I’m an avid collector of American sayings. As to their origins, I demand neither truth nor accuracy. It’s the thought that counts. And, if several sayings are based on a single premise, so much the better. I must admit my captive audience must be of a certain age to appreciate the origin of these idiomatic phrases. Those persons younger than their late twenties don’t know the saying to begin with, or the origin of same. And, with all due respect, don’t really care.
But, if given any opportunity to insert an explanation of whatever saying into an otherwise interesting conversation, I am off and running. No amount of eye-rolling can dampen my spirits. To begin with, a little-known example that has just a hint of off-color humor:
My late husband described a fellow surgeon as operating ‘balls to the wall’. Sounds like a very uncomfortable position indeed, but in this particular case it was a compliment. It implied the operator was moving at top speed, with steady hand and determination. And, we hope, accuracy. I have been told that very early airplanes had throttles with spherical knobs (balls) on their ends. To control the speed of the aircraft, the pilot pushed a knob-decked rod forward, toward the dashboard, to increase the airspeed. Balls to the wall. Ha.
The explanation of the picture included in this post takes a leap of imagination to decipher its meaning. There is a dark and stormy sky, lightening bolts included. Sitting atop a table are three bottles of wine, and a single glass of wine (artistic license). Hmm. Specifically, the bottles are a particular type of wine; port. Put these images together, and you have “any port in a storm.” Admittedly, not a well-known saying. But it may come in useful in your next board meeting. In America’s Popular Sayings, Gregory Titelman, gives an interpretation: “any assistance is welcome in an emergency.” First used by sailors, recorded in 1749.
The latest addition to my stable (weak pun, see next phrase) of sayings occurred while I watched the televised version of this year’s Kentucky Derby. The magnificent horses are huge, their intrepid jockeys very small. The first order of business is to get the jockey onto the horse’s back, perched on a saddle that looks to be the size of a dinner plate.
This must be done with speed, grace, and dignity. No ladders. Standing at the horse’s side is a special helper that forms a sling with his arms and hands. In one fluid motion the jockey places one knee into the sling, transfers his weight there, pushes off, and, as the helper lifts up, flings the other leg over the horses back. He is on top of the horse.
And so, another saying had just been illustrated to me, albeit on national television. “Getting a leg up.” I had heard the saying before, used most often to mean getting ahead of the competition. Now I have learned its origin; I was absolutely delighted with my new phrase. But it was not in my reference book. Outrage!
A single topic provides the origin of several sayings. Head lice. Back story: louse eggs are called nits. They attach themselves with incredible tenacity to the hair shafts of their victims. Attributable sayings are ‘feeling lousy’, be ‘nit-picking’, go through something with a ‘fine-toothed comb’ (said comb often included with a purchase of Qwell shampoo). I have many more fascinating examples but these will be saved for another post. Suspense. BTW, I have not yet returned to the hardware store described in the previous blog.
All prayers for me and everyone else are needed and welcomed.