Descriptive Phrases
Posted on October 16, 2017

Do you ever wonder how phrases we use all the time originated? According to my friend, Helen Kennedy, some have fairly interesting histories. She shared a list of such stories with me, two or three of which I’ll share with you in this blog.

Back in Revolutionary War days, obviously there were no such things as photographs. Images were always either carved or painted. Some paintings of George Washington, for example, show him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back. Others show both of his arms and legs. Painters in that day and age ordinarily charged not according to how many people were in a painting but to how many limbs had to be drawn (charging more if all four limbs were required on canvas). That was the origin of the statement, “Okay, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.”

Early politicians who desired quick feedback from voters did not have the convenience of phones, TVs, radio, or the Internet. So, often they would send their assistants out to local taverns to eavesdrop on conversations. Those assistants were told to “go sip some Ale and listen to people’s bar talk and opinions.” Frequently numerous assistants were dispatched at the same time, being told, “You go sip here,” and “You go sip there.” The two words “go sip” were eventually combined when referring to local opinion, and thus we have the word “gossip.”

Also in taverns, people drank from pint-sized or quart-sized containers. A bartender’s or barmaid’s job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep their drinks coming. Therefore, close attention had to be paid to whether a customer was drinking in pints or in quarts, from which we get the phrase, “minding your P’s and Q’s.”

Admittedly, most of us will never be part of an experience that gives birth to a phrase that becomes part of our regular vernacular. However, maybe we can live in such fashion that popular phrases come to mind when others think of us:

“The patience of Job,” “Honest as Abe,” “Tried and true,” “Someone you can count on,” “If s/he says it, you can take it to the bank,” “Always there when I need someone,” “Doesn’t have a mean bone in her/his body,” “Kind,” “Godly,” “Christ-like.”

Maybe we will not be the source of phrases that people employ... but we can live in such fashion that people will employ those phrases when thinking about us.


Lynda Broome on October 20, 2017

This is not a comment about content but a question about format. Maybe you've talked about this before, and I've missed it. Why is your first paragraph always repeated? Otherwise, I'm enjoying your blog, and I agree with everything you say. Thanks! Lynda

Greg on October 23, 2017

Hi Lynda, That is a mistake and will be corrected.

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