Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

I caught this on NPR:

Home of sliced bread

Chillicothe Baking Company’s building in Chillicothe, Missouri, where bread was first machine-sliced for sale

You’ve heard people call some innovation the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, that was a real event. The first commercially sliced bread was sold in Chillicothe, Mo., on July 7, 1928. People had to slice it themselves in the old days. The innovation is now the occasion for an annual bluegrass festival, and lawmakers are debating a bill to declare sliced bread day

I remember my grandmother telling me how happy she was to buy bread instead of baking two or three times a week (related to family income I think), but I don’t remember her mentioning sliced bread. So I wanted to learn more.

Wikipedia says bread cut with a slicing machine was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” I guess those images of a Frenchman peddling along with a long loaf, bare naked (the loaf that is), under one arm are more romantic than preferred.

Thank you, Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, USA, for inventing the first loaf-at-a-time bread-slicing machine. One of his early customers, Gustav Papendick, figured out how to easily slide the sliced loaf into a bag. Sliced bread was a hit, and In 1930 Wonder Bread began marketing sliced bread nationwide. The convenience was credited with increasing consumption of bread and everything you might slather on it.

Theatlantic adds “with such products rapidly penetrating the American home, automated bread-making was not only an invention benchmark, but also a key indicator of the mechanization of daily life from the 1930s onward.” I guess that’s where my grandmother comes into the story.

Cut Them Some Slack

sailing shipThis phrase refers to applying lesser standards to someone’s effort, usually because they are trying hard or somehow encouraging your sympathy.

The phrase made me think of wearing a loosely fitted garment, something allowing you to move easily. But theidioms says the phrase comes from docking ships, “where ‘give me some slack’ meant to loosen the rope.”

25-startling-origins doesn’t live up to its click-bait title: “It is believed to be nautical in origin, and concerns not pulling on the rope so as to give the other person a chance to untangle it.”

I’m more familiar with the version “cut me some slack,” and cutting the rope doesn’t sound like a good idea when docking a ship – though it may be a last resort to a tangled mess. But I admit I’m a landlubber. Someone on wordwizard who claims to know boats says “CUT SOME SLACK and CUT SOMEONE SOME SLACK are not nautical terms nor have they ever been!” They’re pretty emphatic about it.

The only citation I found was this:

A similar phrase, with a similar meaning but slightly different form – ‘cut slack for’ – was used in 1855 by Frederick Douglas in his book My Bondage and My Freedom. theidioms

We’re Not Out of the Woods

Hansel and GretelI guess forests have seemed to be deep, dark, and dangerous for a long time. To say “We’re not out of the woods” is to say we remain in trouble, that we have not overcome “a dangerous, perplexing, or difficult situation.”

Abigail Adams used the expression in a November, 1800 letter found in Papers of Benjamin Franklin (ginger) but the phrase seems to be much older, though I didn’t find the specific citations:

This expression, alluding to having been lost in a forest, dates from Roman times; it was first recorded in English in 1792.

Once in a Blue Moon

From a musical in 1906

From a musical in 1906

If something happens once in a blue moon, it’s rare. Even rarer, in the expression, than an actual “blue moon,” which refers to a month with two full moons, the second one being “blue.”

Thought to be called “blue” after an old english term meaning “betrayer,” a Blue Moon is an extra full moon that occurs due to a quirk of the calendar…

… about once every 2.7 years, because the number of days in a lunation (new moon to new moon) is a bit less than the usual calendar month — 29.53 days as opposed to 31 or 30 days (except for February, which has 28 days, so a blue moon cannot occur).

“Blue Moon” is widely used this way in the media, but only in the last 30 years. Phil Hiscock wrote the fascinating tale for skyandtelescope:

The term “blue Moon” has been around a long time, well over 400 years [as in]
“He would argue the Moon was blue” was taken by the average person of the 16th century as we take “He’d argue that black is white.”

So where did our current usage come from? In May 1988, when a second full Moon occurred, radio stations and newspapers everywhere carried an item on this bit of “old folklore,” as they called it…

In 1986, in the Trivial Pursuit Genus II edition, “blue moon” is a question, and their source was a children’s book, The Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts (New York, 1985: World Almanac Publications). Then, in the December 1990 edition of Astronomy, Deborah Byrd mentioned the term came from a March 1946 article in Sky & Telescope (page 3)

So while the phrase may not be old folklore, it’s folklore today.

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Prancing_horse_outline.svg.medWith the holidays upon us, suspicious gifts may arrive at your door. You might inspect a horse’s teeth to estimate its age and value. To do this to a horse that is a gift is ungrateful – although, I know something about what it costs to keep a horse, so a sad old plug is a gift you might refuse!

Knowyourphrase says:

John Heywood, who is thought to have lived from the years 1497-1580 C.E., is said to have wrote the saying in a book of his called A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue, 1546:
Where gifts be given freely—east, west, north or south— No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.

Phrase Finder says “As with most proverbs the origin is ancient and unknown,” but also notes that Heywood collected exprssions in common use at the time, and didn’t claim to have coined them.

Heywood obtained the phrase from a Latin text of St. Jerome, The Letter to the Ephesians, circa AD 400, which contains the text ‘Noli equi dentes inspicere donati’ (Never inspect the teeth of a given horse). Where St Jerome got it from we aren’t ever likely to know.

On The Fence

To sit on the fence is to be undecided between two options. Wikipedia adds an implied motivation:

… inability to decide due to lack of courage. This is farm-fence-mddone either to remain on good terms with both sides, or due to apathy regarding the situation and not wanting to choose a position with which one doesn’t actually agree. As a result, someone who “sits on the fence” will maintain a neutral and non-committal view regarding any of the other parties involved.

I didn’t find many sites suggestingan origin.

Superbeefy listed an amusing story that combines the phrase with an American hero and a wise slave:

During the Revolutionary War, a prominent New Jersey jurist, Judge Imlay, hadn’t yet committed to either the revolutionaries or the loyalists. So when Washington encountered one of Imlay’s slaves he asked him which way the judge was leaning.
Washington was so amused by the response that he retold it enough times for it to become part of our language. He said, “Until my master knows which is the strongest group, he’s staying on the fence.”

The site offers no citation, but I like the story.