Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Best Banned Books

More times than not, when you tell someone not to do something…they are going to want to do it even more after that. This is definitely the case with my yearning to want to read banned books. Governments, school districts and churches (as well as the Office for Intellectual Freedom) are arguing back and forth over what books should be banned. In the past and in different parts of the world, books have been burned or removed 1933-may-10-berlin-book-burningcompletely based on the book’s differing religious or political views. While the Nazis even removed books strictly because they were not of German origin; most books in modern America are challenged by parents in a public or school library because of questionable themes, sexual content, offensive language, or topics that are unsuitable for that age group. Since the American Library Association began in 1990, Stephen King and Judy Blume have surprisingly had the most books challenged or banned.

With that being said, I am sharing with you the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Best Banned Books. This list is based on my favorites out of the banned books list.


10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Reason for Censor: Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Anti-family Themes

Plot: The anti-utopian novel, Brave New World, was originally published in 1932. The novel itself follows the illegitimate son of a governor who, now in a future London, was raised in America and is not aware of the new empire. The book shows the culture-clash that he experiences living under the new set of rules and the author propounds that the economy and lack of jobs will create an atmosphere where the government controls the population through technology and psychological manipulation.

My take: Brave New World may have received mixed reviews early on but it is now ranked as one of the most most significant novels of the 20th century. I read Brave New World in college after reading 1984 and is in line with utopian novels like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. The anticipated actions of the governments in this future environment are not far from the fears that many of us have today. For a mature reader, this novel is a great read.


9. Ulysses by James Joyce

Reason for Censor: Sexual Content

Plot: Ulysses is a modernist novel that chronicles the itinerant appointments and occurrences in the life of Leopold Bloom. The story takes place in Dublin but the novel parallels the life of Odysseus (the hero of Homer’s epic poem Odyssey) and Leopold Bloom. (Example: Joyce alludes the comparison between Bloom’s trip to Bella Cohen’s Brothel and Odysseus’s time with Circe.)

My Take: Despite a 1921 American obscenity trial while being banned and burned in both the US and England in the early 1900s; since its publication, Ulysses is regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history. The writer’s stream-of-consciousness writing technique and beautiful prose writing creates a rich and humorous book. The story definitely has adult themes and sexual content; but is a great read for the appropriate audience.


8. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Reason for Censor: Thematic Elements, Occult/Satanism

Plot: Harry Potter is a series of fantasy novels that chronicles the life of young wizard, Harry Potter and his friends. The story essentially centers around Harry’s growing in his wizardly knowledge and abilities while being threatened by the evil dark Wizard Lord Voldemort; who wishes to not only to rule the wizard and non-magic realms but wants to kill Harry based on his family lineage.

My Take: It took me a while to get on board with Harry Potter. I did think that the book series’s increasingly dark tones, gruesome violence, and occult practices were somewhat questionable early on; after I first read the story I realized that even though some more conservative groups could see the occult tones as questionable, the writer helps readers understand death, prejudice, corruption, and even mental illness. The book series are now a cultural phenomenon; leading to a successful movie series, amusement park attractions and endless amounts of memorabilia.

of mice and men cover

7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Reason for Censorship: Offensive language, Racist Language, Violence, Thematic Elements

Plot: The 1937 novella tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small traveling through California. The two displaced migrant ranch workers move place to place searching for new job opportunities during America’s Great Depression.

My Take: I read Of Mice and Men in school and it is taught in many school systems around the US, but the book is constantly targeted by the censors and is on the American Library Association‘s list of the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century. Though the book’s events are somewhat tragic and most of the characters are truly depressing, it is a wonderful book that displays a sad reality of real life. The depressing nature of the book did lead one critic to challenge the book in one school because of the ‘depressing themes’…but this shouldn’t keep you from reading it.


6. Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Reasons for Censorship: Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited for Age Group, Anti-Family

Plot: The Hunger Games trilogy center around teenagers: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. The novel is set in the dystopian setting of a the country of Panem. The country is made up of the wealthy Capitol and 12 specific districts that in different levels of poverty. Every year, children from the 12 districts are selected to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games, which are compulsory, are an annual televised death match.

My Take: The book was singled out for being overly religious, even though religion nor any deity was mentioned in any of the books. The books depiction of violence is very straight forward and graphically described; but it is tastefully done. The books are very well written and the writer does a good job at causing the reader to become emotionally involved in the story’s characters.


5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Reasons for Censorship: Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Unsuited for Age Group

Plot: The novel centers around Holden Caulfield, a teenager from New York City,  who is living in a southern California mental hospital (or sanatorium) near Hollywood, CA in the 1950s. Holden tells the story of his time at the Pencey Prepatory Academy in Agerstown, PA in which he flunked out of. After many altercations, he decides to leave to go home early and stay in a motel in New York City. The story continues as he interacts with different people and the teenage angst and alienation;  before the end of the story where he decides to go to another school and is optimistic about his future.

My Take: There is no denying the impact that this novel has had on popular and literary culture; but the book is definitely not for the younger age groups. The book made Time’s 100 Best English-langauge novels written since 1923 list and is #15 on the BBC’s The Big Read list. While the novel tackles complex topics like losing your innocence, self identity, a sense of belonging, and dealing with loss; the Holden Caulfield character is a very relatable. Though many view the books protagonist as an icon for teenage rebellion; I view him as your average teenager trying to make it in our complex world.


