All Crossed Up


Amazing, isn’t it, how things how things just cross our mind (18thC.)? Take this column…Please take it!

Cross is from the Anglo Saxon cros from the Latin crux, cruci. And that, dear reader, is the crux of the matter (16thC.), a pivotal decision or central point (1888). No need to get angry about it. The image of two sticks crossed “passing or lying athwart of each other” (OED) easily gives rise to associations of contrariness and opposition.

This left many people cross and put them at cross purposes.  From this they learned how to cross others (up) (1821, betraying or cheating them. They also double-crossed (19thC.).—the

first cross, an affirmation making a promise, the second undoing it.

Such choices are often made at the crossroads (16thC.), a crucial juncture –the intersection of two roads long having been accorded importance.

When things cross and get tangled, they get criss-crossed. During medieval times, the first lesson in the children’s primer was the alphabet. It was printed on the top line and was introduced by the symbol of the cross, making it “Christ’s cross row,”. Through use it wore down to “crisscross row,” and then to crisscrossCross my heart and hope to die (1908).

The Core of Things


It’s time for a brief history lesson for all you smart apples out there (c.1920s). Around 1910, Black jazz musicians in New Orleans stumbled upon the Spanish word manzana, “apple” which also described a substantial tract of land—anything from an apple orchard to a city block. Apple then migrated into show business, synonymous with things large. As musicians made their trek northward, it came to stand for “the big city,” ripe with opportunity, and ready for the picking. It was “the big time “and “where the action was.”

Cab Calloway, in his book, Hi De Ho (1938), defined The Big Apple as “The big town, the main stem, Harlem.” A Harlem night club later took it as its name and launched  from there the biggest dance craze of the swing era—The Big Apple.

    In 1971, Charles Gillettt, President of the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau, launched a campaign featuring it as the city’s unofficial nickname, calling it “a positive and upbeat symbol.”

Horace Walpole dubbed 18th century London “The Strawberry” for its freshness and cleanliness. Does 20th century New York need a little apple polishing (c.1927)?  How do you like them apples? (1930s)

Getting Your Value’s Worth


Decrying the quality of things? Not worth a red cent (19thC.), you say, the coin once made of reddish copper. Not even worth a rap (1721). No knock intended, a rap was but a counterfeit coin circulating in Ireland in the early 18th century.

Nor are they even worth a tinker’s damn.  Some think the “damn” a “dam,” a piece of dough used to repair a metal pipe, keeping the solder in place until it hardened But we started not giving a tinker’s damn in 1839, some thirty eight years before this “dam” entered the language.

These itinerant jacks-of-all-trades did curse a lot. Having very little social standing in the community, anything they said was of limited value. What could be worth less than a curse falling from their lips like a tinker’s damn?

A single bean’s also long been considered trifling. Creating a mound of them doesn’t substantially alter their value; it still amounts to a hill of beans (1947).

There are lots of others we could mention, most of which are not worth diddl(e)y (c.1964), originally a diddle, from diddling (c.1767), an activity synonymous with copulation. Given the erratic nature and subjective of that activity, we leave it to you to determine its actual value.