Friday, July 28

Barking up the wrong tree


When you've planned to accomplish something by using a particular method and your plan is thwarted because you should have gone about it some other way, you've been "barking up the wrong tree."

Hunters have always used dogs to track the whereabouts of their prey.  After chasing the game, the dog often thought it had traced the prospective dinner's flight to a particular tree.  The dog would then bark up that tree.  Its master would hurry over, but sometimes he would find no animal there.  The dog had been, quite literally, "barking up the wrong tree."

This happened with such frequency that the old hunter coined a phrase for it. 



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Tuesday, July 25

Baker's dozen


When you  buy a dozen rolls and get thirteen, you have a "baker's dozen."

Baking was among the first industries subjected to government control and regulation. Soon after the baking profession was established, the king of England found it necessary to regulate it. The public bakers put on the market unhealthy products of short weight and count. 


To fix this evil, exorbitant fines were imposed upon wayward bakers.  The bakers, in response and to ensure avoiding clashes with law, gave thirteen to the dozen, from this practice we derived the happy "baker's dozen," an early example of government involvement in business.


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Sunday, July 23

The die is cast


Whenever we say, "The die is cast," we attach finality and resolution to the job at hand; there is no turning back.

Julius Caesar was a man of his word; he never took back anything he said. His soldiers knew this well.  They may have experienced some apprehension about his plans before he took them across the Rubicon, but once they set foot on the opposite bank and made his historic utterance. "The dice have been thrown," they knew there would be no turning back.


To this day the import of Caesar's words is clear in our use of  "the die is cast" to attach finality to a situation.  



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Friday, July 21

Nest egg


Your savings are commonly called your "nest egg."

Soon after the chicken was domesticated farmers observed that hens had to be coaxed into prolific egg laying.  They hit upon the idea of keeping an artificial egg in every hen's nest.  This fake egg, called a "nest egg", helped the farmer make more money, which he could save as opposed to spend.  


Farmers then began to call such planned savings their "nest egg."



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Thursday, July 20

Jack of all trades


This common phrase is a shortened version of "jack of all trades and master of none."  It refers to those who claim to be proficient at countless tasks-but cannot perform a single one of them well.

The phrase was first used in England at the start of the Industrial Revolution.  A large number of efficiency experts set up shop in London, advertising themselves as knowledgeable about every type of manufacturing process, trade and business.  


But soon became evident that their knowledge was limited and of no practical value. Suspicious industrialists started calling these, self-appointed experts "jack of all trades and masters of none." These experts, are still with us and so is the phrase. 


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Monday, July 17

Cut and dried


When something is simple or easy to explain, we say it's "cut and dried." For this expression, we are once again indebted to the lumber trade.

 Wood, among lumbermen, is not lumber until it has gone through two processes.  First it is "cut"; after cutting it is "dried." Only then is it lumber, ready for sale and use. 


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Sunday, July 16

With a grain of salt


When we don't believe a word of what somebody tells us, "take it with a grain of salt."

There was a time, however, when an ancient ruler thought it wise to put a real grain of salt into every drink offered him as an antidote to any poison that might have been put into it by a spy planted into his domestic service by his foes.  This ruler was named Pompey, the Roman general and politician who was defeated by Caesar and murdered in Egypt.  Pompey was so meticulous about his ritual that he carried with him his own supply of salt.  

It is from Pompey's use of salt as an antidote that we obtained our figurative expression.


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Tuesday, July 11

Adam's apple


The prominent lump in the human throat took its name "Adam's apple," from an old superstitious belief.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Adam and Eve.  But what many people might be acquainted with is how the Bible story was actually embellished.  


It was said that when Adam swallowed the forbidden fruit, one large piece of the apple remained in his throat and formed a lump there.  


The lump in every man's throat was named for the very first man, and so the "Adam's apple" was born.


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Sunday, July 9

Black Friday


Originally "black Friday" took its name from the black vestments worn by clergy of Good Friday services and applied to only one Friday of each year, namely the Friday preceding Easter Sunday.  Yet owning to coincidences in both the United States and England, the phrase has taken on another meaning, far removed from anything religious. 

In financial circles "black Friday" is a specific reference to certain days of financial panics and a general name for those too-frequent days on which investors suffer heavy losses.


The first "black Friday" was on December 6, 1745, in England, after news reached there that Charles Edward Stuart, the young Pretender (to the British throne) had arrived in Derby.  These tidings caused panic and gigantic losses resulted.  The second "black Friday" occurred on May 11, 1866, when the Banking-House of  Overend, Gurney and Company, closed its doors, causing widespread ruin in England's financial centers.


On Friday, September 26, 1869, the United States suffered its first "black Friday" when Jay Gould and his associates tried to corner the entire gold market.  Panic ensued until the secretary of the treasury eased the market by releasing four million dollars in gold.  The last American "black Friday" occurred on September 19, 1873, the beginning of the financial panic of the same year.  




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Wednesday, July 5

Open Sesame


In "The Tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," from Arabian Nights, the doctors to the robbers den could be opened only by giving the command "open sesame."

This tale was so intensely gripping to our forefathers that the magical phrase "open sesame" has become a humorous way to announce our presence at a doorway.



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Tuesday, July 4

See how it pans out


This phrase originated from gold mining.  

Miners still separate the coveted gold dust and nuggets from the sand in which they are found with a pan of water.  When the pan is shaken, the heavier gold dust collects at its bottom.  The lighter sand sifts through and floats  off.  


From this practice the world has learned to discriminate in the same way the gold miner does-by "seeing how it pans out." 




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Monday, July 3

Apple of my eye

It was believed as long ago as the ninth century that the pupil of the eye was a vital spot in the human anatomy.  Primitive medical curiosity about it caused the early healers to study the pupil as closely as they could.  They concluded that it was apple shaped and so it became popularly known as "the apple of the eye."

Because the pupil was considered as vital as life itself, it became customary for a gallant hero to call the object of his affection "the apple of my eye."




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Sunday, July 2

Rule of thumb


When we use established past practices as a guideline for making a decision, we often refer to "rule of thumb." 

In 1732 Francis Buller, an English judge, proclaimed that a "man could not beat his wife with a stick larger than the diameter of his thumb." Regardless of Buller's intention, his "rule of thumb" was taken seriously by many, resulting in a large public outcry accompanied by satirical cartoons.  The remark was never forgotten, as it was attributed to him in biographies written after his death.


While Buller is credited with the phrase's origin, in reality it was probably used much earlier: The "thumb" was a unit of measurement in the late seventeenth century.




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Saturday, July 1

Doubting Thomas


A person who is very hard to convince is referred to as a "doubting Thomas."

Among the disciples of Jesus Christ was one man who refused to believe in Christ resurrection, that disciple was Thomas.  Because of his doubts, he was called "the doubting or very Thomas." 


Since then, a person who doubts and hesitates unnecessarily on maters about which others have no doubts is said to be a "doubting Thomas" or "very Thomas." 



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