Category Archives: Words & Vocabulary

Reinventing the alphabet

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Are you L-G-B-T-or Q?

Are you N-A-T-I-V-E-A-M-E-R-I-C-A-or N?

Are you B-L-A-C-or K?

Are you B-R-O-W-or N?

Are you J-E-W-I-S-or H?

Are you M-U-S-L-I-or M?

Are you H-I-N-D-or U?

Are you S-I-K-or H?

Are you B-U-D-D-H-I-S-or T?

Are you D-A-C-or A?

Are you I-M-M-I-G-R-A-N-or T?

Are you W-O-M-A-or N?

Do you have a place in the U-S-A?

Yes, you

M-O-S-T C-E-R-T-A-I-N-L-Y D-O!

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Fun idioms explained

IMG_0959I have a school project to complete this weekend, so I’m a little pressed for time. I trust you won’t mind a rerun of this fun idiom blog.

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Idioms – Those sometimes silly, obscure phrases that we use in everyday conversation.

A lot of idioms originate from nautical and military origins, Shakespeare and Olde English pubs, or from life as it was known a century or more ago.

Cut and run

You’re an 18th century sea captain on a large schooner filled with spices and silks and jewels. You just dropped anchor along the coast and are about to let the crew go ashore. You look to the horizon and here comes a ship flying the Jolly Roger! You don’t waste a moment getting outta there. You slice the anchor rope and get a move on. You cut and run.

Armed to the teeth

The pirates bearing down on the schooner have the single-shot weapons of the day. And they each have a couple of them – stuffed into their belts, their vests, their pockets. In addition to the guns, they have a knife. Where to hold the knife? Open your mouth and bite down – armed to the teeth.

Mind your Ps and Qs – I found two explanations on this one.beer-ps-and-qs[1]

From an old printer’s tenet. Back in the early days of printing presses, each letter of text had to be set up by hand. Since the letters in the press were reversed, the printer or typographer had to be careful not to confuse one letter for the other. He had to mind his Ps and Qs.

The more accepted historical meaning for this idiom (and one that’s a little more fun) dates back to ye Olde English pubs of yester-year. A bartender would use chalk and board to record the number of Pints (Ps) and Quarts (Qs) a patron had consumed. This chalkboard allowed said patrons to keep up with their tab, to not get too drunk to pay the tab, and prevented disagreements between bar and patron.

Saved by the bell – Again, I found two really cool explanations on this one.

Boxing slang … a boxer who is in danger of losing a bout can be ‘saved’ from a beat down by the bell that marks the end of a round. There is a reference to this idiom in the Massachusetts newspaper The Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, February 1893: “Martin Flaherty defeated Bobby Burns in 32 rounds by a complete knockout. Half a dozen times Flaherty was saved by the bell in the earlier rounds.”

Imagine being buried alive and having no means of communicating with those that are walking about the cemetery. A person would be buried, a string available or attached to a wrist. The string would be fed through the top of the coffin, through the dirt, and attached to a bell on top of the grave. The recently buried person would wake up, ring the bell, and be saved from an unpleasant death.

image-21[1]Hold your horses

Most accepted – the term originated from the men serving the artillery. These soldiers had horses. When the cannon went kaboom, the horses bolted and ran off. Thus, hold your horses was created.

This idiom is also attributed to the use of horse and carriage. Imagine the under-paid carriage driver, waiting at the curb, while Scarlett put the finishing touches on her petticoats; he was holding his horses, waiting.

Blow off steam

This idiom was frequently used when steam engines were the locomotion of the day. Blowing off steam prevents explosions by relieving the pressure in an engine or boiler by venting excess steam and pressure.

Reading the riot act

This refers to actual events. Bobbies in Britain used to read a proclamation – known as the Riot Act – before they were permitted to break up or arrest rioters. This Riot Act was used in the same fashion as the current Miranda Rights in the US. The Bobbies would approach the crowd, read the Riot Act out loud, and then disperse the crowd (or arrest them).

Jump on the bandwagon

Old-time political campaigns would attempt to gather supporters by driving through town with a vehicle announcing (through loud-speakers) the candidate’s schpeel. Usually these wagons also carted a small band playing patriotic music. Jumping on the bandwagon was akin to providing your support for this popular candidate.

Raining cats and dogs

I found many explanations on this idiom. This explanation is the most fun (and the most gross). Sanitary conditions in previous centuries were often abysmal. When torrential rains began, the water –coursing down the streets – would often carry small creatures with it. As a result, cats and small dogs would be carried along the streets.

Can’t hold a candle to

Before electric lights, the expert would perform the task while a helper would hold the candle. The helper was non-skilled or less skilled.

