Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Stultiloquy



Let's go archaic this week and bring back a word that may actually be relevant to today's world: Stultiloquy

What, you are probably asking, does stultiloquy mean? Well, I could go on and on and on at great and tedious length...

Which is, more or less, the point.
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Webster's 1913 dictionary defines the noun stultiloquy as foolish talk; silly discourse; babbling. 

But O! Let us not stop here, for there's much more to learn about this wonderful word.

Dr. Goodword from Alphadictionary.com has an entry on stultiloquy that is full of explanations and examples (and even a little "Hear it!" button so you can hear how it is pronounced). He notes that the word is based on an obsolete adjective stulty, which means "foolish, stupid." Stulty is also the basis for the word stultify, which is defined as "to make stupid, render useless." Marching right alongside stultiloquy is the equally polysyllabic adjective stultiloquent and an alternative noun, stultiloquence.

World Wide Words notes that stultiloquy is from the Latin stultiloquus, speaking foolishly, which come in turn from stultus, foolish, plus loquus, that speaks.

Both Alphadictionary.com and World Wide Words make snarky comments about how this is the perfect word to apply to certain, unnamed political figures.

It does seem a pity it has fallen out of use. In a quest to discover when it was popular, I turned to Google's Ngram. Here are the results:



Stultiloquy appears to have peaked sometime around 1820, and was not very popular even then. I think this would be a most excellent word to reintroduce into the English language, don't you agree?

This pretty much says it all for stultiloquy.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: An arm and a leg


Hello all! I hope you are all staying healthy in these uncertain times. And what kind of a crazy place is this where toilet paper (of all things) has become a commodity as scarce as hen's teeth, and when one does find a pack of the precious paper, it costs an arm and a leg??

And when did things that fetch a pretty penny come to demand various appendages in payment in addition to the coin of the realm?
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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer says that the idiom arm and a leg became widely known from the 1930s on, and probably had its origins in the 19th-century American criminal slang phrase if it takes a leg (that is, even at the cost of a leg), to express desperate determination.

Phrase Finder offers a more detailed theory:
'It cost and arm and a leg' is one of those phrases that rank high in the 'I know where that comes from' stories told at the local pub.... It is in fact an American phrase, coined sometime after WWII. The earliest citation I can find is from The Long Beach Independent, December 1949:
Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say "Merry Christmas" and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.
'Arm' and 'leg' are used as examples of items that no one would consider selling other than at an enormous price. It is a grim reality that, around that time, there were many US newspaper reports of servicemen who had lost an arm and a leg in the recent war. It is possible that the phrase originated in reference to the high cost paid by those who suffered such amputations. A more likely explanation is that the expression derived from two earlier phrases: 'I would give my right arm for...' and '[Even] if it takes a leg', which were both coined in the 19th century. The earliest example that I can find of the former in print is from an 1849 edition of Sharpe's London Journal:
He felt as if he could gladly give his right arm to be cut off if it would make him, at once, old enough to go and earn money instead of Lizzy.
The second phrase is American and an early example of it is given in this heartfelt story from the Iowa newspaper the Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, July 1875:
A man who owes five years subscription to the Gazette is trying to stop his paper without paying up, and the editor is going to grab that back pay if it takes a leg.

Interesting!

In any case, I hope that, if you are on the search for toilet paper, buying such does not involve losing limbs or handing over great amounts of capital.

Stay healthy, stay sane, and share with others less fortunate and/or more desperate, if you can.

It does seem a bit like this lately...
Image by bbasilico0 from Pixabay

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Snookered!


Yes, I know I promised an arm and a leg for this week, but I've been snookered by a virus (not THIS virus, thank goodness. Just some run-of-the-mill seasonal virus). As a result, I had to bow out of attending one of my favorite mystery conventions, Left Coast Crime. And I am saaaaaad. 😢

So, while the ibuprofen is at maximum strength, let's take a look at the word snookered. Could my 19th century protagonist Inez cry out in anger that she'd been snookered and stomp around in a fury? I'd like to think so—at least, I can certainly envision it—but I've been wrong before... 
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My copy of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition,  notes that the noun snooker (dating from 1889 and of unknown origin) is a variation of pool played with 15 red balls and 6 variously colored balls. It took until 1925, apparently, for it to gain traction as a verb meaning to make a dupe of or hoodwink.

