Didya Know - December 2019

December 31, 2019


"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 Webster, 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.”


"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.


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.


"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.’


"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


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.”


"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”

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