Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Idioms are so much a part of our language that we use them without thinking. Their meaning has become second nature with us and we rarely stop to think why an idiom means what it does. One example is the phrase ” long in the tooth” which means ” getting on in years” or ” elderly”. I had always thought that it had to do with the fact that a horse’s teeth never stop growing . The older the horse, the longer it’s teeth. That’s why, at horse fairs, horse buyers open the horse’s mouth to see how long the teeth are and are thus able to gauge it’s age.

Recently, I came across another explanation. In the case of humans,unlike horses our teeth stop growing after a certain age. However, as we grow older, the gums shrink  unless they are brushed extra carefully. As the gums recede , the teeth appear longer . Hence “long in the tooth”. Neat , huh ?

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Some years ago, a poll was conducted to find out how often people swear . I don’t recall the methodology used , nor do I remember the exact results. What I do remember very clearly is that , as a profession , secretaries swore the least, using a swear word once in every 20 words. Construction workers swore the most, with one cuss word in every three.I found these results amazing and somewhat difficult to swallow mostly because I , and  the people I assosciate with, hardly ever swear.  That secretaries were the most clean spoken was not unexpected ; that they used a cuss word as often as once in every 20 was something I would never have guessed. That construction workers are the most foul mouthed was predictable; theirs is a macho profession that places a premium on being one of the boys and cussing is one way of doing it. But, one in every three? How do they ever make themselves understood ?

What set me thinking about this topic was a news item about mercurial celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay who is currently shooting a TV series ” Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” for Australian TV. Even though the show is the top rated show in it’s time slot, viewers are apalled by the number of cuss words that the foul mouthed Ramsay uses to excoriate his hapless apprentices. In the U.S, the objectionable words would be bleeped out but  in Australia , after 8:30 PM, programming  is aired uncut but with an advisory that the language used may not be suitable for delicate ears. As a result, viewers got the full flavor of Ramsay’s vocabulary; so much so that the politicians in Canberra even discussed the issue in the Senate amid calls to ban certain swear words on Australian TV.

But get this : Ramsay was found to have used a ceretain cuss word  80 times in one 40 minute episode . That doesn’t sound like construction worker territory to me . Closer I think to what a secretary might sound like.

S-o-o-o-o-…… how often do you #^&%*! ?

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According to a recent Australian poll, men lie more than women. Men it seems lie an average of five times a day ; women only three.

I don’t believe it.

Reading some of the details of the poll  leads me to postulate that these conclusions are skewed. For instance , the Number 1 occasion that men lied ( 28%) was when they had to answer the dreaded question ‘Honey, does this dress make me look fat ?” or some variation of it. I submit that this is purely self defense and should not count as a lie, even a white lie. Another that should not count is when men are looking for an excuse to go the pub and are forced to ” deviate from the truth”.

My biggest grouse is the methodology used to arrive at these results. Apparently, the researchers just asked subjects how often they lied in the course of a day and  took their word for it. I think that one of the three lies that women told that day was their response to the researchers. We men are always being chastised by our wives for lacking finesse, for being too blunt and for our inability to even tell a white lie. It’s too much to  suddenly be told that we prevaricate more than women and I just can’t believe it.

P.S. I’m glad my wife doesn’t read my blog !

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Yesterday, my wife and I went to the nearby Jade Garden Retaurant for lunch . We placed our orders and while we were waiting for them to arrive I glanced at the paper placemat. It was about the Chinese Zodiac and I immediately noticed that one of the zodiac signs had been changed . 2007 was now designated as the year of the Boar ; previously , it would have been the Year of the Pig. I remembered that I had read that the Chinese government was trying to be more sympathetic to Muslim sensibilities. I suppose that this was one way of doing so, the pig being considered unclean by Muslims.

No problem. Boar, Pig ; it doesn’t make any difference to me. But then I started reading the description of persons born under the sign of the Horse, my sign. Among other things, it said ” You are often ostentatious and impatient. ” Well, o-k-a-y . I don’t think so, but I can take a little criticism. Then , it went on ” Marry a Tiger or a Dog, but never a Rat.” I searched frantically and found my wife was a Boar. Whew, that ‘s bad but at least she wasn’t a Rat. And, in future, if we don’t see eye to eye, I will tell myself that it isn’t her fault ; we were incompatible to begin with.

