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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

smart aleck

"Someone whose sarcastic, wisecracking, or humorous manner is delivered in an offensive, obnoxious, or cocky way" (Wiktionary).

It possibly originated from 1840s New York thief, Aleck Hoag, per research by Gerald Cohen, who has published a number of books about the etymology of various slangs and terms.

I found a "listserv" e-mail from Cohen describing Hoag's grift, which Cohen collected from newspaper articles from Hoag's time, noting, "but conclusive proof has thus far been elusive" as to whether Hoag was the source of the term.

World Wide Words also has a nice summary of Hoag's life of crime; World Wide Words cites Cohen's Studies in Slang, Part 1 (1985) as his source (the book appears to be out of print; I looked around for it).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the bee's knees

"The bee's knees" apparently was popular in 1920s United States, slang used by the hip Flappers.

The Phrase Finder website has a nice description of the possible etiologies and historical uses of this idiom.

The alt.usage.english FAQ also provides a succinct description, mentioning other Flapper terms, like "the eel's ankle", "the elephant's instep", and "the snake's hip".

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

unexpected amaryllis bloom

I'd gotten this amaryllis plant maybe five to seven years ago as a Christmas gift.  It managed to survive all this time in spite of me, and today I discovered it bloomed for the first time since it was given to me.