So, how much truth is there in some of the popular sayings that people use every day?
Do “all roads lead to Rome”? Well, yes, actually, they do (or did) – historical fact, people!
In ancient times, if you came across a paved road, at least for a period of Roman times, it did lead directly to Rome. That’s because the Romans were the first people to build properly paved roads, and they started out making these delightful roads solely to and from Rome.
In the good old days – you remember them: war, famine, great depressions – fellows who felled trees, ie loggers, were not exactly top of the pops on the social scale. To transport logs in the days before we had chainsaws and big grabby machines to help deforest the planet 50 times faster, loggers chopped rough roads, hacked into the forest. They used these roads to drag out the logs – or “skidded” them out. Apparently, the term started out as a name for these access tracks, “skid roads”, but pretty soon, as loggers were at the bottom of the social pile, it came to pass that “skid row” became a term for poor or rundown areas.
British soldiers are widely known as “Tommies”. Why is this so? Well, there are a few plausible stories, but I am going for this one: In 1825, the British War Department issued forms that soldiers needed to fill out – and happened to use Thomas Atkins” as the name in a sample form showing soldiers how they were to fill in these forms. Next thing you know, British soldiers are known forevermore as “Tommies”
Learning the ropes
In days of yore, when you said to your parents, “I’m off to Europe to work in a bar for a year”; or if you were European, you might say, “I’m off to Australia because the judge said I had to go” – you got there by ship. Not the Queen Mary, either. You went on a sailing ship. These multi-masted marvels had, on average, 250 ropes (or lines) the crew needed to know and deal with. So sailors had to literally “learn the ropes”. Nothing made a Captain madder than some landlubber pulling the downhaul when he should have been hoisting the clewline. Learn the ropes!
In like Flynn
Errol Flynn. Stage and screen star of the 1930’s and 40’s. Expelled from school in Australia in 1926 for having sex with the laundry lady. Charged (and acquitted) of statutory rape in 1942. Failed in an attempt to join the US Army during WW2 for, among other things – having Venereal Disease. Married 3 times. Romanced dozens of young starlets during his Hollywood career. In like Flynn. ‘Nuff said.
Doing something 3 times – “a hat trick” is often incorrectly attributed to ice hockey. The term actually came about in the 1850’s when an English cricketer took 3 wickets in 3 balls, and was awarded a “hat” as a prize.
If you have ever been on TV, (I am yet to be discovered) you may have spent time in “The Green Room”. This is the place you hang out before your appearance. Theatres also have them for the actors. Sometimes, only the top banana gets to go in the green room. Like, for instance, if I were invited on the Dave Letterman show along with Sting; he would wait in the Green Room, and I would wait in the car park. C’est la vie. It is thought to date back to 1599, to an English theater, where the performers hung out in a room that just happened to be painted green.
Elvis has left the building
In 1956, it was first used to dispel a crowd of concertgoers, who hoped “the King” might pop back for one more encore. He didn’t, because he had left the building. Now one of the most popular sayings in the English language, it can describe anything from a person you think is brainless, to getting retrenched from your job. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Horace Lee Logan, the promoter who first uttered the immortal line.
Close but no cigar
So the story goes, in the 1930’s, 40’s & 50’s, men in America liked to test their strength and impress the ladies by going to the local fair, grabbing an oversized hammer – and hitting a target that sent a metal cylinder up a pole. If you were up to the task – a satisfying “ding” would announce to the crowd your immense power, and you would win a cigar as a prize. If you had spaghetti arms like me, all you got was a portly, boater wearing carnival man announcing to the crowd – “Close! But no cigar”.
Bought a lemon
There are many theories for this gem, but the one I like dates back to merry old England in the days when ‘exotic’ fruits started to appear in the Old Dart. Fruits like bananas, pineapples and even oranges. These strange and mysterious fruits were quite expensive, and so were often given as gifts. “Happy Birthday Grandma! Here’s a banana!” Unfortunately, like a Nigerian and his million dollars that need a home, there were unscrupulous fruit vendors, and occasionally, when granny took delivery of her birthday banana, she would announce; “you idiot, you bought a lemon!”