I had dinner with my friend named Dorothy the other day, which set me on thinking about the origin of the expression, “A friend of Dorothy’s.” I first heard this expression a few years ago, when a gay friend of mine used it. As he knows our Dorothy, I thought he was referring to another friend of hers to start with. How confusing life becomes.
The term “a friend of Dorothy” originates from the Second World War, or maybe earlier. In those days, homosexual acts were illegal in both the UK and the USA. That meant all homosexual acts, whether behind closed doors or not. So, in the States, asking if someone was “a friend of Dorothy” was a way of finding out someone’s sexual orientation without giving too much away. In the UK, at around the same time, the question was, “Are you a friend of Mrs King?”
My thinking around this moved me onto thinking about the origin of a few other phrases that I still use:
Cupboard Love – I use this a lot with my cats, who seem to find me utterly desirable when I am eating chicken or fish… I believe the technical definition is affection that is given to obtain reward. Sounds about right in my household. Somewhat annoyingly, I haven’t been able to find the origin of this expression, but I wanted to include it.
Month of Sunday’s – means a long, indeterminate time, eg, “I haven’t seen Jo in a month of Sunday’s.” It is believed to originate from the Christian Holy Day Sunday, when activities were (and still are, to a certain extent, at least in the UK) regulated eg, shops not open, etc. Some people perceived Sunday’s as being long and boring, and a month of Sunday’s would have been 30 or 31 weeks, the amount of time it would take for a month of Sunday’s to pass.
Every Cloud has a Silver Lining – I love this phrase, I think it’s lyrical and full of hope (which it is, of course). John Milton first used the expression “Silver Lining” in 1634. From then on, it started to be used extensively in literature. It wasn’t until 1840 that “There’s a silver lining to every cloud,” was first used, and that was how the phrase came to be commonly used until 1849 when the current form was used in a book review.
A Fate Worse than Death – this originally meant anything that would make life unbearable, and was generally used with regard to rape or loss of one’s virginity in the days when respectable ladies “didn’t do that sort of thing” outside of wedlock. Back in those days, women were believed to be better off dead if either of these circumstances had occurred. (I dare say that some would still feel that way about rape.). It seems to have first been used in literature in the late 1700s but nowadays is used in a much more lighthearted fashion.
The English language is full of odd little sayings and idioms, and maybe I’ll write about more in the future, but that’s all for now.
©Susan Shirley 2016