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Don't drink the Kool Aid!
June 12, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

The phrases "Don't Drink the Kool Aid" or "Drinking the Kool Aid" are references to the 1978 cult mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Though the origin of the saying is awful and unfortunate, sometimes the current phrase as it is used now just fits the situation. What are some other widely used phrases in American culture that have their origin in an unfortunate historical event?
posted by angiewriter to Society & Culture (102 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
 
"...like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."
posted by Spinneret at 9:50 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Rearranging the deck chairs.
posted by jamaro at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2010


"...other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" is used when someone is being extremely critical about something, but not to the matter at hand, but to any/all of the surrounding parts.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:52 AM on June 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


Hanging Chad
Shock and Awe
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2010


It comes from fiction, but I've heard people use the phrase "Sophie's Choice" for merely difficult choices, as opposed to choices with two tragic outcomes. Sounds a bit odd to exhort American Idol fans to make a Sophie's Choice between two singers...
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every scandal that gets a "-gate" suffix stems from Watergate.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Going postal.
posted by ldenneau at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


The phrase "marathon" comes from an incident where a messenger ran from Marathon to Athens, until he communicated his message and finally dropped dead.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2010


*-Nazi
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:04 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh the humanity
posted by found missing at 10:11 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Going over the top / OTT - comes from trench warfare, a damned sight nastier than current usage.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:13 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Phrases like "...and then he dropped the bomb on me," "going nuclear," and "the nuclear option."

"Scorched earth" has a long and terrible history, as do "take no prisoners" and "no quarter." We often use these phrases just to mean "be tough" or "this is serious," when in fact they refer to what are now war crimes.

Going over the top / OTT - comes from trench warfare, a damned sight nastier than current usage.

Along the same lines: "no man's land."
posted by jedicus at 10:14 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I imagine that any reference to a "sticky situation" probably refers to the Boston Molasses Disaster.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:15 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Montezuma's Revenge.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:17 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Give it a few years, but "junk shot," "top kill" and "I'd like my life back" will all be part of our vernacular.
posted by Frank Grimes at 10:20 AM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2010


One that makes me a little nuts every single time I hear it, although I know it's really innocuous at this point, is:

"Oh, it's a little cold, so I'm just going to nuke it in the microwave for a few minutes."

I've wondered if the fact that horrific images of post-nuclear Hiroshima flash into my mind every time I hear the phrase "nuke it" indicates that I have some sort of dissociative disorder, but in any case it's a good example of a phrase that has terrible origins becoming an everyday parlance.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's just one word, but shibboleth has its origin in an act of genocide.
posted by jedicus at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2010


I imagine that any reference to a "sticky situation" probably refers to the Boston Molasses Disaster.

I couldn't find any evidence for this on Google Books, news archive searches, or searches for the etymology of the phrase.
posted by jedicus at 10:26 AM on June 12, 2010


"Made the trains run on time." This is a reference to Mussolini, meaning that a fascist dictator will still be appreciated if they do things that concretely benefit society. (As a side note, the historical premise is disputed.)

Lynching.

Naming names. (Reference to McCarthyism.)

Any reference to being "in the trenches" evokes World War I.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2010


Meltdown (as in behavioral/psychological breakdown) whose usage I suspect has only been since Three Mile Island.
posted by artlung at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2010


This is maybe borderline, but the Battle of the Bulge, a German offensive against the Allies in WWII, is sometimes jocosely (and really insensitively) used to refer to dieting.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2010


"Perfect storm" entered the vernacular after my neighbor Sebastian Junger used it as the title of his book about the 1991 Halloween storm. It's weird to know someone who personally changed the English language in an intentional way.
posted by nicwolff at 10:40 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Oh, it's a little cold, so I'm just going to nuke it in the microwave for a few minutes."

I've wondered if the fact that horrific images of post-nuclear Hiroshima flash into my mind every time I hear the phrase "nuke it" indicates that I have some sort of dissociative disorder, but in any case it's a good example of a phrase that has terrible origins becoming an everyday parlance.


