Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Hat in hand


I wrote the phrase hat in hand in my Silver Rush WIP, then had to stop and look it up. (Of course!)
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According to Merriam-Webster, hat in hand, a phrase that indicates something is done "in an attitude of respectful humility," dates from 1821, putting it comfortably in the earlier part of the 19th century. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer includes cap in hand with a definition of "in a humble manner." Ammer places first use of the phrase circa 1700 and adds:
This expression alludes to removing one's headgear as a sign of respect and has survived the era of doffing one's hat.
[ASIDE: Doffing... love that word! Will have to find a place for it...]

In any case, doing something hat in hand is perfectly reasonable for my 1882-era characters, whether they proceed literally or figuratively.

This guy does not look like the "hat in hand" type.
General √Čtienne-Maurice G√©rard (1816) by Jacques Louis David
The Metropolitan Museum

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Bobadil


Now here's one for the books: bobadil.

Any guesses as to what this word means?
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According to Merriam-Webster, calling someone a bobadil is not a compliment. The word means braggart, especially a "cowardly braggart." The Online Etymological Dictionary points to the esteemable Ben Johnson as the originator of this word, naming a boastful character Bobadil in "Every Man in his Humour" (1598). So yes, it has been around for quite a while. 

Some words never go out of style...

There he goes again...
The Fool Who Sells Wisdom by Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet, 1818

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Kick up your heels at a shindig


How many of you plan to go to a shindig on July 4th and kick up your heels?

There's a lot of unintentional legwork in that question. Let's tackle both the word shindig and the phrase kick up your heels, and see if we can't wrestle them to the ground, slang-o-rama style.
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Shindig, meaning "dance, party, lively gathering," gets a nod from the Online Etymological Dictionary, which notes it first appeared in 1871. According to OED, this word probably evolved from shindy "a spree, merrymaking" (1821)—which also refers to "a game like hockey"—or perhaps from shinty, which is the name of a Scottish game akin to hockey (1771). Merriam-Webster says shindig first danced onto the scene in 1842.

Hmmmm. I sense some uncertainty as to when shindig first arrived on the scene.

I checked Google Ngram Viewer for early appearances, did a little digging, and found it in Across the Atlantic: Letters from France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and England by Charles H. Haeseler, dated 1868. The following passage appears in a passage describing a snowball fight in the Alps:


As for kick up one's heels, nowadays we pretty much use it in the sense defined by Merriam-Webster: to show sudden delight or have a lively time. However, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, its original meaning was much less... ah... lively:
kick up one's heels: Enjoy oneself... This expression originated about 1600 with a totally different meaning, "to be killed."
Ee-ow!! Although, perhaps in these days (and nights) of COVID-19, kicking up one's heels at a big ol' shindig where folks are all jammed together might result in a condition that is closer to the original meaning of the phrase.

So, whatever you do to celebrate the 4th, please stay safe and err on the side of caution. As for me, I'm going to see if I have a red-white-and-blue mask to wear that day if I should venture out in public.... 

If you attend a shindig on the 4th, please add a little distance while you kick up your heels...
WikiArt - 4th of July 1819 in Philadelphia by John Lewis Krimmel


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: The game is not worth the candle


I bumped up against the phrase the game is not worth the candle, and although I more or less understood it to mean "the game" (whatever it may be) isn't worth pursuing for whatever reason, I wasn't at all sure about the origin or timeframe.

So, off we go, on a little idiomatic journey....
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My well-used copy of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer has this to say:
The game is not worth the candle. The returns from an activity or enterprise do not warrant the time, money, or effort required. This expression, which began as a translation of a term used by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1580, alludes to gambling by candlelight, which involved the expense of illumination. If the winnings were not sufficient, they did not warrant the expense. Used figuratively, it was a proverb within a century.
The Phrase Finder also has a nice post about not worth the candle. The first known printed record of that phrase in English appeared in Sir William Temple's Works, circa 1690: "Perhaps the Play is not worth the Candle."

So, let me know: Was this little etymological diversion to your day sufficiently... illuminating? ;-)

If the hand you're dealt isn't worth the candle, just hold those cards a little closer to the flame.
By Gerrit Dou - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link



Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: By the skin of one's teeth


When a character of mine managed to escape detection by the skin of her teeth, I stopped and thought about that a bit. Since when do teeth have skin? Maybe if they haven't been brushed in a long time? (eeeuw!) And where did that little phrase come from anyway?

