The Origins of Common Sayings Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Register | Edit Profile

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | User List | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration
Night Shade Message Boards » VanderMeer, Jeff » The Origins of Common Sayings « Previous Next »

Author Message
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 06:36 pm:   

I've always wanted to do a thread about this, since some of the origins are fascinating. I'll start off with "going to hell in a handbasket."

Jeff

The concept of the "handbaskets" originated with Charlemagne in what is now Germany around 1000 A.D. Charlemagne was engaged in some guerilla warfare with various teutonic/goth tribes and found the accounts by his generals of enemy casualties rather suspect. He therefore ordered that the right hand of all those slain should be delivered to him for purposes of proof. The proof was brought in what were soon dubbed "handbaskets". Unfortunately, desperate generals in areas where the war was not going well eventually began to include any old hands in the baskets, not just those of enemy soldiers killed in combat. Eventually, the practice was discontinued, but they had all these "handbaskets" left over and back then you didn't discard anything that was still useful. So they gave the baskets to the womenfolk who used them to put things in that were less gruesome than hands--like towels or fruit or whatever.

The saying "going to hell in a handbasket" derives directly from Charlemagne's practice, since the tribes he fought against, eventually assimilated into the Holy Roman Empire believed that the taking of a man's sword hand meant that he was going to hell since the gate of Heaven would not open for him without a whole body being buried (remember, back then these tribes would bury their warriors with their entire household, willingly or not!, so that they could assist them in the afterlife). In fact, Charlemagne won major concessions from many of these tribes simply by returning the hands so they could be buried with the bodies. How they sorted the hands upon return is anybody's guess, but I believe it involved some sort of manual system.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 01:05 am:   

'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions' was supposed to be a saying of Doctor Johnson's, but relates to and earlier saying, 'Hell is full of good meanings and wishings'. But does that mean the stairway to heaven is paved with bad intentions? I guess we'd have to ask Led Zeppellin.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mastadge
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 03:23 am:   

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" is commonly misattributed to Shakespeare; the quote in fact comes from William Congreve's The Mourning Bride, and reads, "Heaven has (hath?) no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a (no?) fury like a woman scorned."

Sorry. Trying to recall old quotes off the top of my head five minutes after rolling out of bed isn't entirely wise, I suppose. . .
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mastadge
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 03:33 am:   

"Rule of thumb" refers to the thickness of the stick with which a man was legally allowed to beat his wife -- it could be no thicker than his thumb.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

John Klima
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 07:23 am:   

"Mind your P's and Q's" comes from old taverns. When the men would start to get a little rowdy, they would be reminded to "mind their Pints and Quarts" i.e. don't drink too much. This would ensure they would not get into trouble on the way home...or when they got home.

JK
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Lucius
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 07:34 am:   

Mastadge,

according to a blithe young psychotic (apologies to Charles Willeford) who recently visited my topic, the rule of thumb origin you cite is one of the Top Ten feminist myths. Here's what he says.....

Myth: The phrase "rule of thumb" originated in a man's right to beat his
wife provided the stick was no wider than his thumb.

Fact: This is an urban legend that is still taken seriously by activist law
professors and harassment workshoppers. The Oxford English Dictionary has
more than twenty citations for phrase "rule of thumb" (the earliest from
1692), but not a single mention of beatings, sticks, or husbands and wives.

(For a definitive debunking of the hoax see Henry Ansgar Kelly, "Rule of
Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband's Stick," The Journal of Legal
Education, September 1994.)


I don't have time at the moment to check this out, but offer it in case someone does...
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

luke
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 08:13 am:   

Ps and Qs reminds me of CBGB which, while it is not really a common saying, I was happy to finally have explained as "country bluegrass and blues."
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Al Duncan
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 08:33 am:   

The only place I've heard of "CBGB" is as in "CBGB's", the New York bar. I understod that to stand for "Cool Bands, Good Beer".
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

John Klima
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 08:43 am:   

Nope, CBGB's, the New York bar, was originally meant for a different clientele. CBGB's is an acronym for "Country, Bluegrass and Blues".

Weird, huh?

JK
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Dee Dee
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 10:57 am:   

You haven't lived until you've listened to the Ramones early banjo-and-fiddle tunes.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 11:37 am:   

Thinking about the antecedents of the measurement a 'foot' I would have thought the rule of thumb might be the thumb as a rule?
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

S. Hamm
Posted on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 05:45 pm:   

Neal,

The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins backs you up. The saying "rule of thumb" (it sez here) most likely reflects the fact that the last joint of a man's thumb is on average about an inch long and can therefore be used as a rough measuring device. (Theory #2 has to do with brewmasters who could tell how well the beer was brewing by dipping a thumb in it.)