I think this is incorrect. I believe the phrase "nuke it" is a reference to how people imagine microwave ovens to work, as people also talk quite a bit about the radiation that they emit. There are urban legends about people who work with nuclear material having their dosimeters more regularly set off by the lunch room microwave than by anything else. This is further supported by the fact that we don't use the phrase "nuke it" to refer to any other form of heating something up.
posted by OmieWise at 10:45 AM on June 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


When one has gone AWOL or crazy or otherwise astray, one is off the reservation.
posted by klanawa at 10:47 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


One occasionally still hears the phrase "I read them the riot act" which is a reference to events that took place during the American Civil War, when there were anti-draft riots, and the rioters legally had to be read the Riot Act (somewhat in the way that people are told their Miranda rights today, when they are arrested - anything you say can be used against you, etc.) before the police could move in and use force against them to disperse the crowd. It now means a very serious final warning.
posted by grizzled at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This doesn't count because it's not English, but every time I see/hear somebody use the phrase 百花齐放 ("let a hundred flowers bloom") to celebrate or encourage creativity, I cringe and wonder if they realize the irony and history of the phrase.
posted by msittig at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Tarred and feathered.
posted by nangar at 10:58 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" is used when someone is being extremely critical about something, but not to the matter at hand, but to any/all of the surrounding parts.

Interesting - I had always heard it used in the context of a disastrous event, like (extreme example) say you go out to an anniversary dinner and the car breaks down most of the way there, so you walk the last two blocks and get robbed at gunpoint, but other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
posted by Addlepated at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


is a reference to events that took place during the American Civil War

Wrong century.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2010


Going over the top / OTT - comes from trench warfare, a damned sight nastier than current usage.

As does the idea of no man's land.

"Little Hitler" used to be a common phrase for "inflexible employees, petty rule-following and excessive administration," now replaced by "Jobsworth".
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on June 12, 2010


Slightly off topic, but do other languages have so many dark phrases turned to everyday or even ironic/sardonic/dark humorous use? I confess I'm surprised by the extent of these ... and use many of them myself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:22 AM on June 12, 2010


Suggestion that so and so was seen on the grassy knoll.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:22 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys are the most awesome source of info ever!!! Thanks and keep 'em coming! :)
posted by angiewriter at 11:28 AM on June 12, 2010


Hmm, "Off the reservation".

Also, I could see "X's Katrina" gain currency the same way "X-gate" has. But a bunch of Iraq war neologisms haven't really caught on. Like "X related program activities" or "Badly Sourced"
This doesn't count because it's not English, but every time I see/hear somebody use the phrase 百花齐放 ("let a hundred flowers bloom") to celebrate or encourage creativity, I cringe and wonder if they realize the irony and history of the phrase.
Also related: "Gang of N", like the "Gang of 14" in the senate or whatever.
I've wondered if the fact that horrific images of post-nuclear Hiroshima flash into my mind every time I hear the phrase "nuke it" indicates that I have some sort of dissociative disorder
Uh, that's now how dissociative disorders work. (In fact, that sounds like an associative disorder :P)
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on June 12, 2010


I'm starting to hear "Ground Zero" said ironically for anyplace that's the center for a group being slightly mocked as in: "Oh, the East Village is Ground Zero for the raw food crowd."
posted by Elsie at 11:30 AM on June 12, 2010


The word "deadline" goes back to Andersonville prison. There was literally a line, which if you crossed, you would be shot dead.
posted by Gilbert at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mythological, but Achilles' heel has a tragic etymology.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:38 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to hear "Ground Zero" said ironically for anyplace that's the center for a group being slightly mocked as in: "Oh, the East Village is Ground Zero for the raw food crowd."

