Five Weird Wordy Facts

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Do you hate making small talk? Today we’re sharing the unusual origins of five commonly used words/phrases – read on and maybe one of them will come in use the next time you’re stuck in a boring conversation!

  1. To steal someone’s thunder
    Playwright John Dennis created a new method for replicating the sound of thunder for his 1704 play Appius and Virginia. The play was a flop and its run was cancelled, but Dennis’s thunder-creating device caught on and was used in other productions without his permission. Dennis, unimpressed, was later quoted saying “They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder!
  2. Snob
    Did you know that in the late 18th century the word ‘snob’ was used by Cambridge students to refer to the local townspeople who were not part of the university? In the 19th century the word came to refer to someone of no ‘breeding’, including those thought to be ‘social climbers’. Today the word describes someone who is condescending towards those they consider to be ‘below’ them.
  3. Humble Pie
    If you ‘eat humble pie’ it means that you’re apologising and taking the blame for a serious and humiliating error, but did you know the phrase isn’t only referring to the act of behaving in a humble manner? While the word ‘humble’ certainly fits with this definition, the expression is also a play on ‘umble pie’ (a pie made from the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys of a deer), which was considered to be food for the lower classes. ‘Humble’ and ‘umble’ aren’t actually etymologically linked – another happy accident in the world of words!
  4. Just Deserts
    While we’re talking about puddings and pies – you may have heard or read the phrase ‘just deserts’ before. If you’ve wondered about the spelling of ‘deserts’, you’re not alone! Before I saw the phrase written down, I always imagined an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque pudding which, instead of causing its consumer to change in size, would lead them to get exactly what they deserved - justice jam tarts anyone? This is because of the way the word is pronounced - like 'dessert'. Actually the 'desert' part of the phrase refers to an older definition of the word: 'things deserved'. Today, the word 'desert' when pronounced in this way usually refers to the act of forsaking one's duty to someone or something.
  5. Clue
    Did you know the word 'clue' is a sixteenth-century derivation of the word 'clew' which means 'ball of string'? Remember the Greek myth about Theseus and the Minotaur? After slaying the beast, Theseus followed the ‘clew’ he'd previously unravelled to find his way out of the labyrinth, and so 'clew' became a metaphor for a piece of information which helps to solve a problem. I wonder if the word 'Google' will become synonymous with 'clue' one day...

Does anyone think they can use all five of these words/phrases in one sentence? I can certainly imagine a story about a ‘snob’ being forced to ‘eat his humble pie’, can’t you? Send us your attempts!

Have a good week!

Avani Shah

08 Sep 2014
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