Origins Of Phrases (Notes; Queries; Oddities)

Lb8535

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Sep 2, 2015
Messages
2,612
Getting back to that list of eggcorns:

"Duck tape", despite being a current brand name, is almost certainly the original. It comes from the material it was made from, cotton duck, and/or the fact that it was used on board amphibious "duck" vehicles to waterproof cartridge cases and patch small leaks. It has never been a preferred method of repairing ducts.

"Buck naked" goes back centuries. "Butt naked" is not attested before the 1960s.

Many of the others seem to have their origin in deliberate humor, and in at least one case ("daring-do") a modernization of archaic spelling.

I don't think any of us are immune from eggcorns. It was only a day or two ago, reading a post elsewhere on these forums, that I realized tenderhooks are really tenterhooks.

And if I may be allowed to go all Grampa Simpson for a bit, it reminds me of the film "The Devil's Rain". The marketing people were apparently illiterate, making heavy use of the plug line "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!"
Um - duct tape because the original actual use was on HVAC ducts because it's pretty heat-resistant.
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
48,484
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
Um - duct tape because the original actual use was on HVAC ducts because it's pretty heat-resistant.
I have in fact seen it used on quite a few sections of ducting.
 

ChasFink

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
2,210
Um - duct tape because the original actual use was on HVAC ducts because it's pretty heat-resistant.
I have in fact seen it used on quite a few sections of ducting.
It has been used for that, but that's not what it was designed for, and there are better tapes designed for duct work.

Per Wikipedia:

"Duck tape" is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as having been in use since 1899; "duct tape" (described as "perhaps an alteration of earlier duck tape") since 1965.

What we now call duct tape existed long before 1965.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
29,578
Location
Out of Bounds
It has been used for that, but that's not what it was designed for, and there are better tapes designed for duct work.
"Duck tape" is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as having been in use since 1899; "duct tape" (described as "perhaps an alteration of earlier duck tape") since 1965.
What we now call duct tape existed long before 1965.

Yes, no, sorta ...

There were two products originally known as "duck tape", both of which referred to adhesive lengths / streamers of cotton duck (linen) fabric.

The late 19th century version refers to medical bandaging material (aka binding tape). A length / streamer of cotton duck fabric was soaked in an adhesive solution (infusing the entire fabric; making both sides sticky), then wrapped (e.g., around an injured limb and dressing) to make a stout enclosing bandage.

The 20th century version (the cloth-backed tape we know today) was invented in 1943 at the suggestion of Vesta Stoudt - a wartime munitions factory worker and mother of two soldiers in the field. She had the idea to use cloth-backed tape to seal packs of ammunition so they could be opened more readily and quickly than could be done with the paper adhesive tape with which they were then-currently sealed. She was sufficiently confident in her idea (and frustrated at local attempts to innovate ... ) that she wrote a letter to FDR. FDR liked her idea, forwarded it to Johnson & Johnson for implementation, and the rest is history.

The WW2 / Stoudt version was indeed originally called "duck tape." It was distinct from the earlier medical version in having a stronger adhesive on one side only, ready for application when torn off a roll. Another difference lay in the fact the 20th century version was designed to be waterproof.

In the 1960s duck tape was increasingly used to seal ductwork, and a variant using an aluminized backing was introduced. This variant was the original "duct tape" specifically intended for sealing ductwork. In addition, duck tape manufacturers began coloring the tape grey to match the color of ductwork. It was this grey version that became the mass market do-it-all tape, and the "duct" allusion came with it.

https://www.jnj.com/our-heritage/vesta-stoudt-the-woman-who-invented-duct-tape
https://www.kilmerhouse.com/2012/06/the-woman-who-invented-duct-tape
http://www.octanecreative.com/ducttape/DT101/index.html
 

Lb8535

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Sep 2, 2015
Messages
2,612
I actually know it and used it for many years as gaffers tape, which basically holds theater and movie sets together for just long enough until they have to be taken apart. I was told that if you wanted to buy it you had to ask for duct tape.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
29,578
Location
Out of Bounds
I actually know it and used it for many years as gaffers tape, which basically holds theater and movie sets together for just long enough until they have to be taken apart. I was told that if you wanted to buy it you had to ask for duct tape.

When I was a musician (locally / on the road; part-time / full-time) back in the 1970s we "gaffed" the wires and cables on stage. We always used ordinary duct tape (in a bright color if we could find it). However ...

There really is a distinct specialized "gaffer tape." It's basically duct tape with a different adhesive that doesn't leave any residue when it's removed. Regular duct tape can leave sticky adhesive residue that can be difficult to clean off cables, floors, etc.
 

