Where Did That Saying Come From?

About the Author

by Stan St. Clair

"Where Did That Saying Come From?" is a weekly column to be featured here on We are MT that explores words and phrases whose origins have long been forgotten.

It’s written by local resident Stan St. Clair, who is the critically acclaimed author of 20 books.

“I spent nine years researching these books,” said St. Clair, who has been a McMinnville resident since 1977. “In some cases, I was able to prove preconceived notions about popular phases incorrect. I dug deep into the origins.”


St. Clair has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville, Ga. He studied creative writing while a student at Tennessee State University.

Make sure to tune in and learn about other words and phrases every week!

May 25, 2020

"As brave as a lion"

     This simile, which is self-explanatory, was first known to be printed in 1790 in The Haunted Tower, a Comic Opera in Three Acts by James Cobb in Act III, Scene ii:

"Bar. Alarmed, my lord? "hy, though I am naturally as brave as a lion, yet, I do not like to be taken thus by surprise; it is that which alarms me; and Sir Palamede, I am sure is at the bottom of this.'"

"Roger Dodger"

     Roger, in both military and civilian radio terminology, means 'I have received all of the last transmissions.' It is derived from the word indicating the letter 'R' in radio and spelling alphabets in use by the military at the time of the invention of the radio near the end of the nineteenth century.

     This phrase was coined in the U.S. military during World War II in conjunction with a humorous antidote about a soldier, often called a pilot, who added his own flair to radio jargon. The punchline of the joke was, "Roger Dodger, you old codger!" It was citculated through all branches of service culminating with the Coast Guard.

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!"

     Mayday is the international radio distress signal for ships in serious trouble introduced in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior official at Croydon Airport in London, and made official in 1948. It is the angelicized form of the French m'aider, meaning 'help me,' and is a shortening of venez m'aider, 'come help me.' The call is given three times in a row, to prevent misinterpretation or misunderstanding under less than perfect conditions. Other officially recognized calls of distress are SOS (see) and the Morse code signal CDQ (Come Quickly, Distress).

    During World Word II, more than 300,000 Tennesseans served in the armed services. Unfortunately, 5,731 of those servicemen paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the war. Remember them and all other lost soldiers during Memorial Day.​

Did you know?

May 18, 2020

"Cold Feet"

    I’m trying to get my mind off the negative things going around in the world right now. But that doesn’t mean I lack the courage to accept it, and take proper action to protect myself and others. Which brings us to my topic for this column, having “cold feet.”

    IThis old idiom refers to someone having a lack of courage about taking some impending action. It is most commonly attributed to Stephen Crane in his 1893 novella, “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets” which states: “I knew this was the way it would be. They got cold feet.”

    IBy the early 20th century it was being included in English college slang. It was used by some during World War I to refer to those afraid to go into battle.

    IThere was however, earlier usage of the term in a popular German novel by Fritz Rueter, “Ut Mine Stromtid,” or “An Old Story of My Farming Days,” written about 1862. When translated into English in 1878, in banter over a player backing out of a card game, another player says:

    I“If you suffer from cold feet,” said Brasig, “I will tell you an excellent cure ...”

    IIn another book written about the same time, “Seed-Time and Harvest,” Rueter refers to a shoemaker getting “cold feet,” obviously as a pun.

    IBut this still isn’t the actual coining of the roots of this figurative expression. Italian playwright Ben Jonson used a form of it in his satirical work “Volpore” in 1605.

    I“Let me tell you: I am not, as your Lombard proverb saith, cold on my feet; or content to part with my commodities at a cheaper rate than I am accustomed: look not for it.”  

    IEven as early as 1605, this was called a “Lombard proverb” in Italy. In Italy, it meant figuratively, “to be without money.” It is believed that it moved to English as “unwillingness to continue.”

   It's no secret that Nashville is home to many musicians and is called "Music City" by many, but country music actually finds its roots in Bristol, TN. Bristol was recognized as the Birthplace of Country Music in 1998 by the U.S. Congress.

Did you know?

May 11, 2020

"Peanut Gallery "

    As a metaphor, this term refers to a group of critics or commentators, and is sometimes applied in sarcasm to someone making fun or complaining about something. The earliest known use was in 1867, according to Marriam Webster. During Vaudville, the term was used as a nickname for the cheapest seats in a theater which invariably were occupied by the rowdiest attendees who tended to heckle the performers and toss peanuts on the stage.

"Blackberry Winter "

    An expression used in Southern and Midland America to describe a ‘cold snap’ which seems to arrive each spring about the time the blackberries bloom. Another such term is ‘dogwood winter’ which is when the dogwood trees are in bloom.

    The term has been in use since at least the late nineteenth century, and the Illinois State Horticulture Society include this near reference in their Transactions in 1875:

“We have had a very dry season, and yet the Kittatinny blackberry has ripened perfectly, while most other varieties have dried up. And this comes right in with my remarks last night. We have thought that our blackberries winterkill.”

    Then, in Highways and Byways of the South, 1904, Clifton Johnson wrote:

“Then, later, when the blackberries are in blossom, we have another cold spell what we call the blackberry winter.”

    A few years later, in 1915, the American Botonist included the following very clear reference:

“In a similar way a cold spell in spring, after winter has apparently vanished, is variously named blackberry winter, dogwood winter, or redbud winter. Our little winter of this kind comes in May and according to the Monthly Weather…”

Did you know?

    With the sun making its debut more often these days, one might be inclined to go fishing. Make sure to adhere to this “Strange but True” law, though: It is illegal in the state of Tennessee to lasso a catfish.​

May 4, 2020

"Children should be seen, not heard"

    Mother’s Day helps us to reflect on our childhood and the vital part our mothers played in making us the responsible adults we are today, at least for those of us who were fortunate enough to be reared by good mothers. My dear mother believed in this “old-fashioned” principle and I heard it from her more than once.

    A few years back, unbeknownst to me at the time, a doctorate candidate at Vanderbilt University Graduate School referenced this entry in my original volume of “Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions.” The reference was accepted and she received her degree. I didn’t know the lady, so when I found out, I felt much honored. 

    Contrary to popular belief, this did not come from the Bible. The earliest version of this proverb was applied to young women or “maids” and was recorded in Augustinian prior John Mirk’s Festival like this in about 1389:

“Hyt ys an old Englysch sawe (saying): ‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.’”

Note that the saying was “old” at that time.

    In Thomas Becon’s Works, in 1560, we read:

“This also must honest maids provide, that they be not full of tongue. A maid should be seen, and not heard.”

