Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

How Cliché: “H” phrases

Hair of the dog: a bit of what made a person ill to be used as a remedy. Traced to John Heywood’s 1546 Proverbs: “I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night.” Heywood might have been referring to the old folk remedy of placing the burnt hair of a dog into a dog bite to cure the wound. The phrase is now mostly referring to having a drink of alcohol to countermand the affect of having too much alcohol to drink. Does this mean I should have another chocolate bar when I celebrated too enthusiastically on National Dark Chocolate Day?

Handsome is as handsome does: actions, not necessarily appearances, are what matter. Before Anthony Munday in his 1580 Sunday Examples, used the phrase it was already in use, although the phrase was more commonly known as “goodly is he that goodly dooth.”

Throwing one’s hat in the ring: entering a contest or an election. This phrase stems from nineteenth century boxing days when someone would throw their hat into the ring to indicate their challenge. The term eventually moved into politics with Theodore Roosevelt announcing “My hat’s in the ring,” in 1912.

Have a nice day: a pleasant farewell. This ubiquitous, if not irritating, phrase has been around since the 1920s. It became more common in the 1950s when truckers used it as a sign-off on their radios. The phrase took off in the 1960s and by the 1980s it became irritating enough that the expression began being dropped by agencies, such as police departments when “Have a nice day” after delivering a traffic ticket didn’t necessarily sit well with people. Other versions are “Have a nice one,” or “Have a good day.”

I had this t-shirt in the 1970s. A collector’s item, you think?

To have one’s heart in one’s mouth: to be excessively frightened. Homer used “My heart leaps to my mouth,” in the Iliad in 850 B.C. Move up to 1874 and Mark Twain states in Life on the Mississippi: “My heart flew into my mouth so suddenly that if I hadn’t clapped my teeth together I should have lost it.”

Heart phrases are popular, there are at least eight more: To have one’s heart in the right place; A heart of gold; A heart of stone; To one’s heart’s content; A heart-to-heart talk; A heavy heart.

Here, there, and everywhere: all over the place. In the thirteenth century the expression was more commonly known as “Here and there.” Christopher Marlowe included this line in his 1588 Doctor Faustus: “If you turne me into any thing, let it be in the likeness of a little pretie frisking flea, that I may be her and there and euery where.” Not to be confused with the Beatles:

Hitch one’s wagon to a star: to set a high goal. Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with creating the phrase in 1862 with the line, “Hitch your wagon to a star” in an essay entitled “American Civilization.” Ogden Nash wrote about the line in his 1940 poem “Kindly Unhitch That Star.” While Emerson was encouraging people to set a lofty goal and work towards achieving said goal, more modern interpretations lean towards people achieving their goal by attaching themselves to someone famous or successful and allowing them to pull the goal setter along to reach their goal.

image: Etsy

To hit the jackpot: a substantial win. A form of draw poker involves opening with a pair of jacks or higher pair. It takes several rounds before a person has a hand good enough to open and players are required to put money in the pot, or jackpot. As the pot grows, round after round, the winner walks away with a healthy amount of money.

Hoist with one’s own petard: caught or destroyed by one’s own device. A “petard” an older word, is essentially a bomb. “Hoist” means to “blow up” not to pull up, like using a rope. Shakespeare uses the idea in Hamlet when Hamlet refers to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s treachery: “Let it work; for ’tis sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petar.” In other words, he is suggesting that his former buddies can blow themselves up with their own plan (bomb).

Hope against hope: desiring something although it seems impossible. In the Bible, Paul writes in Roman 4:18: “Who against, hope believed in hope, that he [Abraham] might become the father of many nations.” Another version of the phrase is “hope springs eternal.” Aragorn in The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien uses the expression referring to the conflict with Orcs: “Well, now, if they still live, our friends are weaponless. I will take these things, hoping against hope, to give them back.”

image: Erik Engheim wonders if humans would have any hope of winning a fight with Orcs

Hue and cry: an loud outcry or protest. In old England neighbors, bystanders, and others would raise a “hue” or a shout if they saw a suspect being pursued to help authorities apprehend him or her. The term moved on to include referring to the public’s vocal concerns about an issue. A shout and cry can also include tweets and other social media ballyhoo.

Old time hue and cry
Today’s hue and cry

Okay–which of these “H” phrases most surprised you? Did I miss one or two that you are curious about?

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2 thoughts on “How Cliché: “H” phrases

  1. I think “Have a nice day” should be officially replaced with “Later tater!” or perhaps “Sayonara, suckers!”

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