4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Reasons for Censorship: Drug/Alcohol Use

Plot: The books center around a girl named Alice who goes on an adventure. Alice falls through a rabbit hole and enters into a fantastic new world full of very peculiar humans and anthropomorphic creatures. Alice finds herself to hold a pivotal role in the future of world that she has fallen into.

My Take: Though many have hinted at a sexual or lustful relationship between Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and Alice Pleasance Liddell (the little girl whom inspired the story); nothing has ever come to light. In fact, my young adult literature class in college spent about half of the semester dissecting the sexual and literal imagery found in the books. Since the tale was written to the girls, it is more commonly believed that Dodgson was writing it to warn the girls of the life that they will experience as they grow up; and the ‘drink me’ and ‘eat me’ portions of the book could be taken as a precautionary tale of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Either way, the story (taken at face value) is considered to be one of the greatest examples of literary nonsense; and has long been celebrated in popular and literary culture.


3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons for Censorship: Sexual Content, Drugs/Alcohol Use, Unsuited for Age Group, Homosexual Themes

Plot: The epistolary novel is a modern day coming-of-age tale. The novel centers around an introverted teenager named Charlie, who is trying to journeying from the worlds of adolescence and adulthood. Charlie was encouraged to write the letters, of which the novel is comprised of, by his English teacher based on his passion for reading and writing. Charlie is struggling in his first year in high school. The novel takes place after two truly traumatic events take place in his life: the dead of his only middle-school friend and the death of his favorite aunt. Charlie is befriend by two seniors but is shunned by the group after a fallout with a girl. Charlie regains his friends but is anxious about losing his friends when they graduate. The novel explores and talks about many avenues of life, relationships and love.

My take: I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the suggestion of a friend of mine in college (who was also in that Young Adult Literature class where we discussed the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books); and I don’t say this lightly but this book truly touched me. It was a life altering experience. The love and loss that Charlie experiences, along with the hurt and pain that happens to us all during our adolescent years causes an inexplicable bond to be made with the characters. The books themes are not appropriate for younger age groups. The book has been on the top 10 American Library Association banned book list 7 times since publication but I feel that older teenagers…especially we wallflowers, need to read this book.


2. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Reason for Censorship: Violence, Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Thematic Elements

Plot: The story, which is told in nonlinear order with events (taking place via flashbacks or time travel experiences) ranging from his time in the war, to postwar, to his early years. The unreliable narrator, Billy Pilgrim, was an ill-trained, disoriented, and fatalistic American soldier; who refused to fight. The central events of the story is then Prisoner-of-war Pilgrim’s survival during the firebombing of Dresden and his experience with time travel to and from the war and his time spent in the ‘human exhibit’ in an alien zoo.

My Take: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is not only one of my favorite books that has been censored but it is one of my favorite books period. The science fiction-infused anti-war novel is a complicated but amazing read. What I find interesting is that the events of the firebombing of Dresden have been described by Vonnegut as semi-autobiographical. The book’s anti-war sentiment was immensely popular after its publication in 1969 amidst the ongoing Vietnam War, causing the novel to top the New York Times Best Seller list. The sexual acts that are described in the novel may be a bit much for younger readers but older teenagers may appreciate the style of writing.


1. The Holy Bible

Reason for Censorship: Religious Viewpoint, Sexual Content, Unsuited for Age Group, Incitement to Violence

Plot: A canonical collection of sacred texts or scriptures by many different authors that Jews and Christians view as a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between the Judeo-Christian God and humans.

My Take: The United States is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world but it is also home to more challenges to the book that the Christians view as the most holy. The Holy Bible is listed as the sixth most challenged book in America. The ALA, whom I have referenced many times in this report have been collecting information from the books that have been challenged, banned or censored from American schools or libraries since 1990. The ALA has listed many reasons why a book would be banned:

homosexuality, immigration, religious viewpoints, political viewpoint, occult/satanism, antiethnic, prostitution, suicide, evil, Islamic, Unsuited for Age group, Cultural Insensitivity, liberal propaganda, racism, sexual, slavery, gender non-conformity, glorification of criminals, alcohol, drugs, smoking, violence, anti-family, confuses children, promotes perversion, bisexuality, racist to whites, glorifies Islamic Jihad, Nudity, sex, anti-police, abortion, offensive, atheism, and mentions of Allah.

The ALA defines that any challenge is a ‘formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.’ Religious viewpoints is the fourth most common challenge recently, and the Holy Bible is one of the books that is receiving an increasing amount of challenge. Many people view a Bible being in a school library as a violation of the seperation of church and state, while some have complained that some of the topics and content is inappropriate to minors. I agree that some younger children needed to be guided through their reading of the Bible. As a Christian I view the Bible as an important historical, religious and sacred document but if it is just viewed as a piece of literature over an extended amount of time….it is amazing that that many writers could get their stories straight over thousands of years.

Whatever your feelings on censorship, we ultimately have to do what we feel as right; as long as what we feel as right doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. And my right to read something shouldn’t be infringed on because you don’t like something that is in my selected book. But with that being said, if something violates a viewpoint that I do not agree with; I do not want someone forcing my child (or me) to read that piece of text. It’s a complicated situation that we are in, in this day and time where the world around us is constantly changing.



