American idioms

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 Colonial period

lock

, stock and barrel

going

off half cocked

flash

in the pan

a

skin flint

mind

their p's and q's

rule

of thumb

a

wind fall

 

The history of American idioms make more sense than one thinks. Many of the sayings used today are derived from the pilgrimage of our country's roots in Plymouth, Massachusetts where it all started.

Keep your nose to the grindstone 

(to keep working hard).

In colonial America without electricity, the Pilgrims' main staple food was corn. To get the greatest use from the corn it was ground to a powder known today as cornmeal. The corn kernels were poured in to a stone "bowl" in which the giant wheel (the millstone) rested. The wheel was turned from above by the power of a windmill. In order to get the corn in to the bowl, the "miller" had to pour it in from the back side which made his nose get quite close to the turning millstone.

Three sheets to the wind 

(to be drunk) Again, when the Pilgrims arrived on the

Mayflower, the only resources they had to use were those from the ships on which they came. To make windmills for power they used strips of the sails from the ships - in those days called sheets. The first windmills were constructed with three "blades" to catch the wind, but it was found that in a strong wind that the blades would turn in a rickety fashion. Reconstruction of the 4-blade windmill soon replaced the rickety ones. Thus, when a person walked in a "rickety" fashion being drunk, he (or she) was labeled as "three sheets to the wind".

Goodnight, sleep tight 

(to sleep well)

In colonial times mattresses were made of goose down feathers. Though a comfortable sleeping arrangement, sometimes men found them to be just too soft. In an effort to create firmness in the mattress, ropes were tied around the mattresses width-wise at the top, middle and bottom and pulled tight to condense the mattress. The tighter the ropes were pulled, the firmer the mattress became. For some, this produced a great night's sleep.

Hence the phrase, "Goodnight, sleep tight."

Armed to the teeth

Back in the days when America and

it's close neighbors were being discovered by sea faring men, life was different. Weapons in those days were less than efficient, including the single shot black powder guns used by pirates in Jamaica 

in the 1600s. Knowing that the gun had just one shot, the pirates would also carry a knife in their teeth to use once the gun was used up. This created the phrase "armed to the teeth".

Busting your chops

At the turn of the century and also again in the late 1960s, long, thick sideburns were referred to as "mutton chops" or "lamb chops". A bust in the chops meant to be hit in the face. Even though these chops are no longer the fashion, the phrase "bust your chops" has survived over the years, no doubt to return as a fashion statement some time in the future.

Can't hold a candle to

Before electric lights 

there were candles. Someone performing a task requiring two hands after dark would also need a person to hold the candle while they worked. Of course, the person holding the candle would be in a position of service to the person doing the work. To not be worthy of even holding the candle for someone was considered to be of very low estate in these days. So to say, "She can't hold a candle to him/her" means that the person "accused" is pretty much worthless.

Dressed to the Nines 

 
Common lore has it that a tailor making a high quality suit uses more fabric. The best suits are made from nine yards of fabric. This may seem like a lot but a proper suit does indeed take nine yards of fabric. This is because a good suit has all the fabric cut in the same direction with the warp, or long strands of thread, parallel with the vertical line of the suit. This causes a great amount of waste in suit making, but if you want to go "dressed to the nines", you must pay for such waste.

High on the Hog

The best meat on a pig is the loin area which is located high on the pig (or the hog) on either side of the spine. In early America and probably Europe when the rich were very rich and the poor were very poor, the rich lived in luxury being fed the "high" portion of the hog - or the loin. Lower portions (chitterlings, cracklings, feet, etc.) were saved for servants. Thus, those who ate from the higher end of the hog were considered affluent

an living "high on the hog".

Think about how frequently Americans use these terms. And the next time you use anyone of these, you can also include the history behind them which is of interest to those who consider themselves Americans. But, please remember, we are all immigrants as our founding fathers all came from another place unless they were American Indians - who have a whole different set of idioms their own! 

  • 3 Formation of the United States of America (1776–1789)

 

John Hancock Also, John Henry.

