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Helen Thomas
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Here are some odd expressions that I can use in the right context but have no idea what they originally meant.


hard graft - doesn't have anything to do with grafting
ring of truth - does truth have a sound or an emblem or seal ?
blue moon - has the moon ever been blue ?
by and large -
kangaroo court - roos on trial
cold turkey
salad days
break a leg
life of riley
busmans holiday
long in the tooth
hunky dory
pipe dream
fat lady sings
graveyard shift
humble pie
dog eat dog
egg on - from old Norse word with the same meaning
fifth column - OK I didn't know this one and the rest
church key
kitty corner
davy jones locker
eighty-six
happy as a clam
brass tacks
peanut gallery
dirt poor
buy the farm
[ August 30, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]
 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Helen Thomas:
Here are some odd expressions that I can use in the right context but have no idea what they originally meant.
(... ones I don't know either...)
blue moon - has the moon ever been blue ?
by and large -
long in the tooth


If the moon has never been blue, then I guess once in a blue moon is rather seldom.

As people age, their gums recede (especially in the days before flossing), making their teeth look longer.

"By and large" reminds me of the ridiculous software engineering phrases from the 1980s of "programming in the large" (large-scale software engineering) and "programming in the small" (individuals writing small programs). Objects of prepositions (such as "in") should be nouns or noun phrases, whereas "large" and "small" are adjectives.

I suppose that the word "idiom" looks so much like "idiot" because a phrase whose meaning is underivable from its component words is stupid.
 
Max Habibi
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:

"By and large" reminds me of the ridiculous software engineering phrases from the 1980s


It may remind of you such, but the phrase "By and Large" has been around for much, much longer than software engineering: if you understand the history of the expression, then software engineering phrase you mentioned is revealed to be a somewhat clever pun, dealing with the common usage of navel metaphors to describe technology projects.

Here's the story.

The phrase goes back to William Falconer´┐Żs Dictionary of the Marine(1769), and is a nautical term. Imagine a ship traveling West. If the wind were pushing north | South, it be hitting on the mainmast, or beam: that the widest part of the side of the ship. If the wind was blowing from any point in the half-circle eastward of the line from north to south near the stern, the ship would be sailing large. It was unrestricted, like a prisoner at large, because ships sailing large were able to maintain their direction of travel anywhere in a wide arc without needing to change the sails.

Of course, ships were able to make some progress in the wind when it was blowing forward on the beam. When doing so, ships were sailing by the wind, which translates to towards the wind

As you can imagine, such a ship could travel by or large, but not both. Thus, by and large came to mean with all points considered, or all angles taken into account.

Interestingly, this gave birth to a second nautical metaphor, taken aback. When a ship turned too quickly into the wind, it was shopped short, or taken aback.

M
[ August 30, 2004: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]
 
Helen Thomas
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Terrific answers Frank and MAx.

Blue moon is to indicate the second full moon in the month. That's if I got it right.

pushing the envelope

An aviation term to test aircraft to the limits.

fair to middling originally a cotton-grading term, now it's more commonly used to indicate the weather or in response to the question "How are you?"

Real Mccoy Brand of whiskey or the genuine article.

Red Herring Hunting dog training or commonly, thrown off the scent.

cut the mustard to be able, to be the best

KIT AND CABOODLE
[ August 30, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]
 
Joe King
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Originally posted by Helen Thomas:

blue moon - has the moon ever been blue ?

When there is a very large forest fire, volcano or other similarly destructive event, huge amounts of dust can go into the atmosphere. This can cause the moon to turn a blue colour.

pipe dream

I think this is a reference to the hallucinations opium addicts used to get when smoking using a pipe.

fifth column - OK I didn't know this one and the rest


Bit of a political one here. In the Spanish civil war four columns of a Nationalist army marched on Republican Madrid. The city was captured, partially because of the citizens rising up to fight for the Nationalists. The Nationalist general referred to citizens as the "fifth column" that helped win the capture of the city.
 
Helen Thomas
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Really interesting post, Joe.

Once in a blue moon confirms what Joe said. The expression refers to the second full moon in a month. July 2004 had two full moons.
[ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]
 
fred rosenberger
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pushing the envelope is generally an aviation term. I've seen graphs with four curves plotted, although i don't remember exactly what they were. i think it's something like speed, altitude, thrust... and something else.

each line ends up being the 'edge' of a region. if the plane is within the bound region, it flies. if it goes outside, the plane stalls/crashes/flares out/something bad.

The region is known as the 'envelope', so when you push or stretch the envelope, you are either a) expanding that region, or b) flying as close to that borderline as you can without bad things happening.
 
Jeff Langr
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hunky dory, per Cecil:

http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhunky.html
 
Jeff Langr
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Jeff Langr
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eighty-six:

Common lunch counter shorthand
 
Helen Thomas
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dressed to the nines and also dressed for a killing
pull wool over the eyes
Lock stock and barrel Completely go over everything though it originally referred to the components of a gun
Rap sheet
Indian summer Warm weather following the first frost
Big Apple race track term now NYC
Hat trick originally a cricket term : three scores by an individual player but now usually means pulling something off unexpectedly.
Lock and Load Originally referred to the standard US Army rifle of WWII, now means to be prepared and at the ready.
[ August 31, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]
 
Helen Thomas
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Originally posted by Jeff Langr:
eighty-six:

Common lunch counter shorthand


 
Jeff Langr
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In diners, cooks and waitpersons would classically exchange information about orders and people using a simple code; many of the numbers in the code became fairly standard. Rather than saying, "there's a surly brute complaining about the food," the waitress might shout "44" so the cook would know what's up.

Eighty-six rhymes with "nix."

-j-
 
Nick George
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The Real Mccoy comes from a steam train part (don't ask me which one) invented by a feller named Mccoy. A part in high demand, various people began to imatate it. However, none of them worked as well as the original, so buyers would check to make sure they were getting the "Real Mccoy".
 
Alan Wanwierd
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Theres a whole bunch of weird but common Australian expressions too:
One of my favourites is:

"Buckleys chance.." - meaning something is extremely unlikely, presumed impossible - after a prisoner (Mr Buckley) from Australias early settler days who escaped from a convict ship in a wreck on Tasmanias coast and ran off into the wilderness, he was left assuming that he would persish. Actually he was befriended by some local aborigines who looked after him for years and he ended up many years later being a respected go-between for aborigine/white folk negotiations!...
 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Joseph George:
The Real Mccoy comes from a steam train part (don't ask me which one) invented by a feller named Mccoy. A part in high demand, various people began to imatate it. However, none of them worked as well as the original, so buyers would check to make sure they were getting the "Real Mccoy".


The part was to lubricate the train while it was moving. Before this invention, trains had to stop every few miles so various parts could be re-oiled, lest they grow hot and seize up. I believe McCoy was one of the first great American inventors having part African/slave ancestry.
 
Helen Thomas
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School of hard knocks

salad days is first known to be used in Shakespeare meaning "early youth".
[ September 01, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]
 
Consider Paul's rocket mass heater.
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