March 31, 2007

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

An addendum to 'true blue' & 'blue stocking' .. 'Devil and the deep blue sea' Let the rhythm & blues chain continue!

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: In difficulty, between two dangerous alternatives

The phrase was originally 'Between the Devil and the deep sea'. The sea turned blue much later and the phrase became well-known via the title of a popular song. 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' was written by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen, and recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931, although that version of the phrase may have been circulating earlier

The original phrase is probably of nautical origin. More research may throw some light.


March 26, 2007

Blue Stocking

Blue Stocking - A woman with strong scholarly or literary interests.

Semantica gets its first contribution from a member of the fairer sex(!!!!) . And I decided to commence the journey with an expression that's tickled and tingled moi over years. Blue Stocking, when researched led me to times as long back as 1400, when ladies and gentlemen in Venice formed a society called della calza (of the stocking) , whose members were distinguished by the color of their stockings. By 1590, the fashion spread to Paris, where it became the rage (that should not surprise anyone). It took almost 2 centuries to reach England where in early 1750's, Mrs Elizabeth Montague, an English writer and society leader, along with other women started a women's literary discussion group, a revolutionary step away from traditional mindless women's activities. They invited various people to attend, including a botanist, translator and publisher called Benjamin Stillingfleet. He wasn't rich enough to have the proper formal dress which included black silk stockings. So he attended in his normal clothes, wearing blue stockings.This started a trend. The husband of one of the group members derisively referred to the meetings as the "Blue-Stocking Society".

There's another lesser-known and most likely untrue tale about the coinage. It seems that, late in the eighteenth century, two romantic and eccentric young ladies moved from Ireland to Wales (a town called Llangollen). Determined to lead an intellectual life and vowing never to marry, they seem to have spent much of their time knitting blue stockings. The house, till date is open to tourists every day of the year, though it's widely accepted that they could not have coined the term.

Source: Dictionary of Word and Pharse Origins, Vol II

March 24, 2007

True Blue

True Blue - Loyal and unwavering in one's opinions or support for a cause.

'True blue' is supposed to derive from the blue cloth that was made at Coventry, England in the late middle ages. The town's dyers had a reputation for producing material that didn't fade with washing, i.e. it remained 'fast' or 'true'. The phrase 'as true as Coventry blue' originated then and is still used (in Coventry at least).

There are other theories as to the origin of 'true blue'. For example, the representation in paintings of the Virgin Mary in blue clothing, the purity of lineage of the Spanish nobility, or the blue aprons worn by butchers. These derivations are unlikely as they aren't supported by documentary evidence that link them to 'true blue'.


March 15, 2007


Posh - Elegant, swanky, rich.

The much-repeated tale is that 'Posh' derives from the 'port out, starboard home' legend supposedly printed on tickets of passengers on P&O (Peninsula and Orient) passenger vessels that travelled between UK and India in the days of the Raj. Britain and India are both in the northern hemisphere so the port (left-hand side) berths were mostly in the shade when travelling out (easterly) and the starboard ones when coming back. So the best and most expensive berths were POSH, hence the term.

There is no evidence to confirm this story though and it appears to have been dreamed up retrospectively to match an existing meaning.