Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Expressions”

Why We Say: from Under the Weather to Upper Crust


UNDER THE WEATHER

“Are you all right?”

“Just a bit under the weather?”

This exchange is usually related to someone feeling a bit ill, and someone noticing it. Why “under the weather” not “in the weather” or even “weathering through it?” The idea goes back to the situation of when a new recruit on a ship gets seasick. Hanging out and over the rail can involve facing the wind, so it makes sense to get out of the wind by crouching under the bulwarks or getting under the weather. Perhaps the next time you’re feeling queasy consider ducking down and nodding your head “yes.”

Up to Scratch

Who would have thought meeting someone’s expectations would have developed from not throwing a punch too soon. In older prize fighting days a line was marked on the ground and the fighters met there. However, if either one stepped over the line they would be disqualified since they were expected to meet up to the scratch.

Boxing - Wikipedia
Wikipedia image: these blokes are not up to scratch

Up to Snuff

Speaking of being up to scratch, there is also being up to snuff–no fighting involved. This saying stems from how the sense of smell is one of our most sensitive senses. Think about when you have a cold, the sense of smell is dampened. Therefore, if someone is feeling well then it means they can sniff well or is that they are up to snuffing.

Vintage Im Up To Snuff Pinback Button. Pin Back Button. | Etsy
image: Etsy–the saying is cute as a button

Upper Crust

They say upper society is the upper crust. Crust of what? Bread. At that time in history the best part of the bread was the crust, so those of the upper class could afford the best, especially bread. And if the best of the bread is the top part of the bread then the upper class, the top of society is the upper crust.

Upper Crust Breads
image: Bakerieas.com

Word Nerd: January


Some say (including the hubs) “nerd” is derogatory. I’m of the opinion a nerd is less of an insult and more of an endearment, or at least an acknowledgement of pursuing a passion with zeal, that others might not embrace. For instance, the movie The Nutty Professor, had the singular inventor trying to prove his “flubber” invention. Deemed eccentric, the professor for all his nerdy qualities became a hero. All those computer geniuses (now CEOs and billionaires) were no doubt shuffled into the nerd nomenclature in their tinkering phase. I see “nerd” as an alternate spelling of “clever,” besides the assonance of “Word Nerd” is cool sounding.

Onward to this month’s batch of words—although if you want to jump in with your thoughts about nerds, I am much interested.

1. bight: a bend in the river or the shore of the sea.

2. limb: to portray with words; describe.

3. comity: mutual courtesy; civility

4. sobriquet: nickname

5. epizeuxis: a literary or rhetorical device that appeals to or invokes the reader’s or listener’s emotions through the repetition of words in quick succession. An example:

“Jane, Jane, Jane—you are my favorite epizeuxis.”

6. inanition: lack of vigor, lethargy

7. juberous: uncertain; undecided;dubious

8. aroint: begone as in “Aroint thy, scalawag!”

9. legerity: physical or mental quickness; agility

10. doddle: something easily done. Fixing the flat tire wasn’t a problem at all—it was a doddle.

11. blatherskite: someone given to empty talk.

12. spang: directly; exactly

13. butyraceous: containing or resembling butter.

14. cachinnate: to laugh loudly or immoderately.

15. illation: an inference; a conclusion

16. totis viribus: with all one’s might

17. ambivert: a person between an extrovert and an introvert*

18. caduceus: dropping off early as in The leaves were noticed to have a caduceus departure this autumn.

19. mardy: grumpy, sulky

20. clement: mild in disposition; compassionate

*this word, ambivert, solves the puzzle of designation. A few within my circle have often contemplated how to most accurately describe our situation of being known as social, even boisterous, yet reluctant at joining large gatherings. Suggestions have included “high-functioning introvert” or “gregarious hermit.” The classification of “ambivert” seems acceptable, although the desire to write with either my left of right hand suddenly becomes immediate.

What words leapt out at you as keepers this month?

