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"Long Shot" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 15, 2023 3:01 am

"Long Shot" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 15, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Andrew Thompson, the author of Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases, shares another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these baffling mini-mysteries of the English language.

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Learn more at State Farm is a proud partner of the Michael Tura Podcast Network. This is Lee Habib with Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show, including your stories. Send them to Our American Stories. They're some of our favorites. Up next, we continue with our recurring series about the curious origins of everyday sayings.

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 the language we all speak. A long shot is an attempt that has little chance of success and it owes its origins to naval warfare in the 1800s. Battleships carry cannons as their major weapons and though very effective when they hit their targets, the cannons were inaccurate and cannonballs could only travel relatively short distances.

For this reason, most battles took place in fairly close quarters. Any shot that was fired at a ship outside of the normal range was considered a long shot and unlikely to succeed. If you call someone a loose cannon, you mean they're unpredictable or out of control and it's yet another sailing related phrase. From as early as the 1600s, cannons were mounted onto the decks of sailing ships and were used as the primary weapon in battles. As they were very heavy, it was essential for the cannons to be firmly secured. This was often done by mounting the cannons on rollers and fastening them down with ropes, but in times of rough seas or as the result of a violent recall caused by firing the cannons, sometimes a cannon would break free of its restraints. The loose cannons would roll dangerously around the deck causing damage to the ship and injury to the sailors. The saying as mad as a hatter, which means crazy or completely mad, is the first phrase that I wrote when I did this book and it stems from the 18th century practice of using mercury nitrate in the making of felt hats.

Mercury nitrate is a highly toxic chemical and exposure to it often affects the nervous system causing the person to tremble and jitter. This led many to believe that hatters were crazy, so the expression mad as a hatter developed and in fact mercury poisoning today is still known as mad hatter disease. While not being the origin of the phrase, it was popularized by the eccentric mad hatter character in Lewis Carroll's 1865 work, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. To make a beeline for something means to go directly towards it using the fast route and this originates from the animal kingdom and as the phrase suggests, the bee. Once a bee discovers a nectar source it will return to the hive where it performs a peculiar figure of eight dance to communicate the location of the source to the other bees. After watching this dance, which includes zigzags using its rear facing the bees, the other bees will then make their way directly to the food source in a straight line.

Experts believe the bees use the sun to navigate and the dance performed by the forager bee indicates the angle relative to the sun that the bee should follow as well as the distance they should go to ensure they fly in a beeline. To make ends meet means to live just within your means on a low salary and it has origins in the world of accountancy. From the 17th century, meat was an accounting term meaning match or balance.

A bookkeeper's ledger contained two columns, one for expenditure and one for income. The ends were the bottom figures of these two columns so to make ends meet was to match the expenditure and income figures so that the books were balanced. The expression makes your hair stand on end means something has frightened you and it's sometimes known as goosebumps because the skin contracts and makes a person's hair stand upright. The expression is actually has biblical origins and derives from the book of Job in the old testament where there is a passage that reads a spirit glided past my face and the hair and my body stood on end.

The phrase became widespread in 1603 with Shakespeare's play Hamlet. To mind your p's and q's means to be on your best behaviour and it's an expression with many possible origins that are often disputed. The most compelling of these is its association with drinking. It stems from the English taverns of the 17th century when publicans would chalk up what people were drinking either a pint or a court on a tally slate. At the end of the night the patron would pay for the number and type of drinks on the slate.

Because a court was larger and much more costly measure than a pint, patrons would advise the bartender to mind his p's and q's to ensure the correct drinks have been chalked up so they weren't being overcharged. A molotov cocktail is a handheld fire bomb and that expression began during World War II. The phrase was actually invented by the Finnish who were referring to the Soviet foreign minister at the time whose last name was Molotov. He was responsible for partitioning of Finland under a pact with Nazi Germany and many believed he was also responsible for the subsequent invasion of Finland in 1939. There was much propaganda associated with the invasion including the ludicrous claim by Molotov that the bombing missions were actually humanitarian food deliveries for the starving Finns.

