Category Archives: Etymology

History/origin of words and phrases

Port and starboard: Quintessential nautical know-how

At the basis of these terms lies the fact that most people on the planet are right handed (around 80%) so it stands to reason that in the early days of sailing a boat captain would steer with his right … Continue reading

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Starting “from scratch”

If you were going to make something in the kitchen with just the basic components one would say you were starting from scratch.  This phrase (in America) can be traced back to the 1850’s when someone would draw or “scratch” … Continue reading

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It’s Sabotage!

In the 1400’s Netherlands textile mills were undergoing some changes.  Factories were starting to mechanize certain elements of textile looms.  Workers in these factories feared that the factories were going to become so dependent on machines that the security of … Continue reading

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On the wagon, on the water

It is said that if you are abstaining from drinking alcohol you are effectively “ on the wagon”. The term has been associated with the Salvation Army and their push for temperance, especially during the days of horse drawn wagons … Continue reading

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Origin of the LEGO

In 1916 a Danish woodworker purchased a woodworking shop in Bilund, Denmark. In the beginning the new owner of the shop, Ole Kirk Christiansen, put his efforts into making furniture. The Great Depression hit around 1929 and caused there to … Continue reading

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Tips: it’s not just a restaurant thing

It is often customary in many countries that after a service is rendered the recipient endows the one performing the service with a gratuity. Often called a “tip” this extra money is often incorrectly described as meaning “To Insure Prompt … Continue reading

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Caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea

When someone is caught between a rock and hard place one might say that they are “between the devil and the deep sea”. Like many phrases there is no hard and fast explanation for this phrase but there are some … Continue reading

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A loose cannon

Not surprisingly this phrase, which is used today to describe someone or something out of control and able to cause harm or damage, is attributed to a nautical origin. During the time of wooden ships and naval warfare vessels carried … Continue reading

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Tarheels of North Carolina

In the 1700’s and 1800’s Great Britain relied heavily on the strength of their Navy both for national defense and for trade. Part of having an efficiently running Navy means having the proper gear and keeping it in working order. … Continue reading

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Origin of Sir and Ma’am

Did you know that Steven Spielberg was knighted in 2001 by the Order of the British Empire and thereby is known as Sir Steven Spielberg in Britian? The “Sir” in his name is a surname that is intended to be … Continue reading

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