Close But No Cigar and other interesting sayings - an etymology thread

I read an interesting piece this morning about the origins of this idiom.  In the early 20th century, cigars were given out as prizes at carnival games.  It made me think of how interesting that was, as well as several others they speak about.  Bless You/Gezundheit, Dibbs, What in Sam Hill?, getting the willies or the heebie jeebies - the list is endless.  Call me weird, but I love this type of stuff.  Anyone else? I thought it was perfect for this forum and Maplewood in general, especially as the place where a certain game with a flying plastic disc has its origins.  


Ah the memories, an insider's view:

One summer as a teenager I worked a variety of gaming booths at a carnival that travelled between Pennsylvania and Florida. At each booth I acted as the barker and also ran the games. Technically it was possible to win at all the games but if closely examined, almost impossible to win anything more than a cheap little plastic keychain token (kept out of sight under the counter until the last moment) or perhaps a Goldfish in a tiny bowl gratefully near death.

The infamous "knock the bottles down" with softballs was a prime example. Intrepid males trying to impress their girlfriends were required to not only knock over the stacked and deceptively heavy steel bottles but also to knock them completely OFF the pedestal which was almost impossible with only three shots. False hopes were often raised as many bottles were knocked down but then almost never all the way off. So close. So close. Sometimes woeful looks were tossed at my poker face but thankfully never any fists as I weighed all of 125 lbs at that time.

Cigars were not an actual prize in the modern age of the 70s, however Big Tom the carnival owner would relentlessly patrol the fairways while puffing a cigar and leaving a smoke plume behind him like an old locomotive, occasionally spot-checking our money aprons, counting the bills with his grubby sausage fingers to guesstimate if we were stealing and to see what kind of day he was having.  

I never had to give away any of the big teddy bear prizes but I will say that folks always seemed to have fun even while losing.

BTW: One day we had a special day for a Catholic school. It was fascinating taking money from nuns as they tried to hit tacked-up playing cards using a suction-cup dart gun with the proviso that the suction cup (if it stuck at all and did not just bounce off) had to be completely on the card with no part on the edge. "Ohh sorry Sista. Close but no cigar, care to try again?" 


How I remember that welcome additions fill, rather than fit, the bill:

Vaudeville shows would post the day’s acts — the bill — on a board (hence, billboard) outside the venue. If any dropped out, or slots remained for smaller acts, performers would be added to fill the bill.


Why "break a leg in showbiz?"   Why Auld Lang Sin? sp from Harry Met Sally.   


The term “break a leg” was used originally, many say, to discourage evil spirits from deliberately causing one’s performance to suffer. According to this theory, wishing someone “good luck” would be invoking the “evil eye”. So “good luck” would actually cause bad luck for the actor.

You are on your own on the second one, but I love that scene almost as much as the one in the MET with the cartoon character Sphynxy.


“Auld Lang Syne” was originally a Scottish poem that was later set to
music. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long
since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/what-the-heck-does-auld-lang-syne-mean/

(if i'm not being too literal about the question)

(sadly, some years back i heard a kid's version starting "There was a man, his name was Lang," and have been quite unable to hear the real thing, straight, since)


In the spirit of this post (and because I actually know the answer, but it might not be common knowledge) - 

Does anyone know the origins of the phrase 'You guys'?  I still try to find alternates, because the way we use it today is just bad english and a bit trite.  I'm always trying to substitute 'people' or 'folks', but that sounds and reads stupid.  I'll give you a clue - Guy Fawkes.  


Easy. Rita Moreno.

(Fawkes is whence we get “folks.”)


DaveSchmidt said:

Easy. Rita Moreno.

(Fawkes is whence we get “folks.”)

 Funny, but NO CIGAR - Like how I did that? 

Loved Electric Company, and I am now living where Zoom started.  Whatever happened to the English Language and why doesn't anyone care?  You can't watch Schoolhouse Rock these days without getting really sad ("I'm Just a Bill from Capital Hill").  PS - Bill Cosby? DOH! 


TheJmon said:

Whatever happened to the English Language and why doesn't anyone care?

