In the spirit of Fall chaos, with leaves and branches blowing every which way, I have decided on pot luck today. We may have up to 40 MPH winds this afternoon, so leaves and branches may not be the things blowing around out there. So, starting with, of course:
potluck: take a chance on what is being served when going to another’s house for a meal. Locally (in America), it also means a large get together where everyone brings a dish, thus you would be taking a chance on what is being served. While this is a popular stratagem for American parties, the saying has been around much longer than we have:
That, that pure sanguine complexion of yours may neuer be famisht with potte-lucke
–Thomas Nashe, Strange newes, of the intercepting certaine letters, and a convoy of verses, 1592
take the cake: to carry off the top honor, also used sarcastically for spectacular fails. This phrase came from early Greece, where Aristophanes used it when he wrote The Knights, in 420 BC. While it had an early start, the cliché was long unused until Americans re-started it use in the mid 1800s. The Southern communities had evening “cake walk strutting competitions,” where the prize was, in fact, often cakes.
The cake-walk, in which ten couple [sic] participated, came off on Friday night, and the judges awarded the cake, which was a very beautiful and costly one, to Mrs Sarah and John Jackson.
— The Indiana Progress, January 1874
on a wing and a prayer: with limited resources, still managing to get the job done. This cliché came to life during WWII, in Hollywood. It is first found in the John Wayne film
“Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.”
It quickly took on a life of its own,making its way into song as well. Songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh wrote a song called On a Wing and A Prayer, in 1943, one of many patriotic songs they wrote during the war.
What a show, what a fight, boys
We really hit our target for tonight
How we sing as we limp through the air
Look below, there’s our field over there
With just one motor gone
We can still carry on
Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer
a diamond is forever: literal meaning. A most plebian start, this phrase is from a DeBeers ad campaign in 1948. The line is still used in DeBeers ads, but has also made it into pop culture; from James Bond to Marilyn Monro, diamonds are everybody’s best friend.
So I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very very good but a diamond and safire bracelet lasts forever.
–Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1925
we are not amused: literal meaning. The story goes that this is a quote from Queen Victoria, after being told a slightly inappropriate story by a courtier, who should have known better. Whether this tale is true, or nothing more than a tale, we will never know, but there doesn’t seem to be any other origin for this phrase. And a frosty “we are not amused” does seem to be enough to stop the most enthusiastic person in their tracks.