Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spilling the Beans on the Cat's Pajamas-Judy Parkinson

Popular Expressions-What They Mean and How We Got Them

This is one of the new titles from Reader's Digest's Blackboard Books series, and is a reference book for words and language. Principally, it covers all the idioms and phrases that are unique to English, the sort of cliche way things are said and how they became verbal shorthand.  Until you read the book, you may not realize just how popular phrases came into use, but this book clears up the history of both common and unusual ones:

  • Did you know that the phrase "fifteen minutes of fame" originated with Andy Warhol?
  • Or that the expression "here's mud in your eye!" originates with either horse racing or Jesus curing a blind man?
  • Austin Powers "not my bag, baby" refers to early jazz when a person's interpretation of music was their signature style, their 'bag'?
  • "Shake a leg" comes from a naval wake-up call?  "Women were allowed to sleep onboard ship when the navy was in port.  At the cry of "shake a leg", the occupant of a hammock had to show their leg. If it was hairy, they had to get up and work.  If not, the woman could stay and sleep in.  You needed to know that! 
  • Or that "to a T" refers to the measurement of a drafter, using a T-square to keep lines accurate?
This is a fun book, done in an alphabetical format by phrase.  Some of the etymology goes back centuries, others are fairly new.  In any case, it would be a great reference for a student or especially someone learning English and who may be unfamiliar with such usage.

Special thanks to Julie Harabedian from FSB Associates for the Review Copy.


  1. What a great reference book, definitely one for the home library.

  2. What a unique title. I would have never guessed that this book was a reference book. Thanks for the review Amy. I can always use one of this.

  3. I know they say " it's better to loose of your beans then your bag then to have no bag for your beans"