Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tomayto, Tomahto

Since I have this page-a-day calendar for 2007 that each day lists a common saying and explains the origin of it, I’ve been paying more attention to sayings that people use. And those I use... For example, the other day was “moot point,” which I have always thought meant a meaningless point in a discussion or argument. Like when Sammy says he wants to go to the movies, and so-and-so’s mom can bring him home afterwards... so I explain how he would get home is a moot point, because there is no way for him to get to the movie theater. That is the correct usage of the phrase, but the primary definition isn’t that the adjective “moot” = meaningless, but rather that it is debatable, a thing up for discussion and debate. This is the type of thing I find very interesting.

Origins of sayings have always interested me. Have you ever heard someone use a saying and wondered to yourself, why do people say that? I do that all the time. Like, most everyone knows a “baker’s dozen” is 13 instead of 12 (and those who don't know that must be living in a cave somewhere). Go into any Big Apple Bagel store and they are likely to have a special price on a “baker’s dozen deal.” But why?... Because long ago, back in good old England, they passed a law... From my January 8th page, which I kept (yeah, I’m like that): The source of this term is a law passed by the English Parliament in 1266, which specified exactly how much a loaf of bread should weigh, and imposed a heavy penalty for short weight. To protect themselves, bakers would give their customers 13 loaves instead of 12, and in the 16th century this came to be called “a baker’s dozen.” Just think, people have been using the term “baker’s dozen” for about 500 years. Fascinating stuff.

Also fascinating to me is why did it take 200 or so years for the term “baker’s dozen” to become commonly used? Hmmm... Took them longer back then, but what became a common saying became one that truly stuck with the human race. Think “where's the beef?” Do you think anyone will be using that phrase 500 years from now? Nope. It petered out after a couple of years, even though there are probably a zillion t-shirts around still with that phrase on them. In fact, I just asked my 12-year-old if he knows what “where's the beef?” is from, and he doesn't... but he knows what a baker's dozen is.

The other day in a meeting at work, one guy said, “... just letting you know what’s coming up the pipe...” Then later a woman said, “... so that is in the pipeline, probably for later this summer...” The term, “pipeline” is used often in business meetings that I attend. But I’ve been hearing so much use of “up the pipe” or “down the pipe” lately, and I find it annoys my ears. I know the phrase as “coming down the pike.” It’s always been pike to me (and down, not up), and so that is what is correct to me. Maybe saying something is coming up the pipe is ok, but to me, that should pipeline. So once I hear someone say something is coming up the pipe, I totally miss whatever’s said next because I’m too busy saying to myself, “pike, jeez, the word you want is pike, and it’s coming down the pike!” Get it right, people.

And don’t even get me started on your vs. you’re...

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