aus 20/07/06
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courting disaster

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Jul 20, 2006 3:01 am

Wiz, I think you are being an overly sensitive old fart yourself. There was really no snideness meant. I swear it on a stack of etymology dictionaries. (&lt)

Ken - July 19, 2006
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courting disaster

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Jul 20, 2006 9:15 am

Yeah. Thanks, Mr. Manners-Person!
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courting disaster

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Jul 20, 2006 9:29 am

That was an uncalled-for asnide.
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courting disaster

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Jul 20, 2006 10:02 am

A snideways compliment.
Ken's semi-subsumed chocolate-covered bezel-set cabochons...
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