Fun rhymes, steamboats, and muskets—what do they have in common? All relate to the latest batch of words in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series. Come along as we explore the history of words and how they connect with history.
Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 17
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Let Her RipLet her rip describes going full-throttle. The pronoun, ‘her,’ usually refers to a motorized object. ‘Rip’ conveys the idea of heedless speed, as when a cloth is ripped rather than cut by scissors. A second meaning of the term is to give or receive permission to act with unbridled enthusiasm.
‘Let her rip’ entered the popular vernacular in the 1850s. The origins are unknown, but the expression may refer to the fact that when a steamboat went too quickly, it might explode and rip apart.
Historical References: ‘Let her rip’ appeared in reference to speeding up a train in the 1910 novel, Out West by (James Henry Edward) Secretan. “Git up more steam–this ain’t a funeral! Let her rip! Don’t mind the speed limit! Keep the whistle going!”
This idiom used in the permissive sense was in use as early as 1809 in the Farmington Enterprise: “‘Say,’ said Tommy, ‘did I ever tell you about the circus we had at our house the other night?’ ‘No,’ said I, settling back in my chair, ‘let her rip.’”
Example: My led-footed cousin likes to drive on back roads so he can let her rip without getting a ticket.
Lickety-splitThis phrase describes going somewhere or doing something rapidly. We know very little about its origin, except that it first appeared in print in 1817 and became popular in America around 1850. ‘Lickety’ is probably a playful extension of ‘lick,’ which in one sense means ‘an extremely fast sprint in a race.’ One clue to its origins is that its first known use was by the poetess nun, Mary MacKillop, who was Scottish. Lickety was used alone but also with ‘split,’ which was tacked on as a fanciful ending.
Historical Reference: "I rattl'd owre the A, B, C, as fast as lickitie An' read like hickitie." D McKillip’s Poems (1817) by Mary MackKillop. (Note: ‘hikitie’ was probably a fanciful rhyme for ‘lickitie,’ which was itself a playful extension of ‘lick.’ Both were meant to amuse.)
Example: We’d better head to the post office, lickity-split, before the doors close.
Lock, Stock, and Barrel
Multiple variations of this story arose, beginning in the 1700s, Robert Burns wrote of it in April 1793 in a letter: “Let him mend the song, as the Highlander mended his gun; he gave it a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel.” Depending on the story, the weapon is called a gun, pistol, musket, or a fowling piece. The original story probably referred to a musket.
Historical Reference: The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first figurative use as a letter Sir Walter Scott penned on October 29th, 1817. Writing about an old fountain on his estate, he explained that: “Like the High-landman’s gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.”
Example: She invested everything she had—lock stock and barrel—in making her marriage succeed.
Thanks for spending a little time with me. I hope you enjoyed learning about these words. Did any of the meanings or history surprise you? Which was your favorite saying?
About Janalyn Voigt
Janalyn Voigt fell in love with literature at an early age when her father read chapters from classics as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, she put herself to sleep with tales "written" in her head. Today Janalyn is a storyteller who writes in several genres. Romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy appear in all her novels in proportions dictated by their genre. Janalyn Voigt is represented by Wordserve Literary.
Learn more about Janalyn, read the first chapters of her books, subscribe to her e-letter, and join her reader clubs at http://janalynvoigt.com.
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