During the War of 1812 a New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson provided barrels of beef to the army. Stamped on the barrels were the initials U.S. Soldiers, being soldiers, started calling the food “Uncle Sam’s”. A newspaper picked up on the phrase and eventually it became widely accepted to refer to the Federal Government as Uncle Sam.
The actual image of Uncle Sam evolved in the 1860’s to 70’s when famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast began featuring the character in his cartoons. He would eventually grant the character the long white beard and striped pants that became part of the icon. (Nast also was responsible for the modern depiction of Santa Claus and for deciding that the donkey would symbolize Democrats.)
During the WWI era artist James Montgomery Flagg updated the symbol with a top hat and blue coat. In his famous rendition the character pointed directly at the viewer. This image would become famous as the recruiting poster telling the viewer, “I Want You For The U.S. Army”.
In 1961 the US Congress officially recognized Samuel Wilson as the creator of the symbol. In 1989 President Bush even declared the September 5th would be Uncle Sam Day as already celebrated in Wilson’s hometown of Troy, New York.
Interestingly enough the original “personification” of America was the figure Columbia, a woman most often portrayed with arms held wide open. The name most like was a play on Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Though eventually she would give way to Lady Liberty (before the statue) and Uncle Sam, Columbia is still around us today. Columbia University in New York, the capital of South Carolina is Columbia and even in Washington DC (District of Columbia). Eventually Uncle Sam would surpass poor Columbia and become the personification of the country all across the globe.
What? No? Surely the kid’s toy does not have a military origin!
Sorry but anyone that has been hit in the head by an errant yo-yo toss knows how dangerous they can be. The yo-o came to the US in 1928 brought by Filipino-American Pedro Flores. He based the toy on a traditional Filipino hunting and war weapon which shows up in their lore as the yo-yo, perhaps meaning come, come orreturn.
Hunters would use the rock tied to a string in a couple of ways to great effect. From a tree where the heavy stone was dropped on its unwary prey (man or beast) to crack their head. It could also be used on the ground and thrown at a target. Either way, the string meant it was usable more than just once.
What’s next? The Frisbee having a weaponized origin? The hula-hoop?
Carpertbagger is not a term heard much anymore. In this day and age of small businesses being taken over by big ones it still has meaning.
The term “carpetbagger” entered the American language after the Civil War. Northerners would go south to take advantage of the poor economic state of the region. They would come in fast with just their grasp bag. Which was made out of carpet material, and a wad of cash. They would then go and buy up businesses that were bankrupt or headed that way or plantations that were on the verge of collapse.
These men were not very popular and were targets of the KKK and other Southern groups. The term was also applied to Northern politicians that were sent/came south to take up government jobs.
In the modern vernacular the term has come to be used for politicians that represent one area while living in another. Like someone becoming the Senator for New York without having lived there much before the election. It has also been used to describe someone who purchases a struggling business in an area without having any ties or knowledge with the area.
The word comes from the German Rand which means rim, edge or outer limit. In the 16th Century, the word “random” came into English as a description for a man or horse running at the limits of its ability or for a gun that is fired at the maximum elevation to reach the outer limits of its range.
A gun fired in this manner sacrificed all accuracy to achieve that max range. You would fire it and have no idea where the round would land. And that is where our everyday usage of the word comes from.
UFO, or Unidentified Flying Object, is a term used for anything that is seen in the sky that can not be identified. Yes, most of the time that would mean spaceships and or objects from other planets. Most often through it is usually an airplane, bird, weather phenomenon, etc. (Yes, I said most often, some things remain unexplained and you just never know.)
The term UFO dates back to 1953. Donald Keyhoe used it in a book about strange things he saw during his time in the service. In 1956, USAF office Edward Ruppelt claims to have coined the phrase to replace the more common term of the day. Flying Saucer. That term itself came into being in the 1940’s and was used to describe anything that could not be accounted for flying in the sky.
Escape, to elude danger. A dashing term that exhibits a sense of adventure on its own.
Back in the good ol’ days, swords were used to settle arguments and capes were more than a dashing fashion accessory. Fighting was done without much sense of honor. Biting, backstabbing, all sorts of dirty fighting was the method of the day. Even grabbing a hold of your opponents cape and tugging, causing them to fall off-balance and thus making an easy target was almost acceptable.
The only counter to that low down move was to slip out of your cape leaving your opponent empty-handed. The term “escape” comes from the Italian scappare (ex cappa, “out of cape”) and eventually became “escape”. Which actually if you say it right kind of makes sense.
With that in mind, I think we should bring back capes as part of everyday wear, but I may be alone in that.
The origin of this one starts with the 16th century Italian word cartello which meant a written challenge to a duel. in the next hundred years or so it morphed into the agreement between armies in the wake of peace treaty. This agreement would fix things such as the transfer of prisoners, disposition of the armies and other various things in preparation for peace. This method of “fixing” things would eventually make its way into the commercial world to indicate the fixing of prices.
So today’s word is spruce. As in to spruce up a place and make it tidy. Also the tree, but that will come in later.
In the halls of the English ruling class, the Germanic state Prussia was known as “Pruce” or “Spruce”. Due to the Prussian military being known as always having an incredible eye for detail, especially with their uniforms, the idea of sprucing up came from here.
Secondarily, the habit of the Prussian officer corps to maintain a stiff and erect posture at all time lent their name to the tall and erect trees.
And yes, oddly enough it was easier to find a photo of a spruce tree than a Prussian officer.
Most commonly now the term Parting Shot is used when someone issues one last verbal assault as they leave the area. The origin of the phrase is fairly similar.
The Parthian dynasty of Persia (which would become modern-day Iran) used a number of light horse archers in their army. One of their favorite tactics was to pretend to be routed and flee the battlefield. When their pursuers closed in for the kill the archers would turn in their saddle and deliver a surprise volley of arrows. This was usually very effective in turning the tide of a battle.
The tactic itself became known as the “Parthian Shot”, through the vagaries of translations and langue it eventually morphed into “parting shot”. When it went from launching arrows to tossing out a few last words is a little more difficult to tell, but the idea is the same.
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.
People, Places and Things from US Military History