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Word and Phrase Beginnings

For writers, words are the artistic medium. We slather them on our “canvases” in unique combinations to create stories and poetry that are parts of us. The hopes, dreams, and wild imaginings we have are laid before readers so they can laugh, cry, soar with us, and be inspired themselves.

With that in mind, I got to wondering again how the meanings of words and phrases came about in the English language (etymology was always interesting to me). I searched for a book I bought a long time ago. It’s called The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th Edition (Facts on File Writer's Library) by Robert Hendrickson and was published in 2008. This book is huge—more than 900 pages and contains information for more than 15,000 entries arranged alphabetically.

I picked out a couple words from each of the first three letters of the alphabet to share Mr. Hendrickson’s scholarship just as he wrote it. I may list more in blogs to come.

Alfresco Now widely used in the United States, alfresco meaning outdoors (as in “We dined alfresco”), is first recorded in 1853 as a borrowing of the Spanish al fresco meaning the same.

All Systems Go All preparations have been made and the operation is ready to start. Widely used today, the expression originated with American ground controllers during the launching of rockets into space in the early 1970s.

Bad Hair Day A term that originated in the United States for a day on which it is hard to do anything with one’s hair, male or female. The expression dates back to about 1990 and by extension came to mean a day on which nothing seems to go right.

Beast With A Belly Full Of Bedsprings A colorful cowboy term for a wildly bucking horse. The expression seems to have originated in rodeos within the last 50 years or so.

Chain Lightning Lightning bolts that appear to move very quickly in wavy or zigzag lines. The term is an Americanism coined in about 1825.

Chip Butty A french-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar that is popular among schoolchildren in England, especially in the north of the country.

So, may your day at the keyboard or pen and paper not be a bad hair day and perhaps you can dine alfresco tonight.

Happy Writing :->

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