Tribune Print Share Text

Title

Coward, Every Dog Has its Day, Screwball, Tapped Out

Created date

January 4th, 2018
close up photo of a baseball on its way over the plate with the pitcher out of focus in the background

Ever wonder how certain expressions came about? Here are some examples and their original meanings. 


Coward

No one throughout history has ever looked with favor upon a “coward.” From the very beginning, it was a term laced with stigma.

The word most likely comes from the Latin term cauda, or tail. Naturally, the image here is that of an animal “turning tail” and running away, or perhaps creeping off with its “tail between its legs.” 

Eventually, cauda evolved into “coward.”

“In the military, a deserter is the worst kind of coward.”

Every dog has its day

Truer words have never been spoken. Indeed, “every dog does have its day,” meaning that everyone meets with success at one time or another. 

And the phrase, which is still used regularly today, is quite old. Etymologists believe the idiom was popularized as early as the seventeenth century in Shakespeare’s legendary play Hamlet

In Act 5, Scene 1, Hamlet says to Claudius:

Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

Over 400 years later, we continue to use this phrase to mean essentially the same thing.

“I have never once won the lottery, but I keep on playing because every dog has its day.”

Screwball

For baseball fans, “screwball” calls to mind a pitcher moving into his windup. For Looney Toons fans, the term is redolent of the impish Bugs Bunny, who often used it to describe his adversary Elmer Fudd.

Both are relevant to an understanding of where the word “screwball” came from.

Not surprisingly, “screwball” did originate in the game of baseball. In the early twentieth century, pitcher Christy Mathewson developed a pitch wherein he put a spin or twist on the ball (like a screw) that caused it to break unexpectedly over the plate.

The screwball’s erratic nature soon became a favorite slang reference to those who were themselves unstable and perhaps a little bit crazy. While other pitches, like the knuckleball, are even more unpredictable than the screwball, the latter term stuck.

“Don’t go near that guy. He’s a real screwball.”

Tapped out

When someone says he’s “tapped out,” it means he’s finished. He can’t go on. 

The phrase comes from the game of poker, in which it is common practice for players who are out of money to fold their cards and tap the table, signaling that they’re finished.

Today, we use “tapped out” to describe an inability to continue in any circumstance.

“When my mother offered me another piece of pie, I replied, ‘No way. I am tapped out.’”

Comments