That was in common usage before 9/11, as it refers to any blast center. Actually pre-9/11 I think I most often heard it in relation to nukes going off, particularly Hiroshima and Nagasaki
posted by delmoi at 11:38 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, yeah: The origins of the term ground zero began with the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Japan. The Oxford English Dictionary, citing the use of the term in a 1946 New York Times report on the destroyed city of Hiroshima, defines "ground zero" as "that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, especially an atomic one."
posted by delmoi at 11:40 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Last-ditch effort refers to making one last defensive line (military).
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:42 AM on June 12, 2010


"...other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" is used when someone is being extremely critical about something, but not to the matter at hand, but to any/all of the surrounding parts.

Interesting - I had always heard it used in the context of a disastrous event, like (extreme example) say you go out to an anniversary dinner and the car breaks down most of the way there, so you walk the last two blocks and get robbed at gunpoint, but other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?


I think the phrase is so common that people aren't even thinking that specifically about it. It's turned into the same thing as, "But tell me what you really think!" People use it to mean, "Whoa, you have so many criticisms that I guess you really hated [whatever it is the person is giving an assessment of]!"
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ring Around The Rosey - though not a phrase, applies.
posted by marimeko at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and "ground zero".
posted by marimeko at 11:48 AM on June 12, 2010


(I mean, seconding "ground zero")..
posted by marimeko at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2010


Witch-hunt.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:54 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


People commonly use "snafu" as if it were a synonym for a glitch or a minor problem, but it originated in WWII as an acronym: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.
posted by amyms at 12:00 PM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The grassy knoll comment earlier made me think of Zapruder as in "I need to Zapruder that."
posted by daikon at 12:05 PM on June 12, 2010


"Expletive Deleted" came into use during Watergate when the transcripts of White House tapes were considered too profane for the court. Also, Nixon was the one who really put "Mistakes were made" into the vernacular.
posted by mmf at 12:09 PM on June 12, 2010


I couldn't find any evidence for this on Google Books, news archive searches, or searches for the etymology of the phrase.

i think you're missing the forest for the trees, so I'll say it again slowly: Molasses. Disaster. As in: a disaster. Caused by. Molasses.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:15 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Joking that someone is a "slavedriver" or speaking of "slaving" over something, as in a hot stove.
posted by jgirl at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2010


having their dosimeters more regularly set off by the lunch room microwave

I'm not sure what would happen to my dosimeters if you could microwave them without causing physical damage. (They have metal in them and plastic melt-able cases. It's been tried.). Would the microwave radiation increase the recorded dose, or would the heating zero them out? I'm betting they would be zeroed. I'm pretty sure microwave radiation is not within the energy response curve of the dosimeter. Definitely standing near a properly working microwave oven has no effect.


I hear "scram" a lot, (as in, so and so locked the computer and then went to lunch? Just scram it.) I guess it isn't really a reference to a specific historical event, but it is an exaggeration referencing something much more unfortunate.
posted by ctmf at 12:29 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two related phrases: "that's not the cross that I want to die on" (origin obvious), and "that's not the hill that I want to die on" (could be from any number of military engagements; just off the top of my head, I thought of Hamburger Hill and Cemetery Ridge, but that's pure speculation on my part; it could just as well have been Golgotha) . Both refer to the idea that a particular battle isn't worth going to the wall for, even if you're in theory willing to go to the wall* for a worthy cause. (It's reminiscent of Kang's line from the Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove": "Only a fool fights in a burning house.")

*"Going to the wall" is another phrase that it would be interesting to know the origin of; maybe alluding to someone being stood up in front of a firing squad?
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:48 PM on June 12, 2010


According to Snopes, "Ring Around the Rosey" doesn't refer to the Black Plague.
posted by ifandonlyif at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2010


See Electric Kool-Acid Test by Tom Wolfe for previous uses of "drinking the Kool-Aid."
posted by fixedgear at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is probably still pretty politically insensitive, but "fresh off the boat" refers to Vietnamese Boat People.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2010


i think you're missing the forest for the trees, so I'll say it again slowly: Molasses. Disaster. As in: a disaster. Caused by. Molasses.

