Off the charts

When we say that something is “off the charts,” we mean it has exceeded all expectations—it is better or bigger than anyone could have imagined.

As far as “the charts” go, the reference could be a number of things: graphs, measurements, perhaps seismograph printings. But the meaning remains the same.

Companion

Ah, companionship! We all need it. Most of us crave it. 

But where does the word come from? 

As with so many terms in our vocabulary, “companion” comes from a combination of long-forgotten Latin words. 

Give it a whirl

This one is surprisingly old, dating back to the late nineteenth century. American in origin, we use “give it a whirl” in reference to the act of trying something out.

Midas touch

If you’ve got the “Midas touch,” you’re capable of turning things into gold (in the metaphorical sense, of course). The phrase is a reference to King Midas, a Greek mythological figure who loved gold more than anything else in the world.

Butter him/her up

When you butter someone up, you’re trying to curry favor with them. But why “butter”?

Horrible

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.

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.

(The president’s) cabinet

There’s been much talk lately about the president’s cabinet—a group of advisors, each of whom is in charge of a specific department. On certain dates, these advisors, or “cabinet members,” gather with the president at a “cabinet meeting” to discuss various matters of national importance.

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.

Macaroni

It’s a delicious ingredient in more meals than you can count. Whether it’s under cheese, sauce, vegetables, or olive oil and vinegar, “macaroni” is a food that your palate can generally count on. But is its origin as Italian as it sounds?

According to etymologists, the answer is maybe.

Goon

While the word “goon” has a few uses, it originated as an alternative label for fools. “Goon” began as an abbreviated version of “gooney,” which came from the obsolete sixteenth-century term “gony,” meaning “simpleton.”

Kentucky windage

To be sure, it was brave soldiers with rifles who won this nation’s independence more than 200 years ago.