Category Archives: Words & Vocabulary

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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You Are Your Words, by Shawn MacKenzie

URYourWordsIn the course of this human’s daily events, once I begin to feel the dream-webs lift from my mind, I brew a fresh pot of tea, play with the cats, and allow my thoughts to mosey along paths both cosmological and mundane, reasoned and stochastic. The other day, I started thinking about words.

Magical, mystical, wickedly creative, oh, the glorious power of words and we who wield them.

“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.”

But this is not just a Judeo-Christian notion. The Popol Vuh – or Mayan Book of Creation – speaks of how Sovereign Plumed Serpent and Heart of Sky came together at the beginning of time.

“…And then came his [Heart of Sky’s] word, he came to Sovereign Plumed Serpent, here in the blackness, in the early dawn…. they joined their words, their thoughts….And then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word that brought it forth….”

Now this notion (naturally) draws me down a whimsically syllogistic rabbit hole: The Word is divine; the divine create with words. Writers create with words; writers are divine.2008-the-girl-in-the-wood

Hey, makes sense to me.

Ok, we writers may not be divine, but we do cloak ourselves in Creator’s motley as comfortably as jeans and broadcloth. Mind blowing for gods to shape the universe in the round of a word, yet that’s what we do every day.  Out of the chaos of random thought, the void of the blank page, we create whole worlds and the beings who live in them. Earthsea, Darkover, Yoknapatawpha County, OZ and East Egg, Wonderland and Wessex – the list of literary terrae nova are legion. Even places we think we know, like Richard Wright’s Chicago or Edith Wharton’s New York, are, in authorial hands, transformed into alien landscapes ripe for exploration.

And so we string one word after another, counting our hours from phrase to sentence to paragraph to tome. We weave tales of myth and wonder and supernal genesis. For words are creative. With them we name things and by naming them bring them into being. They are active, breathing life into those named things, making them romp and fly and do handsprings through the treetops. They are descriptive, coloring and shaping the world it might be recognized and marveled at in all its beauty and strangeness. And that is without even touching upon the mind and heart, the emotional power of words. The power that reaches out across our inherent aloneness and makes people feel and think and remember, even change their lives.

Complex stuff. God stuff.

book-sculpture3Which brings me to a story. More memoir than fancy (though there are tangential Dragons); just a little something I thought I’d share.

Two years ago my book, The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook, was making its way into print. In anticipation of this event, my publisher invited me to the Book Expo of America in New York. Sign some ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), generate book buzz, and spend two days in Gotham with all stripe of book folk – authors, publishers, agents, librarians. Commercialism be damned, for a writer, what could be more delicious?

Not to mention the swag!

A convention neophyte, I was quite unprepared for the booty laid out like Smaug’s hoard, just there for the taking. From simple promotional bookmarks and house totes, to signed copies of the year’s (hopefully) hottest titles, one was limited only by one’s interests, greed, and in the case of acquiring a major author’s John (or Jane) Hancock, no small amount of stamina. Even though I was hobbling about on a broken leg at the time, I returned home with several bags – now weekly filled with groceries – and a far from shabby passel of books. For all that, my favorite BEA keepsake was from the folks at the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language: a modest white 6” x 4” oval magnet, adorned in black Arial with the deceptively simple gnome:

You Are

Your Words

Every morning since, I rub the sleep from my eyes and focus on this reminder of how I am defined by the words in my life. They are my tools, my paint and canvas, soil and seeds. I shape them, play with them, with luck make them croon like armadillos and pirouette on the wings of a damselfly They represent me to the world, my ideas and dreams. I am responsible for them, in all their beauty or ugliness.

I am my words; my words are me.

As logophile, whimsical scribe, exacting editor, wielder of words.

As a writer.

I give you my word.

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Shawn MacKENZIEAbout the Author:

Shawn MacKenzie is the author of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011), and Dragons for Beginners (Llewellyn, 2012), she is an editor and writer of sci-fi/fantasy. Her fiction has been published in Southshire Pepper-Pot, 2010 Skyline Review, and as a winner of the 2010 Shires Press Award for Short Stories. Shawn is an avid student of myth, religion, philosophy, and animals, real and imaginary, great and small.

Ramblings can be found at MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest and on her blog.

9780738727851[1]9780738730455[1]

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7 great tips to boost your vocabulary

DSC02004My vocabulary is the result of a life-long love affair with words. It didn’t hurt that I was raised by a former proofreader for Merriam-Webster and a New York Times crossword puzzler.

I keep a vocabulary notebook. Next to this notebook I keep my dictionary (an old-fashioned printed dictionary, a Merriam-Webster of course). Whenever I encounter a word I don’t know, I put it in my notebook and look it up.

