Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Hissy fit


If you get in a tizzy, don’t throw a hissy fit.

I looked at the phrase in a tizzy last week, so let’s wrap it up by checking out hissy fit. (Thank you, Linda Harris, for mentioning hissy fit in a Facebook comment.)

This phrase sounds like it dates back a ways, don’t you think? Maybe late 19th century?

Well once again…

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... It ain't necessarily so.

This is what the Phrase Thesaurus has to say about it.
Hissy fit: A temperamental outburst; a tantrum.
And here’s their take on the origin:
The allusion in this expression may be to the hissing and spluttering of such an outburst, or it may simply be a contraction of 'hysterical'. The term originated in the USA in the mid 20th century and is first recorded in a 1934 edition of American Speech: "Hissy is probably provincial slang. I have heard it for eight or ten years. He threw a hissy or He had a hissy means that a person in question was very disturbed and very angry." 'Hissy fit' was little used outside of the USA until the late 20th century. 

According to Ngram, it starts appearing with some regularity around 1970.

The earliest usage I could find (searching Google Books) is… in all places!... in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, 1954. In 1956, it appears again in The Numbers of Our Days: A Novel by Francis Irby Gwaltney. 

So, once again, I've been snookered by a phrase that sounds at least a century old, but isn't.


Don't call this a hissy fit...
Cartoon caricature of
Christina Rossetti by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1862, showing her having a tantrum after reading The Times review of her poetry. By Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 392836, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48516342

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: In a tizzy


Whoa... sometimes (especially when I go overboard on coffee), I get in a tizzy and can't even think straight.

In a tizzy.

Now, where did that come from? It sounds very 19th century.... but is it?

Time to look around and find out!

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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer directs me to check out "in a dither." So, I do.

in a dither. Also, all of a dither; in a flutter or tizzy. In a state of tremulous agitation. The noun dither dates from the early 1800s and goes back to the Middle English verb didderen, "to tremble"; in a flutter dates from the mid-1700s; in a tizzy dates from about 1930 and is of uncertain origin.

So, if I want any of my Silver Rush characters to be "in a state of tremulous agitation," I guess they had better be in a dither or in a flutter... forget the tizzy!

Too. Much. Caffeine... puts me in a tizzy. (Edvard Munch, 1893, The Scream, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm, National Gallery of Norway)


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama (with an update!): Paint the town red


Hey hey! Get ready to have some fun, because we're gonna paint the town red! (Why? See my update at the bottom of this post.)

But... why red? Why not a nice shade of blue? And the whole town? Really?

Time to dig into this expression and see if we can identify what's going on behind the words...

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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer has been mighty handy lately. Here's what it says for this bit of slang:
paint the town red. Go on a spree... The precise allusion of this term is disputed. Some believe it refers to setting something on fire; others point to a vague association of the color red with violence. [late 1800s]
A disputed allusion? Late 1800s? (Yikes! Have I used that phrase in my books? And if I did, was I being anachronistic?) Well, let's dig a little more...

The Online Etymological Dictionary has a brief notation under the "paint" entry as follows:
To paint the town (red) "go on a spree" first recorded 1884
Uh oh. 
1884? 
Am I in trouble here? 
I turned to Ngram next (if you haven't come across Ngram before, it's a wonderful way to track the frequency of words and phrases in print over time). 

Eureka!... I found the following reference for "paint the town red" in a July 1882 publication: Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries for Teachers, Pupils, and Practical and Professional Men (N.B. Webster, editor).



What a relief! Finding this reference reassures me that this expression was in use before 1882—and in the West, at that. I am in the clear, and Inez is free to paint the town red, should she so desire!

...Where are they hiding the paintbrushes?
[Zogbaum, R. F. (illus).
New York. Harper's Weekly. 10-16- 1886.]
------------------UPDATE--------------------------------------------------

I'm leaving this post up for an extra week, because I definitely have reason to "paint the town red!"

Specifically, A DYING NOTE won two EVVY awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association:
  • First place (gold) award in the Mystery/Crime/Detective Fiction category
  • Second place (silver) award in the Historical Fiction category.
Mystery and history. Gold and silver. Definitely worth celebrating!


To view all the CIPA EVVY award winners, go here and scroll.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Dressed to kill


Yessiree, I'm attending the awards banquet for the Colorado Independent Publishers Association's EVVY awards as a finalist for A DYING NOTE, so I'm going to gussy up, don my best authorly duds, and be a low-key version of "dressed to kill."

