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Where’d It Come From #26

Created date

October 6th, 2010


After a hard day of work, President Ulysses S. Grant escaped the White House grind by heading to the Willard Hotel, less than half a mile away. While there, he would enjoy a cigar and a libation in the lobby, watching the guests as they came and went. Before long, word of the president s routine circulated amongst favor seekers, most of whom shamelessly approached the commander in chief with their requests while he unwound. Grant cheerfully called them lobbyists. Our interest group spends most of its time lobbying senators in the Capitol building.

Grasping at Straws

In 1748, Samuel Richardson wrote a mammoth epistolary novel called Clarissa, in which appears the phrase, A drowning man will catch at a straw . . . The straw referenced in the passage is the marsh grass or reeds that grow along the banks of lakes and rivers, and the drowning man is grasping at his last chance to preserve life and limb. Today, we use the phrase grasping at straws to refer to any situation in which one makes a final, desperate attempt at something. I would try to come up with an answer for you, but I d only be grasping at straws.

Fit as a fiddle

The early and modern meanings of this phrase don t quite mesh. Originally, the word fit meant appropriate or suited to the task. In other words, in a situation where someone wanted to hear music, a fiddle certainly would have been fit. Today, however, we use the phrase to refer to health or physical condition. If you ask me how I feel, I ll answer as I always do. I m fit as a fiddle!


These days, the word bootleg refers to all kinds of contraband from moonshine liquor to illegally copied CDs and DVDs. But the term itself finds its origin in the 19th-century, when boots were popular footwear. When a person smuggled something small enough, he often hid it in his boot to avoid discovery. I have a bootleg recording of Bob Dylan s last concert in New York City.