cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “sayings”

DOWO: The “C” List


Onward we travel into the Dictionary of Word Origins, adventuring in the land of “C.”

What is the phrase “carte blanche” all about?

It once was the custom for officials, or personage of importance, to provide a trusted subordinate with blank paper with their signature. These signed documents could then be used as necessary. “White paper” doesn’t quite sound as impressive as the French translation carte blanche. “Just sign here,” takes on another meaning.


Why is the feline in Alice in Wonderland known as a Cheshire cat?

Alice probably didn’t realize that the cat she came to know in her dreamy adventure was sporting a grin that emulated the cheeses sold in the Irish Cheshire Country. These cheeses were molded to look like cats with very wide grins. Hmm, think there is a connection between Cheshire cats and why we say “cheese” tight before our picture is taken?

Image: pngmart.com

Why is something that is a hint called a “clue?”

In middle English a ball of thread was known as a “clew” or “clue” and when applied to the story of Theseus, the way out of the maze was how he followed an unrolled ball of thread. Hint, hint the thread of logic is quite clear here in this story of how he unraveled his escape plan. Then again, what if the Minotaur was smarter?

babblecomics.blogspot.com

How is a disappointed person “crestfallen?”

Roosters carry into a fight their bright red coxcomb or crests upright, signaling their readiness and awareness The losing rooster runs from the fight with a drooping crest. Not having seen a rooster fight (or having a desire to do so) I remain a wee bit skeptical on this one.

wordsdontfailme.tumblr.com

What is meant to “curry favor?”

In Middle English “horse ” is  favel, and to “curry” a horse is to groom it with a special comb. The results are usually a sleek looking horse. The idea here is for someone who hopes to makes a impression will do something noticeable like a groom hoping to catch his master’s attention might curry the favel. Sometimes the attempt is quite obvious.

johnhartstudio.com

The Challenge: Can you create a sentence with the above sayings? Give it a try…Or at least one saying:

Advertisements

DOWOs: the “A” list


Having expended all the interesting expressions found in Why We Say, and not wanting to disappoint fans, I have found another source for expressions origins, which is appropriately titled Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions, and Cliches We Use by Jordan Almond. For posting purposes DOWO shall suffice.

I have been merrily marking choice entries to share. Look for new DOWOs around the 15th of each month.

Let’s start off with a few “A” list entries:

Why does “A-1” mean the very best?

London Marine insurance firms created a registry of ships and their cargo designating the condition through alpha/numeric sequence. An “A” rating meant the ship was perfect, and a “1” meant the cargo was perfect.

So if you are “A 1” it might be safe to say you are ship shape [you will just have to wait patiently for that reference].

What is meant if something or someone is found to be “above board?”

Dishonest gamblers and magicians (not that they are considered dishonest) often create their tricks or sleight of hand out of sight underneath the table or board. What can’t be seen can’t be trusted, which means if all is performed out in the open it is “above board.”

Performing his card tricks in front of the appreciative crowd, the magician was flushed with his success of dazzling them all with his above board feats of card sharpery.

What is an “Adam’s apple?”

Going back to the Garden of Eden we find Eve offering Adam fruit, which is traditionally thought to be an apple. Maybe being caught by God snacking where they weren’t supposed to caused Adam to choke on his apple bite, thus that bit of stuck fruit is referenced as “Adam’s apple.”

So did Eve swallow hers first or did she not take a bite? Hmm…

Why does “alcohol” mean “spirits?”

Actually “alcohol” means “eye paint.” Both Egyptians and Arabians prepared a black powder to paint eyelids which in Arabic is called al koh’l. Eventually the process of extracting the essence of product from the vine through a charcoal filter became known as “alcohol.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

What is meant by “running amuck?”

This has nothing to do with gallivanting around in a mud puddle. In Malay, where the phrase originated, it meant someone under the influence of opium or other stimulants would become so excited they would rush around in a dagger-led frenzy stabbing people and yelling “Amoq! Amoq!” or “Kill! Kill!!”

