Before it was something you accused your second-grade classmates of having “cooties” reached popular use in the British Army during WWI. Yes, even cooties have military implications.
There are two versions of the origin of the word. The first one comes from the Malaysian word kutu which refers to a parasitic biting insect. Sure that sounds good and kind of fits but…
The second origin comes from the first recorded use of the word in English. In some regions of England, waterfowl that were known to be infested with lice and other parasites were called coots. Which itself comes from Middle English cote. In the British trenches of WWI, as lice took the top enemy spot from the German, the term came in wide-spread usage. Soldiers returning after the war helped spread it even more.
Oddly enough what put the term into widespread usage was the number of “cootie” based games that were put out. All were variations of moving small grains into a basket or cootie trap. These popular games spread cooties all over the civilized world.
We use baffle today to mean “confuse or disorient”.
The shocking event baffled the crowd.
The term has its roots in a number of languages but they all pretty much mean the same thing, “mockery”. Appearing first in the 16th Century it described the public humiliation of a disgraced knight whose punishment usually was to be hung upside down from a tree and left for the peasants to treat poorly. (I expect that would mean things like throwing rotten vegetables and fruit or just making fun of.) When the knight had enough he would be let down from the tree and as you may imagine having been hung upside down for a time was dizzy and discombobulated causing him to stumble and fall. By the 17th century, the term baffle came to be used much as we do today.
I think that should be a scene the re-enact at the Ren Faire. Whose with me?
You may have heard that phrase from time to time. Head Honcho is another name for the boss, commander, or anyone in charge. It comes from the Japanese han-cho, which is roughly translated to “squad leader”. For the most part, this was meant to denote a corporal or sergeant.
The Americanized version became popular during WWII and Korea and is one of several Japanese phrases that found its way into the American vernacular.
Today when you think of a tournament you think of things like sports playoffs or activity that has a group of people competing until only one is left.
Waaaaayyy back in the times of knights and heirs, a tournament was a mock battle fought by knights. They were usually divided into two sides, using blunted or wooden weapons. One of the major skills they needed to possess was the ability to command their horse using only their knees. Their hands would be full of weapons, shields and such. So prior to the “battle” each knight was tested on his horsemanship by guiding his horse through a maze of wooden poles while holding his arms up at shoulder height. If he could “turn” his horse skillfully enough, he could participate. The French word for turn is tourner, and thus the phrase “tournament” was born.
Clobber is one of those words that you probably have used without realizing it. Unless you are The Thing from the Fantastic Four and it has become part of your catchphrase.
Meaning to pound mercilessly or to defeat overwhelmingly it came to be used in the 1940s when British RAF pilots would refer to a plane that was badly damaged or even shot down as having been “clobbered”. From there it took off and entered into the everyday lexicon with both figurative and literal meanings.
“Borrowed” from Dreamstime. Amazing how many results for this image search were on the risque side!
Bite The Bullet
The phrase “bite the bullet” is one that you most likely hear in regards to someone doing something they don’t want to do or to have courage in the face of adversity.
“I don’t want to go to this meeting, but I guess I better bite the bullet.”
It has long been thought that the military origin of this word comes from around the time of the American Civil War when patients on the operating table were given a bullet to bite down on the help them not think about the pain. This is a little suspect though as for the most part, though anesthetics were still in an early stage of use most patients were given a leather strap to bite down on or even a piece of wood.
Plus the phrase actually predates the Civil War by a number of years turning up in the 1796 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The phrase “chew a bullet” is part of the definition of Nightingale, a soldier that cries out when being punished. Tough soldiers were said to chew the bullet to avoid calling out.
It can be said the phrase entered the popular zeitgeist in Rudyard Kipling’s 1891 novel The Light That Failed where the phrase was used to indicate toughening up and doing something that must be done.
All said the phrase has a definite military origin, even if it can’t be nailed down completely.
Way back in 1653, when New York was New Amsterdam, the first line of defense for the colony was a simple earthwork redoubt that was designed to keep people out. Over time the redoubt was replaced with a wooden stockade. The road that followed along the inside of the stockade became known as Wall Street.
Even in the early days merchants and traders would set up along Wall Street to sell stocks and bonds and trade securities. Eventually, this street became the financial center of the city and colony. In 1792 a group of these men got together and created the basis for what would become the New York Stock Exchange.
In a completely unrelated note (cough, cough), when the US Constitution was ratified New York became the capital of the new country for the first couple of years. The old City Hall was refurbished into Federal Hall where the new Senate and House of Representatives would meet. This building sat smack in the middle of Wall Street. Setting no precedents what so ever…
Wearing your heart on your sleeve has become eponymous of someone who does not hide their emotions. That person the cries at the end of sad movies or who may over hug when saying goodbye. Even those that get angry quickly. For the origin of this phrase we find our selves back in the middle ages and the tournaments.
As the knights were preparing to joust, the ladies of the court (noble women) would select their favorite knight to act as their champion. Sometimes it would come from a romantic link, sometimes not. (Medieval considerations of love an romance were sometimes complicated.)
The lady would present her knight with a scarf. He dutifully tied this around his arm to secure his lovers brooch or other tokens. This was worn out in plain view for all to see. It came to be said the lady “pinned her hopes” on the knight while he “wore his heart on his sleeve.”
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.
People, Places and Things from US Military History