Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obscure Phrases

I've decided to enlighten the world on the less-known origins of some common phrases.  To start, consider:
Kill two birds with one stone.
This particular phrase comes from the time of the Great Stone Age Depression, when stones, which were previously abundant and frequently used in bird hunting (which was, unfortunately, often done out of sport instead of for the bird's - or birds' - meat, feathers, hides, and beaks, which were fairly useful items for households, and led to the careless anthropogenic extermination of such varied species as the dodo bird and its less liked cousin the doo-doo bird, which was a common defacer of stone-age artwork) ... whew! that was quite the parenthetical insertion, wasn't it?  Anyway, back to the Great Stone Age Depression.  Back when stones, previously in abundance, suddenly became rare and expensive items.  Hunters, dealing with ever-decreasing quantities of and ever-increasing-replacement costs of stone, began to develop techniques wherein a single stone could be banked off one bird in a glancing blow, usually to the neck or head (causing terminal injury to the initial recipient of contact), and then into a second bird, typically causing a fatal injury to it as well (or at least enough of an injury to bring the bird to the ground, such as a broken wingtip, where the expert marksman would finish the bird, often with the original stone after it had been retrieved from wherever it fell, since stones were quickly becoming precious commodities).  In fact, in some cases, particularly accurate bird hunters could take down three or more birds with a single stone, but the more common (and frequent) occurance was to fell two birds.  Hence the saying: "kill two birds with one stone."

As part of this downturn in the stone-age economy, navite Australians began to fashion stones into exotic shapes that would, when thrown, return to the thrower after ringing in two or more birds, thus saving the hunter the task of retrieving the thrown stone and potentially having the stone stolen by stone-starved, hungry hunters hiding in the nearby bush to grab the stone once it fell to earth.  This, as you can imagine, led to the later development of the boomerang.

Come back next time as we explain the meaning of "don't count your chickens before they hatch" (preview: one farmer had three dozen eggs, and pre-sold the thirty-six chickens; unfortunately for him, half of the eggs were actually twins, but he had only pre-sold the thirty-six instead of the fifty-four, leaving him with an extra eighteen chicks; why is this a problem, you might ask? well, what would you do with eighteen chicks? if he sold those, that would drive down the price and he would not get as much for his next round of chickens due to overproduction, so the poor famer had to settle for keeping eighteen chickens as pets, and chickens do not make very good pets).

1 comment:

Dean Lusk said...

Man, this is one reason I like your blog so much. Informative, with useful information and historical facts!

:-)