Lb8535

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Sep 2, 2015
Messages
2,612
When I was a musician (locally / on the road; part-time / full-time) back in the 1970s we "gaffed" the wires and cables on stage. We always used ordinary duct tape (in a bright color if we could find it). However ...

There really is a distinct specialized "gaffer tape." It's basically duct tape with a different adhesive that doesn't leave any residue when it's removed. Regular duct tape can leave sticky adhesive residue that can be difficult to clean off cables, floors, etc.
Yes cleaning that gunk off cables, wood uprights, and stage floor needs serious solvent.
 

Stormkhan

Disturbingly familiar
Joined
May 28, 2003
Messages
5,054
When I was a musician (locally / on the road; part-time / full-time) back in the 1970s we "gaffed" the wires and cables on stage. We always used ordinary duct tape (in a bright color if we could find it). However ...

There really is a distinct specialized "gaffer tape." It's basically duct tape with a different adhesive that doesn't leave any residue when it's removed. Regular duct tape can leave sticky adhesive residue that can be difficult to clean off cables, floors, etc.
I used to work for a firm selling music studio equipment, gig gear etc. We always sold it as gaffer tape, in black, white, silver and black/yellow hazard tape too. :D
 

Trevp666

It was like that when I got here.........honest!!!
Joined
May 29, 2009
Messages
9,733
Location
Welwyn Garden City (but oddly, not an actual city)
The fabric backed adhesive tape goes by many names.
Gaffer/Gaffa, Duck/Duct, Camera tape, Whaline, and possibly others.
Most usually in either black or silver, but other colours are available.
And 2 different adhesive strengths - as mentioned, one type very sticky, the other is more sort of 'tacky'.
And (IIRC) there is also a 'marine' version which is totally waterproof and can be used underwater, quite often kept onboard small craft for repairing (eg) cracked fibreglass until a more permanent repair can be carried out.

The TV show "Mythbusters" has various 'duct tape' challenges.
 

Sid

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
1,867
I have not heard the term "loverly" since I lived with my grandma back in 1992. Good lord, what a weird thing to remember now.
I have always used the loverly - (actually the word should really be 'luverly,' but same difference), as a way to emphasise it when it's meant to be said with feeling.
 
Last edited:

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
29,578
Location
Out of Bounds
I am a big fan of Masking Tape.
Stronger than you might think, yet easy to peel off and leaves little residue. ...

It was before duct tape became common and I was still a little kid when I learned that the strongest tape in the house was the white cloth-backed medical / surgical tape in the medicine cabinet. It was quite narrow and came on a metal spool.
 

blessmycottonsocks

Antediluvian
Joined
Dec 22, 2014
Messages
7,693
Location
Wessex and Mercia
One that's always baffled me is why some people oop North add the word "doors" to emphasise the word "early".

According to Wiktionary:

Early Doors - Adverb (Northern England): Early; at a time before expected; sooner than usual.

The etymology is unclear, although possibly (dubiously) dating from the time that pubs would close in the afternoon.
 
Last edited:

Sid

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
1,867
One that's always baffled me is why some people oop North add the word "doors" to emphasise the word "early".

According to Wiktionary:

Early Doors - Adverb (Northern England): Early; at a time before expected; sooner than usual.

The etymology is unclear, although possibly (dubiously) dating from the time that pubs would close in the afternoon.
Thought to have come theatres opening/getting-in early, to the best seats?
 

Trevp666

It was like that when I got here.........honest!!!
Joined
May 29, 2009
Messages
9,733
Location
Welwyn Garden City (but oddly, not an actual city)
I thought 'early doors' related specifically to doing deliveries to businesses early in the morning, a shortening of the phrase 'be early at their doors'.
It was a phrase I first heard when working for a transport company back in the 80s.
 

catseye

Old lady trouser-smell with yesterday's knickers
Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
5,709
Location
York
I have always used the loverly - (actually the word should really be 'luverly,' but same difference), as a way to emphasise it when it's meant to be said with feeling.
I have a friend who uses 'gawjus' in the same way.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
29,578
Location
Out of Bounds
I have not heard the term "loverly" since I lived with my grandma back in 1992. Good lord, what a weird thing to remember now.
I have always used the loverly - (actually the word should really be 'luverly,' but same difference), as a way to emphasise it when it's meant to be said with feeling.

The earliest-attested usage of "loverly" is as a facetious play on "lovely":

loverly (adj.)
representing in print a Cockney pronunciation of lovely (adj.), 1907 ...
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=loverly

... which in turn is considered an instance of "the humorous R", as in "larf" or "school marm".
(https://www.etymonline.com/word/R?ref=etymonline_crossreference)

This is the usage familiar to me. If I'm not mistaken, there was a popular show tune decades ago in which "loverly" was used in this humorous manner.

