I thought today’s cliches would be a mish-mash, a hodge-podge if you will. That means I go hunting through cliché sites and pick anything that amuses me. But first, how did we get a mish-mash? Or a hodge-podge? What utterly odd words!
Hodgepodge: a heterogeneous mixture; a jumble or assortment– a hodgepodge of styles*. This can be one word, two words, or a hyphenated word. That alone is a hodge podge! First used in the 15th century, hodge-podge is a descendent of the word ‘hotchpotch.‘ That was an alteration of the Middle English ‘hochepot,’ which came from the Old French, stew. In cooking terms, a hodgepodge is a thick soup or stew made from meat and vegetables.
Mish-mash: a confused mixture. Also from the 15th century, mish-mash is an absolute mixture in its origin: “Middle English & Yiddish; Middle English mysse masche, perhaps reduplication ofmash mash; Yiddish mish-mash, perhaps reduplication of mishn to mix.”* I love it just because of the onomatopoeia. It simply sounds like it should be a mish-mash!!
and then on to actual clichés:
main chance: the most important issue. Frequently expanded to “an eye to the main chance,” which is usually an insult, insinuating that the person is looking for the best way to line their own pockets. First used in print in 1579 by John Lyly’s, Euphues, the anatomy of wyt; it was also used (of course) by Shakespeare in his 1592 play, Henry VI, part 2.
take a back seat: to step out of the limelight, take a subordinate position. This one has a very literal origin–the back seat in a car or a less prominent seat in a theater. Developed in America in the mid 19th century. As we might expect, the earliest uses of the phrase merely refer to people sitting at the back. The first figurative use of the phrase, comes from The Daily Wisconsin Patriot, May 1859:
“The despised foreign born slave – the much hated and often cursed ‘Irish,’ ‘Dutch’ and ‘Norwegians,’ must take a back seat in the exercise of all the foregoing announced privileges [voting, jury duty etc.] – no man of foreign birth can vote until two years after he shall have received his full papers.”
and now to finish with one I have never heard of–but that I believe I will add to my lexicon:
damp squib: Something that fails ignominiously to satisfy expectations; an anti-climax, a disappointment.** There are a few different meanings for squib; the sea creature most of us probably thought of; as well as slang for money. But there are two specific meanings that, when damp, can fall flat on its face.
1. A squib is a form of firework, usually cylindrical in shape with a paper fuse at one end, which provides a mild explosion – think ‘dynamite lite’. If one has lit the blue touch-paper and retired only to see the firework phut and fizzle out will know the disappointment of a damp squib.**
2.In the 16th century, ‘squibs’ were also short, sharp literary compositions of a satirical or sarcastic character. Nothing worse than writing a pointed essay, only to find the point was missed** (Just ask Sean Penn)