Saturday, March 20, 2021

Eccentricity, Mental Stability, and Emergencies (Wild West Sayings We Use Today)

If you are new to this monthly celebration of words and their history, allow me to introduce myself. I am Janalyn Voigt, author and word nerd. Some of my early memories are of poring over dictionaries and thesauruses. I savored their nuances, marveling at how much meaning could be packed into a single word. A precocious reader from a young age, I acquired a wide vocabulary before an overly-zealous high school teacher insisted on broadening it. That turned out for the best, as I'll explain.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 21

Words are a writer’s stock-in-trade, so it all turned out well. I come by my interest in the history of words, or etymology as it is intimidatingly called, honestly. I suspect you share my fascination with words and their history.

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Without further ado, let’s tackle this month’s slate of Wild West sayings in use today.

Odd Fish

We speak of an eccentric person as an ‘odd fish.’ Such people seem to attract colorful terms. Phrases with the same meaning include odd bod, oddball, queer fish, odd duck, queer duck, and odd fellow.

Historical Reference: Odd fish appears to have come to us by way of the British. King Charles II favored ‘odd’s fish,’ which probably began as ‘God’s fish.’ Puritan influences in the late 16th-century caused people to create ‘minced oaths’ that dropped or disguised words others might find offensive. Another example of a minced oath is ‘tarnation’ for ‘damnation.’ Many of the exclamations considered mild today (gosh, darn, and the like) are disguised curse words. The use of minced oaths led to the idiom ‘don’t mince words’ (speak plainly).

Odds Fish was used by The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), the first novel in a historical fiction series by Hungarian-born British novelist and playwright Baroness Orczy. Captain Hook (a character based on King Charles II) first uttered this exclamation in The Little White Bird (1902) by J. M. Barrie, the novel that introduced Peter Pan to the world.

Example: Jack is an odd fish who thinks neon purple is a great color to paint a house.

Off his/her/your/my/their rocker

This phrase refers to someone perceived as illogical or ‘crazy.’ This phrase has always made me picture a person in a rocking chair, but a different origin is more likely.

Historical Reference: Although the origin of ‘off his rocker’ is unclear, it dates from 1897, around the same time as the idiom, ‘off one’s trolley’ appeared. The timing suggests a correlation between the two phrases. A trolley operated by running along an overhead electric cable. A metal arm mounted on the roof connected the trolley to the cable but had a tendency to lurch off its source of power.

Example: If I hear that song one more time, I’ll go off my rocker

In a Pinch

When you are in a pinch, you’re facing an emergency involving a shortage of some kind. The British variation of this phrase, ‘at a pinch,’ came into use in the fifteenth century.

Historical Reference: “At a pinch” showed up in William Caxton’s translation of The Book of Faytes of Armes and of Chyualrye (1489): “Corageously at a pynche [he] shal renne vpon hem.”

“In a pinch” graced the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Black Arrow (1888): “It yet might serve him, in a pinch.”

Example: In a pinch, you can substitute regular flour for oat flour in the recipe.

Thanks for joining me to celebrate our mutual love of words. I’m so glad to have fallen among friends. Were you aware of all these phrases? Did any of the meanings surprise you? Which have you personally used?

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Montana Gold, a completed 4-book series, explores the lives and loves of an Irish family surviving in the Wild West. The books are available in print and ebook, and the audiobook versions are being made available. Beginning with DawnSinger, Janalyn's epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams.

Bohemian by ethnicity and mindset, Janalyn is an eclectic artist who creates in multiple disciplines. (she also draws, sings, writes poetry, and toys with a camera.)

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors with her family. 

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Young widow America Reed struggles to survive in an era of road agents, gold lust, and vigilante violence while hiding her secret shame. Feeling God has abandoned her, she avoids the Irish circuit preacher whose zeal to save her soul revisits his own need to escape the slum where he grew up.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west. Learn More.


  1. I love learning where sayings come from. I've never heard anyone say "odd fish", but I've said "odd duck" sometime in my life. I do remember saying "off his/her rocker" a few times. I think "in a pinch" is more in my active vocabulary. Thanks for the interesting post.

    1. Hi, Kay! Aren't word origins fun? Thanks for sharing your experience of these words. You are quite welcome. I enjoy writing these posts.

  2. Thanks for continuing these fun posts. I hadn't heard of "odd fish" but certainly odd duck, and then the others I'm familiar with.