Month: February 2022

scallywag

A “scallywag” may be a disreputable fellow, a loveable rogue or a troublesome child. Its exact origins are unclear, but it seems to be a combination of the very old term “wag” and the Scottish word “scallag.” “Wag,” in the 1550s, meant “habitual joker” or “rascal.” It may have evolved from “waghalter,” which meant “gallows bird”—that is, someone destined to…

zigzag

To “zigzag” is to move by going first in one direction and then in a different direction, and repeating the movements, as in: “We zigzagged through crowds of tourists.” A zigzag might also be defined as a series of short straight lines, set at angles to one another and connected to form a continuous line, sometimes forming a regular pattern.…

skinflint

A “skinflint” is a miser, a penny-pincher, literally the “kind of person who would skin a flint to save or gain something.” The noun “skinflint,” which denotes a niggardly person, is first recorded in A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (London, 1699): “the willingness to go to extreme lengths to save or gain…

February word herd

Jackanapes — William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was a well-regarded commander during the Hundred Years’ War. It was during his dukedom (1448-1450) that England lost its possessions in northern France, and he was accused of treason and banished. His family’s coat of arms sported an image of a collar and chain commonly used for leashing pet monkeys, then…

mind your own beeswax

In this phrase, “beeswax” is just a convenient substitution for “business.” The phrase “mind your own business” has been around for a long time, and is a direct way to tell someone to pay attention to their own affairs rather than yours. Changing “business” to “beeswax” was probably done to make it sound a bit funny and therefore a little…

your name is mud

If “your name is mud,” you’re in disgrace or unpopular. The Oxford English Dictionary defines mud as “soft, moist, glutinous material resulting from the mixing of water with soil, sand, dust, or other earthy matter.” The word began to be used as early as the 1500s to refer to worthless or polluting substances. Later that was applied to people, as…

paddy wagon

A “paddy wagon” is a police van. Early police vans were horse-drawn carriages, the carriage being in the form of a secure prison cell. Later, secure motorized police vans were built in case the prisoner attacked the officers during the journey. To prevent this, police vans were designed with a fixed steel cage in the rear of the vehicle effectively…

shebang

“Shebang” means everything involved in what is under consideration (usually used in the phrase “the whole shebang”). We don’t know where the word came from. It appears suddenly in the 1860s, dozens of times in US newspapers and literature. The earliest known example of the word in print appears to mean some form of hut or rustic dwelling. Walt Whitman’s Specimen…