Posted by: episystechpubs | November 24, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Malaphor Contest

Hello everyone! My coworker Jane sent me a new term, some examples of this term, and a great suggestion. Let’s get right to it!

The word of the day is malaphor. The website ThoughtCo defines a malaphor as “…an informal term for a mixture of two aphorisms, idioms, or clichés (such as "We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it"). Another name for the term is “an idiom blend.

Let’s have a look at some malaphors from ThoughtCo and then from elsewhere.

  • You hit the nail right on the nose.
  • I can read him like the back of my book.
  • We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.
  • It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.
  • He’s burning the midnight oil from both ends.
  • It sticks out like a sore throat.

And from Richard Lederer:

  • It’s like looking for a needle in a hayride.
  • It’s time to swallow the bullet.
  • It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.
  • That guy’s out to butter his own nest.

Here are some other ones from The Big List of Malaphors:

  • The table is on the other foot now.
  • The apple doesn’t fall from the scene of the crime.
  • Not the sharpest egg in the drawer.
  • If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, wear it.
  • You’ve buttered your bread, and now you’ve got to lie in it.
  • Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, give a man a rod, and he’ll look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • He’s not the sharpest cookie in the drawer.
  • The lights are on, but there is no-one at the wheel.
  • Don’t count your chickens over spilled milk.
  • You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it float.

And now, for those of you who are guilty of speaking in malaphors or for those of you just ready for the challenge of making up your own mixes…I have a contest for you! I hereby invite our clients, JHA employees, former employees, and friends (in the United States)—to participate. Between now and December 8, 2020, send me your malaphors that aren’t already on the lists here. (And though I am not sure of any naughty idioms, I ask that you keep your submissions clean enough for G-rated readers.)

I’ll share the submissions with everyone, and I’ll pick two winners—the person with the best, funniest malaphor, and a random pick from the submitters. The two winners will receive their own copy of He Smokes Like a Fish and Other Malaphors as your prize!

If I don’t receive any submissions, then you can just go on your merry way and forget about malaphors. Thank you, Jane, and good luck to everyone!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 19, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Fair to Middlin’

Dear Editrix,

As a teenager in the ‘90s, when I asked older people, “How are you?” a frequent response was “fair to middling.” The other day I used the phrase myself and thought, “Shoot, I just got old!” Do you know how this phrase came to mean “OK”? And why only old people use it?

Sincerely,

Young at Heart

Dear Young at Heart,

What an interesting question. I thought I found a short, sweet response from the Grammarist, but then I found another article that expanded on the phrase, and I couldn’t choose between the two. Here is the shorter response, from the Grammarist, which tells you how old it is (but not why older folks like to use the phrase), what it means, a bit of its history, and how it is sometimes misheard:

Fair to middling describes something that is average or only slightly above average. The term is an American phrase, used as early as the 1820s. The term fair to middling originally referred to gradations of quality in cotton, sheep, and other farm goods. Such goods may be designated into categories such as fine, good, fair, middling and poor. By the 1860s the phrase fair to middling evolved into common speech to mean something average or slightly above average.

Fair to midland is a mondegreen, which is a misheard version of a phrase, saying, lyric, poetic phrase, or slogan. Some speculate that the phrase began as a joke concerning the English Midlands or Midland, Texas. It is most likely simply a mishearing of the word middling, especially when pronounced as “middlin’.”

This second article expands on the information from the Grammarist and gives it a bit of a Texas twist. In honor of all the Texans that work at JHA, I wanted to provide the opportunity to read this story from Texas Monthly. Despite my trimming, it is a bit lengthy, but it is an interesting read if you have a couple of extra minutes. Enjoy!

Decades ago, when my dad and I were Texans exiled in Nashville, I would often see him tell people he was “fair to middlin’” after people would inquire about his general well-being. When asked what he meant, he’d explain, “Oh, it’s an old Texan expression to describe cotton. It means ‘doing pretty well.’”