Hmmmm. Dressed to kill. If you take that at face value, wouldn't that mean dressing in all black throw-away clothes, or maybe something water/liquid-proof? Or maybe that's the mystery writer part of my mind musing. The historical writer part of my mind wonders when/how such a phrase came to mean to dress more... upscale, shall we say.

Time for research!

My first stop, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, has this to say:
dressed to kill. Also, dressed to the nines. Elaborately attired... The first of these hyperbolic expressions dates from the early 1800s and uses kill in the sense of "to a great or impressive degree." The phrase to the nines in the sense of "superlative" dates from the late 1700s and its original meaning has been lost, but the most likely theory is that it alludes to the fact that nine, the highest single-digit numeral, stands for "best." 
 Well, that's pretty interesting. So, maybe the enthusiastic "You killed it!" uses kill in this old-time sense.

Second stop, the Online Etymological Dictionary. The entry "kill" has several definitions, including the one we mystery writers frequently employ ("to deprive of life, put to death"). At the very end is this:
... Dressed to kill first attested 1818 in a letter of Keats (compare killing (adj.) in the sense "overpowering, fascinating, attractive"). 
Of course, I had to check out "killing (adj.)" just to complete my journey:
killing (adj.) mid-15c., "deadly, depriving of life," present-participle adjective from kill (v.). Meaning "overpowering, fascinating, attractive" is 1630s, from the verb in a figurative sense "overwhelm (someone) by strong effect on the mind or senses." Meaning "very powerful in effect, exceedingly severe, so as to (almost) kill one" is from 1844.
So there you have it! I will report back on the award announcements, so stay tuned...
Now HERE is a woman "dressed to kill."
[Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), by John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856–1925 London) (1856 - 1925) – ArtistDetails of artist on Google Art Project - 4QGaPNGLuGOBCw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26126772]

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Lollygag


I can hear my mother's voice now: "Quit lollygagging around! You'll make us late!"

Since I'm a bit late in getting this post up (but hey, it's still Wednesday!), lollygag seems like a good word for today's slang-o-rama...
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According to  Merriam-Webster, in current usage, to lollygag is to fool around or dawdle. HOWEVER, its first use dates to about 1868, and back in the 19th century this word had an entirrrrrely different meaning! 

So, what, back then, did lollygagging entail? Well, let's just say if you were strolling down Leadville's State Street in 1880 or so, you might see a lot of lollygagging going on. 

My mother would be horrified, if she only knew...

NOTE: Lollygag was a "word of the day" on the Merriam-Webster site. You can hear a fascinating (and short) podcast about its etymology right here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lollygag. Well worth spending a minute and a half of your listening time.
I doubt very much you would ever catch these proper women lollygagging around (at least, in public!).

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Here-Hear! (A bit of news)


Interrupting the usual slang-o-rama schedule to warble some exciting developments about the latest book in my series....

A DYING NOTE is now out in audio, thanks to Blackstone Publishing and narrator par excellence Kirsten Potter (who has narrated other books in the Silver Rush series). You can find it on Downpour as well as on Audible. If you like audio books, please check it out! (Speaking of checking things out, your library might even carry it. And if not, well, you can always put in a request that they obtain it for their audiobook collection.)

My second bit of warbling is that A DYING NOTE is a finalist for a CIPA/EVVY Award! (CIPA/EVVY = Colorado Independent Publishers Association; EVVY = CIPA's founder Evelyn Kaye.) Winners (and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and Merit finalists) will be announced August 25th in Denver. I'm still trying to decide at this point whether I can reasonably spring for a quick trip to Colorado to attend the awards banquet. I'm verrrrry tempted.


 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Deadbeat


Now here's a slang word that takes up a whole page-plus in Green's Dictionary of Slang. I'm not going to go through all the possible interpretations (!!) except to talk about a couple that hail from the 19th century...
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deadbeat n. 
1. a state of exhaustion 
From Tom and Jerry: Musical Extravaganza (1822) "Bill, what are you stopping at? What! Have I brought you all to a dead beat?"
2. of things, a failure, a deception.
From G. P. Burnham's Memoirs of the US Secret Service (1872) [of a ten-dollar note] "It's a counterfeit," said Rugg quietly [...] "A 'dead-beat,' old fellow. Not worth a penny."



....and from the last entry...

deadbeat v. 
1. to waste time, to idle around (1905)
2. to sponge on (1880)
3. to cheat (1881)

... Other definitions include: one who reneges on their debts; a form of alcohol (! from 1877); a wastrel; absolutely defeated... 

Whew! I'm dead beat. I'll leave it at that.

... More than a few "deadbeats" pictured here! (A Midnight Modern Conversation, by William Hogarth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)