It doesn't matter if "a sticky situation" would be a fitting description of the Molasses Disaster. There is no evidence that I can find that such a description was used to describe the Molasses Disaster at the time, nor that uses of the phrase necessarily reference or are derived from the use of the phrase to describe the Disaster. Without more evidence, it simply doesn't fit the asker's criteria: "widely used phrases in American culture that have their origin in an unfortunate historical event" (emphasis added).
posted by jedicus at 1:08 PM on June 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Concerning the term 'Ground Zero': I had heard this term used, though not as frequently, prior to 9/11. I think it was used commonly after Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Anyway, it predates 9/11.
posted by Raichle at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, Fresh off the boat has been around since the days of Ellis Island.
posted by Gungho at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


OmieWise: “I think this is incorrect. I believe the phrase "nuke it" is a reference to how people imagine microwave ovens to work, as people also talk quite a bit about the radiation that they emit. There are urban legends about people who work with nuclear material having their dosimeters more regularly set off by the lunch room microwave than by anything else. This is further supported by the fact that we don't use the phrase "nuke it" to refer to any other form of heating something up.”

I agree that the 'joke' implied by the term refers to a kind of mythical nuclear radiation that's going on inside the microwave when you use it to cook food. But the popular term "nuke" predates microwaves by two or three decades. Throughout the sixties and seventies, 'nuke' was a noun, not a verb, and indicated nuclear weapons themselves, as in "we have a nuke." [Reference] Although you're quite correct, I think, in saying that, as a euphemism for microwaving food, "nuke it" relies on the idea that the food is being irradiated to cook it.

In fact, this is what disturbs me so much about the phrase. It evokes a whole cloud of associations; "nuke" was short for "nuclear weapon," and in verbing it you're implying that a nuclear weapon is being used. But clearly when you put something in the microwave, you're not blowing anything up; what's implied by the analogy to nuclear weapons isn't the actual explosion itself but the extremely horrific and frightening aftermath of that explosion: the melting of flesh and bone by radiation and the changing of matter through invisible rays. It's interesting as a phrase, because I think it's one of those phrases that are extremely morbid in a peculiarly American way, from a time just before the moment when we began to learn to be sensitive to such things through political correctness.

In any case, whoever first came up with this witticism probably thought it was darkly hilarious, in that it took a great historic tragedy and used it to describe one of the most mundane things in our lives. This is an interesting question, because I've always felt as though we tend to do this kind of thing all the time – thinking it's quite funny – but somehow I'm having difficult thinking of other examples. Many of the examples here, it strikes me, don't really fit; although many of them do, and I think there are a whole host of things we Americans tend to speak of lightly that are in fact not light at all.
posted by koeselitz at 1:58 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


making a "last stand" isn't a specific event but i think Americans strongly associate the term with Custer.
posted by Hammond Rye at 2:35 PM on June 12, 2010


i think you're missing the forest for the trees, so I'll say it again slowly: Molasses. Disaster. As in: a disaster. Caused by. Molasses.
Right, but beyond that it would, in fact, have been a sticky situation what does that have to do with the phrase?
In fact, this is what disturbs me so much about the phrase. It evokes a whole cloud of associations; "nuke" was short for "nuclear weapon," and in verbing it you're implying that a nuclear weapon is being used. But clearly when you put something in the microwave, you're not blowing anything up; what's implied by the analogy to nuclear weapons isn't the actual explosion itself but the extremely horrific and frightening aftermath of that explosion: the melting of flesh and bone by radiation and the changing of matter through invisible rays. It's interesting as a phrase, because I think it's one of those phrases that are extremely morbid in a peculiarly American way, from a time just before the moment when we began to learn to be sensitive to such things through political correctness.
I think you may be overthinking this microwaveable bean dinner here. Nuclear radiation is also used in power plants heat water for turbines. I think the word "Nuke" here simply means "irradiate". From a lay person's perspective, heating something with microwaves and heating something gamma rays seem pretty similar. In fact, what's the difference? low levels of microwaves are safe because it's non-ionizing radiation, but it's still electromagnetic radiation.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on June 12, 2010


Our chief cook on one of my boats used to always abbreviate 'chicken tetrazzini' as 'chicken tet.' That always made me laugh because I remember news items like this one about carbon tetrachloride spills (commonly referred to as 'carbon tet') from when I was young.