Nazi Book burning in Berlin, May 1933, accredited to Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain (PD-US-unpublished),

Brave New World cover accredited to Source, Fair use,

Ulysses cover, Public Domain,

Crowd outside a book store for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince accredited to Source, (SA 3.0),

Of Mice and Men cover by Source, Fair use,

Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset cover accredited to Source, Fair use,

The Catcher in the Rye cover accredited to Source, Fair use,

Original Cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland accredited to source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

The Perks of Being a Wallflower cover accredited to Source, Fair use,

Slaughterhouse-Five cover accredited Source, Fair use,

Holy Bible image by and accredited to Lyn Lomasi – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Book burning in Chile following the 1973 coup that installed the Pinochet regime accredited to Source, CIA Freedom of Information Act, Fair use,


The Karate Kid: An Actor’s Inconvenient Truth

Karate_Kid_(2944550918)There have been many movies that have had a lasting impact on what would seem like an endless landscape of the pop culture horizon; but none have been as impactful as The Karate Kid. The 1984 classic (which resulted in many sequels and a remake) centered Pat_Morita_1971_publicity_photoaround a bullied teenager from New Jersey; who was having trouble fitting in to his new California home. Daniel is befriended by the handy man that works at theapartment complex that he and his mother have recently moved into. The handy man turns out to be a skilled martial artist and agrees to train Daniel to help him protect himself from the cluster of teenage hooligans that have tormented him. The bond ends up being the best thing for both the teacher and the student.


The movie’s emotional highs and lows, comedic fun and action have caused most of the world to have fallen in love with what is now an 80s classic and one of the most beloved movies of all time. One specific truth to this movie, as well as many movies and TV shows is that the actors that portray certain characters (and act in certain scenes) have the storyline hit too close to home. This is the case for the titular character of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid franchise. As a Japanese American, despite his sickness early on in lossy-page1-595px-Photograph_of_President_Truman_and_other_dignitaries_saluting_during_the_President's_review_of_the_442nd_Regimental..._-_NARA_-_199387.tifhis life, joined his Japanese American family in an interment camp in the United States during WWII. During this time, many Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps while members of their family were fighting for the United States Army in Europe, Italy, southern France and Germany. The 442nd Regiment Combat Team infantry unit was composed almost entirely of soldiers who were Japanese Americans (primarily from Hawaii). With the motto “Go for Broke”, you can see why the 14,000 men that served in the 442nd Regiment earned 9,486 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations, and found 21 of its members receiving Medals of Honor.


Most of the Japanese Americans that fought in WWII were Nisei. A Nisei is a term in the Japanese language used in America to specify the children born in the US to Japanese-born immigrants (which were called Issei); while their grandchildren of the Japanese-born immigrants are called Sansei. These terms are based on the the Japanese words representing the numbers 1 (ichi), 2 (ni), and 3 (san). The immigrant males, shortly after DensonRelocationCampUmbrellaGirlthe Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7th, 1941), were initially categorized as 4C aka enemy aliens (who were not subject to the draft) which was followed months after the attack on Pearl Harbor by President Roosevelt giving the military the authority to create internment camps for people of Japanese ancestry. This forced relocation from their residences to guarded relocation camps where more than 110,000 people from the West Coast (where two thirds were born in the US) were housed and set up martial law in Hawaii (due to the large population of citizens of Japanese history).

In the movie, Mr. Miyagi reveals that he served in the 442nd Regiment Combat Team ofthe United States Army (receiving many medals during his service). This was revealed when Daniel showed up to his house and found a drunken Mr. Miyagi celebrating an ‘anniversary’. It was revealed to be the anniversary of the dual loss of his wife and newborn son due to complications that arose during her childbirth at the Manzanar interment camp while he was in Europe serving in the 442nd Infantry during WWII. This extremely deep moment, brought a deeper reality to the Miyagi character but on the deeper scheme of things, shined a depressing light onto the reality of not only war but the interment camps which are a truly dark part of US history.


Featured Image: The Karate Kid image by and accredited to Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland – Karate Kid, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo by and accredited to George E. Marienthal Enterprises – eBay item photo front photo back, Public Domain,
President Truman and other dignitaries saluting during the President’s review of the 442nd Regimental image by and accredited to Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer”. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration”, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.
USS Arizona attack during the Attack on Pearl Harbor image attributed to Unknown – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 295992.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. Public Domain,
Denson Relocation Camp (Umbrella girl) by Tom Parker – Photograph by Tom Parker for Department of the Interior, War Relocation AuthorityThis media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 539345. Converted from .gif to .jpg and border cropped before upload., Public Domain,
Ron Howard and Pat Morita Happy Days press photo by and accredited to ABC Television Press Relations –, Public Domain,



Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 7

Sometimes the idioms or colloquial phrases that we use in our every day language sound completely ludicrous, but much to our surprise they have very real and amazingly explainable origins. Today we will look into origins and meanings of some of the silliest sounding idioms and colloquial phrases that have pretty unbelievable origins. Today we will look at: Cry crocodile tears, Grandfathered in, What in tarnation, Blowing smoke up your a**, Brand spanking new, and Throwing a hissy fit. 


