Jim’s Fountain Pen Site
You don’t have to be in Who’s Who to know what’s what.
– Bennett Cerf –



The expression “farming out”

Having someone else do part or all of your work–is connected to the place where you get up before dawn, work yourself to the bone, plant seeds, pray for rain, and then sometimes see your crops washed away when you get exactly what you asked for. But the connection is not that the expression came from the place, but rather that both come from the same source.

 In the Middle Ages, the word “farm” meant a tax or rent, not the land where you keep cows and pigs. The actual collection of the tax was subcontracted out to a person known as a tax farmer. Eventually the property for which the tax or rent was paid came to be called a farm. And farming something out came to mean subcontracting–assigning or paying someone to do our work for us.

Why is annoying someone
“getting their goat”?

Scapegoats take it on the chin, sacrificed as a symbolic substitute for others. In sports, the goat is the player who blew the game. An old goat is not so much sexy as salacious. This animal always gets to wear the horns.

The expression “getting someone’s goat” is based on the custom of keeping a goat in the stable with a racehorse as the horse’s companion. The goat becomes a settling influence on the thoroughbred. If you owned a competing horse and were not above some dirty business, you could steal your rival’s goat (seriously, it’s been done) to upset the other horse and make it run a poor race.

From goats and horses it was linguistically extended to people: in order to upset someone, “get their goat.”

Why do some things happen
only once in a blue moon?

This rather poetic image is based on an observable phenomenon. On rare occasions (once or twice every two years or so) the moon does appear to be blue. As to why it does, the most common explanation for this phenomenon is that dust or ice crystals in the atmosphere filter the moonlight, scattering the light in a way that makes the moon look blue.

For instance, a forest fire in Canada in 1950 blew enough soot and ashes to England to produce an electric blue moon. These conditions produce a blue moon seldom enough to make the image synonymous with something rare.


Jim…”In addition to the above source, a “blue moon” actually has a definition today. A blue moon is when there are two full moons within the same month.

Of course, it can only happen when a full moon happens on the first and last few days of the month. This apparently happens only about once every three years.

Thought you’d like to know… Ron Davis, Parker 51 user.

Why should anything fit “to a T?”

The origin of the expression *is* graphic, but the letter does not depict a person. The image evoked is that of a T-square, a piece of equipment that draftsmen (most were male) used to use with a drawing board, before computers, to make technical drawings. The T-square was simply two pieces of wood joined to form a right angle in the shape of the letter “T.”

Placed against the edge of the drawing board and used to guide the pencil, it permitted one to draw exactly straight and perpendicular lines by hand. From which we get fitting to a T, or exactly.

Why do we tell someone who’s snooty to get off his or her high horse?

If you know anything about horses, you’re aware that they come in a pretty wide variety of sizes and shapes. Clydesdales, for examples, are very big, while Shetland Ponies are, by comparison, pretty diminutive.

At one time, the size of your horse would have had a lot to do with your social position. Knights, for instance, high on the social scale, needed big horses to hold them and their equipment. Other high-standing people just liked to sit tall in the saddle, with a little help from their steed.

The expression “get off your high horse” thus means to come down from such social pretensions.


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