Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Some more word origins . . .


Butter someone up:

To butter up someone is to flatter or be nice to them in order to get something from them, such as a special favour.

There are two possible origins of this expression.

One is that it comes from spreading smooth, creamy butter on a slice of bread which can be compared to ‘spreading’ nice words on a person.

The other origin belief is that it originated in ancient India where they used to throw balls of butter at statues of gods to ask for a favour.

In order to seek such divine favour, Hindu worshippers would throw balls of ghee –clarified butter used as the foundation of Indian cooking – at statues of their deities. By ‘buttering up’ the gods, it was hoped that the worshippers would be rewarded with peace and good harvests.  When this began is unknown but the guides of the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, built c1600s BC, speak of the ancient custom.

A similar principle can be seen in the Tibetan New Year celebrations, where sculptures made out of coloured butter would be displayed as gifts to the heavens. This practice can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).


Going cold turkey:

"Cold turkey" refers to the abrupt quitting from substance dependence and the resulting unpleasant experience, as opposed to gradually easing the process through reduction over time or by using replacement medication.

The earliest written record of the use of the term in the above sense is in a December 1920 New York City medical bulletin:

Some addicts voluntarily stop taking opiates and "suffer it out" as they express it without medical assistance, a process which in their slang is called taking "cold turkey"...

Originally “cold turkey” did not mean hard and total quitting. It meant talking plainly, which survives today in the expression “talking turkey”. 

The phrase “cold turkey” first appeared in print in 1914 in the Des Moines Daily News:

I’ve heard [Reverend Billy] Sunday give his ‘Booze’ sermon, and believe me that rascal can make tears flow out of a stone. And furthermore he talks “cold turkey”. You know what I mean – calls a spade a spade.

So how did that transfer to drugspeak?  There are two theories.

One theory holds that if talking cold turkey means talking plainly, then quitting cold turkey means quitting plainly without any frills or fancy methods used.

A second theory is that a person in extreme withdrawal looks and feels a bit like a cold turkey carcass. People going through withdrawal, particularly withdrawal from such things as a heroin addiction, are often cold to the touch, clammy, and covered in goosebumps.



Legend has it that a Dublin theatre-owner made a bet that he could introduce a new word into the English language within a day or two and that the people of Dublin would make up the meaning of the word themselves.

He wrote the nonsense word “quiz” on some pieces of paper and got a gang of street urchins to write it on walls across Dublin. The next day everyone was talking about it, and it wasn’t long before it became incorporated into everyday language, meaning a sort of “test”, because this is what the people thought the mysterious word was supposed to be.

According to the Gleanings and Reminiscences by F.T. Porter (written in 1875), the events of this humorous tale unfolded in 1791.

The word “quiz” however was in use earlier than this date, used to refer to someone who is eccentric or odd (hence the word “quizzical”, as in studying pataphysical).  It was also the name of a yo-yo-like toy popular in 1790.

Nonetheless there is no compelling explanation for the origins of the word so maybe it is true.

Which raises another story about an Irishman inventing a word, but it is risque so venture at your own risk . . .

A Cork radio station was running a competition - words that weren't in the dictionary yet could still be used in a sentence that would make logical sense. The prize was a trip to Bali.
DJ: "96FM What's your name?"
Caller: "Hi, my name's Dave"
DJ: "Dave, what's your word?"
Caller: "Goan, spelt G-O-A-N pronounced 'go-an'".
DJ: "You are correct Dave 'goan' is not in the dictionary. Now for a chance to win the trip to Bali. What sentence can you use that word in that would make sense?"
Caller: "Goan fuck yourself"
The DJ cut the caller short and took other calls, all unsuccessful until:
DJ: "96FM What's your name?"
Caller :"Hi, my name's Jeff"
DJ: "Jeff, what's your word?"
Caller: "Smee, spelt S-M-E-E pronounced 'smee'".
DJ: "You are correct Jeff 'smee' is not in the dictionary. Now for a chance to win the trip to Bali. What sentence can you use that word in that would make sense?"
Caller: "Smee again, goan fuck yourself"


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