Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

November 5, 1997, Page 14

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


IN THE Good Old Days


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Curious Sayings or Expressions Through the Years


“A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” – One of the many old expressions, parables, or curious sayings: which have passed down through the generation.


In this day and age, curious sayings don’t seem to be used in our conversations as plentifully as in the first half of our century.


We can wonder how the expressions or curious sayings came about.  Parables were of biblical origin.  Some sayings originated in European countries, whereas most others started in America.


Collections of familiar sayings have been recorded and can be found in the public libraries, such as the following samples:


“The fat is in the fire” – The mischief is done and unpleasant results must be faced.  An irretrievable blunder has been made and the consequences must be dealt with.  The dire act committed will probably provoke and explosion of anger.  This saying was recorded in 1562 and may have been used before then.  One may surmise, probably correctly, the original allusion was to a chunk of fat meat which, thrust through a spit on the hearth to roast, caught ablaze and fell into the fire to the dismay of the cook.


“Pork barrel” – is a present-day political expression.  Pork is fat, and “fat” for hundreds of years, has meant plenty, abundance – “Ye shall eat the fat of the land.”  Thus, anything especially lucrative or greatly rewarding was referred to as “fat” and a hundred years ago, in the halls of Congress – the transference became “pork”.


Primarily, political “pork” in the luxuriant aftermath of the Civil War was any favor, distinction or governmental money allotted to a district.  Later, roughly 50 years ago, when congress began to seek larger appropriations to impress their constituents, such as public buildings, or the like, such an appropriation became a “pork barrel.”


“Come off your perch” – come down a peg or two; don’t be too conceited, haughty, or arrogant.  The reference is to the twig serving as a resting place for a bird; a point of vantage from which one makes a superior view.  Of American origin, it has been around at least 50 years. 


“In seventh heaven” – In a state of in effable bliss or delight having great pleasure.  This, especially in Islamic beliefs, is the heaven of heavens, in its literal sense, the abode of God and the highest angels.  A similar concept prevailed among the Jews in pre-Christian times, probably acquired from Babylonian beliefs.  The concept calls for seven heavens, one lying above the other, according to the degree of merit acquired on earth.


“To turn a new leaf” – To amend one’s conduct, to begin a new life; reform.  The leaf that turns is not that of a tree but that of a book, a book of lessons or of precepts; the book on which our sins of omission and commission are recorded.  An expression of over 400 years, it is used yet today. 


“Time is of essence” – some 80 years – especially in the phrase “of the essence” – it was a legal term, and its meaning was virtually that of “essential.”  When you sign a contract containing the term, “time is of essence,” it would be well to under-stand that time is of the utmost importance in the fulfillment of that contract.


“Charley-horse” – This term of muscular stiffness is believed to have come about in the 1890’s.  A horse named “Charley” drew a roller in the White Sox ball park in Chicago.  Charley had a peculiar limp, so the fans applied the name “Charley-horse” to any player afflicted with a muscular stiffness or lameness.  The term was used by a newspaper in early 1889 telling why a ball player had withdrawn from the game in 1888.  Though the nature of the injury was not described mentioning “Charley-horse” it was well understood by baseball fans, even outside of the Chicago area.  The origin is speculated as having derived from the baseball park incident.


“To hide one’s light under a bushel” – To conceal one’s talents or abilities keep in the background; be unduly modest.  This has reference to the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, in which, following the Beatitudes, Jesus called upon his disciples to be “the light of the world”, adding in the fourteenth and fifteenth verses, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick.” (“Bushel,” here is a vessel used as a bushel measure)


“Busman’s holiday” – Spare time spent doing the same thing one does in his own regular occupation.  The age of the expression cannot be determined.  A story that the regular driver of a London bus spent one of his days off riding as a passenger alongside the driver who was taking his place, can’t be validated.  A carpenter who, on a holiday repairs his own house – a newspaper reporter who writes fiction, in the evenings; each may be referred to as taking a busman’s holiday.


“To get one’s come-uppance” – To receive the fate one has merited; getting what is coming to one in the way of rebuke.  This saying is believed to have been used since the Civil War.


“To take under one’s wings” – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,”  Thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”  A passage from Matthew 37, it was a source of our present expression.  A metaphorical protection like that of a mother bird over her young also in Psalms 17 – “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”


(Quotations collected by Charles E. Funk.)


Within our own families, we may have some original sayings derived from family incidents to be remembered with humor, quotes for the lighter side of life!


The Chris Kippenhan Stave Mill, a thriving business circa 1900-1910, was located on Greenwood’s south side, along Main Street.  Employees of the factory took time out, for a photographer to capture a work day scene.  (Photo courtesy of Clark County Historical Society Jail Museum)



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