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Absolutely Accurate News

December 2012


ETYMOLOGY - The Study of the History of Words


Does @Word_4_Word mean anything to you?  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that's me.  So I thought I would spend some time with what words actually mean.  You might be surprised about where some of our oldest phrases come from.

The history of certain phrases, as well as American Slang both started around the 17th Century.  

Here are a few of my favorites:
"That will cost you an arm and a leg".  In the days of George Washington, images were sculpted or painted - there were no cameras.  A painter would charge not by how many people were to be painted, but by how many LIMBS were to be painted.  The more limbs in the painting, the more it cost!

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

"Straight-Laced".  Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front.  A proper and dignified woman wore a tightly tied lace corset!

"He's not playing with a full deck".  Playing cards was common entertainment but there was a tax levied when purchasing a deck of cards, but only applicable to the Ace of Spades.  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards - even though most games require 52 cards.  These people were often thought to be stupid or dumb!

As for slang words, you might be surprised how long certain words have been out there.  For example "bad" has been used to mean "good" since 1897!  One very good slang dictionary's website is here
Here are a few slang words from each of the last 4 decades:
From the 70's: bogus = unfair; gross = disgusting; no brainer = easy
From the 80's: crib = where you live; wicked = excellent; go postal = melt down
From the 90's: bling = glitter; hood = juvenile delinquent; senior moment = memory loss
From the 2000's: cougar = older woman dating younger man; holla = call on the phone; peep = person

Back in 1901, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "All slang is a metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry".  Our language is full of historical reference and the meanings of words in our language evolve and change.  I love everything about words, which is why I love doing what I do in my business!  Researching the origin of certain phrases and slang certainly brings a smile to my face - and I hope to yours as well!

Thank you for being a part of the Transcription Plus, LLC family where words rule and Absolutely Accurate is our motto!

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Mary Goehring


Transcription Plus, LLC



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History of Words
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