I, for one, will think twice before attributing this description. Especially to emus.

Why We Say: #35 (finale)


Alas–we have come to the last page of Why We Say. Over the past couple of years I trotted out some of the odd little expressions we say enhanced by the odd little explanations of this odd little book published in 1953. Some of the explanations were as amusing of the featured expressions.

And so, the last four entries consist of:

Worsted

While worsted sounds like a judgmental critique, it’s actually a material, a fabric made from wool and is used in tailored garments such as suits, carpets, gloves, and other clothing. It is known for its ability to be resilient and recovery well, meaning durability and wrinkle-resistant. We may not go around speaking great volumes about worsted, it is notable that it is actually the name of the town it originated from: Worstead, England. Incidentally, the archaic reference of worsted is “stuff.” I wonder if the Right Stuff  meant NASA space suits were wool.

 

Yankee
Here are some theories about this word that is a slang reference to Americans:
1. It is derived from “yonokie” which is supposedly Indian (tribe not designated) for “silent” and this would be a bit of  joke since the English were considered quite talkative.
2. Another theory is that “yankee” comes from “yengee” a form of “English” or “Anglais.”
3. There is also the thought it is a corruption of “Jannee” which is a form of John in Dutch, since many settlers in the New York area were of Dutch origin.

Researching to verify the theories proposed by Why We Say leads to the conclusion no one really knows how and where the saying originated.  If you know, drop me a comment. In the mean time, enjoy this cartoon:

Yellow (as in coward)
To be yellow is to be associated with being a coward, or to be weak. We look to France for one source, which claims the doorways of traitors were painted yellow. (Yikes, I once painted our house yellow. Whatever did our neighbors think?). Another source says Spain because those being executed for treason were given robes of yellow. (No yellow robes in my wardrobe).

I associate the expression “yellow-bellied” with Yosemite Sam. Alas, I could not find a clip where he utters the phrase “Why, you yellow-bellied coward!” but I did find one where he dances and thought that merited a post.

 

It’s been a fun run with this feature. Not wanting to disappoint followers and fans, I have found another source. Stay tuned…

 

 

Why We Say: #34–flowers, teeth, salt, and wolves


Having just attempted to read Perks of a Wallflower (didn’t finish–that’s a different post), it was timely when I popped open my Why We Say book to the “W” section. The first entry?

Wallflower

garden.lovetoknow.com

In Europe, and maybe in America, bright yellow and red flowers grace stone walls, adding quiet color to break up the monotony. And so it is with people who might quietly stand against the wall at a function and not participate, at least not visibly. Just because they aren’t gregarious doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about what’s going on. Subtle observation does have its perks.
Wisdom Teeth

Around senior year my students start missing school for a variety of reasons. One of the oddly frequent absences involves wisdom teeth removal. This is usually a two day to one week ordeal depending on the success of the procedure. My wisdom teeth were pulled during my freshman year of college. The removal went well. The recovery process did not. Apparently codeine is not on friendly terms with my system.

creativedentalcare.com

The Romans believed since wisdom teeth come in so late they indicate the increase of knowledge. So removing them indicates we lose some of our wisdom? There might be a plausible correlation to this thought actually.

Take It With a Grain of Salt

gingersoftware.com
Another Roman story concerns itself with salt. Pompey, general and colleague of Julius Caesar, had a solution to the possibility of poisoning: “take a grain of salt to complete the relief.” Maybe that’s why we say “take it with a grain of salt” when we receive something distasteful.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Around 2500 years ago Aesop wrote a fable about a wolf who wore a sheep’s fleece in order to cozy in with the flock and snag a couple of lamb burgers. Today if someone is described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s best to watch out–this person is decidedly trying to be friendly with ulterior motives.

Image: Americaoutloud.com

One more post and we are done with Why We Say. However, no need for dismay–I found another word origin book on my shelf, and we continue our etymology explorations.

