Pitchforks and torches have long symbolized an angry mob. The pitchforks-and-torches mob was present in the film Frankenstein (1931) and Mel Brooks’ film parody Young Frankenstein (1974). “Pitchforks and torches” has been cited in print since at least 1854. Citations in 1940 and 1956 associate “torches and pitchforks” and “pitchforks and torches” against a federal government.
MSNBC news host Keith Olbermann published Pitchforks and Torches: The worst of the worst, from Beck, Bill, and Bush to Palin and other posturing Republicans (2010). For a long-running segment called “Worst Persons in the World” (usually Republican politicians or Fox News personalities), Olbermann told his audience to “get out your ptichforks and torches.”
Television Tropes & Idioms: Torches and Pitchforks
•The 1931 film version of Frankenstein features some of the most famous Torches And Pitchforks angry mobs.
◦Thus, this trope crops up in every affectionate homage or parody of the Frankenstein story. See Young Frankenstein, Van Helsing...
•In the silent Metropolis you already have a Lampshade Hanging, with the angry mob of futuristic underground workers replacing pitchforks with wrenches and crowbars, and shouting “Down with the machines!” When the foreman shames the mob by asking them who is protecting their children, they switch gears and decide to “Burn The Witch!” instead.
•In the Lon Chaney silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom is rather brutally killed at the end by one of these.
adj. Relating to an angry, unruly mob, particularly one seeking vengeance. Also: torches-and-pitchforks; fiery-torches-and-pitchforks
Phil, buddy, I know where you and your audience are coming from. Most upstanding, level-headed Americans, such as yourself (or the character you play) think art is what you learned at your kindergarten teacher’s knee.
There’s more to it, you know. But I’m sure you’re not going to examine the issue too deeply as long as there is mileage in rousing the torch-and-pitchfork, salt-of-the-earth types.
—Phil Stanford, “You, too, can find a cure for polio,” The Oregonian, June 4, 1990
The trope that underlies this phrase is the classic image of the angry mob hellbent on exacting revenge. The scene is usually at night, all the better to highlight the flaming torches carried by some of the citizens, and the pitchforks carried by the rest. The outraged villagers that set out after Frankenstein (particularly in the 1931 version of the film, as suggested by reader Eric Tubin) is the canonical mob here.
7 January 1854, The Musical World, pg. 4, col. 2:
...when the priest, ascending to the altar, began to intone the sacred hymn, the troop of feigned devils, brandishing pitchforks and torches, began to utter all sorts of hideous cries and noises in order to hide the voices of the choir and frighten away the Christian soldiers and other profane intruders whose purpose it might be to interrupt the proceedings.
Selections from his letters, and aesthetic, humorous, and satirical writings
By Hector Berlioz; edited by William Foster Apthorp
New York, NY: Holt
At an agreed signal, when the priest, walking up to the altar, intoned the sacred hymn, this troupe, of diabolic aspect, brandishing their pitchforks and torches in a terrific manner, made all sorts of frightful noises and shrieks, to drown the voices of the religious chorus and terrify all profane persons who might be tempted to interrupt the ceremony.
30 March 1940, Moberly (MO) Monitor-Index and Democrat, pg. 3, col. 1:
She quoted, “The first census in the United States was fought with torches and pitchforks by angry farmers who believed that the whole scheme was probably a federal plot to raise taxes.”
Google News Archive
9 August 1956, Reading (PA) Eagle, “On the Political Front” by Holmes Alexander, pg. 8, col. 2:
Some of us from Washington waited up half the night in the dim hope that the resolution writers would make us some news by bursting out of their closed session brandishing pitchforks and torches.
The Way We Live Now
By Warren Miller
Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.
The first time he saw it, amazed at its height and thickness, its barred strength, he had a vision of an enraged peasantry with torches and pitchforks advancing, singing revolutionary songs.
23 March 1969, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, “Don’t Fence Us In, Armstead Says” by R. Foster Winans, pt. 6, pg. 1, col. 5:
Residents of the area don’t come carrying torches and pitch forks, but Frank Armstead and his boys feel the animosity and fear of a community with little understanding of what he is doing.
Google News Archive
3 May 1973, Village Voice (New York, NY), “The honest politicians in Albany could fit inside a Volkswagen” by Phil Tracy, pg. 5, col. 3:
If the townspeople of Albany haven’t seen fit to attack City Hall with torches and pitchforks by now, the odds are better than even that they’re not about to get worked up over one crooked public defender, a little cheating in the welfare department, or a handful of cops swiping dimes out of parking meters.
2 August 1976, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, “Lampoon stalls, satirist nabbed” by George H. Atkinson, pg. A15, col. 2:
An unidentified woman who witnessed this heart-warming demonstration of support said she thought the delirious mob, waving torches and pitchforks in a show of affection, must have been admirers since they were also carrying little tokens of their affection.
Google News Archive
8 August 1977, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, “The Hokey Highway League,” pg. 16A, col. 4:
Everyone has been asking nicely for something to be done about Highway 19. Now it’s time to get out the torches and pitchforks.
16 March 1980, Oregonian (Portland, OR), “It’s your government: ‘Son of Scoop” new power bill” by Dick Johnston, pg. D3, col. 1:
There, despite major changes to make it more attractive, several congressmen still grabbed pitchforks and torches and went after it.
OCLC WorldCat record
Pitchforks and torches : the worst of the worst, from Beck, Bill, and Bush to Palin and other posturing Republicans
Author: Keith Olbermann
Publisher: Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, ©2011.
Edition/Format: Book : English
Summary: Every weeknight on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, with his particular wit and style, Olbermann skewers politicians, celebrities, and people behaving badly. This book starts right after President Obama’s election and collects all of Olbermann’s acclaimed “Special Comments,” a few of his “Quick Comments,” all but one of his feature “WTF,” selections of “Bushed” and “Still Bushed,” and, of course, a healthy dose of “The Worst Person in the World.” Covers everything from gay marriage to Sarah Palin, John Edwards’ love child, and the Bush legacy--plus Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and, of course, Bill-O.--From publisher description
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Tuesday, November 09, 2010 • Permalink