By Charles Earle Funk, Tom Funk

ISBN-10: 0883658453

ISBN-13: 9780883658451

Why do humans "take forty winks" and never 50...or 60, or 70? Did anyone actually "let the cat out of the bag" at one cut-off date? Has a person really "gone on a wild goose chase"? discover the solutions to those questions and plenty of extra during this huge, immense assortment, produced from 4 bestselling titles: A Hog on Ice, Thereby Hangs a story, Heavens to Betsy! and Horsefeathers and different Curious phrases. Dr. Funk, editor-in-chief of the Funk & Wagnalls typical Dictionary sequence, finds the occasionally dazzling, usually fun, and consistently interesting roots of greater than 2,000 vernacular phrases and expressions. From "kangaroo court docket" to "one-horse town", from "face the track" to "hocus-pocus," it is an exciting linguistic trip.

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Additional info for 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions from White Elephants to a Song & Dance

Sample text

To walk the chalk In present-day American use, one who is made "to walk the chalk" must walk a line of rectitude and sobriety, not deviating a hair's breadth, or he must obey the rules closely. The significance is alleged to have been of nautical origin, a straight chalk line drawn along the deck, or a narrow lane between two lines, to test the sobriety of a sailor; if he could not walk the length of the line placing each foot directly on it, or if he was unable to keep within the two lines of the lane, he was adjudged to be too drunk for duty and was clapped into the brig.

The slang expression originated during my youth, probably in the early 18<)O's, but, as has been the case from the earliest times, no one took the trouble to give it a date or to record the exact source. I think it likely that its origin was a literal statement. Some wife, hearing a noise during the night, may have aroused her worthy but timorous husband to investigate the source. He, poor wight, may have said that his feet were too cold-meaning, literally that his feet were so cold and the floor so icy that he couldn't even chase a mouse.

To know beans This is usually in the negative; one who doesn't know beans is appallingly ignorant or is wholly unacquainted with the subject under discussion. It is likely that the expression arose from some story that went the rounds in America early in the nineteenth cen­ tury, but, if so, the story has been lost. It is possible, however, that it 29 arose from some dispute over the cowpea, which, despite the name, is more nearly related to the bean than to the pea and which is often called either the black-eyed bean or the black-eyed pea.

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2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions from White Elephants to a Song & Dance by Charles Earle Funk, Tom Funk


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