Issue 208, page 4
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From Hans in Norway:
This is an enigmatic message, isn't it?
From Andrew Charles:
For Curmudgeons' Corner, the misuse of I and me (and he and him) is just another step in the loss of declension in the English language. This is nothing new. We have already lost thou, thee and ye to the all-encompassing you. Meself, thouself and youselves have already been supplanted by the grammatically incorrect myself, yourself and yourselves (himself, herself, itself and themselves alone preserve the correct objective case). Curmudgeon Linda perpetuates this now standardized error herself. Those few nouns such as meadow which still possess both nominative (mead) and oblique cases (meadow) have merged into a single form in common use. Such grammatical structures are no longer taught or understood, so is it any wonder people misuse their last remaining bastions?
While I agree with most of your corrections to the PBS program "Says You", I think you came up a little short on greased skids. There is a host of phrases linked with the elimination of friction, and many of them employ a lubricant. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology puts the word "skids" back to the XVIIth century and thus probably predates skid road. Certainly skids have been used to support the movement of large loads all the way back to the pyramids and Stonehenge, the Egyptians used a slurry of flour and milk to grease their skids and the druids probably used animal fat, emulsified with leaf material and water, and we have the Anglo-Saxon scid or wood splinter for braking a wheel. Given the widespread use of ramps, slipways, stone sledges, etc., it is unlikely one will be able to pin down a nautical, logging or construction origin.
What I find interesting is the variety of usage: to grease the skids - means to make things easier ... the skids are greased means that some misfortune is imminent, and if you continue on this course you will experience an exit on a slippery slope. I suspect that greasing one's palm and crossing the palm with silver is a mixture of the two, although a person with a greased palm may be somewhat slimy.
Certainly building ways are timbers upon which ships are often built and when you see grease being applied you know that launching is imminent. More commonly and a much older practice is to haul out fishing vessels or other smaller boats on skids to clean their bottoms, store them through the winter, etc. As well, ships and boats were originally launched using spare spars that were always carried onboard in case of accident, and these like the masts, were greased with slush - the foamy stuff that comes off the top of the boiling salt pork and salt beef as it is cooked to death. (the sale of any excess of course was the prerogative of the cook who thereby provided himself with a slush fund). The spars so used were called skid beams or skids and greasing them would indicate a chance to use the boats somewhere near land. I believe farmers have been greasing their skids with manure for a very long time, so the logging origin seems a little parochial even if it played a part in the development of the phrase.
Thanks for your comments! The problem with your assertions about grease
the skids is that the phrase is not recorded until, as far as we could
find, 1901 (it is not in the OED, whose editors have access to many more
resources that we do; if the OED editors had researched it, they might
have found earlier instances of the phrase). You may conjecture that the
phrase is as old as the practice of lubricating skids, but that is not
necessarily so. Until we find other, older examples of the phrase in the
written record, we must stick with what we know. What we know is that
the earliest example of the phrase grease the skids that we have found
is associated with logging. Saying anything else without written
evidence to back it up is pure speculation -- for example, knowing that
farmers lubricated skids with manure is of no use in ascertaining the
origin of the phrase grease the skids without written evidence that the
phrase was used to refer to such a practice. So we good-naturedly
disagree with you that the logging origin is parochial. However, if you
have come across instances of the phrase grease the skids in areas other
than logging prior to 1901*, please do share them and we will be all
ears (or eyes, as this is, of course, written correspondence).
Count me among those who are so happy to see you
back in print that I felt I just had to send you a donation. But I also
have a comment to add to Bill's observation about the correct regional
term for a carbonated beverage. Here in the Boston area when I was
growing up, we drank neither soda nor pop (nor, for that matter,
pop), but tonic. With the rise of fast food chains and their
homogenizing effect on nomenclature, the usage is fading away, but I
still hear older locals (like myself) use the term.
Thanks, Bob, for the kind words and the donation! And you are correct about the word moxie deriving from the name of the soft drink. Read the next comment below from another Bill.
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Re: soda vs. pop - when I was growing up in central Massachusetts in the 50's we called them tonics. But that may have been influenced by my dad who grew up in western New York in the 20's and 30's.
A few years ago, I came across Issue 78 where the word Tokoloche* was mentioned and a challenge raised for creative uses of the word. Thought you’d want to know I was inspired to name my cat Tokoloche…an apt name for her demeanor. Thanks for the word and the fun site!
*note that the accepted spelling is tokoloshe - Eds.
Or read the last issue to see what all of these people are talking about!
additions? Send to Melanie & Mike: firstname.lastname@example.org
DO NOT SEND QUERIES TO THAT ADDRESS. Instead, ASK US.
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Last Updated 11/05/06 11:07 AM