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Archive for the ‘Obscure Origins of Common and Not So Common Phrases’ Category

Almost but not quite, everyone has a nickname.  Babies get temporary nicknames like sweetie pie, bunny, cookie face, doll baby.  As these little babies grow up their given names may also evolve into some shortened version albeit a nickname that is easily recognized as an abbreviated take on their actual name.  For example just in my own and extended family, Janet became Janie, Ellen became Ellie, Chiara became KiKi, Lorraine became Lori and Alyson became Sonny.

And then there are some nicknames that have historical origins and our Thursday’s Top Ten List will explore some of them.

1. WHY IS DICK FROM RICHARD?

The name Richard is very old and was popular during the Middle Ages. In the 12th and 13th centuries everything was written by hand and Richard nicknames like Rich and Rick were common just to save time. Rhyming nicknames were also common and eventually Rick gave way to Dick and Hick, while Rich became Hitch. Dick, of course, is the only rhyming nickname that stuck over time. And boy did it stick. At one point in England, the name Dick was so popular that the phrase “every Tom, Dick, or Harry” was used to describe Everyman.

2. WHY IS BILL FROM WILLIAM?

There are many theories on why Bill became a nickname for William; the most obvious is that it was part of the Middle Ages trend of letter swapping. Much how Dick is a rhyming nickname for Rick, the same is true of Bill and Will. Because hard consonants are easier to pronounce than soft ones, some believe Will morphed into Bill for phonetic reasons. Interestingly, when William III ruled over in England in the late 17th century, his subjects mockingly referred to him as “King Billy.”

3. WHY IS HANK FROM HENRY?

The name Henry dates back to medieval England. (Curiously, at that time, Hank was a diminutive for John.) So how do we get Hank from Henry? Well, one theory says that Hendrick is the Dutch form of the English name Henry. Henk is the diminutive form of Hendrick, ergo, Hank from Henk. Hanks were hugely popular here in the States for many decades, though by the early 90s it no longer appeared in the top 1,000 names for baby boys. But Hank is making a comeback! In 2010, it cracked the top 1,000, settling at 806. By 2013 it was up to 626.

4. WHY IS JACK FROM JOHN?

The name Jack dates back to about 1,200 and was originally used as a generic name for peasants. Over time, Jack worked his way into words such as lumberjack and steeplejack. Even jackass, the commonly used term for a donkey, retains its generic essence in the word Jack. Of course, John was once used as a generic name for English commoners and peasants, (John Doe) which could be why Jack came became his nickname. But the more likely explanation is that Normans added -kin when they wanted to make a diminutive. And Jen was their way of saying John. So little John became Jenkin and time turned that into Jakin, which ultimately became Jack.

5. WHY IS CHUCK FROM CHARLES?

“Dear Chuck” was an English term of endearment and Shakespeare, in Macbeth, used the phrase to refer to Lady Macbeth. What’s this have to do with Charles? Not much, but it’s interesting. However, Charles in Middle English was Chukken and that’s probably where the nickname was born.

6. WHY IS PEGGY FROM MARGARET?

The name Margaret has a variety of different nicknames. Some are obvious, as in Meg, Mog and Maggie, while others are downright strange, like Daisy. But it’s the Mog/Meg we want to concentrate on here as those nicknames later morphed into the rhymed forms Pog(gy) and Peg(gy).

Edward "TED" Kennedy

Edward “TED” Kennedy

7.  WHY IS TED FROM EDWARD?

The name Ted is yet another result of the Old English tradition of letter swapping. Since there were a limited number of first names in the Middle Ages, letter swapping allowed people to differentiate between people with the same name. It was common to replace the first letter of a name that began with a vowel, as in Edward, with an easier to pronounce consonant, such as T. Of course, Ted was already a popular nickname for Theodore, which makes it one of the only nicknames derived from two different first names. Can you name the others?

