My 2 Cents on Terms & Catch-Phrases

  • “Jerry rigged”
    • When I was growing up in the 1960s, “jerry rigged” was a term used to describe something, like an engine, that had been made to work, by reparing the apparatus with “what was available,” not necessarily with the parts that were originally intended to make it work at it’s optimum.  “Jerry” referred to Germans, apparently during WWII that were good at making things work, even if they didn’t have the actual replacement parts.  I’ve also heard the term, “N-rigged” which meant the same thing.  Yeah, it works, but if we had the money to buy the actual replacement parts (or if they were available) we wouldn’t have to “make do.”  There is definitely a nod toward being creative enough to keep the thing working, but also the understanding that you were too poor to afford to buy the actual replacement parts.
  • “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”
    • This is what I was told from my youth:  This phrase referred to “Kate Smith,” a large woman with a strong singing voice that apparently sang after the “game” was over.  I assume that the “game” was probably baseball because of her era (not Earned Run Average).  She was a North Carolinian, or at least she died in Raleigh, NC.  I’ve recently read online that, “It doesn’t begin until the fat lady sings,” which is just a blatant misunderstanding of the phrase’s origin.
    • I have just read that it may be a reference to an Opera singer.  This seems to make more sense, because now that I think about it, when would you have sung a song at the end of a game (baseball?).
  • “She had the vapors.”
    • This has always meant she became dizzy or light headed, and meant a “fainting spell,” normally by a “Lady.”  And, in saying the phrase, you might place the back of your hand to your forehead and feign fainting.  But, a year or so ago, I was with a group of mostly “Yankees” and one of the women said that “the vapors” meant the woman was flatulent.  Let me say that among Southern “ladies,” not a one of them would have announced that she had “the vapors,” if all would have understood she was “farty.”
  • “Coming down the pike.”
    • When I was growing up, “coming down the pike,” was the phrase used to describe something in development that would be available at a later date.  It was explained to me (and this is way before the Internet) that “pike” was short for “turnpike” which was a road.  It was only much later that I heard the phrase as “coming down the pipe.”   I immediately thought, “it’s not pipe, but pike,” but I could see where the analogy was close enough that either could be used.
  • “used to”
    • “used to” meaning “in the past,” as in “she used to teach Biology,” meaning “in the past, she taught Biology,” or just “she taught Biology.”