Word Origin Comics: Let’s Hear It for Materialism! The Case for WoolyThinking

According to The Urban Dictionary, the current definition of “woolly thinking” is the art of thinking with your head in the clouds. Not “clear” thoughts, but rather those done through the mist caused by not concentrating on what you are doing. The thesis is that if you had the time to think clearly, you would realize that what you are doing is just plain daft.

Examples of woolly thinking are being so caught up in matters of the mind that you could saw a branch off a tree while sitting on that branch or when you begin to believe that “autocruise” drives the car for you.

Dr. Who, however, had quite a different perspective on it — one underscoring its value: ” It’s very comforting when worn next to the skin.”

Here’s our take on the matter:


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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).

An Obvious Mismatch


When it comes to speaking of women, the English language can be said to have “miss-fired.” The mistress (14thC..) was originally a title of respect and an honorable term for a sweetheart or lover. She’s the source of both Miss and Mrs.  Miss is her first syllable and Mrs., a contraction of the word “mis’ess”.

During the reign of George II, it was common to refer to a single lady as “Mrs. so and so.”  Mrs. as a married label came only later. Miss became most closely identified with an illicit lover during the 17th century as when speaking of “Charles II’s Misses.” Since that time, whenever we speak of a mistress, we also think of her in those terms.

 Madam was also originally an honorific from the Old French madame via the Latin, mea domina, “my lady.” In Chaucer’s time madame was an honored title granted to the wives of minor town officials. In the 14th and 15th centuries lovers used the term as a way of addressing their loved ones. Even nuns were called madames. But with the Restoration, the word got so corrupted it came to be applied to any kept mistress or prostitute, leaving today’s madam a proprietress of a brothel and leaving us all “missing out.”

Word Origins Comics: Coming Clean or How to Introduce Neatness and Order Into your Life

For all the fellow slobs out there:

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.”
― Erma Bombeck

“Neatness, madam, has nothing to do with the truth. The truth is quite messy, like a wind blown room.”
― William J. Harris


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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)

Word Origin Comics: Beware of the Drop Deadline!

For those of you feeling the need to get things done ASAP, a few random thoughts:

“I am a person who works well under pressure. In fact, I work so well under pressure that at times, I will procrastinate in order to create this pressure.”

― Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

“Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It’s no coincidence we call them ‘deadlines.”

― Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas


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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.

Word Origin Comics: Clothes But No Cigar

A little something for all you fashion plates out there:

“What you wear is more important than what you say, and if your shirt’s not pressed, impressions are instantly formed about you. That’s why I wear nothing, I say nothing, and I network with nudists.”
– Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

“I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.”
– Gilda Radner

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”
– Albert Einstein


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