One of my best birthdays ever

Yesterday I passed a milestone that my father, his father, or few males on that side of my family have reached in several  generations. The male average age at passing has been 54. I reached the big 7-0, and I’m just proud to be around. But once a person passes ‘a certain age,’ birthdays cease to be about presents and begin to be thinking about friendship and longevity. Much of my day yesterday was expended personally answering all 145 birthday wishes. from my fantastic family and friends on Facebook and Messenger, taking phone calls from my lovely daughters, enjoying my cards, and being taken out to a great steak dinner by my wonderful Rhonda, who also baked me a cake, which went down scrumptiously with rich cookies and cream ice cream.

I share my birthday with some pretty terrific folks including Davy Crockett, Mae West and Sean Penn. But at the beginning of the day I had received a super surprize when my oldest daughter informed me that my latest great grandchild had been born on this birthday! He’s a boy named Milo, and he’s in Texas! What more could I ask for. It’s for sure that I will always know how old he is, and know when to wish him the best birthday ever!

Two dreaded terms in the 19th century about travel on rivers!

In the 19th century, two American terms meant something horrible happening to human beings, and both involved being forced to go either up one river or down another. In my soon-to-be-released book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions these appear in sequence. on pp 348 and 349. I have included them both here:

Sell down the river

This means to betray, disappoint or hurt someone who trusted you. It derived from slave trading in the Southern U.S. prior to the Civil War. Selling a slave down the Mississippi River was typically a method of getting rid of one who was seen as rebellious, thus uprooting the person and separating families, and was a great betrayal to all of the family members. The more Southern plantations were noted for harsher treatment of slaves. The earliest known reference to the phrase in print is from The Ohio Repository (later The Canton Repository) in May, 1837:

“One man, in Franklin County has lately realized thirty thousand dollars, in a speculation on slaves, which he bought in Virginia, and sold down the river.”

After this, numerous other citations appeared in books and periodicals about selling slaves down the river. Mark Twain showed a strong understanding of the meaning of such a practice in Pudd’nhead Wilson, first serialized in The Century Magazine in 1894:

“‘If at the end of that time you have not confessed, I will not only sell all four of you, but— I will sell you Down THE RIVER!’ It was equivalent to condemning them to hell! No Missouri negro doubted this.”

It wasn’t long before the saying was being used figuratively, as in this early example from Small Bachelor by P.G. Wodenhouse, published in both the U.K. and U.S. in 1927:

“When Sigsbee Waddington married for the second time, he to all intents   and purposes sold himself down the river.”

Send someone up the river

In the 19th century, a person who was convicted of a very serious. crime in New York City was sent up the Hudson River to Ossining, to the infamous ‘Sing Sing prison.’ This separated the hardened criminals from the run of the mill (see in first volume) petty thieves and pick pockets. Eventually this term began to apply to anyone sent to maximum security prisons. The earliest available reference in print is from The New York Supplement, Volume 46, 1897, in the case of Dunn et el v. Wehle, Supreme Court, Appellate Term, July 29, 1897:

“…he told the plaintiff that ‘if he recovered a judgment he must be very careful because he had sworn in supplemental proceedings he had nothing, and they might examine him again, and he must be very careful, or they might send him up the river.’”

A citation in quotes is found in Popular Science, August, 1932, page 16, in ‘New Prisons are Proof Against Riot and Outbreak,’ indicating that the saying had become a colloquialism:

“Pallister, once a mason, had been ‘sent up the river’ before on a burglary charge and at that time he had actually helped in the construction of the death house in which he was confined.”

In pole vaulting they raise the bar to determine greatest ability. But where did the expression ‘Raise the bar’ really come from?

Here is another example of folk etymology being incorrect in my new book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, Volume II, to be released later this month:

Raise the bar^

This expression is used to refer to gradually setting a standard of success or quality higher. It is said to be taken from pole vaulting and high jumping where the bar is set higher as the competition gets stiffer and new records are set. The earliest references in print, however, are from a different ‘bar.’ In the Proceedings of the Illinois Bar Association, Forty-fifth Annual Meeting at Dixon, June 9, 10, 11, 1921, page 61. Note that it is talking of raising the ‘standard of ethics’ but that bar is not capitalized, making it ambiguous:

“We think that if all of the counties throughout the state would do that, it would tend to raise the standard of ethics, of conduct of the profession; and the reading of those canons by the public at large would tend to raise the bar in the public esteem.”

The next year in the Proceedings of the Alabama State Bar Association, Held at Southern Club, Birmingham Alabama, April 28, 29, 1922, a similar statement was made, on page 42, and bar is capitalized, indicating that the origin could indeed be from raising the ideals for attorneys, not the bar used in high jumps;

“And already what we say, if we say is right, goes a long way, but when we raise the Bar to that high standard it should occupy, where we make every lawyer feel that he is an officer of the court, that the oath he takes is a solemn obligation, that it is up to him to live up to the obligation.”            

The next unmistakably figurative use of the phrase also comes in a legal context in 1935, in the New York Court of Appeals, Records and Briefs, page 59:

“The validity of an indictment does not ordinarily depend upon the correctness of a date appearing therein, provided the time alleged does not raise the bar of the statute of limitations.”

A similar citation appears in a New York Court of Appeals record in 1942 in regard to raising the bar of a statute. In fact, the first available reference to raising the bar for high jumping does not come until a Life Magazine article on July 13, 1953.

If you are only looking for cute anecdotes, don’t buy my books

“To be great is to be a nonconformist” is one of the entries in my new book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, Volume II,  being released on August 25. This is actually a misquote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, nevertheless, it contains much truth. Some nonconformists actually have little to offer, but among them have arisen those who have “turned the world upside down” (another saying from the book).