Worse was to come. Each sign lists the birth years that it applies to but the years listed only go back to 1950. Nothing before that. What does it mean ? I know I’m getting on in years but I’m not that old, am I? I’m still here , dammit. This is a very harsh way of finding out that your sell-by date has already passed.

After the meal, the check arrived with a fortune cookie for each of us. I opened mine and read ” Forbidden fruit creates jams“.

Whatever it was, I didn’t do it !!

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According  to a recent survey, the numbers of cats and dogs in America is almost the same. Most families , espescially those with young children, prefer dogs  but older single ladies love cats and sometimes have several of them. I myself have had  both cats and dogs as pets at different times  but most people  like one or the other.

In Istanbul and in Greece , as we found out on a tour last year, there are many more cats than dogs.I suppose the relative scarcity of dogs  is because dogs cost more to feed and maintain.

On our first evening in Istanbul we went to a seafood restaurant near the Hotel Armada. We were  looking at the menu, deciding what to order, when my sister-in- law gave a little scream and pushed back her chair. A cat, one of several that were hanging aroud, had strolled under our table and was winding itself around her legs. Throughout our meal, we saw cats padding between the tables and meowing for hand-outs.

This scene was repeated throughout our trip and we got used to it. However , one evening in Santorini, it got to be too much even for a cat lover like me. We had been to a little taverna, Santorini Mou, and there were upwards of a dozen cats strolling around the cramped dining room. At one of the adjoining tables , where there were only two diners , a cat jumped up on one of the vacant chairs and mewed for food. They fed him a tidbit but that only encouraged him more and I thought he was going to lean over and help himself ! The diners must have thought so too because they had the owner come and shoo him off.

We couldn’t help  thinking about the relations between humans and cats, so different than what we are acccustomed to in America. (It’s just different ; I’m not saying that one is better than the other). There, it seems like a relationship of equals, separate but equal. Cats are accorded the right to move about wherever they want, even in a restaurant. They hang out with several others and go freely from one house to another. They don’t belong to anyone in particular and are like more or less welcome guests. Since they don’t belong to anyone , they are not spayed and they proliferate. How different it is here , where they are tightly controlled, sometimes pampered, but still pets rather than equals.

Which brings me to the phrase ” raining cats and dogs “. The connection between cats and dogs  and rain is not readily apparent . Where did it come from ? Of the several possiblities mentioned , these two are the most popular.

One: In seventeenth century England , whenever there was a severe thunderstorm, the rain would wash all  debris from the roads into the gutters. The rubbish  would often include the dead bodies of cats and dogs  and they would be left in  the gutters after the water had drained away. They had to have come from somewhere , right ? Hence, “raining cats and dogs”.

Second: In ancient mythology, cats have been assosciated with rain, dogs with wind. So when there was a severe thunderstorm with lots of rain and heavy winds , sailors in particular ascribed it to cats and dogs.

Take your pick. I like the first one. 

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The United States is practically the only country in the world that still uses the British or Foot-Pound-Second (FPS) system of measurement. Most everyone else uses the Metric System and it is only a matter of time before we switch. Naturally, this is going to be a sea change for us who have used the FPS system all our lives and it is not going to be easy to adjust. In this post I want to focus on how this change will affect even our language.

Certain expressions that are part of the English language will begin to lose their meaning. For example, we now use six feet as the standard for a tall man and call such individuals six footers. Somehow 1.83 meter man doesn’t  quite cut it. And how will we rework phrases such as  thousand yard stare or  98 pound weakling or the whole nine yards or an inch deep and a mile wide.

Proverbs will be espescially hard hit. We may have to reword An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  And  Give him an inch and he’ll take a foot. And, Inch by inch everything’s a cinch. And, The jouney of a thousand miles begins with a single step.And, A miss by an inch is as good as a miss by a mile. And, After dinner rest a while, after supper walk a mile.Or, Before criticizing a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

There must be many more but those are all I could think on the spur of the moment. While these phrases and proverbs may eventually become obsolete, that time is a long way off and it certainly won’t be in our lifetimes. Because of  the resistance to it , the metric system is being phased in very gradually and it will be at least 20 years , if not more , before it supplants the British or FPS system.

