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Words and Phrases Part Three

Here are some word and phrase stories from the letters G, H, and I. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th Edition (Facts on File Writer's Library) by Robert Hendrickson (published in 2008) is an enjoyable and informative read. If you can’t purchase a copy, I recommend borrowing it from your local library if possible.

Get a horse! A phrase from the early age of the automobile in the U.S. when motorcars were often mired in ditches or chugged slowly down the street, and people, especially children, would shout “get a horse!” to the motorists manning them.

The Ghost Walks It’s payday and all salaries will be paid; said to have been a 19th century British theatrical expression. A company doing Hamlet hadn’t been paid for a month or so. When during a performance Hamlet exclaimed “Perchance ‘twill walk again,” the actor playing the ghost answered from the wings, “No, I’ll be damned if the ghost walks anymore until our salaries are paid.” That night the salaries were finally paid.

Hang out your shingle To become a doctor or lawyer, among other professions. The Americanism comes from pioneer days when doctors did use shingles for their signs.

Have fishhooks in one’s pocket To be very cheap. First recorded in 1913, the Americanism may have originated much earlier with Long Island, New York, sea captain Samuel Mulford. Mulford lined his pockets with fishhooks to foil pickpockets when he visited London before the American Revolution. His ploy worked.

It’s all in a day’s work Usually said by someone ironically, after performing a difficult task. The expression was common in the 18th century, but no one knows who coined it.

Ipso facto Latin for “by the fact itself, by the very fact”

When I was a kid, I remember getting stuck with my mom in her first, used car—a 1955 Pontiac. The car’s engine had low compression and if it conked out while stopped at a traffic light, you had to wait awhile before it would restart. The Pontiac was blocking a lane on a bridge. One of the “helpful” motorists finally getting by us shouted, “Get a horse!” I’ll never forget that old car.

Happy Writing :->

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