FOFEWPO also has the pints-&-quarts story ("Word delvers always come up with a good barroom story whenever it's possible to work one in"), although in slightly different form: barkeeps had to be extra-careful not to transpose their p's and q's when calculating the beer bill. Other possible origins: 1) children learning to write often confuse the two letters; and 2) apprentice printers back in the days of hand typesetting had to be careful picking out type, because they were looking at the letters backwards and were therefore likely to mistake p's for q's.

And Lucius -- speaking of feminist canards, you have no doubt heard that reports of violence against women peak each year on the day of the Super Bowl. But that well-known "fact" has no basis in any sort of statistical reality.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Friday, July 09, 2004 - 01:31 am:   

S.Hamm, never thought to check, but my 'Brewer's Phrase and Fable' says the same, sort of - though I see it's down as 2.5cm. The publishers were probably afraid of the metrication police paying a visit.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Dave G.
Posted on Friday, July 09, 2004 - 07:49 am:   

Interestingly, last year the number of reports of violence against women actually peaked during the season finale broadcast of NBC's "Who Wants To Marry My Dad?"

:-)
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, July 09, 2004 - 04:57 pm:   

The "super bowl/domsetic violience" meme was a media stunt by a womens group... This "fact" was picked up and widely reported about a dozen years ago by major news outlets...

Read a book called "media virus" by Douglas Rushkoff (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0345397746/) for more interesting meme's and media pranks and a analysis of modern media culture.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

AliceB
Posted on Saturday, July 10, 2004 - 06:41 am:   

The word "posh" is an acronym for "Port Out, Starboard Home" from when India was a British colony and the well-to-do wanted to be on the shady side of the ship on the way there and on the way back.

"Tip" is also an acronym for "To Insure Promptness" which was written on a sign that pub owners placed near a box on the bar where people could drop in coins.

Credit goes to E.L. Konigsburg's THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY for the info.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mastadge
Posted on Saturday, July 10, 2004 - 07:30 am:   

Tips also used to be given *before* service.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 01:02 am:   

Where a tip is also a helpful hint, I like the Eskimo one, 'Don't eat yellow snow.'
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Al Duncan
Posted on Monday, July 12, 2004 - 01:50 am:   

Actually the "Port Out, Starboard Home" thing is an urban legend, it's now thought. The acronym explanation doesn't appear until 1935, though the word itself pops up, with no shipping connection, in 1918. No-one's ever found a ticket with that printed on it and I understand there are arguments that the whole idea is actually illogical from a maritime perspective.

"Posh" is now believed to derive from the Romany word, "posh", meaning "half", used mainly in connection with money - a "posh-houri" being a half-penny, a "posh-kooroona" being half a crown. In Thieves' Cant, posh came to mean money in general then eventually, in general usage, those who have lots of it.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Colin Brush
Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004 - 04:35 am:   

This newly published book agrees with Al Duncan's POSH assertion and may be of interest to anyone on this thread:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140515348/qid=1089891068/sr=1-1/ref=sr _1_26_1/026-6299358-0200444

Jeff - if you can wait a month or two (severe warehouse problems here), I'll try and get you a copy.

Colin
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004 - 06:22 am:   

Very cool. I can wait. I've got so many books to read! I can trade you something, I'm sure.

JeffV
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

fur
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 12:33 pm:   

more ship related origins...

the planking on the decks of wooden ships is never quite perfect, so they would stuff oakum into the gaps which would swell and keep the deck below watertight - a job called 'paying'. The gap between the last plank and the ship's hull was called the 'devil' and was a right pain to make watertight because it was a small, awkward space, but it had to be done - hence the sayings "the devil to pay", "a devil of a job" and "between the devil and the deep blue sea"

"cold enough to freeze the balls off brass monkeys" - best saying ever. Iron cannonballs were stored on brass rails, which were known as 'brass monkeys' (just as the small boys who delivered gunpowder to the guns were known as powder monkeys). But iron and brass contract at different rates when the temperature drops, so in cold weather the brass rail literally pings cannonballs onto the deck. The saying was banned on shore in England, with a stop on rum for offenders who were caught, from 1797 because it horrified so many admiralty wives.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

JV
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 01:41 pm:   

Cool.

Now--everybody knew my handbaskets origin tale that started this thread was complete bullshit, right?

I was hoping for more bullshit, but in this case, the "cold enough..." stuff is great--unless, of course, it's bullshit, in which case it's even better.

JeffV
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

nealasher
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 08:37 am:   

Still can't lose the image immediately coming to mind with that saying: 'Eeep! Yeeep!' Clatter.

Add Your Message Here
Post:
Username: Posting Information:
This is a private posting area. Only registered users and moderators may post messages here.
Password:
Options: Enable HTML code in message
Automatically activate URLs in message
Action:

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | User List | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration