Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: I'll eat my hat

 I'll eat my hat.

No, no, sorry to disappoint you, dear readers, but I won't. However, I do wonder about the origin of this expression. Did it arise when hats were small (and perhaps, boilable)? Or during some era when big, fancy hats with enthusiastic plumage was popular (yuck!)?

Time to put on my thinking cap/hat and do a little digging...

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According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, the phrase eat one's hat, meaning to "declare one's certainty that something will not happen or is untrue," appeared in the first half of 1800s. Ammer offers up an 1837 quote from Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers: "If I knew as little of life as that, I'd eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole."

The Today I Found Out website has a nice post exploring the expression, including this bit:

According to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known example of the phrase comes from the 1762 book Homer Travestie, by Thomas Bridges. The book is a parody of the more famous Iliad and contains a line that reads: "For though we tumble down the wall, And fire their rotten boats and all, I’ll eat my hat, if Jove don’t drop us, Or play some queer rogue’s trick to stop us." 

The poster goes on to say that Bridges probably didn't coin the phrase so much as switched it up from an older expression: I'll eat Old Rowley's hat.

Whaaat (or whooo) is Old Rowley?? And what was special about this this hat? Luckily for me, the post continues:

As for who “Old Rowley” was, this may be referring to King Charles II who was called such owing to his reputation with women combined with the fact that “Old Rowley” was the nickname of one of the King’s prized stallions. This is referenced, among other places, about a century after Charles II’s death in The Biographical History of England (1775)...As for why the saying specifically mentioned the king’s hat instead of, say, his shoes or his underwear, this is speculated to be due to the king’s fondness for fabulously flamboyant hats which would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, for a person to eat.  

The Phrase Finder says essentially the same thing, mentioning a dubious alternative origin based on the possibility that "hatte" was a medieval word for a veal pie. However Phrase Finder  has its doubts, adding:

...Pies can be eaten, certainly, but these 'hatte' pies were a 15th century creation and the word was never in sufficient circulation for it to have been recorded in the OED, which claims, with good reason, to be 'the definitive record of the English language'. Nor does 'eat my hat' appear in print until 200 years after the last person ate a hatte. Also, 'eat my hat' has always meant 'submit myself to something unpleasant if I prove to be wrong'. Eating veal pies is far from unpleasant, and so the supposed derivation doesn't match the meaning.   

I looked at the hats from the time of Charles II, and must say that eating one of those looks VASTLY more unappetizing than devouring a meat pie...

Don't even think about eating THESE hats!
By Frans Hals - Frans_Hals_015.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17607317


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Latibulate

For this week's Slang-o-rama offering, I yearned to highlight a really obscure word. The Little Book of Lost Words by Joe Gillard did not let me down.

Latibulate

Any guesses as to what it means? (No peeking! No Googling!)

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Allow me to enlighten you (or rather, we'll let Gillard do that): Latibulate is a 17th century English word that means "to hide in a corner." What a cool word, right?? 

I spot a little latibulation goin' on...
The Eavesdropper by Jean Carolus (1880) - Sotheby's New York, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29501650

I dug around online... and, wow, obscure I wanted, and obscure I got. Slang Define notes this is "among a group of words with the root latib, all used to describe the action or place of hiding." A group of words? I can't even think of one. So, I explored a little more. A Way with Words provides some insight with a post on latibulum that says:

The Latin word latibulum means a "refuge or hiding place of animals." It derives from the same root that gives us the English word latent, meaning "hidden." A 17th-century dictionary defines the now-rare English word latibulate as "privily to hide oneself in a corner."

A little more was revealed in this pandemic-lockdown era post from Writing Redux. This was about all I could find, EXCEPT there is a very short (and rather catchy) song by Scotland singer/songwriter Adam Donaldson titled "Latibulate" (!!) which you can hear (and watch) below. Maybe this word is getting ready to step out of obscurity, eh?

(Privily, I shall latibulate now.)




Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Piker

Just recently, I was bemoaning what a piker I was, and then I paused. Did piker mean what I thought it meant?

