club sandwich

The club sandwich, or club house sandwich, as it is usually prepared today, consists of three slices of bread, between which is layered turkey or chicken, ham or bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. It is typically served quartered and held together by cocktail sticks.

But why club? How did it get its name? The answer is an unsatisfactory “we don’t know.” The sandwich originated in one or another social club or perhaps on the club cars of trains. The exact origin has been lost in the mists of time, but we do know that it originated in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

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stiff upper lip

Having a stiff upper lip is considered the quintessential British quality of resolution in the face of adversity. But surprisingly, the phrase itself is an American import to Britain.

The phrase first appears in the pages of the newspaper the Massachusetts Spy on 14 June 1815:

I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought [a] license to sell my goods.

Nova Scotian writer and politician Thomas C. Haliburton uses it in his 1837 novel The Clockmaker:

Its a proper pity sich a clever woman should carry such a stiff upper lip.

And it appears in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“Well, good-by, Uncle Tom; keep a stiff upper lip,” said George.

The earliest British citation in the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t until 1887, when it appears in the newspaper The Spectator.


Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. stiff, adj., n., and adv.

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bootstrap / boot up

A self-made person is one who lifts or pulls oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The phrase is used unironically nowadays, despite the fact that the laws of physics make it impossible for one actually lift oneself by one’s bootstraps. The phrase was originally ironic, recognizing that such a feat is impossible, but as the myth of the self-made man grew (and it is a myth; no one succeeds in life without help), the phrase became unironic in its application.

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Most of us know a tabby cat is either a female house cat or one with a striped or brindled coat regardless of its sex. But where does the word tabby come from? It has an unusual etymology, coming ultimately from Arabic and the history of Islam, and over the years it has been applied to things other than house cats, such as being used to refer to older, unmarried women.

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neither confirm nor deny / Glomar response

When a US government official neither confirms nor denies the existence of a classified program it is called a Glomar response or a Glomar denial. This label has its origins in one of the most fascinating incidents of the Cold War between the US and the USSR, but the wording neither confirm nor deny is much, much older, dating to at least 1840.

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Glomar Response / neither confirm nor deny

See neither confirm nor deny

Uncle Sam

The United States government is often referred to as Uncle Sam, and the most famous image of Uncle Sam is James Montgomery Flagg’s WWI recruiting poster. But Uncle Sam was not the creation of Flagg. The term predates Flagg’s poster by over a century.

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The measles is a potentially fatal disease caused by a Morbillivirus, and it is one of the most highly contagious diseases that infect humans. The disease, once rendered rare in the industrialized world, has made a comeback in recent years, largely due to low rates of vaccination. But the name measles is an odd one with an innocuous connotation that belies how dangerous the disease really is. Where does the name measles come from?

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Tweetzkrieg is an alternative name for what is more commonly called a Twitterstorm, a flurry of activity about a trending topic on the social media platform Twitter. But unlike a Twitterstorm, which can be an unorganized response to a tweet or news item, a Tweetzkrieg is often deliberately generated by a single person or group. Tweetzkrieg is, quite obviously, modeled on blitzkrieg, the German WWII-era strategy of a combined arms assault using infantry, armor, artillery, and airpower. The word isn’t terribly common, but it has been around for over ten years.

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D-Day, H-Hour

D-Day is the name for 6 June 1944, when Allied troops landed on the coast of German-occupied France during World War II. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landing in Normandy, including 23,000 airborne paratroopers, and involving almost 7,000 ships, boats, and landing craft. But it turns out that the term itself is older, dating to another war, and it is also something of a redundancy.

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