Cry crocodile tears” – 

Origin: There is an ancient myth that alludes to crocodiles crying while they devour their prey. This allusion is partially due to the fact that the crocodile has a lachrymal gland which produces ‘tears’ that lubricates their eyes just like humans do. The animal does not however show remorse while it is devouring a deer or even a human…so they do not cry as a result of an emotion. There have been stories about this crying myth for many centuries but the first printed references to this myth is found in French reports as far back as 1230. In The Voyage and Travail of Sir John Maundeville, (circa 1400) the writer says that “…there are many crocodiles – these serpents slay men, and then, weeping, eat them…). This is a direct reference to the myth but in the 16th century; Edmund Grindal, the Archbishop of York and Canterbury, used the phrase as it commonly used by saying that: “I begin to fear, lest his humility…be a counterfit humility, and his tears crocodile tears.” So it would appear that the scientific realization that the tears of a crocodile are insincere and thus the phrase made its way across the ocean and has continued on throughout the years.

Meaning: Putting on an insincere show of sorrow.

Grandfathered in” – 

Origin: In the Southern states of the United States, the term ‘grandfathered in’ is used frequently, but if they were to have used it in the late 1800s…it would have had a completely different meaning. The dictionary states that a grandfather clause is ‘a portion of a statute that provides that the law is not applicable in certain circumstances due to preexisting facts’ and the specific grandfather clauses which popularized this phrase were the use of clauses that were originally intended to prevent Blacks from voting. These provisions were adopted by the constitutions of some states and were sought to interfere with an individual’s right to vote by setting forth difficult requirements. The common requirements were ownership of a large amount of land or the ability to read and write portions of the state and/or federal constitutions. The name grandfather clause arose from the exception that was made for veterans of the Civil War. If the veterans were qualified to vote prior to 1866, their descendants were also qualified. This literally, in effect, mean that if a person’s grandfather could vote…then so could they. This of course was created to benefit white Americans and to keep black Americans from voting. Thankfully this was found to be unconstitutional later and Despite the extremely negative past, the phrase has continues to be heard (specifically when your cell phone company wants to tell you about some program that you were grandfathered into).

Meaning: a clause exempting certain classes of people or things from the requirements of a piece of legislation affecting their previous rights, privileges, or practices.

What in tarnation?” – 

Origin: “What in tarnation” was one of those colloquial sayings that was even too country for my family. The euphemistic expression gained popularity in the 18th and 19th century throughout America as a replacement certain four letter explanations which would offend the Puritan ears of that time period. The phrase is similar to the “what in Sam Hill” which strangely enough was NOT named after a guy named Sam Hill. While we do not really know who in the Sam Hill that Sam Hill was or why that saying gained popularity; we do know that ‘tarnation’ is a euphemism that is a modification of the word ‘darn’ation which is a cleaned up version of the word ‘damnation’. The root of the word ‘tarnation’ is a derivative of the word ‘tarnal’ which means ‘eternal’. So…how would the religious invocation of ‘eternity’ be used as a curse? At some point, someone in a moment of high emotion took the word tarnal and joined it together with damnation to say ‘you eternal enemy’. Maybe? Sounds logical to me.

Meaning: Euphemism for the word ‘damnation’.


 “Blowing smoke up your a**” – 

Origin: You’re probably hoping that this figure of speech is not based on anything but I hate to break it to you; its based on a real thing. The figure of speech, which now a days mostly means that you are a insincerely complimenting someone in order to ‘inflate’ the ego of the person being flattered; but back in the 1700s, doctors would quite literally blow smoke up your butt. Believe it or not, it was a regular medical procedure that was used, among many things, to resuscitate people who were otherwise presumed to be dead. It was in fact such a commonly used procedure for drowning victims that ‘smoke blowing equipment’ hung along the River Thames. This equipment was donated so kindly by the Royal Humane Society. Yeah let that sink in. SO….people would keep the ‘smoke blowing equipment’ near swimming holes, much like we keep defibrillators at gyms, hospitals, etc. So….how did it work? Well I’m glad you asked. Smoke was blown up the person’s butt by inserting a tube that was connected to a fumigator which bellowed the smoke into the rectum when compressed. They thought that the nicotine in the tobacco stimulated the heartbeat and that the rectum was a quicker way into the body…than lets say…the nose or mouth. The use of tobacco didn’t just start in the 1700s (early Greeks and Native Americans were using smoke enemas to treat people and animals); but thankfully, over the decades to come, scientists realized that nicotine was toxic to the cardiac system and ‘blowing smoke up someone’s butt’ became a thing of the past.

Meaning: A mostly insincere compliment to boost the ego of the recipient.

Brand Spanking New” – 

Origin: Mostly every single human being on this planet has experienced the origin of this idiom. It happens right after the birth of a baby usually calls for a slight slap on the hind end of the baby to get it to cry…thusly causing the baby to take its first breaths and to stimulate the baby. The practice is not necessarily used anymore but it is a wildly known practice. The other part of this idiom is the use of the word ‘brand’. Most of us think of ‘brand’ as a brand of jeans or our favorite brand of soda but since at least 950 AD, to brand something meant to ‘make an indelible mark of ownership. This practice was usually the name (you get it now) of the person that owned the livestock that received the ‘mark’. So if something if ‘brand new’ then that something has a fresh branding while if something is ‘brand spanking new’…well that means that it is so new that it is baby spanking new.

Meaning: Something that is entirely new.

Throwing a hissy fit” –

Origin: The origin of the idiom or colloquial phrase ‘throwing a hissy fit’ quite literally has two direct links. The term originated during the mid 20th century in the United States and is an expression alluding to someone hissing and spluttering their words during a temper tantrum…or it is just a contraction of the word hysterical. And hysterical is definitely what you are when you are ‘throwing a hissy fit’.