8. WHY IS HARRY FROM HENRY?

Since Medieval times, Harry has been a consistently popular nickname for boys named Henry in England. Henry was also very popular among British monarchs, most of whom preferred to be called Harry by their subjects. This is a tradition that continues today as Prince Henry of Wales , as he was Christened, goes by Prince Harry. Of course, Harry is now used as a given name for boys. In 2006, it was the 593rd most popular name for boys in the United States. One reason for its upsurge in popularity is the huge success of those amazing Harry Potter books.

9. WHY IS JIM FROM JAMES?

There are no definitive theories on how Jim became the commonly used nickname for James, but the name dates back to at least the 1820s. For decades, Jims were pretty unpopular due to the “Jim Crow Law,” which was attributed to an early 19th century song and dance called “Jump Jim Crow,” performed by white actors in blackface. The name “Jim Crow” soon became associated with African Americans and by 1904, Jim Crow aimed to promote segregation in the South. Jim has since shed its racial past, and is once again a popular first name for boys all by itself, sans James.

10. WHY IS SALLY FROM SARAH?

Sally was primarily used as a nickname for Sarah in England and France. Like some English nicknames, Sally was derived by replacing the R in Sarah with an L. Same is true for Molly, a common nickname for Mary. Though Sally from the Peanuts never ages, the name itself does and has declined in popularity in recent years. Today, most girls prefer the original Hebrew name Sarah.

May 24, 2010 – 5:07am

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Good Advice

Good Advice

Be prepared, you won’t be shocked!! Today the movies, cable TV shows and comedians have no holds barred when it comes to using foul language, bathroom humor, swearing a blue streak;  There are no boundaries…  Well it wasn’t always like that and thanks to Pbenjay’s favorite sourcerer, Gail, I received a link to an article about this very subject.

So let’s step back in time…Here’s a little background that I took from the Mental Floss website.

As long ago as 1944, H.L. Mencken, the great observer of American language, sadly noted that cursing had been on the decline since the Civil War, and that while there was still obscenity, “it is all based upon one or two four-letter words and their derivatives, and there is little true profanity in it.”

Taboos against what we would today consider pretty mild exclamations like “damn!” “hell!” and “Jesus Christ!” led the swearers of years past to come up with creative substitutions that gave them some measure of emotional release while keeping within the bounds of propriety. These substitutions are called “minced oaths,” and they’ve left their mark on our vocabulary. Gosh, gee, golly, dagnamit, darn, drat, gadzooks, zounds, heck, and cripes are all minced oaths that are still around to charm us with their innocent old-timey ring. But there are others you may not have heard of. They could come in handy when you get tired of ho-hum obscenity and want something with a little more profane zing.

1. BEJABBERS!

A substitute for “by Jesus!” that is similar to “bejesus!” but jabbier. An Irish import, along the lines of “faith and begorrah!” Especially good for toe-stubbing.

2. CONSARN!

A substitute for “goddamn.” From an 1854 Dictionary of Northamptonshire words: “Consarn you! If you don’t mind what you’re about I’ll give it to you!” Slow down and hit both syllables equally hard, and it’s like squeezing a stress ball.

3. DAD-SIZZLE!

Another “goddamn” form. “Well, dad-sizzle it!” was one way to show you meant business. There were a whole range of “dad” forms, from “dadgum” to dad-blast, dad-seize, dad-rat, dad-swamp, and many more. This one sounds surprisingly modern, like something Snoop Dogg (Snoop Lion?) might come up with.

4. THUNDERATION!

A substitute for “damnation,” similar to “tarnation” and “botheration.” WTF is so tired. Try “What in thunderation?” instead.

5. GREAT HORN SPOON!

Something you can swear by, used in a way similar to “by God!” It seems to have come from seafaring slang, and might refer to the Big Dipper. But you don’t need to know the origin to find it useful. Today the strange randomness of the words makes it feel mystically satisfying to shout.

6. ‘SNAILS!

