The following describes how slang phrases such as “Paid Under the Table” and “Gonna Tap Dance on Your Head” came about:
Paid Under the Table
In medieval times, before there were computers and celebrities and politics, things were done differently. You might say to yourself, “What does the writer mean when he says that things were done differently?” I do not have time right now to go through every example of how things have changed, being as it is getting dark and I still have two cats to get back in the house, but I will cover one thing that has changed.
Before there were banks, or taxes, or TMZ, people were literally paid under tables. One would work all day in the fields, or in the orchards, or as a hovel-maid. When Friday rolled around, everyone from the village would show up in the town square, in height order. People under five foot tall would go to the six-foot high table, and people from 6 feet to 7 feet would go to the 8-foot high table. Everyone over 7 feet would be banished from the tribe, because they were usually bad luck, and basketball was not yet a sport. The payments would then be made, literally, under the table. No taxes were taken out. The practice of paying under the table gradually changed to having people pay through the nose. But when payment is made nowadays without collecting taxes it is usually referred to as being “Under the Table.”
Fit as a Fiddle
Have you ever noticed how sleek a fiddle is? It is shaped rather erotically, don’t you think? You don’t? Well, me neither. But it is very fit. There is no fat on a fiddle. You will not see a fiddle struggle to get up from the couch. A fiddle would never watch football all day eating junk food. And that might be why it is so fit. A fiddle watches what it eats, and it gets plenty of exercise too. How many of us haven’t seen a fiddle running by the side of a road, or around the track? Some fiddles have even been spotted poolside in Vegas, sipping protein shakes.
There have been reports of other instruments drinking alcohol, such as tubas, bassoons, and tympanis. That could be why they are so unfit. But a fiddle always watches what it eats and what it drinks. A fiddle exercises, meditates regularly, calls its mother on holidays, is not in debt, and has never lost a job. A fiddle feels good about what it has accomplished in life, and it does not fear death. If only everyone could be like the fiddle, fit and happy. It is ironic that the one thing a fiddle does not do is fiddle around. It is far too motivated for that.
Need I explain how the phrase “Fit as a Fiddle” came from? I think not.
Gonna Tap Dance on Your Head
In order to fully understand the phrase “Gonna tap dance on your head” one must first know the circumstances surrounding the first tap dance. The art of tap dancing was done for the first time at a New Year’s Eve Party hosted by the Governor of Philadelphia on December 31, 1853. James Edward Tap, an unemployed millworker who lived in nearby Nashville, became very inebriated at the party and passed out before the ball dropped in Times Square, just as he did every year.
When he awoke at 3 a.m., several of the guests were still drinking and dancing a waltz. In the corner of the room there were several rugs, blankets, and hides for people to use if they wanted to nap or just get cozy. At 3:35 a.m. on January 1, 1854, James began dancing alone on the rugs, then gradually the blankets, and eventually on the hides. Someone in the corner of the dance hall yelled out to the host, “Hey everyone, check out Tap, dancing on your hide!” Gradually the phrase became what we now know as “Tap Dancing on your head.” Why is it is used as a reference to causing harm to someone remains a mystery.
Can Stop on a Dime
In the early 1880’s people traveled through the countryside by one of three ways: Horseback, Train, or Stage. People with Stage Fright usually opted for Horseback. But that’s neither here nor there. Sometimes, when it was very hot, they would drink to excess in the bars. This was usually followed by evenings filled with debauchery and going to sleep without brushing one’s teeth. In the morning, most people would usually find themselves in bed with someone they would never think of sleeping with. When they would run out of their motel rooms, they would usually leave a trail of money showing where they had been. If they were seen by their spouse, they would usually stop right where they were, in their tracks so to speak. More often than not they would be standing right on a dime. Need I say more?
Unlike its cousin the Backseat Driver, the phrase Sunday Driver was coined, interestingly enough, on a Monday. Back in the days of the Pharoah, before there were drive thru restaurants, celebrity game shows, or ethnic politicians, many people would take Sunday off from working on the pyramids to go for a drive. They would cruise around the River Nile, check out what was happening in the desert springs, and have an all-around great time. Sometimes whole armies of people would be out, and wars would often break out over parking. Do you remember Genghis Khan? He was the most famous of all Sunday Drivers. He was just trying to parallel park when he happened upon 200,000 Persians, who were also out for a Sunday drive. On Monday morning, it was all over. Since that fateful day, the phrase has been used to describe someone who drives slowly, a fact which remains a mystery to this day.
The Bee’s Knees
Many people think that the phrase The Bee’s Knees refers to an insect. It does not. Nor does it have anything to do with knees. It is actually referring to the emotional needs of the second letter of our alphabet, that’s right, the letter B. When A was chosen to be at the front of the alphabet, letter B was very upset. The letters L, H, and R once saw it perched on the side of a cliff, threatening to jump. Only when they got the letters N, O, T, and D to stand in correct order spelling the word DON’T did the letter B realize it had a purpose. After all, there were 24 letters less important than her. That’s right, the letter B is a girl. So is M, H, and F. Not many people know that.
After word got around to the other letters in the alphabet about how blue B had been feeling, they started paying more attention to its needs. For some reason the phrase “It’s the Bee’s Knees” now means something good. But it actually started thousands of years ago, when one depressed letter decided to end it all. And we should all thank the letters D, O, N, and T, for saving her. Otherwise we wouldn’t have words like Beer, Babes, and Boobies.
Quiet as a Mouse
For some reason, a mouse was chosen for this phrase. After several years of research at learning institutions the world over, the author does not know why another creature was chosen. After all, spiders are quiet, aren’t they? Ants are also quiet. Most insects are quiet, fish are quiet, some cats are quiet, but not mine. There are quiet hamsters, ferrets, rats, and rabbits. And even some rabbis. But only when they are alone.
Most dogs are not very quiet, hence their use in the phrase “Barking up the Wrong Tree.” However, in the phrase “Let sleeping dogs Lie” the dog is assumed to be quiet. Unless he sleeps like my wife, in which case he would be sleeping in the next room. But only because I need my sleep.
The only thing quieter than a mouse seems to be a church mouse. So if you wanted to really get your point across, you would say something like, “My alcoholic uncle is as quiet as a church mouse when he is passed out.” If you compared him to a hamster it wouldn’t have the same meaning.
It is believed that this phrase was first used in 175 A.D., in the city of Crete. One of the locals had one two many goblets of wine and woke up in a pile of naked people. A mouse was walking next to the group of heathens, and a child looked at them in disgust and said to his mother, that group of perverts are as quiet as that mouse.