My mother taught me not to cast stones from Capital Hills.


TheJmon said:

DaveSchmidt said:

Easy. Rita Moreno.

(Fawkes is whence we get “folks.”)

 Funny, but NO CIGAR - Like how I did that? 

Loved Electric Company, and I am now living where Zoom started.  Whatever happened to the English Language and why doesn't anyone care?  You can't watch Schoolhouse Rock these days without getting really sad ("I'm Just a Bill from Capital Hill").  PS - Bill Cosby? DOH! 

 nothing has happened to the English language that hasn't been happening for centuries.

I'm interested in idioms with origins that are so long ago that most people have no idea what they mean, and thus mishear or mispronounce him.  Like the term to "pass muster" which I heard as "pass mustard" when I was a kid.  To a kid who has no idea of what "muster" means in military terms, either phrase seems nonsensical.

then there's the term "cut the mustard" whose meaning is similar to passing muster.  I guess the nuance is that passing muster means meeting some standard of inspection, and cutting the mustard means being good at something.  As far as I'm aware, "cutting the mustard" doesn't have a clear origin story.  anyone have a history for that one?


ml1 said:

I'm interested in idioms with origins that are so long ago that most people have no idea what they mean

 In the opposite direction, I find it interesting to see idioms you'd expect to no longer make sense given their age, but which are still relevant. An example is idioms around "wires" in communications, eg having things go "over the wire".

In software people talk about wire protocols -- how data actually travels over the internet. As I understand it, the original "wires" were telegraph wires, but the idea still more or less holds even today (though fiber optic cables as "wires" does feel like it's starting to stretch the term). The Western Union building in lower Manhattan today is a major internet hub.


PVW said:

 In the opposite direction, I find it interesting to see idioms you'd expect to no longer make sense given their age, but which are still relevant. An example is idioms around "wires" in communications, eg having things go "over the wire".

In software people talk about wire protocols -- how data actually travels over the internet. As I understand it, the original "wires" were telegraph wires, but the idea still more or less holds even today (though fiber optic cables as "wires" does feel like it's starting to stretch the term). The Western Union building in lower Manhattan today is a major internet hub.

 people still refer to someone as sounding like a broken record.  Which come to think of it, never made sense because a broken record wouldn't play at all.  A scratched record would repeat itself.

and how many people still talk about "taping" video or audio?  Virtually nothing is recorded on tape any more.


We still say "dial" the telephone.    No dials anymore.  


ml1 said:

PVW said:

 In the opposite direction, I find it interesting to see idioms you'd expect to no longer make sense given their age, but which are still relevant. An example is idioms around "wires" in communications, eg having things go "over the wire".

In software people talk about wire protocols -- how data actually travels over the internet. As I understand it, the original "wires" were telegraph wires, but the idea still more or less holds even today (though fiber optic cables as "wires" does feel like it's starting to stretch the term). The Western Union building in lower Manhattan today is a major internet hub.

 people still refer to someone as sounding like a broken record.  Which come to think of it, never made sense because a broken record wouldn't play at all.  A scratched record would repeat itself.

and how many people still talk about "taping" video or audio?  Virtually nothing is recorded on tape any more.

I still hear sports announcers saying "lets go to the tape."


'Back to square one' ia an interesting one. Three possible origins, none make a lot of sense.


yahooyahoo said:

"In like Flynn."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_like_Flynn

 And the argumentative alternative, "In like Flint."


and my ultimate pet peeve -- "literally."  People misused the word so much, that the dictionary definition was changed to include "figuratively" as a meaning for "literally."  Thus there is literally no adverb in the English language to convey literalness.


-I’d take Partridge for the ‘in like Flynn’, since he wrote Use and Abuse of English (very similar to Game of Words and Words at Play - does anyone have copy of either close to hand? They’ll resolve quite a few of these questions). Taswegians would rather that Errol is the reason for the saying, but I believe the earliest spoken use has nothing to do with him. 

-I believe that broken waxen records could still be made to play (I’ll defer to marksierra on this), but the mending process ruined the recordings.

