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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Cold turkey


In honor of Thanksgiving, I shall continue the grand tradition (all of a year old) of exploring idioms involving turkeys. In 2018, we looked at talking turkey. This year, let's go cold turkey.

I happen to like cold turkey. I could definitely go for some right now, especially if it was accompanied by mayonnaise, leftover cranberry sauce, and plenty of salt and pepper, and slammed between two pieces of sourdough toast.

Oh, wait, not THAT cold turkey. We're talking about...
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...cold turkey as defined by the UK-centric The Phrase Finder:
The sudden and complete withdrawal from an addictive substance and/or the physiological effects of such a withdrawal. Also, predominantly in the U.S.A., plain speaking.  
Phrase Finder goes on to say:
The turkey looms large in the American psyche because of its link to early European colonists and is, as even Limies like me know, the centrepiece of the annual Thanksgiving meal. In the USA, and as far as I can tell nowhere else, 'plain speaking/getting down to business' is called 'talking cold turkey', which has been shortened in present day speech to just 'talking turkey'.
See last year's slang-o-rama for more details on talking turkey. Phrase Finder notes that talking cold turkey dates from about 1914 (so no one better be talking turkey, cold or otherwise, in the Silver Rush series), and going cold turkey turns up in the early 1920s:
'Talking cold turkey' meant no nonsense talking and its partner expression 'going cold turkey' meant no nonsense doing. To 'go cold turkey' was to get straight to the scene of the action - in at the deep end.
What the turkey had to do with plain speaking, we just don't know. There are a few suggestions but none come supported with any evidence and are no more likely to explain the source of the expression any better than ones you could imagine for yourself - better just to admit, we just don't know.
The Online Etymological Dictionary offers its own theory on the origins, pushing the initial date back to 1910:
"without preparation," 1910; narrower sense of "withdrawal from an addictive substance" (originally heroin) first recorded 1921. Cold turkey is a food that requires little preparation, so "to quit like cold turkey" is to do so suddenly and without preparation. To do something cold "without preparation" is attested from 1896.
 Wikipedia has an extensive entry, suggesting the catalyst for cold turkey appears in an 1877 story featured in the UK satirical magazine, Judy. You can read more about that theory here. Of course, this is Wikipedia, so take what you read with a grain of salt.

And some pepper.

And maybe add some cranberry sauce, while you're at it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you (with or without turkey)!

 This is, without a doubt, cold turkey. (Look at those chilly little feet in the snow. Brrr.)
Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay






Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: In cahoots


The phrase in cahoots has a slightly "Old West" ring to me, although that might simply be due to an overabundance of old-time black-and-white TV Western-watching from the early 1960s. That aside, I have no idea what a single cahoot is. Do you?
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According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of cahoot is "partnership, league." However I could probably be forgiven for wondering if the singular form even exists:
Cahoot is used almost exclusively in the phrase "in cahoots," which means "in an alliance or partnership." In most contexts, it describes the conspiring activity of people up to no good. (There's also the rare idiom go cahoots, meaning "to enter into a partnership," as in "they went cahoots on a new restaurant.") "Cahoot" may derive from French cahute, meaning "cabin" or "hut," suggesting the notion of two or more people hidden away working together in secret. "Cahute" is believed to have been formed through the combination of two other words for cabins and huts, "cabane" and "hutte."
M-W claims the term first appeared in 1827. The Online Etymological Dictionary begs to differ in time frame, putting first use at 1829 (well, let's not quibble over a couple of years) and also suggests a different origin, to wit:
... U.S. sources [Bartlett] credit it to French cohorte (see cohort), which is said to have had a sense of "companions, confederates."
If you wish to dig a little deeper into the mysterious origin of cahoot(s), with early examples of use, I recommend checking out this post of The Grammarphobia Blog.

In any case, the phrase in cahoots certainly smacks of skulduggery to me and... hmmmm... I do believe I just stumbled upon next week's slang-o-rama topic...

Is this mob of meerkats in cahoots? Maybe.
Image by Rhulk G. from Pixabay




Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Genre Hopping: Past, Present, and Future by Guest Author Michael A. Black

Please welcome back prolific guest author Michael A. Black. Michael is the author of 34 books and over 100 short stories and articles. A former Army Military Policeman, he entered civilian law enforcement and became a decorated police officer in the south suburbs of Chicago. He worked for over thirty-two years in various capacities including patrol supervisor, SWAT team leader, investigations and tactical operations before retiring in 2011.

Michael has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University and a MFA in fiction writing from Columbia College. In 2010 he was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. His Ron Shade series featuring the Chicago-based kickboxing private eye, has won several awards, as has his police procedural series featuring Frank Leal and Olivia Hart. He has written two novels with television star Richard Belzer and is writing The Executioner series under the name Don Pendleton. His current books are Blood Trails, the forthcoming Legends of the West, and his newest Executioner novels are Dying Art, Stealth Assassins, and Cold Fury. His novel Fatal Prescription won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award given by the International Media Tie-In Writers Association in 2018.

You can contact Michael at: DocAtlas108@aol.com 

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It has always been my goal as a writer to be published in as many different genres as I could, and recent events have worked out in my favor along these lines. Between October and December I’ll have hit three different genres, western, sci-fi, and thriller, with four published works.

On October 16th, my historical western, Legends of the West, was released by Five Star (Cengage Publishing). It’s based on an actual historical figure, Bass Reeves, who was a legendary lawman in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. I’ve long been fascinated by Reeves, who was born into slavery before the Civil War, and went on to become a United States Deputy Marshal. Reeves reported to the famous hanging judge, Isaac Parker, who was based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. During this period in our history the area that is now the state of Oklahoma was known as the Indian Territory. The various Native American Indians were relocated to this region and the territory was divided up between the various tribes. The area was policed by a group of Indian law enforcement officers known as the Lighthorse, but they only had authority to arrest other Native Americans. Consequently, the region became a haven for outlaws and Parker sent his band of federal marshals into the Indian Territory to enforce the law. Reeves was one of these men, and he would often take members of the Lighthorse with him on his missions. My story, while totally fictional, has Reeves squaring off against a limerick spouting outlaw who’s as fast with a gun as he is with a rhyme. I was able to pay homage to my late friend, David Walks as Bear, who was an expert on all things Native American. He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known, and I gave him a role as Reeves’s Lighthorse companion. Legends of the West is available in hardcover.

Also in the western genre is Gunslinger: Killer’s Choice, which has an official release date of November 15th. It’s part of a series written under the name A.W. Hart and features fifteen-year-old twins, Connor and Abby Mack who roam the West under the guidance of wanted gunslinger, River Hicks. This gothic style western series has an intricate overall plot, but each novel in the series can be appreciated on its own. The two preceding novels, Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance and Gunslinger: Killer’s Fuse, introduce the characters and start them on their adventures. My entry has them rescuing a Chinese national from a lynching party, and coming into conflict with a power-hungry strongman who envisions himself as some sort of western royalty. The Chinese man is trying to rescue his fiancĂ©e from human smugglers, and the exploitation of the Chinese workers who built the western network of railroads in the late 1800’s is also touched upon. Gunslinger: Killer’s Choice is available in both e-book and trade paperback form.

In both of these books I tried to keep the writing historically accurate, while still embracing the traditional aspects of the western mythology upon which the western genre was built. I feel I’m in good standing to do so because famous western writer Zane Grey was purportedly a distant relative of mine.

 As I’m sure Ann would agree, writing something set in the past is always problematic. Not only did I have to do a lot of research on the time period, but language usage was also a challenge. Learning the terminology and slang terms of the era was a withering task, as was trying to come up with appropriate descriptions and metaphors. It made me realize how much has changed in today’s world, compared to a little over a hundred and fifty years or so.

I had an opportunity to leap from the past into the future when the opportunity to do a sci-fi novella arose. I set my story, “Hybrid,” in the “near future” where an alien presence has established a strange phenomenon in the African desert. The area has quickly been divided up by the major powers (The United States, China, France, England, etc.) and each is vying for acquisition of the nouveau riches the phenomenon offers. My novella is in an anthology called Star Noir, and I’m honored to be in the fine company of such well known writers as Gary Phillips, Mike Baron, Eric Beetner, O’Neil De Noux, and Jean Rabe, to name a few. The anthology was edited by Paul Bishop, whose work I’ve admired for years. Star Noir is available as an e-book.

And as the year draws to a close, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my eleventh novel in the Executioner series, Cold Fury, being released on War Against the Mafia. The protagonist, Mack Bolan, is a soldier who returns to the U.S. from Vietnam to find that his family has been destroyed by the mob. He then embarks on a campaign as an avenger, taking on the Outfit in various locations. Through the years Bolan evolved into an ageless hero who has now morphed into the American James Bond. My Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award in 2018 given by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. I am honored to be among the pantheon of writers who have worked on this series. Ironically, when I was in basic training in the army, the GI in the bunk above me was reading one of the Executioner books, and said he would give it to me when he was finished. We shipped out and I never got the book, but now all these years later, I’m writing them. Cold Fury is set in Seattle, Alaska, and Vancouver and has the redoubtable Mack Bolan battling some rogue Russians who are smuggling in a human cargo unknowingly infected with a new strain of bubonic plague. With over 500 books in this series, the publisher is now releasing them as e-books.
December 1st. The books are all written under the name of Don Pendleton, who created the series in 1969 with his novel,

I would like to thank Ann for her gracious offer to allow me be a guest on her blog. It brought back a lot of pleasant memories of our old Ladykiller blogging days.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Playing hooky


Well, I took last week away from almost everything to go to Iceland and chase around after the Northern Lights. I had a marvelous time, yet still felt a little guilty, as if I was playing hooky from my endless lists of to-dos and responsibilities. But abandon Slang-o-rama? Never!

So, let's take a closer look at playing hooky...
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... However, first, a few photos from my trip...
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Now that I've shared some of the lovely scenery from this fascinating land of ice and snow, let's return to play hooky, which, according to Dictionary.com, means "be absent from school or some other obligation without permission."

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer notes that the term play hooky dates from the mid-1800s and adds
In this term, the noun hooky may have come from the phrase hook it, meaning "escape."
I shall close with a little Led Zepplin, because.... (see link re: land of ice and snow, above).

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Bugaboo


With tomorrow being Halloween, bugaboo is a word appropriate to the season because, well...
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Image by Mojca JJ from Pixabay
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Now, let's find out where this interesting word came from and how long it's been around...

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary bugaboo is "something to frighten a child, fancied object of terror." It dates from 1843 (nice to know!), perhaps evolving from the 1740 buggybow (now that's one I haven't heard of before).

The OED also notes that bugaboo is probably an alteration of bugbear (another word with a fascinating history... check out the link). The entry dives in a little further, saying that the Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman links bugaboo to Bugibu, demon in the Old French poem "Aliscans" from 1141, "which is perhaps of Celtic origin (compare Cornish bucca-boo, from bucca 'bogle, goblin')."

So, there you have it, a little word history to chew over as you eye the chocolates and other sweets in your Halloween offerings for the little hobgoblins who come a-knocking on your door for treats. Enjoy the end-of-October festivities, and don't let the bugaboos get to you!

 Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Heebie-jeebies


I'm on a roll, so we'll continue with our spooky slang-o-rama explorations for October. If this time of year gives you the heebie-jeebies, that is, leaves you with a feeling of anxiety, apprehension or illness, well....

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... I am here to help you out. At least, etymologically speaking.

The Phrase Finder has a nice entry on the term, noting:
The sound of this term seems to hark back to earlier rhyming phrases, like hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo, with a touch of the jitters thrown in. The meaning is more like the British term - the screaming habdabs.
Heebie and jeebie don't mean anything as independent words and heebie jeebies was coined at a time and place when there was a spate of new nonsense rhyming pairs, called rhyming reduplications, - the bee's knees, etc., that is, 1920s USA.
The term is widely attributed to William Morgan "Billy" de Beck. The first citation of it in print is certainly in a 1923 cartoon of his, in the 26th October edition of the New York American: "You dumb ox - why don't you get that stupid look offa your pan - you gimme the heeby jeebys!"
World Wide Words also credits de Beck with its creation, citing the same 1923 appearance. The Word Detective agrees. Dictionary.com dates it even earlier: 1905–10... but I can't find any use from that timeframe (at least through Google's ngram). I did find it in a 1911 book—The Story of Carol by Edmondstoune Duncan (what a name, right? Perfect for a fictional character!). You can view the passage here.

I'd love to find an earlier appearance of this term, so if anyone spots one, let me know!

Feeling anxious? Got the heebie-jeebies? If so, you've got lots of company!
The Scream By Edvard Munch