Category Archives: Language

Why Your Lap is Called That

lap

Oakley420 asks: Why is a lap called a lap? Used as a noun, verb and adjective, most with several distinct meanings, lap is a prominent word in the English language. One of its most common meanings denotes the upper part of the legs when seated. Derived from a Proto-Germanic word *lapp, meaning the “skirt or flap of a garment,” or […]

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Kits and Caboodles

knapsack

Meaning a complete collection of a set of related things, the curious expression the “whole kit and caboodle” has part of its origin in military life. In the 1785 version of his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Francis Grose gives us the first mention of the word “kit” with this meaning, as well as the phrase “the whole […]

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Flotsam and Jetsam

shipwreck

Marcus asks: Where did the words flotsum and jetsum come from? Bumping into a rock or a reef, war, swamped by rough weather or high waves, pilot error or pirates, there are a variety of ways a ship can sink. After it does, depending on whether it floated out on its own, was thrown overboard or sank to Davy Jones […]

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Is “Peanut Gallery” a Racial Term?

peanuts

Matt J. asks: Was the peanut gallery expression really originally a racial term? Used to refer to those giving unsolicited (and unvalued) advice, the expression “peanut gallery” has its roots in late 19th century vaudeville, although for some, the phrase is considered a racial slur. A typical vaudevillian show of music, drama, comedy, acrobatics, dance and other acts was performed […]

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Origin of Lo and Behold

vision

Richard G. asks: What does the “lo” in lo and behold mean? Like a wordy exclamation point, the two defining words in “lo and behold” mean basically the same thing. Specifically, the word lo!, meaning “look!” first appeared in Middle English (1100-1500 AD) in the 1200s, and essentially was clipped from the early English imperative word for “look,” lok. An […]

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The Origin of the Word Bimbo

bimbo

Jillian A. asks: Who invented the word bimbo? Depending on whom you ask, bimbo can be an insult or just a description. Usually implying a lack of intelligence, and often combined with physical attractiveness and promiscuity, today bimbo is often used to describe someone who isn’t that bright, and gets by on her (or his) looks (or wealth). And this […]

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