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Hobson’s Choice

take it or leave itWhat was said? “What is it when there’s no right answer to the question? A Hobson’s Choice?”

Did someone really say that? Yes, at work the other day, when presented with two options, neither being good ones, a coworker asked that question aloud…

What does it mean? It actually means a question where really only one option is offered, so you have to “take it or leave it” so to speak. It gives a false illusion of a “choice.”

Origin: The story goes that a Thomas Hobson (1544–1631) ran a carrier and horse rental business in Cambridge, England, where he rented out horses but refused to hire them out other than in the order he chose. The choice he gave his customers was ‘this or none’; quite literally, meaning not their choice but Hobson’s choice.

A well known “Hobson’s choice” was Henry Ford’s offer of the Model-T, “you can pick any color, as long it’s black!”  The expression is best known in the UK, but became used worldwide following the successful eponymous 1954 film starring Charles Laughton.

NOTE: I believe the use of “Hobson’s Choice” when I first heard it was not accurate, it was more of a “Morton’s Fork” which is being presented with two equivalent choices in which contradictory arguments lead to the same conclusion.

Sources:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Hobson’s%20choice
http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hobsons-choice.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson%27s_choice
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morton%27s_fork
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MortonsFork

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What’s the Beef?

What was said? “What’s the Beef?”

Did someone really say that? Yes, Jimmy Fallon has a segment on the Tonight Show called “What’s the Beef?” where he creates fictional fights between famous actors. I was watching with my parents and they were naturally questioning… “why beef?”

What does it mean? It means to have a problem or issue with someone or something, so in the context above, “what’s the issue/argument all about?”

Origin:

There are many ideas as to where this phrase started… all the way from it originating from rap songs signifying that when someone has “beef” with you, it ends up with a street fight where your face could get so banged up that it resembles ground beef, all the way to having to do with cow ownership and “beefy” situations:

  • The phrase “I have a beef with you” originated in the old west among sheep farmers who were competing for grazing land with cattle farmers. The sheep farmers used the term with each other to refer to a conflict, which was what they had with the cattle farmers, or “beef” farmers (answers.com)
  • Having to do with the ownership of cows and “cow feuds” which resulted as owners argued over the best interests of the cow and typically the cow got slaughtered and led to owners having “beef” with one another (10poundhammer blog)
  • First appearing in the U.S. during the late 1800s, “beef” describes a situation or complaint that might well escalate into a “beefy” muscular conflict (Word Detective)

So it seems, that there is not one origin for the phrase, but either way, Jimmy’s segment will make a lot more sense now!

Jimmy Fallon's "What the Beef?" Segment - Click to Play!

Jimmy Fallon’s “What the Beef?” Segment – Click to Play!

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Johnny on the Spot

Volume 3. Issue 7.

What was said? We need a printer in Chicago… Johnny on the spot. You got it?

Did someone really say that? Yes, when working on a proposal and we needed to make sure we had a print house ready to meet our oddest and slightly unrealistic demands.

What does it mean? A person who is on hand and ready to perform a service or respond to an emergency (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Origin: The phrase dates back to 1896 and was the subject of an article in the New York Sun titled “Johnny on the Spot: A New Phrase Which Has Become Popular in New York.” The article details the expression that had become very popular in NYC. According to the writer, the phrase is from a slightly longer version, ‘Johnny is always on the spot when wanted.’ … where Johnny refers to a general male (like John Doe). Although, the author does venture to provide a little more detail on who Johnny is: “a man or youth who may be relied upon to be at a certain stated place when wanted… an individual who is prompt and farseeing, alive to his own interests and keenly sensible of means for promoting his own advantage is a ‘Johnny on the spot.’”

The original article was syndicated and below is the reprint found in the San Francisco Call from April 1896

The original article was syndicated and below is the reprint found in the San Francisco Call from April 1896

Side Note:  There are few companies appropriately named “Johnny on the Spot” in the US. They are suppliers of portable restrooms / bathrooms and are on-hand and ready to preform a service / respond to an emergency!

Portable Toilet

Talk about a Johnny on the Spot!

Sources:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/johnny-on-the-spot
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-joh3.htm
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_etymology_of_Johnny_on_the_spot

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Kit and Kaboodle

Volume 3. Issue 5.

What was said? “So… I mean the whole kit and kaboodle on the job front is…”

Did someone really say that? Yes, in an email to me about what’s really going on with a friend’s job.

What does it mean? The whole shebang, the works, the full story.

Origin: “Kit and Kaboodle” has origins in the 18th century, England. Kit, which comes from the word “kith” meaning “estate.” So the “Whole Kith” would mean everything one owns. Soldiers in the 1700’s also carried a bag with everything they needed called a Kitbag. Kaboodle (or Caboodle) has a few more variations of origin. Some say it comes from “boodle” which was known to describe a collection of items or people. Caboodle was also used at times as a legal term for “estate”.  Some believe it’s from the Dutch boedel, meaning one’s inheritance or estate. In the US, boodle came to mean money attained illegally / through corrupt means. The phrase “the whole boodle” can also be used to describe the same thing. The phrase also appears in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1785, a dictionary of slang words, pretty much the precursor to Urban Dictionary.

