How many sources missed the mark

When I began researching phrase origins four years ago, I was really surprised at how many sources were incorrect on the origins of popular sayings and expressions. So much so that it prompted me to start collecting the most proper origins and begin publishing them. My initial book, titled On the Origin of the Cliches and Evolution of Idioms was released in 2011. After a number of people found it useful, but kept asking me to research other sayings, I assembled a second volume which I labeled All New Volume II. 

But my research never stopped. Last March I released Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, a 730 page volume containing all of the original entries of both books and hundreds more, sans pictures and personal remarks. It was on larger pages in smaller print. Then early this month I added 75 more, mostly by reformatting the entire book.

Below I will list only three of many improper findings in other publications.

can of worms, A

This metaphor is based on cans of worms which were sold for fish bait in the U.S. in the 1950s. Once they were opened, it was very hard to get the can shut so that the worms could not escape. Opening or getting into a can of worms became a figurative expression for bringing to light a matter which caused more problems than it did good and was not easily resolved. In spite of claims by other sources that the earliest citation is from 1955, The Bulletin for Atomic Scientists, January, 1951, page 6, contains the following figurative connotation in “An address (by Robert J. Oppenheimer) delivered to the Awards Banquet of the Science Talent Institute in Washington, D.C., March 6, 1950”:

“Perhaps nowhere has the impact of science more clearly altered the specific terms of a great political issue in the effects of political development on warfare. This is a can of worms with which I have myself unhappily been engaged for some years. It would not be honest to say— though it would not be foolish to hope— that the very terror of modem weapons would in itself put an end to war…”                                                                                                                                

Go off the deep end

Figuratively this means to become irrational in ones thoughts and act on those feelings without regard to responsibility. It is taken from jumping into the deepest part of a swimming pool, especially where the water is over ones head and the person is unable to swim. The earliest known citation, in spite of other published origins in the early 1920s, is in an article titled The Desert Air by Dornford Yates in The Windsor Magazine, August, 1919:

“‘They’re all right, as a rule,’ Berry was saying, ‘but every now and then they go off the deep end.’” 


 Happy camper

This modern metaphoric expression is applied to someone who is content with their present situation, and is likely used sarcastically in the negative more than the positive. In spite of numerous claims that it originated on a 1982 episode of Silver Spoons when Ricky (Schroder) and his grandfather went on a camping trip, there are two flaws in this. First, it was already in use at least a year earlier; second, the Silver Spoons use is a literal reference to camping.

Though it is likely that in a literal sense it started in summer camps earlier, the first citation of the phrase ‘happy campers’ in a non-camping context is from an article by David Bird in The New York Times regarding homeless men in 1981:

“It is not a group of happy campers that gets off the bus.”

Am I also subject to error? For sure. I just dug deeper. If anyone finds any entry in my book wrong, please leave me a message on my blog. It will be corrected in future printings.

Well, I finally went and did it

For years I have resisted the fever which has gripped the majority of people I know. It seemed that even my grandchildren, those over 13 anyway, all have had smart phones for an eternity. I guess I was just hesitant of change. One of my mottoes has been, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” an axiom in my popular book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions.

Well, the other day I received the second notice from my wireless provider telling me I could get a ‘free upgrade.’ Of course I understand ‘free’, but I went anyway this time, feeling like my phone was a dinosaur, a part of a distant past for most Americans. I paid for the package with ‘all the bells and whistles’ (another of those sayings) to go with the new iPhone5c, now I’m learning how to do almost everything with it.

My son John told me over a year ago that a lot more than I was doing could be done even with the phone I had. Well, now I can do it all. ‘Who wouldda thunk it?’

CBS Sunday morning almost got it right…

This morning CBS Sunday Morning did a segment by Mo Rocca commemorating what he called “The 175th anniversary of a word that English Professor Allan Metcalf believes is America’s most successful export.”

Well, Mo and Allen came awfully close. They touched on a lot of theories I brought out in Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions. This book contains a lot of other type expressions, including curious words and phrases with obscure origins. It just turns out that O.K. is one of them. Yes, it was never in the public eye until 1839,175 years ago, when Boston Post founder and editor, Charles Gordon Greene brought it to our attention as a shortening of Ole Korrect (All correct)…but, unlike the claim made on CBS Sunday Morning, he didn’t ‘Think it up.”  Yes, the first dictionary to include it was 1864. But… neither of these occasions was it’s original coining.

