Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can do the final installment of my 3 part series on historical trivia—Where Did Those Expressions Come From.
Part 3 of 3 is alphabetical N through Z.
Nick Of Time: How did we get the expression 'in the nick of time'?
Back in the days of medieval times, a tally was used to register attendance at colleges and churches. The tally was a wooden stick and attendance was indicated by a nick or notch in it. The person who arrived on time had his attendance 'nicked', therefore arriving 'in the nick of time.'
On The Carpet: How did 'on the carpet' come to mean a reprimand?
Originally, only the boss's office had a carpet, the other offices didn't. So, to be called 'on the carpet' meant to be called to the boss's office and this usually meant a reprimand.
Pup Tent: How did the 'pup tent' get that name?
These smaller than normal tents were named by the Union soldiers in the Civil War. When they were given to the soldiers, they looked so much like dog kennels that one of the men stuck his head out and began to bark. The idea caught on and soon the whole camp was barking. The tents were called dog tents with that name soon morphing into 'pup tent'.
No Quarter: Why do we say we give 'no quarter' when we mean to show no mercy?
Originally, to give quarter meant to send conquered enemy soldiers to a special section or quarter where they remained until their fate was determined. They could be set free, ransomed, or enslaved. If they were killed instead, they were given 'no quarter'.
Red Tape: Where did governmental delay get the name 'red tape'?
The expression came from England. For centuries, the British government followed the custom of tying up official papers with red tape. The wasted time spent in typing and untying the red tape used to bind the dispatches and document cases led men to pick it as the symbol of useless delay.
Slush Fund: How did a 'slush fund' get that name?
Aboard a sailing ship, slush was the waste fat from the galley and was used to grease the masts. All extra slush used to be the property of the cook and he didn't have to account for the money he made from selling it. Likewise, a 'slush fund' is money that doesn't need to be accounted for—and often had best not be.
Taxi: What is the reason a 'taxi' is called that?
The world originally referred to the meter carried by the cab. It was called a taximeter because it measured the fare or tax and cabs equipped with the meters painted taximeter on their doors. This was soon shortened to 'taxi' and in time all cabs were called by that name.
Upper Crust: Why do we call high society the 'upper crust'?
The crust was long considered the best part of the bread and the upper or top crust was the best part of all. If high society is the best of all, then it's the 'upper crust'.
Volume: Why is a book called a 'volume'?
Ancient books were written on sheets of paper which were fastened together lengthwise and rolled up like a window shade. 'Volume' is from the Latin volvere meaning to roll up.
Wild Goose Chase: How did a 'wild goose chase' get that name?
A wild goose chase was once a sort of game, a horse race in which the second and each succeeding horse had to follow the leader accurately and at a definite interval. Since the horses had to keep their positions like geese in flight, the chase was called a 'wild goose chase'. Since this was not a race in which anyone could win, the phrase was adopted to describe a person following a course that led to no goal.
X-Ray: How did the 'X-ray' get that name?
The ray was first called the Roentgen ray in honor of the scientist who discovered it. But he preferred to call it 'X-ray' because X is the algebraic symbol for the unknown and at that time he did not understand the nature of this ray.
Yankee: What is the origin of the term 'Yankee'?
The word comes from a nickname for the Dutch—Jan Kaas meaning John Cheese. In pirate days, English sailors adopted the term as a derisive name for the Dutch freebooters. The Dutch settlers in New York (originally New Amsterdam) began to apply it to the English settlers in Connecticut because they believed the Connecticut English to be far more enterprising than ethical. The term spread to the other colonies, though at first it was almost always used to refer with dislike to the citizens of a colony farther north.
Zest: Why does 'zest' mean enthusiasm?
In its Greek form, zest meant a piece of orange or lemon peel. The addition of a slice of orange or lemon peel adds 'zest' to a drink or dish and makes us more enthusiastic about it.