Commentary by Dr. Lucas Boyd: Why Do We Say It? Part Two
By Dr. Lucas Boyd, Columnist
As promised, I’m back with the second part on why we have certain words or phrases in our language and where some things get their names.
I’ll begin today with a familiar (to us) Army combat vehicle. It all started during The Great War, World War I, which began in 1914.The wars just prior had been wars of movement, maneuver, and head-on charges. The generals expected this one to be the same. Of course, down through history generals have been notorious for preparing for the last war. This time they neglected to figure the machine gun into the equation.
A frontal assault was sustainable with infantry firing single-shot rifles at each other but a machine gun could mow down men faster than they could charge. The result was trench warfare—opposing forces dug into a maze of trenches and both attempting frontal assaults with disastrous results. Also the frequent artillery barrages which plowed up the battlefield combined with rain made troop movement almost impossible.
Into this picture came Winston Churchill who 25 years later was destined to lead England during World War II. He was then First Lord of the Admiralty (head of the English navy). He visited the Front and observed the stalemate. He also saw something that gave him an idea. FDR would later say that Churchill had about 100 ideas a day and you could count on one or two of them being pretty good. Anyway, what he saw was a little tractor that ran on tracks and was not hindered by the muck and mire. He reasoned that a fleet of such vehicles, encased in armor, could protect the men inside and take the fight to the enemy, neutralizing the machine guns.
Back in England Churchill assigned this project to a team of naval engineers. In order to keep the project secret, various parts of this new weapon were produced in different factories and shipped to a central assembly facility. In shipping they were labeled “agricultural tanks” (for water). No one ever came up with a better name than “tank” so the name stuck.
Since it was developed by the navy, naval terms were used for its various parts. The lower, main body is the “hull.” The outside front and rear top of the hull is the “front deck” and “rear deck.” The rotating compartment, which holds the main gun, is the “turret.” The small doors are called “hatches.” And the driver and commander have “periscopes” for seeing outside. And these naval terms are still used on this land vehicle today.
The first tank assault was less than a rousing success with a high percentage of the vehicles succumbing to mechanical failure. But the shock value was tremendous and a new style of warfare was born.
Dashboard. Most of us ride in cars that have a dash or dashboard across the front passenger seats. The first cars were called horseless carriages and looked pretty much like buggies without the horses in front. Well, because a horse tends to kick back a lot of mud, water, and other debris when he trots along, buggies had a “dashboard” in the front to keep this stuff off the passengers. It would “dash” against this barrier. Although its original purposes are long past, we’ve kept the term. On second thought, maybe we haven’t gotten that far away. The “horses” are still up front under the hood.
Trunk (of a car). Originally cars did not have storage compartments but as they came to be used for longer trips, a rack was added to the rear to which a household trunk could be strapped. Soon this rack became an enclosed space with the original name being kept.
Not having a pot to p— in. This statement designated a person or family who was in abject poverty. In early days urine was used in the tanning of hides. A family would store their urine in a special pot and sell it to tanneries. It was a source of a little extra income for the poor. However, the poorest of the poor could not even afford to buy a pot for that purpose, hence the expression. Some Southerner must have added the phrase, “nor a window to throw it out of,” at a later date.
Dr. Lucas G. (Luke) Boyd is the retired principal of Battle Ground Academy. He lives in Franklin and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on: 8/22/2013