Why We Say: #33–“V”


This month we explore vaccinations, vagabonds, and villains.

Pintrest: “You want me to volunteer for what?”

VACCINES
Cows are the hero in this exploration of vaccinations. Way back when, smallpox was a dreaded disease that disfigured and could be fatal. Interestingly enough, doctors, particularly Dr. Jenner, noticed cows suffered only a mild case of the pox. Someone decided, “You know, by taking a bit of blood from a cow infected with the virus and injecting it into a person, that would probably give that person just a mild case of cowpox.” And because there must have been another astute doctor on this way back when research time, the additional reply might have been:

“Yeah–so if a person gets cowpox, he wouldn’t get smallpox, right? All we need is a volunteer.”

Did they found a willing volunteer or did they do a best Two out of three round of rock-paper-scissors?

By the way the “vacca” in vaccination means cow in Spanish. Consider mooing your thanks to a cow for their contribution to medical science.

VAGABONDS

well-dressed vagabonds

image: britishshakespeare.co.k

 
Before permanent theaters were established in Shakespeare’s time, actors traveled the countryside performing wherever they could. Taking the cue from the Latin “vagaries” meaning “to wander,” these wanderers became known as vagabonds. Eventually the term attached itself to anyone without a fixed home.

VILLAIN

 

image: fanpop.com “Don’t have a cow, Loki. You are a villain.”

Oh those evil people that cause our heroes so many problems: Snidely Whiplash, the Joker, Loki, just to drop a couple of names. Yet, originally there was no evil in the word; in fact, the Latin “villanus” means one who lives on a villa, which was often a farm. A villain was applied to one who worked on a villa or farm. And because these workers were usually poor or of low birth, the wealthy thought these villains to be evil (naturally, right?).

 

Maybe one villain test could be if the bad guy knows how to milk a cow–wait, Loki wears cow horns. Maybe there is something to this after all.

Why We Say: #31 Tumblers, Turkeys, and Turns


Tumblers

There are many ways to categorize people. Dogs or cats? Soccer or football? Gelato or frozen yogurt? And the big one: glass up or glass down in the cabinet?

Housecleaning isn't what it used to be. Four hundred years ago it was even more of a problem. In fact, it was such a problem, especially dust issues, that glasses were designed with a pointed bottom so that when stored they would "tumble" over unless stored rim side down. Having a German mother, however, I do know about house cleaning, so this entry about tumblers took me to wondering just why we store our glassware in the manner of upside down. And yet, I'm wondering about how people actually used the glasses since they couldn't be set on the table. Were there catchers for these tumblers?

Turkey

The Ben Franklin story about wanting the turkey as our national bird is not this story. This story sounds like a bit of a fairytale though. Apparently tradesmen having discovered some birds, guinea hens, and sent them back to England by way of Turkey. Do you see what's going to happen here? When the birds arrived they were naturally named Turkey after the country they were thought to have originated from, which is why when settlers from England arrived to America and saw the natives with birds that looked like turkeys they were called turkeys.

I'm having a difficult time with this one too. Sometimes my little Why We Say… book has some really interesting explanations. Checking it out I found this information: maybe my little book isn't so wrong after all.

 

Taking a few turns…

Turning thumbs up or down

This one is so well known that you probably already know that a gladiator's fate was not always determined by whether he won the fight, but rather how well he fought. Thumbs up–he lived. A turn of the thumb, well, job security as a gladiator was a bit tenuous back then.

Turnpike

Originally, to prevent people from traveling down the road without paying for that privilege, a pike or bar was swung into place. And you thought those little gates were annoying.

Turn the Tables

Just like it sounds, during a certain card game a player could turn the table to replace his perceived poor hand with perhaps a better hand held by his opponent. Wait! That reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon gag (around 3:35–the old carrot juice switcharoo).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOUhGcsHqDM

Why We Say #30: torture, tickling, and toeing the line


 

“This is my lucky day!”

