Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Chin music


As promised, here's another musical idiom to herald the upcoming release of the seventh book in my Silver Rush series, MORTAL MUSIC:

 Chin music.

I'll confess, this is a new one to me. Not that it's "new." In fact, it apparently first appeared almost two centuries ago...

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According to American Slang, Second Edition, edited by Robert L. Chapman Ph.D., chin music has several definitions, depending on the context. It can mean:
  1. talk, especially inconsequential chatter or chitchat (first appeared in 1830s)
  2. various kinds of raucous shouting at a baseball game, from the crowd, from the players to each other, from the players or manager to the umpires, etc. (by 1880s)
  3. a pitched ball that passes close to the batter's face; a beanball (by the 1980s)
I checked this one on Google's ngram, and sure enough, there it is, going waaaay back.



I dug a little deeper and found several 19th-century examples, including the one below from Potter's American Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine of History, Literature, Science and Art, Volumes 10–11 (1878).

Chin music would fit right in with my Silver Rush series. So is this idiom new to you as well? Or is it just me?
A chin-music ensemble? (Cue the accompanist, entering the room.)
By Eugene de Blaas - Art Renewal Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7753932





Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Blow one's own horn


With the newest of my Silver Rush historical mysteries, MORTAL MUSIC, officially releasing on January 27, I thought I'd spend this month exploring some not-so-random musical idioms and bits of slang. After all, as an author, I should blow my own horn or alternatively (or more specifically) blow my trumpet.
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According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, these phrases, which mean to "brag about oneself," have been out and about since the late 1500s.

I was having a hard time finding out much else about this phrase until I stumbled on an archived Writer's Block post by S. D. Liddiard (from the year 2000!) titled "Instruments of Expression: Bells, Drums, and a Horn," which notes:
To blow your own horn is to be a braggart or "blowhard." This expression, arising in the American West about the middle of the 19th century, derives from an earlier expression, blow your own trumpet, dating back to at least 1576 and probably originating in medieval times, when heralds blew trumpets to announce the arrival of the king. Of course, any merchant or other commoner who wanted to announce his arrival had to blow his own horn.
And if that strikes a chord with you, feel free to check out this Slang-o-rama post from July 2019 that delves into that particular expression.

Now here is a man who knows how to blow his own horn! Might he be an author with an upcoming book release??
The actual title of this 1818 cartoon by G. Cruikshank is "A German mountebank blowing his own trumpet at a Dutch concert of 500 piano fortes!!" (From the Library of Congress)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Mafficking


How was your New Year's Eve? Did you go mafficking about when the clock struck midnight? I'll wager that many folks did (although I am long past that point and was more intent on sleeping the night through).

Now, let us dive into the mysterious word: mafficking...
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Mafficking is a most excellent bit of Victorian slang that, according to the Mental Floss blog post "56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using," means getting rowdy in the streets.

The origin of this word is fascinating as well. According to Merriam Webster:
 Maffick is an alteration of Mafeking Night, the British celebration of the lifting of the siege of a British military outpost during the South African War at the town of Mafikeng (also spelled Mafeking) on May 17, 1900. The South African War was fought between the British and the Afrikaners, who were Dutch and Huguenot settlers originally called Boers, over the right to govern frontier territories. Though the war did not end until 1902, the lifting of the siege of Mafikeng was a significant victory for the British because they held out against a larger Afrikaner force for 217 days until reinforcements could arrive. The rejoicing in British cities on news of the rescue produced maffick, a word that was popular for a while, especially in journalistic writing, but is now relatively uncommon.
I think it's a word that should be revived, don't you? 

Here's to a new year, a new decade, and a renewal of mafficking!
Here's to more mafficking in 2020!
Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas came early (Slang-o-rama takes a break)


My author copies of MORTAL MUSIC arrived earlier this month... yet another reason for me to celebrate the season.


And here, as a little gift to you, is a piece of music that features prominently in this most recent Silver Rush historical mystery. Sit back and enjoy!



