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Archive for the category “Words”

DOWOs: the “B” list


If new to DOWO, it stands for Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond, which is a new source for exploring all those words, expressions, idioms, and clichés that abound in our language having thoroughly explored our previous source Why We Say.

If you were here last month around the fifteenth, you know we have already covered the “A” list. We are now off exploring the “B” list:

Why is the four year degree called a “bachelor’s” degree?

Originally a bachelor was a soldier, a man neither old enough or wealthy enough to lead into battle under his own banner, and was considered to be inferior in status. When colleges became more popular, to distinguish between the levels of study and awarded degrees, “bachelor” was the indicated inferior to that of “doctor.”

No mention of how “master” came to be, and it is of note that a “master” is lower than a”doctor” designation, yet “master” does carry more significance than a “mister” status.

How did “taking the back seat” come to mean taking a lesser position?

British Parliment dictates that those members of the majority part take the front seats while those in minority are relegated to the back, or are told to do so. In case you are wondering if it is “back seat” or “backseat” here is the discussion:

Where did the term “bankrupt”come from?

In Italy money-changers placed money available to loan on a banca or bench. If unable to continue in business, the bench would be broken or banca  rotta. The broken bench became synonymous with the broken money lender and both were banca rotta or “bankrupt.”

What is a “bare-face lie?”


To tell a lie without having show your face is much easier than having to face someone and tell a lie, as in trying to keep a straight face while communicating a big fat fib.

Why is an airship called a “blimp?”

It was almost called “A-limp.” In 1914 England began testing airships, and of the two designs the “B-limp” rose to usage. Why “limp?” It was non-rigid–but you guessed that right?

What is meant by “once in a blue moon?”


Blue moons supposedly never happen, which was the original saying. However, moons can appear blue when seen through volcanic explosion ash, so maybe, just maybe a blue can be seen–but just barely. They are fairly rare and their appearance may only happen once in a person’s lifetime.

Why does a person “bone up” for exams?

The Bohn publishing printed up study aids for students which were referred to as a “Bohn up” later becoming a “bone up” as a play on “bonehead” meaning a person who wasn’t smart (because you must have a thick skull and no brains if you need extra help studying).

What is meant by “getting down to brass tacks?”

In early England draper shops the draper placed brass tacks along the counter to aid in measuring off material. When a customer was ready to purchase cloth the draper would get the desired stock down to the brass tacks to measure off and complete the transaction.

Where did the term “bus boy” come from?


The Latin term omnibus means “for all.” An “omnibus boy” was a lad who did a bit of everything, and it became shortened to “bus boy.”

Which saying totally made your day, tweaked your paradigm, or prompted you to immediately want to run out and share with someone?

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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.

Word Nerd Confessions: July


I do indeed love words. Discovering a new-to-me word makes my day shine a bit brighter. I store that word away, like a hamster discovering a tasty morsel, I grab it up and stuff it in my little pouch for later. And what’s so cool, is how that word pops out out of my pouch unexpectedly in the right place, in the right way. Well, mostly. I tend to suffer from cacoepy–that’s another post in of itself.

I have been storing up words ever so long I need to do something with them. They are absolutely stacking up and creating a bit of dilemma of storage. My plan is to trot out a few choice words each month. If you have a word to share, please do.

armamentarium

I long to use this word, yet fear my tongue would trip dramatically over its pronunciation.

flexitarian

This is me! I’m thoroughly perplexed by all the varieties of eating preferences these days, not relating to locavore, vegan, and such–but veggies with a tad of animal (just a tad) is fine and dandy.

transmundane

As a Who-ligan, I can relate to going where no person has gone before. Warm up the tardis, Doc.

benedict

Are you kidding me? Do people know about this one? Did they tease Cumberbatch when he got married?

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 #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.

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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….

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

POM: February


Just a wee past Valentine’s Day, yet I thought I would let all the mush bucket poetry have its spotlight. I offer up Yeats for February:

 

Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes,
The poets labouring all their days
To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze
And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
Before the unlabouring stars and you.

Image result for Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

Academy of American Poets image

 

This a love poem for poets. Yeats expresses well how poets work their words to exalt the beauty found in rhyme and rhythm. Not exactly Valentine’s Day–which is why I waited. This is a poem for lovers who love words. And that’s all year round for me.

