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History Corner: Don’t They Know This?

History Corner: Don’t They Know This?

Our young people and, I must admit, some not so young, don’t have a clue about the oddities spoken by the “older” people.  I find myself using terms of my youth and seeing blank faces of disbelief before me.  So here goes nothing, or something, whichever way you want to take it.

Pinmoney – was literal, just enough money a wife could buy pins in early England.

Highfalutin – has been in the written language of America since 1839 meaning the higher end of society, not necessarily born to it but grasping it for ones own sake.

Black Maria – in some instances, it refers to the van used by policemen to transport prisoners.  Tradition says that it was name for a black woman known as “Black Maria” in Boston in the early 1800s.  She cooperated with the police department in arresting anyone in her boarding house that was unruly.

Shenanigan – this seems to have its origin in California during or soon after the Gold Rush.  It means deceit or trickery with the possible source from the Spanish chanada and the Irish sionnachuighim with a possible entry from the German schinnagel.  In any case, who in the younger generation hears this one very often?

Skedaddle – this term has historians scratching their collective heads.  Is it English or American? Is it Greek?  Maybe.  How about Welsh???  Let’s try the Irish, sgedadol meaning scattered.  I’m voting for that one.

Shilly-shally – this one has a double-barreled explanation with another slang expression, Caspar Milquetoast.  This poor soul, devoid of a backbone, standing and murmuring, “Shall I, shall I” led the way, as literature evolved to shally-shally and onto its present form shilly-shally.

Macaroni – as in “called it macaroni” in Yankee Doodle.  The hair style in the early 18th century found men of means, wearing an outlandish hairstyle, high up on their head needing a great deal of goop to keep it in place.  The style was thought to be pretentious and putting a feather in the hat of the colonials gave the British the idea that they were putting on “airs”.

Loophole – in the Middle Ages a loop was a narrow window in a castle.  Enough said.

Ferris wheel – everyone knows what this is.  It was invented by George Washington Gale Ferris and first seen at the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, the World’s Fair.  But I digress.

Scalawag – two different approaches to this one.  A wag in the American language was a scamp and scaly meaning a shabby, mean person or in the modern, a crumb bum.

Lollipop – alas this is a deep, dark secret.  It was known as a treat in England for at least 150 years before it came to America in 1910.  Maybe it can be traced to the English slang lolly meaning tongue.  Any ideas?

Bamboozle – this seems to be fairly obvious if you understand that thieves, beggars, gypsies and other nefarious sorts would call out as they roamed the street preying on local English citizens.  A bam was a cheat or a sham.  It became popular in the late 17th century and no one is coming forth to give us a clue to its origin.

Fifth wheel – no one wants to be a 5th wheel, but aside from its derogatory meaning, it was actually a horizontal wheel or circular plate used to support the forward body of a wagon or carriage.

Hoodwink – I like this one.  In the 16th century when it was the fashion to cover ones head with a cowl or hood, wink, the word for having ones eyes closed, was attached to it becoming blinded when the hood fell over their eyes.  Thieves and purse-snatchers took advantage of this to hoodwink their victims.

Hallmark – no, not the card company, the mark placed on pewter by a group in London, called the hall.  The mark was placed on the pewter to show it passed its purity of ingredients that made up pewter, in the proper amounts.  Such stamping took place in the 1300s with King Edward.

OK – here goes.  Are you ready for this one?  The initials date back to 1840 with the political organization backing Martin Van Buren for president.  He was known as Old Kinderhook, a name given him from the name of the village where he was born.  The members called themselves the Democratic O.K. Club.

Ramshackle – oh my, did I hear this word as a kid.  The Icelandic language has not added too greatly to our American way of speaking, but there is good reason to believe that the Icelanders gave us ramshakk r meaning tumble down or on the verge of falling to pieces.  My toy box seemed to fit this description.

Pot cheese – remember highfalutin?  Well add bonnyclabber and smearcase to it and you have the elite name for cottage cheese.  Originally in grandmother’s day, the curds were separated from the water by heating the coagulated milk in a pot.

Cranberry – low German kraanbere or crane berry from the fact that the plant grows in marshy lands frequented by….are you ready for this?  Cranes.

Slipshod –oh my, can I attach this to today!  A slipshoe was at one time used for a shoe or slipper that fitted loosely and worn for comfort in the home during the 16th century.  However, there were certain citizenry who valued comfort more than propriety and allowed themselves to be seen in public with the slipshoe.  Proper people looked down their noses at such a site and it then became known as slipshod.  To this end it became used to describe anything performed in a careless or slovenly fashion.

Goldbrick – alas, it is time to end this culmination of extraneous information with a word used in less than polite society to describe a person who fakes industrious work, shirking his or her duties, just hanging around looking busy…so ends my “looking busy”.

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