Sooooo many distractions from focusing on plowing through Book #8!

But I don't want to use an anachronistic phrase if I can avoid it, so time to sink my teeth into by the skin of one's teeth.
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To my vast relief, this appears to be a very old phrase. In fact, thousands of years old, according to The Grammarist:
By the skin of one’s teeth means just barely, by a narrow margin, just in time. The phrase by the skin of one’s teeth is found in the book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. Job is a character in the Bible who undergoes an abundance of suffering due to a challenge that Satan has made to God. Satan tries to break Job’s righteousness by bringing suffering upon him. Job laments his status through much of the book, including the phrase, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” What exactly the phrase “escaped with the skin of my teeth” meant in Ancient Hebrew is unknown. It is assumed that the skin referred to in the term skin of my teeth is the enamel, though this is only a guess.
World Wide Words notes the idiom appeared first in the Geneva Bible of 1560 and is a direct translation of the original Hebrew:
Since teeth don’t have skin, the phrase is hard to make sense of; Bible translators and commentators have struggled with it down the centuries. The Douay-Rheims Bible has instead “My bone hath cleaved to my skin, and nothing but lips are left about my teeth.” Other writers have suggested that the reference is to the gums.... 
One modern writer has concluded: "The explanations for the last metaphor are multiple and unconvincing. Its meaning eludes us."
I guess all we can conclude is: 'tis a mystery!
Meeting deadlines by the skin of my teeth (i.e., barely)
Image by Dmitry Abramov from Pixabay





Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Tin ear



A character in my work-in-progress claims to have a tin ear. I dutifully recorded it... and stopped.

And how did "tin" get all wrapped up with ears? And how old is that idiom, anyway? My books are set in the 1880s, long before author L. Frank Baum introduced the Tin Man in his 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

So, I proceeded down my virtual version of the Yellow Brick Road to figure out the when, where, and why of the phrase tin ear.
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According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, tin ear, meaning "lack of musical discernment," has been around since 1909.

The Stack Exchange has a lively discussion on this phrase and throws out several theories on its origin, including:
  • Ear trumpets made of tin 
  • Tin (plate) as cheap and nasty
  • Tin instruments or dropped items made of tin sounding horrible
  • A tale of using a piece of tin on a morse buzzer to amplify the sound
  • Tinnitus
One intrepid Stack Exchange responder noted:
The earliest record I can track of the use in print is in the novel Titan:A Romance, by Jean Paul Richter, published in translation from the German in 1863 and in the original language between 1800 and 1803. 
In that early 19th century novel, tin ear is synonymous with an ear trumpet. Alas, not the meaning I had in mind at all for my character who is in San Francisco in 1882.

Changes were required.

Now, the poor fellow no longer has a tin ear but is tone deaf (which I found in an 1876 tome and an 1880 magazine... good enough for my purposes!).


Not the tin ear I was hoping for, but pretty cool, nonetheless.
A collapsible Victorian ear trumpet made of tin made by Atkinson, Union Court, Holborn, London
See page for author / CC BY

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Saber-rattling


In these fraught times it seems there is a lot of saber-rattling going on. Which, of course, has me wondering about the when and why of this phrase. According to Merriam-Webster saber-rattling is "overtly and often exaggeratedly threatening actions or statements (such as verbal threats or ostentatious displays of military power) that are meant to intimidate an enemy by suggesting possible use of force."

Sabers have been around for a loooong time, so you might think this term dates back to when folks actually used these sharp-edged weapons to cause very real damage to their enemies.

At least, that's what I thought.
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The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that "saber-rattling 'militarism' is attested from 1922." An M-W post, The History of 'Saber-rattling,' is a little fuzzy on the first use as well as the origin of the phrase:
Some think that it comes from the practice of 18th-century Hungarian cavalry units had of brandishing their sabers at opponents prior to charging. Others have said that it comes from the habit that military officers had in the early 20th century of ominously shaking their scabbard when issuing orders to subordinates. Our records indicate that the two words began seeing use in fixed fashion around 1880, making it unlikely that it was directly related to either of the causes given above.
Whether 19th century or 20th century, it's clearly a term that still is relevant to today...
Those sabers look pretty serious to me.
Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay