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There's a better way to fly private. And we continue with our American stories. And up next, we continue with our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings.
Here to join us once again is Andrew Thompson as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these many mysteries of the English language. The expression has a cat got your tongue, normally said to someone who's not saying too much, has got nautical origins. It began in the 17th century when the British Navy used a whip called the Catter Ninetails for administering physical punishment aboard ships. The whip was multi-tailed and inflicted incredible pain on the victim. When sailors were flogged, the pain was often so severe that it rendered the victim speechless.
So the Catter Ninetails whip had taken away the sailor's tongue. A catch-22 situation is a common expression to mean an impossible dilemma or a no-win situation. And it began with the 1961 book of that name by Joseph Heller. The plot of that book was that it was set on a US Air Force base during World War II and the pilots were desperate to be exempted from flying dangerous missions. The catch was that the pilots had to be mad to fly another mission, but by applying for an exemption on the grounds of insanity, the applicant proved himself to actually be sane.
So either way, he had to continue flying. Incidentally, the title of the book began as Catch-18 and went through various numbers before Heller settled on catch-22. But that title has now become a very common expression. To be caught red-handed is to be caught in the act, like the criminal was caught red-handed coming out of the store with stolen goods. It's occasionally used in its Latin form, which is inflegrante delicto, and it derives from the 15th century in Scotland where legislation at the time referred to red hand in relation to offences where the perpetrator was caught in the act. This stemmed from the evidentiary requirement of needing to find actual blood on the hands of anyone accused of poaching. There was actually a Scottish legal commentary from 1674 that stated, if he be not taken red hand, the sheriff cannot proceed against him.
The expression was changed to being caught red-handed by Sir Walter Scott in his 1819 book Ivanhoe, and that popularised the saying. To have a chip on your shoulder means you've got an inferiority complex or a perceived grievance. And it began in the schoolyards of America in the 19th century. If two boys argued and one wanted to challenge the other to a fight, he would place an actual chip of wood, usually a piece of bark or a small stick, on his shoulder and dare the other to knock it off.
If the challenge was taken up and the chip was knocked off, a proper fight would go on. This practice of spoiling for a fight by having a chip on your shoulder soon developed into the well-known expression. To say close but no cigar means to fall just short of success, and it's an expression that has American origins. In the fairgrounds and circuses in the 19th century there were side shows with competitions that involved hitting a hammer against a pad to make a bell ring, shooting galleries and throwing down moving pins.
The main prize offered for winning these competitions was usually a large Havana cigar, which was much sought after at the time. Contestants who just missed out on winning would hear the phrase, close but no cigar, and that same became colloquially used in America by the 1930s. To be on cloud nine means to be in a state of extreme happiness or contentment, and it began in the 1930s. Between that time and the 1950s, the US Weather Bureau divided clouds into nine classes.
The highest class, cloud nine, was the big white fluffy cloud which reached up to 4,000 feet in height. Because of their height and attractive nature, to be on cloud nine came to symbolise floating in a carefree manner, and that's where the expression comes from. To have cold feet means to lose your nerves or have doubts about a situation, and it's often used in relation to marriage. The expression has literary beginnings. It was first used in 1862 in the novel Seed, Time and Harvest by the German writer Fritz Rutter.
In that book, a card player on a bad streak is scared he's going to lose all his money, but instead of conceding defeat and walking away with dignity, he withdraws from the game claiming that his feet were cold, making him unable to concentrate. So the phrase eventually came to mean backing out of any situation through a loss of nerve. To come up to scratch means to meet a required standard, and it has its origins in the days of bare knuckle boxing. Fights used to take place in a large circle drawn in the dirt, which is why it's called a boxing ring today, and across the middle of the ring another line was drawn or scratched and the boxers faced off while standing on either side of it. If a boxer was knocked down, he was given a 30 second count to come up to scratch and present himself as fit and willing to continue the fight.