I learn a lot of new words; I probably forget a lot more. I have found the best way to retain new words is to use my new words. Also, I –

Read – This is by far the best way to learn new words. Books, magazines, blogs, websites. If you carry a book around and read while waiting at the doctor or Motor V, keep an index card and pen in your pocket or purse for new words you encounter on the go.DSC02014

Google – Try Googling WOTD (word of the day) and you’ll be amazed at what happens! You will find a long list of WOTD sites to help you increase your vocabulary. Subscribe to a word-a-day site and get new words sent to your inbox.

Learn in chunks – Dictionary.com has great theme-related decks to study words under subject headings like culinary, performing arts, and sports. There are currently 76 decks of cards under the sports heading, so you can see where this can lead!

Pick up the thesaurus – When you discover a new word, pick up (or click) the thesaurus and find its synonyms, antonyms, etc.

DSC02008Flex the word muscles – Play words games like Scrabble or do word puzzles or crosswords. Learn Q words – they help a lot in Scrabble! Did you know Qi is an alternative for Chi?

Write sentences – Some time ago I read “carmine” in a book. I wasn’t sure what it meant, so I looked it up. It means vivid red. So I wrote it in a few simple sentences. That lava is carmine. New Mexico sunsets are often carmine. I am angry, and I am seeing carmine!

Use your new words – And look smarter! Use new words in correspondence, emails, Facebook posts, on your blog. Your friends will be impressed.

Here are a few entries in my vocabulary notebook – conciliate, plinth, carapace, fecund, susurration, portending, erudite, and farcical. How many do you know?

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“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” – Evelyn Waugh

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You might also like What is a portmanteau?  and What do a madam, a racecar, and a kayak have in common?

 

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Words, Words, Words Week kick off – Idioms explained

swordsIdioms

Those sometimes 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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Busting your chops 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.

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.

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 hand

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.

cigarClose 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.

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 dressed 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.

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 salt-shaker

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.

***

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

Sources

Pride Unlimited

Wikipedia

Brainy Quote

MorgueFile

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What is a portmanteau?

This blog post was inspired by Shawn MacKenzie who taught me the word “portmanteau.”

Delmarva

The Delmarva Peninsula

I knew bits of my vocabulary included portmanteaus – like smoke and fog make smog. But I didn’t know they were called portmanteaus.

Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of a portmanteau. And surprise! Wikipedia is a combination of Wiki and encyclopedia.

In case you are wondering what a “wiki” is (I was) – a website developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add or edit content.

On to the portmanteaus!

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Places

Delmarva – from Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I grew up here!

I don’t get this one because they don’t share a border – Pennsyltucky, from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Must be cultural. Can anyone explain this one?

Animals

Gratuitous cute kitty

Gratuitous cute kitty

Liger, which is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger. And to complicate things, a tiglon or tigon is a cross in which the male is a tiger.

Wholphin – From whale and dolphin. I’m sorry, what? These guys are participating in way too much underwater sexting (from sex and texting).

Labradoodle. From Labrador Retriever and Poodle.

Online stuff

Blogs – so many of us write them; do we know from whence they come? From web and log.

Netiquette – net and etiquette. I’ve blogged about this a few times, eh?

A relatively new thing, quite addictive – Pinterest, from pin and interest.

Food and such

Brunch – from breakfast and lunch.

And from having too many mimosas at brunch – breathalyzer, from breath and analyzer.

A spork is a cross between a spoon and a fork. This spork thing – I think it’s sort of stupid. If I want a spoon, I grab a spoon; if I want a fork, I grab a fork.

Arfé, from art and café – this one begs me to say, “Excuse me, I arféd.”

Products

Prevacid, from prevent and acid – in case you plan on visiting a really bad arfé or a nasty all-you-can-eat brunch.

Talking street DSC00642

Slanguage, from slang and language.

Chillax – from chill and relax. I thought my son coined this one. He does it so well.

Companies

Amtrak, from American and track.

Intel, from integrated and electronics.

One of my faves

Snark or snarky – from snide and remark.

Miscellaneous

Chortle – from chuckle and snort (coined by Lewis Carroll!). And a huge jump (time-line wise) from Carroll to …

Cyborg – From cybernetic and organism

Going old school

Motown a combination of motor and town. The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, Jr. Walker and the All Stars.

Dude! Do you see what I see?

Dude! Do you see what I see?

The Temptations. Didn’t they use funkadelic? From funky and psychedelic? See The Temptations, a great YouTube video, from Ed Sullivan’s Really Big Shooo.

See a list

Would you like a list of portmanteaus? Wiki comes through again!

Origin of portmanteau

Middle French, portemanteau, from porter, to carry plus manteau, mantle. First known use: 1579.

Do you have a favorite portmanteau or two?

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