Ham (ham it up), Quintessence, Draw it mild, Cardinal

Created date

March 22nd, 2019

Ham (ham it up)

Theatrical lore has it that actors at the bottom of the barrel used lard to remove their makeup after a performance as opposed to the more appropriate cold-cream solution. Naturally, pork has its fair share of lard, but why use “ham” to describe an amateur?

The answer is most likely a combination of sources.

First, we have the alleged use of lard to remove makeup from bad actors. Secondly, ham, for some reason, has often been used to describe clumsiness and a general lack of skill, probably due to the clunky shape of this cut of meat.

There’s “ham-fisted” and “ham-handed,” for example, both old references to anything done amateurishly or crudely.

That said, to be a “ham” or to “ham it up” is to perform at a conspicuously low level.

“While he tries to be funny, he usually just makes a ham out of himself.”


This word takes us back to medieval alchemy. Those who practiced this “science” were basically real-life sorcerers—what we might call chemists today.

Of course, back then, they operated with a lot less precision and lot more superstition. To alchemists, the essence of something was that substance distilled to its purest form.

According to these early practitioners, the “quintessence” (or fifth essence) was the substance from which the stars were made. As absurd as this notion may seem to us now, having witnessed modern, rational science, we still use the term today in reference to the most characteristic element of someone or something.

“That guy is the quintessence of a villain.”

Draw it mild

This one is an English phrase, and something you might often hear in the pubs of London. On ordering a pint of bitter ale, the patron may say to the bartender, “Draw it mild,” meaning something not too bitter.

In time, however, English speakers commandeered this request for different purposes—mainly as a gentle rebuke to known fibbers. If a friend told a story and was clearly stretching the truth, one might caution them to “draw it mild…”

“Now, now! Draw it mild. We know it didn’t happen quite like that.”


If you’re a nature lover, “cardinal” reminds you of the bird. If you’re a Catholic, it reminds you of the church leader.

The latter image is the basis for the term as we know it. Indeed, in Latin, “cardo” means “hinge.”

And, as any Catholic can attest, cardinals are one of the hinges upon which the Church door swings.

Out of this, we get other phrases, such as “cardinal rule,” meaning the hinge of rules, the most important.

As far as the bird is concerned, he borrowed his name from the red robes worn by the cardinal priests.

“Once made a cardinal, he believed he was destined to be pope.”