Hand phrases #2

Dab hand — expert at a particular activity (1600s) Underhanded — done in a secret or dishonest way; sneaky Upper hand — power, control, dominance In hand — under control; in reserve At hand — nearby; imminent On hand — immediately available; close by Take in hand — to take control of or to lead  Get out of hand — to become chaotic and…

hand phrases #1

The word “hand” is used in many different ways in the language, just as we use our hands, those useful body tools, in many different ways. Here are some phrases and proverbs: All hands on deck — traditional nautical command for every sailor to report for duty; require everyone to work hard in order to achieve a particular aim  (1700s)…

shenanigans

“Shenanigans” means trickery, underhand action, intrigue, skulduggery, high-spirited behavior, or mischief. The earliest record of it is in San Francisco (April 25 issue of Town Talk) in 1855.  As to the source, word looks Irish, and there was no shortage of Irishmen working the California gold rush, so it’s reasonable to suggest the Irish word sionnachuighm as the source, meaning…

fuddy-duddy

“Fuddy-duddy” is a slang term for a stuffy, fussy, or foolishly old-fashioned person. It is mildly derogatory but sometimes affectionate too. The word has been used throughout the 1900s. Synonyms are “frump,” “school marm,” and “old fart.” The origin is uncertain, but “fuddy-duddy”may be American, possibly via Scotland. The first record appears to be from the Texas newspaper The Galveston…

hullabaloo

“Hullabaloo” means a loud uproar, mixture of noises, din, commotion. Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) has it as “hellabaloo,” meaning riotous noise and confusion, and says it is provincial in England. The word originated in the 1700s, though no one knows exactly where it came from. The word has been spelled in so many ways that “hullabaloo” has to be…

kerfuffle

 A “kerfuffle” is a commotion, a fuss, a ruckus, a disruption, a brouhaha, a bother, a hoopla, or a flurry. It may generate a lot of sound and fury, but rarely represents anything serious. The word is informal; it doesn’t appear in my Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Up until the 1960s, it was spelled in various ways — curfuffle, carfuffle,…

kibitz

“Kibitz” is a Yiddish verb, meaning to be a spectator who offers often unwanted advice or commentary. A kibitzer, of course, is a person who likes to kibitz. The term can be applied to any activity, but is most commonly used to describe spectators in games such as contract bridge and chess. In bridge, a kibitzer simply refers to a…

B words

bamboozle The word “bamboozle,” meaning to deceive, or get the better of by trickery (hoodwink), appeared first around 1695. It could also mean to perplex, mystify, or confound. The word was included in Jonathan Swift’s The Continual Corruption of our English Tongue (1710), where he listed words that were, in his opinion, corroding, if not destroying, the English language. One…

codger

A “codger” is an old man, especially one who is eccentric or a curmudgeon. The word probably comes from “cadger,” the name of itinerant dealers who traded in butter and eggs and so on, which they transported by pack-horse. “Cadger” dates from the 1400s and was referred to in Robert Henryson’s The Morall Fabillis of Esope, circa 1450. There is…

doohickey

A “doohickey” is a small object or gadget, especially one whose name the speaker does not know or cannot recall. Synonyms are those well-used words: thingamabob, thingamajig, whatchamacallit. It may seem as if a “doohickey” is a thing that’s too unimportant to have a name of its own, but no object is that unimportant. It’s just that there are so…