cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “idioms”

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…

 

 

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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

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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: #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 #18: A bit about giving


Last month was all about getting, so this month we’ll focus on giving.

1. Giving the slip

Mercutio accused Romeo of giving his homies the slip after the Capulet party. So even in Shakespeare’s time there is mention of needing a fast getaway when the occasion called for one.

In actuality, ships coming into port would anchor by slipping a rope through a hawse pipe, the metal piece attached to the ship’s bow. If the captain needed to leave sooner than anticipated, he simply let loose the rope and slipped away silently to sea. I betcha Cpt Jack Sparrow knows about that one.

Heave ho, maties, give them the slip. iimage: BrassGlass/Morguefile

2. Give a wide berth

Speaking of ships coming and going–if a ship leaving the dock , or berth, knew they might be passing next to a ship being detained for health reasons, as in plague or epidemic concerns, they would give that ship wide passing. In other words, they would steer clear so they wouldn’t get near whatever was being feared.

Aargh, give them scurvy dogs a wide berth. image: BrassGlass/Morguefile

3. Giving the cold shoulder

Oh, we’ve been there, haven’t we–you know the feeling, that uncomfortable twinge of being snubbed, especially when you thought you would be ever so warmly received. Well, today you might just get subtly ignored, but if you lived in medieval France you would end up with cold cuts. That’s right, if you weren’t on the A list and you showed up to the party, instead of that yummy slice of venison, pheasant, swan, or whatever was on the best list of entrees, you would get the cold shoulder slice of lamb or beef. But wait a minute, I gladly purchase lamb and don’t mind it cold. Maybe that explains why I’m oblivious when people ignore me at dinner parties.

Moral: don’t be late or it’s a cold plate image:MaxStraeten/MorgueFile

Until next month… Be careful what you say until you know why you are saying it.

Why We Say: #16


This round involves some flash and splash in terms of remberance…

Flash in the Pan
We know the story: a new talent comes on the scene, everyone is appropriately dazzled, and whist and fizzle, the name fades from view. The expression “flash in the pan” comes from 17th century muskets and how the flint sparks ignited the powder in the loading pan. The powder, like flashy talent, gave off a spark, yet had no significance or long-lasting effect.

these guns were fairly flashy in their day image: revwarheart/Morguefile

Flirtation
Flirting is a behavior most associated with women, although I’ve known a few men who can rustle up the attraction factor as well. However, I don’t think too many men would consider waving a fan about to get attention, which is from where our term of “flirting” originates. Women desiring the attention of available men at dances, balls, or other gatherings would practice the fine art of waving or flirting their fans about. Fans are out, but flirting is still in play today. Perhaps words and actions have replaced the fan’s muted motions.

Pennywise (Morguefile) might be suggesting that someone fanning this about would definitely attract attention

Forget-Me-Not

These sweet little flowers have a sad story image: Jusben/Morguefile

These are garden favorites of mine. Every year I faithfully sprinkle out seeds and hope for the best. Not as many pop up as I hope, yet once planted they perk up the summer landscape with their multitude of blooms. Now that I’ve discovered their story I appreciate them even more. I’ve added a wee bit more to the snippet I found:

Once upon a time, (like all great German tales start), a dedicated knight decided to surprise his lady-love. Making his way down to the banks of the Danube river he began to pick a bouquet of the blue-star flowers that grew there. So intent was he upon gathering the flowers that he did not notice how close he was to the edge of the riverbank. Alas, the ground gave way and he fell in. Being a fighter and not a swimmer, he found himself being swept away by the river’s current. His lady-love rushed along the riverbank, yet she was not a swimmer either. Before the river claimed the gallant knight he tossed the remaining flowers he held in his hand towards his lady and called out “Vergiss mein nicht” asking her to “forget him not.” It’s said the lady never married and instead of black she wore the gentian blue of the little flower, as her way of always remembering her lost knight.

Next time we’ll look at different ways a person gets burned…

Why We Say: #15


Watercooler chatter: “That new CEO doesn’t do much, does he?”
“Yeah, bit of figurehead, I figure.”

