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Blue collar, spam/spam mail, Bogart, Phrase

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July 20th, 2015

Blue collar

When a bigwig executive gets caught embezzling from his company, we say that so-and-so committed a “white collar crime.” Of course, the white collar refers to the dress shirt that executives wear. Why, then, do we call manual laborers and tradesmen “blue collar workers”?

While there’s no definitive point in time when the phrase came into use, its evolution seems to have begun in the late nineteenth century with Levi Strauss’s creation of blue denim clothing. Blue was the color of choice for those who worked in manual or trade labor, quite simply because it could hide the dirt and the grease more effectively than a light-colored garment. 

By the 1920s, “blue collar” started popping up in newspaper columns as a reference to trade workers who wore the stereotypical blue overalls. Even to this day, blue is the color of choice for mechanics and technicians in a variety of fields.

“My grandfather, father, and brother all were blue collar workers—each of them was a mechanic.”

Spam/spam mail

Spam—most people hate it, regardless of whether it refers to the meat or junk emails. Both are off-putting, even sickening. When you’re talking about the meat, Spam is a shortened combination of “spiced ham.” So then, why do we call junk email “spam” or “spam mail”?

One might logically assume that the name of a notoriously “loud-flavored” meat is an apt moniker for unwanted email, but alas the meat and the mail share no such direct relationship.

Actually, the name comes from a 1970 Monty Python skit in which two restaurant patrons find that the menu consists of nothing but Spam-based recipes. As the short-order cook explains this to the confused patrons, an obnoxious group of Vikings (yes, Vikings) chants: “Spam, Spam, Spam, wonderful Spam!” at an adjacent table. The unwanted noise drowns out the conversation between the cook and the customers, just as unwanted emails hamper the flow of legitimate messages in one’s inbox.

Computer geeks began using the terms “spam” or “spam mail” in the early 1990s, borrowing the name from this skit.

“Sometimes legitimate messages get caught in my email’s spam filter.”

Bogart

Depending on your awareness of pop culture vernacular, you’ve almost certainly heard someone accuse another of being “a bogart” or of “bogarting” food or drink. Not surprisingly, the term refers to Humphrey Bogart. 

Rarely was the actor ever seen on screen without a cigarette. At times, Bogart was inclined to continue smoking even while talking, the cigarette dangling from his lower lip, bouncing as he annunciated each syllable. He wouldn’t take it out of his mouth.

In the '60s and '70s, pot smokers began to use the actor’s name to refer to anyone who wouldn’t pass the joint, thus hogging it for himself. And in time, “bogart” became a slang reference for any act of gluttony, excess, or selfishness. 

“Hey man, don’t bogart the nachos!”

Phrase

Have you ever stopped to think about the origin of basic terms from your everyday vocabulary? If not, we’ll start with “phrase.” So often in “Where’d that phrase come from,” we see mention of this word, the evolution of which began with the Greeks. 

Originally, the Greeks’ word for statement or declaration (both noun and verb) was “phrazein.” This eventually evolved into “phrasis,” which in time evolved into our English equivalent, “phrase.” 

“Please keep reading ‘Where’d that phrase come from.’

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