Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say: from Horse Sense to Knuckle Under


April zipped by without the input of the usual “Why We Say” feature, in which investigation of common (or uncommon sayings) are explored. Let’s make up for lost time and continue through the “H” entries from the handy little book Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond:

Horse Sense
For those of you who remember the show, it can be agreed Mister Ed was one smart horse; however, when someone is tagged with having horse sense, it’s not referring to the horse but to the horse trader. Horse traders could be fairly savvy in their business dealings.

How do you do?
A holdover phrase from “back then” days when “do” meant “fare” which transcribes to performing in a particular situation, which better translates as “doing.” With all that said, we are actually saying to someone “How is it going with you?”

Hunky-Dory
From the Dutch word honk which means “safe” or to achieve a goal in a game, comes the expression meaning everything is all right. The “dory” part is a bit of a guess.

Idiot
Derived from the Greek, the original meaning concerns itself with a private citizen who held no public office. Since the Greeks thought it honorable to hold office, and if someone couldn’t take part in public affairs, well then, they must be an “idiot.”

Too Many Irons in the Fire
A blacksmith knows how to keep his business going, and will have several pieces of iron heating in the fire, ready to place on the anvil; however, too many irons in the fire are difficult to watch, and problems could arise from not tending them properly.

I don’t think he is actually a blacksmith…

Josh
“I’m just joshing you.” If you have heard that expression you are hearing a derivative of the Scottish word “joss” which means “to jostle” or to “push around.” Comedian Josh Billings furthered the meaning. So, if someone is joshing you they are pushing you around in a humorous way.

Kit and Kaboodle
“Boedel” in Dutch means “effects” or what a person owns. Thieves breaking into a house would steal the “boodle” they found and carried it away in their bags or “kits.” If the robbers made a clean getaway, they might brag that they made off with “kit and boodle,” which became “kit and kaboodle.”

Knuckle Under
A knuckle is a joint, any joint–yet, in this expression the referenced joint was the knee, and to “knuckle under” was to bow down in submission.

Well, we are caught up, rushing two months worth of everyday and odd expressions from H to K. Which expression caught you by surprise?

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5 thoughts on “Why We Say: from Horse Sense to Knuckle Under

  1. Having good horse sense stops at me having to eat hay.

  2. I had no idea about how these phrases came into being so I love these treats that you share with us. I had never come across horse sense but I like that one.

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