Glimpse of Yesteryear
By Jacquie Foote
Idioms, or verbal expressions that arent meant to be taken literally, develop for specific reasons and after the reason is no more, the idiom still exists, but the meaning is modified. For example, loaded for bear quite literally meant that the shot one loaded into a gun was appropriate to bring a large animal … like a bear … down. Now, this idiom means that one is ready to take on a big problem or adversary.
Early Geaugans already used the phrase, have a skeleton in your closet. Could it be that this idiom started because of real skeletons? Prior to 1832, the use of corpses for medical research was not allowed. It is said that in Elizabethan England, doctors would keep the illegally held skeletons they used for teaching concealed in cupboards or closets. Concealed skeletons, usually of unwanted infants, were occasionally found walled-up in houses.
In 1845, Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray referred to a skeleton in every house and skeletons in closets. It is not sure whether he was referring to actual skeletons or secrets. The idiom means one has a secret he or she tries to keep hidden.
One idiom the early settlers here did not use was wrong side of the tracks, meaning to come from or be of a lower class or to live in a disadvantaged area. This saying developed because in the first half of the 1800s, train tracks often divided a town into rich and poor sections. The rich people lived on the side of the track where, because of prevailing winds, the smoke from the trains did not blow and the poor lived on the wrong side of the tracks, where the smoke did blow. This was also considered the dangerous side.
An even more recent addition to the American idiom world is put a sock in it, meaning to be quiet. It is thought that this idiom was based on really putting a sock in whatever was causing the noise, thus quieting it down. There are suggestions that it may have been the horn of an early gramophone.
The earliest example of put a sock in it in print is a definition of the idiom in the weekly literary review, The Athenaeum 1919: “The expression Put a sock in it, meaning ‘Leave off talking, singing or shouting. The fact that an erudite publication saw fit to define the term suggests it was recently coined in 1919.
For information on the events at the Geauga County Historical Society’s Burton Century Village Museum, call 440-834-1492 or visit www.geaugahistorical.org.
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