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Copacetic, (Do a) Brodie, Klutz, On the level

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April 13th, 2017
Antique masonic pendant

Copacetic

For those familiar with it, the word “copacetic” is probably most closely associated with the 1950s Jazz and beatnik cultures. As it’s used in everyday language, “copacetic” refers to something being “in order”; in other words, everything is a-okay.

Although the term was quite popular in the 1940s and 1950s, etymologists have traced its early usage to Southern African-American communities in the 1880s. Still, the word’s root origin takes us back to an old Hebrew phrase: “kol b’seder,” which means “everything is in order.”

Over time, English speakers transformed the phrase into a single word—copacetic. 

“I could tell by her reaction that everything was copacetic.”

(Do a) Brodie

The slang phrase “do a Brodie” means to fail at something, to trip and fall (often into a body of water), or to commit suicide by jumping. It borrows its name from Steve Brodie, who claimed to have survived a perilous jump from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886. 

No one ever confirmed the veracity of his claims. In fact, most historians don’t believe he made the jump at all, which is why the phrase uses his name with a negative connotation.

“My brother was a complete klutz in basic training. On his first day with the M16, he did a Brodie into a pool of mud.”

Klutz

Like the poor Army recruit noted above, we’ve all been a “klutz” at some point in time. It’s almost needless to repeat the definition, which is anyone who routinely drops things or generally displays a marked lack of coordination.

You linguists have likely noticed the “K” and rightly linked it to German/Yiddish (German—Klotz; Yiddish—Klots), both of which essentially mean “a block of wood.” That’s to say, a klotz/klots is someone as tactful or intelligent as a piece of wood.

Americans eventually picked up on the foreign term and (big surprise) Americanized it. As we know it, the word “klutz” came into common usage in the late 1960s.

“I’ve always been a klutz, especially with bicycles.”

On the level

We get this one from the world of Freemasonry. Naturally, when we say that someone or something is “on the level,” we mean that he/she/it is legitimate or fair, not tilted in any one party’s favor.

It should come as no shock that the Freemasons have given us this one, considering their reputation as a fraternity of builders who were always concerned with square and level cuts. Indeed, one of the rules of Freemasonry is that Masons should treat one another “on the level and on the square.”

“Most carnival games are not on the level.”


Ever wonder how expressions like “hello/hi” and “high/low brow” came about? Below are a few phrases like this and their original meanings. The Tribune will have more for you next month.

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