From Dennis S. Rybicki:
I would have supposed some connection to the ancient Latin/Greek Thule as in
Ultima Thule http://www.ultima-thule.co.uk.
There does not appear to be a connection between toolies
and Thule. For those who do not know, Thule is the ancient Greek name (borrowed by the Romans) for a
fabled land that was six days' voyage by boat north of Britain, supposedly the furthest north that one could go in the
world. The phrase ultima Thule is thus used to mean the "extreme limit of travel and
discovery", and, so, figuratively, "the highest or uttermost point or degree attainable". That
sense is quite a bit different from that communicated from toolies.
The word Thule first appears in an account by Polybius of Pythias'
voyage. It first made it to English in the time of Alfred the Great (9th century).
Tule fogs, BTW, are the densest fogs I have ever seen. They kill people on California freeways because their edges are extremely abrupt; drivers don't know whether to slow down to a safe speed (about 1 mph) and risk getting rear-ended, or just keep going blindly in the hope that they won't rear-end a slow vehicle or multi-car pileup.
From Eric D. Zimmerman:
I find it interesting that you speculate that the expression out in
the toolies is used frequently in California. A good friend who grew up in south Texas introduced the phrase to me.
That is interesting. We need to get the rest of the Dictionary of
American Regional English (we have only Volume 1 so far - each volume is pricey (but worth it)) and look into this
From Linda Echols:
If shaky etymology is fun, my etymological thinking (guessing) on the
short end of the stick is probably trembling.
I think it refers to casting lots, as we sometimes do to resolve disputes. Someone breaks small sticks (toothpicks, matchsticks,
broom-straws) into different lengths. They then offer them with all ends showing even for others to choose from. If you got the short end, you lost.
Please tell me what you think. Am I holding the short end of a stick? I continue to enjoy TOWFI. Thank you.
Certainly seems possible, but we've seen no etymologists suggest it;
plus, isn't it known as drawing straws versus drawing sticks? That would suggest short end of
From Bob T:
I visited your site for the first time today after seeing the URL on the Pepys' Diary site. While I was browsing through, I saw the word
charabanc broken down into char-a-banc, and suddenly the name made sense. Here in Canada francophones use the word
char for "car", and banc is a bench. So charabanc is a car with benches. Simple when someone explains it to you :-)
I grew up in England, and called them chara-bangs; a summer treat was the Mystery Tour on a
Thanks, Bob! And while we're not exactly sure which Pepys' Diary
site you refer to, allow us to reciprocate and link to the most interesting Pepys site we've seen (we hope it's the
same one you visited, Bob): http://www.pepysdiary.com.
From Jane Barry:
Until I read your site I didn't realise that church had such a problematic etymology.
I am attending classes here in Birmingham, UK, on British place names, and last week we were looking at places named after sacred sites, e.g. Wodens-burh (modern Wednesbury), and Harrow, which derives from Old English/Anglo-Saxon
hearg, meaning a sacred place (it had a landmark church up on Harrow hill at an early date). I asked the teacher if this word was related to church but she didn't think it in the least likely. Has this derivation ever been proposed before?
Not that we have encountered. However, we have found a reference
to Old English hearg meaning "heathen temple or shrine", which would seem to discount
any connection with church.
From Paul Clapham:
It is not necessary to speculate that a Queen Isabella liked horses of
a golden-brown colour; the uncommon English word isabelline means "grayish-yellow". In European birding field guides you will find the
Isabelline Shrike and the Isabelline Wheatear.
The OED doesn't seem to like the idea that it comes from Queen Isabella or even the
From Adrian Michaels:
I love your site. Just a bit of pedantry for you: On your piece on Zip codes, you say "it's a Postal Code in the
U.K." It isn't really, it's a Postcode. I even checked the Royal Mail website to check I wasn't going mad. And I thought one of you was from Wales!
Mike does remember it being postcode but the OED lists postal code as a generic term for such
From M. Ford:
Sorry but I agree with Luke that beck and call is a corruption of
beckon call - and can be shortened to n resulting in beck 'n' call [just like
rock 'n' roll] - said quickly or quietly, beckon call sounds just like beck and call - in
Scotland [especially Glasgow area], children are called weans [pronounced "wanes"] - this is a corruption of
yins" [literally, "little ones"] - in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the area just below the Castle is called the Lawnmarket - this too is a corruption of LANDmarket.
Yes, but there is no early instance of beckon call in the
written record, while there are plenty of instances of beck and call. Usually the tendency would be to
run things together over time (beck and call into beckon call, or dog eat dog into doggie
dog). You are suggesting the reverse, and while it does happen (it's usually called folk etymology),
it does not appear to have happened in this instance.
From Mark Newstetter:
I believe that your etymology of boilerplate is basically correct, but your remarks about boiling lead being used to make the plates is not quite to the point.
The fact that newspaper printing plates were all made by pouring molten lead into papier-mache molds is less significant than the fact that these curved plates actually resemble the metal plates used to make up the sides of a boiler.
A preset mold likewise would be made in the same "boilerplate" shape, and would be called a boilerplate by printers.
Mike, who has printing work in his job history, says you are
entirely correct about the plates' shape. That may indeed be the source of the word!
From Dan Bosserman (of Boring, Oregon!):
I can't remember the first time I heard I'd just as soon, but it has
always seemed to me a useful and meaningful surprise. Recently I was proofreading a story by a young writer and encountered
I just assume.
Clearly the writer was trying to make sense of an expression she had heard but had never seen written. I was at some pains to explain the difference
without offending her. She has since stopped submitting her work to me for proofreading.
Hmm, not everyone can tolerate even constructive criticism!
Well, we can make another entry on our list of misheard words and phrases!
PREVIOUS | NEXT
read last week's issue to see what all
of these people are talking about!