Tuesday, June 19, 2007



A colloquialism is a phrase with a meaning that makes no sense logically (hmmm, I wonder why that sounds so familiar?). Anyway, I’ve been thinking of a few and thought I’d discover their origin. Most of the information below was derived from my favorite web site http://www.worldwidewords.org/ (I’m not about to plagiarize, the plagiarpolice will come for me).

More Than One Way to Skin a Cat – This is a good one. The phrase was originally said “there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream” or “there are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with butter.” Somehow it evolved into the skinning the cat version because skinning a cat is more fun than choking it. It's a good thing too, 'cause Spouse would not waste his precious butter choking a cat. It appears to me that Mark Twain made it famous by using it in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This phrase means that when you go hunting, you better take two types of weapons or if you go shopping, take two credit cards (one of them might be over-extended).

Cat Scratch Fever – Ted Nugent. Created after Free For All.

Dead as a Doornail – This one has a bunch of history. Are you ready? First, the term was used somewhere around 1350 and was made famous by our little buddy William when he used it in Henry IV. They say this one has lasted so long because saying “Dead as a Doornail” has a nice poetic rhythm to it (as opposed to saying “dead as a nail” or “dead as that one lady down the street” or “dead as dead if there ever were a dead.”) There are several theories about this one. My favorite theory comes from carpentry when a nail was hammered through something. The something would then be turned over and the back of the nail would be hammered down against the item so that it couldn’t be pulled out easily. This is presumed to be a dead doornail. You mean carpenters you… killin’ all those nails!

Hell in a Handbasket – Not a lot of history on this one. It is known to be a newer American phrase that means something will happen quickly. Using a basket to carry items will allow you to do so with efficient accuracy. Unless of course you have a red hood and you’re in the forest… then the basket is a dead giveaway.

Raining Cats and Dogs – There are a few theories on this one. One of them is that people use to have thatched roofs in which dogs and cats would hide. When it rained, the water would drain through the roof and the cats and dogs would jump out. Another theory is derived from mythology whereby cats and dogs had influence over storms and so when it rained, the dogs and cats were urinating with extreme contempt (maybe Vera was a cat or dog in a previous life).

The Proof Is In the Pudding – Now this one doesn’t make any sense at all. To me it sounds like they’re trying to mix photography and instant desserts. Anyway, the history comes from the word Proof meaning Test. So in order to see if something is correct you need to test it or proof (prove) it. But no one really knows why pudding was chosen instead of say a side of beef (the proof is in the side of beef!) or casserole (the proof is in the casserole! – although this one cannot be used because we all know that you can hide anything in a casserole, so there’s no proving anything there).

My guess for the pudding choice? Before they figured out that horse hooves made good gelatin, it was extremely difficult to get pudding to graduate from the runny stage to the more favorable gelatinous stage. So getting nice thick pudding was proof that you did something right. If my kids turn into thick chocolaty gelatinous beings, does that mean I’m a good parent? I'm sure the PS2 and Hershey can assist me with this.

If you have more suggestions for other colloquialisms, please by all means comment. I’d be happy to do the research.


The McMillans said...

Hair of the dog? Speaking of which, when I woke up with a slight pounding in the back of my head this morning I thought of this one....only, I din't have a margarita, I took Naproxin...he he he. Not enough brain cells to start the day off with hair of the dog.

arab_lover said...

I thought of a few that I'd be interested in hearing about...

"One man's trash is another man's treasure" or the lesser-known version... "One man's meat is another man's poison".

"A stitch in time saves nine."

"I need ___ like I need a hole in the head."

Okay so these may have obvious meanings but maybe not-so-obvious origins. Why didn't they use something like "I need ___ like I need the rickets" or "I need ___ like I need a door to door salesman"?

Or possibly "One man's toilet on wheels is another man's Infiniti?"

What if we started a trend of new colloquialisms? I wonder what those would sound like with the creative crowd we run with?! =) I bet they'd be great. Any ideas?!

rabidrunner said...

Hey! One at a time lady! Okay... so I've spent a bit of time on the three you presented and haven’t found a thing in regards to their origin. I'm going to take the liberty of creating my own.

"One man's trash is another man's treasure” – We all know what this one means. I’m pretty sure it’s biblical in nature. It probably has something to do with a giant ship and animals.

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison” - This one became popular thanks to all of those vegetarian hippies in the 60s

“A stitch in time saves nine” – Martha Washington. During one of her quilting bees, she figured out during one of their gatherings that it would be easier to finish their quilts now as opposed to having George do it later. He’d leave cherry juice and pits all over it and that was before Tide so it’d take nine more stitches to cover up the cherry stains.

“I need a _____ like I need a hole in the head” – Jimmy Jones followers. They found out rather quickly that they needed kool-aid like they needed… How it evolved to needing shoes, I just don’t know.

Vera said...

Rather than finding the meaning of these, since we all know” We hear what we want to”, let’s see how they are slightly modified:

Old “All gone to Pot”
New All the pot is gone

Old “Am I my brothers keeper”
New You can keep my brother

Old “Pros and cons”
New Cons are pros

Old “Pull the wool over one’s eyes”
New Take off that sweater, there’s coffee on it

Old “Put your shoulder to the wheel”
New Push my motorcycle so I can start it

Old “Have a bone to pick with you”
New TD&H has some ribs to share with you

Old “Need to see a man about a dog”
New Vera’s got to IP

Old “Out of the pan into the fire”
New The frying pan is on fire

And one for Loreena Bobbit:
Old “Go off half cocked”
New I have half his cock!

Drew333 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Drew333 said...

This might be the wrong blog to make my comeback on with such great posts. But I'll "take a stab at it", wow I'm "on fire" already. Anyway, lets get to the point here. Colloquialisms vary depending on what part of the Country you hail from. I spent a few years among the people of Montana, this is where I did my research on Colloquialisms. Actually I was undercover even to the point of not being able remove myself of my new redneck persona. Upon leaving I realized that of all the terms learned, 90% were derogatory. Things like, "You're not the sharpest tool in the shed" or "You're a couple french fries short of a happy meal" Maybe this was due to my purpose of being there, (2 year Mormon Mission)I remained hopeful but none the less attracted more of the same. "Your going to hell in a hand basket" or "Son are you a few bricks short of a full load" As you can imagine I began to question my own faith. Could so many hillbilly's be right about me? Maybe I am uglier than the south bound end of a north bound donkey??? I arrived at my tipping point when someone said "Looks like the dog's been keepin' him under the porch!" I knew it was time to make a change to such horrible colloquialisms. We need more positivity! From this moment forward I will only have the best of intentions when speaking in such terms. How about, "That kid is the sharpest tool in the shed" or "Man he must be a whole happy meal" Maybe, just maybe, we should combine the terms for maximum effect. "That kids the sharpest happy meal in the shed with a load of full bricks." I hope this brief entry will make a difference for the monumental cause of positive colloquialisms.