November 21, 2013 | Volume 118, Issue No. 47

Using colloquialisms

Wick's World

Colloquialism is defined as using an informal word or phrase that is more common in conversation than in formal speech or writing. As “a rule of thumb” (an average thumb=one inch), I tend to overuse colloquialism and metaphorical speech to the extent that my number one listener, my wife, often asks me to “put a sock in it” (quiet down). This phrase originated near the turn of the 20th century when phonographs had no volume control button so a sock became the method that eventually led parents to scream at their children to, “Turn down your music!”

I’m still “alive and kicking” (relating to a baby in the womb) today because I now give my wife a break and save most of my wisecracking for outside our home.

Many popular expressions originated in the Bible. From the Old Testament in Exodus, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Jesus soon discovered that too many of his followers were taking these phrases literally, resulting in footless foot soldiers and other members of God’s army unable to see the enemy or to perform hand –to-hand combat. Jesus remedied this in Matthew 5:38-9 when he combined this with another famous quote, “Turn the other cheek.”

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosever shall smite thee on thy right cheek. Turn to him the other also.”

The phrase “catch forty winks” is thought by many to also have holy origins. Examples: Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the Mount before his sermon. Jesus was seen 40 days after his resurrection and he once fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. The flood was the result of 40 straight days of rain; once the rains stopped Noah waited 40 more days before he opened the doors and windows on the Ark only to find the earth in a deep freeze. The freeze is the only viable explanation how our state’s rather distinguished member of Congress explains her dinosaur-extinction-theory by allegedly claiming that the jurassic couple on the Ark froze to death upon exiting the big boat.

Many phrases originated in modern times. New York City’s nickname, “The Big Apple,” was coined in the 1920s and referred to the city’s racetracks. After sitting quietly for decades, the term was revived in NYC’s 1971 campaign to attract tourists.

A year later, U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell was referred to as “The Big Enchilada” in the Watergate tapes. “The Big Cheese” (leader) or “The Big Gun” (boss) were also broadly used derivatives of these mostly political terms. Also during this era, Henry Kissinger was given credit for the much over-used term, “The Bottom Line.”

Remember the 1984 burger commercial starring a little old lady saying, “Where’s the beef?” Later that same year, Walter Mondale co-opted the slogan during an unsuccessful presidential bid.

“The buck stops here” appears to have originated at the poker table. A buckhorn knife was placed in front of a player when it was their turn to deal. This practice also created the term, “Passing the buck.”

“The buck stops here” was made famous by President Harry S. Truman. Did you know that years later President Jimmy Carter reinstated the slogan? It failed to work the same wonders as it did for Truman. The public never really related it to Jimmy as did the slogan, “The beer stops here,” for his brother Billy.

I’m afraid I just put “another nail in the coffin.” My wife is getting seriously tired of listening to me read and re-read the edited versions of this column.

She finally shouted, “Zip it!” so it looks like I’m “at the end of the line.”

She may think, “It’s all over but the shouting!” — a phrase first used by newspaperman Charles Apperly in 1842 referring to the crowd’s cheers following a sports team’s victory.

In reality, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” or at least until I’m “three sheets to the wind.”

The first phrase appears to have originated with the closing performance of an opera, while the latter has its roots at sea. Ropes or chains that held down the corners of sails were often referred to as sheets. If these sheets came loose, the ship would begin to sway around like a drunken sailor.

I won’t “beat around the bush”; we’re “back to square one.”

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