    This trend continued until the 19th century, when we find the following in John Quincy Adams’ Memoirs, first published in 1876:

“My dear mother’s constant lesson in childhood, that children in company should be seen and not heard.”

Here’s wishing all mothers good returns for all they put up with bringing up their children, and for always being there for us. Stay healthy and stay safe, mothers!

    The love of a mother is not foreign to species outside of humans. Orangutans are known to mirror people in their motherly pursuits. Babies rely on their mother entirely for the first couple years of life, but for several more years, their mothers teach them how to find food, shelter, and instill them with survival skills. The young are known to even "visit" their mother years later.

Did you know?

April 27, 2020

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away"

    This sounds like something Ben Franklin could have come up with. But it’s not! The earliest version of this maxim was found in a very old rhyming Welsh folk proverb. 

    The phrase was first cited in print as we know it in the U.S. in 1913 by Elizabeth Wright in “Rustic Speech and Folk-lore.” According to Wright, it started in Pembrokeshire, Wales circa 1764.

    “Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread; or as the more popular version runs: An apple a day Keeps the doctor away.”

    But does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? A study done at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted during 2007-08 and 2009-10. It compared those actually eating an apple each day to those who didn’t and found no difference in needed doctor visits, but did discover that fewer drugs were prescribed to the apple eaters. So maybe there’s a bit of truth in this after all!

It has been undeniably shown that those who take the proper vitamins, in the needed doses, and regularly exercise are healthier in the long run. So during this frustrating time when many of us are likely not moving around as much and getting all the fresh air and sunshine we need, and most of us are not having regular doctor visits, we shouldn’t ignore common sense health issues. We can still get out and walk, do indoor exercise, eat right as much as possible, and take vitamins like B complex, C and lots of D3.

    Remember, we are all in this together. Some things are getting ready to reopen even though a lot of us are uncomfortable about that fact. Things may not go back to the way they were. Let’s hope that when this is finally over they get better!

Bees are notorious for their stings, but humans aren't the only ones who experience this pain in the neck (or the arm, or the leg…). In protecting their hives from outsiders, some "guard bees" will stay by the entrance and sniff the bees that come in, says Marianne Peso from the biology department of Macquarie University. If there's a rogue bee from another hive trying to steal some nectar, the guard bee will bite and even sting the intruder.

Did you know?

April 20, 2020

"When life passes out lemons, make lemonade "

    This proverbial saying encourages people who are facing adversity to be positive, take the misfortunes of life and find ways to improve through these experiences. The thought was coined by Elbert Hubbard, a Christian anarchist writer, in the 1915 obituary of Marshall P. Wilder, a dwarf actor, headed with the praise: “King of Jestors,” according to Select Writings of Elbert Hubbard, 1922, page 237:

    “He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.”

The September, 1916 issue of the Auburn Seminary Record was next to use the maxim:

“(Hugh K. Walker) described a pessimist as one who fletcherizes his bitter pill, the optimist as the man who made lemonade of the lemon handed him.

    It was then picked up by other writers, and was later popularized by Dale Carnegie in “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” 1948, page 138, where he credited Joseph Rosenwald for passing it along to him, “If You Have a Lemon, Make a Lemonade.”

    During this time of sickness and sadness, many of us are confined to our homes, and millions are unable to work. It may seem that life has handed us all lemons. But some have put this proverb into action by doing good things which will benefit others, whether for money or not. 

    A good number of ladies have put to work their skills of sewing and made protective masks. One of these is my own granddaughter, a young mother of two who was taking time off work. I wear the one she made especially for me when I need to go out to the post office or the grocery store. Remember, attitude is everything, and even random acts of kindness make us feel like our lemons can make pretty tasty lemonade!

  • The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.

  • Earth Day originated in the US but became recognized worldwide by 1990.

  •  On the very first Earth Day, 20 million people gathered in the streets of America to protest the industrial revolution. An environmental movement was born as a result.

Did you know?

April 13, 2020

"An ounce of prevention "

    There has never been a time in our lifetimes when “an ounce of prevention” has been more needed. With hundreds of thousands infected and deaths still increasing by the day from a strain of coronavirus that only came into view a few short months ago, we have all been asked to follow strict guidelines: stay home, wash our hands often, disinfect our homes, and remain a safe distance from others. 


    The COVID-19 Task Force has even advised us to wear a cloth facial covering when it is absolutely imperative to go out in public, to help slow the spread of the virus. Yet some have still chosen to ignore much of this and go merrily about life as usual.


    Let’s examine how long this tidbit of common sense has been with us. It is likely no surprise to most that this proverb was passed down to us by none other than Ben Franklin. 


    It is actually an axiom, because in order to head off disaster we must prepare for the worst, but to have the most positive result we should expect the best. Though this is most often utilized in issues of health, and rightfully so, Ben originally wrote it in relation to fire safety, and was using an assumed name at the time. The statement went like this:

  • "It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"

    - Mark Twain

  • "April hath put a spirit of youth in everything."

     
    - William Shakespeare

Did you know?

   In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure, I would advise ‘em to take care how they suffer leaving Coals in a full Shovel, to be carried out of one Room into another, or up or down Stairs, unless in a Warmingpan shut; for Scraps of Fire may fall into Chinks and make no Appearance until Midnight; when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.


    Whatever the circumstances, it all comes down to the simple principle of which is also expressed in the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” 


    If we fail to heed this we must be ready to “pay the piper."

April 6, 2020

"Bad egg"

    This has reference to a person who turns out to be undesirable. The use of this term in a metaphoric manner didn’t take place until mid-19th century. The earliest example in print is found in ‘The Landlord Abroad,’ published Stories of Irish Pleasantry by Mrs. S.C. Hall, 1840:

“’Didn’t Macmurray himself say ----’ ‘Don’t name Macmurray, ‘ interrupted Peggy, speaking for the first time; ‘he’s bad, egg and bird, and not fit companion for you at all at all, Paul; his character’s blasted this many a day, and he always had a spite…”

    Then the definition is found in the Athenaeum, October 29,1864:

A bad egg… a fellow who had not proved to be as good as his promise.”

"Uncle Tom Cobley and all"

    In British English, this is a cute, whimsical way to say, ‘and everyone,’ and is often used to avoid naming an endless list of people. It is taken from the Devon folk song, Wildcombe Fair, published by Sabine Baring-Gould in the book Songs and Ballads of the West (1889-1891). The chorus ends with a long list of persons on the way to the fair:

“Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

  • The first story of a rabbit (later named the “Easter Bunny”) hiding eggs in a garden was published in 1680.

  • Eggs have been seen as ancient symbol of fertility, while springtime is considered to bring new life and rebirth.

  • Egg dyes were once made out of natural items such as onion peels, tree bark, flower petals, and juices.

Did you know?

"We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say"

    This proverb is currently attributed to both Zeno of Citium, a Greek Stoic Philosopher born in 334 BCE, and Epictetus, another Greek Stoic Philosopher (55-135CE). The earliest available text, Bibliotheca Classica, Or A Dictionary of All the Principal Names and Terms by John Lempriere, 1851, states that it is from Zeno, on page 665:

“Zeno in his maxims used to say, that with virtue men could live happy under the most pressing calamities. He said that nature had given us two ears, and only one mouth, to tell us that we ought to listen more than speak.”

    It is likely that Epicteus was a student of Zeno and therefore carried the saying onward.

March 30, 2020

Passing the acid test

Even before the beginning of the California gold rush, prospectors and dealers alike needed a sure way to distinguish pyrite and base metal from the genuine article. A test was developed, originally in the late 18th century, with only nitric acid, which was able to dissolve other metals more readily than gold. Later acid tests used a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids.

Standing or passing the acid test quickly came to refer to holding up under extreme conditions. The earliest known citation of a figurative use of this phrase is from the Wisconsin paper The Columbia Reporter, November, 1845:

“Twenty-four years of service demonstrates his ability to stand the acid test, as Gibson’s Soap Polish has done for over 30 years.”

 

At the getting place

This has been used, particularly in the American South, for over 100 years, as a euphemism in answer to the question, “Where did you get that?” and means roughly, “Mind your own business.” The earliest available citation of the phrase in this connotation is found in Bulletin of the University of Texas, A Word-List from East Alabama, May 1, 1909, on page 314.

“getting place: used in evasive answers: “Where did you get that?” ‘At the getting place.’”

    While the origins April Fools’ Day are uncertain, some believe it started in 16th century France when the observation of New Year’s changed from April 1st to January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate on April 1st were called “April Fools.”​

Did you know?

March 23, 2020

"A volunteer is worth twenty pressed men "

    Originating in the early 18th century in England in reference service in the Royal Navy, this proverb means that when one volunteers he or she is doing something because of desire to do so, and not because of being forced or ‘drafted,’ as in the military. Therefore, that person is much more likely to have their heart in the action or service. Beginning in the 1660s, ‘press gangs’ would go about around British ports attempting to press, or force young men with nautical experience into military service. The earliest reference to a form of it was made by Thomas Hearne in his Journal entry on October 31, 1705:

“Tis said my Lord Seymour presently after Mr. Smith was pronounc’d Speaker, rose up, and told then, Gentlemen; you have got a Low Church man; but pray remember that 100 Volunteers are worth 200 press’d men.

    Hearne’s Journal was later published in Remarks & Collections in 1885.

"The new normal "

   This American colloquialism refers to a previously unusual or unacceptable situation or state of affairs which has become commonly usual or expected. Prior to current use, as early as 1947, the phrase was in use for averages which had increased or decreased. Nevada Cooperative Snow Surveys, 1947, page 4, in reference to snow around the Lake Tahoe area stated:

“The rise in Tahoe normal has been changed from the old 1.68 to the new normal, 1.55.”

  • There’s only one letter that doesn’t appear in any U.S. state name. You’ll find a Z (Arizona), a J (New Jersey), and even two X’s (New Mexico and Texas)—but not a single Q.

  • Even blind people who’ve never seen anyone smile, smile when they’re happy. 

  • Want vitamin C? Eat some red pepper slices! Red pepper has 2.5 times the vitamin C as oranges.

Did you know?

"If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem"

   This proverbial saying is encouraging people to be proactive and be an instrument in bringing about needed change. It is actually a misquote of American political activist Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), who became head of the Black Panther party, and later a Mormon, and a Conservative Republican.

   Cleaver actually said:     

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re

going to be part of the problem.

   The principle was actually attributed to Jesus in Matthew 12:30, best stated in the New Living Translation:                          

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”

March 16, 2020

"Good ole boy"

    This American slang expression may be taken in either a positive or negative connotation depending on the circumstances of its use. Usually it applies to rural Southern men who are easy-going, humble and well thought of. In the negative sense, it can apply to someone who is deviant and determined to fight the organized social system.

   The earliest known printed citation is in the Oklahoma Folk-Lore Society’s publication, Folk-say, Volume IV in 1932:

“Some of the people cried unrestrainedly, ‘Yessir, Booger was a good ‘ol boy.”

   Use of the term didn’t become widespread until the early-1970s.

"Keep your chin up "

   This is another proverb with American origins. The first known printed reference to this was found in a Pennsylvania newspaper called The Evening Democrat, printed in October, 1900 in a section on’…the health giving qualities of mirth.’

Keep your chin up. Don’t take your troubles to bed with you – hang them on a chair with your trousers or drop them in a glass of water with your teeth.”

   Apparently this section of the paper appealed to those of a certain age who had nothing better to do than to be amused with such stuff… especially considering the reference to ‘teeth in a glass’

  • In an entire lifetime, the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world.
     

  • Octopi have three hearts, nine brains, and blue blood.

  • There is enough DNA in the average person’s body to stretch from the sun to Pluto and back — 17 times.

  • At over 2,000 kilometers long, The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on Earth.

Did you know?

"Off the cuff"

   In the olden days, dress shirt cuffs were made of celluloid. Writers on some occasions failed to have paper to take notes and writing them on the removable cuffs of their shirts became an accepted common practice.  Later they would incorporate their notes into their journals or jot them down for use in their stories or novels. Hence, they were said to be ‘off the cuff.’ This has come to mean anything that is improvised.

   The earliest known citation is from Royal Commission on the Press minutes of Great Britain’s Parliament, 1812:

“Mr. Ross: It is a question I cannot answer off the cuff.”

March 9, 2020

"No hill for a stepper"

    The actual origin is unclear, but may be from high-stepping show horses, such as Tennessee Walkers.  This snippet from the 1948 Publication of the American Dialect Society gives good insight into the intention of this phrase:

“That’s no hill for a stepper. (That’s not too hard a task for a good worker.)”

    A similar phrase is ‘no hill for a climber’.

