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Selling like hotcakes! The origins of popular phrases

  1. Apr 7, 2009 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    I used the phrase "selling like hotcakes" earlier and wondered about its origins.

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/6/messages/241.html

    In some cases I've found that I completely misuderstood the meaning of the phrase. For example, IIRC, the phrase "going off half-cocked" was an expression used in the civil war that literally meant that a soldier's gun was almost ready to fire. I don't know what exactly I thought it meant to be fully cocked, as opposed to half-cocked, but now it seems to refer more to a state of mind.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2009 #2
    Half-cock is a position of the cock on a flintlock. Here is an excerpt from the second sense of the headword "half-cock" from the OED:
    Here is the third sense of "to go off half-cocked" also from the OED and giving a citation from 1833, long before the civil war.
     
  4. Apr 7, 2009 #3

    turbo

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    Also, single-action Colts had a half-cock position from which the hammer could not be released by the trigger. This was a safety feature meant to ensure that the hammer was not resting on the percussion cap of the cartridge and would not accidentally fire a round if the gun was dropped or bumped. Winchester lever-action rifles also had this feature. To "go off half-cocked" was a very bad thing.

    Earlier Colts (percussion-type pistols) had "safety pins" between the cap nipples. The guns could be carried with the hammer fully-down on one of these protruding pins without fear of accidental discharge.
     
  5. Apr 7, 2009 #4
    I am suspiciouis of that citation from phrases.org.uk. For one thing, it is more of a definition than a phrase origin. The OED makes a valiant attempt to find the first citation in print for any word or phrase. Of course they aren't perfect and sometimes need to update the record with recent discoveries of older printed material. That said, the first citation for 'sell like hot cakes' is from 1839. This doesn't jibe with the web site which says "by the beginning of the 19th century". This either means that they are privy to something that the OED overlooked (not impossible) or that they are talking through their hats, a common practice in many web sites that practice folk etymology on a grand scale.
     
  6. Apr 7, 2009 #5
    Jimmy, the 19th century began on January 1, 1801 and ended on December 31, 1900.


    Mutters under breath ....I swan!
     
  7. Apr 7, 2009 #6
    So anything that happened "by the beginning of the 19th century" would have happened by Jan 1, 1801.
     
  8. Apr 7, 2009 #7
    Give or take 20 or so years. The norm is before 1850, its the early side and after 1850 they consider the later side. They really don't divide it much more then that in general terms.
    Granted there is a lot of leeway.
     
  9. Apr 7, 2009 #8

    turbo

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    Quit swaning! It's not lady-like!
     
  10. Apr 7, 2009 #9
    blushes
     
  11. Apr 7, 2009 #10
    If I gave 'em 38 years, it still wouldn't be enough. I didn't say they were wrong, just that I am suspicious. I can't find any corroborating evidence. Can you?
     
  12. Apr 7, 2009 #11
    Evidence, naaaa. At this point, I ask myself of the possibilities, would it be a exaggeration, or is it reasonable to assume it may be true. Could be both, but as sayings {and hot cakes} go, 38 is just a wink of a eye.
    Did I mention, I love hot cakes?
     
  13. Apr 7, 2009 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I'll put my head on the block and go out on a limb and trust it as the gospel truth.
     
  14. Apr 7, 2009 #13
    My, how you slipped those sayings in. That was smoother then a frogs hair split 3 ways.
     
  15. Apr 7, 2009 #14

    BobG

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    I don't think you can split a frog hair 3 ways using only a straight edge and a compass. I think you have to resort to origami.
     
  16. Apr 7, 2009 #15

    turbo

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    That Ivan is a silver-tongued devil, smart as a whip, and slicker than a cup o' custard.
     
  17. Apr 7, 2009 #16
    You should avoid these cliches like the plague. I have come to realize that the site speaks of hot cakes and not hotcakes. I had an argument with a clerk at Payless Shoe Store concerning a similar distinction. I lost that one and ended up having to shell out for my selection. There must be better information somewhere, but I can't find it.
     
  18. Apr 7, 2009 #17

    epenguin

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    Half-cock existed on more recent firearms than colts or flintlocks, such as shotguns and the SLE Mk 3, standard rifle of British army in WW1.
     
  19. Apr 7, 2009 #18

    Danger

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    'A pig in a poke', and 'letting the cat out of the bag' refer to the same thing. In olden days, con men would put a cat in a bag (which was called a poke) and sell it to someone as a baby pig for dinner.
     
  20. Apr 7, 2009 #19
    I always thought that "Toe the line" was actually "Tow the line". I think that enough people have been confused by this that they are now actually two distinct definitions and phrases.
     
  21. Apr 7, 2009 #20

    Ivan Seeking

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    My wife might prefer to say stubborn as a mule and able to test the patience of a saint.
     
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