Month: April 2022

chickens come home to roost

Bad deeds or words return to discomfort their perpetrator or, rather more succinctly: something you’ve done comes back to bite you in the ass.  The idea of bad deeds coming back to haunt their originator was expressed in print as early as 1390, when Geoffrey Chaucer used it in The Parson’s Tale. Originally, the allusion was to a bird returning…

doodlebug

“Doodlebug” is a nickname applied to several things. The bugs which the nickname is usually used for are antlions in their larval form. The antlion larva burrows into loose, dry, bare, sandy soil and constructs a cone-shaped pit by flipping loose soil out of the hole with its head. The antlion begins a pit by walking backward and pressing its…

cute as a bug’s ear

“Cute as a bug’s ear” means very charming and attractive, and possibly works on the principle that the smaller the thing is the cuter it will be. It is usually used to describe a child. It was first seen in print, with this meaning, in 1868. Cute and keen were two of the most overused slang words of the late…

bless your little cotton socks

This phrase is an expression of endearment, fondness, or appreciation for another person. It’s listed in the Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, by Eric Partridge, which says, “A middle-class catch phrase dating from c. 1905. . . a jocular benediction/thanks, as in ‘Oh, bless their little cotton socks—they’ve left everything…

interrobang

An “interrobang” is a non-standard punctuation mark indicating a question expressed in an exclamatory manner. The punctuation mark consists of an exclamation point and a question mark superimposed on top of one another. A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical…

skookum

“Skookum” means strong, brave, impressive, fierce, big, and reliable, and can apply to either humans or other animals. Skookum is a Chinook Jargon word that has historical use in the Pacific Northwest. For example, “skookum house” means jail or prison. “Skookumchuck” means turbulent water or rapids in a stream or river, “chuck” being Chinook Jargon for water, stream or lake.…

arithmetic

“Arithmetic” (Greek arithmos), the most elementary branch of mathematics, is the study of numbers and the traditional operations on them—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation and extraction of roots. Unfortunately for those of us with a short attention span, the language used to describe arithmetic operations is far more complicated than the operations themselves. I’ve always been curious about this word…

out of kilter

“Out of kilter” means out of order; in poor health or spirits. “Kilter” arose from an older English dialect word “kelter,” which means “good health, good condition.” The earliest examples in print, mostly from the US, where the phrase is still more commonplace than elsewhere, are “out of kelter.” It was once widely known in that form in various English…