In the last couple of weeks we’ve considered rarely-sighted words (#1 & #2). Now it’s onto rarely-sighted idioms.
Making whim-wham for a goose’s bridle is a British & Australian idiom. Its meaning rests somewhere between go away kid, you bother me, & none-of-your-business. It was/is typically used to deflect a nosy child’s questions. “What are you doing Grampa?” can be answered with, “I’m making a whim-wham for a goose’s bridle.”
To throw a tub to a whale is to create a diversion. This idiom comes from whaling times. It seems when a whale got close enough to the whaling ship to threaten the safety of the whalers, they could sometimes divert its attention by slinging a barrel or tub into the sea. Amazingly, some whales were pleased to play with the tub instead of the ship.
In Britain & Australia, a supercilious, pretentious, or self-important individual can be referred to as toffee-nosed. This slang term is considered rude, but then, isn’t self-absorption a bit rude? It comes from the word toff, a British term for a flashy dresser.
The phrase to make a hames of something means to make a mess of something — to spoil something through ineptitude. It’s an idiom born in Ireland, & refers to a draft horse’s collar. The hames of the collar are the bits that connect to the traces, & apparently it’s easy to set them up backward, making a hames of it.
And then there’s don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs, which means It’s seldom a good idea for the young to offer advice to their elders. This idiomatic advice was offered as early as the 1700s. Apparently egg-sucking in the 1700s was something everyone knew how to do, so why teach grandma how?
If you’ve got the screaming ab-dabs, you either are experiencing extreme anxiety, or suffering from delirium tremens. When this idiom appeared in the early 1930s, it referred only to the DTs, but within twenty years or so it generalized to mean extreme anxiety. Though most etymologists believe it is British in origin, some wonder whether it may have started in America, as evidenced by the 1914 Fields & Donovan tune “Abba-Dabba Honeymoon” — Hmmm.
I hope these have offered a chuckle or two & I haven’t made a hames of it & given you the screaming ab-dabs in the process. Any response? Please leave a comment.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Phrases.org, Collins Dictionary, WorldWideWords, English Forums, & Free Dictionary.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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