Saturday, March 5, 2011

Say What?!

I’m a random person and I accept and acknowledge this, it’s just one of my {many} quirks. That being said, I sometimes find myself caught by a word or phrase. As in, someone will say it and I’ll wonder where it came from and why it originated in the first place. (I do this with food all the time. I REALLY wonder what in the world made someone grab a cow’s teat, squeeze and partake of what came out, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
Like everyone else, I have words I use and over-use. Whatever, dude and bite my butt come readily to mind. I also have favorite words such as luscious (love the way it rolls off the tongue), resonate (because it sounds like its definition when you say it aloud) and addlepated (it’s just a fun word to use and say).  My mother likes serendipity and my good friend Sarah Martinez likes gobsmacked.
What really grabs me, though, are phrases. I’ve been spouting “God bless a milk cow” lately and have received endless rounds of ribbing. I assure my friends it’s a different cow with each blessing. This got me to thinking about other phrases. I did some research and found a few fun ones, whose origins were sometimes far from what I expected.

By Gum: exclamation of surprise. This is a euphemism for By God and a minced-oath, which is just a fancy way English people used to communicate without being explicit in their language. Gotta love those old Victorians.
Doubting Thomas: someone who refuses to believe something without direct evidence. This is a biblical reference to Thomas the Apostle who refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he felt his wounds himself.

Cut the mustard: to come up to expectations. In the 1900s when commercially prepared mustard became the rage, the word mustard was used to convey strength. To be the proper mustard meant the real deal and genuine article; to be all mustard meant excellence.  It’s mostly used in the negative now (Can’t cut the mustard).

Make no bones about it: expressing a fact in a way that leaves no doubt. This one surprised me. Dating back to early 15th century England, it actually refers to soup. If you found bones in your soup, that was not good; if you didn’t, it was. Ergo, if you found no bones in your meal, you were able to swallow it without difficulty or objection.

Close, but no cigar: fall just short of a successful outcome and get nothing for your efforts. In the early to mid-1900s, fairgrounds and carnivals dominated the American landscape. Game stalls would give out cigars as prizes (what?!) and if you didn’t win the game, you were told “Close, but no cigar” because you obviously did not win the prize. I believe your lungs probably thanked you, but I could be wrong.
Pass the buck: evade responsibility by giving it to someone else. Are you ready for this? It has nothing to do with money. As poker became more prevalent in the latter part of the 19th century, players were a suspicious lot and the deal would often change hands to avoid cheating. The person who was next in line to deal was given a marker – usually a knife with a hilt made from buck’s horns. Hence, passing the buck.

Blaze a trail: to lead the way. This one also got me. A blaze is a mark or notch. In the beginning of frontier and pioneering days, intrepid explorers would notch trees so others could follow, or “blaze a trail.”

How about them apples? Wait, what’s that mean?

Happy talking,
Jennifer August


  1. Clever. "Lord love a duck" comes to mind. LOL

  2. Oooh, Caroline, I like that! Now, how did that get started, I wonder? To the interwebs!!

  3. I do the same thing, Jen. When I hear a word or phrase I wonder where it all got started. Interesting!