Origin of the Species VI


I keep getting many comments about my ‘Origin’ articles, where we delve into the pedigrees of phrases in this wonderful language of ours. I will share a few more, which will certainly make you think before using the phrase the next time.


In the late 18th century while travelling, politician and diplomat, Benjamin Hawkins, travelling, was requested by the American President to return to Washington. In his response, he was said to write, "God willing and the Creek don't rise." Because he capitalized the word "Creek" it is deduced that he was referring to the Creek First Nations and not a body of water.

In the late 1700's, many houses consisted of a large room with only one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and was used as a table. The 'head of the household' always sat in the chair while everyone else dined, sitting on the floor. Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during a meal. To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge. They called the one sitting in the chair the 'chair man.' The term has evolved in business to ‘Chairman of the Board’.

In days of old, personal hygiene left much room for improvement, and many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman's face she was told, 'mind your own bee's wax.' Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term 'crack a smile'. In addition, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt, coining the expression 'losing face.'

Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and dignified woman wore a tightly tied corset and was said to be 'straight laced'.

Playing cards were considered entertainment and a tax was levied when purchasing them, but only applicable to the 'Ace of Spades'. To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards; however, as most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be mindless because they weren't 'playing with a full deck’.

Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TVs or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars. They were told to 'go sip some Ale and listen to people's conversations and political concerns'. Many assistants were dispatched at different times. 'You go sip here' and 'You go sip there.' The two words 'go sip' were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term 'gossip.'

At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart- sized containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in 'pints' and who was drinking in 'quarts,' hence the phrase 'minding your 'P's and Q's'.

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