“What The Dickens” Does That Mean?

The other day, my son and I were out and about doing guy stuff, and the unusually chilly temperatures were causing him to clear his throat a lot, prompting him to tell me he had a “frog in his throat.”

Who came up with when pigs fly?

Being the ever-instructive dad that I am, I asked him if he knew what that phrase meant and from whence it came.

He didn’t, and I took the opportunity to inform him that back in medieval days, physicians believed that the secretions from a frog could cure a cough if applied to the throat of a patient.

“So a live frog would be placed in the patient’s throat until the quack decided it was long enough to cure the cough,” I said, completing my early morning tutoring.

After a sufficient amount of gagging at the thought, he asked, “Where did the term ‘quack’ come from?”

I sensed I could quickly run out of my very limited cache of knowledge on the origins of words, so I distracted him and broke out the iPhone to tap into the font of all knowledge, the holy grail of information: Wikipedia.

“Ah yes,” I retorted when he became undistracted, “the term comes from the larger term ‘quackery,’ which means fraudulent peddling of medicine or medical skills.”

Unimpressed, he said, “You just looked that up, didn’t you …”

I fessed up, but it got me thinking about how we all use words and phrases that convey some sort of message, but we don’t really know their origin.

So I thought it would be Frivolous Friday Fun (F3 ) to look at the genesis of some of the common terms we use. If you have some other favorites, chime in.

One term used a lot is “getting your goat.” This has origins in Ye Olde England, where it was said that putting a goat in the barn with the cows would make them produce more milk (the cows, not the goats).

Thus, if you wanted to adversely affect someone’s moo juice production, “get their goat” out of the barn. The saying now means to find someone’s weakness and exploit it.

Hey, we’re on a roll, so let’s find out where that one came from. Best I can determine, “on a roll” comes courtesy of our Las Vegas/Atlantic City friends, meaning when someone is winning at the craps (dice) tables, they are “on a roll.”

Which begs the question, where did they come up with a name like “craps” anyway?

We can thank the French for that one. The game was known there as “crapaud,” or toad, referring to the way street players would play by crouching down on the sidewalk.

I guess it could also refer to the word people use when they lose, but that’s just my opinion and this is a family magazine, so we’ll leave it at that.

Trying to keep this somewhat (OK, very loosely) on a public administration theme, how about this one: “Between the devil and the deep blue sea,” a place many recreation departments can identify with these days.

In this case, the devil isn’t the satanic figure, but is an ancient mariner’s term for the seam between deck planks on a ship that is hard to make watertight, thus, it is the uncomfortable space between a ship floating or not floating.

Sort of like being “between a rock and a hard place,” a reference from Odysseus when he faced equally dangerous choices of either a monster on a cliff (Scylla) or Charybdis, a devastating whirlpool.

Well, as you can see, we could do this “until the cows come home” (early agrarian reference to how slowly the cows come home to the barn unless rushed along), but the confines of this blog implore me to “put the kibosh” on my “tongue in cheek” missive.

But that shouldn’t stop you from “jumping on the bandwagon.” Come on, you know you want to “throw your hat in the ring” of this F3, “stick your neck out,” “gild the lily” and “take poetic license” by adding a saying or two of your own.

Hey, it’s Friday! “Trip the light fantastic” for a moment, then you can put “your nose back to the grindstone.”

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