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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Its origin is incredibly literal, yet I still thought a little explanation might help people understand why we use this outdated scenario to remind folks to show gratitude when being presented with a gift.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

Your Thumb's Sticking Out

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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 ‘Stick Out like a Sore Thumb’. When we say describe something as sticking out like a sore thumb, we mean that it is clearly out of place with the rest of its surroundings.

A similar saying that conveys the same message will refers to something showing up ‘Like a mustard spot in a coal mine’ as a bright yellow color is easy to detect against the black of coal. A bright yellow on black makes sense that it would really stand out. But what’s this business about a sore thumb? I never thought of a sore thumb as something particularly noteworthy.

So how did it find its place in such a commonly-used expression? Let’s start digging for the origin of today’s adage:

Folks have been using this phrase since at least the 1500s, but probably much further back than that. The saying does indeed come from the experience of a literal sore thumb and when your opposable digit has sustained some sort of injury, the bandage wrapped around your thumb tends to stick out—calling attention to itself like a flying being flown.

Really, you could probably say the same thing about any limb in a cast or significant bandaging, but for whatever reason, it was a ‘sore thumb’ that stuck. Well wishes to all of you that you’ll keep your thumbs and other limbs from requiring bandages, sticking out themselves, and forcing a thumbs up or hitchhiking gesture. I hope you don’t stick out. And, as always, thanks for reading, Camp Fans!


- John

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

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Hey, Camp Folks!

We’re studying all those turns of phrases and old sayings that are woven so deeply into our language that we often times don’t even realize that we’re using one when we do. These sort of sayings are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages. Today’s featured saying is ‘A Horse Apiece’. What are the horses and the pieces being referenced here?

We’re based in northwestern Wisconsin here at Everything Summer Camp and, apparently, so is this adage. For whatever reason, its usage has remained contained to the state of Wisconsin along with parts the Upper Peninsula. We’ll look into that more in just a little bit, but first—

What does this adage mean? It’s really just a way of saying that there’s essentially no difference between a couple options. If someone asked if it was a quicker drive to airport over the bridge or down Starr Ave. and both routes are a five-minute drive, you could reply, ‘It’s a horse apiece’. A synonymous phrase is ‘Six of one and a half dozen of the other’ (like the title of this post). Same difference.

 Let’s start digging for the origin of today’s adage:

The likeliest origin of this phrase comes from old dice games (back sometime in the 1800s). While there is an old dice game called ‘Horse’, the phrase ‘A Horse Apiece’ was used in a wide variety of games. It was used to refer to a situation when two players are throwing for the best two out of three. When the first two throws result in a tie, then it was said that you were to have a horse apiece. A predecessor to this phrase is an even more basic version of it: ‘a horse and a horse’.

These dice games and the phrases that come along with them were popular in the United Kingdom and probably more widespread than it is today. So why is this phrase so strongly associated with Wisconsinites in the current day? Oddly enough, the phrase seems to have simply died off in most other places and stuck in this particular part of country.

I would love to hear more people start using this phrase outside of Wisconsin—it’s a great way to quickly relay that there’s no difference between two possibilities. As always, thanks for reading, Camp Fans!


- John