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"Back to Square One" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 3)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 17, 2022 3:03 am

"Back to Square One" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 3)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 17, 2022 3:03 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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To learn more, visit Bose.com. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including your stories.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. Up next, the story of intriguing, bizarre, and even curious phrases that we use each and every day in the English language.

Here's Andrew Thompson. Back to square one is an expression that I've always found interesting. When someone says, you know, we're back to square one in this project where you've got to start back at the beginning. It began in the 1930s in Britain in soccer matches that were broadcast on the radio. The Radio Times was a famous magazine there and they published a numbered grid system which divided the soccer field into eight rectangles. And this allowed commentators to describe to listeners exactly where the ball was at any time in reference to this grid system.

Square one was the goalkeeper. So whenever the ball was passed back to him, the play was going to resume again and it was referred to as being back to square one. Back to the drawing board is similar to back to square one, although it began in America in 1941 in the New Yorker magazine. Back to the drawing board obviously means we need to start again. A drawing board is an architect's or drafter's table that they used to prepare designs on. But in New Yorker magazine in 1941 was during World War Two, and an artist called Peter Arno drew a picture of military personnel running towards a plane that had just crashed.

And there's a man in a suit holding a set of plans under his arm walking away from the crash. And the caption reads, well, back to the old drawing board. And the expression became widespread straight after that. Baker's dozen is an expression that means 13 as opposed to 12.

And it's got an interesting origin. It dates all the way back to the 13th century in England when King Henry III introduced a law that regulated the price of bread based on the price of wheat. This was to stop bakers from selling underweight loaves of bread, which they were said to do at the time. The punishment for breach of the law was pretty harsh, and the baker could be fined, flogged or put in the stocks. So as a safety measure to avoid these penalties, bakers would often give an extra loaf of bread for every dozen. The 13th loaf was known as the vantage loaf, and it protected them from prosecution in case they accidentally missed out a loaf.

So the 13 loaves became known as the baker's dozen. Bandied about means to make frequent or casual use of a name or idea. And it originates from the 16th century French game called Banda. Banda was a forerunner of tennis and involved hitting a ball to and fro between opponents. The Irish then invented a new team sport similar to modern day hockey where the ball was hit using a bowed stick. And it too was called Banda, named after the French game. And in fact because of that bowed stick that was used in the Irish game, the term bandy leg developed to refer to someone with bowed legs.

Shakespeare immortalised the term bandy to mean to and fro in his 1606 play King Lear. To bank on someone is an expression which means to completely trust or rely someone. And it began in medieval Venice before the day of modern banks. At that time Venice was the hub of world trade and men set up benches in the main plazas to trade various world currencies that appeared in the city from merchants and travellers. These men acted like banks and the Italian word for bench also happens to be banco. The traders would exchange currencies with these men, borrow from them, even leave money with them while they were away.

And these men had high scruples and were known to be universally trusted. They were regarded as men who could be banked on and that's where the expression comes from. A baptism of fire means an intense introduction to something. This began in the 16th century with Protestant Christian martyrs.

They were burned at the stake by Catholics who believed that the practice gave the martyrs a form of baptism before they were judged by God. Napoleon was the first to use the expression and he used it in French which I won't attempt but it meant a baptism of iron. But the phrase is now used to apply to military situations and a soldier's first experience of war. To barge in is a common expression which means to rudely interrupt or intrude on something. It began in England in the early days of transportation before railways existed. The major towns were connected by a network of waterways that allowed the movement of goods. These waterways were not very deep and the boats used on them were flat bottom barges.

The barges were cumbersome and very hard to steer, making collisions common. So vessels were often referred to as barging in. The expression became colloquially used by the early 1900s. If someone calls you barking mad it means they think you're crazy. And a lot of people think this is related to a crazy dog barking. Whilst its origins are disputed the likely origins actually lie in the East London town of Barking. In medieval times barking was home to a lunatic asylum which was notorious for its deranged inhabitants. It wasn't long before the expression barking mad was used throughout England to refer to someone who was crazy.

Barking up the wrong trees is an expression that means pursuing the wrong course of action. This began in hunting in America in the 19th century. Men would go raccoon hunting at night, the raccoon being a nocturnal animal, and dogs would be used to track them. And in the panic to escape the raccoons would often run up trees. This dog would pick up the scent and stand at the base of the tree barking to alert the hunter as to the raccoon's whereabouts. But the raccoon being a cunning animal would often trick the dog and escape. And it wasn't until the hunter had climbed the branches that he realised his dog was barking up the wrong tree.

And the raccoon was no longer there. A basket case is used to refer to someone that is completely hopeless or in useless condition. And it began as an expression in the American military from World War I. It referred to soldiers who had lost both arms and legs and had to be carried in a basket. And in fact the Surgeon General of the US Army cemented the term when he used it in a bulletin in 1919 to refer to people as basket cases.

It later became used to refer to people who'd suffered mental incapacities. A person who's known as an artful dodger is someone who gets away with things. And this comes from a literary reference which is from Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist from the early 1800s. And in that one of the characters is a man named Jack Dawkins who's a cunning pickpocket.

And as part of the story Dickens names Dawkins the Artful Dodger and the expression came to mean anyone that gets away with things. To batten down the hatches is a nautical expression which means to prepare for trouble or hard times. In the 1800s most sailing ships had cargo holds that opened to the deck via hatches that were sometimes called hatchways. These were normally left open or simply covered with a grate that allowed for ventilation. But in bad seas or bad weather the ship's captain would tell people to batten down the hatches to protect the cargo.

At that time they would cover the hatches with canvas tarpaulins or strips of wood to stop them from blowing off. A battle royal is an intense fight or a fight to the end. And it's an expression that originates from the blood sport of cockfighting from the 12th century. It was very popular then and the royal cocks were the strongest and best fighting birds. And Henry VIII even had a cockpit built at Whitehall Palace. These birds would fight in various rounds until they got down to the two in the final.

And that last round was known as the battle royal which was fought until there was one victor which was often the royal bird who was the best bred. And a great job by Greg Hengler for producing this piece and a special thanks to Andrew Thompson who you've been listening to. And by the way again the book is Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. The curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases. And you can go to Amazon.com or all the usual suspects to pick up the book. Again Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. And who would have known that sports and ancient history and Shakespeare and Dickens would be the source of so many of the phrases that we use in common language each and every day.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-17 10:32:16 / 2022-11-17 10:37:13 / 5

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