Back in May I put together a small list of phrases and proverbs wanting to explore their meaning and etymology more indepthly. While I was successful in learning what they mean, I wasn’t able to find too much about where they came from like I was hoping to do. Well, today I have decided to reopen the subject with another handful of sayings that I like and was curious about.
“Plumb tuckered out.”
This phrase means to be exhausted. Plumb, meaning completely, is often used to reinforce just how exhausted you are. While I can’t find the etymology of how the phrase came to be, it was coined in America sometime in the 19th century as New England slang.
“Like the dickens.”
It always saddens me a little when I can’t find the date a saying was coined or even a real explanation for how it came to be. Maybe if I dug a little deeper, or looked in the right places I could figure it out. Here is what I did find for today though, like the dickens and other similar phrases, (example: what the dickens), seem to have been around since the 1600’s, as Shakespeare used it in The Merry Wives of Windsor. So, while your first thought might be Charles Dickens, he actually had nothing to do with the phrase. Dickens is actually a euphemism for Devil.
“How do you like them apples?”
Meaning, how do you like that? Here is another phrase that is difficult to put a date on. Some seem to think it originated during the first World War as a taunt to the enemy and that it was because of a bomb or grenade called a Toffee Apple. A theory someone shared online after some research is that it is possible it was a slang phrase used regionally pre-WWI, then during the two World Wars it crossed regions and rose in popularity, eventually making its way home and into media.
Of the phrases I’ve studied, this is one of my favorites. Not only did I find it to be informatively interesting, but it also amused the country girl inside of me. This phrase refers to the most remote 40 acres of a farm. It was first used in the 1860s when the Homestead Act granted 160 acres of land to anyone willing to farm it for at least five years – two front forty acres of land and two back forty acres of land.
I saved the best for last, my favorite phrase from my research:
“Gets my goat.”
This saying means to lose the will to fight, to be angry or annoyed. There are theories that trace the phrase to boxing matches and sailors but one legend says that this phrase is based on goats being used in racehorse stables. Some say the goat had a calming effect, others seem to think it was a mascot for luck. A goat was placed in a horses stall and opponents would sometimes snatch them away in an effort to upset the horse or trainer to cause them to lose the race.
I hope this has been as informative and fun to you as it was to me!
Until next time,