No. 1235



While it’s true, and it has not always been this way, today knowledge is power. If you want to learn just how true this is, just become a contestant on “Jeopardy” sometime and you will find this out in a hurry. In this case, not knowing something could cost you several thousand dollars. These thoughts came to mind sometime back when my friend Joe Lehmann sent me a group of old sayings that I had heard often but did not know where they came from. This was so interesting that I wanted to share them with you.
Here they are, and I bet there are some of them you didn’t know either.
A SHOT OF WHISKEY – In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a “shot” of whiskey. 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.
IRON CLAD CONTRACT – This came about from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken. RIFF RAFF – The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. Riverboats carried passengers and freight, but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts, which were considered cheap. The steering oar of the rafts was called a “riff” and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class. COBWEB – The Old English word for “spider” was “cob.”
SHIP STATEROOMS – Traveling by steamboat was considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named for states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms. 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.
OVER A BARREL – In the days before CPR, a drowning victim would be placed faced 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. BARGE IN – Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they “barged in.”
HOGWASH – Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off were considered “hog wash.” 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. And here is a bonus – Oak trees do not produce acorns until they are fifty (50) years of age or older.
Hope you learned something new from today’s column. I sure did.
(Editor’s Note: JIM DAVIDSON is an author, public speaker, syndicated columnist and founder of the Bookcase for Every Child project. Since its inception in 1995, Jim’s column has been self-syndicated to over 375 newspapers in 35 states, making it one of the most successful in the history of American journalism.)