Archive for the ‘Etymology’ Category


Sunday, March 18th, 2012

I love corny jokes. They are the best. And so, I decided to look up the origins of “corny”.

As for “corny,” meaning trite, overly sentimental or schmaltzy, we can probably trace the term to, believe it or not, the mail-order seed catalogs popular in turn of the century America. To hold their customers’ interest, seed firms would sprinkle jokes, cartoons, stories and riddles throughout their catalogs. The jokes, being of singularly low quality, came to be known as “corn catalog jokes,” which was then shortened to simply “corny” and eventually applied to anything considered embarrassingly unsophisticated.1

Q. What did the mother broom say to the baby broom?

A. Time to go to sweep.

Q. Where does a general keep his army?

A. In his sleevey

Q.  Did you hear what happened to the Italian chef that died?

A. He pasta -away.

I went to the video store and asked to borrow Batman Forever. They said, “No, you have to bring it back tomorrow.”

A horse walks into the bar and the bartender says, “Hey” and the horse says, “Sure”.



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What in the Sam Hill?

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I love words and phrases. I am always curious about the etymology of them, their origins. I look them up in my etymology or origin books or online. I am always finding clever ways to not swear, like “what in the Helinski?” or “What in the Sam Hill?” It is fun to create new ways to not swear…clever ways. Of course, I did not think up “What in the Sam Hill”. It has been around for quite awhile.

I wanted to know what the origin of this phrase was so I looked it up and the following explanation is what I learned about its origin.

Sam Hill was always running for political office but since no one really knew who he was the phrase was born, “Who in the Sam Hill?” Apparently, there is little evidence he was ever around aside from his infamous perpetual campaigning.

The more interesting part for me (because I am a location narcissist) is that apparently, Seattle journalists frequently used this phrase in the turn of the century. =) The first recorded use of this phrase in print was in 1839 in Seattle newspapers referring to railroad tycoon, Jim Hill. The story is as follows:

Jim Hill, the legendary ’empire builder,’ whose railroads, including the Great Northern, remained his last monument, was a man given to notable rages when anyone dared to oppose one of his grandiose schemes. So frequent were these tirades, according to Roessner, that the papers carried as a standing head: ‘Jim Hill is as mad as Sam Hill.”1

  1. “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988). []