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Old Phrases

by Mac McMullen / January 19, 2007 12:04 AM PST

How many can you recall from your "young" life:

A Lick and a Promise (quick fix to a problem and a promise to come to come back and do the job right )

A Bone to Pick (someone who wants to discuss a disagreement)

An Axe to Grind (Someone who has a hidden motive. This phrase is said to have originated from Benjamin Franklin who told a story about a devious man who asked how a grinding wheel worked. He ended up walking away with his axe sharpened free of charge)

A bad apple spoils the whole barrel (one corrupt person can cause all the others to go bad if you don't remove the bad one)

At sea (lost or not understanding something)

Bad Egg (Someone who was not a good person)

Barking at a knot (meaning that your efforts were as useless as a dog barking at a knot.)

Bee in your bonnet (To have an idea that won't let loose)

Been through the mill (had a rough time of it)

Between hay and grass (Not a child or an adult)

Blinky (Between sweet and sour.as in milk)

Calaboose (a jail)

Cattywampus (Something that sits crooked such as a piece of furniture sitting at an angle)

Dicker (To barter or trade)

Feather In Your Cap (to accomplish a goal. this came from years ago in wartime when warriors might receive a feather they would put in their cap for defeating an enemy)

Hold your horses (Be patient!)

I reckon (I suppose)

Jawing (Talking or arguing)

Kit and caboodle (The whole thing)

Madder than an old wet hen (really angry)

Needs taken down a notch or two (like notches in a belt.usually a young person who thinks too highly of himself and needs a lesson)

No Spring Chicken (Not young anymore)

Persnickety (overly particular or snobbish)

Pert-near (short for pretty near)

Pretty is as pretty does (your actions are more important than your looks)

Scalawag (a rascal or unprincipled person)

Scarce as hen's teeth (something difficult to obtain)

Skedaddle (Get out of here quickly)

Sparking (courting)

Straight >From the Horse's Mouth (privileged information from the one concerned)

Stringing around, gallivanting around, or piddling (Not doing anything of value)

Sunday go to meetin' dress (The best dress you had). We wash up real fine is another goodie...)

Tie the Knot (to get married)

Too many irons in the fire (to be involved in too many things)

Tuckered out (tired and all worn out)

Under the weather (not feeling well.this term came from going below deck on ships due to sea sickness thus you go below or under the weather)

Wearing your "best bib and tucker" (Being all dressed up)

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Old phrases....
by Rolway / January 19, 2007 12:41 AM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

Million Dollar Wound
Hair on fire
Drummed out of the Army
The whole nine yards
Helter skelter
Willy nilly
Going to hell in a handbasket
Don't know squat
Shiver me timbers!
Jumpin' jehosephat
As thick as a duck pluckers wick
Stick it in your ear
Go pound salt
Fell *** over teakettle
Jeepers creepers
the floozie in the jacuzzi
Soft as a sneaker full of ****

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I reckon....
by Angeline Booher / January 19, 2007 1:24 AM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

... I do remember those, and still use them.

But instead of "barking at a knot", I say, "barking up the wrong tree".

"Pretty is as pretty does" or "Beauty is as beauty does" is another.

"Jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs."

More will probably come to mind.

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Reckon is still in daily usage in Essex England, and perhaps
by Ziks511 / January 21, 2007 11:07 PM PST
In reply to: I reckon....

more widespread than that in England, though most commonly in the interrogative: "D'you reckon?" = D'you think so? implying skepticism or not entirely in agreement. "What d'you reckon?" asks for your opinion.

About half of those phrases I did run across more in old movies on 1950's television or in Westerns, than in common usage.

I had an uncle, noted for his coulorful character and speech whose favorite phrase seemed to be "God's teeth" as a remark of irritation. That one is probably Elizabethan in origin, right up there with "d's blood" = God's blood or "Odds bodikins or bodkins" = Gods (little) body. "Odds breath or D's breeth" = Gods breath, all emphatics or expressions of irritation. "Gadzooks" God's ?looks? an expression of surprise.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph", Irish and or Catholic surprise. Sort of the Catholic equivalent of "Oy gevalt" which translates as: Oh, what has befallen (me, you, him, us, them: is understood), though I stand to be corrected on that translation by someone more steeped in the language.

Old plays like those by Congreve and Oliver Goldsmith (late 17th, early 18th century) have a lot of great expressions. The Relapse, by the architect who designed Blenheim Palace, has a positive catalogue of them, the one which I remember most is "Stamp me vitals" which is just an emphatic, and doesn't mean anything at all, it just raises the following sentence to extreme prominence and emphasis.

"Damme, if I don't take the varlet and nail his ears to the door, stamp me vitals if I don't." The phrase always made me want to cross my legs.

The version I learned was "Handsome is as handsome does." and is a statement as much about character as it is about physical beauty or attractiveness.

"Cold enough to freeze the "ovoid appendages" off a brass monkey."

"Colder than a well diggers belt buckle." (???)

"Colder than a witches "mammary".
"Colder than a witches whatsis."

"Like water off a ducks back."

From my unreconstructed mother: "**** shoutin' " for Bessie Smith and her ilk. Mum was unmoved by early blues records featuring female vocalists. On the other hand, give her a swing band, even one comprised of those "of the dark-skinned persuasion" (there's another phrase) and she was "as happy as a pig in **** (or clover, for some reason)."

Nancy's mother was not allowed to go out on Saturday nights because her father said it was "n!@@3r nightj." Now if that doesn't "give you the willies", I don't know what will.

My mother was also significantly prejudiced regarding those of the Jewish faith, which meant that she was less than warm to many of my musical instrument playing friends. My father was better at hiding his negative emotions but they were there. It's interesting (at least to me) that I have picked up none of their prejudices and that my prejudices are often the exact opposite of theirs.

"Happy as a dog with two tails," is the bowdlerized form of the original phrase which referred to two of a different appendage.

"Deaf as a post."

"Dumb as a tree stump": (probably referring to speech, but possibly not.)

"Dumb as rocks" or "Dumb as a fence post": the other form of dumb.

"Not all there", "Not hitting on all six (or eight)", "a few bricks shy of a load", "Not rowing with both oars in the water" (I heard that one from a Newfoundlander delivered in the middle of a meeting. Combined with his accent it left us gasping for about 10 minutes.) = A skeptical remark about someone's intelligence, or that their normal intelligence has been affected by an outside influence (fatigue, pressure, etc).

"Wandered", "Awa' wi' the fairies", "Ga-ga", "Not all there", as in confused or senile. "He's birdy" is the medical colloquialism for that state.

"Ah, it's for the birds", something pointless, useless or not worth doing.

"Thin as a rail, or a rake"

"To call a spade a spade." To utter a forthright and unrestrained opinion. (Not the other spade.)

"He calls a spade a shovel and then beats you over the head with it." Not merely forthright, but crude, not necessarily accurate, and overly insistent about an opinion.

"Pickin' them up and layin' them down" for running fast. One of my father's favorites. It also appears in the early jazz song, "Cakewalking Babies from Home" by a group ca. 1932 whose name escapes me for the moment.

"Life is real, and life is earnest" again one of my father's favorites, and Presbyterianism at its least attractive.

"He's such a schnook, schlemiel, schlep," used outside the Jewish community as well as inside.


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by Diana Forum moderator / January 19, 2007 10:09 AM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

Between a rock and a hard place
Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Long in the tooth

Fruit doesn't fall far from the tree
Don't take after strangers

Caught red-handed
Caught with his hand in the cookie jar

Asking to be shot
Not worth the cost of a bullet
Justifiable homicide


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Most are familiar...some are not
by Steven Haninger / January 19, 2007 10:25 AM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

might depend on ones part of the country. Another I remember we used to describe many things was ".....rode hard and put away wet".

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(NT) Remember this one from the TV westerns
by Diana Forum moderator / January 20, 2007 6:43 AM PST
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One more. . .
by Coryphaeus / January 19, 2007 9:35 PM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

Saucered and Blowed - finished. Actually from the practice of putting your coffee into the saucer and blowing on it to cool it, back when coffee was served with a cup and saucer. Maybe that's just Texas.

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(NT) 'cheaper to keep her' = stay married, avoid divorce
by WOODS-HICK / January 19, 2007 10:01 PM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases
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(NT) Or cheaper to kill her/him
by Diana Forum moderator / January 20, 2007 6:42 AM PST
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"keep walking til your hat floats" & more
by WOODS-HICK / January 19, 2007 10:21 PM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

growing up near lake michigan, this meant shut up and leave

"you're going to the moon, alice"
"pow, right in the kisser"
"don't go away mad, just go away"
"put up or shut up"
"devil is in the details"
"the devil you know is better than the one you don't"
"the way the ball bounces"
"ounce of prevention is worth pound of cure"
"pound-wise, penny-foolish"
"mind your p's(pints) and q's" (quarts)
"dose of your own medicine"
"takes one to know one"
"birds of a feather, flock together"
"do as I say, not as I do"

"living on easy street", I better "give it a rest" before I "blow a gasket"..."good night, gracie"

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Take a long walk....
by James Denison / January 21, 2007 4:15 PM PST

...on a short pier.

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(NT) blinky is a new one for me
by jonah jones / January 19, 2007 10:45 PM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases
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Here's some things I remeber...
by Willy / January 22, 2007 2:15 AM PST
In reply to: Old Phrases

Kit & cabooble = a time when soldiers around the Napoleanic War or there abouts what was needed to pack. If a long march or such, the whole kit&cabooble if not, a short march or into combat, just the kit.

Son-of-a-Gun= a term that British sailors coined when upon returning to port finding their loved ones, pregant and needed a little help. Would place them(women) between loaded cannon(guns)and fire them. This in turn to help produce labor or reduce pain of labor. huh?

Spooning = a term that a courter would appear on a favorite usually around/before or during supper time. The favorite usually a younger woman was doing cooking chores and thus, be spooning/mixing the meal.

-----Willy Happy

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