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Where Does It Come From? (Part 3)

Given The Sack

TO BE GIVEN THE SACK: Dating back to a time when tradesmen travelled from place to place in search of employment. They carried their tools in a sack, which would be given to the employer, for safe-keeping, until the job was finished. If the employer was dissatisfied with the work, the sack was returned to them and employment was ended. If the tradesman was caught stealing, the sack of tools would be burned so the man would be unable to work elsewhere, thus the term Fired.

UP TO THE MARK: Meaning something acceptable. Since 1697, all gold and silver must be stamped by the assay office to prove it is authentic. This is called the Hallmark. Thus, any precious metal which did not reach the required standard was ‘ not up to the hallmark’.

A BOLT FROM THE BLUE: Meaning a complete surprise. This term comes from the Romans who termed a flash of lightning on a summer day ‘a thunderbolt from the blue.

TO KEEP ILLNESS AT BAY: The ancient Romans and Greeks believed that the Bay Tree possessed great protective powers because the tree never seemed to be struck by lightning. People wore bay leaves as a protection against thunder storms and warriors wore them in an attempt to keep the enemy at bay.

A BLACK LEG: A person who continues to work when his fellow workers have gone on strike is called a blackleg. Originally, this is mining term. The miner would come home with boots and trousers covered in coal dust. Thus the person with the dusty clothes was a strike-breaker or ‘blackleg’.

TO PETER OUT: Meaning to cease to exist. During the Californian Goldrush of the mid 19th century, gunpowder was used to open seams in a gold mine. The gunpowder was made from charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre. When a seam had been fully mined it was referred to as having petered out.

IMAGE: Girl (about 8 yrs. old) carrying sack of hose supporters home, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 1912 – image credit: National Child Labor Committee collection, Library of Congress/Public Domain

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – March 2011 (Issue 3)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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