Horrible, blackguard, above board, open season

Created date

April 29th, 2019

“Horrible” derives from the Latin horrere, meaning “to stand on end.” And that’s precisely what happens when we see a horrible sight—our hair stands on end.


In addition to idioms and phrases, the origins of individual words can be interesting. After all, knowing where a word comes from enriches our understanding and usage of vocabulary.

Such is the case with “horrible,” for instance. A word that we use daily, we often say it without giving it a second thought.

“Horrible” derives from the Latin horrere, meaning “to stand on end.” And that’s precisely what happens when we see a horrible sight—our hair stands on end.

The spelling evolved over the years, leaving us with “horrible.”

“He just recovered from a horrible case of pneumonia.”


Today, a “blackguard” refers to scurrilous or criminal characters. But the term dates back to at least the seventeenth century.

Originally, “blackguards” comprised the lowest ranks of staff in noble and royal households, whose responsibilities were typically confined to dirty and, more to the point, sooty jobs. These tasks, which included scrubbing pots and pans and tending ash-filled fireplaces and chimneys, could literally blacken a person with soot.

The word’s usage soon expanded, applying generally to people of ill repute.

“He dressed the part of a gentleman, but in reality, he was little more than a blackguard.”

Above board

When we say that something is “above board,” it means that it’s fair, honest, and legitimate. First appearing in print around the late 1500s, the word alludes to a tabletop (hence, “board”).

With that in mind, imagine an ongoing game of poker. It’s a lot harder to cheat when a player keeps his hands and his cards on the table or “above the board.”

Similarly, a politician accepting a bribe from a constituent might do so over a nice steak dinner, during which the money changes hands under the table (also a commonly used idiom). In this instance, such dealings are not “above board.”

“Before donating money to a charity, make sure that the organization is above board.”

Open season

Those who live in the country probably hear this one a lot. “Open season,” in the most technical sense, is the legal term for officially allotted periods of hunting.

Simply put, there are certain times of the year for hunting specific animals, whether geese, deer, boar, bear, or sundry other types of wildlife. During their particular “open season,” these creatures become targets that will doubtless draw plenty of rifle fire.

This, in turn, led to the expression’s metaphorical usage in the early 1900s, when it suddenly applied to anyone or anything caught in an adversary’s crosshairs. To crack down on fraud, for example, the IRS could declare “open season” on tax evaders.

Whatever the example might be, the meaning remains the same: During “open season,” somebody has it out for you.

“I hope the Federal Trade Commission declares open season on telemarketers.”