Huh!

I'm not seeing how the noun and verb are even related. But then, I've never played snooker! Let's dig a little deeper.

The Online Etymological Dictionary offers a possible explanation of how the game came to be called such, and then gets right down to it, defining snooker as "to cheat" and providing this connection, straight from the rules of the game:

One of the great amusements of this game is, by accuracy in strength, to place the white ball so close behind a pool ball that the next player cannot hit a pyramid ball, he being "snookered" from all of them. If he fail to strike a pyramid ball, this failure counts one to the adversary. If, however, in attempting to strike a pyramid ball off a cushion, he strike a pool ball, his adversary is credited with as many points as the pool ball that is struck would count if pocketed by rule. [Maj.-Gen. A.W. Drayson, The Art of Practical Billiards for Amateurs, 1889]
Still, this sneaky setup isn't "cheating," per se. It just sounds like very skilled playing. So, I'm still not seeing the connection. Luckily, there's a very nice discussion on Stack Exchange about this very thing, and I invite you to check it out... you'll learn a lot more about snooker—the game and the possible connection to "cheating," than I can tell you here. 

My takeaway: I can be snookered, but Inez can't (at least, not in 1882!).
And just when you least expect it, snookered! (I could definitely see Inez doing this...)
From The Galaxy, An Illustrated Magazine of Entertaining Reading, Vol. VI), July 1868
Wood engraving, Winslow Homer
Addendum: In her comment below, Liz V mentioned the movie "The Hustler" starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. I found a clip and just have to share. Thank you, Liz!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: A pretty penny


If something costs a pretty penny, you can bet that you'll be paying more than just one shiny copper coin.

So, why (and when) did a pretty penny come to mean a large sum of money? A regular Slang-o-rama reader asked me about this phrase, and as I'm always happy to jump in on special requests and see what I can find, let's hop to it.
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Hop!

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer provides the expected definition—"a considerable sum of money"—and dates it to early 1700s. The Phrase Finder gives us a little more background:
'A pretty penny' used to have the variants 'a fine penny', 'a fair penny' etc, but these have fallen by the wayside. All the forms of the expression came into the language in the 18th century and an early example is from a play by the popular playwright Susanna Centlivre, The Man's Bewitch'd, 1710: "Why here may be a pretty Penny towards, if the Devil don't cross it."
Intriguing, but I was hoping for an explanation as to why a "pretty" penny. Shiny or worn, a penny is worth the same, right? The Online Etymology Dictionary reminded me that, since the late 15th century, pretty has also been used to mean "not a few, considerable." Yes, I could see where that definition might (Dare I say it? Yes, I dare!) make sense(cents) in this context.

However, I think I will give the final word to the Wordwizard site, where this theory was posited:
The origin of this phrase is uncertain but it is often attributed to the special gold pennies, worth 20 silver pennies, that Henry III had coined in 1257. Since they were more valuable than the silver pennies, they became known as pretty pennies. (Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, American Heritage Dictionary, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés)
So, there you go, inquiring reader. Pretty as in considerable or pretty as in gold? You choose! However, no matter how you look at it, if something costs a pretty penny, it'll probably also cost an arm and a leg. (More about that next week.)

More than one pretty penny in that pile...
Image by makingmilly from Pixabay

*Cents, because I cannot resist the possible pun...

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: From fiddle-faddle to fiddlesticks


Now here is an interjection that sounds like something my protagonist Inez Stannert might say (when she's trying to avoid saying something profane): Fiddle-faddle!

The term also has a bit of a musical air about it, and the "fiddle" has me thinking of old-time fiddle playing. So, just how old is this expression, and how did it evolve?

Let's find out!
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According to my copy of American Slang, 2nd Edition, edited by Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D., fiddle-faddle, which means nonsense or foolishness appeared as a noun by 1577 (!!) and by 1671 was being used as an exclamation of irritation, disapproval, or dismissal.

