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Where'd that phrase come from: chauffeur, deadpan, clodhopper, lickety-split

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September 22nd, 2014

Chauffeur

Wouldn’t it be nice to get into a limo in the morning, a cup of coffee in one hand, your newspaper in the other? The only thing required of you would be to tell your chauffeur where you want him to take you.

That’s what a chauffeur does today, at least. Originally, a chauffeur’s job wasn’t driving. The word “chauffeur” is French and means “to heat.”

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when cars were toys for the rich, the engines were steam powered. Before you could take your wheels for a spin, you had to heat the engine (which was essentially a boiler) in order to build up steam.

This took a while, so as a matter of convenience, your “chauffer” would go out to the carriage house, heat the engine, and call you when the car was ready.

“When we landed at the airport, a chauffeur was waiting to drive us to the hotel.”

 

Deadpan (Humor)

A deadpan delivery may be your favorite brand of humor, depending on your taste in comedy. It is a style wherein the comedian delivers material in a dry and, at times, sardonic manner usually characterized by an absence of expression.

This word didn’t appear as an actual term until the 1920s. “Dead” referred to that all too familiar vacant expression, while “pan” was slang for face—hence, “deadpan.”

“British comedians have mastered the art of deadpan delivery. They’ve got a talent for dry humor.”

 

Clodhopper

The term “clodhopper” is surprisingly old. First used in the 1600s, the word referred to agricultural workers. In time, “clodhopper” evolved into a derisive reference to unsophisticated yokels or bumpkins, conjuring images of clumsy farmhands oafishly stomping through clods of mud and bovine excrement.

“City folk often look down on farmers as a bunch of clodhoppers.”

 

Lickety-split (lickoty-split)

This is one of those sayings that sounds just like what it means. Dating back to the 1840s, “lickety-split” sounds fast, instantaneous even. Broken down, “lickety” is a variation of “lick,” an old word for speed. The second part, “split,” merely serves to reinforce or intensify the record-breaking velocity of “lickety.”

“The new high-speed train will get you from Philadelphia to New York lickety-split.”

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