Maybe it wasn’t my imagination. Back before the sale of steers and oil took over the Texas economy, Texas was the jewel in the crown of the cotton states, and much of our vernacular stemmed from the cotton patch….

While the saying originates in a British phrase, “fair to middlin’” unequivocally is a cotton patch term that took root in Texas. Thanks to progressive metal bands from northeast Texas and a Dwight Yoakam single, Texans tricked the Brits into accepting our own bastardized remaking—“fair to Midland”—as their own.

“Fair,” in this sense, means top-of-the-line, in the old British sense of “a maiden so fair” or Shakespeare’s “Happy the parents of so fair a child!” But as applied to cotton, the term is of relatively recent (at least post-Revolutionary War) vintage. Most of the cotton harvested and exported in the Southern states in the nineteenth century was trundled down to the coast and loaded up in ports like Galveston, New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, and Savannah and sent to Liverpool, where it was distributed to “dark Satanic mills” across Lancashire, in northwestern England.

In Liverpool around 1800, the cotton brokers came up with the Liverpool Classification, a grading system for the raw material’s quality. The system was quoted in American newspapers up until the Civil War, acting as a nineteenth-century NASDAQ for Southern cotton farmers.

In 1828, per a Natchez, Mississippi newspaper, the Liverpool Classification ranged in quality from “ordinary and middling” to “middling to fair” to “fair to good fair” to “good and fine.” That highest grade denoted a supreme product that evidently was so rare, I could find no record of sale for such finely-wrought white gold in the accounts of several trading sessions.

While most of those adjectives stuck around in the vernacular, the Liverpool Classification was never widely embraced and had fallen out of favor by the time of the Civil War.

And at some point — it’s hard to pinpoint when — people on both sides of the pond started switching “middling fair” to “fair to middling” (in the U.K.) and “fair to middlin’” in the South and Texas. It also vaulted out of the cottonfields and came to be used to describe many things — you could be feeling “fair to middlin” about life in general, or you could look out the window and see that the weather was much the same.

Somewhere along the way, the phrase lost its connotation for top-grade quality. Today, some see it akin to the more commonly American “can’t complain,” or perhaps the French “comme ci, comme ça.” For younger folks, perhaps it’s been replaced by “meh.”

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 17, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Under the Weather

Dear Editrix,

I have heard the phrase “under the weather” all my life and I know it typically means that someone is not feeling well. Are there any other meanings that differ and where did the phrase originate?

Sincerely,

Christy

Dear Christy,

Indeed, the term “under the weather” is an English phrase that means someone is feeling sick. I didn’t find any different meanings for the idiom, but I did find the origin.

Several sites provided a similar answer about its history, but I liked the one from the Farmers’ Almanac the best because they said they love learning phrases about the weather. It also references Richard Lederer, whose articles I share with y’all now and then.

Linguist Richard Lederer tells us that “under the weather,” meaning, feeling ill, comes from the language of sailors.

On the high seas when the wind would start to blow hard and the water became rough, crewmen and travelers would go below deck and down to their cabins to ride out the storm and avoid becoming seasick. In this way they literally retreat to a location “under the weather.”

In digging a little further, we find out more. According to Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions, by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey, the term in its entirety is “under the weather bow;” they tell us the weather bow is “the side [of the ship] upon which all the rotten weather is blowing.”

I hope that you have a great day and that you stay above the weather!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 12, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Cobalt

Today’s Editor’s Corner is dedicated to my good friend Edith, who I miss horribly even though she just lives about ½ mile from us. Get away ye evil COVID! We miss our friends!

I have, again, another excerpt from Even-Steven and Fair and Square: More Stories Behind the Words by Morton S. Freeman. Today’s passage is about cobalt.

Cobalt is a hard, brittle metallic element resembling nickel and iron in appearance. In German, the name Kobolt meant an underground goblin, “a silver stealer,” whose habitat was the veins in silver ore.