- A figure or dummy/mannequin is still sometimes referred to as a ‘guy’, a term made more prevalent since bonfires and Firecracker Nights spread around the British Commonwealth. I’m not sure if your use of ‘guys’ predates Guy Fawkes; if not, your educated young men possibly adopted it to show off. 

- Bless you for a sneeze is to ward off the plague - I thought everyone knew that???

- ‘wires’ aren’t just the caterinary of poles and physical wiring for the data; the term also referred to the press organisations collecting the info. While we say ‘cables’ aren’t relied on anymore, if the undersea fibre optic cables crossing from my hemisphere to yours are damaged there’s major disruption to international communications and banking even in these advanced days. 

-and mustard cutting. Ever watched a livestock muster?? Whether carried out on horseback, by helicopter or with the aid of trained cattle/sheep dogs, the selected livestock are truly cut from the rest of the herd that’s returned to paddock. Worth watching, and sharpening your hearing for. 


I dreamt of visiting Oysterville when I was a young girl, and soaking in this man’s wordplay. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willard_R._Espy

Happy sighs. His books are brilliant.


My favorite pet peeve when it comes to idioms is "Have a good day if I don't see you."  Will you will have a bad day if I do see you???  If, the intent is to wish someone a good day in advance of an event, why not just say so?


joan_crystal said:

My favorite pet peeve when it comes to idioms is "Have a good day if I don't see you."  Will you will have a bad day if I do see you???  If, the intent is to wish someone a good day in advance of an event, why not just say so?

 Love it! I would agree that is one of mine too.  It strikes me as both fatalistic and a bit incencere to say that to someone.  So if I have a bad day and I see you, what do we do then?  It's one of those automatic idioms that maybe has it's origins in war torn countries?  If our town was going to be bombed again, maybe I would not see you and have a really bad day?


ml1 said:

Thus there is literally no adverb in the English language to convey literalness.

Literally can still literally convey literalness, just as presently can still currently convey soonishness.

See also: actually.


DaveSchmidt said:

ml1 said:

Thus there is literally no adverb in the English language to convey literalness.

Literally can still literally convey literalness, just as presently can still currently convey soonishness.

See also: actually.


ok then, there is literally no word in the English language that conveys only literalness.  

I literally thought I could participate in one discussion without being corrected and/or nitpicked. 


ml1 said:


ok then, there is literally no word in the English language that conveys only literalness.

I literally thought I could participate in one discussion without being corrected and/or nitpicked.

Nah. All the discussions where we say something and everyone else just nods and genuflects or else we feel nitpicked, or mock-worry that our comments aren’t up to snuff (there’s another one), must happen elsewhere.

Which reminds me: Can of worms.


DaveSchmidt said:

ml1 said:


ok then, there is literally no word in the English language that conveys only literalness.

I literally thought I could participate in one discussion without being corrected and/or nitpicked.

Nah. All the discussions where we say something and everyone else just nods and genuflects or else we feel nitpicked, or mock-worry that our comments aren’t up to snuff (there’s another one), must happen elsewhere.

Which reminds me: Can of worms.

I think you can tell from the way I write that I'm not overly sensitive about much of anything. It isn't a "feeling" of being nitpicked, when it's actually nitpicking.  But hey, you do you.

grin


We still get lice outbreaks sometimes in schools.  A really difficult job is to then literally nitpick.  There are businesses where you can hire a person to nitpick your child's hair.  


Oh how FUNNY.  I sometimes speak in idioms, just to see how many I can get into a sentence.  Then there is the whole finger quote thing.  I sometimes feel like smacking someone upside the head when they use finger quotes to emphasize what they are talking about.  We have not even gone into the 'pregnant pause', where people use words like 'um' and 'ah', because their brains have not caught up their mouths and you are on hold while they figure it out.  

Can I share one of my top five ultimate pet peeves? "Truth to tell" or "Can I be honest with you" or some such drivel. No, please lie to me but make sure you couch that one in as much dishonesty as you can.

 Another one is where you ask directions and someone says to you, "From Here"?  No, from YOUR house.  

(sorry, I stole that one from a comedian)



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