Today’s lesson involves some sailing knowledge. First, it’s important to know the front, the bow, from the back, the stern. The bow would be decorated with some sort of figure which actually is fairly interesting (go on–have a peek). They didn’t serve any real purpose, but they sure made the ships look imposing, important, regal, at times intimidating. There is also the thought that a figurehead, as in politics and business, can be controlled by other forces, much like the figurehead on the ship is controlled by the sails or other power. Hmm, is there a connection between these two figures in terms of being figureheads?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  Elizabeth II greets NASA GSFC employees, May 8, 2007 edit.jpg (I think highly of the Queen, BtW)

Any Laurel and Hardy fans out there? You might recognize this saying, “This is a fine kettle of fish you’ve gotten us into.” If you recall, this was flustered out by Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel after some frustrating incident. But why a kettle of fish? Maybe Ollie had some Scottishishness about him and was recalling how fishermen thought they could coax the best flavor out of the fish by cooking them right on the spot in a large kettle. They must have known the secret of cooking up a fine kettle of fish, since no one else could replicate it. Hence, from then on “a fine kettle of fish” is actually referring to a mess instead of success.

 

Singing in the Rain is a personal favorite, especially all those great song and dance numbers by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. How about this one:

Why “fit as a fiddle?” Kelly and O’Connor might not have realized they were referring to boxers, the fighters (not the dogs) in their ditty. Apparently the original expression was “fit as a fiddler” because boxers had to be in top condition in order to go a few rounds in the ring. Wait, a minute, Gene and Donald must have known that to be “fit as a fiddle and ready for love” they would have to be ready to fight for their love. Makes sense…

 

(images from Morguefiles and Wikipedia)

 

Why We Say: #14


Facing the music. For most of us that does not mean we are a conductor or going to a concert. Usually it means we have messed up and are about to deal with our consequences. Wait a minute–music is considered pleasant. Wouldn’t facing music be pleasant? Not if the band is playing and you’re in the line up for the firing squad. And the band played on takes on a whole different meaning.

 

“So, Eddie–what’s with the guy in the blind fold over by the wall?” image: morgue file

The scene: a business exec, clad in suit enters suburban home circa 1950s and excitedly greets wife stirring up dinner at the stove.

“Hey, Martha! Guess what, honey? You’re looking at the guy who just landed the Happy Holstein account. Get ready for some serious vacation time once my commission check comes through.”

“Oh, George! That’s wonderful, dear. That’s quite a feather in your cap. You worked hard to get that account.”

Fade out: happy couple celebrates over dinner and raised glasses of cheer and smiles.

George was fairly pleased with himself, and deservedly so. That Holstein account involved many overtime hours to get the right campaign ready for presentation. George placed his figurative feather in his cap for his achievement. If George had lived in the days of Edward the “Black Prince” (think the nice prince Heath Ledger’s William character faced in Knights Tale), he would have received three ostrich feathers for his valor or perhaps he would have fared well as a Lycian soldier who added a feather to his cap for every enemy soldier vanquished. Either way George can be pleased how he absolutely slayed that tough assignment.

 

George rocks his cap feather. image: morgue file

fi·as·co
fēˈaskō/
noun
 a thing that is a complete failure, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way.
“his plans turned into a fiasco
synonyms: failure, disaster, catastrophe, debacle, shambles, farce, mess, wreck
If George had blown the Holstein account he might have arrived home with the glum, instead of glad news, that his day had been a fiasco. Fiascos should be avoided, especially if one’s profession is a Venetian glass maker. Venetian glass is exquisite and craftsman pride is evident in the end product. If the slightest flaw became detected, the bottle was relegated to a common task which took on the name of “fiasco.” If you think about it, some mistakes can be as transparent as glass.

“Quartet of Fiascos” image: morgue file

A band of feathers and faulty glasses brought to you by Why We Say: a Guidebook to Current Idioms and Expressions and Where They Came From by Robert L. Morgan (if 1953 is considered current…)

 

 

Why We Say: #13


Today we learn about earning our salt, eating humble pie, and listening in on conversations.

“He’s worth his salt.”
“Oh, she earned her salt today, that’s for sure.”

Hear of these expressions? If so, then you know it’s in reference to someone who is worth the amount of money they are being paid. In fact, the word “salary” is derived from the Latin word “salarium” which refers to the old Roman practice of providing soldiers their daily salt allowance. A soldier earning his salt ration was earning his keep.

