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“Peter Out” and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 17)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 15, 2023 3:00 am

“Peter Out” and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 17)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 15, 2023 3:00 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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How doers get more done. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.

Send them to They're some of our favorites. And up next, a recurring favorite. We continue our 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 many mysteries of the English language.

Here's Andrew. If you say Peter out, you mean to dwindle or diminish or come to an end. Some suggest the expression comes from biblical times and the apostle Peter, when he strenuously defended Christ when Christ was arrested, but by the next morning, his support had diminished. However, the likely origin of the phrase is actually from the early days of gold mining in America.

Potassium nitrate, known as saltpeter, was a mineral ingredient in the explosives used in mining. When all the gold in a mine was exhausted, it was said to have petered out because the explosives had dwindled it down until nothing was left. The expression was used figuratively by the 1840s. Pidgin English is a term meaning a simplified language used to communicate between two people who don't have a common language and it originated in the late 17th century. It was developed by British traders in China as a way of doing business without having a common language. The expression actually means business English and came about because of the mispronunciation of the English word business by the Chinese. They pronounced it bidgin and this led to pidgin. The language they used was a combination of both English and Cantonese and was spoken as a second language.

Then over the years the phrase pidgin English developed to mean any two languages that are pieced together to aid communication. From pillar to post means from one place to another and it dates back to a brutal form of punishment in medieval England. Each town at the time had a whipping post and a pillory to deal with criminals. Also known as the stocks, a pillory was a wooden frame with three holes in it. A criminal's head and hands would be placed through the holes and the public would gather and throw rotten vegetables and eggs at the man.

This may last even a number of days. The criminal would then be dragged to the whipping post where he would receive a public flogging. Originally from pillory to post the expression gradually evolved to pillar to post. Pipe dreams are unrealistic hopes or plans or a fantasy and they refer to the dreams experienced by the smokers of opium pipes. Opium's a narcotic drug that produces an hypnotic effect and the pipe is the device that the opium is placed in.

People under the influence of opium often have vivid and fantastic hallucinations. The expression was then used in America since the late 1800s when opium smoking was legal and the phrase was first written in 1890 in an edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune where they were talking about the first man-made flight and it was said it has been regarded as a pipe dream for a good many years. If you plug something that means you promote something and it owes its beginnings to Captain Leonard Frank Plug, that's p-l-u-double-g-e, a British businessman and politician who was prominent in the early 1900s. He created a broadcasting company that bought air time from European radio stations.

He reached an agreement with the French station Radio Normandy to produce programs and transmit them to England. Plug partially financed Radio Normandy by receiving payments to play and promote records and it was from this practice that Plug's name came to mean to plug something. Point blank means to tell directly or to refuse completely and it has sporting beginnings which originated in France. Point blanc is French for white mark, the bull's eye or centre of an archery target and a shot from distance at that sport has to be aimed above the target to allow it to drop with gravity but a shot point blank is close enough so that the flight of the arrow hits the target directly without any arcing.

The expression then later was widened to refer to anything done at very close range, especially gunfire. To propose a toast is obviously a ritual in which a drink is taken in someone's honour and that began as early as the 12th century. The quality of the wine at the time was not high and varied a lot. In order to soak up some of the acidity and improve the flavour, a piece of spiced toast was placed in a wine jug or small pieces were placed in wine glasses. By the 17th century in England the practice of proposing a toast to someone emerged the glass would be raised as it is today and it was usually a lady who was toasted.

The idea was that she became a figurative piece of toast that flavoured the wine. To pull out all the stops means to make every possible effort and that stems from the musical world. Church organs use knobs that control the airflow through the pipes and these knobs are known as stops.

When all the stops are in the airflow is less and the music not very loud. If there were not many people in a congregation and the music was needed to be heard at the back of the church, the organist would pull out all the stops which would increase the volume. To pull the wool over your eyes means to trick or deceive and it relates to the elaborate wigs that people wore in the 17th century. The wigs had a thick woolly appearance and the social standing of a man was sometimes judged by the size of his wig. The bigger it was the more wealth the man was thought to have. By wearing large wigs men were advertising their wealth and then became a target for petty criminals. A large wig would also be able to be pulled down more easily so a tactic employed by some criminals was to creep up behind a man and pull the wig down over his eyes.

This would temporarily render the victim unable to see, making him easier to rob. A purple patch is a period of notable success or good fortune and that expression stems from ancient Rome. At the height of the Roman Empire, purple, which became known as imperial purple, was a revered colour and was reserved for emperors and other distinguished statesmen. This is because purple dye was greatly prized and rare.

It was obtained from the mucus secretions of a sea snail found in the Mediterranean Sea and did not easily fail but became brighter with weathering in sunlight. The Roman noblemen wore purple togas and because they were considered exceptional people to whom all was provided, purple patch lady became associated with success. And a job well done on the production by Greg Hangler and a special thanks to Andrew Thompson for his storytelling on the origins of everyday sayings. And a plug for the book, The Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town read the curious origins of everyday sayings and fun phrases. These great stories about our language and where sayings came from, here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country, stories from our big cities and small towns.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-15 04:20:27 / 2023-11-15 04:24:45 / 4

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