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“Nest Egg” & "No Dice" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 14)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 11, 2023 3:01 am

“Nest Egg” & "No Dice" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 14)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 11, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Andrew Thompson shares another slice of his guide to understanding the baffling mini-mysteries of the English language. The book is Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions and Fun Phrases. 

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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. A nest egg is savings that are set aside for later use, which a person tries to add to. And that phrase has been used from as early as the 14th century in England. In those days before commercial factory chicken farming, chickens would lay their eggs in nests in a coop. As a means of giving the chickens hope and encouraging them to lay more eggs, farmers used to place a porcelain or china egg in the nest or the coop area.

The dummy egg was known as a nest egg and did often induce the chickens to be more productive. The expression then came to mean someone's financial savings by the late 1600s. In the nick of time means without a second to spare and it began in England in the Middle Ages. At that time, during team games, there'd be a tally man to keep score. He would carry a tally stick and each time a team scored, he would carve a small nick or notch or groove into the stick. If the winning nick was added just before the end of the match, it was known as the nick in time.

The expression later became known as in the nick of time. 19 to the dozen means to be going at a very fast pace and it originated in the Cornish copper and tin mines in the 18th century in England. Pumps were a necessary piece of equipment at the mines and were used to clear out the excess water that had been used in the mining or that had come in as a result of flooding. Hand pumps were used to clear the water until the advent of steam driven pumps.

While the traditional hand pumps were slow and labour intensive, the steam pumps were fuelled by coal and were highly efficient. When running at maximum capacity, they could clear 19,000 gallons of water for every 12 bushels of coal burned and that's where the 19 to the dozen came from. To say no dice means something is futile or nothing is happening and it began in America in the early 20th century. Gambling was illegal in many states at the time so if game was interrupted by the police in a raid, men went to great lengths to hide their dice when challenged. Courts would throw out illegal gambling cases if no dice could be profited as evidence.

No dice meant no conviction. This led some gamblers to even swallow their dice to avoid arrest. The expression was then used colloquially by the 1920s. No such thing as a free lunch means you never get anything for nothing and there's always a hidden cost.

And it began during the 1840s in America. Bars and restaurants at the time began offering a free lunch to any customer who'd buy a drink. However the free lunch was usually something insubstantial like a salty snack which did little more than encourage the patron to drink more and spend more money. It soon became apparent that after a free lunch people were spending more money than if they'd just paid for a proper lunch in the first place.

This technique became a lucrative way for establishments to make money and many even advertised the free lunch in local newspapers. Not worth is salt means to be ineffective or not deserving of one's pay. And it derives from Roman times. Before the invention of canned goods and refrigeration salt was a valuable commodity in the preservation of food. Roman soldiers received some of their wages as an allowance of salt. This was known as a salarium which takes its root from sal the Latin word for salt. Our modern day word salary actually derives from it.

If a soldier did not perform well and was not up to scratch it was said that he was not worth his salt. The expression nothing is certain except for death and taxes means literally that only those two things are the certain things in life. And it began in 1726 with a book by Daniel Defoe who wrote Robinson Crusoe. But the book was The Political History of the Devil where he wrote things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed. But it was Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase and made it widespread.

In writing about the new constitution in a letter in 1789 he wrote our new constitution is now established and has an appearance that promises permanency but in this world nothing can be certain except death and taxes. Off the cuff means to carry out a task spontaneously or without preparation. And it's a phrase that relates to public speaking from the 1800s when men wore shirts with detachable collars and cuffs which made them easy to clean. Politicians and keynote speakers generally wanted to give an audience the impression that they were good speakers and could hold people's attention without any preparation or the need to refer to notes. It was a common practice at the time to write notes on their shirt cuffs before a speech.

Only they could see the notes so the audience would be none the wiser. Politicians would also make additional last minute notes on their cuffs to counter the arguments of their opponents and so the expression came off the cuff. On a wing and a prayer means to be hopeful but unlikely to succeed and it's another expression that stems from World War II. The story goes that an American pilot flew back to base with one wing of his plane badly damaged. The other men at the base were amazed that he hadn't crashed and he told them that he'd been praying the whole way in. Another pilot then coined the phrase when he said a wing and a prayer brought you back. The phrase then got worldwide attention when it was referred to in two Hollywood films, Flying Tigers starring John Wayne in 1942 and A Wing and a Prayer in 1944.

Coming in on a wing and a prayer was also a patriotic song released in 1943 that popularized the expression. And a great job as always on the production by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Andrew Thompson. He had us laughing out loud here in the studio, the whole crew. So many of these short stories and they are a series of short stories about phrases are laugh out loud funny.

And Andrew Thompson is the narrator and the voice you were listening to and he's written a terrific book called Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red. The curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases. I particularly was laughing at nest egg because we're well we're raising eight chickens. At key times when we want the chickens to be a little more productive, we throw in a fake egg and it works. They think somehow that they need another one.

We have no idea why it works. But the fake egg has proved to be, well, a great way to get more eggs. So many good stories. Andrew Thompson on the curious origins of everyday sayings here on Our American Stories. A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-11 04:36:22 / 2023-08-11 04:40:49 / 4

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