In response to this the Finns referred to the Soviet cluster bombs as Molotov bread baskets and when they developed a handheld petrol bomb to throw at the Soviet tanks they called them Molotov cocktails as a drink to go with the food. Money for old rope means a quick and easy way to earn money and that expression has nautical origins. In the 17th and 18th century when sailing ships returned to port the sailors would assess all the rigging to ensure it was still seaworthy. Any rigging that had been damaged during the voyage would be removed and while unsuitable for sales some of it would still be in pretty good condition and able to be sold on shore.

The more senior members of the crew were given authority by the captain to claim the discarded rope and they were able to profit from its sale literally making money for old rope. More bang for your buck means better value for money and it originated with the US national security policy in the 1950s under the administration of President Eisenhower. Known as the new look the policy increased the military stocks of comparatively inexpensive nuclear weapons in order to reduce the number of army personnel and costs. In 1954 the US Secretary of Defence Charles Irwin Wilson coined the phrase more bang for your buck when he used it to refer to the policy of using nuclear weapons instead of a large army to suppress the threat that the Soviet Union posed to democracy.

It is actually thought that the expression was an adaptation of Pepsi's advertising slogan more bounce to the ounce which was introduced in 1950. Mumbo jumbo means nonsense or meaningless speech or writing and it's an expression that began with the early explorers of Africa in the 18th century. Francis Moore was one of the first Englishmen to travel into the interior of the continent and in 1738 he wrote a book called Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa. In the book he describes how he met men of one tribe the Mundingos and they employed a legendary spirit to keep obedience in their women. In his book he wrote that the women are kept in the greatest subjection and then he went on to explain how this happened. He said for this purpose the Mundingos have a kind of image eight or nine feet high made of the bark of trees dressed in a long coat and crowned with a wisp of straw. This is called mumbo jumbo and whenever the men have any dispute with the women this is sent for to determine the consequences of the contest which is almost always done in favour of the men.

It was this passage that brought the term mumbo jumbo to the masses and by the mid 1800s the phrase had come to mean any meaningless rantings. To nail your colours to the mast means to display one's beliefs defiantly and it derives from naval warfare in the early 18th century. A ship's captain would enter battle with his flag or colours flying proudly from the main mast but if he wished to surrender he would lower his colours to announce his position to the enemy. Sailors were also able to lower the flag in times of troubles so if a captain was determined not to surrender he would literally nail the flag to the mast so that none of the sailors could lower it and offer a sign of defeat. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler what a delightful segment I mean we're just learning and laughing right here in the studio as we listen to this because my goodness who knew about loose cannons mad as a hatter that just killed me and my goodness they used mercury nitrate while making hats we've come a long way folks the workplace is a lot safer than it used to do no matter what you're doing for living mercury nitrate you can't make it up make ends meet molotov cocktail I think the favourite here in this studio an uproar of laughter coming out at the derivation of that great phrase and so many people in this country populated by so many different ethnicities and these words coming from so many sources from Greek sources to English sources to German and Finnish sources the list goes on and on what a delight and by the way a special thanks to Andrew Thompson his book Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town read the curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases is available on and the usual suspects the story of our language a great story a fun story here on Our American Stories get ready Xfinity Flex has unlocked shows and movies from all over the globe and you can watch for free right from your couch journey to Japan with shows from Anime Network go back to the wild west with Billy the Kid and other MGM Plus picks celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with hits from Kokawa and Haya and break out your dance moves with iHeart Radio's k-pop hits playlist find new entertainment on Xfinity Flex all for free no strings attached say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote you wouldn't settle for watching a blurry tv would you so why settle for just okay tv sound upgrade your streaming and sound all in one with Roku Stream Bar this powerful two-in-one upgrade for any tv lets you stream your favorite entertainment in brilliant 4k hdr picture and hear every detail with auto speech clarity whether you're hosting a party or just cleaning the house turn it up and rock out with iHeart Radio and room filling sound learn more about Roku Stream Bar today at happy streaming I'm Malcolm Gladwell I live way out in the country I drive everywhere and you know what scares me that feeling of finding myself stuck on the side of the road but now all of us can avoid that pain by getting our vehicle the part it needs before that breakdown oh no moment with ebay guaranteed fit and over 122 million parts and accessories you can make sure your ride stays running smoothly for the parts and accessories that fit your vehicle just look for the green check get the right parts the right fit and the right prices let's ride eligible items only exclusions apply
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-15 04:21:32 / 2023-05-15 04:26:47 / 5

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