Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Why We Say”

Why We Say: Hippos to Hopscotch


Did you know

That “hippopotamus” is derived from the Greek potamos (river) and hippo (horse)? Which means the hippo is actually considered a river horse. I do not advise saddling one.

Image result for saddle on a hippopotamus
pinterest.com

Those who “hit it off” are “striking the scent”, as in the hunting terminology of old. This means people who get along must have common scents.

When people “hobnob” together they are participating in “have and not have” which is another way of saying “give and take”–aptly applied to conversing.

Image result for hobnobbing

That you are mispronouncing “hodge podge” since it is derived from “hotchpotch” which is a stew comprised of this and that.

When referring to a crook as a “hoodlum” you are referring to a San Francisco gang-leader by the name of Muldoon? Because the reporter reversed the spelling to “Noodlum” and the typesetter could not read his writing, he set it up as “Hoodlum.” Good handwriting is important when spelling out bad crooks.

That “hopscotch” is actually “hop scratch” since “scotch” is another word for “scratch”? The child’s game is based on hopping over the scratches made in the dirt. I am hoping you aren’t scratching your head over this one

Image result for hopscotch
retroland.com

Next time we continue with the exploration of “h” phrases ranging from “horse sense” to “hussy.” Stay tuned…

Why We Say: Getting an “A” on knowing your “F” sayings


Veering slightly from the usual format, this month you get to test your knowledge on sayings revolving around “F.”Here we go:

  1. Why do we say “feathers his nest” when someone takes care of his business in a well and organized manner?

2. Why do we refer to someone flaky as a “fair weather friend”?

3. Why do we say “fortnight” when it is two weeks?

4. Why do we say “fork it over” when demanding something from someone?

5. Why do we refer to a sports enthusisast as a “fan”?

6. Why do we say someone is “on the fence” if he or she is undecided?

7.Why do we say “fishy” is something doesn’t seem quite right?

8. Why do we say someone is “footloose” if appearing carefree?

9. Why do we say “fagged out” when really, really tired?

10. Why do we say someone “flies off the handle” when angry?

Those were the questions. Are you ready for the answers?

  1. “Feathering one’s nest” refers to making the situation comfortable, just as a bird feathers its own nest to make it nicer.
  2. A “fair weather friend” is someone who can be only counted on during good times, which is much like sailing–clear skies, no storms is preferred.
  3. “Fortnight” is a shortened version of “fourteen nights.”
  4. Hold your hand out, now spread your fingers. Looks like a pitch fork, right? That’s the idea. A pitchfork grabs onto to something, much like fingers grasp.
  5. A “fan” is shortening of the word “fanatic”–someone overly enthusiastic.
  6. If you are “on the fence” you could go either way, which is like indecisive people–they could go either way in their choice.
  7. This happened to us after hot weather and salmon leftovers in the garbage. Our garage smelled “fishy”–it did not smell right.
  8. No, this does not refer to Kevin Bacon. “Footloose” refers to when animals, particularly horses, are released from their halter or restraints into the pasture. They are often seen kicking up their hooves, much like someone who does not feel restrained by conventions or rules. Probably more figuratively, although Kevin Bacon certainly kicked up his heels when he was dancing.
  9. Easy. “Fagged” is a derivation of “fatigued.”
  10. Watch out for those hammers or axes that have loose heads because once action gets going the head can “fly off the handle,” just like those folk who get getting going and lose control.

How did you do? Some of them make so much sense it’s easy to come up with a more complicated answer. Until next time we tackle “why we say”…

BONUS!

Why We Say: E batch


This month’s Why We Say is a batch fresh from the “E” section.

Eavesdropper

Going back to the Saxon days of England, a person could not build right to the property line since it was mandated that there needed to be space for the drip that rolled off the eaves. This became the “eavesdrip” and someone who leaned near the eavesdrip could hear what was being said in the next house, making them an “eavesdropper.” Maybe this is where the expression of being a “drip” originates from.

Electricity

What does amber have to do with electricity? Dr. William Gilbert, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s physician in 1601, decided to call the effect he produced when rubbing amber with a cloth “electric,” which comes from elecktron, Greek for amber. What this has to do with QEI, I’m not sure–it might be too shocking to conjecture.

Etiquette

Should you find yourself time traveling back to the royal court of France, you might be handed a card of instructions informing you how to behave. This card or ticket or estiquet eventually became “etiquette” or the rules of social behavior. So does one receive a ticket from the polite police if one does not follow the rules posted on the estiquet?

Bonus!

At no extra charge are a few specials from the F” chapter:

Farce

The Latin farcire means “to stuff” and the early religious plays often were stuffed with jokes and comedic scenes which led to humor that was obvious which came to be known as a “farce.”

Going Through Fire and Water

In early times people often had to prove themselves, usually their innocence, by going through some sort of trial. An example of going through fire was having to walk barefoot across hot coals or carrying a red-hot bar. A water test might involve sticking a hand in boiling water. Today, going through extremes, might feel like an endurance test of fire and water.

Fit as a Fiddle

Actually, this should be “fit as a fiddler.” Yeah, playing for a dance all night would take a bit of stamina.

(Old) Fogey

At one time the English word “foggy” meant “fat” or “moss-grown.” The Scotch transferred “foggy” into “fogey” to mean disrespect towards an old man who did not keep up with the times. I suppose moss can grow on a person who doesn’t keep up with change fast enough.

Need more fantabulous “F” sayings? Come back next month. I’ll even throw in some “G” selections.

