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In the groove, moonshine, creep (give you the creeps), havoc

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June 22nd, 2016

In the groove

Here’s a little bit of jazz slang for you. When we say that someone is really “in the groove,” we mean that they’re doing well with something (other variants include “on a roll” and “batting a thousand”).

But with this particular phrase, the reference points to record albums. If you look at the face of a record, you’ll notice a series of grooves. You get the best sound from them when the needle rides firmly in those grooves, thus translating vibrations into music. 

Jazz musicians borrowed from this image of the needle communicating beautiful music when “in the groove,” and the rest is history. In the 1960s, pop culture modified the phrase to the familiar “groovy.” 

“So far, our football team has won every game this year. We’re really in the groove.”

Moonshine

As American as it sounds, this phrase actually comes from Europe and dates back to the fifteenth century. In its earliest form, “moonshine” was a white French brandy, named partly for its color and partly for the fact that distillers smuggled it into England by night.

Later on, we adopted the term here in the United States to refer to corn liquor (or “white lighting”). Like its French predecessor, it received the name “moonshine” because of its color and the nocturnal activity necessary for its manufacture.

“Revenue agents were in charge of busting anyone who distilled moonshine.”

Creep (Give you the creeps)

“Creep” is one of those words that just sound like their meaning. For centuries now, we’ve used “creep” to describe gross insects and even some people that make our skin crawl. But it was in the world of literature that “creep” got a real boost. 

Indeed, the great British author and satirist Jonathan Swift is believed to be the first person to use the phrase when he wrote, “Something in their countenance made my flesh creep with a horror I cannot express.” (Gulliver’s Travels, 1727)

Over time, we’ve popularized this phrase, modifying it to such forms as “give you the creeps” and “creepy.”

“Spiders give me the creeps.”

Havoc

Havoc is rarely, if ever, a good thing. By its traditional definition, it refers to great, often widespread, destruction. But where did we get the term?

Interestingly, havoc dates back to the Middle Ages and has military roots. Originally spelled “havok,” the word was part of a command given to soldiers while sacking a village or town. When a commander cried havok, it was a signal for the troops to start pillaging; hence, the word’s meaning today.

“Heavy rain can wreak havoc on a farmer’s crops.”

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