Common Idioms & Word Origins I

Idioms and Word Origins in Pop Culture


Bombshell
Before 1933, the term was used strictly a wartime exclusive. Jean Harlow was in a 1931 film, Platinum Blonde, where she picked up the nickname Bombshell, then starred in a movie actually called Bombshell in 1933. Jean Harlow was the first Bombshell sex symbol.
Bucket List
Bucket List actually originated with the 2007 movie, Bucket List. Two terminally ill strangers meet to fulfill each other list of things they want to do before they “Kick The Bucket”. The Phrase Bucket List is newer than the iPhone!
Cowabunga
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started using the term, in their comics, then in their 1980s cartoon. Bart Simpson copied them in the 90s, but Chief Thunderthud, a character on the 1950s kids show, Howdy Doody, used it as a FAKE Native American language. #first
Cromulent
Cromulent is perfectly acceptable to use as a descriptor.
See ‘Embiggens’ below
Dependability
An advertising guy named Theodore MacManus started working for Dodge Cars in 1914.
Cars were new, lots of things often went wrong with new technology, but he read positive letters that came from Dodge Owners, and they used the ‘dependable a lot.
Based on that, he invented the word ‘Dependability’.
Drinkability
People had been drinking beer since Mesopotamia, 6-8000 years ago. In the 1960s, there was a lot of beer competition in America, and Budweiser fine-tuned the word and marketed the ‘drinkability’ of Budweiser.
Die Hard
Lieutenant-Colonel William Inglis of the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot during the 1811 Peninsular War in Spain. In a forward attack, he said “Stand your ground and die hard… make the enemy pay dear for each of us!” His men lost 75% of their regiment, but earned the nickname – “The Die Hards”.
Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
Was first used in print in “It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket”. The phrase was first used in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, in 1612. A now-common and helpful proverb about not depending on one single item for your success.
Embiggens
The Simpsons; Jebediah Springfield said that “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man”.
The word embiggens is self-descriptive – we know what it means, even though we never heard it before.
As the second grade teacher, Ms. Hoover says, it’s a perfectly cromulent word.
Fetch
Gretchen, played by Lacey Chabert in Mean Girls tried to make FETCH a happening word, ‘fetch’ meant cool or awesome, but lead mean girl Regina George, would not let it happen. Fetch is probably the best movie word that almost made it into the mainstream lexicon
Frenemy
The first use of the word word ‘Frenemy” was in the 1953 article titled Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies? by gossip columnist Walter Winchell in the Nevada State Journal. In social and business circles anyone who can both help you, or hinder your success can be a Frenemy.
Gaslighting
Gaslighting is the act of manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. It’s used a lot today, it comes from a 1938 play called Gas Light, and a few movie adaptations. A woman’s husband made the house’s lights, powered by gas flicker, and claimed they weren’t flickering to drive her crazy. #gas lighting
Geronimo!
People yell Geronimo! when jumping from things because of a US Army private, Private Aubrey Eberhardt, who, in 1940, while testing parachutes, said he wasn’t scared. Parachutes were a fairly new and unreliable apparatus at the time. He yelled the name when he jumped to prove this. The rest of the platoon did not want to be shown up so they yelled it too, and it quickly caught on. The original Geronimo (June 16, 1829 – February 17, 1909) was an Apache chief and medicine man.
Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 
“Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” is all Micheal Buffer. He started using the phrase in the 1980s but got the Trademark in 1992. He’s made Hundreds of Million Dollars on this phrase, he has the perfect for making the pronouncement. He owns the phrase and has sued over 100 times for copyright violations, and says he’s won every one of them. I’m a little afraid to say the phrase out loud.
Listerine
Listerine was invented in the nineteenth century as a strong surgical antiseptic. It was sold in distilled form, as a floor cleaner. In the 1920s, a lot of people had bad breath. The marketing boys twisted an old Latin word into HALITOSIS to describe that bad breath. Developed in 1879 by Joseph Lawrence, it was actually named after Joseph Lister, an early antiseptic surgeon.
Oldies But Goodies
Art Laboe is a radio and DJ icon, he was one of the first Disc Jockeys to play Rock and Roll on the West Coast – I don’t personally know him; I’m an East Coast Guy, and there’s that whole EAST Coast WEST Coast Music Rivalry. But Art coined and trademarked the phrase OLDIES BUT GOODIES for his record compilations. The way trademarks work, you can gather NON-MUSIC collections and call them OLDIES BUT GOODIES (hats, for example), his trademark is strictly for music.
One Hit Wonder
Was first used in the Winnipeg Free Press, in July 1977, in an article about Abba: It stated “Instead of becoming what everyone expected- after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo – a one-hit-wonder, they soon had a string of hits behind them.” I’m surprised I could not find an earlier mention of the term. If it was ever used earlier, it was probably about an under-achieving baseball player.
Paint The Town Red
Although typically an American expression, the phrase has its roots in Melton Mowbray, England. The drinking of adult beverages was probably involved. In 1837, ‘The Mad’ Marquis of Waterford and his friends are said to have created some turbulence in the Leicestershire town, painting the town’s toll-bar and several buildings red. The thing is, it was never reported as such. The first recording of ‘painting the town red’ was in an 1884 edition of The Boston Journal. Chances are, some 50 years after Melton Mowbray event, a young, educated, partier referred to the old story of the Mad Marquis.
Rest on One’s Laurels
In ancient Greece, the laurel was a plant that was sacred to the god Apollo, thus appropriate for winners of the Pythian Games, much like the ancient Olympics. The Romans ‘borrowed’ the tradition of granting laurels to give respect. Initially, for the first 2000 years or so, it was referred to as in a ‘retirement’ sense. In 1825, it was first referred to as a sign of laziness and coasting on an older achievement as a backhanded compliment to writer Maria Edgeworth in The Literary Chronicle.
Retsyn
Certs Breath Mints have been around since 1956. When they first came out, they marketed themselves as both a candy and a breath mint. Candies are subject to certain tariffs, and they went back and forth in the courts finally deciding they were breath mints.
Those breath mints contain ‘retsyn’, which sounds good, but it’s basically just homogenized vegetable oil. It sounds scientific though.
Ribbit (frog sound)
Ribbit came from a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island. Mel Blanc provided the voice of the frog, I’d have to call him the inventor. Before that, frogs were usually referred to by their croaking sound.

