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Juke box, let the cat out of the bag, (make a) beeline for, the quick and the dead

Created date

March 1st, 2016

Juke box

Most of them are antiques, even relics in an age of mp3 players; however, you still see some in venues bent on creating an air of nostalgia. At one time, the juke box was the centerpiece of entertainment in bars, soda shops, and pizza parlors across the country.

But why do we call them juke boxes? The answer is really quite simple. The word “juke” is early slang for “rowdy.” So it’s no surprise that “juke boxes” have derived their names from the rowdy establishments with which they were so closely associated. These “rowdy boxes” were forever linked to the wild behavior that many believed they encouraged. And the name stuck.

“Just put a quarter in the juke box and choose your song.”

Let the cat out of the bag

When we talk about someone “letting the cat out of the bag,” we mean that somebody has revealed facts that were theretofore unknown. Unfortunately, exactly how a cat escaping from a bag has anything to do with facts slipping into conversation is largely unknown, but there is one reasonable suspect that’s worth noting.

In the old days of naval warfare, discipline was essential to protect a ship from the dangers of mutiny. As such, punishment was very public and brutal. The primary method of enforcing order was the cat o’nine tails (a.k.a. the cat), a whip comprised of nine leather straps. This instrument, which was typically stored in a sack, would inflict terrible wounds on errant sailors and was, therefore, feared and much talked about. To let the cat out of the bag was to reveal the climax or the ultimate conclusion of an event.

To this day, etymologists cannot agree on the accuracy of this explanation.

“My mother tends to spoil endings. She says she won’t, but she always manages to let the cat out of the bag.”

(Make a) beeline for

Whenever you make a beeline for something, you head right for it without so much as an inch of deviation in your course. It’s fairly obvious that the phrase has something to do with bees, but what?

Forager bees go out in search of new sources of nectar. When they find it, they return to the hive and do a special dance that communicates the location of the recently discovered trove. Amazingly, the rest of the foragers then leave the nest and fly in a near straight line to that particular flower. 

Since the early nineteenth century, we humans have used this imagery to convey the act of going straight for something, usually with great determination.

“When I was a kid, I always made a beeline for the candy aisle in the grocery store.”

The quick and the dead

Movie buffs will know this as the title of a great cult classic: a fantastic gunslinger film starring Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman, about a remote Western town that holds a to-the-death gunfighter’s tournament. The obvious implication here is that there are those who are quick on the draw and those who are dead as a result.

But the phrase actually comes from the Bible and relies on the old use of the word “quick.” Long ago, the term “quick” referred to an unborn child. According to the Bible, only the truly divine and holy can judge an unborn child or the dead—or as the Good Book put it, “the quick and the dead.”

“The Bible says that only the holy may judge the quick and the dead.”