Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #15

Thirteen popular catch phrases we use in today's conversations and their origins.

Do you ever wonder how some popular catch phrases came to be? I do all the time, so here's a list of 13 ones that I always wondered about.

1. Bought the farm - It comes from W.W.I. When a US soldier was killed in combat his family was given a "death benefit" that amounted to a enough money to buy a parcel of farm land in the mid west.

2. Close but no cigar - Carnival games of skill, particularly shooting games, once gave out cigars as a prize. A contestant that did not quite hit the target was close, but did not get a cigar.

3. Let the cat out of the bag - At medieval markets, unscrupulous traders would display a pig for sale. However, the pig was always given to the customer in a bag, with strict instructions not to open the bag until they were some way away. The trader would hand the customer a bag containing something that wriggled, and it was only later that the buyer would find he'd been conned when he opened the bag to reveal that it contained a cat, not a pig. Therefore, "letting the cat out of the bag" revealed the secret of the con trick.

4. Crocodile Tears - It was often thought that crocodiles shed tears that slid down into their mouths, moistening their food and making it easier for them to swallow. Hence the tears appear to be an expression of emotion but are in fact a means to make it easier to swallow (possibly the observer).

5. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth - Horses have gum lines that recede with age. Hence older horses have longer teeth than young horses. To "look a horse in the mouth" is to examine the horse's mouth closely to determine its age (and therefore its usefulness and/or worth). To immediately judge a gift based on its worth or usefulness rather than the "thought" behind it considered rude, and ungrateful (it is a gift after all, and didn't cost the receiver anything).

6. Pissing and moaning - Gonorrhea is common venereal disease that causes a burning sensation while urinating. There are plenty of stories and jokes about the "clap", as it is called, and moaning from the pain caused by the burn. (nice one, huh?)

7. Raining cats and dogs - When the bubonic plague was rampant in London, humans where apparently not the only victims of the plague. Cats and dogs were also afflicted, many died in the streets. After a particularly hard rain, street gutters could be awash in the bodies of cats and dogs. (another nice one)

8. Eating Crow - An article published in the Atlanta Constitution in 1888 claims that, towards the end of the war of 1812, an American went hunting and by accident crossed behind the British lines, where he shot a crow. He was caught by a British officer who, complimenting him on his fine shooting, persuaded him to hand over his gun. This officer then leveled his gun and said that as a punishment the American must take a bite of the crow. The American obeyed, but when the British officer returned his gun he took his revenge by making him eat the rest of the bird.

9. Flying by the seat of your pants - Before airplanes had sophisticated instruments and flight control systems, and even today, planes are piloted by feel. Pilots can feel the reactions of the plane in response to their actions at the controls. Being the largest point of contact between pilot and plane, most of the feel or feedback comes through the seat of the pants.

10. Pass the buck - Some card games use a marker called a buck. Players take turns acting as dealer with the buck marking the current dealer. When the buck is passed to the next player, the responsibility for dealing is passed. Spawned the phrase "The buck stops here" popularized by President Harry Truman.

11. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey - In the 1700s cannon balls and black powder were carried by boys referred to as "powder monkeys". One explanation has it that the balls were stacked in the familiar pyramid configuration with a wooden triangle holding the bottom layer together. These wooden triangles (perhaps as an extension of powder monkey) were also referred to as "monkeys". The trouble with wooden monkeys was that they couldn't take much abuse before shattering under the impact of dropped cannon balls.

12. Bang for the buck - This phrase originates in Cold War deliberations concerning funding new weapons. For example, the US Air Force habitually claimed that ballistic missiles such as ICBM's could do more damage to an enemy country for a given expenditure than a Navy aircraft carrier could.

13. Kick the bucket - Pigs to be slaughtered are bled, that is the blood is drained from the body. One way this is accomplished is to hang the pig upside down from a bar (by one foot) that used to be known as a "buchet," a French word for it. The pig's throat was cut or opened with a sharp spike (See "bleed like a stuck pig"), and it would rapidly be bled. In its death throes, it would always, always kick the buchet.


Robin November 29, 2007 at 8:35 AM  

Fascinating. Gruesome some of them, but fascinating.

My grandfather used to fly by the seat of his pants in some of the early biplanes, with nothing but the "iron compass" (railroad) to guide him.

jayedee November 29, 2007 at 9:23 AM  

very interesting. and original. thanks for posting and happy tt!

Holly November 29, 2007 at 9:45 AM  

Hmmmm, I may think twice before using some of these now.... Interesting post!

Want to have some silly fun?
Go Elf Yourself! ( Too Funny!

Happy TT-13

Believer in Balance November 29, 2007 at 10:04 AM  

Very interesting stuff! I always wonder about those things too.

Nap Warden November 29, 2007 at 12:39 PM  

I didn't know most of these...Some of 'em are yucky! Great list!

pussreboots November 29, 2007 at 2:37 PM  

My grandmother had a best friend who was a barnstormer. She flew by the seat of her pants.

Happy TT and thanks for stopping by.

WorksForMom November 29, 2007 at 3:14 PM  

Super cool list. I only knew 2 of them! Great idea this week!

amanda rae November 29, 2007 at 3:42 PM  

interesting list!

happy tt!


Mom not Mum November 29, 2007 at 4:55 PM  

Dang I was gonna share kick the bucket but it was #13 - what will I share now? lol

Natalie November 29, 2007 at 4:59 PM  

Interesting stuff!

Come visit my Thursday Thirteen if you get a chance. :)

ellen b November 29, 2007 at 6:43 PM  

Very interesting. thanks for posting these on your TT!

Susan Helene Gottfried November 29, 2007 at 8:41 PM  

Hey, I just noticed I'm in your blogroll! Thank you! (I'll go add you into mine now, in fact)

That's a cool list. I didn't know most of those, but I looked one familiar phrase up last year (now I don't remember which one) because it had been used in a Junie B. Jones book and it turned out that the origin of the saying was totally unknown.

No Nonsense Girl November 29, 2007 at 10:00 PM  

very interesting!!! :)

Phyllis Sommer November 30, 2007 at 7:30 AM  

what a great list. i always like knowing where these things come from...but then sometimes i have to stop using them becaus i end up rethinking!;-)

Nicholas November 30, 2007 at 5:20 PM  

I only knew a few of those That was very interesting!

ZAM December 1, 2007 at 1:43 AM  

Very interesting. I've truly learned something today. Thanks for sharing.

Zenmomma December 2, 2007 at 12:58 AM  

These were fun!

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