STATESIDE STORIES: Even More American Words!

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A ‘trump’ is a card that can ‘triumph’ or win over other cards in
the game by virtue of its special powers


by Mary Foran

Winter is an especially wonderful time to catch up on your reading, curled up in a blanket before a hearth-warming fire…

One thing I love to do with my “spare time” is perused second-hand bookstores full of old gems of literature and an eclectic array of writing of all kinds.

On one such excursion I found an interesting book published by Castle Books in New York, New York, copyright 1985 by Book Sales, Inc. It’s entitled “Why do we say it?–the stories behind the words, expressions and cliches we use.”

Flipping through the pages, I first noticed the term we use for “coward”, which we refer to as “lily-livered”. This term apparently comes from the ancient Greeks who believed that the liver was the “seat of passion”. As the book explains, “Dark bile indicated strong passion, light bile, weakness. The person whose bile was lily-colored or white just had no ‘guts’ at all.”

Life of Reilly/Steve Corey, CC BY-ND2.0

And how about someone who is “living the life of Reilly”? According to the authors, this expression had its origin in “a comic song of the 1880s about a saloon-keeper in a small town in the Middle West who prospered so much that he was able to raise his saloon to the dignity of a hotel.”

Then there’s the term we use for “triumphant acclaim”, “OVATION”–which, they say, came from the Romans, who used it to describe a “second-class celebration for a lesser triumph such as a battle won without bloodshed or a victory over slaves. The honored citizen did not appear in a chariot but only on a horse or on foot.”

Explaining the meaning of “Trump Card”, the authors say that “the word Trump is a corruption of the word ‘triumph’. A ‘trump’ is a card that can ‘triumph’ or win over other cards in the game by virtue of its special powers.”

The American quarter dollar is nicknamed “two bits”. “The dollar was originally based on the Spanish dollar. The Spanish dollar was divided into eight parts–or ‘pieces of eight’. In the West Indies, where Spanish money was widely used, Spanish paper dollars were often cut up into eight parts–and each of these bits of paper was called a ‘bit’. One of these ‘bits’ was equal to twelve and a half cents in American money. So, a 25-cent piece was the equivalent of ‘two bits.’ ”

Well, here are my “two bits” on the New Year 2017: may we all work together for a better future for us all, learn to “live and let live” and learn reason and restraint.


Featured image/TerriersFan at English Wikipedia, PD