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