The Online Etymological Dictionary goes along with the 1570s origin date, adding that it is apparently a reduplication of the obsolete word faddle, which means "to trifle," or of fiddle in its contemptuous sense.

In a post titled 10 Interjections Your Vocabulary Has Been Missing, Merriam-Webster suggests the term evolved from fiddlesticks:
The word fiddle-faddle comes from a long tradition of words playfully coined by the process of reduplication: in this case, the word fiddlesticks got cut down and doubled with a vowel change.
Well, I couldn't leave it at that, so onward to fiddle, faddle, and fiddlesticks. The Online Etymological Dictionary has a fairly lengthy exploration of the origins of the word fiddle, noting that it seems to have morphed over time to the point where it carries a slightly contemptuous "air." For faddle, the Online Etymological Dictionary simply states:
faddle (v.) "to make much of a child," 1680s.
As for how/why fiddlesticks came to mean nonsense, World Wide Words comes to the rescue with this explanation:
At some point in Shakespeare’s lifetime, it seems fiddlestick began to be used for something insignificant or trivial. This may have been because a violin bow was regarded as inconsequential or perhaps simply because the word sounds intrinsically silly. It took on a humorous slant as a word one could use to replace another in a contemptuous response to a remark. George Farquhar used it in this way in his play Sir Henry Wildair of 1701: “Golden pleasures! golden fiddlesticks!”. From here it was a short step to using the word as a disparaging comment to mean that something just said was nonsense.
Whew. You are probably now thinking (as I am) "Fiddlesticks! Enough of this fiddle-faddle!"
Don't mind me, I'm just fiddling around with words...
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Addendum: Liz V. mentioned in her comment below the expression fiddle-de-dee, which certainly belongs to this lineup! According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the contemptuous nonsense word fiddle-de-dee dates from 1784. However, it will always make me think of Gone With the Wind and Scarlett O'Hara (see snippet below, at about 12 seconds):




Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Close, but no cigar


Here's a phrase that one hears on occasion, particularly when someone has just missed the mark:
Close, but no cigar.

It sounds pretty old-timey, right? Maybe even used in the 19th century? After all, cigars have been around for a looooong time.
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As it turns out, close, but no cigar is a relative newcomer, and of U.S. origin to boot... At least, according to The Phrase Finder, which says:
The phrase, and its variant 'nice try, but no cigar', are of US origin and date from the mid-20th century. Fairground stalls gave out cigars as prizes, and this is the most likely source, although there's no definitive evidence to prove that.
It is very much an American expression and is little used elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The first recorded use of 'close but no cigar' in print is in Sayre and Twist's publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley: "Close, Colonel, but no cigar!"

Mid-20th century??

I don't believe it. It's got to be older than that.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms places it in early 1900s, which pushes it back some. After some digging, I found the phrase in a 1929 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly:



And another mention in a 1925 issue of The New Yorker:



This post by Barry Popik (a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Yale Book of Quotations and Dictionary of Modern Proverbs) has some fascinating detail about the origin of the phrase. Popik notes that carnival games featuring cigars for prizes dates to late 1800s, early 1900s. Still, even assuming the phrase was in use in speech before it finally appeared in print, I'd better not have the words fly out of my 1880s characters' mouths (or intrude on their thoughts). That would DEFINITELY be a "no cigar" situation.

Good try, lads, but I don't think she's interested. (Close, but no cigar.)
By Peter Baumgartner - Palais Dorotheum, Wien, 12. April 2011, lot 67, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16052963


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Kitten Britches" and other Southern slang by Guest Author Jane Tesh


Please welcome guest author Jane Tesh! A retired media specialist, Jane lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown, the real Mayberry.  She is the author of the Madeline MaclinMystery series featuring former beauty queen, Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con man husband, Jerry Fairweather, as well as the Grace Street series, featuring struggling PI David Randall, his friend Camden, a reluctant psychic, and an ever-changing assortment of tenants who move in and out of Cam’s boarding house on Grace Street. (You can buy the 6th Grace Street book, Death by Dragonfly, here.) Her mysteries, published by Poisoned Pen Press, are set in fictional North Carolina towns and are on the light side with a little humor and romance. She is also the author of four fantasy novels, Butterfly Waltz, A Small Holiday, The Monsters of Spiders’ Rest, and Over the Edge, published by Silver Leaf Books.  When she isn’t writing, Jane enjoys playing the piano and conducting the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