Scientists in the Middle Ages determined that arsenic found in cobalt-containing ores could cause ulceration of the feet and hands of miners. The unlearned people of that time went a step further. They contended that the gnome Kobalt (a variant spelling) was found in cobalt and that its proximity to silver ores harmed them. How wrong that folk belief was! Today cobalt appears in the Periodic Table of the Elements—atomic number 27—a noninjurious element that happily has proved useful to mankind in many ways.

The five-cent coin, commonly called a nickel and made of nickel and copper alloy, also was named after a goblin, the German Nickel from Nicolaus, similar to the English Old Nick for “Devil.” The Germans called the copper-colored nickel Kupfernickel, meaning “fool’s copper,” a metal much less valuable than copper. The substitution of the cheap metal for the valuable copper in the ore was attributed to the demonic maliciousness of sprites. Apparently, minerology is just a stone’s throw from German mythology.

Cobalt, the element

But why do we refer to the brilliant blue hue as cobalt blue, if the element is silver? This is not part of the story of mythology, but I had to find the answer. The color of cobalt blue is made from mixing a version of the element with alumina and roasted at a high temperature. The result is a beautiful blue, used in painting, ceramics, frescoes, and other art. (For the short story on cobalt blue, read here.)

Cobalt blue

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 10, 2020

Recall: Editor’s Corner: Bootleggers

Maggie Vela would like to recall the message, “Editor’s Corner: Bootleggers”.

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 10, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Bootleggers

Hello Lonnie,

Can you do 9:30 today?

Maggie Vela

From: Kara Church <KChurch@jackhenry.com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2020 8:18 AM
To: Kara Church <KChurch@jackhenry.com>
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Subject: Editor’s Corner: Bootleggers

I was just browsing through the book Even-Steven and Fair and Square: More Stories Behind the Words by Morton S. Freeman, and I came upon an interesting entry about bootleggers. As I have mentioned before, though, I sometimes end up digging into something and I end up down a rabbit hole. Welcome to today’s journey.

As far as Mr. Freeman’s definition for bootlegger, he has this to say:

Bootlegger is an odd name for a booze peddler. The name originally was applied to those who trafficked in illegal liquor by smuggling, especially among the (indigenous Americans), flasks of firewater in the legs of their boots, a practice designed to conceal the illicit merchandise from government agents. With time, the term bootlegger came to be applied to distributors of illegal booze, whether delivered by hand or by truck or even left at a convenient place. No longer did a bootlegger operate through his boots. Remember the story of the station master who, during Prohibition, called up the Greek professor and said: “Professor, you’d better get down to the station fast because your package of books is leaking all over the platform.”

I found that interesting, but I was surprised at the brevity of the entry. And then, because they’re related by alcohol and illegality, I thought about the word speakeasy. Here is where my path followed the little white rabbit into the internet hole and went hopping.

First, I thought I’d check the definition of speakeasy with one of my favorite sites, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

speakeasy

"unlicensed saloon," 1889 (in the New York "Voice"), from verbal phrase, from speak (v.) + easy (adv.); so called from the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police and neighbors. The word gained wide currency in U.S. during Prohibition (1920-1932). In early 19c. Irish and British dialect, a speak softly shop meant "smuggler’s den."

My temptation was to go even further into my interests, which include architecture and history, but I can’t get too much further off track. I’ve heard tell of cool, hidden speakeasy entryways here in America, and I did a quick search to find an example of one in general. I found one in New York (an original Prohibition speakeasy, still in use) and a modern entrance from Shanghai.

New York water tower speakeasy

Shanghai Coke machine entrance to a modern speakeasy

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 10, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Bootleggers

I was just browsing through the book Even-Steven and Fair and Square: More Stories Behind the Words by Morton S. Freeman, and I came upon an interesting entry about bootleggers. As I have mentioned before, though, I sometimes end up digging into something and I end up down a rabbit hole. Welcome to today’s journey.

