Whenever I hear a phrase or an idiom that sounds particularly Western, I scribble it down on a notepad. Some of those phrases and idioms make it into blog posts about Western Lingo, and some just give me the giggles. But, it’s always fun to research their origin, and that’s just what I’m fixin’ to do today! So pull up a chair and settle in for another round of Western Lingo.
Wet Your Whistle
“Why don’t you belly up to the bar and wet your whistle?”
Where did the phrase, “wet your whistle,” originate? Well, first, we need to clarify that the phrase should not be confused with, “whet your appetite.” Whet has two meanings: 1) To sharpen the blade of a tool or weapon, 2) A thing that stimulates appetite or desire. As far as these expressions go, people have been wetting their whistles for longer than they have been whetting their appetites. But, I digress.
Some say that the origin of the expression “wet your whistle” is in Colonial America. There’s a really cool story about the drinking mugs used in pubs at that time . . . some folks say that they were equipped with a whistle. The whistles were built right into the handle and I’m thinking that they must have been more fun than a Krazy Straw, ‘cause when saloon patrons needed a refill, they would simply toot their mugs! Oh, yes, it’s a cool story. Too bad it’s not true!
In reality, we can solve the mystery of the origin of the expression “wet your whistle” with a little help from a line Lauren Bacall said to Humphrey Bogart in the film To Have and Have Not: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” Wetting your whistle just means wetting your lips, mouth or throat, with your tongue or any other sort of liquid. There is no special, noise-making mug required.
The phrase is believed to have been around since the 1700s, likely originating in Britain. Oh, well. If you say it with a drawl, it sort of sounds Western. But, seriously, folks, all this history aside . . . I want a whistle mug!
Poor As Job’s Turkey
“Don’t expect that feller to buy you a meal. Shoot! He’s as poor as Job’s turkey.”
George Foreman is credited with saying, “When I was a kid in Houston, we were so poor we couldn’t afford the last two letters, so we called ourselves po’.” Friends, that is some kind of poor! That’s as poor as Job’s turkey. So, where did that catchy idiom originate?
Likely, the saying is a Biblical reference to Job, a man who had what you might call a real run of bad luck. When God decided to test Job’s faithfulness, He wanted to do it in a very big way, so He turned the task over to Satan. You’ve got to really hate it when that happens! Job lost his income, his kids and his health. But, by golly, that man kept his faith. Job is also responsible for inspiring the term, “the patience of Job.” I’m happy to report that the story had a happy ending and God rewarded his faithfulness. But, where does the turkey come in?
Let’s clear one thing up: Job never had a turkey. Since turkeys are native to North America, Job wouldn’t have known a turkey from an armadillo! The phrase, “as poor as Job’s turkey,” seems to have originated in the Midwest, which is a whole heckuva lot closer to the West than much of the “Western” lingo we explore. The colorful phraseology has been around since at least the mid 19th century. The definite origin of the idiom about the poverty-stricken poultry is unknown. But you can’t deny that if Job had owned a turkey, it would have been a pretty poor one!
Apple Pie Order
“She’s the tidiest person I know. Her house is always in apple pie order.”
Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet… Surely, anything having to do with apple pie, orderly or otherwise, can be traced back to the American West. It’s as American as apple pie. Right? Wrong-o!
In English, the expression dates back to 1780, when Sir Thomas Pasley, an admiral in the British Navy, used it in his Private Sea Journals. Well, ain’t that a kick in the pants! He wrote, “Their Persons Clean and in apple-Pie order on Sundays.” Despite his whimsical use of capital letters, the phrase is pretty straightforward. It’s another way of saying that there’s place for everything and everything is in its place.
It’s possible that the original phrase evolved from the French, ‘nappes pliees,’ which means neatly folded. Wait a minute! That doesn’t have anything to do with apples or pie. That doesn’t sound right at all!
A more plausible explanation seems to be that the phrase really refers to the orderly fashion in which apple pies were made—crust, apples, sugar, lemon zest, spices… Yeah . . . I’m going with that. It’s bad enough it’s not Western. Don’t tell me it’s not a reference to pies!
Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It
“I don’t care what you think! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”
Whenever I hear, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” I think more of a corncob pipe than the sorts of pipes smoked by men with patches on their elbows. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sayings. I may not say it very often, but I think it a lot! Technically, it’s merely a way of telling someone to “deal with it!” It has the sort of good-natured, biting edge that screams “Western” to me. But, is it?
No one knows when this expression came to be, but it first appeared in print in 1824, in the British playwright R.B. Peake’s two-act play, American’s Abroad. The expression even appeared in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and an episode of “Downton Abbey.” So, now I have to start thinking about saying it with a British accent instead of a cowboy drawl! I surrender my image of a hillbilly with a hound dog and a jug of moonshine and replace it with an image of a British dandy with an English Foxhound and a wine cellar. I may not like it, but I’ll put that in my pipe and smoke it!