Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 5

We have reached the halfway point in our ten part series where we investigate the history behind some of the most interesting idioms and those clever colloquial phrases that we all use but never take the time to find out what they really mean. Some of my favorites from the series so far have been “Mad as a Hatter” (from Part 1), “Down in the Dumps” (from Part 2), “Cat got your Tongue” (from Part 3), and “Quitting Cold Turkey” (from Part 4). Today’s six idioms/phrases will have a central theme. Today we will discuss: “Go the whole nine yards“, “Raining cats and dogs“, “Face the Music“, “Madder than a wet sitting hen“, “Now you’re cooking with Peanut Oil“, and “What in tarnation“.



 

“Go the whole nine yards” – 

Origin: What should have been one of the easiest ones to answer, the colloquial American phrase “go the whole nine yards” has been described by Yale’s librarian Fred Shapiro as “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time”. The most commonly offered explanation for the phrase was that the gun belts used on aircraft machine guns were nine yards long; thusly why someone would say ‘give them the whole nine yards’. Sadly the phrase predates World War II and the standard belt for guns used in World War I was ‘seven yards’. Another explanation is that it is a unit of fabric measurement because skeins of fabric were routinely sold in lengths of nine (or some other multiple of three yards). In an article in the New Albany Daily Ledger in Indiana, an article called “The Judge’s Big Shirt” uses the phrase to describe a woman making three shirts; instead of three “she has put the whole nine yards into one shirt!” This phrase was used for the next 7 years in that same newspaper. Whether this or the measurement of the unfurled square-rigged sails of full-rigged sailing ships…no one knows.

Meaning: Everything, the whole lot; or when used as an adjective, “all the way”.



“Raining Cats and Dogs” – 

Origin: There is no definitive origin for the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” but just because the precise origin is not known….doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate. The phrase’s origin can definitely be traced to the 17th century, and we definitely know that there has never been any reports of cats and dogs falling from the sky during a storm (despite the occasional frog or fish that has been swept up into a cyclone and thusly brought back down to earth during the storm). More than likely the source of the saying is in dead animals and other debris being washed up into the streets after a heavy rain. Another proposed story could be cats being seen falling past a window after slipping off of a roof during a heavy rain storm. Either of these scenarios could be a grand possibility but there is no definitive way of knowing. Either way its a fun phrase in which we can also have fun speculating the origin.

Meaning: Heavy falling rainstorm.



“Face the Music” – 

Origin: With imagery so concise, you would think that there would be a definitive answer as to what the origin of the phrase “Face the Music” would be, but alas there is not. There are three equally interesting, plausible possibilities that could definitely be within the realm of possibility. The first possibility is that the phrase is based on a tradition of disgraced officers being ‘drummed out’ of their regiment. This would be a ceremony where the drummers would play while the officer was stripped of his title and then he would have to ‘face the music’ as he walked away. The second theory is that it was a theatrical term that meant that actors who were asked to ‘face the music’, were asked to quite literally face the orchestra pit while on stage. The third and slightly more interesting theory is that while during a performance

Meaning: Face the consequences of your action’s.



“Madder than a wet sitting hen”

Origin: If you or your grandma is from the Southeastern part of the United States then you’ve probably heard her or someone else say “I’m madder than a wet sitting hen”. Though there is no exact origin or written proof, the complex metaphor that describes someone who is raging mad is said to have originated in the Appalachian mountains. This phrase derived from the fact that hen’s become quite agitated if and when they get wet. I’m not sure how long it took someone to come to that conclusion but I would hate to be on the receiving end of that upset chicken.

Meaning: Phrase used to express the intensity of someone’s anger.



“Now you’re cooking with peanut oil” – 

Origin: An idiom that has since been made popular by the Duck Dynasty Robertson family patriarch; but the phrase has been around in one form or another, for many years. In the American South, the phrase has taken many forms: “Now we’re cooking with gas”, “now we’re cooking with Crisco”, and many others but the phrase’s definite origin is not necessary a definitely one. The only thing that we know is that the phrase works due to the high smoke point of peanut oil and is used in higher temperature cooking.

Meaning: A colloquial way of showing approval.



