Staten Island Web logo



Origins of some common phrases:

SON OF A GUN
Meaning: An epithet.
Origin: In the 1800s, British sailors took women along on extended voyages. When babies were born at sea, the mothers delivered them
in a partitioned section of the gundeck. Because no one could be sure who the true fathers were, each of these "gunnery" babies was jokingly called a "son of a gun."

PUT UP YOUR DUKES
Meaning: Raise your fists and get ready to fight.
Origin: In the early 1800s, the Duke of York, Frederick Augustus, shocked English society by taking up boxing. He gained such
admiration from boxers that many started referring to their fists as the "Dukes of York," and later, "dukes."

HAVE AN AXE TO GRIND
Meaning: Have a hidden agenda.
Origin: The expression comes from a story told by Benjamin Franklin.
A man once praised Franklin's father's grindstone and asked young Benjamin to demonstrate how the grindstone worked. As Franklin complied, the stranger placed his own axe upon the grindstone, praising the young boy for his cleverness and vigor. When the axe was sharpened, the man laughed at Franklin and walked away, giving the boy a valuable lesson about people with "an axe to grind."

UPPER CRUST
Meaning: Elite.
Origin: In the Middle Ages, the highest-level nobility and royalty were served the choice part of a loaf of bread, the "upper crust," before it was offered to other diners.

MEET A DEADLINE
Meaning: Finish a project by an appointed me.
Origin: The phrase was born in prisoner-of-war camps during the Civil War. Because resources were scarce, the prison camps were
sometimes nothing more than a plot of land surrounded by a marked line. If a prisoner tried to cross the line, he would be shot. So it became known as the "deadline."

TOE THE LINE
Meaning: Behave or act in accordance with the rules.
Origin: In the early days of the British Parliament, members wore swords in the House of Commons. To keep the members from fighting during heated debates, the Speaker of the House of Commons forced the Government and Opposition parties to sit on opposite sides of the chamber. Lines, two sword-lengths plus one foot apart, were drawn in the carpet. Members were required to stand behind the lines when the House was in session. To this day, when a member steps over the line during a debate, the speaker yells: "Toe the line!"

SECOND STRING
Meaning: Replacement or backup.
Origin: You might have caught William Tell without an apple, but not without a second string. In medieval times, an archer always carried a second string in case the one on his bow broke.

IN THE LIMELIGHT
Meaning: At the center of attention.
Origin: In 1826, Thomas Drummond invented the limelight, an amazingly bright white light, by running an intense oxygen-hydrogen
flame through a lime cylinder. At first, the bright light was used in lighthouses to direct ships. Later, theaters began using the limelight like a spotlight -- to direct the audience's attention to a certian actor.
If an actor was to be the focal point of a particular scene, he was thrust "into the limelight."

FLASH IN THE PAN
Meaning: Short-lived success.
Origin: In the 1700s, the pan of a flintlock musket was the part that held the gunpowder. If all went well, sparks from the flint would
ignite the charge, which would then propel the bullet out of the barrel. However, sometimes the gun powder would burn without
igniting a main charge. The flash would burn brightly but only briefly, with no lasting effect.
--
ciao4now!
bobC



Staten Island WebŪ Forums Index.