Saturday, November 26, 2011

Misheard Expressions

Listening to Paula Abdul's, "Straight Up", takes me right back to childhood, specifically car rides with my mom. It's the song that made me believe there was an expression relating things that went well together as going "ham and ham".

Although my passion is writing when it comes to the English language, I’ve never quiet reached the level of mastery I idolize in others. Maybe it’s because words, written or spoken is what sparks my imagination. I get my best ideas just sitting and listening to others talk. So perhaps while I should have been paying attention, I was just adding in words of my own creation. Years later, I found out Paula was actually saying, 'the words and the beat go hand in hand’, not 'ham and ham'. My best explanation for this is that my creative juices were running wild at the time. Although, I’m sure it’s easy to see how I’d formed this misconception. After all, what goes better with ham than ham itself?

I’d like to share some other language mishaps I’ve (admittedly) had. I hold my head high while I list them:

As a kid I once her my mom call someone a "Prima Donna." However, what I heard was "Pre-Madonna." I had rationalized it to mean ‘before Madonna’. I’d taken the expressed meaning implied that the Pre-Madonna was well on their way to winding up just like Madonna. (I’d just like to point out that this was an early ‘90s Madonna.)

Turns out says I wasn’t too far off:

pri·ma don·na
1. a first or principal female singer of an opera company.
2. a temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience.

Not all of my mishaps with the English language are related to pop stars. In highschool while out with a group of friends one of them asked me a question. Though I don’t remember the question, I do remember my reply, “I just didn’t want to seem all gun ho.”

The expression I was attempting was, of course, gung ho, however, somewhere along the lines I had confused it and come up with ‘gun ho’ instead. The friend asked, (just as you will, I’m sure) how I had mistaken this. I didn’t know, but I had previously wondered what the origin of the expression had been. The best explanation I’d offered myself was that the phrase was referencing when a British Redcoat got really excited and preemptively grabbed his musket when the situation didn’t quite warrant that extreme. (He'd gone gun ho.)

Why musket? Because I assumed the expression was very old.

Why Redcoats? Because they carried muskets.

It is also possible that somewhere along the lines I’d confused it with the phrase ‘tally ho’. A  British expression (which would explain why I’d related it to the Redcoats), tally-ho used in fox hunting when the hunter sees the fox.

The American Heritage Dictionary gives an excellent explanation of the origin of gung ho:

Most of us are not aware of it today, but the word gung ho has been in English only since 1942 and is one of the many words that entered the language as a result of World War II. It comes from Mandarin Chinese gonghé, "to work together," which was used as a motto by the Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society. Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson (1896-1947) borrowed the motto as a moniker for meetings in which problems were discussed and worked out; the motto caught on among his Marines (the famous "Carlson's Raiders"), who began calling themselves the "Gung Ho Battalion." From there eager individuals began to be referred to as gung ho. Other words and expressions that entered English during World War II include flak, gizmo, task force, black market, and hit the sack.

If you’ve thought of any misheard expressions of your own I’d love to see them in the comments or emails. If I get enough responses, I’ll write another blog featuring other’s misheard expressions, words, or anything that goes ham and ham with the topic.

No comments:

Post a Comment