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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner


Sep 19, 2017

The Whole Nine Yards on Idioms Sept. 22, 2017

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

A few people have asked me about the meanings and origins of some idioms. The dictionary defines an idiom as “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements.” See if you get the meanings of the following ones.

• The proof is in the pudding: That is, to fully or effectively judge something, you have to use it for its intended purpose. The phrase probably originated in the kitchen as “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, you had to try out a food to know whether it was good and you liked it.

• Go haywire: To go wrong or become deranged. Haywire was the light wire used in baling machines to tie up bales of hay. The phrase probably originated referring to the tendency of a spool of baling wire under tension to spring into an unmanageable tangle when broken or when a piece was removed. Also, there was a tendency to patch up machinery using this wire that often broke and didn’t work.

• Bend over backwards: To make every effort to do something or accommodate somebody. This phrase probably originated in gymnastics, where bending over backwards takes quite an effort. That is, you have to really want to bend over backwards from a normal straight stance. (I know I do.)

• Bite off more than you can chew: Taking on a task or project that is beyond your capability. This could apply to eating, but it more than likely goes back to when people often chewed tobacco. A greedier person might bite off a large chunk of a plug and, hence, receive the warning – biting off more than he (or she, to be politically correct) could chew.

What’s your favorite idiom? Come on, be quick. I know you can think of one – don’t let grass grow under your feet.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read. —Francis Bacon
Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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