The following idioms don’t follow a theme or tell a story. They simply have individual elements I find fascinating. I hope you’ll agree.
The term blubbermouth, a crybaby or weepy person, has been around since 1400. Originally, blubber (spelled blober) referred to the bubbling, foaming sound & product of the tide. By the 1500s the term picked up the meaning whale oil, and a century later the meaning whale fat. Some weeping-related synonyms that have since fizzled out include blubberguts, blubberhead, & blubbercheeks.
Our figurative term can’t hold a candle to has wonderfully literal beginnings. Back when candles were first created, if a task needed to be completed after sunset, the most able person performed the task while a less able person held the candle. The term is a double whammy insult, as it suggests someone who's deemed incompetent to do the work turns out to be unable to manage the menial task of holding the candle while the work's being done.
A goody-two-shoes is an obnoxiously good individual. The term was born in the 1700s in John Newbery’s children’s collection, Mother Goose’s Melody: or Sonnets for the Cradle. One of the stories featured a painfully poor girl who was fortunate enough to be given a pair of shoes. She was so pleased, she started most interactions by pointing at them & exclaiming, “Two shoes!” It’s not entirely clear how an eternally grateful individual morphed into an obnoxiously good individual, but we’ll let that mystery be.
Contrary to popular assumptions, the idiom out of sight, meaning excellent, has been in existence since 1896.
The term whipper-snapper, or small, cheeky person, appeared first in the 1670s. A century before that, the term snipper-snapper held a similar meaning, which is cited by some sources as whipper-snapper’s origin, though other sources claim whip-snapper, person in charge, is the origin of whipper-snapper.
The term narrow-minded, meaning small-minded & bigoted, was born in 1625. Interestingly, its sister-word narrow-hearted, meaning mean, ungenerous & ignoble, has not survived.
So, did anything in that somewhat arbitrary list pique your interest? If so, please leave a comment.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Hugh Rawson’s book Wicked Words, Merriam Webster, Etymonline, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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