Meaning: A temperamental outburst or tantrum.


Tears of a Crocodile by and accredited to Sankalp Ranjan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A 1776 drawing of a tobacco smoke enema device by Unknown – Medical textbook published in Berne, Switzerland, 1776. Reproduced in André Holenstein (Ed.): Berns goldene Zeit, p.76 [ISBN 978-3-7272-1281-9], Public Domain,

Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 6

Today’s journey into the heart of idiom country will find us in the South. And by South, I do mean the deep South. Most of the colloquial phrases that we will discuss today are phrases that we associate with people from the South. You will hear these exaggerated phrases in movies and TV shows where the person portrayed is from the South. You’ll also hear these colloquial sayings if you hang around your Southern grandmother for any extended period of time. Today we will explore the origins of: Close but no cigar, Break the ice, Finer than frog hair, Lord willing and/As long as the creek don’t rise, Bleed like a stuck pig, and Slicker than whale snot/slicker than snot on a door knob.


Close but no cigar” – 

Origin: You’ve probably heard someone say ‘close but no cigar’ or its variant ‘nice try, but no cigar’ from your Uncle if you’re from the American South or perhaps from anyone else from around the world after the popularization of the phrase. The origin of the phrase is not defined to one specific place and time but in the mid-20th century; fairgrounds, bars, and stores had nickle games that gave out cigars as prizes. The phrase was put in print in Sayre and Twist’s script of the 1935 film of Annie Oakley: “Close, Colonel, but no cigar!” After this it appeared more and more in US newspapers and other publications; causing an increase in popularity throughout the world.

Meaning: Not reaching the successful outcome and thus will get nothing for your efforts.


“Break the ice” – 

Origin: The earliest meaning of the idiom “break the ice” was ‘to forge a path for others to follow’, but the significance of the idiom lies on the water. Well water covered in ice to be more precise. In polar expeditions, there would be a lead boat that was equipped with strengthened hulls and more powerful engines that were used to ‘break the ice’ so that the other boats could follow behind. The term ‘ice-breaker’ began to be a socially used term in regards to initiating conversations with strangers and was even used by Mark Twain in Life on Mississippi: “They closed up the inundation with a few words – having used it, evidently, as a mere ice-breaker and acquaintanceship-breeder – then they dropped into business.” Thank God that Sir Thomas North ‘broke the ice’ in 1579 when he (the first known person to use the term in writing) says in his translation of Plutarch’s Lives on the noble Grecians and Romanes, “To be the first to break the Ice of the Enterprize.” Better yet when Samual Butler used it in Hudibras (1678), “…(a)t last broke silence, and the ice” and popularized the term as it used now.

Meaning: To remove the tension at the opening of a party, once first entering a room, etc.

Finer than frog hair” –

Origin: The idiom ‘finer than/fine as frog hair’ is about as country as you can get. It was one of my late grandfather’s favorite sayings. The idiom dates back to before the mid 19th century and was first in print in C. Davis’s Diary of 1865 in an entry where it is said, “I have a better flow of spirits this morning, and, in fact, feel as fine as frog’s hair, as Potso used to say.” Of course this is merely an ironic reference because…frog’s don’t have hair.

Meaning: Something that is extremely fine; delicate, slender.

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” – 

Origins: The origin for the idiom “as long as the creek don’t rise” or “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” seems like it should be an open and shut case but like most things, we’ll need to let the proverbial wheel roll around a couple more turns until we find the leak. You would think that it is a simplistic reference to the fact that you will be able to do something as long as the water doesn’t rise up and block the bridge that you would have to travel back through; but we would be wrong in thinking this. The idiom has two possible origins. One more complicated than the other. The more complicated is in reference to a quote from Benjamin Hawkins (a Georgia native that lived in the United States during the American Revolution). Hawkins response to the President’s plea for him to return to the capitol was supposedly that he would return “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”. The significance of this supposed statement is that he was supposedly not referencing a specific body of water but was referencing the Creek Indian nation participating in an uprising in that specific part of the country in which he was acting as Superintendent of the Tribes of the Ohio River. There is no proof that he actually said this but it sounds like a spectacularly exciting explanation of the idiom but more than likely the origin is relatively simplistic. The idiom gained popularity in the Appalachian mountains of the United States where occasional and unpredictably rainfall could leave one rural neighborhood or home inaccessible on many occasions.  I’m guessing that the saying was meant to sound something like “I’ll see you next week; as long as the good Lord is willing, and as long as we don’t have an immense amount of rainfall that washes away the bridge or path that connects these two areas” but by dialects ended up sounding something like “Lort willin’ an’ th’ crick don’ rise”.

Meaning: An expression in reference to something happening as long as unforeseen events don’t take place.

“Bleed like a stuck pig” – 

Origin: The idiom “bleed like a stuck pig” has one of the most cut and dry (no pun intended) origins of all. It is literally a reference to the fact that when you cut the throat of a pig set for slaughter with an extremely sharp knife, the cut severs the main arteries (the jugular vein) that disperse blood throughout the body; thus causing the pig to bleed out rapidly.

Meaning: To bleed heavily.