Busting your chops

It was en vogue at the turn of the century (the 1900 one) wearing long, bushy sideburns, called mutton chops or lamb chops. As I recall this was also popular in the 70s! Getting hit in the face was a bust in the chops.

Clean bill of health

Bills of health were issued to ships showing they were free from infections or diseases at the time then pulled up the anchor.

Upper handDSC01384

You see a bunch of kids with Converse high-tops and crew cuts in a park and they want to play baseball. A player from Team A would throw a bat to a player from Team B. The Team B guy would catch the bat. Then the other player would put his hand directly above the other kid’s hand. The kids would alternate hands up the bat until the end was reached. The player with his hand on top had the upper hand, or the advantage.

Close but no cigar

I suppose the carnival games of yore were for men only because I can’t see a barker handing a woman a cigar a century or more ago. Used particularly for shooting games, cigars were the prize. A contestant that didn’t hit the target might have been close, but did not win a cigar.

img002 (3)Dressed to a tea 
Having tea used to be an elaborate, formal affair, with dressing in all one’s finery, getting out the nice silver tea set, perhaps putting a few scones on a doily on a silver tray. Men and women used to dress for a tea, hence “dress to a tea.”

Dressed to the nines

You dressed to the nines to go to tea! The best suits were made from about nine yards of fabric, cut in the direction of the nap or warp. There was a load of waste in the fabric, but you had to accept the waste if you wanted to dress to the nines.

Face the music

The British military would play drums when someone was court marshaled. Now, when your child or grandchild breaks the lamp in the living room, he’s got to face the music.

Passed with flying colors

Sailing ships of yore would hoist their nation’s flag if they wanted to be identified. Couldn’t trust pirates though. They had a crate full of false flags.Welsh Flag

Room to swing a cat

Please chill animal rights people. The “cat” here refers to a cat-of-nine-tails, a whip used to discipline sailors for a poor job of swabbing. The cat-of-nine-tails has a handle attached to nine thin strips of leather, each a few feet long. Since there was not enough room below deck, the punishment would take place above deck.

With a grain of salt
Used now as “approach with suspicion or caution.” Salt used to be darn hard to come by. Some thought it should be used for healing, even as a poison anecdote. If you were to eat or drink something “with a grain of salt” was to practice cautious medicine.

Rule of thumb

An antiquated English law was it was illegal for a man to beat his wife with a switch or stick thicker than the width of his thumb. That’s comforting.

In agriculture – stick your thumb in the dirt up to your hand, pull thumb out, plant seed.

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“You can’t buy time or save it, common idioms notwithstanding. You can only spend it.” – Eric Zorn

Sources

Pride Unlimited

Wikipedia

Brainy Quote

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Who the heck was Roget?

sapphire-gemstoneBlue is never just blue – Blue can be azure, cerulean, cobalt, or sapphire.

Red is not simply red – Red is carmine, burgundy, garnet, rosy, scarlet, or roseate.

Green is not only green – Green should be beryl, chartreuse, forest, olive, or viridian.

I got to thinking, who the heck was Roget anyway?

Peter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and went on to become a physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer (author or editor of a dictionary). And of course, Roget is best known for publishing The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, aka Roget’s Thesaurus, in 1852.

Obsessive list-making – Roget was the son of a Swiss clergyman. He was apparently obsessed with list-making (I developed the same obsession from my Welsh-Irish mother) and suffered with depression most of his life. Roget’s father died young, his wife died young, and his beloved Uncle Samuel committed suicide right in front of him. His obsessive list-making seemed to be a coping mechanism and took hold of him by the time he was just 8 years old. Roget studied medicine in Edinburgh.

From Wikipedia – “Roget retired from professional life in 1840 and about 1848 began preparing for publication the one work that was to perpetuate his memory. This was the catalogue of words organized by their meanings, the compilation of which had been an avocation since 1805. Its first printed edition, in 1852Roget, was called Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.”

Roget died in September of 1869.

The thesaurus is a wondrous thing. Whether you use the sideline thesaurus on Word, a printed tome, or an online connection, one simple word can lead you to intricate synonyms.

I know how I use a thesaurus – frequently. But I wondered, “How do others use one?” What if you can’t find just the right word as you are working on the novel or a letter to your congressman or a passage on your resume? Do you stop and think about the right word? Do you break out the thesaurus or do you just keep typing?

What a few friends and writers say about the thesaurus

Judy Ann Lashinski Davis, author of Red Fox Woman and blogger at A Writer’s Revelations, uses Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, and she’s got it “right at my elbow.”

Chris Eboch, of the Write Like a Pro! blog and action and adventure books for children like The Eyes of Pharaoh and The Well of Sacrifice, says she uses the thesaurus option at Dictionary.com so often she has it bookmarked.

