Posts Tagged ‘Phrase’



Clueless (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love discovering words and phrases from my youth and childhood that have gone by the way.  Not sure why since it only serves to herald my own impending demise, lol.  I’ve said this before – I find so many of these words and phrases from watching movies on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  This weekend has been a bonanza AND when is the last time you ever heard someone under the age of 40 use the term BONANZA to describe a WINDFALL (yet another unused term)!


Let’s start with what is known as the minced oath.  The English, being naturally reserved found a way to communicate some explicit emotions without being really explicit.  They have a long tradition of double-entendre comedy.


Euphemisms aren’t all from the distant past though. For every Shaksperian ‘beast with two backs’ there’s a 20th century ‘knee trembler’.  The first phrase on my list is a perfect example of the above.


1. Jumping Jehosophat– Jehosophat is a euphemism for Jesus


2. Peel an eel – I couldn’t find any origin of this phrase or usage except in the Preston Sturgis film when the term is used as the equivalent of “go fry an egg” .   NOT to be confused with the phrase Peel the eel whose meaning I am not going into.


3. Pshaw – heard this word used when I was a child and even then it was a dated term.  It’s really a word imitative of the sound one might make when annoyed or disgusted.  Pronounced p-shaw or puh- shaw.


4. Poppycock – Means nonsense or rubbish.  Never heard anymore, so dated.  Sounds like something a retired English Colonel might say but it is NOT English, it is American in origin.  It may come from the similar Dutch word poppekak, which appears only in the old set phrase zo finn als gemalen poppekak, meaning to show excessive religious zeal, but which literally means “as fine as powdered doll shit”. The word was presumably taken to the USA by Dutch settlers; the scatological associations were lost when the word moved into the English-language community.


The first half of the word is the Dutch pop for a doll, which may be related to our term of endearment, poppet; the second half is essentially the same as the old English cack for excrement; the verb form of this word is older than the noun, and has been recorded as far back as the fifteenth century.


5. – Davenport – Davenport was the name of a series of sofas made by the Massachusetts furniture manufacturer A. H. Davenport and Company, now defunct. Due to the popularity of the furniture at the time, the name davenport became a generalized trademark, like aspirin.  


6. – Horsefeathers – It seems most likely that it began either as a bowdlerized variant of horse shit or as an expression of the view that something is highly unlikely, about as probable as that pigs might fly … or that horses might have feathers.  The issue of American Speech dated December 1928 records that “Mr. William De Beck, the comic-strip comedian responsible for ‘Barney Google,’ assumes credit for the first actual use of the word horsefeathers”. This claim has been frequently reported since, to the point at which it has become accepted knowledge.


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Ever wonder where some of the phrases we use in our everyday language?  I do and in this blog I have often featured phrases that once were common and now are obscure to generation X and Y.  Sometimes a phrase fades away because it’s no longer applicable or contains words that have dropped out of usage.

PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS has come to mean let it all go, or let it all out, or put the force of 100% effort into something.  This past Friday, Peter and I took our granddaughter, Finley, to the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ.  We really wanted to see their collection of antique music machines and automata.  It is an amazing collection with gorgeous elaborate music boxes of every evolution and Living Dolls and Mechanical Musical Instruments ever since we saw the movie, HUGO.

Now you are wondering what does all that have to do with this blog post?  The early Music Machines operated on a bellows system.  The docent demonstrated several of the mechanical musical machines.  There was  large wooden instrument that worked with bellows and you could adjust the volume  by pulling out a row of stoppers

And there you have it -all the sound was let out, by pulling out all the stoppers!

Antique music box with brass cylinder

French Automaton - Lady Knitting

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Double entendre postcard. "All right boss...

Image via Wikipedia

Wikipedia defines a paprosdokians as ” a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.[1]

Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis. “  Gail sent me an email of these clever phrases and I want to share some of them with you in this Thursday’s Top Ten.

  1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  2. If I agreed with you, then we’d both be wrong.
  3. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is hurt you.  But it’s still on my list.
  4. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Intelligence is knowing not to put in the fruit bowl.
  5. I thought I wanted a career.  Turns out I only wanted a paycheck.
  6. I didn’t say it was your fault.  I said I was blaming you.
  7. You don’t need a parachute to sky dive.  You only need a parachute to sky dive twice.
  8. I used to be indecisive.  Now, I’m not so sure.
  9. They begin the evening news with “Good Evening” and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.
  10. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism, but steal from many and it’s called research.

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I really like doing these posts;  in between blogs in this category when I hear a phrase that I grew up with but know that none of my kids or their friends would have a clue what it meant, I try to jot  it down.  Phrases come and go out of style and in this day and age when “sick”  means great and “down” means agreement, I’m just as clueless about today’s slang as the younger generation is about mine.

My readership is about 50/50 in terms of those of “a certain age” like me and a bunch  under the age of 40!  So tell me, have you heard these phrases lately and do you know what they mean or how they came to be?

Taking a shellacking – This is a slang phrase meaning you are being beaten down by someone.  In sports you hear that one team is taking a shellacking by the  opponents.  How did the noun, shellac, which means a thin protective coating come to mean beating someone is still somewhat obscure.  Word Detective suggests that shellac which is the last and final step in the finishing of furniture may imply that whoever is taking the shellacking is all finished.

Short Shrift – This phrase means something or someone is receiving careless attention, a quick but cursory view.  The origin of the phrase comes from the 16th Century when shrift  meant that brief time prior to a prisoner’s execution when he was granted the opportunity to confess to a priest.

Charley Horse – Commonly refers to muscle cramps in your thigh or calf muscles.  This condition is known throughout the world under names such as Donkey Bite, Thigh Hen, Horse’s Kiss.  There is some allusion to Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, a major league pitcher who was known to suffer frequently from cramping muscles.

Church Key – Is actually a term for a bottle/can opener.  Originally a church key was a small metal device designed to open the caps (known as crown-corks) of beer bottles.  It resembled the shape of an ornate key to unlock the church doors.  Beer was marketed in cans around 1935 with flat tops and was sold often with a metal device that would pierce a triangular hole in the lid.  The term church key was simply transferred to the new opener.  

San Lorenzo church key

Church Key

Who Shot John – I, myself, never heard this term until I heard Judge Judy use it and it was used to describe superfluous details, aka bullshit!  However, this old term, probably southern, was/is commonly used to describe the way someone would look if he/she were disheveled, or had on too much make-up, or any instance where you  looked bad and not proper.   And again, also to imply that you didn’t want to hear any nonsense, just the truth as in “Don’t give me any who shot John“.  And as far as an origin, the best I can find is that it refers to John Wilkes Booth, but why???

bottle openers, crown corks

Beer Bottle Openers

can openers, beer openers, church keys

Early Beer Can Openers

can opener, bottle opener

Church Key Today

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