Commercially, Purina’s “Kit and Kaboodle” pet food means your precious little cat is getting “the works”.

In the 90’s, there was an extremely popular product: the “Caboodle”… it was a magical place for teenage girls to store the makeup they weren’t allowed to wear.

Sources:
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-who2.htm
http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/2/messages/329.html
http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/MurrayWaldrenscolumnThats.html

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Month of Sundays

Volume 3. Issue 4.

What was said?  It will take you a month of Sundays to get through all the revisions.

Did someone really say that? Yes, in a client meeting discussing product promotions at retailers and the many revisions that are made before the promotion goes live.

What does it mean? Something that is going to take a LONG TIME…. A seemingly endless or prolonged period of time.

Origin: The expression is said to mean 30/31 weeks (the amount of time it takes a month of Sundays to pass) and has is believed to have origins from the Christian Holy Day of Sunday, the Sabbath. This day was a “day of rest” and was a long, solemn day devoid of amusement. Activities were even regulated on Sunday by law at times and therefore Sunday could seem long and tiresome (out of boredom)… therefore a month of Sundays could feel like an eternity. It is also sometimes used to denote something that will never happen.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first printed use of the phrase from 1759:

“The commander..swore he should dance to the second part of the same tune, for a month of Sundays.”
H. MURRAY Life & Real Adventures Hamilton Murray I. x. 121

NOTE: There are some variations on this, such as: Week of Sundays, Week of Saturdays, etc.

A whole month of Sundays

Sources:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/month+of+sundays,+a

http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/59/messages/129.html

http://www.wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?t=20154

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-the-idiom-a-month-of-sundays-mean.htm#did-you-know

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Six Ways To/From Sunday

Volume 3. Issue 3.

What was said?  We can go about it 6 ways from Sunday, but we need to just pick an approach and go with it.

Did someone really say that? Yes, in a meeting a few months ago when we needed to just get started on the work and we were belaboring how we were going to do it.

Another example from Urban Dictionary: “There are six ways from Sunday to calculate that physics problem but only one answer.”

What does it mean? To do something thoroughly, completely and in every way imaginable.

Origin: Unfortunately there is no clear origin to this expression, and at times it is said to Sunday, from Sunday and the number can range from 2 ways to 100 ways and so on (in the movie “Silver Lining Playbook” Bradley Cooper uses “10 ways to Sunday”)… There are even tales of “beating people who didn’t go to church on time six ways to Sunday” but none of them seem to hold any water.

What we do know is that on the calendar, there are six days after Sunday, and six days before Sunday. The phrase points out the inevitability of arriving to Sunday, no matter what day is the starting point. Implying there are six different ways to Sunday illustrates that any task/problem  has more than one way to approach it. To discuss a topic and use this idiom means that there are multiple options to follow to arrive at the same conclusion.

Whatever the number or preposition used, the expression “__ ways to/from Sunday” means “every possible way” or “all the ways I can think of.”

“Six Ways to Sunday” is also a title of a 1997 mob-related movie staring Deborah Harry.

Sources:

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-the-idiom-six-ways-to-sunday-mean.htm

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=six%20ways%20from%20sunday

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Upset the Apple Cart / Applecart

Volume 3. Issue 2. 

What was said? We don’t want to upset the apple cart by changing the time of our workshop…

Did someone really say that? Yesa team member said it in a meeting… then it was repeated two more times that very day!

What does it mean? It means to cause trouble, upset things or create difficulty… especially by spoiling someone’s plans.

Origin:  There are a roughly four variations of the origin of this phrase….

1. This phrase is first recorded by Jeremy Belknap in The History of New Hampshire, 1788: “Adams had almost overset the apple-cart by intruding an amendment of his own fabrication on the morning of the day of ratification” [of the Constitution].

2. According to another source, the original intent was to throw a man down. In the early to late 1800s “apple cart” was wrestlers’ slang for the body and “down with his apple cart” was to throw a man down.

3. Alternatively, some say the concept originated with the Romans who had a similar expression “Perii, plaustrum perculi” – “I am undone, I have upset my cart.”

4. Most basic / generic understanding: It generally refers to farmers in the  1800s would bring applecarts loaded with neatly piled, fresh apples for sale. Along comes a clumsy person who knocks over the cart, spilling all the apples.The farmer’s plan to sell the apples is in turn, “spoiled”.

Sources:

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/upset+the+applecart

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/118400.html

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Upset%20The%20Applecart

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_meaning_of_the_idiom_’upset_the_apple_cart’

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_origin_of_the_idiom_’Upset_the_Applecart’

http://englishfromfriends.com/blog/2010/06/23/upset-the-applecart/ 

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