Friday, March 11, 2011

Do You Even Know What You’re Talking About…?

   Talk, talk, talk…that’s all you do. That’s all any of us do. Well, not all, but the spoken word is the most common form of communication we human beings use. Personally, I like a good conversation and absolutely adore a great one. I’m a fan of engaging the mind and exploring the myriad possibilities that the thought process can produce. I have to admit though, I get carried away sometimes and it was just one of those times that I found myself contemplating the words I was hearing...indeed, have often heard but never given a second thought to.
   I was in a conversation about an impending court case (not mine, I endeavor to stay out of trouble folks) and speaking about the evidence, someone said “...after I present all that, this case will be cut and dried.” “Cut and dried”...really? I mean, not literally, but then...what? I thought to myself about where the expression had come from because I already knew what it meant, but how did it ever end up in our common vernacular and come to have the meaning it does? I asked those around, abruptly cutting into the conversation, if they knew where the term came from and was met with an instant and wild interest about the origin of the phrase....followed by an equally instant disappointment because I didn’t have the answer. Just so I cover all the bases here, let me not assume everyone is familiar with the phrase and divulge the definition:
“Something which is very obvious and clear; not requiring further explanation.”
   I decided to research the term and was fully anticipating an easy assignment that would consist of a quick Google search and a neat explanation of the origin. Well,...lets just say, “...the best laid plans...” and leave it at that. As I have discovered, there are many presumed origins to this often-used phrase. One account of the origin is that it originally applied to cutting herbs in the field and then drying them in preparation of a sale. I don’t know if it’s true and I certainly can’t make the connection to todays common usage. That being said, the phrase has also been linked to having origins in lumber, firewood and tobacco and meat...all of which must be cut and dried to be effectively used how we use them...or used to in the case of the meat. Timber must be cut and dried to be useful lumber, the best firewood is cut and dried, tobacco must be cut and dried to be used and before the advent of freezing, meat had to be cut and dried to be preserved. All very interesting...but doesn’t explain how we get to evidence in a court case being...cut and dried.
   I suppose I will have to continue my research until I’m satisfied that a reasonable connection can be made between the origin of the phrase and the current use it gets. I’m optimistic though...that I’ll never really know. I fear too much time and societal change has passed for this particular phrase to have such a clear connection as, say...”going postal.” The tragedy of who we as human beings can become led to someone picking up arms against their coworkers in a post office...and it will likely never leave our lips again in quite the same way. A heinous act, viewed as crazy...and rightly so, has made its way into our vocabulary to describe anyone deemed angry enough to commit violence. I wonder if, in a hundred years, this will still be such an easy connection to make...or will time and our ever changing society lose this thread in the tapestry of our speech.

   We speak every day, but do we really know what we’re talking about? Do we really know what we are saying despite the message we are trying to get across? How many times do you use a phrase and don’t give a single thought to where its origins lay? I think we do it more often than we think we do, if we gave any thought to how much we do it...fair to say? Right...anyway, please visit the links below for some very interesting background on many of the phrases we hear and say...without having a clue about what we’re talking about.
   Until my brain resurfaces from the grey matter dive it took...take care, and God bless!

p.s.: Just for the Technorati guys...DTNZVNENRN5H


  1. I think about the origins of phrases at times and have even tried researching a few, too. As you experienced, there's not always such a clear, definitive explanation about the initial use of a phrase or idiom. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to learn about when and where people stared saying things the way they say them.

  2. I just came across this link, the Phrase Finder, and thought you may interested. It has the meaning and origins of thousands of sayings. Check it out: