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Monday, February 25, 2013

"climb on the bandwagon"

 "Climb on the bandwagon" - to join a growing movement in support of someone or something, often in an opportunist way, when that movement is seen to have become successful.

The word bandwagon was coined in the USA in the mid 19th century, simply as the name for the wagon that carried a circus band. The bandwagon was a horse-drawn wagon large enough to hold a band of musicians. 
Circus workers were skilled at attracting the public with the razzmatazz of a parade through town, complete with highly decorated bandwagons.

 In the late 19th century, politicians picked up on this form of attracting a crowd and began using bandwagons when campaigning for office. Political candidates used to ride the bandwagon through town, and those wishing to publicly show their support would climb on the bandwagon.

Although the practice is of some age, the saying itself is first recorded about the Presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan early in the 20th century. Climbing (or jumping) on the bandwagon was akin to providing your support for this popular candidate

I guess you could say the modern equivalent is the sleek recreational vehicles present-day politicians use to travel about the country electioneering.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sent to Coventry

To send someone to Coventry is a British idiom meaning to ostracise someone, usually by not talking to them. To have been sent to Coventry is regarded as to be absent.

It is believed that the city of Coventry in the United Kingdom had one of the strictest monasteries, where monks that misbehaved were sent and given the punishment of a vow of silence. therefore being "sent to Coventry" means not being spoken to or communicated with.

Another possible origin of this phrase could quite probably based on events in Coventry in the English Civil War in the 1640s. In the 17th century, when this phrase is supposed to have originated, Coventry was a small town. 

The story - and it is no more than that - is that Cromwell sent a group of Royalist soldiers to be imprisoned in Coventry, around 1648. The locals, who were parliamentary supporters, shunned them and refused to consort with them.

The first known citation of the allusory meaning is from the Club Book of the Tarporley Hunt, 1765: "Mr. John Barry having sent the Fox Hounds to a different place to what was ordered ... was sent to Coventry, but return'd upon giving six bottles of Claret to the Hunt."

In 1811, Grose's The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue understood the term to mean: “The person sent to Coventry is considered as absent; no one must speak to or answer any question he asks, except relative to duty, under penalty of being also sent to the same place.”

A well-known example of someone being sent to Coventry is Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), after his falling out with the Liddell family.

This phrase was common in industrial disputes in Britain in the mid-twentieth century. in the 1960 film The Angry Silence, Richard Attenborough's character Tom Curtis gets "sent to Coventry" by fellow workers for refusing to go out on an unofficial strike.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"sold down the river"

A phrase meaning to be betrayed by another. The figurative use of the phrase, meaning simply to deceive or cheat, began in the early 20th century; for example, this piece from P. G. Wodehouse's Small Bachelor, 1927:

"When Sigsbee Waddington married for the second time, he to all intents and purposes sold himself down the river."

This phrase originated in the Mississippi region of the USA during slave trading days. Slaves who caused trouble were sold from the northern slave states into the much harsher conditions on plantations in the lower Mississippi.

The earliest reference I can find to the phrase in print is in The Ohio Repository, May 1837:
"One man, in Franklin County has lately realized thirty thousand dollars, in a speculation on slaves, which ho bought in Virginia, and s old down the river."

A courtroom citation comes from a 1910 edition of the Southern Reporter: “Latham was guilty and, should he be a juror, he would send him down the river.”
Why down rather than up? To go down the river, for a slave, is to watch one’s destiny take the darkest imaginable turn.

After the Civil War, these slave-trade expressions adopted other meanings—to be cheated, betrayed, ruined, or delivered into some kind of servitude.
In reference to prison, someone can be sent either “up the river” or “down the river.” 

Apparently the route to prison is a two-way stream. The “up” version, the Oxford English Dictionary says, originally referred “to Sing Sing prison, situated up the Hudson River from the city of New York.” But later the phrase was used more generally to mean any prison.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Can we bury the hatchet?

Ever wonder how the phrase “bury the hatchet” come into use? It's actually an American saying. One source referred to it as:” an Indianism (a phrase borrowed from Native American speech).” How’s that for coining a new word? Hatchets were buried by the chiefs of Native American tribes when they came to a peace agreement. 

Folklore tells us that the term comes from an Iroquois ceremony in which war axes or other weapons were literally buried in the ground as a symbol of newly made peace. To celebrate the new peace, the Iroquois buried their weapons under the roots of a white pine. An underground river then miraculously washed the weapons away so the tribes could never use them against each other again. 

Tradition has it that the practice of confining weapons in the earth originated during the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy, which happened at an indeterminate time before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The Iroquois leaders, Deganawidah and Hiawatha, convinced the peoples of the Five Nations - the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca – to put aside their differences and celebrate their cultural and linguistic ties by forming a coalition. 

The first mention of the practice in English is of an actual hatchet-burying ceremony. A translation of Thwaites' monumental work Jesuit Relations, 1644, suggests the practice: "Proclaim that they wish to unite all the nations of the earth and to hurl the hatchet so far into the depths of the earth that it shall never again be seen in the future."

Samuel Sewall wrote in 1680, "I writt to you in one [letter] of the Mischief the Mohawks did; which occasioned Major Pynchon's goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem the[y] came to an agreement and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves; which ceremony to them is more significant & binding than all Articles of Peace[,] the hatchet being a principal weapon with them."

The phrase was used in 1759 by the Shawnee orator Missiweakiwa when it became obvious that the French war effort during the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War) was collapsing. The Shawnees had sided with the French against the English, but now the Shawnee would "bury the bloody Hatchet" with the English.

Exactly 50 years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, White Bull, a Sioux Indian Chief, and General Edward Godfrey buried the hatchet in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Garryowen, Montana.

If the phrase is of Indian origin, why "hatchet" and not "tomahawk"? It wasn't always. In 1705 Beverly wrote of "very ceremonious ways to concluding of Peace, such as burying a Tomahawk." But eventually "hatchet" buried "tomahawk";   not inappropriate, since tomahawk is an Algonquian word, not Iroquoian.

Before the end of the eighteenth century, the phrase was extended to include peace between countries, specifically between the U.S. and U.K. In the early nineteenth century, the phrase was extended further to refer to personal or professional relations between individuals, the sense in which it is most widely used today. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

To strike a hot piece of metal, especially iron, with a mallet or other tool before it cools, while it is still hot enough to be shaped.

Here is another well know saying that is probably baffling to the younger minds. If you’re thinking about an iron used to press clothes, you have the wrong idea. It requires that you have a familiarity to a way of life before the automobile.

This saying comes from the blacksmithing practice of heating up metal and then striking it when it is malleable to shape it. When the blacksmith works with iron, first he heats the iron until it is red hot and soft. Then he immediately hits the iron with his hammer to change its shape. If he waits, the iron becomes cold and hard again, and he cannot shape it.

A person will say it to encourage someone to act decisively and take their opportunities when they arise. The phrase is from circa 1566 in The excellent comedie of two the moste faithfullest freendes, Damon and Pithias written by Richard Edwards. He wrote, "I haue plied the Haruest, and stroke when the Yron was hotte."

Similar proverbs are “Make hay while the sun shines” and “Take time by the forelock.”

One reference I found gave me the following poem as the origin of the saying…but with no accreditation to its creator:
Who enters here intent to dwell
Must guard his kids and good wife well
For the smith must strike while the iron is hot
And knows which is and which is not

One caveat when doing research on the internet. Not everything you find is reliable information. Consider this site:
It listed links to ten other sites, each with different sources of origin of the phrase “strike when the iron is hot.” Which just goes to show—be careful when using a website’s information.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Well...I'm flabbergasted!

Have you ever found yourself flabbergasted? Isn’t that a fabulous word? It’s a very old word first mentioned in a magazine article as a new piece of fashionable slang. Being a writer, I’m interested in words.

Flabbergast is a verb and it means to be overcome with surprise and bewilderment; to be astounded. It turned up in print in 1772, in an article on new words in the Annual Register. (Bet you didn’t know that magazines have been around that long either.)

In 1823, flabbergast was noted as a Sussex word, perhaps from some dialect. Some would suggest that the word is an arbitrary invention suggested by flabby (adj.) or flap (n.) and aghast (adj.). The source of the word’s first part is obscure. It might be linked to flabby, suggesting that somebody is so astonished that they shake like a jelly.

Words sometimes change their meaning over the years. Take the word pitcher. As my husband pointed out to me earlier today, the word pitcher is used in two totally different ways. (He's fascinated by words also.)

Its older usage is as a container with a spout used for storing and pouring contents which are liquid in form. Generally a pitcher also has a handle, which makes pouring easier. Then in 1722, it came into use as a noun to describe "one who pitches," originally of one tossing hay into a wagon, etc. The word became associated with the game of baseball as early as 1845.

Of course, we’ve all heard the proverb "Little pitchers have big ears" The phrase depicts a child as the pitcher with ears hearing what people around them say or do, which is stored inside. The adults are also cautioned that the children might not be as na├»ve as they perceive them to be.