I spent three years studying etymology and phrase origins so that I could do the best job to date of revealing these findings in my book. Below I have posted “The rest of the story” including the fact that it was already in use by 1790! Eat your heart out  Allan Metcalf and Mo Rocca.


The first known printed example of this expression is from a 1790 court record in Sumner County, Tennessee. The record was discovered in 1859 by a Tennessee historian named Albigence Waldo Putnam. In the records, Andrew Jackson said that he:

“…proved a bill of sale from Hugh McGary to Gasper Mansker, for an uncalled good, which was O.K.

An early notation of our modern usage appears in 1815 on the handwritten diary of William Richardson, who had traveled from Boston to New Orleans about a month after the famous battle fought there by Jackson. In the note he stated, “We arrived ok.” Here it is used to mean ‘all well.’

It is believed that the actual derivation of the term was from a frequent misspelling of ‘all correct’ as ‘ole korrect.’

The Boston Morning Post on 23 March 1839 carried an article using the term with the insinuation that this was indeed the origin. It ended this way:

“…and his train-band, would have his ‘contribution box,’ et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.”

One year later, when Martin Van Buren was running for his second term as President of the U.S., the initials O.K. became a part of his campaign slogan. He was born in Kinderbrook, N.Y., and his nickname was Old Kinderbrook. His friends formed a committee for his campaign, called “The Democratic O.K. (Old Kinderbrook) Club.” The slogan took off and he won the election.

Then on 23 October 1862, when James Pyle, placed an ad in The New York Times, referring to ‘James Pyle’s O.K. Soap’ the term received even greater precedence, plunging it into everyday accepted English. Pyle’s soap recipe was later purchased by Proctor and Gamble, and the name was changed to ‘Ivory Snow.’ Pyle’s obituary in January, 1900, said that he was the first to use O.K. in an advertisement.

As a result of these varied events, O.K. came to mean what it does today. It may also be spelled ‘okay.’                                                                                                                                        

Did you ever wonder why we say Kudos?

The new revised edition of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions has a great variety of new entries. Some have been around for centuries, like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” some have come about as a result of modern adaptation, such as “Arm Candy.”

Some even reveal the etymology of unusual words which are used to express our feelings, like “Kudos.” Didn’t you ever wonder where this expression originated? Well, I’m about to tell you, as it is in the new version of my popular book.

Kudos *

This expression is singular, not plural as some have mistakenly supposed. It came from the Greek kydos, meaning honor, glory or praise, and entered into British university slang in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. The earliest known English citation in this vein is the January, 1794 edition of Anthologia Hibernica, Dublin:

“Bassett expects kudos from the dean this term; but I think he will be badger’d for not attending Hornlby.”

It first appeared in America in the early twentieth century. It was in British author, Florence Luisa Barclay’s The Mistress of Shenstone, published both by G. P Putnam in England and by Grosset and Dunlap in New York in 1910, where it was found on page 181:

“…then the powers-that-be have a way of taking all the kudos…”

In the 1920s and ‘30s, Time Magazine cited it frequently, thus popularizing it in the U.S.

End book entry. In all, there are 76 new entries. Order you paperback copy today at or on Amazon anywhere in the world.


Elton John, Kanye West, Lionel Riche and Frank Ocean

The headline acts have recently been announced for Bonaroo, the mega Music and Arts Festival held near my home and office every year in June. In normal times I could make the drive in 20 to 30 minutes. During Bonaroo, however, it would likely take that long to get in the gates. A lot of others will be there as well. Lots of folks travel hundreds of miles to get there, spend big bucks and stay up long hours.

