By Terri Schlichenmeyer, November 2015 Web Exclusive.
From the time you were old enough to communicate, you took to words like a duck to water. You’ve verbally hammed it up ever since.
Yes, it’s probably driven your friends and family batty, all this talk-talk-talk of yours. And yes, there are times when what you say is a bunch of bull, but you’re not trying to start a beef. You’re just having fun because, as in the new book Holy Cow! by Boze Hadleigh, language isn’t for the birds.
No doubt about it, we humans love our animals. We love them so much that we sprinkle references to them in our daily conversation, mostly without even thinking about it. Our shaggy dog stories are sometimes just that – but where did those old sayings, clichés, discouraging words and tender nicknames come from?
The truth, as Hadleigh shows, is an interesting, yet convoluted, tail.
In many cases, animalistic words came about as description: Oxford, England, for instance, was once a place where oxen forded a river. Tell someone there’s a dogleg in the road, and they’ll know what you’re saying – plus, a road like that might make them sick as a dog.
And then there are the words that really make you scratch your head: Great Britain’s hedgehog pudding isn’t made of the spiny mammals, and dogs and monkeys are much more likely to ape you than is a copyCAT. And about that famed cat curiosity? It might’ve been targeted at another type of animal.
Or, let’s say somebody’s made you mad. Calling him a dog goes back many years – perhaps back into the mid-1800s when “the only good dog was a useful dog.” The “word that rhymes with witch” has always been directed at women; its first near-appearance in film was in 1939, and that was pretty scandalous. Call someone a rat and, well, that’s rather self-explanatory.
The modern street use of the word “heifer” is pretty wrong, unless you’re in a barn.
There really is more than one way to skin a cat (catFISH, that is). A sawhorse and a clotheshorse are similar in origin. And if you think a kitty really has nine lives, well doggone it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Ahh, language lovers. I can practically hear you howling for this book now – and for good reason. Like a dog with a bone, you won’t want to let Holy Cow! go.
Starting with canines and ending with birds, bees and bugs, author Boze Hadleigh goes whole hog in explaining where many of our favorite expressions originated. But this book isn’t just horseplay – Hadleigh includes words that are archaic (but need resurrection), as well as localisms and words you’ll want to add to your vocabulary. That all adds up to fun that’s useful and, for dyed-in-the-wool linguists, it’s a golden egg.
So let’s talk turkey: If it’s been a dog’s age since you last read a book about language, it’s time you find this one. You won’t sound hackneyed or feel like a dinosaur with Holy Cow! Naw, this book is the cat’s meow.