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Where'd it come from #49

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December 10th, 2012
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Where’d it come from #49

In a pickle

If you’re “in a pickle,” you’re in a tough spot. Otherwise known as “a bind,” “a jam,” “between a rock and a hard place,” “in a pickle” has culinary origins but not only in the delightfully zippy cucumber that goes by the same name.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, pickles were spicy sauces used on meats. They were also vinegar bases used to preserve or create stews out of vegetables. It’s from the latter that the phrase derives its meaning. When we refer to someone who’s in trouble as being “in a pickle,” we actually allude to the mixed-up state of the vegetables in the stew.

“This morning, I was really in a pickle. My car had a flat and I was late for a meeting.”

Threw his hat into the ring

When we throw our hat into the ring, we’re either taking up a challenge or laying one down. The phrase dates back to the early 1800s and comes to us thanks to the sport of boxing. The ring, of course, is the boxing ring, but what about the hat?

In the early days, before massive arenas, pay-per-view television, and wild-haired promoters like Don King, boxing matches took place in clubs, taverns, and anywhere else they could fit a ring and a few hundred gambling spectators. In fact, if one of these spectators wanted to go a few rounds, he would announce his challenge by throwing his hat into the ring.

“When my boss asked for a volunteer to head up the new project, I threw my hat into the ring.”

Jackpot

The rules to the game of poker have evolved over the years. In the 1860s, someone created one stating that a player couldn’t open the betting unless his hand contained at least two jacks. If the cards were dealt and only one player met that requirement, he alone collected the pot—the jackpot, to be precise.

Today, we use the phrase in reference to winning big.

“After playing the slots all day, I was ready to give up. Then I decided to give the arm one more pull and hit the jackpot.”

In the catbird seat

Catbirds, like mockingbirds, are known for their ability to mimic specific noises and sounds. As you might gather from its name, the catbird is renowned for its ability to imitate a cat. Furthermore, they typically seek out the highest point on a tree, their favorite place to sit and sing. Up here, they’re safe from predators. It’s the ideal seat.

The first usage of the phrase “in the catbird seat” is unclear, but sportscaster Red Barber is probably best known for it.

“The batter has three balls and only one strike. I’d say he’s in the catbird seat.”

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