Category Archives: Phrases

Canary in a Coal Mine

canary

What was said? I’m the CANARY!

Did someone really say that? Yes, on a call with our company’s lawyers, they were playing devil’s advocate and after asking a few questions, the lead lawyer yelled “I’m the Canary!” apparently referring to a “canary in a coal mine.”

What does it mean?  “Canary in a coal mine” is a metaphor about providing advance notice or warning of potential danger.

Origin: The expression dates back to 1911 when the concept of having a canary as an early detection system for hazardous gases in coal mines was introduced by John Scott Haldane in Great Britain. Miners used caged canaries to determine if there were any hazardous gasses (methane, carbon monoxide). If the canary died, that would signify the gas levels are poisonous to the miners as well and that they should exit the mine immediately. Birds were chosen as they get air in their system when they inhale and exhale, doubling the dose of potential toxic gases. In 1986, electronic warning detection systems were put in place, saving the birds from potential harm. In the case above, our lawyer was calling out signs of potential risk, hence calling out “I’m the Canary!” when playing the role of devil’s advocate.

On another note…“Canary Release” is a technical / IT term that refers to reducing the risk of introducing new software by slowly rolling out the change to a subset of users before rolling it out to all.

Sources:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/
https://birdnote.org/show/canary-coal-mine
http://grammarist.com/usage/canary-in-the-coalmine/

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Behind the Eight Ball / 8 Ball

Eight Ball

What was said? I’m behind the “8 ball” this year.

Did someone really say that? Yes, my friend Jenna texted me that when explaining her tardiness in sending out her annual valentine’s day party invitation.

What does it mean? It basically means at a disadvantage / in a bad situation / out of luck and in the case of the text, it meant the invite was delayed / she had to play catch up!

Origin:  The game of Pool / Billiards. When playing pool, if you are lined up with the cue ball and the eight ball is between the cue ball and the ball your object ball (the ball you are aiming for), you are trapped and have no straight shot. Since you cannot hit the eight ball before you have made all in your group, you are at a disadvantage.  The phrase has been traceable to 1919 per the wikipedia source below.

There are other forms of pool/billiards where the expressions is believed to have originated – from Kelly pool to others, but they all seem to signify that you are out of luck or at a disadvantage.

Sources:

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=behind%20the%20eight%20ball
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/behind-the-eight-ball
https://www.davemanuel.com/investor-dictionary/behind-the-eight-ball/
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/behind-the-eight-ball.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_pool#”Behind_the_eight_ball”

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Green Thumb

Green Thumb

What was said? Have you heard of the phrase “she has a green thumb?”

Did someone really say that? Yes, my niece Ava was wondering if I had ever heard of the phrase and to add it to this blog!

What does it mean? It means you have been blessed with the ability to grow and care for plants… (present company excluded).

Origin:  There are two popular theories floating out there…. the first originates from England with King Edward I who was apparently very fond of green peas. He would award the gardener who shelled the most green peas and hence the “greenest thumb” each season with an award (the British version of the express is to have “green fingers”).

The second theory refers to the algae that can grow on the outside of earthenware pots that can stain a gardener’s thumb / fingers green when handling the pots (this is according to James Underwood Crockett, host of PBS show The Victory Garden).

Sources:
https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/have+a+green+thumb
http://www.walterreeves.com/gardening-q-and-a/green-thumb-origin-of-phrase/

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Charley Horse

Charley Horse

What was said? I’m having another CHARLEY HORSE!

Did someone really say that? Yes, I did when my leg was cramping for the 100th time (common pregnancy symptom apparently).

What does it mean? It refers to a leg cramp / stiffness / spasm that occurs in the calf or quad muscles and usually comes on suddenly and lasts a few seconds (that feel like minutes).

Origin:  Charley horse (sometimes spelled “Charlie”) has origins in American baseball, although the exact origin has many theories. One of the most popular theories refers to a lame grounds keeping horse named Charley that would pull the roller at the Chicago White Sox ballpark in the late 1800s. In 1907, the Washington Post printed a story about an MLB pitcher Charley Radbourne (nickname “Old Hoss”) who would frequently get leg cramps during games in the 1880s. One theory is that his “walk” resembled that of a lame groundskeeping horse and the nickname “Charley Horse” came to be; another is that his first name “Charley” and his nickname “Hoss” combined produced the term we know as “Charley Horse.”

Either way, many say to be rid of Charley Horses you have to up your intake of potassium and magnesium – multivitamins here we come!

Sources:
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/charley-horse.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charley_horse
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cha1.htmhttps://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312241.php

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Drop a Dime

Drop a dime

What was said? He’s just “dropping dimes!”

Did someone really say that? Yes, my husband announced it as we were watching NBA finals back in June (sorry for the post delay!)

What does it mean? In the basketball context above, it means to “assist,” meaning to assist another player in scoring (passed the ball, helped the other teammate score, etc.).

Origin:  The phrase originates back to the 40’s or 50’s and refers to making a phone call at a payphone where the price of a call was 10 cents. The call though, was typically made by a police informant who would literally “drop a dime” to make the call and snitch on someone / “assist” the police in their detective work of catching criminals.

There are other phrases with the term “dime” such as “stopping on a dime,” and “at the drop of a dime,” both referring to precision, speed & accuracy and can be used for basketball as well.

Next time you are watching basketball on TV, listen closely and you may hear an announcer say that a player has “dropped a dime!”

Sources:
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=drop%20a%20dime
https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-history-of-the-slang-term-Dropped-a-dime
https://wordcounter.net/blog/2016/03/07/101271_what-is-a-dime-basketball.html

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Give ’em Hell Harry

Give em hell

What was said? Give ’em hell Harry!

Did someone really say that? Yes, on Shark Tank, Lori Greiner (Queen of QVC) said it to an entrepreneur who was responding to pestering questions by Mark Cuban.

What does it mean? It means to respond to something bluntly or in a straight-forward manner (potentially on the “attack”).

Origin: It refers back to an incident in the 1948 US presidential election campaign where Harry S. Truman delivered a speech during his whistle-stop campaign. He visited multiple states all by train with a platform at the rear of the train where he delivered his speeches.  During his speech attacking Republicans in Harrisburg, IL, a supporter yelled “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” and Truman responded “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s Hell.” Since then, the term “Give ‘em Hell, Harry!” was used as a slogan for supporters of Truman.

This is also the name of a biographical play and the 1975 film written by Samuel Gallu. These both feature a one-man show about President Harry S. Truman. The play’s debut was hosted by Truman’s daughter Margaret and attended by President Gerald Ford. James Whitmore starred in the play and was nominated for Best Actor by the Academy Awards and Golden Globes and he won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Give_’em_Hell,_Harry!
https://idiomation.wordpress.com/tag/give-em-hell-harry/
https://epiac1216.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/quotes-give-em-hell-harry/

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Up the River

uptheriver

What was said? That the word on the street is the Pediatric chief is “up the river””

Did someone really say that? Dr. Minnick on Grey’s Anatomy (yes, I shamefully still watch it) insensitively said it on Season 13, Episode 11 about Dr. Alex Karev.

What does it mean? It means to be in prison / incarcerated or be sent to prison.

Origin: It appears to be first used in 1981 and originates from the fact that convicts from NYC would be sent up the Hudson River to Ossining State Prison (known as “Sing Sing”).

If you were a serious criminal, you were sent to Sing Sing “up the river” as opposed to the run of the mill pickpockets or those who committed minor offenses who stayed in more local prisons. Now the term has come to apply to anyone sent to any prison.

Up the River is also a 1930 comedy movie about escaped convicts, directed by John Ford and starring Spence Tracy and Humphrey Bogart in their feature film debuts.

“Up the river” should not be confused with being sold “down the river,” meaning to be deceived and originates from the Civil War era sending Northern slaves down the river to work on cotton plantations.

Sources:
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php? term=up%20the%20river
http://stuffnobodycaresabout.com/2012/05/27/where-did-the-saying-up-the-river-come- from/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_the_River
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/up+the+river

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