I think it was accidental, though, not a conscious joke. I never asked, though.
posted by ctmf at 2:55 PM on June 12, 2010


It doesn't matter if "a sticky situation" would be a fitting description of the Molasses Disaster. There is no evidence that I can find that such a description…

i think… it was… a joke.
posted by wreckingball at 3:20 PM on June 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


koeselitz writes "I agree that the 'joke' implied by the term refers to a kind of mythical nuclear radiation that's going on inside the microwave when you use it to cook food. But the popular term "nuke" predates microwaves by two or three decades."

Microwave ovens were brought to market in the 50s, the first commercially successful models were sold in the mid 60s.
posted by Mitheral at 4:31 PM on June 12, 2010


Our chief cook on one of my boats used to always abbreviate 'chicken tetrazzini' as 'chicken tet.' That always made me laugh because I remember news items like this one about carbon tetrachloride spills (commonly referred to as 'carbon tet') from when I was young.

I think it was accidental, though, not a conscious joke. I never asked, though.


Coincidence, surely. Plenty of people refer to chicken parmegiano as chicken parm, or mozzarella as moz.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:53 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


No answer to the OP's question but I've gotta point out this business about 'drinking the kool-aid' actually precedes Jonestown by several years -- look into Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test sometime. (Info specifically about drinking their 1960s electric Kool Aid in wikipedia.) The original additive wasn't cyanide, but LSD.
posted by Rash at 5:36 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The term Boycott came into use after a Captain Charles Boycott was ostracized by the Irish Land League and was quickly used to describe any campaign to socially or economically isolate a person or entity.
posted by fshgrl at 7:30 PM on June 12, 2010


These are all great answers, regardless of whether they fit exactly with what I am looking for (thought most do). I have learned a lot just by reading all your responses. Thanks a million, guys!
posted by angiewriter at 8:20 PM on June 12, 2010


To add on to Rash's answer, the Jonestown folks didn't even drink Kool-Aid, but rather Flavor-Aid.

To actually answer the question, people talk about a "Pyrrhic victory".
posted by scarnato at 9:39 PM on June 12, 2010


Buddy Holly puddlejumper (referring to a small plane)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:59 PM on June 12, 2010


Carpet bombing

Sending out a zillion of the same things indiscriminately, hoping for some bites. From Gulf War I, obviously.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:35 AM on June 13, 2010


Carpet bombing [...] From Gulf War I, obviously.

That phrase has been around much longer .
posted by amyms at 1:01 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


These days, being given "the third degree" means to be faced with a lot of questions. But the origins, as Darius Rejali points out (see p.73 of link), are much more brutal.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:37 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Torture, as in "me and my brother made a video where we tortured each other with justin bieber music".
posted by iviken at 7:44 AM on June 13, 2010


Delmoi points out ground zero as a phrase coming from the Manhattan Project. I think the term "Manhattan Project" itself fits the bill. A Manhattan Project for green energy, a Manhattan project for kids, etc. etc... we hear it all the time, used optimistically as a way to solve problems with a room full of smart, focussed people, with little reference to the horrors that the first one engendered.
posted by condour75 at 8:13 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Heckuva job Brownie". May not be used widely (yet), but should be. Heaping praise on someone in a position of power who has absolutely no reason to be deserving praise. I have several superiors over the past year who should have this said about them.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:35 AM on June 13, 2010


There was something about the word Bikini... I'd try to remember but I'm too busy showing some skin while frolicking in the surf.

