Definition: To stay calm, composed, and collected
Example: Despite the intense pressure, Stan stayed cool as a cucumber and defeated his five-year-old nephew in the game of tiddlywinks.
This is a strange one. How somebody’s bearing under pressure should be compared to a vegetable is not just unclear, it’s totally nonsensical on every level. Yes, cucumbers are cool to the touch, and can be as much as twenty degrees cooler inside than the outside air, but the cool in the phrase has nothing to do with temperature. And it’s older than you might think. Its first appearance in print is in a 1732 poem by John Gay.
Iddy, as pictured, has used the 1970’s derived definition of cool, that of somebody socially admired. Just like the Fonz was on Happy Days. Funny. Looking at him, you’d never have thought Iddy to be in awe of custom motorcycles….
Definition: A business venture that generates great profits for little investment
Example: Popcorn was the cash cow for the local cinema.
Cash cow is a very recent addition to the language. Management expert Peter F Drucker is credited with coining the phrase in the 1960s where it quickly became a buzzword in the business community. It relates to the notion that once a dairy cow reaches maturity, it provides a endless flow of milk, which in turn becomes a revenue stream for the farmer. Nice notion, but I’m sure that any dairy farmer would disagree. Its not quite as easy (or profitable) as that.
The business world is notorious for creating their own idioms. Anything to mask the meaning of what they are actually saying. Here are some of Iddy’s favourites:
Rooster call: an early meeting
Run it up the flagpole (and see if anybody salutes): put forward an idea
Monday morning quarterback: somebody who criticises something only after it has gone wrong
Blue ocean opportunity: a promising possibility
Iddy could go on. But he won’t. He has to get to bed early because he has a rooster call tomorrow. He wants to run a blue ocean opportunity up the flagpole before some Monday morning quarterback causes problems.
Definition: Silliness or mischieviousness
Example: ‘Hey! You two! No more monkey business from either of you!’ Johnny and Jackie’s nanny was not enjoying being tied to a tree.
People have been described in terms of animal traits for as long as pen has been put to paper. Foxes for slyness, lions for bravery, and monkeys, lots of monkeys. It seems fairly apparent why monkeys are equated with silly antics. But when and where did it enter the English language?
There do seem to be several theories:
- Firstly, it may be a by-product of the English colonial era in India. Bandrami is a Bengali term for naughty or reckless behaviour by children, child-like behaviour by adults, or monkey like gestures. It altered into the more literal ‘monkey business’ in the 1830s as it was absorbed into English..
- A second theory proposes that it grew out of a related phrase ‘monkeyshines‘ which meant disreputable behaviour, coined at about the same time in America. It was basically a racist taunt aimed at slaves.
- Lastly, perhaps it grew from an even earlier UK phrase ‘monkey tricks‘ used in the same way to describe foolish behaviour from children.
Never mind the origin, Iddy’s more concerned that he has found the reason for the recent problems on Wall Street.
Iddy’s back after a break, starting with this one for Olivia and her Middle School class who are studying animal based idioms… what better place to start than Crocodile Tears?
Definition: A fake or insincere demonstration of sorrow
Example: Belinda shed crocodile tears at Bernie’s funeral. After all, she’d been the one who had shot him.
Can crocodiles cry?
The idiom comes from an ancient belief that crocodiles cried when devouring their prey. A very strange concept; remorseful reptiles! The phrase reached the English language at the beginning of the 15th century, but in the form of crocodiles ‘weeping’. It was another hundred years before our current phrasing began to appear.
So back to our question. Do they cry? Apparently they do, but not from emotion. Certainly not from remorse. Iddy was surprised that crocodiles have tear ducts at all. Seems a bit redundant for a creature that lives in the water. But it is for that very reason that they do have tears. When they do venture from those waters, their eyes tend to dry out, and so the need for tears.
Having established that they do indeed shed tears, a neurologist decided to go one step further in 2006. He observed caimans while they fed at a refuge in Florida. Closely related to their larger counterparts, several of them did ‘cry’ while feeding, though the actual reason is still debated. However, not a single scientist came forward and claimed it was remorse.
There is a rare medical condition, Bogorad’s syndrome, which causes people to shed tears while they eat. Unsurprisingly, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Crocodile Tears Syndrome’.
Definition: To be the closest of friends, sharing each other’s secrets.
Example: Shelley and Pam were as thick as thieves, that is, until Pam ran off with Shelley’s boyfriend.
Iddy has previously explored the idiom ‘as thick as two short planks‘. In that case, thick had the meaning of being stupid. That isn’t the case here. Here, as explained in the definition, it means to be close, even conspiratorial.
This meaning of thick was common from the eighteenth century, but the rest of the phrase took longer to reach its current form. There was ‘as thick as three in a bed‘, ‘as thick as glue‘, and ‘as thick as peas in a shell‘ (which became our modern day ‘like peas in a pod‘). An especially entertaining one was ‘as thick as inkle weavers‘. What? You don’t know what an inkle weaver is? What a sheltered life you have led! Inkle is, unsurprisingly, a type of weave, and the poor souls in the Victorian weaving industries worked their looms in cramped quarters.
