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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Do you see the light?

How many times have you heard that someone “couldn’t hold a candle” to someone else? Maybe you think your co-worker “can’t hold a candle” to you? This expression has a very literal meaning.

Before power tools and electricity, a craftsman working at night would need a helper to hold a candle up to whatever they were working on. A person of much less skill wasn’t just considered not as good as the craftsman, but in some cases he wasn’t even considered good enough to hold a candle for the craftsman. (Wow, how bad do you have to be if you can’t even hold the light???)

This expression’s meaning is still literally relevant. But expressions can change over time and even though we know what they mean, their literal definitions make no sense, as in the following:

When we hear that someone is “head over heels” (in love, for example) we picture someone doing summersaults or standing on his head. But think about that expression…When you’re standing or sitting normally, your head is always over your heels. So how has a normal position become equated with excitement? Some believe the original expression may have been “heels over head”, and over time people just started saying it differently.

We see that same thing in the expression “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Pennsylvania Dutch are actually Germans. Dutch was originally “Deustch” (doytch), which means German. The mispronunciation of the word was common and eventually was accepted.

And my thought for today is one of my favorite quotations of Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Time to brain is hurting!!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

What time is it?

A wristwatch is one of the most common accessories that men wear. But it wasn’t always that way. Prior to World War I, men carried pocket watches. Wristwatches on men were considered effeminate! But during WWI, battlefield conditions proved wristwatches to be much more practical than pocket watches. As a result, following the war the wearing of wristwatches by men became acceptable.
Now here’s an interesting observation: I read an article that said there’s a trend of people (and I’m one of them!) who forego their wristwatches in favor of cell phones as their time piece. It’s funny, every time I pull out my cell to check the time I’m reminded of my grandfather pulling out his pocket watch. I guess things do come full circle! And if they continue to cycle, maybe someday my grandson will look at his wrist-cell phone and remember his grandpa looking at his old fashioned wrist watch!

And here’s another legacy from World War I…
Today when something is “over the top” it means it is taken to excess. This expression actually comes from the trench warfare of World War I. When the soldiers climbed out of the trenches to attack the enemy they were said to be “going over the top”.

“The man who does not read books, has absolutely no advantage of the man who cannot read” – Mark Twian

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Welcome to my world!

Welcome to the launch of my blog dedicated to fun, silliness and little known facts! My blog is for fun, so if you're looking for seriousness, political comment, recipies, or even instructions on changing your're in the wrong place!

I write most of my own material, but I will also post funny things I've heard, read, etc. So if you read something here and think "...I've heard that before..." well, maybe you have!

One of my interests is the origins of sayings and expressions. For instance, do you know the origin of "giving someone the cold shoulder"? These days that means to ignore or dismiss someone. In middle ages in England, welcome guests would be served hot meals of the choiest cuts of lamb. When a guest had overstayed his welcome, the host would drop a hint by serving the lesser quality lamb shoulder, and serving it cold. So when the guest was "given the cold shoulder" he knew it was time to leave!