Month: December 2019

balderdash

“Balderdash” is another word for nonsense, usually senseless talk or writing. The word first appeared in print in the late 1500s, and meant a frothy liquid; later, an unappetizing mixture of drinks, like milk and beer. The origin is unknown. The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson defines it as: “Nonsense, senseless jumble of words or ideas.…

fine words butter no parsnips

This phrase says that nothing is achieved by empty words or flattery. It means, of course, that you should judge people by what they do, not by what they say. The proverb is English and dates from the 1600s. One early version in print is in John Clarke’s Latin/English textbook Paroemiologia, 1639: “Faire words butter noe parsnips, verba non alunt…

claptrap

“Claptrap” is pretentious nonsense. It first appeared in print in Nathan Bailey’s dictionary of 1721 and his definition explains the word very well. “A Clap Trap, a name given to the rant and rhimes that dramatick poets, to please the actors, let them get off with: as much as to say, a trap to catch a clap, by way of…

take a powder

To “take a powder” means to leave quickly, to sneak out.  Christine Ammer’s The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés (2006) says, “To leave quickly. The origin of the expression is obscure, even though it is relatively recent (twentieth century). Since about 1600 “a powder” has meant “a hurry,” possibly derived from the speed of gunpowder. This meaning persisted well…

fit as a fiddle

Being “fit as a fiddle” means you’re in good health and in fine shape. This expression dates from at least the 1600s. A fiddle that is fit is well-tuned and in good shape and can play terrific music, just like the human body. “Fiddle” was combined wth the word “fit” because we all love alliteration.  “Fit” didn’t originally mean healthy…

bum’s rush

When you get the “bum’s rush,” you’re hustled out the way a bum would be hurried out of a bar or restaurant for begging from the customers. A bum is a down-and-outer trying to cadge money or drinks. Today, we would probably call him a “street person.” The way it’s done is to grab the bum/hobo/tramp/homeless person by the back…

an eye for an eye

This phrase describes the law of retaliation (lex talionis) in that the person who causes another person to suffer should suffer in an equal amount. It originated in the Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, 1792-1750 BCE. The code survives today in the Akkadian language, and the phrase was used in the King James Bible: “…it hath been said, An…