As a non-native English speaker, I find some of the idiomatic expressions we use, well, befuddling. When someone arrives in the nick of time, do you ever wonder who Nick was and why he so often borders on impunctuality? The Internet puts many answers at our fingertips, which can be fascinating. Too often, I find the explanations the pundits provide dissatisfying –either because the origin of an expression is too mundane, or because they are merely speculating on how it came about. I sometimes prefer my own backstory. Earlier this week, Missy Glauch, Kelly Crosby and I got to speculating about some of these expressions:
- Neck of the woods. Since when do woods have necks and how in tarnation did that come to mean neighborhood? For a while I thought it might be Nick (perhaps the same chronically semi-punctual gentleman we discussed earlier). Apparently, Al Roker’s folksy expression dates back to colonial days when many villages were near a narrowing (a neck) of the wooded areas surrounding them.
- Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I had always assumed it was a silly expression used solely because the words rhyme. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised to learn there’s more. Apparently, the minimum blackjack bet used to be $2, about the price of a chicken dinner at a Las Vegas casino and it was customary to associate the winnings with something you could buy for that price.
- Fifth third bank. Admittedly, not an idiomatic expression. Still, why christen a bank with a name that implies (to me at least) they are an also-ran. The fifth bank in the third rung of banks? I can understand bragging about being number one, but this feels like an 8th place ribbon. It’s not even a proper fraction, despite their logo suggesting otherwise. To the picky mathematician, 5/3 should be 1 2/3. Cute, maybe, but who wants a banker who is bad at fractions? With so much potential, I was disappointed to learn that the fifth national bank and third national bank had chosen this name when they merged.
While not discussed with my colleagues during that fateful Über ride, I like a baker’s dozen, especially when donuts are involved. Perhaps they’re not good at math (that would explain the baking, rather than accounting or engineering career path). Perhaps the sugar makes bakers more generous. Whatever the reason, we have one today, so come, let us discuss the origin of an idiomatic expression over a donut -or thirteen. Who knows, our version may be more memorable.