One's signature, as in Just put your John Hancock on the

dotted

line. This expression alludes to John Hancock's prominent signature on the Declaration of

Independence. The variant simply substitutes a common name for "Hancock." [Mid-1800s]

  • American Revolution

knock

into a cocked hat

Debunk, render useless or unbelievable. For example, His findings knocked our theory into

a cocked hat. This expression alludes to a style of hat with the brim turned up on three sides the three-cornered (tricorne) hat worn by officers in the American Revolution giving it a distorted look. [Early 1800s]

a

 Purple Heart 2) амер. "Пурпурное сердце" (медаль за ранение, полученное в ходе военных действий)

The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit

, was established by George Washington

—then the commander-in-chief 

of the Continental Army

—by order from his Newburgh, New York headquarters 

on August 7, 1782. The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War 

soldiers and from then on as its legend grew, so did its appearance. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I

.

The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention 

in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified 

by conventions in elevenstates

. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights

. The Constitution has been amended 

seventeen times (for a total of 27 amendments) and its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review

.

The 

Founding Fathers of the United States of America 

were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution 

by creating the United States Declaration of Independence

, taking part in the American Revolutionary War

, establishing the United States Constitution

, or by some other key contribution. Within the large group known as the "Founding Fathers", there are two key subsets: the "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" (who signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776) and the Framers of the Constitution (who were delegates to the Federal Convention 

and took part in framing or drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States). A further subset is the group that signed the Articles of Confederation

.[2]

  • 4 Early national era (1789–1849)
  • 1 Federalist Era
    • 1.1 Washington Administration: 1789–1797

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    • 1.2 Emergence of political parties
    • 1.3 Adams Administration: 1797–1801
  • 2 Thomas Jefferson
  • 3 Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812

eat

crow

Also, eat dirt or humble pie. Be forced to admit a humiliating mistake, as in

When the reporter got the facts all wrong, his editor made him eat crow. The first term's origin has been lost, although a story relates that it involved a War of 1812 encounter in which a British officer made an American soldier eat part of a crow he had shot in British territory. Whether or not it is true, the fact remains that crow meat tastes terrible. The two variants originated in Britain. Dirt obviously tastes bad. And humble pie alludes to a pie made from umbles, a deer's undesirable innards (heart, liver, entrails). [Early 1800s] Also see EAT ONE'S WORDS.

Old Hickory

"старый гикори" (прозвище американского генерала Э. Джексона [А. Jackson, 1767-1845], седьмого президента США) [гикори - американский орех]

  • 4 Era of Good Feelings and the Rise of Nationalism
    • 4.1 Sectionalism
    • 4.2 Era of Good Feelings

the

era of good feeling (the era of good feeling(s)) эра доброго согласия [о президентстве Монро (1817-24)] During the "era of good feelings"... these ideas have been widely disseminated. (Suppl) — Эти идеи получили широкое распространение... в период, называемый "эрой доброго согласия" We do not wish to disturb the new "Era of Good Feeling" in traction. (‘Chicago Daily News’) — Мы не собираемся вносить разлад в доброе согласие по вопросам городского транспорта.

  • 5 Emergence of Second Party System
    • 5.1 Jacksonian democracy
    • 5.2 Suffrage of all white men
    • 5.3 Trail of Tears
    • 5.4 Nullification Crisis
    • 5.5 Banking
  • 6 Age of Reform
    • 6.1 Second Great Awakening
      • 6.1.1 Utopians
    • 6.2 Public schools movement
    • 6.3 Asylum movement
    • 6.4 Women
    • 6.5 Anti-slavery movements
    • 6.6 Women as abolitionists
    • 6.7 Prohibition
  • 7 Economic growth
  • 8 Westward expansion

prairie schooner

; фургон переселенцев (о запряжённых волами крытых фургонах, в которых ездили на Дальнем Западе до появления железных дорог). a covered wagon used by pioneers in cross-country travel —called also 

prairie wagon (

1841)

This was a catch phrase for one type of Western covered wagon- with some concessions to curved or arched end ( like the prow of a boat) streamlining.

it is believed to have been popularized by Western writers and saw little contemporary use. by no means were these wagons amphibious! actually the square ended types of Western wagons were more popular on the Frontier, and were used for such utility tasks as Chuck wagons, in effect mobile field kitchens. The cooking apparatus was on the side of the wagon, to minimize fire hazards with the ( Envelope) It swung or pivoted out when cooking was done. One recalls the very accurate Bonanza model made by American Character, that unfortunately got stuck in merchandising ruts- and ultimately caused the company to fail- paint your wagon, indeed. ( this was a model Western Wagon with different configurations of body work- foreshadowing modern trucks. as mentioned it did not go over well, intended for use with Bonanza western Dolls.

