✏Idiomics – The History of More of Your Favourite Idioms 🌏🎓

title version 2I was discussing recently the idea of innate intelligence. As in, what separates us from each other in terms of intellectual ability. I am intrigued by the question of whether there is even a way to truly rank people in regards to intelligence, especially when it often appears that there are so many types of intelligence. As Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So imagine my dismay when the person I was discussing this with asked me if I had heard about the ‘super IQ’ test invented by Ronald K. Hoeflin. I, of course, had not, and was perplexed how this was supposed to answer my initial enquiry. My friend then said he knew one of the questions, and so proudly asked me, “Teeth is to Hen, as Nest is to … what?”

“Quick Jerry, hide your fangs. They’re onto us”

I stared at him, baffled. Cuckoo? On account of them not making nests (I was supposing). I was, of course, guessing wrong. “Mare,” he said, matter of factly, before turning to walk away. A mare’s nest, it turns out, was a term common in literature from around 1650 to 1850, and so only those who were well read would be able to know and recognise this. Both ‘hens teeth’ and ‘mare’s nest’ have similar meanings; something is extremely rare (rare as hen’s teeth), or an illusory discovery (a mare’s nest). Essentially, something so rare as to be non-existent. My friend had merely perpetuated an archaic approach to intellectual appreciation, and fallen into the age old trap of undermining another with the use of a tricky, niche intelligence question designed to alienate and promote hierarchy. That said, I wish I’d known the answer… So, proof idioms could save your life? Not quite, but proof they can be very interesting, and could also help you gain a mega IQ score of 180+ without needing to study? Perhaps.

“erm….”

We have already explored the history of some idioms in a previous post, but here we expand on this information with a few more for your reading pleasure, courtesy of recommendations from bloggers such as Quilt Musings.   Dark Horse The word ‘dark’ found a lot of use in Victorian England to describe anything mysterious or unknown, hence it became a popular term used to discuss any outside horse who was able to surprise the order and win a race from around the 1830’s onwards. Interestingly, this idiom translates almost exactly into many languages, from Finnish (musta hevonen) to Chinese (黑馬). Still… horses are not to be trusted, dark or not.

“Always up to something”

Raining Cats and Dogs

This is one of those expressions that people often wish had a literal origin, but alas it does not. The real truth behind this saying is much darker than merely the cute idea of furry rain. England in the 1700s was, to put it bluntly, pretty disgusting. Many houses didn’t have toilets, and you would normally throw your faeces straight out of the window and into the street. After time, as you can imagine, the streets became a place for all kinds of rubbish, and many people would dump many different things into the streets along with the faecal matter. This included the dead bodies of animals! Now, we are all aware that England is a drizzly land of rain. It is often named as the place where rain was invented (citation needed) and this rain would often lead to storms and minor floods. In such floods, it would not be uncommon to see the corpses of pets and animals floating in the street. The earliest reference of this can be seen in the poem ‘A description of a city shower’ by Jonathan Swift, first published in Tatler magazine in 1710, where he refers to dead animal bodies floating in the streets, along with other gross things. Urgh!

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

To see it in it’s current form, we have to look a little later to a book by Jonathan Swift titled A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation. It was released in 1738 and contains the line: “I know sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.” See the quote and a picture of the man for yourself here at izquotes.com

Like this but smellier and deader... more aargh than aww

Like this but smellier and deader… more aargh than aww

Turn a Blind Eye

For this particular idiom, we must journey back to the battle of Copenhagen in 1801; a navy tussle between British forces and a combined opposition of Norwegian/Danish ships. Admiral Hiratio Nelson was leading an attack with a fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Now, it was common at that point in history for ships to communicate between each other using semaphore and flags. During the heat of battle smoke and general fighting could distract and disrupt messages, and it was not unheard of for some to be misunderstood completely. Nelson, it should be noted, was a man who already contained a rather rebellious disregard for orders when they contravened his innate desire for success at all costs. The ambiguity of flag signals only seemed to play into his already heightened sense of disregard for key orders at key moments. Nelson = Badass.

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

As Nelson was leading a charge again Danish broadsides, his position started to look a little weaker from the distance. Parker, fearing that Nelson was only charging in further to battle to save face and not be seen as a coward, offered Nelson an ‘out’ by signalling the order for retreat. Nelson had previously lost the sight in one eye during a campaign in Cadiz in Spain before, after shrapnel sent sand and stone at his face. Upon noticing the flag command coming from Admiral Parker, Nelson turned to his flag captain (Foley) and said: “Foley, you know that I have lost an eye, and have a right to be blind sometimes.” He then raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal”. Find the quote here. And so a hero and a rather apt idiom was born.

