I didn’t have to think too hard on what subject to focus on this week: the Fourth of July! As we Americans celebrate our country’s beginnings, I thought Americanisms would be a great idea. We have definitely added our share. Starting with:
to coin a phrase: to create a new phrase. Although many non-Americans (like Shakespeare) actually created many of our clichés, it took us to give the process a name! The term ‘coin’ came from the minting of money, where blank circular disks that were used to create the money by stamping with a die. The first printed use of the phrase was in the mid 20th century.
“It takes all sorts to make a world, to coin a phrase.”
–Mr Lucton’s Freedom, Francis Brett Young, 1940
in an interesting condition: a pregnant young lady. ‘Interesting’ was used in the 18th century to discreetly describe pregnant ladies, and the birth was an ‘interesting’ event. First found in America in September 1846 in a Hagerstown Torch Light article:
. “the elopement of a blacksmith named Samuel Fellows and a Mrs. Betsey Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds is about 31 years of age, and is good looking. She took her family of five children with her. She was also in an interesting condition. Fellows took his two children – making quite an interesting company.”
All I can say is, thank goodness she got married if she was in an interesting condition in 1846!
jump the shark: To reach the point in a TV series that denotes it is irretrievably past its best by introducing a ridiculous or otherwise unbelievable plot device or characterisation in order to boost ratings.* I have always loved this one, mostly cuz I remember the moment when Fonzie literally jumped a shark on water skis–in a lake. Happy Days will never be forgotten now, if only for coining this phrase.
loose cannon: a thing or person that is unpredictable and likely to cause damage. (I needed at least one semi-military phrase!) Although cannon were commonly found on ships, the phrase never was. After Victor Hugo used it in Ninety Three, Americans picked it up with their usual enthusiasm and used it frequently during the 19th century. It reappeared in the 1980s as an apt description of wild police officers in several action flicks.
pipe dream: a dream that has no basis in reality, and is unlikely to ever come to pass. I include this one as the British government surely thought the American Revolution was a pipe dream of the Founding Fathers 🙂 This one was literally meant to mean a fantasy one might have had while smoking opium through a pipe. Many writers in the 1800s were known to use opiates, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, “pipe dream” comes from Chicago, such as this one from the Chicago Daily Tribune:
It [aerial navigation] has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years.