‘Thick as thieves’ appears to have surfaced in that same Victorian era. But why thieves to denote closeness? After all, another phrase claims there is ‘no honour among thieves‘. Thieves, when planning their next caper, would converse quietly, heads close together so as not to be overheard. It helps to think of movie versions of Victorian thieves, muttering away at a corner table in a darkened pub. They developed their own codewords and secret languages to help disguise their intentions, sometimes speaking certain words backwards, or using a forerunner of Cockney rhyming slang.
Iddy was fortunate to be down at his own local, darkened pub, when he came across these two; Thicky the master thief and his brother Nigel.
Definition: To be enjoying something immensely
Example: The children had a whale of a time at Sarah’s sixth birthday party, fuelled by chocolate and all the cola they could drink. The parents had a less fantastic time.
Whales are big. Especially blue whales, the largest mammals on the planet. So anything described in terms of a whale will be big, immensely big. The word is used as an ‘intensifier‘. There are a number of phrases describing things in terms of giant sea mammals: whale of a lot, whale of a job, whale of a difference, etc, etc, though they are not as commonly used as whale of a time.
As to its introduction to the English language, that seems to be somewhere around 1900, along with the other related phrases.
The phrase has absolutely nothing to do with Jonah, the biblical character swallowed by a whale. His experience was not in the least bit enjoyable so would not be a birthplace for the phrase.
Iddy certainly seems to be having a whale of a time. He seems to have totally forgotten that salt water plays havoc with his skin.
Definition: A subtle warning that time passes quickly
Example: “It seems like only yesterday that I gave birth to you,” Jim’s mother said to him. “Yes, time flies,” he agreed, looking down at the ‘Happy Fortieth’ birthday card she had given him.
This idiom is an English translation of ‘tempus fugit’, coined by Virgil in the first century BC. To be precise, he wrote ‘fugit inreparabile tempus’ which translates as “it escapes, irretrievable time“. That wasn’t very snappy, so it has become shortened in the intervening centuries. It’s actually quite a sobering statement.
It is often used in the phrase ‘Time flies when you’re having fun‘. Iddy disagrees with that phrase. Time’s flying at him, but he’s not having any fun whatsoever!
Definition: Feeling wonderful
Example: After achieving his highest score ever on Pac-Man, Kev was on top of the world.
Iddy couldn’t find a specific origin for this idiom, but it has been around since at least the 1920s.
However, it is certain that it didn’t come from the numerous ‘Sitting on the Top of the World’ songs that appeared shortly after the phrase’s first instances in print. And it certainly didn’t come from the one by the Carpenters, though that is one of Iddy’s favourites.
Strange that. Iddy’s rarely on top of the world himself. He’s usually the opposite. Too bad there isn’t the idiom ‘at the bottom of the world‘, because that’s exactly where Iddy would be.
Definition: That’s never going to happen!
Example: “You’re coming with me to see ‘Mamma Mia’ tonight, aren’t you?” John’s wife said to him. His reply? “When pigs fly!”
Iddy learnt a new word with this one…. adynation. ‘When pigs fly‘ is an adynation, a figure of speech using exaggeration to explain something is impossible. Other adynations include ‘When hell freezes over‘, and keeping in the hell theme, ‘A snowball’s chance in hell‘.
Why pigs? Why not. They’re perfectly unsuitable for flight. In the past, both cows and snails have been used in place of swine, but the swine came out as the popular choice.
The phrase has appeared in print since the mid-eighteenth century, probably most conspicuously in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Iddy discovered two interesting ‘when pigs fly‘ related stories. Well, he thought they were interesting. You may disagree.
Firstly, in 1909, the first pig did fly. Aviator Baron Brabazon of Tara (now, that’s a great name!) took a piglet up in his biplane, strapped safely into a waste basket. Just to make sure the subtlety of his point was not lost, a note reading ‘I AM THE FIRST PIG TO FLY’ was pinned to the basket.
Secondly is a tale concerning novelist John Steinbeck. Apparently, one of his professors told a young Steinbeck that he would be an author when pigs took flight. After he did succeed as an author, he started his books with an insignia proclaiming ‘Ad astra per alas porci‘ or ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig‘. Sometimes there was also an illustration of a flying pig, called Pigasus.
Definition: A forceful or domineering woman
Example: Mrs. Peabody was a fearsome old battle-axe and ruled her classroom like Attila the Hun.
Iddy’s pretty sure that this is a phrase used solely by men to describe women. He can’t imagine women using it. Then again, Iddy’s not usually privy to many woman to woman conversations.
Battle-axe refers to something fearsome and cutting. There is a similar phrase to describe someone with a cutting manner of speaking; ‘sharp tongued’.
Our particular idiom goes back to the last years of the nineteenth century, but may have been reinforced by one particular woman, Carrie Nation. Mrs Nation was involved in the temperance movement, a social reform group that was opposed to the drinking of alcohol. She lived at Hatchet Hall, published a magazine ‘The Hatchet’, a newsletter ‘The Smasher’s Mail’, and even carried a hatchet as a symbol. No, actually it was more than a symbol. She was arrested more than 30 times for using that very same hatchet to smash up fixtures at bars during her protests. While singing and praying. She called these incidents her ‘hatchetations’.
She sounds a bit fierce. But Iddy’s tooled up and ready for her!