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“In a Nutshell & In the Doghouse” and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 10)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 25, 2022 3:00 am

“In a Nutshell & In the Doghouse” and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 10)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 25, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, here again with his recurring series is Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases author, Andrew Thompson, as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these baffling mini mysteries of the English language.

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Send them to us at They're some of our favorites. And up next, we continue with our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings. Here to join us again is Andrew Thompson as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these many mysteries of the English language. In a nutshell means concisely or in a few words, you might say to someone, just tell me in a nutshell. And it's said to originate from the ancient story described in 17 AD by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder. The story goes that the philosopher Cicero witnessed a copy of Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, written onto a piece of parchment and enclosed into the shell of a walnut.

Obviously, this is impossible, but it is believed that important documents were folded and inserted into walnut shells and bound so that they were waterproof and could be taken long distances without damaging them. Shakespeare referred to the expression in his 1603 play Hamlet and that immortalized the expression. Inner shambles means a state of complete disorder or ruin, and it derives from the open air meat sellers of medieval times. The word shambles derives from the old English word meaning footstool, which came from the Latin word meaning small bench. Most towns at that time in England had streets designated to a single type of vendor. There were streets for grocers, streets for bread sellers, butchers, who all offered their wares from street side workbenches. These streets were known as shambles, but it was the butchers that became particularly associated with the term. As they were supplied directly by the slaughterhouses, the meat shambles were renowned for being a complete mess of blood and offcuts.

By the 1400s, the word shambles had become synonymous with general mess and disorder, and the town of York in England to this day has a street called shambles. In cold blood means deliberately and without emotion and is often related to murders. For example, he murdered the man in cold blood. It's an expression that dates from the early 18th century and began with the belief that a person's blood heated up when an act of great emotional passion was committed. This was based on the reddening of the face and the feeling of heat that a person experienced.

It was thought that when one could carry out a violent crime without excitement or emotional involvement, the person was acting in cold blood. The term was first used in the English publication The Spectator in 1711. To say something is in the bag means a successful outcome is absolutely certain, and while there are different theories on the origins of the phrase, including those relating to baseball and hunting, the early days of the British Parliament is the likely birthplace. On the back of the Speaker's chair in Parliament hung a velvet bag, and all successful petitions that were brought before the House of Commons would be placed in that bag.

Because it was known that all such petitions had been successful, they became known as in the bag. If you say to someone, I'm in the doghouse, it usually means you're disgraced and out of favour, usually said by a husband or wife. And in the doghouse is a phrase that has literary origins.

It derives from J.M. Barrie's 1904 book Peter Pan. Mr Darling, the children's father in the book, is particularly unpleasant to Nana the family dog.

His children then fly off with Peter Pan, and as a self-imposed punishment for his behaviour, he goes out to live in the doghouse until the children return from Neverland. Peter Pan was obviously a very popular book, and as a result the expression quickly came into widespread usage. If you say in the doldrums, or you're feeling in the doldrums, it means to feel unmotivated or depressed. And it relates to a region by that name which is located slightly north of the equator, between two belts of wind. Sailors use the term because winds there met and neutralised each other, which resulted in ships becoming stranded and sitting around idly, virtually unable to sail. Many assume that the expression comes from the name of the region, but it's actually that the region came to be named because of its nature.

Doldrum comes from the old English word dole meaning dull, and that led on to the word doldrum, and the phrase was then used in the figurative sense by the early 19th century. In the groove is an expression which means to function perfectly or with little effort, and it stems from the early vinyl record days. Records are made with a number of grooves cut into the material where the music is recorded. The record is played by a stylus or needle, which must sit neatly in the groove to ensure good sound quality. If a stylus is worn, making its tip too wide, it will not sit in the groove and the sound will become distorted.

Equally, if the record is scratched, the stylus may slip out of the groove and the record won't play. The phrase took on its idiomatic qualities with the arrival of jazz in the 1920s. The free-spirited nature of jazz bands and the way they played with each other led people to describe them as in the groove. In the limelight means at the centre of attention. You may say John loves being in the limelight, and this is one of the very first phrases I ever learnt. It has its origins in the theatre. When calcium oxide, more commonly known as lime, is heated, it produces an intense white light. This process was first used to effect by a man named Thomas Drummond in the 1820s. He was a Scottish Army engineer who used heated lime as an aid in map making because the bright light was visible at a distance. The technique was then adopted in theatres to illuminate the stage and was first used in Covent Garden in London in 1837. The actors who were the centre of attention on the stage were said to be standing in the limelight.

And that saying now applies to anyone who is the focus of attention. If you say something is in the offing, you mean it is likely to happen soon or is imminent. And it's a nautical expression originating in the early 1600s that came into widespread usage by the late 1700s. The offing is that part of the sea that is visible from or off the shore, the area between the shore and the horizon.

In other words, a ship that was in the offing was within sight. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler for the production on the piece. And a special thanks to Andrew Thompson, hair of the dog to paint the town red, the curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases. Go to or any of the usual suspects. The story of the English language or at least its curious sayings and phrases here on Our American Stories. A favourite option for supporters. Go to now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-12 11:55:51 / 2022-11-12 12:00:39 / 5

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