Archive for February, 2012

*Hey Sterling Middle School students! I hope you all do an awesome job on your project. But remember, no copying. If you plagiarize, you only cheat yourself.

Now write that paper like a BOSS! Go Fight’n Pioneers!

As someone who reads a lot, words and their origins (Etymology) interest me. I got curious enough to do a bit a research and here are a few idioms I found interesting.

Shambles: untidy, chaotic, Originally from the Saxon word scamel, meaning a stall displaying meat, it eventually transformed to shambles and came to mean the street containing butchers shops and markets. After a busy working day, the street would be littered with the messy refuse of the trade, and came to the meaning it has today.

Toast: to celebrate with a drink, Back in the twelfth century, drinks weren’t as good as they are today, so drinkers dunked spiced toast in the cups to draw the bad flavors from it. In the 1600’s, party guests raised a toast to a special guest who was the figurative piece of toast that improved the flavor of the wine.

Nicknames: In days of yore, surnames were not in frequent use so people used additional names to distinguish between Tall John and John the Blacksmith. Eke is Old English for addition. These were ekenames. Over time, “an ekename” changed to “a nickname”

Flying by the seat of your pants: to improvise or go forward without a plan. Back before airplanes had many dials, pilots relied on the feedback they received from the plane body itself, and the place they had the most contact with the fuselage was in their pants, sitting on the seat.

Over the top: foolhardy or excessive, from trench warfare when troops had to go over the top of the trench in a last ditch charge. This tactic was notorious for troop fatalities as they were just mown down by the enemies machine guns.

Hunky Dory: everything is just fine. During the 1800’s a street in Yokohama Japan became famous among American sailors looking for a special lady to share their shore leave with. Honcho-dori became synonymous with a good time and it caught on quickly with only a few changes.

Green with envy: Sappho the lesbian poet once described a lover in pain as having a green complextion. The Greeks believed that if someone was jealous, their body would produce green bile.

Bikini: in 1946, Louis Reard and Jacques Heim both premiered a new type of swimsuit on the beaches in Cannes. That summer, the US military also destroyed a small island in the pacific called Bikini with a thermonuclear bomb. The swimsuits, it was said, had the same effect on the Male mind. I would agree.

In cold blood: Back in the 18th century, people believed that when one was angry or excited, their blood became hot. Since angry people typically have reddened faces, I could see where they got this. Murder, being a situation where one’s temper or general constitution would be elevated, is a prime example. So when police encountered murderers who killed with seeming calm emotions and mind were said to be cold blooded, and their victims were “killed in cold blood.”

Time immemorial: In the year 1275, apparently there were many legal cases that dealt with crimes from long ago. So it was agreed that the year 1189 was legally, the time beyond which no one could remember. It goes without saying that people could not try cases for crimes which no one could officially remember.

Nightmare: in Old English, a maere was an evil fiend who stalked about at night. This eventually came to mean bad dreams people had at night.

Cut to the Chase: from movie speak, get away from the boring dialogue and cut to the chase scene where action increases and the film moves more quickly.

Jesus H. Christ: The Greek monogram IHΣ (iota, eta, sigma) took the first two letters of Jesus’ name and tacked on the last letter at the end. At some point, the Greek capital letter eta was mistaken for the Latin letter H. Since it was in the middle, it became the Son of God’s middle initial.

Dead as a doornail: this phrase originated from the carpentry technique called clinching in the 14th century. A doornail would be hammered through the door and then bent over flat to prevent it from being pulled out, rendering the nail “dead”

To Make ends meet: From 17th century bookkeeping, just making the income and expense columns match each other at the bottom of the page.

Jaywalk: Supposedly, if you take a jaybird away from its natural habitat, it will be so confused it won’t know what to do or where to go. If someone doesn’t recognize that they are supposed to cross the street in the zebra-striped crosswalk, they are as confused as a jay and are jaywalking.  — Personal side note. Both my wife and I heard the phrase: “Naked as a Jaybird” when we were young and originally thought jaywalking was crossing the street in the nude!

Kick the bucket: to die. Not surprisingly, this has a morbid beginning. If someone decides to commit suicide by hanging themselves, they might stand on some object like a chair, stool, or bucket while the rope is tight. Then, to finish the terrible act, they would kick the bucket away from their feet, leaving them to dangle in a slow, agonizing death.

Stick in the Mud: Someone who’s no fun, a party pooper. From Pirate law, when they needed to execute someone but were on land without a plank for the accused to walk. They buried the unfortunate buckaneer up to his neck in sand at low tide, then waited. Incidentally, no one wanted to end up being a stick in the mud.

Willy nilly: back in the 17th century, many people worked as servants. As such there were tasks that they were required to do, whether they wanted to or not. These were “will I, nill I” situations. ‘Will I’ meaning one’s desire to do something, and ‘nill I’ meaning the opposite. Many people can attest that if you are forced to do something, you may perform such task in a less than satisfactory manner. Doing something in a sloppy or incomplete manner shifted into the modern meaning of doing something without a plan or a sense of order.

My research included a lot of web perusing, but was also helped greatly by the book: “Flying by the seat of your pants. Surprising origins of everyday expressions” by Harry Oliver. I really tried to summarize in my own words and not just plagiarize.

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9 Years ago today, I was driving my Toyota Tacoma to work on I81 when I hit a patch of ice going over a bridge. The rear wheels slid out to the left and I tried to steer out of it. I didn’t want to slam on the breaks and go spinning out of control. I realized that I was heading towards the guardrail so I did a little mental checklist before I hit:

Seatbelt? Check,

Airbag? Check.

“OK God here I come.” Check.

I hit the rail at 65 miles an hour and the truck flipped over onto its roof and slid one hundred feet before coming to a rest in the snow bank. The air pressure blew out the back window so snow flew everywhere. I ducked instinctively when I felt the vehicle flip and it was a good thing I did. When it came to rest, the ceiling was only three inches from my fingers on the steering wheel. I heard the tires still spinning and realized that the techno CD I was listening to had stopped playing. Since I was an EMT, I knew the dangers of neck injuries and other trauma. I cautiously wiggled my fingers and toes before I moved my neck. I hunched my shoulders and took a deep breath to see if any ribs were broken. (This is all while I was upside down) Then I unclipped my seat belt and flipped/ crawled over to the passenger side which wasn’t as crushed. The airbag never went off. My Mom bought me an emergency hammer that can cut seatbelts and break glass. I stowed it under the driver’s seat, but because everything had flipped over and snow was everywhere, I couldn’t find it. I pulled out my Leatherman and tried to break the window. I slammed the point of the pliers into the glass repeatedly but it wouldn’t break! Since the CD stopped playing, I assumed power was out, but struck by a sudden thought, I tried the button for the window. Whirrrrrr. It rolled open and I crawled out…right into the arms of my coworker who was a certified first responder! But get this. It was her day off. She just happened to be passing moments after my truck slid to a stop. I also knew a few of the EMTs that arrived minutes later. How many injuries did I receive? None. Does God exist? Yes.

To top  off the day, I took my then girlfriend (now wife) out to dinner at Bangkok Thai in Liverpool. During dinner, I showed Joy (our waitress) the above Polaroid and got a free fried ice cream for surviving!