 

  • 5 Civil War era (1849–1865)

gone

with the wind

Disappeared, gone forever, as in With these unforeseen expenses, our profits are gone with the wind. This phrase became famous as the title of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel, which alludes to the Civil

War's causing the disappearance of a Southern way of life. It mainly serves as an intensifier of gone.

rally

around

Join in a common effort, as in

When Mom broke her leg the entire family rallied around to help. This idiom gained currency with George F. Root's famous Civil War song, "The Battle Cry of Freedom," which urges troops to rally round the flag that goes with them into battle.

[Early 1800s]

whistle

Dixie

Engage in unrealistic, hopeful fantasizing, as in

If you think you can drive there in two hours, you're whistling Dixie. This idiom alludes to the song "Dixie" and the vain hope that the Confederacy, known as Dixie, would win the Civil War.

nothing

to write home about

Ordinary or unremarkable, as in

The restaurant was all right but nothing to write home about. This idiom originated in the late 1800s, possibly among troops stationed far from home, and became widespread during World War I.

the bloody chasm

; непримиримая вражда, распря между Севером и Югом (создавшаяся в результате гражданской войны 1861 - 65 гг.)

the

 bloody shirt 1) "окровавленная рубашка" (символ вражды между северными и южными штатами во время и после Гражданской войны 1861-65 гг.) 2) что-л. используемое для разжигания страстей (с to wave)

the

 Knights of the Golden Circle ; "рыцари золотого круга" (прозвище членов секретной реакционной организации в южных штатах США)

 

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 blue coat (a blue coat (blue-coat))  англ. 1) "синий мундир"; солдат; моряк амер. 2) ; солдат армии северян (во время гражданской войны 1861 - 65 гг.)

 

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; Потомак - река, протекающая через штаты Западная Виргиния, Мэриленд и Виргиния] Mitch: "All quiet on the Potomac now?" Blanche: "She ran downstairs and went back in there with him... I'm terrified." (T. Williams, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, sc. III) — Митч: "Ну что, на Потомаке все спокойно?" Бланш: "Стелла убежала к Стэнли. Они там вместе!.. Я просто в ужасе."

 

Acknowledge the Corn 

- to admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming

A.W.O.L. 

- Absent With Out Leave

Beat the Dutch 

- if that don't beat all

Been Through the Mill 

- been through a lot, seen it all

Big Bugs 

- big wigs, important people

Bully for You 

- good for you

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer 

- person in charge, or someone who can do anything

Conniption Fit 

- hysterics, temper tantrum

Fit as a fiddle 

- in good shape

Fit to be tied 

- angry

French

Leave - to go absent without leave

Hard Case 

- tough guy

Horse Sense 

- common sense, good judgement

Knock into a Cocked Hat 

- to knock someone senseless or thoroughly shock him

Let her

Rip - let it happen, bring it on

Not By a Jug Full 

- not by any means, no way

On His Own Hook 

- on one's own shrift, without orders

Opening the Ball 

- starting the battle / Units waiting to move into battle.

Salt Horse 

- salted meat

Scarce as Hen's Teeth 

- exceedingly rare or hard to find

See The Elephant 

- experience combat or other worldly events

Shanks Mare 

- on foot

Snug as a Bug 

- very comfortable

Toe the Mark 

- do as told, follow orders

 

putting

on the dog

 

  • 1 Economic and cultural changes
    • 1.1 Developing a market economy
    • 1.2 Immigration and labor
  • 2 Political Upheaval
    • 2.1 Wilmot Proviso
    • 2.2 The Popular Sovereignty Debate
    • 2.3 California Gold Rush
    • 2.4 Compromise of 1850
    • 2.5 Abolitionism
    • 2.6 Kansas-Nebraska Act

squatter sovereignty

; "верховенство поселенца", доктрина о невмешательстве в дела штатов по вопросу о рабстве [так назывался принцип, положенный в основу закона, принятого 30 мая 1854 Конгрессом США, отменявшего правило о недопустимости введения рабства на новых территориях. По этому закону решение вопроса о существовании рабовладения на той или иной территории было предоставлено на усмотрение самого населения]

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In colonial America without electricity, the Pilgrims' main staple food was corn. To get the greatest use from the corn it was ground to a powder known today as cornmeal. The corn kernels were poured in to a stone "bowl" in which the giant wheel (the millstone) rested. The wheel was turned from above by the power of a windmill. In order to get the corn in to the bowl, the "miller" had to pour it in from the back side which made his nose get quite close to the turning millstone.
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