May I get personal? An ambivert perhaps you are? (Yoda syntax is less intrusive)

Shakespeare and Thanksgiving


Shakespeare didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, at least in the modern day sense, but he did know how to give thanks most eloquently:

42 Uplifting Thanksgiving Quotes to Share With the Whole Dinner Table | Thanksgiving  quotes, Instagram captions, Shakespeare quotes
William Shakespeare Archives - Thank You Quotes
Shakespeare Quotes On Thankfulness. QuotesGram
Shakespeare Quotes For Thanksgiving — Good Tickle Brain
Check out Mya’s amazing Shakespeare website!

I express my own thanks. It will be a quiet Thanksgiving, yet there is a joyful noise within my heart that as difficult as this year has been it has been one in which I appreciate how much I can count on the Lord to be my light on those dark days.

May the joy of thanks be a member at your table this year, for there is always something to be thankful for.

Take care–

Cricket Musings: I can’t stop thinking about the sign of the times


Lately I’ve been diligently working on developing Pam Webb, debut picture book author, but I do miss those Cricket Muse days of somewhat anonymously posting this and that. I especially miss sparring with Mike Allegra, famed children’s author and blogster of humorous doodle repartee. Mike—if you are out there, send me a sign all is well. Thanks—

Speaking of signs (and Mike would no doubt chortle)…

Someone or some persons over the last several years have taken to stop sign graffiti. Scattered throughout our fair town are numerous, and often hilarious messages added to the stop signs. Here are a few :

Classic
You talking to me?
Duking it out.
We all need a reminder now and then
Optimism is essential
Yes, I have heard that one before
We asked that in June as we waited for summer to arrive
Now I have that song in my head
Then again the box is a quiet place to think about things
Yes, I don’t want summer to end quite yet

This is only half of the collection. Someone or persons have been busy. The police chief doesn’t seem that concerned about the vandalism, in fact, he gave the impression the messages are part of the greater picture of what makes our town unique. And who can stop people from expressing their opinion?

What stop expression would you sneak up on a sign?

Word Nerd Confessions: October


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0576-3.jpg

I might have mentioned it before that my heritage harkens back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since that discovery I have grown more aware of all that is Scottish. This month I favor words that have Scottish roots. I might have to dedicate a post to famous Scots. I do enjoy listening to David Tennant and his broguish wit.

Who has the knack for Scottish wit and bravado? The Doctor, of course.

grumphie: a pig

hooly: gently

sennachie: a storyteller

blellum: an indiscreet talker

atweel: surely

shavie: a trick or a prank

I’ve come across other Scottish words in my readings of authors such as D.E. Stevenson and Allan MacKinnon that leave me puzzled to the point of setting my book down and searching out its meaning.

One of the words that stumped me was “ken.” Sentences like, “I ken your meaning,” really threw me. Context sleuthing pointed me towards understanding, but I finally looked it up and got this from dictionary. com:

verb (used with object),  kenned or kent, ken·ning.

Chiefly Scot.

  1. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with (a person or thing).
  2. to understand or perceive (an idea or situation).

Scots Law. to acknowledge as heir; recognize by a judicial act.Archaic. to see; descry; recognize.

To “ken” something means to have a deeper understanding that just a mere acknowledgement. It’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well out of its cultural context–I ken that some words do better in their home language.

What Scottish words have you come across? Better yet, which of the above is one you are adopting? I’m leaning towards grumphie, as I do enjoy Guinea pigs. Then again, tossing out hooly at the right instance could be satisfying.

Why We Say: A Twist on Past Words


Language is fluid. It can start out with one meaning and morph into another definition over time. Here’s a batch of words that have come into their own meaning through the advent of social media:

Tagging, traffic, fan, wall, hacking, search, viral, link, ping, feed, alert, tweet, are just a few. Here are a few others that have changed:

Troll

Past: a large nasty creature who hung out under bridges. Sometimes a word used with fishing.

Now: Someone who pokes around online and stirs up responses.

Spam

Past: pinkish spongy mystery meat squished into a can.

Now: Unwanted, annoying messages that arrive through email or even as texts.