“Slicker than whale snot/slicker than snot on a door knob” – 

Origin: This is another one of those colloquial idioms that do not have a definite origin but is immensely popular in the South of the United States. The two variations are both used but have different, equally disturbing meanings. The first variation “slicker than whale snot” is more than likely in reference to the greasy consistency of whale blubber oil (which was used to make oil for lamps, soap and margarine before the banning of whaling). The second variation, “slicker than snot on a door knob” is literally a quite nauseating way of comparing how ‘slick’ something is to ‘human snot’ being on a solid object. I uh….I am not to fond of that one. Blah.

Meaning: Comparison between a slick surface and that of snot/whale oil to express the extent of the slickness.


Feautred Image – Square Deal Dice Popper Cigar Vintage Gaming machine image courtesy of –
Pilot Boat near Helsinki image by and accredited to Sean Biehle from Cincinnati, OH, USA – Ice Breaker, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Bottle of Whale Oil photo by and accredited to Chris Linardos –, CC BY-SA 3.0,



Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 2


The dialect, idioms and colloquial phrasesIn part one of our ten part series (Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 1), we learned the history of some interesting idioms and colloquial phrases. In Part 2 of our series we will be covering the history behind “Strike while the iron is hot”, “Don’ t throw the baby out with the bath water”, “Down to the Wire”, “Three Sheets to the Wind”, “Down in the dumps”, and “You get the Drift”.

“Strike while the iron is hot”

Origin: The science of metallurgy has been around for thousands of years but certain terms related to this seemingly lost art have been lost throughout the years. To “strike while the iron is hot” is a term that is used heavily in our modern lexicon but few realize that the idiom is directly alluding to a metallurgy practice. A blacksmith or farrier would use a forge (a heater specialized in heating up metal) and upon heating up the piece of metal, would use specialized hammers and tools to shape the metal. If the blacksmith or farrier doesn’t strike while the piece was hot, then the metal would cool (thusly leading to it hardening) and it is impossible to shape the piece until it is heated up again.

Meaning: Take your opportunities when they arise.


“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” 

Origin: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” is a phrase that is not commonly used but we all have heard it. The obscure reference to throwing a baby out with the bathwater is an idiomatic expression derived from a bathing process many years ago where the head or Lord of the household would bathe first, followed by other men, then the lady of the house and other women, then the children, followed lastly by the baby. By the end of the bathing time, the water would be so dirty that a baby could be unseen and could be accidently ‘tossed out with the bathwater’. The practice sounds disgusting but in the 1500s, their personal hygiene practices were vastly different than our current practices. The idiom is taken from a German proverb and the earliest record of the phrase ‘throw the baby out in the bathwater was written by Thomas Murner in 1512. In his book Narrenbeschwörung (the Appeal to Fools or directly translated as the “Fool Incantation”), there is a woodcut illustration of a woman tossing a baby out with the bath water. The very common German catchphrase survived some German’s immigration to America and I guess the phrase just never left us.

Meaning: Don’t eliminate the good while trying to expel the bad.

“Down to the wire” – 

Origin: The idiom “down to the wire” actually has nothing to do with electricity as I always thought it did. I figured that it had something to do with that red wire that the bomb squad guy always had to cut. That that scenario of having something be ‘down to the wire’ was actually not the origin. The origin of the idiom was actually from the early 19th century. In official horse races, the judges would string a small wire across the track (just above the finish line) to help them to visually determine which horse won the race.

Meaning: Waiting until the last minute to do something.

“Three sheets to the wind”

Origin: We’ve all heard someone describe an extremely drunk person as being ‘three sheets to the wind’ but what exactly are they referring to? Well strangely enough the idiom is derived from sailing ships. The ‘sheet’ that they are referring to is the nautical term for the rope that controls the trim of sail. A sail is known to be ‘sheeted to the wind’ when it is set to backfill (which in nautical terminology means that it is set to the opposite side of the ship from normal use). This is bad thing. In a major storm when a ship is ‘hove to’, the helm is lashed to windward and the sails are sheeted to the windward side of the ship (aka sheeted to the wind). As the storm gets stronger, the larger ships that would have three sails, would be rock in the ocean pretty badly because it would have to be sitting sideways in the wind. The wind would be rocking it back and forth and would be in constant danger. Are you seeing the correlation yet? When a person is completely drunk; wildly rolling from side to side and not able to control themselves they are just like a ship during a storm…three sheets to the wind.

Meaning: Completely drunk.


“Down in the Dumps”

Origin: In our modern vernacular, a dump is a place that we go and ‘dump’ our trash; but in medieval times, the term ‘the dumps’ was not actually in reference to a place. The dumps was a commonplace expression that meant sadness and depression. Everyone from Shakespeare to Henry More have used the expression in their writing; but that still doesn’t answer the question as to how the word ‘dumps’ came to mean depression. The word Dumps has two options for its past. The first option is that of a reference to a tale of  King from Egypt who built a pyramid but died of sadness. And his name? Dumpos. This explanation is highly doubtful because this king did not actually exist and only is known through fables. The other explanation would be that England natives of that time had an extremely dense, sad looking pudding called Dumplin. So either explanation could work but there is no definitive story to make either definite.

Meaning: To be unhappy; depressed.

“You get the drift”

Origin: Since the early 1500s, the word drift has also meant purport. If you’re still not clear, the word purport means for something to appear, claim to be something or the substance of something. So the word drift meant for something to be apparent or to appear. The colloquial use of getting of catching someone’s drift is an indication for the reader or listener to not just take what is being read or heard at face value and to use inference to better understand. The term originated in a boating and to ‘catch the drift’ means for other boats to not reprieve the direction of the current, thusly they are ‘catching the drift’.

