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Cracker jack, 'It ain't over until it's over,' raining cats and dogs, hit the sack/hay

Created date

February 10th, 2016

Cracker jack

Today, we know it as the box of caramel popcorn with the prize inside, but in the early to mid-nineteenth century, the term referred to something quite different. Aboard the ships of sail (before refrigeration), the food was limited and not very tasty, typically consisting of salted meat, perhaps some fish, and possibly a makeshift stew. Regardless of what was on the menu, you couldn’t count on it being tasty.

There was, however, one item that sailors had come to know as a reliable, palatable food—a biscuit-like cracker called a “cracker jack.” To make a long story short, seamen loved them and, pretty soon, the name became synonymous with anything that people considered great or top-notch. 

For instance, by the late nineteenth century, you might have heard someone remark: “I know Bill. He’s a real cracker jack fella!”

As the reference grew more popular, the maker of a mix of caramel popcorn and peanuts was looking for a name for his product. In his view, he had the greatest snack around—a real cracker jack. The rest is history.

“Jim will do anything for you. He’s a cracker jack guy.”

‘It ain’t over until it’s over’

Baseball fan or not, you just have to love Yogi Berra. The long-time Yankees catcher was one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century. He was also famous for butchering the English language by way of non sequiturs otherwise known as “Yogi-isms.”

Some examples include: “It’s déjà vu all over again”; “Nobody ever goes there anymore. It is way too crowded”; and “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Last but not least is one the best known and most used Yogi-ism of all: “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

“We thought we were going to lose the ballgame for sure, but then the coach reminded us that we had four innings left. ‘It ain’t over until it’s over,’ he said.”

Raining cats and dogs

Unfortunately, we don’t know precisely where this phrase came from, but we have a few ideas worth noting. First, in the days of thatched roofs in Europe, cats and dogs were known to climb on top of houses and nestle into the thatch. In the event of a rainstorm, the dogs and cats would either fall through the wet thatch and into the house or hop down from the roof in search of shelter. In such instances, it appeared to be raining cats and dogs.

Another possible explanation derives from the fact that, centuries ago, it was common to find stray cats and dogs walking the streets of major cities like London. Of course, they also died on these streets, where the corpses could remain for some time. One may have even spotted several of the dead animals washed along the gutters in the midst of a heavy downpour. Once again, it appeared to be raining cats and dogs.

Today, we use the phrase to refer to a particularly hard rain.

“It is no wonder the streets have flooded. It has been raining cats and dogs for two days.”

Hit the hay/sack

This phrase sounds pretty old, but surprisingly, it only dates back to the early twentieth century. In the 1900s, there were still some people who used sacks stuffed with hay or straw as mattresses. The rest of the story is fairly obvious. Hitting the hay or sack was to hit the mattress or, simply put, to go to bed.

“I was tired when I got home from work, so I skipped dinner, went straight upstairs, and hit the sack.”