bobby pin

“Bobby pins” are metal (or plastic) clips made with two flexible prongs, with one prong typically straight and one ridged. They are slid into the hair with the prongs open and then the flexible prongs close over the hair to hold it in place. English manufacturers Kirby, Beard & Co. Ltd. of Birmingham made hairpins similar to the bobby pin,…

booby trap

A “booby trap” is an apparently harmless object which may trigger a practical joke but can also be a possibly lethal trap. “Booby” has been in use since at least the 1600s, when it meant “stupid person, slow bird.” The “slow bird” referred to the large sea birds we call “boobies.” These birds have large wingspans but are clumsy and…

the eleventh word herd

Knick-knack  — a dainty little trinket or ornament. “Knick” is merely a reduplication of knack. We now use knack as meaning “a dexterous facility,” but in the 1500s it was used to mean “an ingenious contrivance; a toy or trinket.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A lick and a promise — refers to something being done quickly and not very well. For example, the…

barn burner

A “barn burner” is an event, often a sports contest, that is very exciting or intense. The earliest known use for this meaning is from the Omaha World-Herald, 13 May 1934. However, nearly a 100 years prior to this, “barn burner” had a specific meaning in US politics. The Barnburners were radical, men who were thought to be willing to…

bazooka

There are two definitions for “bazooka.”  The Merriam Webster Dictionary says it’s “a tube-shaped, portable rocket launcher that fires a rocket capable of penetrating several inches of armor plate, as of a tank or other armored military vehicle.” Wikipedia says the bazooka “is a brass musical instrument several feet in length which incorporates telescopic tubing like the trombone. Radio comedian…

blimp

A blimp is a kind of airship, or dirigible, that is powered, steerable, and lighter than air. It has no internal structural framework or keel. The pressurized gas used to inflate such a vehicle and the strength of the envelope itself maintain its shape. Zeppelins, on the other hand, have rigid frames that retain their shape whether or not they…

bling-bling

Bling-bling, often shortened to bling, is ostentatious, over-the-top jewelry, designer bags, and the like, worn especially to indicate wealth or status. It’s unknown where the term was coined, but it became popular at the end of the 1900s, when ‘bling’ became a feature of the Gangsta rap hip hop scene in the US, as well as in Jamaica. It first…

the tenth word herd

Guff — trivial, worthless, or insolent talk or ideas, nonsense. The word was once used in English and Scots to mean a puff or a whiff of bad smell. A Canadianism I’m familiar with is “no guff ” which is (1) a declaration of truthfulness or  (2) an expression of mock surprise at a statement. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Het up — angry,…

neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring

This phrase refers to a person or an object that does not belong to a definite class or category. The original meaning, now obsolete, was that such a person or object was unfit for any purpose. I heard my parents use this phrase in its obsolete sense, but it was worded as, “neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring.”…

diddly-squat

“Diddly-squat” is a small or worthless amount, or nothing. Example: “She didn’t care diddly-squat about Darryl.” The word “diddly” itself means “a thing of little or no value, or a flaw, a malfunction.” The word “squat” is “used as a euphemism for ‘shit,’ which comes from the act of squatting in order to defecate. In more direct but less polite…