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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

A Dozen Fresh from the Oven

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Hey, Bakers and Lovers of Baked Goods!

Today we’re taking a dive for our second investigation of those handy, little turns of phrases that we know like the back of our hand (<--- there’s one right there!). Sayings like these are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages. Today’s featured saying is a Baker’s Dozen. What does it mean and why should a baker’s dozen be any different than anyone else’s dozen?

Well, before we get that far, let’s first just see why the number twelve gets its own special term in the first place—because that’s all a dozen is, right? ...a grouping of twelve. Well, the answer’s pretty short and simple. Dozen is a word that comes from the French ‘douzaine’, which is used to refer to a group of twelve things. And there you have it. I told you it’d be quick.

So, when we refer to a baker’s dozen we’re typically referring to a group of 13. Why not twelve? Well, buckle up—the answer to this question will take a little more time to land.

The term came about some three to four hundred years ago. Bakers of the 16 and 1700s would actually short their customers and sell them very light breads that used less dough. People were typically very poor and had to take such deceptive measures in order to get by themselves.

The laws of medieval England, however, sought to fix this scam. It was put forward that the price of a baker’s bread must be in direct relation to the price of the wheat that was used to make it. And bakers who were found to be ‘cheating’ their customers would be subject to strict punishments such as fines or even physical harm.

No baker wanted to be caught in violation of this new law and, since many didn’t even have a scale with which to weigh the dough, started adding an extra roll to the common request of a dozen. The bonus roll should make up for any that may have come up light. So fearful were the bakers of breaking the law that sometimes they’d even make 14 rolls at the request of a dozen—you couldn’t be too careful.

So enjoy any breads that you eat today and know that it probably wasn’t overpriced! Thank goodness for the bakers of the world. And, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Why so Angry?

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Hey, Camp Folks!

An interesting thing about language is its natural lean to adopt common phrases and expressions that are eventually so sewn into the fabric of our everyday speech that we use them without even realizing it. Today, I’m launching a new Blog category that investigates the origins of those handy, little turns of phrases that we know so well. Sayings like these are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages.

For our first adage, let’s look at the phrase ‘Fly off the Handle’.

When somebody is said to fly off the handle, it means that they suddenly lost their temper and exploded in anger. They may apologize for it afterward by saying, “Sorry I flew off the handle before.” It’s not something anybody really likes to be present for. It’s intense and potentially dangerous. But what handle are we talking about here and what’s flying off of it?

This phrase started in the lumber camps during the frontier days of America. Lumberjacks would find themselves in cold climates that would force wood to contract and shrink. They’d be out chopping away at a tree with an axe. And when the wooden handle shrunk just enough to no longer keep the snug fit within the axe head, the metal blade would go flying off.

It would happen very quickly, creating a rather intense and dangerous situation. This terrifying part of those long days of work as a lumberjack has been borrowed and used metaphorically to illustrate somebody’s explosion, coining the phrase ‘fly off the handle’.   

The first written mention with the quote “He flies right off the handle for nothing,” is found in Sam Slick—the works of a Canadian judge named Thomas C. Haliburton in 1843.

So, in closing, try not to fly off the handle on anybody in your life and be careful swinging those axes! As always, thanks for reading, Folks!


- John