Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THANKS TO Groucho Marx, I offer a nonsensical rhymed couplet (in iamic heptameter): “I soon dispose of all of those who put me on the pan/Like Shakespeare said to Nathan Hale, I always get my man.”

On the pan?

Elucidation is in The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoer’s Guide to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details, by Matthew Coniam, McFarland and Company, 2015.


Coniam says “on the pan” is to receive censure or criticism. It has the same root as a theater critic panning a new play. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary notes this particular pan dates from 1899 and was falling out of use by the mid-20th century.

This got me thinking of other pans, a surprising number of them.


“Sweet, piercing sweet was the music of Pan’s pipe. Image from The Story of Greece, by Mary Macgregor, illustrated by Walter Crane, c. 1910.

The most classic is Pan, the Greek god of flocks and herds. His lower half is a goat; his upper half, a man, thus representing the lustful world, yet reaching higher. Source: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 19th Edition, by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D.


Peter Pan and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie, cover from the 1915 edition.

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan comes to mind. In Marie Tatar’s The Annotated Peter Pan (The Centennial Edition) (The Annotated Books), she observes “…his surname may be inspired not only by the Greek god but also by ‘Panto,’ the name commonly used to describe the extravagant theatrical pantomimes staged for children in the Victorian times.” Tatar shares another tidbit on classic pantomime: Villains always enter from stage left; heroes. from stage right.


Panning for gold. Image by Lee Russell/Library of Congress.

The phrase “to pan out” means to succeed, deriving from seeking nuggets of gold in streams. The pan is rotated to slosh out the water and lighter sediment. If this process leaves any gold, which is heavier, then that stream really panned out. Source:  A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, by Eric Partridge.

At the other extreme of success, there’s the term “to panhandle,” to beg. Some trace this to the etymological process of back-formation, handling a bowl into which a beggar receives alms. I like the suggestion in Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of the Underworld: “From those long-handled arrangements shaped like a frying-pan, which they push at you in churches.”

Remaining in the underworld for a time, I cite Partridge’s other underworld definition of the Pan. It was mid-19th-century slang for London’s St. Pancras Workhouse.

Another slang use of the term is cited in The Underground Dictionary, アメリカ俗語辞書典, by Eugene E. Landy, Ph.D. “To pan up” is to cook drugs, to liquefy them for injection.

On a less hazardous but not exactly salubrious note, Partridge mentions late 17th-century slang of “standing in one’s pan-pudding.”  Pan-pudding was a thick, heavy flour-based concoction, and standing in it implied a certain steadfastness. By the way, there’s a Pan Pudding Hill in Shropshire, England. Henry II, reigning 1154 – 1189, used the locale in preparing his attack on Bridgnorth Castle.


Pan, a fantasy-adventure movie starring Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Cara Delevigne and Rooney Mara.

At the other temperal extreme, there’s Pan, a 2015 prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. An orphan is spirited away to the magical Neverland and becomes….

Also cinematographic is “to pan” a camera; this, shorthand for producing a panorama shot.

Last, Pan reminds me of the Carrera Panamericana, this Pan in the sense of “all encompassing.” The original Panamericana, run 1950 – 1954, was Mexico’s counterpart to the Italian Mille Miglia, an international sports car race on open roads.

The 1950 Panamericana ran north-to-south, for more than 2000 miles, from Ciudad Juárez at the U.S. border with El Paso, Texas, to Tuxtla, Gutiérrez, at the Guatemala border. The other four events ran south-to-north along the same route.

Phil Hill and RIchie Ginther in a Ferrari 375 MM in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana.

Phil Hill and Richie Ginther in a Ferrari 375 MM in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana.

Conditions gave the Carrera Panamericana a reputation for being the most dangerous auto race in the world, and legitimate safety concerns cancelled the event in 1955. It was resurrected in 1988 as a 7-day rally over some of the original route.

Both events are fascinating (latter-day entries are dominated by 1950s vintage Studebakers, but with modern NASCAR-like underpinnings!). I must research this a bit. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

2 comments on “A SELECTION OF PANS

  1. Bill Urban
    April 29, 2015

    But Dennis, what of the poor man’s Watts Linkage?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: