Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: The cat's meow

 Way back in 2021, I Slang-o-rama'd (how's that for a verb??) about the cat's pajamas. I believe a post on the cat's meow is a tad overdue. Let's rectify that now.

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According to Merriam-Webster, the cat's meow is "a highly admired person or thing," with the first known use being in 1921. Boy, I'd sure like to know what that first appearance was... That being said, I was so pleased to then find this phrase in the online Green's Dictionary of Slang, which is a marvelous reference for this kind of thing. Sure enough, they note that, according to Leonard Zwilling's "A TAD Lexicon. Etymology and Linguistic Principles: V.3," (1993) San Francisco cartoonist Tad (T.A.) Dorgan wrote "Some party. Some home made hooch. — Gee — I feel like the cat’s meow." I'd sure love to see THAT cartoon!

Green's Dictionary also offers a gaggle of slangy synonyms—cat’s tonsillitis, duck’s quack, elephant’s tonsils, pig’s scream, sparrow’s chirp—and examples. If you're curious, check out the entry here. 

In the meantime, here is a photo of... yes... a cat's meow.



 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Back "into the swing of things"

Hello all! Did you miss Slang-o-Rama?? My apologies for the long (unannounced) hiatus. Chalk it up to life.

But I and Slang-o-Rama are baaaack and getting into the swing of things.

Turns out this phrase, which I guessed might date to the 1920s or so, goes back to the 19th century. According to Christine Ammer's The American Heritage Dictionary of Idiomsget into the swing of things, which means "become active, make progress" dates to the late 1800s.

The online Free Dictionary offers a bit more from Ammer's Dictionary of Cliches (I need that book for my reference shelf!) "This expression appears to be a nineteenth-century change on being in full swing (already very active in something), dating from the sixteenth century. An early use cited by the OED is by Thomas Huxley in 1864: 'I shall soon get into swing.'"

So, there you go! Let's get back on track and get to swinging and slinging some weekly slang, shall we?

Image by 4040952 from Pixabay


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Shoot for the moon

 The landing of India's Chandrayaan-3 near the south pole of the moon brought to my mind the phrase shoot for the moon (definition: "to try to do or get something that is very difficult to do or get" — Merriam-Webster).

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But when was first use? Hmmm. That was quite a hunt. Google Ngram shows a tiny bump in the 1910s, and then nothing until 1930s, when its use rises from there with a dip around 1980.

Google Ngram results for the phrase shoot for the moon

After some search, I found shoot for the moon (appearing in quotes, which indicates that it was perhaps a fairly new idiom at that point) in Law Notes from February 1915. Who'd've thought that  lawyers would be among the first to land on shoot for the moon?? 

(Interesting aside: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, shoot the moon—the above phrase without the "for"—means something quite different: "leave without paying rent," which is British slang from about 1823.)

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay


Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Highfalutin

Highfalutin is such a fun word to say (and spell!). I associate it with old TV Western series such as Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. So, is it something Hollywood invented, or does it date back to "Wild West" days, or....?

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According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, VOL II, by J.E. Lighter, highfalutin is both a noun and an adjective—meaning either (noun) a pompous air or affectation; bombast OR (adjective) pompous or bombastic; high-flown; arrogantly pretentious. The noun dates from 1848, with the adjectival form appearing almost ten years earlier in 1839.

The Christian Science Monitor opines on the word's origin (which the Random House dictionary says is "unknown") as follows: 

...Its etymology is disputed. One theory holds that it comes from the Yiddish hifelufelem: “extravagant language; nonsense.” Another contends that it derives from high-flown. British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg argues creatively, but probably wrongly, that it embodies the class divisions found on 19th-century American steamboats: “On board the bigger boats the richer travellers were called ‘highfalutin’ because of the high fluted smokestacks that carried the soot and cinders well away from the passengers.”

So, who knows how highfalutin came to be?

But at least I can rest easy knowing my 1870s–80s Silver Rush characters (as well as Gunsmoke's character Festus) are perfectly legit in using the word as a noun or adjective.

Festus' expression says it clearly:
"Now don't you be gettin' all highfalutin on me, Doc."
Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Zwodder

 This will be a short post, as I have just returned from travel and am still in a bit of a zwodder.

"A bit of a what?" you ask...

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Zwodder, according to Wiktionary, means a dull, drowsy state, or stupor. As to its origin, the Wiki entry has this to say:

From Middle English swodderen, from Old English swodrian (“to get drowsy, fall asleep”), of uncertain origin. Perhaps a variant of Old English swaþrian (“to withdraw, retreat, subside”). Compare also Middle Dutch swadderen (“to be weary from drinking, stagger”).

Normally I would investigate this fascinating word further, but this week, I'll leave it at that.

Really feeling in a zwodder today.
From WikiArt: Emilie Menzel Asleep by Adolph Menzel, 1848


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

NEWS FLASH plus Wednesday's (regularly scheduled) Random Slang-o-rama: Dark Horse

NEWS FLASH!! —> I have a double dose of wonderful news to share from Silver Rush country... The Secret in the Wall is a finalist/nominee for two more awards: The Macavity Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery (that's one! See all nominees for all Macavity categories here) and the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Mystery (that's two! See all finalists for all Silver Falchion categories here).

I'll admit, looking over the lists of nominees, I felt a bit of a dark horse to named and honored among them.

Which brings us to the Slang-o-rama phrase of the week...  

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Merriam-Webster provides this definition of dark horse: "a usually little known contender (such as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing." 
The Phrase Finder—always a good source for dates of first use and origins—notes that dark horse originated in horseracing, and was used to describe a horse that was pretty much unknown and thus difficult to place odds on. The phrase used in the figurative sense seems to have first appeared in the 1860s in the academic world. The Phrase Finder offers this example from Sketches of Cambridge, published in 1865: "Every now and then a dark horse is heard of, who is supposed to have done wonders at some obscure small college." 

The phrase has quite the air of mystery, yes?

Image by Bénédicte ARROU-VIGNOD from Pixabay


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: The penny dropped

No sooner did I comment to a friend that the penny dropped than I knew what this week's Slang-o-rama was going to be about...

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An informal British idiom, the penny drops is used to say that someone finally understands something after not understanding it for a time. (Thank you, Merriam-Webster, for that definition!)  As for the what and when of its origin, The Phrase Finder points to the Oxford Dictionary for an explanation:

...The Oxford English Dictionary states that this phrase originated by way of allusion to the mechanism of penny-in-the-slot machines. The OED's earliest citation of a use of the phrase with the 'now I understand' meaning, is from The Daily Mirror August 1939:
And then the penny dropped, and I saw his meaning!
The image of someone waiting for a penny-in-the-slot mechanism (which often jammed) to operate does sound plausible and, if that isn't the origin, it is difficult to imagine what is...

Ah, but Word Histories finds an earlier date for first figurative use of this phrase—April 10, 1931—in "On getting educated," published in The Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press of Ripley in Derbyshire. The post also offers several other instances cropping up in 1932, including the following from the Skegness Standard of Skegness in Lincolnshire, on April 20, 1932:

THINGS WE WANT TO KNOW.
The identity of the gentleman who was allowed to go for a drink after assisting the missus on Sunday?
And how long it took him to fathom the problem as to why the hostelry was closed at 1.15 p.m.
And if the penny dropped on suggestion of his spouse that he had forgotten to advance his watch an hour?
And if he has made a mental resolve to guard against a similar happening in future years?

Check out the Word Histories post and scroll down to see other early-use figurative quotes.

It took me a few minutes, but then the (figurative) penny dropped.
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay