Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 1

I’m sure that you’ve heard some sweet Southern lady say, “well bless your heart.” And based on whatever part of the United States that you are from, you have heard many interesting colloquial sayings or idioms that we use but don’t put that much thought into their actual meaning. Sadly most of us don’t put in the elbow grease to dig deep into the background and find out the actual meaning of these colorful additions to our lexicon. Well thankfully for you, I’m just nosey enough and love the English language enough to have a true conviction to want to know. Make sure you read all of the 10 part investigatory series to find out the meaning behind the most commonly used idioms in the United States.

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In our first blog of the series, we’ll investigate the history behind some extremely interesting idioms and colloquial phrases: “Just in the Nick of Time“, “Well I’ll be John Brown/Browned“, “Bury the Hatchet“, “Butter someone up“, “Mad as a Hatter” and “More than you can shake a stick at”.



“Just in the Nick of Time” – 

Origin: Despite what it seems, arriving in the ‘nick’ of time does not involve a guy named Nick. In 13th and 14th century England, the idiom ‘in the nick of time’ appeared and the nick was meant to represent a notch or small cut. This is synonymous with precision timing. These notches or tally marks were used to measure time or to keep score in a game. As time went on these ‘nicks’ referred to the pre-marked ‘nicks’ on a watch or clock that keeps the watch precisely adjusted.

Meaning: To be ‘just in time; or arrive at ‘the precise moment’.



“Well I’ll be John Brown/Browned” – 

Origin: You have most likely heard the colloquial phrase “Well I’ll be John Brown/Browned” if you live in the South. You would think that to have such a specific name in a phrase must have its origins to a specific person. If you wondered that, then you would be right. John Brown was an abolitionist in the 1800s who attempted to lead a slave rebellion by raiding the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This led to John Brown’s hanging in 1859. The use of the phrase “I’ll be John Browned was used to mean that someone’s involvement in something would lead to their hanging and/or imminent death. Years went by and people used the term to mean that they would be damned. When using the current terminology, “Well I’ll be John Brown” is interpreted that that something is a surprise.

Meaning: “Well I’ll be d*mned”



“Bury the hatchet”

Origin: The figurative expression of ‘burying the hatchet’ is based on a literal custom. Early American Indian Chiefs, upon reaching a peace agreement, would quite literally bury weapons to signify the peace between the two tribes. The literal ‘burial’ of the hatchet would mean that they would not have a way to fight one another, after the articles of peace had been agreed upon.

Meaning: To settle the differences between adversaries.



“Butter someone up”

Origin: For many years, it has been the belief that to ‘butter someone up’ meant that you were laying on flattery as thick as butter on bread but the idiom is actually much older than that. The idiom is actually based on an ancient Indian custom of ‘throwing balls of ghee (a clarified butter used in Indian cooking) at the statues of the gods’ to receive blessings from them. The Tibetan people also created butter sculptures during New Year (a tradition which can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty) to receive peace and happiness during the next year. SO the idiom buttering someone up actually refers to the quite literal ‘buttering’ of gods.

Meaning: To flatter someone in order to receive special favor.



“Mad as a Hatter”

Origin: You may have thought you knew where this one came from but the origin will surprise you. Lewis Caroll’s book Alice in Wonderland, may have had a Mad Hatter (quite literally a hatter who was mad) but the origins of the idiom ‘mad as a hatter’ finds its origins in 17th and 18th century France. In 17th century France, mercury was used to aid in forming hat felt. The hat makers would become poisoned and the symptoms made the hatters appear to be mad. The “Mad Hatter Disease” thusly was used as term of mental instability and thusly the ‘mad as a hatter’ idiom was born.

Meaning: To appear to be mad/crazy.


“More than you can shake a stick at.” 

Origin: The origin of the idiom ‘more than you can shake a stick at’ is two fold. The idiom had been a shepherding term that referred to a shepherd/farmer who had more sheep than they could control/count with their wooden staff. This was the origin of the phrase but American generals in the Revolutionary War started using the expression to justify a battle loss after George Washington waved a ceremonial wooden sword over the British troops that they had recently defeated. The generals would say that ‘they had more men to fight than you could wave a stick at’ to make an excuse for their failure on the field of battle. Over time the idiom began to be used to reference an excess or abundance of something.

