Month: April 2020

Short takes

Here are a few words that might have interesting history but, if so, I couldn’t find any. They do make the language more vivid, though. Old hat — predictable, old-fashioned, hackneyed, trite, uninteresting Bang your head against the wall — waste time in a hopeless enterprise Lose your head — lose control of your emotions A shoulder to cry on…

mumbo jumbo

“Mumbo jumbo” means unnecessarily involved and incomprehensible language, nonsense, or big empty talk, and is often associated with fraudulent religious ritual. The phrase was first seen in print in the mid 1700s as Mumbo Jumbo, denoting a supposed African idol. The current sense dates from the late 1800s. “Mumbo jumbo” is often used to express humorous criticism of middle-management, and…

jiggery-pokery

“Jiggery-pokery” means trickery, deceitful or dishonest practices for personal profit. Synonyms include baloney, bunkum, hogwash, flapdoodle, flim-flam, flumadiddle, rubbish, hooey, hot air, motor mouthing, and poppycock. The word “jiggery-pokery” has a pleasing rhythm and is a classic example of a double dactyl. A dactyl is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. “Dactyl” comes from the Greek word for…

go over like a lead balloon

To “go over like a lead balloon,” means to fail completely and to be recognized as a flop. The phrase originated in the US. The first mention of a lead balloon with the meaning of something that fails comes from a Mom-N-Pop cartoon that was syndicated in several US newspapers in June 1924. The phrase didn’t appear again until after…

gobbledegook

“Gobbledegook” was coined in the 1940s in the US and, for a change, we know exactly where it came from! It means the pompous talk of officialdom, long, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words. Synonyms are: jargon, pretentious verbiage, nonsense, and bafflegab. The word was coined by US Representative Maury Maverick (grandson of Sam Maverick, whose habit of not branding…

bigger fish to fry

Having “bigger fish to fry” means you have more important things to do. Even though the first known written examples of this expression are over 400 years old, it is fairly certain that the expression is much older than that. One clue is that there are similar expressions in other languages. For example, the French say, “He has many other…

talk a blue streak

“To talk a blue streak” means to speak rapidly and without stopping. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the phrase originated in the US in the early 1700s and that it implies a flash of lightning in speed and vividness. It may “imply” vividness, but I’ve heard a lot of fast talkers whose words simply blur into mind-numbing babble. The…

pound sand

The expression “go pound sand” is from two longer expressions: “go pound sand down a rathole,” and “go pound sand (or salt) up your ass.” It’s disdainful and dismissive, like telling someone to go fly a kite or go play in traffic, on a par with the forceful suggestion  that the recipient go do something anatomically impossible. The expression is…

cheapskate

A “cheapskate” is a mean or despicable person, also known as misers, pikers, scrooges, skinflints, tight-wads or penny-pinchers, in other words, someone with short arms and long pockets. According to Eric Partridge, “cheapskate” was also a slang term for a troublesome rating in the Royal Navy. The exact source of “cheapskate” is unknown, but it originated in the USA in…