Category: phrase sources

lollygag

“Lollygag” means to fool around, dally, spend time aimlessly, or dawdle. Here’s an apt description from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “You certainly didn’t want to be known as a lollygagger at the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, lollygag was slang for ‘fooling around’ (sexually, that is). That sense of lollygag was in use as long ago as 1868, and…

money laundering

“Money laundering” means any act or attempted act to disguise the source of money or assets derived from criminal activity. Specifically, “dirty money” received from criminal activities is processed through legitimate businesses and converted into “clean money.” Once cleaned, the money cannot be easily traced to the person originating the transaction or to the criminal origin of the funds. Hence,…

take with a grain of salt

To “take with a grain [pinch] of salt” is an idiom which tells you to be skeptical, or take care not to interpret something literally. The expression has been found in print in English starting in the mid-1600s, though it is probably much older. We inherited our modern English word “salt” from the Old English “sealt.” The Latin word salis…

scat

The word “scat” has several meanings: an interjection used to drive away a cat, to go away quickly, animal fecal droppings, jazz singing with nonsense syllables. The word has been with us since at least 1838. Apparently, “begone” or “scram” were the only meanings of the word until sometime after WW II. It’s still used to tell a cat to…

greenhorn

A greenhorn is generally anyone who is inexperienced, immature, or gullible. In other words, a rookie. A greenhorn might also be a recent immigrant who hasn’t yet learned the ways of his or her new country. Or maybe it’s this new year, 2020, which is just about seven hours old!  The word is usually attributed to cowboys who noticed the…

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…