Spring seems to have sprung in our corner of the world (if you ignore the threat of mixed snow/rain on Tuesday). I couldn’t be happier. We went down to our local flower show today, and I still have the energy and will to write about clichés. How marvelous. Love this time of year! So where were we again?
Oh yes, “P. ” Here we go:
pass the buck: to put the blame on someone else and slough responsibility. So who hasn’t heard this one? I admit, I always thought the “buck” was a dollar, without stopping to think why that would make sense. Are you paying the next person to take the blame? No, actually, you aren’t. The “buck” is actually an article used during poker. In order to keep a game honest, the tradition of having the deal pass from player to player was formed. The next dealer was given a marker, often a knife, as they were easy to hand. If a player didn’t want to deal, they were allowed to “pass the buck” on to the next person. The nickname “buck” most likely came from the fact that many knives in the late 19th century had buck’s horn handles. The fashion later became given silver dollars as the marker, which is probably how money also became known as “bucks.”
panic stations: a call to alert, often exaggerated; ie: a retail store might call “panic stations” for its employees as it opened the doors on Black Friday. This is a naval phrase, a station being a part of the ship a sailor was assigned to. The Royal Navy, in particular, had several calls to orders; one of which was “action stations” if the ship came under attack. “Panic stations” was an actual order as well:
Alarm gongs had already sent the guns’ crews to their invisible guns and immediately after the explosion ‘Panic stations’ was ordered, followed in due course by ‘Abandon ship’.
Behind the Veil, published in The Times, November 1918
pooped: battered and tired. This phrase also has naval, um, roots. The foredeck of a ship is called the poop deck. As it faces the storms and waves, it is most likely to be battered and worn during a tough journey. The damage was called “pooped,” and sailors took that phrase home with them. They would say they were “pooped” like the ship when they were exhausted. The colorfulness of the phrase took hold, and was used on land almost more than on the waves.
pulling strings: to manipulate a situation to one’s benefit. This term, of course, comes from puppeteering. While everyone is entertained by the puppets on the stage, they all know that there is someone backstage choreographing the activity. An excellent puppeteer can give a flawless performance and no one will pay attention to him being backstage.
play ducks and drakes: to squander your money. Ducks and Drakes is the official name for the old-fashioned skipping of stones across water. It was given that name as a properly skipped stone looked like a fowl rising from the water. But even the best skipper can fail to get a run across the water, and all eventually lose speed and drop beneath the water. Therefore, a person who suddenly has an abundance of money, and enjoys it quickly, can be said to be playing “ducks and drakes” with his money. The phrase itself it old, first being found in The Nomenclator, or Remembrancer of Adrianus Junius:
a kind of sport or play with an oister shell or stone throwne into the water, and making circles yer it sinke….It is called a ducke and a drake, and a halfe-penie cake
Hong Higgins, 1584