Our forefathers used phrases
and sayings in their everyday life that through time has either
been forgotten or the original meaning has change to suite today's
life style. In this article a few of these saying will be looked
at. I will first give the modern explanation and then the original
Lock, Stock and Barrel: This phrase is generally associated
with farming. It was said that in the depression of the 1930's,
when a man sold his entire farm, he was selling out "lock,
stock and barrel". In other words he was selling all of the
possessions he owned. The phrase has changed very little if any
in today's world still alluding to the meaning of "everything".
In past times this phrase
was used in the building of a rifled gun or pistol. If a person
had the money and needed an entire weapon built, he had the gunsmith
build it, firelock, wooden stock and gun barrel. In other words,
lock, stock and barrel.
By Hook or By Crook: Is a modern phrase used in the meaning
of obtaining something by any means. A person might say, "
I will buy that new car by hook or crook".
This statement harks back
to a time when farmers used a hooked stick to prune dead branches
from trees. Very early house leases forbade the tenant to cut
trees for firewood, although he was always allowed as much wood
as could be taken by: "hook or crook."
Plumbing: This word is used today to describe
the piping used to bring fresh water into or remove wastewater
from our homes. The word plumber is used today to describe a person
that works on our home's piping.
not mean what it would mean today; because plumb was the word
for lead, and a plumber was a man who worked with lead. Because
all of the first metal pipes were made from folded lead, the water-pipe
makers became known as lead men or "plumbers". Plumbing
was a term used to mean getting an object perfectly vertical.
This was accomplished by using a brass weight on a string held
next to the object to made vertical. Today it would be called
a Plumb bob.
Mad as a Hatter: Although not used very much in today's
modern society, this phrase was used until early part of the twentieth
century. This term was used to describe someone with a mental
disorder or in other words: "mad".
When felt hats were being
made by hand in older times, one of the chemicals used in production
was mercury. After many years of making hats, the Hatter would
have absorbed dangerous levels of mercury into his system. After
years of exposure, the mercury would poison the brain and he would
become mentally impaired or "mad". If a person was seen
acting strangely, it might be said he is: "Mad as a Hatter".
Don't go off half-cocked: This expression is used now days
meaning not doing anything rash or get mad at someone quickly.
An example would be," Boy, Jon sure went off half cocked
at Bill before he knew all of the story."
Until around the mid 1800's,
military weapons were of flintlock design and loaded in a manner
considered unsafe today. A soldier would have carried with him
at least twenty pre-made rounds in his cartridge box. When the
order to load was given, he would with draw a cartridge. The first
step would be to bite open the cartridge and prime the flash pan.
Then he would close the frizzen over the priming powder and continue
to load the rest of the powder and ball down the muzzle of the
musket. He then would pull out the ramrod and ram the powder and
ball down the barrel to the breech. If the lock of the gun had
any defective internal parts that held the hammer in the "half
cocked" position, the hammer would fall forward and cause
the gun to discharge while the soldier's hand was above the muzzle.
The poor soldier generally lost his hand in the process. Thus
the term, "don't go off half cocked" got its origin.
A flash in the pan: This is a term associated with the
firing of a flintlock rifle or musket. When the touchhole in the
side of the barrel became blocked with powder fouling, the priming
powder; when ignited would burn but not be able to reach the main
charge. All that would occur would be a "flash in the pan".
This is another phrase not
readily used in modern society, but was popular in the 18th and
19th century. It was used to describe a person who may have talked
boldly about something that may have occurred to him, but was
only lying to perhaps impress someone. If the truth were known
about this braggart, it would have been said that he was just
a flash in the pan. It would have also been used to describe someone's
plan or idea to do something, but was not likely to carry out
their plan or idea. It may have been said," Don't listen
to him. His ideas are just a flash in the pan".
These phrases only represent
a small number of the way English was spoken by our forefathers.
Try using these sayings or ones that you may know in conversation
with fellow re-enactors or with the public. Share with the public
how these phrases originated from everyday life of the 1830's.
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