Tag Archives: Words&Phrases

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Skimming off the Top and Slush Fund


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How lucky was I to find the exact pic that was needed for this?

Skimming off the Top and Slush Fund

We are doing two phrases this week because they are related.

In the British Navy, boiled meat was one of the mainstays of the diet. As a by-product of the boiling process, there would a layer of salty fat called slush that would collect at the top of the pot. The ship’s cook would usually skim that oily residue off the top and then the next time they were in port he would sell it to soap makers.

The money for the sale would go into the “slush fund” which the cook would use to buy extras for the crew such as additional rum or better food.

So yep, the cook would skim off the top in order to create a slush fund.



Wednesday Words & Phrases: Mayonnaise

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Wait, mayonnaise has a military origin? I know hard to believe but this incredible spread does indeed spring from the battlefield.

In 1756 The French army was finally successful in removing the British forces from Port Mahon on the island of Minorca. The siege and blockade, led by the French Duc de Richelieu, was so successful in cutting off supplies to the British garrison that when the French finally took control of the port there was not much there.

The Duc’s chef was tasked with coming up with a victory banquet and even came up with a new sauce to go on the salad course. This sauce became known as Mahonaise after the port.

No siege, no mayo. Amazing how things work.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Bikini

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What did you think I was going to use for a pic? The bikini, the glorious two-piece bathing suit that took the world by storm. The name comes from a French engineer and clothing designer, Louis Reard who names it after the Bikini Atoll, where a number atomic bomb tests were held in the late 1940s.

It was known as “an anatomic bomb” as it took the world by storm. Because it showed so much skin it was banned in many, many places until eventually, Hollywood made it a little more commonplace and by the 1960’s more acceptable.

The greatest irony is that because the bikini exposes the thighs and shoulders of women, they are not allowed to be worn by people from the Bikini Atoll or the surrounding islands as they are deemed indecent.



Wednesday Words & Phrases: Snafu



“It seems we have a bit of a snafu here…”

Snafu has become one of those words that have entered everyday use, but a lot of people don’t know that it is actually a military originated acronym. Situation Normal, All Fouled Up (yes, I am using that more polite f-word, this is a family blog.) It has been said that the acronym can be traced back to 1941, with the other f-word with fouled taking its place in civilian outlets in 1942. But maybe that is not the case…

There are some indications that at the very least the phrase itself was in use in the mid to late 19th Century and was used by telegraph operators out west. Native tribes were known to either cut the telegraph lines or tear down the poles causing repairmen to have to go out and find the break. When they did the would hook up their portable set and report back, Situation Normal (meaning the vandals were gone), All Fouled Up (indicating the lines were indeed down.) sending this via telegraph would fit in with the terse phrasing of such messages. This could be more allegorical, but it would certainly make a more interesting take on this common phrase.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Skosh


I am sure you have heard the skosh before. “May I have a skosh of coffee?” I had one version of the origin of the word in mind but surprised to find the actual origin.

See, skosh actually comes from the Japanese word sukoshi which literally means “a tiny bit.” In American occupied Japan and later during the Korean War a small soldier was sometimes called “Skosh”.

So yep, that one comes from the Japanese. I was a skosh surprised at that one!


Wednesday Words & Phrases: Restaurant

Table in Vintage Restaurant



Hang on, “restaurant” is a military term? In a roundabout way yes.

Up until the French Revolution (1789 -99) there were very few places where you could simply walk in a get a meal. Sure there were pubs and inns, but no where that was specifically just for eating.

In Paris, during the revolution, many upper class citizens lost their lives (OK, had them taken) and this had the unfortunate effect of leaving most of their serving staff without a means to support themselves. Suddenly Paris was awash with professional cooks, servers, wine experts  and the like who decided to do what they did best and set up shop for themselves.

These shops were called restaurants  which comes from the French for “to restore” or “to restock”. So if you are hungry you can restore yourself at one of these fine establishments.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Umpire

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Ah yes. The umpire. The bane of every sports fan, unless they are making calls for your team that is. So where does that term come from?

Well in old French the numpire was a man who judged trial by combat. Numpire means “non-peer” which basically meant they were supposed to be impartial to the combatants.

The term entered English in the 15th century with the “n” dropping back to the article making it “an umpire.”

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Chat or Chatting

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Chat or Chatting

How many times have you said you needed to have a chat with someone? Or have you seen two people chatting? Usually, we mean it as a short conversation, something small, nothing major.  Well, the word comes to us from deep in the trenches of WWI.

Lice was an issue in the trenches during WWI. Lots of bodies huddled close together allowed the little buggers to multiply by the millions. Small enough to hide in the folds of clothing, in the hair and other places they seemed to be everywhere causing itching rashes and just general irritation. Now it turns out that in Hindi the word for these lice was “chatt”, it is also known that French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars referred to them as “chats”. There is also a word in medieval English “chateren” which means idle gossip. So how does all this tie together?

It was not uncommon during WWI  to see groups of soldiers sitting around, close together, picking lice off of each other. They would use their fingernails to squash them or a candle to burn them. As they sat around picking the lice, or “chats” from each other they would engage in small talk. before long when groups were seen engaging in this behavior they were said to be “chatting”.  Sure they probably did the same thing in every war, but this was the one where the term started being used in an everyday sense.

So hopefully the next time you need to “have a chat” with someone it does not involve lice.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: That’ll Be The Day

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That’ll Be The Day

Sorry, I couldn’t help it using that picture. The phrase “That’ll Be the Day” oddly enough did not originate with Buddy Holly. It actually came from the German army (with a little help from the British).

Or the Prussian officer corps of the German Army during World War 1. They held a belief that someday the German Army would defeat the British and become the preeminent power in Europe. They referred to it as Der Tag or “The Day”. The phrase was used as a popular toast and appeared in many books and newspaper article. So many in fact that the British picked up and started yelling it across No Man’s Land as a taunt to the German forces.

So technically Buddy Holly wrote a song mocking the German army.


Wednesday Words & Phrases: Run The Gauntlet

Run the Gauntlet
By Edward Eggleston, Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye (Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Run The Gauntlet

To Endure a Trial

This phrase first entered the English during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and came from the Swiss. The Swiss Army would punish soldiers by causing them to run between two ranks for men armed with sticks and rope ends. The end result was they were beaten pretty bad, but never really fatal.

The Swiss called this the “gatlopp” or “gangway”. Eventually, in the late 17th century, the English corrupted it to “running the gauntlet” which probably had to do with the armored gove of the same name. It sounded alike so they just went with it. So next time you have to endure a trial get ready to Run the Gatlopp!