Home » WORDS AND PHRASES –FROM WHERE

WORDS AND PHRASES –FROM WHERE

1.  A SHOT OF WHISKEY

In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents so did a glass of whiskey. If a cow-hand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink.

2. THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges. The average plane had belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all the ammo, he was said to have given it the “whole nine yards”

3. BUYING THE FARM

This is synonymous with dying. During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was the price of an average farm, so if you died you “bought the farm” for your survivors.

4. IRON CLAD CONTRACT

This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

5. PASSING THE BUCK/THE BUCK STOPS HERE

Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck knife company

When playing poker it is  common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person did not want to deal , he would “pass the buck” to the next player. If that player accepted then “the buck stopped there”

6. RIFF RAFF

The Mississippi River was the main way of travelling from north to south. Riverboats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts which were considered cheap.. The steering oar on the rafts were called “riff” and this transposed into riff-raff meaning low class.

7. COBWEB

The old English word for spider was “cob”

8. SHIP STATE ROOMS

Travelling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called  staterooms.

9. SLEEP TIGHT

Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better sleep.

10. SHOWBOAT

These were floating theatres built on a large barge that was pushed by a steamboat. These played in small towns along the Mississippi River. Unlike the boat shown in the movie “Showboat” these did not have an engine. They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of a party is “showboating”.

11. OVER A BARREL

In the days before CPR a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over the barrel you are in deep trouble.

12. BARGE IN

Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in larhe barges pushed by steamboats. They were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they “barged in”.

13. HOGWASH

Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since the pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless “hogwash”.

14. CURFEW

The word  ‘curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu” which means cover the fire. It was used as the time to  turn off lamps and candles. It was later adopted into middle English as “curfeu which later became curfew or the turning off lights or bedtime.

15. HOT OFF THE PRESS

As the paper goes through the rotary printing press friction causes it to heat up. Therefore if you grab the paper right off the press it is hot. The expression means to get immediate information.

16  SHIT

Manure: In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship, and it was before the invention of commercial fertilizers, so large amounts of manure were common. It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than wet, but once water at sea hit it, not only did it become heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a product is methane gas. It was shipped below deck and you can see what happened. methane began to build up below deck and if someone came down with a lantern BOOOM.

After that the bundles of manure were stamped with instructions  “STOW HIGH IN TRANSIT” so that no sea water would hit the manure bundles and start the production of methane.

Thus evolved the term SHIT (Stow high in Transit) which came down through the centuries and is used today.

17 DECIMATION

When a Roman Legion abandoned the field in disarray, not every legionnaire, but only one in ten( hence the term decimation) was executed.

18 GERRYMANDERING

The word goes back to 1812, when the administration of Eldridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, created a revised map of electoral districts for the state. This was done to get voters of the same persuasion to elect a candidate of a certain party. A cartoonist in Boston  Elkaneh Tisdale thought a new district looked like a salamander and so the word “gerrymandering”.

19 BARRELS OF OIL

When the first oil well were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid oil  so they used water barrels. That is why to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

20.  FUCK YOU

It goes back to the middle Ages when English archers were known well as some of the best of their day. This was partially due to the bow made from the Yew tree. And the act of shooting an arrow was know as “plucking Yew” The English archers would display their middle fingers( critical for plucking Yew) to the enemy as an act of defiance. The vernacular became what we know today (fuck you)

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Name: Murray Rubin

Short Bio: I was born in Toronto in 1931 to a wonderful mother who divorced shortly before my birth. I owe a great deal of my success to her. I am Jewish but not at all religious, yet my culture plays an important part of my personality. I attended Harbord Collegiate and U. of T. Faculty of Pharmacy. A unique mail-order pharmacy was the first of my endeavours in the profession, followed by many stores throughout Ontario. I have a loving wife, 3 children and grand-children and I am now retired from pharmacy. But what do I write about? Everything! My topics are funny, serious, whimsical, timely, outrageous, inspiring, and inventive. I promise that if you take the time to read any one of these topics – you will not be sorry.

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