Why We Say #26: ‘Tis the Season or here’s to muddying meanings


Between putting our votes in and putting up the mistletoe there are words we banter around that no longer mean what they once meant.

For instance:

Season: from the Middle English “seson”, which originally referred to spring, the time for sowing. “Season” is now extended to four times of year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. I actually live in an area that recognizes a fifth season, one that is situated between the last snows of winter and the downpours of spring. We call it “Mud.”
Transitioning from seasons to secrets:
Secretary: a good secretary can keep a secret, and there were a good many secrets floating this last election season. Maybe the mud season applies to election years as well. Never mind…. However, the word “secretary” is derived  from “secrets” because appropriately enough, a secretary dealt with his or her employer’s private papers, which no doubt contained some clandestine concerns.

Moving from secrets to secret agendas:

Senate: in Roman times the senate was comprised of one hundred men who tended to be on the elder side of life having accrued a wealth of experience and wisdom. It makes sense then that senate is derived from “senis,” not to be confused with “senile,” of course not. 

And that brings us to another politically oriented term:

Shake hands: skaking hands signals agreement, courtesy, acknowledgement, and friendship. Originally it was a precaution, making sure that the other person wasn’t reaching for his sword with his other hand. Wait, wasn’t Caesar in the process of shaking hands with members of his Senate when he was stabbed? So much for trust and knowing what the right hand and the left hand are doing.

This moves us to consider–

Showing one’s true colors: to avoid suspicion pirates would raise up the colors of a friendly nation and once they pulled up alongside a ship they decided to plunder, they would raise their true colors of their pirate ways. Hmm, the political connection seems to be still afloat.

Speaking of evil:

Sinister: it’s only been in recent years that being a lefty is considered somewhat of a notable distinction. Back in the Roman days (difficult leaving our ancient roots), the left side was considered unlucky and even “sinister.” Anything menacing or wrong would be designated as sinister. In fact, the idea of left being wrong (and not right) is found in other languages such as the French’s “gauche” attached to the idea of committing a gaffe or error.

That leads us to:

Snooper: from the Dutch verb “snoopen” referring to the practice of eating sweets without getting caught, so it makes sense to noun this verb into a snooper or snoop. 

This makes me wonder if a sinister senate secretary is willing to show his or her true colors when caught out as a snoop. Watch out if the offer to shake hands is mentioned as as an acknowledgment of the season of goodwill and glad tidings. See–mud still applies. 

Morguefile image

Rocking Out on Being Stoned


Nope. This is no expose on Mick Jagger. We’re looking into semantics today.
Did you know when you are picking up souvenir rocks at the beach you are actually picking up stones? Truly.

Rocks from morguefile
We may only think that “rock” and “stone” are interchangeable. They technically aren’t, yet like most of our language, we throw actuality out the window and go for ease of saying.

Stones by morguefile
Here are the distinguishing facts:

Rock: Usually large, immovable natural material made up of one or more minerals that is hard or soft in composition.

Stone: Most often a harder, smaller, moveable mineral matter. 
More clarifications:

A rock is comparatively larger.

A stone is comparatively small.

A rock is not usually moved, being it is part of the earth as in The Rock of Gibraltar. 

A stone can be picked up as in gemstones.

A rock can be hard or soft in material composition.

A stone is hard.

Now–how does that transfer into everyday expressions?

We say, “He’s solid. He’s a rock of strength. He’s immovable, and can’t be swayed.” And right about here is where the Rock of Gibraltar is bandied about.

Looking over the checklist of facts, it looks pretty good, metaphorically speaking.

Let’s move on…

“She’s got a heart of stone.” This is not a compliment. To be solid as a rock is considered a positive attribute; however, your heart should not be hard and it should be movable. Wait, stones are movable. Wouldn’t that mean that person could change her outlook?

Or doesn’t it follow that a rock solid person would have a heart of stone because the heart is a part of the body and is smaller and can be moved more easily?

Bookmark that thought. 

Think about:

A. We collect rocks along the shoreline to perhaps add them to our rock garden.

B. A diamond is a precious gemstone and set in a ring it’s touted as “quite a rock.” [right for gemstone, wrong for rock]

C. Loud electronic music  is considered “rock” and some will enhance the listening experience by being “stoned.” [not sure]

Now that you know the difference, be sure you don’t get caught between a rock and a hard place in your terms.
 

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.

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