November 10, 2013
Bulldozer, 20th-century style
My daughter asked me about this word today — asking if it was named after a bully that sleeps a lot. I had to say I didn’t have an answer for her, so I had to go to the books.
Turns out, the word comes from late-19th century, long before the construction vehicle. It originally was “bull-dose” and meant to whip and beat in order to get to do something. The earliest sentences made references to people who had bulldosed their slaves before the war or bulldosed their workers. My first thought was that it came of the dose of a beating necessary to get a bull to comply, but Word Wild Words found a great line from the Gettysburg Compiler in 1877:
“In very obstinate cases the brethren were in the habit of administering a “bull’s dose” of several hundred lashes on the bare back.”
The reference here seems to suggest a dose of a bullwhip. There you have it.
September 16, 2013
A pilcrow is the typographical character used in editing to represent a paragraph.
Aside from the fact that I never knew the name for it, I’ve always had a dickens of a time remembering which way it goes. The reverse pilcrow seems to make more sense because it looks like a P (you know, for paragraph).
The symbol itself, however, originates from a cent symbol — the c meaning capitulum (as in “little head”, or head of a paragraph).
March 22, 2013
The distinctive X-shape of a sawbuck
An early-twentieth century term for a ten dollar bill. It comes up in noir novels as I found it in both David Fears’s Dark Blonde and Megan Abbott’s Queenpin. The name comes from the X-shape formed by the crossed wood on a sawhorse, X being the roman numeral for ten.
March 2, 2013
The Queen City at night
Came across a passage referring to Cincinnati as the Queen City and wondered the origins of it. After a little bit of research, I discovered there are hundreds of queen cities throughout the world. The title seems to be given to any city which is second best at something. Buffalo, for example, is the Queen City of the Great Lakes for being the second largest city on the lakes, next to Chicago. The town is also the Queen City of New York, as the second largest city, next to New York.
Cincinnati’s use of the title is less clear, but it is clear that it is not because it was second fiddle. The name goes back at least until 1819, well before the founding of Chicago – the city that will eclipse it in the midwest. In Cincinnati’s case, queen must be a reference to its beauty, not any status as a runner-up. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the name in his poem “Catawba Wine” which reads:
“And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver,
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.”
February 12, 2013
To a great man with great diction. I was sad to see Bullfeathers didn’t make the list, but I guess he didn’t coin the phrase.
February 10, 2013
The original logo of Officer Candidate School
90 Day Wonder is a pejorative term for a military officer who earned his position through Officer Candidate School. The program was designed during World War II as a means of expanding the numbers of officiers primarily during wartime. Unlike members who go to West Point or other Officer academies, these men would become officers after only a short time (at one point as short as three-months, hence the name). The term has since also become a term of affection.
Another new phrase from David Fears’s Dark Blonde, a book that expanded my vocabulary more than I ever expected.
February 7, 2013
A long, sheer woman’s outer garment of interesting word origin. The word comes from the French verb “to comb the hair,” as it was originally used to describe a dressing gown that a woman would wear while brushing out one’s hair in the morning or evening. Another new word from David Fears’s novella Dark Blonde.