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Use Your Words

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Hey, Camp Folks!

Strap in for another investigation of those old sayings that folks around particular regions of the country as well as the world have been using for so long that they’ve forgotten where the phrase originated from in the first place. Our language is peppered with these sayings and old adages. Today, let’s hold up our magnifying glass to the phrase The Pen is Mightier than the Sword to see what it means and where it comes from.

The Meaning
Really what’s being said here is that conflicts can often be solved by intellectual means as opposed to physical fighting—and will be more effective as a result as well. Some other phrases with the same revelation are 'words are weapons’, ‘words cut deeper than a knife’, and ‘some words hurt more than swords’.

The Origin
"The pen is mightier than the sword" was first written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 as a line in his play ‘Cardinal Richelieu’ (the main villain in The Three Musketeers). A rather poetic way to say that words communicate better than violence, it makes perfect sense that this phrase was originally from a play.

The Point
It can be easy to give in to our animalistic impulse to fight when someone is doing something that upsets us, but as the heroes of countless classics teach us, the clever and cunning thinkers are the ones who come out the victor of certain issues and circumstances.

So remember, kids—use your words; they’re likely to get you the results you want out of a situation much better than resorting to violent means. Violence is never the answer. Check back in when we return for another Adage Origin Blog post in October when we’ll take a look at the phrase ‘Dead as a Doornail’. As always, thanks for reading!


- John

Don't Get Green with Envy

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Hey, Camp Folks!

Thanks for joining us once again for today’s post in which we’ll discover another Adage Origin where I deep dive all those popular phrases and sayings that everyone knows, but seldom understand why they mean what they mean. They’re so built in to our language that we may not even realize we’re using them. Today’s phrase is ‘The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence’.

People often times shorten this phrase to ‘The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side’ or even just ‘The Grass is Always Greener’, but it all means the same thing. It’s pointing out the notion we’ve all had that the next person over has it better than we do—that, maybe under a different set of circumstances, our life could be a little nicer (or a lot nicer). The phrase is most commonly used to remind people that this is never really the case and just a notion in their head.

The origins of some other phrases can be rather unsure as to the time it was coined and who coined it. This one, however, was written in 1545 by a man named Erasmus of Rotterdam in England. But he didn’t write ‘The grass is always greener…’. No. He wrote that “The corne in an other mans ground semeth euer more fertyll and plentifull then doth oure own.”

Translated to our current speech, it would say, “The corn in another man’s ground seems ever more fertile and plentiful than our own does.” But what’s this guy talking about corn for? The phrase is about grass, isn’t it? Well, it’s likely that the corn was replaced with grass to make the saying more universal. Not everyone grows corn. Almost everyone has at least a little bit of grass.

Interestingly enough, corn (which is typically considered a vegetable) is actually a grain with the botanical classification of a grass. So corn is a grass anyhow. Both are also green, like the color associated with envy which could have also been an influential element when the final version of this phrase was crafted.

And, as I already mentioned, this phrase is most often used as a reminder for people to be grateful for the things they have. Be grateful for everything in your life including your grass (and corn if you have it) and, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

It's a

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Hey, Language Lovers!

We all know those old sayings and turns of phrases. You probably use them every day. These expressions, or adages, have become so widespread and frequently used that they’ve actually blended right into our typical conversations. You likely use these old sayings without even realizing it. In June, I did some digging on the phrase ‘Keep it Up’, which I was stunned to learn was a phrase with its own origin story and not just…three words. Check out that post right here.

Today we’re examining the origin of the phrase ‘Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth’. Simply put, this phrase means that you ought to be grateful when you’re given a gift. If your older brother gives you a watch, don’t scoff at the brand and mention that it’s not the color you’d prefer.

This phrase’s origin just about covers itself right there in the adage. Its origin is incredibly literal, yet I still thought a little explanation might help people understand why we use this outdated scenario to remind folks to show gratitude when being presented with a gift.

Of course, this phrase harkens back to a time when horses were commonly traded, purchased, and gifted to people. And since horses’ gums significantly recede with age, it’s a common way to know what a horse is worth by looking at how long their teeth are. Being gifted a horse back in the day and immediately checking out its mouth was the equivalent to today’s checking brand and wishing for a different color.

A bonus adage for today is ‘Long in the Tooth’. Less commonly-used, to say someone is getting long in the tooth is to say they’re getting up there in age.

So folks, in conclusion, be appreciative and show your gratitude when you receive gifts from your parents, grandparents, siblings, along with any other family members and friends. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (and don’t tell anyone that they’re getting long in the tooth). Enjoy another adage origin Blog post from the past by clicking right here. And, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Keep WHAT Up?

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Hey, Linguists!

You know, what’s interesting about language is its natural lean to adopt common phrases and expressions that eventually get so sewn into the fabric of our everyday speech that we use them without even realizing it. For example, ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ originated from lumberjacks losing their axeheads as they got loose and flew off. You can read more about that right here. But for today’s Blog post we’re going to keep it up.

Today we’re examining the origin of the phrase ‘Keep it Up’. This one really surprises me. I would have assumed this was just a natural shorthand for ‘keep up the good work’. You tell someone this as encouragement for them to continue doing something. Or it’s a sarcastic warning a parent might use with a child who’s trying their patience, ‘keep it up’.

I expected the ‘it’ in ‘Keep it Up’ was simply referring to the job at hand, however, the origin of this saying is too literal for it to be so general. The ‘It’ refers to the shuttlecock of Badminton. 

This phrase began in the 17th Century and it’s no coincidence that Badminton was being popularized in England at just the same time. The object of the sport is to keep a feathered ball or ‘shuttlecock’ from hitting the ground. Spectators of this intriguing sport would start to cheer on the players during a series of intense volleys back and forth by calling out, “Keep it up! Keep it up!”

You can learn more about Badminton from a recent Blog post I wrote when you click right here.

I wish you all the encouragement you may need to keep up the good work you’ve been doing and don’t drop the…shuttlecock. Hope you enjoyed learning the origin of this old phrase today. And, as always, thanks for reading, Camp Fans!


- John

Ropes in our Scopes

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Hey, Camp Fans!

There’s such an abundance of phrases and old sayings that are so woven into our everyday speech that, often enough, we won’t even realize it when we’re using them. These sayings are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages. Today’s featured saying is ‘Showing the Ropes’. When we say to show someone the ropes, we mean to familiarize them with the way things are done at a certain place.

New staff members at a summer camp are sure to be ‘shown the ropes’—and we’re not talking about the Ropes Course here. We’re talking a tour of the camp so newcomers are acquainted with the lay of the land and what responsibilities fall onto them during the camp season.

But what do ropes have to do with familiarizing people with layout and procedural information? Let’s start digging for the origin of today’s adage:

Many folks say that this adage most likely originated around the mid-1600s with maritime jargon as sailors would show newbies how to handle literal ropes that were used for operating the ship and the ship’s sails—an essential skill as you can imagine while out at sea.

Sailors raise and lower a ship’s sails by using ropes. They have a very specific way that the ropes are supposed to be tied to different parts of the boat. And sailors would use different knots for different purposes.

This all makes good, logical sense, however, there are some who object to this conclusion, proposing that the phrase was started, not in the nautical world, but on the stage of the theater. Stagehands would pull on ropes to open and close the stage curtains for the beginning and ending of each act. Both are possible origins, but people tend to associate the saying as a nautical turn of phrase.

Whatever ropes you may be shown in the future, enjoy a deeper understanding of why we say this in our cultural vernacular and, as always, thanks for reading!


- John