Sunday, 25 March 2012

Pews, Buttons and Balloons

On the odd occasion it has been said I use some really strange expressions. I suppose anything never heard elsewhere would qualify so I could see why they might be regarded as strange.

There are those I have picked up from others which, owing to my rapidly advancing years, might not have been heard by younger generations. One example being 'Pull up a pew' meaning 'take a seat' and one I'm sure I still hear others use but, or so I'm told, this is not the case. Another would be that meaning 'to go on ahead' with 'Lead on McDuff' surely a direct quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth. However if you consult Act 5, Scene 8 the three words are 'Lay on, Macduff', a completely different meaning urging the man in question to attack with yet greater fury.

There are also those which I would never claim to have invented but which I have never seen or heard anyone else use (apart from my daughter who has clearly picked it up from me). I have no idea when it was first used but it dates from the days of coin-operated telephones when it was necessary to put the money in before making the call. If the call was answered the caller pressed button A to pay for the call and be heard the other end, if there was no answer by pushing button B the coins were returned. For as long as I remember any mention of pushing a button - at pedestrian crossings, for example - has been said as 'Push button B' to which my daughter will respond '...and get your money back' despite the fact she has never encountered those old pay phones - indeed she would be unlikely to view those huge lumps of plated metal as buttons.

There is also 'What balloon?' an expression which I do know is unique and am fully aware of how it started. It is 1980 (or thereabouts) and I was gainfully employed in the offices of a light engineering company. The afternoon in question was rather slow and the occupants of those desks nearby were passing the time of day by arguing their case as to why they shouldn't be the one to be thrown out of the basket below this balloon in order to save the lives of the others. Basically a plea as to why others are more expendable. A number of equally implausible reasons had been offered - I particularly remember "I am a Birmingham City supporter and have therefore suffered enough" (no it wasn't me) - when we asked P for her offering. Perhaps we should have realised P had not been paying any attention to our gibberish when she asked us to explain further (not exactly what she said but it was the general meaning). So we explained again - all of us in a basket beneath a balloon, balloon is sinking, too heavy, throw one out, why shouldn't it be you, sort of thing - and the answer was a look of utter bewilderment and the classic response "What balloon?". Now I realise this is no longer particularly amusing (you had to be there) but having been there it was highly amusing. Since that time I have related the story on many, many occasions and so "What balloon?" has become the term used to describe a perplexed expression.

All this made me wonder where other expressions come from so I shall look at a few examples in thenext post. If there are any you would like to see explained drop me a line and I'll do my best to oblige - never could resist a challenge.

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