A shortening of “by God’s nails!” This kind of shortening also gave us “zounds!” (God’s wounds), “Gadzooks!” (God’s hooks), “strewth!” (God’s truth), and “ods bodikins!” (God’s little body). If you yell it thinking of actual snails instead, it’s less profane, but more adorable.

7. GOSH-ALL-POTOMAC!

This one goes along with the rest of the “gosh all” family: goshamighty, gosh-all-hemlock, gosh all fish-hooks, etc. “Gosh all Potomac” is the earliest one attested in the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, and it’s about time we brought it back.

8. G. ROVER CRIPES!

One of the minced oaths that approximate the sounds in “Jesus Christ!” it uses all the strategies found elsewhere: the “gee” sound (Gee! Jeepers! Jeez!), the middle name (Jesus H. Particular Christ!), and the “cr” sound (Crikey! Criminy! Cracky! Christmas!).

9. BY ST. BOOGAR AND ALL THE SAINTS AT THE BACKSIDE DOOR OF PURGATORY!

There is no St. Boogar. This is a line from Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, considered by scholars to have a homoerotic subtext. Let it fly with pride!

10. BY THE DOUBLE-BARRELLED JUMPING JIMINETTY!

It’s too bad the tradition of productive, long “by the” swears has fallen out of fashion. You could load enough crazy-sounding nonsense on there to really scare your kids into cleaning their rooms.

Some of the “swears” I heard growing up were “Fiddlesticks”, the ususal God damn and I was always especially impressed with my Uncle Henry’s ” Judas Priest”.  I think my kids will have a much more extensive memory including the likes of “Holy Mother of God”, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”.

If you’ve got any “good” ones you’d like to share, please do.

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Old Salty

Old Salty

That is a crazy title, I actually struggled with it, trying to make an alliteration.  What I have for you today are some terms and phrases that are part of our vernacular;  You may not use any of them but they are part of every day language.  And they are all nautically inspired.

1. TO BE TAKEN ABACK:  “Aback” is what sailors say when the wind changes suddenly and flattens the sails against the mast. Strong gusts of wind can even blow the ship backward—thus, “taken aback.”

2. CUT AND RUN:  It’s believed that this phrase originates from sailors who were in such a hurry that they cut the anchor rather than hauling it up, then “ran” with the wind.

3. PASS WITH FLYING COLORS:  When the English Navy would sail back London with their colorful flags flying, citizens knew the latest battle had been successful.

4.  HAND OVER FIST:  Although we typically use this phrase to refer to making money, it really just means to make fast and steady progress, like when you quickly haul something up with a rope, hand over fist.

5.  LEFT HIGH AND DRY:  No support? No resources? Then you just might be high and dry, like a ship that’s been grounded because the tide went back out.

6.  THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND:  The ropes that control the tension in the sails are called “sheets.” There are four of them, but if one of the ropes isn’t under control, it will send the other three—and both sails—“to the wind,” making the boat lurch around like Captain Jack Sparrow after a rum binge.

7. SLUSH FUND:  When ship cooks finished making meals and had a sludgey mix of grease and fat left over, they would take the slush and store it until they got to port. Once they got there, the cooks sold the fat to candle makers for some extra cash.

8.  HARD AND FAST:  A ship that’s been beached so firmly that it’s stuck probably got jammed in the sand hard and fast. Now it’s immovable and unchangeable—just like hard and fast rules.

Information excerpted from an article on Mental_Floss and sent to me by my favorite sourcerer, Gail.

So there you have it Mateys, it’s anchors aweigh, ahoy, and shiver me timbers!

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L'Shana Tova

L’Shana Tova

For Jews around the world, this evening marks the beginning of the two day celebration of their New Year, Rosh Hashana.