Still turning a blind eye, even now

Still turning a blind eye, even now

The story of words and how they have come to find use is fascinating, and I hope you enjoyed it too. As always, comments are valued and appreciated. Is there an idiom you really wish had made it in this time? Let me know below.

Special thanks to phrases.org.uk for the wonderful information

Another special thanks to Habbick, James Barker, koko-tewan, papaija2008, stockimages, Tina Phillips and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✒Idi…ummmm; The history of some of our favourite idioms (and OK) ✏

Idioms logo

The English language; a diverse and ever-changing beast. As a teacher, I am often confronted with how perplexing our great language can be, and how some of the words that inhabit its planes of communication are far from the lands of sanity. As a mish-mash of various languages, English is very much a patchwork quilt of Latin, French, Germanic, Greek and Polynesian origins. And that is just the start. Trace the history far enough and you will find many more influences too.

Even in our contemporary world, English still insists on ‘loaning’ words when a better one doesn’t already exist in the language, such as Karaoke. New words find their way into our language too from popular culture and general life around us. Anyone who has ever seen The Thick of It will be familiar with Malcolm Tucker’s classic ‘omnishambles’. A word which is only as old as that show, invented to describe a “situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations” according to Oxforddictionaries.com.

This wonderful flexibility is arguably one of the reasons why English is such a popular language, and spoken so widely. But, don’t you ever wonder where some of the sayings come from?

Specifically, I like to look at the history of idioms. An idiom is a figure of speech used to mean something other than its literal meaning. In the English language it is estimated there are over 25,000 idioms in use!

That would be a seriously long-read if we tried to define them all! So, let’s start small. Here is the meaning for five famous idioms (and for one famous phrase that isn’t an idiom but has an interesting history).

“Mum, your flan was an omnishambles”
“Aaaargh!”

Always a bridesmaid, never a Bride

Lets start with an easy one, the meaning of which is exactly what it says; someone always being present at other people’s weddings but never having their own. It is often used by old, cruel mothers to mock their unwed female offspring… generally to make single women feel that they are unwanted or cannot find love 😦

It was first used in the Victorian dance hall song Why Am I Always a Bridesmaid by Fred W. Leigh. The phrase gained popularity after being used in a comedic Listerine advert. It shows a picture of a woman named ‘Edna’ under the slogan ‘always a  bridesmaid, never a bride’. She stares forlornly into the distance as she contemplates how her halitosis prevents her from finding love. The solution? Buy Listerine mouthwash and watch the suitors pile in!

Of course, it can't fix everything

Of course, it can’t fix everything

Ride Shotgun

Who remembers their days as a kid/student/adult/parent, scrambling with your friends or siblings for the honour of riding in the passenger seat, next to the driver? Of course, “I called shotgun” is the way of letting all others know you have earned this mighty privilege without the need for bloodshed.

This saying comes from the ol’ Wild West, a time and place where life was much more dangerous than today. If you were sitting next to the driver you would be expected to wield a shotgun so as to defend the stagecoach (the transport of the day) from bandits and looters. More pressure than merely map reading!

“I’m just here for the free ride”

Basket Case

This is a phrase often used to describe someone who is mentally unhinged. It was also the name of a big hit for Pop-Punk trio Green Day in 1994.

This is supposedly a term from World War I, used to describe someone who has lost all their limbs. The first recorded use of the term in official use was by the US government in denial of this practice. In 1919 The US command on public information issued this statement:

“The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.” according to all-that-is-interesting.com

“Yeah, none at all”

Hold Your Horses!

This means ‘wait a moment’, and is often used to calm someone who is showing overt keenness or exuberance.

It is believed to come from around 800BC. A line in book 23 of Homer’s Iliad is commonly translated as “Antilochus – you drive like a maniac! Hold your horses!” That is, apart from the original translation in 1598 that has it as “contain thy horses”. I’m not sure why I prefer if I’m honest. Either way, this Antilochus fellow sounds like a bit of a bad ass. Those horses though…

“Contain this!”

Close, But No Cigar

This is another way of saying that you only just missed out. It was a near miss!

There was a time, many moons ago, when cigars were the preferred choice by fairground stalls as their prizes instead of the large, fluffy plush toys you will find yourself winning these days. One can only imagine if the cigars would also be over-sized and cheaply made… That said, winning was much more impossible than it is now, with games often rigged to make them even harder! The first time it was written down was in a script for the film version of Annie Oakley in 1935,  appearing as “close Colonel, but no cigar” according to phrases.org

From then on it gained popularity and appeared in newspapers from 1949 onwards.

