Do You Know These Words and Phrases?


“Marrying over the Broomstick”, 1822 illustration of a “broomstick-wedding” by James Catnach. Wikipedia

 Jumping the Broom/Broomstick – This is a ceremony dating back to the 1600s and derived from Africa. Dating back to slave days, jumping the broom together has been part of weddings for couples who want to honor that tradition. It also has roots in the Celtic culture and including but not limited to Welsh, Celtics, Druids, and Gypsies and some aboriginal or shamanistic cultures. In Why Do We Say It? (©1985) we learn, “A woman who started living with a man without the marriage ceremony generally ignored housewifely duties – pots, pans, and the broomstick. So, she was said to ‘jump over the broom,’ or ‘broomstick.’ It’s interesting to note that the phrase sired a custom. Women entering into such a relationship would, instead of allowing themselves to be carried over the threshold of their new home, jump over a broomstick into it.” 

Wikipedia tells us, “Jumping the broom is a phrase and custom relating to a wedding ceremony where the couple jumps over a broom. It has been suggested that the custom is based on an 18th-century idiomatic expression for “sham marriage”, “marriage of doubtful validity”; it was popularized in the context of the introduction of civil marriage in Britain with the Marriage Act 1836. There have also been suggestions that the expression may derive from an actual custom of jumping over a “broomstick” (where “broom” refers to the common broom rather than the household implement) associated with the gypsies (Romani) of the United Kingdom, especially those in Wales.  The custom of a marrying couple literally jumping over a broom is now most widespread among African Americans, popularized in the 1970s by the novel and the miniseries Roots but originating in the mid 19th century as a practice in antebellum slavery in the United States. 



The lame ducks depicted in this Clifford K. Berryman cartoon are defeated Democrats heading to the White House hoping to secure political appointments from then President Woodrow Wilson. Wikipedia

 Why is a member of Congress who has failed to be reelected called a “lame duck“?

Ducks in flight fly in cluster. Their necks are outstretched, with their legs stretched behind them. A “lame duck” is the one who cannot keep up with the flock. The phrase “lame duck” was coined in the eighteenth century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. The first known mention of the term in writing was made by Horace Walpole, from a letter in 1761 to Sir Horace Mann: ‘Do you know what a Bull and a Bear and Lame Duck are?’ In 1791 Mary Berry wrote of the Duchess of Devonshire’s loss of £50,000 in stocks, “the conversation of the town” that her name was to be ‘posted up as a lame duck.’ In the literal sense, the term refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators. It was transferred to politicians in the nineteenth century, the first recorded use being in the Congressional Globe (the official record of the United States Congress) of January 14, 1863: ‘In no event … could [the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the charge of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken down politicians.'” (Lame Duck)


Lagniappe – This is the name of a trifling gift from a merchant to his customer (such as  the 13th doughnut on the purchase of a dozen, or more broadly, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.” The word entered English from the Louisiana French adapting a Quechua word brought to into New Orleans by the Spanish Creoles. It derived from the South American Spanish phrase la yapa or ñapa (referring to a free extra item, usually a very cheap one). La is the definite article in Spanish as well as in French (la ñapa or la gniappe = the ñapa/gniappe). The term has been traced back to the Quechua word yapay (‘to increase; to add’). In Andean markets it is still customary to ask for a yapa (translates as “a little extra”) when making a purchase. The seller usually responds by throwing in a little extra.

images.jpg Although this is an old custom, it is still widely practiced in Louisiana. Street vendors, especially vegetable vendors, are expected to throw in a few green chili peppers or a small bunch of cilantro with a purchase. The word is chiefly used in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, but the concept is practiced in many places, such as the Spanish-speaking world, Southeast Asia, North Africa, rural France, Australia, Holland, and Switzerland. (Lagniappa)


Pull One’s Leg The Word Detective tells us, “Pulling someone’s leg” is a venerable idiom meaning to tell someone a tall tale as a prank or gentle hoax, or otherwise to “put one over” on someone as a good-natured joke (“The Chinese giant once told me he had half a dozen wives at home, but I think he was pulling my leg,” 1883). The phrase first appeared in print in the early 19th century (“I really think Father, in a covert way, really pulls his leg. I know he thinks little of his talent and less of his manners,” 1821), but it’s unclear whether it originated in Britain or the US. “To pull someone’s leg” has also been used, since the 1880s, to mean “to ask a person for something, especially money” (“He pulled Pickles’ leg ‘Till his victim did beg But … he needed the money,” 1908). But this usage never attained the near-universal popularity of the “pull a friendly hoax” sense.

