Do you ever say something and then think “where did that come from” because when you break it down, it sounds rather strange? That happens to me a lot. I find myself saying things to my students and they look at me like I’m on crazy pills. For example, “brand spanking new” brought on a whole gaggle of giggles because “Miss W said “spanking!!””

I got pissy for a second but then I paused and…yes…that phrase does beg explanation.

The best I could do was say that when babies were born back in the “old days,” the midwife or doctor would deliver a sound spanking, so that the baby would take a huge first breath and really expand and clear their lungs. This site has what might be the real origin…..but I think I like my version better. Though as I understand it, doctors don’t generally spank de babies anymore. Their butts sure are cute though.

My other recent moment was “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” I had junior high girls nigh in tears over that one.

The phrase I turn the most with my students is Shakespeare’s classic “brevity is the soul of wit,” from dear, dear Hamlet. I find I use this constantly with junior highers….because they tend to go on and on and on and on and….well, you get it.

The way that it works is that I will be teaching some lesson about, oh, anything. At some point, just to make sure they are following along, I will insert a benign reference to puppies or leprechauns or unicorns or something. This then incites all kinds of thoughts in the mind of a tween. “I have a puppy!” “I’ve seen a puppy!” “I love unicorns!” “I know someone who dreamt about a leprechaun one time!” and they all start talking at once, with or without raising their hands, and if I make the mistake of calling on them, they launch into a ten minute diatribe about……nothing.

Eyes glaze over and at a certain point I can’t even politely nod. And so I cast out into the nothing – “brevity is the soul of wit.” IE, you’ve been talking so long no one is listening anymore, but this could have been cool had you ended a while ago.

Of course, to a certain extent, this is really the pot calling the kettle black. Another of my fav phrases. I’m at about 400 words right now into this blog and am still not sure what I want to write about. I just started writing and…..these nothings pop out.

Suffice it to say I enjoy words and phrases. I read a fascinating book called “The Mother Tongue; English and  how it got that way,” which explored the origins of the language we speak today…we walk around speaking so quickly and without much thought…seldom to we pause long enough to think about the meaning of what we will say, let alone its origin.

I love the stories behind words, and being able to share them with my students. So many come from the Bible, from Shakespeare, from Latin, from French. I love the cultural literacy that comes along with knowing just a few. Fabulous cocktail party topics, when you are among the elite and intellectuals, sipping their brandy and wearing their thick-rimmed glasses and loose cardigans, as I imagine they all are. I picture everyone from “Annie Hall” and wish my life had more dinner parties.

Well. I’ve nothing much to say. But here lie a few more of my favorite turns of speech:

  • the bee’s knees
  • between a rock and a hard place
  • go to hell in a hand basket – read the fascinating origin here
  • red letter day – comes from the old days of the church, when special days and saint’s days were written in red. cute!
  • three sheets to the wind – thank you, sailors!
And my new fav….
Life’s not all beer and skittles. –  ‘Beer and skittles’ is shorthand for a life of indulgence spent in the pub.

Beer and skittles
Beer and skittles, as it were.

Skittles, also known as Ninepins, which was the pre-cursor to ten-pin bowling, has been a popular English pub game since the 17th century. The pins are set up in a square pattern and players attempt to knock them down with a ball. It is still played but not so much as previously.

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