Last week I gave you a list of 10 bits of historical trivia dealing with those expressions everyone uses, but whose origins have been obscured by time. This week I'm presenting a list (of what has now become a 3 part blog series) of an additional 13 such expressions, alphabetically A through M.
Annie Oakley: Why do we call a free pass to an event an 'Annie Oakley'?
Free passes were once punched full of holes. Annie Oakley was a famous rifle shot who, as part of her act, would shoot holes in a playing card held by an assistant.
Blurb: What is the origin of the word 'blurb'?
When Gellette Burgess' book, Are You A Bromide, was published, he devised a special dust jacket for 500 presentation copies to be given away at a booksellers' banquet. It was the custom at that time to have the picture of some woman on the jacket of every novel. He featured a sickly-sweet portrait of a young woman and in the accompanying text described her as a Miss Belinda Blurb. From this the usual dust cover jacket 'blow up' of an author and his book came to be called a blurb.
Clerk: How did an office assistant get the name 'clerk'?
At one time only the clergy could read or write so any person with this ability was assumed to be a cleric. From this, the words clerical and cleric were soon shortened to clerk and came to mean written work or one who performed such work.
Dirt Cheap: Why do we say something inexpensive is 'dirt cheap'?
Nothing is of less value. If you gather a big pile of dirt you would not increase your wealth. In fact, you would most likely have to pay someone to haul it away.
Exception Proves The Rule: What is the origin of the expression 'the exception proves the rule'?
Originally the word 'prove' meant 'test.' The phrase merely means that the exception tests the rule, which makes sense and is logical.
Fall Guy: Why do we call a dupe a 'fall guy'?
The word fall not only means to stumble but also to be lured or entrapped. We call a person a fall guy who is entrapped and left to suffer the punishment while the one who did the actual misdeed escapes.
Geronimo: Why do American paratroopers shout 'Geronimo' as they jump?
Several members of the first unit of parachute troops formed at Fort Benning, Georgia, went to see the movie Geronimo. Afterwords, in reference to the mock heroics of their practice jumps, they started calling each other by this name. From this came the paratroopers practice of shouting 'Geronimo' as he leaps from the plane.
Hair Of The Dog: Why is taking a morning-after drink as a hangover cure called taking a 'hair of the dog that bit you'?
The ancients believed one of the best cures for hydrophobia (rabies), or any other disease you might get from a dog bite, consisted of taking a hair of the dog that bit you and putting it in the wound.
Inside Track: Where did we get the expression 'he's got the inside track'?
It came from horse racing. The best position for a horse, the shortest distance around the race track to the finish line, is the one nearest the rail—the inside track.
Jog The Memory: What is the reason we say we 'job the memory'?
Jog really means shake and when we jog a person's memory, we shake it up.
Killed With Kindness: Where did we get the expression killed with kindness?
This came from the story of Draco, the Athenian legislator, who died because of his popularity. The Greeks used to wave their caps and coats as a sign of approval and when they were extremely enthusiastic they tossed their hats and coats at the object of their enthusiasm. In the 6th century B.C., Draco aroused the enthusiasm of the audience in the theater of Aegina to such an extent that the entire gathering showered him with caps and coats—and smothered him to death.
Lock, Stock, And Barrel: How did lock, stock and barrel come to mean all?
There are 3 parts to a gun—the barrel, the stock, and the firing mechanism called the lock. By listing all 3, the totality of the rifle is reaffirmed—all of it.
Make The Bed: Why do we say we make the bed when we spread the sheets and blankets?
We speak of making the bed rather than fixing it or doing it because beds were once created anew each night from straw thrown on the floor.