Loving the Strange
Colder than a Well Digger's Arse - The Weird and Adorable (Sometimes) Things People Say - LOVING THE STRANGE PODCAST
Hey! Welcome to episode 17 of LOVING THE STRANGE where we talk about the strange, adorable things people say.
Thank you all so much for listening! This wouldn’t be fun if you weren’t here.
Hey, did you know that families create their own familect? It’s a dialect that’s just for them, sort of a bunch of inside jokes and words that co-opt new meanings and it’s meant to show connectedness.
There’s a whole big article by Kathryn Harris in the Atlantic on it. In it she quotes linguist and Georgetown professor Cynthia Gordon as saying, “Any group of people that has extended contact over time and sees itself as distinctive is going to have some specialized uses of language,” Gordon told her. “Listening to recordings of other families is like being immersed in a different world.”
It’s interesting to wonder if this is true about communities and regions too. By listening to their unique sayings do we get to understand their world, right?
Let’s start with Shaun’s grampa’s apparent favorite:
Colder Than A Well Digger’s Arse:
Ah. I can see where Shaun gets his love for language and cussing. I can’t find the exact etymology of this, but most people think it’s Southern and it’s because either:
- Well digger’s bums stick up when they are digging and therefore get cold.
- When the well digger is in the well, the well usually doesn’t have that big a circumfrance and therefor their bottom is up against the side of the cold, hard, frigid earth as they dig. That makes their bummy cold. Poor little bums.
Other great Southern weather idioms are –
It’s hog killing weather.
It’s cold as a wedge.
If the creek don’t rise.
Laurie Flood asked:
If you don’t use the phrase all ‘stov up are you even from maine?
Ah, Laurie, we’d lose many people from away if this was the requirement, but for those of you not from here, let’s explain.
If you go on Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary site, you’ll see that STOVE UP means:
horses … too old and stove-up for saddle work— F. B. Gipson
several of the men were stove-up … and even some of the women showed signs of having been kicked or stepped on— H. L. Davis
But it (as all good things do) goes deeper than that. According to blog.oup.com’s July 2018 entry:
Stove up is an American coinage. The verb stave means “to break up (a cask) into staves” (from the noun stave “stick or lath of wood”). Its principal parts are staved, staved. But it shared the fate of another weak verb, namely, dive, whose past tense dove has almost superseded dived in the US, and developed the forms stove, stove, fairly well-known in American English. Stave in means “to break a hole (for instance, in a cask or a boat),” while stove up, seemingly extant only in the form of the past participle, came to mean “put into a cask” and thus (figuratively) “stuck and unable to move.” Anyone interested in local American usage should consult the great and incomparable Dictionary of American Regional English, a great monument to our civilization
STAVE — Verb. To act recklessly or heedless, rush, drive, stick, smash, etc. See also “fall to staves” and “stove.” 1904-07, Kephart “Notebooks,” “I stove a nail into (my foot).”
Another reference has the expression under the “Yankee Talk,” New England, section. STAVE UP – To break up. “She staved up the whole place.” “Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 2000). Page 305.
There’s a ton of New England phrases that are weird, but fun if you imagine Chris Evans saying them. Stuff like:
Bang a uey.
Wicked anything honestly.
“Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.”
Next up from John Bell, we have:
I’m gonna learn Ya and also Hen pecked aka PW
Spoiler alert: Carrie thought PW stood for some random place in Florida where John is from.
Second spoiler: Carrie was wrong.
LET’S START WITH LEARN YA
It’s totally proper to say this in French and Swedish, but for some reason “I’m going to learn you” in the States is considered super dialect and informal. So, it stayed colloquial and lost its formal acceptance. Washington Irving used it all the time.
MOVING ON TO HEN-PECKED
This one isn’t so hard.
According to etymonline.com
The henpect Man rides behind his Wife, and lets her wear the Spurs and govern the Reins. [Samuel Butler, “Genuine Remains,” 1759]
The verb henpeck (1680s) apparently is a back-formation.
