A Touch Of Trivia

I have always had a love of trivia and more specifically, stories that enlighten me as to where popular phrases came from.  I know some should be taken with a grain of salt (why do we say that?), but most are logical enough to be true.  So, with that disclaimer, I thought I would share a few that I recently became aware of.

A SHOT OF WHISKEY
In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents as did a glass of whiskey.  If a cowhand was low on cast he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for the drink.  This became known as a “shot of whiskey”.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS
American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges.  The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long.  If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

BUYING THE FARM
This is synonymous with dying.  During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5000.  This was about the price of an average farm, so, if you died, you “bought the farm” for your survivors.

IRON CLAD CONTRACT
This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War.  It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

PASSING THE BUCK/THE BUCK STOPS HERE
Most men in the early west carried a knife made by the Buck knife company.  When playing poker, it was common to place one of these knives in front of the dealer so that everyo9ne know who he was.  When it was time for a new dealer, the deck and the knife were given to the new dealer.  If they didn’t want to deal, they would “pass the buck” to the next player.  If that player accepted then “the buck stopped there.”

RIFF RAFF
The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south.  Riverboats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive, so many people used rafts.  Everything had the right of way over rafts, which were considered cheap.  T
he steering oar on the rafts was called a “riff” and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class.

CURFEW
The word “curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu” which means “cover the fire”.  It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles.  It was later adopted into Middle English as “curfeu”.  In the early American colonies, homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room.  In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a “curfew.”

HOT OFF THE PRESS
As the paper goes through the rotary printing press, friction causes it to heat up.  Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press, it is hot.  The expression means to get immediate information.

HOGWASH
Steamboats carried both people and animals.  Since pigs smelled so bad, they would be washed before being put on board.  The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless “hog wash”.

BARGE IN
Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats.  these were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats.  People would say they “barged in.”

OVER A BARREL
In the days before CPR, a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water.  It was rarely effective so, if you were over a barrel, you were in deep trouble.

SHOWBOAT
These were floating theaters built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat.  These played small towns along the Mississippi.  Unlike the boat  shown in the movie “Showboat”, they rarely had an engine.  They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of the party is “showboating.”

SHIP STATE ROOMS
Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort.  Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered.  Instead they were named after states.  To this day cabins on ships are are called state rooms.

COBWEB
The Old English word for “spider” was “cob.”

P.S.  Relative to the “grain of salt” thing, there are two schools of thought.  One believes it was an ingredient in an antidote for poison.  The other ascribes to it being added to poison to disguise it’s taste.  Take your pick.

 

 

About oldmainer

I am a retired manager living in Southern Maine and a would be writer of poetry, narratives, short stories, and random opinions, and that's how Oldmainer was born. Recently, I decided to try an experiment. I added photography to the mix, using only a cheap cell phone with a limited camera and the editing software that came with it, and added the blog site Inklings at poormanspoet.wordpress.com to showcase the results. So, feel free to use whatever you find interesting or worthy, but please honor the terms of my copyright when and if you do. They may not be much, but they are still a piece of me. I appreciate your checking me out and hope that you find something that will encourage a return visit. Thanks for stopping by.
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4 Responses to A Touch Of Trivia

  1. laurie27wsmith says:

    Well Bob I learned a couple of things here today. I too love trivia, I’m full of it, some people are unkind and say I’m full of something else.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    Like

  2. I feel smarter already

    Like

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