Riot Act
The first ‘Riot Act’ was called by King George I on August 1, 1715. The long-phrase title was “An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters”. The earliest use of the phrase in Pop Culture, published in an American soldier’s letter, (William Bradford)  “She has just run out to read the riot act in the Nursery”, in December 1819.
We usually still use it for kids today.

It was formally repealed in the Criminal Law Act of 1967, along with the Profane Oaths Act of 1945 (for cursing) and the Blasphemy Act 1697 (for educated Christians denying The Trinity or One God).

Running Amok
Amok, or running amok, is derived from the Malay word ‘mengamok’, which means to make a furious and desperate charge. Captain Cook is credited with making the first recorded ‘amok’ reference regarding the Malay tribesmen in 1770 while in the Malaysian/Indonesian area. In his 1772 book, he described it as “To run amock is to get drunk with opium… to sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage… indiscriminately killing and maiming villagers and animals in a frenzied attack.” Locals said it was evil spirits.
Thagomizer
We’ve all seen those Dinosaur Tails with the Four or Eight Spikes; they’re officially called a Thagomizer, thanks to a 1982 strip Far Side. RIP caveman Thag Simmons.
Third Degree
There are 4 likely first uses of the term: 
1. Severe burns on a victim (1900s) 
2. Richard H. Sylvester, the Chief of Police for Washington, DC. He divided police procedures into the arrest as the first degree, transportation to jail as the second degree, and interrogation as the third degree (the early 1900s), and probably coined the term.
3. The third degree of Freemasonry and difficulties to advance to that level (1900).
Toast
Bill Murray gave TOAST the meaning of YOU’RE DEAD in Ghostbusters. Bang. You’re Toast. The best part is, he made it up on the spot.
White Elephant
A seemly great, but an ultimately useless gift. The phrase started from the historic practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to lessor patrons and frenemies who had displeased him so that they might be financially ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs.
But wait! There’s more! 
“But wait! There’s more” and “This is a limited-time offer, so call now!” and “Now how much would you pay?” were all coined in a Ginsu knife commercial, by Ed Valenti. With his partners, James J. Cooney and Barry Becher he pretty much invented the infomercial.