I painted this study of negative space after reading a review of Ralph Keyes lastest book, I Love It When You Talk Retro, Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech. Mr. Keyes’ previous book was the inspiration for a previous post of mine on quotes and mis-qoutes. So many sayings and expressions that we use today can be traced back to the far reaches of history. Illustrated here is “Eating Crow”. We all know what it means, but where did it come from? Most likely, it came from a mid 19th century joke that went like this: If you get stuck out in the wilderness do these 3 things; 1. catch a crow 2. boil the crow for a week with one of your boots 3. eat the boot. That might sound like a Henny Youngman joke, but I don’t think he went that far back! Another story has a British and American soldier from the War of 1812 forcing each other to eat a crow that the American shot. Frankly, it makes no sense to me and smacks of urban legend. Better check out Snopes.com for that one!
Harry Truman stopped the buck at his desk, but how did we start “passing the buck” to begin with? Keyes offers up an explanation featuring gambling out on the frontier. A buck knife was passed around to mark the dealer of each hand. If the cards dealt were questionable, the dealer used the knife to defend himself. If you didn’t care to take a chance on getting sliced up like deli turkey, you would chose not to deal and thus, “pass the buck (knife)”.
Speaking of turkey, let’s talk….Evidently, “talking turkey” derived from an old saw that had an Indian and a White Man hunting together. At the end of each trip they divided up the game and the Indian always ended up with all the crows (and, presumably, was “eating crow”), while the white dude claimed all the turkeys. That is, until our Indian got fed up and finally started to “talk turkey” with Mr. PaleFace.
Ok, so before you go off half cocked, let me give you some scuttlebutt. This isn’t the most scholarly history you will read, but if you are curious about the origin of American slang, I’m afraid it’s hobson’s choice for you. If you have trouble making small talk at cocktail parties a book like this might just be right up your alley. Alright, alright. I’ll stop now. Enjoy!