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Where'd that phrase come from #58

Created date

October 10th, 2013


Originally, when a person referred to someone taking a potshot, that someone was shooting a gun. To take a potshot means to shoot at the first and easiest target that comes along. Such a shot was considered unsportsmanlike, requiring little skill. And this is where the term gets its meaning. A cheap, artless potshot was good for one thing filling the cooking pot with game meat. Beyond that, it was not a thing to be admired. Today, the term holds a meaning similar to the phrase cheap shot, and applies to easy, sometimes unfair, attacks on another person, typically in the form of criticism or an insult. Since our big loss on Sunday, fans have been taking potshots at our football team s defense.

Chip off the old block

The meaning of chip off the old block goes without saying. It s similar to cut from the same cloth, another popular idiom. But where does chip off the old block come from? The fact is that we don t know exactly. Etymologists suspect that it has roots in the age-old art of carpentry. Early variants of the phrase go back to the seventeenth century and include chip of the same block and chip of the old block, the block most likely being made of wood. It amazes me how much you re like your father. You re a real chip off the old block.

Red light district

Today, you can find a red light district in nearly every big city, and we re all familiar with what it is. Where it comes from is another story. While no one is certain, some believe that the phrase originated with early railroaders. Supposedly, when railroad workers would go into town for a bit of fun, they would carry red lanterns. So that fellow crew could locate them in the event of an emergency, they would hang these lanterns outside of any establishment that they happened to be patronizing; quite frequently, these places were bordellos, hence, the association between the red light and the seamy business of the working girl. Another theory suggests that, in the Middle Ages, towns marked houses of prostitution with red lights. The new mayor pledged, among other things, to clean up the red light district in an effort to fight crime.

Private eye

The name Pinkerton is synonymous with investigation. From its army of secret operatives during the Civil War to the shotgun-toting stagecoach guards of the Old West, Alan Pinkerton s National Detective Agency is a cultural icon. Indeed, the company s logo, an open eye and the slogan We never sleep, gave rise to a moniker for investigators for hire private eyes. Though he claimed that he was disabled, the insurance company had its doubts and hired a private eye to investigate the possibility of fraud.