"Piece of cake"

    The idea for this phrase originated in the southern United States in the mid nineteenth century, when cakes were given out as prizes for winning competitions. Slave couples used to walk in a circle around a cake at a gathering. The most graceful pair would win the cake. This is also the origin of ‘cake walk,’ both meaning that something was easy to accomplish.

    The first written usage of the cliché was in Primrose Path, in 1936, by the outstanding American poet, Ogden Nash.

“Her picture’s in the papers now, and life’s a piece of cake.

• Tennessee's nickname of "The Volunteer State" comes from the valor of its soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

• Tennessee has more species of trees than any other state.

• Tennessee has more than 3,800 documented caves.

• Tennessee farmers produce 323 million eggs per year.

Did you know?

"Stuck in one’s craw"

    Meaning annoyed by something unpleasant but forced to accept it, this saying comes from food which is collected in a fowl’s preliminary stomach, called a craw, where it is predigested through use of grit and stones swallowed before going on into the gizzard to finally dissolve into either usable form or be separated into waste.

    The earliest known citation is from Old Times in Tennessee by Josephus Conn Guilt, 1878, page 114:

“This remark stuck in my craw, and I meditated how I should be revenged.”

March 2, 2020

"As snug as a bug in a rug"

    This rhyming metaphor did not come into being in the 1950s, as some may believe. It first appeared in print in 1769. But the meaning of this curious say as it was in the eighteenth century was also quite different than today. ‘Snug’ was then used to mean, ‘neat, trim and well prepared,’ specifically as it referred to ships of the day. It had been so defined since at least the latter sixteenth century.

    Before bugs were insects, they were ghosts or spirits. In 1535, the Cloverdale Bible uses it in this fashion in Psalms 91:5:

“So thou shalt not need to be afrayed for eny bugges by night, ner for arowe that flyeth by daye.”

    By 1642, however, bug also meant ‘beetle’ or something like it , as seen in Daniel Rogers’ Naaman the Syrian.

“Gods rare workmanship in the Ant, the poorest bugge that creeps.”

    As noted in the beginning of this entry, the first known printed reference to ‘as snug as a bug in a rug’ was in 1769. It is in David Garrick’s writings about Shakespeare called Garrick’s vagary, or, England run mad; with particulars of the Strafford Jubilee.

    “If she (a rich widow) has the mopus’ (coins or money), I’ll have her as snug as a bug in a rug.”

The word ‘rug’ here, is a Tudor word with the same source as the word ‘rag.’ But then, rugs were not on the floor, but were thick woolen bed covers, what might today be blankets. So a ‘bug in a rug’ would have been happy and snug, indeed.

The name of March comes from Latin Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar. It was named for Mars, the Roman god of war who was also regarded as a guardian of agriculture and an ancestor of the Roman people through his sons Romulus and Remus. His month Martius was the beginning of the season for both farming and warfare, and the festivals held in his honor during the month were mirrored by others in October, when the season for these activities came to a close.

Did you know?

"Johnny on the spot"

    This means ‘front and center,’ or ready to do whatever, when it is needed. The first known printed reference is in The New York Sun, in April of 1896.

“JOHNNY ON THE SPOT. A new phrase has become popular in New York.”

Other citations began appearing around the same time in newspapers and authors’ works.

February 24, 2020

"I’ve got see a man about a horse (or dog) "

    I’ve got see a man about a horse (or dog) is a euphemistic saying derived from the days when someone was going to settle a bet on a horse or dog race. Though now archaic, through the years it came to be used as a way to conceal what a person was actually leaving to do, such as going to the restroom or to purchase an alcoholic beverage.

    The earliest known citation is in Dion Boucicault’s 1866 play, Flying Scud, in which a character dances around a situation by saying:

“Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop; I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”

"Crooked as a barrel of snakes "

    Crooked as a barrel of snakes is a decidedly Southern American expression first started showing up in print around 1914, when the August issue of The Practical Druggist, in an article by W. H. Cousins of Wichita Falls, Texas, titled ‘Substitution’ contained the following lines:

“If a builder’s plans drawn by an architect specified timbers of a given sized, and because he could use timbers of much smaller size and have them covered from the sight of the superintendent the builder substituted the smaller timbers and got away with a hundred dollars of another man’s money we would all agree that he was as crooked as a barrel of snakes.”

  • The heart of a shrimp is located in its head.

  • A snail can sleep for three years.

  • It is possible to hypnotize a frog by placing it on its back and gently stroking its stomach.

  • It takes a sloth two weeks to digest its food.

  • Giraffes have no vocal chords.

  • Bats always turn left when leaving a cave.

Did you know?

"Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid "

    Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid is a quote from Albert Einstein (1879-1955). It is a thought-provoking reminder to not judge anyone by your personal abilities or agenda. All of us have different talents and those are the criteria by which others view us.

February 17, 2020

"Not much pun‘kin"

    Also used as ‘Ain’t much pun ‘kin,’ this is an old Southern Americanism meaning that something isn’t worth much of anything, or isn’t felling very well. Pun ‘kin, of course, is a contraction for pumpkin, and came from poor crops. It has been in use since the early 20th century, but its origin is illusive.

"Doesn’t cut any (or much) ice"

    This Americanism means ‘that doesn’t impress me,’ or that doesn’t carry any weight with the way I feel about that;’ in short, ‘that is useless to me.’ It was derived from actual cutting of ice. In the late 19th century, when the term was coined, there were no refrigerators. Ice harvesters cut blocks from thick ice on frozen ponds, and had to have a large, sharp knif, or he could not make the cut. A dull knife was useless. Some of this block ice was sold to pharmacies for the soda fountains. The earliest figurative citation known is from the August 10, 1894 issue of American Druggist and Pharmacist Record in ‘Soda Water and Newspapers’, under ‘When Winks Did Go’:

    “Oh, yes, that’s where the wink came in, you know, but there’s no use for winks now at the soda fountain. The wink is a back number; ‘t doesn’t cut any ice, as it were.”

Kingston was the capital of Tennessee for exactly one day and it was the result of a dirty trick by early settlers. As part of the Tellico Treaty of 1805, the Cherokee nation called for the state capital to be moved to Kingston. Unfortunately, the Cherokee bargaining party didn't specify how long Kingston was to remain the capital. So, the settlers agreed to the treaty, and legislators met in Kingston for a few hours, to make it count. But the very next day, they returned to Knoxville. (Nowadays, you'll recognize the capital as a little place called Nashville.)

Did you know?

"Give someone ‘what for!’"

