Friday, August 26, 2011

RE: Oh, Fiddlesticks! Humor about outmoded expressions known as minced oaths

Oh, fiddlesticks!

We are a perpetually surprised species. Attesting to this fact is the sheer volume of astonished utterances we boast in our distinctly American lexicon and language.

No doubt, many of these outmoded expressions now reside in the Smithsonian of Jargon.
We have always been willing to travel quite a piece, euphemistically, in order to avoid objectionable words or terms, rather than giving voice to the blasphemous ones that erupt rather more naturally.

Since the Crusades we have made every effort NOT to take the big guy’s name in vain, resulting in the accumulation of a runneth-over treasure trove of idioms that are not so much logical as plentiful. These terms are known as minced oaths.

I’m sort of a closet linguist and, believe you-me, this is not the kind of closet anyone wants to see me step out of any time soon. Be that as it may, because of this fact (the linguist part, not the closet part), my observational pursuits stretch far beyond what folks are doing and well into what they are saying and how they are saying it.

Word count and my ability to sustain my own attention span necessitated that I only cover three minced oaths this time around.

Last uttered by the last Confederate widow when she learned her husband’s pension would continue to be issued in Confederate currency, which was no longer legal tender, at least on this side of the Mason-Dixon line.
What I thought was the origin.
Fiddles were once played with sticks.
How I fared.
I was almost right.
What seems to be accepted truth about the origin.
There appears to be a wee bit of controversy here. Some folks are like-minded with yours truly, asserting that fiddles were played with sticks, while the oppositionally inclined non-fiddle-lovers say fiddling itself is nonsense; therefore, the saying is synonymous with “that’s nonsense.” Of course, the Fiddle Players for Change in the World through String Instruments are all up in arms, if not sticks.

Last uttered by the last World I veteran when he figured out he had been collecting his pension for longer than all of America’s combined years at war.
What I thought was the origin.
I was pulling for a Betsy Ross connection.
How I fared.
I could be right or I could not be right.
What seems to be accepted truth about the origin.
There are countless derivatives for this one, including Heavens to Murgatroyd, my heavens, for heaven’s sake, and heaven help me, but the provenance of the phrase has baffled linguists and bored laymen for a couple of centuries. Two consistent explanations offered up are that it’s a reference to the rifle “Old Betsy,” which has offended every young Betsy who ever lived, and the infamous Betty Ross flag lore supported by her relatives, rather than historical accuracy.

Last uttered by Walt Disney when he realized he’d given Mickey Mouse a girlfriend, but neglected to do the same for Jiminy Cricket.
What I thought was the origin.
Though the peanut and the cricket shared the same clothing designer, the peanut always scared me while a childhood visit to Disneyland established the cricket as a favorite of mine. In short, I knew who Jiminy was.
How I fared.
Partial success on this one. I was spot on knowing from whence the cricket came, but I had never made the association with Jiminy Cricket’s initials of J.C. and why he would then be an apt substitution for a colorful, though potentially sacrilegious interjection.
What seems to be accepted truth about the origin.
You need to be a certain age to even remember anyone bellowing, “Jiminy Cricket!” let alone know who – or what – Jiminy was. However, my friend Wikipedia has provided me with a solid frame of reference. As it turns out, Jiminy was created by one dude for his appearance in the children's book Pinocchio, but revamped by one of Disney’s Nine Old Men animators for his future starring role in Disney films.

So, if you’re bored some Saturday evening and, no, it doesn’t have to be a Saturday evening, smarty pants, go to the font of endless, senseless information – any search engine—and tap in “origin of expression” plus any ‘ole turn of phrase that comes to mind.

The hits will just keep on coming.

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