Finding some extra cash, just when a bill is due. Getting that perfect parking spot when running late. Hearing that number called out, the one that matches your ticket stub–these and more examples make someone shout out: “This is my lucky day!”

Surprisingly enough, Napoleon started this expression. He isn’t generally known for his luck. After his defeat, it was discovered he owned a book listing lucky and unlucky days for starting battles. Maybe he got his days mixed up for Waterloo, which has its own expression: “I met my Waterloo,” meaning I met my undoing.

 

Image result for napoleon

image: Wikipedia

Through Fire and Water

“I’m telling the truth–so help me, I am. I’d go through fire and water to prove it.” Heard those words before?

Lying can definitely have its consequences. Telling lies back in Olde England had mortal consequences. If thought to be untruthful, a person could be given two tests. The first involved walking over nine red-hot plowshares. If there still remained some doubt after hot-footing it, then a person would be bound up and dumped in the river. If the person survived the drowning by untying all the binding then he or she had to be telling the truth, since surviving fire and water has to be through Providence.

Tickled to Death

“Well, I’d be tickled to death to house sit your place for a week and take care of your plants and three dogs.” This particular expression alludes to being so pleased that it’s an absolute delight. And be delighted to the point of laughter is pleasant. Who doesn’t want to laugh? Laughing is great fun, right? Then again sometimes what makes us laugh can also be painful.

Tickling, that paradox of pain that makes us laugh, was once considered a form of Chinese torture. The victim would be tickled without mercy. That’s right, dying from laughter. When a person says he or she is tickled to death, maybe second thoughts of what they are really saying should be under consideration.

Image result for tickled to death

image: Etsy

Toeing the Line

This might be a regional expression or one that is outright too old-fashioned to mention, but I do say it or hear it from time to time. Letting someone know he or she needs to get things just right and not go beyond expected boundaries makes sense when applying this saying as it derives from when boxers had to step up to a designated mark on the floor as they faced up before fighting each other. Not that I expect to knock anyone out, but I do appreciate everyone that know where things stand. Hmm, is that like drawing a line in the sand? Gotta look that one up.

Why We Say #29: taking and talking


Taking a back seat can just take the cake sometimes, especially when talking turkey about telling a gag.

Taking a Back Seat
In England’s Parliament, members of power get the front seats, kind of a ringside view of the political show, while those members who are in the minority power must contend with the seats in the back, and probably don’t get to contribute in the same manner.   So when we tell someone to “take a back seat” we are basically letting him or her know that they don’t have the main say. Although back seat drivers are known for having quite a bit to say. Here are some back seat quotes to consider:

Image result for take a back seatImage result for take a back seat

Image result for take a back seat

Take the Cake
Remember once upon a time when there were school carnivals with all those wonderful games, including the cake walk? Moving around the circle hoping your number was called after the music stopped so you could pick your favorite cake from the selections was a definite high point of the evening. After the surprise of getting your number called you got to take the cake home–that’s pretty special, winning a cake. And so it goes with the expression: it’s pretty special, even amazing, when someone or something “takes the cake.”

Image result for take the cake

Moving on from taking to talking…

Talking Turkey
Early American settlers trading with Native Americans were not always interested in bargaining for anything offered but turkey. Turkey was a new type of meat, and many a settler had developed a taste for the bird. Getting right to the talk of trading for turkey, without having to sift through other trading talk, meant “talking turkey,” getting right down to the facts, the serious business. Some may not quite understand that talking turkey is serious stuff….

