November 25, 2008
The word comes from a Venetian custom in the Middle Ages when ships arriving from the reported plague-stricken countries were obliged to spend 40 days (Italian "quaranta" or "forty" comes from the Latin "quadraginta," also meaning 40) at the port, in isolation, before being allowed to unload its cargo and crew. Venice, in those days, was the chief European port of entry and Europe had experienced many epiemics of plague. Forty days was supposed to be long enough to kill the infection for goods (and people) by exposure to air and sunlight.
The current usage of the word is not limited to 40 days but "any period" of isolation.
Trivia: Quarantine first appeared as a legal term in 1609, as the period of 40 days in which a widow could remain in her dead husband's house before creditors could seize it.
Sources: answers.com, etymonline.com, Wikipedia
November 21, 2008
Continuing with the coal theme: here's an expression that received a lot of (unwanted???) attention when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney used it to describe a construction project in 2006 but was "hauled over the coals" for what is considered a racial epithet by some.
The tar baby is supposedly a popular character from African folklore. It gained popularity in the 19th century United States in the written form in one of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, a collection of stories based on African-American folklore, narrated by the fictional Uncle Remus, a former slave. In the story, "Tar Baby" is a doll made of turpentine and tar, built by Brer Fox to entrap his enemy, a tricky and cunning Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit talks to the doll, and when it doesn't answer, he hits it, and gets stuck in the tar. The more he struggles with it, the more he is entangled in it.
It sounds like yet another harmless story, doesn't it? For reasons better known to this hard-to-comprehend world, (or perhaps I am missing some subtle nuances here???) the expression has been occasionally used as a derogatory term for African-Americans. Needless to add, public figures who choose to use it encounter controversy.
Source: http://www.randomhouse.com/, Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia (Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, drawing by E.W. Kemble from The Tar-Baby, Joel Harris, 1904)
November 13, 2008
The phrase, "carrying coals to Newcastle," means spending an inordinate amount of energy on something useless, fruitless, or redundant. This idiom arose in the 15th century because Newcastle, England was known throughout the country as a major exporter of coal. Therefore, "carrying coals to Newcastle" would do you no good, because there was more coal there than anywhere else. Variations on the saying include "bringing," "taking," or "moving" the coal.
Other countries have similar phrases; in German it's 'taking owls to Athens' (the inhabitants of Athens already having sufficient wisdom). 'Selling snow to Eskimos', which in many people's understanding is also the same, has a different connotation. Both the Dutch and Spanish having sayings, 'like bringing water to the ocean'. In Poland and Sweden, you'd hear, 'bringing wood to the forest'. Some regionally specific idioms for redundancy include Russia's 'taking samovars to Tulu,' a city famous for its spigotted teapots.
Ironically, in 2004 Newcastle began importing coal from Russia.
Sources: Wisegeek.com, Phrases.org
November 08, 2008
Today, the practice of using a canary in a coal mine has become part of coal mining lore, but the ideology behind it has become a popular expression. The phrase living like a canary in a coal mine often refers to serving as a warning to others. The actual canary in a coal mine had little control over its fate, but it continued to sing anyway. In one sense, living like a canary in a coal mine indicates a willingness to experience life's dangers without compromise
September 07, 2008
There are a myriad theories that revolve around this one. To wit:
The ivy in the term is referring to the ivy-covered walls of the historic buildings of these institutions (See image)
One theory leads us to believe that over a century ago, an interscholastic athletic league was formed that comprised of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and a fourth school that keeps changing with the stories . It was officially called "IV League"; IV standing for Roman numeral four.
Most agree though that the term came from the sports world when New York Tribune sportswriter in 1933 who while describing the inter-university football season wrote, "A proportion of our eastern ivy colleges are meeting little fellows another Saturday before plunging into the strife and the turmoil".
Source: Wikipedia, Google Images
August 21, 2008
I don’t know a Manolo Blahnik from a Louis Vuitton but then I’m not well-heeled either!!!! :)
If you have an imagination as tame as mine, you’d assume that the origin of “well-heeled” comes from the plush set in their haute couture.
But no!!! The origin of the expression lies in the cock-fighting days of the yore when the contesting birds were equipped with the best spurs to cause the most damage. From there, it moved to the frontier days in America’s history when men carried concealed pistols in their boots. And as language knows no bounds, from concealed weapons it came to be used in reference to money (why?? don't know!!!!), as in the current usage.
Source: answers.com, Google Images
July 21, 2008
Buccaneer - a pirate
Do you barbecue? If the answer's a yay vs.a nay, then you may very well count yourself in the same league as swashbuckling Capt. Jack Sparrow. 'Coz that's where the word's origin lies.
Buccaneer originates in French as "boucanier" which referred to a person on the Caribbean islands who hunted wild boars etc. and cured/smoked the meat over a barbecue frame called a "boucan" in French. The word "boucan" itself came from a Tupi word meaning "a rack or rack-like platform." So there! If you barbecue, you are no less than Johnny Depp himself!!!!! :)
Source: Wikipedia/Google Images
June 24, 2008
The origin of this french word is unknown. This was used as military term in earlier times to express the rebound of a projectile that strikes on a hard surface.It is said that during 18th century, field artillery, which was not,before Napolean's time,relied upon the ricochet of round shot.The term "ricochet" is now only applied, in modern rifle shooting, to the graze of a bullet that has struck short.
I came across its use in below line from The New York times "Some Muslim supporters of Mr. Obama seem to ricochet between dejection and optimism."
June 05, 2008
I always thought that the “dog” bit here referred to dogfight. But as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". So a little bird-dogging revealed that instead of canine reference, dog in underdog is actually a plank of wood. The word supposedly originates from shipbuilding where the planks of wood (called dogs) were sawn for their construction. The senior saws-man stood on top of the plank and he was the overdog. The junior had to go below the planks. And…….. no brownie points for guessing that he was called the "underdog". As simple as that! :)
Source: Wikipedia, Answers.com
May 31, 2008
I would have liked to believe that Elvis Presley's facial hair style would have started the trend but you gotta see the sideburns of Ambrose Burnside to know why they were named after him :D
Ambrose Burnside was a general in theUnion Army in the American Civil War and the guy could have not attained such popularity with his military exploits as he did with his fashion statement. He was the commander of the Army of the Potomac but was relieved of his command after losing the battle of Fredericksburg. His way of wearing his side whiskers along with a moustache but clean shaven chin gave the style the name Burnside's which with time morphed into burnsides and then into sideburns as such a facial pattern was on the sides of a face.
Source: Google, Answers.com
April 28, 2008
This is courtesy a friend who’s running a 26.2 miles marathon this June to raise funds for cancer research. A marathon is called so in remembrance of a Greek soldier who as the legend goes, ran from Marathon to Athens (about 25 miles) to report the Greek victory over Perisans at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. And then he dropped dead :(
Image: The soldier of Marathon announces the victory, from Google Images.
March 01, 2008
Source: Merriam Webster
February 26, 2008
The origin of the term isn't certain but the most popular story pins itto William Buckley (1780-1856), a British convict transported to Australia.There, he escaped and found refuge among the Aborigines for more than threedecades. When he was rediscovered he had forgotten how to speak English.Since survival in the outback was difficult it was said that anyone lostthere had Buckley's chance of making it.
Another possibility is a pun on the Melbourne department store Buckleyand Nunn, i.e. one has two chances: Buckley's or none
February 16, 2008
January 27, 2008
As the chief editor of the blog enjoys his sabbatical, I decided to dedicate a post here on his style of writing ;DD
In ancient days, purple dye was the rarest and most expensive thereby making it the color of choice for the royalty. One reason why purple robes came to be associated with European royalty. It is known that during Roman Republic, social climbers used to sew a patch of royal fabric on an ordinary cloth for the pretension of wealth. Roman poet, Horace in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) used the phrase in allusion to ornate literary works.
Some of the examples of purple-prose that Wikipedia refers to are outrageously hilarious, to wit: "a somnambular accommodation" (a bedroom), "a nectarian beverage" (wine).
A sample of the recent contribution by the Chief himself:
"Thus was implanted a peeve towards European geo-political illiteracy. This post is a self gratiating attempt towards assuaging that peeve. Hark, self gratiating."