Meanings and origins of phrases

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  1. You know what phrases like "a diamond in the rough" mean. Ever wonder where it came from?
    This site: explains it.

    According to the site, a diamond in the rough is clearly a metaphor for the original unpolished state of diamond gemstones, especially those that have the potential to become high quality jewels. It is more commonly expressed in the form 'rough diamond'. The first recorded use in print is in John Fletcher's A Wife for a Month, 1624:
    "She is very honest, and will be as hard to cut as a rough diamond."
    Here are my favorites. (Share yours. And some of them are pretty long. You don't have to post the whole thing. Just enough so it gives an explanation.)
    • Mad as a hatter: Mercury used to be used in the making of hats. This was known to have affected the nervous systems of hatters, causing them to tremble and appear insane. A neurotoxicologist correspondent informs me that "Mercury exposure can cause aggressiveness, mood swings, and anti-social behavior.", so that derivation is certainly plausible - although there's only that circumstantial evidence to support it.
    • Yada yada: This phrase is a modern-day equivalent of 'blah, blah, blah' (which is early 20th century). It is American an emerged during or just after the Second World War. It was preceded by various alternative forms - 'yatata, yatata', 'yaddega, yaddega' etc. The earliest of these that I have found is from an advertisement in an August 1948 edition of the Long Beach Independent: "Yatata ... yatata ... the talk is all about Chatterbox, Knox's own little Tomboy Cap with the young, young come-on look!"
    • Pearls before swine: From the Bible, Matthew 7:6 (King James Version):
      Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.
    • Handbags at ten paces: This British phrase might sound odd to anyone who is not familiar with the earlier pistols at ten paces, which relates to dueling. That phrase, and its counterpart pistols at dawn, were the stating of the arrangements that preceded duels. Such duels were dangerous and duelists were often killed, although the 'pistols' phrases owe more to Hollywood than historical record. The handbags at ten paces and handbags at dawn versions began to be used in the 1980s to describe confrontations between players in football matches. Professional footballers know they will be sent off if they hit another player, so emotion has to be expressed via posturing, facial grimacing and verbal abuse. The implication carried by the phrases was that, although a great deal of preamble to violence was shown, the actual confrontations were in the nature of 'I'll scratch you eyes out' cat-fights.
  2. Snake oil

    This phrase is used in my family to refer to the purchase of what is considered unnecessary medication.

    Snake oil is a product that has been proven to not live up to the vendor's marketing hype. The term comes from the 1800s in which elixirs and potions of all kinds, even ones that supposedly included the oils from snakes, were sold as a cure for everything that ailed a person.
  3. I just learned from The History Channel the origin of "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face." Apparently a group of 11th century nuns cut off or slit their own noses to make themselves unappealing to the maurauding hordes of Vikings (or similar) raping and pillaging about the countryside at the time.
  4. I tend to use the phrase there's method to my madness, a variation of "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it."

    This line derives from Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1600:
    LORD POLONIUS [Aside]:
    Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
  5. Just a little while ago, Mr Puff and I were trying to figure out why in the world grapefruit is called grapefruit. It is hard to think of a fruit that is more singularly un-grapelike.

    Does anyone know whose bright idea this was? Maybe they just did it to amuse and bewilder us.

    If so, they succeeded.
  6. Shimma, they are called "grapefruit" because they hang in clusters from the tree, like grapes. Up until the 1800s they were known as "shaddock" or "shattuck".
  7. Thank you Madame Fifi! I am going to have fun with this one, what with Mr Puff being an expert on all things green and growing, especially tropical ones! :biggrin:
  8. Caitlin1214, I LOVE quoting from books! Myself and my supervisor have used that exact quote ("There is method to our madness...") at work; another favorite that we like to use when being cynical about teh upper level management is, "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others." (source: Animal Farm by George Orwell).
    My personal favorite is, "When the cat is away, the mice shall play." I don't know the origin of that, would have to look it up.

    In general, I love wordplay, phrases, you name it. I'm going to check out that site you referenced!
  9. Thank you madamefifi, I would much rather eat a grapefruit than a shattuck!
  10. I am reading Bernard Cornwell's series now; a fictional story set during the Viking invasion of England in the 9th century. He says that "viking" is actually started as a verb (- but now I can't find the page) that means either to go on a sea voyage or to go raiding and pillaging - maybe both!:P
  11. How interesting!! And thanks for the tip re: Bernard Cornwell, with whom I am not familiar--I do love some good historical fiction!
  12. I like that one. I have said it a couple times in jest.