But this venue is not my ‘cup of tea’ (a common phrase found in Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions). The new and improved version is now being sold in paperback on my website at and on Amazon around the world. I have been waiting over a week for my first order of them to get here from my printer in South Carolina, and it seems like it’s been a ‘month of Sundays.’ UPS assures me that they will arrive day after tomorrow, and I am waiting ‘with bated breath.’ My friend, Kelly, from the radio station called me this morning just after I had returned from my aerobics class about another matter, and informed me that one of his other friends had borrowed his copy of my book and would likely be in touch soon. They are ‘selling like hot cakes,’ and I’m ‘tickled pink.’ 

Exploring Our Exciting World

A new book is in the early stages which should generate a lot of excitement. Not just because of the content, but because it is being put together by a number of contributors.Another factor which makes this book differ from others of its genre is the fact that it is comprised of actual first-person experiences of the contributors who have witnessed the grandeur of nature and the colorful locales around our globe and know of what they speak. The writers are from several walks of life and their adventures include business, vacation, military, missionary and home-country experiences.

I will reveal more as time goes on, but release is estimated between November, 2014 and March, 2015. But the wait will be worth it!

Meanwhile, happy reading, and may you be enriched by ‘exploring our exciting world’ for yourselves.

Kentucky Baptists Giving Away Guns at Church

I could hardly believe my ears this morning when I heard on a Nashville TV station that USA Today reported that the Kentucky Baptist Convention has voted to have a Second Amendment Celebration by giving away guns at churches in an effort to “convert unchurched young men to Christ.” At least one church, Lone Oak Baptist in Paducah,  is having an event this evening at which they are giving guns as door prizes. I checked it out, and this is factual!

What’s wrong with this picture? Sure, I believe in our rights. I’m exercising my First Amendment right of free speech and press right now. But the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, not a lack of common sense. I also have a right to pick up snakes, but I chose not to do so.

It is recorded in John 18:36 that Jesus spoke against his servants fighting, even to prevent his delivery to his enemies for crucifixion. His was a message of love, and I hardly see churches giving away firearms as a promotion of love.

So I won’t be giving away guns, handling snakes or bombing abortion clinics. That’s just my “two cents worth.”



It’s time to “let the cat out of the bag”

Last Saturday I told my readers that today I was going to make a major announcement concerning my popular phrase origin dictionary, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions. Well, true to my word, I am now “spilling the beans.”

I have been so honored by the great comments that folks have posted on Amazon about this book, and the fact that my friend, Kelly, a local radio personality, has constantly used entries the book on his morning radio show, that I felt like I would make another effort to show my appreciation by updating future printings to include 75 plus new entries. Today I approved the new updated version with the printer, and it is now available.

Just to give a little glimpse into what is now in it, such old standards as ‘air one’s dirty laundry in public’, ‘blow the whistle on someone’, ‘cardinal sin’, ‘bite off more than one can chew’, ‘charity begins at home’, ‘cold feet’, ‘eat your heart out’, ‘a fly in the ointment’, ‘get above one’s raising’, ‘in the pink’, ‘kudos’, ‘pipe dream’, ‘scared the bejeebees out of me’, and lots more are now in the new paperback.

Also, I have added such modern expressions as ‘arm candy’, ‘blood in the water’, ‘déjà vu all over again’,  ’a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich’, ‘hang ten’, ‘not ready for prime time’, ‘not so much’, ‘raising eyebrows’, ‘Rocky Mountain High’,  ’self-fulfilling prophecy’, ‘train wreck’, ‘who died and made you God?’ and many more.

The amazing fact is that I was able to accomplish this by shortening only about three lengthy entries and reformatting the entire manuscript, thus only enlarging it by 4 pages and leaving the price the same. I also found a few out of alphabetical sequence a bit and corrected them. Additionally, I changed the cover from glossy finish to matte. So all of the ones with matte finish are the new ones! The inexpensive Kindle version is unchanged.

So what about those who own the previous version, you may ask, who want the updates? Gotcha covered! I will provide a printed copy of all the new entries via snail mail for only $5.00 including postage to all who request it sending check or money order to St. Clair Publications P.O. Box 726, McMinnville, TN 37111. Those wanting a PDF digital copy of the updates may receive it by email attachment by sending only $1 via PayPal to

All ordering from will immediately receive the new version. Those ordering from amazon also should, but there it may take a few days before all old copies in stock are sent out.

Happy reading!