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In a word, nope.

Merriam Webster has two definitions for this noun: 

  1. One who gambles or speculates with small amounts of money
  2. One who does things in a small way.

M-W lists first use (in the sense of the first definition) in 1859 and notes that the root word pike means to play cautiously and is of unknown origin.

Well, if you know anything about me and Slang-o-rama, you know that "unknown origin" words and phrases kick me into a research frenzy. So let's see what I can find...

World Wide Words is always a good place for etymological discussions, and in this case they have a nice post on piker, which I quote at length below, because it's so fascinating:

...If somebody piked himself in late medieval times he had furnished himself with a pilgrim’s staff — yet another sort of pike. Figuratively to pike oneself meant to travel on foot, go away or run away.

 It may be, though the evidence is sparse, that through the idea of running away the verb came to suggest withdrawing from a situation through excessive caution. In the US in the 1850s it began to be attached to small-time gambling and a piker was a man who made very small bets, often hedging them. This is the first example on record: "Piker is a man who plays very small amounts. Plays a quarter, wins, pockets the winnings, and keeps at quarters; and never, if he can help it, bets on his winnings. Vocabulum; or, The Rogue’s Lexicon, by George W Matsell, 1859."

Are those quarters on the table? (From the 1921 western, "The Beautiful Gambler")
By Universal Film Manufacturing Company - Exhibitors Herald (Jul. - Sep. 1921) on the Internet Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60007022 

World Wide Words (WWW) continues, offering another possible origin story:

 Some reference books suggest a completely different source. A piker in the US was also a poor white migrant from the southern states. The first pikers were migrants to California, around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush, from Pike County, Missouri. (The county was named after Zebulon Pike, the soldier and explorer who also gave his name to Pikes Peak in Colorado.) This version of the term came to mean a worthless, lazy, good-for-nothing person.

 The subsequent history of piker in the US has interwoven these two strands so they are now hard to separate. Piker became a disparaging term with several senses, describing a person as a shirker, stingy, cowardly, a cheat or insignificant.... For the sake of completeness, perhaps I ought to mention that in Australia and New Zealand piker has yet another sense, of a person who agrees with enthusiasm to take part in some social event, but who later pulls out, often at the last minute and at some inconvenience to others. It is probable that it evolved independently from the old sense of a person who runs away.

Wow... California, Colorado, Missouri, Australia. This word has done a lot of traveling in its time!

Americanisms, Old and New, by John Stephen Farmer (1889) pretty much says the same thing as WWW, adding some moral outrage along the way. (Opinions and moral judgments abound in this 19th century dictionary, just as in the newspapers of the day.) The Online Etymological Dictionary agrees with the suggestion that U.S. usage arose from folks migrating West from Missouri (Pike County), but also adds piker might originally hail from the notion of a vagrant who wanders the pike or highway (i.e., turnpike) from 1838.  

Goodness, I've wandered far afield on this one, which seems appropriate, somehow. To bring it back around to the first definition, and as a reward for your patience in reading through my musings,  here's an iconic "gambling" song for your listening pleasure. 

Enjoy!


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

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

 The protagonist of my Silver Rush series, Inez Stannert, has been known to give the cold shoulder to those who deserve it (and even to a few who do not!). So, was she acting in her timeframe (1880s) when exhibiting this display of contempt?

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Well, of course she was! According to American Slang, 2nd Edition by Robert L. Chapman and Barbara Ann Kipfer, cold shoulder as a noun phrase was in use by 1816, well before Inez was born. Defined as "a deliberate snub; display of chilly contempt," cold shoulder also became a verb form by 1845. 

The Phrase Finder has a few words to say about this phrase:

The origin of this expression which is often repeated is that visitors to a house who were welcome were given a hot meal but those who weren't were offered only "cold shoulder of mutton." This is repeated in several etymological texts, including Hendrickson's usually reliable Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. There's no evidence to support this view though and it appears to be an example of folk etymology. 
The post goes on to note that the first printed reference appears in Sir Walter Scott's 1816 The Antiquary, a "novel of manners," as follows: 
The Countess’s dislike didna gang farther at first than just showing o’ the cauld shouther.