On, 19 people have posted reviews of the original volume of this book. Of those, 15 have been five stars. The other three ‘just didn’t get it.’ One didn’t like it because it didn’t consist of all cute little anecdotes. Another didn’t  like the fact that some expressions were not included. The other said there was ‘no index,’ thus he could not use it as a reference.

Give me a break…Oh, yes, that one’s in the first book. The very reason that some may not appreciate this work which took many years of research is that it IS NOT just cute stories. In origins, these are the commonly passed down myths about how something started. If this is what you are looking for, please don’t bother to buy one of these books. I spent all the thousands of hours in research because all I want is truth.  I plainly stated in thee introduction to the first book that all phrases could not be included in one volume. I can only print so many pages at a time. And what about an index? These are dictionaries. No dictionary has an index. They are in alphabetical order!  If you want to find out the most likely origins of the things we say every day, do buy my books. Thousands have loved them. I appreciate all of those who do!

Early Release Date Announced!

This exciting second volume of phrase origins and meanings will be released on October 1, 2016. Be watching Amazon at that time!:




Based on present progress of final analysis and minor changes being made from the proof of my new book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, Volume II, I now am able to announce the new early release date! That date is August 25, 5 weeks and 2 days ahead of originally planed schedule. This is being expedited due to other books which are coming from other authors which will demand my attention. As soon  as I know the dates, I will announce my interview on local radio and book signing at the local library which will launch sales here.

Here is another of the over 1,000 new entries in this long-awaited sequel:

Expect the best and plan for the worst^

This proverb means that a positive attitude is important in life, but even so, one must always have a ‘back up plan’ in case of an unexpected disaster. It is often attributed to Zig Ziglar, the wonderful motivational speaker who certainly brought this to our attention. The basis of this saying, however, goes all the way back to the late 17th century. Seneca’s Morals Abstracted in Three Parts by Roger L’Estrange published in London in 1679 has this on page 104-105:

“I would hope the Best, but prepare for the Worst.”

Almost 200 years later it was used in The Day of Rest, An Illustrated Journal of Sunday Reading, from the Church of England, August 23, 1873, in a column titled, ‘The Bright Side:’

“But he who looks on the bright side in a religious spirit will prepare for the worst, though he hopes for the best.”

Oregon Teachers Monthly, January, 1906, in ‘Ashland Normal News’ by editor Armilda Daughty said it this way:

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes.”                              


Throwback Thursday

The year on this photo gives it away. This is Rhonda and me on a lake cruise on Lake Mead near Las Vegas on the Arizona Border. This was the second time I had visited Vegas and been to Hoover Dam. It’s a lovely place and everyone should go at least once.

Throwback Thursday is one of over 1,000 entries in my new book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, in its final look over before early release. In this one I have a lot of newer phrases identified, plus lots more old ones. Here’s the entry:

Throwback Thursday

This is a term used for a modern trend by users of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when posting or reposting old photos. According to an article in Sports Illustrated Magazine, August 22, 2013,  ‘From Hardwood to Hashtag: How NBA Culture Gave Rise to Throwback Thursday the term was coined on a blog named ‘Nice Kicks’ about sneakers in 2006.

Stay tuned for my announcement of the early release date!

Where did the derogatory term “Shameless hussy” come from?

Here is another example of what to expect in my Volume II of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions to be released on October 1:

Shameless hussy

A hussy is defined as an impudent, brazen of immoral woman, and has been in English since 1520. Oddly enough, it derived from the Middle English huswif from which housewife came. In 1594, In The Historie of Ane Nobil and Walieand Sqviel, William Meldrum by Sir David Lyndesay of the Mont had the following on page 531:

“A nasty hussy puts stale into the mashing- and the ale burns the brains.”

Gradually, the definition of hussy was enlarged to apply to any girl, and had lost most of the derogatory connotation by the mid-18th century without prefacing it with an unmistakable nasty word. The earliest use of ‘shameless’ with it to emphasize the original meaning of the term appeared in 1791 in The Busy Body, a Comedy play by Susannah Centlivere, Act V, Scene vii:

“Hey-day! mighty fine! wife truly! mighty well! kissing, embracing — did ever any thing equal this? — Why, you shameless hussy! — But I won’t condescend to waste a word upon you.”

After this, hussy began to revert to mean an immoral woman, often with   Centlivere’s ‘shameless’ before it.

Not by any stretch of the imagination!

I have received most of the edits now on the second volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, from my editor, Kathy Barney, and the balance will quickly follow. I am staying busy incorporating the edits into the master manuscript, and all is on schedule for the promised October 1 launch.

In the meantime I have added a few extra entries along the way which I deemed worthy to be a part of this new massive work. One of those is “Not by any stretch of the imagination.” I am posting the entry below:

Not by any stretch of the imagination^ (or ‘by no stretch…’)

This old adage means that no matter how hard one tries, it would be difficult to accept something. A major online dictionary places the origin of ‘by any stretch’ at late 1700s.  The idea of stretching one’s imagination, however, goes back many years earlier, to the Friday, 13 April 1729 issue of the London publication, The  Spectator, in which the following appeared on the front page:

“The Gentleman was as diligent to do Juftice to his fine Parts, as the Lady to her beauteous Form: You might fee his Imagination on the Stretch to find out fomething uncommon, and what they call bright, to entertain her; while fhe writhed her felf into as many different Poftures to engage him.”

In a 1793 publication of The Plays of William Shakespeare, a notation from ‘The Historical Account from the English Stage, Vol. II’ by Malone contains the following with a negative connotation:

“It appears that when Pericles was originally performed, the theatres were furnished with  no  such apparatus as  by any stretch of the imagination could be suppofed to present either a sea, or a ship…”