Snopes Definitely Won’t Back Me Up
I love learning about the origin of words and phrases. But sometimes you just have to make things up:
1) In the first draft of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge said “Bach! Humbug!” (Dickens despised Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.) But Dickens’ editor was worried about lawsuits and changed it to “Bah! Humbug!”
2) The second chair bass player of a now defunct symphony orchestra fantasized about playing first chair bass and marrying the principal bass player’s wife. When pulling strings didn’t work, he tried a different technique — poison. And that’s how he “got to first bass.”
3) In the early days of Broadway theater, actors had a bad habit of showing up for rehearsals dead drunk. Frustrated directors finally struck a deal with Actors’ Equity, which required actors to arrive at dress rehearsals sober. These final run-throughs were designated “dry runs.”
4) “Your Number’s Up” is a prize-winning tale about a society that murders its citizens on their 86th birthdays. The story climaxes with a revolt by the elderly, who “86″ their would-be killers.
5) Philosopher René Descartes was a boating fanatic with a speech defect. This led him to be credited with saying “Je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am.”) Alas, what he really said was “Je punt, donc je suis.” But people were so impressed with what they thought he’d said, that he never bothered to correct them. This paid off in dividends, allowing him to purchase more than a dozen shallow water punts.
6) When people are “down in the dumps,”
They’ve been saddened by life’s little bumps.
But that phrase’s first sense
(Please do NOT take offense)
Was “plunged in what comes from our rumps.”
(I wrote these in response to a Washington Post Style Invitational contest that challenged us to write “bogus stories of the origins of familiar expressions.” You can read the winning entries here. And alas, I didn’t win.)