What else can I say besides... (here it comes).... Great Scott! 
(Thanks goes to Susan Knilans for suggesting cold shoulder as a Slang-o-rama topic.)

An elegant "cold shoulder." (I love this portrait!)
 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) By John Singer Sargent
This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56723870



Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Chicken scratch (by DMcC)



Please give three cheers for the return of my assistant Slang-o-rama-ist, Devyn McC! Devyn is a designer-editor-cartoonist, currently lurking near Portland, OR. 

Examples of Devyn’s work can be found at this here link and in the Slang-o-Rama archive.

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Recently I was browsing a certain bird-themed app when I came across what has become one of my favorite accounts yet: @KidsWriteJokes, which publishes “genuine joke attempts by children” … many of which are genuinely strange! These include brand-new, never-before-seen jokes:
 (I can appreciate a comedian who’s emotionally honest. Source: https://twitter.com/kidswritejokes/status/917292905357864960)


As well as new takes on old classics… 
 (The whims of a chicken are a mysterious force indeed. Source: https://twitter.com/kidswritejokes/status/1102701521005879297)

All this fowl humor reminded me of a certain tidbit of slang that’s been wandering around my mind: chicken scratch! As someone with chronically illegible lettering (y’all are lucky this blog is typed and not handwritten), I found myself wondering about the origins of this peck-uliar phrase.

Let’s see what we can dig up. 
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Starting with the steadfast Merriam Webster, chicken scratch (the noun) is defined as: “an illegible or scarcely legible mark intended as handwriting.” While I didn’t find definitive evidence, most likely the term arose due to the visual similarity between illegible text and the messy footprints of a hungry chicken. (For a fine example, check out this video of chickens scratching / dancing for grubs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD37ka9NIUg)

In my poking and pecking around for etymology, I did find Green’s Dictionary of Slang noted that chicken scratch—as well as the variations chicken tracks and hen tracks—are of American origin, and have been recorded in use as far back as 1854. Here are a few actual quotes that had me cluckling—I mean, chuckling: 
  • An 1870 issue of the Lawrence Daily Journal (KS): “A stranger, who happened to see some of the aforeseaid prairie chicken tracks upon the unprinted manuscript, innocently inquired if the writer was one of the sufferers in the recent railroad accident.” 
  • An 1882 issue of the Salt Lake Herald (UT): “The horny-fisted old chicken tracks of farmer Jones when placed at the business end of a cheque.” 
  • An 1885 Bulletin from Sydney, Australia: “‘What do you think of my handwriting, and would you advise me to change it?’ […] Think you should employ another hen to scratch for you.”
To be fair, I’m sure a chicken would make a fine employee—I hear they’re great at Egg-cel spreadsheets.

According to Wiktionary, a number of other languages also have feathery phrases for bad handwriting, including: 
  • German Krähenfüße (“crow’s feet”) 
  • Vietnamese chữ như gà bới (“like letters by a chicken”) 
  • Russian как ку́рица лапой (“like a chicken’s foot”) 
  • Polish jak kura pazurem (“like a chicken with a claw”) 
  • Finnish harakanvarvas (“magpie toe”)

While the species and language vary, I think these bits o’ slang point to a universal truth: birds have pretty poor penmanship.

If you’re interested in more chicken humor, @KidsWriteJokes is a great place to start, as well as this post on the origins of the classic “why did the chicken cross the road?” by the punny and insightful newsletter Under the Henfluence. (UtH has many other fascinating chicken-related musings, including stories of chickens traveling to unexpected places.)

