Our Twisted Way Of Speaking – VII

By Tommy Clarkson from the October 2010 Edition

It’s time for another of out etymological sojourns! You know, a discussion about the origin of words and phrases. So with no further ado, let us race pell-mell into such task.

Well, firstly some folks incorrectly think that the expression is “with no further adieu.” It is, in fact, “ado” which an old Norse word meaning “bustling activity; fuss; bother or delay”. “Adieu” is actually a complete statement meaning “goodbye.”

And what of that phrase, “pell-mell”? With minor variations, it generally means to “run amok, in disorder confusion, or in a ‘helter-skelter’” like “chickens with their heads cut off”. (An apt, but rather grisly, analogy from my rural youth I’d just as soon forget!)

Its core origin? The expression is a derivation of the French word “pêle-mêle.” But, I believe the first record we have of it in English would be circa 1594 from Shakespeare’s Richard III with “Let us to it pell mell, if not to heaven then hand in hand to hell.”

Does anyone besides me remember – or care about – the Sunday newspaper cartoon strip the Katzenjammer Kids? What of that word, katzenjammer? It is of Germanic derivation and means “a loud discordant noise, a hangover or state of depression or bewilderment.”

We’ve all been told to “let sleeping dogs lie” which means that the status quo was best left alone and to not stir up a potentially difficult situation and. This phrase originated by Chaucer around 1380 when he wrote, ‘It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake’.

Now, being retired Army, let’s focus at picking on the Navy!

From whence came the expression “son of a gun?” It seems that in those days of intercontinental tall ship travel some sailors, upon arrival in the West Indies, would take their lustful way with native women on board the ship between the cannons. That left behind came to be called “sons of guns.”

We’ve all been told to “shake a leg.” As I understand it, that phrase also originated on board those ships of yore. When, back at home port – and away from those wanton wenches of the Carribean – sailors’ wives or girlfriends sometimes came aboard for the night. As the petty officer made his way through the compartments rousing the men for morning work, a woman could avoid being dumped out of the hammock by “shaking a leg,” hence showing that the occupant was able, first class seaman!

We’ve all been told to “let sleeping dogs lie” which means that the status quo was best left alone and to not stir up a potentially difficult situation and. This phrase originated by Chaucer around 1380 when he wrote, ‘It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake’.

Now, being retired Army, let’s focus at picking on the Navy!

From whence came the expression “son of a gun?” It seems that in those days of intercontinental tall ship travel some sailors, upon arrival in the West Indies, would take their lustful way with native women on board the ship between the cannons. That left behind came to be called “sons of guns.”

We’ve all been told to “shake a leg.” As I understand it, that phrase also originated on board those ships of yore. When, back at home port – and away from those wanton wenches of the Carribean – sailors’ wives or girlfriends sometimes came aboard for the night. As the petty officer made his way through the compartments rousing the men for morning work, a woman could avoid being dumped out of the hammock by “shaking a leg,” hence showing that the occupant was able, first class seaman!

 

Download the full edition or view it online


Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation – Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.

Tommy Clarkson

---
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.

Latest posts by Tommy Clarkson (see all)