Friend

Past: a chosen companion who shared common interests.

Now: a button-click indicating a degree of superficial commitment.

Like

Past: a preference signifying a degree of indication of favor.

Now: a click response of rating that operates as a indicator of popularity.

Post

Past: to send a written communication through the postal service

Now: a written communication sent through social media most likely as a blog (a neoplasm and a separate post).

What words have you seen come into existence or change due to the influence of social media?

Why We Say #25: re(a)d


With school starting up again, red is an appropriate color for this month.

image: Twitter

Before delving into our feature, here is another word related to school:

Quiz

Have you ever wanted to be the originator of a word, to be the one Wikipedia can proclaim as the inventor, to be the one who is lauded as the first to start it all? It can be done, at least according to Why We Say…

Apparently, about a hundred or so years ago, a Dublin theatre manager proclaimed he could create a new word and make it popular enough that it would become part of everyday use, and he could accomplish this in 24 hours. He printed Q-U-I-Z on walls all over the city. The meaning of the word: practical joke. Its use then moved towards meaning a question or a series of questions. I think that explains why my students always say, “Is this a joke?” when they find out there is a pop quiz.

Read the Riot Act

More than one student has been read the riot act for bringing home bad grades–usually a result of not doing well on all those pop quizzes. While getting read the riot act today can involve an angry parent scolding a child, King George I of England in 1716 meant it to be something else. It seems King George did not want any disturbances to break out and one way to stop them was to let the people know of the consequences before they acted up. If the riot did occur the penalty would be servitude for life. Whether that was for the law enforcers or the law breakers is a bit hazy.

Red Cross

What would school be without the school nurse? Due to budget cuts, the school nurse is most likely a box attached to wall with medical supplies. That red cross on the box signifies the Red Cross organization. It’s the reverse of the Swiss flag design of a white cross on a red field. The original intent of the Red Cross was to relieve the suffering caused by wartime injuries, the idea being the inspiration of a Swiss man named Jean Henry Dunant in 1862.

Red Sea

Should this question pop up on a quiz you’ll now know the answer: The Red Sea is so named because the water is so clear that a person can see the beds of red coral, which gives the sea the appearance of being red.

Red Letter Day

Getting an “A” on a quiz (especially a tough one that hadn’t been studied for) might cause celebration as a Red Letter Day. Originally a red letter day signified a feast day for Christians marked on the 15th century calendar. A red letter day came to mean a special day or a special event.

Red Tape

When you think of a process that gets slowed down because it’s tied up in red tape, you aren’t too far from the true meaning. Way back in England, government documents were stored in envelopes secured with red tape because string might damage the contents. Why red? Unknown at this press release. If someone could not get access to a document they needed it was due to it being tied up in red tape. A case of the literal moving to the metaphorical.

Seeing Red

If you are seeing red, perhaps due to a bad quiz grade or getting paperwork work mired in red tape, that you are no doubt as mad as a bull being taunted by a matador waving a red cape. Actually, bulls are color blind, it’s the waving of the flag that annoys them. So next time you are really mad, get away from whatever is waving at your face. You’ll feel much better.

Hoping your back to school season is a red letter day that avoids red tape and pop quizzes so you can sea clearly and not see red enough to require Red Cross.

 

Rocking Out on Being Stoned


Nope. This is no expose on Mick Jagger. We’re looking into semantics today.
Did you know when you are picking up souvenir rocks at the beach you are actually picking up stones? Truly.

Rocks from morguefile
We may only think that “rock” and “stone” are interchangeable. They technically aren’t, yet like most of our language, we throw actuality out the window and go for ease of saying.

Stones by morguefile
Here are the distinguishing facts:

Rock: Usually large, immovable natural material made up of one or more minerals that is hard or soft in composition.

Stone: Most often a harder, smaller, moveable mineral matter. 
More clarifications:

A rock is comparatively larger.

A stone is comparatively small.

A rock is not usually moved, being it is part of the earth as in The Rock of Gibraltar. 

A stone can be picked up as in gemstones.

