Almost every day, I hear people use old sayings and slang words in routine conversation, rather than simply saying what they mean.
But I’m glad we use language that way, because life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if we all simply said what we meant every time we open our mouths. For no particular reason, here’s a look at the possible origins of a handful more of the thousands upon thousands of old sayings, idioms and slang that constantly show up in the English language.
•Doozy (or doozie).
I’m pretty sure there’s nobody I know who doesn’t understand that if something is a “doozy,” it’s a heck of an example of whatever it is.
While there doesn’t appear to be a definitive origin for the word, there are at least three main theories.
The oldest possibility is it’s an adaptation of “daisy,” which was used in 18th century England as a synonym for something or someone of high caliber.
For example, if someone was trying to sell a mare and was trying to convince someone else of what a fine animal it was, they might have said, “that horse is a real daisy! She’s well worth the price!”
Another possibility is that it came from the nickname for the Duesenberg, a luxury automobile introduced in the U.S. in the 1920s by Duesenberg Motors Co., a firm that was sometimes referred to as “Duesy” (just like many people in these parts don’t own Chevrolet pickups, but Chevys).
A third possibility is that it comes from the nickname given to Italian actress Eleanor Duse, who made headlines in the 1890s in the world of New York theater.
All three are cool possibilities. I like the automotive choice.
A cute way to say, “see you later,” or “goodbye,” right?
Yep, and it’s origin is British.
The “toodle” (or tootle) part is a variation of the word “toddle,” and both basically mean to “walk in a leisurely manner.” So I guess if you say, “toodle-oo,” you’re going to walk AWAY in a leisurely manner.
Incidentally, if you’re in need of walking away leisurely, but quickly, you can just say, “toodles.” At least, I’ve heard that many times and I figure it’s a time saver – albeit small.
Incidentally, you really don’t have to walk anywhere to use either variation – time has allowed them to simply become ways to say “goodbye.” I’ve heard my own wife say “toodles” when hanging up the telephone.
•Nose to the grindstone.
Certainly, we all know that anyone whose nose is in this situation is hard at work, focused and determined.
But maybe the phrase was originally more about working smart than hard. That’s because it’s an old-time European expression designed to remind a miller that he must maintain a flow of grain between the mill stones, which were traditionally set one above the other. Without any grain between them, the stones would touch and create sparks that could cause an explosion that would kill the miller.
Basically, keeping your nose to the grindstone meant to pay close attention – and maybe live another day. So it didn’t have anything to do with sharpening tools on stones or that kind of thing – who knew?
My wife and I watched an odd movie the other night about members of a high-falootin Mexican family.
Accurately stated, they were “highfalutin” people. The word isn’t even slang. The Merriam-Webster definition is “seeming or trying to seem great or important; expressed in or marked by use of high-flown bombastic language.”
Wow, so now we have an old saying that’s not even an old saying, and it basically means exactly what we’re used to having it mean. And come to think of it, I know of a lot of high falootin folks, especially in major politics.
It’s no secret that if something is smack-dab in the middle of something else, it’s centered about as well or as much as possible.
But what in the Sam Hill do “smack” and “dab” have to do with that?
I’m not really sure, to be honest. But I can tell you that “dab” is a British word meaning clever or skilled, and the phrase “dab hand at it” might be used to refer to someone a with a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular field.
Less obscure is the fact that “smack” is a verb meaning to strike sharply and with a loud noise. So I guess if something is smack-dab in the middle, it was skillfully and authoritatively placed there. That’ll work.
I often find myself saying this.
And when I do, I’m sure the listener doesn’t have to think twice to understand it means I’m expressing empathy with undesirable or unfortunate circumstances.
Well, its origin is a little less clear than its meaning, but it might have started in the 1700s, when foxhunters would call out “hoicks” or “yoicks” to encourage their dogs, Apparently, the practice became common in the 1800s as a means of expressing excitement.
If that’s the case, fear was added later. But as we’ve concluded before, many old sayings and expressions are recognized nowadays as meaning the opposite of their origins.
•Kill two birds with one stone.
It’s well known that if you chuck one rock and kill two birds, you’re operating with efficiency and getting stuff done.
But there doesn’t appear to be any neat and tidy origin to this phrase, other than it showed up in writing in the 1600s and has been around ever since.
The other day, I heard a man in our office say, “I thought I’d kill that bird, too.” The “too” in that statement surely references killing more than one “bird,” which of course doesn’t refer to an actual winged creature, but a task.
Interesting how the man didn’t just say, “While I’m at it, I’ll probably take care of that other chore, too.”
But like I said, life wouldn’t be as interesting if we always just said what we meant, now would it? That’s what the spice of life is all about (hey, there’s one for next time).
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. His columns are also posted online at www.houstonherald.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.