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Chop suey, straight from the horse's mouth, dyed in the wool, reefer

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October 22nd, 2014

Chop suey

Over time, this term has assumed a slang meaning similar to that of mincemeat. For example, “If you mess around with that bully, he’ll make chop suey out of you.”

But the term originated in the late nineteenth century with the Chinese who immigrated to America. From the Cantonese dialect, “tsaap sui” literally translates to “mixed or chopped bits.”

It refers to a humble but tasty dish that was the Chinese-American version of pot luck stew. This mixed-bits recipe used pretty much whatever the cook found lying around, from chicken and vegetables to noodles, herbs, and spices.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

When you get an answer “straight from the horse’s mouth,” you have gone right to the source. But what does a horse’s mouth have to do with getting the facts?

The answer is related to a few of our past entries, including “long in the tooth” and “look a gift horse in the mouth.”

When an animal is long in the tooth, it means that it’s old—the gums having receded with age, thus creating the appearance of longer teeth. To determine a horse’s age, a person would examine its mouth for a look at its teeth, which was widely considered to be an impertinent, if not rude, thing to do if the horse was a gift.

If you were buying the horse, however, you would want to know for sure that it was a good investment. Therefore, you would examine the animal to get the answer “straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“To get to the bottom of the car’s defects, the committee wanted answers straight from the horse’s mouth, so it subpoenaed the vehicle’s designer.”

Dyed in the wool

Going back to ancient civilization, wool was perhaps the most important source of clothing. With silk reserved for the rich and cotton a rare commodity for everyone, wool was the material to which the common man could turn.

Consequently, terms and phrases referring to wool have been—no pun intended—woven into our language. Take “dyed in the wool,” for instance.

When we say that someone is dyed in the wool, we mean that they are entrenched. A dyed in the wool liberal is someone who votes the party line no matter what, and a conservative, the same thing. They are born liberals or conservatives and will never deviate from those paths.

We call them “dyed in the wool” because wool that is dyed immediately after shearing (as opposed to after being processed and woven into clothing) is fully saturated and colored from the beginning. The same applies to a person who is saturated from the beginning with his or her party’s principles.

“There’s no changing my father’s opinion on the presidential race. He’s a dyed in the wool Democrat.”

Reefer

While the term has fallen to the wayside today, in the 1950s, “reefer” was an almost universal nickname for marijuana. The origin of this word may surprise you.

To prevent a ship from capsizing in a storm, sailors would often roll up the vessel’s sails so that the winds wouldn’t thrash the rigging to the point of destruction. They called this process of rolling the sails “reefing.”

Now, imagine a tightly rolled marijuana cigarette, and you’ll see why people have called the drug “reefer.” It looks just like a ship’s sails before a storm.

“He was expelled from school for smoking reefer.”

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