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Archive for the category “everyday expressions”

Why We Say


 

STUFFED SHIRT

 

“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him and his boastings. He’s just a stuffed shirt,” Laurie whispered to Ana about their linguistics professor.

For some reason I thought being a stuffed shirt meant being an old fuddy-duddy, someone who insists on doing things exactly and according to the rules with no wavering, to the point of being quite boring. The truth of the matter is:

An actor of the 1899 era, John Gates, was believed to pad his shirts to give himself a more impressive impression, a bit like shoe lifts or padded shoulders, except more applied to the front area to have an admirable physique. So in actuality, a stuffed shirt refers to someone who is pompous, who thinks himself more important than he really is. And those kind of people can be quite boring, when you think about it.

SWAN SONG

Image result for swan song

“That was her last performance,” the reviewer mentioned in her article of the famous actress. “Performing as Cleopatra was her swan song.”

When I hear the expression “swan song,” I think of it being the last effort of a person, the culminating moment of achievement or something that brings the downfall of a person. Not being terribly sure of its meaning, I’m cautious about how to use this expression.

Apparently, according to thoughts going back to Plato’s time, the swan not being able to sing like other birds would burst into one last song just before dying. In reality, while swans don’t sing, they do make a variety of noises. This is a case of “mything the mark.” Even Shakespeare got it wrong, when he has Portia say in the Merchant of Venice: 

Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.

Being Shakespeare, we’ll let that one go.

SWAPPING HORSE IN MIDSTREAM
“Even though we don’t agree with some of the decisions of our new boss, it’s best not to swap horses in midstream,” Bart told the group, as they headed out to the parking lot.

This one makes sense, as it would be uncomfortable, awkward, maybe even unsafe to try to get on one horse while on another traversing the river. The few times I have traveled by horseback I think staying in one saddle is hard enough without having to try to switch to another horse and another saddle, let alone while trying to do so in a river.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with this saying. With his wry wit he made a speech during the Civil War that it best not to switch allegiance of presidents by swapping horses midstream. This was alluding to how many people were unhappy with his wartime politics and wanted new leadership.Fortunately, people took his advice and stayed put in their saddles.

Click Picture for Larger View

image: abelincoln.com

Why We Say: A monthly series that explores a variety of sayings and expression that are common or are interesting, based on the information found in Why We Say by Robert L. Morgan.

Why We Say: #24–oldies, fer sure


A gathering of odd phrases today. Have you ever “laughed up your sleeve” at finding a good deal, only to find that you “paid through the nose” for the item, which, perhaps, made you feel “the wool was pulled over your eyes” making you want to “put up your dukes?”

In that case…

Back in the days of kings and queens when mindings one’s manners was essential to remain in good grace with the court, a courtier would hide an unbecoming guffaw by laughing up his or her wide sleeve, thus muffling the merriment. Today, to laugh up one’s sleeve indicates hiding our humor from someone or laughing at someone without that person realizing it.

preparing to laugh up one’s sleeve via youtube.com

When the Irish were conquered by the Danes around the 9th century, they suffered the cruelty of receiving a slit on their nose if they didn’t pay their proper tribute. Today, if we feel we’ve paid more than what think is a fair price we apply this saying. My wallet taking a slice is a bit more appealing than my nose.

I knows I wouldn’t want to anger those Danes

Then we go back in time once again in the days when men, as well as women, wore wigs. Highway men would stop carriages of the well-to-do and pull their wigs over their eyes so they could not identify the thieves. The wigs often being white (that one I don’t know why) resembled wool. Today getting “the wool pulled over our eyes” indicates getting fooled or even cheated.

 King George apparently started the white wig fashion–or is someone pulling the wool over my eyes?

Inevitably, when a fight is about to erupt, the obsequious line “put up your dukes” is sallied forth. The Duke of Wellington, yes, Napoleon’s duke, had a rather significantly  sized nose. Fists became known as “duke busters” and finally shortened to “dukes.” To put up your “dukes” means someone’s nose is in hazaard. Is that where we got the Dukes of Hazzard?

 Did the Duke duck when a fight broke out?

Stay tuned for next month’s round of leg pulling, piping down, pulling up stakes, and getting read the riot act.

Why We Say: #23


With this being a leap year I thought it appropriate to spotlight some jumping words and phrases.

