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American Words and their meaning
I have recently been impressed by a friend who has emigrated from South Africa and taken up residence in America. He sends out regular newsletters and has started including snippets on the meaning of American words and how they developed.
In the past I’ve had quite a bit published online and in print, about some of the different meanings of words and phrases between the various forms of International English. Not wanting to steal the idea from Eugene, but intrigued by the idea of where words or phrases come from, I’ve decided to research some common phrases—what they mean, and how they came about.
Because I haven’t got over the A to Z Challenge that I participated in throughout the month of April, I decided to tackle this is in alphabetical order.
Sometimes these posts will include only one phrase or common phrase, while other times there may be more. I won’t in any way cover all the possibilities as I’d like to complete the series in this lifetime. But it should be fun. Join me? Every Monday for the next 26 weeks I will give you at least one common saying starting with the next letter in the alphabet. (Sign up at the end of the post so you don’t forget to visit me each Monday and perhaps participate by adding suggestions.)
Seeing I’m doing this alphabetically, we’ll start with A. As Julie Andrews would say, “A very good place to start!”
“A little bird told me”
Meaning of this phrase: When we are told something in confidence, but we’re bursting to share it, we often say, “A little bird told me . . .” and we don’t feel obliged to disclose the source.
Where did this come from? The general consensus is that it comes from the Bible. In the book of Ecclesiastes, we read, “Don’t even think about cursing the king; don’t curse the rich, not even in secret. A little bird might hear and tell everything (10:20 CEV)”. Or as it appears in The Message: “Don’t bad-mouth your leaders, not even under your breath, And don’t abuse your betters, even in the privacy of your home. Loose talk has a way of getting picked up and spread around. Little birds drop the crumbs of your gossip far and wide.”
Many authors, including the renowned William Shakespeare, have made reference to birds that carry messages. Perhaps the closest to our common phrase is a sentence found in Peter Simple by Frederick Marryat, “A little bird has whispered a secret to me.” (By the way, this book is free on Amazon.com right now. Just click on the link.)
As I was writing this I wondered if the person who first came up with the idea of Twitter had this phrase in mind. Intriguing thought, but I couldn’t find out anything to back it up. What do you think? Why else would they call Twitter . . . Twitter?Click To Tweet
“A leopard cannot change its spots”
Meaning of this common phrase: This suggests that people or objects cannot change their inborn nature or traits.
Where did this come from? Amazingly, once again, this comes from the Bible. (Why amazingly? Because I just chose two without knowing their source.) In the book of Jeremiah we read, “Can you ever change and do what’s right? Can people change the color of their skin, or can a leopard remove its spots? If so, then maybe you can change and learn to do right (Jeremiah 13:23 CEV)”. The Message words it this way: “Can an African change skin? Can a leopard get rid of its spots? So what are the odds on you doing good, you who are so long-practiced in evil?”
That’s a bit of a depressing thought, isn’t it? Yet it doesn’t say it’s not possible. It says it’s “against the odds”.
I have just bought the Rudyard Kipling children’s book, Just So Stories (for myself) as it looks such fun and is going cheap on Amazon.
Among other stories Kipling tells the story of How the Leopard got its Spots.
According to Rudyard Kipling, it seems the leopard used to be sandy-colored, as was the Ethiopian.
They lived together in the same country where I live! In South Africa.
When the animals they used to prey on moved away, the leopard and Ethiopian grew hungry. After advice from a wise Baboon, they followed the animals of choice to their new abode.
Despite being able to smell Giraffe and Zebra, they couldn’t see them. One night, they managed to catch them, yet they still couldn’t see them. Through some clever negotiation, Giraffe and Zebra broke loose and explained how their camouflage kept them hidden.
So the Ethiopian changed his skin to black, and then used his fingers crunched together to paint the Leopard’s coat. They were so happy, they never changed their color again. And of course they all lived happily ever after!
It may not be biblical, but it sure is a fun story. I also look forward to reading How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump, and How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin . . . plus a number of other fascinating topics.
Over to You
Have you used either of these common phrases and if so in what connection? Can you think of any other well-known phrases beginning with an A? Please type them into a comment box below.
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