January 2, 2023 3:03 am
On this episode of Our American Stories, here again with his reoccurring 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 OurAmericanStories.com. Up next, we continue with our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings, the stories behind them. Here to join us again is Andrew Thompson as he continues to share another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these mini-mysteries of our precious English language. On skid row means a squalid area where vagrants and derelicts live. And it's an expression that originated in the American lumber industry of the 19th century. Large tree trunks were hauled by rolling them along tracks made of greased logs that were laid crosswise. This was known as the skid road because the trunks skidded across the logs. The timber industry was booming at the time and many men came to the logging towns to find work. The large numbers of single men created a demand for bars and brothels which would spring up in a certain part of the town. This area also became known as skid row due to the imagery of someone slipping or skidding down in society when falling victim to these visors.
By the 1930s, skid road had been altered to skid row and the wider use was born. On the bandwagon means to join in in an already successful venture. It's normally said to jump or climb on the bandwagon and it has its origins in politics. In the 19th century in America travelling bands or circuses would parade through towns on brightly coloured well decorated bandwagons. They would often perform at political rallies and attracted large crowds of people.
Because the bandwagons were usually the centre of attention at any given event, cunning politicians often saw an opening and they would climb up on the bandwagon, interrupt the performance and campaign to the captive audience below. To be on the breadline means to be very poor and that expression originated in America in the 1860s. Charles and Max Fleischmann were brothers who revolutionised the baking industry and created the first commercially produced yeast. Their baker in New York was also famous for the freshness and quality of its bread. While other bakeries would use any leftover bread to sell to the next morning's customers, the Fleischmanns would give away any unsold bread to the poor people in the city. At the end of each day a line of starving people would form outside the bakery and wait for the free bread.
They were on the breadline. To leave no stone unturned means to make every possible effort and that expression is arguably the oldest one that we have. It comes from ancient Greek and from 1477 BC when the Greeks defeated the Persians in the battle of Platao. It was rumoured at the time that the Persian general had buried a large treasure in his tent after the defeat. Unable to find the treasure, the Greek leader consulted the oracle of Delphi who advised him to move every stone in his search.
He did just that and eventually found the treasure leaving no stone unturned. On the fiddle means that someone's not operating within the rules and is getting more than their fair share and like many expressions it has nautical origins. The dining tables on ships had raised edges known as fiddles which were used to prevent the plates from sliding off the table during rough weather at sea. The sailors ate from the wooden plates that were built with their own fiddles to stop the food from sliding off them.
If a sailor selfishly overfilled his plate so that the food piled up over the edge it was said that he was on the fiddle. On the grapevine means via informal means of communication, particularly gossip and it owes its origins to the early days of American telegraphy. Samuel Morse invented the telegraph which was first used in 1844. The invention was widely recognised as a useful means of rapid communication and many companies across America rushed to put up telegraph lines. But in their haste some of them cut corners and used trees instead of fixed telegraph poles to save money. But the movement of the trees stretched the wire often leaving it tangled.
A notable instance of this was in California where people likened the tangled wires to local grapevines. The expression on the grapevine then developed its current meaning during the American Civil War when messages transmitted via the telegraph were sometimes unreliable. The expression on the level means honest, reliable or trustworthy and that began with the Freemasons, the skilled stone workers of 14th century. In any construction it was acknowledged that a perfectly flat base was essential if the building was going to be structurally sound and of high quality. They developed an instrument known as a level which was used to ensure a flat and true base from which to work.
The level symbolised integrity in the building process and on the level was soon adapted into the wider sense that is used today. On the right track means to do something correctly or well and it's an expression that's been corrupted from its original form. It has nautical origins and was originally on the right tack. In order to progress into a headwind a sailing ship follows a zigzag style of path angling left to right as it moves forward. This type of plotting is known as tacking which is a technical art and a captain must be precise in order to use the wind to his benefit.
It is important to stay on the right tack because otherwise the ship will make little or no progress and then that expression then developed into on the right track. On the wagon means abstaining from drinking alcohol and many believe this expression derives from when prisoners had their last drink when being transported from the Old Bailey criminal courts in London to the gallows on a wagon. Some even suggest that criminals were sometimes given one for the road which was a final drink before they were hanged but it's now widely accepted that these explanations are incorrect and the expression actually is a contraction of the words on the water wagon. In the early 20th centuries water wagons were used in America to dam and dusty streets. At the time the drinking of alcohol was high and people who had vowed to give it up would crowd around waiting for the water wagon to arrive to quench their thirst.
Some people would even ride around town on the wagon drinking the water in an effort to stay away from alcohol. To be on your high horse means to behave in a self-righteous manner and that expression began with army officers of medieval England. To assume a commanding position of supremacy these officers would ride around on large horses and would look down upon those of a lower rank. The higher the officers rank the larger his horse. A large horse was also needed for such high ranking men as they generally wore heavy suits of armour and a strong horse was needed to bear that weight. Political leaders then adopted this idea as a symbol of power.
They would parade around town on large horses which gave them an air of superiority as they looked down on the common folk. Once in a blue moon means very rarely and it's an expression that's related to the moon although the colour blue has no significance in the origin of the phrase. The moon can actually appear blue at any time depending on certain weather conditions but the main farmer's almanac provides the explanation for the saying. Since 1819 that publication listed the dates of the various moons for example the harvest moon and the hunter's moon. Typically there are three full moons for each season but because the lunar and the calendar months are not the same some years have 13 full moons instead of 12 and the almanac named for no apparent reason the third full moon in an unusual four moon season as the blue moon. An amateur American astronomer named James Prute misinterpreted the almanac and described the blue moon as the second full moon in a month in a 1946 edition of Sky and Telescope magazine. This took hold and is now the accepted definition.
A blue moon actually occurs about every three years. Having your work cut out for you means there's a lot to be done or a difficult time lies ahead and that began in the 1800s when tailors began streamlining their operations. Traditionally a tailor would make a suit using one large piece of cloth cutting the material and then stitching as he went. In order to make the work more efficient the practice developed where a tailor's assistant would cut out the various patterns beforehand leaving the tailor to stitch them together. At first this would seem to make the tailor's job easier but it resulted in piles of cut material heaping up for the tailor to stitch. This made it difficult for him to keep up so he had his work cut out for him and he had a very busy time ahead.
The expression was first used metaphorically by Charles Dickens in his 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. And a special thanks as always to Greg Hengler for the great work on the production and also a special thanks to Andrew Thompson for narrating portions of his own terrific book and the book is called Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. Andrew Thompson's storytelling here on Our American Stories. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance? Of course you would. And when it comes to great rates on insurance Geico can help. Like with insurance for your car, truck, motorcycle, boat and RV. Even help with homeowners or renters coverage. Plus add an easy to use mobile app, available 24 hour roadside assistance and more and Geico is an easy choice. Switch today and see all the ways you could save. It's easy.
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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-02 10:31:58 / 2023-01-02 10:36:51 / 5