The Wikipedia disambiguation page for Bikini lists, in order:

the suit
contests
waxing
Hungarian rock band
American punk rock band
some piece of rock no one lives on anymore
...
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:05 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The term "Indian giver" comes from the time when white men got Indian tribes (or certain Indians who claimed to be representatives of those tribes) to negotiate land deals that the tribe then, in the eyes of the white man, went back on.
posted by pracowity at 1:04 PM on June 13, 2010


In WWII, the terms "blockbuster" and "bombshell" began to be used in Hollywood stories.
posted by pracowity at 1:05 PM on June 13, 2010


"A dingo ate my baby" is often someone's go-to phrase for a silly Australian phrase, but it actually stems from an incident where a dingo ate a family's baby and then the entire country claimed the mother was lying, that she was part of a baby-killing cult, and that her family had actually killed the baby in question.

Then they found a bunch of baby bones left by a dingo and "whoops."
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:59 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"A dingo ate my baby" came into popular usage after the 1980s Meryl Streep docudrama about the Azaria Chamberlain case. (It was repeated by comedians and civilians alike more as a joke on Streep and her penchant for accented roles, even though the phrase never was used in the movie.)

And while Kesey & Co. did indeed drink Kool-Aid before Jonestown, the phrase as used today means a bunch of dimwitted sheeple who follow a charismatic religious/political leader (usually off a cliff). I actually find it offensive, mainly because there are plenty of living people who lost loved ones at Jonestown.

That said, I make Zyklon-B jokes all the time...
posted by turducken at 7:45 PM on June 13, 2010


I just learned what Black and Tan refers to the other day. Not originally from the US, but common here.
posted by clavicle at 7:50 PM on June 13, 2010


Came here to mention the Third Degree. Since that's been mentioned, can I ask that the speculative etymology drop off? Ring around the rosie is not tied to the plague, the Riot Act comes from 1713 England, not the American Civil War, and Carpet Bombing is cited in Merriam-Webster as first used in 1944.

STOP BEING WRONG
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


kamikaze
posted by k7lim at 10:30 PM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The Whole Nine Yards" referred to the length of the ammo belt fed into the wings of fighter airplanes in WWII.
posted by Thistledown at 11:04 PM on June 13, 2010


Thistledown, that appears to be unsupported folk etymology (see the very bottom).

ctmf - did you find that "tet" offensive?
posted by Gortuk at 6:29 AM on June 14, 2010


Came here to mention the Third Degree. Since that's been mentioned, can I ask that the speculative etymology drop off? Ring around the rosie is not tied to the plague, the Riot Act comes from 1713 England, not the American Civil War, and Carpet Bombing is cited in Merriam-Webster as first used in 1944.

STOP BEING WRONG


Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
posted by beelzbubba at 9:14 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


To drive another nail into the coffin of the "sticky situation" debate: the Boston Molasses Disaster occurred in 1919, yet the phrase "sticky wicket" was in use as early as 1882 to describe difficult conditions. It's not a great leap from sticky wicket to the more American and less-fun-to-say sticky situation.
posted by Mendl at 4:28 PM on June 14, 2010


Following up bikini, it's a style named after an atoll in the Pacific. The US military performed the first post-WWII nuclear tests on, and it's still not completely safe - radiation wise - to live there.
posted by talldean at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2010


"The whole nine yards" doesn't have a known source, actually.
posted by talldean at 5:21 PM on June 14, 2010


"Up the River" is a reference to the New York State Penitentiary at Attica. The city or Attica is on the Hudson River, about thirty miles upstream from New York City. In decades past, inmates being sent to Attica for hard time were transported by boat - literally traveling up the river to the big house.
posted by Shopworn Theatrics at 7:18 PM on June 14, 2010


"Up the River" is a reference to the New York State Penitentiary at Attica. The city or Attica is on the Hudson River, about thirty miles upstream from New York City.

Wow. That's astoundingly wrong, at least in locating Attica, which is 350 miles from NYC, and not on any navigable river that will get you from NYC to Attica. Attica State is closer to Buffalo than Rochester, but is between the two.

Are you thinking about "Sing Sing" in Ossining, NY? That fits your Hudson & 30+ miles criteria.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:44 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


See Electric Kool-Acid Test by Tom Wolfe for previous uses of "drinking the Kool-Aid."