One final tidbit: the Oxford Dictionary notes that chicken scratch is also the name of a “type of dance music originating among the Pima and Tohono O'odham peoples of the Sonoran desert region of the United States and Mexico, blending European and Mexican influences and adapted from the polka.” Here’s an example of a chicken scratch tune—also called “Waila”—to delight your ears:
I hope that puts some pep in your step!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: 1940s slang (by guest author Camille Minichino)


Please welcome good buddy and guest Slang-o-rama blogger, Camille Minichino. Camille is the author of 28 mystery novels in 5 series, plus many short stories and articles. All her names, blogs, and publications can be found at www.minichino.com. Her latest, “Murphy’s Slaw” is available here.

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Over the years, a coffee order went from a cuppa mud (1940) to a venti, decaf iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk or a grande, quad, nonfat, one-pump, no-whip, mocha (yesterday).

How did this come about? Sorry, that’s above my pay grade.

Oops, an inadvertent segue into a phrase that has its origin in the military, when each rank had a certain pay. Above each pay grade, solutions were someone else’s problem.

Here are other words and phrases that date to the forties or thereabouts.

  • beef, as in “I have a beef with you.” Goes back to the Old West and arguments over grazing land for cows. 
  • hold a candle to, as in “His writing can’t hold a candle to Ann Parker’s.” Stems from a time when an apprentice was expected to hold the candle so a more experienced worker would be able to see what she was doing.
  • gobbledygook: Origin: The New York Times, May 21, 1944. How’s that for on the nose*? A Texas lawyer/congressman coined the word to indicate the obscure language being used by his colleagues, imitating the gobble of a turkey.
  • on the nose: From the early days of radio broadcasting. The theory is that it came from the engineer in the control room who would place a finger on his nose as a signal that the program was running on schedule.
  • through the wringer: Give someone a hard time, from the old washing machine part. Would my eleven-year-old grandniece know what this is?

Since I don’t want to stiff you (from 1939 restaurant workers, because dead people pay no tips!), I’m including a long list of 1940s slang, lingo, and phrases.

How about phrases that originated in the 21st century? Many abbreviations!

FAQ: 1982 (earliest year of use, not total Scrabble points)

Who has time for a 3-word phrase, or a 4-syllable word? So we have:

  • convo for conversation (an application (applo?) of the older demo and info).
  • retweet: Not just for Twitter anymore. It stands for I agree with you.
  • boomer: Originally those born between 1946 and 1964, but now used for “old,” like geezer (not cool, in dis-guise (geez)).

What? You haven’t had enough? NP. Here are 110 texting acronyms. Imagine—we now have 109 more acronyms than in the days when ASAP ruled the roost (self-explanatory).

TY to Ann for sharing her blog space. TTYL.



Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: You bet!

You bet! popped out of my mouth in enthusiastic agreement to something-or-other a few days ago. That set me to wondering when the phrase first arose, and if it had anything to do with gambling and so on. So, you guess: did I then start researching the phrase?

You bet!

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Here is what Dictionary.com has to say:

The slang bet appears to come from the everyday word bet, “a wager” or “to risk something of value.” By the 1850s, we were saying You bet! as an affirmative exclamation with the sense of “Indeed!” This expression has the underlying notion of You can bet that it is so or That’s a bet.

True West Magazine has a nice little article about this phrase, and Grammarphobia, which dives into the very colloquial You betcha indicates that You bet popped up in the U.S. and U.K. about the same time, providing "first use" citations from 1857 for both locations:

...The first British citation is from the novel Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), by Thomas Hughes: “What a bore that he’s got a study in this passage! Don’t you hear them now at supper in his den? Brandy punch going, I’ll bet.” ...  And here’s the earliest American citation: “I saw all the ‘boys,’ and distributed to them the papers and ‘you bet,’ they were in great demand” (from the Nov. 22, 1857, issue of the Phoenix, a short-lived newspaper in Sacramento)...

Grammarphobia goes on to list different U.S.-invented versions involving bet that popped up in the same general timeframe, such as “bet your life” (1852), “bet your old boots” (1856), and “bet his bottom dollar” (1866).

Do I find all these etymological details fascinating?

You bet!

In fact, you can bet your (old or new) boots!
Image by Pexels from Pixabay