As far as Mr. Freeman’s definition for bootlegger, he has this to say:

Bootlegger is an odd name for a booze peddler. The name originally was applied to those who trafficked in illegal liquor by smuggling, especially among the (indigenous Americans), flasks of firewater in the legs of their boots, a practice designed to conceal the illicit merchandise from government agents. With time, the term bootlegger came to be applied to distributors of illegal booze, whether delivered by hand or by truck or even left at a convenient place. No longer did a bootlegger operate through his boots. Remember the story of the station master who, during Prohibition, called up the Greek professor and said: “Professor, you’d better get down to the station fast because your package of books is leaking all over the platform.”

I found that interesting, but I was surprised at the brevity of the entry. And then, because they’re related by alcohol and illegality, I thought about the word speakeasy. Here is where my path followed the little white rabbit into the internet hole and went hopping.

First, I thought I’d check the definition of speakeasy with one of my favorite sites, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

speakeasy

"unlicensed saloon," 1889 (in the New York "Voice"), from verbal phrase, from speak (v.) + easy (adv.); so called from the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police and neighbors. The word gained wide currency in U.S. during Prohibition (1920-1932). In early 19c. Irish and British dialect, a speak softly shop meant "smuggler’s den."

My temptation was to go even further into my interests, which include architecture and history, but I can’t get too much further off track. I’ve heard tell of cool, hidden speakeasy entryways here in America, and I did a quick search to find an example of one in general. I found one in New York (an original Prohibition speakeasy, still in use) and a modern entrance from Shanghai.

New York water tower speakeasy

Shanghai Coke machine entrance to a modern speakeasy

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | November 5, 2020

Editor’s Corner: It Is I, Your Friendly Editor

Good morning, everyone!

I’ve talked to a few people about whether it is correct to say, “It is me” or “It is I.” While writing this email, I took a trip down memory lane. I remember thinking about this years ago while my son and I were watching Captain Vegetable sing, “It is I, Captain Vegetable” on Sesame Street.

A lot of people incorrectly say, “It is me.” In fact, I would guess that more people say “It is me” than say “It is I.” So, what’s the scoop?

While me and I are both pronouns that we use to talk about ourselves, me is an object pronoun and I is a subject pronoun.

Let’s talk first about the object pronouns: me, her, him,and them. Object pronouns receive an action—something happens to them. Look at the following examples:

  • Give the money to me.
  • They awarded her the medal of honor.
  • When are you finally going to tell him the truth?
  • We don’t want the award to go to them.

In all the cases above, it probably seems obvious that you would use the highlighted object pronouns. Try substituting subject pronouns I, she, he,and they (respectively). Intuitively, you know it’s wrong.

Now, here are some examples of correctly used subject pronouns. Unlike object pronouns, which receive an action, subject pronouns perform the action:

  • I want even more money.
  • Do you think she will accept the medal in person?
  • I don’t think he can handle the truth.
  • They left early to watch the final episode of Stranger Things.

Those examples probably seem obvious too. So why does “It is I” seem wrong? It’s simply because of many years of incorrect usage. We’ve been hearing the incorrect phrase so long and so often that it sounds right.

Now, stick with me—there’s an easy way to determine that “It is me” is wrong. If “It is me” were correct, then we’d also be able to turn that around and say, “Me is it,” but that’s definitely not right—we’d say, “I am it.” So, that tells us that we need the subject pronoun I rather than the object pronoun me. Are you still with me?

The same goes for “This is she” vs. “This is her.” Since we would say “She is it” rather than “Her is it,” we know we need to use the subject pronoun she.

I think I’ve beaten this horseradish into a lather. Enjoy the rest of your day, and eat your vegetables!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Posted by: episystechpubs | November 3, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Snuff

Dear Editrix,

I know what snuff is, and what “up to snuff” means, but where did the terms come from?

Sincerely,

Curious in San Diego

Good morning, Curious!

