About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

Now You’re Cooking with Gas

blue-gas-mdWaywordradio attributes the origin to a commercial use that sounds plausible to me:

In the 1930’s, the catch phrase Now you’re cooking with gas, meaning “you’re on the right track,” was heard on popular radio shows at the behest of the natural gas industry, as part of a quiet marketing push for gas-powered stoves.

Stackexchange is more specific. They say:

The phrase has been attributed to Deke Houlgate [by his son], who after working in the gas industry, wrote the line for Bob Hope or maybe for Jerry Calonna.

It was used on a radio program “around” December 1939 and then promoted by gas companies. I can understand putting the phrase in the more-famous mouth of Bob Hope, and he apparently did say it in the 1941 movie The Road to Zanzibar.

Other citations include Lou Holtz and Fanny Brice on Good News of 1940, the 1942 movie The Big Street, and Daffy Duck in 1943’s The Wise Quacking Duck.

The phrase seems to have become popular quickly – a tribute to radio, movies, and the demise of wood-burning stoves. I recall a great-aunt of mine who finally allowed her old wood-burning stove to be hauled away when it was replaced by a combination wood and electric appliance. Only propane would have been available to her but I don’t know if she ever tried that. Perhaps if she’d been cooking with gas she’d have given up the wood-burning oven altogether. She would have made great bread no matter what.

Old Friends and Acquaintances

Cria Lama_2_Luc_Viatour (400x335)

Attribution: Luc Viatour

When I was working in Colorado, I also raised and sold one or two llamas a year. The babies are seriously cute, and the only way to have room for new babies is to sell the old ones.

I worked with a vet who specialized in llamas. I was his client and paid for his services, but he generously shared his knowledge and taught me how to care for my animals. We’d chat about trivialities too. He once waved away my thanks by saying the more his clients knew, the fewer midnight calls roused him from bed. He’s a very good guy.

I still have three elderly llamas and one old boy’s health issue recently led me to contact my old vet. His caring response reminded me that – I miss him.

Over the course of my life, many people have helped me. Even if we never visited each other’s homes – even if I don’t remember everyone’s name – many people made my life better. From time to time, something happens to nudge me out of my current rut and I remember.

I miss them.

I hope that sometimes I helped others too.

And for those of you who were pains in the ass – good riddance.

You Don’t Want to Get Thrown Under the Bus

Word Detective offers this thorough definition:

‘To throw someone under the bus’ is defined as Stay out from under the busmeaning to sacrifice; to treat as a scapegoat; to betray, but I think the key to the phrase really lies in the element of utter betrayal, the sudden, brutal sacrifice of a stalwart and loyal teammate for a temporary and often minor advantage.

Not all our popular phrases come from the King James Bible or Shakespeare – there is, apparently, no antecedent phrase about throwing someone under the wagon. This phrase belongs to us, so you’d think its origin would be clear. You’d be wrong.

Merriam Webster says:

The origins of throw someone under the bus have been attributed to minor league baseball, Cyndi Lauper, the slang of used car salesmen, and various other improbable sources…

The 1984 quote from rock star Cyndi Lauper where she uses the phrase “under the bus” (without “throw”) may or may not count as a sighting, according to Word Detective.

But Merriam Webster attributes the earliest written usage to Elinor Goodman, Financial Times (London, Eng.), 10 Dec. 1980:

Some still pin their hopes on the “under the bus” theory which has Mr. Foot being forced by ill health—or just the pressures of the job—to give way to Mr. Healey before the next election.

This, however, lacks the malevolent flavor of current usage. A better citation comes from Julian Critchley, The Times (London, Eng.), 21 June 1982, but a completely satisfying citation has eluded me.

So I must conclude that, while a recent phrase generates a lot of possibilities, it isn’t any easier to pin down than a venerably aged phrase.

Lipstick on a Pig

Children's book a project of gramps and the grandkids :)

Our own RF_alum’s children’s book about pigs – smart pigs, no lipstick

The futility of decorating a pig leads to more than one phrase. For example, trying to dress a pig in a gown only ruins the gown and annoys the pig. Or “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” which dates back at least to the mid-16th century. But today I looked at putting lipstick on a pig – the futile attempt to make superficial changes that don’t fool anyone.

