Where’s the manual for these new words? What the hell do they MEAN??
What’s the story? Who invents these words in the first place? And who the hell decides what they mean?
You know the words I’m talking about. Words like leverage. Remember that one? Boy, did that one appear out of nowhere and take up an overly-large portion of the couch. I was working in the corporate world back then, and suddenly people were leveraging all over the place.
I was left wondering who’d been spiking the coffee.
Why did everyone else seem to know what the heck this…
Urban dictionary says ‘Sweet FA’ is nowadays taken to mean ‘sweet f*** all’ i.e. nothing. It is also suggests that this is an alternative way of saying ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, which means the same thing — nothing, in other words.
‘If this deal goes through, then, what’s in it for me?”
“Sweet FA, I’m afraid. Those other two will split the profit between themselves.”
‘Sweet FA’ did come from ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ but what most people these days don’t realize is that Fanny Adams was a real person and a tragic story.
Fanny Adams was a little girl of 8…
The holy origins of common expressions
Today, we’re investigating the origins of two very common, throwaway phrases that I know you use all the time. But where do they come from? As so often in English, religion is involved.
Why do we say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes?
It’s not a universal thing to do. If you go to China or Japan, they’ll look at you oddly if you bless them for sneezing.
But in Western societies, ‘bless you’ or something related is our automatic reaction. Some of us, being busy people with no time to spare…
In tenth century England, before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England was forming as a country, coming together from about 5 smaller territories, each with their own King. The country’s borders have not changed much in more than 1,000 years since.
John Blair’s ‘The Anglo Saxon Age’ describes how the king of this newly united country was evolving an efficient system of local government based on ‘shires’ — analogous to US counties. Some had already existed in the older English kingdoms for a century or more, but they were formalized at this time.
Many of the counties in England have…
Origins of a dreary and dismal phrase.
Merriam-Webster gives this definition for ‘doldrums’
1: a spell of listlessness or despondency
2 often capitalized, oceanography : a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms, squalls, and light shifting winds
3: a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or slump
Wiktionary suggests that the ‘dol’ in doldrums seems in old or middle English to mean ‘to make stupid’ — to be the opposite of sharp witted, to have a similar meaning to ‘dull’. …
Okay, this is a totally subjective subject.
All of us are experts at what we love to eat. So, if you happen to love quesadillas with marscapone, or crème fraîche on your pav, than you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
But if you don’t, you might find yourself a little bit lost at the dinner table.
Not to mention those increasingly confusing menus, some of which read more like a story or a haiku than an actual description of what’s coming out of the kitchen on a plate.
Let’s investigate just a few of the many and varied words…
The pleasures of language and the deliciousness of phrases that roll off your tongue.
Today I’m going to share with you some of the passage of writing that I just love. Just a taster of the way language can truly make us grin, squirm, shudder, and sigh in delight — not just at the sentiments expressed but, crucially, at the way they are expressed. The form, the structure, the careful choice of words and the way they are linked together into brilliant utterances that just touch something in you.
The art of word-crafting is hard to find, these days. So…
Have you ever wondered where the terms ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ came from and how we came to use them to mean left and right at sea?
The people collectively called ‘Norse’ or ‘Vikings’ (roughly, people from modern day Denmark and Norway) were accomplished seafarers and the dominant people at sea in Europe in the Viking Age, about 900–1200 AD.
Predominantly wind powered (but with optional oars), their ships also had a steering oar attached which was fastened to the right-hand side at the rear of the vessel.
This design seems to have been followed by everyone, as the majority of…
The stories behind the nursery rhyme
Today’s rhyme, one that most of us in the English speaking world know well, goes like this:
Rock a bye baby, on the tree top
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
The first thing I discovered, which is totally obvious when you think about it, is that rockaby, hushaby and lullaby are all related and all appear more or less at the same time in the written record. …
The origins of a neat little English idiom
This one came to me as I was cooking. I try to make most meals ‘from scratch’ these days and it occurred to me to wonder where the expression came from.
After all, if you think about the most common meaning we associate with the word ‘scratch’, it doesn’t really have anything to do with making or starting anything. It’s more about ending something — an itch.
So, how did we get this meaning from this word?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘scratch’ was:
‘Apparently produced by a confusion…
For lovers of language