Ben Zimmer has a Boston Globe column on a phrase and a custom both unknown to me, and I’m glad to know about them now. The phrase, “parade of horribles,” is used by lawyers “typically as a put-down used by one side in a dispute to dismiss opponents’ concerns about a ruling’s negative effects,” and it derives from an actual parade:
It all goes back to the country’s oldest military organization, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638. Members of the company, colloquially known in the Boston area as “the ancients and honorables,” would parade around in uniform, though the dress code used to be a bit lax: Members could wear the uniforms of any regiments to which they were once attached. As a result, as Steven T. Byington explained in a 1940 article in the journal American Speech, “The variegated display of diverse uniforms on unathletic figures looked comic to a visitor who had not been brought up to reverence the Company’s high status.”
All the pomp and circumstance of the company was ripe for satire, and in the mid-19th century “the ancients and honorables” began to receive the burlesque treatment, with their name playfully transformed into “the antiques and horribles.” The first “antiques and horribles” parade that I can find mentioned in the newspapers of the time took place in Lowell on July 4, 1851. As the Boston Daily Atlas reported afterwards, the mock military company wore outrageously varied uniforms, featuring “everything that was grotesque and ludicrous.” As news got around, other towns were inspired to put on their own processions of “the antiques and horribles,” though the name was frequently shortened simply to “the horribles.”
Both the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and the “horribles” that they inspired, persist in Boston-area festivities to this day. The company will be seen marching proudly through the streets of Boston this Fourth of July, in uniforms that are much more presentable than in the old days.
Isn’t that great? Zimmer goes on to explain that the legal use was begun by a New Englander: “Thomas Reed Powell was born in Richfield, Vt., in 1880 and went on to Harvard Law School, becoming a noted legal observer. One of his favorite expressions was ‘parade of imaginary horribles,’ which appeared in his writing as early as 1921.” There’s much more at the link, which I encourage you to visit.