Origins: funky phrases

"As the crow flies"

An old sailing term. Ships unsure of their position in coastal waters traditionally released a crow, which would fly towards the nearest dry land, thus giving the vessel at least a rudimentary navigational fix. The tallest lookout platform on a ship, from which said crow was observed, was called the "crow's nest."

"Olly olly oxen free!"

Shouted at the end of a game of hide-and-seek, it lets all remaining hiders know that they can emerge safely. Though there are many variations on this phrase (such as "all ye, all ye, all's set free"), it's probably a corruption of a German phrase, "Alle, alle auch sind frei" (literally, "Everyone, everyone also is free").

"Cut to the chase"
We can thank inexperienced silent filmmakers for this one. Many early films (and come to think of it, contemporary films) climaxed in chase sequences. If a film was hampered by extensive and laborious exposition thanks to a cut-rate screenwriter, producers would often ham-handedly fix the problem with an abrupt "cut" to the chase.

"On the lam"
"Lam" comes from the Icelandic "lemje," meaning "beat" or "thrash." Thus, "on the lam" and "beat it" mean approximately the same thing: to run away; to beat the ground with your feet.

"Over the top"

A World War I-era military phrase referring to trench warfare. In order to launch an attack from a trench, one had to go "over the top" of the defensive parapet and into the line of enemy fire. Here's a haunting (and rare) color print of French soldiers in a trench, circa 1916:


College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

North America: East or West Coast?


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