Meaning: “If you know what I mean”


Narrenbeschworung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner, 1512, Public Domain,


“I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink”

via Daily Prompt: Knackered


The Beatles 1968 self titled album houses a song that has resounded in my mind all day long. “I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink/I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink”. I slept very poorly last night….and I know who/what to blame.

Anthony Burgess, author of one of my favorite books “A Clockwork Orange” said to “Laugh and the world laughs with you; snore and you sleep alone.” As I feel a light punch at my arm, I have heard my wife through gritted teeth IMG_0331say “Chris, roll over! You’re snoring was so loud it woke me up again. You’ve gotta do something about this!” So…why do we snore? My English Bulldog even snores because she has a short nasal passage. Even though I find it quite adorable, it gets annoying right in the middle of my 80th viewing of Roadhouse. So why does something that happens to almost all of us, end up being something that could not only be potentially dangerous to your health but could quite literally kill you added to the fact that it is completely annoying to the 59% of questioned adults who say that their spouses snore. With most of the tested subjects snoring at an estimated 38 decibels, why wouldn’t we as the listeners complain about hearing something that is as loud as your kitchen’s refrigerator? Well the answer to how we stop snoring is convoluted. The answer of ‘why’ can be easily answered.

Snoring is essentially the sound that is produced when your upper airway structure vibrates during inhalation and exhalation. Any membrane that is in the pathOsa_cycle
of this airway (including your tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsils and throat wall can vibrate during this act. While we are asleep, the muscles throughout our body relax. Your throat and tongue are muscles, therefore your airway also relaxes and causes the space that the air has to travel to become tighter and this tightened air space combined with the vibrations cause the lion’s roar that our pets, family members, spouses or room mates hear every night during our time of slumber.

Snoring is not a sickness.  Its not a disease. Its a symptom. Just as a cough is a symptom of the common cold, snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is however a disorder. The restful slumber of a person with sleep apnea is riddled 8TzKqRrXcwith the loud roar of snoring as well as the labored breathing that usually is also riddled with pauses or gasps during the person’s slumber. This obstructed pause results from a COMPLETE obstruction of the airway and sometimes even causes a decrease in our body’s oxygen level. Just like our reaction to someone pinching our noses in the middle of the night, we sleep apnea sufferers terminate this obstruction by waking up. This constant waking and restless slumber leads to fragmented, less restful sleep. Sleep apnea can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of attention span and poor concentration levels.


And if you didn’t catch it earlier, I inferred that I have sleep apnea. I have snored since I don’t know when and I have tortured friends, parents, family, a roommate, my wife, and my child with thunderous snores for as long as I can remember. As I mentioned earlier, obstructive sleep apnea can cause a loss of oxygen in the body but it can also cause increased hypertension and over time can cause extreme damage to your heart and vascular system. I, for one, want to live as long as possible so that I can see my son grow and live out my ‘happily ever after’. The other consequence of the fragmented sleep that I spoke of earlier is daytime sleepiness and poor concentration levels. These symptoms 8cAEdBxMican sometimes take effect while driving. Now I don’t know if you realize this or not but sleeping and driving is not advised to be done at the same time. Ever. Ever. Ever. By anyone. Falling asleep while driving is a risk factor that I met in an all too familiar way. Sleep apnea almost caused God to claim my forgiven soul a little earlier than I figured that he would. While driving home one night, a symptom of sleep apnea crept up on me like a pouncing tiger. I fell asleep while driving. I flipped my truck multiple times and ended up with a totaled truck and multiple points on my insurance.

Now before you go judging me and refusing to ever get in a car while I am driving, let me freak you out by saying that there is no real cure for sleep apnea. There is no cure-all pill for the 22 million of us that suffer from sleep apnea. And the possibility of someone snoring and/or developing sleep apnea only increases when we as a populous add in our weight gain, consumption of large quantities of alcohol, allergies, drug use, use of muscle relaxants or sedatives, and most importantly smoking; but there is supposed to be hope. Now by hope I am referencing the gamut of simple, noninvasive items that open the nasal passages to that truly invasive surgical procedure. I have tried Breathe Right Strips and I still snored like a freight train. These strips work by gently lifting the nasal passage from the outside. But alas these strips did not help me. I’ve even heard home remedies of sewing tennis balls to the back of your night shirt to keep you from laying on your back because unless you know this from personal experience you snore A LOT worse on your back. This is caused by your neck being at a different position; thusly causing your throat to have an even worse obstruction.

Now of course, there are easy solutions: lose excess weight, don’t smoke, don’t drink lots of alcohol, take allergy medicine to prevent having complications from allergies; but as before, these are merely bandaids to help fix a gushing wound. They do not repair the problem. There is always the other solution…me going under a surgeons knife and having some of the vibrating tissue removed from the back of my throat but that seems a bit too drastic for me, especially since the success rate is usually only a 50% reduction in snoring.

For me, help with my snoring problem came in the hands of a Sleep Apnea Breathing


My sleep study gear…

Machine. I had spent many years, waking my wife up from her beauty sleep to know that something had to happen. I also was having complications with being sleepy during the day and I did not want to have another one of those falling asleep behind the wheel episodes. I had the appropriate breathing test done at a sleep clinic and found out that I stopped breathing an extremely dangerous amount of times during the night and my oxygen level at night was dangerously low.

