Why do we say what we say?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2010

Do you ever wonder why you say what you say?

I refer to certain phrases we use, such as “apple pie order,” “putting on the dog,” “high-tailing it,” and using the “X” to signify a kiss. Here’s what I learned about them.

One of these days, I hope to get my office in apple pie order. When we speak of apple pie order, we think of tidiness – something just right. Some believe that this expression developed from habits of New England women who baked apple pies. They thought that their pies not only had to be wholesome and tasty but prepared with meticulous care. They arranged thinly sliced apple slices in rows, one following another around the edge on the bottom crust, then added spice and sugar. When they added the top crust, they pinched evenly spaced indentations around the edges. Thus sprang the expression, “apple pie order.”

Know anyone who puts on the dog?

In the time between the Civil War and the Depression, numerous bold and enterprising people got rich through various enterprises. Many of them were working class folks who suddenly had as much money as the old established aristocracy. Despite their wealth, these folks catapulted into a different culture found it difficult to gain social acceptance. Some in such a situation spent extravagantly on lap dogs, which were popular in Europe. They became the rage for American millionaire wives who carried their pets about for show. It’s easy to understand how eventually the expression “putting on the dog” came into being, representing pretentiousness.

How many times have you high-tailed out the door and down the road?

That phrase comes from the early American West when wild horses roamed the plains. At the slightest indication of danger, the majestic stallions bolted and led the herd to safety. When startled, the horses jerked their tails high and broke into a gallop within a few strides. So doesn’t it make sense that those observing cowpunchers coined the phrase “high-tailing” for anyone (or anything) that makes a fast start?

“I love you. X X X,” is the way our granddaughter often signed a letter to my husband and me when she was a little girl. Of course, those “Xs” meant kisses. In medieval times, a signer of contracts or agreements placed a St. Andrew’s cross after his name. That “X” made its execution legal and binding. Then the signer kissed it as further guarantee of the obligation. Over time, the ceremony’s origin faded away, but the “X” part didn’t.

The “X” remained associated with a kiss.

I just couldn’t close without a word about the amusing expression “to tie the knot.” I learned that in certain parts of India, a priest or holy man tied garments of the bride and groom together at the conclusion of the marriage ceremony. I don’t know if it’s true today, but to tie the knot is a familiar expression to us meaning a marriage.