Tag Archives: Americanisms

Cliche Sunday

I have been a book-a-holic this week. At this moment, I am fighting the urge to put away my laptop and pull out my e-reader. It has been a while since I had a reading frenzy,but once I gave in…… I read six books this past week–or was it seven?

Unfortunately, the rest of my life tends to suffer when I get like this. Especially my blogs. But I am making a concerted effort here to get the ‘T’ clichés in before giving in to my next book.  So here we go:

technicolor yawn: throwing up. I had never heard this one, and thought it, well, colorful until I saw the meaning. Not a fan of vomit; mine, yours or descriptions thereof. However, since I went to the trouble of looking it up….this phrase comes from our friends down under in Australia. It has been around from at least the 1960s, when Barry Humphries used it (fairly gracefully):

When I swallowed the last prawn,
I had a technicolor yawn and I chundered in the old Pacific Sea.
                      A Nice Night’s Entertainment

tall story: a fake, doozy of a story with very little basis in reality. Given our need to exaggerate, there are many names for such  boastful stories–tall talk, tall writing,tall tales, and even Munchausens. Munchausens were named after the Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Baron von Münchhausen. He was well-known as a “purveyor of extravagantly untruthful stories about himself.”* In America, the stories became a tradition around the campfire, with each storyteller trying to outreach the previous teller, making the tales taller and taller.

that’s all she wrote: an end to one’s plans. While there are a few versions of where this came from, it definitely came from America in the early twentieth century. The first– and unsubstantiated  –version is a Marine during WWII who received a Dear John letter, and told his friends mournfully that she broke up with him and that’s all she wrote. It was definitely used to title  a popular country song by Ernest Tubb in 1942:

I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two
She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you
That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more
She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.

Although he probably popularised the saying, the first time in print can be found even early, in 1935:

No power except that of the legislature can change the rolls. The assessor-collectors do not have the power, the commissioners’ courts do not have the power. That’s all she wrote and it’s final, the attorney general says in language much more eloquent and technical.
                   Texas newspaper The Brownsville Herald

the bane of my life: the instrument of ruin in one’s life. We often call someone or something the bane of our existence in modern times; such as an annoying coworker or mosquitoes while camping. Bane, however, is a much stronger word than we give it credit for. In Old English, bane actually meant murderer–a much more serious threat. Later bane came to mean anything that might cause death, thus the multitude of plants with ‘bane’ in the name: wolfsbane, hensbane, ratsbane; to name a few. The earliest printed record of this phrase comes from 1592, so we can safely assume that the author was using the phrase with the Old English meaning:

He that like a Lacedemonian, or Romane, accounteth Infamy worse than death, would be loath to emprove his courage, or to employ his patience, in digestinge the pestilent bane of his life.
                     Gabriel Harvey, Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets

To quote Porky Pig, t-th-that’s all folks!

Now, shall I go work in the greenhouse or is it time to read???



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Cliche Sunday

on a Monday again! Yesterday just slipped by so quickly.  I meant all day to sit and write, but that never happened. On the bright side, my bedroom, which my husband tore apart about 4 years ago, was finally finished yesterday! And I have to say, my hubby does GOOD work. Painted, new lights, new decorations, new finish trim on windows/closets. It’s like living in a whole new room.

But onto the clichés–see, I got distracted by the bedroom all over again! I do believe we left off at the “J’s,” so now it is on to “K.”

kangaroo court: a fake court, not legal in any sense of the word.  Contrary to our first impression, this is an Americanism and not related to Australia at all. The most likely reason is claim jumper, as the term seems to coincide with the Gold Rush. While this is no longer the case, kangaroo courts were in once a form of frontier justice. In small towns or territories with no established justice system, courts were set up whenever a claim was jumped or something else went awry in the territories.As they were not legal officers, sometimes the courts were in fact a form of rough frontier justice.

keep the ball rolling: to maintain momentum on a project. I have heard this often enough, but until tonight I never actually wondered why one would want a ball to keep rolling. The American phrase was predated by the British “keep the ball up.” Now, keeping a ball aloft makes much more sense.  The British phrase dates back to the eighteenth century, and is first used in print by Jeremy Bentam.  The American version owes its conception from General William Harrison’s presidential campaign against Martin Van Buren. After coming up with the slogan:

Don’t you hear from every quarter, quarter, quarter,
Good news and true,
That swift the ball is rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Harrison’s campaign also came up with the idea of pushing actual balls from town to town to keep the momentum up fo his candidacy.

kit and caboodle: a collection of something, in its entirety. Ok, so here is why I picked this one: what the heck is a caboodle?? Strangely, it means almost the same thing as a kit:

Kit–a set of items, such as a tool kit or medical kit
Boodle–a group, usually meaning people, or estates

Boodle is an Americanized version of the Dutch boedel, meaning property or goods. The ‘Ca’ was most likely added to the ‘boodle’ simply due to our love of alliteration.

