By IHIDERO Victor Osae
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Sometimes, researchers, students, and people in the academe who are knowledgeable in the area of their avowal have little regards for imagining certain factors which supports or negates some historical findings. Imaginative poverty is one thing that has affected many countries of the world. We have knowledge of words and usage, and in our day to day pursuits for survival we communicate with people applying some phrases which we have not paused to give a thought of, or imagine the different origins of that particular phrase. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is just one of such phrases. More than most expression in the English dictionaries, every Tom, Dick, Harry appears to be the most commonly transliterated phrase in major spoken languages of the world. The earliest citation of the phrase dates back to 1734 from a song lyric: farewell, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Farewell, Moll, Nell, and Sue.” Today, the former has come to build a house in the social consciousness of mankind especially when referring to some class of people. Moll, Nell, and Sue, the feminine representation of Tom, Dick, and Harry have been thrown to the wind because of man’s crave to sometimes disconnect history. While many has blamed the dominance of man as factor responsible for neglecting the Moll, Nell and Sue, the biography of the English theologian, John Owen, written by Peter Toon predates the 1734 modem. Thus making it lack substance. John Owen used the expression in 1657 in according to God’s Statesman. He told a governing body at Oxford University that ‘our critical situation and our common interests were discussed out of journals and newspapers by every Tom, Dick and Harry.”
The use of the masculine names in the phrase dates from times unknown. Thomas Hardy, and Shakespeare used this cliché in their literary masterpieces lavishly when the whole of Europe as well as the world were agog for literature. For Shakespeare, it was Tom, Dick, and Francis. For Thomas Hardy, in his novel Far from the Madding Crowd published in 1874, it is “Dick, Tom, and Harry” not Tom, Dick and Harry. While there is nothing to hold against Shakespeare and Hardy, the generic male trio had occurred more than two hundred years earlier before the publication of the works of these gentlemen. This again, however throws the John Owen’s citation in the cesspit of history. These pair of common male names particularly Jack and Tom, Dick and Tom, or Tom and Tib, were often used generically in Elizabethan times to refer to people who are at the fringe of the society. This phrase is a placeholder for multiple unspecified people; of nobodies, and persons of no notes.
The primordial source of the phrase “ Every Tom, Dick, and Harry dates back to the colonial period where smaller tribes, counties, and countries were suppressed by larger military powers of their adversaries who were doubtfully sure that liberation, if they persist with their struggle, would embrace them. And like the biblical Thomas who first doubted but later confirmed the truth of Christ’s resurrection became a symbol of hope, and of regeneration to the Slavic people. Suppressed people during this period opted for names like; John (as in Jack), a forerunner of the coming of Christ, and a pictogram of nearing liberation. Thomas (as in Tom), a confirmation to the prophecy of the prophet who prophesied the coming of the messiah. Subsequently, Dick and Harry became royal names given to princes of the suppressed people, in mockery, by the super powers. Tom, Dick, and Harry became a sham, used to refer to ordinary people other than those in the class or status of the user. The phrase, derisively refer to some set of nobodies or common people. Tom, Dick, or Harry appears in different languages. The equivalent in Spanish for example is “Fulano, Mengano, y Zuta.” In French, it is “Pierre, Paul ou Jacques.” In German, it is Huns und Franz, or kreti und pleti. In Dutch, it is Jan, Piet, and Klaas. Tizio, Caio e Sempronio in Italian. Fulano, Betrano, e Sicrano in Portuguese. Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov in Russian, and Kull man habba wa-dabba in Arabic. In Chinese, it is Zhang San Lsi or a mao a gou, meaningcat and dog. In Japanese and Korean it is neko-mo shakushi-mo meaning dog and cow.
Tom, Dick, and Harry has found their ways into different professional calling. In medicine, popular culture, animal husbandry, playwrighting and film making as well. English speaking medical students use the phrase in memorizing the order of an artery, and a nerve, and the three tendons of the flexor retinaculum in the lower leg; T,D, a, n and H of Tom, Dick, and Harry which correspond to (T)ibalis posterior, flexor (D)igitorum longus, posterior tibalis artery, tibial nerve, and flexor Hallucis longus.
In popular culture Tom, Dick, and Harry are the names of three mountain peaks in the Cascade Range of Oregon, U.S.A. Tom, Dick, and Harry were the names given to three Galapagos Island tortoises brought back to England aboard the HMS Beagle by Charles Darwin, as documented in his book; The Voyage of the Beagles. In The Great Escape, allied prisoners of war refer to the three escape tunnels as Tom, Dick, and Harry to avoid arousing the suspicions of their German captor. In 3rd Rock from the Sun-the three alien characters posing as male humans took ‘Tom,” “Dick,” and “Harry” as given names (one imposing as female took “Sally,” coinciding with the comic strip. A Bollywood film was given the phrase in 2006. A television advertisement for Fernwood Fitness, a woman’s only fitness club in Australia, had the by-line “No Toms, no Harrys and definitely no Dicks” are allowed.
Au courant, the phrase has been used ad absurdum by both members of the high class, and low class to refer to anybody below their wrung in the achievement ladder.
With the population of Toms, Dicks, and Harrys counting in its umpteenths by the day in Africa, Nigerians, as well as those who constitute this class of the underprivileged are asking the beau monde, like other Toms, Dicks and Harrys in Ireland, as it were, when would our president and lawmakers awake from this thunderous silence and faux pas which they have subjected us to accept, first in loco parentis and secondly a carefree entity after they have gotten our votes. While these men pleasurize at our nation’s misfortune, they must not forget in haste the old Latin saying which equipped memento mori…. Then their kith and kin who they left would certainly become a persona non grata among the larger society till …sic transit Gloria mundi.