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Chump change, high road, watermark, wisecrack

Created date

May 27th, 2015

Chump change

As we all know, “chump change” is nothing to write home about. We use the phrase in reference to everything from pathetic paychecks to comparative contexts in which we want to emphasize another’s wealth. (For example, $1 million is chump change to Bill Gates.) 

But where did it come from? While the phrase itself is American slang dating from the mid-twentieth century, the term “chump” goes back to eighteenth-century England. The word meant blockhead or idiot and was a combination of chunk and lump—both of which suggest stupidity and insignificance. 

“What they paid her was chump change considering the difficulty of her job.”

High road

When someone “takes the high road,” he or she has made a morally righteous decision. It’s difficult to say when this phrase emerged, but its meaning is relatively straightforward. In traveling terms—no doubt in the days of horses and buggies—it was more difficult to take the high road or perhaps riskier in the case of a perilous drop. 

In time, this image came to symbolize the magnanimity of moral choices.

“Although I was in the right, I decided to take the high road and walked away without a word.”

Watermark

Those of you who are still familiar with paper should know what a watermark is—that faint image visible when you hold a sheet of paper up to the light. But why do we call it a “watermark”? 

Well, the answer is pretty simple. In the papermaking process, the watermark is produced when the paper is wet; hence the mark’s name.

“If you hold high-quality typing paper up to the light, you should see a watermark.”

Wisecrack

We’ve all heard wisecracks at some point and, depending on whether or not we were on the receiving end, we may have enjoyed them. A wisecrack is a joke or sarcastic remark, and the phrase only dates back to the early 1920s. 

It derives its meaning from an older usage of the term “crack.” A “crack” was the exchange of banter or quips. Therefore, a wisecrack was a smart remark.

“He made one too many wisecracks, so his teacher gave him detention.”

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