4/25/13 Not Quotes or Sayings Exactly, Still...
Pop quiz. What sport do the following two phrases come from?
Why, from the grand old sport of... marbles? Okay, maybe marbles ain't exactly a sport, but it certainly is old. We're talking a couple thousand years old at least. Marbles have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
If you've ever played marbles you understand the meaning of for keeps, or play for keeps or for keepsies. Which means, as the phrase suggests, you get to keep whatever marbles you won during the game. It's gambling for kids, the high stakes of marbles. Outside marbles, for keeps means getting serious, it counts, for real, no backsies. When a contest is winner-take-all you're playing for all the marbles.
Knuckle down is a lot easier to explain with a picture than with verbiage. Look at the proper hand position for shooting marbles. The marble is cradled on the curled under index finger behind the thumb ready to be flicked. The knuckles are down. So when a player is bearing down for a shot they knuckle down.
Still, why are marbles called marbles when they're made of glass? That's another story. In fact, for terrycolon.com it belongs in Infrequently Answered Questions. And it will be there soon. (When this post becomes old, it will have been there already.)
4/6/13 Hoof and Mouth
Most folks don't deal with horses all that much these days. Still, sayings related to horses remain in the language. Hold your horses, the cart before the horse, horse of a different color, you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink. These make intuitive sense even now. Then there's some that are, well, weird. See a man about a horse.
I want to explore a few horse sayings. Two weird ones, and two that might not seem to be about horses but are.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
So we might ask, how does long in the tooth mean old. As we're on horse sayings, you might guess older horses have longer teeth. Or rather their teeth look longer. What actually happens is their gums recede with age exposing more of the tooth. Hence, long in the tooth.
If you've put two and two together you might now imagine why someone would look a horse in the mouth. To tell how old it is. Looking a gift horse in the mouth is akin to asking what a gift cost. Kind-of rude. In any event, beggars can't be choosers. Or maybe, since we're talking about teeth, don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Dead ringer goes back to American horse racing at the end of the 19th century. A ringer was a horse raced under the name of a look-alike horse to cheat the betting odds. Dead in this case means 'exact.' As in dead center, dead on, dead even. So a dead ringer is an exact or extremely close look-alike.
Straight from the horse's mouth also comes from racing. Bettors love tips on races, the more inside the better, like from jockeys and trainers. What source is more inside than the horse itself? Straight from the horse's mouth is a joking way to say you have inside information without revealing the actual source. "A little birdie told me, nod, nod, wink, wink." And a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.
With all this talk about horses and mouths, we finish up with a talking horse, Mr. Ed. Did you know Mr. Ed had a stand-in stable mate? A look-alike named Pumpkin. Yep, a dead ringer for Mr. Ed.
2/16/13 No, Your Other Left
"Everybody with half a brain is coming to California"
—Governor Jerry Brown
So, where are the people with whole brains going? And did the half-brained folks intend to go to California? Just asking. Of course, the gov is not the only person in government to say something unintentionally funny. Take Michael O'Hanlon on the nomination of Porter Goss as director of the CIA:
"He's the right man for the job. We just don't know what the job is."
11/19/12 Quick Quips
And now a few words from my favorite curmudgeon not named H.L. Mencken.
"When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators."
"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn... The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."
"If you are young and you drink a great deal it will spoil your health, slow your mind, make you fat — in other words, turn you into an adult."
"The question is not how does government work, but how to make it stop."
All courtesy of the poison pen of P.J. O'Rourke. Though he probably writes on a computer.
10/29/12 How to Create 50 Million Jobs in One Fell Swoop
Before we get to the job creation, have you ever wondered just what the heck a 'fell swoop' is? Not so much the 'swoop' part, but what does 'fell' mean as an adjective?
'Fell' is Old English meaning awful, terrible or horrible. It's where we get felon, which way back when meant someone who is terrible, horrible or awful in behavior. 'Swoop' means just what you think it means, a fast movement. Combined, 'one fell swoop' means a single, swift, horrible action. These days the 'fell' meaning terrible part of 'fell swoop' is pretty much gone. 'One fell swoop' simply means 'all at once.'
Shakespeare, coiner of many a cliché, may have originated this one too. It appears in Macbeth, act IV, scene 3: After learning Macbeth killed his wife and children, Macduff says, "What! all my pretty chickens and their dam/At one fell swoop?" Whether this was something people of the time commonly said, who knows. Shakespeare wrote it down before anyone else so he gets the credit.
Now then, back to creating 50 million jobs. It's very simple. Eliminate the use of all combustion powered machinery on farms. Then, farming will revert back to 1850 methods. That means lots of draft animals and lots of human labor. Since more than half the people worked on farms in 1850, you gotta figure today that would mean around 50 million jobs, minimum. Of course, food prices would go through the roof in one fell swoop. But it would bring back the old meaning of 'fell' as being awful.
10/17/12 This Time Is Different?
"Never make predictions, especially about the future."
No doubt Mr. Stengel has a point, yet it depends on what you're trying to predict. You can safely predict winter will be colder than summer. You can't safely predict the World Series winner in ten years.
Still, to make plans we need to look ahead to see what to plan for. One forecasting method is looking at what happened under similar circumstances in the past and extrapolating. Though the way they keep revising history, you can't even safely predict the past. If there's been what they call a sea change you could find yourself in uncharted waters. In which case the past might be a poor guide to the future.
The industrial revolution was such a sea change. And it ain't over yet. Technology keeps on changing at a furious pace. Thanks to improved machines and methods the costs of basics — food, shelter, clothing — went from 74% of income in 1875 to only 13% in 1995. If living were a business, your costs dropped dramatically and your profit margin went from 26% to a whopping 87% of income.
What else is different today? Demographics. We are living longer and on average getting older. Plus we have fewer kids born later in life. Which relates to another sea change that occurred in the 1960s when the rate of population growth began decelerating. In some cases, like Russia, population is going down. That hasn't happened in Europe since the black death.
Another difference is the size and scope of government. A growing mountain of new laws, rules, regulations, and bureaucrats at every level effecting more aspects of life. It seems these days there ain't enough free room to swing a cat without bumping up against some law or government functionary. Should you try swinging a cat expect a visit from a government functionary.
The above are only a few of the things that are different today than a hundred, or even fifty years ago. Which makes me wonder how much can we learn from history if we are well off the proverbial beaten path.
"History doesn't repeat itself — at best it sometimes rhymes."
Maybe it does. But what if now is so different from then we are comparing apples to oranges? After all, they say nothing rhymes with orange.
4/17/12 Needless to Say it Goes Without Saying
File under: Duh-uh
"Nothing succeeds like success."
"A promise is a promise."
"Enough is enough."
"It is what it is."
"What will be will be."
"What's done is done."
"We'll get there when we get there."
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
File under: Can that be right?
"The only constant is change."
"Expect the unexpected."
"The more things change the more they stay the same."
"Never say never."
"Less is more."
And in the spirit of less is more, I've nothing more to add. This entry is what it is. Which ain't much.