My Heavens!


When’s the last time you were really blissed out?

Jazz musicians of the twenties who were high on drugs, were on a cloud, or on cloud seven. Today we’re on cloud nine or in seventh heaven.

Muslims, like the Ancient Jews and Babylonians, believed in a multi-tiered heaven. Second Heaven isn’t too shabby. Besides being the domain of John the Baptist and Jesus, it’s composed of pure gold.

But why settle for second when your ultimate goal is seventh heaven? It’s the heaven of heavens, the abode of God and the highest angels. Ruled by Abraham, and formed of divine light, it’s so magnificent as to defy description.

Each inhabitant there is bigger than the whole earth and has 70,000 heads with 70,000 mouths speaking 70,000 languages, all chanting the praises of Allah. If you’re fortunate enough to get there, you’re sure to know ineffable bliss — the greatest pleasure possible.

Aristophanes’ comedy, “The Birds,” had us in Cloud Cuckoo Land, a city built in the air by birds, separating the gods from humankind. In modern British slang, you’re over the moon. Where can you be found when you’re feet are not firmly on the ground

Fish Your Wish


What’s with the fish? Since 1750, he’s been “a peculiar person”— and everything from queer to odd or cold. Fish stories are considered tall tales, from the fisherman’s tendency to exaggerate the size of his catch, making things fishy, “suspect “or “questionable.”

Worse yet is his personal life. Around 1737, fishy also became synonymous with being drunk, leaving us green, about or around the gills (17thC.), a reference to the skin beneath the jaw and ears and the complexion resulting from excessive drinking. This left us putting away prodigious amounts of liquor — drinking like a fish, a habit we picked up around 1640.

If the truth be known, fish don’t drink, obtaining their water instead from their food. But they do swim with their mouth open, allowing water to pass through their gills supplying them with oxygen, creating the appearance of drinking continuously.

What exactly is it we’re doing here? We’re simply on a fishing expeditions (c.1930) —what else?—“attempting to obtain useful information by asking questions without a definite purpose in mind.” Those who would attribute some higher purpose to this column can be said to have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker (c.1838).

Not So Sure Footed?


A tale to make one tremble:

“Please walk along this line,” the state trooper firmly requests.

You’d like to make tracks. But you’re delirious, from the Latin de, “away from” and lira, a “ridge” or “furrow,” making for delirare — causing you “to go out of the furrow in plowing” or “plow a crooked line.”

When the Romans applied the word figuratively, it meant “to wander mentally,” or “to rave.” This left you delirious and also gave you the d.t.s, more formally known as the delirium tremens, the shakes and hallucinations accompanying a severe alcoholic episode.

“Exactly how much have you had to drink?, sir?” he asks.

Could you have been driving while intoxicated?

Toxon is Greek for “bow” as in a bow and arrow. Toxicon, was the poison in which the arrow was dipped. Though this toxin made you toxic, it also provided you with an antitoxin (anti, “against”). Alas, there’s no antitoxin here.

“Nothing against you personally, sir, but when intoxicated, you have simply been laid low by the lethal effects of too much liquor.”

The bottom line for those who drink?

Name your poison!

The Long and Short of It


The holiday season may be over, but ‘tis always the season to be giving. The giving, however, has a way of getting pretty ugly. It began amidst the holiday tumult with people giving each other short shrift (c.1879)—”treating them in a brusque manner” and “paying them insufficient attention.”

Shrift originally referred to a confession to a priest who granted absolution. Short shrift was the brief period prior to an execution during which a prisoner received that sacrament.

Lovers give one another short shrift by giving them the air (c1949), i.e., blowing them off. Employees do so by giving their employers the bag (c.1825), “insufficient notice”—leaving them holding the bag.

Employers, in turn, give workers the sack (1825)–the bag in which they carried their tools which was handed back to them when they were fired.

We end up rejecting one another by giving them the gate (1901). We once used to grant someone the gate (c.1470), “to give leave to go. “

Amazing how the grace and magnanimity of the original phrase has given way to the bitterness and disaffection of the current version.

This leaves us giving people the brush-off and the old heave-ho. All at a time when we should be giving pause (17thC.)…and thanks.

See Barack Run

Poor Barack Obama has had to run the gauntlet of criticism from all sides. It’s a corruption of gantlope, from the Swedish gatlopp, a “running lane”— a military punishment introduced during the Thirty Years War (1610-48) in which an offender was forced to run naked between two rows of soldiers armed with scourges, switches, and swords, each of whom struck him a painful blow.


While the President is running the gauntlet, it’s the Republicans who are throwing down the gauntlet, “a mailed glove.” That’s how knights issued a challenge during Medieval times — one which was accepted when the challenged knight literally took it up.

In this instance, however, it’s only Obama’s woes which have picked up — continuing to run the gamut, “extending over the full range of possibilities.” Gamut derives from the medieval musical scale of Guido d’Arezzo, gamma being the first or lowest note + ut (which later became do), which was the highest.

   As to how to characterize the quality of the performance of the key figures in this comedic contest—from the President to the Democratic and Republican members of Congress—one can only paraphrase Dorothy Parker, as to how it “runs the gamut from A to B.”