Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Old English”

How Cliché: More of That “F” List

A continuation of more sayings with the beginnings of “F.”

(To go over with a) Fine-Tooth Comb: While combs have been around since the ancient Egyptians dressed out their locks, the term “fine-tooth comb” is from the front half of the nineteenth century when a fine-tooth comb was used to find nits, those teeny lice eggs that lodge in hair. Using a fine-tooth comb means to look thoroughly, carefully to find something. Nit-picker comes to mind, so watch out for those who carry a fine tooth comb.

image: liceworld
Combing through the evidence requires the right tool.

(to have a) Finger in every pie: Being involved in many activities to the point of being too involved is the essence of this saying. Shakespeare, once again, is credited with this saying, which comes from Henry VIII, when the Duke of Buckingham says of Cardinal Wolsey, “No man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger.”

First Things First: This is a familiar saying and dates from the nineteenth century, yet it might not be as well known that there is more to the saying: “First Things First, Second Things Never.” This said by Shirley Conran in Superwoman.

Fish Out of Water. Being out of one’s element is not a comfortable feeling. It no doubt was quite noticeable that a fish does not survive long being out of its element of water. St. Athanasius around 373 A.D. is credited to putting down this observation. Over time others have used this expression including John Wycliffe, Geoffrey Chaucer. It is a cliché in present use.

Take a deep breath when venturing out of one’s element might be helpful

Fit to Be Tied. To be angry enough to be prevented from doing damage is certainly being angry. James Joyce in Ulysses used the line to express the deep feeling of anger: “I was fit to be tied.” So when a person says they are all tied up at present perhaps they are dealing with anger issues.

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere. Appealing to one’s vanity might work with some people, but not for all. Cicero was among those who warned against flattery, but a more modern application appears in Ellery Queen’s 1971 A Fine and Private Place as “Flattery will get you nowhere, Queen,” in response to an insulting comment. This leads to another aspect of the saying which is “Flattery will get you everywhere” in response to a compliment.

Fly Off the Handle. Losing one’s temper can be alarming. It can create analogies such as when a hammer comes off the handle when striking a blow. An American term from the nineteenth century, it’s still in use today.

Then again, there can be a different perspective on the saying.

Food for Thought. Information to ponder. Food for the stomach and thoughts for the brain. Combining the two concepts brings about this saying implying that the brain can chew and digest information much like the stomach can process food. Erasmus stated in his sixteenth century Adagia: “Nor try to put courteous conversation in to the minds of impudent men, for speech is the food of thought.” Mark Twain added his twist in the 1889 A Connecticut Yankee: “there was food for thought there.”

For the Birds. Not of much use; seemingly worthless. A definite explanation is not confirmed, yet it is thought this an American slang from the early twentieth century. The expression refers to how birds would search through horse droppings for seeds. Some construe this as meaning the referred situation is “horse apples” or that is worthless.

This stack is for the birds

Forty Winks. A short nap. It’s thought Willian Langland in 1377 coined the term “wink” meaning sleep when he wrote “Thenne Wakede I of my wink” (“Then I woke from my sleep). As is the “forty winks” this might be attributed to an 1872 Punch magazine article referring to the long, tedious reading of certain church articles. The comment made in the article indicated that after reading thirty-nine of the articles forty winks might be required. Perhaps the meaning is that some readings induce sleep.

Fresh as a Daisy. Full of energy, well rested. Dickens used this expression in the 1845 The Cricket on the Hearth: “She is presently came bouncing back–the saying is as fresh as any daisy; I say fresher.” As daisy means “days eye” in Old English, referring to the yellow center. The daisy, like many other flowers, closes its petals in the evening and reopens them in the morning. The center being revealed once again is freshly ready to face the day.

From the Bottom of One’s Heart. Sincerely meant. The 1545 Book of Common Prayer states, “Be content to forgive from the bottom of the heart all that the other hath trespassed against him.” While a cliché, it is one that is still in use and aptly applicable, and I mean that sincerely.

So many more sayings from the “F” list, yet we move on. Any surprises from the list? Any sayings missed?

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