“Jump the Gun”

Jim Bob tolerated the good-natured ribbing from the crew when he showed up to school wearing shorts and a cutoff tank top. “Hey, Jimmy Boy, are you jumping the gun about the weather? It indicated the sun poking out today–not a heat wave.”

It appears our hero anticipated raging temperatures suitable for summer. His wishful thinking reflects on the runner who anticipated running down the track to victory and started out before the official fired off a blank cartridge to start off the race.

image: morguefile/marykbaird 

Kangaroo

“I say, captain, what is that strange animal over there.”

“Which one? This country is full of odd animals.”

“That one that hoppitys about with a baby popping out its middle.”

“Oh–that animal.  Hmm, go see what you can get from that native chap, over there.”

A few minutes later.

All I could figure out is he said something to the likes of kanga roo.”

“Sounds like a fitting name. Write that one down. Let’s go exploring some more.”

 

Captain Cook and his crew probably didn’t have this exact conversation, but I imagine something similar occurred. Apparently when he asked what the big hopping critter was called, the aboriginal native said “kangaroo” which actually  means “I don’t know.” Makes sense. I don’t know how that baby stays put in the pouch as momma kanga goes bouncing around either.

image: morguefile/wallyir

Happy Leap Year!

 

Bonus: there is a cow scene

 

Why We Say #22:Junk to Jeeps


Getting into the J zone of sayings with junk, jalopy, jazz, and jeep…

Jalopy: when a car goes south, south of the border

Archie probably didn’t buy his car from Mexico, although if he did, he might have bought it in the town of Jalopa. Since there was a shortage of cars in Mexico around the 1900s, many old automobiles would come to the country by way of USA cast offs. A car bought in Jalopa meant buying a worn out ride, sometimes a junky one. Eventually a jalopy car is what these were known to be called.

Junky Jewelry: be forewarned of Forney

Remember, those vendors are probably selling phoney Coach purses. Don’t buy one. Same goes for the watches. Stick to touristy stuff as souvenirs.

Well, we all know that some market vendors aren’t totally on the up and up when it comes to the authenticity of their wares. Purses, watches, clothing–consumer be wary. Forney, a manufacturer of cheap jewelry, may have started the knock-off industry, junk merchandise. Spotting a “Forney ring” became a buyer habit. The name changed to “phoney” and today we are still on the lookout for poorly made merchandise claiming to be the real deal.

 

watch out for those phoney phones

Jazz: mixing up the beat

There are many different thoughts to the origin of Jazz. Why We Say claims the word is derived from the Louisiana French verb “jasper” which means to speed up, chatter, or make fun. As we know, “it don’t mean a thing, it it don’t got that swing.” doowop doowop doowop

Jeep: initially an Army ride

When the US Army designed their “General Purpose Car” they probably didn’t know that the “G.P.” would eventually been shortened to jeep.

GP=jeep

morguefile image: click

one last minute “j”: jumping the gun

This one is easy. About 35 years ago, racers started off at the bang of run firing off a blank cartridge. Anticipation was undoubtedly high, so it wasn’t unusual for a runner to start off before the bang, which became known as jumping the gun.

Why We Say #21: In the Know


As the year wraps up it’s time for one more round of Why We Say sayings. Since being in the know is a valued asset, we shall dive into the in and outs of “in”:

In the Bag
A: “Have you got the test figured out?”
B: “Yeah man–it’s in the bag?”

This exchange indicates speaker B has oodles of confidence about his upcoming test, that he can count on scoring well upon it. He may not realize his confidence harkens back to days when they traipsed off to the woods to collect their game. Much could be said about the one that got away, so what was already in the game bag is what really counted

In God We Trust
Glancing at American currency a person will find the motto “In God We Trust.” This is the result of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase acting upon the many requests of people who wanted some expression of faith upon the country’s currency. Beginning in 1864, a bronze two-cent piece had the stamped “In God We Trust.” [Maybe this is where we get the expression of getting our two-cents in]

In the Groove
Though it might be difficult to find an LP to play upon a stereo system these days, back then, the needle had to be aligned with the phonograph groove in order to be played. Getting things lined up just right does allow for being “in the groove”–feeling groovy?

