Recently I took part in my local pub quiz. Actually it took place in the local village hall rather than the pub but we had drinks, a ploughman’s supper and a quiz. We also had a round ofquestions on historical derivations: Where certain phrases came from. I thought I’d do really well on this but to my shame only managed about half of the correct answers. So I thought I would share it with you all here and see if you could do any better than I did (not difficult!)
1. What is the origin of the phrase “dead as a doornail”? Is it: a) A reference to the nail used to fasten down the lid of a coffin, b) The solid stud against which a door knocker is struck? c) The “doornail” was the small viewing window in the door of a prison cell locking the prisoner dead away. d) This is a mis-quote of the phrase “dead as a dawn quail” a species that is now extinct like the dodo.
2. What is the origin of the phrase “Beyond the Pale”? Is it: a) A pale is a pointed stake used in a fence. Beyond the pale was deemed to be wild and barbarous. b) The pale is a bucket of water set ready for extinguishing fires. A fire beyond the range of the thrown pale of water was considered to be beyond the pale. c) The pale was the reinforced top edge of the drawbridge of a castle. Beyond the castle’s demesne was wild and uncivilised and beyond the pale.
3. What is the origin of the phrase “Coming up to scratch”? a) a crude and simple reference to the idle who would finally climb from bed (come up) and do something useful (scratch for fleas) b) In early boxing matches the boxers had to stand with one foot touching a line scratched in the ground before each round. If they failed to do so they lost the fight. c) A shoal of flying fish emerging from the water were said to be coming up to scratch ie in their prime.
4. What is the origin of the phrase “Hoist by his own petard?” a) A petard was a siege weapon that was liable to explode prematurely killing the setter of the charge. b)A criminal was forced to make his own noose or petard and then was hung, hoist by his own petard. c) A lord visiting another lord’s estate was allowed the honour of hoisting his own petard or standard atop his host’s property.
5. What is the origin of the phrase “passing the buck”? a) Many card games made use of a marker, the buck, to show who had responsibility for dealing. To pass the buck was to pass on the responsibility to the next person. b) Buckles was the name of the distance marker points along racetracks. The largest buckle was at the finish line and first past the post had passed the buck. c) A corruption of the phrase “pass the book” arising from Victorian Improving Societies where one would pass the book to one’s fellow members for their education. d) A buckler was the doorman at a munitions factory who would inspect employees to make sure that they neither wore nor carried anything that would ignite a fire. Everyone had to pass the buck before they were allowed in.
6. What is the origin of the phrase “Nineteen to the Dozen”? a) Press gangs requiring 12 men would abduct 19 potential seamen to make allowance for the fact that several would abscond and then they would not be paid their bounty b) This was the practise of placing effigies of soldiers among an army facing battle, thus giving the impression that the army was larger than it really was c) A steam powered pump capable of dispelling 19 000 gallons of water every 12 bushels of coal burned was going nineteen to the dozen d) A baker could be fined heavily for baking underweight loaves. He therefore ensured his loaves were baked on a 19:12 scale to avoid penalty.
7. What is the origin of the phrase “Son of a gun”? a) It was the name given to the single bullet in a revolver used in the game of Russian roulette b) It was the offspring of a shotgun wedding c) In early warships men would sling their hammocks between the the cannons on the gun decks. The name son of a gun was given to the child of any female “followers” who slept with the men on the gun decks. d) The sons of the gun were the cabin boys who acted as runners bringing munitions and gunpowder to the gun deck of the warships.
8. What is the origin of “blood and thunder”? a) it is a mixture of port and brandy with the port representing the blood and the effects of the brandy, the thunder. b) It refers to a time of violence, a feud or outright war. c) It was a boxing bout that only came to an end when the loser was rendered incapable through serious injury.
If you’d like to discuss the answers here on the blog that would be great. If you want to email them to me at ncornick (at) madasafish.com that would also be great – 8 correct answers gets a prize! I’ll post the answers up on Monday and then we can argue about whether they are right in true pub quiz tradition!