Posted by: Jack Henry | September 29, 2022

Editor’s Corner: More Idioms

Dear Editrix:

I want to put you on the spot. You need to be spot on.

What is this spot? Where did this spot originate? When you are put on the spot, is it the same spot that you are spot on?

I hope that you can spot an answer.

ؘ– RF

Dear Ron,

A month or so ago, you were full of questions involving idioms about shortness and cutting; this month it’s spots. I’m beginning to worry about you a bit. But last time you wrote, you inspired others to throw more idioms my way, so let’s cover them over a couple of days. Here’s our line-up for today:

  • On the spot
  • Spot-on
  • Gung ho
  • How come

on the spot: without any delay; immediately.

Example: He went to the garage sale, fell in love with a used bicycle, and bought it on the spot. That’s all fine and dandy for the basic idiomatic meaning, but when I looked for more I found this, from The Hindu webpage:

In the old days, pirates used to send the ace of spades which had a spot in the middle to people they intended to kill. Anyone who received this card knew he had been ‘put on the spot’ — he was slated to die. Even today, the ace of spades is seen as a symbol of death in many countries.

I can’t vouch for this, but I sure like the story!

spot on: (Chiefly British) Exactly correct.

Example: De’Nora brought a handbag to go with my new, blingy outfit and her choice was spot on–they worked perfectly together!

gung-ho: unthinkingly enthusiastic and eager, especially about taking part in fighting or warfare.

Example: Mo was so gung-ho about his new job, he bought a new pair of pants for each day of the week and company shirts in every color of the rainbow.

Here is the beginning of the article from Wikipedia:

Gung ho is an English term, with the current meaning of "overly enthusiastic or energetic". It originated during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) from a Chinese term, (pinyin: gōnghé; lit. ‘to work together’), short for Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (Chinese: 工業合作社; pinyin: Gōngyè Hézuòshè).

The linguist Albert Moe concluded that the term is an "Americanism that is derived from the Chinese, but its several accepted American meanings have no resemblance whatsoever to the recognized meaning in the original language" and that its "various linguistic uses, as they have developed in the United States, have been peculiar to American speech." In Chinese, concludes Moe, "this is neither a slogan nor a battle cry; it is only a name for an organization.

How come: (slang, informal, grammatically incorrect) The Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary says “how come” is “used to ask why something has happened or is true.” It is a short form of “how did it come about that…” The dictionary also says the expression is usually found in the United States and is used in casual speech. (KC – I always think of it as a wordy way to ask “Why?”)

Example: How come you and Jo-Jo never had kids?

Those are your answers for today. Until next time, when I have a few more idioms and explanations for you.

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

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