    This saying is quite old. Eric Partridge concluded that it was equal to ‘What’s what,’ and meant to beat, thrash, scold, reprimand.’ The consensus of etymologists is that ‘what for’ means why, as it traditionally does. When children ask the reason they are being punished it is common for them to ask, ‘What for?’ Then the parent may say, ‘I’ll give you what for!’

    The earliest know citation of ‘what for’ in the connotation is in Routledge’s Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in February, 1873, according to the OED:

    “I’ll give you what for if it touches your lips!”

They also concluded that it involved inflicting some pain. Beginning at that date, numerous examples are in print in the late 19th century.

February 10, 2020

"He has enough money to burn a wet mule"

    This old Southern American saying is from the 1880s.  Through the years it has often been used in negative political confrontations, particularly when referring to someone with a large sum of disposable funds, especially when the money may have been obtained dishonestly.  It was used in 1935 by Carleton Beals in a quote from The Story of Huey P. Long:

“Huey described the battle graphically. ‘They have filled up the city with enough money to `  burn a wet mule… They are laying their plans to try to ruin me…’”

    Long was a controversial Louisiana Governor.

A similar popular expression is simply ‘money to burn.’

"Nip in the bud"

    In order to be more productive, trees and flowers have to be pruned.  One item in proper pruning is nipping a number of less significant buds and allowing the healthy ones to receive a greater amount of the flower or tree’s life-giving sap for nourishment.

    The original phrase was ‘nip in the bloom’ and the earliest known reference to it was in a symbolic sense is in Henry Chettle’s romance Piers Plainnes Seaven  yeres Prentiship, in 1595.

“Extinguish these fond loues with minds labour, and nip thy affections in the bloome, that they may neuer bee of power to budde.”

    Therefore, the idea of nipping undesirable notions ‘in the bud’ before they took the place of something more productive became a phrase to be commonly utilized.

  • The red rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.  Since red stands for strong feelings, a red rose is a flower of love.

  • The 1st Valentine’s Day box of chocolates was introduced by Richard Cadbury in 1868.

  • The modern day celebration of Valentine’s Day is believed to begin in France & England.

Did you know?

"Smarter than the average bear"

    This from the popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Yogi Bear, and his little sidekick , Boo-boo.  Yogi, whose name was a takeoff on baseball great Yogi Berra, and who first appeared in 1958, when Berra was a top Yankee hall of Famer, and World Series champ.  Yogi Bear had a number of catchphrases in his vocabulary, the best known of which is this one.  He proclaimed himself ‘smarter than the average bear,’ and sure enough, he was. Yogi was a talking bear who had no problem with the English language.  Now, the phrase is used to describe someone who seems a notch above the crowd in intelligence and / or ingenuity.

February 3, 2020

"Charmed, I'm sure"

    This cliché response to being introduced to someone, supposedly of somewhat lofty social status, most often is used in a sarcastic tone.  It is meant to suggest, ‘I’m certain that you feel that I am fortunate to be meeting this charming lady.’  It has been around for over 100 years.  The earliest known example in print is from The Overland Monthly, July, 1910, page 66, in ‘A Yellow Dog’ by Will Scarlet:


    “’The devil!’ he muttered between clench teeth.
    “Delmege raised his eyebrows, bit his cigarette, and then smiled as amiably as ever.
    “’The devil? Charmed, I’m sure!’”

"Little strokes fall great oaks"

    This very old proverb means that a person can successfully complete a long, arduous task by doing a little at a time.  Though possibly not the originator, Benjamin Franklin included it in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757.  It was included in numerous books of proverbs in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"Little things please little minds"

    This ancient adage is used to say that people who are not overly intelligent are satisfied by trivial things.  It is attributed to Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE – 17 CE).

Most of the more than 200 countries in the world use the metric system when describing things like length or mass. However, there are three countries that stand out: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.

Did you know?

"Dilly-dally"

    This curious term refers to wasting time by allowing one’s mind to wander aimlessly.  Originally just ‘dally’ since the 14th century, likely from the Anglo French dalier (act or move slowly), this is a common reduplication of that word.  According to Merriam Webster, the first use was in 1741. 
    “What you do, sir, do: don’t stand dilly-dallying!”
That reference, though unmentioned in this source, is from Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela (actually published in 1740).  But there is an even earlier citation from 1610 which plainly shows that it was in use by that date.  In British Bishop Gervase Babington’s Conference Notes Upon the First Five Books of Moses, re; Genesis 24:57 we find:
    “Such dilly-dally is fitter for heathens that know not God.”
Frank W. Leigh and Charles Collins wrote a song titled Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way first performed 1918, by British music hall singer, Marie Lloyd.  The song definitely served to popularize the expression.

January 27, 2020

"Goody, goody gumdrops!"

This has long been a children’s exclamation of glee. It started in America.  Goody, goody, then spelled a bit differently, without ‘gumdrops’ goes back to about 1760, when it was used in the very first American ballad opera titled The Disappointment, or The Force of Credulity by Samuel Alder under the pseudonym Andrew Barton, Act II, Scene iii:

 

“Oh! goodee, goodee, oh! we shall see presently.”

In spite of claims by two popular phrase origin sources that earliest known use was in a November, 1936 American comic strip, the expression was used in the Thirttenth Annual Report of Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture, published in 1887, on page 88:

“The farmer’s old rubber hoots of this year may come back next in the shape of ju-jube    paste, or “goody, goody gum drops, ten cents a pound.’ And you will find them on sale at fairs everwhere.”

"In a jiffy"

Though there is a reference a bit earlier for ‘in a jig,’ the first verifiable citation of this expression comes in Francis Grose’s Classic Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796:

“It will be done in a jiffy: it will be done in a short space of time, in an instant.”

Origin is uncertain, but The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology speculates that it may have been, ‘spontaneously coined’ by Raspe, a German librarian, writer and scientist.  The earliest verifiable citation outside of a dictionary comes in a poem titled ‘To Freshcodina’ published in The Spirit of Journals for 1800 by Stephen Jones printed in London in 1801:

“In vain the fun with gracious bounty pour

His warm irraditions on my toil;

Ripens my various vegetable stores,

And in a jiffy makes them fit to boil”

The hashtag symbol is technically called an octothorpe.

 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the "octo-" prefix refers to the eight points on the popular symbol, but the "thorpe" remains a mystery. One theory claims that it comes from the Old English word for "village," based on the idea that the symbol looks like a village surrounded by eight fields!

Did you know?

