The English language is accepted as the world’s language, and is used more than any other in international circumstances.

But it’s also loaded with odd words and phrases that people utilize in a variety of ways without a second thought about why they exist or where they came from.

Here’s another look at where some of those “old sayings” may have originated.

•Deviled egg.

Just for fun, my wife sometimes refers to these appetizing delicacies as “angel eggs.”

But why the heck are they “deviled?”

Well, in multiple languages there has been a long-standing tradition of referring to hot, peppery or spicy foods as being “mean” or associated with the “underworld.” And who allegedly lives there?

One source indicates the term can be traced back to ancient Rome.

•Booby trap.

The word “boob” stems from the Spanish word, “bobo,” meaning stupid. 

The word “booby” has been used since at least the late 1600s to mean “fool” or “idiot.” An unsophisticated trap (that only a fool would fall for) was called a booby trap. Over time, the term has come to mean a harmful device designed to be triggered by an unsuspecting victim, and the idea that the victim is a fool no longer applies.

•Cocky.

A term widely known to describe someone who is boastful, overconfident, arrogant or conceited, it originally meant “lecherous” or “lustful,” but evolved during the 1700s. 

Its present meaning is derived (not surprisingly) from the behavior of a rooster in a henhouse.

•To-and-fro.

A phrase commonly associated with something moving in different directions, or someone being influenced by multiple sources, it came from two words, one that is still used and one that isn’t.

Long ago, there was not only the word “toward,” which held the same meaning then as it does now, but also “froward,” which had an opposite meaning.

Slowpoke.

If a person is this, they’re probably late for something or the last to finish something.

While the slow part is obvious, the “poke” part comes from the name of a device (like a yoke with a pole) that hundreds of years ago would be attached to domestic animals (such as pigs and sheep) to keep them from escaping enclosures. 

Poke is also the root of “pokey,” which as we all know simply means “slow.”

•Pull up.

Meaning to halt or stop, a basketball player might do this when dribbling fast at midcourt and encountering defenders.

The phrase probably originated in the realm of horseback riding, where pulling up on the reins would (usually) get a horse to stop moving.

•Pulling out all the stops.

This phrase is well known as a way of referring to using every available resource to accomplish a goal, or simply “going for it.”

It originated from the way pipe organs are constructed. They have “stops” to control the airflow through the pipes, and pulling them out increases the musical volume, while pushing them in does the opposite. 

The phrase has been used in its figurative form since about 1860.

•Tanking.

Meaning performing poorly on purpose, it’s not at all uncommon these days to hear this word used to describe the way a professional sports team is allegedly doing this to improve its standing in an upcoming draft.

In the 19th century, Americans called swimming pools “tanks,” and “go into the tank” was synonymous with diving. As far back as the 1920s, the phrase “go into the tank” became associated with intentionally losing a boxing match by diving onto the canvas and pretending to be knocked out.

Over time, it was shortened to a single word.

Stay tuned, there are plenty more of these to comprise a 24th entry in this series.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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