This is definitely a great word to look into. When I hear “snuff,” I think of old Western films, where Snippy or Whiskey Pete, the town drunk, is snorting “snuff.” But it has so many different definitions. Here are a few, condensed definitions (from Merriam-Webster):

Verb: snuff

1a: to crop the snuff of (a candle) by pinching or by the use of snuffers so as to brighten the light

1b: to extinguish by or as if by the use of snuffers: make extinct: put an end to: to kill, usually used with out

1c: to draw in forcibly through the nostrils

2: to perceive or detect by smelling: scent, smell

3: to sniff at in order to examine—used of an animal

4: to lightly buff (the grain side of leather) so as to remove grain imperfections

Noun: snuff

1: the charred part of a candlewick

2: the act of snuffing; sniffing, inhalation

2a: a preparation of pulverized tobacco to be chewed, placed against the gums, or inhaled through the nostrils [KC – This is what I’ve usually heard snuff referring to.]

2b: the amount of snuff taken at one time: pinch

As for the phrase, “up to snuff,” here is the explanation from our buddies at the Grammarist:

To be of good quality or up to someone’s required standards. It is also a general idiom meaning in good health. The phrase is never hyphenated unless used as a modifier (e.g., an up-to-snuff device).

Snuff was powdered tobacco inhaled through the nose. The phrase up to snuff comes from a playwright in the 1800s. He used it to describe someone as knowing what is going on or being well-informed or ‘in the know’.

Over time the definition changed and now it more closely resembles the phrase up to scratch. This means for something to meet a particular standard or requirement.

The scratch comes from marking the ground for competitions, either a line for a race or a circle for two fighters. [KC – Discussed

here
in Editor’s Corner.]

It is interesting that, with all the different definitions, the use of the phrase comes simply from an author who coined the term while writing a play. I was waiting for an exciting evolution of the term from the snuff going up the nose of Whiskey Pete in some dusty Western film!

Candle snuffer

Fancy snuff box

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/

Posted by: episystechpubs | October 29, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Pumpkins, Candy, and Halloween

Hello there! Today I have “borrowed” an entire article from Daily Writing Tips. I thought this information was too interesting to keep to myself!

jack-o’-lantern
Why a “jack”-o’-lantern” and not some other given name?

Ever since the Middle Ages, a diminutive of the perennially popular man’s name John has been Jack. Because of the ubiquity of the name, it came to stand for any man in general, finding its way into a variety of expressions such as jack-of-all-trades, and jack-in-the-box.

Before jack-o’-lantern, we had jack-with-the-Lantern (1663), meaning, “night watchman.”

In addition to its literal meaning of “man carrying a lantern,” jack-o’-lantern was used to refer to the ignis fatuus or will-o’-the-wisp. Its most common meaning nowadays is “a hollowed vegetable carved with a face and lighted with a candle placed inside.” In the US, the pumpkin is the vegetable of choice, but in Ireland, turnips are used.

trick or treat
The earliest documented use of the term “trick or treat” dates from 1927, in a Canadian publication, but the custom of demanding food treats on October 31 originated in the pagan Celtic past.

In the Celtic calendar, October 31 was the last day of autumn. November 1 was the day the cattle were brought in to shelter for the winter. The time was marked by the fire festival Samhain, observing a liminal time when a weakened boundary between this world and the other permitted spirits, those of fairies and of the dead, to cross. People left gifts of food and drink outside for them. In time, the practice shifted from leaving food outside for the spirits to giving it to people who went from door to door. According to an article in the Sun, young people in Scotland and Ireland “would visit their neighbors’ house and sing a song, recite a poem or perform another sort of ‘trick’ before receiving a treat of nuts, fruit or coins.” In the Middle Ages, poor people would visit the houses of the rich to receive pastries in exchange for praying for the homeowners’ dead relations.

The noun is trick-or-treating.

Halloween
The word is a shortening of All-Hallow-Even, the eve of the Christian festival of All Hallows, in remembrance of all departed saints. Originally, the Christian feast was held in May, but was moved to November in the eighth century, where it subsumed the still-popular pagan festival.

Hallow derives from the Old English word for holy. As a verb, hallow means, “to make holy.” Lincoln uses the word in the Gettysburg Address: “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”

Happy (almost) Halloween!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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