No. 1007



I only speak one language, English, and some people would say that I don’t do a real good job of using it. I am told the English language is one of the hardest to learn, and there are many reasons for this. One reason that comes to mind is the fact that we have so much “slang” in our vocabulary that natives know, but is very difficult for others to learn. A while back a friend sent me a whole list of “slang words” and their origins that was quite interesting. I would like to share them, along with the origin because this information may come in handy some time. I just gave you one --- “come in handy” -- but, sorry, it is not included.
1. THE WHOLE NINE YARDS: American fighter planes in World War II had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges. The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.
2. BUYING THE FARM: This is synonymous with dying. During World War I, soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you “bought the farm” for your survivors.
3. IRON CLAD CONTRACT: This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.
4. PASSING THE BUCK/THE BUCK STOPS HERE: Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it was common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew whom he was. When it was time for a new dealer, the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn’t want to deal he would “pass the Buck” to the next player. If that player accepted then “the Buck” stopped there.”
5. COBWEB: The Old English word for “spider” was “cob.”
6. SLEEP TIGHT: Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a crisscross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night’s sleep.
7. OVER A BARRELL: In the days before cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are “over a barrel,” you are in deep trouble.
8. CURFEW: The word “curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu,” which means “cover the fire.” It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted into Middle English as “curfew.” In the early American colonies, homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreement upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a “Curfew.”
9. BARRELS OF OIL: When the first oil wells were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid, so they used water barrels. This is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.
10. HOT OFF THE PRESS: As the paper goes through the rotary printing press, friction causes it to heat up. Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press it’s hot. The expression means to get immediate information.
As Paul would say, “now you know.”
(Editor’s Note: THE DEAL OF THE CENTURY – Begin your day on a positive note – 365 days for $12. This will benefit the Bookcase for Every Child project. Go to to subscribe.)