phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: War tom-toms

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 29, 2004

In Reply to: Re: War tom-toms posted by ESC on December 28, 2004

: : : : Does any of you remember the phrase which has the word tom-tom in it and means to brag about something.
: : : : I guess its something like "beating tom-toms about...".
: : : : And also if I am not being too demanding, could you please include an example usage.

: : : "Beat the drums for" is common enough, meaning to use publicity to stir up interest in something. Publicists are often called "tub thumpers."

: : There's "toot your own horn" which means to announce one's achievements lest they go unnoticed. It's sort of like bragging, but the person does know he/she is doing it. One usually says "Not to toot my own horn, but..." then goes on to tell of their accomplishment.

: "It strains credulity that Rice, a hands-on manager who goes by the nickname 'Warrior Princess,' would not have read the Iraq report in full at the time it was sent to the White House. Her boss was beating the war tom-toms pretty hard then."

Drums and drumbeats figure richly in the imagery of English speech and literature, but I'll just stick to what has been mentioned. "Beat the drum for": in olden times, a public was often obtained for public announcements, for recruiting efforts, and for selling all kinds of merchandise by beating loudly on a drum, sometimes a bass drum, sometimes a smaller one. So beating a drum for someone means, as Bob has correctly indicated, recruiting followers or advertising the virtues of someone or something, or, nowadays, just promoting-loudly, I suppose. "Drumming up trade" is obviously a related usage, in which a literal use of "drum" has become a figurative one. The "war tom-toms" mentioned by ESC appear to refer to more specific communication by means of drums. Tom-tom refers to a certain hand-beaten drums of certain parts of the East Indies, Africa and Asia, sometimes two-headed and sometimes not, with the head mounted on a wooden body of the barrel type. Sometimes it is mentioned as a means of communication, in the sense of "talking drums." Nowadays the latter phrase is usually reserved for a small Nigerian drum which is very distinct from the tom-tom. However, a hundred years ago "tom-toms" and "talking drums" were often used synonymously. (Commercially made tom-toms are used in many jazz and pop ensembles. They fit the general description above.)
I'm eager to hear corrections or additions, especially from anyone with information about drums used for communication among Native Americans.
I mentioned the use of drums in literature, and there are lots of titles mentioning drums. I'd like to mention a very impressive poem by the American poet Vachel Lindsay, who read it with gusto and tremendous effect in his lectures and readings, namely, "General William Booth Enters Heaven." William Booth, the English founder of the Salvation Army, discovered that music, beginning with the drum and moving on to small bands, was a wonderful tool for recruiting audiences on the street and new members as well. Lindsay's poem is a wonderful piece of music, in this case a jolly march-time accompaniment to Booth's trip to the heavenly gates in 1912, with a VERY strong and compelling drumbeat throughout. Read it!
SS