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Cliche Sunday

Whew! The  holidays are done. I hope you all enjoyed yours, and welcome to 2017! Yup, that looks weird.

So back to our clichés every Sunday. Well, Monday? Had one last New Year’s dinner last night and a nap during the football game, so I started this post but didn’t quite finish.

Taking up where I left off, we are onto the F’s. And for my friend Michelle:

full of beans:lively, excited. An Americanism from the 1840’s. There are various theories of where it came from, but I am fond of the coffee bean origin. I can see that once coffee beans has been ingested, one would be lively and excited. Another idea is that the belief in “magic beans” could mean that a full of life person could have gotten some of the magic beans, resulting in their vim and vigor. Magic beans are from English folklore,  as large seeds washed up sometimes on western Britain shores. Such exotic “beans” were ‘cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.’*

Peek a boo

as fine as frog’s hair: very fine, slender and narrow. An Americanism from the mid 1800s, it is an ironic statement on the lack of hair a frog has. The British have similar sayings, using other nonexistent items such as “rare as rocking horse shit.” The southern states have a slightly different version, attesting that a frog’s hair is slippery, as well as thin.

Time, February 1974:

“Disturbingly, many of the plaque owners were contractors or architects who stood to benefit from making political contributions – frog hair, as such funds are known… because, as old Sooners [Settlers who jumped the gun and arrived too soon to a claim] say, new money feels ‘as slippery as frog’s hair’.”

fuddy-duddy: an old stuffy person, clinging to old ways. This is also an Americanism, but with roots in Scotland and possibly England. In the mid-nineteenth century, the term “duddy fuddiel,” meaning a “ragged fellow,” can be found in English literature. The terms “fud” and “duddy”have been used in Scotland since the fifteenth century.  Duddy meant ragged and fud meant a person’s back-end. As it crossed the ocean, it morphed into the version of a rather staid person and was first used with that meaning in Texas 1889. A pair of characters with those names were also popular in the newspapers.

Boston Evening Transcript, November 1895:

Fuddy: So Miss Dandervecken is going to marry an Englishman. A lord, I suppose?
Duddy: Well, no, not exactly: but I understand that he’s often as drunk as a lord.

fuzzy-wuzzy: I have always loved this saying, imagining fuzzy bears (like Paddington) and other various animals. It just sounds cute, right? However, learning the original meaning, I am thinking I might just never use again. This phrase was originally a derogatory reference to a black person, particularly their wiry hair. It came to being in English colonies in East Africa among British soldiers.  It was made popular by Rudyard Kipling, who used it in his Barrack Room Poems, 1918.













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Cliche Sunday

Or maybe Cliche Tuesday? I had a busy weekend, capped off by an afternoon of shopping and gazing at Christmas lights with my husband on Sunday. But after letting last weekend go because I was whupped, I felt I needed to do a post. And so we are on ‘E’s. Discerning readers may note a subcategory tonight–all clichés are Americanisms as well. Easy as Pie!

easy as pie: very easy indeed. I have never been very good at making pie, so I rather assumed it was the eating of pie that inspired this saying.  This theory is borne out by an early reference in an American magazine:

As for stealing second and third, it’s like eating pie
Sporting Life, May 1886

The phrase was coined in America, (probably from our love of Apple pie).  Mark Twain helped the usage  along, using the phrases “nice as pie” and “old pie” in several novels.

elephant in the room: the obvious issue that people don’t wish to speak about as it an uncomfortable subject. Also an Americanism,coined during the mid-twentieth century. There are scattered references to the term from 1950 on. The first clear usage of the term  was in 1984 as the title of a book:

An elephant in the living room: a leader’s guide for helping children of alcoholics
Typpo and Hasting

eighty-six: to quickly stop something from happening. This was coined from the restaurant trade in America,  meaning to get rid of an item, or that an item wasn’t available. Another meaning of eighty-six was to refuse service to an unwelcome customer. The phrase may have several different origins that came together to bring it to prominence:

A reference to article 86 of the New York state liquor code which defines when bar patrons should be refused service.

From Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Item number 86 on their menu, their house steak, was often unavailable during the restaurant’s early years.

From Chumley’s Bar and restaurant at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village NYC.

elvis has left the building: something (event, discussion, whatever) is over, it is time to go home. Definitely an Americanism, this phrase was used by Elvis’ announcer Al Dorvin to encourage fans to go home, there would be no more encores that night.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building. Thank you and goodnight.
Al Dorvin



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