Tankyou for Your Service

Word origin quiz by: David P. Cantrell

Battle tanks, such as America’s M-1 Abrams, are frightening weapons of war. M-1They first appeared in World War I and became famous in World War II. The Iraq war brought them into our living rooms. Why do we call them “tanks?”

  1. Tank, as in “Get out of my way, brave Chinese person”, owes its name to:
    1. A German word, “Tankinbuker” meaning a fortified position.
    2. An acronym for “Taylor and Norcross Company” a maker of fire-fighting vehicles adapted to military use.
    3. A code phrase, “Tank Supply Committee,” adopted by the British in WWI to keep the weapon’s development secret from German spies.
    4. Tankards, a nickname for the crewmen because of their drunken behavior after exiting the vehicles caused by engine fumes.
  2. Pandemonium, as in “Tween girls at a Shawn Mendes concert” was coined because of:
    1. Homer’s use of it in the Iliad to describe the battles at the gates of Troy,
    2. John Milton’s use of it in Paradise Lost as the name of Satin’s palace in Hell,
    3. Mark Twain’s use of it in Huckleberry Finn as a made-up name for a squirming nest of rats.
    4. Shakespeare’s use of it in A Midsummer’s Night Dream to describe a chaotic forest scene.
  3. Blowhard, as in Donald Trump, came into use because of:
    1. A terrible wind in the 1880’s that a New York Times’ reporter exaggerated into a big deal and claimed that the world was ending.
    2. Jazz players in the 1920’s that used the phrase to describe great sax and trumpet players.
    3. A nickname for sailors in the late 1700’s,
    4. A line in Linda Lovelace’s porno movie Deep Throat.
  4. Balderdash, as in, senseless, stupid, exaggerated talk—see Blowhard above, is in use because of:
    1. A term used in the 1500’s to describe oddly mixed beverages, such as milk and beer,
    2. Haberdashers that sold wigs sewn into hats to hide baldness,
    3. An old Saxon word bald meaning unclear and a Saxon word dashut meaning escape or run away,
    4. A phrase coined by Shakespeare to describe Shylock.


  1. (c) In 1915, the British decided to build an “armored, gun-mounted vehicle moving on continuous articulated tracks,” and for secrecy purposes assigned the task to a newly formed “Tank Supply Committee.” According to Brevet Col. J.F.C. Fuller in his book Tanks in the Great War the words “cistern” and “reservoir” were also considered but discarded because they were clumsy and polysyllabic. Can you imagine Gen. Patton yelling, “Get that cistern moving!”
  1. (b) Milton’s 1674 version of Paradise Lost tells the story of creation and man’s fall from grace in 10,555 lines of poetry. He cobbled pandemonium from Greek “pan” (all) + Latin “daemonium” (evil spirit) so it literally means “all evil spirit.” If Milton had written his epic in the 1930’s he might have used Hellzapoppin’ for the palace name, but it would have been a copyright infringement because it was a Broadway hit.
  1. (c) In the 1790’s “blowhard” was a nickname for everyday sailors. It didn’t carry the sense of braggart until the 1840’s.
  1. (a) Balderdash has been attributed to alcoholic beverages mixed with less expensive liquids, but its full origin is unclear, some say unknown. One thing is definitely true; the other answers are balderdash.

Thanks to: Online Etymology Dictionary

David P. Cantrell contributor and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff

I don’t know—stop asking

By: David P. CantrellA_Colorful_Cartoon_Woman_Falling_Into_a_Toilet_Bowl_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_110102-144827-481053

Life is full of unknowns, such as why a women would ask, “Why don’t you put the seat down?” Some mysteries aren’t meant to be resolved by measly humans, but some are. So, here’s a new set of etymological challenges for your consideration.

  1. Slush Fund, as in money set aside for bribery or other nefarious purposes owes its existence to:
    1. A bucket used to clean pig sties in 14th century Scotland called a skush,
    2. The Teapot Dome scandal during the Presidency of Warren G. Harding in the early 1920’s, because of a bookkeeper named Albert Slosh that testified before Congress about the scandal.
    3. Rendered animal fat, known as slush, sold by British sailors in the 1700’s to benefit the crew.
  2. By and Large, as in: on the whole, in general, for the most part, can be traced to:
    1. Rolland Bye and John Large, English stage entertainers that could do it all: sing, dance, act dramatic scenes and perform comedy.
    2. A nautical term to describe a ship that could sail into the wind (by), as well as with the wind (large).
    3. The Greek word bi meaning half, and the Latin word largus meaning copious, literally “half and all.”
  3. Which of the following phrases IS NOT attributed to William Shakespeare:
    1. A sea change,
    2. A green-eyed monster,
    3. In a pickle,
    4. Labor of love.
  4. Which of the following phrases IS attributed to William Shakespeare:
    1. You’re a better man than I am,
    2. A good man is hard to find,
    3. The game is afoot,
    4. Warts and all.


