Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Five- Where did that come from?

As I was googling and researching yesterday for my latest WIP I came across some interesting info about a couple old sayings.

My current WIP is set in a blind school. I learned they trained the students to make brooms, so while I was looking up the process for broom making in the 1800's I came across these two comments on

1)When the first brooms were made they didn't use pegs to help hold the straw on the handle. The mothers cooked over open hearths back then and if the kids got to running around they made ash float int the air and get into the food. So the mothers would chase the kids out the door with the broom. A swat with a stern warning to "GO OUTSIDE!" Swish goes the broom and the straw portion of the broom sails across the room. And so the phrase for anger, "Flying Off The Handle."

2)Starting in 1810, Early American Brooms had pegged handles. Broom makers had brace and bit and could drill round holes in the handles, but did not have round pegs. So they split square pegs, trying to make them just the right size to fit snugly into the drilled holes. If the pegs "came out" too small, they would not stay in the hole so the broom could be made. If the pegs were too big, they could split the handle when driven into the hole. Only the correct size would "fit in." So developed the saying, "Square peg in a round hole" for those not fitting in.

3)Apprentices used to be expected to hold the candle so that more experienced workmen were able to see what they were doing. Someone unable even to do that would be of low status indeed. Or "couldn't hold a candle to"

4)The ancient Romans noticed that the hottest days of the year, i.e. in late July and early August, coincided with the appearance of Sirius - the Dog Star, in the same part of the sky as the Sun. Sirius is the largest and brightest star in the Canis Major constellation, in fact it is the brightest star in the sky. The ancients believed that the star contributed to the heat of the day. "Dog Days"

5) Mind your P's and Q's- take your pick of which one you think works.
- Mind your pints and quarts. This is suggested as deriving from the practice of chalking up a tally of drinks in English pubs (on the slate). Publicans had to make sure to mark up the quart drinks as distinct from the pint drinks. This explanation is widely repeated but there's little to support it, apart from the fact that pint and quart begin with p and q.
- Advice to printer’s apprentices to avoid confusing the backward-facing metal type lowercase Ps and Qs. I've never heard any suggestion that printer should mind their ds and bs though, even though that has the benefit of rhyming, which would have made it a more attractive slogan.
- Mind your pea (jacket) and queue (wig). Pea jackets were short, rough woollen overcoats, commonly worn by sailors in the 18th century. Perruques were full wigs worn by fashionable gentlemen. It is difficult to imagine the need for an expression to warn people to avoid confusing them.
- Mind your pieds (feet) and queues (wigs). This is suggested to have been an instruction given by French dancing masters to their charges. This has the benefit of placing the perruque in the right context - so long as we accept the phrase as being originally French. There's no reason to suppose it is from France and no version of the phrase exists in French.
- It is advice to children learning to write to take care not to mix up the lower-case letters p and q. Again, the 'd' and 'b' counter argument applies.
- It derived as reminder to children to be polite. This is supposed to be as a form of 'mind your pleases and thank-yous' - 'mind you pleases and kyous'. Pretty far-fetched that one.
- P and q stands for "prime quality." There is, or rather was as this now seems to have also been withdrawn, a 1612 citation which links PQ with 'prime quality'. If that's the origin why isn't the phrase mind your PQ?

The last three were found on a site "The Phrase Finder"

Hope this not only enlightened your day, but made you smile!


Helen Hardt said...

This kind of stuff is so interesting!

Paty Jager said...

Yeah, this is the kind of stuff that I like to put in my stories.

Lauri said...

I love the history behind old sayings. Shared bath water always started with the oldest and ended with youngest, hince the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."