Thursday, July 17, 2008


Linguist “Chews The Fat” About Expressions

EUGENE, Ore. (Wireless Flash - FlashNews) – American expressions really take the cake.

Just ask linguist Rosemarie Ostler, who’s just penned Let’s Talk Turkey: The Stories Behind America’s Favorite Expressions (Prometheus).

Ostler says her favorite metaphors are Western-themed ones such as “Bite the dust” because they’ve been around longer than people think.

“Bite the dust” has appeared in forms like “bite the bloody sand” and “lick the dust” in ancient works like Homer’s Iliad and the King James Bible.

“Keep the ball rolling” is an interesting phrase, since it’s actually derived from the rules of an old Colonial ball game called “shinny.”

“Out in left field” refers to extreme opinions, but the metaphor can be traced to the shape of early ballparks, where left field went deeper and put players further away from the center of the baseball diamond.

While many expressions come from politics and sports, there’s one that’s always stumped Ostler: “Go the whole nine yards.”

She believes it’s a military term from the Vietnam War era, but hasn’t found any conclusive evidence.

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