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Where'd that phrase come from #54

Created date

May 21st, 2013


This is one of those words that we always hear at parties, dances, weddings, and yet rarely give it a second thought. You have Hawaiian Punch, fruit punch, punch drunk, and the list goes on. But where does it come from? People have been throwing back glasses of punch since the 1630s, with the word itself coming from the original drink, Hindi panch, meaning five as a reference to its five ingredients: alcohol, lemon, sugar, spices, and tea. I saw Dan staggering out of the reception hall last night. Doubtless he had too much punch.


If you ve ever been through a big city, you ve probably met a panhandler along the way. While scrounging for spare change, he may have extended his hand, a tin cup, or, as the moniker suggests, a long-handled pan. First used in 1894, the term exists today in various forms, referring to either the person ( panhandler ) or the act itself ( panhandling ). My first time in New York City, I was shocked by how many panhandlers I encountered around the subway stations.


This term originated in the world of birds. When a bird fledges, it has grown the feathers required to fly and, more broadly speaking, to become independent of its mother. It is a grown bird ready to leave the nest. In time, humans adopted the phrase for themselves, using it to describe anyone who has graduated to a level of independence or full maturity. Having made it through the hazing process, I am now a full-fledged member of the fraternity.

Off the bat

When we talk about doing something off the bat, we mean immediately. The phrase appears to have popped up in everyday conversation in the late 19thcentury and most likely comes from the game of baseball. The ball leaves the bat immediately upon contact; the batter takes off running immediately after hitting the ball. The entire process screams immediacy. Of course, there are other less likely, but still possible, origins for the phrase. There s the game of cricket, which also uses a bat. It could even refer to the brick bats carried by members of notorious mid 19th-century street gangs like the Plug Uglies and Dead Rabbits. When I saw him in the police lineup, I recognized his face right off the bat. That was the guy who mugged me.