Wishing you all a restful break this week. Slang-o-rama will return next Wednesday: the first day of a new year and a new decade.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Catch a weasel asleep


This time of year, trying to hide presents from prying eyes and fingers is like trying to catch a weasel asleep. 
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Now there's a phrase you don't hear every day...
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... But according to Google's ngram search engine, such was not always the case:



The Dictionary of Americanisms, 2nd ed. enlarged, by John Russell Bartlett (published in 1859) has this to say about the phrase:
It is supposed that this little animal is never caught napping, for the obvious reason that he sleeps in his hole beyond the reach of man. The expression is applied to persons who are watchful and always on the alert, or who cannot be surprised; as, "You cannot deceive me, any sooner than you can catch a weasel asleep," or, "You can't catch a weasel asleep." The expressions are common.
They might have been common in the mid-19th century, but not so much now. So whether you are trying to wrap a gift on the sly or trying to sneak out early from work to do some last-minute shopping this coming week, I wish you luck in catching the weasel asleep!
Is that present for me??Awww, you shouldn't have!
Image by Trond GiƦver Myhre from Pixabay

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Slapstick


The word slapstick rose in my awareness after attending a production of "The Play that Goes Wrong" (in which, true to its title, everything goes wrong). I found it a virtuoso performance of slapstick humor. After describing it as such, I started wondering about the origin of the word slapstick...
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... and here we go
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down the rabbit hole of research...
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The Encyclopaedia Britannica has a lengthy article (with visuals), discussing the history of slapstick comedy and defining it as:
... a type of physical comedy characterized by broad humour, absurd situations, and vigorous, usually violent action. The slapstick comic, more than a mere funnyman or buffoon, must often be an acrobat, a stunt performer, and something of a magician—a master of uninhibited action and perfect timing.
It turns out that there is actually a "thing" called a slapstick:
A slapstick was originally a harmless paddle composed of two pieces of wood that slapped together to produce a resounding whack when the paddle struck someone. The slapstick seems to have first come into use in the 16th century, when Harlequin, one of the principal characters of the Italian commedia dell’arte, used it on the posteriors of his comic victims.
Holding a slapstick behind his back, perhaps?
Harlequin, in a nineteenth-century print [Public domain]

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the noun slapstick was first used to describe the "sound effect device" in 1896 (which seems late to me, if slap-sticks were in use in the 16th century). It was being used as an adjective around 1906, and finally was ascribed to a form of physical comedy in 1916.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a little "blast from the past" of the golden age of slapstick silent movies (because we could all use a bit of a chuckle now and again, right?).





Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: As scarce as hen's teeth


Continuing on a bird-themed exploration of idioms and expressions (see last week's post for cold turkey), I had occasion to write as scarce as hen's teeth, and then (as is my wont), I wondered.

Who on earth came up with that phrase (which, by the way, means "exceptionally rare")? And how far back does it go? I'm guessing mid-19th century, for no reason other than it seems there would've been a lot of chickens running around on farms and homesteads then.

Let's find out!
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According to the entry for this saying in Heavens to Betsy and Other Curious Sayings by Charles Earle Funk:
Just when this hyperbole first appeared has not yet been determined. The Dictionary of Americanisms reports its use by "Edmund Kirke," pen name of Fames R. Gilmore, in My Southern Friends (1862). But because this metaphor is thoroughly familiar in all parts of the country, there's good reason to believe that it may actually have had word-of-mouth use from colonial days.
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer pretty much concurs, citing mid-1800s for this expression.

However, not so fast.... there's more!

 I was googling about and, lo and behold, I found a 2006 article in Science Daily titled "Hens' Teeth Not So Rare After All." The abstract reads:
Scientists have discovered that rarest of things: a chicken with teeth -- crocodile teeth to be precise. Contrary to the well-known phrase, "As rare as hens' teeth," the researchers say they have found a naturally occurring mutant chicken called Talpid that has a complete set of ivories.
  I'm speechless. Metaphorically speaking.
Show us those teeth!
Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay