I am trying a new thing: derailing my OCD. And now you all are involved in too! So instead of picking a subject for the clichés, as I usually do, I have decided to go to my book and sites and just pick out whatever appeals to me. My first one, humble pie, made me think: oh, I could do food clichés this week. I beat that inclination to categorize back and spontaneously picked clichés far afield as I could. I hope you enjoy!
To eat Humble Pie: to abase, or humble, oneself. This phrase came from “umble” pie, made from the edible inward parts of a deer. However, while edible, the pie was not exactly appreciated by everyone whom it was put before. Thus, with the Cockney ‘H’, it became a play on words–a jocular substitution of humble for umble, where the original meaning of humble was retained.
neither hide nor hair: to find nothing whatsoever. This is actually a reverse of a quite old saying, “in hide and hair” which meant “wholly or entirely”. That particular saying was old enough to be used in Chaucer’s time. The American version, neither hide nor hair, was first recorded in 1857, by Josiah G. Holland.
a flash in the pan: anything that begins after a showy beginning, especially with some arduous preparation. This comes from the days of flintlock muskets. The hammer of the muskets ignited the powder in the small depression or “pan”. The process to load the powder and ball was difficult, and one was not guaranteed that the spark would actually ignite the powder. Even when everything worked perfectly, the was always the possibility that the powder might burn harmlessly, only emitting a flash in the pan.
A feather in one’s cap: an achievement, symbol of an honor. This phrase seemed to come about in several different countries at the same time. I guess some things are universal. Native Americans added a feather to the headdress of any warrior who had committed a brave act. In 1734, there is a recorded reference to a feather in one’s cap in Uk. And in Hungary, an English travel writer wrote:
“It hath been an antient custom among them [Hungarians] that none should wear a fether but he who had killed a Turk, to whom onlie yt was lawful to shew the number of his slaine enemys by the number of fethers in his cappe.” –Richard Hansard, 1599*
Gadzooks: an exclamation. As an avoidance of taking God’s name in vain, it became customary to use Gad. In the past, there were a whole slew of choices: gadsbobs, gadsbodikins, gadsbud, gadsbudlikins, gadslid, gadsniggers, gadsnigs, gadsnouns, gadsokers, gadsookers, gadsprecious, gadswookers, gadswoons.* The zooks was a euphemistic shortening of God’s hooks (the nails on the cross).
As mad as a March hare: completely mad. As shown in Alice in Wonderland, march hares can be quite erratic. The real reason the cliché came into being was that hares act excitedly in March–it’s their breeding season. For some reason, the image of mad hares caught the imagination and became popular.
“The March Hare … as this is May, it won’t be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March.” –Alice in Wonderland