Someone close to me once worked at a hardware store. I recall his telling me about a family combing the aisles and growing very flustered. Asked what they were looking for, the family replied, “Elbow grease”. Unfortunate but not that surprising that they had taken this common expression literally and embarked on a fool’s errand, given the phrase’s origins.
Tag Archives: history of English
Nose to the grindstone: hard at work on folk etymology
Not too long along, I asked my Twitter followers to hit me up with common expressions, idioms and colloquialisms that mention a part of the body. Many weighed in, and I thought it a good idea to put my nose to the grindstone to uncover where many of these turns of phrase originate.
Let’s talk turkey: More odd word and phrase origins
I’ve been wanting to “talk turkey” for some time now. It started when my significant other bowled three turkeys in a row. Where did that expression come from?
A calculated answer: The shared etymology of calculate, calcium and calculus
What do calculate, calcium, pebbles and abacuses (or abaci, if you prefer) all have in common?
Etymology of ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ not so square after all
Oh, how often those ridiculed as puny, studious or unfashionable bear the brunt of such names as dweeb, geek and nerd. But has anyone ever wondered about the origins of these words or even contemplated that, originally, geek actually meant the opposite of what it means today?
A sovereign answer to a puzzling question
Why does sovereign have a g, when it is supposedly derived from the Old French soverain, which, etymologically, has nothing to do with a reign?
Fill the bill: Avoid folk etymology and the rest will follow
Expressions fascinate me. There must surely be cultural influences that shape the development, as well as the nuances of, language. I’m always happy when I uncover the origins of yet another idiom, and I’m always dismayed when I see someone misusing and/or misspelling that same idiom.
Pronunciation: A salute to popcorn?
Why is colonel pronounced kernel? What many people don’t realize is that colonel comes from early French.
Pronunciation: Left of centre or down the loo?
Why do we in Canada say LEF-tenant, when there is no actual f in the word itself. Borderline obsessive in my fascination with etymology, I immediately rushed to the Oxford English Dictionary to find the answer.