Slate’s Explainer says A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796) included a “hog in armor” phrase similar to our modern meaning, but the lipstick variation is recent:

In 1985, the Washington Post quoted a San Francisco radio host on plans for renovating Candlestick Park (instead of building a new downtown stadium for the Giants): “That would be like putting lipstick on a pig.”

Ginger’s phrase of the day agrees.

Bury the Hatchet

Where bury-the-hatchet comes from

Meeting of Hiawatha and Deganawidah by Sanford Plummer

I grew up in New York State and local history was the theme for 7th Grade Social Studies. This included the Iroquois Nations, as I was recently reminded by today’s phrase – to bury the hatchet is to cease and forgive previous hostilities. The phrase gives me a chance to return to a favorite site, The Straight Dope.

According to tradition–no doubt based largely on fact–the Iroquois leaders Deganawidah and Hiawatha convinced the Five Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) to stop fighting amongst themselves and form a confederacy. This probably happened before Columbus sailed, but how much before is a matter of dispute. To celebrate the new peace, the Iroquois buried their weapons under the roots of a white pine. An underground river then miraculously washed the weapons away so the tribes could never use them against each other again.

French records from 1644 mentioned the tradition, but the first English citation of a literal hatchet-burying came from 1680 and Samuel Sewall (later of Salem Witch Trials fame.)

Major Pynchon’s goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem the[y] came to an agreemt and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves…

In 1705 Beverly wrote of “very ceremonious ways to concluding of Peace, such as burying a Tomahawk.” Tomahawk variations remained popular for over a century, but eventually “hatchet” buried “tomahawk.”

The exact phrase comes from September 18, 1753.

Lord Commissioners of Trade and the Plantations in London wrote a letter to the Governor of Maryland that reads, “His Majesty having been pleased to order a Sum of Money to be Issued for Presents to the Six Nations of Indians [the Iroquois] and to direct his Governour of New York to hold an Interview with them for Delivering those presents [and] for Burying the Hatchet …”

I love Cecil Adams and his Science Advisory Board – such a nicely assembled article.

Like a Deer in the Headlights

Saying someone is “like a deer in the headlights” implies they are both vulnerable Deer in the Headlightsand unable to act. As noted on quora, “there’s a (generally illegal) form of deer hunting known as “deer jacking” that exploits this reflex of the deer. The jackers go out in the dark and shine a bright light at deer to get them to freeze, making them much easier targets.” It seems that deer really do this.

This is an American phrase and the British, according to phrases, have their own version: caught like a hare in the headlights. This seems odd because, while I’ve seen rabbits zig and zag in front of a car (what works to escape a coyote doesn’t work as well with a car) I’ve never seen one freeze as the car approached.

While I didn’t find the first citation, word-detective says:

‘to look like a deer in the headlights’ leaped into the public vernacular in a big way with the 1988 Presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush and his running mate, Senator James Danforth (“Dan”) Quayle. Quayle’s reaction to [an attack during a debate] was described the next day by several commentators as like a deer in the headlights, frozen in fear…

A deer-less relative of the phrase appeared in print more than a decade earlier:

‘It is only when they commit some offence that they are caught in the headlights of history,’ Daily Telegraph, 1971), although this usage seems to reflect the sense of ‘came to public attention’ rather than ‘caught clueless.’

The Past Isn’t Dead – It Isn’t Even Past

Two Harvard University researchers announced Friday that they have found a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in a tiny records office in southern England. bostonglobe.com

This news gives me a bit of a thrill. History is fascinating and important. Sometimes it puts America in a good light and sometimes not.

I recently listened to a panel discussion on Book TV by three authors who have written about terrible crimes wrought on Native Americans by the American government and people in the 1800s – the word genocide applies. Meticulously documented using contemporary written sources, this horror was no secret at the time. The atrocities have slipped from our national consciousness.

Every nation and people have horrors in their past. Whether we “should” teach the bad as well as the good depends.

  • Why do we study history?
  • Why teach it in school? At what age and in what detail?
  • How should good and evil be balanced?
  • How should we portray people from a different era, with different beliefs?

These aren’t simple questions. I might add a question about beloved tales. George Washington chopping down the cherry tree is not true, but it’s a lovely story many of us learned and want to share with today’s children. Should we? Some citizen committees who review textbooks have said yes.

There are more important historical issue: Continue reading