The festival of Rosh Hashanah which means Head of the New Year is observed for two days beginning on the first day of the Jewish  year.  It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman.  The explanation below was excerpted from the web site Chabad.org

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The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which also represents the trumpet blast of a people’s coronation of their king. The cry of the shofar is also a call to repentance, for Rosh Hashanah is also the anniversary of man’s first sin and his repentance thereof,  and serves as the first of the “Ten Days of Repentance” which culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Another significance of the shofar is to recall the Binding of Isaac  which also occurred on Rosh Hashanah, in which a ram took Isaac’s place as an offering to God; we evoke Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son, and plead that the merit of his deed should stand by us as we pray for a year of life, health and prosperity. Altogether, we listen to one hundred shofar blasts over the course of the Rosh Hashanah services.

Additional Rosh Hashanah observances include: a) Eating a piece of apple dipped in honey, to symbolize our desire for a sweet year, and other special foods symbolic of the new year’s blessings. b) Blessing one another with the words “Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim,” “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” c) Tashlich, a special prayer said near a body of water (an ocean, river, pond, etc.), in evocation of the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” And as with every major Jewish holiday, after candlelighting and prayers we recite kiddush and make a blessing on the challah.

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Clueless

Clueless (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 

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Brrr-rr  A COLD TURKEY

Brrr-rr A COLD TURKEY

Bad Day At Black Rock, I’ve used that phrase for years and didn’t actually know where it came from until the other day. I didn’t realize it was the title of a 1955 movie starring Spencer Tracey.  Although not so much used now, the phrase which means the worst day ever, was quite popular.  I guess it’s now relegated to the likes of me, women of a certain age.  Of course if you live in Manhattan and use the phrase, people might think you are complaining about working at CBS – oh no that’s just “The Rock”, oh well…. Ah Hah! A correction from my friend, Gail – CBS is known as BLACK ROCK after all.

When I was in Florida last month visiting my daughter and the grandkids, I really got a taste of living in Gulf Stream;  It is a  very small section of Delray Beach in the historic section and I think there are about 800 families.  The school, Gulf Stream Day School IS the heart beat of the town.  It seems as if all the kids go there, dressed in their neat preppy uniforms in khaki, white and navy.  The line of cars dropping off and picking up was pretty impressive.  Then there’s The Ocean Club, where we went for a Friday night barbecue and it was deja vu all over again.  I wrote about that in a previous post; see Sun and Sand, Sangria and Surfing plus Salmon, It’s Saturday-DAY 6.  However the point of bringing that up is that by Friday I  had observed just how small this little town was and remarked to my daughter that, “This place has all the makings of a Peyton Place“.  I said this in front of her and about 4 of her friends.  They just looked at me!  Uh, what’s a Peyton Place?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Forget the TV show, what about the movie?  Forget about it, they were clueless and I’m getting really old!

COLD TURKEY:  Did you think the phrase Cold Turkey could ever have had a meaning other than the rigors of drug withdrawal?  Yes of course it did or it wouldn’t be in this post, lol.  Turkeys loom large in American psyche and are the starring entrée at every Thanksgiving Day meal.  The phrase talking cold turkey means talking no nonsense and getting done to business.  In the early 20th century, the phrase evolved into talking turkey and also going cold turkey – just getting it done.

As I get older, the list of phrases and words lost to Generation X and Y just gets longer and longer.   But their day will come soon enough.  I’ve already noticed that what I thought was GREAT, they think is AWESOME and the Millennials think it’s SICK!  

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I grew up in New England and I always called soda, Soda. It wasn’t until I got to college and met a girl from upstate New York that I heard the word Pop used to describe a can of soda.  Years later when I was selling homes to transferees from all over the country, I learned that some people ordered Tonic when actually it could be orange soda.

Regionalism has always fascinated me;  Whenever I’ve traveled to another state and had the opportunity to go into a grocery store I would explore the aisles looking at canned goods and packaged products I had never heard of.  It’s  a real eye-opener when you step out of your own little world and see what food items other people buy.  When I visited my parents in Arkansas I was really dazzled not only by the unusual and obviously local canned goods but also the lack of variety in some food stuffs.  When my parents first moved there, my mother went to the grocery store to buy macaroni – yes we are Italian and we call it macaroni not pasta.  She was directed to a box of Mueller’s elbows!!  I actually had to send care packages of spaghetti, canned plum tomatoes and Parmesan cheese to them.

