July 30, 2021

11 puzzling expressions

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whole nine yards

whole nine yards

The real meanings behind 11 puzzling expressions we still use today

By Yohana Desta From Mashable

The phrase “cut to the chase” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

The common descriptor, like many other popular sayings, is one of many anachronisms that creep into everyday usage. For some reason, antiquated phrases have a way of sticking around.

“Successful terms tend to be ones that we don’t notice,” says Dave Wilton, a linguist and author of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, in an interview with Mashable. He also runs the etymology site Word Origins.

Have you ever stopped and wondered why you say pitch black? What does “pitch” actually even refer to? Questioning that can take you on a deeper dive in etymology.

“If a word is consciously identified as trendy or associated with a particular group, then it will likely eventually be perceived as out of date or uncool,” Wilton says. A term that can be used “unthinkingly” can easily be picked up and circulated, he explains. It also helps if they have an easily understood meaning, which has helped phrases like “rule of thumb” stick around.

Let’s take a step back in time and explore the origins of 11 vintage phrases we still use today.

1. Pitch black

How we use it: When we say “pitch black,” we’re usually referring to absolute darkness.

The origin: “Pitch” is an old term, used to refer to thick, dark, resinous substance. Its been used for hundreds of years, popularly for preserving wood on ships.

2. Whole nine yards

How we use it: To figuratively take something all the way.

The origin: In 2012, Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro called this saying “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time.” Research has shown that as far back as the 1910s, people actually used the phrase “the whole six yards.”

What does it mean? No one has correctly identified its origin. There are theories: measurements in football, the length of a queen’s bridal train and the depth of a fully loaded concrete truck are all frequently cited. Etymologists have dashed nearly all these theories, though — the whole nine yards is still a mystery.

“We are rarely satisfied with the answer, ‘origin unknown,'” Wilton says. “But as any good scientist or researcher will tell you, not knowing the answer shouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s the starting place.”

3. Beat around the bush

How we use it: Avoiding a topic or question in a roundabout way; getting to the point too slowly.

The origin: This one typically gets traced back to old hunting practices. When noblemen went off to hunt, they brought along young assistants who would get the attention of animals hidden in the undergrowth, usually by beating the bush or making noise with a board with a stick.

Sometimes, dangerous animals like boars would be in the undergrowth. Too scared to get close, the assistants would beat around the undergrowth, putting off their real responsibility to avoid getting hurt.

4. Cut to the chase

How we use it: Get to the point.

The origin: The silent film era scripted this saying. In the early days of cinema, movies sometimes had overly lovey-dovey plots, all leading up to a thrilling ending that usually involved a chase scene. Directors would say “cut to the chase,” literally asking to cut to the ending action sequence. The saying became shorthand in Hollywood for getting straight to the film’s point, before the phrase made its way into millions of households.

5. Rule of thumb

How we use it: The general, followed rule.

The origin: There’s dispute over this, because of a persistent theory with sadistically sexist overtones. The popular theory is British common law from the 1700s permitted a man to beat his wife as long as the rod was no thicker than his thumb.

The rule then somehow infiltrated America’s legal system, with a specific mention in an 1868 ruling in North Carolina and a caricature from 1782 called Judge Thumb, which mocked Sir Francis Buller for allegedly supporting the rule of thumb. However, etymology experts debate whether or not the “rule of thumb” was ever an actual law, suggesting instead the phrase appeared as early as 1692, referring to carpenters using their thumb to approximate an inch, among other less sinister theories.

6. Freelance

How we use it: Someone who works for hire rather than in a salaried position with one employer.

The origin: It’s derived from the centuries old term referring to free-for-hire mercenary soldiers. By the early 1900s, the term evolved to describe writers who worked for hire, becoming more inclusive of other careers over the decades.

7. Scot-free

How we use it: To get away with something without consequences.

The origin: A “skot” was an old Icelandic and Old Norse word for “tax.” The word found its way to the English language as “scot,” and came to mean something was exempt from tax.

8. Humble pie

How we use it: To apologize and face a serious dose of humility.

The origin: This Anglicism (the original American equivalent is “eating crow”) derived from the term “umbles,” the innards of a deer. Umble pie was served in medieval times.

The first usage of “humble pie” is unclear, but it’s commonly held that its closeness to “humble” inspired a popular play on words. The circulating theory that umble pie was only served by the lower class, thus a more “humbling” meal, is likely not true.

9. Oops/Whoops/Whoops-a-daisy

How we use it: An exclamation used to express surprise, dismay, etc.

The origin: As far back as the 18th century, the term “up-a-daisy” has been a silly line of encouragement for children, according to Slate. “Oops” and “whoops” were also used in relation to the phrase, which delineated into “upsidaisy” in the 19th century.

10. Pass with flying colors

How we use it: To succeed in a highly victorious fashion.

The origin: This term’s got sea legs. In the 1600s, boats that had been out to sea would wave numerous different flags. The different banners were known as “colours.” When a ship came back into home port with its banners flying, it typically signified some sort of victory at sea.

11. Cold shoulder

How we use it: Ignoring, or rudely snubbing someone.

The origin: There are two different origin arguments. Most popular, a common practice as far back as the 1800s is when a guest overstayed their welcome, the host would serve them a cold shoulder of lamb.

However, another argument is that the phrase first appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary in 1816. Scott used the phrase in the literal and figurative sense, writing: “Ye may mind that the Countess’s dislike did na gang farther at first than just shewing o’ the cauld shouther.”

For more on this story go to: http://mashable.com/2015/01/11/old-expressions/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

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