March 27, 2023 3:01 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. They're some of our favorites. 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 many mysteries, these many stories of our precious English language. Out of the blue means a complete or unexpected surprise and it's a variation of the expression a bolt from the blue. The ancient Romans called a flash of lightning on a clear day a thunderbolt from the blue. The blue in the phrase is related to the blue of the sky. Lightning on a sunny day was obviously very rare and the Romans began to use the saying to refer to any sudden surprise.
The phrase was first used in writing by Thomas Carlyle in a book he wrote in 1837. The expression over the top sometimes shortened to O T T means to an excessive degree or beyond acceptable limits or outrageous and it has its origins in trench warfare. In World War One to go over the top was to charge on foot across open ground from the safety of the trenches. The order was given over the top lads and the best of luck but few had much luck as they often ran head-on into enemy machine gun fire.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 over 58,000 casualties were sustained by the British when they all went over the top. To paint the town red means to go out and celebrate or get very drunk and he does its origins to a legendary knight of revelry in 1837. There was a man called the Marquess of Waterford known as the Mad Marquess because of his erratic behavior and he went out one night in the English town of Melton Mowbray. The group went berserk on vandalism spree and they broke windows, pulled off door knockers and smashed flower pots. Unsatisfied with that though they acquired some red paint and painted a swan statue, a number of house doors and even a toll gate completely red.
The Marquess later paid compensation for the damage caused but he had painted the town red and would never live it down. A parting shot is a hostile gesture or remark made while departing which the person hearing has no chance to respond to and it's a phrase I've always found interesting. It dates to a military tactic from the 17th century. The Parthians at the time were an ancient race living in northeast Persia and their army included mounted archers.
These archers would ride away from the enemy at full gallop giving the impression of a retreat but as the enemy approached the archers who were superb equestrians would turn and fire arrows backwards with great accuracy. Originally known as a Parthian shot the phrase was corrupted departing shot by the early 20th century. To pass the buck means to shift blame or responsibility to someone else and it originates from the game of poker. Poker became popular in America during the 18th century and players were always suspicious of any form of bias or cheating. To stop this the card dealer was frequently rotated during a game and the person who was next in line to deal was given a marker which was often a knife. The handles of most knives at the time were made of buck's horn so the marker became known as a buck.
When the dealer's term was complete he would pass the buck. President Harry S Truman famously displayed a sign on his desk that read the buck stops here and that gave rise to the expression and made it more commonplace. To pass with flying colours means to have success at a difficult task and it's a sailing term that dates back to the early 17th century. A ship's flag or banner was known as its colours and when a ship or fleet was successful in battle and was returning to its homeland it would sail in with its flag flying high on the mast. This indicated that the ship had been victorious it had retained its flag rather than lost it to the enemy.
To pass with flying colours was a sure sign of victory. To pay through the nose means to pay an excessive amount for something and it's got interesting and strange origins. It dates all the way back to the 9th century when the Vikings invaded Ireland. The Danish had extraordinary harsh tax laws which they imposed on any land they invaded. With the invasion of Ireland they applied a particularly harsh tax known as the nose tax. The punishment for evading the nose tax was quite perverse. Anyone refusing to pay the tax had their nose slit from tip to eyebrow.
The people had a choice either pay the tax or pay through the nose. A pecking order is a hierarchy or authority in a group and it's a phrase that began with the farming of chickens. Domestic poultry maintain a strict hierarchy where the lead hen is able to peck any other for whatever reason without fear of retribution. The other hens are ordered beneath the lead hen and each of them know which hens are lower than them and thus able to be pecked. This cascades down to the lowest hen who gets pecked by all the other hens.
It was German biologists who were observing this behaviour who coined the phrase pecking order in the 1920s and it went on to take its wider meaning by the 1950s. A peeping tom is a man who secretly observes women who are naked and its origins lie in the story of Lady Godiva in the 11th century. She was married to an earl who owned large land holdings and he imposed heavy taxes on the less wealthy which resulted in public outrage. Godiva disagreed with the taxes and asked a husband to reduce them. Thinking she would never do it he agreed to lower the taxes on the condition that she rode a horse naked through the streets of Coventry in England. She decided to take up the challenge and as a mark of respect all the townsfolk agreed to stay indoors close their shutters and not watch the highly publicized spectacle.
Everyone kept their word in the town except for the tailor Tom. Tom was unable to resist a glimpse of Godiva and peeped through his shutters and a phrase was spawned. And terrific storytelling and great production on that by Greg Hengler. Funny funny stuff and good stuff.
Andrew Thompson is the voice you are listening to. His book Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. The curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases. And my goodness another chicken story and we've watched that with our own little chickens and the hierarchy they have. There's one poor chicken that just takes it from everybody and we don't know what to do about it because there's nothing you can.
There is a thing called a pecking worm. These are terrific stories about our English language and where these phrases come from. Greg Hengler is always great job on the production. Andrew Thompson the stories of everyday sayings. Our English language celebrated here on Our American Story. 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. How are you spending your weekend with friends and family? Or at the car dealership? Why lease a new car the old way? With Roto, lease your vehicle in three easy steps all from our app. Shop real-time inventory and see the clear cost. That means the best price personalized to you with no haggling. Then complete your lease right from your phone.
The best part? Your new car is delivered right to your door. Download the Roto app today. That's R-O-D-O.
Ready, set, Roto. This year at Ashley's anniversary sale, we were able to secure a more affordable price on the same great quality as before. And we're passing those savings on to you. Shop new lower prices on hundreds of items throughout the store and online. Get ready for summer with 10% off on all outdoor furniture. Plus we're offering five years special financing with no minimum purchase. Visit your local Ashley store or ashley.com to celebrate and save today only at Ashley.
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