I was surprised to learn there's another (more formal) usage that may be even older:

lov•er•ly (ˈlʌv ər li)
adj., adv.
characteristic of or in the manner of a lover.
[1870–75]
https://www.thefreedictionary.com/loverly
 

Bad Bungle

Tutti but not Frutti.
Joined
Oct 13, 2018
Messages
3,883
Location
The Chilterns
In Nottingham, the equivalent expression is, "It's a bit black over Bill's mother's," said whenever heavy rain appears imminent.
My brother came out with that phrase last week as we were driving past storm clouds on the horizon. I asked where he'd first heard it and it was from an old boy in his village (Herts). The BBC site suggested that Bill was Kaiser Wilhelm II - but lots of things are attributed to Kaiser Bill by the BBC and the D. Telegraph, almost a fandom.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37550178
 

Trevp666

It was like that when I got here.........honest!!!
Joined
May 29, 2009
Messages
9,733
Location
Welwyn Garden City (but oddly, not an actual city)
What about something happening "at the drop of a hat"?
Whose hat? What sort of hat? And why are they dropping it? And why would the dropping of a hat be a simple enough reason to cause something else to be done?
 

Floyd1

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Apr 2, 2019
Messages
4,392
When I was a musician (locally / on the road; part-time / full-time) back in the 1970s we "gaffed" the wires and cables on stage. We always used ordinary duct tape (in a bright color if we could find it). However ...

There really is a distinct specialized "gaffer tape." It's basically duct tape with a different adhesive that doesn't leave any residue when it's removed. Regular duct tape can leave sticky adhesive residue that can be difficult to clean off cables, floors, etc.
Are we allowed to enquire about this 1970s band @EnolaGaia? I'm sure people would be interested to hear of all the debauchery adventures that took place.
 

eburacum

Papo-furado
Joined
Aug 26, 2005
Messages
4,760

Sgt Girth

Ephemeral Spectre
Joined
Nov 16, 2019
Messages
489
You know the expression “Mad as a box of frogs”?……I came up with that……well, I thought I did……I certainly don’t remember hearing it anywhere else before I used it to refer to someone….. I thought it was exclusively mine until I saw other references to it. To this day, I’m totally convinced that I came up with it first though…….
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
29,578
Location
Out of Bounds
What about something happening "at the drop of a hat"?
Whose hat? What sort of hat? And why are they dropping it? And why would the dropping of a hat be a simple enough reason to cause something else to be done?

The usual explanation is that dropping one's hat (or perhaps swooping a held hat downward) was a common way to signal "go" or "begin." Such signaling is often cited as something done to initiate Old West gunfights or a race / contest of some sort, analogous to the old trope of signaling commencement of a duel by dropping a handkerchief.

The stereotypical Old West (i.e., post Civil War) gunfight explanation can't be the origin, because the phrase was documented as far back as the early 19th century in America. It's unclear how much farther back in time the phrase's usage extends.

One reason for the murkiness is that the idiom carries two distinct implications. The first concerns doing something in an immediate / automatic / reflexive manner. This version focuses on the immediacy of the response.

The second implication also refers to signaling, but focuses on the signal being a trivial trigger for action. In this sense "at the drop of a hat" connotes "at the least provocation." This second sense is sometimes claimed to be a later development. However, the earliest documented usages don't provide enough context to determine whether the first or second connotation was intended.
 

Squail

Junior Acolyte
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
96
My brother came out with that phrase last week as we were driving past storm clouds on the horizon. I asked where he'd first heard it and it was from an old boy in his village (Herts). The BBC site suggested that Bill was Kaiser Wilhelm II - but lots of things are attributed to Kaiser Bill by the BBC and the D. Telegraph, almost a fandom.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37550178

If it were indeed about the Kaiser -- seems unkind to bring his mother into it: hardly just, to blame her for her son's oddities; though some detractors of Britain's royal family will allege a strain of insanity running through said family (Bill was Vicky's grandson).
 

brownmane

off kilter
Joined
Feb 1, 2019
Messages
2,657
Location
Ontario, Canada
You know the expression “Mad as a box of frogs”?……I came up with that……well, I thought I did……I certainly don’t remember hearing it anywhere else before I used it to refer to someone….. I thought it was exclusively mine until I saw other references to it. To this day, I’m totally convinced that I came up with it first though…….
Actually, I think the full phrase is "hopping mad as a box of frogs". Sorry to burst your originality bubble @Sgt Girth :)
 
Top