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Words You Use but Don’t Know

on October 31, 2018 by Proofreading Pal in Writing Guides facebook in twitter

Conversation is often more about phrases than words, to the point where we often use the phrases without thinking about the individual words at all.

You’re welcome. (i.e., “You are welcome to it.”)
Goodbye. (i.e., “God be with you.”)

Even better, we have some words that we no longer use except in one specific phrase. Here’s a little vocabulary fun with twenty of the most common such phrases. They may surprise you.

  1. With no further ado . . .

Ado: A disruption, fuss, or bother. Often it involves some sort of challenge to overcome.

  1. To take umbrage at something

Umbrage: Offense, insult. But it also means “shade.” So “to give umbrage” was literally an early way of saying “to throw shade,” and “to take umbrage” meant you were getting shaded.

  1. Pulling out all the stops

Stop (in this context): An organ stop, a component of a pipe organ that admits pressurized air into organ pipes. Basically, pulling out a stop lets you play several notes with just one key. Pulling out all the stops means playing as many notes as possible with your limited appendages.

  1. Batten down the hatches

Batten: A strip of material to affix to the frame of a ship’s hatch to secure it and help keep the water out.

  1. The scuttlebutt is . . .

Scuttlebutt: The plug for the water barrel for the ship’s crew. This is literally an early way of talking about gossip around the water cooler.

  1. The living daylights

Daylights: Eyes.

  1. Three sheets to the wind

Sheet (in this context): A rope or chain used to tie down a sail. Losing the sheets to the wind means the sail is flapping about all over the place.

  1. Beck and call

Beck: A shortened form of “beckon.”

  1. Millstone around your neck

Millstone: One of a pair of very heavy circular stones used to grind wheat and other grains.

  1. Test/show your mettle

Mettle: Ability to cope with grace in stressful situations.

  1. Liking the cut of your jib

Jib: The triangular staysail set in front of a ship’s forward most mast. The cut is important because this sail is essential in handling the ship.

  1. Tilting at windmills (from Don Quixote)

Tilting: Jousting.

  1. Tit for tat

Tit and tat: Names for small blows in boxing/fighting, variant spellings of “tip” and “tap.”

  1. Good riddance

Riddance: Deliverance from (getting rid of).

  1. Mince words

Mince (in this context): To make light of something serious or to mitigate criticism with pleasant words. (It means here neither “to cut up” nor “to prance.”)

  1. Mull over

Mull: Stew, as in to let thoughts stew in your brain.

  1. Quantum leap

Quantum (in this context): The change that occurs in an atom when an electron jumps from one energy level to a much higher level with the emission or absorption of a photon.

  1. Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Asunder: In two, apart.

  1. Whole shebang.

Shebang: A roughly made house or dwelling. A shack or shanty. Also a gypsy’s caravan.

  1. Give no quarter

Quarter (in this context): An exemption from a death sentence.

There are many more. Can you think of any and add a comment?

Julia H.

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