Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say: #1

The Word Geek in me is rising forth once again.

Having loaned out a book so long ago I thought I had inadvertently donated to Somewhere (Friends of the Library book sale, Goodwill, who knows), I did a happy dance to have it once again returned to me.  I gleaned it long ago when deleting old and dilapidated items from the school library.  Only a Word Geek would appreciate this title:

Why we say: A guidebook to current idioms…

It’s full of idioms and the background of why we say what we say.  Published in 1953, it’s actually older than I am; however, when I do utter some of these expressions now and then my students do that sideways eye glance at each other, and I will know they haven’t a clue what I am talking about.  This book, now back in my possession, helps me explain why we say what we say.

For instance:

“His excuse about not reading the assignment was above board.”

>What’s she talking about?<

>I dunno.  It’s one of her odd things she says<

Well, it’s not that odd when you think about it.  Sailors deal with the water in two ways: what goes on below, and thus unseen, and what goes on above, which is most easily seen.  When things could be seen easily, clearly, straightforward, and even honestly it was considered above board, or above the water line.

Hence, the student’s excuse about not reading the assigned homework was honest.  I believed the reason.

>Why didn’t she say that in the first place?<

>I dunno.  She says stuff like that all the time.<

Has anyone got an idiom you say but haven’t the foggiest what it means?  Betcha my lil book explains it.  Send ’em my way.


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4 thoughts on “Why We Say: #1

  1. My friend is fond of saying “one’s six; the other’s half a dozen” in an either-either situation, but that one is pretty self explanatory. I enjoy a lot of old-timey slang such as “ace”, “nifty”, “a tad” etc. Does the book cover them or just sayings?

    • I say “six of one, half dozen of another” as well. It works as a way of ending those odd can’t solve conversations. The book does cover words. I’ll look into those you’ve mentioned.

  2. My understanding was that above board had its origin in card playing – if your hands are above the table and in sight, i .e. above board, then no skulduggery will be going on ! (I wonder if your students know that word. ) 🙂

    • Skullduggery! Great word–I’ll have to try it out. Your explanation makes senses as well. I’m sure there is more than one way to skin a cat, er, that is define an expression.

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