The United States' upper Midwest has been feeling the winter's chill over the last few days. Enough so that certain idioms and colloquialisms have been shared, in an attempt to describe or quantify just how cold it has been.
This, naturally, gets the Writers and Polishers to wondering at the source(s) of some of these phrases. Being that information has never been easier to acquire than in the Internet age, we looked into a couple of the more common. We now share our findings with you:
The poor brass monkey
Since 1857, the brass monkey has been afflicted by cold, such as would freeze his tail off. This was the first such recorded use, in Before the Mast (by C.A. Abbey). Interestingly, exactly a decade prior, Herman Melville assigned a phrase to a character in Omoo asserting that "It was 'ot enough to melt the nose h'off a brass monkey." Variously, excessive heat or cold has been said to cost the poor brass monkey his ears, nose, whiskers, throat, tail or fur, as well as other, less appropriate bits of the monkey's anatomy, which first appear in the written record by the 1930s.
And, the witch's bosoms?
In the matter of using a witch's tit (or teat) as a yardstick for the cold, what's clear is what is not the colloquial source of the phrase. Contrary to popular belief that it is a vestige of witch-hunting centuries past, in which some stray bit of flesh could be used to convict a woman of consorting, and possibly engaging in unholy congress, with Old Scratch, the phrase first appears in the written record in <drumroll> 1932.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Again, the esteemed experts at the OED have been unable to turn up any use of the phrase prior to that year, when F. Van Wyck [pronounced "Wike"] Mason employed it in his novel, Spider House. While it is generally accepted that such terms are probably being used in conversation before someone writes them down, it nonetheless beggars belief that it could have existed for four or six or eight centuries without a surviving written reference prior to Mr. Mason. As such, it seems that it was coined by a person and with an intent now lost to memory, but in the relatively recent past, and probably as a straight-up metaphor.
1. of, relating to, or living in a stream or river.
2. produced by the action of a stream, "a fluvial plain."
Write and Polish was inspired to the Word of the Day by a journey along the Minnesota bank of the Mississippi River, enjoying the scenic fluvial panoramas, including that shown here. It contrasted with the pastoral terrain of much of the journey from Minneapolis to Milwaukee!
Though none of the Writers and Polishers took this picture (click on it to visit the website of the photographer), it very closely resembles what we enjoyed!
The turn of each year typically features a fairly predictable re-hash of resolution-making and self-help-inspired actualization pep talks.
Many people find this annoying.
Which has no bearing on how applicable it is.
The fact is, the opening of a new calendar is an excellent time to identify areas for improvement, both in our personal and professional lives.
Whether it takes the form of goal-setting (tips for doing that here!) or "resolutions" or updating a resume/business plan, there is enormous power in articulating your intentions -- especially in ways that are constructive and set you up to succeed.
Now, we at Write and Polish are a little biased on this point -- one of our primary foci in marketing is that the words you choose matter. So, of course we think that how you express your plans and needs and hopes has a bearing on the results that you see.
But, time again, our experience has found this approach borne out: words of negativity undermine the credibility of the speaker, and betray a mindset of low expectation. In contrast, the quotation above represents, in our opinion, easily half of the battle when it comes to success. It has been a favorite of ours for years.
A real estate agent friend recently shared some advice that she received years ago: no matter the market, when people ask, "How's business?" always answer, "Unbelievable!" That way, even if it's down, you've told the truth, but avoided surrounding yourself with a Pig Pen-like cloud of pessimism and bad feeling (which, by the way, is contagious).
So, if you are flirting with making resolutions this year, we suggest that one of them be to choose your words to be constructive, optimistic and collaborative whenever possible. Consider it a corollary to the old bromide about asking before speaking: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Though the vagaries of circumstance will always tend to hijack your long-range plans, each time you possibly can, choose to make 2013 a good year -- starting with the words you select.
Our best to you and yours!
Check out this great piece, "8 words that may not mean what you think they mean."
For the record, we concur with article author Laura Hale Brockway's directive to stop what you're doing and see this movie (The Princess Bride) immediately if you have not previously.
That said, we have never been able to find what is incorrect in Vizzini's use of "inconcievable." Webster's give the definition as "impossible to comprehend." Contextually, it's just fine.
That nitpick does not, in any way, detract from our enjoyment of this story!
Today's Word of the Day is auto-biographical
1a : causing or tending to cause sleep b : tending to dull awareness or alertness
2 : of, relating to, or marked by sleepiness or lethargy
Example: The warmth of the fireplace combined with a hearty lunch to have a soporific effect on the writer.
The relevance of the illustration is that the Writers and Polishers, like many youngsters, first encountered this word in Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, which if you care to, you may enjoy all over again at The Free Library, here.
A recent outbreak of Great Vocabulary has inspired us to create an award. Way back, we all enjoyed getting a gold star for the day. Now, you can have that satisfaction again! Use a great word (or phrase) and you may find yourself in possession of a Gold Vocabulary Star!
Inaugural awards go to Media Beyond for use of 'ennui' in their fabulous new demo video, Chris Rickert's recent 'kerfuffle' in the Wisconsin State Journal, and Jim Hall of DCS Property Inspections for 'flotsam and jetsam.'
Well expressed, each of you!
Feel free to submit nominations of worthy word usage. Point us in the direction of the especially literate or clever by sending an e-mail or commenting on this thread. Tell us the person/entity you'd like to recognize, the word or phrase, and a link to the context so we may enjoy it ourselves. We'll be happy to recognize those using the language with loving creativity!!So, light up the firmament with great vocabulary and the Gold Stars that go along with it!!
We recommend trying to work this one into conversation this weekend...the most frequent context that we encounter is in the course of a reminiscence.
Write and Polish Bloggers
Christie Manussier, principal Writer and Polisher, is the usual news reporter.
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