This soldier is looking forward to his salting his paycheck away for a rainy day.image: morguefile

 

 

 

Have you ever had to eat humble pie? You know what I’m talking about–that moment when you’ve been humiliated or had to admit you were wrong. Not a great feeling, but it beats having to eat real humble pie, which is actually the “umbles” or the liver and organs of deer. Yummy–right? Yup, back in the day when English noblemen trotted around bagging deer while hunting, they saved the best for themselves and left the less desirable umbles for the servants. The servants wanting to make their leftovers a bit more tasty would pack the dear bits of deer into a pie. I suppose it would be rather humbling to eat this culinary fare.

“I wonder if Radio would be saying ‘Where my pie?'” on this flavor of the day?” image:morguefile

 

Eavesdropping has taken on a more sophisticated form of listening these days due to the Internet and its penchant for hacking in on conversations. Yet, in the way old days, going back to England, a law existed where houses had to have enough room for the eaves to drip on the owner’s property. It was quite easy to stand in these spaces under the eaves to listen in on inside conversations. People got the inside scoop by being outsiders. Not much has changed, has it?

Not everyone is interested in the wayward tidbit that comes floating by. image: morguefile

 

Why We Say #12


Continuing on with our foray into unveiling the meaning behind those idioms we know (or not know) so well…

 

Jimmy Cagney voice: “You’ll never take me alive, copper.”

Gotta love those vintage gangster movies. Tommy guns blazing, trench coats, peroxide gun molls, and the dedicated police officers. “Copper” or “cop” an Americanism for police officers, actually owes it origins to London. Police uniforms of London’s finest were once adorned with large copper buttons–I wonder are they still?

I’m looking to get a cord of wood to bolster against winter’s chill. Red fir is the preferred wood by the MEPA’s standards and it has to be cut an irregular 14″ due to our small stove. Wait–what exactly is a cord? At one time a cord or string was used to measure a stack of wood to make it equal _____ feet long, _____ feet wide, and ______ feet deep. Got the answers? Try 8, 4, 4.

However, I still have to round up the wood before I can measure and it might be a wee late in the season to secure my snap, crackle, and poppers for the long winter nights. Presto logs just don’t lend the same ambiance.

Now, this is what I call combining a bit of fun with a full day’s work. Image: http://www.lumberjocks.com

“Oh, don’t give me those crocodile tears. You’re not really hurt.”

Crocodile tears–fake crying–insincere remorse–hypocritical sadness. We attribute that empty crying to being as empty as crocodiles shedding tears as they chomp down their victims. Wait–do crocodiles really cry? Apparently it’s been witnessed that these primitive reptilian cry when they are snacking? Try out this link. It’s more complicated than my little Why We Say book explained. Crocodile tears do make for some great social commentary:

image:kmuw.org

 

 

Why We Say: #11


Cold Feet

Maybe this falls into the TMI category, but I wear socks at night. My tootsies get cold, and cold tootsies prevent a good night’s sleep. However, having cold feet and being accused of having cold feet have two very different meanings.

The scene: Two soldiers from the 19th century are standing around on the battlefront and they are freezing cold, like most soldiers in winter.

“So, Joe, are you as cold as I am?”

“Yeah, my nose is cold, my ear lobes are cold. I think my eyelashes are frozen.”

“Mine too. I think my toes are frozen.”

“You got cold feet? You should report that. I hear they’re letting us out if we got cold feet.  Can’t fight if you’ve got cold feet, you know.”

“You’re right. Thanks for the tip. You know I could see how this could be considered an excuse for not standing your ground and fighting.”

“Yeah, I can see your point, Horace. Cold feet, cold courage. Whoa, look lively–incoming. Remind me to loan you a pair of extra socks. The missus sent me some handmade woolies in the last package.

“You’re a real buddy, Joe.”

“Don’t mention it.”

 

Well, maybe Joe and Horace could have had a similar conversation standing around in some frozen field as they stood around soldiering.

Cold feet. I still hear that expression today. That reluctance to do something because we are a bit nervous, or lack that needed chutzpah to grab the opportunity does seem to create a coldness in our extremities. I don’t think wool socks always is the solution either.

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