  1. (c) In the 17th century, the word slush was coined to describe melting snow, by the 18th century it was also used to describe the semisolid fats accumulated from boiling meats. Ship’s cooks saved the slush while at sea and sold it to candle markers and such when in port. The resulting funds were used to purchase items for the benefit of the crew.   (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/slush-fund.html).
    Answers (a) and (b) are fictions of my imagination.
  2. (b) To sailors “by” means in the direction of, thus “by the wind” is sailing into the wind. Large describes a strong following wind, which allows freedom of movement, as in “at large.” Thus it might be said of a ship. “She handles well, by and large.”  (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-bya1.htm).
    Answer (a) is complete balderdash. Answer (c) is partially true. Bi does mean half in Greek and Largus means copious in old Latin, but the rest is bull-pucky. Um, balderdash and bull-pucky, I wonder where they came from?
  3. (d) The phrase “labor of love” is from the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. It actually appears twice, once in Thessalonians 1:3, and again in Hebrews 6:10, and was used in the context of working for pleasure. Shakespeare never used the phrase, although he wrote his comedy, Love’s Labor’s Lost, before the Bible was printed. The Bard had a more carnal concept of love in mind, me thinks.
  4. (c) From Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Part I, 1597:
    “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”Here’s how the other phrases arose:
    (a) You’re a better man than I am— Rudyard Kipling in the poem Gunga Din.
    (b) A good man is hard to find—Eddie Green 1918 song, A Good Man is Hard to Find.
    (d) Warts and all—The phrase has been attributed to Oliver Cromwell, the would-be dictator, or savior to some, of England in the early-1600’s. Presumably he instructed his portrait painter to give an honest account of his likeness, warts and all. Unfortunately, the first use of the phrase appeared nearly two hundred years later, in 1824 Massachusetts, when a lecturer, Alpheus Cary, claimed Cromwell said it, but there is no evidence that he actually did.

    David P. Cantrell is an author and member of the Edgewise Words Inns staff.

He had no Clew

By: David P. Cantrellgreat_white_shark_image_wallpaper_hd_6

Sandy needed to rest his arms for a minute or two after missing the last wave. He lay back on his surfboard, feet and shins dangling, inviting the shark’s attention. It moved deeper, in slow circles, careful to keep the target in sight. At the correct depth, its massive body turned vertical and its strong tail propelled it, faster and faster until—To Be Continued.


That ending was a cliffhanger. Did you ever wonder where the term, cliffhanger, came from? I did and looked it up at Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com). Here’s a fun quiz based on word etymology.

  1. Cliffhanger, a term for a suspenseful situation, was coined because of:
    1. Window washers working on skyscrapers,
    2. A ritual execution performed by ancient Incas,
    3. A serialized movie called The Perils of Pauline,
    4. Pictographs created by Pueblo Indians.
  2. Clue, as in helpful information, arose because of:
    1. A “clew” of thread used by Theseus to escape the Minotaur’s labyrinth,
    2. An medieval French word “cluett”, a device used to open wine casks,
    3. An Old German word “klug”, meaning clever or intelligent.
  3. Atomic Bomb, as in, big boom, was coined by:
    1. Albert Einstein in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt during WWII,
    2. H. G. Wells in his 1914 book The World Set Free,
    3. The director of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  4. Pipe dream, a term for impossible or impractical to achieve, was coined because of:
    1. A New York Times reporter’s description of Joyce Jones’ performance of Bach on the US Military Academy’s giant pipe organ in 1911,
    2. A description of the fantasies created by smoking opium,
    3. Diamond Jim Brady’s description of his wife’s, Lillian Russel’s, singing voice in an 1899 interview.
    4. A Groucho Marks line in the 1935 movie A Night at the Opera.

The answers will appear next week.


Not really, that was another cliffhanger, page down for the answers.

1. c. Suspenseful endings have been around since Homer wrote Odysseus. But, serialized movies in the early 1900’s made it an art form. These short movies were the mini-series of their day and immensely popular. Movie goers returned each week to learn the fate of their heroine or hero. The Perils of Pauline had twenty episodes and each ended with Pearl White, as Pauline, in great danger, such as hanging from a cliff above the Hudson River in New Jersey. The scene led the term.

2. a. Theseus, the Prince of Athens, was quite the hero. He volunteered to be sacrificed to King Minos’s Minotaur as a subterfuge, his true intent being to kill the beast of the Labyrinth and free his people. Ariadne, King Minos’s daughter fell madly in love with the brave young man and secretly gave him a clew of thread to unwind as he traversed the labyrinth thus leaving a trail to follow.  There’s more to the story, but should do for the moment.

3. b. H. G. Wells has been called the father of science fiction. He wrote numerous books in many genres, but is best known for his scientific romances, sci-fi today. The Time Machine and War of the Worlds are probably his best known works. He actually used the term atomic bomb to describe a bomb that used fission as its source of power.

4. b. The fanciful dreams prompted by opium were well known for centuries, however the phrase, pipe dreams, was coined around 1870 according to Etymology Online Dictionary. Another source, The Phrase Finder, noted its use by The Chicago Daily Tribune  in 1890. Both source agree that it arose because of smoking opium.

David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.