Words and Phrases Part Nine


At last, we come to the letters Y and Z from The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th Edition (Facts on File Writer's Library) by Robert Hendrickson (published in 2008). As I said before, it’s a fascinating and enjoyable book. I recommend reading it.

Yggdrasil In Scandinavian mythology the yggdrasil is the world tree, an ash whose roots and branches bind together in heaven, hell, and earth. Sitting in this fabulous tree from which honey drips, are an eagle, a squirrel, and four stags; at its base is a fountain of wonders.

You have the words, but you don’t have the music You don’t have the essence of something. The phrase can be traced back to Mark Twain. In a foul mood one morning and unable to find a clean shirt to wear, he unleashed a string of expletives only he could have strung together. His wife, Livy, standing in the doorway, decided to teach him a lesson and slowly repeated each curse he had uttered. But, when she was done, Twain simply sighed and said, “My dear, you have the words, but you don’t have the music.”

Young whippersnapper A derogatory term for any young person who is a pretentious know-it-all with no respect for his elders. An old-fashioned expression that dates back to about 1665 and probably derives from the even older dialectical snippersnapper, which means about the same.

Zany Zanni is the pet form of the proper name Giovanni (John). As early as the 16th century, zanni meant a silly fool in Italian, perhaps for some Giovanni no longer remembered. In any case, the word zanni came into English, corrupted into zany, and became our word for the same and for anything ludicrously or whimsically funny.

Zoopraxiscope One of the earliest motion picture projectors, the zoopraxiscope was built by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge in about 1880 to project sequential pictures he had taken a few years earlier of a running horse—the pictures taken for railroad tycoon Leland Stanford, who had bet (correctly) $25,000 that a running horse sometimes had all four feet off the ground at the same time. Muybridge coined the word from the Greek elements zoi, “living” plus praxis, “action” plus skopein, “viewing instrument.” He seems to have first called the instrument the zoogyroscope.

z’s Z’s is American slang for sleep. Originating within the last 35 years or so, the term probably derives from the Z’s indicating snoring in comic strip and cartoon captions, which themselves represent the sound of snoring.

Don’t skimp on your z’s because really good story ideas can originate in your dreams.

Happy writing :->

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