"Killroy was here"

This is an American pop-culture expression which became popular during World War II, used often in fraffiti.  The words, usually accompanied with a sketch of a bald-headed man with a long nose peering over a fence, started appearing on walls where American GIs had been.  It was reminiscent of the World War I Australian doodle, ‘Foo was here’.  In the U.K. ‘Mr. Chad’ was the icon which was used.  The ‘Kilroy’ version became a national joke, and remained popular into the 1950s.  The actual origin is debated, but it is widely believed to have been originated by James J. Kilroy who used the phrase when checking ships in Fore River Shipyard in Massachusetts to mark rivets he had inspected during World War II.  The WWII Memorial in Washington, DC sports an engraving of the Kilroy head and graffiti.

January 20, 2020

"Danger and delight grow on one stalk"

This proverb is listed as both Scottish and English in various references, so it is certainly known in all of the U.K. It is a reminder for the quick to jump that some will lead a person into danger.  It is likely much older, but it is first cited in The rudiments of English grammar and analysis by Ernest Adams, 1871, in Exercise 27 on page 73, where it is expanded: 


“Danger and Delight grow both upon one stalk; the Rose and the Canker in one bud.”

"According to Hoyle"

This an old expression meaning in agreement with the highest authority, in accord with a strict set of rules. English banister and writer, Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) was the author of several works on card games.  His writings remain to this day the final authority on any disputes on the rules of all games of cards.  The phrase was coined because of his authoritative status.  The earliest known citation is from The Town and Country Magazine, Volume 18, 1786:


“His noble friends, who had adulated him for his great judgment and skill at play, and that he played every card according to Hoyle, nay that he frequently made improvements on him, appeared in their true light.”

January in the Northern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent to July in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa.

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"Paper over the cracks"

Derived from the old practice of pasting paper over cracks in building to cover up holes and keep cold out, this primarily British idiom means to attempt to hide problems, particularly in regard to differences of opinion between two parties, in order to make a situation seem better than it actually is.  It is an English translation of a German phrase used as early as the mid-19th century.  The earliest known citation is from a letter by German diplomat, Minister-President of Prussia, Otto von Bismark, in 1865, one year before the Austro-Prussian War began, in which he declared:

“We have papered over the cracks.”

January 14, 2020

"On the up and up"

This odd expression’s origins are a bit fuzzy, but it came into use in the early 20th century.  It is believed to have come from betting on horse races, and means open and honest, legitimate or forthright.  The earliest known citation is from the American pulp-fiction Munsey’s Magazine, Volume 85, 1925, page 59:

“That much of it’s on the up and up; and this is what we add to it – we tell everybody that you’re in the ring to earn enough money to search for your parents, and find out who they are, and if they’re alive or not.”

"Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them"

This proverbial axiom comes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V, and is found in the words of Malvolio in an answer to Fabian.

“It falls into thy hand, resolve in my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.  Thy Fates upon thy hands. Let thy blood and spirt embrace them.”

The Tennessee State Capitol was designed by architect William Strickland, and when he died before the building was completed, he was entombed inside the capitol's walls.

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"Zero in on something"

There are various theories as to the origin of this term; however, the most accurate is from aiming a rifle at target and setting the sights on the center of the rifle’s crosshairs, where there is a small circle.  Barnhart’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology, 1995, states that ‘zero in’ was first used for setting an instrument to the zero point to take aim at a target in 1913.  Etymology Online dates this at 1909. Both sources further state that ‘zero in on’ was first attested in 1944. As a metaphor it means to give all of one’s attention to a particular person or subject.

January 6, 2020

"Mind your p's and q's"

Various explanations have been given through the years about this expression; including being cautious when drinking alcoholic beverages to distinguish pints from quarts, but the most logical one is that of the printer’s apprentice when learning to set type.  The lower case p and q were so similar, that the printer would warn the novice in the trade to watch to not confuse them.  Hence, ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ became synonymous with behaving, not becoming confused and getting one’s facts straight.

"Six of one, half a dozen of the other"

The coining of this phrase was likely in a book titled The Comic Latin Grammar, Second Edition, printed in 1840.  Then it was used as the title of a story in Popular Science, April, 1883, in an article titled ‘The Legal Status of Servant-Girls’ the following appeared:

“In other words, the legal and illegal ways of settling for the damaged or lost articles end in similar results. ‘It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.’ As a matter of practice and advisability, the illegal method of deduction, although it overrides the servant’s rights, is better for her, as it saves her the expense of a lawsuit merely for a principle.”

The phrase gained great popularity thereafter as meaning that two choices made little or no difference.

Tennessee became the 16th state of the Union in 1796. It was the first territory admitted as a state under the federal Constitution. Before statehood, it was known as the Territory South of the River Ohio. The name Tennessee is derived from the name of two Cherokee villages on its banks.  It is a Cherokee modification of an earlier Yuchi word. It has been said to mean "meeting place", "winding river", or "river of the great bend".

Did you know?

"As fine as frog hair"

This Americanism means someone feels fantastic!  We find a citation of it back as far as 1865 in C. Davis’s Diary:

“I have a better flow of spirits this morning, and, in fact, feel as fine as frog’s hair, as Potso used to say.”

Note he says ‘Potso used to say,’ indicating that the phrase had already been round awhile.  Obviously, frogs are hairless, and this simile points to the fact that someone feels so fine that there is no feeling quite like it.

December 31, 2019

"Booze it and lose it"

This saying comes from the title of a Governor’s Highway Safety Campaign which first began in North Carolina in 1994, and means that someone caught drinking and driving would lose his or her driver’s license. The Presidential Incentive for Making  .08 BAC the National Legal Limit (1998) states the following:

“Programs such as… North Carolina’s  ‘Booze It and Lose It’ campaign, result in a large number of criminal apprehensions and recoveries of stolen property.”

The campaign is also credited with saving many lives and later was also adopted by the State of Tennessee.

"Get one's ears lowered"

This is an American idiomatic expression meaning “get a haircut” made popular in the 1940s and 1950s.  The earliest available citation is found in The Current Sauce published by Louisiana State Normal College, Natchitoches, Louisiana, Monday, January 25, 1942, in “Freshman Class Makes Studay of Slang Words on Campus” by Annette Alderman and Carolyn Russell on Page 2:

            “He got his ears lowered.”

It derived from the fact that boys at the time were thought to be “shaggy” when their hair grew down below the tops of their ears.  Getting a haircut would make their ears appear lower on their heads.

2020 (MMXX) will be a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3rd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of the 2020s decade.

Did you know?

