Friday, August 13, 2010

How some expressions were derived

In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was either
>sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him
>standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed
>both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how
>many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted.
>Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore painting them would cost the buyer
>Hence the expression, "Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."
>As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year (May
>and October)! Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads
>(because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good
>wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the wigs, so to clean them they
>would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for
>30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term "big
>Today we often use the term "here comes the Big Wig" because someone
>appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.
>In the late 1700s, many houses consisted of a large room with only one
>chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and was used
>for dining. The "head of the household" always sat in the chair while
>everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally a guest, who was
>usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during a meal. To sit
>in the chair meant you were important and in charge. They called the one
>sitting in the chair the "chair man."
>Today in business, we use the expression or title "Chairman" or "Chairman
>of the Board."
>Personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women
>and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee's
>wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. When they were
>speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman's face
>she was told, "mind your own bee's wax." Should the woman smile, the wax
>would crack, hence the term "crack a smile." In addition, when they sat too
>close to the fire, the wax would melt therefore, the expression "losing
>Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and
>dignified woman . as in "straight laced" wore a tightly tied lace.
>Common entertainment included playing cards. However, there was a tax
>levied when purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the "Ace of
>Spades." To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead.
>Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be
>stupid or dumb because they weren't "playing with a full deck."
>Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the
>people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TV's or
>radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and
>bars. They were told to "go sip some ale" and listen to people's
>conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at
>different times. "You go sip here" and "You go sip there." The two words
>"go sip" were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and,
>thus we have the term "gossip."
>At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart-sized
>containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep
>the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was
>drinking in "pints" and who was drinking in "quarts," hence the term
>"minding your "P's and Q's."
>One more: bet you didn't know this! In the heyday of sailing ships, all war
>ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round
>iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon.
>However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck? The best storage
>method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on
>four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon
>balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There was
>only one to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling
>from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a "Monkey"
>with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate were made of iron, the
>iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem
>was to make "Brass Monkeys." Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts
>much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the
>temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much
>that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was
>quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."
>(All this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn't you.)


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