I love discovering words and phrases from my youth and childhood that have gone by the way. Not sure why since it only serves to herald my own impending demise, lol. I’ve said this before – I find so many of these words and phrases from watching movies on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). This weekend has been a bonanza AND when is the last time you ever heard someone under the age of 40 use the term BONANZA to describe a WINDFALL (yet another unused term)!
Let’s start with what is known as the minced oath. The English, being naturally reserved found a way to communicate some explicit emotions without being really explicit. They have a long tradition of double-entendre comedy.
Euphemisms aren’t all from the distant past though. For every Shaksperian ‘beast with two backs’ there’s a 20th century ‘knee trembler’. The first phrase on my list is a perfect example of the above.
1. Jumping Jehosophat– Jehosophat is a euphemism for Jesus
2. Peel an eel – I couldn’t find any origin of this phrase or usage except in the Preston Sturgis film when the term is used as the equivalent of “go fry an egg” . NOT to be confused with the phrase Peel the eel whose meaning I am not going into.
3. Pshaw – heard this word used when I was a child and even then it was a dated term. It’s really a word imitative of the sound one might make when annoyed or disgusted. Pronounced p-shaw or puh- shaw.
4. Poppycock – Means nonsense or rubbish. Never heard anymore, so dated. Sounds like something a retired English Colonel might say but it is NOT English, it is American in origin. It may come from the similar Dutch word poppekak, which appears only in the old set phrase zo finn als gemalen poppekak, meaning to show excessive religious zeal, but which literally means “as fine as powdered doll shit”. The word was presumably taken to the USA by Dutch settlers; the scatological associations were lost when the word moved into the English-language community.
The first half of the word is the Dutch pop for a doll, which may be related to our term of endearment, poppet; the second half is essentially the same as the old English cack for excrement; the verb form of this word is older than the noun, and has been recorded as far back as the fifteenth century.
5. – Davenport – Davenport was the name of a series of sofas made by the Massachusetts furniture manufacturer A. H. Davenport and Company, now defunct. Due to the popularity of the furniture at the time, the name davenport became a generalized trademark, like aspirin.
6. – Horsefeathers – It seems most likely that it began either as a bowdlerized variant of horse shit or as an expression of the view that something is highly unlikely, about as probable as that pigs might fly … or that horses might have feathers. The issue of American Speech dated December 1928 records that “Mr. William De Beck, the comic-strip comedian responsible for ‘Barney Google,’ assumes credit for the first actual use of the word horsefeathers”. This claim has been frequently reported since, to the point at which it has become accepted knowledge.