If the boxer was unable to come up to scratch, the fight was over and he was declared the loser. The expression couldn't swing a cat means a small and confined space, like you might say the apartment was nice but it was so small you couldn't swing a cat. Many believe this expression dates from the 17th century and relates to the cat and iron tails whip that were used on decks, meaning that it was too small to swing the whip. But it actually derives from a bizarre form of sport at country festivals years ago in England, where live cats would be swung around by the tail and hurled into the air as targets for archers to hit.
It was a popular spectacle, so if a festival was crowded, it was said that there wasn't enough room to swing a cat. A crew cut is a closely cropped male haircut and while many associated with the military wear the style as common, it actually originated with the sport of rowing. In the 1940s, university rowers at Yale and Harvard began wearing their hair cropped very short on the back and sides with a slightly longer brush like top.
The style was soon adopted by other sportsmen at the university but it was the rowing crews who set the trend and it was known as the crew cut for that reason. To curry favour means doing acts in an attempt to gain support or favour and the expression has nothing to do with Indian food. But it evolved from the 1310 French poem which translates as the Romance of Favel. When someone grooms and dresses a horse it is known as currying and in the poem Favel was the name of a vain and ambitious half man half horse who deceives the leaders of the state. In order to bow to Favel and keep on his good side, the people would stroke and groom his coat. They were currying Favel.
Eventually this became currying favour. To cut and run means to avoid a difficult situation by abruptly leaving and it derives from the 1700s from the nautical world where ankle cables of ships were made of rope. To raise an anchor took significant time and effort especially in deep water. So if a ship suddenly came under attack whilst anchored, the time taken to raise the anchor could be costly.
So to save time and escape with minimal damage the crew would cut the anchor rope with an axe and allow the ship to run with the wind and escape to safety. The expression started being used figuratively by 1861 when Charles Dickens used it in his novel Great Expectations. If you say to someone, cut to the chase, what you're meaning is get to the point or speed it up. And this expression originated in the world of cinematography, specifically the silent films of the 1920s. In the early American film industry many silent films had long winded romantic storylines but ended up in an exciting car chase sequence. A viewer who was bored and wanted to see the action might say to cut to the chase in a plea for the projectionist to jump forward to the dramatic scene.
This has continued to modern times where movie executives sometimes ask for a film to be advanced to the key scene so that they can make a quick assessment of its prospects. A special thanks to Greg for finding that piece and to Andrew Thompson for sharing the stories of these phrases and everyday sayings. And if you want to learn more and read more, get Andrew's book. And again, it's Andrew Thompson and the book is Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red, the Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases.
And we love drilling down on, well, just storytelling about all kinds of things. And well, why not our language? And so much of it comes from, as we would call it, the home country, and that's England. You know, the great George Bernard Shaw once said, England and America are two countries separated by a common language. He was being funny, of course, but the fact of the matter is English is not just the American language, the official American language, but now almost the official world language because of us and our relationship with England.
The story of curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases here on Our American Stories. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort earbuds to next gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you. Delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort earbuds too, soundshaped to you.
To learn more, visit Bose.com. Hey, there's a better way to fly. Instead of being stuck in endless lines and packed onto planes, try simplifying your travel with Surf Air. Save an average of two hours on every trip and avoid crowded airports with a new way to fly private. With Surf Air, you'll fly from smaller airports closer to your home. There are no lines, no waiting, and no stress. SurfAir.com, the best alternative to commercial air travel that makes flying easy. Get a free quote on your next flight at SurfAir.com.
There's a better way to fly private. 2022 was full of laughs, tears, screams, and squeals. And it's thanks to the movies and shows that gave us all the feels. Check out our Best of 2022 collection on Xfinity Flex. We've chosen winners from every genre, like House of the Dragon for best fantasy series and Yellowstone for best guilty pleasure. Plus, we have our top 100 best of everything, what to watch, listen to, and know for 2022. We've got one more thing up our sleeve, and it includes Bustin' a Move. It's iHeartRadio's top pop of 2022 playlist. Say what to watch into your Xfinity Voice Remote.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-27 04:42:27 / 2022-12-27 04:47:40 / 5