Image result for talk turkey

northstonerealestate.com

Which leads us to telling a gag
Telling a joke, a “gag,” stems from the days when performers would save the situation when one partner would forget his or her lines by filling in the moment with a quick joke. This quick save avoided an otherwise awkward silence and helped the stricken partner regain the forgotten lines. The filler joke was referred as a gag, since gags were used as silencers. There are some great entertainers who knew all about great jokes:

Image result for tell a gag

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Say #26:rolling and ruling


Two quick “r”s before moving on to the S section:

As a teacher I must adhere to a couple of musts and one of those is taking attendance. I still find myself referring to it as “taking roll” which brings to mind me in a drill sergeant uniform and yelling out last names of my students as they stand at attention at their desks before sitting down to receive instruction. Now there’s a movie in the making, I know there is. Kind of a GI Jane meets Dead Poets Society. Wait a minute–I think Michelle Pfeiffer did it already. Never mind.

Seriously, taking attendance or taking roll, is a must-do within the first ten minutes of class. I have to scamper over to my desk computer and make sure all my darlings are in plus before dishing out my lesson du jour. So where did roll call come from?

Back in the day before books were bound, important documents were rolled up sheets of parchment, eventually become rolled paper. When a group assembled and the need to know who was present and who was not, the one taking attendance would unroll the paper and call out the names. Aah–so attendance and roll taking are in cahoots. I have a role in taking roll. I’ll take mine with cinnamon, thank you.

Image result for cinnamon roll

image: livestrong.com (I wouldn’t mind attending to these rolls…)

Teachers make judgments all the time. Sometimes I have time to make a quantitative decision based on fact and experience, no science involved at all, while other times I take a rule of thumb measurement and hope for the best. Seat of the pants decision making–but that term is somewhere in the S zone coming up.

Rule of thumb–an odd little expression that harkens back to the days when people measured not with accurate tools but with their body parts. Yes, the ark was built with elbow power (check out cubit sometime). In this case thumbs and fingers measured a given unit. It probably wasn’t as accurate as a measuring tape or a ruler, but if those are invented yet a person improvises. Yes, improvised decisions are called rule of thumb.

Image result for rule of thumb

You know something–why we say these sayings do make more than sense. Although putting a crown on my thumb would be kind of weird.

From Super-size to Bite-size


With summer vacation officially starting for me I decided to attack my office and tidy up the mounds of paper that has been accumulating through the year. This is both a needed chore and also serves as a means of procrastination. I know I should be sitting down and actually getting back to those writing projects. Like that cow joke book…

Cows can wait momentarily, for I found treasures to share.


[Zits points out that literature, and I will extend this to quotes, is a matter of perspective] 

Every year in September I attend the local SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference. My main goal is have a manuscript professionally critiqued by an editor or agent (who will be so delighted with my writing that I am offered a contract on the spot). Another goal is network and source gather. Both are conducive to bettering my writerly skills.

One workshop handout proved too fun to toss.The idea is to take a well-known quote and make it more relatable to teens by translating into more YAish language. Here is their example:

“When today fails to offer the justification for hope, tomorrow becomes the only grail worth pursuing.” Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Here’s their translation: “Some days it’s hard to see the point of it all, so you have to wait for tomorrow and hope by then there’ll be something worth waking up for.”

I don’t know about you, but I can see this opening up a YA book that will be full of angst, humor, a touch of romance, and maybe even a bit of defiance.

YA is one genre that I would like to get out there into the hands of readers. There must be room for another John Green. I’m working on getting my YA voice down, and that’s the point of this exercise. Tell you what, rate me on whether I’m even close.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Time
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires–we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome.”

C.Muse translation:
“If I can’t see the silver lining, I’m still gonna carry an umbrella.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.”

C.Muse translation:
“The world wants to suck your joy, just like vampires, and vampires aren’t exactly EMTs.”

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

C.Muse translation:
“Life is too short to be hanging on to bruises–get over it and go have a bagel.”

Quotes of great possibility I didn’t get to:

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever know.” 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It was actually pretty entertaining to listen to everyone’s interpretation. As I recollect my vampire translation received a few polite guffaws. Does that mean it was perceived as a home runner or just a bummer?

I do have a couple of YA manuscripts I plan on revisiting and sending out on their “please-publish-me” tour.

Blue Skies and hope your summer is also off to a spiffy start.

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: