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snopes 26 January 2016 07:04 AM

More specious etymologies and word origins
 
'A SHOT OF WHISKEY'

In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a "shot" of whiskey.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges. The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

BUYING THE FARM

This is synonymous with dying. During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you "bought the farm" for your survivors.

IRON CLAD CONTRACT

This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

PASSING THE BUCK / THE BUCK STOPS HERE

Most men in the early west carried a jackknife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it as common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn't want to deal he would "pass the buck" to the next player. If that player accepted then "the buck stopped there".

RIFF RAFF

The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. Riverboats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts which were considered cheap. The steering oar on the rafts was called a "riff" and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class.

COBWEB

The Old English word for "spider" was "cob".

SHIP STATE ROOMS

Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms.

SLEEP TIGHT

Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night's sleep.

SHOWBOAT

These were floating theaters built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat. These played small towns along the Mississippi River. Unlike the boat shown in the movie "Showboat" these did not have an engine. They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of the party is "showboating".

OVER A BARREL

In the days before CPR a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in a effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel you are in deep trouble.

BARGE IN

Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they "barged in".

HOGWASH

Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless "hog wash".

CURFEW

The word "curfew" comes from the French phrase "couvre-feu", which means "cover the fire". It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted into Middle English as "curfeu", which later became the modern "curfew".

In the early American colonies homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a "curfew".

BARRELS OF OIL

When the first oil wells were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid so they used water barrels. That is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

HOT OFF THE PRESS

As the paper goes through the rotary printing press friction causes it to heat up.Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press itís hot. The expression means to get immediate information.

There, don't you feel smarter now?

Skeptic 26 January 2016 10:12 AM

Quote:

'A SHOT OF WHISKEY'

In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a "shot" of whiskey.
I've been interested in shooting all my life, and have frequently heard that the cost of cartridges in the wild west was quite high, enough to make a mockery of those movie clips where they plink away at tin cans all day. Most large cartridges would have been hand made. Even at the cost of 12 cents each, that had the buying power of about 2.50 to 3.00 dollars, (difficult to define when the wild west was), so not likely to be wasted.

musicgeek 26 January 2016 01:02 PM

This list seems to be a mix of a few accurate etymologies with a heaping portion of wild guessing.

Ieuan ab Arthur 26 January 2016 02:12 PM

Hi All:

Quote:

Originally Posted by musicgeek (Post 1904449)
This list seems to be a mix of a few accurate etymologies with a heaping portion of wild guessing.

Yup. I did a quick pass through the Online Etymology Dictionary, and according to the site, "cobweb" is correct but "hogwash" and "riffraff" are not.

Ta ra 'wan,

Ieuan "Ya pays yur money and youse takes yur chances" ab Arthur

thorny locust 26 January 2016 02:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by snopes (Post 1904443)

COBWEB

The Old English word for "spider" was "cob".

My 1955 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary agrees with this.

overyonder 26 January 2016 02:51 PM

Quote:

CURFEW

The word "curfew" comes from the French phrase "couvre-feu", which means "cover the fire". It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted into Middle English as "curfeu", which later became the modern "curfew".

In the early American colonies homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a "curfew".
Couvre-feu simply means to "cover the fire". Specifying just candles and lamps is a bit of an "under-stretch". It would stand to reason that all sources of fire would be extinguished before people retired to bed in the name of safety. Not just lights/candles.

OY

ChasFink 26 January 2016 03:53 PM

Quote:

PASSING THE BUCK / THE BUCK STOPS HERE

Most men in the early west carried a jackknife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it as common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn't want to deal he would "pass the buck" to the next player. If that player accepted then "the buck stopped there".
This is interesting. I always heard the poker "buck" was a knife with a handle made of deer antler (i.e. buck horn). Makes more sense to me it was the popular Buck brand (or a knockoff thereof). Anyone know which is correct - or if in fact both types of knives have a history of being used this way?

A Turtle Named Mack 26 January 2016 04:10 PM

I have little doubt that the concept of an iron-clad contract comes from the imagery of objects covered in iron plates being highly resistant to attack - but I would be surprised if it came specifically from reference to the first ironclad ships deployed in the US Civil War. Although - ships might have been the first objects referred to as 'ironclad' (I don't think knights were referred to that way, and ironclad wagons, etc. would be too heavy for the horses. Also RR engines and cars were already metal and not really put into positions were cladding would make sense), and the Civil War ironclad battles captured the public imagination the way air battles in WWI did 50 or so years later, so perhaps it was the Civil War era ships that put 'ironclad' as a metaphor for impervious into the public mind.

thorny locust 26 January 2016 04:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by overyonder (Post 1904474)
It would stand to reason that all sources of fire would be extinguished before people retired to bed in the name of safety.

Even in a Maine winter?

And even when matches weren't available, and restarting the fire was a timeconsuming process involving flint and carefully shaved tinder?

I strongly suspect that fires were banked for the night, not extinguished entirely. And ideas of safety precautions at the time were different from modern ones. People routinely did things in fashions that we would now consider horribly dangerous and therefore improper.

RealityChuck 26 January 2016 05:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by snopes (Post 1904443)
SHIP STATE ROOMS

Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms.

On British ships, too? :rolleyes:

The OED gives a cite for iron-clad as "unable to be changed" from 1838, years before ironclad warships.

We've debunked "sleep tight" many times here.

The OED on "Buy the farm:
Quote:

Originally Posted by OED
perhaps with allusion to the notion that a farmer whose farm is damaged by a military plane crash would be owed restitution by the government]

It gives several similar phrases, including "bought a plot"

Ieuan ab Arthur 26 January 2016 05:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack (Post 1904483)
I don't think knights were referred to that way

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "Ironclad" was first used to refer to knights in 1852 and ships in 1861. The earliest reference to ironclad contracts was 1884.

