January 4, 2023 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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For cleaning tips and exclusive offers, visit Bona.com slash BonaClean. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. The English language is filled with curious, intriguing, and bizarre phrases. Here with the recurring series is Hair of the Dog author Andrew Thompson as he shares another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these baffling mini-mysteries of the English language. Apple of your eye is an expression referring to someone who you cherish above all else. Like a grandmother might say that my grandson is the apple of my eye. It's an expression that dates back centuries. In Old English the pupil of the eye was known as the apple because of its round shape and sight was regarded as the most essential sense.
So when damaged it was a terrible incident. It was used figuratively by King Alfred in 885 and by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1605. But the reference is actually from the Bible, a segment of which reads, he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As bald as a badger is an expression to mean that someone's bald has no hair on their head. And it's one that I've always found the origins of this one interesting because a lot of people think that a badger's head being white, giving it the impression of baldness is where the expression comes from. But it actually is a contraction of the expression as bald as a badger's bum because at the time male shaving brushes were made with badger's hair plucked from the rear of the badger. Badgers were trapped for this purpose, plucked and then set free.
The hair would grow back eventually but before it did it was common to see badgers running about the countryside of England that looked bald in the rear. As sure as eggs is an expression that means to describe an absolute certainty. Sort of as sure as eggs he'll be back asking for more money tomorrow. It's got a really strange origin, this expression. It's actually a corruption of the logical mathematical formula x equals x and is a contraction of the longer expression as sure as eggs is eggs.
So x being x. But it's not known how x equals x became eggs is eggs but Charles Dickens who seems to be involved in a lot of expressions that we use, used the phrase in his book The Pickwick Papers in the early 1800s and the expression became popular from then. As the crow flies means in a straight line or the shortest distance between two points and it's one of many many phrases that has nautical origins. In fact you could write a whole book about nautical expressions. But it derives from the early English explorers who'd go by boat looking for foreign lands.
There were very few navigational aids and no maps. So it was important to find land while at sea and the crow was renowned as an intelligent bird that would fly straight to land to try to find food. So ships would always have a cage full of crows before they went on a journey and the crow would be released from the crow's nest which is another expression from this which was at the top of the mast and the captain would follow its path which was usually the fastest way to land. At a loose end is another nautical expression which means you're idle or have no plans and nothing to do and it's from tall sailing ships which had hundreds of ropes and sails and the ropes were essential to ensure the sails were firmly in place but they often became loose and unravelled and it was a full time job checking the ship's rigging for untied ropes or loose ends.
If ever the ship's captain found men sitting around doing nothing he would make them check the ropes so they would find themselves for hours then working at a loose end which is where the expression comes from. To keep something at bay is to fend it off or keep it at a distance and it's an expression with pretty interesting origins. A lot of people think it comes from holding off baying hounds from a fox in fox hunting in England years ago but that origin about the foxes only dates from the 1300s while the phrase actually began with the ancient Romans and Greeks. They believe that the bay tree had protective powers and because it never seemed to be struck by lightning and because of this people would take shelter under the trees during storms. It became such a powerful sort of image that soldiers started wearing bay leaves on their heads as protection during thunderstorms. They believed that they would keep the lightning at bay and would shield them from the enemy also.
The supposed power of the bay leaf then spread to London during the great plague in 1665 when many people wore bay leaves in an attempt to keep the disease at bay. At full blast which means as loudly as possible or using full power is strangely a rare expression that has pretty obvious origins most expressions don't. It's from the industrial revolution in the 18th century where iron and other metals were essential commodities and factories used huge blast furnaces to smelt the metals. Fuel was continuously supplied into the furnace while a hot blast of air was blown into the lower section causing the chemical reactions to produce the molten metal.
When the furnace was operating at full capacity and producing as much iron as possible it was considered to be at full blast. At sixes and sevens is a expression you often hear which means a state of confusion and it comes from London in the 1300s there were two livery companies there and they each received their charter within a few days of each other so they were the sixth and seventh companies listed but a dispute arose between them as to which would be placed sixth in the processions around the city. So to resolve this the two companies would swap between sixth and seventh place each year but that resulted in confusion for a lot of people watching. At the drop of a hat is a sporting expression which means something happens suddenly or with little warning. It came from the 19th century from a couple of sporting contests. Sporting referees at the time usually wore hats and they would raise it in the air as a signal that an event was about to begin then as soon as the hat was dropped the contest would start. This was most commonly used in horse racing and boxing where an event would start at the drop of a hat.
It was actually also used in the American west where a man would sometimes drop his hat as a challenge to fight another so as soon as the hat hit the ground it was morally right that the fight should start. An axe to grind is an expression that means a selfish or ulterior aim or motive and it's credited to one of the founding fathers of America Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography Franklin wrote an anecdote about a man who wanted his axe ground and a blacksmith agreed to do it but only if the man turned the grindstone himself. The man did this but soon feigned fatigue and gave up making the blacksmith finish the job for him and that the expression we know today came from that story. And you're listening to Andrew Thompson the book is Hair of the Dog go to amazon.com and buy it. The story of curious phrases in the English language here on our American stories. Folks if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life and if you can't get to Hillsdale Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses go to hillsdale.edu to learn more.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-04 21:09:14 / 2023-01-04 21:13:12 / 4