Cliche Sunday

Well! Summer has definitely found my part of the world. Not that I am complaining, but whew! We were working outside today, my app said it was 80 but felt like 90 (I live in a farenheit world). What did we do before apps instantly telling us why we were overheating? After much sweating, I came in to write today’s clichés. So my choice should not surprise anyone:  we are doing clichés revolving around heat! Which means you should expect a few featuring Hell or the Devil, as that is the epitome of heat 😉

het up: agitated, excited. Most of us know that “het” it a shortened version of “heated.” But many probably think that it is a fairly recent version, brought into existence by the American South. Sounds like a colloquial phrase a nice older man might say in wonderfully slow Southern accent, right? “Don’t be getting yourself het up, now….” It is, however, much older than America herself. It originates in the 14th century. The first known use (in print) in America was in The Freeborn County Standard, July 1884.

hell or high  water: going to overcome, no matter the difficulty or obstacles. This is an American born phrase, although exactly where and when it was born are not clear. One early (1882) print version is from the The Little Rock Gazette (although I am not quite sure what accent or culture  they are trying to imitate here):

    “Since dat time de best ob my friends hab become enemies, an’ strangers hab become friends. De debil had brook loose in many parts ob de country, an’ keepin’ up wid de ole sayin’, we’ve had unrevised hell and high water – an’a mighty heap ob high-water I tell yer.”

devil to pay: consequences of the action will be severe.  The origin of this one is quite literal:

“Don’t you know damnation pays every man’s scores… we knew we should have the Devil to pay one time or other, and now you see like honest men we have pawn’d our Souls for the whole Reckoning”  –Thomas Brown’s Letters From the Dead to the Living, 1707

There has been an argument that this was in fact a nautical term; “devil” being the center seam of a ship, and “paying” being the act of tarring the seam. However, Faust used this idea of paying the Devil with our souls long before any mention of the nautical use of the phrase can be found.

dog days: very hot weather during the summer months, specifically July and August. Often referred to as “the dog days of summer.” For this one we have the Romans to thank. They noticed that the extremely hot weather of summer coincided with the appearance of the Dog Star–Sirus. In that day, many of the astronomers believed the star contributed to the heat of the season. Thus, the phrase was born, and has lasted a considerable time!

steal my thunder: to take someone’s ideas and use as your own, to steal someone’s big announcement. This is a theatrical phrase, coming from the days when they had to make thunder for the plays in unique ways, from using sheet metal to rolling metal balls down troughs. Long before electronics made FX so simple. And therein lies the story of this phrase:

‘stealing someone’s thunder’ is that of the literary critic and largely unsuccessful playwright, John Dennis. In 1704, Dennis’s play Appius and Virginia was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre, London and he invented a new method of creating the sound of thunder for the production. We don’t know now what this method was (some texts say it was a refinement of the mustard bowl referred to by Pope, in which metal balls were rolled around in a wooden bowl), but it is reported that after Appius and Virginia failed and was closed, the method was soon afterwards used in a production of Macbeth. Dennis was less than pleased at having his idea purloined and this account of his response was recorded by the literary scholar Joseph Spence (1699–1768) and later quoted in W. S. Walsh’sLiterary Curiosities, 1893:

“Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder.” *

This one works because we are supposed to get thunderstorms due to the high humidity!



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