Don't Be an Idiom: Clutch

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

The word "clutch" goes way back to 14th Century England, and was derived from the word "cloke," which means "claw" or "talon." It took a few centuries for the word to be used to refer to human hands, and it took until the 1920s for the word to take on its more metaphorical meaning as succeeding at a crucial moment.

Read More

Don't Be an Idiom: Gun it

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

Why do people "gun" their engines? And what do guns have to do with automobiles? The first usage of the phrase "gun it," or "gun the engine" appeared sometime in the 1930s, and was almost certainly a shortened form of an earlier phrase "give it the gun."

Read More

Don't Be an Idiom: Patriot

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

The word "patriot" has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a Middle French word ("compatriot") that simply meant "fellow countryman." Derived from the Greek patrios ("of one's father"), patriot literally means "from the fatherland." Somewhere around the year 1600, the current sense of the word arose, although it wasn't long before the word became a veiled insult.

Read More

Don't Be an Idiom: Carpool

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

Carpool is one of those interesting idioms that seems to have simply been appropriated from another meaning because it sounds good. A carpool is not a pool of cars, it's actually a pool of passengers. In our current usage, a "carpool" involves subtracting cars, not adding them.

Read More

Don't Be an Idiom: Posh

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

The word "posh" has, for some reason, been given one of the most fanciful origin tales of any idiom. Although the actual origin of the word is unknown, the fictional story devised to explain it will always be more interesting. According to the popular myth, wealthy people traveling to India aboard the P&O line would, as one would expect, demand the most comfortable accommodations.

Read More

Don't Be an Idiom: Horsepower

Exploring the origins of everyday words and phrases.

Comparing the power output of modern engines to that of horses is one of the most quaint and ridiculous aspects of American culture. Much of the rest of the world recently adopted the International System of Units, which includes the term "watt" to describe what we in the metric-hating U.S.A. still refer to as "horsepower."

Read More
More Articles