Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Eleventh Hour

No, I'm not talking about the new show on CBS (I'm kind of hot and cold on that one, anyway--I mean, I love Rufus Sewell, but is that enough to make me a fan?). I'm talking about the origin of Veterans Day, which dates back to the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month some eighty years ago. The moment in which the Allies and Germany entered into an armistice, a cease-fire that would bring to an end years of fighting.

You can learn a lot about the actual history of Veterans Day (and it's had a pretty rocky history--especially in the early 70s) on this US Army website, but the bottom line is that eighty years ago today marked the end of World War I, aka The Great War.

Before I became a writer, I never thought much about the origin of words and phrases. Now I find myself fascinated by the history of some of favorite idioms, wondering where a certain word originated and how it became a part of our language. Like the term "the eleventh hour."

Today, the eleventh hour means at the last possible moment (kind of on par with "just under the wire"). But in the years following WWI, I can only imagine the phrase had a far more serious connotation. Society at the time believed they had just been saved (at literally the eleventh hour) from the war to end all wars. No war could be greater or more costly in terms of both money and lives. (Little did they know, right?) They could hardly have used the phrase in the same lighthearted manner in which we do today.

I'm fascinated by how this term came into popular use and has changed over the decades. I'm kind of fascinated by all words--where did they come from? who made them up? how did they become a part of our everyday vocabulary? I want that job. The job of thinking up words. How cool would that be? (Okay, as I writer I technically occasionally get to make up words, so maybe I already have that job. Yay me!)

So, how about it? Am I the only word nerd out there? Do you have some favorite phrases that you've always wondered where they came from? Like maybe--wait for it ... something from popular TV?

All words and phrases had to come from somewhere. Where is your favorite from?


OH. MY. GODS. (available now!)
GODDESS BOOT CAMP (coming June 2009)


TinaFerraro said...

I'll go first!

"Sleep tight." This came from the days when ropes were used to hold up the bedding, and in order to get a good night's sleep without sagging or falling, you'd tighten the ropes!

"And don't let the bed bugs bite." Well, that's pretty obvious--they used to be bugs in the bedding.

stephhale said...

Great post, TLC. I'm not sure I have any favorite sayings but words are definitely fascinating to me. Have you ever said/stared/written a word so many times that it looks completely foreign?
Thanks for adding the new covers!

Me said...

Fun phrases, T. I'm still a little grossed out by the whole bedbugs thing.

Steph, that happens to me all the time. Suddenly a word I've written a million times will look just ... wrong. Usually if I blink a few times it makes itself right again. =)

Heather Davis said...

Great topic, TLC!

I like "Skinny as a rail" which I used to get in HS a lot. Well, a rail is actually a bird!! It's not referring to a rail like a handrail. It took me a while to figure that out. And after I did, I felt better about being called that.

OMGosh -- that and being called carrot top as a kid. I used to say back "Carrot tops are green, you dork!" and then inevitably the dullard would try to explain to me that the my hair on top on top of my head was the color of carrots, never getting my creative joke. Ah, the curse of being a smart kid.

Okay, so that was a lot of my childhood I just covered -- who do I pay for this therapy, TLC? :)

Heather Davis said...

I forgot to say that I appreciated the reference to Veterans' Day. I hope everyone prayed for, called, wrote, or thanked a veteran today.

I'm writing a WWII book now, and I am so impressed by the sacrifices they, and the millitary folks and family these days, have made and continue to make. Thank you!