June 28, 2010
I love antiquated words. Some of the best stories about the origins of words come from a book called I Love It When You Talk Retro, by Ralph Keyes.
• The word “widget” comes from a 1924 play called Beggar on Horseback, by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly.
• “Taken aback” is a sailing term for those unfortunate times that the wind suddenly turns your sails around.
• The phrase “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time” is really not correct. The real saying came from Lyndon Johnson, who said of Gerald Ford (at that time, a Republican congressman from Michigan) that he couldn’t “fart and chew gum at the same time.” Newspapers cleaned it up for general readers.
• “Bimbo” is another great word. It’s a contraction of the Italian word for baby, “bambino.” And up until the 1920s, “bimbo” referred to men of loose morals.
• “Reading the riot act” to someone comes from King George I’s time, when he demanded Parliament to pass the Riot Act of 1714 “for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.”