My friend Gail, a regular contributor of ideas to Pbenjay sent me this article from Mental Floss.   Does anybody out there know about these regional drinks?  I know and have tasted 3 of them and think perhaps 2 are still in existence.  I know I have readers outside of the tri-state area, let’s hear from you!

1. SUN DROP – Before there was Sprite  there was Sun Drop, at least in St. Louis .  In 1928,  Charles Lazier developed the citrus-flavored drink in St. Louis in 1928. The beverage was later marketed under several different names, including Sun Drop Golden Cola, Golden Girl Cola, and Golden Sun Drop Cola.

Before Sprite and Mountain Dew There Was Sun Drop

Before Sprite and Mountain Dew There Was Sun Drop

2. VERNOR’S – 

In 1862, Detroit pharmacist James Vernor developed a mixture of 19 ingredients that included ginger, vanilla, and natural flavors. Before leaving to fight in the Civil War, Vernor stored his experimental mixture in an oak cask. When he returned four years later, he opened the cask to find it had transformed his blend of flavors into a delicious ginger ale. Vernor sold his concoction at his drugstore’s soda fountain for the next 30 years. In 1896, with the help of his son, he began distributing his specially aged ginger ale in bottles. The Vernor family maintained ownership of the business until 1966. Vernors is distributed today as part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, with Michigan accounting for most of its sales

3.
green-river GREEN RIVER – Chicago’s Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Co. introduced Green River soda in 1919, just before the start of Prohibition. The lime-flavored and electric green-colored soft drink was initially bottled in the brewery’s beer bottles and was an instant success. Al Jolson recorded a song about Green River in the 1920s and by the end of Prohibition it trailed only Coke in fountain sales throughout the Midwest. The brewery made Green River a second priority when alcohol became legal again and sales of the soft drink dropped. While the brewery closed in 1950, Green River lived on. Today, Green River is bottled by Chicago’s Clover Bottling Co., and while it remains most popular in the Windy City, it is now sold nationwide. Green River was part of the inspiration for Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s album by the same name and enjoys a major increase in sales in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.

4.  CHEERWINE – When a sugar shortage at the start of World War I made it difficult for L.D. Peeler to sweeten his Salisbury, NC-based bottling company’s popular Mint Cola, Peeler began looking for a less sweet, but equally tasty, alternative. The local businessman purchased a wild cherry flavor from a St. Louis salesman and developed the formula for Cheerwine in the basement of his grocery store in 1917. Cheerwine was an instant success and was outselling Mint Cola by the early 1920s. Shortly thereafter, Peeler changed the name of his business to the Cheerwine Bottling Co. The red-colored Carolina staple was distributed locally until 1981, when it expanded into Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. While Cheerwine’s reach continues to grow, it remains most popular in the Carolinas and parts of Virginia. Back in 2010, Cheerwine partnered with a fellow Tar Heel State company, Krispy Kreme, to offer Cheerwine-infused doughnuts in stores throughout the Carolinas.

5.  DR. BROWN’S – Celery was a popular ingredient in herbal remedies in the 19th century and eventually found its way into a handful of competing soft drinks. Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic, one of the only such beverages still around today, was first produced in Brooklyn in 1868. The name was changed to Cel-Ray soda in the early 1900s and, at the height of its popularity in New York around 1930, was often referred to as “Jewish Champagne.”  Today, Dr. Brown’s is owned by Pepsi and available at various delis throughout the country. The brand’s most loyal customers, many of whom find Cel-Ray the perfect foil to a pastrami sandwich, are in New York and South Florida.

Last Bottle Standing

Last Bottle Standing

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