Sunday, August 16, 2009

What’s in a name?

This is Ritzy!

Ever refer to something as being “ritzy”? The origin of this comes from the Ritz Hotel, built in Paris in 1898 by Cesar Ritz.

His attention to detail, perfection, and personal accommodation made his hotel the most luxurious hotel that had ever existed. The level of luxury was such that his name became synonymous with quality.

It’s a Doozie!

If something is a “doozie” it too is great. Though there are other attributions to the origin of this term, the most common one attributes the origin to the famed Duesenberg automobile.

The Duesenberg was such an outstanding car in the 1930’s that anything outstanding was a “doozie”!

Your name is mud!

If you’re told “your name is mud” then you’re not held in very high regard.

Like most people, I had often heard that this came from the case of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg following Lincoln’s assassination. Dr. Mudd was sent to prison, accused of being a accomplice to the killing.

However, in researching this phrase, I have found more than one source that says this expression first appeared in print in 1823, more than 40 years before Lincoln’s murder. “Mud” was apparently English slang meaning “a stupid, twaddling fellow”.

The real McCoy!

There are many supposed origins for this phrase. Everything from a mayor, a boxer, a brewer, an inventor, a bootlegger, and an explosives merchant (just to mention a few); claim to be the origin of this phrase.

In the USA, the phrase seems to be most commonly accredited to the inventor Elijah McCoy who invented an improved oiler for locomotives. Supposedly there were many types of oilers that weren’t as good, so engineers would inquire if the locomotive was fitted with “the real McCoy”.

But ultimate irony is that we are unsure as to which origin is, “the real McCoy”!!

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday – lying in hospitals dying of nothing! – Redd Foxx

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Things My Grandchildren Will Only Hear About:

I’m waiting to be asked why it’s called “dialing” a phone! Well actually I’m not exactly sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with that question. But I do think about the things that were so common in my experience that my grandkids will only hear about.

I used the term “tuning in the TV” once to my youngest daughter and she asked “what do you mean by ‘tuning’ it in”? Ah yes, the good old days when we dialed the channel, then used the rotor box to turn the antenna, then adjusted the fine tuning. And when we got a color TV, we also had to adjust the color! There was also the contrast, horizontal hold, vertical hold, and brightness that sometimes had to be adjusted.

I remember my parents looking in the TV Guide, deciding on the station that had the most of what they wanted to watch that evening, and leaving the TV on that channel all night.

And remember when you had to “warm up” your TV and radio before they’d come on? Then the great invention of “solid state” TV’s and radio’s came along which didn’t need warming. Funny, my kids aren’t necessarily familiar with the term “solid state”.

One of our kids asked me once why folks say “ringing” out a wet rag. I then explained to them about the ringer washer and about my mother getting out the ringer washer, washing a few loads, draining the water and refilling the washer, then rinsing those loads, then running each item through the ringer. And then hanging them on the clothes line.

How many of you remember the mad dash to bring in the clothes if it started raining? I’ve been asked “you mean you actually hung your underwear out where everyone could see it”? Seems weird now, but yes…we sure did!

These days even the term “garbage can” has become generic, but once it was a specific can for food waste. It sat out back next to the “trash pit”, another receptacle of the past!

In just a few years, my grandson will only know about conventional light bulbs from being told about them. The federal government has mandated the elimination of general purpose incandescent bulbs by 2012. It’s hard for me to imagine that in my lifetime there will be people who have never seen an incandescent bulb!

Many of life's failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. - Thomas Edison

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Good Old Days ?!?!

When I was a little kid I once asked my grandma if she missed the good old days. (As a kid I was under the impression that all old people preferred the “olden days” over modern times). My grandma leaned back and said, “Let me tell you about the good old days”.

“Back in ‘the good old days’ people died from illnesses that today can be cured with medicine from any drug store”. “Back in ‘the good old days’ all winter long the town was covered in coal dust because everyone heated with coal furnaces.” “Back in ‘the good old days’ you had to go outside to use the outhouse - night, cold, raining – it didn’t matter.”

I can’t remember if she gave me any more examples, but she concluded by telling me; “…you can keep ‘the good old days’”.

That was a real moment of discovery for a little kid! Realizing that there are “old people” who appreciate modern times! That shattered a major stereotype!

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it's only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it's two hours. That's relativity.” – Albert Einstein

Monday, July 13, 2009


The term “jackpot” comes from the 5-card poker game in which someone has to have “jacks or better” to open. Everyone antes, the cards are dealt, and only someone with a pair of jacks or better can make the opening bet. If no one has it, the players throw the cards back, ante again, and the cards are dealt again.

