We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come to It

Wooden_Bridge.svg.medTo cross a bridge when you come to it means to deal with a problem when it is imminent. A related phrase advises, don’t cross the bridge till you come to it, changing the meaning to say don’t worry about a problem that may not arise, or don’t allow a future problem to divert your attention from current needs.

Theidioms puts the origin of the phrase in the 1800s, when there was often literal concern over the safety of bridges.

The reliable Phrase Finder had a post asking about the phrase, but no information on the origin.

Wikipedia lists it as an English proverb, so I suspect it is recorded in old books, but none is listed.

So I tried searching on “Guttenberg ‘cross the bridge till you come,'” and found The Golden Legend, a poem from 1851 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Included in a conversation with Lucifer:

That, my good woman, I have not said. Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it. Is a proverb old, and of excellent wit.

So apparently the saying was well known by 1851.

Match Made in Heaven

This phrase refers to some collaboration that occurs easily and benefits all parties.

Theidioms says the origin is unknown. The christunitedfellowship suggests Genesis 2:18-25 is the inspiration, which begins

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man little-angel-mdto be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” New International Version

Wikipedia also suggests a biblical origin, though not a citation for the specific phrase.

Jews have held an ideal standard for Jewish family life that is manifested in the term shalom bayit. Shalom bayit signifies completeness, wholeness, and fulfillment… In Jewish culture, a marriage is described as a “match made in heaven,” and is treated as a holy enterprise.

But I’m pretty sure the first use wasn’t the 1977 movie A Match Made in Heaven

Out of the Blue

bolt from the blueWhen you’re hit out of the blue, something (usually bad) happens without warning. I assumed this phrase refers to aerial bombing during a war. But Phrase Finder say it comes from an older “bolt from the blue” referring to lightning.

The earliest citation is Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution, 1837: “Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims.”

Another variation is “out of the clear blue sky.”

No Problem, Forsooth

The tide of language sweeps ever along, and it Hamlet.svg.medcarries you with it whether you like it or not. Do not struggle foolishly against it. slate.com

English is a living language, which means words are always coming, going, and changing. Dictionaries don’t try to freeze language – they try to keep up with it. Grammar is more important to written words than it is to spoken. Because it lacks the subtle clues of tone and gesture, written language is less communicative.

This can be hard on those of us who struggled to learn the rules, and suffered under the presumptions of teachers decades behind us in modern usage. Teachers who thought I, for example, should love Shakespeare – even if I needed annotations in the text to follow the near-foreign language.

Once upon a time, “thank you” was invariably followed by “you’re welcome.” This arbitrary expression of politeness is falling from usage – it’s become common to reply “thank you” right back.

Now, apparently, the double thank-you is sliding into the past.

“Thank you” brings “no problem” as a rejoinder. Or maybe, “no worries” if you’re fond of Australian English (and who can resist?)

Does this grate on your nerves? Perhaps you never got used to the mirror thank-yous and still long to hear “you’re welcome.”

Get over it.

“Are you telling me that I, a human being with certain inalienable prerogatives, have no right to dislike this particular phrase? Must I remain silent forever? Have I no recourse to complain?”

That is exactly what we are saying… You will be nobler for it.

And stop grinding your teeth over “organic bananas,” complaining that no fruit is based on silicon chemistry.

You know who you are.

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.

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.