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"Hunky Dory" & "Hedge Your Bets" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 9)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 12, 2023 3:01 am

"Hunky Dory" & "Hedge Your Bets" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 9)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 12, 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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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. To have someone over a barrel means that someone is helpless or at someone's mercy. And it has nautical origins and relates to the practice of rescuing a drowning sailor. Once hauled from the water, the other crew members would place the sailor face down over a barrel in order to empty his lungs of water. The sailor would be rolled back and forth in an attempt to expel the water from his mouth.

Being completely helpless and often unconscious, the sailor was totally reliant on the other crew members to save him and he was said to be over a barrel. To have the bit between your teeth means to take control of a situation and it has origins in horse racing. The bit is derived from the old English word meaning bite and is the mouthpiece in a horse's bridle that is used to control the horse's movements. When a horse is being ridden normally, the reins press the bit against the soft part of the horse's mouth causing him to turn his head. But if the horse grabs it so that the bit is between his teeth, it takes the control away from the rider and the reins have no effect.

The horse can then run freely however it chooses. This expression was being used by the late 1600s. When someone says head over heels, it generally means that they're completely in love. And this expression began in the 14th century and actually began as heels overhead. And this in fact made more logical sense as it meant to be upside down or to be so excited that you turn your heels over your head in a cartwheel or somersault.

The phrase then became inverted towards the end of the 18th century when Herbert Lawrence used it mistakenly in a novel The Contemplative Man but it was the incorrect usage by Davy Crockett in 1834 that cemented the expression to the one we use today and gave it romantic connotations when he said, I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl. To say here here is a strong signal of encouragement or endorsement and that expression began with the British Parliament in the late 17th century. In both the House of Commons and the House of Lords there if anyone disagreed with a speaker they would hum loudly to try to drown out the speech but if other members were in agreement with what was being said they would shout hear him hear him in an attempt to make those humming men actually listen. That was later contracted to hear here and it is still used in Parliament today in England to signify the listeners agreement with the point being made.

It is also thought to be said because applause is generally forbidden in the British Parliament. To hedge your bets means to support one or more person or outcome to minimise the possibility of losing and that expression originated in the 17th century in England where landowners at the time would enclose pieces of their land by planting a row of trees and then pruning them to form a hedge. These hedges were normally made from the spiny hawthorn bush which formed an impenetrable barrier. This method acted as a means of protecting against escaping animals.

The hedges made the farmer's land more secure and limited the risk. The expression was first used by John Donne in 1607. The expression hell bent for leather means to go all out or willing to do anything to achieve a goal and it relates to horse riding.

The word bent means to be determined as in bent on doing something. To ride a horse aggressively for long distances can push it to injury or even death. With either result the horse is rendered useless and is destined to be skinned for leather.

Someone who pushed a horse to those extremes would be said to be hell bent on turning it into leather. Hide jinx relates to excited or silly behaviour when people are enjoying themselves and that expression was originally the name of a drinking game that was popular in Scotland in the 1700s. In the game dice were thrown and the players were scored.

The loser could either forfeit or drink a potent cocktail of alcohol which was likely to make him drunk and foolish. Walter Scott referred to the game in his 1815 book Guy Mannering and the phrase had acquired its present meaning by the mid 1800s. To hit the ground running means to get off to a quick and successful start or to seize an opportunity. Many believe that the expression originated from the two world wars where soldiers were trained to hit the ground running when leaving a moving boat tank or aircraft.

This allowed the soldier to land on the ground smoothly using the momentum of the craft so as to not lose his footing. The more likely origin of the phrase though was from stowaways jumping off a moving freight train before it entered the station. The expression existed well before the 20th century so this is likely the origin of the expression.

Others think it came from the pony express mail riders of the 1800s who were avoiding delays when they changed mounts so they'd jump off and hit the ground running. To hold a candle means to be far inferior to someone or something else and it's generally used in this sense of he couldn't hold a candle to you and it dates back to the time before electricity. Usually expressed as, as I said, not fit to hold a candle, couldn't hold a candle, unskilled workers or apprentices were expected to hold a candle so that the more experienced craftsmen had light while they did their work.

Holding a candle was obviously not a very challenging role so being told that you were not even fit to do that task placed you at the very bottom of the pecking order and as vastly inferior to the craftsmen at work. Hold the fort means to maintain things in the absence of others and it owes its origins to the American Civil War. During the Battle of Allatuna in 1864 General William Sherman was gathering his army atop Mount Kennesaw near Atlanta to fight a confederate troop.

He told General Corse that reinforcements were being mounted and to hold the fort at all costs for I am coming. While Sherman immortalized the phrase it earned widespread acclaim in the late 1800s when the American composer and popular writer and evangelist Philip Bliss wrote the gospel song Hold the Fort. Hunky Dory which means everything is fine and okay is an expression with strange origins. It began with a group of American sailors in the 19th century.

There was a major street in Yokohama, Japan called Honcho Dory and it was well known for housing ladies of ill repute and when in port after a long voyage the sailors would frequent the street to partake in the recreational activities being offered. Hunky meaning sexy was a play on the similar looking word honcho and when Dory was added the phrase hunky Dory was spawned. I'll be a monkey's uncle is used as an expression of shock or disbelief or skepticism at an idea and it relates to the theory of evolution postulated by Charles Darwin. As a follow-up to his groundbreaking book The Origin of Species, Darwin published The Descent of Man in 1871. In it he suggested that man was descended from apes. Creationism was widespread at the time and his theory was greeted with almost universal skepticism.

In fact his claims were considered so outrageous that people began saying well I'll be a monkey's uncle as a sarcastic response to ridicule his theory. The expression then started being used to show doubts about any improbable situation. Ignorance is bliss means that what you don't know won't hurt you and it derives from the world of poetry. Thomas Gray was an 18th century English poet and professor at Cambridge University.

In 1742 he wrote a poem called Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College and in it he said, thought would destroy their paradise no more where ignorance is bliss till folly be wise. It was that poem that brought the expression that is now so common. In a jiffy means a short period of time and while many people think that's a slang term it's actually a scientific unit of time. The first technical usage of the term was by the American physical chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis and he defined a jiffy as the time it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum which is approximately 33 picoseconds which is a very small unit of time.

Since then a jiffy has been redefined as different measurements depending on the field of study but in all instances it's a very small period so in a jiffy now means a short period of time generally. 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. Andrew's book Phrases. Andrew Thompson's storytelling here on Our American Stories. Have a dad in your life you'd like to treat this Father's Day? How about a new grad whose hard work has earned them an entertainment upgrade?

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-12 04:39:25 / 2023-06-12 04:44:26 / 5

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