In Jacks or better, the pots can get high. And when someone wins, they win the “jack-pot”. In the mid/late 1800’s, the term started moving into common usage.

“When I played pool, I was like a good psychiatrist; I cured ‘em of all their dreams and delusions.” – Minnesota Fats

“Cheap at half the price” seems like one of those sayings that got turned around over the years. It makes more sense to say cheap at twice the price. However, the saying makes sense when you understand what the word “cheap” meant. When this saying was originated “cheap” meant poor quality.

The expression therefore means that something is so poor of quality that even if it were half the price, it still wouldn’t be worth it.

“As soon as people see my face on a movie screen, they knew two things: first, I'm not going to get the girl, and second, I'll get a cheap funeral before the picture is over.” – Lee Marvin

Have you ever stuck something out “to the bitter end”. I used to think this referred to sticking with something no matter how bad the end might be.

Actually, this comes from a nautical term. The end of an anchor cable was called the bitter end (it was wrapped around posts called bitts). If the cable was let out to the bitter end, all the cable was out with none left.

So, sticking with something to the bitter end means going as far as you can go.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.” – W.C. Fields

Friday, July 10, 2009

How drunk was he?

If a guy is “three sheets to the wind” he’s pretty well drunk! But what exactly does that have to do with being drunk?

In nautical terms, ‘sheets’ are ropes (go figure) that hold the sails in place. When a sheet was blowing in the wind, it had come loose thus allowing the sail to blow uselessly in the wind. As a result, the ship would drift off course. A staggering drunken sailor was compared to a ship whose sheets were loose.

So if a sailor was three sheets to the wind he was fairly well intoxicated.

“I feel sorry for people who don't drink. They wake up in the morning and that's the best they're going to feel all day.” – Dean Martin

Sometimes, expressions don’t have a literal meaning, they just sound good. For instance, “drunk as a skunk” probably evolved just because it rhymed. “Drunk as a lord” implied that only rich people could afford intoxicating drink.

“Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.” – W.C. Fields

“If you want to keep a secret, post it on a sign. It will never be read!” – Phil Brim

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Watch out for high water?

My friend Bonnie reminded me of a saying that parents and grandparents used to use all the time: “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” For those who have never heard it, it is an expression that means ‘if nothing comes up’.

Q. “Do you think our team will win?”

A. “God willing and the creek don’t rise we will!”

I’d like to share with you an attribution for this expression in the style of the late Paul Harvey’s “The rest of the story”:

Benjamin Hawkins was a government employee. One day he received an invitation. This was not just any invitation, it was a special one. Benjamin sent his reply saying that he would be there “God willing and the Creek don’t rise”. Now Mr. Hawkins lived from 1754 to 1816, so it makes sense to suppose that his reply referred to the creeks and streams that had to be forded.

But in Benjamin’s reply, he capitalized the ‘C” in Creek. This wasn’t a misspelling. You see, the invitation Benjamin received was from the President of the United States, asking him to come to Washington for meetings.

Benjamin was a government employee, but specifically he was an Indian Agent. And more specifically, he was the Indian Agent to the Creek Nation.

His reply didn’t refer to swollen waterways at all…but to the possibility of an uprising by the Creek Indians.

“God willing and the Creek don’t rise”. Paul Harvey's tagline would fit great here!

It should be noted that some other sources attribute the origin of the expression to exactly what it implies, flooded waterways.

(NOTE: The late Paul Harvey was one of the great newsmen and commentators. He had a feature called “The rest of the story”. It was about a five minute radio spot during which he’d tell a story, conclude with a surprise ending, and finish with his tagline “and now you know…the rest of the story”. )

“In times like these, it helps to recall there have always been times like these.” – Paul Harvey

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Some sayings have more than one origin, depending on what sources you refer to.

Take, for instance, the expression “a flash in the pan”. We use this today to describe short lived popularity, or something that starts out good, but fizzles quickly. But where does it come from?

I have found two origins for “a flash in the pan”:

One origin is attributed to the gold rush days; men panning for gold would see a flash of (what might be) gold in their pan, only to find that it was really nothing.

Another source for this expression goes back to the days of the barrel loading muskets. After the marksman loaded the charge, he would sprinkle a little gun powder in what was called the ‘pan’. When the trigger was pulled, it would drop the hammer (which held a piece of flint) striking the flint against a piece of metal, which in turn created a spark that would ignite the gunpowder in the pan. This ignition would travel through a tiny hole in the side of the barrel and ignite the main charge, thus firing the round from the barrel.

Sometimes, the powder in the pan would flash, but the gun wouldn’t fire – thus, a flash in the pan.

“To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make thing right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.” – Ronald Reagan