Tag Archives: Rudyard Kipling

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

Another Sunday has landed! And a beautiful, sunny, warm one it is too. Unusual for March, but we will take it!! So what shall we do today? How about clichés starting with ‘N’? Seems different! Here we go:

never never land: a utopian’s dreamland.Perhaps best known from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, in which he and the lost boys live in Never Land. But this phrase came from a real part of our world: Australia. In the late 19th century it was used to describe the uninhabited areas. Some regions in Australia, such as remote outback areas like the Northern Territory and Queensland are still known as the Never-Never. In 1908 a book was written about life in the Never-Never:

“Called the Never-Never, the Maluka loved to say, because they, who have lived in it and loved it Never-Never voluntarily leave it.”
Jeannie Gunn, We of the Never Never*


neither here nor there: not meaning much in the larger scheme of things. First recorded in 1583, this sixteenth century  phrase perhaps came from an earlier time. The translation it was used in also included the phrase “as they say” connected to the cliché, indicating that it perhaps was a verbal  part of the region before becoming part of our written language as well.

namby pamby-weak, wussy, and foolishly sentimental. Such an old-fashioned term, who doesn’t remember their grandfather saying that so and so was a namby pamby? From the 1700s, when a tutor of George I’s grandchildren began to write sentimental pap about said children. His contemporary poets, including Henry Carey, soon derided him for such efforts:

All ye poets of the age,
All ye witlings of the stage …
Namby-Pamby is your guide,
Albion’s joy, Hibernia’s pride.
Namby-Pamby, pilly-piss,
Rhimy-pim’d on Missy Miss
Tartaretta Tartaree
From the navel to the knee;
That her father’s gracy grace
Might give him a placy place.
–Henry Carey, 1725*

never the twain shall meet: a difference between two ideas or people that has no possibility of uniting. Twain comes from the word ‘twegan‘, meaning ‘two’ in Old English. It seems likely that Rudyard Kipling invented this phrase, as he has the earliest version of it in print, writing about the differences between England and its Indian colony:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
Barrack-room ballads, 1892*

*word origins


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