Susannah Friis, writer and blogger at Personally Speaking and The Writerly Way – “I can’t move on until I find the right word.” Susannah uses the dictionary and thesaurus features on her Mac. She also uses Wiktionary (Wiki also has a neat rhymes feature).  DSC02016

Valerie P. Chandler blogs at V. P. Chandler – Author and she recommends the Visual Thesaurus. This site is great if you like to see a visual map of any word and related words. You are allowed a trial version but need to sign up and pay to use it long-term. (Caution – do not use this application if you take mind-altering drugs. It’s far-out, man.)

Some word-find sources

Merriam-Webster

Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com

Wiktionary

Synonym.com

Synonym Finder

Visual Thesaurus

Sources used for this article  

Wikipedia.org

Brainy Quote

Quote Garden

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A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” –W. H. Auden

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Words, words words: tools for touching hearts and lives, by Elizabeth H. Cottrell

Bundle of Letters - Words of Love

“Bundle of letters – Words of Love” Photo by Christian Mueringer

Saved and treasured notes and letters

My paternal grandfather Robert Beverley Herbert was 71 years old when I was born in 1950. Tucked inside the desk I’ve had since childhood, there is a well-worn, much-treasured bundle of letters from him—letters he mailed me starting when I was a young girl. They were the first meaningful letters I ever received, and they contained news, advice, and wisdom from a man who was born only 14 years after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Such is the connection power of words that they can cross centuries, miles, and even lifetimes.

Since those first letters in my life, over the last many decades, I’ve received hundreds of beautiful messages in the form of handwritten notes and letters from friends, loved ones, and even strangers:

  • Congratulations when I reached milestones in my life.
  • Appreciation for things I’ve done or given.
  • Sympathy when I’ve experienced a loss.
  • Encouragement when I’ve been in the midst of a challenge.
  • Offers to help when I was heavily burdened.
  • “Thinking of you” notes for no particular reason.

I’ve saved the most special of these and re-read them often. Of course any note from my children and their spouses falls in the category of treasured correspondence! I consider each a precious gift, and they carry value far beyond the cost of the paper and postage.

Reviving the art of personal note writing

Now I’m trying to revive the art of personal note writing and encourage others to see what a powerful connection tool it is.

Not just because it’s a nice thing to do (but it is).

Not just because it’s often proper etiquette (although it is).

Absolutely not because I want to put anyone on a guilt trip.

No, the reason I’m committed to shining a spotlight on the personal, handwritten note is because I believe notes containing words from your heart—heartspoken—written by hand on a piece of paper and mailed to the recipient, are too often overlooked as effective tools for connecting with others.

Why is connection so important?

I believe connection with others is nothing short of a conduit for God’s love.

Scripture in the gospel of Matthew describes Jesus telling a Pharisee: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)

And from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

If you believe, as I do, that love is what life is all about, you’ll see why I get so excited about a simple, affordable tool for using words to connect and share love with others quickly and easily.

Why don’t people write more notes?

I hear many reasons from kind, well-intentioned people about why they don’t write more personal notes:

  • They don’t have time.
  • They don’t know what to say (this is particularly true when writing to someone grieving or in any other awkward situation).
  • They don’t think of it when it’s convenient.
  • They procrastinate, and then it feels too late.

Of course there are people who can’t write because of physical disability. There are others who prefer to connect in other ways: by phone, in person, or by email. Personal note writing is not for everyone.

You can learn to write beautiful notes

If you’d like to write meaningful notes more easily, don’t miss my special free guide that will teach you how to overcome the obstacles above and write heartspoken personal notes that comfort, encourage, and inspire. You can get it at my blog, Heartspoken.com. Just put your email in the box at the top of the right sidebar to receive information on how to access this guide.

While you’re there, you might enjoy other note writing posts as well as letter and note writing gifts.

Here are links to articles loaded with note writing encouragement and tips:

Words, words, words

Words are powerful, and I applaud Karen for reminding us of their richness and purpose in our lives.

Please add personal handwritten notes to your arsenal of tools for using words to spread more love to others in your life. They are your legacy of love.

Photo credit: “Bundle of Letters” by Christian Meuringer via BigStockPhoto.com

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Elizabeth Cottrell headshotElizabeth H. Cottrell, a.k.a. RiverwoodWriter, is a master connector who curates information and resources about the power of connection to present them in ways that provide meaning and value to her readers. She is a passionate student of everything related to life’s essential connections: with God, with self, with others, and with nature.

Elizabeth shares connection findings, inspiration, and guidance at Heartspoken.com, where she is also reviving the art of writing personal notes that comfort, encourage, and inspire.

Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

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