Why We Say: from Take the Cake to Turn Down
Moving into the T-section and there are some familiar sayings that have a surprising meaning. Ready?
How many times have you heard the expression “Well, doesn’t that just take the cake?” as a response to something remarkable or perhaps foolish?
Back in the day, in the South, when cakewalks accompanied barbeques, picnics, and box suppers, there was an event in which men showed off their style by “cutting a caper.” The one judged to do the best strutting received the prize of walking off with the choice of the best cake–and maybe the one who baked it.
Getting the third degree brings up connotations of being grilled severely by authorities, usually the police. The background on this term is derived from Freemasonry. A candidate looking to move up to the “third degree” had to pass a rigorous test. This testing process was supposedly so grueling, both physically and emotionally, that the “third degree” became associated with undergoing an arduous experience.
After services are rendered it’s customary to provide a monetary gratuity, known as a “tip.” This practice stems from old English inns and taverns when patrons dropped a coin in the box attached to the wall for the servers. The sign on the box? “To Insure Promptness” or “T.I.P.” for short.
Being called a “toady” is certainly no compliment, as it refers to a person being subservient to another, better known as being the “yes” man. The background on this term goes back to long ago magic acts that featured the magician’s apprentice or helper eating a, umm, ready for this–a toad. Why? Toads were considered poisonous. The magician then proved his magic by “curing” his assistant. Saying “yes” to eating a toad is probably not the best job in the world.
Being loyal or devoted to a cause might conjure up the term “true blue.” Two possible meanings for the expression. One is from when butchers hid the bloody stains of their trade on their deep blue aprons and jackets. Perhaps the blue signified their pride in their chosen trade. The other derived meaning is that blue was the preferred color of the pro-Parliament Scottish Presbyterian Party of the seventeenth century as a contrast to the royal red. Hmm, the blue-red contrast has a deep history.
Few people relish being “turned down”–rejection is tough stuff. The expression has two possible explanations. One being the custom of turning over a drink glass when no more rounds are appreciated (messy if the glass is half full, or is that half empty?). The other explanation is another old custom. This one involves reflection upon rejection due to a mirror being the key to a marriage proposal. A young man would arrive with his “courting mirror,” which held his image. He would place it on the table face up to indicate he was proposing marriage. If accepted, the young lady would smile at the image and all was happiness. If she did not accept his proposal then she would turn the image face down and the “turn down” probably caused the young man to reflect upon his rejection.