At loggerheads, flatfoot, crumb bum, barstorm

Created date

January 16th, 2019
A flatfooted constable on patrol

A flatfooted constable on patrol

At loggerheads

When two parties find themselves “at loggerheads,” it means that a quarrel or disagreement has evidently led to an angry impasse wherein rational discussion does nothing.

The phrase dates back to the 1600s and refers to heavy, iron-headed tools called “loggerheads.” Often used by ship caulkers to melt tar, this iron ball affixed to a long handle made a great weapon in the event of an argument.

The disagreement has definitely reached an impasse if this is the only remaining solution. Hence our use of the term today.

“Congress is currently at loggerheads over the border wall.”


If you’ve ever read or watched Chester Gould’s detective series Dick Tracy, then you’re doubtless familiar with the word “flatfoot.” Big Boy’s thugs, Flattop and Itchy, loved to call their law-enforcing nemesis by this derogatory term.

That’s because, in the early twentieth century, most policing was done on foot.

Rather than riding around in squad cars, officers typically walked a neighborhood beat, which allowed them to keep a surprisingly close eye on things. At the time, people believed that this excessive walking caused a malformation of the feet, namely overly flat soles.

A “flatfoot,” therefore, likely indicated that you were a cop. The bad guys took the word and ran with it.

“Not this time, flatfoot!” exclaimed Itchy, as he tried to outrun Tracy.

Crumb bum (crumbum)

A “crumb bum” is a relatively modern slang term for a contemptibly low, down-on-his-luck individual. First used in the mid 1950s, the insulting appellation combines the figurative imagery of a crumb’s smallness and overall insignificance with the word “bum,” meaning a wayward, homeless person.

“That old crumb bum is always panhandling for money.”


Before radio and television, there was theater. But not every small town in America had a big, fancy auditorium; nor did it have the money to bring in top-notch performers.

Instead, people settled for amateur theater companies that traveled the country performing in whatever space they were offered—even barns.

Dating back to the 1880s, actors and politicians would often make appearances in small, country towns. Staged in humble barns, these stops were generally one night, meaning performers came and went as quickly as a passing storm.

That’s where we get the term “barnstorm,” which refers to a theatrical or a political stumping tour that runs through rural locations, and usually at a breakneck pace.

“The president barnstormed the nation prior to the mid-term elections.”