Leslie Cook

Phrase Dictionary

Over the years, I’ve heard my mom, grandparents, coworkers and friends use phrases throughout their conversations.  Some are well known, some are so obscure, that I have to look them up to figure out what they mean.  I thought it would be a worthwhile effort to collect these idioms here and, where possible, provide a definition of that phrase.  If you know of any odd little phrases, feel free to let me know, I’ll add them to the list!

A cow needs his tail more than once in fly season.

cowI first heard this phrase when I was a pup. My mom tended to use this when she was mad at us and we were being independent or obstinate. As I recall, it was usually when we didn’t want to talk to her anymore or were mad at her for one reason or other. I’ve tried to check the phrase on the internet and can’t find it anywhere, so I’m assuming that it’s either a West Virginia thing or a phrase that was passed down through the Hills, my mom’s family.

What does it mean? Well, my mom says that it means that you shouldn’t alienate people because you’ll need them before they need you.

God willing and the Creek don’t rise.

hand_of_godThis is another “momism”, although I’ve heard it from plenty of other people. I know I use it all of the time, and have possibly passed it along to others.

This phrase seems to have originated with Benjamin Hawkins in a letter to President Andrew Jackson. Apparently the “Creek” he was talking about were the Creek Indians. Interesting!

What does it mean? It basically means, if everything goes well.

…since hector was a pup

hectorI just heard this one from my boss. He said he’s heard it everywhere, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone use this phrase.

Apparently Hector was a very common name for dogs in the early 20th century, which is when this phrase apparently originated, around 1906.

It means that something has been around for quite some time.


An E-Ticket Ride

When I was growing up, this was a phrase we used when we wanted to state that we were excited about something. Where did the phrase come from? Why, Disneyland, of course. When I was growing up, Disneyland issued tickets for the various rides throughout the park. They came in a book with letters from “A” through “E” and you could also purchase additional tickets. Of course, the best rides, such as the Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, or the Haunted Mansion, were E-ticket rides…the best in the park! Somehow the phrase “..an e-ticket ride” caught on, at least here in the West Coast, even after the demise of the Disneyland Ticket Book.

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

My grandmother use to say this all the time when we were trying to hear what the grownups were saying. What it means is that kids hear and understand more than we think they do. What are the origins of this phrase? I looked it up because it always puzzled me. The first reference to this phrase was in 1546. Apparently it’s a very old saying and was first recorded in print by John Heywood in 1546: ‘Auoyd your children, smal pitchers haue wide eares.'” From “The Dictionary of Cliches” by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985). Apparently the reference to ears has to do with their resemblance to pitcher handles.

  1. I read a article under the same title some time ago, but this articles quality is much, much better. How you do this?

  2. Didn’t President Andrew Jackson, write to his wife Rachel this quote. “God willing and the Creek don’t rise”. Col Jackson was in Alabama during the “Creek Indian Wars” He wrote Rachel, his wife and told her he would be home soon if. The quote..
    George Wideman

    • George, I suppose it’s possible that President Jackson wrote this to his wife. However, the non-scientific, random research I’ve done point to Benjamin Hawkins as the originator of the phrase. Professor Hawkins was apparently the US Agent to the Creek Confederacy.

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