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The Quick 10: The Origins of 10 Curious Phrases

I rattle off phrases all of the time without knowing where they really come from. Lots of times you can decipher their origins pretty easily - muffin top, for example, doesn't take a whole lot of brain power to figure out. But I could have never guessed the origins of some of these phrases, which I now know thanks to Barbara Ann Kipfer's Phraseology book. I've written about this book before - it's endlessly fascinating.

1. "At the drop of a hat" comes from the days of gunfights on the frontier, when the drop of a hat was the signal for the shootout to begin.
sheep2. "Beat the tar out of" is thought to have come from sheep farmers, who would slather tar on a sheep's cut when it got nicked from shearing. Later, they would have to beat the tar out.
3. "Buckle down to work" originally meant a knight buckling down all of his armor before a battle.
4. "As fit as a fiddle" used to be "as fit as a fiddler," because a fiddler jumped and danced around so much while playing, he had to be in good shape.
5. "To skin a cat" doesn't actually mean a feline. It means a catfish "“ the skins of catfish are notoriously tough and hard to remove for cooking.
6. I always thought "start from scratch" referred to baking, but I suppose even the baking reference had to come from somewhere. It came from handicapping competitors during races: a line is scratched in the dirt; the person who starts there gets no special advantage.
7. "Under the weather" is a sea-faring term which means you're at sea when the weather changes for the worse.
8. "Paddywagon" is really a not-very P.C. term "“ it refers to the old stereotype that Irish people ("Paddy" being a common Irish name/nickname) tend to get arrested the most because of their hot tempers.
9. "Kick the bucket" comes from slaughterhouses, where, after slaughter, hogs would be hung up by a pulley with a weight called a bucket. I wonder if this goes back even further "“ perhaps a bucket was actually used for the weight once upon a time.
10. "Eating humble pie" came from "umble pie," a meat dish made of entrails and other animal leftovers. Women and children, AKA "umbles," had to eat these parts because all of the best cuts of meat went to the man of the house.

If there's a particular phrase that has you stymied, let me know in the comments - I'll try to find its origins (whether it's in Phraseology or not) and feature it in a future post. I can't promise anything, but I'll try!

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The Origins of 36 Marvel Characters, Illustrated
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

No matter what their powers, every super hero has an origin story, from Spider-Man’s radioactive bite to Iron Man’s life-threatening chest shrapnel. In their latest poster, the designers at Pop Chart Lab have taken their infographic savvy to the Marvel Universe, charting the heroic origins of 36 different Marvel characters through miniature, minimalist comics.

Without using any words, they’ve managed to illustrate Bucky Barnes's plane explosion and subsequent transformation into the Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones’s car crash, the death of the Punisher’s family, and other classic stories from the major Marvel canon while paying tribute to the comic book form.

Explore the poster below, and see a zoomable version on Pop Chart Lab’s website.

A poster featuring 36 minimalist illustrations of superhero origin stories.
Pop Chart Lab

Keep your eyes open for future Marvel-Pop Chart crossovers. The Marvel Origins: A Sequential Compendium poster is “the first release of what we hope to be a marvelous partnership,” as Pop Chart Lab’s Galvin Chow puts it. Prints are available for pre-order starting at $37 and are scheduled to start shipping on March 8.

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