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"All Hell Broke Loose" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 1)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 17, 2024 3:01 am

"All Hell Broke Loose" and the Wonderful Origins of Everyday Expressions (Pt. 1)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 17, 2024 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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Here with the recurring series is Hair of the Dog author Andrew Thompson, as he shares another slice from his ultimate guide to understanding these baffling mini-mysteries of the English language. The first expression I'd like to tell you about is above board, which means honest and open or legal. If something's above board, everything's OK. Reminds me, years ago I used to have a weekly game of blackjack with a group of guys, and people would often cheat, it was all a bit joking, but people would have their hands under the table and everyone would say, get your hands on the table, you've got to be above board. And that's where that expression comes from, it's a gaming expression. In card playing, the board was the table, as in a sideboard, and if a player dropped his hands below the table, he could be accused of cheating by swapping his cards or pulling a card out that he had stashed under there. So to stop any sort of suspicion, people had to keep their hands above the table.

So if the player's hands are above board, nobody could suggest anything was wrong. A saying that comes from ancient times is Achilles' Heel, which everyone's heard of. It means a weakness or vulnerability. You might say, he's a great runner, but that's his Achilles' Heel.

When he can't do long distances, for example. It has its origins in ancient Greek legend. Achilles was dipped into a river by his mother in order to give him a skin of armour and make him invulnerable to his enemies. But she held him by the heel, which didn't get covered by the water and became a weak point for him.

He became this great warrior, but his archenemy, a guy called Paris, discovered his weakness and killed him by shooting an arrow through his heel. And Homer wrote about this in Iliad, and the phrase became popular in the 19th century. The expression across the board means it applies to everyone.

For example, the government might impose tax cuts across the board. This phrase is from the sporting arena. It was coined in America in the early 1900s from horse racing. At the time, at race meets, a large board would display the odds of horses. And the odds were listed for a horse to win, place or show, which was to make third. And if a punter placed a bet across the board, he put an equal amount of money on a horse to finish first, second or third.

So it was an across the board bet that applied to everything, every option. To add another string to your bow is another sporting expression, which comes from the sport of archery. And it started in medieval times, when in competitions, often men who were the best shot became widely popular when archery was very popular for fighting and exhibition sports. So never to be caught short, the best archers would add another string to their bow. They'd attach a second string at the top of the bow that was wound around the handle. If the first string snapped or was damaged, the archer had a backup string to get him out of trouble.

And that's also how the expression second string came about. To add insult to injury is an expression that comes from the literary world. It dates way back to 25 BC and was from a writer from ancient Rome and it was from the story of the bald man and the fly. In that story, a fly stings a bald man on the top of his head and the man swats at the fly trying to kill it.

But the fly moves away so that the man hits himself on the head as well. And the fly then remarks, all you've done is added insult to injury, which is where the expression comes from to mean making an already bad situation even worse. The phrase began in 25 BC, didn't pass into English until about the mid 1700s. The saying against the grain comes from tradesmen. It means against the natural flow or opposed to one's normal inclination. It has its origins in woodwork and carpentry. When wood is planed, sawed or sanded along the grain, it results in a smooth finish. But when it's done across the grain, it tends to splinter or be rough.

So working against the grain is also far more difficult. And that's where the expression came from. It was first used by Shakespeare in 1607. Everyone knows the expression to aid and abet, which is usually used in relation to criminals with a person helping or inciting someone in the commission of a crime.

So you might be convicted of aiding and abetting a crime. It's got an interesting origin, this one. It's from the now outlawed sport, or if you could call it that, of bear baiting. The word abet is from the Norse word meaning to bite, and it was originally called bear abetting in the 14th century in England, where a hungry bear would be tethered to a pole in a pit and set upon by trained bulldogs.

The dogs would bite the bear until it was killed, and often in doing so they'd suffer casualties or be very tired and the owner would urge the dog to continue to keep the spectacle going. So it was said that he was abetting the dog to keep biting, and phrase was coined in the 18th century to mean what it does today. To wear your dirty laundry in public means to talk in public about private matters. And this expression came from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814 when he was exiled to the island of Elba. He was forced to abdicate the French throne and he went there.

And despite the island being surrounded by the British navy he managed to escape on a boat after less than a year there. And back in France he was asked about his experiences on the island to which he replied, It is at home and not in public that one washes one's dirty linen. And that eventually got corrupted to wear your dirty laundry in public to come to what it means today. All hell broke loose has become a common expression to mean wild and erratic behaviour.

Like if a teacher left the classroom for ten minutes all hell broke loose with the students. It's got literary origins as well. It's from John Milton's epic poem Paradise Loss which was published in 1667. And it tells the tale of the biblical Garden of Eden. In one part just before he casts him out of the Garden of Eden the angel Gabriel asks Satan why he travelled alone and hadn't been joined by other inhabitants of hell. And Gabriel poses the question as wherefore with thee came not all hell broke loose. Which is old English obviously but that's where the expression began. And a special thanks to Greg for producing the piece and a special thanks also to Andrew Thompson.

Hair of the dog to paint the town red is the book go to and buy it. The story of our own language and phrases we all know but don't know the origins of here on Our American Stories. Folks if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do. We're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's Okay round two name something that's not boring.

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