Chump change

As we all know, “chump change” is nothing to write home about. We use the phrase in reference to everything from pathetic paychecks to comparative contexts in which we want to emphasize another’s wealth. (For example, $1 million is chump change to Bill Gates.) 


When we say that something is “spick-and-span,” it means that it’s as clean as new—quite literally. Unlike many of the terms we’ve reviewed, this one is purely foreign-language based. There are no quirky stories, no historical events that we can attribute to it.


We don’t see one all that often today, but the caboose was an essential part of the freight train for many years. It served as shelter for crew members, whose tasks included switching points on the tracks and watching the cars in transport to ensure against load shifting and other hazards.


When a state engages in gerrymandering, it’s dividing voting districts into units that will give a particular party the advantage in an election. The term derives its name from Elbridge Gerry, a member of the first Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Chop suey

Over time, this term has assumed a slang meaning similar to that of mincemeat. For example, “If you mess around with that bully, he’ll make chop suey out of you.”


Wouldn’t it be nice to get into a limo in the morning, a cup of coffee in one hand, your newspaper in the other? The only thing required of you would be to tell your chauffeur where you want him to take you.

No skin off my back

Surprisingly, this phrase hasn’t been around for too long. First used in the early twentieth century, its variations include “no skin off my nose” and “no skin off my teeth.” Of course, “no skin off my back” is the most common version in America, and it comes from the age-old punishment of flogging.

The 3rd degree

To give someone the 3rd degree is to subject them to an intense line of questioning. Usually, the term is used in reference to a police interrogation, but its origins actually stem from Freemasonry.

For Pete’s sake!

If you’ve ever been fresh out of patience, chances are you’ve uttered the phrase, “For Pete’s sake!” Of course, let’s be honest; you don’t always use the name Pete (and if you did, then you possess purer virtues than the author).

Labor of love

When we talk about something being a “labor of love,” we’re referring to work that we do for the sheer pleasure of it or perhaps for another’s benefit. The phrase, which we still use frequently today, has one of the oldest origins ever featured in the Where’d it come from series.