If you've found my little meandering on words amusung or helpful, I hope you'll leave a comment. Is there any particular words you'd be interested in knowing more about?

Monday, February 4, 2013


Thought I'd share a bit of flash fiction today.
“Now, for all you lonely people out there...,” the sultry sound of the D. J. caused Doug’s blood pressure to soar. Since he’d found Monique’s late night program, his insomnia was no longer a problem. Skipping past long-winded preachers and someone selling house siding on the radio dial, his fingers had halted at the sound of her captivating voice. Its husky, breathless quality exuded sex with every word she spoke. Who cared about lost sleep when Monique kept him company in the dark? 

He closed his eyes and savored dulcet tones that caressed like a latte going down smooth. Monique even managed to make the weather report sound sexy. As she introduced each song, her words fell like whispered love words. Impatiently, Doug awaited each musical selection’s ending, eager to enjoy more of her alluring voice.

 Soothing strains of Strangers In The Night filled the darkened room. Doug found himself imagining what Monique looked like. She was young-sounding but some of the things she said convinced him she had life experiences to back up her opinions. He decided she had to be single because she never mentioned family when she spoke about her daily happenings. Over the course of the week since he’d discovered Monique, his sexual fantasies had grown downright erotic.

There must be some way to meet the had-to-be-spectacular body inhabited by this sexy voice. Well, he knew the location of her radio station. She left the air-waves at four a.m. What was to keep him from being there, waiting, when she left the building? He would introduce himself, say what a fan of hers he’d become, tell her how much her program had helped him, offer to buy her a cup of coffee. Hey! Miracles still happened, didn’t they? No telling what the coffee could lead to. He had to try.

From his parked car, Doug counted the passing minutes. He glance about the empty lot. Two other vehicles took up space, parked side by side as if keeping each other company. As the digital readout moved into the next hour, Doug lost his nerve. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He couldn’t just walk up to her and start talking; she would consider him a threat or some kind of weirdo. He’d end up getting a face full of mace or something worse.

What was he thinking? Of course she’d notice a strange car parked in the near-empty lot. He turned on the ignition, thinking to get away before Monique came out. As he paused before pulling out, he caught the spill of light when the building’s door opened. He watched as a bent-over figure stepped through the opening. Behind her, a tall man resembling an overgrown bulldog remained in the doorway.

The heavy-set woman leaned on her walker and shuffled toward the black Chevrolet. Doug swallowed hard. She struggled to fold the walker beside her after settling behind the wheel. Doug scrunched downward, out of sight, as her headlights swept over him.             

Friday, February 1, 2013

Who Remembers Women's Hats of the 50s?

My latest novel, Second Time Around, started with women’s hats. I had this idea of writing about each particular hat a woman chose to wear at the time of important events in her life.
Thank goodness, more pondering made me realize that wasn't a  very good idea and eventually I came up with something a little less intimidating. But, at the time, I did dosome research and actually downloaded pictures of hats that I thought might provide inspiration.
Part of the story for Second Time Around takes place in Dallas, Texas in the 50s. I chose that time period because I lived there at the time and knew it would provide a familiar setting for the story. For my untraditional wedding in 1958, I wore a two-piece yellow knit dress and a red straw cloche.
This website I found gave a bit of information about hat styles of the 50s. Thought you’d find it interesting.

The appearance of 1950s hats really took shape in 1947. That’s when Christian Dior launched his New Look, which included a line of bowed hats in textured straw. As the 1950s dawned, the cloche seemed to evolve into the close hat, a head-hugging chapeau that usually went without a brim and was popularized by Lucille Ball on the “I Love Lucy” show. Fur hats in pillbox and mushroom cloche shapes used mottled chinchilla and bone-white rabbit to create a luxurious impression. In some circles, favorite wide-brimmed styles were the upturned portrait hats, some of which were almost two feet in length from brim to brim. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/hats/womens-1950s-hats

Second Time Around’s storyline may have taken a curve but I did incorporate a couple hats into the story.

“Thank goodness she’d decided to tuck in her evening hat. Well, actually it was a mere headband, velvet-covered, with matching bow nestled atop the hat’s puffy veil.”

“A gust of wind snatched at her red straw boater and sent it sailing. It tumbled, ribbons twirling, end over end, with Rob in chase.” Both references are in Chapter Six.

There may be more allusions to hats in the story that don't come to mind at the moment; at that time a woman didn’t go anywhere without a hat…and for more formal events like church, gloves were a regular part of the outfit. There are times I miss that era and sometimes I think the pendulum to informality has swung too far. Who agrees with me?