Explain the Phrase

Staff Writer

Most of us have heard these common phrases, but do you know where they originated?

Pipe dream
Opiates were commonly used by the English Literati in the 18th and 19th centuries. The surreal dreams they experienced after smoking from an opium pipe became known as “pipedreams.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, known for works such as Kubla Khan, was one of the most reknown users. He first associates the phrase with opium smoking in September 1895 in The Fort Wayne Gazette.

Five o’clock shadow
The 19th century English upper class were known for their habit of drinking tea at five o’clock each day. This habit spread to the middle class, they became known as “five o’clocks,” and then to the United States. Late-afternoon dinners in the United States became known as “five o’clock dinners.” In the 1930s, Gem Safety Razor Company targetd men who had “ugly afternoon beard growth” with a new advertising campaign. They suggested their product to remedy their “five o’clock shadows,” adapted from “five o’clock dinners.”

Go postal
Several incidents between 1986 and 1997 in the United States led to this phrase. Employees of the United States Postal Service shot and killed fellow workers and community members. The first event was in August 1986. In an Oklahoma post office, fourteen postal workers were killed and six were injured by gunshot by Patrick Sherrill. Between then and 1997, there were more than 20 incidents that resulted in over 40 deaths. The term was first printed in a Florida’s The St. Petersburg Times in December 1993.

Spill the beans
This phrase most likely originated from the voting system used in ancient Greece. It is thought that white beans indicated positive voites and black beans indicated negative votes. Votes had to be unanimous. If the collector spilled the beans before the vote was complete and there was a black bean, the vote was stopped.

…as happy as a clam!
The full phrase is “…as happy as a clam at high water.” Clams are shielded from predators at high tide. The phrase originated in the north-eastern area of the United States during the 19th century.


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