The popularity of “pull one’s leg” is indeed truly remarkable; almost everyone fluent in English, it seems, knows and understands the phrase. Unfortunately (here it comes), no one has even a serious clue as to where it came from. There are theories, of course, but they range from the unlikely to the uninspiring. At the unlikely end of the spectrum, one theory traces the phrase to public hangings “way back when.” The friends of the condemned, it is said, would pull on his legs to speed the process and expedite a painless demise. Not only is there no historical record of this practice, but to say that it does not “fit” with subsequent use of the phrase to mean “friendly joke” is a profound understatement.

A more plausible theory suggests that the phrase refers to tripping another person either literally, as a physical joke, or metaphorically, by making the victim look gullible and silly. This theory matches the sense of the phrase and may actually be true, but it raises the question of why the leg of the victim is said to be “pulled.”

Another theory along the same lines traces the phrase to street thieves tripping their victims in order to temporarily incapacitate them. This theory shares the weaknesses of the previous one and adds a complete mismatch to the “joke” sense of the phrase.

So the origin and logic of “pulling someone’s leg” is, and at this point may well remain, a mystery. The good news is that the Brits have developed a come-back useful for those times when you’re pretty sure that someone is “pulling your leg.” The rejoinder “Pull the other one,” often in the elaborated form “Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it,” first showed up in print in 1966. It’s a snappy way to say, “I know you’re putting me on and I’m not fooled, so try again” (“‘Believe it or not, neither Farrell nor I has the slightest interest in the gold…’ ‘Pull the other one!’ said Nelson derisively,” 1973).


Where did land get the name “real estate“? 

Okay, the “real” answer is quite technical, but we will simplify some of it. The term originally meant a “royal grant.” All land once belonged to the king in England, and the only way a person could claim any of it as his own was by a royal grant. Now, for a more “legal” meaning of the terms. “Well, first of all, ‘real estate’ is not just another word for ‘land’ or ‘property’; the three are all distinguished from one another, if rather minutely. Most real estate textbooks will start off with an intro like ‘Under all is the land.’ This is meant both literally, as in, ‘hey, we’re walking on the land,’ and metaphorically, as in, all other concepts in real estate law are based upon it. Land, legally, is defined just how you would think, i.e. ‘hey, the land is this stuff we’re walking on.’

“Now, ‘property’ can be defined as ANY thing that someone owns. Therefore, it is convenient to divide property into two types: portable and fixed. Portable property is typically called ‘personal’ property in the law. Fixed property is also termed “real” property, as it can always be found, and touched, by anyone in the right location. Real property includes the land and anything attached to it, including man-made improvements and natural resources.

“Okay, what’s an estate? Broadly, an estate is any right or interest in property of any kind. When dealing with real property, just about any of the property owner’s rights can be granted for consideration (i.e. sold, rented, or exchanged), leading to such terms as ‘leasehold estate,’ which is the right to occupy a property for a certain period of time (the lease); ‘leased fee estate,’ or the right to collect money from a tenant, but not to occupy the property; or an ‘estate of inheritance,’ which is the right to dictate who gets your property (real or personal) after your death. The most familiar situation, when a property owner occupies their own estate and holds all of the rights of ownership (subject, as always, to governmental jurisdiction), is called fee simple estate.

“Which brings us to a good, working definition of real estate. Simply put, it is the putting together of all of the “bundle of rights” inherent in the property. In a leased property, the real estate is the sum of the tenant’s rights and the landlord’s rights; while in a fee simple situation, the real estate is held by one entity, unencumbered by any other interest or estate. In other words, real estate is defined as the land, the stuff permanently attached to it, and most importantly, the right to use it.” (The Straight Dope)


static1.squarespace.png Sockdolanger  – The term originally applied to a ranting revivalist. It is the inverted form of “doxologer.”Eventually, it came to mean a knockout blow in boxing.  From World Wide Words, we learn “This is one of the more famous of the set of extraordinary words that were coined in America in the early years of the nineteenth century. As well as its literal meaning of a heavy or knock-down blow, sockdolager also came to mean something that was exceptional in any respect, especially, the OED says, a particularly large fish. James Fenimore Cooper wrote in 1838 in Home as Found: ‘There is but one ‘sogdollager’ in the universe, and that is in Lake Oswego’. A related sense given in Bartlett’s dictionary in 1848 was ‘a type of fish hook.’ Lexicographers are reluctant to speculate about where it came from (as usual there’s little evidence), but we may hazard a guess that it’s a combination of sock, meaning to give somebody a blow, with doxology, the little hymn of praise sung towards the end of a church service. Researcher Barry Popik found this more detailed speculation in the issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune of 19 March 1893:

“A writer in the March Atlantic gives this as the origin of the slang word ‘socdollager,’ current some time ago. ‘Socdollager’ was the uneducated man’s transposition of ‘doxologer,’ which was the familiar New England rendering of ‘doxology.’ This was the Puritan term for the verse ascription used at the conclusion of every hymn, like the ‘Gloria,’ at the end of a chanted psalm. On doctrinal grounds it was proper for the whole congregation to join in the singing, so that it became a triumphant winding up of the whole act of worship. Thus is happened that ‘socdollager’ became the term for anything which left nothing else to follow; a decisive, overwhelming finish, to which no reply was possible.

“The particular claim to fame of sockdolager is that a close relative of it was supposedly almost the last word President Lincoln heard. In Tom Taylor’s play Our American Cousin, there occurs the line ‘Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap,’ and as the audience laughed, John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.”


Twenty-Three Skiddoo – In 1899 in New York, Henry Miller presented a dramatization of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The play was called The Only Way. In the last act of the play, an old woman sat at the foot of the guillotine, counting the heads as they were lopped off. The only attention she paid to the execution of Sidney Carton was to remark “Twenty-three” as his head fell from the guillotine. This bit of dramatic irony caught on with theatrical goers and became telegraphers’ slang for “bad news.” Ultimately, it was combined with “skiddoo” by the cartoonist T. A. Dorgan. “Skiddoo” is a variation of “skedaddle.”


maxresdefault.jpg Yankee DimeThis is a kiss of which someone may not approve. A quick, innocent kiss. A peck. A child like term used by/for children in the Southern United States. (More common in countryside-raised, ‘older’ southern families). Those of the Southern states of the U. S. often complained that a “Yankee” would rather pay for something with a kiss than a coin, for the Yankees were known to be quite thrifty. Such a kiss is also called a “Quaker fip” (that is a five cent piece) for the same reason. 


Boogie-Woogie – A “boogie” is a slang word for a hobgoblin, or a bogie. Witches, goblins, and other “boogies” dance to mystifying and disquieting music. Therefore, music backed by the beat of tom-toms in the bass came to be known as “boogie” music. The “woogie” is a sound-alike word known as a ricochet word. 

“The origin of the term boogie-woogie is unknown, according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word is a reduplication of boogie, which was used for “rent parties” as early as 1913.

“Dr. John Tennison, a San Antonio psychiatrist, pianist, and musicologist, suggested some interesting linguistic precursors. Among them are four African terms, including the Hausa word ‘Boog’ and the Mandingo word ‘Booga,’ both of which mean “to beat”, as in beating a drum. There is also the West African word “Bogi,’ which means ‘to dance,’and the Bantu term ‘Mbuki Mvuki’ (Mbuki: ‘to take off in flight’; Mvuki: ‘to dance wildly, as if to shake off one’s clothes’). The meanings of these terms are consistent with the percussiveness, dancing, and uninhibited behaviors historically associated with boogie-woogie music. The African origin of these terms is also consistent with evidence that the music originated among newly emancipated African-Americans.” (Boogie-Woogie)


animals-sodbusting-sodbusters-farm-farming-boots-jcon4630_low.jpg Clodhopper – In early England, the peasants were uneducated, and, therefore, assumed to be unintelligent. The gentry rode horses across the farm fields, while the peasants walked across the fields, hopping over the clods of earth that the plow turned up. They were literally clodhoppers. 

Phrase Finder tells us, “There’s not a great deal to be said about this term. The derivation isn’t known, although it could be as a comic allusion to grasshopper. Clods are lumps of earth, of course, and the word derives as a variant of ‘clot’ – a coagulation.

“The term clod-hopper is first cited in the definition in ‘A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew‘, 1690:

“Clod-hopper, a Ploughman.”

“It was usually used, as a term of derision, by townspeople at the expense of muddy booted yokels – much in the way the ‘bog-trotter’ is now used to defame the rural Irish.

“Since the early 19th century, in the UK and USA, ‘clod-hoppers’ were also the name given to ploughmen’s boots.”


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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