 I wonder  if, now that use of English is so widespread, these phrases and proverbs will retain their meaning even after the British system is a thing of the past. I wonder also if there are phrases in other languages that incorporate metric terms and that do not transalate well into English. Any comments ?

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I was surfing the Internet when I came across an article titled ” How Did I Wind up on the Cover of this Romance Novel ?” by Duncan Larksthrush. I started to read it and it was a hilarious ! It was a riot ! It had me laughing out aloud … something that I do very rarely. Then I noticed that it was from the archives of The Onion , and I said to myself ” Of course!”.

The Onion is a free satirical newspaper founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 1988 that parodies news events , both real and imagined. It is a weekly with a circulation of about 600,000 but reaches many more readers since it also has an on-line edition. When I was working in New York City, I used to read it regularly and it was always a hoot. The inventiveness of it’s writers was amazing and I used to wonder what would be in store for me next.

Here are some recent headlines from recent issues:

 Retired General George Washington Criticizes Bush’s Handling of Iraq War.

J.K. Rowling Hints at Harry Potter Date Rape . Calling the final Harry Potter book her darkest yet, J.K. Rowling confirmed that one of it’s characters will be date raped.

Shaking off Amnesia, Gonzalez remembers that he’s actually a pool salesman from Tulsa.

Creepy Lifeguard Turns Out to be Nine Time Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Spitz.

Duke University Equestrian Team Hoping to Avoid Investigation into their Sex Scandal.

Taco Bell Signs Former College Basketball Star to Record Two Month $ 5.15 -per – Hour Contract.

Yankee Fans Lure A-Rod out of Dug-Out with Curtain Call in order to Boo Him.

And these are only the Headlines ! The articles themselves are equally well written. If you have already read The Onion, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t , you are in for a treat. To sample The Onion, simply click on


If you want to read the article that made me laugh out loud, go to the site above, type in Harlequin and hit Search. It’s from the December 13, 2006 issue.

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Last night Michael Nylander  scored three goals as the N.Y. Rangers cruised to a 7-0 playoff win over the Atlanta Thrashers at Madison Square Garden. When Nylander  scored his third goal  the Garden fans showed their appreciation for his hat trick by throwing their hats on the ice. Two questions immediately arose in my mind.

 One: Who wears hats in this day and age ? A: It’s still cold and many of the ‘hats’ actually were winter caps.

Two: What is the origin of the word ‘hat trick  ? I consulted the Word Detective and found that the term originated with the English game of cricket. It means ” the feat of a bowler who takes three wickets with three successive balls, entitling him to be presented by his club with a new hat.” For sports fans more accustomed to baseball than cricket, this  means dismissing three batters with three successive pitches. In hockey , it originally meant three successive goals scored by a player in one game; nowadays, they don’t have to be successive goals to be considered a hat trick.  The same definition  holds true for soccer.

Which of these is the most difficult? I would have to think that a soccer hat trick is by far the most difficult. Soccer has become such a defensive minded game that, at the top level,  many games are decided by a single goal. It is difficult enough for the entire team to score three goals in a game; for one player to do so is well nigh impossible.Cricket would have to be the second most difficult game in which to score a hat trick. It’s true that it is comparatively easier for a bowler to dismiss three ‘tailenders'( who are in the team for their bowling rather than their batting) but all even one of them has to do is to survive one ball to deny the bowler his hat trick. In hockey,goals are easier to score than in soccer and  a player has a whole game in which to score three goals. I would have to say that hockey is the easiest of the three ( though still very difficult) in which to score a hat trick. 

There is no direct equivalent of a hat trick in baseball. The closest I would think is  “hitting for the cycle” which means scoring a single, a double, a triple and a home run in the same game. ( They don’t have to be in any particular order.)  It is a very difficult feat because a player has to be a very consistent hitter( to get four hits in one game) and he has to have a combination of speed ( to leg out the triple) and strength ( to hit the ball out of the park for the home run). I would have to rate it just below a soccer hat trick in terms of difficulty.

 The word ” hat trick” is not just used in sports; it has  become part of the general parlance and is used to mean three of anything in a row. A lawyer is said to score a hat trick if he wins three cases in a row and a movie director registers one when he has three hits in a row. 

P.S In case you are wondering what happens to the hats that fans throw on the ice, they are collected and donated to charity.

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