Saturday, January 30, 2010

Word Up


Every once in a while I catch myself saying a common phrase, an idiom, and wondering, "Where on earth did that phrase come from?"

Today it was "called to the carpet." As in, "I hope those Wall Street idiots get called to the carpet for what they did."

The meaning behind these phrases is usually clear to me, but the origin--how we came to understand that calling someone to the carpet means making them be accountable for what they did--is what really interests me.

Maybe it interests you as well? (Or maybe you find it totally stupid and you couldn't care less, in which case feel free to skip all further posts with this title.) So I've decided to do a regular post on the origin of common idioms. Starting with...


Called To the Carpet/Called on the Carpet:

"In the days when 'carpet' retained its original sense, 'a thick fabric used to cover tables,' to have something 'on the carpet' had the same meaning that we now give to 'on the table'; that is, to have something up for discussion, for consideration. But dainty ladies found, even in the fifteenth century, that these thick fabrics also made ideal floor coverings and began to use them, first, in their bedchambers, and then in other private or formal rooms of a house. But they were for the use of the gentry.

The occasions when a servant might 'walk the carpet,' as the expression went, was when he or she was called before the mistress or master of the house for a reprimand. Though this latter expression, coined in the early nineteenth century, is still in use, it has been largely replaced, especially in America, by transferring its meaning to 'on the carpet.'"

From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).



So there you have it. Feel a lot smarter and more superior to everyone else around you now, don't you? You're welcome.

14 comments:

The Boob Nazi said...

I do like this.

veronica said...

Interesting....very interesting.

Kristina P. said...

I love learning little tidbits like this.

Chelsea said...

I love learning stuff like this. I bet you'd like this book:
http://www.amazon.com/Love-When-You-Talk-Retro/dp/0312606400/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264875260&sr=8-8

L. said...

I always thought it was because the boss had a carpet in his office, and nobody else did. So when you were "called on the carpet", that meant you had to face the boss in his office for a confrontation. But yours is obviously researched, and more accurate. FUN. Do more!

PS, your site comes up correctly now.

jennie w. said...

Hmmm, I'm not buying it. SOunds made up.

My current weird phrase is :
"read someone the riot act".

It's a weird one.

rae said...

Excellent! Another wrinkle in my brain.

Koreena said...

Interesting. I never would have guessed.

kado! said...

i love it! love info like that...but then I usually forget it by the next day...oh heck who a I kidding...I'll forget it in a couple hours!

....but you mentioning Wall Street made me think of the new movie coming out!!!! Hope it is as good as the original!

Nicki said...

Does it make me too young to say I've never even heard that term before?

Omgirl said...

Nicki, YES!!!

(Unless you're talking about, "word up" and then, YES!)

L. said...

Try, "My Stars and Garters!" and report back.

alex dumas said...

I find idioms immensely interesting. Unlike the "passion" posts, I will be all over these.

MiaKatia said...

I love the origins of words and sayings. Very interesting.