“What in Tarnation?” – 

Origin: This idiom, like the central theme of all of these idioms from this post, do not have definite origins. As for United States ‘Southerners’ this specific saying has been around for as long as they can remember. The term ‘tarnation’ originated in the late 1700s as a euphemism for the less offensive ‘damnation’. In the 1700s, the phrase “what in tarnation” would have been something similar to a slightly offensive phrase used currently: ‘what the hell?’. So whether its to replace ‘damnation’ or ‘plainly asking ‘what in the place where you are damned’….either way, I’d rather not visit Tarnation.

Meaning: An idiom used as a rhetorical question that literally means ‘what in damnation?’.



 

Featured Image: Textile Market in Karachi, Pakistan image by and accredited to Steve Evans from Bangalore, India – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=394539

Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases – Part 4

We are now venturing onto the 4th blog in our ten part series. If you missed out; you can visit their magnanimous wonder (1, 2, and, 3) after you have read number this one of course. In part four of our Just in the Nick of Time: A History of Interesting Idioms and Colloquial Phrases series, we will be learning the history of: For Pete’s sake, Quitting cold turkey, High on the hog, Dead as a doornail, Down to Earth, and Taking a raincheck.



For_petes_sake

“For Pete’s Sake” – 

Origin: We all have heard someone from the American South (whether in person or on TV) say “For Pete’s Sake”; but have you, like I, wondered who in the world Pete is? Well as your face radiates with magnanimous wonder awaiting the origin of this much used word, I have to regretfully tell you that…no one really knows. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the saying started more than century ago as a euphemistic variant of “for God’s sake”. As we said in our last idiom blog, ‘dog gone’ is a replacement for something that take’s the Lord’s name in vain and most people of that period (and currently as well) would steer clear of blasphemy. Some scholars have speculated that the ‘Pete’ is none other than Saint Peter himself but that is just speculation. Another speculation is the pete is actually a modified version of ‘for pity’s sake’ but as I said…regretfully no one knows for sure.

Meaning: An exclamation of emphasis, surprise, or disbelief.



ColdTurkey

“Quitting Cold Turkey”

Origin: One of my best friends who smoked cigarettes since he was 13 said he had ‘just quit cold turkey’. And I knew that that friend meant that he had stopped smoking cigarettes…and not just given up eating cold sliced deli meat but I still can’t help but chuckle when I hear someone say that phrase. There have been many explanations as to the origin of why someone would compare ‘quitting’ or doing something definite with of all things…cold turkey. In 1921, Dr. Carleton Simon spoke about his pitiful patients and described their ‘cold turkey’ treatment. I guess if you’re hungry, a cold turkey treatment sounds great but what if you are a recovering heroin addict? Herb Caen, from the San Fransisco Chronicle says that the saying “…derives from the hideous combination of goosepimples and what William S. Burroughs calls the ‘cold burn’ that addicts suffer as they kick the habit.” Sounds like a more logical explanation than author Tom Philbin’s theory that the saying derives from the ‘term that  may derive from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawl, like a turkey that has been refrigerated.” The only draw back to this explanation is that the saying originated many years before it was used in conjunction with ‘stopping an addiction’. Though the term was used early in the 1900s, the term cold turkey is thought to have derived from the 1800s phrase ‘talk turkey’. Talk turkey meant to tell something plainly, while being cold meant to be straightforward and use a matter-of-fact tone. So whether it is cigarettes or stopping playing video games until 3 in the morning when you have to be at work at 7:30…stopping something cold turkey means that you are immediately stopping something despite the discomfort that comes along with it.

Meaning: Withdraw from an addictive substance or other dependency.



“High on the Hog”

Origin: We all know someone who is living ‘high on the hog’ but what does that exactly mean? Despite the saying ‘living high on the hog’ becoming popularized in the 1940s, the saying originated in the 1800s as an idiomatic expression for someone who is eating or living wealthy. We take advantage of the common convenience of the grocery store and the competitive prices found at Food Lion or Walmart; but many years ago, the only way to eat meat was to slaughter the animal on your own farm or to go to a butcher. On a hog, the most costly cuts of meat that are literally higher on the pig’s body are more expensive. The ‘low on the hog’ items like the feet, knuckles, hocks, belly, chitterlings, snout, jowls, etc were lower priced and therefore were purchased by poor people. So if you were rich, you were quite literally eating…high on the hog.

Meaning: Living comfortably and living/eating extravagantly.



