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Meaning of famous phrases

Take A Mulligan

April 28, 2019
By John Sheda , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

As faithful readers of "Take A Mulligan," part of my obligation is not only to entertain you,(which seldom happens), for a moment but also sometimes to inform you, (which never happens). This column is one dedicated to "meaningless information everyone should know." The meaning of those famous phases. Here goes:

"Cost you an arm and a leg." Back in the days of George Washington, there were no cameras. An image of someone either had to be sculpted or painted. The price for these were not based on the number of people in the painting but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are "limbs," thus painting them would cost the buyer more, depending on how many limbs he wanted in the picture. The expression became, "Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."

"Big wig." This is interesting. Years ago men and women only bathed a couple of times a year, May & October! Women kept their hair covered while men often shaved their heads and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford wigs made from wool, but they couldn't be washed so to clean them, they had to, (are ya ready), carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell and then bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term, "big wig." We use the term today to denote someone who appears to be important or wealthy.

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John Sheda

"Mind you own bee's wax." Again years ago, personal hygiene left much room for improvement and as a result, both men and women developed bad acne scars. The ladies often spread bee's wax over their faces to smooth out their complexion. When speaking to one another, if a woman seemed to be staring at another's woman's face, she was told to "mind her own bee's wax." Should the woman smile a bit the wax sometimes cracked, thus the term also, "cracking a smile." And finally when a lady would set too close to the fire, the wax sometimes melted, therefore she would be "losing face." Interesting,huh?

"Not playing with a full deck." Playing cards has always been common entertainment but did you know that purchasing a new deck of cards was taxed. However the tax was only applicable to the "Ace of Spades." To avoid paying tax, many people bought all the cards EXCEPT the Ace of Spades. Since most games required all 52 cards, those people who didn't want to pay the tax for the Ace of Spades were considered dumb or stupid and not playing with a full deck.

"Minding your P's & Q's." Years ago at the local taverns, pubs and bars, people drank from pint or quart-sized containers or bottles. A bar-maid's job was to keep a close eye on the customers, keep the drinks coming and watching to see when their drinks were getting low. She also needed to remember who was drinking in "pints" and who in "quarts." Hence the phrase, minding one's P's and Q's.

"Gossip." Early politicians needed feedback from the public to find out what the people thought about issues and things they thought important. Since there were no telephones, TV's or radios yet, these politicians would send out assistants to the local taverns and listen in to conversations. In other words, they were told to "go sip" some ale with the patrons. Sometimes several assistants were sent to a number of bars at different times. "You go sip here," and "You go sip there," were often the assignments given them. The two words, "go sip" were eventually combined when referring to the local talk and opinions gathered at the bars. Today we simply call it "gossip."

So there you have it. A few famous phrases that we all know the origins of. And you thought your day was going to be a frivolous and uninformed one but not so for the faithful readers of this column.

Have a great day and let me know what you thought of all this at or call me at 319.327.4640.



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