Monday, January 30, 2012


Most people have heard of this term before and many know the iconic look of the bikini (sorry, I'm not including a picture of one). Of course, this term denotes the two-piece swimming suit worn by women.

The origin of this term comes from the Bikini Atoll. This island chain in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean became famous for the location of the first peacetime atomic bomb tests by the United States. After the Second World War the United Nations developed a program where wealthy countries would ‘look after’ smaller countries and help them to develop. The U.S. decided to help the people of the Bikini Atoll by removing them from their island and proceeded to blast the island with more then 15 atomic bomb tests starting in July 1946. The people of the island chain were assured that they would be able to return to their island after the testing was complete. Clearly this was not the case due to the extreme levels of radiation left over from the tests.

After the publicity of the tests a French fashion designer named Louis Reard launched an aggressive marketing campaign for his revealing new swimsuit: the bikini. People loved the new swimsuit at first but it did not take long for Catholic countries to begin banning the new bikini and Hollywood also fell in line. By the 1950s the new bikini gained more popularity and the bans soon disappeared. In fact, Hollywood decided to put the new swimsuit in their movies beginning in the mid-1950s.
Atomic bomb tests on Bikini

As for the people of Bikini, they were soon forgotten. Many were resettled on other islands and the U.S. did try to bring them back to their island but many refused believing that it was not safe. The people of Bikini have launched a number of lawsuits before the U.S. Federal Court with the backing of the authorities of the Marshall Islands.

For all the women, and some men, who enjoy wearing their bikinis don’t forget about the people of Bikini and their sacrifice for fashion.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't let the cat out of the bag

This phrase generally means ‘to disclose a secret.’ You may hear this phrase used when you are about to reveal something and someone will tell you don’t let the cat out of the bag. The origin of this phrase appears to have two different sources.

The first source comes from around the 16th century when people bought pigs at the market. These pigs came in a bag and this lead to the expression pig in a poke (bag). Some unsavoury merchants would sometimes put a cat inside the bag instead of the whole pig, in order to trick unsuspecting buyers. This allowed the merchants to cut down on their costs.

The cat o' nine tails
The second source of this phrase comes from the cat o’ nine tails. This device, often known as the cat, was a common means of punishment in various militaries starting around the 17th century. When men broke the rules they would receive numerous lashes across the bare back. The cat was kept in a bag and would only be removed when someone was about to be punished. Applying the phrase don’t let the cat out of the bag is a little tricky because the meaning ‘to disclose a secret’ does not directly apply. However, in one regard this phrase does apply to the meaning because for new recruits the first time the cat was revealed to them it meant that the secret of the cat was now disclosed.

If someone is about to reveal a secret and you use this phrase don’t forget about the dead cat in the bag or the crack of the whip.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rule of thumb

This phrase is used today to denote a rough estimate or it is used to indicate that a certain rule is the most important to follow.

The origin of this phrase has some controversy and it is not generally known for certainty were it originates. There are a number of different potential origins for this phrase but I will focus on one common explanation. One common explanation has to do with the custom that men were allowed to beat their wife as long as the item that they used was no larger than the man’s thumb.

It appears that this custom was in practice in the 17th century and perhaps even earlier. However, it does not appear that the rule of thumb was ever a set law in Britain or the United States. There was at least one instance where a husband was found innocent because the judge ruled that “the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb.”1 This case occurred in 1868 in the United States.

As the feminist movement evolved and women were granted more rights this phrase began to change and no longer referred to the beating of a wife. I am glad that this phrase has evolved over time and that its original meaning is no longer the common practice in most Western societies.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

That’ll be the day

Today this term simply means “never” and is used in a number of different circumstances. This line is particularly used by women when asked out by men they do not fancy. Despite its more mundane meaning today this phrase actually has a military origin.

During the First World War Prussian military officers believed in Der Tag (The Day), when the German military would rise to prominence and replace the British as the most important in Europe. Der Tag was a common toast of German officers and it was often the theme of many newspaper articles and books. The phrase became so popular that the British military countered it with “that’ll be the day.” British soldiers also used this phrase to yell across no-man’s land to taunt the Germans. Eventually this phrase became so popular that it was used as the title for songs, books and films.

One popular version of this phrase comes from the song That'll be the Day by Buddy Holly in 1957.

For all the men that are told by women “that’ll be the day” just remember that they are referring to the inconceivability of German military dominance and not any inadequacies that you may have.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

What does that really mean?

Hello everyone,

This blog will highlight some common words or phrases that are used today and describe their origins. When you hear a word or phrase we sometimes ask: "What does that really mean?" Follow this blog and you will learn what these words and phrases once meant.