“Dead as a Doornail” – 

Origin: In King Henry VI, Part 2; Shakespeare wrote, “Look on me well…if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.” It would seem that a lot of emphasis was placed on the life of a doornail prior to 1592, but Shakespeare wasn’t the first to coin the phrase. In 1350, French poet William Langland translated a poem using the phrase “I am ded as dorenayl,” and later in 1362 wrote in his famous poem The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman, “Fey withouten fait is febelore þen nouȝt, And ded as a dore-nayl (which is translated to be “Faith without works is feebler than nothing, and dead as a doornail.”). It is logical that Shakespeare got the influence from Langland’s poetry but where did the expression come from prior to the 1300s? In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens alluded to the meaning of the phrase after he stated that “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail” when he said:

“Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Dickens knew, as we will in a few moments, that a doornail was actually the large-headed studs that were used in carpentry to add stability to a home’s doorway. The doornail was produced by the carpenter hammering the nail through the board, into the wall, and then bending the end over to secure it properly. This process, which is similar to riveting, was called clenching.  The clenching would cause the nail to be ‘dead’ due to the the fact that after the bending the nail would be unusable (dead is a term associated with inanimate objects when they are unusable or when someone is finished with them).  Despite the simile being around since the 1300s, it would appear that there is plenty of life left in this idiom.

Meaning: Absent of life, dead (when in reference to a living object). Finished with, unusable (when in reference to an inanimate object).



 

“Down to Earth” – 

Origin: The 1932 book and subsequent movie Down to Earth, is more than likely the reason behind the popularity of the phrase despite a 1922 Newark Advocate garment advertisement utilizing the phrase to describe the ‘down to earth’ prices as opposed to the ‘astronomical’ prices of competitive brands. Down to Earth was a riches to rags story which ended with the wealthy man losing his wealth thanks to a spendthrift wife and a gambling son. After living the extravagant lifestyle before, he actually ends up happy in the end, because he is more ‘down to earth’

Meaning: Simple, realistic, practical and/or straightforward.



baseball rain check

“Taking a Raincheck” – 

Origin: My best friend and I were supposed to go watch a movie last weekend but I had to tell him that I had to take a rain check. It was raining coincidentally but I have always wondered what the exact meaning behind the phrase was. The first mention of the phrase ‘taking a rain check’ comes from baseball games from the 1880s. We all know that rain is something that we cannot control (or at least that’s what the government wants us to think ;)), so if a baseball game in the 1880s was rained out, then the ticket-holder would be issued a ‘rain check’ (sometimes a perforated stub to be torn from the ticket as popularized by Abner Powell) to be able to gain entrance to another game or when that game was replayed. Baseball’s National League actually wrote the ‘rain check’ stipulation into their formal constitution in 1890. The ‘rain check’ phrase caught on. The phrase is now used for simplistic things like promising to go out to eat with someone in the near future but I’ll take a rain check on writing anything else today. 😉

Meaning: Idiomatically is a polite way to turn down an invitation with the implication that you will accept the offer in the future while etymologically and literally is in reference to a physical ticket or check to receive goods of services at a future time.



Images: 

Featured Image – Our Gang in “For Pete’s Sake!” episode marker, fair use.

Cold Turkey image by and accredited to Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3465369

1939 American League Baseball Club ticket photo accredited to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fair use.

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.



Murner.Nerrenbeschwerung.kind

“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”




Images:

Narrenbeschworung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner, 1512, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=689179

Manic Monday and Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Top 10 Most Common Annoyances/Pet Peeves

So the other day I was reading the incredibly popular and inspiring information website Huffington Post and found an article that they had published on a topic that hits close to home for me: Pet Peeves. We all know that I have an affinity for writing about them: Here, here, and here are some examples. The article from Huffington Post showcases a chosen 76 Incredibly Accurate Pet Peeves That Will Drive. You. Nuts. After reading this article, I realized that not only do I feel good about the particular Pet Peeves that I have; but I’m pretty sure that 75% of the population is walking around with a vein popping out of their forehead due to the stress that is being inflicted by our pet peeves. So to make the people afflicted by these pet peeves feel less alone (and the fact that I guess I’m addicted to making Top Ten lists), I’m reviewing this article and integrating two of my blog types. So here are my Top Ten Pet Peeves that are Guaranteed to Drive You Nuts! 