After trudging through years of not being able to breath and torturing those around me, (sorry about that everyone) I finally can breath easily and others around me can sleep soundly through the night.

If you can call wearing a constricting and uncomfortable Darth Vader-esque mask that forces air down your throat ‘breathing easily’.



Featured Image – “Sleeping Man” Felix Trutat painting uploaded by Yelkrokoyade – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Apnea Cycle image by and attributed to Timt775 – Own work, Public Domain,

Japanese Snoring Man drawing by Teisai Hokuba (Japan, 1771-1884) – Image:

Sleep Apnea Display image by and attributed to John Ramspott from Oxford, GA, USA – Uploaded by High Contrast, CC BY 2.0,

JOYCEone Nasal CPAP mask image by and attributed to Pfrieda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



The Attack of Red Beard

Circassian_princeEven though beards have been a staple in many cultures and have been a fashion statement for thousands of years…beards are in baby! They are literally everywhere and are more socially acceptable now than they ever have been. Beards are for men what mascara is for women. It is the lipstick for that weak chin, scrawny neck, and/or mask for that baby face. An internal study done by a group of psychologists have found that women found men with stubble the most attractive and preferred a man with facial hair as both short and long-term Clint_Eastwood_-_1960srelationships. Though women might find stubble the most attractive over full baby faced or a full beard; women perceived men with full beards as ‘the most masculine, aggressive, and socially mature’. The only downfall to this is that women found these men to look older than they actually were. If you can grow a beautiful beard; there could be another potential downfall to your beard: the dreaded red beard.

Kristofer_Hivju_(Cropped,_2015)I have been a strawberry blonde my entire life; and despite the fact that the famous warm reddish blonde hue being a trendy hair color, I haven’t always been truly fond of my hair color. Statistically speaking, 1 in every 4 children will be a red-head so I don’t feel completely out of place but red heads, just like blondes and brunettes, have many varying shades and tones that can vary from person to person. The strawberry blonde shade may share similar genetic make-up with its ‘ginger’ brethren but it is different. (Much like a ‘dirty blonde’ is different from a ‘platinum blonde’.) When I decided to grow out my beard, Daniel pointed out one day that the bristles descending from my cheeks and chin were bright red and my hair was a completely different color. I of course grew self-conscious of this and thought about cutting it off; but as the beard grew on me (both literally and figuratively), I started noticing that I was not the only man that was sporting a red beard without being  ginger up top. So what’s up with that?!?

To explain it, we have to remember that from a genetics point-of-view, that just like everything else that has to do with the human DNA code…the color of your hair is extremely complex. Most of us know about the X and Y chromosomes that are passed down from parents to their children but genetically, hair color is known as a ‘incomplete dominant hereditary trait’. This means that one specific hereditary gene will not be dominant over the other. Hair color (as well as other hereditary traits) is not just inherited from your parents but from grandparents or ancestors from even earlier. For someone to have red hair, biological studies indicate that the hair color is caused by the mc1rMC1R (Melanocortin 1 Receptor). The hair color is caused by the melanin and produces cells known as melanocytes. The melanocytes produce either eumelanin (darker hair) or pheomelanin (a reddish pigment). The combonation of these two melanins gives us the different tones that we have in our hair. Since genes aren’t complicated enough, if you have two of these MC1R genes in your DNA, then your red hair is going to pop up in a really unexpected place. If you are a man, this mostly occurs in your facial hair. So basically that means that even if your gene code signals that your family’s dominant brown hair to show up on your head; the gene for red hair may still pop up in your genetic code in the hairs of your chinny chin chin. That’s a really complex way of saying that even if you are a brunette you could possibly have a red beard. It basically says that at some point in your family’s lineage, someone had red hair. So don’t be upset with your mom if you have a red beard; blame your dad’s great-great-great-great-grandpa Benedict from Ireland.

But don’t let the fear of having a red-hued whiskers scare you; everyone loves the ginger beard. I do suggest that if you plan on growing out your beard that you make sure that you use the proper beard care products (beard shampoo, beard butter, or beard oil) and making sure that you check your beard for food after you eat is far more important than the hue of the whiskers. Having a beard is a big responsibility and the thing that is growing doesn’t mean that you can just ostentatiously grow hair. You still need to shave your neck, trim your beard and make sure that you check for other unsightly facial hair (unibrow, nose, and ear hair). As I said, a beard is the best that you can do to accessorize your face. Unless you want to get a tribal tattoo like Mike Tyson…but let’s hope you never get drunk enough to think that that is a good idea. 🙂



Research Information: 
  1. “What the hair is” –
  2. “Why do so many men have red beards but not red hair?” by  Adriaan Schiphorst –
  1. Portrait of Seferbiy Zanoko (Circassian aristocrat, diplomat, and military leader) image by and attributed to Miner Kilbourne Kellogg – 1845 periodical, Public Domain,
  2. Clint Eastwood image by and attributed to movie studio – eBay, Public Domain,
  3. Kristofer Hivju image by and attributed to Patrik Nygren –, CC BY-SA 2.0,
  4. MC1R hair image attributed to –
  5. Michael C. Hall on the Red Carpet image attributed to –
  6. Michael Fassbender at San Diego Comic Con image by and attributed to Gage Skidmore –, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  7. Mike Tyson in the ring in Las Vegas (circa 2006) image by and attributed to Octal@Flickr –, CC BY 2.0,