So, it comes from con artists, tricking you into playing a game you were destined to lose. Can you trust anyone?

“We’re out of snake oil, but why not enjoy some of this lovely air. Yours for only $99!”

OK

This, of course, is not an idiom, but it is an extremely popular expression that also has a rather random history.

Used initially in American, then global English, OK is now a staple in many different languages all across the world. It can mean ‘I understand’, or it can mean something is not very good, as in “the karate film was ok”. It can mean I am fine, and can even be a friendly way of saying hello, as in ‘Hey guys, you ok?”

So, onto its origins. There are myriad explanations for where this expression comes from: it could come from the Greek olla kalla, from German alles korrekt or Ober-Kommando, from Finnish oikea, from the Haitian port “Aux Cayes”, from Latin omnes korrecta, from Chocktaw okeh, from a Puerto Rican rum named “Aux Quais”, from Scotland och aye, from Louisiana French au quai, from Wolof waw kay, from Mandingo O ke. There are countless other stories too, increasing the legend of OK; initials on biscuits, branding on cattle, ‘Old Kinderhook’ being the nickname of president Martin Van Buren, ‘0 killed’ being the report of the night’s death toll in WWI or American Civil War, ‘Orl Korrect’ military reporting indicating that troops were in good order, or even ship builders marking wood for the ‘Outer Keel’.

The truth appears to be much more simple than any of that, however. In 1963 a famous etymologist named Professor Allen Walker Read published a book called American Speech. In it, he draws the conclusion that OK effectively started out as a prank.

On March 23rd, 1839, the editor of The Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a ridiculous organisation named the Anti-Bell Ringing Association (ABRS). They were campaigning to have the laws of dinner bell ringing changed, and OK was used in this article as a shortened version of ‘Oll-Korrect’, or ‘all correct’. At the time it was not uncommon for abbreviations to change the spelling of words, such as ‘KG’ meaning no go (know go) and ‘OW’ meaning all right (Oll Write).

These witty abbreviations are essentially the old world’s LOL and BRB.

“ROFL!”

So, that’s us for this post. Any phrases you think have an interesting story but you didn’t see up here today? Or perhaps you have a phrase you would like us to look into? As always, feel free to leave a comment. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Thanks to mentalfloss.com, all-that-is-interesting.com and phrases.org.uk for the inspiration for this post.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, num_skyman, olovedog, stockimages, Tina Phillips and Sira Anamwong @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Non-non-fiction – Absolute lies you’ve believed for years!

title

Children are just terrible, aren’t they? Ok, so maybe they are actually lovely little bundles of joy that just happen to also slip into patterns of annoying behaviour, but still, we can all agree they have the potential to be a nightmare at times.

So, how do you go about addressing their behaviour but also making it seem like you are on their side, and therefore it’s not you punishing them, but the world? You lie, of course!

When I was a small boy, my grandmother used to love telling me ridiculous lies in her effort to try and curb my naughty behaviour. For this reason, I used to have a fear of eating chewing gum as I didn’t want to be digesting it into my teens. When I wouldn’t finish my carrots, she convinced me that James Bond ate all of his and that was the reason he could see so well in the dark. And date beautiful women. And always survive. She even showed me scientific studies… studies!!!

This all reminded me of some of the other factual errors we have been fed as gospel, or statements we have taken as truths. They aren’t all told for children, but I just cannot take the lies any more! So here you are people, an Itchy Quill knowledge bomb coming your way.

Sugar is natures turbo booster

Ok, so we all know about this one, right? This has to be true, I mean, I saw Kelsey’s boy Jeremy eat a bag of skittles at his birthday party last week and he was just crazy! It can’t be the parents fault, because they are such wonderful people. It must be all the sugar!

WRONG.

Sugar does not, as commonly believed, lead to hyperactivity in children. The way the body breaks down sugar just doesn’t work like that. Some kids are just innately hyperactive, lest we forget. If they do seem extra hyper, it could be from eating chocolate, and therefore by extension caffeine. Kids on caffeine; now that would be hyperactive.

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

Swimming after eating can kill you

I might be exaggerating a little on the lie here, but we all know this one don’t we; give yourself thirty minutes to digest your food before you get in the pool, otherwise you could get a cramp and drown. This isn’t true, simply because the human body is more than capable of both digesting and swimming at the same time. It’s had plenty of practice in multi-tasking, after all. Of course, if you eat a big meal and then jump in the pool and vigorously paddle, you run the risk of discomfort. But that could happen during other activities such as working out or running. If you get into the pool and take it easy, you’ll live to eat another day!