Ta ra 'wan,

Ieuan ab Arthur

overyonder 26 January 2016 05:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by thorny locust (Post 1904485)
Even in a Maine winter?

And even when matches weren't available, and restarting the fire was a timeconsuming process involving flint and carefully shaved tinder?

I strongly suspect that fires were banked for the night, not extinguished entirely. And ideas of safety precautions at the time were different from modern ones. People routinely did things in fashions that we would now consider horribly dangerous and therefore improper.

There's more than one way to keep warm... Stones were commonly used to retain heat overnight. In fact that's still quite common when winter camping. Those stones have to be devoid of moisture for safety (prevents them from shattering). I'm no historian, mind you.

OY

A Turtle Named Mack 26 January 2016 05:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ieuan ab Arthur (Post 1904488)
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "Ironclad" was first used to refer to knights in 1852 and ships in 1861. The earliest reference to ironclad contracts was 1884.

Ta ra 'wan,

Ieuan ab Arthur

Okay, the term was used for knights as of 1852 - the golden age of the armored knight. Oh, wait, gunpowder pretty well put an end to that (well, sort of - knights were in many ways the tanks of their day, cutting swaths and breaking up infantry formations unless they met other knights. But for a few hundred years, knights would be sitting ducks for gunfire and small artillery; tanks required internal combustion engines to be able to armor themselves sufficiently to absorb all but the most intense hits). I would guess the 'ironclad knight' reference was in a novel or similar, and then the question as to whether the reference to knights gave rise to the ironclad contract metaphor would depend on how fully the story came into the public consciousness, like the Scarlet Letter or shibboleth. I really have no idea.

GenYus234 26 January 2016 06:18 PM

Ironclad warships were a thing in the 1850's, the use could be a historical reference "like the ironclad knights of old" to compare to the new ships.

thorny locust 26 January 2016 06:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by overyonder (Post 1904490)
There's more than one way to keep warm... Stones were commonly used to retain heat overnight. In fact that's still quite common when winter camping. Those stones have to be devoid of moisture for safety (prevents them from shattering). I'm no historian, mind you.

I'm not a historian, either; but I've lived in multiple houses using wood heat, and visited in lots of others, and read a number of historical descriptions.

While people did indeed take hot stones or bricks to bed at night, it still seems extraordinarily unlikely to me that people in colonial America extinguished their fires every night. You want that thing to start right up in the morning, as fast as possible; and even with matches available, that's by far easiest to do if there's still a good bed of hot coals. And again, they took for granted a routine level of danger that would seriously freak out most modern people.

overyonder 26 January 2016 07:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by thorny locust (Post 1904502)
While people did indeed take hot stones or bricks to bed at night, it still seems extraordinarily unlikely to me that people in colonial America extinguished their fires every night. You want that thing to start right up in the morning, as fast as possible; and even with matches available, that's by far easiest to do if there's still a good bed of hot coals. And again, they took for granted a routine level of danger that would seriously freak out most modern people.

Hot coal bucket (steel) kept outside would be pretty safe. We used to heat it with wood too - not that it makes me any kind of expert. The OP mentioned "before houses had fireplaces". Having a central fire in the house would seem dangerous for a stray spark to jump onto something and catch it on fire. Just wondering.

OY

Alarm 26 January 2016 07:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by overyonder (Post 1904510)
Hot coal bucket (steel) kept outside would be pretty safe. We used to heat it with wood too - not that it makes me any kind of expert. The OP mentioned "before houses had fireplaces". Having a central fire in the house would seem dangerous for a stray spark to jump onto something and catch it on fire. Just wondering.

OY

"Before houses had fireplaces" would relegate this to ancient antiquity, though.
I'm pretty sure the Romans used hearths to keep their homes warm and even had a form of "central heating"

Skeptic 26 January 2016 09:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by thorny locust (Post 1904485)
Even in a Maine winter?

And even when matches weren't available, and restarting the fire was a timeconsuming process involving flint and carefully shaved tinder?

I strongly suspect that fires were banked for the night, not extinguished entirely. And ideas of safety precautions at the time were different from modern ones. People routinely did things in fashions that we would now consider horribly dangerous and therefore improper.

Keeping a fire going (or at least smouldering) for days or weeks on end was common, even in to my lifetime. My grandmother had an iron range, and it was closed up at night, then when the vents were opened again in the morning it would flare up again.
There's an old story of a visitor staying a night at a farm, and asking in the morning which of the family had lit the fire that day. He was told it was the grandfather, who had died long ago.

My in-laws had an open fire, and they covered the coals with poor quality damp coal (called slack) that kept the fire going underneath. When the crust that formed was broken, air got in again and it started. That type would only last a few days, as it needed to be cleaned more often.

thorny locust 26 January 2016 09:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by overyonder (Post 1904510)
Hot coal bucket (steel) kept outside would be pretty safe.

Actually, a properly banked fire, with the coals covered with ash, wouldn't be all that hazardous. And carrying buckets of hot coals around isn't particularly safe.

I did trip across one site (and have lost it again) which did refer to covering the banked fire with a metal container (which they did call a "couvre-feu"; though that wouldn't necessarily mean the word had anything to do with "curfew".) This was put on top of the coals and the whole shebang left in the fireplace, though. I expect that, for people that had one, it made up for the lack of a modern fireplace screen.

overyonder 26 January 2016 09:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Skeptic (Post 1904524)
My grandmother had an iron range, and it was closed up at night, then when the vents were opened again in the morning it would flare up again.

Oh yeah we had that too. But we're not talking about a cast/iron stove, we're talking about an open fire.

OY


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