10. When you let a car cut in front of you and they DON’T WAVE TO THANK YOU!!!! Same goes to you ‘Ms. I stopped at the cross walk even though I didn’t have to so you could walk across the road at the mall/Walmart’.

9. People who talk over you when you’re clearly still in the middle of a sentence.

8. Slow drivers who stay in the ‘fast lane’ and don’t allow you to go past them. This also goes for groups of people or people in general who walk slowly or stop suddenly in the middle of a sidewalk or aisle. MOVE!

7. People who constantly say ‘no offense’ as if it takes away from the extremely mean thing that you just said!

6. Strangers who listen to their music through the phone’s speaker, instead of headphones.

5. People who purposely use bad grammar and do not correct their spelling.

4. People who don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.

3. People who smoke cigarettes or use electronic cigarettes around non-smoking. And your e-cigarette or ‘vape’ is still smoking. Smoking is smoking.

2. People who scuff their feet as they walk down the street, especially if they’re wearing flip flops, boots or UGGs. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

  1. Loud chewing, or people chewing with their mouths open. This also covers people who chew gum loudly and attempt to blow bubbles in confined quarters.

*Maybe this list will make you and your quirks feel a little bit ‘less weird’. Don’t feel ostracized by your pet peeves. You can’t help that you want to smack your friend in the face when she’s chewing her gum with her mouth open. 😉

Grammar Nazi

Coming from a small town in the South causes you to hear some atrocious keep-calm-correct-bad-grammarexemplifications of the English language. Ebonics, regional idioms/dialects and the Redneck slang not normally deducible to the untrained ear cause we grammar nazis to have momentary spasms while overhearing or during conversations with some people. Yes, I just referred to myself as a grammar Nazi. If you’re not aware of the term ‘grammar Nazi’ ‎(plural grammar Nazis) (slang, idiomatic) refers to a person who habitually corrects or criticizes the language usage of others. I may not correct you to your face but believe me when I tell you that I am screaming that correction on the inside.

dialectI for one did not grow up in a family that had a strong grasp of the correct uses of English grammar but in high school I encountered an English teacher who loved to diagram sentences. She not only became one of my favorite teachers but her class allowed me to realize that I had a knack for English/Language Arts. I journeyed on to college, majored in Language Arts, minored in creative writing and wanted to be the next Great-American writer. Well the latter has yet to come to fruition but I have found great joy by following that same favorite English teacher’s footsteps by teaching high school English.

The problem lies in that barren landscape of ‘care less’. Most of my family and friends cat-ass-trophycould care less about using correct grammar and have no idea they they’re even doing anything wrong. In our society, most people don’t grow up with a strong grasp of the current uses of the English language. I have friends that misuse words and misspell words a lot of the time. Do we blame the education system? Well not all teachers are created the same and not all schools put as much emphasis on grammar as there should be.

Whether it’s pure unadulterated laziness, lack of attention for details, English being your second language or if you think that using proper grammar is trite; it won’t change the fact that if you use there/their/they’re incorrectly. My question is if someone’s intelligence should be based on something that doesn’t hold importance in all demographics. In math, reading, and technology based problem-solving, United States citizens scored well below the international average on a global test. Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries that participated in the test scored significantly higher than the United States in all areas of testing. The test included basic reading and math skills but also included the participants were asked to calculate mileage, money due to a salesman, the sorting of emails and comparing food expiration dates on a grocery store tag.

Americans not only scored poorly in this International Assessment of Adult Competencies test, but we were near the bottom in every category. Now is this assessment a true representation of the intelligence of the average American? Well that depends. If you take bookkeeper with a 120 IQ from India and drop him onto a farm in Nebraska, he would not be able to successfully grow this years crop of wheat. On the flip side of that same token, you can’t take a plumber from Salem, Oregon and expect him to be able to successfully perform a heart transplant on a Brazilian woman with severe coronary artery disease riddled with scarred heart tissue from multiple heart attacks.

Will there be someone who can do something better than us? Sure. The truth is is that the world goes around by utilizing all skill sets. We need skilled laborers just as much as we need a doctor. So to quote the 1977 classic film Smokey and the Bandit (one of my favorite movies ever), where the character Bandit (played by  Burt Reynolds) says, “When you tell somebody somethin’, it depends on what part of the country you’re standin’ in… as to just how dumb you are.” It would appear that the Bandit’s quote need not stop at our border but should cover us on a global scale.

smokey-bandit-1