January 20, 2011

Weird Word Wednesday #2

Before any of you even start with me, I know it's not Wednesday. I napped this past Wednesday. That is my prerogative as a cat.

The latest Weird Word Wednesday has to do with horses. There are actually a few strange sayings that deal with horses, as evidenced by a recent Dinosaur Comics entry. One that they missed is "Dead Ringer".

This odd saying is used as a way to state that someone/something is nearly identical to another thing. For instance "He is a dead ringer for that other guy". Rather than say "He looks like that other guy", humans use some strange bit of language that really makes no sense. I have been Googling away trying to determine the origin of this little idiom and actually found two different possibilities.

Possibility 1. Dead ringer describes a common occurrence in olden times, when people who were so sick they appeared to be dead were interred and buried, only to wake up later and find themselves stuck in a coffin. Forward-thinking morticians started putting strings in those coffins and attaching them to a bell at the surface, so the not-dead person could pull on the string and patiently wait to be dug up. How this eventually went from meaning "More or less an almost zombie" to "looks pretty much like something else" is a testament to how dumb human language is. In cat-ese, "meow" always means "meow".

Possibility 2. Dead ringer describes the practice of trying to trick bookies in a horse race. This one actually makes more sense, but isn't quite as cool as almost-zombies. Devious horse racers would have two horses that look almost alike, and run the slower one for a few races, convincing everyone that it is really slow and will likely become glue before too long, only to spring the faster horse on an unsuspecting crowd when the odds are really low (and the payoff high) in a big race. This seems a lot more plausible.

So, this is a Weird Word entry that actually makes a little bit of sense, although it would be easier to say "similar appearance" than "dead ringer". SAY WHAT YOU MEAN!

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