Category: phrase sources

another herd of words

gallivant: To “gallivant,” since 1809, is to travel, roam, or move about for pleasure, to go about usually ostentatiously or indiscreetly with members of the opposite sex. The word may have come from “gallant,” meaning a dashing man of fashion, a fine gentleman, or a man who pays special attention to women.   wench: “Wench” was in use by the…

hocus pocus

“Hocus-pocus” in today’s world describes talk that is meaningless or to words deliberately made deceptive and tricky so that you don’t see what’s actually happening. It was and still is also used that way by stage magicians, the same as “abracadabra” and “shazam,” when bringing about some kind of change. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word arose…

still waters run deep

“Still waters run deep” is a Latin proverb now commonly taken to mean that a placid exterior hides a passionate or subtle nature. Formerly it also carried the warning that silent people are dangerous, as in Suffolk’s comment on a fellow lord in William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI part 2: Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep, And…

the writing is on the wall

To say that “the writing is on the wall,”means there are clear signs of doom or misfortune, visible to almost anyone. After two defeats in the ring, you might say the writing is on the wall for the boxer. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the expression originates from chapter 5 of the Old Testament Book of Daniel, which describes…

gibberish

“Gibberish” (pronounced ‘jibberish’) is rapid and inarticulate speech; talk in no known language; meaningless, incoherent, or unintelligible verbiage. “Gibberish” is a disparaging term, often applied to language that is meaningless because of overuse of technical or legal terms, or to language games and specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders. Meaningless text such as “r#df%pis*ou#ef$ghj” is also called “gibberish.” “Gibberish”…

a herd of words

Some words have a history that takes merely one line. Others take a paragraph, which is too short for an article. So I’ve compromised by offering a herd of words. And here they are! persnickety: This word describes a person who places too much emphasis on trivial or minor details and requires a particularly precise or careful approach. In a…

jack of all trades

A “jack of all trades” is a man who can turn his hand to many things. The phrase is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things, and has a very good broad knowledge, a generalist rather than a specialist. Sayings and terms resembling “jack of all trades” appear in almost all languages. Whether they are…

pearls of wisdom

“Pearls of wisdom” means a wise statement metaphorically as precious as pearls. Since very ancient times, pearls, though of small size, have been associated with high value, goods best appreciated by a perceptive audience. Therefore, aphorisms, adages, admonitions, and other nuggets of sage advice would be characterized as pearls. The term is also used sarcastically to denigrate any superficial, banal,…

scarecrow

A “scarecrow” is a decoy or mannequin, usually in the shape of a human. The name is first found in print in the 1500s, and is a combination of the words “scare” and “crow.” It was used figuratively, in 1590, to mean “gaunt, ridiculous person.”  The scarecrow has been around a lot longer than that, however. Greek farmers in 2500…

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…