That’s not good enough though, right? So, let’s go to the Times of India:
When is the female of the common domestic fowl. the term is loosely applied to females of other bird species and also to the female homo sapiens. the present ‘kitty party’ was earlier called the ‘hen party’. a hen frigate was a ship where the captain’s wife interfered with the duty or regulations, the captain being called the ‘henpecked husband’. mohd. shafi, aligarh the term henpecked is an offensive one meaning to annoy, criticise, harass or dominate a husband or male partner through continual nagging and fault-finding. the term ‘henpecked’ is formed from the word henpecked from hen’s practice of plucking the cock.
Nancy Corliss wanted to know all about
Caught between a rock and hard place….
Ah. This one has a nice clear origin. Yay!
According to theidioms.com between a rock and a hard place means
having two very bad choices
in a very difficult situation
facing a hard decision
having two equally unpleasant or unacceptable options
And it’s origin? They say:
This phrase originated in USA in the early 1900s. Several other phrases having the same meaning also exist in many cultures. This phrase was used during an economic crisis when mining workers faced low wages working at the rock face on one hand and unemployment and poverty on the other if the refused to work.
Note: The Idioms’s site can’t be linked to directly apparently, but you can find it by searching THE IDIOMS plus Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
The grammarist has a bit more detail:
The phrase originated in America in the early 1900s to describe a dispute between copper miners and the mining companies in Bisbee, Arizona. The miners demanded better working conditions, which the companies refused to supply. That left the miners with two unpleasant choices: continue to mine in the same terrible conditions (a rock), or face unemployment and poverty (a hard place). The phrase came into popular use during The Great Depression of the 1930s, as many citizens found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. An alternative phrase is stuck between a rock and a hard place, the meaning is the same.
Ann Duranceau-Kedrowski asked about
Clean as a whistle (what does that even mean?)
Radical Reference has a cool resource for this:
“One possibility is that the old simile describes the whistling sound of a sword as it swishes through the air to decapitate someone, and an early 19th century quotation does suggest this connection: ‘A first rate shot.(his) head taken off as clean as a whistle.’ The expression is proverbial, at least since the 18th century, when Robert Burns used a variation on it. More likely the basic idea suggests the clear, pure sound a whistle makes, or the slippery smooth surface of a willow stick debarked to make a whistle. But there is also a chance that the phrase may have originally been ‘as clean as a whittle,’ referring to a piece of smooth wood after it is whittled.”
(From the “Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997.)
Alternatively the origin may be the clean appearance of a just carved wooden whistle. Personally, I think it may well relate to locomotives where the brass, especially the whistle was always bright and gleaming.
We found the preceding info here:
According to Oxford English Dictionary, the first occurrence of this phrase was in 1828:
1828 Craven glossary Carr, William
The dialect of Craven, in the West-Riding of the County of York (anon.) 1824, 1828. s.v., ‘As clean as a whistle’, a proverbial simile, signifying completely, entirely. 1842 J. WILSON Chr. North I. 84 By the time we reach the manse we are as dry as a whistle. 1849 W. S. MAYO Kaloolah v. (1850) 41 A first rate shot;..head taken off as clean as a whistle. 1865 DICKENS Mut. Fr. I. xv, You’re as clean as a whistle. 1880 A. GRAY Lett. (1893) II. 710 My throat was as clear as a whistle.
Whew that was long.
Jon Hill asked
Why does ‘how come’ mean why?
Ah, Jon Hill! That’s a tricky one and not quite a saying-saying is it? But we’re game.
The stackhouse exchange explains it well:
The phrase “how come” is short for an older phrase “how come you by this notion?”; synonymous with “how do you arrive at this conclusion?”. The full sentence can be structured many ways: “how comes it to be this way”, more eloquently structured in the past tense as “how did it come to be this way”, is very general and doesn’t have to refer to a person’s statement, but to the state of something in general. All of this can and has been shortened to “how come”, which generally means “what is the reason”, which in turn is synonymous with “why”.
Or how comes it?
Or how does it come?
It’s shortened and left over from when we all used to talk fancy.
Our beloved Carden Levi Olson asks
Why? WHY? Loving the Strange