I was convinced (after recently reading it) that that's where the phrase must have come from. I'm British and have only otherwise seen the phrase used here rather than ever hearing anyone say it. I've only seen it used in reference to people then doing crazy things as a result of drinking the kool aid though, and not as though drinking the kool aid were itself the crazy act.
posted by vbfg at 7:19 AM on June 15, 2010


Trail of Tears is sometimes used casually, e.g.:
Outgoing top leaders recap troubled terms
Tom Walsh, Detroit Free Press, 6/15/10

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, fellow travelers on Michigan's trail of tears for the past eight years, took turns Monday delivering lamentations on the troubled times through which both have toiled.

"I'm term-limited, too," Granholm said in the opening speech at the UAW convention, where Gettelfinger's union presidency will end this week after two terms.
posted by salvia at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2010


"This was [NAME]'s Waterloo."
posted by brundlefly at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2010


The third degree is a reference to the Masonic ritual. STOP BEING WRONGER.
posted by Gungho at 11:06 AM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Late to the party, and I'm not sure if the phrase is in usage in American Culture, but

Sweet Fanny Adams. This means "nothing". If you're doing sweet fanny adams, you're doing nothing at all. It's sometimes shortened to Sweet FA, and is synonymous with "sweet fuck all".

Fanny Adams was a girl who was murdered and dismembered in the mid to late 19th Century in England. There was a huge amount of shock about this, in part because the newspapers really liked the story about a sweet innocent young girl who was stolen away. The newspapers created the phrase "Sweet" Fanny Adams.

Sailors later, asa joke, started calling the unidentifiable meat that they were given in rations as Fanny Adams. Usage of the phrase after that time meant tinned mutton. This usage comes from around 1890. Some 20 years after the murder of the girl.

The phrase only came to mean "nothing" later on, and it's probably the fact that the initials "FA" can be used for both "Fanny Adams" and "Fuck All", that gave it the current meaning.
posted by seanyboy at 12:55 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dinna ken if it's exactly what you're looking for, but the phrase 'beyond the pale' comes from the part of Ireland first colonised by the English (or the Normans, depending on how you look at it) which was called The Pale and separated from the rest of Ireland by a palisaded ditch. Anyone who went beyond the Pale you would obviously be immediately slaughtered by the savage Gaels, hence the use of 'beyond the pale' to refer to excessive behaviour.
posted by Dim Siawns at 1:28 AM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


fixedgear: “See Electric Kool-Acid Test by Tom Wolfe for previous uses of ‘drinking the Kool-Aid.’”

I know this is an old thread, but I've read the book before, and I don't think that phrase ever appears there. Moreover, I really don't think Tom Wolfe's novel was responsible for popularizing the phrase, either. If you can give me a quotation from the book or a citation of the use of the phrase that clearly stems from it, I might agree, but I've never seen either.
posted by koeselitz at 1:57 AM on June 30, 2010


The OP began the question with
The phrases ... are references ...to Jonestown
Although the question's not about the source of the phrase, my issue was with Jonestown being the origin of a crowd drinking augmented Kool-Aid, and that event becoming news. Certainly by the time of Jonestown, many people (like me) had already read Tom Wolfe's novel, and a tiny percentage had even attended the acid tests, so the idea of something weird happening if you 'drank the kool-aid' wasn't new... but after 1979 became much more sinister, means more than that now, as turducken points out, the dimwitted sheeple who follow a charismatic religious/political leader (usually off a cliff).
posted by Rash at 1:30 PM on July 1, 2010


I know this is an old thread, but I've read the book before, and I don't think that phrase ever appears there.

It doesn't, or if it does it's not in that sense. There's several pages of first hand account of a young woman drinking kool aid that, unbeknownst to her, had been laced with LSD at a party / gathering / whatever in, I think, Watts. As I mentioned above I don't know the origin of the phrase at all (never had kool aid, seen it, or seen anything other than parodies of what I assume is a famous commercial) but on reading that passage it just seemed to fit what I had taken to be the meaning from context on this site.

Tenuous, but it'll do for me.
posted by vbfg at 2:25 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


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