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Where'd that phrase come from #63

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March 7th, 2014

Hunky-dory

When someone says that he’s “hunky-dory,” he’s doing well. One of the earliest examples of the phrase appears in a collection of Civil War-era songs called George Christy’s Essence of Old Kentucky (1862). Among Christy’s ditties was a tune entitled “Hunkey Dorey,” the refrain of which went, “Tis then I’m hunkey dorey.”

But Christy didn’t invent the term. Indeed, it had already existed for years in various forms. For instance, the slang word “hunkey” had long meant “healthy.” Etymologists, however, are uncertain about the origins of “dory.”

“After a shave and a shower, I feel hunky-dory.”

Skulduggery

Most know that “skulduggery” refers to underhanded dealings and, generally speaking, dirty deeds. And that’s what it meant in its earliest form. The word comes from “sculduddery,” the Scottish term for impropriety or indecency, referring more precisely to adultery and sexual misconduct.

Over time, the word evolved—as they often do—and became “skulduggery.”

“I’m leery of government spy agencies like the CIA, especially given their reputations for skulduggery.”

Off kilter

If something is “off kilter,” then it’s not quite right. Maybe the washing machine isn’t spinning like it should or your car’s engine isn’t firing on all cylinders. Regardless of what the problem is, something is out of balance, which is exactly what “off kilter” meant hundreds of years ago.

Dating as far back as the 17th-century, the phrase originally appeared as “off kelter,” “kelter” meaning good health. Eventually, the idiom made its way to America and became “kilter,” its definition and usage remaining unchanged.

“I put too heavy a laundry load in the washer, which threw the machine off kilter.”

‘(I’ve been) framed’

Hearing the mournful cry, “I’ve been framed!” immediately conjures images of classic detective dime novel covers. The modern usage of the phrase dates to the early 1900s, but its roots go much deeper.

In 16th century parlance, to “frame” was to fabricate a story with ill intent. This is the essence of the term’s present use, which refers to the act of accusing an innocent person of a crime.

“There are still thousands of conspiracy theorists who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was framed.”

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