In George Washington's days, there
were no cameras.
One's image was either sculpted or
painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing
behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed
both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not
based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many
limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are "limbs,"
therefore painting them would cost the buyer more.
Hence the expression. "Okay,
but it'll cost you an arm and a leg"
As incredible as it sounds, men
and women took baths only twice a year! (May and October.)
Women kept their hair covered, while
men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore
wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. The
wigs couldn't be washed, so to clean them they could carve
out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it
for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy,
hence the term "Big Wig."
Today we often use the term, "Here
comes the big wig," because someone appears to
be or is powerful and wealthy.
In the late 1700s, many houses
consisted of a large room with only one
Commonly, a long wide board was folded
down from the wall and used for dining. The "head
of the household" always sat in the chair while everyone
else ate sitting on the floor. Once in a while, a guest (who
was almost always a man) would be invited to sit in this chair
during a meal.
To sit in the chair meant you were
important and in charge. Sitting in the chair, one was called
the "chair man." Today in business we use
the expression or title "Chairman or Chairman of
Needless to say, personal hygiene
left much room for improvement.
As a result, many women and men had
developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread
bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out complexions.
When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to
stare at another woman's face she was told mind your own bee's
wax." Should the woman smile, the wax could crack, hence
the term "Crack a Smile."
Also, when they sat too close to the
fire, the wax would melt and therefore the expression "Losing
Ladies wore corsets, which would
lace up in the front.
A tightly tied lace was worn by a proper
and dignified lady as in "Straight Laced."
Common entertainment included playing
However, there was a tax levied when
purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the "Ace
of Spades." To avoid paying the tax, people would
purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52
cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because
they weren't "Playing With a Full Deck."
Early politicians required feedback
from the public to determine what was considered important to
Since there were no telephones, TV's,
or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local
taverns, pubs, and bars who were told to "Go Sip Some
Ale" and listen to people's conversations and political
concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times.
"You Go Sip Here"
and "You Go Sip There." The two words "Go
Sip" were eventually combined when referring to the
local opinion and, thus we have the term "Gossip."
At local tavern's, pubs, and bars,
people drank from pint and quart-sized
A bar maid's job was to
keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She
had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in
pints" and who was drinking in "quarts."
Hence the term "Minding
Your P's and Q's."
In the heyday of sailing ships,
all war ships and many freighters carried
Those cannons fired round iron cannon
balls. It was necessary
to keep a good supply near the cannon, but how to prevent
them from rolling about the deck?
The best storage method devised was
a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four
resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of
30 cannon balls could be near the cannon.
There was only one problem. How to
prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under
the others. The solution was a metal plate called a "Monkey"
with 16-round indentations. When this plate was made of
iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it.
The solution to the rusting problem
was to make "Brass Monkeys." Few landlubbers
realize that the metal, brass, contracts more along with much
faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature
dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much
that the iron cannon balls would not stay on the monkey.
Thus the brass was literally "Cold
Enough to Freeze the Balls Off a Brass Monkey." (You
can't make this up.)