For more about Jane and her books, visit Jane’s website and her Facebook page. She also blogs and occasionally tweets.
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What in the world are "kitten britches?"
Image by Edwin Valencia from Pixabay
I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life, and I grew up with lots of Southern sayings. I didn’t think much about them until my friends from other parts of the country would say, “Um, Jane, what do you mean ‘tight as a tick’?” or “Why do you say you ‘might could’? You might and you could, but ‘might could’?” and “What in the world are ‘kitten britches’?”

As a writer, I love words, and I realized my Southern heritage had bequeathed a goldmine to me.

When I started writing my Grace Street Mystery Series, I knew I wanted one of the characters to be what we in the South call a Good Old Boy. A Good Old Boy is a big old friendly fellow you can always count on if your tractor breaks down or you need help moving heavy furniture or getting the crop in. You can find them hanging around gas stations and repair shops, chewing tobacco and having a beer or two, chatting about hunting and fishing. This type of man often looks deceptively slow but has a razor sharp wit and a fondness for Southern slang. My Good Old Boy is Rufus Jackson and he’s one of the tenants in Camden’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street in the fictional city of Parkland, NC.

Happy goat!
Image by christels from Pixabay
Having a boarding house allows me to move characters in and out as the series progresses. My PI, David Randall, is also a tenant and has his office in the downstairs parlor. Cam is psychic and helps Randall solve his cases. Sometimes Rufus helps out, too, but he’s mainly there to provide the color commentary. Here are a few of my favorite sayings, so they are Rufus’s favorites, too.

My mother had two favorites that I borrowed. One is “He’s as happy as a goat eatin’ briars.” (My brother raises goats, and they are happy eating anything.) The other is “It’s a poor dog that don’t bury a bone.” I think she wanted her children to prepare for the future!

I’m sure most of you have heard “The porch light’s on but nobody’s home” to describe someone who might not be very smart. “Not enough buckwheat in his pancakes” or “A pickle short of a jar.” There are so many sayings like this I couldn’t list them all.
  • “He’s so dumb, he couldn’t find his ass with both hands in his back pockets.”
  • “Her cornbread ain’t cooked in the middle.”
  • “He’s got a hole in his screen door.”
  • “She’s parked too far from the curb.”
  • “His belt don’t go through all the loops.”
  • “Got a hole in her screen door.”
  • “The cheese done slid off her cracker.”
  • “If brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose.”
  • “He’s three gallons of crazy in a two gallon bucket.”
Then there are the “so” sayings for folks with special talents or attributes.
  • “She’s so tall, if she fell down she’d be halfway home.”
  • “He’s so stingy he wouldn’t give you air out of a jug.”
  • “She’s so cross-eyed, when she cries the tears roll down her back.”
  • “He’s so narrow-minded, he can look through a keyhole with both eyes at the same time.”
  • “She’s so late, she’d hold up a two-car funeral.”
  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a raw dog backwards” or “I’m so hungry I could eat the stuffin’ out of a rag doll.” (Neither option sounds appealing.)
  • “I’m so poor I can’t afford to pay attention.”
  • “There’s so much food here it’s more than I can say grace over.”
  • “I’m gonna slap you so hard when you quit rollin’ your clothes’ll be outta style.”
And my all time favorite saying which describes someone who looks unwell is “She looked like Death eatin’ a cracker.” Why a cracker, I don’t know. I’ve also heard “She looked like Death suckin’ a sponge.” But I prefer eating a cracker. I can just imagine the Grim Reaper chomping on a Saltine.

As for “Kitten britches,” this is one my Mother always used. After a storm, if you see enough blue sky to make a pair of kitten britches, then the storm is over.

If you have a favorite saying, I’d love to hear it. Perhaps Rufus will use it in a future Grace Street adventure. And be careful if you’re having too much fun because “Sometimes whee is a rat in your pocket.”