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  #1  
Old 09 April 2008, 12:57 AM
Sunny Lea
 
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Default The Bizarre History of 10 Common Sayings

From Cracked

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A lot of the English language seems to have been developed as some kind of elaborate practical joke. It's full of little sayings and idioms that on their face make no sense at all, and if traced back to their origins are downright horrifying.

Right or wrong, these 10 sayings have some of the strangest (and most unsettling) histories:
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  #2  
Old 09 April 2008, 01:08 AM
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I very much enjoy Luis Prada's writing. He's not subtle, but he's funny.
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  #3  
Old 09 April 2008, 01:10 AM
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I'm going to go ahead and say that the "bust your chops" one is not correct.
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  #4  
Old 09 April 2008, 02:23 AM
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I always thought "basket case" came from a reference to basket weaving, either in an asylum of some sort, or when bored. So if one is a "basket case", one would be either insane or bored to the point of nuttiness. I have no cite for that, it's just what I always thought, rightly or wrongly.

ETA: I know that basket weaving is not an accurate portrayal of mental illness. Just referring to the pop culture stereotype.

Last edited by violetbon; 09 April 2008 at 02:48 AM.
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  #5  
Old 09 April 2008, 06:42 AM
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I've heard the "rule of thumb" one debunked several times. When I first discovered snopes, I thought there would be a page about it - it turned out the be the only UL I knew at the time that didn't have one. Sadly, it's a favorite bludgeon for "men's rights" activists to use against feminists.
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Old 09 April 2008, 06:47 AM
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Huh. If I had ever thought on "basket case" I would have assumed it had something to do with the guillotine. A person whose head was in the basket. Somewhat like a chicken with its head cut off.
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  #7  
Old 09 April 2008, 03:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ramblin' Dave View Post
I've heard the "rule of thumb" one debunked several times. When I first discovered snopes, I thought there would be a page about it - it turned out the be the only UL I knew at the time that didn't have one. Sadly, it's a favorite bludgeon for "men's rights" activists to use against feminists.
That's funny, I could have sworn there was one, but I couldn't find it. I did find some threads, though, so maybe that is what I remember. I clearly remember getting into a (minor) argument with one of my women's studies professor on the topic!
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  #8  
Old 09 April 2008, 04:55 PM
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Not sure about the explanation of 'To get hold of the wrong end of the stick' as referring to to the sticks in Roman latrines. At Housesteads Fort on Hadrian's Wall in the north of England a latrine block still exists, complete with gutters and bowls. The sticks used to wipe your bottom had a sponge on the end and after use were washed in the gutter (which had flowing water from a tank seen at the far end of the photo) and then placed, sponge down, in the bowls which also contained water. Thus the stick would be picked up from the bowls (and so it would be hard to get hold of ther wrong end of the stick) and not passed as the article suggests.



'Brewer's' favours the getting hold of the muddy end of a walking stick as the likely origin.

Last edited by Andrew of Ware; 09 April 2008 at 05:02 PM.
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  #9  
Old 09 April 2008, 05:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ramblin' Dave View Post
I've heard the "rule of thumb" one debunked several times. When I first discovered snopes, I thought there would be a page about it - it turned out the be the only UL I knew at the time that didn't have one. Sadly, it's a favorite bludgeon for "men's rights" activists to use against feminists.
I hear that men's rights activists are only allowed to bludgeon feminists with a trope less than the diameter of their penises.

Nonny
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  #10  
Old 09 April 2008, 06:00 PM
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I've been reading a book debunking various word myths (Word Myths, by David Wilton), and the myth about "nitty gritty" is covered there. The phrase originated in the 1950s. It's just a bit of rhyme -- nitty was probably added just to rhyme with gritty, as was done with similar sounding phrases like "namby pamby."

ETA: There's a really thorough debunking of the "rule of thumb" myth by Wilton here: http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/489/

erwins
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  #11  
Old 10 April 2008, 05:37 PM
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Mister Ed

I didn't enjoy the piece at all, I thought the writer had a little less imagination than the average town drunk.

I will second the doubts about "bust your chops" explanation. I guess the author thought that drawing of an Edwardian/Victorian gentleman was representative of our Founding Fathers? I know, it was so long ago that there are no pictures of them.

Sheesh! And his "bite the bullet" remarks smacks of the ungunned class--a carbine being a shortened rifle, not a paper cartridge or cap and ball type of firearm.
And "basket case", as one of the article comments points out, is a reference to the stereotype of insane asylums having the inmates weave baskets to pass the time and pay for their keep (probably).

Enough, some brain drano please!

Ali "bite the short ones" Infree
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  #12  
Old 10 April 2008, 05:56 PM
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I'd not heard "by the short hairs". I'm familiar with "by the short and curlies".
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  #13  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ali Infree View Post
And "basket case", as one of the article comments points out, is a reference to the stereotype of insane asylums having the inmates weave baskets to pass the time and pay for their keep (probably).
People keep saying this (in the comments to the article, too) but that's the only one that the writer actually provides an independent reference for, and that reference quotes the first known usage, and backs up what the article says.

(eta) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable also agrees with him on that one - "Originally, a soldier who had lost all four limbs".
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  #14  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:34 PM
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The problem I have with the "wrong end of the stick" one is that the expression used in other places is the "short end of the stick." Which makes the Roman baths explanation make no sense at all.
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  #15  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ramblin' Dave View Post
I've heard the "rule of thumb" one debunked several times. When I first discovered snopes, I thought there would be a page about it - it turned out the be the only UL I knew at the time that didn't have one. Sadly, it's a favorite bludgeon for "men's rights" activists to use against feminists.
I have only heard the reference used in the opposite way - to 'prove' how ingrained in law and culture the superior position of men was.
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  #16  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nancyfancypants View Post
The problem I have with the "wrong end of the stick" one is that the expression used in other places is the "short end of the stick." Which makes the Roman baths explanation make no sense at all.
And where does the phrase 'short end of the stick' come from? For a straight stick, there is no 'short end'. I could see it coming from hockey or golf, though, where holding the short end of the stick would make the games very difficult indeed.
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  #17  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack View Post
And where does the phrase 'short end of the stick' come from? For a straight stick, there is no 'short end'. I could see it coming from hockey or golf, though, where holding the short end of the stick would make the games very difficult indeed.
No clue at all.
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  #18  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack View Post
And where does the phrase 'short end of the stick' come from? For a straight stick, there is no 'short end'. I could see it coming from hockey or golf, though, where holding the short end of the stick would make the games very difficult indeed.
If you have JStor, you can summon up this article:
"The Long Story of The Short End of the Stick," by Charles Clay Doyle. American Speech, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 96-101.
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  #19  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chloe View Post
If you have JStor, you can summon up this article:
"The Long Story of The Short End of the Stick," by Charles Clay Doyle. American Speech, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 96-101.
Sorry, don't have it or know what it is. Any chance you could provide a synopsis?
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  #20  
Old 10 April 2008, 06:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack View Post
Sorry, don't have it or know what it is. Any chance you could provide a synopsis?
Sure, but it'll have to be later. Shortest summary possible, though, is "not sure."
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