 

In Hot Water
Why is it being in trouble means “you are in hot water?” Soaking in a hot bath, or hot tub is actually preferred to cold ones. Then again 21st century thinking needs to be set aside for the time being to understand that if one needed to protect the castle in the 16th century, boiling water would be poured down on invaders. Thus, being in hot water means you are no doubt up to no good or about to get in trouble by getting into trouble.

In a Jam
No, this is not a reference to Winnie-the-Pooh and his penchant for getting noses and paws stuck in sweet pots. This is more like a Paul Bunyan reference of sending logs down the river to the mill and having them bulk up in a tangle and needing to straighten things out before they can get going again. All I know is we have named the office copier Bob Marley because it’s always jammin’–and that is not so sweet.

In the Nick of Time
“Has the meeting started yet?”
“Not quite–you’re in the nick of time.”

Being late to meetings is not the best way to make an impression. If you could travel in Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine you might earn yourself a notch or a nick in a piece of wood by showing up to the town meeting. Contrary to urban rumor St. Nick is not the patron saint of habitual tardy meeting attenders.

And so ends the 2015 collection of “Why We Say.” I leave you with one for the karaoke fans out there…

In the Limelight
No limes were hurt in the process of this blog. However, once long ago, a ball of lime helped whiten the spotlight while performers stood center stage. While I’m not sure about the technical process of lime and spotlight whitening, I do know that if someone is in the limelight they have all the attention for that time being.

 

Why We Say #20–highbrows to hobos and hoodlums


As promised from last month we are delving into the somewhat unsavory sayings dealing with lowlife, or at least perceived lowlife. However, before traipsing across those tracks (and there are so many railroad tracks where I live, that nobody knows which side is which), let’s look at those high brows.

High Brows:

“No worries, I got your Bach, Delores.” image: morguefile.com/mensatic

“I don’t know, Delores, I would rather attend the Bieber concert. Bach is rather high brow for my taste.”

If only Delores could convince her nephew that high brow is so yesterday. Yes, scientists have determined that the idea of having a high forehead–I believe Sherlock has one, is not an indication of superior or even uppity tastes. No matter your forehead shape, you can have your Bach and beat it too.

Higher than a Kite:
“Did you hear about Frank? Oh, man–he was higher than a kite. It was hilarious watching him trying to navigate down the hall after he ate two pieces of Aunt Stephanie’s rum cake.”

“Rum, anyone?” image: morguefile.com/maxstraeten

Wellindeed. Maybe Auntie Steph is a bit heavy handed on her rum, then again Frank would not want to be higher than a kite. No, that’s not the Mary Poppins stick and paper toy, nor is it the bird. It’s a shortening of the original phrase, “higher than Gilderoy’s kite.” Gilderoy, actually Patrick MacGregor, an infamous highwayman, known for deeds such as hanging a judge, picking Cardinal Richelieu’s pocket, and robbing Cromwell, met his end at the gallows. The height of the gallows indicated the height of crimes. Gilderoy swung fairly high, and the Gaelic word “kite” means “body” so, the expression “higher than Gilderoy’s body has nothing to do with Aunt Stephanie’s cake.

Hobos:
I remember dressing up as a hobo for Halloween one year. It’s a cute photo. I’d share it with you if I could get my album off the shelf without braining myself in the head. Cleaning the hall closet is not on my BIG list (that’s right, Allegra–visting my messy closet does not even rate a mention on my list). So, talking about hobos has all kinds of connotations. I remember a William Powell movie My Man Godfrey that did a very nice spin on the hobo theme. Then again Mr. Powell probably didn’t know that “hoc boys” were the originals and they were actually hard workers who traveled from plantation to plantation working the cotton fields. They traveled around trying to find work and eventually their name was shortened to “hobos.”  Those hoc boys would be no doubt bummed to be considered lazy-good-for nothings.

Hoodlums:

We’ve seen them in those noir films, those types who hang around the docks and buildings, just exuding trouble in the making. “Hoodlums” they may be, but actually they are “Muldoons” because that is where hoodlums gets its name. Apparently a West Coast reporter, whether to protect himself, it’s not known, wrote about a “Hoodlum” which turned out to be a backward spelling of sorts of a character named Muldoon, a gangster at that time. Perhaps a bad guy is a bad guy no matter how his name is spelled.

“Wait, a cotton-picking minute–we aren’t looking for work. We’re waiting for the bus. And there is no Muldoons amongst us.” image: morguefile.com/hotblack

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