To Turn a Phrase . . .

Some of my fondest recollections of childhood were the times I spent with my Grandpa Hamer. I always enjoyed our conversations and the interesting phrases he would use. As we worked together in his raspberry patch, I remember him saying to me “just because your friends are doing it doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon.” At the time I didn’t understand, or even care, what he was talking about. I just loved it when he talked with me. These many years later I decided to investigate the origin of some of his antiquated expressions. Let’s see how many of them you know.
Grandpa’s warning to not “Jump on the Bandwagon” was his way of telling me to think for myself rather than be influenced by another person’s actions or opinions. This term goes back to the 1800s when brightly colored bandwagons traveled through small towns in the U.S. to celebrate holidays or herald the arrival of the circus. As the wagon rolled down the street local politicians would often jump on top of the bandwagon to make speeches to the crowd that had gathered.
When money is short we commonly says it is time to “tighten our belts.” The origin of this expression is rooted in the devastation of the Great Depression. As the soup lines grew and starvation became a reality in the America of the 1930s, this expression, that now means to be more frugal, originally referred to the shrinking waistlines of those who suffered great weight loss from hunger.
We have all heard the expression “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and would assume it to refer to woman’s inability to attract a member of the opposite sex. While the definition of this expression is obvious, I was amused to find that it was used for the first time in the 1920s as a slogan for Listerine Mouthwash. The transcript from their ad read: “Poor Edna was getting on in age and most of her girlfriends had already tied the knot. As much a she longed for a husband, her romances always ended quickly. There was a reason. Unbeknownst to her, she suffered from bad breath…”. Let that one be a lesson to you girls……..always gargle!
It is the tradition in many cultures to hold a “wake” when a loved one passes away. While the modern day tradition finds the wake to be a gathering of friends and family with food, drink and sometimes music, the original definition of the term is not quite so pleasant. In the 16th century people often used lead cups for drinking ale or whiskey. The strength of the inebriate would cause lead from the cups to leak into the drink. As a result those drinking the mixture could loose consciousness, sometimes for a day or two. These people would be mistaken for dead. Having numerous occasions when the “dead” person came back to life it became the practice to lay the person on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the term”wake.”
And now my personal favorite, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This expression that cautions us not to throw out the good with the bad comes from the mid-1500s when the yearly bath was a custom in many household. After a large metal tub had been filled with water the family would bathe, starting with the husbands and sons and then moving on to the wife and the children in descending age. Finally the baby would be given a bath. By this time the water was so murky that one could easily lose sight of a tiny infant, and so the cautionary phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Until next time…….Linda

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or