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DEAD AS A DOORNAIL. NEKKED AS A JAYBIRD. HAPPY AS A LARK.
Is a nail only dead if it’s in a door? Since a jaybird has feathers, how can it be naked, and, is a lark always happy? We’ve grown up hearing and speaking these idioms, but what do they mean?
First, let’s define idioms. According to https://www.thefreedictionary.com/, they are the characteristic vocabulary or usage of a specific human group or subject. So, each country and region have their own idioms. In the US there are more than 25,000. I figure the south will claim a fair amount of those!
In book three of the Sweet Thangs Mystery series, Pretty Bows and Turned Up Toes, Sheriff Dan McAlister describes the body of Jay Roy Hobbs as dead as a doornail, nekked as a jaybird, and looking happy as a lark! Long after writing that, I decided to find out what those old-time sayings meant. You may be surprised by some. I was.
Dead as a doornail
One explanation is that back in the day, doors were built using only wooden boards and hand-forged nails. They needed to be long enough to attach vertical and horizontal wooden panels together so they wouldn’t pull apart. The nail was pounded in and bent-over which made it difficult to pull out. The technique was known as dead nailing—thus dead as a doornail.
Naked as a jaybird
In the 1920s and 30s, upon arrival, new prisoners went straight to the showers and then walked from there to their cell, naked. J-bird was slang for jail-bird. And all this time, I thought we were talking about a bird without feathers!
Happy as a lark
Okay, this one was exactly what I thought. The lark sings a lovely melody which makes it sound mighty happy.
Crazy as a loon
Even though, the bird is known to have a haunting cry which is compared to the howls of the insane. The second theory I found for this idiom makes more sense to me. It’s short for lunatic.
This next one is what got me to wondering about idioms in the first place. As I turned onto a street, there was a bucket in the road. I thought, someone needs to kick that out of the way. What? No. No one should kick the bucket! I couldn’t help but wonder why we say that. Why would kicking a bucket have anything do with dying? Maybe I’m the only one in the world who didn’t know. But, now that I do, it makes sense.
Kick the bucket
A common theory is that it refers to hanging…execution or suicide. You stand on a bucket and the pail is kicked away for the noose to do its job. Another theory is that a goat, after milking, may kick the bucket and spill the goods creating a ‘bad ending.’ The origin of the phrase might also refer to a Catholic custom of using holy-water buckets to sprinkle the blessing upon a deceased.
Well, that’s five I’ve grown up hearing. That leaves 24,995 more to check out! Let’s take a look at those Susan comes up with.
Susan: I grew up hearing all these sayings and more. I thought everyone knew what they meant. But sometimes I come across people who’ve never heard of them and give me a strange look. Most of the ones I’ve shared today are pretty explanatory.
I wouldn’t trust him any further than I could throw him
You couldn’t pick up someone and throw them very far, so you’d put very little trust in what they say. I always imagine someone trying to throw someone much bigger than they are.
So dry I’m spittin’ cotton
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Especially when you’ve been out in the Texas sun during June, July or August. If you have, you know what I mean.
Got to get back to my rat killing
You use this phrase to end a conversation with someone when you’ve got to get back to whatever it is you were doing when you ran into them in the first place. I used this phrase one time in a conversation with a writer friend from up north and he didn’t know what the heck I meant.
I didn’t just fall off the (turnip, tater, watermelon truck)
In other words, I’m not naive. I know you’re trying to fool me, and I’m not falling for it.
This ain’t my first rodeo
Don’t be giving me advice. I’ve been in this situation before. I can handle it.
If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Hang out with the wrong crowd and you’ll end up in trouble.
I love idioms. I think they make a conversation so much more colorful. Especially when you can picture them.
Tell us some of your favorites. Leave them in the comments.
Find out more about Ann Everett/Emma Ames: https://www.anneverett.com
Some images purchased from Deposit Photos. Nails taken by: @Tamara_k, singing bird taken by: @lenmdp, kicking the bucket taken by: @blueringmedia