By Charles Earle Funk, Tom Funk
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Extra resources for 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions from White Elephants to a Song & Dance
But about two centuries ago-at least, no earlier mention has been found-someone made the discovery that if a cock had so much as one white feather in its tail, that bird was certain to be a poor fighter, that he would run from the other bird and put up no fight at all. Whether this is true or not-and, if true, it seems strange that it was not known hundreds of years earlier-it became fully believed and passed into a byword that, when applied to a person, became a stigma of cowardice. on the anxious seat (bench) We use this nowadays to mean in a state of worry or anxiety, but the literal meaning alludes to the "mourners' bench," or seat espe cially assigned to those of a congregation who, affected by the exhortations of a preacher, have become anxious over their future 37 state and seek repentance.
To have one's heart in one's shoes This is no more than the current version of a very old saying that describes extreme fear. An ancient humorist, wishing to imply that his heart sank lower with fear than another's could, wrote, in the early fifteenth century, that his heart fell down into his toe. Suc cessively through the centuries, and depending somewhat upon the costume of the period, the heart has metaphorically sunk to one's heel, to one's hose, to one's boots. to play $econd fiddle (or violin) In order to produce the harmony desired by the composer of an orchestral piece, someone must be willing to play the violin of lower tone, or second violin, while another plays the first violin and the leading part.
Sometimes such courts are set up merely for amuse ment, as diversions against the tedium of imprisonment, and are then nothing but travesties of legal processes. Originally, however, these irregular courts were resorted to in frontier communities, usually for the trial and condemnation of persons committing offenses against the community. The source of the name is mysterious, for it is American rather than Australian; I have not found evidence of its use in Australia at any time. But as the date of origin appears to coincide closely with the gold rush to California in 1 849, the guess may be hazarded that the name was in humorous allusion to the early purpose of such courts, to try "jumpers" who, resorting to desperate measures, seized the mining claims of others.
2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings and Expressions from White Elephants to a Song & Dance by Charles Earle Funk, Tom Funk