"Gobbledygook"

This nonsensical expression has reference to language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.  According to Merriam Wester, the first known use was in 1944.  U.S. Congressman Murray Maverick of Texas disliked drawn out dialogue and rebelled against the pompous way in which information was being presented in Washington, coining this word to describe it, “based on the meaningless ‘gobbling’ noise of turkeys when made by human gook.”

December 18, 2019

"No man is a failure when he has friends"

This  proverb has been wrongly attributed Mark Twain. It most certainly was used in the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946, by the angel character, Clarence (Henry Travers), in the note he left for George Bailey (James Stewart) at the end:

 

“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings the wings. Love, Clarence.”

 

But the earliest known citation of a close form of it comes from The American Hereford Journal, December 15, 1916, a publication for cattlemen, in an article titled, ‘The Sothams Have Mastered the Business of Handling Public Sales,’ in describing the attributors of T.F.B. ‘Tom’ Sotham, head of a Lansing Michigan sales organization, likely written by Editor, John Hazelton.

"Rome wasn't built in a day"

This well-worn proverb is another for which sixteenth-century British playwright and writer John Heywood must receive credit for passing it on to us.

It was also in A dialogue containing the number in effect of all the proverbs in the English tongue, published in 1546.

It means nothing good happens overnight.  It takes time to build relationships, businesses, etc.

You might want to brew a cup o' tea when decking your halls this year. The origin of Christmas trees goes all the way back to ancient Egyptians and Romans, who marked the winter solstice with evergreens as a reminder that spring would return soon. But it wasn't until Prince Albert of Germany introduced the tree to his new wife, Queen Victoria of England, that the tradition really took off. A drawing of the couple in front of a Christmas tree appeared in Illustrated London News way back in 1848 and as we say today, the idea went viral.

Did you know?

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly"

This is a quote from noted American architect, author, environmentalist activist and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895 -1983) which has become proverbial. It is closely related to ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ (see first volume) and means that you can’t tell a person’s potential just by looking at him or her.  We must allow each person to change with time, and become the individual that he or she is destined to become.  Fuller, who was noted for unorthodox ideas on global issues, invented the ‘geodesic dome,’ the only large dome that can be set directly on the ground as a complete structure and has no limiting dimensions.

December 11, 2019

"I'll eat my hat"

For hundreds of year, in fact, since the late eighteenth century, ‘I’ll eat my hat’ has been an expression of someone’s confidence and certainty of an event happening.

The promise to eat one’s hat is, of course, not something anyone would hold the speaker to. The earliest citation of the phrase known in print is from Thomas Brydges’ Homer Travestie (A Burlesque Translation of Homer), in 1797:

“For though we tumble down the wall,

And fire their rotten boats and all,

I’ll eat my hat, if Jove don’t drop us,

Or play some queer rogue’s trick to stop us.”

Charles Dickens used a longer version of this phrase in The Pickwick Papers, published forty years late, in 1837:

“If I knew as little of life as that, I’d eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole.”

"A day late and a dollar short"

This Americanism came into our pop culture in the mid-to-late twentieth century, though it may have been in use somewhat earlier. It was already well-recognized when it appeared in the New York Magazine on November 15, 1971 in an article on the Associated Press by Fred Powledge:

“It’s a difficult undertaking and as the reforms proceed at the AP, some staffers are saying that the changes are a day late and a dollar short.  Criticizing the Associated Press is very easy.”

It is sarcasm regarding perpetual ill-preparedness. A similar phrase is ‘too little too late.’

The first artificial Christmas Tree wasn’t a tree at all.  It was created out of goose feathers that were dyed green.  The first artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany in the 19th century, due to a major continuous deforestation.  The feather trees became increasingly popular during the early 20th century and finally made their way to the US.

Did you know?

"Every day of the week and twice on Sunday"

This phrase has been used in the American South for decades, but did not originate there.

It goes back to Vaudeville days, from the 1880s to the 1930s. Show companies would advertise that they did the show ‘every day of the week and twice on Sundays.’ Even in the ‘30s, the shows would only cost a nickel, and it had to be split between the producers, performers, stage hands and everybody, so the more shows they could put on, the more everyone got paid.

December 3, 2019

"Fortune favors the bold"

This is one popular translation of various similar Latin Proverbs, likely the nearest one being, Fortuna Audaces Iuvat, literally translated ‘Fortune helps the bold.’  The earliest reference in prin in Latin now available is from Symbola divina et humana Pontificum, Imperatorum, Regum, printed in 1601 in Rome.  The earliest English reference is found in Zingis, Atragedy in Five Acts by Alexander Dow, 1769:

                “Art thou only bold When fortune favors in the gloom                 of night?”

Then in 1799, E.F. Lantier, in the English translation from the French of author Etienne-Francois de Lantie, used the proverb in The Travels of Antenor in Greece and Asia on page 46:

                “Love, like Fortune, favors the bold.”

"See you in the funny paper"

This saying was an off way of saying goodbye, particularly from the 1920s through the end of World War II, but many kept using it longer.  It was meant in the best light, and indicated that people’s lives took quirky turns like characters in the comics.  We ach could be the subject of our own comic strip. ‘Funny paper’ was used for comics since the latter part of the 19th century. In Harper’s Weekly, September 19, 1857, we find this, near some comical drawings:

“Moreover, a man who expends four cents for a copy of a funny paper wastes an amount of money which, if judiciously expended, would provide him with a …glass of Lager Beer...”

The earliest example of the actual phrase is from the August, 1920 edition of Commercial Telegraph’s Journal:

                “So long, boys, see you in the funny paper. ‘30

                “J.N. HANNA

In Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, finding a spider or a spider’s web on a Christmas tree is believed to be a harbinger of good luck. According to one legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus, according to the other – a spider web on the Christmas tree turned silver and gold once the sunlight touched it. One way or another, decorating a Christmas tree with artificial spiders and spider webs will inevitably bring you luck and prosperity!

Did you know?

Like a duck to water

Usually preceded by takes to (something), this simile speaks of someone having a natural tendency or talent toward a particular field of endeavor or subject, and enjoying ‘diving into it’ immensely, even the first time it is approached. The earliest known reference to it in print is from the July, 1860 issue of Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in ‘Our Jockeys:’

                “…he took to a horse like a duck to water.”

