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Misconstrued Phrases? A Short Linguistic Musing

Hi y’all,

Posting a week apart? I’m getting better!

Random update, I started easing back into frisbee last night and that felt AMAZING. I had so much fun running around and I cannot wait to get up to speed with everything. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. It has already helped me get my energy up and even though this is random, I wanted to include it because I’m really excited about it!

I wanted to write today about some linguistic-related things. Nothing technical, just some observations from conversations I’ve had and posts I’ve seen.

First, I KNOW there is a reason for this, but ‘a part’ and ‘apart’ will always bug me nonetheless. ‘A part’ means to be, well, a part of a whole, but the two words are separate, while ‘apart’ means to be separate and the words are together… Again, again, I KNOW there is a linguistic reason for this. ‘A part’ is a noun phrase containing the article ‘a’ and the noun ‘part’, and ‘apart’ is an adverb. It just irks me that they ‘look’ the opposite of what they mean.

Another linguistics thing that I’ve been discussing with people recently is the misconstrued versions, or alleged misconstrued versions, of phrases and sayings. I’ve included a small list of examples below:

  • ‘cheapstake’ vs ‘cheapskate’

  • ‘bedge out’ vs ‘veg out’

  • ‘open sesame’ vs ‘open says me’

  • ‘hard as hell’ vs ‘hard as hail’

  • ‘butt naked’ vs ‘buck naked’

  • ‘nip this in the butt’ vs ‘nip this in the bud’

  • ‘blood is thicker than water’ vs ‘the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’

Some of these you might have heard before. I’ll admit, the second one is all me. I’ve never heard anybody else have this problem. For the longest time, I thought people were saying ‘bedge out’ because when you’re in bed, you’re usually relaxing… it wasn’t until recently that I learned it’s ‘veg out’ because you’re in almost a ‘vegetative’ state? It still means to relax/be lazy, but I think my version makes more sense. Just me? (We’re also not going to talk about how I thought it was spelled ‘vedge out’ when I found out that was the correct phrase)

The third and fourth ones listed are not actually clear on whether the latter of the pairs is correct. Some people argue that ‘hard as hail’ is only suggested as the original quote because in places like the south of the US, their pronunciation of ‘hell’ sounds a little like ‘hail’. It’s argued that ‘hard as hell’ is the correct phrase because you use ‘[blank] as hell’ for common expressions (‘cold as hell’, ‘hot as hell’, ‘mad as hell’, etc.) ‘Open sesame’ is argued as being correct because it is said to originate from the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, in which ‘open sesame’ is a magical password. People argue that it’s actually ‘open says me’ because it’s a command that would make more sense.

I’m not entirely sure where I saw the ‘cheapstake’ vs ‘cheapskate’ post, perhaps Instagram, but I am guilty of using ‘cheapstake’ myself. Only VERY recently did I learn it’s ‘cheapskate’, but this just feels wrong to me (I guess because I’ve been saying the former for so long). I plan to do more research on the origins of this word, but from my guess of the origins, I have to admit that ‘cheapskate’ makes a LOT more sense.

‘Buck naked’ was not a saying I was aware of, but apparently, it was coined long before ‘butt naked’. According to Merriam Webster, the saying ‘butt naked’ appeared in the 1960s-1970s and has only grown in popularity. While both are now considered correct, ‘buck naked’ is indeed the origin version. 

It is a similar situation with ‘nip it in the butt’ vs ‘nip it in the bud’, except from what I’ve read, the former is not considered correct. The latter is correct, and comes from gardening. ‘Nip it in the butt’ is merely a mishearing of the original phrase.

The last phrase contradiction in the list is my favorite, but also the one that irks me the most. I’m sure we’ve all heard the term ‘blood is thicker than water’ to refer to family (by blood) bonds being stronger than outside bonds, but the original meaning is argued to be the complete opposite. It’s argued that the original phrase is instead ‘the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’; however, there is no clear evidence suggesting that this is the original phrase. “The oldest known variation on this expression is found in the 12th century German epic, Reinhart Fuchs (Reynard the Fox) by Heinrich der Glîchezære: ‘I also hear it said, kin-blood is not spoiled by water’”. The beliefs of the meaning of this common phrase being the exact opposite of how it is perceived today is derived from the idea that ‘blood’ was in reference to those who were in battle or war together– not ‘blood’ as in shared blood in a family. Another hypothesis by Albert Jack suggests that the original meaning of this quote has been “corrupted over the centuries, probably by the English nobility of the Middle Ages to whom the ‘blood line’ was all important” (Albert Jack (2005). Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Every Day, p. 95. Penguin.)  I would like to make a note that I have pulled this quote from a user’s response on this debate here. While I could go on about this quote and its possible origins, I think it’s best to stop here for now, as my goal is just to bring the basics of it to attention. I highly recommend doing some research and reading different perspectives if you’re interested in this, though, because there are a lot of interesting views out there.

This post is different from what I’ve done in the past. I’m hoping I can use this platform to write more posts like this about topics I find interesting, and I hope y’all found it interesting as well! If any of y’all have encountered something related to this discussion or have your own thoughts, feel free to reach out– I love talking about this! 

As always, thank you for reading, take care of yourselves, and be on the lookout for future posts!


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