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.’

This Should be an Expression :)

International Potato Center - yes, there is one!We’ve posted several times on GMOs (genetically modified organisms, usually in the context of food crops) and this meme captures part of the arguement for GMOs perfectly. Let’s make “being a firefighter in a very slow truck” a new expression. Write down this meme so we’ll remember where it came from. Choose one of our GMO posts from here.

Thanks to a facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/cipotato/

Read Between the Lines

To read between the lines is to discern a meaning that isn’t made obvious or explicit.

This expression derives from a simple detective-mdform of cryptography, in which a hidden meaning was conveyed by secreting it between lines of text. It originated in the mid 19th century and soon became used to refer to the deciphering of any coded or unclear form of communication… The first example that I can find of the phrase in print is from The New York Times, August 1862. Phrase Finder

I was reminded of this phrase by a pundit on cable news, so it’s funny that the 1862 citation is also from politics.

The letter assumes a somewhat enigmatical character, and the only resource we have is, as best we may, to ‘read between the lines’ of this puzzling, but important, communication of the British Foreign Secretary.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You – Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Bush

President Bush liked this phrase, too. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee…”

This phrase doesn’t rely on metaphors – it states it’s wisdom outright. A thread on a Quora forum offers further references:

Oxford University Press (2008) is this quote from The Court and Character of King James by Anthony Weldon (1650), page 52:

The Italians having a Proverb, He that deceives me Once, it’s his Fault; but Twice it is my fault.

History for Colonial Williamsburg offers this American citation:

Axioms—read in the Bible, quoted from classical literature, and handed down through families—were a part of everyday life in 1700s America… In 1778, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported: “He who lives in a glass house, says the Spanish proverb, should never begin throwing stones.” A 1786 essay refers to an early, non-English form of the familiar saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Wrote George Horne, an English divine: “When a man deceives me once, says the Italian proverb, it is his fault; when twice, it is mine.”

Inspirationalstories lists a Chinese version: Once bitten by an adder, you will never walk through the high grass again.

I suppose people all over the world often discover the same wisdom.