Monday, April 30, 2012

I heard it through the grapevine

Are you singing the song? That’s good, but this phrase did not come from the popular song. Today, the phrase means to acquire information from an informal source. The term originates from the 1840s with the creation of the telegraph.

The telegraph introduced a means of rapid communication. The proliferation of poles and wires for the telegraph spread across regions like a giant grapevine. This led to the term ‘grapevine telegraph.’ This new term distinguished between the new telegraph system and the old word-of-mouth means of communication. People would utter 'I heard it on the grapevine' to indicate that they received genuine news, instead of unsubstantiated gossip.

In Australia, the term ‘bush telegraph’ persisted referring to networks of communication that passed on information about police movements to convicts.

That’s where the title of the popular song came from. Now you can listen to the Marvin Gaye version of the song.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Today we associate a curfew with parents imposing a set time for their children to come home or to go to bed. In some areas a curfew can have serious consequences for those who do not obey, such as a curfew imposed by the military in some countries. This term actually does have a military origin.
William the Conqueror

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, William the Conqueror required civilians to remain indoors after dark. Soldiers patrolled during the night yelling out “Couvre feu” which means to “cover the fire.” All candles and fires were to be put out and everyone was to go to bed.

Eventually the term Couvre feu became curfew, as we know it today. However, one of the main differences between the curfew that your parents gave you and the one that the Normans imposed was that the Normans were not as forgiving if you missed your curfew.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Peeping Tom

I’m sure you have heard this phrase before, but I hope you haven’t been called it. A Peeping Tom is a man who is a voyeur. This person observes naked people for his own gratification. This term’s origin goes back to the 11th century.

Lady Godiva
Legend has it that Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry, U.K., naked on horseback in order to convince her husband to remove the harsh taxes imposed on the town’s poor. Lady Godiva completed this task without being seen by anyone. Her husband thought this was a miracle and decided to remove the harsh taxes. Apparently, this ride through the streets is commemorated to this day; however, the participants are fully clothed.

This story did not have a Peeping Tom until the 18th century. The new addition to the story is that one of the townsfolk, Tom, peeped a look at Lady Godiva as she rode naked through the city. Due to this transgression, the harsh taxes were not removed.

I’m not sure what to say about Peeping Tom. Don’t be a Peeping Tom. Well, I guess that works.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Rest on one’s laurels

This phrase means to be satisfied with ones previous achievements to the point of considering further achievements unnecessary.

The laurels in this phrase refer to the leaves of the Laurus Nobilis tree. In ancient Greece laurel wreaths were a symbol of victory and statues. These laurel wreaths were associated with the god Apollo who adorned them upon his head. Laurel wreaths were often handed out to winners of the Pythian Games held in honour of Apollo.

Those who received laurel wreaths were referred to as a laureate. We still use the term laureate when someone receives a top honour, ex. a noble laureate. Although, noble laureates don’t receive a wreath today, they only receive lots of money.

By the 19th century, the term rest on one’s laurels began to be applied to individuals who had succumbed to laziness after a major achievement.

Once you achieve something great in life remember to continue to strive for greatness, and do not rest on your laurels. Now that you know a little more about this phrase, you can stop trying to rest on my friend Laurel.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Kick the bucket

I’m sure you have heard this phrase used before. Today this phrase means to die. This phrase is odd in that you may wonder, “why is kicking the bucket associated with death?” Well, let me tell you.

There seems to be two possible origins. One comes from the belief that those wanting to hang themselves would stand on a bucket with a noose around their neck. The act of kicking the bucket away completes the hanging. However, this theory does not appear to be the best, and really, who uses a bucket when they need to reach something?

The most plausible origin for this term goes back to the 16th century. Back then, the term bucket referred to a beam used to hang or carry items. The wooden frame used to hang animals up by their feet during slaughter was called a bucket. During the slaughter process animals would sometimes struggle and spasm causing them to kick the bucket.  

Now you know where this phrase came from. So when you eventually kick the bucket just be thankful that it will not come in this form. I hope.

Thank you Rachel for suggesting this phrase.