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History Corner: Can You Remember Them All?

History Corner: Can You Remember Them All?

I can’t. You may wonder what I can’t remember. Well, it’s all of the interesting origins for slang that I watched on television in the later hours of the evening on one of the history-type stations which I also can’t remember. But, there are books about this trivial, no trivia that look into why we say what we do. So here goes. Are you ready to remember them so that when conversation gets dull, you can whip out one of these “goodies” and wow your family and friends or at the very least bore them to death? Hey look, I just write this “stuff” it’s your choice what you do with it. I would appreciate you reading it so don’t wrap the garbage in it.

Salt, the common ingredient in making food taste better has many sayings attributed to it such as spilling salt on the table. It was believed in the earliest of times that the devil was always around especially in back of us so if we spilled the salt, throwing it over our left shoulder would catch him in the face and he would retreat, thus saving our skin. Salt was a rare commodity and soldiers during the Roman times were paid with rations of salt so “not worth his salt” became a reduction in pay. Salt money was called salarium and we then get salary. Ha, I bet you didn’t know that one. To take something someone says “with a grain of salt” goes back to the Romans again where poisoning ones enemies was commonplace. It was believed that a grain of salt (remember they did not have refined salt) would counteract a poisoner’s attempt. The poisoner was the enemy or the false face and the “poisonee” best take what they said under due consideration. Right?

Now it’s summer and the picnic foods are abounding but “hatte” would not be a welcomed dish at anytime. Made of eggs, veal, dates, saffron, salt, honey, Rosemary and other assorted delights during the early European written cookbooks it was not particularly popular. Only a braggart who thought he could win his bet would offer to “eat his hat”. Continuing with the culinary, giving one the cold shoulder or a snub was actually true when a guest overstayed his welcome he was served a platter of cooked but cold beef shoulder. In my family, merely putting the broom upside-down in the corner was supposed to give those lagging guests the polite “bum’s rush”. You can Google that one for yourself.

If someone slightly older than I am says to you, “ Oh no, don’t gaslight me!” They are referring to a 1944 movie starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman entitled Gas Light where Boyer’s character has married a lovely young opera star who he tries to push to insanity by actions she can’t account for and taking place in 19th century England he uses a dimming gas light to prove she is seeing things. You have to rent the movie to understand all of this but don’t gaslight me.

This next one might already be understood but here goes anyway. We all know what a Frisbee is, right? In the 1870s, a Bridgeport confectioner by the name of William Frisbee opened up his shop and made homemade pies in circular tin plates. His pies were well known and sold in many local shops including New Haven. As the story goes, in the 1940s, Yale students found a diversion in sailing the empty pie tins in the air. The fad might have died out except for the fact that in the ’50s UFO sightings were rampant and Hollywood filmmakers took advantage of this. Walter Morrison was intrigued by Aliens and devised a metal toy disc to mimic a flying saucer. Teaming up with Wham-O Toy Company he debuted his toy in, where else? California. To increase sales Wham-O’s president undertook a promotional tour of Eastern college campuses and to his amazement Yale and Harvard were playing with the metal pie tin from the Bridgeport manufacturer. I don’t have to go any further.

Some quick explanations:

Beside Himself – The ancients believed that the soul and body could part and under stress the soul would leave the body and he would be beside himself.

Blue Laws – These laws were devised by New Haven colonists adopting the name from the color blue of the strict Presbyterians of the “true blue” pro-Parliament party in England. My favorite color is red, not that you were wondering.

Dog Days – The ancient Romans believed that the 6 or 8 hottest days of the summer were caused by the Dog Star, Sirius, rising with the sun, adding its heat to the day.

Go to Pot – A blacksmith kept a pot on hand into which he would throw broken pieces of metal on which he was working. Anything which has no further use goes into this pot.

Lock, Stock & Barrel – There are 3 parts of a gun and by enumerating all three the totality is reaffirmed. It’s all there.

Potluck – It was once customary for the housewife to have a pot on the fire into which all scraps of meat and vegetables were thrown. She kept the pot heated and there was always stew available but what it tasted like was a mater of potluck.

Red Tape – This comes from England where for centuries the British government tied up their official papers with red ribbon or tape. The tying and untying of the ribbon which bound the documents led to the use of red tape as a symbol of useless delay.

Shebang – This comes from the Irish name for a speakeasy or drinking place without a license – shebeen. A customer, thoroughly soaked in drink would offer to take on everyone in the “the whole shebeen”.

Shoddy – In the process of weaving cloth, a certain amount of fluff is thrown off called shoddy. The fluff was used to make new wool but never as strong as the original thus clothing made from this wool did not last long.

Tip – Years ago in English inns and taverns it was customary for the patrons to drop a coin for the benefit of the waiters into a box placed on the wall. The sign read “To Insure Promptness” and later just T.I.P.

Goldbrick – Obviously a gold brick is one of the many ways pure gold can be stored and in the 1880s skullduggery reared its ugly head with western promoters painting bars of lead with a thin coating of gold in order to entice gullible Easterners to invest. It became associated with swindle or faking and in the military it meant faking work and then onto shirking ones duty.

Skullduggery – No, it is not associated with grave digging but a word with an origin in Sweden where skuld translated into bilking someone. It also is mentioned as a possibility of indecency in Scotland as skullduddery. How this became skullduggery in the USA is a mystery, except it does have overtones of secrecy and deception.

If you have any slang words you would like me to research, send your requests to History Corner, PO Box 1126, Orange 06477.

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