Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “archaic phrases”

Why We Say: From the Real McCoy to Getting Called on the Carpet


Not this McCoy–but the doc is considered a fighter

The real McCoy: When someone announces that someone or something is the “real McCoy” they are not referring to the curmudgeonly doctor from Star Trek’s Enterprise. The real, real McCoy goes back to a prize fighter of that name. The story goes that the fighter was being heckled by a bystander. McCoy did not engage with the man, due to his knockout ability, and those standing around told the heckler to stand down, that he was trying to take on the well-known pugilist. The bystander didn’t believe them, and by this time, he had annoyed McCoy enough to punch the man. While on the ground the heckler had time to ruminate and announced, “Yep, that’s the real McCoy.” I think we can agree that the Enterprise McCoy’s temper was real enough from classic and updated episodes .

Here’s Mud in Your Eye: When hoisting up a toast, someone might say, “Well, here’s mud in your eye.” Not the most favorable of toasts when exploring the original meaning, for it references to the other person being a loser. The expression is derived from a horse jockey alluding to winning since the other jockeys would become muddy from the dirt flung up by the front jockey’s horse hooves. To get mud in your eye simply means you are not considered a winner, and the person is in competition with you. I somehow imagine Cary Grant or Gary Cooper uttering this expression in a movie.

Nest egg: Those who are establishing retirement funds are quite familiar with building a nest egg. Back in the day when it was more common to keep chickens in the backyard, people would leave behind one egg so that the hen would be encouraged to keep laying. From this practice the idea of setting aside a bit of money to ensure its growth developed. The strategy being to continue to add to what is already there. An interesting side note is how a team of researchers tried out this theory on a nesting songbird by taking away all of its eggs but one. The songbird continued to lay eggs to get its clutch up to the usual amount of eggs. The researchers kept taking away eggs, but one. Apparently the songbird laid over seventy eggs. I would like to see my financial nest egg keep laying even if I took away some of the investment.

Nick of time: Hearing someone arrived in “the nick of time” or something happened in “the nick of time” sounds like disaster was utterly avoided. In actuality the “nick” served as an attendance marker back in the day. To keep track of those attending classes or church, the “tally” or attendance stick would be marked or “nicked” to show the person’s presence. To arrive in “the nick of time” means to show up. Not that dramatic after all. Then again, showing up can have impact, especially if you are a dog at the edge of a cliff.

O.K.: If everything is fine we usually signify by saying it’s “OK.” This expression comes from the 1840 presidential campaign with Martin Van Buren. Born in a Hudson Valley village known as “Old Kinderhook” the name became part of a Van Buren support group in New York who dubbed themselves “The Democratic O.K. Club.” Eventually the term OK developed into a rally cry signifying that their candidates were “all right.” Hmm, is being all right politically inclined?

Getting called on the carpet: Oh, oh–getting called on the carpet does not bring up positive images.

Comic Strip

In the former times, the boss’s office would be the only one to have carpet. If an employee was “called on the carpet” it meant a meeting with the boss. This meeting could be pleasant or unpleasant. Note: not all boss offices come complete with kitty litter.

Any of these expressions dazzle you with their origins?

I know I’m going to extra careful around any real McCoys when I make a toast, making sure its ok to joke about their nest egg, hoping my poor humor will save me in the nick of time from being called into the boss’s office. Wait a minute–does my boss even have carpet in his office?

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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