Meaning: Having an over abundance of something; immeasurable.


Make sure that you check out “Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 2”.


 

Images: Book stacks in Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University by and accredited to Ragesoss – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4867448

Top Cat’s Tuesday Top Ten: Westerns

Please note that I said Westerns not Westeros or Westerners. I am speaking of the movies which showcased the American old West. Romantically showcasing the nomadic cowboy or revenge seeking gunfighter whose revolver and horse are all that he has to his name. Stetson hats and cowboy boots. Shooting bandits and saving cowardly townsfolk. Sounds western-movie-historyAexciting right? The ‘Wild West’ has been a popular mode of entertainment as far back as people have been ‘going west’. The novelas or mini book depictions showcased the heroic lawmen and brandish outlaws in such a grandiose fashion that readers were hooked. The simple morality tales stretched the saint like status in an almost Arthurian style. These Western Knights held their brand of honor stood for justice. Radio shows/stars like the Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy popularized the airwaves with their stories of Western life until the big and small screen (Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, etc) made the Western a worldwide phenomena. Much like the radio shows, books and news articles; the early western movies depicted life in the American West. They showcased the struggles of the inhabitants of these inhospitable areas of New Mexico, Texas or other western location.

The western morphed and changed due to advances in technology but mostly kept the same premise. The Spaghetti Western, which is a subgenre of the Western films that emerged in the mid-1960s  after Sergio Leone’s patented style which showcased the infamous Clint Eastwood. The Western grew in popularity in the 1960s, 1970s and until this day. Since my father was a huge fan of the Western, I grew up watching Westerns and love them to this day. So here is my Top Ten favorite Westerns of all Time.

Top Cat Top Ten: Westerns

10.  The Revenant (2015)

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9. Open Range (2003)

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8. High Plains Drifter (1973)

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7. Young Guns (1988)

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6. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1978)

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5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

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4. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

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3. For a Few Dollars More (1965)

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2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1968)

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1. Tombstone (1993)

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Honorable Mentions: Proposition; Pale Rider; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Coming soon to theaters: The Magnificent Seven

Thor’s Thursday Tour

rainbow bridge.jpgThor is a busy god. One day he’s out fighting the Clone Ragnarok with the Hulk on Planet Hulk after recapturing his conniving brother Loki back into prison only after meeting up with Jane for a date on the French Riviera. Thor needs a vacation. But not just any vacation will do for our blonde hair future king of Asgard. Nay nay. We need a vacation fit for a king. Thor walks to the end of the Rainbow Bridge and Heimdall knows exactly where Thor should go.

museum .jpgThor lands down in Cherokee, NC amongst the beautiful trees of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He takes a breath of fresh air and starts to take in his surroundings. He travels to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to learn about the history of the people who live in this area. He walks through the streets and sees the shops but as we all know, Thor’s biggest enemy is his stomach. He has to find food fast and sees the Kobe Express of Cherokee and Thor tastes some of the most delicious sushi that he has ever had in his life.

harrahs.jpgHe fills his barren belly and sees a large building in the distance. He gets closer to find that it is the Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino.  He enters the facility after booking a room and tries his luck at the video slot machines. As Thor is an intelligent creature, he is angered when he does not win but he is relentless. Thor continues on and finds himself at the card tables and just strikes even. Thor realizes that he is hungry again and his card dealer tells him about the grand Chef’s Stage Buffet.

Thor stuffs himself with steak, seafood, and everything else that his hunger could desire.

He walks himself back to his luscious motel room in the Soco Tower and relaxes on the comfortable queen sized bed.

He awakens to begin his day again and finds his way to the breakfast buffet where he instructs the chef that he should probably bring out another pan of bacon. As he stares out the window at the beautiful stream that flows beside the hotel, he doesn’t think he ever wants to leave.

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