Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2004 / 22 Elul, 5764
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
'Adam's apple'; 'You sure lucked out'; 'the lion's share'
Can you tell me why the Adam's apple has that name?
J. Z., Huntsville, Ala.
Dear J. Z.:
The term ``Adam's apple'' is not nearly as old as the English names of most parts of the body. It first appeared in the 18th century, when it was used to translate, quite literally, the Latin name for that projecting cartilage in the throat, ``pomum Adami.'' Latin had earlier translated it from a post-Biblical form of Hebrew, where the name was ``tappuach ha adham,'' meaning ``bodily projection on a man.'' Unfortunately for the Latin translators, the Hebrew phrase had a double meaning: ``tappuach'' also means ``apple'' and ``adham'' can be interpreted as the name of the Biblical first man.
So it was assumed that the name referred to the fall of man from innocence into sin through eating the forbidden fruit of Eden (not, incidentally, called an apple in the Bible), as if the projecting cartilage were a morsel that had stuck in Adam's throat and could not be choked down.
When something very good happens to someone, why do people say ``You sure lucked out''? To me that sounds as though the good luck ran out, but of course they mean that the person was very lucky. Please explain.
R. J., Eau Claire, Wis.
Dear R. J.:
The problem is just that this use of ``out'' has the wrong association for you. Instead of reminding you of ``run out,'' it should bring up phrases like ``sketch out the plan'' or ``write out the speech,'' phrases where the ``out'' has no real separate meaning but merely intensifies the meaning of the verb. ``Out'' is used with many verbs in this way. The ``out'' of ``run out,'' on the other hand, has a meaning of its own - ``to a point of exhaustion or depletion'' - which is also found in phrases like ``talked themselves out,'' ``all cried out,'' and ``pump the well out.''
By the way, you don't have to ``luck out''; the verb ``luck'' also occurs with ``into'' and ``onto,'' as in these examples: ``I lucked into a better job than the one I used to have'' and ``the prospectors lucked onto a vein of gold.'' All of these verbal uses of ``luck'' occur chiefly in American English.
Can you tell me whether the expression ``the lion's share'' means the largest portion or the entire thing?
T. L., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Dear T. L.:
In some circumstances, of course, there may be no difference. A real lion (like the 400-pound gorilla of the familiar joke who sits wherever he wants to) can presumably have as much as is desired, up to and including the whole thing. And it should be mentioned that in the fable of Aesop from which this expression is derived, the lion gets one quarter of the prey for his royal prerogative as king of beasts, one quarter for his superior courage, one quarter to give to his mate and their cubs, and one quarter because he dares the other animals to challenge him for it and they slink away.
As ``the lion's share'' is used figuratively of human beings, however, it ordinarily means ``the largest share'' and not necessarily the whole thing. This recent example from our files is typical: ``It was his life, rather than his art, that commanded the lion's share of attention.''
Whenever my wife and I dress up for a night on the town, I say that we're ``putting on the dog.'' Can you tell me where this unusual expression comes from?
B. N., Newport, R.I.
Dear B. N.:
The phrase ``putting on the dog'' can actually be traced back to the 19th century, when college students at Yale are said to have worn high stiff collars known as ``dog collars'' as part of required dress on formal occasions. This custom may account for the use of the phrase ``put on the dog'' to mean ``get dressed up in elegant finery.'' The following excerpt from the 1871 work ``Four Years at Yale'' offers confirmation. ``Dog (means) style, splurge. To put on dog is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell.'' Of course, the expression may have existed before collegians put on the dog (in which case some other long forgotten custom may account for the phrase), but we have no earlier example of the phrase.
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