A rock can be hard or soft in material composition.

A stone is hard.

Now–how does that transfer into everyday expressions?

We say, “He’s solid. He’s a rock of strength. He’s immovable, and can’t be swayed.” And right about here is where the Rock of Gibraltar is bandied about.

Looking over the checklist of facts, it looks pretty good, metaphorically speaking.

Let’s move on…

“She’s got a heart of stone.” This is not a compliment. To be solid as a rock is considered a positive attribute; however, your heart should not be hard and it should be movable. Wait, stones are movable. Wouldn’t that mean that person could change her outlook?

Or doesn’t it follow that a rock solid person would have a heart of stone because the heart is a part of the body and is smaller and can be moved more easily?

Bookmark that thought. 

Think about:

A. We collect rocks along the shoreline to perhaps add them to our rock garden.

B. A diamond is a precious gemstone and set in a ring it’s touted as “quite a rock.” [right for gemstone, wrong for rock]

C. Loud electronic music  is considered “rock” and some will enhance the listening experience by being “stoned.” [not sure]

Now that you know the difference, be sure you don’t get caught between a rock and a hard place in your terms.
 

Why We Say: #19–hello to grapevines and heirlooms


A greeting known through the ages that actually didn’t start out so friendly. “Holla” was once used as a warning and Shakespeare placed it in his plays when a character wanted another to stop. From “holla” came the verb “holler” and when the phone was introduced the connections weren’t the best so people had to holler to be heard. These days, we no longer need to holler our hello into the phone, instead we simply ask “Can you hear me now?”

Before telephones people passed information from ear to mouth, and if you’ve ever played the telephone game, you know that second, third, and fourth hand information is not that reliable. Sending information from person to person rarely traveled in a straight line, and the information was bound run as crooked a course as a grapevine. “Heard it through the grapevine” may make for a great song, but it doesn’t make for a reliable source.

Moving away from hellos, we now explore heirlooms. This one is so incredibly logical. Way back in the day, the family loom was an important aspect of a household, being used to weave cloth to make clothes. This family possession would be passed from heir to heir. Today, an heirloom signifies something passed from one generation to another. Good thing that–my small house would be hard-pressed to make room for a loom.

photos from Morguefile.com

Next month: getting the lowdown on perceived lowlife…

Why We Say #18: A bit about giving


Last month was all about getting, so this month we’ll focus on giving.

1. Giving the slip

Mercutio accused Romeo of giving his homies the slip after the Capulet party. So even in Shakespeare’s time there is mention of needing a fast getaway when the occasion called for one.

In actuality, ships coming into port would anchor by slipping a rope through a hawse pipe, the metal piece attached to the ship’s bow. If the captain needed to leave sooner than anticipated, he simply let loose the rope and slipped away silently to sea. I betcha Cpt Jack Sparrow knows about that one.

Heave ho, maties, give them the slip. iimage: BrassGlass/Morguefile

2. Give a wide berth

Speaking of ships coming and going–if a ship leaving the dock , or berth, knew they might be passing next to a ship being detained for health reasons, as in plague or epidemic concerns, they would give that ship wide passing. In other words, they would steer clear so they wouldn’t get near whatever was being feared.

Aargh, give them scurvy dogs a wide berth. image: BrassGlass/Morguefile

3. Giving the cold shoulder

Oh, we’ve been there, haven’t we–you know the feeling, that uncomfortable twinge of being snubbed, especially when you thought you would be ever so warmly received. Well, today you might just get subtly ignored, but if you lived in medieval France you would end up with cold cuts. That’s right, if you weren’t on the A list and you showed up to the party, instead of that yummy slice of venison, pheasant, swan, or whatever was on the best list of entrees, you would get the cold shoulder slice of lamb or beef. But wait a minute, I gladly purchase lamb and don’t mind it cold. Maybe that explains why I’m oblivious when people ignore me at dinner parties.

Moral: don’t be late or it’s a cold plate image:MaxStraeten/MorgueFile

Until next month… Be careful what you say until you know why you are saying it.

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