November 18, 2019

"Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while"

Sometimes this is used with hog or pig, the animal usually favored in older texts, sometimes it is a truffle, a chestnut or an acorn. This saying infers that no matter how inept at what someone is doing he or she will get lucky every once in a while and do something right. Its origin, however, is obscure, though Jon R. Stone in The Rutledge Book of World Proverbs (2006) calls it Russian. It is used a lot on websites, in business, and most particularly concerning sales people who don’t adapt well to the business, and by those inclined to think gambling or playing the lottery just might pay off some day.

Versions of it have been around in English since before it appeared in print as a say in Golden Hours, a magazine for boys and girls, in January, 1877:

“If ‘a blind pig finds an acorn now and then,’ as the saying, goes do you think we may safely say a blind hen finds corn occasionally?”

A similar cliche’ is ‘Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.’

"Shoot fire and save matches!"

The origin of this saying or who coined it is obscure, but it likely started in the American South around the mid-twentieth century. It, or the profane alternative, was used as an expression of surprise, alarm or disgust when something didn’t go the way it was anticipated. The earliest known printed reference is from Guy Owens’ classic novel of rural North Carolina, The Ballad of the Flim-flam Man, 1965, page 66:

“Shoot fire and save matches! You talk about running. Shuck, you’ve not seen nothing like it in all your born days, the way them two moonshiners lit out of there.”

Did you know?

Christmas is a daily event when you live in Christmasville, TN. Situated in Caroll county, Christmasville has been around since 1823 but was used by Post No. 2 as early as 1785. 

Elvis has left the building

At the close of Elvis Presley concerts, this phrase was routinely employed to convince lingering fans to leave. Now it is quoted metaphorically simply to announce that a show or performance is over.

The first time this phrase was used at an Elvis concert in December, 1956, however, at the Louisiana Hayride show, by Horace Logan, the announcer, it was quite the opposite. Elvis had performed early, and the younger members of the audience who weren’t big fans of country music began to leave, possibly hoping to get a glimpse of Presley. Logan said:

“Please, young people… Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away… Please take you.”

The regular announcer picked up on the phrase, and during the 1970s, this version can still be heard on several of Elvis’ live recordings:

“Ladies and gentleman, Elvis has left the building. Thank you and goodnight.”

November 11, 2019

Cat head/cat-head/cathead biscuits

Biscuits, a type of which, known as the soft biscuit, was common in Scotland, came to be a viable type of bread in the Southern U.S. before the Civil War.  In 1875, Alexander Ashbourne invented and patented the first biscuit cutter. A cathead biscuit,  however, is a name applied to a large buttermilk biscuit, usually between six and eight inches around, made almost exclusively in the South, served with either gravy or butter and jelly, preserves or jam.  They are crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. The term is believed to have originated in the Carolinas, and comes from the fact that they are normally about the size of a cat’s head.

Has a nice ring to it

This old adage means that something sounds good. It was originally used to express the quality sound of a bell. It was in use earlier in relation to other things, but oddly didn’t start showing up in print until the 1970s and did not become popularized until the 1980s.  The earliest verifiable examples  are found in the Kansas State Collegian, Wednesday April 20, 1972, in which it appears four times, the first being in an advertisement on page 13, where they are focusing on engagement rings:  “ Say ‘HOLIDAY JEWELERS’ IT HAS A NICE RING TO IT

Dry as a powder house

This alludes to the fact that gunpowder, which inspired the simile, must be kept extremely dry or it is of no use, and will not fire.  This expression came out of the great drought in the U.S. in the 1840s.  In 1844 and ’45, several publications used the following analogy. One was in the New England Farmer, Boston, Wednesday September 25, 1844, when the following appeared on the 2nd page: “We are in the midst of an unparalleled drought. The earth, in city and country, is ‘as dry as a powder house.’  Vegetations of all kinds look as though they had been kissed by fire.”

Did you know?

Monteagle is a town in Franklin, Grundy, and Marion counties in the U.S. state of Tennessee, in the Cumberland Plateau region of the southeastern part of the state. The population was 1,238 at the 2000 census – 804 of the town's 1,238 residents (64.9%) lived in Grundy County, 428 (34.6%) in Marion County, and 6 (0.5%) in Franklin County.[7] The population at the 2010 census was 1,192.

Tickety-boo

Now heard more in Canada than any other country, this means doing alright or going very well.  It has been in use since the 1920s-1930s, and may have originated in Scotland, where it in the title of a popular children’s song titled, Everything is Tickety-Boo.  It is in the 1958 MGM movie, Merry Andrew, sung by Danny Kaye.  The most likely origin, however, is in the British military, and may have come from the Hindi term ‘tickee babu’ having basically the same meaning, due to the large British Military presence in India from 1848-1947.  This citation from The Motor, Volume 80, 1942, on page 14, call it a ‘war-time expression:’

“…about 6 p.m. it had been replaced, likewise the floorboards, and Bryon pronounced that everything, to use a war-time expression, was once again ‘tickety-boo.’”

November 5, 2019

Catawampus or catywampus

This Southern-midland slang expression now means positioned diagonally or ‘kiddy-cornered’ (originally ‘cater-cornered’). Etymologists have had a time detecting its actual derivation, and expecially how it came to have this meaning.

Cata or cater is a prefix meaning askew. In the early twentieth century a ‘wampus cat’ was any wild cat. A mountain lion is sometimes called a catamount.

The original meaning of this word, in fact, according Slang and Analogies Past and Present by William Ernest Henley published in 1891 was, ‘vermin, especially those that sting and bite.’ An earlier spelling is listed as ‘catawampous’, meaning fiercely, eagerly or violently destructive, and was a verb by adding ‘-ly’ it could be used as an adverb. Catawampus, it says, was apparently formed from the earlier word.

 

Home, sweet home

This phrase, used to express the importance, primarily of the place to which one is devoted because of heritage and birth, is from the title to a famous song written in Paris by American-born John Howard Payne and melody by British composer, Sir Henry Bishop, first performed in London in 1823. The tune may have been based on a Sicilian folk song.

Like a duck to water

Usually preceded by takes to (something), this simile speaks of someone having a natural tendency or talent toward a particular field of endeavor or subject, and enjoying ‘diving into it’ immensely, even the first time it is approached. The earliest known reference to it in print is from the July, 1860 issue of Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in ‘Our Jockeys:’  “…he took to a horse like a duck to water.”

 

Spill the beans

In ancient Greece, voting was held by dropping beans into a container. A white bean meant you were for the candidate, a black or dark bean was a ‘no’ vote. Only the polling officials could empty the beans and determine the winner.

Occasionally a clumsy voter would knock over the container, spilling the beans, and reveal the results prematurely.

Today spilling the beans means revealing any secret before its time.

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