What's in a Name? Got a Favorite?

A Peeping Tom. A cup of Joe. A Jack of all Trades. Where did these phrases come from?

I've come to enjoy the English language. Clearly, it doesn't have the romance found in the language of the Spanish ... señorita. It's missing the German umlaut ... ö. And it doesn't have the four tones of Mandarin or the nine tones of Cantonese ... 你好. 

But English can be fascinating, especially when you think of some of the expressions we use.

Lately, I've been thinking about all the poor people implicated by phrases that have survived for so many years. Imagine if your name is Tom. Likely, you cringe when you hear someone talk about a “Peeping Tom,” because the phrase suggests a voyeur, someone who enjoys watching women undress.

Actually, legend suggests the phrase came from the legendary Peeping Tom of Coventry, England, a tailor who was the only person to see the naked Lady Godiva as she rode past his shop on a horse, protesting taxes.

Now, suppose your name is Thomas, and someone made reference to a Doubting Thomas. According to tribalblogs.com, the expression refers to the disciple Thomas, who doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he had first-hand evidence of it. It now describes a person who is habitually doubtful.

Is your name Scott? Great Scott! The phrase appears to refer to Civil War General Winfield Scott. The general, known to his troops as “Old Fuss and Feathers,” weighed 300 pounds in his later years and was too heavy to ride a horse.  In 1861 the New York Times referred to him as the Great Scott.

Susan? Is the Lazy Susan out on the table? A blog in the LA Times suggests amateur Internet sleuths credit two Thomases (Jefferson and Edison) for the invention, allegedly named after sluggish daughters. Historians say there’s no proof to back either assertion.

Poor John. Whenever we need to relieve ourselves, we sit on him. But how did the modern day toilet come to be know as a John? Probably after the 'inventor' of the water closet, John Harrington, according to funtrivia.com. The guy I won't elaborate on is Thomas Crapper, and his association with the "Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer."

What are your favorites? Know a Smart Alec? Are you a Jack of all Trades? Been near a Nervous Nellie recently?

Tell us in comments.


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