It could be the cheesecake that's drowning me... or it could be the fact I can't swim!

It could be the cheesecake that’s drowning me… or it could be the fact I can’t swim!

George’s Marvellous Molars

As sexy as it would have been, George Washington did not have teeth made of wood. His gnashers were in fact made from a combination of walrus and elephant ivory, lead, gold wire and brass. That’s right, the original president was keeping it real with gold (wired) teeth. It is not clear whether he also had a hip hop deal and 50″ rims, but he was famous for popping a few (British) caps…

What's up b**ches!

What’s up b**ches!

Blind as a…

Narwhale? Giraffe? Monkey? Of course, everyone knows the expression, blind as a bat. But here’s the thing, bats can see fine! It’s not known for sure where the myth comes from, but I believe that it is jealousy from humans at the fact bats developed such excellent echolocation. We chose to accuse them of blindness to give us a feeling of superiority at being able to do something they can’t. Well, they can. So I guess we lose. It’s only a matter of time before the bats come to take us all away and get their revenge (citation needed).

"Oi, I'm watching you"

“Oi, I’m watching you”

The Arthritic Bully

Yes, it’s odd that there aren’t a bunch of old men who used to be bullies walking around with arthritis, is it? Not really. Cracking your knuckles, as popular as it is to believe, does not lead to arthritis. Anything from family genetics, your job, previous injury or even obesity could make it more likely you will contract it in later life.

While not causing arthritis, cracking the knuckles can affect your hand’s flexibility and ability to function.

Other side effects are claws and fur... maybe

Other side effects could include sudden claw onset and possible fur… maybe

Forgetful Fish

Anyone who has ever seen a little goldfish swimming from side to side in a fish tank has every right to think that fish must have a short memory purely for the reason that anyone who was aware they were trapped in such purgatory would probably take their own life. Fish, it seems, are actually much better at remembering than we as humans have realised. In fact, there are fish that have shown they can remember information for up to five months!

Still, Dory from Finding Nemo wouldn’t have been quite so cute without her short memory.

"Sharon, I'm sorry! You know I can't remember our anniversary!"

“Sharon, I’m sorry! You know I can’t remember our anniversary!”

Life after Death

There are many stories of corpses that have kept growing their fingernails and hair, and it makes for nightmare fuel. You can rest easy though as it is all a lie. In truth, as the body starts to decompose the skin tightens and shrinks, causing it to give the appearance of nails and hair getting longer.

So while this has obviously answered the question of whether we continue to grow after we die, it has raised the new question of which is more terrifying; growing hair or shrinking skin?

So this is less scary?

How about no hair or skin?

The Penny Assassin

I went to Paris on a school trip in 1998, and was adamant I wanted to drop a penny from the top of the Eiffel Tower for no other reason than you’re not supposed to. A teacher caught me as I was about to let go, and a slapped wrist stopped me from doing it. I got a scolding about dangerous behaviour, and it’s a good thing too. I spent the rest of my teens believing I had nearly caused a death!

It turns out that in actuality a penny dropped from that height would only reach 50mph, which  would not be fast enough to kill someone. Injure, definitely, but kill… nope. Now, am I saying you should go and drop pennies from high places? No, of course not. I am older and wiser than I was as a young boy, and now know how ridiculously stupid it would be to do something like that. I am just saying that it won’t kill someone if it does happen. Looks like kids will have to find another way to murder…

It's ok, I've got some ideas

It’s ok, I’ve got some ideas

Mars is Red

Turns out the red planet isn’t so red after all. I told my friend this and his response was “you’re wrong Itchy, I can see it’s red. Look, look up in the sky.”

Well, that is just the point; it does look red. But that doesn’t mean it is. See, the reason we all know of Mars as the red planet is because of oxidized iron in the soil. For the layman; Mars is rusty. In reality it is more of a butterscotchy/orange hue. Of course, Hollywood perpetuates the myth as a red planet looks a damn site more menacing than a cute butterscotch one would.

Of course, movies wouldn't be quite as scary on a butterscotch planet, would they?

See – spooky!

This is just a smattering of the ‘facts’ that exist out there. What others do you know? Do you have a favourite myth or fact you want to openly criticise or prove wrong?

As always, comments are appreciated. Come and join the conversation.

Special thanks to arztsamui, farconville, fotographic1980, hinnamsaisuy, panuruangjan, SOMMAI, stockimages, vectorolie and Victor Habbick @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015