So, my job in the real world is in an English Language School. Nothing all that interesting or exciting, I work in administration but I have previously worked as an English teacher for a short stint in Turkey.
I work 2 days on reception a week and have a great deal of interaction with the students, which can bring up some interesting conversations. I was once asked by a student “What is the difference between fate and destiny?”. MIND BLOWN! How do you answer a question like that? The student simply wanted to know the concrete difference between the two to explain to her friend about her boyfriend. After ‘umming’ and ‘aahhing’ for a while I could not really give her the answer she desired.
Working in this field really makes you self-analyse the words you use and weird sayings that we have. More often than not you realise that they make no sense at all. So I have though that as a long running feature of this blog, (hopefully once a week) I will take one of these bizarre words or phrases we use on a day to day basis and try to find out the origins! I hope to try and make a bit more sense of these funny idioms that we use and therefore become a fountain of useless knowledge, and if you are reading this… then maybe you will too!!
So today’s idiom is:
“More than you can shake a stick at”
“There are more empty bottles of wine in my recycling than you can shake a stick at”
(say what you see? 😉 )
You would use this idiom to describe there being a lot of things. Wiktionary describes the phrase as an adjective ‘occurring in abundance; of a large quantity; many”.
Out of context…. eh? More than what? Why would I shake a stick at these thing? Why on EARTH would me shaking a stick at something mean there is a lot of them?
Having trawled the internet, it seems that there is no concrete answer to this one, not a good start to my weekly feature! A common thought about the origin of this saying is that it comes from shepherds counting sheep in their fields using their crooks (walking stick)… they would use their crook to count out the sheep in their herd.
It also seems that it is quite an old saying, and first recorded in the USA. It was first found in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Journal in 1818. “We have in Lancaster as many Taverns as you can shake a stick at”… sounds a bit like Brighton!
So there we go, if someone asks where does “more than you can shake a stick at” comes from, you can tell them… err… I am not sure! But you can impress them by saying it was first recorded in the USA in 1818 and people think it has something to do with shepherds counting sheep.
So until next week I will put the etymology websites away. If you have any phrases or words you would like me too look at do leave a comment and I will see what I can come up with.