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Blurb, G-Man/G-Men, wound tight, bling

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June 27th, 2017

Blurb

The term itself sounds like nonsense talk: blurb. Yet, we use it so much that we rarely pause to give it a second thought. 

Why would we? The word “blurb” is synonymous with those things to which it refers—short, snappy comments that promote a product. 

You can find blurbs on dust jackets, DVD boxes, and movie posters. Typically they’re words of praise from fellow writers or film and book critics.

Indeed, “blurb” hails from the publishing world, the product of a literary lark of sorts.

In 1906, humorist Gelett Burgess wrote a short book called Are You a Bromide? To promote it, his publisher, Benjamin Huebsch, printed a limited edition for distribution at a trade association dinner.

Huebsch once quipped that a good promotional copy needed a dust jacket with “the picture of a damsel—languishing, heroic, or coquettish....” As a joke, that’s exactly what he put on Burgess’s book: a picture of a young woman bellowing.

The caption read: “Yes, this is a BLURB!...Miss Belinda Blurb in the act of blurbing.”

Although part of a ridiculous gag, Belinda’s last name caught on and quickly became associated with the marketing content so prevalent today.

“I haven’t started reading the book yet, but judging from the blurbs on the dust jacket, it’s going to be good.”

G-Man/G-Men

If you’ve ever seen a 1940s gangster film, you’ve probably heard the term “G-Man,” which refers to a federal law enforcement agent (or “government man”). The name originated not on the screen but in the real underworld—the invention of George Kelly Barnes, better known as “Machine Gun Kelly.”

On the run from federal agents, he and his wife Kathryn were hiding out at a safe house in Memphis, Tenn., when the FBI caught up with them in September 1933. The agents entered the house, surprising Kelly, who dropped his .45 caliber pistol on the ground, pleading, “Don’t shoot, G-Men!”

From then on, people used Kelly’s flashy name to describe those who donned a federal badge.

“J. Edgar Hoover was the king of all G-Men.”

Wound tight

When we say that someone is “wound tight,” it means that he or she is jumpy, nervous, and generally tense. This idiom comes from the days of windup clocks and watches.

The inside of a timepiece is filled with intricate, fragile gears and springs. Over-winding a watch or clock creates too much tension and can damage these delicate parts, breaking a spring, for instance.

This concrete image of springs popping is largely responsible for our current use of the phrase in reference to tense individuals. 

“I’ve given up coffee. I’m wound tight on caffeine.”

Bling (or bling-bling)

Celebrities these days walk the red carpet draped in expensive jewelry, better known as “bling” in popular culture. 

Meant to imitate the imagined sound of jewelry’s sparkle, the word first appeared in 1999 in the rap song “Bling Bling” by Cash Money Millionaires. It has since become something of a household reference to riches, especially among younger generations.

“Today, success is often measured by how much bling a person wears.”

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