The True Stories Behind Famous and Infamous Words and Phrases

Ever wonder how the game “craps” got that horrible name? I mean there’s nothing about the name that gives any suggestion about how to play the game. What’s the deal? Well, turns out that in the 1800s in that center of morality known the world over as Nawlins-that’s New Orleans, by the way-a fellow named Bernard Marigny who hailed from America’s favorite foreign country, France, introduced a nifty new game to the denizens that was played with dice. Now, Maurice was a Creole and he was better known by his nom-de-plume Johnny Crapaud. The dice game began to become known as Crapaud’s game, and it didn’t take long to shorten that into “craps.”

Why is someone who never drinks alcohol referred to as a “teetotaler”? It’s not because he or she only drinks tea instead; the spelling isn’t even consistent. There are two independent stories behind the coinage of this word, taking place a continent apart. The first concerns an artisan from Lancaster, England whose tombstone is engraved: Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Richard Turner, author of the word Teetotal as applied to abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, who departed this life on the 27th day of October. Legend has it that Turner stuttered when he first tried to say it. Another more likely explanation arose around the same time in America when the New York Temperance Society got members to sign a pledge of O.P. if they swore off distilled liquor only and T for total abstinence. Therefore, T for Total, or T-Total eventually became teetotaler.

The “hijack” almost certainly was coined during the jet age, right? After all, the hi part must be a shortened version of high, denoting the altitude at which the crime took place. Well, think again Jack! The term hijacker was originally applied to those crazy enough to hold up bootleggers. Over time it was applied more generally to any theft taking place during transit and eventually wound up almost exclusively to describe the taking over a plane. Legend is that the term actually stems from bootlegging days when the gunman told the driver to raise his hands with the command “Stick Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½em up high, Jack.”

A red herring is a fakeout thrown into mysteries usually, meant to make you think somebody else did it; to throw you off track. Ever wonder what in the heck a colorful fish has to do with making you think Bruce Willis’ wife really was talking back to him in The Sixth Sense. (One of the most badly done movie fakeouts of all time, a total cheat, but that’s an article unto itself, and I will never understand the popularity of that movie.) Apparently, a red herring is one that had been dried, smoked and salted and was then dragged across a fox’s path to destroy the scent and set the dog’s off on a faulty path.

Be careful when you repeat this information because, as you may have heard, the walls have ears. I’ve never seen a wall with ears, except for the occasional stucco one, perhaps. Oh, and I have seen wallpaper with nothing but ears. But how could this saying have originated? A trip to the famous Parisian museum the Louvre holds the secret. Apparently that trusting soul from that lovely family Miss Catherine de’Medici instructed the builders of the Louvre to construct certain rooms so that what was being said could be distinctly heard in yet another room. Miss de’Medici was a particularly suspicious-and with good reason-and through this method she was usually able to keep one step ahead of secret plots against her.

If you’ve ever been to a prom did you ever stop to wonder why a dance is called a prom? It goes back to London in the 1800s and the popular pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh. Concerts were held in the Promenade Courts while audience members stood in an open area on the floor.

What on earth does the hair of a dog that bites you have to do with drinking and hangovers and getting over hangovers? I have no idea. Just kidding. Actually, origin of this phrase really doesn’t have anything at all to do with drinking or getting drunk or curing a hangover. The allusion actually goes back to another old wives tale involving burning the hair of a dog in order to cure a dog’s bite.

Who will be the next Fall Guy for the Bush administration? Which unlucky bastard will be the next one at which the buck stops before it gets to the Oval Office? The fall guy is actually a wrestling term. Makes sense, huh? In case you weren’t aware of this, and I hate to burst your bubble if you were, professional wrestling is fixed. It always has been, only maybe more so way back when. In the early days of wrestling one guy would agree to lose, take a fall if you will, if the winner agreed to go easy on him. Unfortunately, this didn’t always pan out, the winner broke his word and beat up the guy pretty bad. Under these unpleasant circumstances was born the phrase fall guy.

If you’ve enjoyed finding out the stories behind these words and phrases let me know, give me some suggestions even, and I’ll try to make this a semiregular topic.

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