Were we all going through withdrawal? How did we ever make it two weeks not knowing where our over-used phrases came from? This week’s edition is brought to you from my medical terminology class and is all about…..gambling?
I was amused to discover that the name of talus, one of seven bones in our ankles, comes from Latin for its shape like a die. The talus bones were in fact used as a game piece in ancient times. Just who decided to use a bone as a game piece anyway? Were they just sitting there bored and said “hey, Joe’s foot bone could be used to play a game if we only put a few markings on it?” One only hopes that Joe had already passed away.
Fortunately, another suggestion is that the first dice actually came from sheep. Therefore, our talus was most likely named for the fact that it looked like the bones used as dice. And Joe’s feet were safe.
Ace in the hole: A good move, maneuver or argument kept in reserve for use at a strategic time. This originates from the game of poker, where a card dealt face down and kept hidden is called a ‘hole card’, the most propitious card being, of course. the ace.
Ace up his sleeve: A surprise, a hidden weapon. As some of you may already know, this also came from card players. If they didn’t get the hand they wanted, shady types often kept cards up their sleeves to win games. This was naturally frowned upon and, in those days, didn’t just get you just kicked out but could get you shot if caught.
A roll of the dice: An event that can happen at random. Medically, slang for crack cocaine. Not very much history for this one, but based on how long dice has been used, I am betting that it is from very early in our history.
No Dice: A refusal to accept a proposition. This is an American born cliché, from the early 1900s when gambling was illegal in many states. If the police couldn’t find the dice, they couldn’t arrest or convict the gamblers. Many men through their die out the car window before being pulled over. That must have made for some interesting walking along the roads back then. One could come home with dozens of die!
At sixes and sevens: meaning confusion and disorder. This is quite an old phrase, used by Chaucer in Troylus and Cryseyde. Although Chaucer used a previous, older incarnation of the phrase, on six and seven. It refers to an old dicing game where one’s throw of a six and seven was considered the most risky gamble to be made. One who staked his chance on that throw would be considered reckless and careless. The phrase came to denote general carelessness, which could lead to confusion and disorder, thus the modern meaning.
Pass the buck: This is definitely a poker cliché. When poker started (again American born, although it may be based off an older German game), it was played mostly in the wilds to pass the time. An item was passed around the table to denote the next dealer. Since the game was played in lumber camps or ranches, etc, the item was most likely a buckshot or perhaps a bucktail–carried like a rabbit’s foot as a lucky talisman. Somehow, I always thought this one referred to money 🙂
Do you have any subjects whose cliches you want to know about? Medical; technological; meteorological; whatever is on your mind. Let me know and I will look them up!