DOWOs: the “A” list


Having expended all the interesting expressions found in Why We Say, and not wanting to disappoint fans, I have found another source for expressions origins, which is appropriately titled Dictionary of Word Origins: A History of the Words, Expressions, and Cliches We Use by Jordan Almond. For posting purposes DOWO shall suffice.

I have been merrily marking choice entries to share. Look for new DOWOs around the 15th of each month.

Let’s start off with a few “A” list entries:

Why does “A-1” mean the very best?

London Marine insurance firms created a registry of ships and their cargo designating the condition through alpha/numeric sequence. An “A” rating meant the ship was perfect, and a “1” meant the cargo was perfect.

So if you are “A 1” it might be safe to say you are ship shape [you will just have to wait patiently for that reference].

What is meant if something or someone is found to be “above board?”

Dishonest gamblers and magicians (not that they are considered dishonest) often create their tricks or sleight of hand out of sight underneath the table or board. What can’t be seen can’t be trusted, which means if all is performed out in the open it is “above board.”

Performing his card tricks in front of the appreciative crowd, the magician was flushed with his success of dazzling them all with his above board feats of card sharpery.

What is an “Adam’s apple?”

Going back to the Garden of Eden we find Eve offering Adam fruit, which is traditionally thought to be an apple. Maybe being caught by God snacking where they weren’t supposed to caused Adam to choke on his apple bite, thus that bit of stuck fruit is referenced as “Adam’s apple.”

So did Eve swallow hers first or did she not take a bite? Hmm…

Why does “alcohol” mean “spirits?”

Actually “alcohol” means “eye paint.” Both Egyptians and Arabians prepared a black powder to paint eyelids which in Arabic is called al koh’l. Eventually the process of extracting the essence of product from the vine through a charcoal filter became known as “alcohol.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

What is meant by “running amuck?”

This has nothing to do with gallivanting around in a mud puddle. In Malay, where the phrase originated, it meant someone under the influence of opium or other stimulants would become so excited they would rush around in a dagger-led frenzy stabbing people and yelling “Amoq! Amoq!” or “Kill! Kill!!”

I, for one, will think twice before attributing this description. Especially to emus.

Why We Say: #35 (finale)


Alas–we have come to the last page of Why We Say. Over the past couple of years I trotted out some of the odd little expressions we say enhanced by the odd little explanations of this odd little book published in 1953. Some of the explanations were as amusing of the featured expressions.

And so, the last four entries consist of:

Worsted

While worsted sounds like a judgmental critique, it’s actually a material, a fabric made from wool and is used in tailored garments such as suits, carpets, gloves, and other clothing. It is known for its ability to be resilient and recovery well, meaning durability and wrinkle-resistant. We may not go around speaking great volumes about worsted, it is notable that it is actually the name of the town it originated from: Worstead, England. Incidentally, the archaic reference of worsted is “stuff.” I wonder if the Right Stuff  meant NASA space suits were wool.

 

Yankee
Here are some theories about this word that is a slang reference to Americans:
1. It is derived from “yonokie” which is supposedly Indian (tribe not designated) for “silent” and this would be a bit of  joke since the English were considered quite talkative.
2. Another theory is that “yankee” comes from “yengee” a form of “English” or “Anglais.”
3. There is also the thought it is a corruption of “Jannee” which is a form of John in Dutch, since many settlers in the New York area were of Dutch origin.

Researching to verify the theories proposed by Why We Say leads to the conclusion no one really knows how and where the saying originated.  If you know, drop me a comment. In the mean time, enjoy this cartoon:

Yellow (as in coward)
To be yellow is to be associated with being a coward, or to be weak. We look to France for one source, which claims the doorways of traitors were painted yellow. (Yikes, I once painted our house yellow. Whatever did our neighbors think?). Another source says Spain because those being executed for treason were given robes of yellow. (No yellow robes in my wardrobe).

I associate the expression “yellow-bellied” with Yosemite Sam. Alas, I could not find a clip where he utters the phrase “Why, you yellow-bellied coward!” but I did find one where he dances and thought that merited a post.

 

It’s been a fun run with this feature. Not wanting to disappoint followers and fans, I have found another source. Stay tuned…

 

 

Why We Say #12


Continuing on with our foray into unveiling the meaning behind those idioms we know (or not know) so well…

 

Jimmy Cagney voice: “You’ll never take me alive, copper.”

Gotta love those vintage gangster movies. Tommy guns blazing, trench coats, peroxide gun molls, and the dedicated police officers. “Copper” or “cop” an Americanism for police officers, actually owes it origins to London. Police uniforms of London’s finest were once adorned with large copper buttons–I wonder are they still?

I’m looking to get a cord of wood to bolster against winter’s chill. Red fir is the preferred wood by the MEPA’s standards and it has to be cut an irregular 14″ due to our small stove. Wait–what exactly is a cord? At one time a cord or string was used to measure a stack of wood to make it equal _____ feet long, _____ feet wide, and ______ feet deep. Got the answers? Try 8, 4, 4.

However, I still have to round up the wood before I can measure and it might be a wee late in the season to secure my snap, crackle, and poppers for the long winter nights. Presto logs just don’t lend the same ambiance.

Now, this is what I call combining a bit of fun with a full day’s work. Image: http://www.lumberjocks.com

“Oh, don’t give me those crocodile tears. You’re not really hurt.”

Crocodile tears–fake crying–insincere remorse–hypocritical sadness. We attribute that empty crying to being as empty as crocodiles shedding tears as they chomp down their victims. Wait–do crocodiles really cry? Apparently it’s been witnessed that these primitive reptilian cry when they are snacking? Try out this link. It’s more complicated than my little Why We Say book explained. Crocodile tears do make for some great social commentary:

image:kmuw.org

 

 

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